Fullbright On Life After Gone Home, Their Next Game

By Nathan Grayson on February 20th, 2014 at 7:00 pm.

Gone Home was an inspired, beautifully heartfelt thing that clearly had a profound affect on people of multiple codes and creeds. It was powerful, delicate, and… we’ve probably said everything about it that it’s possible for one website largely made up of hairy men to say. At some point, it becomes time to move forward and explore new territory. That’s exactly what Steve Gaynor, Karla Zimonja, and the rest of the Gone Home team are doing right now: exploring. They don’t know precisely what form their next game will take just yet, but in a lengthy (and frankly, often very silly) interview, they let me inside their creative process. Go below to find out what lies beyond Gone Home for the Fullbright Company. 

RPS: Now that Gone Home has done so well, are you going to stick with the same team dynamic you have right now? Or are you thinking of adding any more people to your group?

Gaynor: We want to expand the scope of the next game slightly. We don’t want to limit ourselves to [the resources we had on Gone Home]. Gone Home is as much of a game as we were able to make with the number of people we had and the amount of time that we had, right? If we want to make something of a different scale, something is going to have to change. We could take four people and spend five years and make something way bigger. That doesn’t sound really interesting to me.

We want our next game to be more expanded of a production. We don’t want it to be Gone Home in a different house or whatever. 

And also, with the people that we have, there’s only a certain number of disciplines that are represented. If we wanted our next game to be more than an environment that you explore… If you’re going to have characters, for instance, you gotta hire an animator. So we’re exploring what we want to do next, because we don’t want it to be the same thing. We don’t want it to be Gone Home in a different house or whatever.

RPS: Gone to a Different Home.

Gaynor: Actually, can we use that? That’s terrible. But yeah. We do want our next game to stand on its own and be a little bit more expanded of a production. But on the other hand, it’s not like we want to hire a team of 50 and become something that is totally divorced from what we’ve already done. It’s just, slow sensible expansion to support what we want to do next, I think.

RPS: Have you thought about a time period you want to set your next thing in?

Gaynor: I don’t think that we want to drift an enormous amount from Gone Home. I’m not personally real interested in setting something in the 19th or 23rd centuries. I think that there’s a ton of stuff to say that involves modernity – like, here’s an interesting way to have an interesting experience in a world you’ve actually lived in or are personally familiar with. I think that’s really interesting. But as far as what actual year it takes place in, yeah, we’re… No. The nice thing is, we’re still doing a lot of, basically, followup stuff from releasing Gone Home. We’re talking about what we want to do next, but we’re taking our time and not diving right back into building stuff and having to set things in stone. Yet. Until the other stuff slows down a bit more and we can give it our full attention. But discussions are happening. They’re all just still exploratory.

RPS: You say that you might look at the idea of putting characters in and stuff. I think that’s something that Gone Home sort of deftly sidestepped. A lot of the character work was in our heads, at least in terms of what characters looked like and stuff like that. I think the most egregious example I can think of recently was BioShock Infinite, where you had these characters who would talk and animate nicely, and then they would stop and just stare at you. Giant glassy eyes. It was terrifying. It was like, welp, I guess the theme park ride… It was like, have you ever been to Chuck E Cheese?

Gaynor: Yes. I spent most of my youth in a Showbiz Pizza, actually.

RPS: Right, they called them Showbiz…

Gaynor: Well, let me tell you. Showbiz Pizza actually ended up acquiring Chuck E Cheese, because Chuck E Cheese went bankrupt, and then the brand recognition of Chuck E Cheese was much bigger than Showbiz Pizza, so they turned all of the Showbiz Pizzas into Chuck E Cheese, even though they were the parent company that bought the mascot and all that other stuff. I have read the Showbiz Pizza Wikipedia page not too long ago, and I can tell you exactly about that.

Zimonja: A whole night’s worth of conversation about Chuck E Cheese.

Gaynor: It wasn’t that long. Maybe in your mind.

Zimonja: It was a whole evening! It was significant.

Gaynor: The end of the Showbiz Pizza Wikipedia article was talking about how they were Showbiz Pizza, then they bought Chuck E Cheese, then they turned all the Showbiz into Chuck E Cheese, except there were a couple of Showbiz Pizzas outside of the U.S. There were a couple of instances. One was in the United Arab Emirates for some reason. Another was in Kuwait, and it was burned to the ground during the evasion in the early ’90s. So Showbiz Pizza was a casualty of the first Iraq war. You’re transcribing that, right?

RPS: Absolutely. I can’t not include this part. Scout’s honor.

Gaynor: Now then. You were saying.

RPS: I was saying, it’s like when the animatronic Chuck E Cheese robot monsters would shut down and stare at you while the lights dimmed. It was like something out of a horror movie. How do you get around that? Aside from turning them into the enemy and, you know, murdering them. Which I would not mind if your next game is going to be about evil Showbiz robots.

Gaynor: I think that the idea of the uncanny valley and how you represent characters in games in a way that doesn’t step into that territory is a broad topic. Some of it is just… That’s the danger of going toward photorealism, or even pushed photorealism. Stylized, but they’re still clearly representative of humans.

There is no point where the Pixar characters stop doing their canned animation and start idling and staring into space. And so I think that you go along that spectrum, and I think that there are ways to have a human presence in a game without saying, okay, we’re just going to put a photorealistic representation, an animated mannequin in the same space as you, and your human brain is going to be able to decode that instantly as not a real person.

Zimonja: Basically, there’s a whole spectrum to the uncanny valley. Like, how much does this treatment look like a human being? How much does it act like a human being? That can be very broad, like you were saying. If it’s walking around and playing animations, and then all of a sudden it’s like, okay… I’m gonna wind down and sit here. In 2D animation, when… You know how, a lot of the time, when you see 2D animation, you can see the outlines vibrating a little bit? When that stops, that’s called dying. You let your character die. If you do that, it’s just frozen in space and dead. It sounds like what you’re describing.

