How an Abandoned House in Japan Inspired Gone Home

“I am… merely a curious explorer, who has become entwined in this family tale. … These people mattered and deserve to be remembered.”

One question that I’ve been asked frequently is, “What gave you the idea for Gone Home? Why did you want to make this game?”

There are a lot of practical reasons. Our team’s combined experience drove us to make a first-person exploration game, and our small size required that we reduce scope as much as possible, which is why we decided not to have any characters in our game. But that’s only half of it.

In real life, exploring a completely abandoned place can be a thrilling experience. The feeling of being all alone, surrounded by the past, piecing together a forgotten story. But why pick a house that a family lived in, and not an ancient ruin, or space station, or military complex?

One of our prime inspirations took the form of a long-abandoned family home outside of Tokyo.

The Royal House Haikyo

In Japan, abandoned places (and the practice of exploring them) are called haikyo (廃墟). Last year, I read a fascinating account by Michael Gakuran of the exploration of one haikyo, an abandoned home that’s become known as The Royal House

The house had been abandoned for many years, but had gone undiscovered and remained almost in the same state it was when it was last inhabited. And it was filled with tantalizing and mysterious clues as to who lived there, what happened to them, and why the house had been left to rot.

Family photos filled alcoves and shrines…

In particular, the house seemed to have close ties to a Western man. Had he married into the family?

There were also ties to the British royal family, a posh hotel in Tokyo, and the pearl trade…

As well as some ominous clues as to a falling out with a certain family member…

What struck me above all was the sense of drama and intrigue that emanated from this entirely unpopulated place, stocked only with the remnants of lives once lived there. The disparate hints of these people’s history beg the explorer to dig deeper. What might be fairly mundane events of daily life in the present become a thrilling mystery as they fade into the past.

The house on Arbor Hill

Taking inspiration for Gone Home from The Royal House haikyo presents a number of unique challenges. Much of the investigation of the Royal House haikyo took place over a the course of months, in a variety of locations: the cemetery containing the family’s burial plot, the hotel advertised on the matchbooks, on the internet and in libraries researching the family’s history. Gone Home takes place entirely within one location, the house on Arbor Hill that the player explores over the course of the game. All of the clues, all of the information that the player will rely on to reconstruct the story of what happened there, must be woven into the cabinets, drawers, bookshelves, between the couch cushions and in the hidden compartments of the house itself.

Additionally, in Gone Home we want a sense of urgency and import to the player’s exploration of the house. For it not to be a dead place that’s been devoid of life for years or decades, but a home that has been very recently occupied, as if the family there has just stepped out for the evening. For the player to feel more like Goldilocks in the Three Bears’ house than a tourist in a museum.

In Gone Home, you will enter the house on Arbor Hill with questions in mind: who lives here? Why did they suddenly leave, and where have they gone? And how do I, as an investigator and explorer, fit into all of this?

It’s on us to present you with these mysteries and more, to fill the house with the hints and clues that will draw you all the way through to the story’s conclusion. We’re grateful to Michael and all the other researchers and explorers that worked to unravel the history of the Royal House haikyo, for providing a fascinating example to serve as inspiration and guidance as we continue to build Gone Home.

Be sure to read the original account of the exploration of The Royal House. It is more than worth your time.

Follow Gone Home on Twitter and Facebook for more updates like this one.

About Steve

Co-founder of The Fullbright Company
This entry was posted in Design. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to How an Abandoned House in Japan Inspired Gone Home

  1. Dean says:

    That’s a mighty interesting house! I can’t wait for this, and I am definitely taking a look at the exploration of The Royal House.

  2. Ross Baker says:

    I’ve always enjoyed looking at pictures of abandoned houses from Japan. Pretty cool to know this is how you got the inspiration. Can’t wait!

  3. Michael says:

    I was a big fan of classics like 7th Guest and 11th Hour in my younger years, which I suppose had an influence on my love for exploration and mystery. Really cool to hear that you guys were inspired so much by the story of that house. I never did fully solve the mystery, despite going back several times, but got pretty close with all the clues. Best of luck with the development of the game and keep me in the loop with the progress. If you ever have a chance to visit Japan, we can grab a beer and maybe do some real exploration :).

  4. Pingback: How Modern Japanese Ruins Inspired A Computer Game | Kotaku Australia

  5. Really interesting post gd job! the dank run down house reminds me of asian horrors like the grudge.

  6. dium says:

    Oh man. This post actually taught me something about my own life experience; I can’t believe I was ignorant of the concept of haikyo this whole time.

    I went through the latter half of middle school in Tokyo (I’m American), and one year a lot of kids in my grade went to this house the school owned out in almost-nowhere rural Japan. It was in the middle of a wood, a considerable distance from town, and so we essentially had no neighbors. There was an abandoned house nearby, however. A bunch of us more daring (and naughty) kids snuck out late one night and explored it. There were sotoba ( lying about and placed against everything, and there were a couple shrines like the ones you pictured as well.

    I’ve always remembered it as a slightly unique haunted house thing that a bunch of early adolescents did to try to freak each other out. And that’s still true. But unlike many of my classmates I don’t have any Japanese heritage, so I never realized there was a cultural precedent that informed why we were doing what we were doing.

  7. Wow, this post is nice, my sister is analyzing these things, thus I am going to inform

  8. Pingback: From the Vaults: Gone Home's Art Design | Home Learning Tips

Comments are closed.