Oh alright, I guess I’ll weigh into this whole Most Anticipated Games Of 2013 thing too, then.
Things I am a sucker for:
Story implicit in environment
Things Gone Home promises:
Story implicit in environment
Gone Home is special on our list of most anticipated games for 2013, in that it is not the product of a large, massively funded AAA studio. Instead, Gone Home is being developed by a small and new, but very experienced, indie studio Fullbright. Fullbright, as an indie studio, are as yet untested, but there is no denying the members’ exceptional pedigree in the mainstream industry.
Their four person team, which went independent in March last year, boasts talent from the team responsible for BioShock 2’s much lauded Minerva’s Den DLC, as well as having members who have worked on BioShock Infinite and XCOM.
Their credentials suggest a particular affinity to story-driven single player experiences, which is just the kind of game we love. Gone Home, from the details that have been released, seems set to cement that expectation of quality.
Fullbright describe their game as “a story exploration video game set in 1995.” In a preview interview and play session with Gamespot, developer Steve Gaynor emphasised the focus on “exploration in and of itself – urban exploration”. What I think that means is that Fullbright are intent on creating an environment to explore, as comprehensive and analogous to a real environment as possible. The level of veracity Gone Home is aiming to create seems astounding.
At its heart, Gone Home looks to be a game about exploration. Sharing mechanics with a traditional adventure game, players are able to pick up and examine items in the environment. What makes Gone Home unique is that almost all items in the house can be picked up, regardless of whether they are “key” items or not. The aim is to create a more freeform and immersive interactive experience, conveying narrative through unguided exploration and player curiosity.
A tense air of mystery appears to be key to the strange atmosphere of the game. The house looks designed to unsettle and alienate, while simultaneously engaging through familiarity. That tension may be the initial hook, fuelling curiosity and a drive to solve.
Gone Home will be all about details. A birthday card, fallen and forgotten behind a cabinet that reveals the interrelationships of the unmet family. A postcard from Paris from a prodigal daughter. The unpacked box of books, forgotten in a storage closet. It’s hints and whispers, chipping small pieces away from the block of unknown granite to reveal the statue of story within.
Some items, when interacted with, spark a monologue – more diary entry than blunt exposition. While on the surface it might appear to be a basic clumsy take on a voice log, instead it seems more reminiscent of Dishonored’s Heart mechanic, a way of revealing the history of the place without removing the player from the world. With these thoughts, we build up the images of these characters in our mind, purely through their thoughts, and their influence on the setting.
We’ve all experienced how a personality can be pervasive, how their foibles and idiosyncrasies shape their environments. Gone Home wants to be a study of that phenomenon, of the impact of ego on place, and if it succeeds, it will be something truly new for the video game medium.
Gone Home will strive to create a house – no, a home – from a familiar past. It wants to recreate that sense of wistful reminiscence you feel returning to your childhood home. Most of all, it wants you to discover the patterns and personalities of the inhabitants through osmosis.
It looks like every item will be clearly, deliberately, and most of all naturally placed around the house to give the impression of reality. The home is lived in, and its appearance reflects the personalities of those who live there. The house is aiming to be a mirror for the absent characters, expressing everything about them in fleeting reflections.
A stated aim of the project is to build character profiles through clues, rather than a textwall or clumsy exposition. The Fullbright team will need to draw upon all of their experience if they are to create characters through environment alone, but the fact that they are attempting such a task is exhilarating. That they may have the talent to succeed is revolutionary. It may be the push the industry needs to help it realise fully rounded characters and environments.
It’s not a huge name game, but it is made by a studio recognised for its narrative driven game design, exploring a new method of story telling. It looks like a room escape game with a never before seen amount of detail in its environment. It looks like every object will reveal something about character and place. It looks innovative, and interesting, and absolutely intriguing.
Importantly, it is intended to be an entirely non-violent experience. Traditionally, video game narrative is tied to conflict, which is tied to violence. In this increasingly-politicised medium, a demonstration of narrative excellence that entirely eschews violence might open the doorway for bigger studios to attempt something similar.
Story is best told passively, and through action. A clumsy creator will explain the story. A talented creator just makes the story happen. If Fullbright can deliver on their promises, Gone Home could be a truly immersive storytelling experience.
Gone Home has been previewed by Rock Paper Shotgun, Eurogamer, IGN, PC Gamer, and Kotaku, all of whom have reacted positively to its approach to narrative. Gone Home has already been a 2013 IGF Finalist in the Narrative category. Hopefully, it can maintain the reported narrative excellence upon release.
Gone Home makes our list because of its innovative approach to narrative and character, and its dedication to delivering a strong single player experience.
Gone Home is being developed for PC, Mac, and Linux platforms, and is set to release midway through the year. For me, that can’t come soon enough.
Below is a trailer from The Fullbright Company’s website…
And the Gamespot, video preview.