Gaynor: There are examples in games, like in The Last Express, where they used rotoscoping, but they also just, for the most part, it was keyframes. They captured the essence of those characters being there, but not like, this is going to be an FMV game. Last Express came out at a time when FMV games were huge, and it was like, let’s just put video of people on screen. Clearly that approach, that literalism, which I think is what the 3D photorealism is about… That died out once people saw the limitations of it.

Whereas something like this sort of reduced animated non-literal approach, like The Last Express took, is really interesting. You get that feel of the expressions on the faces and the poses and everything, but they don’t sign up for, and we’re going to try to trick your brain into thinking this is really a person. It’s in that dialogue. It knows about your perception. It acknowledges that. I think that’s interesting.

RPS: So are you saying your next game is going to be an FMV game?

Zimonja: With David Bowie.

Gaynor: David Bowie was never in an FMV game, was he? Oh, well, he was in…

Zimonja: You can do it…

Gaynor: He was in fucking Giddidebleh: The Nomad Soul. The David Cage game.

RPS: Omikron, yeah.

Gaynor: Omikron: The Nomad Soul. But he wasn’t FMV in that, right? He was just a voice.

Zimonja: I feel like it was… I don’t know.

Gaynor: Christopher Walken has definitely done FMV. He was the main detective in Ripper. God. Who else? Oh, Dennis Hopper did an FMV game. That was around the same time that he did the Super Mario Bros. movie, so clearly…

Zimonja: A wonderful time.

RPS: [Quietly, gleefully watches the spectacle unfold]

Gaynor: Since this isn’t a podcast, I can take a second to google “dennis hopper fmv game” because I’m almost sure that I’m right.

Yes, Dennis Hopper was the lead investigator in the FMV game Black Dahlia.

Zimonja: There is absolutely FMV footage of David Bowie’s fucking face. I can see it.

RPS: You’re both right. This is great.

Zimonja: It’s on something like a monitor. Oh, God. Ugh. Amazing. You need to look at this image real quick.

[Everyone looks at Karla's phone.]

RPS: That’s really frightening.

Zimonja: Look at that face! It’s his whole face! Anyway.

RPS: Do you want to keep making games with a lot of reading in them? Obviously written language shows up in most games, but not anywhere close to the extent that Gone Home used it.

Gaynor: There will be probably some reading. There may be a lot. I just don’t know. I’m glad that we could rely on text a lot in Gone Home, and I’m glad that people wanted to read it, because yeah, here’s the pitch. Buy this game! There’s a lot of reading! It’s not intuitive, I think.

Zimonja: Reading in cursive, even.

Gaynor: A little bit of cursive. A little bit. You’re counting Carol’s handwriting and stuff. That’s a lot more legible than, like, Oscar’s. It was really important for us, because the game is about interacting with artifacts and finding expressions of these people’s experience in these bits and pieces that are physically in the house. It’s also not like a core value of mine. I’m not like, I must make games where you read a lot. But if we take Gone Home as a starting point and say, what can we add, what can we change, how can that foundation become its own experience the next time around, if it makes sense to say that you’re finding a lot of notes and stuff along with whatever else is going on, I’m not going to shy away from it.

I’m really grateful for the fact that people cared enough about the story and the experience to want to dig through all that text. I’m as susceptible as anyone to very low thresholds for text overload. But I think that, hopefully, what Gone Home shows is that what’s important is not necessarily how much text there is. There’s a limit. But more so, how relevant is it to the core of the player’s experience and what they need to understand and what is important to their being able to engage with the events of the world and everything? When there’s a ton of optional text, it’s just like, we put this text in and it’s just lore.

RPS: You said you don’t way to stray too far from Gone Home overall, though. Have you thought about doing more… not even game-ey, but… just a more mechanically involved thing? Or is it still going to be mainly a story-focused experience?

Gaynor: The thing that I hope is meaningful about Gone Home is that you’re discovering content. It’s a content delivery mechanism. But all of the method for doing that is through systemic interactive tools. The game is about you being involved with discovering the story that lives in the environment, but it’s like, a mechanically driven game as far as how you do that – move around, be able to explore the environment as far as seeing around and under things and picking things up and examining them from all angles and moving physics objects around and locking and unlocking and the mini-map and all this stuff.

It’s story-based, but I still think of it as a game where a rich set of mechanics is integral to how it means anything. You could just put the text out there and just tell the story that way, but that’s not the point, right?

I think that on the one hand, I’m not real interested in making a game that’s about some things that are traditionally game-ey like win-loss conditions and combat and scoring and a lot of stuff that I guess is associated with mechanical progression or optimization or however you look at it. Competition? But that said, I think that our design approach is always to say, what kind of experience do we want to get across? And then how do we express that through these consistent interactive tools that the player has to be the driver of that?

It’s a line to walk, I guess, between… It’s not like I want to make a cover shooter or something. Or even something that’s less of an obvious straw man than that. Jonathan Blow is making The Witness, and it’s about exploration and atmosphere and everything, but it’s also very much about puzzle puzzles. That’s not something that personally excites me.

But, that said, I think that if we are going to expand our scope, if we’re going to get to a point where there are more kinds of stuff in the game, that’s all going to be expressed through… The player can do more things. The player interacts with the game differently, or in new ways, to support that, as opposed to just, we’re going to throw more content into it.

RPS: But the tale will still ultimately be a grounded, down-to-Earth sort of thing, correct?

Gaynor: It’s similar to the setting question. I think that there’s so much to talk about that is not fantastical, and that doesn’t rely on “He was dead the whole time!” Or the Usual Suspects thing was not supernatural at all, but it was an identity twist. It was, pull off the Scooby Doo mask, essentially, and all the pieces fall into place. I think that there’s a lot of ways to tell stories about things that happen in our own world that don’t rely on that kind of stage magician trick. You know? That’s interesting for its own sake. I think there’s a lot more that we could do with that. I’m interested in continuing to say, who are other kinds of people and other places and other times and other situations that we can make an interesting interactive thing about?

