Totem Teller interview: Using broken art to tell a broken story

Totem Teller shows a unique world and aims to tell a unique story, asking players to make sense of a fragmented presentation.


One of the best things about the nearly decade-long renaissance of independent game development has been the constant supply of innovative ideas and the way developers present them. New games may offer deconstruction of conventional genre tropes or new design approaches altogether. Totem Teller, a new interactive art book adventure from the folks at Grinning Pickle, gives players the task of completing puzzles to reconstruct disjointed art and stories.

While pounding the pavement on location at GDC 2019, the Shacknews video team got the opportunity to speak with Ben Kerslake, Creative Director on Totem Teller, about how the game works and the process behind constructing a game with broken art and broken stories.

Totem Teller puts the player in the shoes of a muse who must wander through a series of environments that have been inspired by folklore. Rather than a straightforward artistic adaptation of the relevant stories, the visual presentation is seemingly broken apart and distorted using a variety of visual effects, including obfuscation, discoloration, and distortion.

Kerslake hesitates to classify the game as a straight puzzler due to the preconceptions it conjures up in a prospective player’s mind, but admits that the underlying gameplay loop would certainly be solving puzzles.

On the technical side of the production, Kerslake explains that the deconstruction of the storybook art style is achieved via the use post-processing effects applied by the game’s renderer. In most games, post-processing filters are used to help a game mimic a film presentation and to simulate a variety of camera lens effects, like lens flare, chromatic aberration, and vignetting. In the case of Totem Teller, the types of filters are turned on their head and used in a way that would be conventionally “incorrect”, yet are able to produce the striking images needed to help the developers create the experience.

Totem Teller is scheduled to arrive in the first quarter of 2020 for PC and Xbox One. You can follow its development on the official website. For more content coming out of GDC 2019 and a load of great gameplay, guide, and preview content, check out the Shacknews and GamerhubTV YouTube channels.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

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