Picaresque Studio‘s Nantucket is the latest video game to draw inspiration from literary classics — this time from the vengeful nautical adventures of Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick. It’s a strategy game with turn-based combat, as well as simulation elements where you’ll have to manage your ship’s crew. It’s the Italian indie’s first game, and it’s out now on PC.
Though Nantucket is Picaresque’s debut, the three-person team has some industry chops. The members have previously worked at companies such as MercurySteam (Castlevania: Lords of Shadow) and Ubisoft, which is where they met. When they formed the studio in 2013, they quickly decided to use Moby-Dick as a springboard since they all loved the book.
“The first important decision, probably the most important, was the one to tell a new story after a book,” said Picaresque programmer Daniele Monaco and designer Marco Mantoan in an email to GamesBeat. “It was risky, but we wanted the players to experience something new, to approach our game without knowing what was going to happen. Our main story line make you encounter people you have seen in the book and tries to paint a realistic scenario about what could have happened to the people that were part of the novel. Then we took some freedom to develop a story suitable for a game, divided into missions.”
In Nantucket, you play as Ishmael, the sole survivor after the events in Melville’s novel. As you hunt the notorious whale, you have to manage your resources, complete side quests for experience, and oversee your motley crew. Battles are turn-based, with characters appearing as cards.
Monaco and Mantoan say that the biggest challenges in developing the game were creating a cohesive aesthetic that adhered closely to Melville’s world, as well as designing the mechanics. For the former, Picaresque researched the historical time period of the 1850s. It hired the musical group The Roaring Trowmen to perform sea shanties to set the mood. And it chose a hand-drawn visual style to emulate historical drawings.
“The second biggest challenge was related to a gameplay mechanic, the combat system,” said Moncao and Mantoan. “We had to iterate quite a lot to find a solution we were happy with. The necessity to keep it historical — so without adding super weird sea monsters or giving the whale unnatural abilities — limited the possible design choices and forced us to try different paths to have challenging and fast fights.”
Games have visibly cross-pollinated with other media properties, such as Star Wars or Telltale Games’s Batman series, but the medium isn’t limited to just movies or comic books. Inkle Studios’s 80 Days used Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days as a launching point, winning several awards for its sweeping steampunk fantasy. And Nantucket joins 80 Days in showing that games can bring something to the re-interpretation of classic literature.