Wandering the PAX Australia showroom floor earlier this month, I caught sight of a videogame which seemed to be about a suave raver falling gracefully down a ski slope in some sparkly, alternate reality. Figuring it was some beautifully animated take on OlliOlli (or something similar), I made a mental note to check it out later.
When I returned, it was no longer a game about a suave raver falling gracefully down a ski slope. Instead, it was about said suave raver performing emotive guitar licks for a monster. Now I was really interested. There are not enough games about playing guitar for monsters, nor are there enough games that allow you to do that and fall gracefully down ski slopes.
It turns out The Artful Escape of Francis Vendetti is a game about doing many different things, but chief among them is helping the protagonist discover his musical identity. Vendetti is about to play his first gig, but not all is well. He has an uncle who is the equivalent of Bob Dylan in terms of status and fan adoration, but Vendetti wants to carve out his own identity. How does one normally go about doing that? A multidimensional journey is best, if you can arrange it.
“Francis Vendetti goes on a multidimensional journey to create his stage persona,” the game’s creator Johnny Galvatron told me. “If you can imagine if David Bowie had gone on a space journey and came back as Ziggy Stardust… that’s basically the elevator pitch.”
The Artful Escape of Francis Vendetti is a narrative-driven adventure game, but based on the short ten minute demo I saw at PAX, the story is woven stylishly around a series of 2D sidescrolling set pieces. Vendetti can run, jump, play guitar, and, befitting his role as a multidimensional budding rockstar, float into the sky. It’s likely he can do more, but this was a vertical slice and Galvatron was reluctant to talk too much about what I didn’t see, in case he ruined the story.
The most striking thing about Francis Vendetti is the way it looks: it plays out like a strange dream with its effulgent starry skies and twilit gardens, populated by eerie creatures with whom you can commune via guitar. It was easily the most gorgeous game I saw at PAX, reminiscent of an especially detailed Double Fine adventure, bright and cheerful but with a small hint of sadness.
As it turns out, Johnny Galvatron used to play in a Melbourne group called the Galvatrons, who had success in that city during the mid 2000s. I asked if this game was a response to that experience. “Obviously that was a big part of my life, and my thoughts and ideas were formed throughout those formative years,” he said.
“One of the things I love most about music – and this might sound like a weird thing to say – is everything that isn’t the music. I love the world that David Bowie built around his music, I love the world that Andy Warhol built around his art. In a world where core mediums are less important… [where] you can’t make money from your music [so easily], this emerging artform of everything around that, to push that forward, is very interesting to me.”
He doesn’t mean the “marketing” around music, though, just the window dressing which makes it appealing, the mythos. “Marketing is a dirty word,” he said. “Really it’s the way you present yourself, the way you show yourself to the world. That can be immensely creative, and that’s a theme I’m trying to tap.”
Galvatron says that Vendetti’s multidimensional adventure is “a physical way of showing a metaphysical transformation”, and aside from being an interesting theme to explore, it provides studio Beethoven & Dinosaur creative license to get weird with some of the protagonist’s encounters. As for how the game could be pigeonholed, Galvatron thinks it’s tough, and hopes the game’s eventual players will be able to do that for him. That will hopefully happen in about a year-and-a-half, but the studio is currently on the prowl for a publisher.
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Shaun Prescott is the Australian editor of PC Gamer. With over ten years experience covering the games industry, his work has appeared on GamesRadar+, TechRadar, The Guardian, PLAY Magazine, the Sydney Morning Herald, and more. Specific interests include indie games, obscure Metroidvanias, speedrunning, experimental games and FPSs. He thinks Lulu by Metallica and Lou Reed is an all-time classic that will receive its due critical reappraisal one day.