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Firewatch Spoiler Thread | Henry Two Hats

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This was a delightful, stunningly beautiful, and wonderfully written game, with excellent sound design. It was such a shame that it couldn't pull itself completely together. As it is, it's a very good game, and I hope that the followup is something great.

 

I guess I was mostly surprised by the lack of interesting mechanical complexity, or narrative through gameplay. Jake, Chris and Sean have an intense expressed love of mechanical games, and talk  at length about how these build narrative, and Nels is such an incredible designer of such systems that I couldn't believe that most of the mechanics were essentially find y, so you can press A at x location. It also didn't really add to the main narrative arc. This isn't entirely true: our protagonist having his relationship through a radio--at a distance--felt really resonant to what Henry is going through (and his emotional distance and struggle even during the prologue), and that part was incredible. But randomly finding tools to clear a gamey roadblock doesn't tie into any of these issues, and being told to go to one location or another didn't really tie into the mystery aspect, the abandonment question of Henry and Julia, OR the budding romance/friendship with Delilah. Most of the game was just kind of stuff that the player does.

 

Comparing this with Gone home seems most apt, as they both occupy that walking simulator type gameplay. In Gone Home, the setup, that you are coming back from college, and some time abroad, and exploring the home of your family, to find out secrets about them you didn't ever really notice before--that makes sense. This idea of coming home but it seeming different now that you're growing up, the discovery of seeing things you know in a new context, and finally being able to tie them together. Even though it is "just" walking around a house, it felt so thematically resonant. Here, walking it the woods made sense, a walden-esque escape from society, but that's just the set-up, the actual things you do don't reinforce the narrative goals. 

 

Which is a damned shame. This game is so masterful in so many ways. Each individual aspect just works. No department turned in less than a stellar performance, but the sum of the parts doesn't really excel. I think this is largely a story/design issue. Not that the writing is bad (it's really good, actually), nor that the twist, while a major disappointment relative to the setup (which is on purpose, so I'll not give that much flak), is a problem. Instead, it seems that things aren't really tying themselves up. So the father "failing" to be there for his kid immediately hits home with Henry's failures as a husband, and that works well, but the question of surveillance is a HUGE metaphorical question that is raised and let die, as is sexuality (Delilah's fake report writeups calling her sexually aggressive, with many lovers) and the bloom of relationships. Especially in the context of a burgeoning fire. These ideas are given some weight, but never fully explored. 

 

The bigger shame is that they COULD have been explored. Henry DOES have responsibility in the game, and the mechanics to exercise it. He could actually spot fires and report them to put them out. He could actually be tasked with cleaning up the cans, or clearing pathways, etc. These responsibilities speak directly to his spousal responsibilities that he has failed on (or, at least, as set up in the game, feels that he has). Especially when you add Delilah to the mix, this can become especially powerful: what if building a relationship with her is at the direct cost of these responsibilities? Is this a lack of faithfulness speaking towards his husbandly duties? This would also further speak to the biblical relation that something like Delilah brings up. Stuff like this--stuff already in the game, but not brought into mechanical/narrative relevance, is striking.

 

But I will get back to how much I really enjoyed the game, and how well it does things. Because I've been really critical here, which hasn't allowed me to comment on the feeling of betrayal at seeing your emotionally wrought conversations written down--how vulnerable it feels to see your vulnerabilities. Or the incredibly done building of tension. Seriously, the final third of the game had me on the edge of my seat. Every snapped branch made me wheel around in fear. And I genuinely was interesting in the relationship with Delilah, and I was so saddened by the death of (shit--can't remember his name....), etc. It's really good. I just wish that it were slightly better. Not that this wasn't good enough, but that a team this talented has the ability to make something truly incredible (and they were peeking in that window with this game). 

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Where does he claim that it isn't a good video game because your choices don't matter?

 

I thinking of the fourth paragraph after the break, where I read him as answering the question of "why does Firewatch not work even though Gone Home did" with the choices in Firewatch not having consequences.

 

 

After a day and a half, here's the biggest problem I'm having with Firewatch:

I keep unpacking all the motivations behind the plot points, and they all keep coming back to how the plot entirely circles around the one moment when Ned overhears me saying I want to explore the cave later this summer.  This immediately leads me to think some difficult thoughts about how it's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you // there's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do.  I think this game may have me blessing the rains down in Aaaaafrica in my head for a month or so.

