Hindsight is a pensive journey where players follow a hero who walks into the house they grew up in. Memories, a mixture of reality and fantasy, live within these objects, and they return rushing back as the hero looks through them.
Throughout my playing career, it was the mechanism of looking at these things that amazed me. Moreover, the vibrant color palette, accompanied by a beautiful soundtrack, will keep players immersed in the world of indie games.
I’ve had the good fortune to engage with Joel MacDonald, creator of Hindsight, and Emma Kidwell, Hindsight’s narrative designer, picking their brains as to the development journey, their effects, the “hole” mechanics, and what the future might hold.
Hindsight developers discuss standalone title story, mechanics, and more
Q) To start, can you describe our readers’ hindsight?
Joel: Imagine you’re visiting the house you grew up in, picking up old books, dishes, toys… all these things that are closely related to your memories of when you were a kid… and suddenly you’re able to penetrate these things into the memories associated with them.
Hindsight explores what that feeling would be like and how it can change our perspective on things.
Q) The story of hindsight felt very personal, especially when it came to the relationship one shared with one’s mother and how much they really knew her. What prompted you to tell such a story?
Joel: It all started with the simple mechanism of looking through these object-shaped portals. This led us to explore the kinds of situations where you might go through a lot of things, which naturally led us to tell the story of someone who came home to clean up a parent’s belongings.
Memory isn’t as simple and straightforward as we often think, so we also wanted to explore the subjectivity of memory and how we gain perspective on things that happened to us over time.
whatever: A major influence on how I write about Mary’s relationship with her mother has been the preconceptions I had about my mother when I was young and did not yet know her as her own. It was an opportunity for self-reflection and growth that I was able to explore in more detail.
Q) What is the inspiration and influence behind making hindsight, a story-based study on relationships and memories?
Joel: Early on, one of the biggest influences was Terrence Malik’s film, Tree of the lifewhich examined American family relationships circa 1950 while also zooming in all the way to the scope of the universe.
His explorations of man and nature, God and grace, were interesting to me, having grown up religious. But it was the film’s tone, more than anything else, that really inspired the early trend we set for hindsight.
An influence that came later in the development process was Michele Zoner’s highly poignant memoir, Crying at H-Martwhere she recalls her Korean mother, their close but complex relationship, and her mother’s ultimate battle with cancer.
Our story has actually been going in that direction for a while, exploring the burdened mother-daughter relationship between two cultures. But it was definitely helpful to be able to “compare the notes” and make sure we were honest.
Emma: Hindsight’s story has changed throughout production, but one thing that has always seemed to be the relationship between mother and daughter. When we discovered the idea that Mary’s cultural background would reflect mine, I felt this responsibility to ensure that everything she wrote was handled with care and accuracy.
I’m really fortunate to have been given the space to help create this story and influence key parts of it. Halfway through the development, my life began to mirror the story of hindsight, and it greatly affected how I wrote of Mary as she got older. It gave me a perspective that I didn’t really have until I was living it.
Q) What was the developmental journey behind the title like, especially the mechanism of changing perspectives, juxtaposition, and using different objects as windows to flashbacks?
Joel: As mentioned earlier, development really started with the single-core mechanic for object-shaped gates, or “slots”. I had been working on a couple of previous projects exploring time jumping, but was looking for a low-level mechanic that could be a way to navigate between time periods or memories.
I think it finally “clicked” for me because I’ve been having a lot of double exposure photos and illustrations – I realized that this double-photo effect can be a form of exploration…a way to transport you through time.
Q) While playing the game, I have found that the soundtrack and art style of the game are an integral part of the player experience. Was this something that was intended and planned from the start?
Joel: I think we knew from the start that we would need to rely on the visual and audio elements to do a lot of the heavy lifting and that they would make up the majority of the players experience. So pretty early on, I started talking to Kyle Preston, the composer who also did the Prune soundtrack.
I couldn’t really imagine anyone else doing the music besides him, so I was excited when he fell for it again. For the art style, we wanted to make it very simple and minimal looking at the small team we have, and we also wanted to emphasize the sentiment over the details.
Our primary focus was on the outlines, how colors and lighting can communicate the mood and feel of different memories.
Q) How have players reacted since launch?
Joel: It was really positive overall! The people who played it seemed to appreciate what we were aiming to do with the game. I’ve heard of players doing things like calling their mom after playing, which is pretty cool. The best thing that could happen is if the game had a small impact on the players’ lives, perhaps changing their view a little bit about what’s important in life.
Having said that, it would still be great to have the game accessible to more people! I think there’s a large audience of people who don’t traditionally play games but who would join something like this, so we’re still hopeful that we can reach those people.
whatever: It’s really humbling for someone to reach out to say the game has affected them, and I hope we can reach more people as well. Since hindsight is so easily accessible narratively, I want more people to get their hands on it and try something they wouldn’t otherwise.
Q) Have you started working on any new projects or will you return to the realm of hindsight in the future?
Joel: Personally, I’m taking a break after four years of development. Hoping to focus on family first for the foreseeable future, rather than jumping into any new projects right away.
But having said that, I think there is still a lot of untapped potential in the “slot” mechanism, both as a means of storytelling and also as a puzzle mechanic.
During development there were a lot of trends that we discovered that didn’t make it to the final game but were definitely interesting in their own right. It’s too early to say if I’d like to explore this further in the future, but I’d like to see the mechanic used in new and different ways, either by myself or by a completely different developer.
whatever: If you need a Joel writer, you have my contact information.
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