ARTE, a Franco-German TV channel that features several documentaries and films, also makes games. According to GamesIndustry.biz, ARTE experiments with video games as a new way to tell documentary-style stories. Their current catalog consists of Vectronom, Vandals, Californium, Type: Rider, Homo Machina, Alt-Frequencies, A Fisherman’s Tale, and Bury me, my Love. Recently, a branch of the company, ARTE France, teamed up with La Belle Games to create The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature. As the title suggests, it’s a game adaptation of Mary Shelley’s iconic work. One which places you in the role of Frankenstein’s Creature. It received an Honorable Mention for Best in Play at GDC 2019, where it also had a demo available to the public.
Seeing the World Through Newborn Eyes
The GDC demo had a unique and beautiful look, but its beginning was initially confusing, with visuals gradually fading into existence unexplained. ARTE project manager Adrien Larouzée encouraged me to just keep going and explained the reasoning behind the link between visuals and gameplay mechanics. The game follows the Creature’s perspective of experiencing the world for the first time—hence initially blank, white space slowly filling up with more color and detail as the Creature walks forward and learns more about his surroundings.
“[We] wanted to do something really emotional with background unlocking,” Larouzée said. He added that players will experience the game differently through how they reveal the background during their playthrough.
During the demo, Larouzée also encouraged me to pause, to better see things as they settle down and solidify. He said the Creature can see things better when he pauses, while things are harder to see with clarity if he just keeps pushing forward.
“[We] wanted to pay tribute to the original version of Frankenstein, which is really far from what pop culture knows as this little green monster,” Larouzée said adding that the “original story [is] more about [a] child in [the] body of [an] adult trying to understand the world.”
Surrounding an Anniversary
According to Larouzée, ARTE wanted to revisit Shelley’s original book, especially since last year was its 200th anniversary. He thought it made sense to go back and explore it.
While ARTE did honor the anniversary of the book last year by making a documentary on Frankenstein, Larouzée said the documentary writer was also working on the game adaptation of Frankenstein at the same time.
This likely led to Larouzée describing the two productions as “intrinsically tied” together. He explained that ARTE’s documentary was more about how Hollywood handled Shelley’s book. ARTE’s game is complimentary because it goes back to that original book.
The Wanderer isn’t the first Frankenstein game developed by ARTE and La Belle. They also collaborated on Frankenstein: Birth of a Myth, a prequel to The Wanderer that is currently available to play online for free. (Alpha Beta Gamer on YouTube even has a playthrough of the game.)
In this prequel, players take on the role of the Creature’s literal creator—Mary Shelley herself. In the game, you have to help Shelley tell her story. If you don’t, her peers will silence her instead and her story will go unheard.
Write Your Own Ending
“[We] hope people realize how deep Frankenstein actually is,” Larouzée said.
He elaborated on this, saying that Shelley’s book talked about medicine; the role of religion; the relationship with life and death; humanity, and what does it mean to be human. “Those were all topics in the book that were never approached in the movies, ” Larouzée said.
He added that the book is less about a monster and more about humanity and identity crisis. In fact, Larouzée said the game will be a “quest for identity.” He shared that questions Shelley raised in her book are topics “that we mimic here [in the game].”
Larouzée said that there will be some changes in the story. Primarily because players get to choose for Frankenstein’s Creature. For example, when faced with a gathering mob, they can make him either just shout, or literally retaliate against them.
“Did you choose to kill at some point?” Larouzée asked, pointing to another decision players can make in the game.
Building A Better Monster
Player choice can lead to small branches in the plot. Larouzée said that players can “unlock different emotions,” like joy or pity. This can lead to entirely different endings for players to discover. Larouzée said that one conclusion should follow Shelley’s original novel, while others will depend on playstyle.
While there have been other game adaptations of Frankenstein—and some have even put players in the role of the Creature—The Wanderer feels different. It’s not just the watercolor-like visuals that make it distinct. Outside of a brief reflection in a lake toward the end of the GDC demo, the game currently avoids showing a full reveal of the Creature. Instead, he remains cloaked. It’s a choice that feels like a unique twist on the story of Frankenstein’s Creature. The game’s emphasis on how the Creature is new to the world also adds to that.
The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature is scheduled for a fall 2019 release on PC/Mac, mobile, and Nintendo Switch.