Hands-On Preview: Dordogne

Hands-On Preview: Dordogne

A picture tells a thousand words, sounds, and memories in this upcoming narrative adventure

Dordogne earned a SideQuesting PAX East 2022 Team Choice Award! Find out why below!

It’s hard to put into words how to describe the genre that studio UN JE NE SAIS QUOI’s upcoming project Dordogne falls into. It’s not quite a point and click adventure, but also not an action game, or a visual novel, or a “life simulator.” It’s maybe best classified as a living scrapbook, a collection of interactive memories meant to evoke moments that, years or even decades later, hold deeper meanings to us as we move through life. During our PAX East demo the game’s Creator and Artist, Cedric Babouche, can’t help but get nearly emotional while explaining the game — and leaves me completely moved with just a taste of the experience.

Dordogne takes place in an idyllic area of the same name, near Bordeaux in France, in a village nestled near equally serene woods and a babbling creek. The demo focuses on Mimi, a young woman reliving memories of herself as a 12 year old spending the Summer with her grandmother. Taking place over the course of a day, it moves through the often mundane aspects of a family-imposed summer stay at a relative’s house.

“This is when you eat breakfast. This is when you do your chores. This is the river where we’ll allow you to have fun, because that’s where we’ve always had fun. It’s nice. This is the nice life.”

This is the kind of Summer getaway that children don’t usually think of as a vacation, but just a different aspect of home where it’s Grandma’s turn to babysit us while Mom & Dad are off to places more fun. It’s home, just in a different town.

The game is presented through some of the most stunning, calming, beautiful watercolor paintings. Babouche personally hand-painted countless of scenes, split up into layers for the game that shift and move with a seemingly living three-dimensionality. The visual experience invokes Miyazaki, which Babouche cites as an inspiration, and hints at classical French Romanticism and European children’s books from the 1960s to really lean into the idea of something that’s taking place in the past.

“How many did you have to paint?” we ask.

“Too many!”

“When do you think you’ll be done?”

“Hopefully before I die!”

This is a memory being told as a story, and one that we’re playing a big part of reconstructing. It’s not just the art style, but our impact to Mimi’s reminiscing. Throughout the day we collect words hidden around the scenes, such as when we look at a window and wonder what’s going on outside, or when we prepare our breakfast. Will mom and dad approve of the sugary honey topping we’re taking in, or should we listen to Grandma and use the butter? And will that leave us happy, sad, or just full on food? The words are stored in our scrapbook, alongside photographs we can take with a Polaroid — sorry, a FUNAROID — camera that Granny gives us, and sounds that we can record with a handheld tape deck. As we move around the house and environs, we can point our camera to the sky and take pictures of hot air balloons, or take out our microphone and record the sounds of the balloon’s fire kicking up or the birds that tweet below, or the sound of the water as we walk past the river.

All of the details seem small, but they’re serving a bigger purpose: these are the moments that Mimi shares with her grandmother, and what she ultimately uses to remember her with. Their time together is more than any one event, but instead a series of moments and places and feelings and emotions and sights and sounds. And while these seem inconsequential at the time, they’re all that she has left of her grandmother after she passes years later.

As I get further into the Dordogne demo and speak with Babouche about his intentions, I instantly recall my memories of family trips to Eastern Europe, spending the Summer in our village home. I had grandparents there that I only ever knew from meeting over a handful of Summers, but those memories, even the small ones, are fully ingrained in my mind 30+ years later, and I remember my relatives as vividly now as if they were here with me. My daughter, who is now 12, the same age as Mimi in the demo, is experiencing similar moments with her own grandparents, and hopefully those will become memories just as strong one day.

The PAX demo only scratches the surface, Babouche tells us, as the game will explore Mimi’s life across ages, piecing together her connection to her family as she explores the ramifications between youth and adulthood. Dordogne may end up revealing a sentimental journey, told through stories, art, and poignant notes, and one that we’re definitely looking forward to experiencing.

Dordogne is scheduled to arrive on PC & Switch as early as this year.