How would you paint your hometown? Which colors would you use to capture it on a rainy day? What shapes do you remember most? Say, the curve of a neighbor’s half-broken mailbox—or that blue bike still rusting on the pavement of an abandoned parking lot.
According to Jack King-Spooner, who recently released a hand-drawn game named after his rural Scottish hometown of Beeswing, he remembers “the little things really, nothing grand. The way the jetty on the loch looks as you approach it. That our house was the only house that didn’t have pebble dashing, just bare brick.” What he hopes to communicate to players with his wandering, poetic journey of mysticalized autobiography is “the way things have stuck with me.”
Since a successful Kickstarter a little over a year ago, Jack has been hard at work recreating the town of Beeswing with a combination of both watercolor illustrations and stop-motion Claymation. The watercolor base, giving a waxy richness to the visuals, is then painted over with gouache to bring out details and highlights. Depending on the age when Jack met or knew any given character in Beeswing, he represents them either more crudely or more realistically in the game. Characters left rough around the edges “are often characters which I knew earlier in my life, and so I wanted to capture a certain naïvety.”
Along with being the writer, programmer, and artist, Jack also scored Beeswing‘s tinkering and endearing soundtrack. “I’ve been working on minimalist patterns that, due to the repetitions, blemishes occur,” he explained in a Kickstarter update. “The purpose is for the process to be apparent, that you can hear it is made by a human and not quantised, edited, beat-synced to ‘perfection.'” In the clip below, for example, he says, “I was interested in the harmonies created by the fret sounds and the the errors that occur when trying to repeat the same triplet/ hammer-on things.” The result is a twangy acoustic that seems to almost trip over itself with excitement—like a schoolboy running and stumbling over his own untied shoelaces.
“A game is perfect as a medium for relating an autobiography,” Jack says, “because the narrative is intrinsically fractured.” Beeswing, while an exploration of the people who shaped his life, captures a more metaphorical aspect of Jack’s memory and memoir. The characters you cross paths with include a woman named Mabel, who only ever wanted a beautiful baby from life, but instead carries around a sack of flour because “things don’t always turn out the way you want them to.” Many of the other characters integrate these surreal details into a pragmatic or jaded sentiment for juxtaposition. “Mr. Dowden is having to reconsider his notions about free will,” another description reads, “all because of a fleeting thought concerning his nicotine addiction.”
Though not an RPG in terms of the genre’s typical mechanics, Beeswing encapsulates the narratives of that era in videogames, refusing to shy away from the poignant themes of childhood. Like the Illusion of Gaia, it’s a game colored by a wide-eyed sense of wonder. The underlying symbolism in Beeswing often comes across as both the imaginings of an eccentric child, and the pointed verses of a slam poem.
In many ways, Beeswing explores the tenuousness of memory. You wander across fragments of remembered life, already fraying at the edges, the harsh brushstrokes reminding us that memories require more artistry than fact. But whether they’re snippets of truths or embellishments, the un-truths always seem to ring with more honesty than reality ever dares to.