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Pentiment has an official reading list, partly composed of some of the books that the team used for reference when building the game's art, plot, and characters. They're an interesting collection of books, and since my love of Pentiment overflowed after finishing it originally, I poured that excess enthusiasm into reading them. Now that I have read them all and replayed Pentiment with the knowledge in hand, I thought it would be interesting to dive into the inspirations and how they helped me to have a more complete understanding of the historical and cultural background of the game. Hopefully it won't be too dry, but also bear in mind that this is a very loose analysis. I'm not going to go back and find passages to cite unless they're super important to the point I'm making. I'm enough of a nerd to read five books for a backlog review, not for an academic article.


First things, the books: I read the following from the reading list, which you can find here: (https://news.xbox.com/en-us/2022/11/10/recommended-reading-of-medieval-history-from-josh-sawyer/)

1 The Name of the Rose: Umberto Eco

2 Peasant Fires: The Drummer of Niklashausen Richard Wunderli

3 The Cheese and the Worms, Carlo Ginzburg

4: The Return of Martin Guerre, Natalie Zemon Davis

5: The Faithful Executioner, Joel F. Harrington

6 Dürer's Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist—Susan Foister and Peter Van Den Brink


The Name of the Rose is perhaps the most important book on the list in terms of understanding the inspiration behind Pentiment. I admit I watched the film before reading the novel, but they are rather different beasts. Besides certain common elements between Pentiment and Name of the Rose, like the fictitious Abbey, certain elements straining the credibility of the historical setting (tassing having all strata of social classes present, the 15th century scriptorium vs. a random ass mountain abbey having a gigantic labyrinthine library), and main characters borrowing from real historical figures who are name-dropped in the story (William of Ockham in Name of the Rose and Albrecht Durer in Pentiment), the main connection is that they both use the classic detective murder mystery setup as a framework to explore both theology, historical moments, conflict, etc.

This is the part where the movie most differs from the book; it makes sense given that you can't really fit all that into 90 minutes. It chooses to keep the juicy murder mystery and some background political intrigue but dispenses with the broader narrative of the book, which is about apostolic poverty and the Avginon papacy. Essentially the gravity of the murders add a sense of urgency in solving them because the Abbey is defending its political independence as neutral ground for a meeting of the pope(or anti-pope really)'s men and several monastic orders and representatives of the holy roman emperor to debate the merits of how the church should function, if it should reject all property and live as paupers, which has both a religious significance but also a political one in the conflict between the Avignon Papacy (essentially for a while the pope left Rome and went to France and this had a pretty massive impact upon european politics of the time with a politically ascendant France) and the HRE and the various religious orders like the Benedictines and Franciscans. This is mirrored in Pentiment, which also uses the murders of Baron Rothvogel and later Otto as a framework to highlight both the purpose of historical memory, the nature of justice and peace in early modern Europe, the importance of religion in their communities and how alien that can feel to modern audiences in rich countries, life, death, our ideas of the past and how they influence us in the present, and a whole bunch of related themes.

Similarly, in Act 1, the murder is also presented as politically inconvenient for the abbot, who seeks a speedy resolution to the issue much like the abbot in The Name of the Rose does, but for the different reason that his Kiersau Abbey is an oddity in the church, maintaining practices such as a double monastery, which have long been frowned at by the catholic authorities but have simply remained unnoticed due to its insignificance. A long, embarassing murder investigation could bring the hammer down on them, which leads to the Abbotts callously attempting to throw Andreas' mentor, Piero, for the murder so that the monastery may continue without issue. There is also the matter of the scriptorium and adjacent library with a secret entrance by the ossuary in Name of the Rose and Crypt in Pentiment (though in truth, I think Brother Volkbert confirms that the crypt just holds bones, so it's probably also appropriate to call it an ossuary) being direct references.

