gdc 2014

Sean Vanaman Speaks About Campo Santo’s Goals For Firewatch

by Kimberley Wallace on Mar 17, 2014 at 06:53 PM

Sean Vanaman, previously of Telltale Games, is a founder of a new studio, Campo Santo. Campo Santo recently announced its first venture, Firewatch, last week. Today at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, he talked about what he learned from The Walking Dead, his goals for Firewatch, and the challenges the new studio faces while working on its debut game.

Vanaman looked back on his work on The Walking Dead recounting its successes and failures. He discussed the series’ strength of making players a participant and not an all-powerful entity. In Vanaman’s approach, human dialogue should never be static, as life has different outcomes, and The Walking Dead enabled most players to see it as a human story experience and not just a game.

But he was also addressed some of its flaws. He wished the dialogue was more responsive – that it felt like it was feeding players’ story content. Vanaman didn’t want players to merely experience a story, but they should be experiencing "their story." He discussed the pitfalls of quick-time events, another aspect he felt The Walking Dead wasn’t the best at exploiting. He noted that quick-time events are often misused and can be disorienting to the story if used in the wrong place or at an inopportune moment. He says that quick-time events were a way to gamify the experience, but it was also like “stepping on a player’s foot,” as they had to look down at the controller and be taken away from the story. Vanaman doesn’t think QTEs are the problem, however, it’s how and the way they are used, and they can easily disrupt tonal consistency and what the narrative is working toward.

For his new game first-person game, Firewatch, Vanaman is seeking thematic consistency as you control Henry, whose only human connection is through a handheld radio to a woman named Dahlia. The core focus of the game will be Henry and Dahlia’s relationship, but circumstances soon force Henry to go out of his tower and into the world, exploring the environment. Note: The game is still in early development, so specific details such as names are subject to change.

Vanaman decided to base the game in Wyoming because he grew up there and felt he could draw on it for a compelling story about a man working from a lookout tower. Campo Santo’s goal is to make players feel like they’re having real conversations, building relationships, and making the player feel totally in control of the action in a world that is responsive and fulfilling. He noticed from The Walking Dead that players are more likely to connect with a line if they pick the option to deliver it themselves opposed to just seeing the dialogue play out.

Firewatch is still in its early stages, but it’s clear that Vanaman is using everything he’s learned in the past to grow beyond The Walking Dead. We’re eager to see how it all pans out.