Zimonja: There’s a lot to be said for small personal stories. There really is. In any medium.

Gaynor: I’ve done a twist story, right? Minerva’s Den was totally an identity twist story. I’m happy with that. I’m proud of it. But also, it was very much within the conventions of the franchise we were working with. It’s something that the Shock games are good at, that we wanted to explore and see what we could do with. But I think that we have the ability to tell interesting stories without necessarily relying on those conventions.

I think that Karla and I feel like we are at the beginning of a path that leads to a lot of unexplored territory. We want to continue along it and see what we find, as opposed to really turning a corner 90 degrees and saying, let’s stop going that way and see what else is over here. I think there’s a lot more to uncover in that direction.

It’s one of those things where it’s not like I’ll ever shut the door. If we start writing the story and we get to it, and we’re like, it would be amazing if the blah blah guy been your dad and you never knew it… If that’s the thing that’s interesting, when you do it well, that’s just where we end up. But I don’t think that we’re starting from a point of thinking, and how do we make this all add up to an amazing twist? Or whatever. We try to start with as few assumptions as possible, aside from, who are these people and how can we do justice to them by telling a story about them?

Zimonja: Yeah. My favorite stories are… They’re contained more closely. You’re so in the world that the people the stories are about… When things happen to them, you are… It’s a bigger deal when real life things happen to them, than if werewolves came to the window and ruined everything.

Gaynor: I’ve used the metaphor, talking about Gone Home, where it’s like, the reason the events of the game matter is because the game allows you to build context for who these people are. You care about the events because, ideally, you care about the characters, not because the events themselves are so incredibly mind-blowing. It’s more like, I hope Sam’s okay. I want to find out what happened to her. I think that you feel that way about characters in a film or a novel or a game that you connect with, where you’re like, I’m invested in these people because I feel like I know them and understand them.

Zimonja: Not because the weight of the world swings in the balance or whatever.

RPS: Right. If that was the case, then every single story ever told would just be about the fate of the world, because there would be no worth in any other story.

Zimonja: That’s the only thing you’d care about. That society can go.

Gaynor: I think we’ll continue exploring that side of what we’re interested in and just start from there and see where it leads.

RPS: I’m pretty sure I’ve already figured out your next game. It’s going to turn out that I was Christmas Duck all along.

Gaynor: Oh, that would be good. You go all the way through and at the end you meet somebody, and they’re like, “It’s you!” And in the first-person, you just hear…. Quack! And Christmas Duck just sits there.

Zimonja: That’s not what would happen. You’d have to… This is way better! Okay, you get the end of the game, and I don’t know… You walk into your office or something, you sit down, and your boss is like, “Good old Christmas Duck.” He pats your head in first-person. It would be amazing. Maybe, I don’t know, he gives you a promotion.

RPS: And then David Bowie and Christopher Walken and everybody show up and say, “congratulations!”

Zimonja: And there’s a song about Christmas Duck.

Gaynor: Somebody did recommend that we release DLC where you play as Christmas Duck. It’s just pitch black, and you see a cabinet open, and somebody picks you up and takes a key and closes it again, and then the credits roll.

RPS: Thank you for your time.

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89 Comments »

  1. The Army of None says:

    Loved this. Also, I would absolutely buy Christmas Duck DLC. CDDLC.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Lars Westergren says:

    This interview is amazing. And whatever they are making next: pre-ordered.

    Black Dahlia, wow that brings back memories. As a fan of James Ellroy I picked it up. It started out pretty good, eerie adventure thriller with supernatural touches. Something like an early L.A Noire. I don’t think it had Dennis Hopper in it?

    And then suddenly I’m in a labyrinth catacomb in Nazi Germany, turning stone circles to match symbols to solve obscure puzzles. You can spot the exact moment the budget ran out. “Shit, we have to add an ending!”

    Maybe this inspired David Cage to create Fahrenheit.

    Edit: Wikipedia proved me wrong. Dennis Hopper it is.

  3. Premium User Badge

    X_kot says:

    That was an entertaining read, Nathan – thanks. (Please get rid of the drop quotes, I’m begging you!) It sounds like it didn’t take much prompting to have them talk at length; did you get to ask all the questions you had prepared?

    The quote of the interview for me was that Gone Home is “a content delivery mechanism. But all of the method for doing that is through systemic interactive tools.” That seems like a pretty good definition of a video game.

    • Shuck says:

      Keep the drop quotes, just replace the contents with “Somebody did recommend that we release DLC where you play as Christmas Duck. It’s just pitch black, and you see a cabinet open, and somebody picks you up and takes a key and closes it again, and then the credits roll.”

      That does seem like a good definition of a video game (it’s my working definition, anyways).

  4. Penguin_Factory says:

    “There’s a lot to be said for small personal stories. There really is. In any medium”

    YES A THOUSAND TIMES YES

    THIS, FOREVER

    *cough*

    Yeah, whatever they put out next I’ll be buying day one.

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    Sinomatic says:

    Great interview. I’ve just finished playing Gone Home, so this is rather timely. I thought it was an excellently presented game that hit all the right emotional notes throughout. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they can deliver next, particularly as they appear to be looking to stick to the more, as they put it, ‘closely contained’ story style.

  6. XhomeB says:

    Dennis Hopper wasn’t “the lead investigator” in Black Dahlia (by the way, it’s a true gem -sadly, almost forgotten – and one of my two favourite FMV adventures, the other one being The Beast Within), he only played an episodic role in the game. The lead character was Jim Pearson, played by Darren Eliker.

