Campo Santo, a new name in the sense of moniker, but not in the sense of talent, comes out firing their first release with Firewatch next month on February 9, 2016. Designer Sean Vanaman was kind enough to talk exclusively with Examiner about what Henry and Delilah will experience, the player will experience, and what they’ve experienced on their journey to bring Firewatch to the masses.
While Vanaman was tight lipped regarding certain spoilers regarding encountering other watchtowers or firewatch-folk, as well as any romantic relationship between the main character Henry and his radio companion Delilah – citing that the team wants to keep the mystery alive, as it’s a mystery game. He did reveal that “there is definitely love in the game, though.” Keeping in that spirit Vanaman maintained some details are better left unspoiled,
I think the mystery of anything we haven’t shown should remain a mystery until you play.
Being that the team behind Firewatch brought us some incredible stories, weighty narrative, and just plain great games in the past with titles like TellTale Games’ The Walking Dead Season 1, Mark of the Ninja, and Gone Home, Campo Santo is looking to hold nothing back with emotional and psychological punches to Henry and the player throughout Firewatch.
Vanaman explained that Henry’s mental state and thought process are developed through a process that Vanaman works through in his own mind before putting to paper and ultimately into 1’s and 0’s for your gaming pleasure.
“Most of that is driven by the things we’ve decided happen to him and have happened in his life,” said Vanaman, “- I then just do my best to put myself in that place, feel and try to experience those things on my own and then imagine them back through Henry, the character.”
Vanaman went on to explain that those things, experiences, feelings, emotions come from a place of correlation and relativity to Vanaman himself. Vanaman said, “It’s usually either stuff that’s happened to me or people I know or just questions that I’ve had rattling around in my head that I want to see other characters explore.”
Sean also said that conversations are the real crux of experience in Firewatch as Henry’s voice and that of Delilah are what guide the tale through mystery and intrigue. Vanaman detailed conversations in Firewatch,
They’re the anchor of the entire experience…And you can choose not to listen to them.
With that, Vanaman also explained the team’s aim for theme throughout the game’s narrative, as “The idea that “bad things happen,” and how people can make them better or worse. “
Vanaman was also candid about the aim of Firewatch’s exploration and discovery throughout the world itself, and his frustrations with open world games or walled off experiences in the past.
“We knew we wanted you to be able to get lost but always find your way,” Vanaman explained, “It’s the Disneyland philosophy — you always kinda know where you are but you don’t really at the same time, which allows for you to real feel transported.”
That sense of transportation to the world of Firewatch will no doubt be aided in no small effort by artist Olly Moss and the rest of the talented team at Campo Santo, and Vanaman went on to explain the design limitations they’ve seen before and are actively trying to avoid. Vanaman said,
We stayed away from designs that made sections of the world feel like an arena. I’ve played games set in the outdoors where the forest or whatever is literally the walls of an arena.
Vanaman and colleague Nels Anderson both lived in Wyoming, the setting for Firewatch, at differing points in their lives, citing it as an inspiration for the setting and their experiences were drawn upon for the game. Vanaman expanded on the arena limitations saying “The outdoors never feels like that. That’s not good.”
Vanaman also explained the working relationship Campo Santo has been privy to with Sony, confirming what has been heard and assumed for quite some time since the PlayStation 4 launched.
“We really hit it off with the third party North American team,” said Vanaman, “They were very upfront and have been truly supportive to an incredible degree.”
Firewatch comes to PC, Mac, Linux, and PlayStation 4 on February 6, 2016.