‘Simpler Times’ is a game that embodies coziness like no other, offering a delightful retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. As the warm afternoon sunlight pours through the bay windows, it casts gentle shadows on a plush rug, partially concealed beneath an open cardboard box. This compact and luminous bedroom brims with remnants of youth—a testament to cherished memories. Adorned with books and family photos, the walls exude a sense of familiarity, while the desk drawers overflow with drawing paper and school supplies. Peek beneath the bed, and you’ll find a skateboard waiting to be rediscovered, alongside stuffed animals nestled in cozy corners. The air is filled with the soothing melodies of a record player, emanating lo-fi music that lulls you into a state of tranquility. Here, within this room, you have the luxury of a leisurely afternoon to immerse yourself in its cherished artifacts, as you bid farewell to the past and embrace the future.
Simpler Times beckons players into this serene environment, inviting them to lose themselves in its embrace. By engaging with objects, picking them up, and placing them where they belong, a poignant narrative unfolds. The protagonist, Taina, embarks on a journey of moving on from her childhood abode, embracing the next chapter of her life. As players explore her bedroom, the tapestry of her past and future comes into focus, leaving a lasting impact.
Even if Simpler Times’ idyllic setting doesn’t mirror your own childhood bedroom, the skilled developers at Transylvania Studio Stoneskip have crafted an exquisitely comforting space. Taina’s room radiates a welcoming and secure aura, encouraging exploration and the freedom to lose oneself in introspection.
Simpler Times is a first-person game that thrives on its music and ambiance. The soundtrack, a collection of original lo-fi compositions, can be controlled via the room’s record player—a ritual that resonates with vinyl enthusiasts. Each album plays for a predetermined duration before needing to be changed or reset. Moving the needle to the side, carefully lifting the record, and placing it back in its sleeve epitomize deliberate actions that anchor players in the present, while emphasizing the beauty of anticipation and deliberate movements. This intentional sequence symbolizes the game’s overall pace and proves to be highly effective.
The enchanting soundtrack of Simpler Times, composed by George Pandrea, features moments of lyrical poetry performed by Taina’s voice actor, Maeve Kroeger. Additional points of interaction within the bedroom include an instant camera and a scrapbook that provides backstory and suggests areas to tidy up, thereby advancing the overarching narrative. Simpler Times lacks any concept of failure or time constraints. Dialogue gracefully weaves in and out as players explore, with the immersive music encouraging introspection while Taina’s story subtly unfolds.
At first glance, Simpler Times may appear reminiscent of Gone Home, the pioneering indie “walking simulator,” but such a comparison falls short. Unlike its predecessor, Simpler Times doesn’t involve actual walking; instead, players navigate the small bedroom by observing their surroundings and interacting with points of interest. The game was conceived during the pandemic, when developers found themselves confined to limited spaces, providing ample time for introspection. Simpler Times represents a contained and contemplative experience that leans more towards a calming and repetitive endeavor like Threes than a traditional narrative adventure.
The full game spans four seasons, covering distinct periods of Taina’s life. However, the demo I experienced at the Summer Game Fest offered a glimpse into her present-day bedroom, as she begins the process of packing up. The demo left me feeling relaxed and intrigued, serving as a welcome respite from the chaos of a large-scale (albeit not E3-level) video game event.
Simpler Times, published by iam8bit, is set to release on Steam in 2024.