    As for Gone Home, it was average at best, sorry. Good concept, well written, but it had as much “gameplay” as Dear Easther and its “plot twist” was the only reason media praised it like crazy.

    • GiantRaven says:

      I don’t know, you couldn’t pick up objects in Dear Esther. Or rotate them.

      Hell, Gone Home even had a puzzle! That’s more than Dear Esther ever had.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Stellar Duck says:

    This was a very good interview!

    I always enjoy hearing Steve Gaynors thoughts and this was no exception. I’m glad Karla Zimonja was there as well as I’d not really read a lot from anyone on the team aside from Scoops. I was pleased to get her thoughts as well.

    Fullbright is a team I’m very much keeping an eye on and I’ll get their next game as soon as it’s released, that’s for sure.

    Gone Home was a favourite of mine last year.

  8. Michael Fogg says:

    Photo of the devs – yup, pretty much what I expected ;P

    • trout says:

      humans wearing garments?

      • Premium User Badge

        Stellar Duck says:

        People having a chat and looking interested in what the others have to say?

        If so, I want that!

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        Gap Gen says:

        Wait, is that- are they in a *room*?!

    • TheVGamer says:

      I think those are called artists. Yuck, amirite?

      • Distec says:

        Hipsters.

        Just gonna throw it out there because I can’t resist.

    • Phasma Felis says:

      There’s nothing particularly unusual-looking about any of those people unless you’re from the ’50s. I feel like you think you were making some sort of cutting commentary, but it didn’t work.

      • Michael Fogg says:

        I was refering to the fact that the guy is wearing a Wehrmacht Heeresadler tatoo, obviously.

    • Jambe says:

      This adroit contribution to culture is commendable. Clearly keen intellect and richly-cultivated taste led to your realization that all discussions are improved by inapposite de haut en bas tribalism.

      If you want actual insight into Gaynor’s character I’d suggest reading his rambling response to John Walker’s copyright piece over at Gamasutra; I found it to be an incoherent, noncomittal mass of reactionary conservatism vis-a-vis contemporary “Intellectual Property” law.

      Still, I found Gone Home intriguing and Gaynor evinces curious formative interests in this interview, so I’ll probably snatch up his next project, too.

      • Machinations says:

        Wow. Thanks for that..it is far more revealing into the true motivations of these ‘artistes’

        $$$$$$$$$$$$

      • Grapeykins says:

        I honestly fail to see how that piece reflects poorly on Gaynor’s character. Was something lost in translation for me?

        • Jambe says:

          It reflects little on his character, but it’s at least somewhat revealing, as opposed to the crud to which I replied.

          Kneejerk, vaguely-reasoned possessiveness demonstrates a lack of criticality towards extant rent-seeking ultracapitalist property law. Not critiquing the source(s) of one’s income is arguably a character flaw in and of itself, but taking it one step further into what appears to be guttural defensiveness definitely recalls our childlike tendency to say “Mine!”

    • gritz says:

      white people?

      • Geebs says:

        I dunno if dressing up as modern-day Axl Rose can ever be justified

  9. Beekay_ says:

    OMIKRON!!!! I’ve been trying to remember what that was for YEARS! I watched my cousin play it when I was a kid and I couldn’t remember anything except you had a backback-shoulder and you can change characters.

    Thanks RPS!

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    Big Murray says:

    To be honest, that every games journalist outlet including RPS persists in gushing over these guys turns me off quite a lot. Gone Home was cute, but hardly revolutionary and hardly as clever as it thought it was. It was also way, WAY overpriced.

    If these guys are being held up as the figureheads of the future of gaming narrative, I weep for our children.

    • The Random One says:

      I liked Gone Home, but I like it more for its promise than for what it is. The story is pretty good (nothing amazing though), but the fact that it’s so understated and down to earth is more praiseworthy than the story itself. It’s good it’s getting the attention it’s getting, but it’s a first step, not a journey.

    • Machinations says:

      Yea, agree. I guess its a touch pretentious for me.

      As others have pointed out, there have been games making social commentary that managed to be actual games as well, like Papers Please, which is unadulterated genius. I don’t believe the praise of Gone Home is warranted.

    • dskzero says:

      It’s just another media darling in a medium where people aren’t used to it. Not particulary groundbreaking, not particulary good, not even all that intriguing, but it’s something that its content defies general sterotypes in gaming. Gamers don’t give a damn because it’s not really interesting, critics love it because they consider it innovative.

  11. Distec says:

    I don’t quite understand the accolades this game gets. And I’m not trying to be some grumpy and jaded critic! While I think the story (or whatever you call it) was a novel change from your typical “Bad Dudes Kickin’ Ass” experience in a lot of games, I think one’s mileage with it is highly subjective. Clearly it touched a lot of people, but I wasn’t one of them.

    Outside of that, I didn’t find anything particularly interesting about it. Meh.

    • derbefrier says:

      ehh i havent played it but from what i can tell this became a media darling for one reason. The story of the game came at a time when gaming journalist have been pressing hard for certain ideologies that are reflected in this game. Happens all the time and not just in the gaming press the only thing keeping these guys relevant is the press constantly gushing over them like they reinvented the wheel by making a lesbian the main character and having you walking around a house looking at stuff. Its fine if you liked, I am sure its not a bad game but it is kinda silly how the press puts this game on such a high pedestal.

      • The Random One says:

        Good job getting through that post without saying “The Gay Agenda”, it looks like it must have been strenuous for you.

        • rabitjunk says:

          You’re putting words in derbefrier’s mouth. They said, “ideologies”. I would agree that game journalists are pushing for “Anything but straight, white men” which certainly includes a lot of groups. Neither myself nor the original comment implied anything other than a statement of fact, and certainly nothing negative. I hate how any (even legitimate) criticism of this product, is immediately decried as homophobic.

          • wu wei says:

            I would agree that game journalists are pushing for “Anything but straight, white men” which certainly includes a lot of groups.

