Group project summary, by leader Guadalupe Godinez
Gone Home is a first-person exploration video game, or interactive exploration simulator as described on Steam, developed and published by The Fullbright Company. The game opens up to you standing in front of the doorway of your house, having just arrived from a trip abroad to a dark and empty home on a rainy night. The beginning of the game introduces exploration and looking for clues as its main mechanics to enter the house and progress further into it and figure out where everyone has gone. As the character, you can interact with objects, pick them up and inspect them, walk around, basically everything you should be allowed to do in your own home. The main story in the game is you should look around the house and figure out where your family has gone. Meanwhile, the atmosphere stays uneasy with tension throughout your journey.
Gone Home utilizes several of the themes that serve in melodramas and gothic fiction. The staples of melodramas include, well, drama—exciting characters and events that play on the viewer’s emotions. Gone Home delivers on that perfectly. The characters have secrets, even characters other than Sam. The mother is showing concern about Sam and might be getting too close to her coworker, Rick. The father is struggling with his books and potentially alcohol. Both parents are struggling in their marriage. These are familiar tropes in drama that Gone Home makes its own through the lens of the player and how Sam reacts. Historically, melodramas also have interspliced songs, which Gone Home has with cassette tapes that can be played throughout the house. Unlike most melodramas, however, there is not hammy or unrealistic acting. Since no actual actors are present, this would be hard to deliver on anyway. Sam’s diary readings come off as sincere and realistic, hinting more toward drama rather than melodrama. However, they are emotional, especially with their culmination at the end.
One last post for September: I did indeed succeed in getting the second part of my new series on detective games out of the door by the end of the month. And it’s a long one, too! Long enough that I don’t feel bad about the dry spell that’s inevitably going to set in in October.
I’ve written about most of thegamesinthisvideo on the blog before, mostly for things like capsule reviews and walkthroughs. This is the only time I’ve done any sort of analysis of them, though. (Excepting maybe Gone Home.) In addition to being long, it’s also mostly brand-new material, which is not something I can say about most of my videos.
It’s been a long haul, but my series of video essays on Half-Life 2 is now complete.
I have embedded the entire finished series above. If you just want to watch the seventh and final part, it is here. In it, I look at how Valve’s “herding” techniques were adopted and expanded upon by subsequent developers, taking a peek at things like Insomniac Game’s Resistance 3, Monolith Production’s 2000s-era output, and DICE’s Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. I then investigate how the pleasures of the well-constructed linear first-person shooter have been transformed and absorbed into himitsu-bako/wander games (which I just give up and call “walking simulators” in the video, so that people will know what the hell I’m talking about).
Creating video content takes much longer than other types of blog content, but I also find it much more rewarding. (I was right when I predicted that, because my day job has me writing all day long, I would have less patience for it outside of work.) Expect more in the future.
Among the inordinate number of truly superb games released in 2017 were some hotly-anticipated (by me, anyway) follow-ups to indie games of past years. Some were sequels. Others were sophomore efforts. Whichever the case, 2017 was a very good year for promising indie developers releasing something new after a couple years of silence (or, heck, three or four or five years of silence), and having that new release not disappoint. Below the fold are my six favorite releases that followed up on the promise of something a developer made before.
Hello, dear readers. It’s been a while since my last post, and to make up for the gap, I have come bearing a video. Specifically, another video in my “Let’s Study” series. This one is fairly short, zooming in on the technique of “scrubbable narrative” in Tacoma (The Fullbright Company, 2017).
Special thanks to Amy Stebbins on this one, who directed me Alan Alston’s 2013 article “Audience Participation and Neoliberal Value: Risk, Agency and Responsibility in Immersive Theatre,” which ended up forming the backbone of most of the observations in this one.
Much like yesterday’s category, today’s sub-list is partially a lament that baseline competency in storytelling seemed so long unachievable in games. Defending games as a potential storytelling medium seemed like a silly project, as the games stories had opted to tell just simply weren’t very good. Good stories need good characters. Creating characters as good as the ones listed above, in any medium, is probably an unrealistic goal. But it’s not unrealistic to ask for characters with interesting personalities and motivations.
If I am being perfectly fair, games have historically struggled less with characters than they have with pacing. The 1990s and early 2000s are filled with RPGs and adventure games with memorable characters, even as they might struggle to recount their stories efficiently. In the wake of GLaDOS, though, the ante has been upped. I am happy to report that developers have risen to the challenge. The past decade has been awash in sharply-penned dialogue, superb voice acting, and richly emotional character beats. Here are a few of my highest recommendations.
Two weeks ago, I taught Gone Home (The Fullbright Company, 2013) for my “Frames, Claims and Videogames” course. I hadn’t played the game in quite some time, so, in the run-up to the course, I re-played it, searching through the house exhaustively, reminding myself of where every last note and prop was, re-acquainting myself with the ins and outs of everyone’s story. Taking some notes, it occurred to me that it would be nice if there was a guide to it online. Not just a guide to picking up all of the items that give you achievements, or something like that—there are plenty of those online, already. Rather, a guide to the stories Gone Home tells, and where exactly you can find the environmental elements that move those stories forward, and flesh it out.
Well, I guess it falls to me to create what I’m looking for. Again.
My guide to Liz Ryerson’s Problem Attic (2013) was just a walkthrough. This is a bit more, as I have specifically designed it to aid in things like class prep and analysis. It isn’t, by itself, analysis, but tends closer to that direction than the Problem Attic one does. (I’d place it roughly in the realm of my Virginia videos.) Enjoy!