Enter the lives of five people through the lens of a camera.
Photographs, the upcoming puzzle game by Luca Redwood, offers a snapshot into the lives of its five intriguing characters. Each one is decidedly different from the last, with every encounter standing out as a form of complex and intertwined expression of the human condition.
Having sat down with two of these adventures, the tales of the aspiring diver and the ageing alchemist still haven’t quite left me. Each glimpse provides a unique perspective on individual experience in its simplest form – one that can easily be digested and compared to the others in its collection.
Featuring excellent voice-acting, artwork by Octavi Navarro (better known as Pixelshuh and for their work on Thimbleweed Park) and music by Ben Prunty (best known for FTL), Photographs sets each of its stories in different times and locations. Players can explore gorgeous pixel art scenes and solve puzzles in order to advance to the next chapter, using everything from sliders to levers, manipulate bouncing balls and time itself to complete puzzle after puzzle.
“I found it surprisingly difficult to design the puzzle gameplay,” says Redwood. “The puzzles are unique to each story, and each story is quite short so I had figured it wouldn’t take too long to make because it doesn’t have to last very long, but it was the opposite. The stories are short, so there can’t be any filler – every bit of gameplay has to work to advance the story.
So plenty of ideas – good ones, at that – ended up being thrown away because they weren’t serving that purpose. “But it’s been really cool and interesting to see how things come together,” Redwood says. “When the elements of the gameplay meet the art and the music, they seem to multiply each other and everything connects really well.”
Players progress by solving small yet increasingly difficult puzzles in each story, which are triggered by the player taking photographs at an important moment in each character’s life. Each of the five stories has a completely different style of gameplay: five stories, five games.
Redwood explains that the five stories refer to each other and all knit together in the end. “But here’s what I’m aiming for,” he says. “The characters in the stories all have very different identities, and the problems they have to deal with are different too, so maybe in one story you won’t even sympathise with [the protagonist] at all, but I want it such that any person playing will at least relate to and be rooting for one of the characters.”
I really enjoyed the stories told by the alchemist and the diver, which I won’t divulge here. Intrigued by their dark melancholy tone, I ask Redwood what he hopes players will take away from the experience. “When the player has finished them all, it still doesn’t have a happy ending,” he says. “But it does at least have a bittersweet ending. I want players to walk away with a smile on their face.”
On a more simple level, Redwood wants it to be a game that’s easy to play – not necessarily an easy game, but one that’s straightforward and intuitive in its approach. “If you pick it up, you know exactly what you are supposed to be doing,” he says. “You can solve some puzzles, have some fun, and the story unfolds around you while you do.”
Photographs left me with an odd combination of suspense, despair and excitement. The stories – as dark as they seem – are gripping, and kept me wading through the game just to find out how these tragic events would unfold. Would the career diver achieve her dreams? Would the old man manage to help his granddaughter? I felt a real empathetic investment in these groups of beautifully coloured pixels. The gorgeously crafted art, paired with the sound design, launches a two-pronged assault on the senses. Individually, the components could stand on their own, but together they make this already enticing collection of love, failure and life something entirely better.
Photographs will be coming out early 2019 to PC, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android.If you enjoy pixel art and want to delve into a well-told story – or five – it’s one to keep an eye on.