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First off, the game looks and sounds fantastic. Chris did amazing work with the soundtrack and the environmental sounds worked well too, in my opinion. The artistic style is stunning. The animations were a bit clunky at times, but that did not bother me much.

 

I saw vague comments about people being disappointed by the ending before playing the game, and when the Wapiti station thing was revealed, I had a brief "Oh dear.. Here we go" moment. Fortunately, that was not the issue. Unfortunately, the reveal was still a bit disappointing. I like the paranoid-conspiracy-turning-out-to-be-not-that plotline in principle, but in this case the diversion and reveal felt a bit too forced. I have a really hard time believing that Ned would carry out a plan this elaborate. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that I missed some important details about Ned's personality.

 

Still, I enjoyed the rest of the story quite a bit, and conversing with Delilah was very fun and satisfying.

 

By the way, Brian's fate and the things surrounding it reminded me quite a bit of

The Orphanage

(A major horror movie spoiler. Read only if you have seen all horror movies.)

I wonder if the movie was an inspiration when writing the story.

 

The controls took some time getting used to. I never fully mastered the "run - open map - zoom in on the map - put the map away - run" cycle, and had to look at the controls on the lower right corner every now and then when holding an object. Things would probably have been a lot easier if I had used LB more often to zoom in. I tested the mouse and keyboard controls, and the zooming felt a lot more natural.

 

I don't know why I missed game-iness in Firewatch more than in Gone Home. I'm not at all bothered by a game being a "walking simulator", and in Gone Home I was perfectly okay with the fact that I'm basically just opening drawers and going through people's stuff. For some reason, however, I was hoping for more in terms of gameplay in Firewatch. Maybe it is the setting that seems to have more possibilities for interesting forms of interaction. Still, it wasn't a huge issue for me, and I enjoyed roaming the wilderness quite a bit, even if the playable area (understandably) felt somewhat limited*. Oh and I loved the disposable camera! I would never have guessed how much a counter would affect the way I take photos in a game.

 

Overall, I really liked the game. Good job! :tup: Looking forward to some Firewatch DLC or a sequel.

 

 

* Could someone please make a comparison of Firewatch and GTA V map sizes? Thanks!

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I saw vague comments about people being disappointed by the ending before playing the game, and when the Wapiti station thing was revealed, I had a brief "Oh dear.. Here we go" moment. Fortunately, that was not the issue. Unfortunately, the reveal was still a bit disappointing. I like the paranoid-conspiracy-turning-out-to-be-not-that plotline in principle, but in this case the diversion and reveal felt a bit too forced. I have a really hard time believing that Ned would carry out a plan this elaborate. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that I missed some important details about Ned's personality.

I think my disappointment stems from the same thing. I kept feeling like, "That's it? That can't be all" once I found out about Ned. Plus I still have a very hard time understanding why he led you to find out if nothing in his papers or recordings says he wanted to. It seems there wouldn't be a conflict in the first place if he had had just buried Brian. I've seen some people on the Reddit continuously explain he has PTSD so that's why he is inconsistent, but really I don't like that answer.

 

But the Delilah/Henry "romance" (or friendship in what I was pushing) is the effective part of the narrative. Some people defend it by saying it's really just a story about two people so a lot of the details with the mystery aren't important, but I feel like it's both, and the thriller aspect was definitely the most engaging part about it, considering that's probably what motivates to finish the whole thing in one long sitting.

I think the problem is I think about what would be a more satisfying answer to the mystery and I don't really know. Aliens probably would have been worse, but I wouldn't have completely been against some kind of government or rogue science involvement. It's strange but something more fantastical like that would have made more sense to me. Maybe that's too easy, I don't know. Sometimes I like easy answers. I do know I am bothered when the mystery seems inconsistent just for the sake of keeping the intrigue running.

 

I guess I just want to like the game way more than I do, to simply call it one of the most amazing games ever.

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I have a really hard time believing that Ned would carry out a plan this elaborate. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that I missed some important details about Ned's personality.

 

Since Ned stalks and steals from the teenagers, I figured he obsesses over everyone that comes near Two Forks.  He is intentionally obvious about his stalking—he wants you to feel like you are always being observed.  He got his son killed and got away with it—nobody observed him.  He has a hard time dealing with that, and wants to give you the comfortable terror of being watched and judged, which is the very thing he's lacked for years.