In both stories, the skill of the detectives is a bit suspect. In the case of William of Baskerville, whilst he is definitely closer to the Platonic ideal of your Sherlock Holmes figure, being less of an unbelievable omniscient who has information, the reader doesn't like many of the examples of bad detective fiction (cough cough, BBC Sherlock). His assumptions and thought processes are reasonable (for the most part), but he sure takes his time in solving the case. In fact, he arguably fails pretty much everything he sets out to do. Seven people lie dead, the library got burned down, and the matter of apostolic poverty they had come to debate eventually led to it being branded as heretical, though the Avginon papacy did disappear in due time as the seat of the Holy See returned to Rome. Of course, he does have a sort of moral victory over the reactionary Jorge who set the murders in motion to hide the existence of a lost tome, which would, in his view, help to elevate comedy and laughter, which he views as subversive and leading to heresy and the corruption of the divine truth. It is fitting given the frequent debates in the book that the climax would involve essentially a philosophical discussion. This parallels somewhat Pentiment's ending, wherein Father Thomas brings down the Mithraeum below the church to erase the proof of St. Satia and St. Moritz being essentially just Diana and Mars, pagan figures worshipped before the Bavarian Christians settled on tassing. Andreas is also not the greatest sleuth, though, in large part, being an interactive medium, the character of Andreas' skills depends upon players' actions. Nevertheless, the constant of Andreas having to make difficult choices using incomplete information is a constant; it's impossible for him to ever fully uncover the truth of the matter with the limited time and resources he has to investigate the murders, and much like many things, including historical events, it's not really possible to actually 100% discover the "true" killer. There are likelier candidates, of course, and a good argument can be made for the most reasonable culprit, like in Act 1, where it is rather doubtful that Ottilia did it; I think Lucky is almost certainly the murderer; and it's interesting just how much a second playthrough can change a lot of what I thought. In Act 2, it's rather less clear, with Hanna and Guy both having threads pointing to them.

Either way, there is also the matter that Andreas and Pentiment as a whole are also concerned with the perception of truth rather than the whole matter of it, similar to the Name of the Rose: case in point: when Andreas returns to Tassing a few years later in Act 1, the Innkeeper will refer to a warped version of the events of the original murder, suggesting that either way the truth of the events has already passed into unreliable folklore. There is an angle to consider when choosing a culprit in both acts when considering the consequences for the community. Its still refreshing to me in an industry that still has seemingly not moved on from boring black and white low honor vs. high honor binary choice bullshit that Pentiment presents you with the infinitely more interesting to my mind issue of Ottilia Kemperyn. An old, misanthropic, heretical widow whose husband's death was caused by the murdered Baron Rothvogel's savage beating has essentially given up on life. Her house is just about to be taken away from her by the church because she has no heirs and cannot own property herself. If one were to invent utilitarianism in the 15th century, one could argue that letting the obviously innocent Ottilia take the heat for the murder of the Baron is the optimal choice; indeed, standing up for her by challenging the church's claim to her house does cause her to retain the house onto Act 2, but the church is predictably angry at your actions, and you've done little more than buy a woman a few more miserable years of her life. Of course, in doing so, you will be utterly perverting justice and sentencing a woman to the executioner, whose only crime was being born a peasant woman in the 15th century, with all the trials it entails. These tough choices are not limited just to Andreas, with Act 3 the townsfolk are still reconciling their choices in dealing with Otto's murder in 1525 and subsequent burning of the abbey (which mirrors the ending of The Name of The Rose with the Abbey and Library burning down also) and whilst they all have different perspectives on the issue, its interesting that some regret the foolishness that brought the hammer down on them and resulted in bloodshed whilst also recognizing that that very sacrifice led to their current positions, there is some optimism in the ending, with some arguing that the Abbot's ecclesiastical authority being replaced with the lord's secular one has been beneficial, with slightly less strict oversight and Lenhardt being murdered at least had temporary material improvements for the peasants who wouldn't be completely gouged by the new miller. As with everything, one can only move forward; the wheel of time stops for no man, and making peace with our mistakes and seeing a broader perspective is supremely important to life.

