How to Design a Video Game...Without Shooting!

Chances are, you haven’t played a video game like Firewatch.

By Marty Patail October 10, 2014 Published in the Design Annual: Fall 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

Designed by San Francisco game studio Campo Santo in conjunction with Portland app-maker Panic, the forthcoming mystery Firewatch game casts you as “Henry” and places you in an isolated fire lookout tower in remote Wyoming. Your only companion is a walkie-talkie, at the other end of which is a female voice called “Delilah.” We asked Campo Santo founder Sean Vanaman to tell us what it took to conjure the desolate realm of Firewatch.

Creating a World

“There’s the macro structure of the world, and there’s also using cubes to lay out inch for inch how big the space is and what it feels like to move around inside of it. We can’t just build any old forest—it would be boring. It has to be put together with the intent of discovery and traversal.”

Making It Real

“We use a ton of photo reference. We did a few days up in the mountains taking photos of how natural spaces can create controlled space as well.”

Storytelling Through Space

“A lot of that is in the design of how things happen, the passage of time, and stoking the player’s natural desire to want to return to a space because of new information or skills they may have. Your first time out of your lookout tower, you’re going to wander past at least five areas you can’t get to yet. We have to communicate to you that you can’t, and that that’s OK—but once you’ve experienced a relatively linear series of events and the game opens up, your mind is hopefully full of places you can go back to now.”

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