 

I don't know why I missed game-iness in Firewatch more than in Gone Home.

 

Gone Home is incredibly gamey.  You run through a maze with no objective beyond hunting down keys and unlocking doors, playing as a character with less backstory than Doomguy.  It became the setting of a Counter-Strike map!  It's more difficult to imagine that happening for Firewatch—who's going to want to play against someone who just camps at the top of the tower?

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Finished this last night. Did anyone who paid more attention than me know what was up with the rangers who left notes for each other in the caches? It wasn't Ned was it? I forgot to keep the names straight in my head and was kind of confused at the end. I also missed out on a lot of the hidden stuff, I was trying to keep the narrative going as I was playing with the gf.

Also I want to see your camera rolls!

Here's mine: https://firewatch.camera/MajorFranciscoRetreat

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Finished this last night. Did anyone who paid more attention than me know what was up with the rangers who left notes for each other in the caches? It wasn't Ned was it? I forgot to keep the names straight in my head and was kind of confused at the end. I also missed out on a lot of the hidden stuff, I was trying to keep the narrative going as I was playing with the gf.

Also I want to see your camera rolls!

Here's mine: https://firewatch.camera/MajorFranciscoRetreat

 

 

My take on them, which may not be completely accurate, is that they were basically just another example of a relationship that wasn't as deep as one side thought.  Dave at one point reaches out to Ron, asking for a should to cry on or something along those lines (something bad happened), and Ron's reply was, "Yeah,we're work buddies, this isn't that kind of friendship."  Which ultimately has parallels to Henry/Delilah. If there's more to it, I missed it and would also like to know.

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Ugh, I only took pictures of what I thought Henry would photograph, so mine are only crime scene photos. 

 

Mine were like this, and also a shitty picture of a raccoon drinking beer.

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Yeah I kind of used it to take good or funny pictures, then started documenting stuff. The picture of the kid's body turning up in my wacky summer photo set was kind of horribly funny.

Also I think Delilah was convinced that Ned killed Brian but I really thought it was an (avoidable) accident. I guess that's sort of the same thing though... This game was a real bummer a lot of the time. I wanted my Henry to go back and live near Julia but he was kind of a jerk about it. "Yeah, sure...." I just think the first person perspective make me feel like I should have more say in who the character is, in a way that I don't when I'm playing like, a telltale game.

I'm not sure if this was a bug but when I found the backpack with the key to the cave I wasn't able to look through it, but Henry somehow knew everything that was in it?

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I think my disappointment stems from the same thing. I kept feeling like, "That's it? That can't be all" once I found out about Ned. Plus I still have a very hard time understanding why he led you to find out if nothing in his papers or recordings says he wanted to. It seems there wouldn't be a conflict in the first place if he had had just buried Brian.

 

Only just finished the game (Really liked it!), so haven't had much time to think about it but my initial explanation for why he never moved and buried Brian was that it probably would have been quite hard/risky to try and move his remains from the cave. After he steals (or I guess, never returns) the keys to the gate, the cave essentially becomes a mausoleum for Brian that only Ned can enter. As for why he would then give Henry the key? That I have not figured out yet.

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Basically, what I've read (and am convinced by) is that Ned hid the keys explicitly so they wouldn't be found, which is why the alarm is there. But the alarm is also the thing being picked up by your wave reader, unintentionally leading you directly to that backpack & key.

 

He set up the alarm so that if someone did find the key and then found Brian Ned would have a head start on trying to deal with that.

 

The other explanation is that Ned set up the alarm to lead you to the keys so that he could trap you in there to kill you, but I think that's pretty silly as 1. i don't think Ned is a killer and 2. there are far easier ways to kill Henry than locking him in a cave to die.

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I've been trying to gather my thoughts about precisely what bothers me about Ned as a character, and I think it comes down to two different components.

 

1. I really dislike how his PTSD is just a a kind of shorthand way to explain that this is a crazy guy. In a story that is all about the devastating impact mental illness can have on people that feels really crummy.

 

2. As a narrative construct I realized Ned occupies the same place of privilege in the narrative as the final antagonist in the Walking Dead Season 1. He is a character with a nearly super human capacity for a stranger to follow your actions and inner thoughts, implicitly or explicitly judging them. I'm really not a fan of this approach to drama I think. It replaces the sort of existential drama of how a person acts when the given priors of your life fall apart, and replaces it with a more straight forward issue of someone not really liking you.

