Two Falls aims to tell an authentic indigenous story

While several video games feature indigenous characters and themes, few are made with creative control and design decisions in the hands of the people who provide those inspirations. That’s a big part of what makes Two Waterfalls (Nishu Takuatshina), the upcoming first-person narrative-adventure game from Unreliable Narrators, so remarkable. The studio not only works with partners from some of Canada’s Indigenous peoples, but also relinquishes important elements of creating control by giving its Indigenous employees a say in art, music and story direction.

I spoke to Laurène Betard Two waterfalls Brand Manager and Antoine Bartolo, General Manager at Purple is Royal, the marketing team working with the studio. We discussed seeing the world through the eyes of indigenous people and Europeans, working closely with native communities to tell an authentic and respectful story, and what word they learned Not to say during development.

It’s about perspective

Two waterfalls is a 3D storytelling and exploration game about indigenous history,” Laurène tells Digital Trends. “The story takes place in 17th century Canada and you follow the journey of two characters.”

One character is Jeanne, a French woman who emigrates to Quebec. A shipwreck survivor, alone with nothing but a dog to keep her company, she fears a wilderness she knows nothing of. The other is Maikan, an Innu hunter who is at home in the forests and animals that make up the natural landscape. Choices made throughout the game affect their independent but intertwined paths in this coming-of-age narrative.

The special thing about this game is that we have [different] artistic directions to emphasize the two perspectives, because it’s all a game of perspectives. How people can think or see the things around them but not see the same as another person.”

An example that Laurène gives is the forest. It’s scary for Jeanne; She recognizes neither the trees nor the sounds. Everything is dark and merges with each other. For Maikan, it’s bright and colorful. He can recognize various trees and signs of wildlife. It is the land of his people and he feels very comfortable. But it goes both ways.

“At some point,” Antoine begins, “there is the shipwreck that Jeanne escaped from, you see it from her perspective, which is a shipwreck. It’s a shipwreck, but to Maikan, the wood sticking out the side looks like the rib cage of a whale that might be stranded. It needs that weird animalistic look because he’s not used to seeing such huge ships made of wood and stuff like that. So we try to play with all those things too.”

Two images side by side show a shipwreck reduced to its skeleton.

Laurenne emphasizes that Two waterfalls is a first-person walking simulator (like fire clock, from Campo Santo). You will see things through each character’s eyes. That means if you’re Jeanne, 3,000 miles from home in a strange new land, what could actually be normal wildlife could be something as terrifying as a werewolf. And that’s not the only folklore that comes to mind for the characters, as the Windigo shows.

Laurène tells us: “I don’t know if you are familiar with the history of the Windigo, but it is an entity that protects the forest for indigenous people. And when the Europeans came, they talked about Windigo as an evil spirit and evil spirits that will eat you if you don’t take care of the forest, but it’s not what the native people created, it’s more of a friendly entity in reality… For Jeanne, she will be terrified by the idea of ​​the Windigo, while Maikan will be more intrigued by what triggers the Windigo.”

A man sits next to a campfire in the Canadian wilderness in Two Falls.

As it turns out, Windigo was one of three different working titles in Two falls‘ Story. Initially, it was Kanata, named after the Huron-Wendat word for “settlement” or “village,” that served as the origin of the name Canada. Then it was Windigo, but that name was later abandoned for good reason.

“When we spoke to people from different communities, we realized that [Windigo] was a term we couldn’t use,” says Antione. “It’s something that isn’t talked about, it’s sort of a Voldemort thing. You shouldn’t say that word and now we’ve just plastered it over in big letters and tags.”

Collection and inclusion of indigenous voices

As interesting as these indigenous legends and this era of history are, it is important to tell these stories in the right way, with the right input from the peoples at the centre. I asked Laurène and Antione about it and they had a lot to say on the subject, starting with the main characters.

“Maikan was founded with many indigenous partners, many Wendat people and also some Innu,” says Laurène. “ Maikan is a young hunter, so he sees that his village is afflicted by a disease, and this disease will force him to travel to find the cure. This is how he begins his journey. And there are many moments in the game that will really make you feel [his] indigenous culture”.

In Two Falls, a light blue river flows through a lush evergreen forest.

A key element in creating authentic characters is voice acting. According to Laurène and Antonio, there will be both English and Innu dialogue voiced by indigenous actors.

Antione adds: “[among the Indigenous partners] We have internal staff in the studio. But what is extremely important to the story is that we have established what we call a council of elders made up of people from different indigenous communities. And they vote every step of the way, from the story, how we tell it, what we see in it, and also how items and things are represented in the game. So it’s super important for us to have that authenticity and tell the story the way they want it to be.”

It’s what the native people want to say, how do they want us to finish?

The core story of Two waterfalls was produced by Isabelle Picard, an Indigenous anthropologist. During the development of the game, it was reviewed by Tourisme Mashteuatsh and the Tshakapesh Institute, two institutes that promote indigenous culture and protect native languages. They provided confirmations and helped inform development, and that went beyond mere scenarios.

“Even in the simple details of how Maikan uses his knife, everything about what culture he’s from could change. For example, Innu people don’t do the same thing as Wendat people,” adds Laurène. “So we want to be as realistic as possible. And that’s why we had to choose a community like Innu. Maikan had to be Innu because we can’t say he’s ‘native’ because that would have said something and nothing at the same time.”

An eerie blue atmosphere envelops a dense forest in Two Falls. A warm amber glow illuminates an inviting forest in Two Falls.

The influence of the indigenous partners is difficult to overestimate. Developer Unreliable Narrator took an approach that puts people in control of the cultures the game is about.

The 3D artists are not into unreliable narratives. It is an external company that is indigenous and was founded by indigenous peoples,” says Laurène. “They’re both wendats already, so they already know a bit about how people dress and what clothes should look like. We are also having this concept validated by the Council [of Elders].”

Also the music for Two waterfalls is created by an indigenous artist, and even the final direction and tone of the story are intentionally left out of the hands of the development team.

“We’re in the process of writing the end of the story because the end of the story is the most important part,” says Laurène. “It’s what the native people want to say, how do they want us to finish? Do they want us to show something sadder, but maybe realistic, that shows all the damage that has been done to this community? Or do they prefer to end on a more positive note and with a lot of hope and say, “Okay, the collaboration will be possible.” It’s up to you. We have no say in this part. That’s why I can’t tell you yet, because we don’t yet know how it will end.”

A trapper stands in front of the player as they talk in Two Falls.

The Unreliable Narrator team is very clear in their intention to engage and listen to Indigenous communities. These influences are important in crafting the story, maintaining authenticity, and creating a game that is responsible and respectful of its subject matter.

Two Waterfalls (Nishu Takuatshina) Slated for release on Steam in 2023.

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