Tacoma from Fullbright
Without letting go of the environmental search narrative approach that Fullbright began with BioShock DLC Minerva’s Den and continued with its spiritual successor, the critically lauded Gone Home, Tacoma places you – as private contractor Amy – on board a space station in the year 2088 called the Tacoma, so-named after its hometown in Texas.
Gone (Home) but Not Forgotten
The multinational corporate project that forged the station, however, extends the boundaries of its diverse passengers’ stories. You are tasked with taking inventory of the many personas that were aboard the station when a catastrophic incident led to their disappearance just days before you arrived, leaving behind only their digital ghosts in the form of augmented reality holographic avatars.
The interactions and movement of the Tacoma’s crew have been logged by the on-board cognitive computers. You can click on the interfaces for each of their digital ghosts, many of which are corrupted, revealing only fragments of their communications among each other, with the AI or even their pets. You can overhear recordings of their conversations, and – most unique about Tacoma – rewind the volumetric capture of their movements and conversations, essentially allowing you to rewind, fast-forward, pause and unlock bookmarks on the timelines of every character you encounter.
Press Eject and Give Me the Tape
This mechanic of being able to speed back and forth through the story of each caster member is Tacoma’s little narrative triumph. This diegetic approach to peeling back the layers of what transpired moves the needle on the foundation laid by Minerva’s Den and Gone Home. Interestingly, it is also showing up in other titles now, including Cloudhead Games‘ sequel to Call of the Starseed. I suppose Cortana was the same sort of idea, but here it forms the main game in what would otherwise be a walking simulator.
Besides this, you have the ability to pick up items, examine and return them to to their original position (what Gaynor calls the put-back mechanic). Tacoma is rife with little Easter eggs and other surprises. You can place magnetic stickers on a wall to unlock an achievement, refer back to secrets from previous titles, and hit the Space bar to enter outer space. There is a lot to play with here, and you will be awarded for your curiosity.
The spaceship may be barren of life (or is it?), but constant sound design, roving beams of sunlight in true Cronenwethian fashion, and sundry automata make it feel like a bathroom just after someone got out of the shower. This form of narrative that can be inferred from mise-en-scene is Fullbright’s forte, and whether it be a note in a locker, a sequence of paintings or portraits you encounter, you will recognize this form of themed environment tactic from Bioshock – and concentrated in Gone Home.
Can’t Go Home Again
In a fireside chat with moderator Naomi Clark (creator of the Consentacle card game) at IndieCade, lead developer Steve Gaynor seemed to be aware that Gone Home is being taught in high school English classes as a contemporary form of narrative. He also confided that he was delighted to learn that Gone Home had been a big influence on the new generation of virtual reality developers.
This is, of course, because VR is an embodied experience, where your ability to witness the essence of materials and things in a world are far more acute. It is a strange wonder that Fullbright did not develop Tacoma for VR space, but it’s also a testament to their approach that they didn’t feel the need to.
Instead, here they lift you up and away from the life of a suburban latchkey kid in Gone Home to an even deeper kind of isolation: the literal vacuum of space in a Kubrickian vision of tomorrow, fused with the possible intrusion of cat memes of a tone quite apart from more ossified visions of the future. The ingenious setting also afford a wide variety of ethnographies, body types and ages while still abstracting them sufficiently so as to not be tied to any particular place, time, skin color or fashion cliche.
Rather than think of Tacoma as the the “not-as-good-as-Gone Home sequel,” consider it the third part of a tryptich that began for Fullbright with the Bioshock DLC. Gaynor confided that the company is now looking forward to moving into wholly new territory on its next IP. But having defined and changed a medium in the meantime ain’t no slouch.
Tacoma is available via the XBOX Store, Steam and GOG.
Watch the official trailer for Tacoma below: