"Firewatch" is the first game from Campo Santo, a studio you've never heard of, but one you should be paying attention to in 2016. Jake Rodkin and Sean Vanaman left Telltale Games, joined up with artist Olly Moss and are now set to release "Firewatch" on PS4, PC and Mac on February 9. "Firewatch" focuses on the evolving relationship between two individuals based on the incredibly important choices made by the player.
After the highly successful “The Walking Dead” 2012 episodic video game, Rodkin and Vanaman decided to work together on a new project. A few discussions with Moss, best known for his work on movie posters, and the trio was on their way to collaborating. “At the time, it wasn’t much more than the notion of a story about a guy who works in a fire lookout tower and something strange and mysterious happens,” Rodkin said in an interview with International Business Times.
Moss began sketching the first art for “Firewatch” and development was officially started, according to Rodkin. As the team grew, each member added something unique to the development of "Firewatch."
"Firewatch" follows Henry, a man who is seeking a fresh start in life by joining up as a fire lookout in a national park in Wyoming in 1989. Things get pretty weird almost immediately, which leads Henry to leave his post with a walkie-talkie. Henry's only lifeline to the outside world is Delilah, his supervisor. “Because the game is so focused on this back-and-forth between Henry and Delilah, it has some of the experience you expect from a Telltale Game of dialogue being the way the player communicates with the game," Rodkin said. " But, instead of it going across a huge cast of characters, ‘Firewatch’ really goes deep into your relationship with just this one character.”
Players shape how Henry and Delilah engage in conversation over the course of the game. "Basically anything interesting you see in the world, you can use your radio and talk to your supervisor," Rodkin said. "By going back-and-forth, you build this relationship with her over the course of the game through thousands and thousands of lines of conversation."
"Firewatch," as an experience, lasts between five and seven hours, but there are plenty of opportunities for detours. Henry is exploring a forest, which gives players the chance to roam before continuing the story. "If you're a curious player, or you get distracted and follow some strange thread, you may find yourself in a part of the world discovering things that not many players may end up seeing," Rodkin said. "It's very different for me, having made mostly adventure games in the past, to build this expansive world that players can poke around in and find interesting things."
The beginning of 2016 is a perfect time for the release of “Firewatch.” Players are seeking new game experiences, which has led to the rise of narrative games that have no combat and simple interfaces. “People are trying to make games that have a storytelling focus that puts you in the space of being inside a narrative or a world that doesn’t have combat, but you still feel very engrossed," Rodkin said.
The developer credits the rise of downloadable games for the increase in popularity of this new breed of video games. “I loved adventure games since the ‘80s and ‘90s and would never have guessed that, in the year 2016, gaming would be in this place where you sort of have these weird, weird offshoots of what, at their barest core, feel like adventure games, but at the same time feel unique and nothing like them,” Rodkin said.
Even at the start of his career at Telltale Games in 2006, Rodkin recalls the uncertainty over digital games. "In 2006, I remember the conversations at that time were like ‘Do people even want a downloadable game?’ and ‘How do we even get this people?’ I remember the indie game scene was around at that time on PC, but it was not as accessible," Rodkin said.
With just two weeks before its release, Rodkin said he was finished with the PS4 version of "Firewatch" and putting the final touches and fixing the last bugs on PC and Mac versions. Pricing details have yet to be released.