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It's Coming From Inside the House

The key members behind Minerva's Den have moved to Portland to create Gone Home, a creepy adventure game featuring a house that has one hell of a story to tell.

It's a warm evening in the summer of 1995, and there's a storm coming. Fortunately, you're close to home. You approach the house, and realize something is wrong. There’s no trail of blood, and ghosts aren’t popping out from around the corner. This isn't Silent Hill. A note on the door catches your eye. One can’t quite put a finger on it, but Bad Things have almost certainly happened here. Dread, oppression, and anxiety seep from the walls of an otherwise ordinary house. Naturally, you decide to head inside.

Minerva's Den was a terrific piece of downloadable content for BioShock 2, and was arguably better than BioShock 2 itself.

Gone Home is the debut game from The Fullbright Company located in Portland, Oregon, and scheduled for a release later this year on PC and Mac. If “fullbright” rings any bells, that’s the Twitter handle of Steve “Hot Scoops” Gaynor (full disclosure: he had the nickname first), lead designer on Giant Bomb’s 2010 downloadable content of the year, BioShock 2’s Minerva’s Den. After working on BioShock 2 and Minerva’s Den at 2K Marin, Gaynor was picked up by Ken Levine to work on BioShock: Infinite. He was only there for a year, and decided to leave. He grouped with key members of the Minerva’s Den’s team, and started over.

(Oddly, this story is publishing days after BioShock: Infinite went "gold," which means it's complete.)

“This is a game we all wanted to play, and nobody else was making it,” said Gaynor.

The logistics: Gone Home is an adventure game that takes place in first-person, and there is no combat. You click on things a lot. Gone Home exists to tell a story, and tell that story as effectively as possible. The Fullbright Compay isn’t going to spend two years nailing down just-good-enough shooting for variety's sake. BioShock’s combat wasn’t bad, but when I recall my time in Rapture, it was about the sense of place. It was about a nightmarish world of ambition and broken beauty, not firing bullets.

“On some level,” said Gaynor, “when you're making a game that has you know tens of millions of dollars behind it, and you have millions of people that are going to play it, you have to, at least, say ‘Okay, how do we make this as accessible to as many people as we can?’”

“This is a game we all wanted to play, and nobody else was making it."

It only takes a few moments for Gone Home to get under your skin. The aforementioned “note” is from your brother--or might be, anyway? You're Katie (probably?), and it’s implied you’re visiting from abroad, and things have gone amiss while you were gone. You also keep hearing about the attic this and the attic that, which means there is probably bad juju hiding in that attic.

Gone Home is subtle but not shy. It ratchets up the tension in its early moments, igniting the player’s imagination. It's not clear what is happening, but sunshine and rainbows are not on the other side.

“We've had some play testers be like, ‘I tried to play it, but I couldn't--it was too fucking scary! I couldn't do it.’” said Gaynor. “The other people are just like ‘This house is really nice, I like to be in it.’ There's this whole spectrum of just how you react, and how much does the implied unease affect you. We're trying to strike a balance where there aren't too many people on either side of that. Nobody feels too comfortable and nobody feels so freaked out that they just can't handle it.”

My 30 minutes with the game a few months back only hinted at the broader story, but established the house itself immediately. Real is the wrong term for it. Gone Home’s domicile feels authentic. There’s a “oh, yeah, that was in my parents’ house, too” feeling permeating throughout the rooms. As you rummage through every shelf, drawer, and closet to learn more about the residents, a narrative about the family forms in your head. The game doesn't tell you what details are important, asking you to do some of the detective work. And it certainly doesn’t feel like your typical Video Game House, which would only have a few open doors and a working toilet. (For the record, Gone Home has a working toilet.) Have you visited your parents house after being away, and spent an afternoon just rifling through old, dusty boxes in the attic just for the fun of it? It's like that, except here, it's someone else's stuff.

“I think on some level like players want to explore interesting spaces,” said programmer Johnnemann Nordhagen, “and so if we do a good enough job of making an interesting space--both a physical space and a sort of narrative space--for them to explore, then that's all you need. They will go ahead and pursue that, and you just kind of need to get out of their way.”

(Nordhagan is Gone Home's programmer, but Gaynor pointed out every member of the development team communally contributes to the design, plot, art, and other choices regarding the game.)

"Katie, I'm sorry I can't be there to see you, but it is impossible. Please, please don't go digging around trying to find out where I am. I don't want Mom and Dad anyone to know. We'll see each other again some day. Don't be worried. I love you. -- Sam"

A note you find during Gone Home's opening moments. Things are, obviously, not right.

