Bientôt l’été

Bientôt l’été is not the sort of game that you beat, win, or complete.  It’s a quiet, thoughtful project that gives players a small location to wander, and a chance to interact with strangers in a deliberately limited manner.  The developer Tale of Tales has created some unconventional games over their career, including The Path, The Graveyard and Fatale among others, and their latest game continues this streak of artistic, poetic interactive experiences.

Often a video game level will begin with the Player being placed in a spot where they have a clear view of the entire level, with their objective off in the distance.  This helps players figure out what they’re “Supposed” to do, but sometimes level designers will be so proud of their creations that they’ll include a convenient observation point for players to reach and just look out at the virtual sunset, or gaze down on their imaginary world.  Players who try to think like a designer can often find such spots tucked away in their favorite games.   These provide a nice break from killing zombies, and offer a chance to stop and smell the virtual roses.

Online games often have important phrases hotkeyed to convenient buttons, so that players can quickly tap out important information like “Come here” and “Help me”.  Occasionally a multiplayer game will forgo keyboard support and expect players to communicate entirely with these simple phrases and a handful of simple gestures.  When deprived of direct communication, players have to find other ways to get their ideas across.

In Bientôt l’été players are set upon a peaceful beach where waves gently roll in, and gulls glide overhead.  There is no objective off in the distance; no tower clearly indicating where the player is supposed to go.  The game doesn’t do much to explain what is happening, although the Tale of Tale’s website explains that this beach is an Intergalactic Hologram Projector to help lonely crewmembers on space stations.

A short walk down the beach will bring players to an impassible holodeck wall, and there is little to do but walk along the beach.  As the waves come in, each one brings with it a phrase that appears in the sand.  These are quotes from the works of Marguerite Duras, a prolific French writer who wrote extensively on themes of love and hardship.

These phrases appear in random and disjointed ways, washing up on the beach like recondite driftwood when the Player happens to be standing in the right spot.  If the Player looks around, they might see a translucent image of an object along the beach too.  These “Apparitions” can be briefly interacted with, and touching one will reward players with a  piece from a chessboard.

After collecting a few phrases, and a chess piece, players can then enter a small café and begin the other activity offered by Bientôt l’été.

Inside the café is a small table with a chessboard.  A couple of wine glasses and an ashtray are there too.  While the beach is a purely single-player experience, the café can be shared with other random players (Or an AI partner if no human is available).

Here, players can smoke virtual cigarettes, drink virtual wine, and place whatever chess pieces they’ve collected around the board.  Players cannot type to each other, or speak.  They can only communicate with the phrases they collected along the beach, or perhaps try to convey abstract ideas with their chess pieces and the items on the table.

The phrases from Duras all deal with love, wine and anguish, leaving players with profound but limited conversations.   Eventually the participants in this chat will run out of things to say, having literally used up all of their poignant thoughts, and one player will leave.  The other will be left to wonder if they said something wrong, or perhaps they just had more to say than their partner.

Bientôt l’été encourages players to try over and over again, meeting new strangers.  By exiting the café and wandering the beach, new phrases can be learned, and more conversations can be had.

Players looking to beat the game can spend an hour “Collecting” the chess pieces, and trying to find all of the phrases.  There are sixteen pieces, plus a final item that can be found, but what it is won’t be revealed here.   Still, Bientôt l’été isn’t the sort of experience where players should look to win or finish the adventure.  Like many of the games made by Tale of Tales, it’s a place to return to occasionally to stop and smell the virtual roses.

It is out now for PC and Mac.

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