Before recording a Counterweight, I write up a cornucopia of notes to prepare. However, if I have my notes in front of me during the podcast, my brain decides I have to “write an article in audio” and I stop listening to what Eric is saying. Now, I realise no one else listens to Eric either, but it’s bad form for a podcast so I hide my notes when we record.

As a result, not all of my points made it into the podcast so here are all my Gone Home (The Fullbright Company, 2013) notes for completeness. Spoilers, of course.    

  • I love that there are actual stereograms in the game.
  • “Don’t leave all the lights on, Sam.” Love this nod to the player who is doing just this very thing to mark rooms as explored.
  • I kept putting everything back where it was to begin with… but eventually I didn’t care. I turned the house upside down. I approached the house and environment as real, but left with a game attitude.
  • It turns out that I did not find all the journal entries.
  • Interface didn’t feel comfortable and had to turn off the “sticky” mouselook straight away. However, that had an obvious downside: it was a pain trying to aim at small objects.
  • Robert Yang on Gone Home: “It’s also worth pointing out that Gone Home wouldn’t feel nearly as fluent if it was made with technology from 10 years ago.” I wonder about this: interactive fiction could have produced a game with similar delivery. Of course, Gone Home is a multimedia upgrade of such a hypothetical work, with a simplification of the parser to a few well-defined verbs. It would be a different experience, but still possible to implement effectively. Perhaps only ten people would have played it because, well, text and parser.
  • There’s an implication in some of the critical discussions that the game is powerful because it resonates with a writer’s own experience; I find this sentiment kind of… pointless? If we subscribe to the theory that games give voice to minority stories, then why should it matter whether it connects with our personal experience or not? My teens were in the UK, in the 80s and in a family that lived hand-to-mouth – I still managed to enjoy the game.
  • As an addendum to this last point, Eric and I discussed Gone Home for another good hour after we stopped recording the podcast. Eric had enjoyed how nostalgic the game felt for him; I rebuffed asserting that wasn’t important as a measure of the game’s worth. But we realised that there’s something authentic at the core of the game, and that’s what triggered his nostalgia and that’s why I liked the game. Authenticity.
  • The game’s story is closer to a well-plotted drama, a TV movie, rather than something more kitchen sink. This is where the complaints of the game being “too neat” come from but, regardless, it’s nice to see more games about something more mundane without any sort of magical realism as a cover for traditional game mechanics.
  • I didn’t pick up on the abuse angle and it felt like a story complexity too far, a strand that burdens the story’s back. With the history of abuse, I can’t see the family moving into that house as well as writing in the library, where the abuse is meant to have taken place. If I recall correctly, there is a justification for the move in the game, but I’m not sure I can completely buy it.
  • The state of the house confused me for some time. The VCRs being removed, the “just moved” state of the house yet back story suggesting the move was not just last week confused me in terms of chronology. Even though the Sam’s journals are released in chronologically linear fashion, I wasn’t sure of dates. This went further: there’s a den made out of sofa cushions which is mentioned in the earliest journals – and this completely confused me. What happened was I mixed up event signalling (look here’s the thing mentioned in the journal) and ritualistic signalling (sofa den is a habit not a one off).
  • I was spoiled in advance that the game was about Sam’s coming out so I was able to relax in the game and enjoy the disquieting haunted house affectation. I do wonder if that affectation would have annoyed those players who were expecting a ghost story. I remember watching programmes as a young boy that clothed themselves as creepy stories yet did a Scooby Doo to “explain away” all the weird happenings with the mundane. That was always disappointing.
  • I was scared of the dark even though I knew this was not a game about ghosts.
  • I rushed to the attic at the end of the game. If I’d thought a little more clearly about it, I wouldn’t have, but I did concerned there was a body up there. Up there this whole time. But note that it’s a cheat: without the perfectly choreographed voiceover, that isn’t implied by what you find as Katie in the game.
  • Gone Home is not the game I expected. I didn’t expect it to lead me so cleanly through the story: the intervention of object-triggered audio logs was a real surprise.
  • I liked it overall and came away more excited versus the marred experience of Papers, Please (Lucas Pope, 2013). See previous Counterweight for details.
  • That vast basement almost broke my perception of the house as a real entity. Then again, it was already broken with the addition of gamey “secret passages”. Eric and I came to blows over this in the actual podcast.
  • We empathise with Sam – it’s her story. But we don’t think about the fallout, what comes next. Katie may “understand” but she might not understand. It’s likely to be devastating, a hole ripped out of the family portrait. It’s not the apocalypse, but there’s going to be soul-searching about why she one family member had to run away, escape.

