How Last Day of June got its unique style

Murasaki Baby creator Massimo Guarini discusses the art direction behind his indie heartwrencher.

Carl and June are very much in love. The player first sees them sitting at a dock, where they communicate affection through small, thoughtful gestures. Carl picks a flower and gives it to June, who puts it in her hair. Carl goes to the car for a sweater when June shivers. June surprises Carl with a bow-tied gift.

The game rewinds to earlier that day, when June is preparing the gift for Carl. She labors over how to present it best. She first considers the kitchen table and arranges the silverware around the gift in a decorative pattern. She then considers the foyer table and uses the dish candy to fashion a heart.

But June and Carl’s idyllic romance is disrupted later that evening, when their car veers off the road, killing June. Carl is confined to a wheelchair, with nothing but his memories to keep him company. What follows for the remainder of the game is a meditation on inevitability and loss. Carl travels back through time and labors, against fate, to undo the past and save June’s life.

The music video for Steven Wilson’s “Drive Home” serves as major inspiration for The Last Day of June; both the game and the music video tell the story of a man who lost his wife in a tragic car accident.

“My creative process, in general, is taking inspiration from music,” Massimo Guarini, the creative director of developer Ovosonico, told me. “And ‘Drive Home‘ is very bittersweet, with major and minor tones. It portrays melancholy in a very delicate way.”

But unlike its inspiration, The Last Day of June plays out with neither words nor discernible speech— the characters speak a sort of murmured Simlish, and their emotions are conveyed through pantomime. Carl rubs his belly when he’s hungry. He lowers his head when he’s sad.

During its development, the game needed an art style and character design that reinforced its narrative. Guarini began by reaching out to animator Jess Cope, who did the stop motion animation for “Drive Home.” Cope, who was familiar with Guarini’s previous game, Murasaki Baby, immediately came on board for the project. She helped with some of the pre-planning—establishing moods and fleshing out parts of the story— but Ovosonico’s team did all the animation.

The game’s art direction went through some early revisions. Cope’s stop motion style was an early reference, but this proved difficult to render with 3D graphics. So, Guarini and his team started with a more familiar style.

“Initially, we were keen to test a more hand-drawn style, similar to what we did with Murasaki Baby,” said Guarini. “The first concept art was drawn with a pencil. But we dropped that style once we came up with the painterly look, which felt much more dreamy, romantic, and surreal. It was also perfectly in line with the game’s theme, since June herself is a painter.”

“A painting is reality seen from the eyes of someone else,” continued Guarini. “It’s an alternative view and a different perspective. [In The Last Day of June], you get to replay the past through the eyes and perspective of different characters. The painterly look reinforces that theme.”

The team combined this visual look—made possible through Ovosonico’s custom “Marmalade” shader—with the feel of a real camera filming the action. By using cinematic techniques like depth of field and blur, the developers paid tribute to the original music video’s stop-motion animation.

The final visuals are reminiscent of Impressionist works by Monet or Cassatt, although according to Guarini, this resemblance is not deliberate.

What was deliberate, however, was the unique character design. None of the characters have a mouth or eyes—just a smooth surface where the mouth should be and pits in the face where the eyes should be. It was a risky choice, but as with the art direction, it was a thematically meaningful one.

“For me, it reinforced the concept that the characters are puppets—puppets in the hands of fate and destiny,” said Guarini. “The characters could be any one of us. You could be Carl. Somebody else could be June. Anybody could relate to them, because these events could happen to anyone.”

The Last Day of June releases on August 31st for PC and PlayStation 4.