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Tone Control 28: Karla Zimonja We've been through a lot together, Karla and I. And now, in what seems a fitting series finale for Tone Control, my business and creative partner sits down with me at the Fullbright office for a long conversation about her background in TV animation, how we came to cross paths in the games industry, and what we've made together. That's it, folks. Thank you for listening. Games Discussed: Grim Fandango, The Neverhood, Asheron's Call, Asheron's Call 2, World of Warcraft, Zoo Tycoon 2, BioShock, BioShock 2, Minerva's Den, Gone Home, Tacoma Listen on the Episode Page Listen on Soundcloud Listen in iTunes
THERE WILL BE SPOILERS FOR BOTH GAMES YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED So I'm just gonna say this outright, I did not like Gone Home. I'm not up in arms about it, I didn't think it was supposed to be a horror game, I just do not like it. It's not a bad game, don't get me wrong, I just don't think it needed to be a game. But Brothers, now that was a game. It starts with that wonderful cutscene showing the youngest brother watching his mother drown and struggling to cope with the fact that he is too small to save her at all. Boom, tone set right out of the gate before you even start playing. It just screams "this game is going to deal with loss." And that theme does keep popping up, in the first major fantasy area where you reunite a troll with his lost wife (girlfriend? I don't know, she wasn't wearing a ring, so maybe he's a deadbeat). Even by interacting with various NPCs and animals in the area you can tell that the brothers themselves are very different people with their own weaknesses, strengths and motivations. But they do share one motive, to save their remaining parent from a painful and slow death from a mysterious disease. When the actual game proper starts the player has to immediately reconcile the differences between the brothers by learning to make them cooperate, work together towards a common goal. By the time you've left the small town that serves as a quick tutorial you've already figured out that all they have to rely on is each other. They're all they have left. Each puzzle is relatively different, but mostly follow the same guidelines. Work together to get to/unlock something. All there is to the gameplay, besides the initial gimmick, is simply variations on a theme. Luckily you're introduced to new areas and small story arcs regularly enough to make the three hours it takes to complete the game pass very quickly. Each new environment is a spectacle to take in and there are new secrets to interact with in almost every area. This is a game that compels you to finish it. It presents you with a story and a several themes to tackle through the plot and the gameplay itself. I connected with the characters, even the NPCs, I wondered at the fantastic landscapes, I I felt like my $15 was well spent. But Gone Home, now that was something else. It starts with no cutscene establishing what is happening but rather a note taped to a door. This is not something I'm complaining about, in the game world it felt very real and plausible, but by the end it felt like this introduction on the porch was only the first of many lumps of exposition sitting there waiting to be discovered. This note on the door did do something right, it set the tone for confusion. The player is curious as to why there is nobody there to greet you when you come home from your trip abroad. Maybe it was just me, but as soon as I started the game I was slightly upset "my family" wasn't there to hear about "my story." This game is about "my story," right? This is our first major divergence. From the very first moment of gameplay, Brothers and Gone Home differ in how you want to consider the plot. In Brothers the player is immediately thrust into the role of mediator between these two characters, forcing them to cooperate and complete the tasks set before them to further their story. In Gone Home you approach a strange house, discover that the (absent) NPCs have a much more interesting story to tell, and then try to uncover their story. From the get go, it's not your story anymore. Some would argue that it's still Katie's story, a story about an older sibling coming home and discovering all that's changed in her family. I couldn't disagree more. Katie isn't given much of a backstory at all, she's just the older sister who came back from a jaunt around Europe. To me, it's very clear that Katie is left mostly in the dark so that the player can more easily relate. I saw in the thread about Gone Home that someone roleplayed the game as Katie and refused to search things Katie wouldn't. By the time he was upstairs he was already justifying going through drawers for more information. Gone Home was never written to be about the players experience, it's about someone else's. The game even takes place entirely in a setting inhabited by the absent NPCs that drive every aspect of the story. Katie has no effect on the plot at all*. Which brings me back around to why I don't think Gone Home is a good itself game. If I'm playing Gone Home for the empowering story and not the gameplay or design, why is it a game? If I went down to my local Barnes and Noble I could probably find at least a half dozen books in the Teen Fiction section with plots centered around a character discovering their own sexuality. If the game isn't about the player, then why not make the story into, well, just that. Was Katie necessary? It would have been easier to write a story about a girl learning about her sexuality without having to insert Katie. Did the act of exploring the house help the story in any way? Well, that's tougher. You could argue that a theme of "discovering new in the familiar" is present in it, what with exploring your family's new house while your parents work out their new problems and your sister uncovers new feelings for old friends. But overall, I'd say no. This story could have easily been written out and at the same time could have more fully fleshed out the relationship between Lonnie and Sam. This is the exact area that Brothers excels in. Regardless of how you play the game, you are the force that drives the characters forward. The plot of Brothers isn't just that of the titular brothers, it's yours, too. By the last levels of the game I'd almost come to regard it as "ours." This post is the product of  double Manhattans and the IGN Game Awards *I would like to point out that the house is incredibly well designed.