Some games tell a story. Others embrace a storyline, and shape themselves around the narrative. And then, there is Evangeline, which is itself the story. Instead of making you a spectator, it invites you to breathe, feel, and experience the tale that it tells as its protagonist.
Evangeline is a first-person experience game that explores in depth the concepts of loss and love, and the tethered links between them. The game, which is available for Windows, OSX and Linux systems, was developed and published by Raconteur Games. The Louisiana-based studio prides itself in telling stories - a facet that shows itself abundantly in Evangeline.
The game's story centers around a somber subject - death. There are very few experiences that are more emotive than the ultimate loss. However, it is from one such disgrace that Evangeline came to be, as Nicholas Laborde - the CEO of Raconteur Games - explained to Game Lens.
In 2016, Nicholas lost his grandfather. Some people grieve in silence. Others turn to writing, or another form of art, such as video games. That episode spurred Nicholas to create an homage for his late grandfather.
As Nicholas himself conceded, creating this tribute was not simple. With it came "pressure to produce something that would honor his memory and be so personal." Nicholas' vision included "making something that anyone can understand and relate to, [which] was the biggest, heaviest challenge." The best candidate to achieve this goal was a video game. Thus, Raconteur Games started working on the project that eventually became Evangeline. There was one hiccup though - Nicholas is no normal game developer.
"It's a game that feels very personal, you know? But you don't want to make it so personal that people can't relate to it. I think we ended up striking the perfect balance."
Nicholas does not know how to code, and neither create artistic assets. Conversely, his forte is telling stories, which is behind Raconteur Games' name. Nevertheless, within his studio he found the necessary strength to overcome the obstacles. Understandably, creating Evangeline was no mean feat, both on a personal and a professional level.
Above all Evangeline would not only be a tribute to Nicholas' grandfather, but also a tool of inspiration. Yet creating something so intimate meant that Raconteur Games had to strike a fine balance between the professional and personal boundaries.
The result is not a video game that presumes to answer the profound questions that it poses. To the contrary, it leads the players to discover the questions and their answers for themselves.
Setting the Scene
Evangeline takes place in the mid-80's. Players open their eyes to a dimly-lit garage. Visible outside is the small microcosm of a quiet, colorful American neighborhood. Already, it is obvious that something is not quite right.
First, the color fades away. The once brightly-painted facades give way to a somber, grayscale hue. Stepping out into the world does little to brighten up the day. Instead, it serves to accentuate the feeling of isolation.
On one side of the street is a stationary moving truck, with a sofa hanging out onto the pavement. Although the parked cars and vibrant colors seem to claim that the place is not abandoned, reality tells another story. Yet even in such a grim world, hope lies in wait.
In this stern world, very little is as inviting as a sliver of color. The gameplay of Evangeline consists of looking around, seeking the sweet spot where dull gray is replaced by a merrier hue. And it is those havens that serve as an indication of the daily objective.
At its core, Evangeline is simple. The game plays to a melancholic soundtrack composed by Ari Fisher that does its job skillfully. Sitting in the shadows, the musical accompaniment does not intrude on players. Instead, it naturally shifts players' attention to the task at hand, and with good reason.
Part of the experience of Evangeline is the concept of exploring the world for yourself. To this end, the VR-enabled game does not take players by the hand. Instead, participants take on the unassuming role of the protagonist. They start every day in the humble beginnings of a garage, in quest of completing the most basic of tasks. And it does not get much better. At least, not for some time.
"In Evangeline, you're going through these motions and routines and mundane tasks. The days begin with color, and then it's drained until you notice the thing we want you to notice."
Every day comes with a short title that hints to the objective that players must complete. Looking at the subject of the daily errand spills color over the world in Evangeline, serving as the sole indication of what players must do.
The choice of using color to guide players is an interesting decision, to say the least. The feature takes the center stage throughout the experience. Moreover, Raconteur Games optimized the game to accommodate a variety of color-blind players - a sign of reliance.
