Anthology: Five Stories, One Game
For many years, anthologies had largely disappeared from modern entertainment, only recently coming back to prominence with shows like True Detective and American Horror Story. Now, we are getting an anthology in the gaming world, and fittingly it is called Anthology.
Anthology is the brainchild of Lewis Denby, a figure who has become inextricably linked with the British indie game scene. You might remember his work back in the day on Resolution Magazine (where he was kind enough to let me contribute now and again) before moving to the old editorial side of BeefJack. While at BeefJack, Lewis spread his wings, telling me that he “did a bunch of things, from PR to production to general management pieces. Away from the public eye I worked on probably ten or fifteen games for clients, and marketed about 40.” He soon went on to work on his first game, Richard & Alice which our own Steven Fulton greatly enjoyed back in 2013 and was later involved in the development of Sepulchre, all the while working with the team at BeefJack.
Last year, Lewis made a change “I felt it was time for something new, quit my job with no prospects like some sort of idiot, but fortunately managed to weave my way into a career as an indie games… helper person?” Now, he is revealing Anthology which he has been working on with Khaled Makhshoush (background art) and Francisco Gonzalez (characters and animation). After taking such a break since last being directly involved in game development, I asked him what brought him back to hands-on development:
[I have] An incurable desire to take on new projects that I have no reasonable capacity to commit to. That’s only a half-joke. But in fact, what happened is that I found myself with a little more free time than I used to have, and an idea for a world whose story I wanted to tell, and I know from experience I’m a better game designer than novelist – five abandoned novels and counting, and I’m not even 30 yet – so it kind of went from there.
Anthology then is a collection of short point-and-click adventures, all taking place in the same faraway city, on the same afternoon. Lewis asked me to think back to major world events, and pointed out that conversations often lead to a “What were you doing when…?” moment. That idea of shared, but independent experiences lies at the heart of Anthology:
Tapping into the lives of a number of different people, who were simply going about their daily lives at the time a major world event began to unfold. The stories are independent, but as you play through each one, the wider story of the world reveals itself, and it’s this that ties them together.
Looking back at his history with Richard & Alice and Sepulchre and the experience he has built up over the years of working closely with other independent developers, I have confidence that this will come together to offer a unique story telling experience. Yet, despite my faith in what this trio can achieve, I was still confused as to why Lewis chose an anthological format, he explained his decision as coming down to a couple of reasons:
One, I find the concept alluring. When writing a single story there’s only so much you can show about a world, because you’re limited to the perspectives of only one or maybe two characters. Then, on a more practical level, it breaks up development nicely, such that we can build the framework then focus on making a single game at a time. The idea actually started as one larger story, but having a distinct ending didn’t quite seem to fit the idea.
Lewis cut himself off there, clearly unwilling to let slip any more of the story than absolutely necessary. He did reveal some more about how he came to work with Khaled and Francisco. Khaled had never worked on a game before, but Lewis told me that he “was immediately drawn to his distinctive, minimalist style” and that Khaled has been great at bringing fresh ideas to the project, and injecting a sense of life to the game. Lewis had long been a fan of Francisco’s work, and it was thanks to Ben Chandler (artist on Sepulchre) that the two got together, immediately clicking after Lewis sent through the design document for Anthology. Lewis told me that it’s been a “joy to work with these guys. I love collaborating with talented people, who can instantly make a project so much richer than you ever imagined at the start.”
If you want to find out more about the game, check out the official site and get voting for it on Greenlight. I’ve heard rumours that Lewis is offering all those who vote for Anthology cute animal pictures. He’s got my vote already, no animal pictures required.