Peasant Fires doesn't cover the more famous 1525 German Peasant rebellion, but rather the lesser known Niklashausen rebellion of 1478, wherein a drummer whipped up a mass of pilgrims to rebel against the ruling authorities, claiming that he had received a divine vision of the virgin Mary, who called on him and the faithful to overthrow the corrupt church and kill the priests, that god had ordained for all land to be held in common and the feudal lords of the time had corrupted his will. The book explores the role of festivals in medieval Europe, with some serving as outlets for repressed anger at the authorities, like carnival being a time of playfully "reversing" the established relations of nobility, royalty, and peasantry. It highlights how, for most peasants, the calendar would be seen through the lens of the various public festivals throughout the year, from Christmas to Carnival to Lent to Easter, etc. Despite the much harsher working conditions, there were many more public holidays for the Europeans of the 15th century than there are for the Brits of today. Its influence is most apparent in Pentiment's Act 2, with Otto claiming a holy vision has revealed that the Lord is with the townsfolk of Tassing against the increased taxes and restrictions of the Abbot, mirroring the drummer. Otto's murder occurs during St. John's Eve, a very popular summer festival, with anger boiling over with the Abbot threatening excommunication to anyone he finds in the forest getting up to mischief. In both examples, the peasants are drawn to revolt against ecclesiastical authorities due to the increasing restrictions on their rights and material conditions. In Tassing, there is a noticeable decline in living standards, with the poor Gertners being particularly destitute due to increased taxes.

In the 1478 rebellion, the drummer started rallying people to the cause by preaching near the pilgrimage site of Niklashausen. In Pentiment, the Abbot further angers the peasants by closing the Shrine of St. Moritz, which is also a pilgrimage site and source of some religious comfort to the Catholic denizens of Tassing who often prayed to Saints for deliverance. The book goes into some depth regarding pilgrimages in the early modern period. While the sale of indulgences is much better known given its importance to the reformation, it is often overlooked that pilgrimages served a similar purpose. The idea of purgatory was such that pilgrims could reduce the suffering of themselves and/or deceased relatives by visiting a site of pilgrimage and receiving a partial indulgence for time in purgatory. It was another way in which the peasants would be essentially emotionally blackmailed into either donating or traveling to a holy site, which of course also had the effect of increasing the prestige and economic power of a church that hosted one of these relics, like the hand of a saint, a piece of the true cross, or what have you.

The main issue with the book is that the sources are very spotty, and so the author basically speculates on a large chunk of them. He at least admits that this is the case and makes clear what is his own imagination and what’s supported by the evidence, but still, it's a rather short book to begin with. Its illuminating at the very least regarding just how fucked medieval peasants were economically, the role of festivals and pilgrimages, and the power of mystics in inciting rebellion.