The developers described Gone Home’s focused design as reactionary. One, The Fullbright Company is small, a function of necessity due to self-funding and a desire to work on a small team--it's four people. Two, it allows them to dive really, really deep on the game’s details.

“We can't make a giant game, we're small,” said Gaynor. “We can't make complex A.I. and bunch of weapons, so what's the version of that that it boils down to? Okay, a house is interesting--you can explore it, you can find out about people’s lives. The setting? We want you to be able to find physical notes and stuff that have been left around. So, if this takes place in 2012, everything's text messages and emails--that's not very interesting. Okay, 1995? Maybe they don't have AOL yet. You actually find handwritten notes and answering machines.”

To that end, Gone Home is filled with stuff, and lots of it. It’s easy enough to build a virtual house, but far more time consuming to make it feel lived in. The Fullbright Company is spending hundreds of man hours bringing this one alive. Gone Home is a veritable rainbow of mundane details, with the term mundane used as the highest possible compliment. These details truly run the gamut, from a stacked pile of X-Files seasons recorded onto VHS tapes to sets of frighteningly realistic letters. The letters aren’t just a font, either--it’s handwritten. Everything feels crafted, and it makes a striking impact.

“Hell yeah, dude!” said 2D artist and story supervisor Karla Zimonja.

“We had a lot of friends that helped us out,” said Gaynor.

“And moms!” said Zimonja.

“It’s the only way to get authentic mom handwriting,” said Nordhagen.

These insane level of detail is all over the place in Gone Home. It's a blessing and a curse for the hidden voyeur in all of us

“DId you read those ones on the awful stationary with the flower?” said Craig. “Yeah, that was Rachel’s [Steve Gaynor’s wife] mom. [laughs]”

“It's cool because it gives a way to have friends that aren't working full time on the game [to] just be like ‘Hey, could you just write this?”” said Gaynor. “[If] we have a one-off note from like a delivery man or something--’Can you just write this on a piece of paper, and then scan it for us?’ And we put it in the game and, and it's cool! But we had to be to be committed to saying ‘If it's a different person in the fiction, we’re going to find a different person to write it.’ If it’s a 45-year-old woman, we’re gonna find [someone close]. Because you can’t fake it.”

When I found the pile of X-Files episodes, it appeared each VHS tape contained an entire season of the show. I mentally noted how that’s impossible, and joked about it during my conversation with the team.

“Did you look closely?” said Zimonja. “Because they were individual episodes.”

Point taken.

Unlike BioShock, these bits aren’t glowing like a beacon in the darkness. You have to open drawers, sneak into closets, ruffle through shelves, and generally be a total creep to find everything The Fullbright Company has hidden away. I was careful for the first few minutes...before becaming a slob.

“We had a lot of feedback from playtesters,” said Nordhagen, “that [said] ‘Well, I feel like an asshole because I’m coming into this house and I'm picking this shit up and then I'm just like a monster. I'm just tossing stuff everywhere! I want to be able to put things neatly back where they were!’”

“It’s just disrespectful!” said Zimonja.

“That's where we came up with the idea of you know giving you the ability to pick something up and then put it back exactly where it came from,” said Nordhagen.

With a single mouse click, items go right back where you found them, you gracious houseguest.

Just one of the many rooms in Gone Home, with plenty of spots for you to poke and prod in search of clues about the story.

“We want to support the player being able to act the way they would if this was happening to them,” said Gaynor, “and not break them out of the experience with ‘Well, if I was here and I picked this up to look at it, I wouldn't just like throw it on the ground!’ And now you’re like ‘This isn't even a real thing anymore. This is just bullshit. This is just this thing where all I can do is throw crap everywhere.’”

The Fullbright Company is going out of its way to support player choice in interesting ways, too. There’s an authored progression through the house and story, which means locked doors and suggested paths. If players want to, though, that can be turned off, and the entire house opens up. You can get really granular about it, depending on your taste. Want to turn off the map? Go ahead. Audio diaries? Sure. These options are not part of a new-game-plus, they’re available right from the very start.

“We have a game that has few enough moving parts that isn't like so incredibly complex that there's any excuse not to say, ‘How could we let the player customize their experience and say ‘Have at it,’ if that's what you want to do?” said Gaynor.

And as we wait for The Fullbright Company to chip away at Gone Home, I’m left with the most important question of all: if you’re featuring X-Files in your game, what’s your favorite episode? Me? "Home."

