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

The latest from Obsidian Entertainment game, Repentancetakes its title from the term remorse, a change made by an artist while painting. Its origin is the Italian word to have remorsewhich means change your mind or repent. Repentance‘s aim is to show how history, like oil on a canvas, can be covered up, rediscovered or forgotten.

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

It’s a passion project, then, for the game’s director, Josh Sawyer, who is probably best known for the beloved Fallout New Vegasas well as at the helm of the nostalgic and groundbreaking modern isometric RPG pillars of eternity. He exudes enthusiasm on Twitter and IRL Repentance‘s setting, a time 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 find out more about RepentanceBecause of its eerie appeal, WIRED went on Zoom with Sawyer to talk about Eco, murder mysteries, double monasteries, and what this newer art form might tell us about early modern history. He also recommended some great 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: At university I studied early modern history. I like the late medieval and early modern transition because there is so much social change going on. Changing religious institutions, academic institutions, social structures. Capitalism is more or less starting to emerge. There is a lot of cross-cultural contact, because of trade that brings people all over the world. So this period has always been very interesting to me, just because of everything that’s going on.

The Middle Ages are often misunderstood, right?

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

Why do you think there are so many historical games?

I think it’s funny that we’re asking that now, when there was a real drought for a long time. History contains everything cool that has ever happened. It’s easy to build fantastic worlds and stories from a well-researched historical context. When done right, I think players appreciate being immersed in something that looks back at the actual world we live in.

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