Set within the confines of a small cottage on the coast of Britain, The Outcast Lovers is a somber follow-up to the tragic events of The Night Fisherman. After sheltering the boy who has found his way into their custody, the couple now face a crisis of conscience as they debate what to do next. Should they turn him over to the authorities, or do they take him in as their own son despite their commitment to never have children of their own?
Playing out as a standard visual novel in a 3D space, FarFewGiants made the creative decision to hand over control of the camera placement to the player. Now with the view no longer confined to the curated track of a disembodied production team, the audience is free to influence the mise-en-scène before them instead of being left to merely determine branching dialogue responses. It’s a powerful mechanism that at times induces a sense of feeling overwhelmed, challenging the ability to process the unfolding narrative and also decide what perspective fits best with the player’s perception of the mood of the scene. What began as a simple visual novel transforms into a simulation of cinematography, the observer now finds themselves in charge of the visual presentation much in a similar way that the couple has found themselves responsible for the life of another.
The interplay of these simple mechanics and their profound implications helps drive the tension of the plot into a swirling vortex of conflicting thoughts. Adherence to the strict rules of shot-reverse-shot is too much to bear when attempting to simultaneously navigate the setting’s hostile political climate towards migrants, leaving every cut spinning around the room like a ball on a roulette wheel: regardless of where it lands the outcome of your bets are yet to be seen.
Similarly, The Night Fisherman operates much the same way as a smuggler crossing the waves encounters a notorious member of the EPG- a militant vigilante group fancying themselves an arm of the state. Refraining from spoilers, it goes without saying that it results in a tense stand-off between the villainous goon and the sailor who harbors as many secrets as the fathomless depths he navigates. Much like The Outcast Lovers, the additional mechanic of juggling cinematography elevates the experience beyond merely bearing witness to the story, presenting a rare opportunity in games to shape the lingering atmosphere and choreograph your own emotional responses to the drama.
The trend of photography tools has begun to normalize player agency over the game’s presentation beyond merely riding along with the action or operating as a lone actor. Instead of simply showing a trailer from the game’s creators or relying on press-kit screenshots, we now often share our love of these titles using the media we’ve captured ourselves. More recently, this trend has been integrated as an overt gameplay mechanic by the likes of Umurangi Generation, a Māori game that places you in the role of a photographer documenting the occupation of foreign forces waging war against the Kaiju that threaten to overwhelm New Zealand.
All too often games find themselves locked into conventional modes of thinking that railroad the wide range of possibilities interactive media has to offer into set formulas of mechanical interplays, and by doing so we trap ourselves within the limitations of a comfort zone establish for a narrow understanding of an audience’s expectations. Game developers are not writing books or creating film, nor are they rehearsing a play, they are exploring bold new interactive worlds, with titles like Nier: Automata expressing themselves in multiple dimensions beyond the expected interplay of time and space. Even in writing this piece, it is difficult to convey the concepts laid out in this review without resorting to the terminology established by cinema because the language around video games has not yet caught up with the material realities of the medium. Developers like FarFewGiants are starting to change that, and, in time, perhaps people will take notice.
Until the day the industry finds it’s own words, however, you should absolutely experience The Night Fisherman and The Outcast Lovers for yourself, and, if you’re feeling the vibe with those works, check out Ring Of Fire while you’re at it.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice