When Gone Home released a few years back, it was a watershed moment in gaming. It was quiet and introspective, and explored themes we never really saw in the medium before. Players created relationships with its cast – none of which physically appeared in the game – through context.
Developer Fullbright’s latest title Tacoma builds on those foundations, but expands on its more human elements by embedding players in echoes of conversations. We talked to studio co-founder Steve Gaynor about the challenges they faced bringing a sense of dynamism to those scenes, and more.
Note that this interview was conducted before review access to Tacoma was made available. For our full thoughts on the game, you can read our review here.
NZGamer.com: So you’ve been in the industry for a bit – as a designer, and a writer at places like 2K. When you helped form Fullbirght and develop Gone Home, I imagine the feeling of releasing a game then must have been a bit different – new studio, first project. Has that feeling changed at all with Tacoma?
Steve Gaynor: I think it has some. I mean, some of it is that – y’know – the studio feels different. We were four people when we made Gone Home, and now we’re eight people full time, and it’s had some full-time contractors and stuff. There’s a lot more of us, and there’s more of a feeling of actually having to direct a lot of the work on the project more than I’m able to myself.
When you’re on a very small team, most if it is just kind’ve like making sure every person is doing their own thing they’re responsible for, and getting it done. But with a larger team and more going on with the game, there’s more coordination between more disciplines, and we have more different kinds of people working on the game in terms of animators and other stuff we didn’t have with Gone Home.
So the feeling of just like making the game is different. And then, I think that releasing the game is also a different beast, because on Gone Home – it’s not like no one was aware of us at all before the game came out. But I think that most people – the first time they heard of the game – was when they read a review, or when their friend who had played it after it came out told them they should check it out.
And we’re very grateful to have more people kind of paying attention to us, before Tacoma comes out then we did with Gone Home [laughs], but it means we’re still thinking about those expectations.
And if people don’t like it, then there’s gonna be way more people paying attention then [laughs].
When Tacoma started, it wasn’t originally set in space. Can you tell me a bit about the decision to go from Tacoma, Washington, and change setting?
The original draft of the game was digging further into the stuff we had explored in Gone Home, when it was a much more residential, mundane setting. And y’know, we were looking to find more nuance with the character stuff, and how you interact with the world. But it was still in this familiar, everyday setting. It was about people that lived in a small-ish city in Washing state, and all that kind of stuff.
We started working on it, and blocking out really rough playable spaces, and starting to experiment with some stuff, and I just got this feeling that it was too close to what we had already done most recently. It felt like we were not going far enough with what we were doing.
And so we needed something big, something that would force us not to rely on problems we already felt like we had solved, y’know? Like when we made Gone Home and made a game that was set in a recent time period, we were like “OK – here’s how we make something that feels familiar, and feels like a place or a time that you’ve lived through.”
And so we were like “alright, I think what we need to do is set this in a time we can’t research.” We have to make up a lot more of what happened, and extrapolate forward from our time to imagine a future that doesn’t exist yet, instead of trying to recreate a past that we can try to be faithful to. And setting it in a space station – and its constructed space, that isn’t a recognisable, familiar kind of home or business, or place on earth that you might have spent time in, that feels totally removed from our own experience. It means that we had to think differently about how we make those places feel populated, and make them feel like a place that someone might have lived, and what the world details are. And hopefully that means that it feels like a legitimate, new, kind of experience that the player is having – and not just a re-tread of stuff we’re familiar with.
Did you have any concerns that taking it to that setting would be at odds with the more human, intimate, relatable touchstones that were found in Gone Home? Is it hard to build a more human story, in a very non-human location?
I think it easily could be, you know? There’s certainly something direct about the relatability of the place. But what I hope is that maybe even – almost unintuitively – that there’s this feeling that despite the environment being unfamiliar, and being constructed and isolated, high-tech environment, that the people that are there are still people. And they’re still people that are recognisable as someone you could maybe know in your own life – they’re just in a very different situation than anyone else has lived through.
But our goal is to make that humanity shine through in an identifiable, intuitive way. And kind of have that be what underpins the experience – even though it’s not in a family’s home, or in some place that we’ve personally visited before.
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