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3 thoughts on “Counterweight Companion: Gone Home

  1. Annoyingly, I must hold off on this Counterweight and its Companion until I’ve actually played Gone Home.

    *This* is what happens when I impose a temporary moratorium on purchasing new games.

  2. Notes better than most articles. A great summation – you should consider publishing your notes as a regular companion to Counterweight. It provides more insight into your perspective.

    I walked away from Gone Home feeling very positive about it, though I admit the luster dimmed a bit as time passed. This was less a function of anything the game did wrong and more one of distance making it easier to pick out some of the flaws.

    The Fullbright Company deserves commendation for making an engaging game with no ghosts, no space marines, no aliens, no violence, no killing, no chases, no apocalypse, no revenge for a torched village, no rescue of a damsel. They created something fairly deft, if not as subtle as I’d have liked, and by only flirting with the “ghost story” angle, they kept it from becoming a meta-commentary on games and gamers. As Katie, I felt a little of the ghost stuff because I was alone in a strange house on a stormy night; I jumped at shadows but I was pretty sure we were ghost-free within fifteen minutes of starting. Indeed, like most players, I put enough pieces together to figure out the story well in advance of its end.

    Funnily, I completely missed the broad visual clues reinforcing Sam’s flight. Even though I knew the move had taken place months ago, I put the missing electronics down to either post-move discombobulation or a family whose VCR is constantly in flux since one member reviews the devices for a living and would constantly be swapping them out. Fullbright couldn’t have been more clear about the reality of the situation if they’d stuck it on a fridge note, but it was lost on me. I think of myself as observant, but the truth is we see what we want to see, and predispositions are very hard to abandon.

    It’s also interesting to look at narrative problem solving in Gone Home. Why set the game in the nineties? Maybe for no more complex a reason than a crucial part of their narrative depended on answering machines, which you don’t have these days. I’m sure there were other reasons too, but something about the game (and I’m looking forward to playing again with the commentary on) really struck me as an open book on how this small studio solved problems in their game.

    Before this gets even longer: where Gone Home breaks down is the mechanical lack of necessity. The 3D work, the ability to pick up and rotate every wicker duck and soda can: it cost Fullbright money and time, and honestly, it wasn’t called for. Frankly I see much of Gone Home’s technology as a strong case for the use of the resources that allowed it going into something more valuable for the game they actually produced (the one without ghost space marines) – more nuance and less in-your-faceism with their story.

    But even with the wicker duck complaint, I’m thrilled that Fullbright did so well with this game, because it means they’ll be able to follow up their work with something else. This is a team I’d like to see working together for a long time, producing games like this, because there’s a need for them.

  3. @Shaun – this is the downside of writing about games shortly after release, none of the regulars can comment!

    @Steerpike – the notes are here to (a) solve the problem of podcast listeners forgetting what they listened to and thus don’t write any comments (b) make full use of my musings on a game and (c) perhaps encourage people to listen to the podcast. The downside is a podcast week becomes more burdensome…

    I think you’re right about the ability to manipulate objects was overkill. I’d guess the original conception was to give a player a sense of “turning over” the house but, after all the technical work had been done, it just didn’t have that much impact on the final game. (In fact, I was a little annoyed I had to do this silly trick with gravity to see the entirety of the cassette case.)

    It’s interesting you’ve found it’s impact dimmed by time. I guess that’s true; it hasn’t left a lasting impression on me, in a way. It didn’t jiggle out any strong emotions unlike, say, the average FPS always gets some juices going, which seems unfair to it. I don’t feel like I want to play it a second time.

    (I have one last point I need to add to my ramblings on Gone Home which will be in next week’s post. I’ve held it back because it forms part of an article I’ve wanted to write for a long time.)

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