Fire­watch

PC

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Campo Santo De­vel­oper In-house For­mat PC Ori­gin US Re­lease TBC

Where Dear Esther ex­plores the sen­sa­tion of be­ing over­whelmed by a wild, un­fa­mil­iar en­vi­ron­ment that you don’t fully un­der­stand, Fire­watch is about los­ing con­trol of one you do. Campo Santo’s de­but casts you as Henry, a man seek­ing a sim­pler ex­is­tence in the wilds of Wy­oming as a fire look­out. Part fire­man, part park ranger, your job is to keep a watch­ful eye on the habi­tat that sur­rounds your tower and pro­tect it from threats. It’s a lonely, in­her­ently omi­nous ex­is­tence.

You’re not en­tirely iso­lated, how­ever: your su­per­vi­sor, Delilah, is on hand via por­ta­ble ra­dio. When you’re not hang­ing from cliff faces, you’ll spend much of the time fil­ing re­ports to her, ex­chang­ing sar­cas­tic quips and mak­ing choices that will di­rectly in­flu­ence how she per­ceives you – for bet­ter or worse. It’s fit­ting, then, that a game about defin­ing who you are through your de­ci­sions should be the re­sult of sim­i­larly or­ganic devel­op­ment.

“Fire­watch now is very dif­fer­ent to what it was 12 months ago,” says Jane Ng, Campo Santo’s se­nior en­vi­ron­ment artist. “I think we’re all happy with where it is now, but it’s at the point where it tells you, if you lis­ten to it, where it wants to go. It’s im­por­tant to be hon­est about stum­bling on some­thing amaz­ing un­in­ten­tion­ally. Orig­i­nally, we had a lot more mantling, a lot more gamey stuff, be­cause we thought that would be fun. Like, you’d do a cooler move if you timed your in­put well. But that just isn’t where the emo­tional res­o­nance is. So we still have [mantling], but we’re putting less em­pha­sis on it now, be­cause so much of the real meat is pick­ing up all the stuff in the world.”

There’s plenty to paw at in the short demo we play. Early on, we stum­ble upon a camp­site strewn with beer cans, food pack­ag­ing and a bot­tle of up­mar­ket whisky. We came here to in­ves­ti­gate who would be stupid enough to launch fire­works within the living tin­der that is our for­est home. When we ar­rive, ev­ery­thing can be picked up and ei­ther pock­eted, care­fully re­placed or tossed away. A bra left hang­ing over a branch leads us to a path cov­ered in more hastily aban­doned clothes, and even­tu­ally to a ra­dio blar­ing out mu­sic next to a lake. In the dis­tance, two teens are skinny dip­ping, sil­hou­et­ted by the set­ting sun. Af­ter a brusque ex­change, we take re­venge by toss­ing their boom box into the lake. The mu­sic cuts out with a crackle.

“That [out­come] was a to­tal ac­ci­dent, ac­tu­ally,” Ng says. “Some­body did that dur­ing one of our early playtests, and we were like, ‘Oh, we should to­tally sup­port that.’ And now we’re con­sciously aware of al­low­ing peo­ple to do more things like that.”

“We want the game to re­act to what­ever stupid thing you feel like do­ing,” adds artist and illustrator Olly Moss. “And we want it to have a sur­pris­ing re­ac­tion to that as well. I think that’s weirdly de­light­ful in a way when you do find some­thing that you wouldn’t ex­pect other games to sup­port. And that’s one of the main in­ten­tions of our game: to give peo­ple th­ese weird re­ac­tions.”

It’s not just the en­vi­ron­ment that the team wants to re­spond in a con­vinc­ing man­ner; the con­ver­sa­tions we hear be­tween Delilah and Henry are snappy and be­liev­able through­out, and truly funny. Nei­ther takes them­selves too se­ri­ously, but you can steer con­ver­sa­tions into darker ter­ri­tory. For ex­am­ple, those pesky kids back at the lake could be chided with an earnest re­quest to be care­ful, or you could part ways by yelling out your hope that they drown. Fur­ther op­tions are avail­able when you re­lay the events back to Delilah, and we stay in char­ac­ter as a sullen grump, dif­fus­ing her at­tempts to lighten the sit­u­a­tion. Mak­ing sure all of those branch­ing choices work has been some­thing of a stick­ing point for the team.

