After having just completed the Artful Escape. I was struck by how well it’s structured. The story is linear. Mixing exploration sections, with musical platforming and performance sections. I’ve chosen to only talk about the main structural points here. There’s a lot more to see in the main game. This is a very high-level overview.
(Spoilers ahead, though I’ll try to keep it vague. It’s on Gamepass and well worth a play before you read this)
The story follows Francis Vendetti, a young musician who is trapped in the shadow of his dead folk legend uncle. The game begins with Francis wandering his local town during a festival promoting his uncle’s work.
Francis is having an identity crisis. He’s performing his first show on the final night of the festival. This prompts Francis to question his own identity:
Without my Uncle who am I?
There are a lot more questions asked, B-plots with Violetta the laser artist who you first meet and Lightman the ageing rock star whose ship you tour on. What’s important here is the questioned as asked are answered in the reverse order that they are asked. This creates a series of brackets and arcs. Which are all contained within the big question asked at the start. There’s a good writing excuses podcast on this here.
Here’s a simplified chart. I’ll talk about Violetta’s arc here too as hers compliments Francis. It’s a great example of weaving in character arcs for supporting characters that also contribute to the central premise.
Violetta shows up when Francis is out in the country prepping for his concert. She tells him he needs to take more risks and to find her at Lightman’s.
That night Francis meets an alien who takes him into space. There he becomes Lightman’s support act as they jam across the galaxy. There are three stages in the game, full of musical platforming and Simon Says action. What’s important here is that each stage also progresses the main story.
While the narrative is linear. The player faces numerous little dialogue choices. These are remembered throughout the game, as Francis builds up his stage persona. In each stage, Francis must play his way through the environment and overcome a challenge. The results of each of these smaller arcs build towards answering the question.
In the first arc, the choices build a name and backstory. In the second he defines a look. In the final stage, Francis’ doubts are resurfaced. Here he also learns that the legendary Johnson Vendetti was himself a stage persona. The spectre of his legendary uncle is dispelled as Francis learns he can’t compete with another persona.
This is the final piece of the puzzle Francis needs. He can accept his path. Enjoy his new persona and own style of music. Violetta’s B plot also resolves just before the end. While she’s incredibly talented, she’s been hiding behind Lightman as a support tech. She is finally able to step out and make her debut, and stand on her own.
It’s a lovely structured game. The player choices are referenced frequently. They don’t change the course of the plot. Instead, they are there to emphasise Francis ( and the player’s self-discovery). It’s not immediately obvious how these choices are used. When they come up it’s delightful.
The Artful Escape is full of wild imagery and could have easily lost focus. Instead, it exhibits deft handling of structure. This isn’t a game about making complex branches choices. Instead, it uses player choice to delight and engage. After all, it doesn’t matter what anyone decides, it’s your creative journey that counts.