Behind Perfect Tides: Adolescences and the Stories they Tell

An exploration of storytelling in videogames with Perfect Tides' Meredith Gran

Behind Perfect Tides: Adolescences and the Stories they Tell
Adrift and Alone. Source: AIPT.

Meredith Gran's Perfect Tides tells one of the most emotionally affecting and impactful stories we've seen so far in 2022. This point-and-click adventure game from Three Bees Inc. offers a lovingly crafted return to the classic genre.

Over the five hour main story, you will inhabit the shoes of Mara – an internet savvy sixteen year old wrestling with the trials, ambiguities and anxieties of adolescence. The game revists the year 2000, furnishing the player with an exacting retelling of the era, warts and all. I was lucky enough to sit down with Meredith Gran, the authour, artist and designer behind the game.

Growing Pains. Source: X.

Pointing and Clicking

Interest in the point-and-click genre is enjoying something of a resurgence with the upcoming release of Return to Monkey Island. However, these games have been around for a long time, and Gran's love of the genre is deep-seated and rooted in gentle nostalgia.

"I definitely feel most comfortable with those games. I end up replaying them over and over again, and the logic behind them makes a lot of sense to me. So, any time I thought about making my own game, it seemed very obvious that this is the genre I would want to work in."

Gran's reverence and love for the point-and-click genre ooze out of the game's every pore. Rather than deliver Perfect Tides' gripping dialogue through a more direct medium like, say, a visual novel, Gran's choice of genre forces the player to take a circuitous and, sometimes, difficult route through the story. It makes for a bold and distinctive experience.

Dial-Up the Feels. Source: YouTube.

We moved on to discussing the centrality of the internet to Mara's story. As a lonely teenager growing up on an isolated island, she takes refuge from her messy life through online fanfiction communities.

"It seemed necessary to the character I was creating in her story that the world she was entering on the Internet was an escape and not a sort of continuation or extension of the real world, which is how I see the internet now."

Gran's earnest and wholehearted attempt to capture the Dial-Up zeitgeist colours the game with a rich authenticity. It is through this abundant realism that Mara's experiences and tribulations are rendered so emotionally affecting.

A Personal Touch

The game's authentic and cutting dialogue, as well as the temporal and emotional contexts that surround it, are drawn from a profoundly personal place.

"I feel like I haven't worked as hard as maybe I have in the past to disguise the fact that [Mara] is very close to me. But, at the same time, I'm not putting any effort into telling people which parts of it are true and which parts aren't. I've heard it called Auto Fiction. It kind of works for me because I feel like I can say a lot of things that maybe I wouldn't have the courage to say."
Awkwardness Simulator 2k22. Source: IGDB.

Gran was very open about the extent to which she poured herself into the work. Perfect Tides explore times, places, and feelings drawn from recollections of her own adolescence.

"I found that I was not only painting a portrait of a time period I lived through, but I was kind of living inside it. I was armed with vague memories of something, or maybe some sort of unresolved tickle in the back of my mind about an exchange I had back then. I allowed myself to revisit a lot of those things and be in a state where it was almost like it was happening again, as if it was a fresh experience."

It is obvious, even from the game's early chapters, that Perfect Tides has a quasi-biographical quality to it. Mara does not feel like an idealised or over-fictionalised version of a teenager from the year 2000; rather, she feels like a fully realised human being. At times, it feels like the game's cutting and uncompromising story could almost be a documentary.

The Shoulders of Giants

Gran's experience growing up with videogames did a great deal to colour her approach to Perfect Tides. Interestingly, it wasn't only point-and-click games that influenced Gran, but also JRPGs. She spoke especially fondly of Final Fantasy Tactics:

"It's just so concise, the way the characters move, the dialogue, everything about it is just pristine to me. I kind of crave a game where everything is distilled, with only the perfect essence of it leftover."
Distilled Drama (screenshot shows Final Fantasy Tactics). Source: ResetEra.

Though Mara's world is not nearly as high stakes as the sprawling geopolitical drama of Final Fantasy Tactics, the spirit of "distilation" is alive and well in Perfect Tides. Gran and I agreed that, whether you love or hate the point-and-click oeuvre, Perfect Tides "does what it says on the tin".

The Perfect Storm

As our conversation came to a close, I was struck by Gran's honesty and directness. Our attention turned to the game's reception.

"I've definitely gotten a sense that the game is resonating with a very specific group of people who find that the challenge of it kind of syncs up with the feeling of aimlessness and directionlessness that they had when they were teenagers. Not everybody is going to be willing to put themselves through that, but the ones who do seem to be very satisfied with the experience."
A Lonely Road. Source: Steam.

Perfect Tides certainly isn't for everyone. As Gran put it, "some people find it frustrating that there are not more puzzles", while others are frustrated that there are even puzzles at all. It offers a very specific kind of experience, and it is clear that Gran didn't compromise on making the game that she wanted to make.

For those interested in a challenging story of bildungsroman neatly wrapped in a point-and-click bow, Perfect Tides offers something very special.

Cat Bussell is a games journalist from London. She still remembers what Dial-Up sounded like.


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