“It’s one of the rea­sons it’s taken such a long time to get to a point where we could com­fort­ably put in the con­tent,” Ng says. “We made the dia­logue tool in-house, and it syncs with Unity, but there are all th­ese ar­eas where it could get re­ally com­pli­cated. It was re­ally im­por­tant that the game knows what you’ve done, or if your Henry is mean. For ex­am­ple, if you picked up all the stuff from the ‘teen party zone,’ as we call it, the game knows if you ac­tu­ally did it and it also knows if you’ve told Delilah cer­tain things. We re­ally tried to make sure Fire­watch was re­ac­tive to those kind of choices. And you can choose to not talk back to her; that’s also a valid choice.”

The game’s fo­cus on back­chat might have taken a toll on ex­plo­ration were it not for the el­e­gantly en­gi­neered UI. On our DualShock 4, we sim­ply hold the left trig­ger to bring up a se­lec­tion of ac­tions or re­sponses, then cy­cle through the op­tions by squeez­ing the right trig­ger. Re­leas­ing the left trig­ger again makes your se­lec­tion. The setup sits un­ob­tru­sively over the game and doesn’t in­hibit your abil­ity to walk about, stamp out camp­fires or toss beer bot­tles, mak­ing your in­ter­ac­tions with the world both in­tu­itive and mul­ti­lay­ered.

Else­where, con­trols are sim­i­larly pol­ished and there’s a sat­is­fy­ing chunk­i­ness to your move­ment. “It was so im­por­tant to get that right from the be­gin­ning,” Moss says. “We’ve got Nels [An­der­son], who was tech­ni­cal designer on Mark Of The Ninja, so we knew it was go­ing to feel good to play, but it was also a lit­tle bit re­ac­tive to [ Jake Rod­kin and Sean Vana­man] com­ing from Tell­tale and work­ing on those games. We def­i­nitely didn’t want you to feel like a dis­em­bod­ied head or a float­ing cam­era waft­ing through the world.”

The ef­fort has paid off: although we give it a good go, we can’t make Henry put a foot wrong. “We have a se­cret weapon and his name is James Ben­son,” Moss says. “He did a Half-Life trailer where he took all of the as­sets from that game and did an in­cred­i­bly good job of an­i­mat­ing firstper­son hands and a re­ally re­ac­tive Gor­don Free­man. When he was in­vited to work on some­thing like that but in a real game, he jumped at the chance!”

That tech will be put to work in a size­able open world that will un­furl as you col­lect ad­di­tional tools and open new routes, but your ex­pe­ri­ence of each area will dif­fer depend­ing on the state of your re­la­tion­ship with Delilah. “If you go to a cer­tain lo­ca­tion right at the be­gin­ning of the game, the things you talk about might be to­tally dif­fer­ent at that point than if you go there nearer the end of the game, when your re­la­tion­ship’s in a to­tally dif­fer­ent place,” Moss ex­plains. “We want play­ers to have to­tally dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences, even if the thrust is the same.”

But while Campo Santo is happy to talk about me­chan­ics, it’s se­cre­tive when it comes to the ap­par­ently ma­li­cious in­flu­ence bear­ing down on Henry. At the end of our demo, we re­turn to our watch­tower to find it turned over. Re­venge for a drowned stereo sys­tem? Per­haps. While we’d rel­ish the op­por­tu­nity to dig deeper, it’s Henry and Delilah’s charm­ing, em­i­nently hu­man re­la­tion­ship that has us gripped.

”That’s one of the main in­ten­tions of our game: to give peo­ple th­ese weird re­ac­tions”

Jane Ng, se­nior en­vi­ron­ment artist, and Olly Moss, illustrator and artist for Campo Santo

ABOVE Fire­watch’s colour pal­ette is im­bued with the threat of over­pow­er­ing heat. Even at night, when a cool blue haze falls over­head, the rocks re­tain some­thing of their burnt or­ange hue.

BE­LOW This tum­ble, which hap­pens at the start of the game, is thank­fully less se­ri­ous than it looks. Henry’s ro­bust char­ac­ter de­sign is evoca­tive of TeamFortress2

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