            If you’re wondering why people react negatively to comments like this, it’s because your very interpretation of the socially aware behaviour of current game writers shows your hand, as much as you try to frame it in neutral terms.

            “Anything but straight, white men” is not the same thing as “Everyone as well as straight, white men”. That you view people saying the former as actively campaigning “against” the category you belong to is the very thing that frustrates and angers those of us with a moral compass.

          • The Random One says:

            Yes, I put words in his mouth, because he didn’t speak the words he wanted to. Using noncommittal vague terms like “certain ideologies” is a way to preempt criticism, by implying that if I say he’s being homophobic I’m the one drawing conclusions, and I’m calling him out for it. If you truly agree with him, don’t defend his weaseling, as it weakens your argument as well.

            Gone Home doesn’t have an ideology, because “gay people are human beings” is not an ideology, it’s basic decency. GH has a very basic rebellious teens coming of age story where the main character’s homosexuality is only one of many plot devices that cause her to come into conflict with her parents. Any perception that this is unique or politicized comes not from GH itself, but from the lack of similar stories in general. GH is not particularly good at portraying gay people, it’s almost everything else that’s particularly bad.

            There’s also the mention that the press is “pushing” the game. It carries the noxious and common implication that the press didn’t REALLY like the game (of course they didn’t because the game is bad) and is only pretending to like it to push some sort of nefarious objective (a gay agenda, if you will). The concept that maybe people say they want games that don’t star straight white males because they want to play games that don’t star straight white males, and therefore will enjoy games that don’t star straight white males as they said they would, is dismissed outright.

            But let’s say Gone Home is indeed awful and horrible. Why do people say they like it so much? I have an explanation. For the last few years, I’ve been frustrated by games that have combat when its other systems are of greater interest to me. Three AAA games made me think that: Mass Effect, Deus Ex Human Resources, and Just Cause 2. In those games, combat felt to me like a clumsy drag, frustrating, rarely interesting and bolted on because of the expectation that games had to have combat in them, when all I wanted was to talk to weird aliens/talk to weird cyberpunk people & read their emails/hook myself to people’s cars. (Well, OK, not Deus Ex’ – that was engaging combat and well weaved into the game’s systems. But it was still the least interesting system, and left me thinking of how interesting the conversations might have been if they were comparable in scope to the combat instead of a glorified rock-paper-scissors game.)

            Gone Home was a proof of concept that my ideas were right. It was essentially a Shock game without combat, and it was interesting and engaging (to me, at least). Since we’re assuming the game is bad, let’s say I don’t think the game is good but I still think people should play it because I see it as a roadmap to games I do want to play. (This is not my actual position on Gone Home; rather, on Spec Ops: The Line.) Given that the press seems to be as tired of violence as I am, as the articles decrying Binfinite’s violence suggest, is it not possible that they praise the game so you can see this possible future?

            Look at that! I gave a plausible explanation for the game’s success without simply saying it’s good, but without ascribing it to nefarious conspiracies or even mentioning the protagonist’s sexual orientation. How interesting!

          • rabitjunk says:

            @wu wei
            Funny that you should state that I my statement, “shows my hand” as I am not a “straight, white male”. You are reading into my comment and making assumptions and adding implication where there was none. As a person who has been the direct beneficiary of encouraging “diversity”, my phrasing as “anyone but” vs “everyone and” perhaps stems from my experience. With a limited number of slots, the choices that we make may very well be exclusionary. I make no assertion as to what is good or right, I merely am making a statement of fact.

            I will however make one statement of opinion – adding a demographic simply to have the demographic is poor writing and pandering, including having an “all white, heterosexual cast” _because default_.

            @The Random One – thank you for your thoughtful response


            GH has a very basic rebellious teens coming of age story where the main character’s homosexuality is only one of many plot devices that cause her to come into conflict with her parents.

            There’s also the mention that the press is “pushing” the game.

            To be honest, that really is my impression. Given the actual gameplay, and as you yourself put it, “a very basic teens coming of age story” – I see little redeeming quality, so instantly I wonder if it is due to the introduction of homosexuality as a theme.

            It carries the noxious and common implication that the press didn’t REALLY like the game

            Yes, I agree. One of the reasons I read RPS is because game “journalism” is generally terrible; given the disparity on metacritic, it really makes me wonder. In any case, it could be less extreme than “dislike”. People obviously enjoy coming-of-age stories. I would never praise any of them save the absolute best – it’s a tired trope. Gone Home is not one of the best (if we’re comparing across media). It seems to be “mediocre” in all respects (“forgettable” is one I hear often, as Distec mentioned in this very thread), but the press are falling over backwards praising the game. Why?


            Gone Home was a proof of concept that my ideas were right. It was essentially a Shock game without combat, and it was interesting and engaging (to me, at least)

            Interesting! Yes, I would agree with you that it is ultimately a good thing then. I have no issue with the game, other than what I perceive to be undue praise simply because it included certain plot devices. My original comment was rather lamenting that it seems impossible to have an honest discussion of the game because people are so polarized that all discussions devolve into baseless ad hominems.

        • Distec says:

          I really don’t want to get too deep into this, since I feel like these discussions usually get loaded and testy on RPS. But my two cents:

          I think the game wouldn’t have gotten the attention it’s received if it weren’t for that particular twist. And while I don’t believe there’s some widespread industry agenda to promote “social justice” or whatever sneering term people use now, I do think the prominence of LGBT and other gender issues are part of our current gaming zeitgeist. I want to emphatically state that I think that’s good, before we have a misunderstanding. But I think Gone Home’s central relationship has often overshadowed what is an otherwise forgettable experience. I couldn’t imagine this game getting the same fanfare if it had been a boy and a girl running off instead.

