Director(s) Olly Moss Sean Vanaman
Artist(s) Jane Ng Olly Moss
Initial release date 9 February 2016
Genre Adventure game
Producer(s) Gabe McGill Jane Ng
Composer(s) Chris Remo
Developer Campo Santo
Publishers Campo Santo, Panic
|Programmer(s) Ben Burbank
Writer(s) Chris Remo Jake Rodkin Olly Moss Sean Vanaman
Designers Chris Remo, Jake Rodkin, Nels Anderson, James Benson
Platforms PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Macintosh operating systems, Linux
Similar The Witness, Oxenfree, Inside, ABZÛ, Gone Home
Firewatch is a first-person mystery adventure game developed by Campo Santo and published by Campo Santo and Panic. The game was released in February 2016 for Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, and PlayStation 4, and later for Xbox One in September 2016.
The story follows a Shoshone National Forest fire lookout named Henry in 1989, following the Yellowstone fires of 1988. A month after his first day at work, strange things begin happening to both him and his supervisor Delilah, which connects to a conspired mystery that happened years ago. Henry interacts with Delilah using a walkie-talkie, with the player choosing from dialog options to communicate. His exchanges with Delilah inform the process by which their relationship is developed. The game was directed by Olly Moss and Sean Vanaman, written by Chris Remo, Jake Rodkin, Moss and Vanaman, and produced by Gabe McGill and artist Jane Ng. The game's environment was modelled by Ng, based on a single painting by Moss. The design draws inspiration from New Deal advertisements by the National Park Service and field research conducted in Yosemite National Park.
The game received generally positive reviews earning praise for its story, characters, dialogue, and visual style, although the presence of technical issues and the game's ending were both subjects of criticism. Firewatch won the award for Best 3D Visual Experience at the Unity Awards 2016, Best Indie Game at the 2016 Golden Joystick Awards and Best Narrative at the 2017 Game Developers Choice Awards. By the end of 2016, the game had sold over a million copies. A film based on the game is being developed by Campo Santo and Good Universe.
Firewatch is a first-person adventure game that takes place in the American state of Wyoming in 1989. Players take on the role of Henry, a fire lookout who is assigned to his own tower in Shoshone National Forest. Through exploration of the surrounding area, Henry uncovers clues about mysterious occurrences in the vicinity that are related to the ransacking of his tower while out on a routine patrol and a shadowy figure that occasionally appears watching him from afar.
Henry's only means of communication is a walkie-talkie connecting him to his supervisor, Delilah. Players may choose from a number of dialog options to speak with her upon the discovery of new interactive objects or environments, or can refrain from communicating. The player's choices will influence the tone of Henry's relationship with Delilah. As the story progresses, new areas will be opened up for players. The game also features a day-night cycle. Objects found in the wilderness can be kept in the inventory for later use.
In 1989, following the Yellowstone fires of 1988, Henry (Rich Sommer) takes a job as a Shoshone National Forest fire lookout, after his wife Julia (Larissa Gallagher) develops early-onset dementia. On the first day, his supervisor Delilah (Cissy Jones) contacts him via walkie-talkie and asks that he investigate illegal fireworks at a nearby lake. There he detects teenage girls skinny dipping, who accuse him of leering. On his way back, he finds a locked cave and spots a shrouded figure. Henry discovers his watchtower ransacked at arrival. The next day, Delilah sends him to a downed communication line. It is found cut, along with a message from the girls. He and Delilah plot to scare them off, but Henry finds their campsite abandoned.
Henry finds a backpack and disposable camera belonging to a boy named Brian Goodwin, who Delilah explains was the son of Ned (Mac Brandt), a fellow lookout. Brian had illicitly stayed with his father, though Delilah had kept this from her superiors, and both Brian and Ned had disappeared without a trace. The teenage girls are reported missing. Henry later discovers a radio and clipboard with transcripts of his conversations with Delilah. He is knocked out and finds the clipboard and radio gone. Henry proceeds to break into a government research area, discovering surveillance equipment and typewritten reports detailing his and Delilah's lives and conversations. After taking a tracking device, he leaves the compound. As Henry hikes back, he witnesses it set afire by an unknown individual. Using the tracking device, Henry finds a backpack with the keys to the cave. Delilah reports someone in Henry's tower. Henry finds a Walkman with incriminating conversations of him and Delilah plotting to destroy the compound.
Henry enters the cave and is locked in. He escapes through another exit, and discovers a place used by Brian to escape his father. Henry goes deeper into the cave with the climbing equipment left at Brian's camp, and discovers Brian's corpse at the bottom of a cavern, piled under rocks. Delilah is upset, blaming herself for allowing Brian to stay. The next day, a conflagration grows uncontrollably and an emergency evacuation order is given out to all lookouts. As Henry prepares, he follows the tracking device's signal to a cassette tape from Ned, who claims that Brian's death was because of climbing inexperience. Unwilling to return to society, Ned admits to living in the wilderness and is trekking deeper, advising against following him. Henry finds Ned's camp with items from the watchtowers, camp and teenage girls, whom Delilah confirms are safe and sound. The government camp was studying wildlife, with Ned using radio equipment to deter Henry. Delilah states that a rescue helicopter is waiting for him at Thorofare Lookout and he treks there to find Delilah gone, having taken another helicopter. Using the radio equipment, he contacts her one final time and asks when he will see her again. She tells him to go back to his wife and Henry boards a helicopter heading home.
Firewatch is the first video game from Campo Santo, and was created by Jake Rodkin and Sean Vanaman, who were the creative leads on The Walking Dead; Nels Anderson, the lead designer of Mark of the Ninja; and artist Olly Moss. Chris Remo was involved in many aspects of the design, and also composed the score.
