“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. http://gakuranman.com/the-royal-house-haikyo/
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. http://gakuranman.com/the-royal-house-haikyo/