          I read somebody say that this could have been an arty flash game on Newgrounds years ago and nobody would have given it a second thought back then. Does that mean it’s bad? No, not necessarily. But I think you can certainly argue that the time and place in which a product is released factors into its reception.

          • His Divine Shadow says:

            it did feel a lot like an oscar-bait equivalent to me (or rather cannes-bait)

          • Machinations says:

            Bingo. But hey, wrapping yourself in a social cause is as good a way as any to attract glowing praise from people sympathetic to you. As an actual game, not impressive. As a marketing campaign? Genius.

    • Urthman says:

      Guys, you’re totally overthinking this.

      If you’re the sort of person who played Deus Ex (the original and/or Human Revolution) and thought, “I wish there was a whole game that was just sneaking around someone else’s house or office, looking through all their stuff and reading their e-mail” then Gone Home is the game for you. It’s a First Person Snooper. It turns out there’s more of us than I would have thought (particularly among games journalists).

      If you’re not one of those people, you probably won’t like it. Go play a game with guns or puzzles or whatever you like better than first-person snooping and don’t worry about it.

      • Distec says:

        I don’t believe I’m overthinking anything. :( I’m taking the game for what it is and I understand why people like it. But I can’t pare that up with what I see as curiously overblown praise. I’m not trying to investigate a mystery; just sounding off my opinion. I question most games that get almost-perfect reviews, whether that’s Fallout 3, Bioshock Infinite, COD, or Gone Home in this case.

        I think you might have me wrong. I don’t have any beef with the genre or its mechanics. I actually do like the concept as you described it. It could be that I’m just missing a flavor/setting that would hook me into the experience. Maybe one that doesn’t hinge on some selective, non-universal nostalgia? I really enjoyed The Stanley Parable, which I know has its share of detractors. But obviously that game is tonally different from GH. And as much as I liked that title, I thought it was more an excellent side dish than a game I would put on a pedestal.

  12. Shooop says:

    The audience reaction to Gone Home winning PC game of the year from the VGX’s last year said all you needed to know about that game. Gone Home was just a FPS corridor desigused as a house.

    Content delivery? Look to Telltale Games. Telltale Games do it right because they give you the player some actual agency by making your decisions matter in the story. You may still be mostly a spectator to the story, but your choices actually matter. You’re actually engaged in the stories in some way, even if it’s limited, not just clicking on a few objects to hear a line of dialogue until the credits roll.

    If RPS wants to keep hyping Gone Home as a masterwork of modern game design then they’d better stop panning the Call Of Duty series’ and any other games’ lack of player agency because it’s sheer hypocrisy. The only difference is you’re clicking the mouse to pick up cassette tapes and books to advance the scene instead of clicking to fire missiles at brown people to advance the scene.

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      Stellar Duck says:

      I don’t know how the audience reacted at VGX but is VGX really what we want to use to gauge the quality of a game?

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      X_kot says:

      But how vital and how substantial is a player’s agency in games that emphasize narrative? In many games, including The Walking Dead and the Mass Effect series, branching choices A and B lead the same point C, except that a different video clip plays. The biggest effect agency has is on the player’s perception of their character and construction of the story; mechanically, “choice” is only modifying a few variables.

      That’s not to say that there is no value in that – I love those titles and the choices I picked – but the extent to which I am collaborating with the devs is extremely limited. My wandering the house in Gone Home did involve choices: which rooms I entered at which times affected how I interpreted the clips of backstory I found.

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        puppybeard says:

        Same, I enjoyed The Walking Dead, but there was no major consequence to decisions, in terms of the later experience, as opposed to say, The Witcher 2, where you played a whole other branch based on a decision you had to make in seconds.

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        Rizlar says:

        The sense of place is totally central to Gone Home as well, wouldn’t have been achieved without the first person walking around and manual interactions.

        Regarding narrative games and choice, Dyscourse (aka that indie plane crash thing) could be interesting, with the branching narrative they are trying to create. Perhaps the best example of this sort of thing are text-based games like Long Live the Queen, where the whole thing is about manipulating the story, choose your own adventure style. I onno.

    • Robert H. Dylan says:

      ‘Content delivery mechanism’ evokes Styrofoam packing peanuts. Kyle Reese (132nd under Perry) once said: “Nobody goes home.”

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      Unknown says:

      Gone Home was successful despite its minimal player agency. Call of Doody was not. That’s the difference.

  13. Premium User Badge

    puppybeard says:

    I must semi-guiltily admit that I haven’t played Gone Home. Based on the opinions of friends I trust and writers I respect, I heartily support it’s existence. But it’s about €16 for 3 hours of play, so ehhhh, you’re alright, thanks.

    I’m all for creativity, but there’s a such a thing as valuing your work too highly.

    • The Random One says:

      That’s a very silly way to look at it. Would you rather pay €16 for three hours of great game, or twelve hours of mediocre game? If you play games just to waste time because you’ve got nothing to do all afternoon then I guess looking at lenght matters, but otherwise quality is far more important.

      There are of course some people who’ll say Gone Home is three mediocre hours, and that’s an OK opinion to have, but it doesn’t sound it’ll be yours. Anyway it’s been on 50% off sales a few times and I bet it’ll end up on a bundle soon enough if you must save your money.

      • lautalocos says:

        i could also pay €16 for 12 hours of great game. maybe even 24 hours.

        • Jayblanc says:

          People complained that Portal 2′s Eight Hours of epic entertainment was too short for the price paid. And thus we live in a world where companies either pour money into AAA Titles to ensure quality throughout 12 hours of game play, then lay off studios because they can’t make back the money within six months… Or contract out to the lowest bidder to get a game made that’s 12 hours long and looks near enough to other good games to sell.

          The bottom line is there’s been a race to the bottom on pricing games, that has set the market price lower than you can recoup the costs of production within a year. And that means companies either going bust, cutting corners and releasing sloppy product, making shorter games or raising the prices. (Or ‘investing’ in DRM, or ‘Zero Day DLC’, or ‘In Game Microtransactions’… But that hasn’t actually solved the problem for any of them.)