Kate Craig, environmental artist: Oh, no contest! In a show centered around aliens and Ogopogos, I remember "Drive" being a fantastic character piece--it stuck with me when other episodes had been all but forgotten.

Johnnemann: I liked the one about the killer computer ("Ghost in the Machine"), because it was some sort of acid-head tech genius and an evil AI. It wasn't a great episode, though. But I've only seen a season and a half! [Note from Steve: It WAS a great episode! A machine that thinks, reasons for itself?! Imagine!]

Zimonja: I remember being into "Hungry," because my idiot young-adult self thought that, when he wasn't wearing the bald wig and hilarious prosthetic teeth, the brain-eating guy was totally cute. YEP.

Gaynor: My favorite episode of X-Files is "Pusher." It was written by Vince Gilligan, who went on to create Breaking Bad. The climactic Russian roulette showdown is heart-stopping. Cerulean blue.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
67 Comments
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Edited by buft

so this is all the main guys from minervas den, interesting, cant wait to get a look at it

Edit: video loaded now, wasnt there first time, its interesting to see people modernizing the point and click games.

Posted by Coafi

Oh yes! I recently discovered this title and was going to give the heads-up, Patrick. I really want to play this now.

Posted by BasketSnake

Who needs kiddie games like Luigi's Mansion now?!

Posted by DeF

[Note from Steve: It WAS a great episode! A machine that thinks, reasons for itself?! Imagine!]

haha! :D

Edited by fartGOD666

Only the hottest scoops

Posted by cannonballBAM

Yes. Slender, Amnesia and now Gone Home. I love it.

Posted by cannedstingray

I've been listening to the idle thumbs podcast for a few months or so, and hearing them talk about this game has gotten me super interested in it. Can't wait to play it!

Edited by Sphinx

@patrickklepek (For the record, Gome Home has a working toilet.)

Little spelling mistake Patrick. I'm assuming you mean "Gone Home"

Also great article, can't wait to play it.

Posted by happymeowmeow

My favorite was one of the goofier episodes, "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose." It was that one about the psychic who could only see how someone was going to die. Very odd and well written. "Pusher" also sticks out in my memory, had no idea the Breaking Bad guy directed it, makes sense.

Gone Home looks neat, I've always liked the self contained haunted house style of game.

Posted by Mongoose

I like that early episode when they are all stuck in the cabin in the woods with little green bugs that hide in the dark and suck the life out of you. I love the X-Files.

Posted by bvilleneuve

Woah, this looks amazing! I can't wait to play it.

Posted by ShaggE

This sounds great.

And yeah, of the admittedly few episodes I've seen, "Home" is by far my favorite. It still astounds me that it actually aired.

Posted by djames216

I used to be such a big fan of the X-Files. I watched the first four seasons and then went off it because it seemed to get silly and I was fed up with them stretching plot-lines out etc. I randomly tuned into watch a new episode three years later to see how it was going. The episode was "First Person Shooter" (from season seven) and it was absolutely terrible. I'll resist ranting about it but suffice to say it was pretty bad and I never watched another episode after that.

Posted by AssInAss

I did not know Vince Gilligan wrote an episode of X-Files!

Posted by Seb

When Scoops met Scoops.

Posted by DjDonFrancisco

Definitely interested in this.

Posted by joshwent

@shagge said:

And yeah, of the admittedly few episodes I've seen, "Home" is by far my favorite. It still astounds me that it actually aired.

I'm pretty sure that after Home aired the first time, FOX got so much mail from outraged people that they swore to never play it again. I later saw it on FX, and even there before the episode there was a long disclaimer that didn't precede any other X-Files episode. So you know it's gotta be good! ;)

Also, this game looks interesting.

Edited by heatDrive88

Scoops on Scoops.

Edited by Humanity

The guys always talk Minerva's Den up a lot but it really wasn't that spectacular. I think most people could see the twist a mile away. To each his own though.

Posted by AngriGhandi

So they added a button to put things back where you found them... but can I still just empty all the shelves and drawers onto the floor like the Mob shaking down a small business if I want to?

Because I really want to.

Edited by development

"Hungry" is probably my favorite episode, too. I like "Drive" a lot, though. I always remembered some crazy guy smashing his head against a car window until it exploded, but didn't realize it was Bryan Cranston until recently.

Edited by FrostedMiniWheats

Between this and the recent Dark Void article, Patrick's been putting together some high quality content! I vote for more content like this.