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Also I think Delilah was convinced that Ned killed Brian but I really thought it was an (avoidable) accident. I guess that's sort of the same thing though... This game was a real bummer a lot of the time. I wanted my Henry to go back and live near Julia but he was kind of a jerk about it. "Yeah, sure...." I just think the first person perspective make me feel like I should have more say in who the character is, in a way that I don't when I'm playing like, a telltale game.

 

I think Delilah wants to believe Ned did it because if it was an accident (avoidable or not by Ned), then she ends up feeling responsible for 1) never having reported them as she should have and 2) never following up on why they disappeared, which means that Brian never got a proper burial or acknowledgment.  It's the first time (that we as players know of), where her avoidance of responsibility has been shown to have dire consequences. 

 

 

 

The whole keys/bag/alarm thing is probably the most inexplicable element to me.  That the bag and alarm had been there as a way to hide them don't fit.  If Ned wanted them hidden there are about 10 million better ways to hide them in that forest, even for someone who isn't totally with it.  I'd have to double check, but I thought in some notes in his hideout he references losing the keys?  But maybe I misunderstood something.  Because that would imply that some other party set up the alarm and bag.  And there's no existing character for which that would make sense. 

 

The only thing that makes sense is that Ned had finally decided someone needed to find Brian.  He would have already known that there was another way out of the cave.  Locking the door behind Henry wasn't about locking him in, but forcing him to go forward to find Brian (that Henry didn't have climbing gear is something Ned might not have been aware of since Henry had done so much rapelling around the park). 

 

 

I've been trying to gather my thoughts about precisely what bothers me about Ned as a character, and I think it comes down to two different components.

 

1. I really dislike how his PTSD is just a a kind of shorthand way to explain that this is a crazy guy. In a story that is all about the devastating impact mental illness can have on people that feels really crummy.

 

2. As a narrative construct I realized Ned occupies the same place of privilege in the narrative as the final antagonist in the Walking Dead Season 1. He is a character with a nearly super human capacity for a stranger to follow your actions and inner thoughts, implicitly or explicitly judging them. I'm really not a fan of this approach to drama I think. It replaces the sort of existential drama of how a person acts when the given priors of your life fall apart, and replaces it with a more straight forward issue of someone not really liking you.

 

Oh wow, I totally hadn't made the connection between Ned and the antagonist from WDS1.  It's definitely using the same structure. 

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Basically, what I've read (and am convinced by) is that Ned hid the keys explicitly so they wouldn't be found, which is why the alarm is there. But the alarm is also the thing being picked up by your wave reader, unintentionally leading you directly to that backpack & key.

 

Problem is that we don't know by what rules the wave reader is operating. It certainly doesn't operate like any hardware in real life, so how does it operate in the fiction?

 

It's not detecting just any electronics because it flatly ignores things like Henry's radio and ends up leading you to a cassette tape and rope that aren't electronic at all. It's not leading you to just the animal tracking devices because while it's possible that one was placed within the alarm, there's nothing of the sort by the cassette and rope outside leading to Ned's.

 

Does it operate on authorial intent then? If so, and if there's no other evidence in the narrative world, the only thing you can really do is guess as to what the author wanted it to be.

 

he whole keys/bag/alarm thing is probably the most inexplicable element to me.  That the bag and alarm had been there as a way to hide them don't fit.  If Ned wanted them hidden there are about 10 million better ways to hide them in that forest, even for someone who isn't totally with it.

 

It does make more sense that it's been placed there with the intention that it be found.

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It's not detecting just any electronics because it flatly ignores things like Henry's radio and ends up leading you to a cassette tape and rope that aren't electronic at all. It's not leading you to just the animal tracking devices because while it's possible that one was placed within the alarm, there's nothing of the sort by the cassette and rope outside leading to Ned's.

 

Actually there is, there's an Elk tracking belt sitting on the ground.  The alarm is, afaik, the only time the tracker finds something that isn't one of the Elk tracking belts.

