Best of 2013: #3 - Gone Home

Gone Home is remarkable in just how unremarkable it is. It's not avant-garde or experimental. With a first-person perspective and fully explorable 3D world, it feels instantly familiar, but chooses to use these to tell a simple story. Which is great. It may seem obvious enough, but Gone Home has made a great many people suddenly realise this. Thanks, Gone Home.

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When Caitlin Greenbriar arrived at her family's new home after a year abroad only to find it empty, she tried to find out where they were. That's it. Gone Home is remarkable in just how unremarkable it is. It's not avant-garde or experimental. With a first-person perspective and fully explorable 3D world, it feels instantly familiar and relatable, but chooses to use these to tell a simple story. Which is great. It may seem obvious enough, but Gone Home has made many people suddenly realize this is possible. Thanks, Gone Home.

A large part of why Gone Home is so successful is that developer The Fullbright Company knew its limits. Starting with a team of three people and a small budget meant it needed to be small, tight, honed. Gone Home is a house, a story, and a whole lot of opening cabinets and drawers, and evidently that's just fine. The house and its contents are interesting, exciting, and often entertaining to explore, and spark a strange nostalgic sense of homecoming for those of around our thirties.

The game's overlapping stories are simple but touching, the everyday of everyday people's lives. Our lives. Our boring, stupid lives. We're not heroes, but our lives matter. Again, it's not hugely ambitious or challenging, but small, tight, honed.

Big-budget blockbuster video games are broadly getting better at injecting a human element into their stories, but often both game and story suffer for their attempts. They bend over backwards to explain why, no, look, seriously, it's perfectly natural and reasonable for this one person to murder hundreds. Big publishers blockbusters' are insecure, unnecessarily amping up their stories and ramming in cutscenes because playing is apparently shameful--no, they say, they're not making games to play, they're making stories and worlds to live and breathe. While dolts on the Internet froth about how damaging Gone Home is to games, it's actually more respectful than many "proper" games for only using the parts from the Big Toolbox of Game Bits which it needs.

Gone Home took things we knew and used them for something we always knew was possible, but for whatever reason never saw. It exudes a quiet, unassuming manifesto: video games can do a lot of things; let's discover some more of them.

Disclosure: I'm vaguely chummy with The Fullbright Company co-founder Steve Gaynor. We once explored a deconsecrated cemetery together then took afternoon tea.


The Shacknews Best of 2013 Awards were determined by ballot voting across the entire Shacknews staff. Our top pick will be revealed tomorrow.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    January 21, 2014 1:35 PM

    Alice O'Connor posted a new article, Best of 2013: #3 - Gone Home.

    Gone Home is remarkable in just how unremarkable it is. It's not avant-garde or experimental. With a first-person perspective and fully explorable 3D world, it feels instantly familiar, but chooses to use these to tell a simple story. Which is great. It may seem obvious enough, but Gone Home has made a great many people suddenly realise this. Thanks, Gone Home.

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      January 21, 2014 1:41 PM

      (I know the interactive fiction community and the avant-garde of indie exist, but in forms which make them unpalatable to more 'mainstream' players.)

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      January 21, 2014 1:52 PM

      I don't really agree with calling Gone Home a game, it just falls somewhere under the umbrella of interactive media that video games shares.

      Gone Home doesn't really contain any game elements, there's no real decision to be made, no puzzles to solve, nothing the player does has any outcome on the end result of the experience. The only decision the player can make is to examine the environment more than is required to proceed through the story.

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        January 21, 2014 1:58 PM

        What about the lego games? You can't die, infinite lives, all you do is keep pushing the characters towards the end of the game. Gone Home may not be typical but it's certainly a video game.

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          January 21, 2014 2:13 PM

          I don't think I've thought about it enough to give a proper definition of a game, but in the example of the Lego games there's a set of rules, adversaries, and skill required to play.

          if you took away the ability to shoot, and you just walked through the levels, then it would be similar to Gone Home.

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        January 21, 2014 2:00 PM

        I don't think it's useful to set up arbitrary rules about what a game must and must not contain, especially when we're just basing those arguments on "this is what games have been so far." We're just restricting ourselves from more diverse experiences in the future.

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          January 21, 2014 2:06 PM

          I think it help to define these things so people know what to expect before they buy something.

          If I went into Gone Home expecting something with puzzles like Myst or The 7th Guest, I would have been disappointed. I think it's in the best interest of everyone to be honest about what a player is going to get out of a product.

          Along the same lines, it needs to be categorized so that you can do proper comparisons and reviews. Broadway plays and movies are reviewed differently, why shouldn't we differentiate between games and interactive experiences?

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            January 21, 2014 2:19 PM

            Every review I saw mentioned it was something different.