          Ultimately, this is *why* we got Aliens Colonial Marines, Brink (remember Brink?) and Battlefield 4 in the state they were released in… It costs a lot of money to run a development studio, and there’s only so much time you can wait for ‘long tail’ sales to pay the bills or pay off the loans and credit lines that will have been put up to finance them.

          • Machinations says:

            A quibble…BF4 was released in the state it was because EA was convinced they had to ‘beat’ CoD.

            Never mind that they are killing a franchise to do it.

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        puppybeard says:

        I don’t want to buy mediocre games either!

        €19, it is, now I check. Nah. Bad value. Cheeky feckers. Brass necks, the lot of them.
        I’m so loaded I could buy, oh, 3 copies of this game if I wanted to, but it’s the principle!

        I’ll pick it up in some bundle some day when the memories of all the things I’ve read that give the details away have faded.

  14. Buttless Boy says:

    Okay, this seems like a reasonable place to put my opinions on Gone Home, then.

    Speaking as a feminist hipster who loves art games, exploration, riot grrrl, stories about high school, romance stories, and games where you walk around and open drawers, I thought they screwed up with this game. It was almost the amazing thing that everyone raves about, except that it kept beating me over the head with the narrative. It completely broke the “show don’t tell” rule of storytelling by having totally superfluous narration running over every little bit of exploration. Exploration which, by itself, revealed 95% of the story on its own (and the rest could/should have been revealed upon finding the diary at the end). I’d find a note that said “Character X was mean to character y”, and the voice-over would then tell me the exact same thing. It was like trying to watch a movie while someone sat next to you explaining what was happening in every scene. It drove me crazy.

    For everyone that hasn’t played it yet: there’s an option, toggled off by default, to disable the narration hidden in a menu somewhere. Turn off the narration. You’ll play an infinitely better game.

    • ChrisGWaine says:

      It’s been a bit, but I don’t remember feeling that the narration was a problem or superfluous. Rather than telling me what I already knew, it was more that once I had learned something, it was the appropriate time to hear Sam giving voice to her thoughts on it.

      • Jalan says:

        Did a CTRL+F for “feminist” looking for the other comment thread regarding it but I guess moderation had to swoop in on that one.

        No matter though, as a “who cares, I play games” type of person, I didn’t find the narrations to lessen the impact of any action I was taking inside the game or beating me over the head with what I was deducing on my own as I was exploring the house.

        (And why in god’s name did I hit reply on the wrong comment? Oh well, it’s in the same general vicinity, which still counts for… something, I suppose. And why did I click “highlight comment” when I meant to click edit so I could fix something!?! Why the hell is that even next to the edit button?!?)

    • Muzman says:

      I think they wisely cast a pretty wide net with this, well into non gamer territory. We forget that this is an unfamiliar comprehension landscape for people, or one that is basically defined by being declamatory and obvious and also easy to control.
      Stripped back first person isn’t as native as we old hands like to think.

  15. Turkey says:

    I guess this is why so many video games only do genre-fiction. There’s not that much gameplay that supports a drama approach to video games. Seems like a creative dead end to me, but I’m more of a gameplay guy than a narrative guy when it comes to video games.

  16. Premium User Badge

    Rizlar says:

    What they said about text in games was spot on – it’s not about quantity, it’s about how you engage with it.

    As someone who can rarely be arsed reading tacked-on lore, playing The Secret World reminded me how it should be presented. Lots of text is fully integrated with the missions (eg find information in a newspaper article), then the optional bits and pieces are like wierd, collectible bits of prose that you have to piece together. Good stuff.

  17. RUN msdos.exe -DMC says:

    I remember the “EVASION” of Iraq like it was yesterday. Text-to-speech is a wonderful thing, ain’t it?

    • Premium User Badge

      puppybeard says:

      Thank god we avoided opening that can of worms, eh? An invasion really could have gotten messy.

  18. MadMonkey says:

    To my dying day I will speak of my hatred of Gone Home (or until the next overhyped slightly interactive romance novel pseudo game comes out).

    I would have enjoyed it if it had made good on the promises it made in the first 5 minutes. References to the X-Files? Horror-movie schtick? Dark and stormy night? Check, check, and check.

    And then things start to feel wrong. Shouldn’t something have happened by now? Sure feels like this should be getting interesting… then the story begins to wind down, and you think that they couldn’t have POSSIBLY gotten away with making something this boring, so there has to be a major plot twist and a few more hours of gameplay.

    Then you find that note. And you want to put your fist through the monitor.

    Then it ends.

    • ColinWright says:

      It is a-okay that it wasn’t for you, but taking hatred to your grave is a little sad, really.

      • MadMonkey says:

        Don’t worry, I’m sure something worse will come out before then.

    • Muzman says:

      Is this that ‘You can’t invoke horror tropes and not follow through!’ argument again?
      Holy crap. Even some reviewers pull this one though.

      And people wonder why games are typically rote and predictable.

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      Unknown says:

      I love the way Gone Home puts you in a classic “horror” atmosphere (stormy night, empty house, dark rooms) and completely subverts all those expectations.

  19. Noise says:

    Why does this game get so much praise? Storytelling in games has been done better than this a thousand times (eg Myst, Pathologic, RPGs like Planescape or Witcher), and the story isn’t even very good. The game part is also almost non-existent, just some basic exploration stuff, which is also blown out of the water by countless games (eg Myst, Dark Souls, Buried in Time). It’s perfectly fine to like or enjoy the game, and I wouldn’t disapprove of anyone doing so, but the critical reception is mind boggling.

