Spiritfarer is one of my favorite games of 2020, a cozy caregiving adventure about the afterlife, and as of last night there’s a new making-of documentary from Nick Calandra and his collaborators at Gameumentary Productions. In it, the developers explore some of the inspirations behind the game and the very personal experiences they drew upon to create a warm and reassuring experience with death.
“Spiritfarer is mostly like an open-ended question,” says art director Jo Gauthier. “What if we didn’t fear death as much?” Members of the development team at Thunder Lotus spent a lot of time talking through their personal stories about relatives and loved ones who had a profound impact on their life before moving on. It’s one of the most interesting aspects of Spiritfarer’s narrative.
“Eventually, as a team, those stories were sort of modified,” said marketing director Rodrigue Duperron. “But a lot of big pieces of people’s stories would be the main inspiration for some of these characters.” For example, Astrid, an assertive woman who dedicated her life to others and is represented as a regal lynx was inspired by the grandmother of creative director Nicolas Guérin.
There’s even a list of loved ones in Spiritfarer’s credits who are cited as inspirations for the team, but the team stresses that the spirits aren’t one-to-one “biographies,” as Gauthier puts it, of those people. For example, Gustav, the aloof and smug art curator was partly inspired by the great-grandmother of writer and level designer Alex Tommi-Morin, who was a sculptor as well as his own callow youth.
“Spiritfarer‘s style was kind of a huge journey for us because we had done Jotun and then Sundered, but we were in a very dark place in terms of theme and mood,” said Gauthier.
While the art style took “a lot of iteration,” they landed on an aesthetic inspired by Hiroshi Yoshida, a woodblock painter known as one of the masters of shin-hanga. Yoshida’s work communicated serenity and they drew upon that to create the cozy and homey texture that suffuses the overall Spiritfarer experience. “It’s about balancing the colors and what people feel about those colors,” said Gauthier.
Spiritfarer hit a sales milestone back in April, moving a reported 500,000 units sold across multiple platforms including Xbox. It is currently on Xbox Game Pass for both Console and PC. I can’t recommend this game enough. Its beautifully animated, wonderfully written and deals with sadness and regret in a way that feels warm and reassuring.
Granted some people I’ve spoken to have kind of bounced off the game due to the game’s management aspects. Not everyone is in for all the tasks spent in the kitchen, on the loom, in the foundry, etc. In the doco, Guérin admits the game isn’t for everyone. “To a degree, there are some moments that many players can feel are a bit of a drag, a bit long, the loops take time to kick in,” he said.
But he also offered that “repetitive is the point. Some players are bored, and I get it. But if you take the time to accept this, then you go into a state that’s much more in acceptance to the message.” […] “For me what’s important in the game is to have a takeaway from it. You play the game and then something should resonate with you not just as a player, but as a human being.”
There’s a whole lot more to discover and learn in the Spiritfarer making-of documentary, so you really should watch the whole thing. It’s got some questionable uses of stock footage in places where they could have used gameplay B-roll, but otherwise it’s great.