"I feel like I'm not good at writing people who are just really terrible," said Steve Gaynor.
"As a writer, I don't get drawn to a lot of people just being terrible to each other, or real heavy stuff like that."
The Fullbright co-founder is showing off the team's upcoming game, Tacoma. Like the developer's breakout hit Gone Home, Tacoma is a narrative-driven title built on a foundation of exploration — both of the game's world and its characters. Writing interesting characters, whether they're likable or not, is key to crafting a good game.
Tacoma is set onboard a space station of the same name and stars Amy Ferrier, a young woman investigating the disappearance of the ship's crew. Amy has some help here — an AI called ODIN, and an augmented reality system that gives her access to personal files, records and even conversation recordings you can watch. It's a Sleep No More-inspired idea that — in the style of the looping, interactive stage production — allows you to rewind, revisit and retrace different parts of the conversation by focusing on different crew members.
they're not always completely sympathetic
Although the studio's sophomore title appears to be one big snoop-fest, what you'll find is not as salacious as you might expect. This is not a game about people at their worst.
"We kind of like all of our crew members [but] they're not always completely sympathetic," Gaynor said. "There are certainly parts of the story where someone is not being at their best, or is being selfish, or is being guarded in a way that they have anxiety or that they wouldn't normally expose that to people.
"I think that there's a big part of being able to see like, oh this character just presented themselves to this other character in this way, and then they left the room and they were by themselves and now they let out that there was this other aspect that they weren't revealing during this exchange. You can see all of this perspective during their real overall mindset."
There's a thread of voyeurism that runs through through Fullbright's work. In Gone Home, players had access to a sacred place: someone's home. They were able to dig through the very private details of a family's personal life. In Tacoma, Gaynor likens it to more of a dinner party. You're having a conversation here. They're having a conversation there. Even if you eavesdrop — a rather frowned upon practice — it's only possible to be part of one exchange at a time.
Tacoma gives you the chance to bend those rules by becoming a silent observer, able to sift through conversations at your own pace. It's a power fantasy, Gaynor said; different from the typical "all-powerful" fantasies in video games, but still allowing you to indulge.
"I think there is this less explored fantasy that's just like, I want to be a voyeur," he said. "I want to see things that I'm not supposed to be seeing. Games allow you to kind of participate safely in transgressive acts. One act of transgression is effectively, I'm seeing things you don't want me to see. I can do that in a game and it makes it ok.
"That's not something that we normally have the luxury of — being able to be involved in a private conversation that we're not a member of. Effectively in Tacoma, we're saying you can be anywhere at any time within these scenes and kind of understand every aspect."
It's the kind of understanding humans naturally crave, said co-founder Karla Zimonja. And it gives Fullbright the ability to make their characters more candid and honest than they might otherwise appear.
"We're all snoops," said Zimonja. "I do feel like there's some amount of interest in human nature that I feel like is kind of the purest form. When you see people behaving as if they don't know you're there. You're finding out about what people do when you're not around. Who knows how different they are when you are around? There's sort of this platonic concept of, I am really seeing some human behavior here because they don't know I'm looking."
How the crew of Tacoma acts when they think no one is looking, however, is yet to be determined. The game launches next year on Linux, Mac, Windows PC and Xbox One.
"Like Gone Home, Tacoma is a story about people," Gaynor said. "It's about these six people who have been thrown into this situation and about how crisis can pull them together or push them apart. How much details you find out about who they are and what they went through is really up to you as the player. "