Beacon Pines is a narrative adventure where everything can change with just one word

In Beacon Pines, the story and the decisions made are mapped on a tree, showing paths that branched out from single moments that changed the course of the story. For developer Matt Meyer, the same is true in real life. His path to Beacon Pines began with a single, simple, consequential decision made years ago, almost on a whim.

“I worked for a company for five years or so in Chicago, and just finished a day,” says Meyer. “It’s not really the job’s fault. That is traffic. I sit in my car for an hour and a half every day… I hate traffic. So I was only photographed for one day. I was like, ‘I’m moving house’ and I moved to Austin, and really had no plans. ”

Sans’ plan, Meyer hopes to be able to write music, specifically for the game. However, after a bit of experimenting around, he realized that if he made a game, he could put his own music in it. He ended up teaming up with Brent Calhoun and Ilse Harting, and thus Beacon Pines was born… as an RPG rhythm fighter.

“It looks great, and sounds interesting, and the concept is great, but we never found anything about the design that impressed,” he said. “I’ve tried a lot of different ways of doing it, and it’s a functional game, but it doesn’t have a spark.”

But what stood out for Meyer and the others were the characters Harting created, especially Luka: a small deer creature. So the team took a risk: they threw away everything that didn’t work and almost started from scratch, focusing on the characters and the environment first.

“It’s scary, because it’s not just a bunch of work that gets thrown away, it’s like we’ve thrown away our hook,” Meyer continued. “A rhythm arena game… sounds interesting to everyone. And you tell them, we’re making a narrative game. They were like, ‘Okay, but then what?’ So we needed something else interesting to bring to the table. “

It’s something other than Beacon Pines’ unique narrative structure, which I sampled from playing the first few hours already. Luka has taken a bit of an evolution from his rhythm game roots into the iconic young hero of the game, bursting with a cozy-cute aesthetic perfect for fall – twee sweater, animal man Fun, cozy fireplaces and children’s mischief quickly develop into a sinister mystery.

A rhythm arena game… sounds fun to everyone. And you tell them, we’re making a narrative game. They were like, ‘Okay, but then what?’

As Luka explores Beacon Pines’ beautiful comic book artwork, he stumbles across “charms” – essentially single-word descriptions of the experiences he’s had. For example, he finds “junk” in his bedroom, an early encounter with a dandelion makes him “tick,” and sitting in a comfy chair by the fire brings “reflection.” .

Then, later, players use these words to unlock branching narrative paths. Some choices are less consequential – for example, he might choose “trash” (for a piece of line) or “tick” (for feathers) as bait. Far more important are the “turning points” in the story, where one word determines which fork in Luka’s story. The tutorial version of this – answering your grandma about what you’re going to do that afternoon – is pretty benign and doesn’t affect the plot (well, to my knowledge). But future decisions will, and drastic. It’s a burden – Meyer told me that while you can sometimes play with words for comic effect, changing your choices can get some characters killed.

But if that happens, it’s not the end. What’s important to Beacon Pines, and what makes it so appealing to me, is the ability to go back and revise these choices at any time, including by using words you don’t understand in the text. at that moment. It was an interesting prospect, forcing me to rethink scenes that took place hours ago to see if the new words I found had a place in them.

Meyer refers to it as almost like a “narrative Metroidvania,” who describes him as a bit nervous about use due to what audiences might expect, but felt very relevant to me after playing a few hours. .

“Because you are exploring all the branches of the story, and by exploring the different branches of the story, you unlock previously locked branches of the story by finding new parts,” Meyer explained. prefer. “The charms you carry with you, even though you went to another branch you may not have found the amulet the first time. And it’s similar to Metroidvania, because in Metroidvania you’re unlocking powers that allow you to go to new areas you couldn’t get to before.”

Meyer added that they had to put a limit on where the story could go – they were a small team and couldn’t handle a big story with hundreds of twists and turns. But there are still plenty of interesting ramifications, blunders, and mistakes that can be made as players solve the puzzle of which exact story will lead to a happy ending for Luka and friends. There is a sinister mystery hidden within Beacon Pines, the exploration of which blends nicely with themes of growing up, friendship and change. Meyer calls it “Winnie the Pooh meets Stranger Things.” I get some Night in the Woods vibes, even though the main characters are all younger.

Beacon Pines has been a difficult journey for Meyer and his team. He said he was happy and proud of what he did, but added that it was “the hardest job I’ve ever done in my life”.

“It’s a myth, because at least every game I’ve made, most of them took years,” he said. “Why do you do something that takes years, and you don’t know if it will work or not? What a ridiculous, stressful thing to do. But I kept doing it, because it was a blast in the process. “

Like most of the developers I talk to, Meyer hopes Beacon Pines does well enough to help fund a new creation so he doesn’t have to rush to cash in before he runs out of money like he used to. But first, he’s resting. A bit like Luka in the Beacon Pines prologue, really – with the game launching last week, he’s about to be in an altered space, right before his next adventure.

“Recently someone asked me, at the end of the game, what do I hope people think of it?” Meyer said. “And I just said, ‘Peace.’ The game, when it comes to the classic end as we think it is, we’re all leaning towards a sense of peace. Everything is okay. Hopefully most people feel the same way.”

Rebekah Valentine is an IGN news reporter. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.

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