Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Gone Home ... .. .
Jaconian has already written about Gone Home, and I suggest you go read his article now. I'm writing with his article in mind, he does a great job of not revealing too much, but highlighting the emotional content in a striking and appropriate manner. He also provides all the background necessary to approach this (non)game. Suffice it to say, we had similar experiences, so I will try not to be too repetitive, though I'm sure some things will bear repeating. For example, the following line:
This game is really sweet. Not as in Totally Sweet! but a gentle kind of sweet. The voice acting is excellent, and listening to Samantha's diaries is very affecting. I love what a teenager she is, alienated, but excited by all these new things. Also, I feel like the mixed-media approach to character building is special to video games. In addition to her diaries, we pick up what kind of a person Samantha is through looking at her stuff, her room, her work assignments.
In particular the 'Menstrual Cycle: A Novella" is about the funniest damn thing I've read in a long time. Simply fantastic. A really neat detail is that later in the game: I found Katie's version of that assignment, and realized that Sam copied it entirely into her assignment, but wrote the story around it. The tipoff was the last line "isn't it amazing what a womans body can do?" or something like that. It was the only line that was not relevant to the assignment that Katie included, but Sam copied it verbatum.
One thing I want to note about the Journal entries is that the game is very lonely. Both in play and as the character of Katie, there is a removal from the action that comes from being alone in a new place, after having been gone for a long time. When the journal entries read, it's really nice to hear someone's voice. Especially with how warm and happy Sam feels a lot of the time. I came to feel affection for Sam, both in my role play as Katie, and just as a player/viewer/reader/listener.
There's also a strange sort of voyeuristic intimacy that was mildly disturbing. As an adult male, I questioned my right to this fictional teenage girl's private diaries.
I wasn't a big fan of the setting as a dark and stormy night, it makes the whole process spooky, and I'm not sure I needed that. I didn't understand this choice until I read Jaconian's review and he mentioned that it used a modified Amnesia game engine. I suppose the spookiness was in homage to that. Or maybe it was just in Homage to Portland. Adding to the spookiness is the crappiness of my computer preventing smooth animation. Can't blame the game for that.
One final *spoiler* - something I picked up from reading an article from clockworkworlds blog about Gone Home. It reveals a darker story about Sam and Katie's father, and Uncle Vernon. This is interesting, because of the content, and also interesting because a lot more detective work is required to piece this story together, as opposed to Sam's story, which is the central plot.
Overall, Gone Home really does all the things I hoped it would. The emotional content and the attention to detail are fantastic. I dub this the Non-game-game of the year, 2013, retroactive!
P.S. just some odds, ends and ideas:
Another awesome detail was the note that said "Sam, don't leave all the lights on, you're as bad as your sister" - and of course, at that point I had left all the lights on. Mostly because this place was flippin' scary! I love that the designers anticipated this.
I realize that Gone Home is very much like Dear Esther, though instead of a landscape, we have objects to examine, and in that way it is more complex than Dear Esther. Dear Esther is more abstract. But still, I am very hopeful for the future of games with Gone Home. I hope that its success will tip off other developers for the future. Also - must play Dear Esther again.
Imagine this kind of detective work in a supernatural game. Like, imagine that the house is a stage in a game, that is actually a representation of a persons mind. Like, professor X psychic style. Gone Home is a short game, independently produced, but it could very easily be a chapter in a larger story. This is definitely not the last I've said about Gone Home.