The Faithful Executioner is a work of microhistory focused on the life of the executioner of Nuremberg during a particularly busy time for such a professional. It has the advantage of drawing upon an unusual source: a detailed journal written by the said executioner during his time working for the city. It was rare for a man like him to be able to read, much less to leave such thorough notes about his work. It's a very interesting tale, which I recommend picking up. It's both a greater history lesson about the role of the executioner and the specific conditions in 16th-century HRE, which led to a significant increase in their work, and the personal story of a man’s quest to advance his and his family’s station from the unfortunate place it was put in. It also does a lot to make us understand the perspective and social attitudes that influenced this institution, which is, to our modern eyes, quite cruel and ghastly, without just making an apology for the indefensible. Its relation to Pentiment is obvious; it is a work that is deeply concerned with justice, crime, and punishment, and the appearance of justice and truth is often times more important than the actual thing itself. In chapter 1, whichever culprit gets selected will get executed violently and publicly, either by the executioner’s sword in the case of the male suspects of lucky or ferenc or being choked to death in the case of the female suspects. Interestingly, in the faithful executioner, we are told that execution by sword at the time was usually reserved for the nobility (even often times being the result of a bribe to the judges to forgo the more slow and painful executions down to the more “dignified” decapitation). I imagine, though, that the choice of the sword was more of a creative decision, being the quickest way to show the culprit being killed. In the case of Prior Ferenc’s execution, it was slightly botched, requiring three slashes to finish him off. In the case of the faithful executioner, part of the titular executioner’s great reputation, which allowed him to eventually appeal his status (executioners were part of the official underclass, unable to perform “honorable” professions, and were oftentimes banned from joining a guild and other legal discrimination), came from the fact that he very rarely botched an execution; indeed, the executioner himself could be in danger when performing a beheading, and it was common for crowds to turn on the executioner if it took more than 3 strokes to fall the criminal. Its not surprising to me that states eventually realized how counterproductive public execution was, with modern ones being performed in some prison room away from the public. The fact is, and Pentiment explores this as well, that it's all well and good to believe that someone deserves to die or that they had their brutal end coming to them; certainly, there are many rapists, murderers, etc., and even if one opposes the death penalty on principle, we would not be sad to hear that they were killed. And yet, I dare to say that if you were to witness such a person being violently killed, well, most well-adjusted people would respond with horror and even sympathy for such a situation.

Certainly, I don’t weep at the thought that some of the hanged nazis at Nuremberg were actually left choking for quite a few minutes before expiring, but even with them, were I to be in the room, I would look away from such a horrible sight. Humans are empathic for the most part, and it's hard to see such things without feeling bad.

It's a sobering moment watching the execution of Ferenc, who might be suspected of performing occult rituals and murdering a man in cold blood, but it's another to see him praying for mercy before being brutally cut down. The victory is hollow; there is a reason why Sherlock Holmes stories end with the suspect in custody and not Sherlock Holmes gloating in front of the gallows with the criminal’s corpse hanging forlornly from the scaffold. Okay, okay, that's enough unpleasantness. Let's move on from this grizzly subject.

The Cheese and the Worms is another work of microhistory, this time on the subject of Mennochio, an eccentric miller in 15th-century France who used his rare literacy and access to a variety of books passed around by his neighbors (who were unusually literate for the time also) to develop his own eclectic brand of religious thought, which eventually got him into trouble with the Inquisition, who were mostly baffled by what seemed to be a unique brand of heresy invented by essentially one random peasant guy, far from the norm of wandering preachers, secret societies, and the like. Its influence is most apparent in the figure of Vaclav, a Romani knife sharpener who will share his equally weird beliefs if you’ll indulge him, which, funnily enough, if you do, he gets burned at the stake for heresy, as evidenced by the town-wide family tree next to the mural in the game's ending. In the case of Vaclav, they’re a weird syncretism of gnosticism, Christian mysticism, and just his own blend of strange esoteric religious theories. The role of increased literacy and the printing press allowing more people to read “dangerous ideas” is brought up often during Acts 1 and 2, with Father Thomas and others being wary of the effects it could have in riling up the peasantry and the danger of certain ideas spreading. The elephant in the room is, of course, the protestant reformation and the 1525 peasant rebellion, which were greatly aided by the increased availability of the written word, further increasing the demand for a translation of the Bible written in German and other vernacular languages as opposed to Latin, which was mainly spoken by the priesthood. Its no surprise that this eventually led to an explosion of different Protestant denominations, as anyone who could read the Bible for themselves could develop a novel interpretation of the scripture.

