Thoughts on Tacoma (and its trailers)

If you’ll indulge me, I’d love to talk about the game, Tacoma. After completing the game a few times, talking to Steve Gaynor, writing about the game’s relationship mechanics, and reading-up on Derek Lieu’s process for both trailers, I think I get what’s really special about the game.

Tacoma’s critical consensus seems to be, “it won’t make the same impact as Gone Home.” But it would be a shame if we didn’t celebrate Tacoma on its own terms: that of its unique medium for connecting with the characters.

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An article

In Introverts Welcome: A reflection on Tacoma, I said:

Tacoma’s body-frame recordings are so special to me: I can engage, rewind, process them. I dream of the future where I can receive a recording from a friend or loved one that I can watch over and over, feel connected while not feeling like I have to immediately know what to say.

This creates an imaginative playground—that opens my mind to the possibilities of this new form of interpersonal communication. While I’m more-present with this in-game character than any game experience I can recall, I’m also daydreaming about the future of communication preferences for introverts like me.

There’s something beautiful about being able to feel connected to others, while also not being forced into being present with them, but rather electing to be there.

You can read the full piece if you like.

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An interview

Motivations for designing a game like this really matters to me. So I was deeply excited when my buddy Drew told me Steve Gaynor wanted to come back onto our show to talk about what led to the design of Tacoma after his team’s work on Gone Home — and how his beliefs affected that. I was curious how they wove a story that diverged away from popular “Us vs Them” narratives. Be sure to add that interview to your podcast player of choice.

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A trailer-crafting reflection

Since trailers are why you’re here, and what you want to think about, I’ll say that first-person narrative games are clearly Derek Lieu’s wheelhouse (especially after his work on Firewatch). So his writeup on the game capture process is pretty valuable, especially since it highlights what made Tacoma’s Launch Day trailer such a joy to craft. In Derek’s words:

At any point during playback you can pause, rewind or fast-forward the recordings. It’s necessary to do this because you can only hear conversations in your immediate vicinity. For game capture purposes, this meant at the press of a button I could rewind a scene, change the camera angle, and get a new take with a different shot composition.

Derek goes on to highlight the unique way he applied the Rule of Thirds, and some physical solutions for recording gameplay that way. I recommend reading his whole post.

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Derek also had the opportunity to make a shorter Launch Trailer for the game, and provides some sage advice for rapid turnaround, that largely comes back to game and project familiarity. Derek says:

I managed to do this on a Sunday in about 7 hours (with some breaks for food/cats etc.), with only a few small tweaks the day after. My familiarity with the game greatly expedited my edit/capture creative decisions, otherwise I never would’ve considered taking on a project with so little time available.

That blog post is also very worth reading, as he details a bit more about giving the audience “a bit more about the universe, and set it to pretty images and music.”

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A recommendation

I loved this game, and I would encourage anybody thinking about a first-person-narrative game trailer to study this game and the trailer resources around it. Tacoma is available now on PC and Xbox One.  

16 dev interviews that I did on game design motivation

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Last year, I interviewed many game developers about what motivates their work. The result is over sixteen podcast episodes that I strongly recommend:

  1. Adam Saltsman (Canabalt)
  2. Fernando Ramallo (Panoramical)
  3. Navid Khonsari (1979 Revolution)
  4. Justin Fox (ReElise)
  5. Ryan & Amy Green (That Dragon, Cancer)
  6. Logan Fieth (4 Sided Fantasy)
  7. Patrick Blank (Torchlight, Hob)
  8. Peter Castle & Tom Cox (Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire)
  9. Nic Biondi (Hardlander)
  10. Timmy Cleary (Aetherlight)
  11. Jon Remedios (SSMP)
  12. David Pittman (Eldritch, Slayer Shock)
  13. Michal Staniszwski (Bound)
  14. Evan Todd (Lemma)
  15. Jay Tholen (Dropsy)
  16. Rand Miller (Myst, Obduction)

Suggested starting points:

Grey hair is under-appreciated in game dev discussion, so I super-loved Rand Miller’s wise responses to questions about success and suffering. He talks about what it meant for Myst to be the “most successful PC game of the 90s.” Talking to Michael Staniszwski about Bound was one of the most illuminating chats I’ve had. Start there if you like charming Polish accents, game philosophy, and want to understand the tension between demoscene “games” and traditional games. Parenting while in game development is something we’re all wrestling with more and more. So I can’t heartily-enough recommend Amy and Ryan Green’s interview, where we talk about life/crunch balance and their game, That Dragon, Cancer.

