You may think Firewatch [official site], the utterly spectacular first-person adventure from Campo Santo, may not be the most obvious choice for free DLC. But rather than meddling with the original game, Campo are adding a new mode called Audio Tour, a commentary mode in the form of a scavenger hunt! And later this year, the much-requested free-roaming mode will come our way. We’ve spoken to Campo Santo’s Sean Vanaman and Jake Rodkin about the new bits and pieces, along with new screenshots and the first look at the new trailer.
When we heard early word of today’s DLC announcement, we immediately assumed it would be a new romancing option for Delilah. “Yes, we’re calling it ‘our Mass Effect 3′”, said Campo co-top-man, Vanaman, before quickly correcting himself. In fact, it’s to be The Firewatch Audio Tour, in which protagonist Henry picks up and dons a Walkman and headphones before starting his adventure, and then makes his way through the original plot with the addition of over 100 tape cassette kiosks to the woodlands to find. On these tapes will be anecdotes and recollections from the development team on how the game came to be, the encounters you’re experiencing, and the choices they made.
Regarding just a straight director’s commentary style overlay, Vanaman says, “Easy peasy, those have been done before.” Instead, Campo studio director Rodkin came up with the idea of a scavenger hunt, a way to make the new content something the player has to seek from the wilds of Wyoming. They’re not all there at once – you still play through the narrative of the game, so new kiosks will appear as days progress. “Each tape tells you what you’re going to learn about, and your map has a checklist of all the tapes that exist in the world on that day of the game.”
And it’s not just audio. Vanaman continues, “Furthermore, we’ve hidden a bunch of “how we make the game” set pieces throughout the world. Here is [a gif of] one about how we animate Henry and another about how we concept out a scene:
Free Roam mode is still a while away, but Rodkin tells us exists because “it’s one a lot of people asked for”. This mode will remove the narrative of the game, and instead give Henry all the equipment he gathers right at the start, and lets players just explore the space at their leisure. It shall, indeed, genuinely be a ‘walking simulator’. “There’s a type of person who really likes the world of Firewatch and the “virtual hiking”/sightseeing/tourism aspect of exploring it,” Rodkin tells us, “and wanted to be able to live in it for a little while, poke around at their own pace without having to feel the pressure of the story. It seemed like we had all the tools ready to make a mode just for them so we did!”
Of course, Firewatch presents its world in static moments, the time of day advancing as the player moves forward through the days of the story. But rather than pick a moment and have players live in it, they’re going further. Rodkin explains, “We took all the times of day used across the game and reworked them as a proper constantly progressing time of day system. So there’s now a running day/night cycle where the sun goes down and comes up on its own, crickets come out at night, birdsong in the morning, etc.”
With the traversal equipment from the start, it allows people to experience what Rodkin calls “a normal day in Henry’s life”. Except he won’t have the radio for this mode, but instead the Walkman again, this time to let him listen to the soundtrack on demand as he wanders.
I wondered whether these new additions to what is an essentially closed loop of a game was because Campo Santo weren’t ready to move on from the world they’d spent so long creating, a frustration that they wanted to spend longer there. But Vanaman says it was otherwise. “We talked about this a lot – our feelings about moving on. We weren’t really frustrated by the closed nature of the story because we felt we could do more in the world of Firewatch if we wanted to. We talked about it a lot as a team. In the end, this super-robust commentary mode is less of a “not ready to give it up,” (we are ready and are moving on to new stuff) and more just a snowballing of ideas. It started as a really basic thing and then became this scavenger hunt with a tour theme and set pieces. That was just excitement.”
And it seems a lot of the motivation behind delivering such an expansive and detailed audio commentary is born of the nature of the character of the team. “We felt like we had a lot to say about the game,” says Vananman. “That was the driving force behind the audio tour, nothing else. And not like ‘our thoughts about the story,’ but ‘we should tell the story of how me made this bizarre thing.’ The personalities at the studio are such that we felt like it would be entertaining for owners of the game and that’s sort of the bar of doing something: are we inspired to spend our very limited time on something and do we think it’s entertaining?” But, he concedes, “Also, a few months ago we weren’t really ready to jump into a new game and this was a way to keep playing with our tools, which we wanted to do! You get good at making a game right about the time you ship it.”
We’ll let you know the release date for the Firewatch Audio Tour as soon as it’s announced. Free Roam mode will be a few weeks further down the line.