Trusting the Player With the Gameworld – Gone Home | Interview
Gone Home has been a passion of mine since the first hint of it hit the internet. The Fullbright Company’s Gone Home graced our list of most anticipated games of 2013 – one of the few independent titles to do so in a year of massive AAA games. All accounts so far reveal a richly atmospheric exploration of human space, telling narrative through the things all around, and a fundamentally single player experience. We recently got in touch with Steve Gaynor of Fullbright to ask him a few questions about Gone Home, their approach to environmental storytelling, and the single player experience.
Q) Gone Home received very positive reception at Rezzed this year, and has been given a lot of positive buzz. Is that encouraging for you and the team?
A) Yeah we were really happy that we could show Gone Home at Rezzed. It’s a great event, and the organizers were awesome enough to present our game in our stead (since the flight from west coast USA to the UK was a bit too expensive for us at this point in development.) It’s been really exciting to hear the reaction from the showfloor.
Q) How hard a decision was it to go indie after working on Minerva’s Den?
A) Well, it took a while. After Minerva I moved to Boston for a year to work on BioShock Infinite at Irrational. I learned a lot, and having played the finished game I know I contributed a lot, and that was good, but it also helped me realize I wanted to be back on the west coast, and working on a smaller project again. That project ended up being Gone Home.
Q) Gone Home – and Fullbright with their work on Minerva’s Den – clearly value environmental storytelling. What is your philosophy behind it? Why do you prefer this form of storytelling?
A) I just always try to think of what I would want if I were the player. And personally I want a game that allows me to inhabit it without getting all up in my face. I like to just be in a world and experience it and interact with it as I might if I were really there, which doesn’t involve sitting back and watching a cutscene. I think the more that the player can discover through their interaction with the world, the more invested they are in what they find. Being hands-off with the player and trusting them to discover what’s interesting about the gameworld on their own yields the best results in my opinion. It’s what I want, anyway.
Q) How do you see environmental storytelling improving, considering recent triumphs in the form such as The Last of Us and, to a lesser extent, BioShock: Infinite?
A) I think it’s less a question of the techniques or technology improving than simply having more developers focus on these aspects. You’re right, a lot of the most affecting discoveries in Last of Us were in the form of notes or small objects that you might find in the corner of the room or in your inventory, and what the state of those things says about the world. I think that one aspect of this is going to be making this kind of storytelling the focus of the game (he says, making a game where this kind of storytelling is the entire focus…) Because even in The Last of Us, I found myself being pulled out of the experience when I would find a handwritten note in a corner, and it would say like “I’m here all alone, and I can hear Infected outside. It’s only a matter of time until they break through…” And I’m like, who the hell are you writing this note to?? Who is the recipient?? Is this just your little diary? Is that what people do when they’re terrified of dying from zombies breaking into their house? And so forth. It can be hard to make these story techniques live alongside the gameplay and setting in a lot of AAA games, but when one of these moments does successfully hit that balance, it can be super memorable.
Q) Do you think that environmental storytelling lends itself to a particular genre or style of game? For example, do you see it working for an online multiplayer shooter?
A) I guess it kind of depends on scale. One good thing about environmental storytelling is how scalable it is. So for instance, levels in, say, Left 4 Dead do take advantage of environmental storytelling to some degree. But I do believe it has the most impact when you can take your time and investigate your surroundings without worrying about your co-op partner running off ahead of you, or a bunch of enemies jumping out and punching you in the back of the head.
Q) Are there any plans to bring Gone Home to consoles?
A) We’ve done some preliminary investigation but will more seriously look at additional platforms after Gone Home is released on PC, Mac and Linux.
Q) What do you think about the next-gen consoles and their approaches to indie devs? Can you see Gone Home coming to a next-gen console? Where do you see the single player experience going in the future?
A) I think I’m pretty much on the same page with the rest of the internet. The PS4 seems much more open and approachable as both a developer and a player, though I’m sure Microsoft’s approach will adapt over the coming years. I think that purely singleplayer experiences will have much more trouble surviving in the AAA space as the years go on, since the huge push is towards always-online, social-enabled experiences, even for stuff that has traditionally been SP. Sometimes this can be really interesting and add grand stuff to a game, as with Dark Souls. But as budgets continue to increase and publishers make demands to get return on their investment, I think it’ll be harder and harder to successfully get a purely SP-based AAA game made. That said, I’m glad that the indie space is continuing to expand and increase in profile. Smaller games can afford to appeal to fewer players. If that means that the indie space is the new home for purely singleplayer experiences, I’m all for it.
Q) What’s next for you after Gone Home?
A) I guess we’ll find out! It all kind of depends on how the game does, sales-wise. But my hope is that we do well enough to fund another game that we want to make, and just keep that process going for as long as possible. So many great games still left unmade…
Q) Finally when can we get our hands on Gone Home?
A) We’ll be announcing our release date very soon! Trust me, the wait won’t be long now. Thanks for the questions!
Thank you for your time, Steve.
Gone Home will be out on PC, Mac, and Linux soon – we’ll let you know exactly when it’s coming when we know.