The director of ‘Pentiment’ wants you to know how his characters ate

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Latest from Obsidian Entertainment Game, Repentancederives its title from the term repentance, a modification made by an artist while painting. Its origin is the Italian word pentirsiwhich means to change your mind or to repent. Repentanceis to show how history, like an oil on canvas, can be covered up, then rediscovered or forgotten.

The game, which received rave reviews, is set in 16th-century Bavaria in the Holy Roman Empire, a region that is now part of Germany. The player takes control of Andreas Maler, a journeyman artist with a university education, involved for over 25 years in a series of murders and scandals that take place in the fictional locations of Kiersau Abbey and Tassing. Inspired by Umberto Eco The name of the rosethe game attempts, as Eco’s novel did, to capture the texture of history, the traces of font and ink, manuscripts and woodcuts.

So it’s a passion project for the game’s director, Josh Sawyer, who’s probably best known for the much-loved Fallout: New Vegasas well as the helm of the nostalgic and pioneering modern isometric RPG pillars of eternity. On Twitter and IRL, he beams with enthusiasm for Repentancea period of epic technological and social upheaval that began with the Reformation and ended with the introduction of Copernicus’ heliocentric model of the solar system.

To learn more about Repentance, WIRED took to Zoom with Sawyer to talk about Eco, murder mystery, double monasteries, and what this new art form could tell us about early modern history. He also recommended some very good books.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

WIRED: I’m interested in the relationship between Repentance and this time in history. Why 16th century Bavaria?

Josh Sawyer: In college, I studied modern history. I love the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern transition, because there are so many social changes going on. Changing religious institutions, academic institutions, social structures. Capitalism is just beginning to emerge. There is a lot of cross-cultural contact, because of the trade that brings people across the world. So this period has always been very interesting for me, just because of everything that happens there.

The Middle Ages is often misunderstood, isn’t it?

People think of the Middle Ages as this long uninterrupted period where nothing happens, or just wars or whatever. But there is a big spike and change throughout a few centuries, towards the end of the period. So it’s always been really fascinating to me. Also, my family history: My grandmother was born in Bavaria. So there were a lot of things that made it a more natural fit for me than other parts of the story, and that’s something that I personally have an affinity for.

Why are there so many historical games, do you think?

I think it’s funny that we’re asking this question now, when there’s been a real drought for a long time. History contains everything cool that happened. It’s easy to build fantastic worlds and stories from a well-researched historical context. When done well, I think players enjoy being immersed in something that mirrors the real world we live in.

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