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            January 21, 2014 2:20 PM

            You arrive home after a year abroad. You expect your family to greet you, but the house is empty. Something's not right. Where is everyone? And what's happened here? Unravel the mystery for yourself in Gone Home, a story exploration game from The Fullbright Company.

            Gone Home is an interactive exploration simulator. Interrogate every detail of a seemingly normal house to discover the story of the people who live there. Open any drawer and door. Pick up objects and examine them to discover clues. Uncover the events of one family's lives by investigating what they've left behind.


            That seems pretty useful to me, taken from the Steam description.

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            January 21, 2014 3:46 PM

            Well good thing it spells out exactly what it is on the steam page.

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        January 21, 2014 2:26 PM

        Gone Home is a great game. It uses the trappings of the FPS genre to tell a story, but it would not have done anything if I had not interacted with it. Maybe Interactive Fiction needs to make a comeback as a label for games like these?

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          January 21, 2014 4:04 PM

          Totally. But personally I've always considered "adventure game" good enough. That's why I hate it when action or platformers are labelled "adventure", because it muddles the genre description.

          Indies are basically genre-less these days and I love it.

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      January 21, 2014 1:52 PM

      Good experience, WAY overpriced.

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      January 21, 2014 1:55 PM

      Glad to see it make it this high on the list, great game

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      January 21, 2014 2:06 PM

      It's been fascinating to see the response to Gone Home over the last year. I'm not sure I've ever seen a game that's inspired people to claim that people who enjoyed it were somehow being insincere, but I've seen that proposed by multiple commenters on multiple sites. My favorite was the guy who assumed that game critics gave it an award at the VGX "sarcastically." There's a weird and kinda sinister thinking behind a line of logic that goes "I didn't enjoy this, which means that everyone who claims to enjoy it is lying or is trying to push an agenda down my throat."

      Not that all discourse around games is the height of intellectual wordplay, but it's been fascinating to see people hate a game to the point where they abandon all sense of logic or intellectual argument when talking about it.

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        January 21, 2014 2:10 PM

        And yeah yeah, I know, "welcome to the Internet" and all that. I'm just talking about a matter of degrees; Gone Home has inspired a kind of vitriol that I've rarely if ever seen, and I've been working in this industry since college.

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          January 21, 2014 2:18 PM

          Maybe the subject matter made some bigots come out of the woodwork. I also liked how this game pushed the boundaries again and ignited some interesting discussions on narrative and what is a game and what is not.

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            January 21, 2014 3:19 PM

            Okay now that's just the dumbest thing I've heard so far about this game. You cannot claim that everyone who doesn't enjoy the same games that you do are a bunch of bigots. It would be like claiming anyone who didn't enjoy Tomb Raider a misogynist.

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              January 21, 2014 3:27 PM

              some

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              January 21, 2014 3:29 PM

              I personally don't think that; I know that there are plenty of people who felt upset about the amount of gameplay they got for $20, or who didn't think it was deserving of the "game" title.

              But likewise there was absolutely a section of people who absolutely railed against it because it had gay themes or was "pushing an agenda." Not every person who disliked it, for sure, but definitely a not-insignificant chunk of them.

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                January 21, 2014 3:58 PM

                This is the first I've heard of that but I think that audience may be loud but quite insignificant. For instance it was once claimed that GTA:San Andreas wouldn't sell because the protagonist was black. Bioshock Infinite also faced criticism from a very SMALL portion of the Mormon community. The criticism these games faced seemed like a big deal at the time though.

                I think that fans of the game may be taking this criticism too far and giving this small bunch of bigots entirely too much power.

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          January 21, 2014 3:40 PM

          I think a lot of people said glowing things about it which caused some people with very reductionist viewpoints to rail against it. If Gone Home had not been hyped up by various reviewers and others, I don't think that would have happened. (i.e. it's as much a reaction to the reviews as it is to the games)

          That said, I'm with the Gone Home promoters. It's a great game and I'm glad it got the reception it did. I would only say that it's not for everyone but that's true in various ways of many games.

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        January 21, 2014 3:44 PM

        1. Hey all those people really like something that I don't like.
        2. Does that mean there's something wrong with me?
        3. FEAR RESPONSE AWOOOGAH FLAIL FAIL FOAM

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        January 21, 2014 3:46 PM

        Myst received the exact same kind of thing. When a game is different it makes people talk and splits reactions.

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          January 21, 2014 4:04 PM

          Myst is blamed for killing a game genre which may actually be more ridiculous than some of the things people have said about Gone Home.

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            January 21, 2014 4:07 PM

            Myst certainly didn't age well and isn't very fondly remembered.

