There's something wrong with the forest. No matter how bright the sun shines, it remains dark and foggy. It smells like something died. Strange noises fill the rusty air. Squeaks and screeches. The dull thump of someone chopping trees. The wind playing eerie melodies on ghostlike flutes.
Shivers run down her spine.
She just left the city. Cars can't drive here anymore. Mother told her to go visit grandmother. The old lady lives all alone at the other side of the forest. Quite a walk from here. It's probably best if she stays on the path...
The Path is a short horror game loosely based on the fairy tale of Little Red Ridinghood but set in modern times. It's especially the earlier versions of the tale that inspire Belgian developer Tale of Tales. Combined with a more contemporary psychological interpretation. In essence, The Path is a very sad and cruel game. It's about growing up. But it's far less optimistic than most such stories. It's about making choices. Choices that are unfair. Choices that inevitably lead to (self-)destruction. There is one rule in the game. And it needs to be broken. There is one goal. And when you attain it, you die.
"People who have already finished The Path will recognize some aspects of the Prologue," admit designers Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn. "It is similar to a certain part of the game. But not the same. A prologue should show what happened before the events in the story. But in this case, it may seem like it's showing things that happened after. A mystery that will make more sense after playing the full game. We didn't want to simply give away part of the game as a trial. We wanted to add something to the story instead. And give everybody something new to play with, including those who have already played the full game. But it does function as a free demo for the game: it gives users a taste of the atmosphere and a means to check if their computer can run our technology."
Since its release on 18 March, The Path was met with an impressive amount of high praise. And also an, albeit smaller, amount of passionate rejection. Some claim that the indie title is pretentious mumbo-jumbo and others see it as a veritable mile stone in the evolution of the medium. This controversy pleases the designers tremendously. They'd be worried if suddenly everyone would like their work. Tale of Tales explores the artistic potential of games technology. Sometimes this requires leaving behind all known territory and confronting the audience with the unusual, the unsettling, the sublime.
In The Path you get to play not one, but six incarnations of the famous female protagonist called the Red Girls, sisters, each of a different age and with a distinct personality. Each destined for devastation.
The Path is a game of exploration, discovery and introspection. Atmosphere and immersion are at least as important as any other element on the game. Designers Harvey and Samyn wholeheartedly embrace cutting edge 3D technology but reject the notion that it needs to serve some form of photographic or cinematic realism. They are in search of a beauty that is unique to the medium of realtime 3D, simultaneously recognizing its potential for simulation as its artificial, synthetic nature. "It's about what you feel, not what you see." is a favorite motto.
You control the avatar, but she also has a life of her own -directed by Drama Princess, a home-brew alternative AI system. The foliage on the trees turns out to be careful arrangements of gothic ornaments. What first seemed like sound effects, is in fact a continuously changing musical soundtrack -created by Jarboe. Random signs of decay on the screen become helpful hints for navigation. The entire forest feels natural but closer inspection reveals its artificiality. This is not the real world. You have entered a fabrication, a story, a memory, a dream.
This extends to the three dimensional environments as well. The main area of the game, the forest, is never the same. It is re-arranged every time you play. Things are in different places, objects appear and disappear. Giving the feeling of exploring a dream more than any factual reality. The same applies to the final destination of the protagonists. Grandmother's house changes according to what you have done in the forest. Furniture appears or moves. New rooms are added, put together in impossible ways. What seems like a cozy cottage on the outside, turns into a nightmarish labyrinth upon entry.
Painting with the aesthetic palette of realtime 3D rather than using the medium for the simulation of reality, The Path could not have been made without contemporary technology. Yet it clearly sets itself apart from any other Next Gen game. The hand of the artist shows. Sometimes messy and strange, sometimes verging on the sublime. Harvey and Samyn are not in complete control. A large part of the attraction of game technology is its potential to surprise. Rather than locking down the look of each and every scene, The Path contains systems that alter the aesthetics of the game in ways that the creators may not have expected. To some extent, the players themselves can decide what things look like. Walking down the path, for instance, changes the time of day. Depending on where you enter the forest, you will be wandering through a bright and misty environment or a dark and spooky one.
- play six different avatars with distinct personalities
- interact with autonomous characters driven by Drama Princess technology
- unique free-form gameplay: do what you want when you want it
- mix the music in realtime through in-game activity
- lose yourself in an endless forest filled with attractions and attrocities
The Path is currently available as digital download from the Tale of Tales website, Direct2Drive and Steam for only $9.99.