Most of those are Gamechurch podcasts that I did with my co-host Drew Dixon. Others were with Thomas Henshell (Archmage Rises). In addition, Drew and I interviewed experts like Kert Gartner (a fellow trailer producer) and Science Mike (a science & religion guy). Drew and I also hosted a few more discussions on themes like grace in games, PAX West, and what games Jesus loves (a tongue-in-cheek discussion).

I look forward to continuing these kinds of interviews in 2017 — and can’t wait to share our most recent interview with Thumper designer/programmer, Marc Flury.

Podcast Expertise: Grace & Broken Discernment

You want to hear from experts whenever you listen to podcasts. And while most of my expertise is in trailer production, I’m also a huge fan of processing the nature of play with different communities — including faith communities. Video games handle grace in powerful ways, and you’ll probably agree that video game discernment is broken, but the question is whether or not you’re up for some hour-long conversations on those subjects from some experts (myself included)? If you haven’t closed this tab by now, you’re clearly in the right place.

Grace in Games

We wrangled Gamechurch writers together to explore games that handle Grace with, er, um, grace:

The GameChurch Podcast #65: Grace in Games: A Roundtable Discussion

Game discernment is broken

In Theology Gaming’s teensy pocket of the interwebs, we elaborated on the notion that “discernment is broken;” and how games criticism offers tools for better processing:

Theology Gaming Podcast #96 – Discernment Is Broken

DOOM piece & trailer review

We love playing Heavy Metal Messiah in DOOM, but why? I rip and tear into that question in this article. A snippet:

DOOM gives you messianic rights; it tells you you’re the chosen one—and gives you all the guns you need to rid the world of sin—one Glory Kill at a time. DOOM overwhelms the senses with satanic imagery and the most Ultra-Violent challenge anybody could ask for, yet ultimately DOOM is still too easy—too doable to express the unnerving tensions of the true messianic self-sacrifice that we’re invited to. And that’s why we love DOOM so much: it makes messiahship easy.

Read More

DOOM Trailer Review

DOOM’s Fight Like Hell cinematic trailer does something rare: it inserts us into the game’s brainspace without showing any gameplay. The only on-screen verbs are reproducible in-game. Notice the shots of the Doom Marine’s armor. Those shots tell us the most important thing about the game’s story: your demonic clashes are the story. Your actions matter. DOOM’s first-person gameplay showcases this, but this trailer shows us what the player looks like.

Keep this in the back of your mind when you think about your game’s trailer: how do we show the player? How do we show that their actions are the story?

Stephen’s Sausage Roll piece & trailer review

Stephen’s Sausage Roll taught me how to overcome impostor syndrome. So I penned a piece about it (which Critical Distance recognized).

Stephen’s Sausage Roll: Overcoming Impostor Syndrome:

I feel like a Vegan at a sausage fest when I play Stephen’s Sausage Roll. Being out of place isn’t unfamiliar. I’ve worked at a tech company surrounded by MIT and Harvard grads when I’ve barely got through a local art school, but Stephen’s Sausage Roll questions my intellect at every juncture. I hammer my brain against its near-impossible puzzles, making almost no progress at all. It feels like a showdown against my old nemesis: Impostor Syndrome. He shouts me down at every step of the game, “You don’t belong here, dumbass!” That nasty old Impostor Syndrome isn’t going down without a fight, but I think I’m finally ready to give that old coot a swift kick to the sausage.

Fifteen minutes later, I’m ready to say uncle—again.

Continue Reading at Gamechurch.com

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A brief Stephen’s Sausage Roll trailer review:

This trailer didn’t invite me into the tensions of the play experience. While the length, tone, and single-shot stylings are admirable, you can’t gain a sense of the player’s motivation or the core verb set.  While it was wise to keep the lid on those puzzle-breakthroughs, I’m afraid that this trailer only serves as an additional gate to those on the fence of spending the $30 premium asking price. A different framing device could have showcased the smart tactical grilling required to ensure an even four-part sausage cook; and thus, helped would-be players over that final purchase decision hurdle.

Kotaku exposure galore!

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I recently published Why your video game trailer didn’t work at Kotaku, The 7 worst mistakes you can make with your game trailer at Gamasutra, and Don’t make these mistakes in your game’s trailer at r/gamedev. Each of these outlets is a re-sharing of the same article posted here on this blog, Worst Trailer Mistakes. Expansions may be in-order.

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Beyond trailers, I’m fascinated with unfolding developments in the world of games. Couch multiplayer games have something of an exposure and a adoption problem that needs to be overcome for the genre to endure, so I wrote Trench Run and the future of local multiplayer innovation over at Indie Haven. Semi-relatedly, being lost in games is usually a bad thing, but here’s a powerfully good use of lostness:  Finding Home in ‘Paws: A Shelter 2 Game at Gamechurch.

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