What happened to Marissa Marcel? That question lies at the heart of Immortality, the upcoming video game from Sam Barlow, creator of Her Story, and Half Mermaid, the production company behind Telling Lies. If you're unfamiliar with either of these fantastic independent releases, Barlow describes them as using "subtext and omission to make the player's imagination the engine of the experience." To put it another way: "A Metroidvania of video, essentially."
Immortality is Barlow's most ambitious, experimental project yet. Having now armed players with the knowledge and experience necessary to navigate labyrinthian, video-driven mysteries, he's ready to push the concept further. Throughout Immortality, you'll strive to better understand actor Marissa Marcel, uncover the circumstances behind her disappearance, and piece together the contents of three movies which she filmed but were never released for public consumption.
The mysterious life of Marissa Marcel
Developer Sam Barlow
Publisher Half Mermaid
Much of Barlow's work has been driven "by this idea that you could take a lot of the elements of a traditional video game (challenge, expression, exploration) and apply them to video." Those elements would manifest in weird and wonderful ways through Her Story and Telling Lies.
Simple interactions with a database of recorded clips – fast-forward, rewind, pause, play – seemed to tap into a subconscious, voyeuristic curiosity. Who are these people, encaged behind a camera lens, and what can our incessant clicking reveal about their lives – who they are, what they have done, and what might they do next? Barlow wants us to ask similar questions in Immortality, but the answers won't be bound to a database in quite the same way.
"We're using this as an opportunity to radically change how someone might experience a movie. In the way that Her Story deconstructed a detective story, we're deconstructing cinema. Part of that is trying to craft an experience, interface, and mechanics that give you the same proximity to physical film that, say, an editor might have. I think all my games in this fashion have been about unpacking a neatly packaged story and pulling players back into the creative process side-by-side with me."
Barlow is drawn to making another mystery game because "there's not a lot of pyrotechnics or epic battles in a mystery, just lots of characters and questions… the mystery story is always special to me because it's upfront about the player's interest. All stories are interested in who did what, how, and why they did it. But the mystery story is interesting because it makes room for the player explicitly to be part of that question."
"This is perhaps why the vast majority of story-driven video games are mysteries. Silent Hill? Bioshock? Gone Home? Super Metroid? You show up after the fact and have to figure out what the hell went down. They're all pretty much detective stories. I'm most interested in getting inside character's heads and a good mystery is all about that."
We'll peer into Marcel's head via uncovered on-set footage of her filming three movies thought to be lost or otherwise destroyed. Little is known about the actor, but we do know the films we'll be exploring. 1968's Ambrosio, a gothic thriller, which should have marked the on-screen debut for Marissa; 1970's Minsky, written specifically with Marcel in mind, a thriller reflecting the artistry in love and loss; and 1999's Two of Everything, a subversive thriller exploring the duality of a pop star and her body double. Three films, two directors, and one actor whose history is shrouded in mystery.
"We thought it'd be amazing if we could figure out an interactive format that would let players themselves explore the footage and formulate their own ideas as to what had happened," says Barlow. We'll be interested in the wayward celebrity's story because of "the fact that there was so little documented, that there were hardly any photos or footage of her; how her movies were lost, how she had also disappeared," he says, adding, "we're so used to everything being exhaustively documented online that this had a real air of mystery to it."
Rather than focusing the lens of the camera on one character or a small ensemble, the driving force will be the live-action footage shot to mimic three distinct eras of cinema, as we're handed an "amazing treasure trove of footage from Marcel's movies" to pour through. Given the scope, it makes sense that Barlow would want to bring outside writers in to help craft this interwoven story: Allan Scott (Don't Look Now and Queen's Gambit), Amelia Gray (Mr. Robot and Maniac), and Barry Gifford (Wild at Heart and Lost Highway).
As for how something as singular as Immortality will be received, Barlow is confident that players will vibe with it. "We were slightly nervous about whether gamers would be as interested in digging into this stuff from an earlier era, but seeing how people reacted to Wandavision this year was reassuring. Jumping through those different decades of television really reminded me of how it feels to look at these different movies. It's a fascinating lens for thinking about movie making over the second half of the twentieth century. But at its heart, there's this mystery that pulled me in in the first place – what happened to Marissa Marcel?"
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