    • Muzman says:

      I disagree that storytelling has been done better a thousand times. Even if true that’s like under one percent of games. Even fewer games are interested in being this subtle and understated.
      We should still be mad at Halo 4 and Bioshock’s 10/10s more than worrying about some little indie game getting too much praise, if you’re really worried about overbalancing the critical ledger.

    • Jupiah says:

      I think the gaming press has been hyping this game up so much mostly because they are sick to death of all the violence in gaming nowadays so whenever a story driven game without any combat shows up they lavish it with attention in the hopes that game developers will get the hint. I’ve noticed that point and click adventure games have been making a resurgence lately and they’ve been getting a similar disproportionate amount of attention from the gaming press as well.

      Personally I hope it works, I’m kind of getting tired of all the hundreds of first person shooters getting released every year too. I would love to see the industry make more games that don’t involve killing anyone.

      • Machinations says:

        Look at the world around us. Did it occur to you us violent primitives LIKE shooting virtual opponents? We are not exactly the most refined species.

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          Harlander says:

          Actually, we are.

          We’re exactly the most refined species, out of a total of one civilization-building species that we know about.

    • Premium User Badge

      Unknown says:

      Did you even read the interview? Myst, Pathologic, Planescape and Witcher are all good at storytelling, but they’re also all fantastical stories. There are not a lot of games with good stories about real, ordinary life.

  20. Haplo says:

    Zimonja: That’s not what would happen. You’d have to… This is way better! Okay, you get the end of the game, and I don’t know… You walk into your office or something, you sit down, and your boss is like, “Good old Christmas Duck.” He pats your head in first-person. It would be amazing. Maybe, I don’t know, he gives you a promotion.

    RPS: And then David Bowie and Christopher Walken and everybody show up and say, “congratulations!”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyFQVZ2h0V8 ?

  21. Premium User Badge

    Daniel Johnston says:

    “The question I always found myself asking was, What is it really? It only looks like crab grass. That’s what they want us to think it is. One day the crab grass suits will fall off and their true identity will be revealed. By then the Pentagon will be full of crab grass and it’ll be too late. The crab grass, or what we took to be crab grass, will dictate terms. My earlier stories had such premises. Later, when my personal life became complicated and full of unfortunate convolutions, worries about crab grass got lost somewhere. I became educated to the fact that the greatest pain does not come zooming down from a distant planet, but up from the depths of the heart. Of course, both could happen; your wife and child could leave you, and you could be sitting alone in your empty house with nothing to live for, and in addition the Martians could bore through the roof and get you.”

  22. otto_ says:

    I still wonder why it is called a game. I don’t want to break out a discussion whether it is good or not or about the theme of the story.

    My Argument is that, there is nothing in the “game” which takes the advantage of the medium in any ways shape or form.You walk around a house, collect tapes and spy on a little girl’s journal but that hardly justifies it being called a game. Everything they created could easily be emulated in a simpler form factor for example an audio book. It wouldn’t take anything away from the experience.

    Compare it with, let’s say “Papers, please”(PP) . PP engages with players on a much deeper level, through your actions within the game you make a moral standpoint. Do you let a lot of people through so you can feed your family but risk letting a terrorist into your country? Do you let a persecute through illegal, and risk your job thereby risk the well-being of your family? Do you put your humanitarian side over your ego? You can choose your agenda, your identity in a playful fun way. A perfect example for an interactive experience.

    Now on the other side is “Gone Home” where you go on rails through a house with the only choice being not to engage with the story at all. It’s like reading a book and having the choice to skip from the middle to the last chapter. Gone Home is a digital exposition. A cgi museum. I don’t see how it is moving the medium in any way forward. Yes, it has a well written story with an interesting theme, but nothing about it justifies it being a game.

    So maybe you should call the article “their first game” rather then “their next game”.

    • Premium User Badge

      Unknown says:

      It’s called a game because the people campaigning for “certain types of games” to be considered non-games (Gone Home, Proteus, Stanley Parable, Dear Esther, etc.) are never going to win, no matter how many times they shout NOT A GAME NOT A GAME NOT A GAME. It’s called a game because you say it’s not a game, and the rest of us are ignoring you.

      • Distec says:

        How enlightening.

      • otto_ says:

        Incredible, it’s like the first recorded finding where ignorance is so radiating it is actually warping the reality.

  23. HugobertingtonEsq says:

    I’m going to run off the theory that the whole “Gaming Press” have been long stung by Roger Eberts’ quote of “not art” in regards to videogames, that and how video games have long been a shoe-in with kids to you adults entertainment. makes them ever so frustrated.
    They want to be like the big shots, they want the influence and respect that literary and movie critics have, they want to be seen as a Big Part in human culture. But their medium they’ve been flung into is still regarded as; well, childish and violent men/alien/thingshoot, and they want to Shoot the Moon instead.
    So when something as “progressive” or rather “against the grain” or “very much different from common video games” ergo “Gone Home” comes along, they big it all up, they praise and gush over how it “goes against conventions” or “made me cry for an hour” and “breaks new compelling ground” and all these hyper subjective to ludicrously emotional responses and reviews. Bonus points if you can lob in a social issue, but that’s just nitpicky.
    And it smacks of a disenfranchised kid (herein representing of “Games Journalists”) hopping up and down in front their parents at the dinner table (Literary and Film critics); flailing their obtuse review of Gone Home in their very senior, critical faces and saying in a desperate tone: “Look! Look! I can be like you! I can write like you do! I do all the things you do all the time! Now do you love me?!”
    So with this desperation for recognition, coupled with ye Olde Nepotism amongst thee Blasted Bigge Publishers and Developers with thee Great and Revered Town Criers and Journalistes. Stuff like Gone Home gets a stonk load of praise and gush and guff and blah.
    It’s all very silly and would rather be stopped.

    • Premium User Badge

      Unknown says:

      It’s like you can’t write a sentence without putting air quotes around something.

      Why is it bad for games that go against the grain to be praised, as long as they are good gaming experiences?