With this week being the first few days of fall for the year, many gamers are looking for new cozy titles to play as days get shorter and Halloween approaches, and the newly released Beacon Pines fits this category quite well. Beacon Pines is made by Hiding Spot Games' Matt Meyer, Brent Calhoun, and Ilse Harting, and it tells the story of an anthropomorphic deer and his group of friends who are dealing with mysterious events in their hometown. Unlike the prototype for the game, which was a rhythm-based RPG battler, Beacon Pines is instead completely combat-free, and it relies on branching storylines.
Beacon Pines acts as a magic storybook where players can explore the events surrounding the titular town and the group of characters in it as they learn more about the overarching mystery, the disappearance of Luka's mother, and more. This isn't a one-and-done story, however, as every path does have its own choices, consequences, and things to uncover along the way, including the game's main item: charms. Game Rant spoke to Meyer and Harting from Hiding Spot Games about the challenges of making an indie game with branching stories that complement the main plot, while also creating different endings.
How Beacon Pines' Story-Driven Approach Works
In Beacon Pines, charms are words that players can use to change the meaning and the effects of a sentence, be it during a conversation or the description of what's going on, and these can lead to multiple endings based on the consequences of a given choice. By playing through a given branch, players can not only learn more about some characters and reveal the eerie machinations behind the nefarious events in Beacon Pines, but also gain access to new charms that could open up other possibilities further down the line.
And yet, Beacon Pines' narrative is not necessarily linear, in the sense that players can use a feature called the Chronicle, which allows them to go back to any branching point of the story and replay it with different charms. This can make for a more complete experience because going back to unexplored branches may very well be the key to even more discoveries, which ties well into the multiple endings of the game. Additionally, diverse charms can impact the relationship between Beacon Pines' likeable protagonist and other characters, thus creating even more options, as Meyer pointed out.
"One of the decisions along the way was "Does playing a charm (we call the words charms) change just the conversation that you're in or the relationship with the characters, if you're on good terms with them or if they hate you? Or, what we ended up doing, there are fewer of these decision points where you play a charm, but they completely alter the story?" It has a kinda fun allure to it, the idea that a single word completely changes everything from that point on."
As for Beacon Pines' multiple endings, they can drastically vary and alter the experience significantly, considering that some of them can be achieved quite early in the game. Others take players in different directions or can even lead to a character's premature demise or the natural conclusion of their arc, but Meyer confirmed that there is only one canonical ending where the Beacon Pines credits are rolled. This doesn't mean that the other endings are less valuable than the canonical one, and instead, they are all smaller parts of the whole.
"We only roll credits on one of the endings. It's the ending that we sort of think has our ideal, canonical ending, but the game has a whole lot of endings. It's the curse of trying to write a branching story. If you really want to design a story, then you might see it as like "Well, there's a direction that I want to take this story, not ten," but we tried to embrace that and squeeze as much juice as we could out of it and say "Every branch is the best version we can make of that branch, so let's write it as the canonical version of its own little story path."
Having multiple endings means that each of them makes the story richer in terms of context and perspectives, which makes the Chronicle all the more necessary to jump back and forth between different chapters. According to Meyer, the Chronicle became much clearer and easier to handle when the group used a diagram Harting made to keep track of the branching stories, which all lead to an appropriate conclusion. Due to its cute aesthetic and the general creepiness of the story, Hiding Spot Games' developers describe Beacon Pines as "Winnie The Pooh meets Stranger Things," and seeing how eerie the atmosphere can be, it's quite spot on.
Beacon Pines is now available on PC, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.