Level Design in a Day: The Level Design of Gone Home
Speakers: Kate Craig (Fullbright), Steve Gaynor (Fullbright)
Gone Home is a subtle, nuanced game that defies a lot of the video game industry standards about what players expect from games. Many gamers accused it of being too short, or even a "walking simulator", but after hearing Steve and Kate's GDC 2015 talk, even the most bitter hater can't deny the amount of research, thought, and hard work that went into making the Greenbriar Manor a truly exceptional game environment. Here's five things we learned:
1. The game is set in a victorian house because modern homes are too compact
Steve explained this point, illustrating the more sprawling nature of Victorian homes with old blueprints and floorplans. They also lack the main foyer after the entrance which was a key part of the hub-style level design that immeadiately presents the player with several paths to choose from. Which leads us to our next fact...
2. The general design of the house was inspired by Steve's work on Bioshock 2
One of the main reasons the Victorian manor was selected is because of its generally closed floorplan. This means that instead of all the rooms being adjacent and accessible to one another, many are cordoned off down hallways, or sequestered in ways that make it easier to subtly direct player movement. The game got a lot of praise for being non-linear, but Steve considers that more of a successful illusion, pulled off via the locked doors and secret halls.
3. Experience designing levels for shooters negatively impacted the scale of everything
Another issue that raised its head was that the rooms in Gone Home were simply too big, especially in regards to having to populate them with the characters' belongings and furniture. This was a result of designing levels for shooters that require a lot more floor space for the player to move around in.
4. There are secrets hidden in the decor
Kate goes into more detail in this blog post, but she deliberately incorporated Rue flowers into the game's decor, a flower that is traditionally associated with regret and repentance. Read into that and the Greenbriar family history what you will. There's also a subtle nod to the family's roots in bootlegging with the various wheat motifs that can be seen in the house.
5. A Sears catalog from 1990 was a big inspiration for the game's design
In addition to researching old victorian homes to nail some of the house's fixtures and hardware, Kate also used an old Sears catalog from 1990 she bought on eBay to source period correct interior design elements. It's a subtle touch that organically screams "You're in the early 90s!" without resorting to gimmicks like a kid in a Hypercolor shirt doing a sweet BMX jump. They also used the earnestly titled teenagebedroom.tumblr.com to get inspiration for Samantha's room.