Tag Archives: The Fullbright Company

Gone Home, where happiness doesn’t have just one address

It’s been a few years since I first played Gone Home. This was back in 2014, when my life was wavering, changing into something new and different. I was, at that time, drawing small, teeny-tiny comics for each game I completed instead of my now much more popular standard of haikus, and the one I did for The Fullbright Company’s first-person adventure exploration debut remains one of my more popular pieces on the photo-sharing site Tumblr. Which I have always found interesting because all I did was use Sam Greenbriar’s words about her girlfriend with a few crude illustrations to accompany them. Art is odd.

A quick Gone Home plot summary for those that don’t remember what is going on here: 21-year-old Katie Greenbriar returns home in 1995 from being overseas to her family in Oregon only to discover the house is completely empty of life. As she begins to explore the house, she’ll discover clues and notes left behind that explains where everyone went. It’s a story about love and loyalty, abuse, friendship, religion, dedication, confidence, neglect, connections, mental health, and more things than I can list out here. The easy joke to make would be that this is one full house. I’m not going to re-hash what I previously wrote some years back, so please click here for a deeper dive into the game’s narrative and theme, among other topics.

Right. For the console version of Gone Home, not much has changed in terms of gameplay, though I do enjoy using a controller to navigate and examine neon-colored highlighters more this time. Also, there’s Achievements, and this is where I found new life in the rummaging simulator. A couple of them, specifically “Homerunner” and “Speedreader,” are all about completing the game quickly with next to no room for error. Another has you going through the Greenbriar house slowly, methodically, pausing with curiosity and searching every nook and cranny for the chance to learn more. I loved both plans of attack and want to talk about them individually below.

It’s official–Gone Home is the first game I’ve spedrun. Speed-runned? I’ve done a speedrun of? Ugh. There’s really no graceful way of saying it, I guess. Look, I beat Gone Home in under a minute. I never even knew this was possible. The “Homerunner” Achievement asks that the player complete the game in less than 1 minute with no modifiers enabled. That might sound crazy difficult until you realize that you can access the secret room by the front staircase at any point when playing to grab the attic key. After that, it’s all about cutting corners and navigating down a dark hallway to click on Sam’s diary. It took me a few tries, but I eventually did it, and that felt pretty cool. The next game I plan to speedrun is Animal Crossing: New Leaf, 100% catalog, all fossils, fish, and bugs. Just kiddin’.

For the “Speedrunner” Achievement, you need to complete the game having found all 24 journal entries, without any modifiers turned on, in less than 10 minutes. Hmm. Again, it sounds tough, and there is little room for wasting time, but once you know the best path to take and make a b-line for every audio journal trigger, it’s not too bad. I didn’t personally time myself, but the Achievement popped on my first go after thinking about where everything was for a moment, so it was obviously under ten minutes. Now, before I did this one, I also learned about the secret journal entry you get by bringing a tiny ball from the garage up to Sam’s room and dunking it in the basketball hoop, which I never did initially. The reveal is purrfect. So that was another fun treat to learn about, as well as the task of bringing Christmas duck to its rightful abode in the attic.

Lastly, there’s the “Behind the Scenes” Achievement, which wants you to find all the commentary nodes in the house after turning them on via a modifier at the start of a new game. Commentary in games, much like on DVDs, is something I find neat and cool from afar, but rarely digest. I don’t know why that is. Certainly, when it comes to a movie or TV show, I’d rather just watch the original material and read an interview with the director or actors later. However, games can be more interactive than this, which gives new life to the idea of re-exploring these environments. I enjoyed it in Blackwell Deception and Even the Ocean, and I greatly enjoyed it here, though some nodes offer more stories and details than others. The truth is, as an Idle Thumbs fan, I could listen to Chris Remo go on for days about composing music. Still, I learned a lot about hidden secrets and design choice from Steve Gaynor, Karla Zimonja, Kate Craig, and Emily Carroll, as well as got Sarah Grayson’s take on her character Sam, who drives the game forward with her painfully heartfelt narration. Finding each one was rewarding, and I refused to leave the area I was in until the recording was done playing.

Basically, in the last week or so, I ended up beating Gone Home several more times, all via different types of playthroughs, and I still think this is one of the more important games of the last decade. Play it, please. I suspect I’ll return to it again down the future road; until then, I really need to check out Tacoma.

