I was volunteering for the event so I could not participate, however, the theme was especially compelling this year so I did it in my own time anyways. During discussions about the theme, I came across a pitch: You’re running away from home, but home is running after You.
There was something very poetic and potentially meaningful in this analogy. I decided to develop the idea further. Why would you be running from home? Definitely out of fear. Definitely because the idea of being alone and away from your home is more comforting than the idea of staying another day, and suffer through whatever that might entail. I quickly recognized then that I could create an emotional analogy using gameplay.
“What does home mean to you?”
To some, it means danger and anxiety.
This game is meant to evoke the anxiety of running from home, the fear that your past might catch up to you, and the freedom that comes with making it out of a bad situation. I needed to make this house menacing, uncanny and unnerving. The last thing people expect a house to do is move, let alone chase you, so I set up the beginning of the game to be tame. Players start in front of the house; they can examine it, but they can’t enter, the door rejecting their advances. As they lose interest and walk away, the unnerving music and sounds also die down, but at a certain point, they hear the sounds of wood violent snapping and groaning behind them. If they look back, they can see the house lumbering towards them, the music and clicking sounds increasing in intensity the closer you were to the house. If they don’t run hard enough, or if they fall off the road into oblivion, they fail to escape and start over again. “Maybe tomorrow will be better…”
Overall the game was received well during playtests. Players were usually surprised when the house started to move. It had its flaws, however. I needed ways to encourage or force the player to look behind them, otherwise they could just completely ignore the house and race all the way to the end of the road without looking back once. One idea was to make it so that players had to walk backwards, away from the house, while also making sure not to fall off the road. Another was to make the speed and approach of the house dynamic and based on how the player is doing so that I could more easily control the experience that the player had with the house (kind of like the dynamic difficulty in Resident Evil, where if you’re doing well, the game starves you of bullets, but if you’re not, you get fewer spawns and more ammo).