 

Edited to add:

 

The tracker leads you to:

 

1. The tracker in the tent that gives you more info

2. A dead elk carcass that is a clue that not all is as it appears (and may lead you to one the easter egg tape, that I missed)

3. Leads you to the alarm (no tracker)

4. Leads you to Ned's base, where he placed a tracker on the ground to get your attention.

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Actually there is, there's an Elk tracking belt sitting on the ground.  The alarm is, afaik, the only time the tracker finds something that isn't one of the Elk tracking belts.

 

Edited to add:

 

The tracker leads you to:

 

1. The tracker in the tent that gives you more info

2. A dead elk carcass that is a clue that not all is as it appears (and may lead you to one the easter egg tape, that I missed)

3. Leads you to the alarm (no tracker)

4. Leads you to Ned's base, where he placed a tracker on the ground to get your attention.

 

It leads you specifically to the point where the rope is, not Ned's base, otherwise the sensor responses make no sense (i.e. what it reads as you move around).

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When the prompt came up during one conversation with Delilah for Henry to ask "Is this real?", I picked it immediately. Honestly, it struck me as a real possibility, because some of this stuff was absurdly conspiratorial in nature (intentionally, I realized at that point when you realize). I really liked how real his panic sounded. And it would definitely be a real fear of mine if I'd gone through what he did. I think it's sort of a shame that didn't continue much beyond that point, but I can understand why.

 

Also like five minutes after I picked that option it hit me that it was either Brian or Ned or both still hanging out and sabotaging Henry for SOME reason. My initial thought was Brian because I've seen too many shows where a kid somehow survives in the wild with no training. Was... oddly happy to see his body on the ground, because it meant it was Ned, which is much more believable, haha.

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Actually there is, there's an Elk tracking belt sitting on the ground.  The alarm is, afaik, the only time the tracker finds something that isn't one of the Elk tracking belts.

 

Edited to add:

 

The tracker leads you to:

 

1. The tracker in the tent that gives you more info

2. A dead elk carcass that is a clue that not all is as it appears (and may lead you to one the easter egg tape, that I missed)

3. Leads you to the alarm (no tracker)

4. Leads you to Ned's base, where he placed a tracker on the ground to get your attention.

 

 

It's not inconceivable that the tracker alarm is still giving off some kind of signal though. If Ned is out on a hike (which his notes show is something he did from time to time) he might not hear a "noise-only" alarm, so it might be broadcasting some signal he can check in on perhaps? I don't know.

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It leads you specifically to the point where the rope is, not Ned's base, otherwise the sensor responses make no sense (i.e. what it reads as you move around).

 

Have we misunderstood each other?  The elk tracker is on the ground directly beneath the rope.  Ned placed it on the ground under the rope to make sure you would find it, climb the rope and find the bunker.

 

It's not inconceivable that the tracker alarm is still giving off some kind of signal though. If Ned is out on a hike (which his notes show is something he did from time to time) he might not hear a "noise-only" alarm, so it might be broadcasting some signal he can check in on perhaps? I don't know.

 

I'd say that's the conclusion you're intended to make, but given that this is a piece of science equipment calibrated to track the Elk collars, it's a stretch. Possible, sure, but a stretch. Unless the alarm came from science people and had some connection there, but I don't think there's a lot to suggest that.

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Ned had the boombox disassembled on his table. Maybe he stole equipment from the research facility to make the alarm? I don't know. I don't love the alarm being picked up for no explicit reason in the game, but it doesn't bother me.

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It's not so much that it bothers me, but more that I'm curious if there is an in game explanation that I missed.  I actually went and found a lets play of the end of the game to review the notes in Ned's place.  Your theory Jenna was pretty close, but I don't think he was explicitly hiding the keys, he was hiding supplies that happened to have the keys.  There's a list of things Ned has and needs before winter comes, and it includes notes about him hiding supplies around the forest in case he loses access to his bunker for any reason.  Then, in his radio log, he notes:
 

7/17/89
2F Found Supplies (HOW?) 
KEYS GONE  
CANT LET 2F FIND B

 

So that was one of his hidden backup supply caches, that conveniently also had the cave keys.  Likely alarmed so he would know if it had ever been found and couldn't be caught going back for it. 

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Have we misunderstood each other?  The elk tracker is on the ground directly beneath the rope.  Ned placed it on the ground under the rope to make sure you would find it, climb the rope and find the bunker.

 

Ah! Yeah, I didn't get what you were saying. Didn't remember that there was a collar there at all.

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