11-11: Memories Retold is a haunting World War I game that will be the next major title from DigixArt, the French studio whose creators crafted the memorable Valiant Hearts: The Great War and Lost in Harmony.
DigixArt is making a narrative-driven experience set in World War I. It is collaborating with Aardman Animation Studios and Bandai Namco Entertainment. The companies released a teaser trailer today that shows beautiful watercolor art, with pictures of poppies amid the war-torn trenches of World War I. In the video, a British soldier recites In Flanders Fields, a moving poem by Canadian writer John McCrae, whose powerful words capture the view of the fields from the point of view of dead soldiers. It is one of my favorite poems.
If that sets the tone for the new game, then we can expect it to have a similar realistic, gritty, and anti-war story akin to Valiant Hearts: The Great War. Yoan Fanise, cofounder of DigixArt, spent 14 years at Ubisoft, and he led the development of Valiant Hearts. He and his wife Anne-Laure Fanise started DigixArt Entertainment in Montpellier, France, in 2015. Their first game was Lost in Harmony, a critically acclaimed title that used music for emotional effect. The game sold more than 2 million copies.
But while Valiant Hearts had a cartoon art style and told the tale of a soldier and his dog, 11-11: Memories Retold looks more serious in both its art style and storytelling. The studio said it is a “game experience that will touch many and brings together some amazing talent from studio, music production, and narration to bring an exciting, fun, and emotional journey.”
Yoan Fanise said in an email, “11:11: Memories Retold is a very special game at many levels. From the painted style to the emotional journey we create for the player to revive their heritage, we are pushing the boundaries of what a game can be and hope it will leave a mark on you.”
Aardman Animations is a British animation studio founded in 1972, and it is known for films such as Wallace and Gromit.
“Engaging audiences with compelling stories through animation is at the heart of what we are trying to do at Aardman,” said David Sproxton, founder at Aardman, in a statement. “With this project we want to produce an emotionally rich experience with distinctive visual character to help you understand what war is all about.”
Yoan Fanise said that he chose the topic because of a shared heritage.
“World war one is a big part of the heritage we have in common with British people. in Great Britain, every year on 11 11, people wear a poppy in memory of the fallen,” Yoan Fanise said in an email. “This project is our little poppy. It’s also a part of history that touches me personally as my great-grandfather fought in the trenches. He lost a leg and his brother there. This is only one family story among so many others sadly. We have to revive this period of time to not forget and to not repeat the same mistakes of our History. I could tell a thousands stories from World War One as it is a concentrate evidence of the futility of war.”
Yoan Fanise added, “Each new game has to be a challenge, a new experience, Lost in Harmony got a smaller scope because we had to build a studio and a full team from scratch. Mobile was a great starter to master Unity 3D pipeline. But I still wanted to include a deeper layer into it, behind the musical gameplay, we sensibilized about child disease and partnered with Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation to raise awareness and donations. Memories Retold is a massive challenge by its scope but moreover by its artistic direction, I want to immerse the player into a 3D painting, close to impressionism. A never seen visual experience that can convey strong emotions graphically. I really believe that the power of [graphics processing units] GPUs can be used in many other creative ways than just realism.”
The team has been working on the game for two years, since starting out with the idea at the Games for Change festival. About 15 people at DigixArt (housed in the Cap Omega incubator) are working on it, as well as another 15 at Aardman studio in Bristol, England.
“That’s small compared to a AAA but relatively big for an indie project, I really enjoy this size that enables everyone to have a real input into the game,” Yoan Fanise said. “This game is our baby, and we put all our love into it, this is a very special project. I’m really thankful to Bandai Namco and their whole staff for supporting us, it is rare from a major publisher to support this kind of author’s project.”
“We want to work with incredible talents coming from different backgrounds,” said Hervé Hoerdt, sales and marketing vice president at Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe, in a statement. “Nurturing the unique collaboration of Aardman Studios and DigixArt and helping them achieve their vision of what a video game can be is a very exciting endeavour for us.”
As for using the McCrae poem, Yoan Fanise said, “This poem In Flanders Fields is one of my favorites from World War One, it was written by John McCrae, a Canadian soldier who traveled from North America to enter a war that had to nothing to do with previous ones. The way he pictures the fields, the scenery, the soundscape from the point of view of the dead is very powerful in its simplicity. This is truly inspiring.”
Yoan Fanise said he can’t reveal much about the story yet.
“I can tell you from the teaser that there is a sequence in a poppy field, a memorable one,” he said. “The players of my previous games know that I don’t like happy endings. I may try to surprise them this time, or not.”