The Fullbright Company have certainly made a name for themselves after releasing their first-person exploration title, Gone Home. Though the game certainly was not for everyone, it generated a good amount of critical acclaim and paved the way for games like Firewatch and Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture. ‘Walking Simulators’, as they have been (somewhat derogatorily) coined have been a significant part of the indie game market for a number of years now, with Gone Home arguably being the most notable. Using pure environmental storytelling, it gave life to characters that were never seen in-game. Simply exploring an empty house and picking up objects proved to be all the game needed to strike emotional chords and deliver a fully fleshed out story.
Reflecting on Gone Home is most important when discussing Fullbright’s sophomore game, Tacoma, which is a natural progression from their debut. Set in a space station 200,000 miles from Earth, it deals with themes of isolation and humanity. In a similar style to Gone Home, players take control of a female astronaut who is exploring an empty lunar transfer station. However, Tacoma doesn’t just use found objects to tell its story like its predecessor. Augmented reality avatars of the previous inhabitants of the station are still present on board, and they are used as a plot device. Being able to see a visual representation of human beings adds a new dynamic to the Fullbright aesthetic. Perhaps seeing these once-human avatars will be a counter to the loneliness that was felt in Gone Home.
Tacoma is building upon the foundation established in Gone Home, which means there will be a lot of exploration and discovery. The latter game focuses on learning about the main character’s family using found objects, but Tacoma has an underlying mystery beneath it. By using the former crew’s recreated avatars, it’s up to the player to piece together what exactly happened on the transfer station. How much this mystery is going to factor into the overall plot is still to be determined. What I liked best about Gone Home was that each family member’s story was able to stand on its own. Additionally, piecing all of their stories together led to a larger plot with good intersections and a focused endgame finale.
The Game Awards 2014 announcement trailer for Tacoma set the tone of the game, but gave very little insight into the gameplay or story. The aforementioned female astronaut arrives on the lunar transfer base accompanied by a voice on the radio comlink. Architecturally the base feels reminiscent of Rapture from BioShock — a favorite video game setting in recent memory. Ambient electronic music evokes feelings of wonder as the voice on the radio asks “Technician, are you in?”. The protagonist takes a deep breath and responds, “I am…I am”. This sets an eerie tone, as if her arrival on the station is immediately met with a sense of discomfort and amazement.
In addition to the teaser trailer, a brief gameplay trailer was revealed at E3 2015. These few glimpses demonstrated that Tacoma has taken the mechanics of Gone Home and morphed them into a larger experience. The protagonist speaks to an AI during her experience on the lunar transfer station, perhaps making it feel less lonely. ‘Ghosts’ of the crew are scattered throughout the environment, which allows the story to progress in multiple directions. Not only is the player finding things and examining them, but on-screen characters are seen interacting with one another. You’ll be able to trail these artificial representations of former crew and listen to their conversations. There is a sense of freedom built into this, as players choose between multiple choice paths. Something unsettling blanketed the teaser trailer, which is further represented in the gameplay trailer as the protagonist opens a mysterious door before the video ends.
If the environment seems “grand”, that is because Fullbright designed it as a luxury transfer station for the wealthy citizens who are able to take tourist trips to the moon. Between Earth and the moon lies Tacoma which serves as a type of hotel or resort-inspired “waiting area” during the long trip. Watching the AR recreations of life on the station gives a detailed and personal understanding of what life was like on the station and how people reacted to being there.
Having been playtested many times by people in the industry, Fullbright felt that Tacoma lacked something during its initial development cycle. People wanted more out of it. They wanted to be able to go off in any direction that they want and explore the station from their own perspective. Delays were put in place and Tacoma was given a complete overhaul to accommodate more freedom and personality. By the end of the game, the goal is to make players feel like they know why the former inhabitants of Tacoma were there, their state of mind, and what their lives were like.
Creating an identity with AR representation, exploration and found objects is an ambitious idea that Fullbright have proven they are able to deliver on. Its long development cycle and multiple delays send a clear message: Tacoma is being treated with care. Fullbright have no intention of rushing the game, which speaks great words about its future. Here’s to hoping it releases in 2017!