Campo Santo’s Sean Vanaman talks about the mysterious adventure title.
It may not seem like it but adventure games weren’t always as plentiful in the late 90s as they are now. Campo Santo’s Firewatch isn’t your typical Monkey Island or Leisure Suit Larry though – it’s a first person adventure which takes place through the eyes of a fire lookout in the Wyoming forest. Is everything as simple as preventing forest fires though? Not quite and that only makes Firewatch all the more interesting.
GamingBolt had a chance to speak to designer and writer Sean Vanaman about the project, including its inspiration and how it differs from other first person adventures released recently.
"It’s less important for me, as a writer, to make them hyper-varied but instead to make them representative of the possibility case of the main character."
We’ve heard about the inspiration for Firewatch coming from a painting by artist Olly Moss. How has the journey – from setting up Campo Santo to developing Firewatch – been for the entire studio?
Sean Vanaman: That’s actually not 100% accurate — Jake and I (Sean) had the setting and kernel of the idea while living together and then upon meeting Olly he did the sketch that kicked the whole thing off! The journey has been really remarkable — we started off not really knowing how to do anything in regards to running a studio, using Unity, anything and now we’re a month away from shipping on Feb 9. I’ve never learned so much or grown so much in my life. I assume the same could be said by anyone on the team.
How did the experience of Jake Rodkin and Sean Vanaman, who worked on The Walking Dead, help when it came to crafting the emotional decisions and relationship that the players can build in-game?
Sean Vanaman: We definitely learned a lot from our experiences on that game and already had a short hand (and trust) that we could just do that (make emotional decisions and a good relationship come out of the screen) without talking about it or worrying about it too much. We just had to have confidence and do what we knew how to do.
There have been a number of first person “walking simulators” in recent years but Firewatch seems to be different. Could you tell us about some of the mechanics and how your average player would go about progressing in-game?
Sean Vanaman: Firewatch is more of an adventure game with systems (physics, traversal, a meaty relationship system, e.g.). It’s about exploration and discovery and making choices to advance the story. You’re not walking through a place where a story happened, discovering it — the story is happening to you!
What range of dialogue options will players be faced with when interacting with Delilah? How much time did the development time put into making these interactions as varied as possible?
Sean Vanaman: It’s less important for me, as a writer, to make them hyper-varied but instead to make them representative of the possibility case of the main character (Henry). The same was true on The Walking Dead — you couldn’t say CRRAZZZZZY stuff as Lee (which would’ve varied him up a lot!) — you can say the stuff that exists within his brain, thus, molding him and learning about him (and yourself).
"That’s just the way we like to make games. We think about it around every choice and we’ve done it for so long, now, that we never think about failure or success…"
Will Firewatch have multiple endings and branching storylines depending on the decisions you make in-game?
Sean Vanaman: It’s not a choose your own adventure in that regard but everyone who plays the game has a totally different experience — their relationship with Delilah is unique — they learn their own things about the story (rarely all) and there is, actually, a very peculiar secret ending I suspect only a few people will see (it’s not “the right ending” or “the good ending” it’s just the consequence of an interesting choice.)
One thing that excites me about Firewatch is that it doesn’t seem like a game where the player can win or lose or net the “best” result. Rather, it seems to be an opportunity for players to reflect on themselves and what approaches they could take. Did you take this account when developing the game and how did you expand on it during development?
Sean Vanaman: That’s absolutely right. That’s just the way we like to make games. We think about it around every choice and we’ve done it for so long, now, that we never think about failure or success — we think about “what if the player does something else? Can they?” and see what the answers are.
What motivated the decision to bring Firewatch to the PlayStation 4?
Sean Vanaman: We had a very good relationship with the 3rd party team there and they offered us some tremendous support.
Did you face any challenges in developing for the console? What major similarities did you note when working on the PC and PS4?
Sean Vanaman: Developing for console + Unity + our first has been a challenge but both parties have been really helpful and it’s been pretty good, to be honest. Building the game is the same, regardless, but there’s no doubt that developing and shipping on PC is an easier experience — console development is and always has been harder.
"There are no plans right now [for Xbox One release] but we, obviously, want as many folks to play the game over the long term as possible!"
Unity is the engine that Firewatch has been built on and the game looks gorgeous. What are your thoughts on developing in Unity and what functions helped you the most during development?
Sean Vanaman: I really like using Unity (although we have put it to the test!) because of how easily I can improve the game and see my chances at real time. I press one button to make a build, which is incredible. I can adjust stuff at run-time. It’s a great engine. We ended up using code our friend Nathan Martz put on the asset store called SECTR which was imperative to having a world you could walk through with no loads. In that sense, the asset store has also been invaluable!
Is there a specific reason why the game is not launching on the Xbox One?
Sean Vanaman: Not really — we’re just a small studio and can only do so much.
Are there any plans to bring Firewatch to the Xbox One, perhaps somewhere down the line?
Sean Vanaman: There are no plans right now but we, obviously, want as many folks to play the game over the long term as possible!
Is the game going to run at 1080p and 60fps on the PS4?
Sean Vanaman: The game is definitely in 1080p — last I played it was at 30fps. It’s not a high-action shooter so 60fps, etc, is not as important. There aren’t any rad explosions you can bask in.
"The core story should take 5-7 hrs but some people want to find everything and that takes quite a bit longer."
Roughly speaking how big is the world in Firewatch?
Sean Vanaman: Man, I don’t know. It’s big — it feels like being lost in the outdoors. It’s probably a square mile?
How many hours of playtime can players expect from Firewatch?
Sean Vanaman: The core story should take 5-7 hrs but some people want to find everything and that takes quite a bit longer.
Are you using the 7th CPU core of the PS4 for development purposes? Sony unlocked it to give more flexibility to the developers. Has it helped development in anyway?
Sean Vanaman: That’s really a question for Unity.
Is there anything else you want to tell us about the game before we let you go?
Sean Vanaman: Nope! The game comes out on Feb 9 and we’re super proud of it and think you’ll love it. It’s entertaining and funny and mysterious and great to play with friends. Thanks for your interest!