Playing the new puzzle adventure game The Master’s Pupil, you wander through the eyeball, and the life story, of impressionist master Claude Monet.
Playing as an amorphous little figure, you bounce through sun-bathed pastel gardens and jungles of tangled green tendrils (eye veins?) as you advance through 12 levels of puzzles based on color, physics and space. Your task? Help the painter complete his most famous masterpieces, even as cataracts threaten his eyesight.
The Master’s Pupil is available now for $14.99—on Steam for PC and Mac and on Nintendo Switch, with Xbox and PlayStation versions on the way. Australian indie game developer and artist Pat Naoum hand painted the entire game in a style reflective of Monet’s artistry, which became more abstract as his vision deteriorated.
“Gorgeous, dreamlike game with masterful artistry and interesting puzzles to solve,” one reviewer wrote on Steam, which tags 94% of more than 80 reviews of the title as positive. Wrote another, “Relaxing, engaging, nostalgic, moody and just challenging enough.”
Naoum, who lives in Sydney, spent seven years and well over 2,000 hours hand painting The Master’s Pupil with real acrylics on real paper (“oils would have stunk out my apartment”) before digitizing his creations. “I used a film negative scanner. This allowed me to get all the detail in that painted texture,” Naoum said in an interview. He coded the game himself.
Naoum’s been fascinated by both art and games since childhood. When he first started on his single-player adventure game, he envisioned creating a journey set in an eyeball, but not the eyeball of anyone specific.
“I was inspired by macro photography shots of human irises, they looked like little landscapes,” Naoum said in an interview. He decided he wanted to tell a story that evolved over the course of someone’s life, starting at birth on the edge of their iris and moving toward the pupil as they got older.
That unnamed someone became Monet when Naoum recalled the cruel fate that befell the prolific French painter, whose eyesight began deteriorating in his late 60s.
It’s hard to imagine the torment of being a virtuoso of light and color and losing the ability to see either clearly. Trying to visualize that reality as an artist himself—“the thought of losing my eyesight is terrifying, just above damaging my hands somehow,” Naoum said—the developer created a game that tries to capture that experience alongside such Monet classics as Impression, Sunrise, The Japanese Footbridge and the ever-iconic Waterlilies.
Steve Schouten composed the game’s calming, enchanting original soundtrack, which features the sounds of chirping birds and water tumbling over rocks.
Through it all, players learn about Monet’s triumphs and tragedies. One of the moments in the game Naoum is most fond of appears at the end of level 7, as Monet’s first wife Camille dies at 32. In real life, sitting on his muse’s deathbed, Monet wrote to a friend that he could only think about the purple color of her lips and how he would mix paint to get that exact shade.
“He made this painting of her on her deathbed, and it’s all in these light purple tones,” Naoum said. “When I found out about all this, I knew I had to shift this lush green world of the game into a purple one before revealing this painting.”
That 1879 painting, “Camille on her Deathbed,” is one of Monet’s most powerful and poignant works, an expression of deep grief and tenderness that may reach new audiences now that it’s part of a video game.