In the case of Menochio, while from a modern perspective it seems very repressive and authoritarian to be jailed and later executed for having unorthodox beliefs like the universe being created from a primordial cheese eaten by worms who became God and his angels and created the world, it's hard to be sympathetic when the dude just could not shut the hell up about his beliefs. Like, idk about you, Im an agnostic or atheist or whatever, but if I could possibly be executed for it, I would not go around telling people about how god is fake and cringe. Its also funny reading the accounts of the inquisitors, who for the most part, whilst obviously terrible and repressive, would let most cases like a single heretical peasant off with essentially a slap in the wrist, say you’re sorry, do a penance, your priest vouches for you being a good man and for the most part be allowed to rejoin society, but bro just couldn't do it. The number of executions the inquisition actually did was a lot less than we would think; it was usually reserved for wandering preachers, big religious leaders who were trying to get a schism going, etc.

The Return of Martin Guerre is interesting because its “plot” is basically 1-to-1, almost adapted into Pentiment’s character of Martin Bauer. The book was written by Natalie Zemon Davis, a historian and advisor to the French film of the same name based upon the real-life historical figure of Martin Guerre. After her experiences with the production, she decided to write a more “official” account of the story without the necessities of a 3-act structure and cinematic storytelling. Martin Guerre was a peasant in what is now modern-day Basque Country (part of Spain and France) who one day disappeared from his town and, unbeknownst to them, went off to Spain to join the army and eventually got wounded in battle during the Italian wars of the mid-16th century. Meanwhile, a man claiming to be Martin Guerre who bore an uncanny resemblance to the man arrived in Martin’s home town and, after some initial skepticism, was able to slide into his old life through his appearance and seemingly access to knowledge that only the real Martin Guerre could know. It also highlights that under the law of the time, Martin’s wife would not be allowed to remarry, and the way in which women were treated, her standing in society, and her ability to fend for herself were adversely affected by having an abandoned husband. Even worse, the real Martin could have died off in battle, but even this would not necessarily be enough to be able to remarry unless she could somehow prove her husband had been killed. It's not surprising then that she may have been, let’s say, willful to “be fooled” by the impostor, knowing that this was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to solve her situation. Even more so after “Martin” received his deceased father’s inheritance and greatly increased the wealth of his household.

In Pentiment, Martin Bauer similarly runs off during Act 1 after stealing from the murdered baron and “returns” before Act 2 to take over the household after the death of his father. If pressed, you can uncover the fact that this man is actually Jobst Farber, a highwayman who ran off with Martin and eventually, when he died, used his resemblance to the man to take over his life. Similarly, in Pentiment, Martin’s wife Brigita seems consciously or unconsciously aware of the deception but begs Andreas not to rat him out of town, as he’s been a much better husband than Martin ever was, and in a purely utilitarian sense, his identity theft is seemingly the best outcome for everyone. If one remembers Act 1’s Ottilia Kemperyn, households without children or men to inherit property are very much unprotected, and it's easy to see why Brigita prefers to turn a blind eye to this Farber character’s lies. In the real-life case of Martin Guerre, the prosecution was initiated by Martin’s father-in-law who suspected foul play, but “Martin”’s wife was supportive of her impostor husband. Indeed, what ended up resulting in his execution was actually the return of the real Martin Guerre to the town, who, amusingly enough, seemed less able to answer the questions of the judge in regards to information that the real Martin Guerre would know than the fake one! Thankfully for the wife, sometimes misogyny works out in women’s favor, and she was essentially unpunished (and the real Martin Guerre was reprimanded for abandoning his wife and family) for what could have been considered adultery and false witness with essentially the old “ah well, she’s a woman, it makes sense her feeble mind would be fooled by a talented huckster like this” argument. Not as much of a happy ending for the impostor who got executed but was surprising apologetic, much like Martin Bauer is if you accuse him of murdering Otto Zimmerman during Act 2 of Pentiment.

