January 10, 2014 3:33 PM | John Polson
"I think in the future we will have not only historical games surpassing historical films and novels, but being used in historical research as well," says Lucas Molina, creator of Painters Guild. Lucas is a history teacher in Brazil, a Master's student researching art history, and a lover of games. Combining all three passions together to make Painters Guild is a challenge he seems born for.
In the early alpha build, players manage a guild of painters as they try to create works of art and sell their masterpieces to customers before they storm off. Think Diner Dash in the Renaissance.
Lucas tells IndieGames that Painters Guild will be as historically accurate as possible. "Recreating historical systems is a great challenge, but I think it's also the best way to create a historical experience. I'm doing quite a bit of research, there's a list of my current bibliography here. I don't think games usually have bibliographies."
Like several of the real lives and relationships Lucas wishes to portray, the current version of the game has no happy ending. Da Vinci is always arrested due to his homosexuality if players reach that point in history.
Lucas explains, "Relationships were very important in the lives of the Renaissance painters. In this alpha, we can already see that. At the end, in 1476, Leonardo Da Vinci is arrested for having homosexual relations, which was against the law in Florence at the time. The homosexual relationships were the most controversial and caused the most trouble for painters, so you can see that hiring a homosexual painter can be troublesome for him and your guild."
Heterosexual relationships may also bring trouble to the guild. "Bernini slashed his lover's face when he found out his brother had an affair with her as well, and would've been arrested if he wasn't friends with the Pope. So this historical role of relationships must be present in the game."
Lucas plans on displaying the artist's sexuality in the game when players hire a new apprentice. Male and female artists can be heterosexual or homosexual. "There is a symbol next to the artist's name when you mouse over indicating their sexuality. The exact effects of this are still being designed, but sexuality will have an effect on relationships."
As he has invested a lot of research into art styles, there will be several in the game, and they will dictate if painters work well together or not. "Painters of the same style, when working on the same painting (as was common in the guilds of the Renaissance), will gain bonuses to represent them working together towards a single vision. Patrons often requested the paintings to be made in the master's style, so apprentices had to spend some time to be able to imitate the master. Styles will also influence the appearance of paintings." The art styles Lucas is focusing on right now are the major High Renaissance styles: Cangiante, Sfumato, Unione, Chiaroscuro, and Tenebroso.
Although the game is all about art and art history, Lucas says, "it's not about feeding history to the player as if reading a book. It's about giving the player the tools to rewrite history himself." Players won't see historical accuracy in a way that everything happens exactly as it happened in history. "Games are about interactivity, and there will be a huge degree of freedom for the player to make things happen in his own way."
He says the historical accuracy will be in the systems - hiring apprentices, training them, painting for patrons, advancing guilds, and more. "The player can then play with these systems however he wants. It's historically inaccurate within historically accurarate constraints."
Painters Guild on Steam Greenlight gives hints to a crafting system, which Lucas says is still in the early planning stages. "I have two reasons to put it in the game. One is diversifying the roles of your artists, so that you might have painters and crafters (who can do both but might specialize in one). This is historically accurate, as the guilds produced their own materials, usually by the apprentices (who mixed paints, prepared the canvases and such tasks).
"The other reason is to have something that lasts longer than artists and that can be passed down through the generations of painters. Your artists will die eventually and the items they crafted can stay in the guild and be given to the next generation of painters, making the player remember the great artists of the past through the items he passed on."
While the ingredients to the campaign sounds intriguing, Lucas feels the sandbox mode will be the true experience. "I like games without goals where I can set my own goals and just enjoy playing around in the universe created by the game's rules. It is not so much about the game telling the player a story, but about the player creating his own story using the game to do so.
"That is why I think there is infinite potential: it's not a linear experience that ends, but a few elements that you can rearrange in billions of ways. Like Legos. You can have a playthrough with a guild made only of Chiaroscuro painters from Venice, then try again with a guild of only of female painters older than 30, and always keep enjoying the game in different creative ways."
He feels customization is important for player expression. "Players will feel more connected to the game if they can put a bit of themselves in it, and this is made through choices. That's why I want to give players a lot of customization options."
Players will get a taste of this customization when the next alpha version launches around February. "It will focus on artists, you will be able to hire procedurally generated painters for your guild and train them to make them become the next Da Vinci. This will not be easy, of course, as you will need to deal with the indiscipline of the apprentices and try to get the most out of their unique potential."
Lucas has put much thought into the systems of Painters Guild, and as novel as it seems, it's not his first art-based game. Avant-Garde was a university project for him and was his first attempt at developing.
"I wanted to finish the entire game by the time the semester was over, but it turned out games are hard to make and especially hard to finish. So by the end of the semester I had an unfinished alpha that I showed to my teacher and also released publicly for free, since the point of that class was to make history more public in a creative way. I hoped to keep working on the game after the semester was over, but there were other classes in the next semester that required my focus. Thus Avant-Garde was put on hold and that is its current state. I wouldn't completely cancel it because I can always go back to it if I want."
When asked if Painters Guild could follow the same fate, he noted that nothing guarantees it will be finished. "That's how game dev is, even big games with immense manpower can have this fate (remember Starcraft Ghost, among others). Finishing games is tough, but since Avant-Garde I've gained a lot of experience, especially with game jams." These games include IndieGames-featured Eastward Quest, Just Silence, and GitHub Game-Off runner-up For King.
He hopes Painters Guild will be completed by July this year. "I'm confident in my ability to finish Painters Guild, especially since I've gotten such good support from the community. People want to play it and I really enjoy making it."