Passpartout 2 casts players as starving artists trying to make a living with their paintings. What you’ll paint is entirely up to you, as the game gives you a blank canvas, a suite of tools, and a striking world to find commissions and inspiration.
Game Developer sat down with Mattias Lindblad, CEO of Flamebait Games, to talk about creating a game about rediscovering a love of art (as players and as the game’s creators), the work that went into creating a seamless puppet theater-like world, and why it’s sometimes important to not understand how the systems work to truly enjoy an experience.
Passpartout 2 is your second run at putting players in the shoes of a starving artist. What interested you in creating a game about making art? What made you want to come back to this concept again?
Passpartout: The Starving Artist was our first game, and we made it while we were university students. After we released it, we felt incredibly burned out on the game and made a few other games to help us grow our game development skills and understanding. Two and a half years ago, we finally felt a spark of inspiration to develop a worthy sequel to the beloved Passpartout. We applied all our knowledge to elevate the quirky concept to the next level. Passpartout 2: The Lost Artist is about rediscovering the love of art, both for us as developers and the players.
Passpartout 2 features far more tools for players to create their artwork. What thoughts went into bringing the array of brushes, sprays, and colors into the game?
A lot of thought has gone into designing the various tools you can acquire. In essence, we wanted each tool to feel unique, accessible, inspiring, and fun. The end goal, which is also the game's overarching goal, is to inspire people to create art. We do this by giving each tool its own feel and flavor through various methods (something anyone who's made their own brushes in Photoshop will recognize), like texture and texture variation, opacity, flow, and stamping behaviors. On top of that, since it's a 3D game, we can add another level of material feel, both from the canvas itself as well as a sort of "wetness" that will make a few brushes feel even more physical.
The game gives players a great deal of freedom in the art they create. What appeals to you about encouraging players to cut loose and draw what they like?
Many designers tend to strive towards control to make sure that the player gets an enjoyable experience. There's something incredibly exciting to me to explore in giving the player immense freedom to engage with the game. I think what excites me about it is that it makes their playing experience unique to them. It gives them an extra sense of ownership over their experience and removes us as designers even more from being authors of their experience.
It's also incredibly scary to yield control to the player as it becomes harder and harder to know if they'll actually enjoy it. But I think it boils down to one of my core personal values: Trust. I trust my team to deliver an awesome experience, and I trust our players to create an awesome unique experience for themselves.
In-game characters will walk up and decide if they wish to buy the paintings you make. With players able to create almost anything, how did you design the systems that choose when an NPC will like some art and buy it? What thoughts went into creating the art-purchasing systems that fund the player?
The core idea of the game is to allow the player (almost) limitless creative freedom and put that through an opaque system that generates engaging and believable feedback. The fine-tuning of that opaque system and the writing of the feedback the NPC gives is key for the engaging experience where the player accepts that their art got critiqued by an art critic. I believe that what makes the system work so well is the opaque nature of it, so I'm afraid I won't be indulging you in any of the secret sauce.
In a way, I feel the Passpartout games have to engage in the act of convincing the player that the things they are experiencing are "real," more so than other games. In a shooter, you're not really getting shot in the face. In a horror game, you're not really getting chased by a scary monster. If you stop believing that what the game is telling you is true, the experience will fall flat. However, I feel that this is the true beauty of games—that they aren't real, often not even trying to be real, yet they are so believable and immersive. It's not a particularly original statement, but great designers make things that feel believable, not real.
Likewise, what thoughts went into the commission system and into making demands of the player when they can have varying skill levels?
The commissions the townsfolk offer serve the main purpose of inspiring players to create art. We saw with the first game that some players really struggled with the classic blank canvas syndrome. If we expect too much raw originality over a long period, it risks flowing over to feeling like a burden. With the commission system, we wanted to inspire the players by providing a slimmer framework for what they need to create. A smaller framework often helps you be more creative than an infinite one.
By linking each of the commissions to a story, we also aimed to give the player their own building blocks in creating their own artist’s story. The idea is that the more references they can draw upon based on the events in the game, the easier they can find inspiration when drawing freely. The commission system uses a similar opaque system as the regular art evaluation that I can't divulge further.
What ideas went into creating the environments and world of Passpartout 2, the striking dioramas that player will move through and explore, and into having some of these places open up like a dollhouse?
Passpartout has, ever since its inception, been sort of a puppet theatre. With Passpartout 2, we wanted to carry that feeling over, which is why we've put a lot of effort into making the entire game feel physical. The painting UI is a physical board attached to the camera that folds down, the dialogue UI is made up of little cardboard pieces that drop from the sky, etc. However, not everything was able to be made in this physical way, like the names above characters when hovering. To every rule, there's a compromise.
To add to this feel, we also wanted the camera to avoid cutting as much as possible, so everything feels like a single cohesive experience. That's why we opted to make the houses act like liftable dollhouses, to allow the player to step into an indoor environment without the need for any cut or loading screen. On top of that, it also looked so endearing with the buildings lifting themselves up (although it hasn't directly been a walk in the park to make that look and feel good). The scenery itself is also designed to inspire people to create art. Phénix, the town you're playing in, has a wide variation despite its small size to give the player varied impressions that we hoped would inspire their creativity.
The game felt very encouraging in my art creation, even though I am a terrible painter. It feels designed to make the player feel enjoyment from the craft of making art for its own sake. What thoughts went into capturing this love of creation in the game, as well as making an experience that inspires players to feel the same?
Everything in the game is put there to inspire you to create art, and it brings me great satisfaction that players feel that. The various tools and their ability to make a simple stroke feel like you're creating beauty, the colorful cast and town with their commissions, and even the various canvas types you'll discover as you play—everything is there to spark curiosity to try new things, to be inspired, to accept mistakes, and to keep painting. Passpartout 2 has been incredibly inspiring for us to make, and seeing players being inspired to create is creating this positive feedback loop where we feel even more inspired.