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              January 21, 2014 4:34 PM

              Myst is fine and many people have fond memories of it, myself included.

              And Riven owns even more.

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              January 21, 2014 4:42 PM

              lol what? Myst is super fondly remembered and Riven was and still is pretty goddamn amazing.

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                January 21, 2014 4:50 PM

                Alright but is the Myst series as fondly remembered as Day of the Tentacle, the Sam and Max games, or even the Leisure Suit Larry series? I think there are good reasons why the Tell Tale games take after the older adventure games more the Myst clones.

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                  January 21, 2014 5:01 PM

                  Yes? Just because its particular take on the genre didn't catch on at the tail end of adventure gaming in the same way that those games caught on at the height of adventure gaming doesn't mean the game itself isn't fondly remembered. Tell Tale takes after those earlier games because Tell Tale is made up of people who made those specific games.

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                  January 21, 2014 5:23 PM

                  Fuck yes, Riven as well. In fact I hope that type of slow puzzle exploration game returns with the OR.

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            January 21, 2014 4:26 PM

            Myst started the trend downward, but it wasn't the fault of the game or it's developer. It's the fault of "me too!" copy cats that strangled the genre to death. That and the rise of Tomb Raider and immersive 3D action games.

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        January 21, 2014 4:17 PM

        [deleted]

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        January 21, 2014 11:13 PM

        Having played the "game" I don't get any thing about it that makes it award worthy. The story is on par with an after school show. The graphics look like a group project from full sail. The only game was unlocking a few things which involved memorizing four numbers.

        If the story was about a hetro couple--would it have won any awards/made any lists? Nope.

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      January 21, 2014 3:17 PM

      Excuse me Alice but the very things that makes Gone Home a good experience is that it's avant-garde and experimental. It's not really a game at all but an interactive story.

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        January 21, 2014 3:23 PM

        This weekend I co-produced an event including a game where players lie down on the floor in sleeping bags and roll around to control a caterpillar. I'd consider that avant-garde. http://luckyframe.co.uk/works/roflpillar/

        Gone Home really is quite conventional, which is part of why it works so well.

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          January 21, 2014 3:57 PM

          that is hilarious. looks like fun

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          January 21, 2014 4:00 PM

          In your opinion is the stanley parable avant garde? I'd say both the stanley parable and gone home are both very experimental and avant garde.

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        January 21, 2014 4:24 PM

        I'm glad Alice mentioned Interactive Fiction because I had just been thinking the other day how much Gone Home 'felt' like graphical IF to me.

        (In that a lot of IF is very mechanics-light, often focused on stories though puzzles just as often)

        The only difference is more ghosts in IF, maybe.

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        January 22, 2014 12:01 AM

        I enjoyed Gone Home, but its not avant-garde at all.... heck its not even original in its idea and execution.

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      January 21, 2014 3:40 PM

      I enjoyed it so-so. I would have changed the ending significantly but I understand why it was so refreshing for a lot of gamers -- it's just not really in my wheelhouse. It's certainly the best SPOILER: lesbian coming of age game of all time.

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        January 21, 2014 3:47 PM

        Changed how, out of curiosity?

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          January 21, 2014 3:55 PM

          Should have had a dead girl hanging in the attic.

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            January 21, 2014 3:58 PM

            Nononono.

            To win the game, you must kill me, John Romero!

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            January 21, 2014 4:01 PM

            No, that would have been ridiculous and is not the point

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          January 21, 2014 4:02 PM

          Well, again I appreciated the tonal red herrings throughout the game and understand that everyone enjoyed the "twist". For me, however, it was a let down and a bit corny. I wanted it to end to what they were alluding to or something similarly dark. I also understand that would be construed as "easy-way-out" & certainly predictable but after such an absorbing story, it would have made a greater impact (for me).

          I should probably also see a shrink.

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      January 21, 2014 4:41 PM

      I played Gone Home exactly once. But I still remember all of it (maybe partially because I played it through a Saturday / Sunday megasession), and I really liked the story. The atmosphere of walking around and seeing hidden storylines in all the items and books and letters laying around is something that I should probably do on a second run.

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        January 21, 2014 4:43 PM

        There's a commentary mode, too. Ended up pointing out of a few things I straight up missed even though I felt I was very thorough in my exploration of the house.

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      January 21, 2014 4:55 PM

      Gone Home was OK, but I can't help thinking it would be better with rocket-jumping.

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      January 21, 2014 5:04 PM

      For those who have finished, make sure you check out Gun Home (DLC) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJgyQ7DuWhM

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        January 21, 2014 5:30 PM

        "I like the part with the guns!" - NRA

        Haha.

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        January 21, 2014 6:28 PM

        Awesome!

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