100th Review Special, Part 3: Thrashing the Threes

Whether it was through Schoolhouse Rock, De La Soul’s debut album, or the Planescape setting of Dungeons & Dragons, we were taught that three is the magic number. That is sort of the case here on Extra Life as well. Specifically, 3/10 is that highest score a game can get without me being able to recommend it. The main difference between this grade and the two that preceded it is that I can imagine people liking the following games in a non-ironic fashion. I would suggest several alternatives, but I can see why they would garner a fanbase, as there’s enough to like about them.

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Gone Home

Introduction

In 2006, a man named Steve Gaynor began his career in game design as a tester for Sony and Perpetual Entertainment. In his spare time, he made amateur levels for the 2005 first-person, survival-horror shooter, F.E.A.R. Using this experience as a springboard, he began to work as a designer for TimeGate Studios wherein he worked on Perseus Mandate, a standalone expansion for F.E.A.R. He then joined 2K Marin where he worked on various levels for BioShock 2, the follow-up to Ken Levine’s thought-provoking first-person shooter. After the game was released in 2010, he then served as the writer and lead designer to Minerva’s Den, an official expansion pack. Both the base game and the extra content generally met a warm reception, though not quite on the same level of its predecessor.

In the late 2000s, the independent game scene began gaining traction. Thanks to pioneering efforts such as Cave Story and Braid, artists began operating outside of the AAA industry’s influence in an attempt to push the boundaries of the medium. Mr. Gaynor saw potential in this movement, and along with two of his colleagues, Karla Zimonja and Johnnemann Nordhagen, they left 2K Marin to form The Fullbright Company in 2012. Joined by environmental artist Kate Craig later that year, they began to work on their first project. In order to reduce costs, the team moved into a house together in Portland, Oregon, setting up an office in the basement. Taking into account their skillset and financial situation, they decided on a game with no other characters to interact with – just “[the player] in a single environment.”

Placing an emphasis on storytelling, their first product, Gone Home, was released in 2013. The game quickly became a firm favorite with critics, receiving nearly universal praise from numerous big-name publications. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) called Gone Home the best debut of 2013 while it was christened Game of the Year by Polygon. To put this in context, 2013 is considered one of the strongest years in gaming with BioShock: Infinite and The Last of Us being touted as storytelling masterpieces and fitting swansongs for the seventh console generation. Somehow, in the face of this tough competition, the humble Gone Home managed to match, and in some circles, exceed, the critical acclaim of these big-budget titles. How was this team able to accomplish the seemingly impossible?

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