Published on February 6th, 2013 | by James Kulas
Beautiful Nightmares: Homesick
For the best part of twenty years, trawling the gaming press for snippets of adventure was a largely demoralising affair. Of course there were exceptions, but for the most part die-hard fans were forced to delve back in time to satisfy their item-combining puzzle-solving urges.
Thanks to the contributions of studios like Dave Gilbert’s Wadjet Eye Games and the effervescent Amanita Design, those dark ages have at last given way to an adventure gaming renaissance. It’s amidst this reawakening that crowd-funding is able to deliver enchantingly beautiful and simple concepts like Lucky Pause’s début, Homesick.
Trapped in an abandoned building, the stark surroundings of your waking world are tempered by the delicate hues of nature’s reclamation. Blinding sunlight streams in from every window, we could be anywhere. But there’s another more sinister side to this adventure, a frantic nightmare world harrowed by ever encroaching shadow. Exploring both these contrasting realms will be essential to successfully make your escape.
Now before I get too carried away, it’s important to note that I haven’t actually laid my hands on Homesick yet. Adventure games live and die by their puzzle design, and striking the balance between obvious and abstruse is an immensely difficult skill. But such an intriguing world thoughtfully accented by singer-songwriter Joy Autumn‘s sombre arrangements of piano and string, left me helpless to resist.
With their modest $8,000 goal firmly behind them, and just shy of two weeks remaining, I caught up with Homesick’s dynamic duo – Creative Director Barrett Meeker and Communications Director Morgan Wyenn – to rack their brains, and discover the delicious inspiration within.
Firstly, as I’ve said in the article, the game looks and sounds absolutely beautiful. Where did the idea come from?
We wanted to create a game that was really beautiful to look at, and engage with. We wanted to bring the best of cutting edge 3D art to the adventure game genre. I played around with the story idea for a long time, trying to create something that allowed me to create a rich atmosphere, with a meaningful story, and that was achievable for me to create with limited resources. I also wanted to explore the ideas of how we experience the same thing from different perspectives, and the role of memories in our present experience.
You mention difficult but fair puzzles, can you give us an idea of what you have in mind without giving too much away?
Our puzzles won’t be the kind where you end up resorting to a “try all combinations no matter if they make sense” approach. After solving each puzzle, I think players will be able to say: “that solution made sense.” I think having multiple ways to solve some of the puzzles will also help the solutions feel logical and very do-able.
What are the challenges you face when creating puzzles in three dimensions?
One big factor is the way you view the world. In a 2D puzzle game, generally your view is fixed; you move your cursor over things to interact with them. In a 3D adventure game, you need to move up to things to interact with them. The player might not immediately be able to see the consequences of their actions, since their view is focused at the moment on a particular object rather than the entire room. It is just one of the things to keep in mind when designing the puzzles and the interface.
How are you enjoying the opportunity to touch every element personally, and dealing with the responsibility that goes along with that?
It’s great! I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist, the kind of person who finds it hard to pick which task to delegate, so this is perfect in that way. With Homesick I’m able to take my time and really perfect everything, especially given the fantastic Kickstarter support we’ve had.
Your background in film and cinematics seems like a good fit for the genre you’ve chosen. How has your experience helped with developing a more interactive narrative?
Yes, my background in cinematics and film was a huge factor in deciding what kind of project and what genre I chose. I have found that having a greater awareness of camera work, composition, colour grading, and compositing has been very helpful, as they affect how we feel when we see a movie or a cinematic, and they can affect how we feel when we’re playing a game too. These are the building blocks of an emotional story.
What we’ve heard of Joy Autumn’s score is wonderfully evocative and fits the aesthetic perfectly, how did that relationship come about?
We saw Joy perform at a little bar about a year ago, and we were immediately impressed with her touching, sweet and yet a bit haunting musicality. When we asked if she would consider working with us, and in our initial discussions talking about the game, she really understood what we were going for, and had a wonderful vision for the score. We are very excited to be working with her.
You drop some big names in your Kickstarter video. “The Dig” seems lost to the mists of time by many, but remains my most beloved example of the genre, and gaming as a whole. What lessons do you think those classics have to teach us?
I think those old adventure games are still perfect examples of interactive story telling. Those games engaged us with great stories and memorable game play without running around and shooting things, button smashing, jumping around, or even any action at all. Yet they were still so memorable.
I want to thank Barrett and Morgan for taking the time to discuss Homesick with us. Of course there’s still plenty to do between now and June, but from what I’ve seen so far I have little doubt this will be one of the highlights of my adventuring calendar. In the meantime you should absolutely go and check out their Kickstarter page, and vote on Greenlight.