The Independent Gamer: Inside the Development of Silent Narrative 'When the Past Was Around'

When the Past Was Around
Toge Productions
Illustrator Brigitta Rena shares her inspiration for the hand-drawn interactive story, which features a young girl and her owl companion.

The Independent Gamer is a curated roundup of news from indie gaming, landing here every other Friday.

A new year has begun, and a recent title that has gained a following since its release in late 2020 is the adventure point-and-click title When the Past Was Around from developer Mojiken Studio and publisher Toge Productions, both based in Indonesia. The game — about a young girl and her owl companion — is created and illustrated by artist Brigitta Rena, who set out to make a relatable and interactive story without any dialogue so that players could loosely interpret the game based on their own experience in life.

"I always love a girl and a beast combination," Rena tells The Hollywood Reporter, adding that she wanted to make "a love story that is related to a lot of people but still has a mysterious side to it." She goes on to say that the placement of these beasts within a human environment becomes a crucial part of putting the puzzle together thematically. "By using this beast as the key, we can present the whole theme and mood of the story in a single picture with this beast in it."

Speaking of what the owl represents, Rena says, "As Eda is in her depressed state, she didn't have any passion for music anymore and didn't know how to move forward, we need someone who can guide her through all this. That is when I found out that Owl is a guardian of the past, and represent knowledge and wisdom as well, so I think he is perfect for Eda."

Rena drew inspiration for her hand-drawn scenes from a number of artists including Japanese painter Yuko Higuchi, illustrator Maori Sakai and South Korean illustrator Puung. She also cites Manga series The Ancient Magus' Bride and The Girl From the Other Side: Siuil, a Run, visual novel Florence and the surrealist Rusty Lake games as inspirations.

"The most challenging part is to unify our team's representation of the story itself," Rena says of making a game without dialogue. "Each of us has our interpretation, our own vision on Eda and Owl's story at first." She says that it took some trial and error, but each detail of the story was eventually written down, read and understood by the group.

Rena was influenced in her career by games such as Bioware's role-playing (RPG) Dragon Age series, indie RPG Undertale, social simulation game The Sims, as well as "every title from Supergiant Games" (developer of Hades).

Rena characterizes the Indonesian games industry as one where each studio has a very unique background and describes Mojiken as an illustrator-first studio with a desire to experiment and a mission to create games with strong artistic storytelling.

Looking forward, Rena is working with the narrative team at Mojiken for the studio's next game,  A Space for the Unbound. "It is a slice-of-life adventure game with beautiful pixel art set in the late 90s rural Indonesia that tells a story about overcoming anxiety, depression, and the relationship between a boy and a girl with supernatural powers," she says.

View the trailer for When the Past Was Around below. The game is available on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Coming soon to Apple Arcade

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The game releases Jan. 29.

From Lykke Studios in Thailand, lumen. is a puzzle game where players investigate the mystery of a Scottish inventor who was active a hundred years ago. With her inventions appearing in film frames, users will use lenses, light and mirrors to correctly project beams of light and restore her precious frames.

lumen. drops Feb. 5.

Survival-horror game Mundaun Development Process Detailed in Behind-the-Scenes Video

From Swiss programmer and illustrator Michel Ziegler and his studio Hidden Fields, the folklore-inspired horror game Mundaun launches March 16 on Nintendo Switch, PC via Steam, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, as well as next-gen consoles PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S.

The game follows a young man who travels to a secluded valley in the Alps to face a malevolent entity and uncover the mystery of his grandfather's death.

To celebrate the upcoming launch, Hidden Fields and publisher MWM Interactive are releasing a b-weekly series of behind-the-scenes videos detailing the creation of the game. The first episode is below.