Bientot l’ete (In English, “Yo! Summer!”) is to the latest offering from Tale of Tales, the game studio perhaps best known for their “art games” such as Tale of Tales and The Endless Forest. Like its predecessors, Bientot is more of a plaything that uses 3D videogame technology than a game in any real sense of the word. It presents an environment to explore, and any meaning to be found is left up to the player (for want of a better word). Some like that sort of thing, others will no doubt leave wishing for more interactivity.
Some like that sort of thing, others will no doubt leave wishing for more interactivity.
I know it’s heresy to say this on the internet, but it all comes down to a matter of personal taste rather than some monolithic definition of what makes a great videogame. Or immersive 3D interactive art thingee.
So what is this whatsit, about? First off, it’s in alpha stage right now, so please take my observations with a grain of salt. It actually runs smoothly enough, although the modeling is still very much in the placeholder stage of things. But in a way, that’s not too distracting for the first half, which has your character running about an illusionary beach in a virtual reality. In a way, the lack of perfect verisimilitude adds to an authentic feeling of inauthenticity. If that makes any sense.
This may be attributing more narrative coherence to Bientot than it really has. The above backstory is courtesy of a blog note by Michael Samyn, the developer. In the game proper, the only hints we get about the unreality of the environment is the selection screen that shows the two possible (a man and a woman) in what appears to be hibernation chambers ala the movie Prometheus, and the way that when you shut your character’s eyes you can see the wireframe outlines of the beach and gulls.
The occasional flyby of planets and nebula is no doubt a hint to the Science Fiction-y background of it all, come to think of it.
But in true Tale of Tales fashion, far more is unsaid than said. You steer your character around a beach, seeing phrases in the sand that rise onto your screen for use in part two. The heavens change, and when you shut your eyes or run, you see the unreality of it all.
Or you can chase gulls. I was delighted to read that the developer called this one of his favorite things to do.
Then it’s onto part two. When? Whenever you feel like it. Go to the one house on the beach and shut your eyes to enter a restaurant and join another patron. Have a smoke, a glass of wine, and exchange your collected phrases in an attempt to make conversation. It makes for a terse, occasionally contradictory dialogue, very reminiscent (and deliberately so) of those French art movies with pensive couples in Parisian brasseries struggling through their relationship and more than a few packs of cigarettes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all the voice acting is in French, although there are several languages available for the text proper. If nothing else, Bientot l’ete would make for a fun language prep for anyone planning a holiday in Paris, especially if you plan on having an ultimately disastrous romance while you’re there.
so really we’re looking at the concept of a game rather than the game itself
Again, Bientot is still in the alpha stage, so really we’re looking at the concept of a game rather than the game itself. The beach section is intriguing, and the background music is wonderful, if on the ambient electronica side. But ultimately, once you’ve chased your fill of gulls, there’s little left to do or explore. It is the restaurant setting that offers the most potential, especially if, as planned, you’ll be able to converse with random people on the internets. Right now, though, I never was able to find a dinner companion, and instead had to settle for the AI, which was rather like going on a date with the Magic 8 Ball. If the AI’s responses were anything other than random, I didn’t sense it.
Tale of Tales has explored the notion of limited communication before with The Endless Forest, in which players control deer with human faces who can only communicate via symbols.
I have to admit, the one time I tried that game, the bizarre environment was something of a distraction from the task of piecing together a pseudo-language out of a limited vocabulary. Will the more normal environment of a café make communication easier? Or will people fall back into stereotyped roles, playing the same movie again and again?
It’s an interesting question, for which the answer remains to be seen. But in the meantime, as I told the computer, je voudrais un autre verre de vin.