new hori­zons

A new wave of first­per­son ad­ven­tures is trad­ing ac­tion for dis­cov­ery. We talk to the pioneers of a genre to find out where it’s headed next


con­flict lies at the heart of a great many videogames, but nowhere more so than in those that adopt a first­per­son per­spec­tive. In the pe­riod be­tween 1992’s Wolfen­stein 3D and 2014’s

Wolfen­stein: The New Order, the word ‘shooter’ has be­come the nat­u­ral part­ner for ‘first­per­son’, so suc­cess­ful has the genre been. But there’s a grow­ing coun­ter­cul­ture of de­vel­op­ers putting the em­pha­sis on what you can do with an eye-level cam­era with­out ty­ing it to the ex­ten­sions of a ve­hi­cle or firearm.

“There’s def­i­nitely a bit of a mo­ment go­ing on with these kinds of games,” says The Full­bright Com­pany’s

Steve Gaynor, de­signer of house­bound in­ter­ac­tive mys­tery Gone Home. “There’s a lot of games that gave us the con­fi­dence to make a game like Gone

Home, games such as Dear Es­ther, and even Am­ne­sia or Por­tal. There was this small move­ment of games be­fore we came out that were start­ing to ex­plore FPSes where they’re shoot­ing, but you’re ask­ing what else is go­ing on.”

Gaynor worked on one of the lat­ter him­self: BioShock 2’ s Min­erva’s Den DLC. “We saw iso­lated ex­am­ples that could be ex­panded on,” he says. “That’s where Gone Home came from. We played a bunch of games based on en­vi­ron­men­tal sto­ry­telling with au­dio di­aries and stuff as a side ac­tiv­ity, as a small sup­port struc­ture for the core loops of com­bat and lev­el­ling up, and we were like, ‘Well, what if that was the whole game?’ We see peo­ple say­ing the first hour of Bioshock In­fi­nite was their favourite game in re­cent mem­ory be­fore the com­bat started. That has to build up be­fore peo­ple say, ‘All right, what if the first hour of Bioshock

In­fi­nite was the whole game? How do we make that in­ter­est­ing? How do we in­vest ad­di­tional me­chan­ics into mak­ing that the thing that you do, not just the pre­lude to an FPS?” fin­ish­ing up The Stan­ley Para­ble, a sur­real and self-aware ad­ven­ture that shares the same con­flict-free struc­ture as Gone Home. White Pa­per Games, mean­while, skipped the hu­man drama of Gone Home and the Dadaist mus­ing of The Stan­ley Para­ble, build­ing its own ac­tion­less ad­ven­ture in Ether One, an im­pres­sion­ist tale about liv­ing with de­men­tia. Re­leased within six months of each other – while the ma­jor FPS ma­chines at Ac­tivi­sion and Elec­tronic Arts revved up for a new con­sole gen­er­a­tion – these games rep­re­sent a rel­a­tively new av­enue for cre­ators. Vekla’s The Wit­ness, The Chi­nese Room’s Ev­ery­body’s Gone To The

Rap­ture and Storm In A Teacup’s Nero pave the way for some of this ac­tion­less genre’s next steps.


Gone Home is just one of the first­per­son ad­ven­ture games from the past year that has at­tracted critical ac­claim – and a tsunami of In­ter­net scorn – for em­brac­ing the de­sign ex­tremes touched on by post- Por­tal ex­per­i­ments such as Dear Es­ther. Gone

Home strips away first­per­son norms, eschew­ing fight­ing, shoot­ing and tax­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal puz­zles. It doesn’t even have the idio­syn­cratic, mul­ti­step puz­zle solv­ing of point-and­click ad­ven­tures. And it isn’t the only game seek­ing to chart this space.

While Full­bright was hard at work on Gone Home, Ga­lac­tic Café was

In place of ac­tion, these games share a set of defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics. They’re all mys­ter­ies solved through ob­ser­va­tion and slight ma­nip­u­la­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment. You might pick up a key or a lantern, or press a but­ton to re­veal more space. They’re also all lonely ex­pe­ri­ences, largely de­void of other char­ac­ters. Yet de­spite these shared fea­tures, it’s hard to say what this bur­geon­ing genre should be named.

“First­per­son nar­ra­tive ex­plo­ration game?” sug­gests one of the pri­mary mas­ter­minds be­hind The Stan­ley

Para­ble, Wil­liam Pugh. “I don’t know. I know that we cer­tainly

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