At a big conference like GDC, you have to make choices. I decided against going to a lot of the "bigger" events, making sure I had the time and emotional capacity to check out some of the games I'm looking forward to in 2017, the first being Tacoma. I say emotional capacity because after playing Gone Home, my heart was full, my emotions drained (in a good way), and my entire queer being felt… so much.
Coming out in 2010 was not easy. People told me it was a phase, people made fun of me, people even convinced me it was temporary. Girls I dated made me feel less than for having dated dudes, and dudes made me feel like I was "very confused," for wanting to date women. After a few years of figuring my shit out, it was clear to me it wasn't a phase.
Gone Home reminded me of the rush I got being around a girl I liked, the sadness I felt when my parents didn't support me at first, and the way my heart felt more full than ever before after falling in love with my now girlfriend.
When Fullbright announced Tacoma back in 2014, I was ready for another emotional rollercoaster, but when I sat down with the team's leaders, Steve Gaynor and Karla Zimonja at GDC this week, I was a little nervous. Holding the controller and getting ready to make my way through Tacoma station put me on edge.
I guided protagonist Amy into Tacoma station after using sign language to login. The use of sign language compared to the usual type-in-your-name format piqued my interest.
Zimonja explains, "In our universe, your personal AR system tracks your body. It can see where you're looking and where your body is, so a natural extension of that is signing your password. Your body can tell what you're doing."
Gaynor compared the body/AR connection to how we use cell phones today, "In our fiction, anyone knowing sign language just to be able to be tech-centric through AR is the equivalent of people now being able to type fast on cell phones."
Tacoma is constructed very differently than its predecessor. Gone Home is pretty straightforward: you enter the house, enter the hallway on the left, go door by door. You need to hit rooms in order to get codes to unlock things, and keys to open new doors. In Tacoma there's a bit more freedom. "There's definitely more floor space, and more stuff going on with AR and actually finding physical objects," said Gaynor. "Tacoma has an order to it, but within each of the areas there's a lot more space and things are less linear. It's less interconnected than Gone Home."
"You want to make your fans happy but you don't want to step in the same stream again."
In Gone Home, you follow one person, Katie, throughout the house, seeing things her sister left behind and listening to journal entries. In Tacoma there are six crew members, who, from what I gathered, will each have separate space to explore. When asked about how they feel about Tacoma standing up to fan expectations after Gone Home, Zimonja said, "You want to make your fans happy but you don't want to step in the same stream again." Gaynor agreed, adding, "We just hope we can do something that's interesting and resonates with the fans."
A deliberate sense of space—and spacing, if you will—is everything in my 15-minute playthrough of the beginning of Tacoma, from actual setting (in space), to the calm, evenly paced dialogue, to the station exploration itself. In comparison to the tense feeling of exploring the dark, spooky house in Gone Home, the spacious environment in Tacoma had me feeling cool, calm, and collected. I'm looking forward to the connections I form with the characters, story, and space when the game arrives later this year.