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Dev: Gone Home demake is an experiment in mutability, an accidental exercise in panic

On a whim, Seth Macy decided to try building a "demake" of Gone Home, the critically acclaimed first-person exploration game from The Fullbright Company. That was a week ago. Now his humble indie experiment is getting a lot of attention, and the Maine-based amateur game developer is suddenly feeling a lot of pressure.

"I mean, it's a panicked thing — something you thought was just going to be, like, a fun little side project. All of a sudden, people are really interested in it," Macy told Polygon in a phone interview yesterday. "This was literally a week ago. It's happened very quickly."

Gone Home puts players in the role of Kaitlin Greenbriar, a young woman who has just returned to America after a year spent abroad. She enters her home and realizes her younger sister and her parents are nowhere to be found, and explores the old house and the objects within it to find out what's happened to her family. The game touches on themes such as love, marital strife and self-discovery, and its setting — the mid-1990s, in an old house in the Pacific Northwest — contributes as much to the experience as the story.

Macy does not have a lot of experience with game development, only having made some games in his childhood with HyperCard on a Macintosh computer. Earlier this year he tried his hand at RPG Maker, relatively cheap game development software that doesn't require programming knowledge, with the goal of making a game with his son. Macy developed what he described as a "pretty terrible" game in the style of a Japanese role-playing game, and his son didn't like it.

"I mean, it's a panicked thing"

But the process drew Macy in, and he then thought it would be interesting to try remaking Gone Home in RPG Maker. Macy recalled loving the game when he played it this summer, and he wanted to see if it could be translated into something resembling a 16-bit Japanese RPG.

"I thought it would be maybe more fun to try to shrink [Gone Home] down into something a little more simplistic, to see if it still could retain any of the elements that made it good — which, I think, was the unfolding of the story," Macy explained. "We're just going to try to see if we can recreate that feel."

For Macy, the demake is an experiment in what's possible — both for Gone Home's potential mutability into a different type of game, and for his own ability to develop a game.

"Mostly, I'm looking for a little bit of a challenge to see if it could even be done, if it could still be recognizable as this top-down, three-quarter-view JRPG," he added.

Macy began building the Gone Home house in RPG Maker, and realized that he didn't want to invest a lot of time in the demake if it would only result in a cease-and-desist from The Fullbright Company. So he emailed the studio earlier this week, not expecting a response. He heard back that afternoon; the team gave him the go-ahead, and offered to retweet him if he tweeted about the project.

The publicity is daunting, not least because of the reception to the four early screenshots Macy tweeted out. He explained that right now, the demake is at a very early stage, the "barest-bones recreation with just stock RPG Maker sprites and tile sets." But the attention has also inspired Macy to invest more into the project: He has already brought on a friend who has previously contributed art to video games.

"It's something that we have to do now — just because people will enjoy it, I would hope, and are looking forward to it. And I don't want to let anybody down," said Macy.

Update: Interested parties can keep up with Macy's progress on his developer blog.

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