LudoNarraCon has given many games with unique premises their moment in the spotlight. From a mystery game where you play as a detective in a wheelchair to a beautiful adventure through Scandinavian folktales, there’s no shortage of titles to catch your eye. GoodbyeWorld Games’ Coda, however, wants to capture your eye in a more literal sense.
Using face-recognition technology, Coda analyzes whenever the player blinks. Every time they do, it progresses the story in a meaningful way. It’s up to the player to decide how they want to delve into the main character’s past. This upcoming game is built off GoodbyeWorld’s initial prototype called Close Your, which received a lot of praise in the past.
To learn more about Coda, we spoke with Oliver Lewin and the rest of the team at GoodbyeWorld.
TechRaptor: Who's part of the GoodbyeWorld team and how did the company first come together?
GoodbyeWorld: GoodbyeWorld came together during our college days, as a way of giving a name to a group of childhood friends who wanted to create interesting games together with a wide variety of skill sets. That was started by Will Hellwarth, and expanded to include Graham Parkes, Oliver Lewin, Griffin Libby-Bleser, and others. Since then, other talented folks have become fundamental parts of the team specifically building Coda, like our lead designer/programmer Bela Messex, and developers Richard Beare and Dillon Terry.
TR: How did you come up with the concept of incorporating the webcam and blinks for Coda?
GW: Will came up with the initial concept for incorporating the webcam into a game during his time at USC. It came from the desire to find out if face-tracking technology could help us tell stories in new ways. He felt that the involuntary process of blinking—data ignored by the majority of face tracking applications—might offer the most emotional depth. So, in Coda, the player’s physical blinking becomes a sort of in-body camera cut, and a way of pushing the story forward in unpredictable ways.
TR: How would you compare Coda to Close Your as far as gameplay?
GW: Things have evolved immensely on a gameplay level since Close Your, and that's largely why we chose to update the project with a new title. In the original Close Your, blinking did one thing, which was jumping forward in time, bringing the player to the next scene in the story. Once Bela Messex joined the project, he introduced the idea that blinking could also be the input for interactions within scenes, like taking pictures or playing the piano. In essence, it became a one-button game, with the eyes being that button.
TR: Have you ever considered utilizing VR?
GW: The development of Coda has aligned nicely with the beginning of publicly available VR headsets featuring in-headset cameras, like the Vive Pro Eye. We created a version of the game specifically for VR, and it's an incredible way to play the game. We were scheduled to preview this version at this year's SXSW, but alas, that of course had to be canceled. We do look forward to sharing the VR version at some point, because it's a really special feeling to interact with a world in VR just with your eyes.
TR: What's the most exciting part of the game-making process for you?
GW: For us, one of the most exciting parts of the process is hearing how different players experienced things differently. We've spent a long time crafting Coda, and it's always really illuminating hearing what details resonate with players. We've recently had a few play testers crying when they got to the end of the narrative, and knowing that you've connected with someone on an emotional level that way always feels good, and at the end of the day is probably the reason why we do this at all. Another part of the process we all love is the polish phase. Those finishing touches—like sound effects in a menu screen—can seem minor, but they make it feel like a "real game."
TR: How did you get involved wih LudoNarraCon?
GW: We heard about LudoNarraCon after they announced they'd be reopening their submissions due to the spate of cancellations of physical events this year. The festival totally appealed to us, given its narrative focus, and having been affected by those cancellations, we decided to submit. We're also big fans of Fellow Traveller, and knew of them because of their having published the game The Stillness of the Wind, which was made by one of our team members, Coyan Canderas.
TR: How useful do you think Twitch is for promoting your games?
GW: We think Twitch has a lot of potential for us. Because Coda incorporates players' eyes as an input for interaction, it gives new importance to the fact that Twitch streamers generally feature their faces on the stream. They are literally playing the game with their face. Generally, what we think of with Twitch streams are long-form games that the streamers can play for hours, almost in the background. But streaming narrative-focused or innovative gameplay content has proven to be really engaging for viewers, because they're getting to witness the streamer that they're fans of experience something new and gripping for the first time. They get to go along on that unexpected journey with them.
TR: What are your favorite narrative games?
GW: There are so many great ones. I think collectively, narrative games that have impacted us include: Shadow of the Colossus, Kentucky Route Zero, Papers Please, Gone Home, What Became of Edith Finch,The Beginner's Guide... those are all big ones for us.
However for this game specifically, two games really served as touch stones. The first was Thirty Flights of Loving and all of Brendan Chung's games, which to us really pioneered quick cutting and the effect of montage in the first-person narrative game space. We wanted to take what those games were doing one step further by ceding control of that cut to the player through the use of eye tracking and their blinks.
The other game that really influenced us was Florence, which came out in the middle of our development. That game came out at a time when we we were just being far too ambitious narrative-wise, and it really reminded us of the power of simplicity, and how paring down a story to its barest essentials can be the key to really having an emotional impact. That game has such clarity of intention—at every step it knows exactly what emotion it's trying to produce in the player. Playing a game with that kind of clarity of vision really helped us to see where we were going wrong, and helped us redirect our goals at a crucial moment.
TR: What's next on your plate?
GW: More independent games with a strong narrative focus. We've got some exciting ideas brewing... we just have to sit down to figure out which ones to pursue.
You can add Coda to your wishlist on Steam so you can keep your eyes peeled for upcoming news.
This interview was conducted by Sonya Alexander.