The final book, I’ll admit, is one that I basically skimmed because it was really fucking boring, and I already read a biography of Albrecht Durer a while back, so a lot of it was just stuff I already knew. It was worth owning, if nothing else, A3 copies of Durer’s famous works. Albrecht Durer informs the character of Andreas quite a bit (though he is also a bit William of Baskerville and Andrei Rublev); indeed, his Act 1 design is heavily inspired by a famous Durer self-portrait. They are both painters from Nuremberg; they both (in Act 2) seem to really dread returning to their wives, which they hate back in Nuremberg; and during the lunch with Brother Sebhat, when a kid is having the concept of different ethnic groups and skin colors existing, Andreas chimes in that in the Netherlands he saw art from the New World that was greater than anything Europeans had ever done, echoing Durer’s admiration for New World art in particular made of metal; him being the son of a goldsmith, it makes sense he’d feel particularly fond of such things.

The use of Durer’s famous Melancholia 1 painting is a key aspect of Andreas’ character journey. In Act 1, his inner psyche is depicted as a court composed of King Prester John (a mythical figure in European folklore often thought of as the Ethiopian emperor), Beatrice from the Divine Comedy, St. Grobian, and Socrates. Whenever Andreas is debating a difficult decision, they can be called upon to give their two cents in a sort of id, ego, and super ego-type arrangement. In Act 2, however, it is only Beatrice who gives advice, her moderation and temperance having devolved into self-doubt and fear. At a key point, Andreas finds his court trashed and all absent safe for Beatrice, sitting in the pose of the famous aforementioned melancholia print: “Now I am all that remains, the melancholy of life’s autumn,” a manifestation of essentially a mid-life crisis for Andreas after becoming a successful artist but feeling hollow inside. Its fitting as well given the beliefs about mental health, a common conception of artists and creatives at the time as “melancholics," and a conception of depression and mental illness as markers for creative genius that sadly persists to this day.

4500 words later, and I'm both embarrassed by how long this has been and frustrated by how much more I could have gone into details on each of the entries, but I think that's enough for now. If anything, I hope this encourages anyone who’s played pentiment to check out one of the books and maybe draw their own connections I might have missed or forgot to include. Whenever I think about what differentiates a 5-star game from a 4.5- or 4-star game, I think this is it. A 5-star game will get me to read six books totaling probably like 1000+ pages. I’m currently reading through The Brothers Karamazov as part of The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa’s readable books list (so far I’ve read Winesburg, Ohio, Confessions of a Mask, and Rumble Fish), and maybe I’ll write a similar piece at some point for each (though bear in mind I started reading the first book in this collection a year ago, so y'know).

Finally went back and finished the one that started it all, the OG Fallout 1 from 1997. Its rare for me to go back to a game I dropped, even rarer still for me to actually finish it on a second time around, but I guess this franchise is just built different. Not going back to finish F3 anytime soon though.

There's a simplicity to Fallout 1 which I appreciate. I didnt miss that many quests simply because there aren't all that many. Certainly part of the reason for it is the game's dev cycle led to a whole lot of cut content, but it also means the game doesn't outstay its welcome.

The pre-rendered art deco buildings set atop the grimy post apocalyptic desert's earthy tones look great. Time has not been kind to the game's proportions, in regards to modern displays, a lot of the text is poorly readable and so much of the game is squinting at which indistinct background detail I have to click on to continue, but compared to later entries there is a more inmediate sense of scale and scene that the isometric perspective allows.

The game has a really weird difficulty curve. I am of the opinion that in RPGs areas shouldnt be scaled for the player, but the nature of the overworld grid system and random encounters means there is often one single tile of difference between being jumped by weak ass mole rats who can't even tickle you and a super mutant deathsquad who will fuck your shit up really quickly. I guess thats part of the fun, but I like the approach of New Vegas' relatively signposted dangers tempting new players to be mauled by deathclaws if they rush for Vegas early on.

