Gone Home Dev's Next Game Takes the Haunted Hallways Into Space

Personal stories in Tacoma's foreign space.

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The theatrical production Sleep No More spans five floors of a refurbished warehouse on the west side of Manhattan. It's a reimagining of Shakespeare's Macbeth, only this time, there is no dialogue, and the audience is free to wander about the play at their own leisure.

Steve Gaynor, co-founder of The Fullbright Company and creator of Gone Home, remembers exploring the set for several hours. Only feet away, the actors moved through choreographed gestures, in bedrooms, doctors' offices, ballrooms and even a padded cell. The actors didn't say a word, but communicated a story nonetheless.

"I knew I wanted to capture that kind of storytelling in games," Gaynor says. "With Gone Home, we were trying to make an authentic recreation of a time and place that actually existed. We could say, 'what do we remember about the '90s?' We could look up what TV shows were really on TV, and all that kind of stuff.

"But for Tacoma, we had to extrapolate forward from our present, and make up the bounds of the fictional universe ourselves."

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For The Fullbright Company's second game, it's eschewing Gone Home's real-world setting for the sci-fi trappings of a lunar transfer station. The titular structure is a sort of limbo for the wealthy one percent, between Earth below, and the luxurious resorts on the Moon ahead. Objects float about in zero gravity, doors activate via sign language, and holograms of former crew drift through doorways, now little more than digital husks.

But despite Tacoma's futuristic aesthetic, Gaynor still wants to tell a grounded, human story like that of Gone Home, or Sleep No More. Telling this kind of story in Tacoma, when most of the characters are absent, marked only by the holograms they have left behind, is made possible through environmental storytelling, Gaynor says.

He mentions several principal inspirations: Ridley Scott's Alien, wherein the spacecraft Nostromo feels lived in, even when the corridors are silent; the fiction of Margaret Atwood, whose fiction explores odd but plausible futuristic worlds; and System Shock 2, Irrational Games' 1999 title set aboard an abandoned space station long after its inhabitants walked its halls.

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"Tacoma is largely about what's behind this facade," Gaynor says. "Like Rapture in Bioshock. You enter [the station] like the passengers would, but once you get past the grand entryway, the story is what happens behind the scenes, and it's about the people who are effectively 'the help,' who aren't supposed to be seen, who passed through these gilded areas that aren't actually for them."

Tacoma itself wasn't initially set on a space station. In the early stages of development, Gaynor and his team planned on telling a story based in Tacoma, Wash., a city near Seattle. But after numerous brainstorms and workshops, and the fact that The Fullbright Company's second game would be closer to the limelight than Gone Home, the developers decided to leave the ground.

And in the end, Gaynor says his team didn't just want to remake Gone Home with a sci-fi skin. They're still aiming for a compelling story, endearing characters, and subversive narrative. But with a bigger development team, a publishing deal with Microsoft, and myriad years of experience making games, The Fullbright Company wasn't content to repeat the past.

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"We made Gone Home for ourselves, as the audience," Gaynor says. "And the thing that's interesting to us is--we're always starting from a perspective of what we would want to play, as players.

"And now our team is bigger, and there are different kinds of people involved, with different experiences. We all have different development backgrounds. And we knew we had to do something new. We didn't know what kind of world we were creating, but the way we've all figured it out together has definitely been an influence on us creatively."

So far, Tacoma still has the inherent curiosity of Gone Home, and the eerie feeling that accompanies voyeurism in a silent space. There are still clues everywhere, and still characters to explore, despite their absence. Tacoma may be more speculative and futuristic than Gone Home, but the potential for a human story remains.

Mike Mahardy on Google+

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