The player is first welcomed with an unusual WFH setup: A glowing, floating sketchbook and a doll-house-size castle sit atop a vintage desk. They’re surrounded by purple trees, wildflowers, and vining branches that crawl around Victorian-style bay windows.
It’s an enchanting twist on what might otherwise be a standard view of a San Francisco apartment, and it’s the set-up for Maquette, a first-person puzzle game and the debut for Hanford Lemoore’s San Francisco-based independent game studio, Graceful Decay. Throughout Maquette, you’re introduced to “M.C. Escher-esque” challenges inspired by the city’s architecture, and styled with the castle-like spires and ornate moldings that decorate the local neighborhoods. The puzzles unfold new chapters in a love story voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard and Seth Gabel, and the plot takes about three to five hours to complete.
“The game straddles this imaginary world and the real world,” says Lemoore, who was also a former Disney theme park contract designer. “We do have Victorian houses in the game as well as these fantastical castles and palaces.”
Anybody who’s taken a tourist’s walk of San Francisco would be able to recognize Maquette’s landscapes. For example, once you load your game, you’re transported to an immaculate garden that hosts lily-pad ponds, rose bush arches, and a Palace of the Fine Arts-esque rotunda. New structures grow with illuminated gold particles that look like Tinker Bell’s pixie dust. In case it wasn’t already obvious, Maquette is immediately magical.
Of course, that extends beyond simple aesthetics. Large-scale structures will have miniature versions of themselves, and vice versa. If you drop something small — let’s say, a red cube the size of a Rubix — in the miniature space, elsewhere, a giant, truck-sized red block will fall too. It’s a reality-warping concept that IGN called “phenomenally clever,” and the whole game is about trying to unlock different spaces through this big-and-small mirror.
“The world within a world enables a whole lot of interesting puzzles around size, scale, and changing the size of things,” Lemoore says. “That was the origin of the game.”
The surrealism of Maquette also has a symbolic purpose. Have you ever been in a relationship where small annoying habits (like leaving dirty dishes in the sink) become big fissures later on? Or, realized that seemingly world-ending catastrophes actually weren’t all that bad? Hindsight is really everything, and Lemoore’s game is about these molehill-mountain moments, something reflected quite literally in the puzzles. It may be a love story cliche, but it gets a new look and platform in Maquette.