If upcoming indie game Dordogne looks a bit like a watercolor painting, that’s because, well, it is. In the game, players control a young French woman named Mimi visiting the home of her recently deceased grandmother. The characters and backdrops are all painted by hand before being scanned and implemented into the game. “We wanted something very pictorial, very rich, and very colorful,” explains director Cédric Babouche. “The idea of being able to feel the real warmth of this region, that the visual is already narratively very, very strong and focused on nostalgic memories.”
Dordogne is expected to launch next year on both Steam and the Nintendo Switch, and it’s described as a narrative adventure game. As Mimi explores her grandmother’s home and pastoral countryside, she’ll encounter letters, rediscover childhood memories, and fill up a sentimental journal. The goal, according to Babouche, was to create an experience that almost anyone could connect with.
“We wanted to tell a simple story that could resonate with as many people as possible. A story that allows everyone in the world to be connected to common situations,” he says. “Most people have experienced the joy, the fear, the excitement of meeting new people, going on an adventure with their camera or a notebook in their pocket, living new experiences while having fun. Thinking about all this, I remembered my childhood, all those moments spent with family in our home during the summer in the Lot (a region near the Dordogne). We have lived many incredible memories, and it is during these times that we build ourselves as a person and we create memories that we remember fondly years later.”
The game is being developed by Babouche’s indie studio Un Je Ne Sais Quoi, alongside French production studio Umanimation. Babouche — who has also authored children's books and won a Cannes award for animation direction — says the team originally started with a different project called Mr Tic Toc & the Endless City, “mainly for fun,” with the idea of creating something they could play with their kids. But as that project ballooned in scope, they decided to tackle something smaller for a first release.
Babouche says that the move from other forms of storytelling into something more interactive was fairly painless. “Each project deserves the media that suits it best,” he explains. “It is certain that for Dordogne, and for Mr Tic Toc (which we fully intend to develop right afterwards), a video game seemed to be the most suitable. This is why making the move into games felt only natural, as an author.”
When it comes to inspiration, Babouche cites a number of influences outside of games, including directors like Hayao Miyazaki and Terrence Malick, photographer Joel Meyerowitz, and painters Félix Vallotton and Edward Hopper. “Each of these artists has an enormous capacity to render poetry through light, framing and narration,” he explains. “In a picture, we are able to feel what they mean. This is what I would like to achieve with Dordogne: a game that can be identified at first glance.”
“More like a film that we can play”
Of course, the interactivity inherent in games adds a new wrinkle when it comes to creating those moments. In Dordogne, the goal is for players to uncover a story themselves through puzzles and interactive vignettes. But it’s also not a huge, open game where players can go anywhere or do anything.
“We have to find the best framing, the best light, the best narrative intentions to tell our story,” says Babouche. “This artistic approach is an important constraint but also a strength because it requires us to find the best options to tell our story, while allowing the player to enjoy playing it. In a way, Dordogne is more like a film that we can play, an interactive experience.”
There’s still some time before the game finally launches. Dordogne is expected to launch next year, but it doesn’t yet have a firm release date. When it does finally come out, though, Babouche has a fairly broad audience in mind: just about anyone. “It’s definitely an all-audiences, intergenerational game. A game that we hope will make parents want to take their children on their lap to share this moment.”