by Julie Morley[dropcap]N[/dropcap]o matter how you slice it, storytelling is at the very core of Upper One Games’ recently released puzzle exploratory game Never Alone. Upper One Games and E-Line Media teamed together to create an astounding game concentrating on the culture, mythology, and history of the Inupiat Native Alaskan people, and it all tells a story. In multiple ways- through gameplay, environment, and the Cultural Insights documentary bits-a story is told via some beautiful artwork.
Taking a look at the concept art for Never Alone, the influence of Scrimshaw and the Inupiat Native Alaskan people’s culture really shows. Looking at the concept art the team created before development and comparing it to the fleshed out finalized game, the progression itself has a remarkable story to tell.
Just to say that Never Alone’s art style is beautiful really is downplaying it. Beautiful doesn’t quite do it justice. Never Alone’s in-game art style is crisp and semi-realistic 3D with a slight toon twist. Overall, it made me feel like I stepped into an animated film and through my screen, I’m accessing this old, delicate, and special world that just sucks the player in. The art style of the game itself strikes a sense of wonder and curiosity but most of all, it enchants the player with escapism.
Throughout Never Alone, the artwork alternates between two different styles: the storytelling and the actual 3D gameplay.
As explained in one of the games’ cultural insights videos, the Inupiat people relied on Scrimshaw (spelled Schrimshaw in some circumstances) for their storytelling to, as it communicated how important legends and myths were to their culture. Scrimshaw is a style of art and storytelling, and one of the main means the Inupiat told their stories. On Ivory or bone, natives carved ornate pictures that individuals can recite stories from. Scrimshaw’s design would typically be simplistic line-work that never overlaps but other cultures adopted the same medium in an art style alternative to it.
The storytelling sections of Never Alone that concentrate on Nuna’s journey are designed similarly to the Scrimshaw drawings/carvings, constructing the story as if read directly from pieces of ivory. This further enhances the feeling of living directly in a Scrimshaw story and solidifies the experience and cultural ties.
Taking a look at the beginning pieces of concept art, the influence of Scrimshaw is unmistakable; painting miscellaneous characters, mystical beings, and people in shadows as if directly taken off a piece of ivory itself. Interestingly enough, the concept art acts like a piece of Scrimshaw. Each piece, every portrait, follows a unique composition and organization of character positioning to indicate more than just a point in time or a small scene, but actually a story altogether. For example, the little men working together to move a boulder and escape from the ground below, remaining near the girl but not too close – just enough to keep an eye out.
Down the line, more fleshed out and realistic looking concept art surfaces and it’s striking, sharp at the focal points as the characters interact. Or at the island in the distance highlighted by the Northern Lights, yet they are encompassed in a blurry and fuzzy outline, almost presenting the concept art like a recalled memory. This concept art design further dances around the concept of storytelling in a more evolved, mature sense.
Beginning from the etchings of Scrimshaw and blossoming into a fleshed out, interactive experience, the art style of Never Alone moves in phases and progresses, just like that of a magnificent story, and unfolds a memory passed down through generations upon generations right before the player. It is nothing short of stunning, but also clever.[divider]