Tacoma [official site] is a game I’d been avoiding until there was something to play – I loved Fullbright’s first game, Gone Home, and part of that was the sense of discovering the world and story as I played the game in its completed state. I wanted to do the same with Tacoma so was largely avoiding “news”. GDC brought with it a snippet of the space station-set story which I was happy to play, though, as the game feels close enough that this was a teaser I could think on rather than seeing the game in its metaphorical underwear and not being able to forget that.
Tacoma takes Gone Home’s object-based narrative exploration and marries it with recordings of life aboard the titular space station in the days before a massive malfunction. You can thus pick through crew data, personal items and environmental bits and pieces as well as watching the inhabitants’ lives play out in real time sections as human-shaped holograms move around the world. If you want to hear and see different parts of a recording (you’ll need to in order to access some areas or hear what other people are talking about ) you can scrub backwards and forwards as you wander the area. It’s like having the remote control for a miniature Punchdrunk performance of something like The Drowned Man or Sleep No More.
In this slice you are presented with the remnants of the crew’s Obsolescence Day celebrations where the ship’s AI gives the humans little party-planning tasks which have presumably been long since been automated. One has made personalised party hats while others were tasked with cake decorating.
For the puzzle-solving element, the demo has a segment where you play the recording in order to see the access code a character uses for one of the rooms. It’s just a gentle puzzle but it adds a tang of functionality to your investigation of the space station. If you’re scrubbing the timeline back and forth in that specific room you also see that the sleepy cat never vacates its comfy spot on one of the chairs. I feel like whether you like Tacoma might come down to whether moments like that delight you.
Another bit which I really liked was how the pouches of coffee and of champagne which you can examine are detailed. The champagne pouches have warnings about not drinking while pregnant and both the champagne and the coffee have these pouch necks which flop down as you turn them over as a nod to the station’s gravity.
I also just loved that the cast of characters felt like a real and diverse set of humans. Their bodies were all different, even just as coloured shapes moving around the rooms, and that felt importantly and expressively human. What I mean by that is that I’m used to a certain body type being used to signify humans in games but my brain definitely registers it as “generic human” nowadays. Seeing outlines of other shapes automatically seems more real and more interesting to me. It also gives the body types which are closer to what’s usual in games some context so that they don’t feel generic either. I could feel part of my attention being like, “People!” and leaning forward to see what they were up to in a way I hadn’t realised would be quite as exciting as it was.
There was also the fact that I played the demo slice once at the MIX event (it’s a crowded evening thing where it’s hard to stop and think) and once during a quieter moment at the Day of the Devs stand. The second time was the more rewarding because the atmosphere was more conducive to absorbing information or pottering about. It meant I found little Easter eggs (or what feel like Easter eggs but which actually come together to make up the bulk of the game) like that you could play with the letters from a Happy Obsolescence Day sign on the wall, or pick up a cue and start shooting balls on the pool table, or see what was in a keepsake box in one of the crew’s drawers which I’d missed the first time round.
That’s how I would describe Gone Home and what I hope the rest of Tacoma is like: a collection of Easter eggs you can discover and collect up into a story.
We’ll get to find out for sure when it releases in “Spring 2017”.