Obsidian Entertainment’s newest game, Pentiment, is titled From the term pentimento, the change an artist makes while painting. Its origin is the Italian word pentirsi
, meaning to change one’s mind or to repent. Pentiment is intended to show history, like oil on canvas, which can be obscured and then rediscovered or forgotten.
This critically acclaimed game is set in 16th century Holy Roman Bavaria, which is now part of Germany. Players control Andreas Maler, a college-educated skilled artist who has been involved in a series of murders and scandals in the fictional locations of Kiersau Abbey and Tassing over a period of more than 25 years. Inspired by Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose
, the game tries to capture the texture of history, the font and the ink, just like Eco’s novels. Traces, manuscripts and engravings woodblock prints.
Well, it’s a passion project from game director Josh Sawyer, who is probably best known for being loved
Fallout New Vegas , and a nostalgic and groundbreaking modern isometric RPG Pillars of Eternity
. On Twitter and IRL, he is passionate about the background of the Pentiment, an epic period of technological and social upheaval that began with the Reformation and finally introduced the Heliocentric model of the Copernican solar system. , WIRED joins Sawyer on Zoom to talk about Eco, murder mysteries, double abbeys, and what this newer art form might tell us about early modern history. He also recommended some good books.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Connection: I am right
Josh Sawyer: In college I studied Early Modern History. I love the transition period between the late medieval and early modern times because society is changing so much. Change religious institutions, academic institutions, social structures. Capitalism began to emerge barely. There are a lot of cross-cultural encounters as trade brings people all over the world. So this period has always been interesting to me just because of everything that’s been going on.
The Middle Ages are often misunderstood, right?
People think of the Middle Ages as a long, uninterrupted period of nothing happening, or just wars or whatever Woolen cloth. But over the course of several centuries, towards the end of this period, there is a big peak and change. So that’s always been fascinating to me. Also, my family history: my grandmother was born in Bavaria. So there’s a lot of things that make it a better fit for me than other parts of history, and it’s something that I personally have an affinity for.
Why are there so many historical games, what do you think?
I think it’s funny that we’re asking this now when the actual drought has been going on for a long time. History contains all the cool stuff that ever happened. It’s easy to construct fantastic worlds and stories from well-researched historical settings. When done right, I think players appreciate that they’re immersed in something that reflects the real world we live in.