The Secret Sauce of Evoking Emotion — An Interview with the Creator of Close Your

Close Your is founded on an intriguing concept. Played with the addition of a webcam, the game tracks and reacts each time the player blinks. As the player moves through the life of their character, each blink moves them inexorably towards their doom. It’s fresh concept, one that reflects the realities of life and as such, is eminently relatable. Winner of the 2014 IndieCade Developer’s Choice Award as well as the Winner of Best Student Game at the 2015 Indie Games Festival; Close Your has already demonstrated the ability to evoke real feeling among those who experience it.  Now, a year after their biggest success, GoodbyeWorld Games look to Kickstarter in order to help transform their game from interesting student project to fully realized game release. All new art, new branching story elements, new engineering and the addition of voice acting are all part of the overhaul that the game will receive after the completion of the Kickstarter campaign. As Close Your moves on after a successful stint on Kickstarter, we had a quick chat with GoodbyeWorld Games Director Will Hellwarth. Check it out below!

You can find more information on the Close Your Kickstarter page, as well as on the official Close Your website.

[Hardcore Gamer] An obvious question to start. Was there a primary inspiration behind the concept? If so, what was it? Please don’t reference Adam Sandler’s movie Click…

[Will Hellwarth] Oh God. I personally have spared myself from watching that movie but we actually had a commenter say that they liked it because it reminded them of a part in click that made them cry! So we could do worse. We were just thinking “Hey, what if a game could tell when you blink?” ages ago and what really stuck with me is — what if you could use it to simulate having trouble keeping track of time, experiencing lost time, and ultimately scaring you because you’re in a hospital and you don’t know what blink will be your last. We built the game up around that hospital scene to include an entire life. Some say this is a scoping problem, and they’re not wrong, but it’s been fun to be ambitious.

When did you realize that you might be onto a winning formula?

We didn’t think we were going to get in to Indiecade (I screamed on the phone even when we were accepted), let alone walk away with a robot (the Indiecade awards are all beautiful, hand made robots). I fell out of my chair when we got the award  and when I was driving home I really felt that this Was the Indie community putting their hand on my back and giving me a wink and a thumbs up and telling me to go and do what I loved. But even getting to that point was a huge amount of work and we had to know it was special before we put that work in, and that came from us testing it with friends and classmates and a few of them got hit really hard emotionally even by the very early versions, so we pressed on.

Close your house

After eliciting such a positive reaction two years ago at IndieCade, what has Close Your been doing in the meantime?

After Indiecade we went on to win Best Student award at the IGF 2015 which was really the peak for us. After that we were courting some really big companies to try and invest in us and basically pay us to finish the game, but this took ages and in the mean time I was freelancing to pay the bills and most of the team was in school or getting their own jobs. We finally said enough waiting around for some industry giant, I bet we could do a good Kickstarter, so we made a big push to get some new art out and decide on a new direction and we’re going to use that to really make it go places. It’s a long way of saying that I literally exhausted my social resources and my own money getting the game to look good enough for IGF and so Close Your has been mostly on the back burner since then as I’ve just been trying to pay the day to day. Thanks to Kickstarter, enough of that!

In various reaction videos around the web, players show various intense emotions while playing the game. How does Close Your succeed in evoking such emotion from its players?

I mean that’s the secret sauce right? It’s complicated. One part is using very universal and relatable themes, our world is not too specific and our scenes are familiar to a lot of people, so different people end up getting emotional about different things, you just have to provide the hook. One guy got really emotional about a staring contest you have as a child in school because he has staring contests with his daughter in real life every night, other people get emotional at the wedding or at different times. The key is providing enough hooks that resonate with regular lives. Another part is keeping the player distracted from the tragic elements and creating contrast with light elements. Life is like that, everything is fine and moving forward until it suddenly isn’t. The sad moments got more powerful the more funny moments we put in before them. Oh and we really hit you in the face with your mortality, that’s what gets me and what gets a lot of people. You die, and you die in a very honest, sad, realistic way, but it’s a way to make peace with death.

How will the new Art design effect the way that scenes are portrayed to the player?

Our first priority is to make the characters more lifelike, more human, and more relatable. The biggest change that the new art will bring is a whole surreal undercurrent that has been largely absent from the current builds (there is some weird stuff) but we want to take that to the next level. Close Your is a very dreamlike experience, and we want to drive that even further with your meetings with death, your dreams throughout your life, and always questioning your reality or your character’s memory.

Close your death

The old art design, while quite simple, succeeded in portraying emotion on the characters in Close Your reasonably well. Will the new art style be as expressive?

At least twice as expressive or your money back.

February is only a short time away as far as development goes, as such, do you anticipate any problems fitting what seems to be an ambitious overhaul into such a tight schedule?

This will be the 5th or 6th time we’ve re made close your from the ground up (depending on which of our really early versions you could even count as a game) so we’ve gotten pretty quick at it and we know exactly what we need to do. The framework is laid out and the kickstarter will be mostly paying freelancers to execute on a plan that is already in place, and then integrating that work into our scenes. I back a lot of things on Kickstarter and I’ve seen a lot of things ship late. We want to avoid this at all costs and really build trust with our backers, but just from experience in the games industry, it can be really volatile! We’re hoping that February will give us enough room.

Only a small percentage of popular games have had such a potential for evoking such powerful emotion. With this in mind, while also considering Close Your’s reliance on a webcam, do you think Close Your has the chance to break into any kind of mainstream market?

Our goal at GoodbyeWorld is above all to push videogames, all videogames, into fulfilling their potential as unprecedented tools of storytelling, communication, and empathy. Not just to copy what films and other games are doing just because it seems like it will sell. Our goal has never been to sell a million copies so much as it has been to shake up what people’s conception of a game is, and to shatter preconceived limits of games. We’re a bit like the phrase “a comedian’s comedian” only for game developers. We’re very idealistic and we’re targeting non-gamers as much or more than we are targeting gamers with our experience. We’re attempting to make something that is playable and understandable by everyone, not just those who are super literate and competent with games. We hope that this angle, along with our universal themes, will be our route to mainstream-ness, if mainstream is at all meant for us.

Speaking of evoking emotion, one of the stretch goals features the addition of a canine companion. Now, I’ve seen Marley & Me and I see what you are doing and I don’t like it. No question for this one, I just wanted you to know.

Oh yeah. The smart backers are already leaving comments telling us they regret adding a dog just so we can…well…you know…