At E3 this week, Gone Home developer Fullbright announced that its next game, Tacoma, will debut on Xbox One and PC.
Like Gone Home, the game takes place in an enclosed space, this time a near-future space station, rather than a 1990s family home. Tacoma — the name of the Earth-orbiting facility — was originally unveiled during The Game Awards 2014. A new trailer was released this week (below).
Gone Home was Polygon's Game of the Year in 2013, so we were glad to catch up with Fullbright co-founder and Tacoma story-editor Karla Zimonja at the bar during a recent E3 event, to find out how the project is coming along.
She said this game is a lot more challenging to make than Gone Home, due to the amount of research needed to understand the workings of space stations, while imagining a realistic near-future culture.
"It's completely different working on something that's in the near future, relative to the near past," she said. "There's a lot of documentation on the past. There's not very much for the future.
"One of the biggest challenges is constructing a plausible future. That's a big deal, having a universe in which all our events can safely take place and having a world that can give rise to our characters.
"It's one of my personal big challenges, because I like to have concrete things to research and make sure we're doing things correctly. When it comes to the future that's not so easy."
We know that the game is set 70 years in the future, that the station is a few hundred miles above Earth, that the explorer is a woman called Amy Ferrier who is in search of missing crew members, with the help of a computer called Odin. Fullbright has given the station a touch of contemporary humor: the Lunar Transfer Facility is created by an organization called Virgin-Tesla.
It's a larger space than Gone Home but still intimate. Fullbright has given the place a look that some have immediately compared with the art-deco style of BioShock's Rapture, though we have only seen a few areas so far. Zimonja worked at BioShock publisher 2K Games for some years, as did creative partner Steve Gaynor.
So, apart from being somewhere between Earth and Moon, where exactly is this place?
"The station is at Lagrange Point 1, Earth Moon LP1," explains Zimonja. "A lot of large bodies that gravitationally influence each other have a series of five points along their orbits where you can place a stable object. It doesn't have to expend fuel to keep it in orbit.
"If you don't expend fuel while you're in orbit, your orbit slowly decays and you come closer and closer to the surface. At a Lagrange Point you won't decay in either direction, so it's a good place for a space station. Obviously, trying to move a space station is no picnic. You want to not do it much, because it's very expensive."
Gone Home told a story of human relationships, the nature of which unfolded as the player progressed. It also threw in a few red herrings to keep the player on edge. Zimonja said that the cramped dynamic of a space station is ideal for the story Fullbright wants to tell.
"We have people from disparate histories and life experiences that led them to this posting. They don't know each other, or only a couple of them do. They get there and they have to learn to work together. Six of them have to run the whole station themselves. There's not a whole lot of calling in for help.
"They have to learn to depend on each other and see what relationships they can eke out, because otherwise it's pretty easy to lose it. I'm reading about this now. Supposedly there's a strong correlation between the space you're given and how sane you get to remain. If you get your own private space and are allowed to be away from other people sometimes, you don't flip out nearly as much. If they put you in a cramped space with people you can't get away from, then it gets problematic really quick."
Unlike Gone Home, Tacoma features moving human characters, though we have only seen them portrayed as avatars. A lot of exploration is done on foot with the aid of magnetic boots, though it's also possible to make use of zero gravity to move around rapidly.
At the recent PC Gaming Show, Gaynor said that this "walking simulator" will be different precisely because it does not take place on a strictly 2D plane.
"You can basically treat this three-dimensional space as a fully three-dimensional playground," he said. "We're letting the player explore the environment on their own, but still letting the environment point them ... this might be interesting over here. We work in collaboration with the player to help them find all the cool stuff in the game, without forcing their hand."
Players follow the story through the discovery of digital recordings. "There will still be a significant amount of snooping and environmental storytelling," says Zimonja. "The digital recordings of some of the characters will hopefully be a cool new way to get some story information."
Tacoma is coming out in 2016.