Hindsight from Annapurna is an immersive exploration of memory, grief

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It’s amazing how many memories a single photo can unlock. This idea – that objects can act as openings into our past, revealing things we didn’t even realize we had forgotten about – is the core mechanic of “Hindsight”, an upcoming narrative exploration game from Annapurna Interactive.

The game follows Mary, a rising chef who puts her life on hold and returns to her childhood home after the death of her mother. As she sifts through what her mother left behind, players can interact with these objects, which become conduits to Mary’s memories, and gradually piece together Mary’s life story as they go. she says.

“Hindsight” is the work of developer Joel McDonald, a former Call of Duty designer who created the critically acclaimed Prune mobile game, a meditative puzzle game about caring for trees, and narrative designer Emma Kidwell. Kidwell’s text games, including “Half,” which was featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum Arcade, have been hailed as poignant explorations of identity, mental health, and other personal themes.

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During a hands-on demonstration in May, McDonald demonstrated how “Hindsight” openings work: While examining a wind chime on the porch of the house, he hits each rod and they gradually change color until it becomes clear that together they form a window into a scene from Mary’s childhood. At another moment, a young Mary stares out of her bedroom window on a stormy night, lazily tracing raindrops on the glass. Players connect the raindrops to form an image which then acts as a transition to the present.

“We struggled to make sure every transition in and out of a scene made sense together narratively,” Kidwell said during the preview. The team experimented with openings of different sizes to see what would fit naturally into the world or break the immersion.

There’s also an element of escapism, as Mary comes to terms with her grief and reflects on the “what ifs” and “what could have been” of her relationship with her mother. Kidwell described Mary as “a little dreamy”, and the team made a conscious decision to embrace surrealism in some memories, a reflection of Mary’s struggle to process her feelings.

Structurally, “Hindsight” follows a “hub and spoke” model; it is divided into chapters, with players returning to a central hub, Mary’s office, after each. Players can explore these chapters in any order, and they can experience different aspects of Mary’s life based on the items they find and interact with. At the end of a chapter, you choose an object that Mary will take with her, stored in her suitcase. However, regardless of a player’s choices, the narrative remains the same. You won’t find branching storylines or alternate endings in “Hindsight,” and that was intentional, McDonald said.

“It’s a woman’s life that has already happened, and you find out about it and think about it with her,” McDonald said at the premiere. Rather than creating a choose-your-own-adventure experience, he wanted to focus on self-reflection, create an experience where players are let “soak up the scenery and the soundscape” and deal with the game’s heavy themes. – grief, family, mortality – alongside Mary.

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The development of “Hindsight” mirrors that of Prune in several ways, McDonald said in an interview with The Washington Post. For one thing, the two took a lot longer to create than he had anticipated. The development of Prune, originally planned to be a two to three month project, ended up taking around 15 months. As for “Hindsight”, it took years; Kidwell joined around 2018, talks with publisher Annapurna began in 2019, then 2020 saw the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

At this point, the game feels like “a baby that I’m just ready to deliver,” Kidwell said.

After the release of Prune in 2015, McDonald’s started thinking about their next project – what would become “Hindsight”. Prune had appealed to a wide audience, including people who didn’t necessarily consider themselves gamers, and while he wanted to exploit that again, he said, he didn’t want to just create Prune version 2.0 or follow the same formula as the other games already on the market.

“I kind of realized that maybe the world doesn’t need another first-person shooter, but one with a twist,” McDonald told The Post. “I kind of realized that I wanted to reach that audience that I was lucky enough to reach with Prune.”

Another parallel between the two games is that they both evolved heavily during development.

“Both involved listening to the game and what it wanted to be,” McDonald said.

McDonald didn’t have a particular narrative in mind when he started working on “Hindsight.” Instead, development started with the idea of ​​making a game around openings, and then the story of Mary was born out of finding answers to why those objects would trigger such an emotional response and why players would sift them through first.

As the team learned who Mary was, the game’s writing also changed. The tone changed significantly halfway through development, Kidwell said. It was originally inspired by Terrence Malik’s “The Tree of Life”, a coming-of-age story that unfolds as the characters, through voice-overs, philosophize about the meaning of life. The film’s voiceovers are eloquent and emotional, but use stilted language, which didn’t fit Mary’s background. Ultimately, as the team gained a better understanding of Mary’s character, they shifted to a more grounded, conversational tone for their voiceovers, Kidwell said, which felt much more natural.

“It was kind of a slow process, like evolving it and realizing that we felt like we were imposing a style on it that didn’t necessarily fit the rest of the game or the story we were trying to tell.” , said McDonald.

Throughout the process, however, one thing remained constant: McDonald’s wanted to develop the game with mobile gamers in mind.

“With Prune, I was really happy and lucky to have been able to reach this large audience of non-gamers,” he said. “I was getting emails from old ladies saying they had never played a video game before but they chose Prune because it was that game about gardening or at least that’s what it looked like. .

“So from the beginning I tried to think, you know, how are we going to be able to play on an iPad [or] sitting on a couch. …Let’s say you don’t have a decade of first-person shooters and you don’t know how to use WASD commands and all that. I wanted it to be as simple and straightforward as possible. »

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At the same time, McDonald’s wanted “Hindsight” to be an immersive, self-contained experience. The majority of mobile games are designed for players to gradually engage with them throughout the day, to fit their schedule each time they check their phone. A single “Hindsight” playthrough can take between three and four hours, McDonald estimated — a relatively short playtime compared to most games on PC and consoles.

Simply put, with “Hindsight”, McDonald’s aimed to recreate the feeling of getting lost in a great PC or console game in a way that mobile audiences could enjoy. Noting that nectarine season is in full swing at this time of year, he likened the feeling to tasting a deliciously messy fruit.

“I love a good nectarine where I can eat it over the sink and just, like, the juice running down my elbows. And that’s what I want [‘Hindsight’] be equal for your mobile experience.

Interacting with the apertures easily translates to touch controls, but it sometimes took a bit of creativity to figure out how to incorporate clicking or moving objects in an intuitive way with tuning and tone, Kidwell explained. during preview.

“Player expression has always been very important to both of us,” she said. “We wanted to acknowledge the player’s presence and the journey he is taking with us.”

Because if “Hindsight” is a one-sided conversation between Mary and her mother, Kidwell said, it’s also a situation that many gamers, especially those with aging parents, will likely navigate at some point in their lives. Exploring this grief and understanding that there is no one right way to deal with it are some of the central themes of the game.

“Hindsight” is expected to come to PC, Nintendo Switch, and iOS later this year.

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