Development for Firewatch began with a single painting by Moss. Jane Ng, lead environmental artist at Campo Santo, was tasked with translating Moss' work into 3D environments while maintaining his stylized artistic vision. Moss, who had previously been known primarily for his graphic design work, had joined Vanaman and Rodkin to found Campo Santo after spending many years working on the periphery of game development. In creating the painting, Moss emulated National Park Service posters from the New Deal era in both color palette and iconography. The development team went on a camping trip to Yosemite National Park for inspiration for the game, where they visited a lookout tower built with the same design as its video game counterpart. Further inspiration for the game came from Vanaman and Anderson's experiences growing up in rural Wyoming.
Firewatch runs on the Unity game engine. Ng disapproved of the tools for creating trees, and therefore hand-modeled the 23 kinds of trees that would be placed within the game 4,600 times. A custom shader was also employed to produce more stylized and simplified foliage. The in-game fire lookout towers were built in accordance with government specifications, utilizing standard lumber size, after Ng's first attempt was unsatisfactory.
The walkie-talkie interaction in Firewatch is inspired by the relationship in BioShock between the player character and Atlas, as well as the dialog system from The Walking Dead. At one point in the development, it was intended that the protagonist would be able to communicate with multiple characters, such as hikers, but the idea was discarded due to its expense and the schedule requirements with which the team were working. The team hoped to avoid lip syncing and minimize the amount of animation needed due to the limited team size and resources.
The game's opening chapter features the song "Push Play" from Joy Chun and Nate Bosley's 2014 synthwave album Let's Get Electric, which depicts a fictitious 1980s synthpop act known as Cheap Talk. Taylor Dayne's "Tell It to My Heart" was used as a placeholder in the scene, but Vanaman conceded that the song was too overwhelming, and would cost too much to license. Upon the realization that it would also be too costly to commission a song, Remo sought a song in the style of the 1980s by an unsigned, independent artist, leading to the use of "Push Play". The score features a combination of electric and acoustic guitar, bass and electric piano, with samples of Fender Rhodes as a substitute for the actual piano. Remo played all of the instruments himself.
The game was announced in March 2014 with a tentative release date of 2015. At GDC, Campo Santo housed a public playtest, and Ng hosted a panel on the design and aesthetic of the game entitled "The Art of Firewatch". In June 2015, the team visited E3. Here, they confirmed that they would be bringing the game to PlayStation 4, but that this would be the only console version. However, an Xbox One version was later released in North America on September 21, 2016, featuring an audio tour and a free roam mode. Due to ratings issues, the version was delayed in Europe until September 30 and in Australia and New Zealand until October 14.
Users of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets can tour Henry's lookout tower using the Steam application Destinations. For this purpose, the scene was rebuilt on the Source game engine. Firewatch was made compatible with PlayStation 4 Pro on its November 10 launch, with enhanced performance through 4K resolution and high-dynamic-range imaging. The free roam mode was enabled for PlayStation 4 Pro and Steam shortly thereafter.
Partnering with Limited Run Games, Campo Santo distributed under ten thousand physical copies of the game on PlayStation 4. 4,800 copies were made available for order on the Limited Run Games website on December 16, 2016, while 2,500 were sold through the Campo Santo online store starting January 16, 2017.
Firewatch received "generally favorable" reviews, according to review aggregator Metacritic.
Steven Hansen at Destructoid welcomed the choice-based dialog tree gameplay, going on to praise the dialog itself, as well as the voice performances. The game's most impressive achievement, as stated by Hansen, was the "thematic cohesion", which was said to revolve around self-imposed isolation. The sound design was lauded to have evoked a Hitchcockian sense of fear. Reviewing Firewatch, Game Informer's Jeff Cork wrote, "I was immediately drawn into the game’s world, partly because of the power of its simple text intro, and also because of the novelty of taking part in something so mundane". Cork observed that its interactive dialog, though simple, "breathes life into the game" and called the conversations "natural" and "engaging". He enjoyed exploring the forest environment, yet felt the ending was unsatisfactory in light of the story's achievements.
Scott Butterworth of GameSpot thought that the analog navigation tools – a hand-held compass and paper map – were "immersive" but "occasionally frustrating". He found that the visual beauty of the setting allowed for a more rewarding form of exploration and noted that the sound design complemented the depth of its atmosphere. Judging the development of the characters through dialog to be "bold" and "admirable", he opined that it served as "a patient, reflective examination of how two people grow to trust and care for each other". According to Butterworth, the voice acting was brilliant and layered with emotional nuance, as he had evolved a strong attachment to the characters. GamesRadar's Justin Towell described Firewatch as "one of the most enthralling slices of entertainment I've ever experienced". He commended the voice acting for having successfully defined each character's personality traits. Towell added that the music, alongside the sound design, worked well in service of the atmosphere. However, he disparaged a few noticeable continuity problems that left him disillusioned. Ryan McCaffrey at IGN hailed the sense of realism elicited by the setting, despite the stylized level design and artwork. He also approved of the script, saying that voice acting enhanced it further. Of the writing, McCaffrey said, "It’s tense, scary, and funny – sometimes all within a few minutes of each other. Not a lot of games can successfully claim that". He deemed the ending polarizing because of the story's promising escalation. Polygon's Colin Campbell appreciated the use of humor and empathy to develop the characters, considered the game's mystery to be successful and the story to be "elegant" and "satisfying". He criticized the conclusion, regarding it as unsuccessful.
The game sold more than five hundred thousand copies within a month of its release. By the end of 2016, over one million copies were sold across all versions of the game.
In September 2016, it was announced that Campo Santo was partnering with production company Good Universe to adapt the game into a feature film.