Interview with the people behind Sunset — an upcoming first-person exploration thriller

A game in which you play as a housekeeper for a swanky bachelor in a fictional 1970s South American city torn apart by violent revolution. This is Sunset in a nutshell — Tale of Tales’ newest upcoming first-person narrative-driven game that’s currently on Kickstarter. And after achieving its goal of $25,000 in merely 2 days, there’s certainly a lot of potential in this one. I also managed to ask the masterminds behind Sunset a few questions about their game, so you’ll find some pretty interesting insights down below.

In case you aren’t familiar, Tale of Tales is a Belgian game development duo formed by Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn. The titles they’ve released so far aim to predominantly narrative-driven experiences, as you may have heard of some of their creations such as The Graveyard and The Path. This time around, things look to be a bit more grand in scale with Sunset, as the duo hopes to expand to wider audiences via Kickstarter.

“We have only one stretch goal, that we want to make the game better!”

In its core, Sunset is inspired by games such as Dear Eshter and Gone Home, and this fact should already tell you a lot as to what you should expect. Set in Anchuria, a fictional South American city in the early 1970s, the story of Sunset represents times of conflict, fear and violent dictatorships. Themes such as feminism and Black Power movements are very apparent in this game.

But most importantly, the game looks to tackle one rather interesting question — what happens in the lives of people in the sidelines of high action modern games? The ordinary folks, not the heroes. And with the main character being Angela Burnes, a black female immigrant working as a housekeeper for a high class man you barely see (Gabriel Ortega), there’s a pretty unique perspective thrown at you.

Q: You mention Gone Home and Dear Eshter as good examples of what you’re aiming for. Are you planning to give players more choice and involvement compared to these games? If so, how are you planning on achieving this?

A: “Sunset will have very similar controls as Gone Home and Dear Esther. And the gameplay will also center around the discovery of narrative. But other things will be different. We love Gone Home and Dear Esther just the way they are. We wouldn’t want to change them. But, there will be more choice in Sunset, because you will have the option to do certain tasks in different ways. And this can change the direction of the story. As to involvement, that’s very subjective. But we’re definitely aiming to make Sunset entertaining and suspenseful.”

Q: This is one of the first games I’ve seen that offer a chance for a relationship that is exclusive to the female point of view. And as much as I admire this choice and look forward to seeing it implemented into the game, do you think it could potentially alienate part of your male audience?

A: “I hope not. I think players of videogames are motivated to a large extent by curiosity. We find it hard to imagine not wanting to be in somebody else shoes for a while, somebody different than yourself. It’s such a great opportunity to see the world in a different way, to enrich your experience of existence. This is a big part of why we play games, right?”

“The eclecticism of combining space age clean designs with antique and exotic elements forms the basis of the look of Sunset.”

Gameplay will be divided into play sessions, each taking one fictional hour. During this time you will not only need to perform basic housekeeping tasks, but there will also be numerous ways to passively interact with your employer in the form of writing notes, tinkering with items and so on, all while the events surrounding you unfold. Crucially, all of this can result in your relationship with Gabriel Ortega developing in different ways, depending on what you do.

Most interesting is the fact that you’ll be able to play through the the whole thing in a variety of ways, with game time varying between 90 minutes and 6 hours! It’s also stated that “there is no right or wrong way to play Sunset, and no way to fail”. The last part got me intrigued the most.

Q: At one point you mention that Sunset will be divided into play sessions, each taking one fictional hour. Are we to expect a sense of urgency each time things need to be done or will players be able to explore endlessly until an event occurs?

A: “We’re still going back and forth on this. There’s advantages to both. We lean towards giving players as much freedom to explore as they want. But not at the expense of a thrilling rhythm. Ideally, perhaps, we’d give them all the time they want but they decide to move on, for themselves, because they’re curious about what will happen next.”

Q: I noticed that the game length can be between 90 minutes and 6 hours, that’s quite an interesting thing. Does that mean that it’s possible to simply go through your housekeeping tasks without interfering with anything else?

A: “That’s the idea. It’s still early days so this is just what we’re aiming for. We want to give the possibility to enjoy Sunset even if you only have a limited amount of time. But we also want to offer the opportunity to extend the time you spend in our virtual world if you do have the time and feel like it. The concept of Sunset lends itself extremely well to combining this.”

To complement the oddly intriguing setting and protagonist, visuals look quite frankly stellar. Highly stylized and very abstract, it gives me a very warm vib More importantly — seeing some of the names involved in this game, especially in the audio department, made me super excited — we’re talking about Austin Wintory (Journey, The Banner Saga) being the main audio designer, with him working alongside the extremely talented Malukah and Laura Vall. Certainly expecting some stellar music.

Finally, we’ll end with the following:

Q: What is one thing that can turn a game into a masterpiece, in your opinion?

A: “The player. If there is one thing, this is it. It’s like with a piece of music: play it well and you have magic, play it badly and it’s terrible. We believe even supposedly horrible games can be made to feel masterful if played in just the right way. Similarly, the player needs to find the right approach to each game.

On the design side, perhaps the one thing that is the most important is everything! In the sense that everything needs to work together well, and you can’t neglect a thing (unless you’re going for a certain effect). When the music supports the interactions and the graphics support the sound design and everything is working together in harmony, then a game can feel wonderful. Sometimes the trick to achieve this might actually be to temper one element that is just so good that it becomes distracting. Not an easy decision to make.”

Sunset’s launch date is set for March 2015, with the game already good to go for a release on Steam. Platforms will be Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

Original article posted on the 28th of June 2014 for (website currently inactive)