Having a copy of an image within an image, recursing infinitely into the increasingly minute distance is one of my favourite visual effects. It’s something you probably most commonly find when stepping into an excessively mirrored lift, but it’s prominent within art, known as mise en abyme, or the Drost effect after a 19th Century Dutch cocoa brand that used it on their packaging.
But why am I talking about this? It’s because these visual recursions are at the very heart of A Fisherman’s Tale, a game coming to PSVR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Windows Mixed Reality in January.
A Fisherman’s Tale is simply a rather charming game. You wake up one day as a fisherman’s puppet, mysteriously alive enough to realise that something feels different when you’re trying to brush your teeth one morning. The French narrator guides you to open the window of your lighthouse kitchen, and BAM! There’s your massive wooden bum. Every wiggle you make, every hand motion is mimicked by this towering copy of yourself.
But if you’re inside the window looking out at yourself then… what happens if you turn around? That’s right, the window on the model lighthouse on the table behind you has opened and within it, you can look in on a tiny little version of yourself, staring into an even tinier lighthouse with an even tinier version of yourself. Rip the roof off and every single detail of the room is replicated in miniaturised form, but then look up and you see and infinity of ever bigger lighthouses stretching up into the sky. It’s a fantastic effect, and it’s wonderfully realised.
It doesn’t take long to discover that you can interact between recursions. Reach into the model and you can pull out a little ladder, lifting it out of the full sized version of the environment, but similarly, you can grab a radio from the side and drop it on your own little head. It’s these interactions that provide much of the puzzling in this quirky little escape room game.
“Why did you do move the anchor? Why did you take the roof off?” asks a little French voice from over on a set of corner shelves – OK, actually it’s just the narrator doing the voices. A pair of eyes on stalks stick out from a shell, as you’re confronted by a living, speaking hermit crab called Bernard. It turns out that he just wanted to hide away from the scary weather outside, taking the key to the door to this room and hiding it away. It’s only through restoring his confidence with a hat and a life preserver that you can get it back from him, but you’ve only got a full sized hat and preserver to hand. What could you possibly do?
It gets wilder as you venture into the next room and the puzzles stretch between this new location and another gaping hole that you rip into the side of the model. You have to try and figure out how to fix some plumbing – which you can do in full size or completely miniaturised, I found – which brings Chanter the tuna fish to life. Again, she has a few demands for you to meet before she’ll help you find the key to the next place, which sees her swim over to the model, appearing in gigantic form at the hole you made in the wall, and inviting you to step inside. Don’t worry, she won’t swallow you whole like Jonah.
While exploring the lighthouse and the many objects held within has a lot of appeal, picking things up and seeing how you can mess around with the recursive world – stand in the right spot next to the model, throw an object up into the air, and you can catch the miniaturised version as it flies up in front of you – my mind was solving the puzzles almost before they were being set for me. As soon as I found something that was oddly small, I already knew I’d need it to be made larger. Connecting the dots isn’t particularly tricky, I don’t feel, but it’s fun to experiment and play in this space.
More troublesome was just getting around and interacting with the world. You have telescopic arms for things that are a little out of reach, which is fine, while you teleport around by pointing and pressing a button. However, combine the two, and even just teleporting a bit too close to a wall or part of the scenery, and you can all too easily lose something you were holding in your hand. It’s an annoyance, but thankfully items respawn back where they started quite regularly, so you can’t get stuck.
From the recursive world to the little-big puzzles and quirky narrative and accented narrator. A Fisherman’s Tale cute, it’s imaginative, and I’m looking forward to starting off the new year with this surreal little adventure.