As far as talking about the actual article... thank GOD for the "put item right back" feature. So many games I wish had this - be they adventure games (Hotel Dusk) or RPGs (this would fix the old "I didn't mean to steal that thing off your desk, I was trying to pick up the white labeled thing right next to it please don't kick me out of the mage's guild. Oh, really? Well, I guess I'm not gonna join the mage's guild." problem in Elder Scrolls games).

Edited by LordKorax

Steve "Hot Scoops" Gaynor. Come on. Also, "nobody else was making in it."

EDIT: And Sam is your sister. She's been specifically talked about in so many of the previews in the last few months, it's strange that piece of information was somehow lost.

Posted by big_jon

Looks cool, I could see myself getting this if it came to the 360.

Posted by Slayeric

In Steve we trust.

Edited by core1065

WHERES MY SPOOKIN WITH SCOOPS!!!

Posted by oppai2

@joshwent said:

@shagge said:

And yeah, of the admittedly few episodes I've seen, "Home" is by far my favorite. It still astounds me that it actually aired.

I'm pretty sure that after Home aired the first time, FOX got so much mail from outraged people that they swore to never play it again. I later saw it on FX, and even there before the episode there was a long disclaimer that didn't precede any other X-Files episode. So you know it's gotta be good! ;)

Also, this game looks interesting.

I watched that one in Germany about approx. 15 years and I thought I would be having nightmares because of it. And I was well into the latter part of my 20ies then. Awfully wonderful show. I am not a fan of horror as such though. Apparently they did ban it afterwards. It is really disturbing.

Posted by Equal_Opportunity_Destroyer497

Definitely seems intriguing. Was there any indication of when it might be released?

Posted by Kri0s

I will be keeping a close eye on this one for sure.

Posted by Vexxan

Sounds like a cool game, keep us updated on its release!

Posted by jred250

This sounds really good. Great job Patrick!

Posted by Soapy86

There's only one Scoops.

Posted by Grimdaddy

This was really interesting, Patrick. As someone who has never been really spooked by a game, nor found much worth in anything "horror", this game in particular is really intriguing. The details (or the lack of them at times) really draws me in. I will look forward to trying it out as soon as possible.

Perhaps mystery is more my bag, rather than horror - but then again, maybe this will combine them in an interesting way.

Posted by GreggD

I cannot wait for this, it looks really cool.

Posted by theanticitizen

I'm super glad to hear this is coming out of Portland. I was lamenting the fact that we don't have enough developers here. Also super excited to see this game.

Posted by Flacracker

When does it come out?

Posted by primalmaster

This looks really cool, reminds me of games like dark fall and scratches which I really enjoyed playing.

Posted by FakeKisser

I've been excited about this game ever since I heard about it. Can't wait!

Posted by Kevin_Cogneto
Posted by mistergrieves

@assinass said:

I did not know Vince Gilligan wrote an episode of X-Files!

I believe that he wrote and directed the episode "Drive" mentioned earlier. From what I understand, this is where he met Bryan Cranston which led to them working together on Breaking Bad.

Posted by cooljammer00

Wait, I know Gone Home was supposed to be creepy, but I was under the impression that _maybe_ something happened to your family. Now this article implies something unfortunate has definitely happened to your loved ones? I'm just waiting for like, a ghost to pop out or for you to find the bodies of your parents in the attic cause your sister fled after murdering them.

I don't think I can play this game.

Edited by Doskias

Pusher was great, but Jose Chung's From Outer Space is by far my favorite.

Oh, also, I want to play this video game.

Posted by Kete

wizaaaaard

Posted by Phatmac

Really liking how this game is sounding. I'm in.

Posted by marbleCmoney

"For the record, Gone Home has a working toilet." I'm sold!

Seriously though, this game sounds really interesting. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on it.

Posted by Generic_username

As someone who is easily frightened by horror movies and games (to the point of reoccurring nightmares when I watch/play too much of one) I'm not going to play this. However, watching the video, I felt the atmosphere right away, that note from the sibling is really cryptic, and I know there's going to be some crazy stuff in there. I'm already feeling uneasy, but then again I'm EXTREMELY sensitive to this kind of thing. It still looks cool, and I hope it goes well for them.

Edited by Nicholas

@patrickklepek " If it’s a 45-year-old women" should be " If it’s a 45-year-old woman"

Thanks for this story. Well done, sir. I am super excited for this game.

Posted by cervin

This is the first time I think I've ever responded on these Giant Bomb comments, but I have to second that. Jose Chung isn't just a great x file, it's one of the best tv episodes of the 90's.

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