Gone Home to mysteries, answers, and everything 1990s

gone home overall thoughts

Breaking news: I’ve decided to do away with my gaming haikus, at least for 2014. Chin up, Mr. Sadface. It’s going to be okay. Really. I had a lot of fun writing them, but after two consecutive years of dipping my toes in Japanese poetry–well, if you can call 104 haikus a dip–I’m ready to try something else. Gotta keep things fresh. If you’ve been keeping up with Grinding Down over the weekend, then you’ll know what the long and short of it all is: comics. Yes, yes. Actual comics about the games I’ve played, and I really don’t know why it took me so long to combine these two passions of mine together.

Anyways, Gone Home gets the special honor of being my first completed game for 2014. Compare that with Yoshi’s Island from last year. That’s right. Go on. I dare you to compare the two. One looks like a drawing, and the other has you occasionally looking at drawings. Hmm. If you’ll recall, Gone Home was also my number one pick for the top 10 videogames I missed out on in 2013, but thanks to a recently good deal via the Humble Bundle store I was able to pick up The Fullbright Company’s debut for a sweet price, one that wouldn’t make me terribly irate if I discovered that the game didn’t work on my ASUS laptop. The good news is that, obviously, it ran just fine, even though it defaulted to the lowest of settings to do so and some of the textures looked a wee flat. Small quibbles aside, I absolutely loved it.

Gone Home‘s plot itself is pretty straightforward: it is June 1995, and Kaitlin Greenbriar is returning home to her parents’ new house in the Pacific Northwest after traveling abroad. She gets in very late on a rainy, thunder-laden night only to discover the house is completely empty, with a strange note on the front door from her sister, urging Kaitlin to not go digging around for clues as to what happened. Naturally, though, that’s exactly what you do, and the whole game is built around exploration and piecing together where Sam and Kaitlin’s parents went to. If I’m being honest and a little spoilery, that’s not at all what the plot is really about; in truth, this is actually Sam’s story, not Kaitlin’s, and there’s stuff about her parents to unravel, as well as what went wrong with the previous owners of the house to have it now deemed the Psycho House by other students at Sam’s school. Kaitlin is just a means to see all this unfold, and she is mostly non-reactive, save for a few text-only comments when finding items related to her parents’ sex life.

The game itself takes around two to three hours to complete, depending how thorough you search each and every room in the larger-than-life mansion-like new Greenbriar home. That said, Gone Home never wastes a single second though or pads out rooms with nothing that isn’t vital or important to the story-telling, and so you are constantly advancing, learning more and more. I found all this beyond exhilarating and couldn’t wait to see what was behind that closed door over there or what hid in the third drawer from the top, but only after I clicked open the first two drawers. You move with WASD, and zoom in for a closer look and pick up items using the mouse. Oh, and you can also fully twirl items around in your hand, to check out all sides, and you’d think there would have been more puzzles built around this mechanic, but Gone Home is actually not about puzzles–save for the few combination locks–and this mechanic exists more so to keep you in the world, prove that these rolls of tissue paper and printed books are real, that everything has a front and back and can be examined properly.

Anyone that actually grew up in the 1990s is clearly going to sink into Gone Home a bit deeper than those that didn’t. The game oozes with the era, from magazines wreathed in pop culture icons to board games and mounds of VHS tapes of your favorite Saturday afternoon couch-flicks, like Blade Runner and just about every episode of The X-Files. In fact, Super Nintendo plays a wee part in the events that transpire in Sam’s young, blossoming life, and you can find various fictional cartridges around the house, some goofier than others. Regardless, the attention to detail is astounding and appreciated, especially for a game that’s all about looking and listening. I couldn’t listen to too many of Lonnie’s musical recordings though, sorry.

Many have complained about the bait-and-switch trick in Gone Home. It’s initially set up to seem like your typical ghost story: girl comes home on a rainy night to find her house completely empty of life. For most of the early rooms, you expect something spooky to happen. The TV to randomly flip on? A door to slowly creak open itself? The sound of footsteps overhead? But no, nothing like that happens ever, save for a single moment of pure genius that is logically explained so long as you found the correct paperwork earlier in the house. This is not a ghost story. This is a human story, and it is remarkable in its dedication to remain rooted in reality, one I think many can relate to on some level, whether it is with teenage romance, a failed marriage, not being good enough for your father, and so on.

I think Gone Home is both a great game and a very important one. If you haven’t played it yet, I highly recommend you do so as soon as possible. Videogame story-telling has a new measuring stick.

2014 Game Completed Comics, #1 – Gone Home

2014 games completed 01 - gone home facebook

Every videogame that I complete in 2014 will now get its very own wee comic here on Grinding Down. It’s about time I fused my art with my unprofessional games journalism. I can’t guarantee that these comics will be funny or even attempt to be funny. Or look the same from one to another. Some might even attempt to be thoughtful. Comics are a versatile form, so expect the unexpected.