The main character of HomeMake is its city. It procedurally generates in vivid color all around the inside of a huge sphere. It’s fantastical with a cyberpunk edge. When you look up in HomeMake, you don’t see the sky, you see only more neighborhoods sprawling all around, upside-down.
Within this setting, you play a mind that can be transferred between bodies, so that you play humanoid bots and a range of animals, seeing the city from different perspectives. You also need to contend with the inverted sphere’s strange gravitational rules in platforming challenges when navigating the city.
HomeMake is the work of two people. Cory Seeger and Matthew Conway. They had a successful Kickstarter for the game in July 2014 and are slowly piecing together their grand vision. Siliconera caught up with them both to talk about what life is like living in this colorful city, how their backgrounds in architecture inform the game’s design, and they also discuss the many challenges for them creating the game and those that you’ll experience if you play it.
First of all, could you introduce yourselves and tell us about your backgrounds inside and outside of games?
Matthew Conway, designer: HomeMake is a two person team consisting of Cory Seeger and Matthew Conway. Both of us are currently completing our Masters in Architecture at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Our architecture background has not only allowed us to experiment with digital modeling and space making, but also scripting cities and interactive environments.
A lot of the architect’s skill set lends itself to the production of video games and we don’t really see a difference between the two professions.Video Games and immersive technologies are just part of a long lineage of representational tools, similar to physical models, drawings, and renderings, that come with their own unique constraints and possibilities for understanding architecture.
Where did the idea of HomeMake come from? Has it changed much since you first started working on it?
As I’m sure with a lot of game designers, aspects of HomeMake have been floating around in our heads since elementary school. Whenever I played games when I was younger I always wished the environment could go on forever but ultimately I was always stopped by some invisible barrier or arbitrary tree line. By creating an environment on the inside of a sphere and coding this environment to constantly change, we now have the ability to ultimately explore forever, always reaching new areas of the city that you’ve never seen before.
The main origin of the urban interior in HomeMake started with a school project Cory and I did for an architecture studio where we had to create an urban environment through zoning codes. We decided to not only create the zoning codes, but create the city by interpreting these zoning codes into computer code. The project produced two important things for the game. First, because we created the city out of code, we could change one parameter and the entire city would completely rearrange itself. Second, we used a video game engine to move around the city in order to get a more human perspective of the environment. HomeMake is the next logical step, creating a game where you can explore a city as it changes. This actually led to the character swap mechanic because we needed to have different ways to explore and understand the city’s design.
Now that we’ve been at it for about a year, we realized we were really limiting ourselves to the design of the city and have been doing some design exercises to really try and make a unique experience from an architecture perspective as well as video game perspective. The persistent theme is always the interior city and how to enhance that experience.
You’ve previously referenced cyberpunk when describing HomeMake’s world. Should it be considered cyberpunk? What else have you taken from when creating the game and its world?
I think it should be considered cyberpunk although that wasn’t our primary focus setting out. It is the combination of high-tech (mind transferring as a sort of Grand Theft Auto mixed with Ghost in the Shell) and low-life (the story starts out in the suburbs, that normative place a lot of games find their genesis). Our characters aren’t the presidents or the police of the city, they are the trashmen, the delivery boys, the underground body designer, and the day to day people going about their lives.
We really like the idea behind VA-11 HALL-A, but we want to experience each of those stories first hand and make up our own. And of course this is all taking place in a neon-lit city which is an obvious throwback to 1980s Tokyo and Hong Kong via William Gibson and Syd Mead. If you look closely at our buildings, however, we have pulled a lot of facades from 21st century Tokyo and we hope our current remaking of the city will really push the trope of the cyberpunk metropolis to be something more, something people haven’t seen.
We believe that globally we are all living in a cyberpunk world, it’s just doesn’t have the gritty and high tech aesthetic. Growing up we weren’t hackers or drug dealers, so where does a suburban kid find their calling in a cyberpunk world?
What is the motivation that you give players to explore this huge city?
Cory Seeger, designer: The exact narrative is still very much in development but from the start we’ve never wanted it to be about some world ending event or maniacal mega villain. We’re looking for a more “slice of life” type feel, with events that take place around the lives of our main characters. We love the idea of romanticizing everyday events in a fantastical environment.
A lot of the conflict and story actually comes from the body swap mechanic and how this affects the relationships between characters. Everyone once had that friend or two growing up that you always used to hang out with and do mundane things with (although at the time they felt quite grand). The notion of identity and self is really important to the narrative as the player will constantly be swapping between bodies. Who you are and how you fit into this world will be a key struggle.
How does the city’s inverted structure and its centralized gravity affect how players navigate it? What other challenges does the architecture present to players?
Matthew: One of our initial goals when creating the city was to design it in such a way that the player could still navigate without the use of a map. By doing this we want players learning to navigate through sound, visually cues, spatial arrangement, and feeling. Since looking up at the city is essentially a map, we think providing another one in the form of a mini map or menu would just be insulting. This way, players will constantly be negotiating the large scale of the urban context by looking up and the small scale by reading their immediate surroundings.
Could you explain how the game’s mind transferal mechanic works? What other challenges does it bring to the game outside of platforming?
Cory: From a platforming point of view, the mind transfer mechanic provides characters with fundamentally different abilities such as, jumping, running, climbing, floating, and flying to name a few. But we also have some atypical platforming mechanics that revolve around perceptual shifts like the ability to see different seasons, or control sound. These shifts are more visual and auditory in nature and are meant to change the player’s perception of the city, allowing the player to perceive puzzles that certain characters may not understand or see.
We hope to provide the player with complex puzzles that require multiple characters in order to fully solve. Ultimately we want one of the biggest joys of the game to simply be the ability to understand the city in an entirely new way as new characters become available through story elements.
Why did you want to explore the notion of urban identity in HomeMake, and in what different ways do you do this?
To us, architecture is more than just fancy blobs or upscale retail stores, it’s about the city as whole. How to create beautiful background buildings is a topic we find very compelling. When we rave about Tokyo or cities that inspire us, it’s a love for the character of the city; a love for the place these buildings have created. In a way, the fantastic moments of Architecture (capital A) within a city are mere extensions of the fabric it’s already a part of.
We hope that players learning to navigate by recognizing the character of the city around them will play a big part in growing their understanding of urban identity. Plus, as students we are a long way off from being given the green light on designing an entire city, so this is a great chance to develop urban types that have yet to be seen (in the physical or virtual worlds) and see how people interact with it.
In finishing up, could you remind us what platforms HomeMake will be available on, when you hope it will be released, and do you have any rough idea of how much it will cost?
Our main platforms of focus are the PS4, Xbox One, and PC/Mac/Linux but would love to develop to as many supplemental systems as our support allows. We’re shooting for a release this Fall and will price the game at an estimated $10.