That Dragon, Cancer, a videogame released earlier this year, shares an open and painful tale of love, loss, and faith. And the developers’ next title couldn’t be more different.
“It was a hard space to linger in for so long,” wrote writer and co-director Amy Green over email, regarding the dark personal nature of That Dragon, Cancer. “Our team at Numinous Games is made up of a lot of really funny people, so sometimes it felt challenging to have such a serious title consuming our discussions.” Untethered, Numinous Games’ follow-up to That Dragon, Cancer, isn’t a sad, personal story like the team’s last game. Instead, it’s quite the opposite—billed as a “quirky virtual reality mystery.”
The new game from Numinous is an episodic VR series exclusively for the Google Daydream that pins you as a lonely radio host. As a radio host, you report from an odd town on the Oregon coast. As the episodes progress, you slowly learn more of the town’s strange happenings, unraveling more of the mystery as time goes on.
Each episode will explore new characters and new locations, so you won’t be trapped in the familiar radio host bunker for long. Using the Daydream’s microphone, you speak aloud as one of the ways to dictate your actions in the game, in addition to gazing around your surroundings and prodding things with your laser pointer arm. Speaking, in particular, is something that Amy tells me helps with the sense of “presence” in the game. “You feel like you belong in the world itself,” she ascribed.
“You feel like you belong in the world itself”
Untethered finds its inspirations in a number of things, most specifically that of comic book stylings (primarily dug up from the 1950s, according to the game’s lead developer Brock Henderson) and the radio dramas of yesteryear. From the boundless storytelling of the graphic novel Watchmen (where the supplemental content—inserted as “found texts” between the main storyline—enticed co-director, writer, and developer Ryan Green) to the slow episode by episode growth of the radio show Prairie Home Companion, Untethered’s episodic world building occupies the same semi-defined space—where the slow is praised, and the layers are deep.
“Live theatre, plays, musicals, improv and radio shows all have that feeling that anything can happen during the show,” wrote Ryan. “If a person forgets their line, or sneezes when they’re supposed to be dead, or responds to an audience member’s heckling, it creates this unique experience that you as the audience member and every member of the production share and feel a certain camaraderie having shared it.” For Untethered’s using speech as gameplay, Numinous is gearing to channel the theatricality of being a participant in a play that encourages interactions; not those of the stuffy, “keep quiet” variety.
“I wanted to see what a narrative experience might feel like if you as the audience member were part of the play, but didn’t quite know what to do,” wrote Ryan. “Yet making sure you feel comfortable enough as a participant that we don’t elicit a scenario out of one of my most recurring nightmares; having to perform on stage before an audience in a play where I don’t remember the lines.”
Untethered also finds its influences separating from the world of comics and radio, embedding itself thematically in the works of Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers. “Moment to moment, those films can jump around between dry humor, awkwardness, and an endearing heartfelt quality that most of us on the team really relate to,” wrote co-director, art director, and developer Josh Larson. As more episodes of Untethered ease out, you can rest assured that you might not weep tears of sadness, but maybe a few might escape between your chuckles.