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Using mundane objects to evoke heartfelt memories in Some Old Stuff

"When you find an object you have not seen for a long time, you start to figure out why you had that object. That moment felt very human to me."

Joel Couture, Contributor

July 7, 2021

6 Min Read

This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series.

Some Old Stuff, which was nominated for Best Student Game in this year's IGF, sees players going through their old things at their parents' house, recalling memories of an old friend through the objects. 

Gamasutra spoke with Hao Fan, Harry Chen, Emi, and Haku, developers of the game, learning about the personal inspirations behind the game, what helped them choose the items they felt would stir up memories, and how they hope this will make players recall their own beloved memories and people through the objects that help them remember. 

Who are you, and what was your role in developing Some Old Stuff

Fan: I am Hao Fan. I did the game design, programming, art direction, and also the writing for the project. 

I started my study at NYU Game Center in 2019. Before that, I was working as a product designer and during my spare time, I participated in several game jams and made table-top games for my friends. 

Chen: I am Harry Chen (Weizhong). I created environments and did level design for Some Old Stuff. I also did the design and narrative part with Hao. 

I joined NYU Game Center in 2019 for an MFA in game design. My undergraduate major is Architecture. In my Junior year, I made my first game, which was architecture related. I started making games since then. 

Haku: I am Haku. I did the character modeling and also the design and narrative part with my teammates. 

I joined NYU Game Center in 2019 for an MFA in game design. My undergraduate major is Animation. 

Emi: I'm Emi and I did the English localization for the game. 

I also started at the NYU Game Center in 2019. I have a background in comedy and screenwriting and started making games with friends for fun when I was a film student in undergrad. 

How did you come up with the concept for Some Old Stuff

Fan: I am always interested in the relationship between objects and their owners. So, in a class at Game Center, we started to make several prototypes around that idea while thinking of the narrative of the game. 

Chen: We want to tell some daily, but powerful stories reflecting the relationship between objects and people. I had a childhood memory which I thought could express this prompt really well. My best friend in elementary school never come back after telling me he was taking a trip to Japan for a week with his mom. My best friend disappeared all of a sudden. This became the original concept of the game. 

Haku: We think of objects as representing memories. At first, we wanted to recall the life of A “mother” by her children sorting through her belongings, but later we thought that Harry's childhood memories were more concrete and more real. 

What development tools were used to build your game? 

Fan: We used Unity as the game engine; Fungus, a plugin in Unity for implementing the dialogue system; Blender and Maya for all 3D assets. 

What inspired you to take a look at someone's past through the objects they left behind? What thoughts went into telling a story through things? Through the stuff the character left at their parents' house? 

Fan: For me, any lifeless project would become alive and personal when a human started to interact with it. When you find an object you have not seen for a long time, you start to figure out why you had that object. That moment felt very human to me.

Chen: I think mass-produced objects become unique after they bond with memories, stories, and thoughts. When different people use it, these associated memories are physically “marked” by different use traces. I personally think these memories evoked by objects are more vivid and personal than looking at photos. 

What ideas went into the objects you included in the game? How did you choose the items players could examine? Choose items that might feel familiar to the players? 

Fan: We mainly thought of those products that are easier to store personal information or experience. It could be an object itself indicating where it comes from, like the Japanese folk toy, or it could be something that people can easily change, like how you can draw on the back of a beer bottle cap. 

Chen: This is a game depicting both Lin's and my childhood. It is not only about Lin. The setting in “my” parents’ house also reflects who “I” am. When “I” was checking the stuff in the box, the surroundings - SlamDunk Poster, Gundam Model, and textbooks - are also speaking about “my” childhood.

We also took into consideration whether the items we chose could serve the purpose of the level well or not. For example, the cassette player offered a smooth transition into credits when the cassette was inserted and music was being played. 

What drew you to the game's art style? How did it strengthen a sense of nostalgia, loss, and pleasant memory within the game? 

Fan: I personally like unlit shaders. Since it does not have much depth, you have to design the shape and color of each thing in the game more carefully. Also, we planned to finish the game within three to four months, and this kind of art style could save us much time to work on other parts of the game. We used different color palettes to fit each scene’s emotion. 

Chen: Besides what Hao has mentioned, in order to create a believable personal memory, in each level, key objects were chosen to be carefully textured. Then, the scene could resemble what we remembered in our childhood in east Asia. 

What feelings/thoughts did you want to evoke from players as they look through these (possibly familiar) things? 

Fan: Their personal memories with someone when they play our game. And (hopefully) they can think of our game when they find some old stuff in their future life. 

Chen: The slight bitter sweetness in childhood was one of the feelings we initially intended to evoke. But eventually, we hope Some Old Stuff can help them think of their own memories and the “stuff” related to it. 

Were there some emotions or feelings you wished to work out in developing the game, or that surprised you as you were making it? How did developing the game affect your own thoughts and emotions? 

Fan: It feels cool and important to be personal when making a game. 

Chen: Conveying an emotion has always been a fun thing for me. And a game is one of the best tools for that.

This game, an IGF 2021 honoree, is featured as part of the Independent Games Festival ceremony.  You can watch the ceremony starting at 4:30PM PT (7:30 ET) Wednesday, July 21 at GDC 2021.

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