What was most disappointing, other than the various bugs (one of which locked me out of hardened power armor, because the Boneyard main quest is beyond fucked) was that skill checks were often dice rolls. Now, I'm not so ignorant as to not know why this is; its a CRPG, it owes its DNA to GURPS and D&D and the like, the traditional tabletop roleplaying games where its often about using literal dice to roll for skill checks and whilst I have only played these games a handful of times, I don't think they translate very well to videogames in a literal sense. Maybe this is blasphemy, given the influence they have had on videogames, but when you're playing these games, often the excitement and intrigue comes more from the social aspect and the very literal human game master who is making sure that the results are abided by. Even then, there are re-rolls and stuff like that. These types of dice rolls CAN be used well, for e.g in Disco Elysium where often times failing can lead to just as if not more interesting outcomes than succeeding them, but here they feel kinda token at times.

Case in point, what exactly is the point in levelling up my repair/science skill or whatever if I can just infinitely try until I succeed? Sometimes there is a consequence for repeatedly fucking up checks like a locker rigged with explosives (and I think maybe if your required skill is too low certain options are not even possible to do?) but more often than not there is nothing. You just keep trying until you suceed, which isnt even save scumming, its just, scumming I guess.

Watching interviews on this topic, including GDC talks, there is an interesting evolutionary lineage of how these RPGs handled stuff. Josh Sawyer didnt work on F1 but definitely played it. In Fallout 3 again the skill options are dice rolls but are also visible, you are knowledgeable of exactly what options you can use to advance the situation in dialogue. This trades in a lot of mystery and perhaps the interesting dynamic of not knowing which options are "best", whilst also making save scumming even more viable, but also makes the player more clued in and feel rewarded for their particular build, even if in practice, a 99% speech and 1% speech characters can both pass the check with enough tries. It also removes a slight annoying aspect of 1 wherein if you dont have enough speech or barter or whatever, you will straight up not know if you can actually pass the check, and you'll wonder if there is any point in thinking about any of your choices if the "correct" ones will always be locked away opaquely.

Fallout New Vegas in my opinion improves upon 3 by making them binary threshold checks, which instantly makes build choices so much more instantly satisfying and understood by the player. Not to say that full transparency is the apex of game design, but in the case of what an RPG like Fallout is trying to do, I think it works best. There are numerous skills which help in solving quests through dialogue, not just speech, barter, medicine, intelligence, etc. Its definitely a system which can be improved however, on replay, speech is just far and away the "solve quest" button and running a non speech character nigh on demands either extreme violence or copious use of drugs and armor to make up the difference, and the transparency of it all can kinda ruin the magic, especially when you learn most quest's "optimal" solution after a few runs (though admittedly I have 500 hours in FNV so I guess its fair enough that I know it inside and out)

Disco Elysium came out and whilst it went back to rolls, the games design feels much more conscious of why it works for table top, with skills being their own characters, seemingly non-signposted dialogue choices being counted, rerolls allowed on levelling up certain skills, leading to an attitude of "well, Ill just come back later" rather than reloading a save and the general vibe of the game being one of comical failure being overcome. Most importantly, certain dicerolls being weighed by seemingly inconsequential dialogue options which are shown to the player, is a brilliant system. Not only because it makes you very careful about what you will say and it keeps some of the opaqueness that keeps the game fresh, but at the same time makes the player feel like they have greater agency over the capricious dice rolls.

Pentiment took this last innovation and honestly, it rules. Steal shit if its good man, thats how game design works. It also improves greatly upon FNV by making the RPG skills not inmediately "solve" the issues facing the player. Even though its a very accesible and easy game, there are many really tough challenges like getting on Martin's good side, or convincing sister illuminata to hand over the tome, which if you use certain skill traits will just straight up fail you. Surprise surprise, a 15th century artist making passes at a married woman doesn't go over too well. Indeed, the illuminata check requires you to both acknowledge the struggles of women in the early modern period whilst also putting yourself as the player in the shoes of religious people of the era. "Knowledge is inherently valuable and good"? Nu-uh she doesn't give a shit, this tome could be considered heretical and be bad for the soul. Simply by how these mechanics work, Pentiment is able to get the player to humanize and empathize with people from the past who's lives and viewpoints feel so alien to us via what is essentially a VN with RPG elements. Realistically, if you have the "law" trait making you knowledgeable of imperial law and use it, 90% of the time its met with "shut the fuck up you fucking nerd". Its so fucking good dude, it stands on the shoulders of giants from what feels like a conversation between designers of 1->3->NV->De->Pentiment. Sidenote, Ive actually read through all of the books in the Pentiment reading list, and I think when Im done with uni stuff I'll replay and write some overlong comparative analysis.