The inspiration for this comes from a recent trend of coloring in old photos, which has taken prominence on Reddit. As Nicholas himself put it, "when you see a photo of US president Abraham Lincoln meeting with a general in 1863 in full color, it doesn't feel like 150 years ago. It feels far more real simply because it's colored." Thus Raconteur Games uses colors as means to make even the littlest of things seem palpable.
In Evangeline, every day feels like a reflection of reality. When players open their eyes, they experience the vibes of a fresh start. In contrast, as participants settle into their routine, and life becomes monotonic again, everything goes by in a rush. The colors, Nicholas explained, are drained until "you notice the thing we [Raconteur Games] want you to notice."
In spite of the novelty of the game's core, the game will inevitably make you question the errands. Days blend into one another, and become inseparable - a list of mundane tasks with no clear end goal. The more adventurous players will look deeper, past the run-of-the-mill errands. They will examine every note, read every listing in the newspaper, but nothing works - the monotony remains unbroken. For a studio that specializes in story telling, the game may seem to be lacking in the very aspect that should to make it shine. However, that all changes on the last day.
Love Perched on Balconies
From taking out the trash to picking up the mail, at the end of each day the colors lead to a mysterious location. Indeed, the only stimulating chore is the daily trip beneath a well-kept balcony, populated with a solitary blue vase. It is under this terrace that the game picks up.
Evangeline reaches its climax on the last day of the week. The experience game lulls you into a state of acceptance of its normalcy before delivering the final blow. On the fateful last day, the door beneath the balcony is ajar, hailing visitors in. And that is where the brunt of the story hits the unsuspecting player.
"Life can be a big routine where we go through the motions, but sometimes that routine is broken and it hits you like a train, such as the death of a loved one. I see these as "growing older" moments, and that's what I hoped to convey at the end of Evangeline."
In a game like Evangeline, nothing happens by accident, in particular the shock with which players discover the apex of the experience. Nicholas explained to Game Lens how every intricate decision is an ingredient that works towards inspiring players. This meant that one of the main challenges was putting players within the singular, personal experience of its creator. To this end, Raconteur Games had to innovate, and the day-to-day errands were the necessary end result.
The mundane, everyday tasks serve as a distraction to the looming story that awaits to be discovered in the finale. As Nicholas put it, Raconteur Games "decided to pick these very mundane tasks as the bulk of the gameplay, because it reinforces the reveal at the end." It is in this way that Evangeline puts you face to face with the grim reality that Nicholas had to face - the loss of a loved one.
"You go about your routine, but a small detail begs to be noticed -- once you stop being caught up in your routine and notice it, your perspective is changed forever."
Raconteur Games designed Evangeline in such a way that players can complete it in one sitting. Nicholas explained how the game's length was chosen with a scientific basis in mind.
In the time that it takes to finish the experience, Evangeline prepares players for the conclusion by lulling them into a pretense of comfort. By capturing players' attention, Raconteur Games could bridge the gap between the tale and players, and drive home the game's message. The game development studio succeeded.
I will not explain what players find behind the unlocked door; that would not do Evangeline justice. Nor can I describe the experience. All I can say that it truly does knock the wind out of you.
"We wanted to keep players in the world of this game just long enough to tell them that the world is full of love, and that they should express their affection for their loved ones as soon as they can after finishing."
There is a certain weight associated with labeling a game as an experience. It comes with the expectation that players have to be made to feel something. Nevertheless, there is no story too personal to tell, and no experience too abstract to live, even if virtually; Raconteur Games has proven that.
In some ways, Evangeline is more than a video game - an elevated example of the role that games can play in the lives of many. Nicholas and Raconteur Games had one question that they wanted players to ask themselves - "if you could make one last call to a loved one, what would you say?" In reality, however, the game does not force that question down your throat.
Just like in any other emotional episode, players must figure out what to ask themselves. Almost certainly, however, the game will push players to find something to ask themselves. And that is what makes Evangeline a truly exceptional experience.
This article was made possible thanks to Raconteur Games, and especially Nicholas Laborde, who graciously accepted to answer Game Lens' questions. Evangeline was released on Steam for Windows, OSX and Linux on the 10th of February, 2017.