Oh shit, I was talking about Fallout 1 wasn't I? Err, okay what else? I did quite liberal use of save scumming, but that feels almost intended to some extent. The combat isnt particularly satisfying or interesting, especially at first when its just 2 groups of people missing 90% of their shots until someone hits a crit. Eventually things click, and somewhat begrudgingly I will admit that the contrast in combat between the initial start and more fluid endgame with miniguns and rocket launchers (on the fastest combat speed of course) were effective in making the latter feel more substantially evolved from the former. I do wish that companions were more fleshed out than just "here's a guy, he shoots people you don't like now" and more to the point GOT OUT OF MY FUCKING WAY WHEN IM TRYING TO MOVE THROUGH A BUILDING, but then this WAS the first game and budgets were low. Its also funny how weirdly the Voiced NPCs are spaced. Theres a guy in the hub with a single quest who then says absolutely nothing else (loxley) and then Im pretty sure there are none in the Boneyard unless I missed something. All that dispute between the Blades and regulators and the gun runners? No voices for you I guess. Originally one of the reasons why I dropped F1 was that the game's personality was hard to gauge when so many of the game's technical restraints seemed to make everything kinda bland, with identical looking mfers with in all honesty not super defined character voices. I think what really sold me on the game was actually having a full conversation with series regular Harold the ghoul, its an endearing performance and probably my personal highlight of the game. All in all, F1 has enough of the good to balance the bad, and Im certainly appreciative of the series it spawned, even if Im not entirely in love with it.

BTW, I wish I could go back in time and erase Monty Python from existence. Old fallout is like patient 0 for how that shit got run into the ground.

There are games you finish and don't know what to say because they are so unremarkable, and then there are games like 1000x resist where I sit at my computer inmediately after thinking how exactly I could do the game justice without just playing it again whilst taking notes.

I'll try to be brief, but what 1000x resist's sci fi narrative adventure game brings to the table is that its not only dense as hell plot and theme wise, feeling almost like an adaptation of some acclaimed novel, whilst also having stylistic flourishes that are both impressive and also feel purposeful in a way that a higher budget game probably wouldn't. They made a game this visually striking with what feels like cardboard sets and a few unity shaders. The starkness of the environment design and the various shifts of perspective from over the shoulder to first person to top down to side scroller in a way that feels elegant rather than whiplash to the extreme.

The credits have the usual indie game thing where one guy was Modeler, Texturer, Writer, Designer, Costum Designer, Chef, Lawyer and Defender of the Innocent. The game is so impressive as someone who does 3D modelling myself, I have taken a bunch of screenshots of the game simply because I love how they look. One small ass team somehow puts most AAA games I've played to shame in the visual department.

Thats not to say the game's budget or lack thereof doesn't become apparent with the lack of facial animation. Of course the game understands this to some extent, hence the choice of making the sisters require masks to breathe and be clones of each other (hence, only like 5 or so models had to be rigged up) but thats what taking advantage of your limitations is all about.

Story wise, its again hard for me to really comment because its dense but in a way that all great narratives are, like say, Moby Dick or The Truman show, which are enjoyable both at surface level and on a deeper read of the symbolism. Not everything worked for me, and the resolutions of the endings could have perhaps been more elegant, as well as all the Hong Kong stuff carrying the stench of liberalism about it (Incidentally the cops of the provisional government being called the Red Guard was really on the nose) but the game is otherwise so engaging that I don't mind. Strong personal contender for GOTY, it and Extreme Evolution : Drive to Divinity are the front-runners for me.