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THE EDGE POST

How Fullbright Started?



Arbor Hill Productions, LLC,doing business as Fullbright (previously The Fullbright Company, LLC), is an American independent video game company based in Portland, Oregon, best known for their 2013 release Gone Home. Before joining Fullbright, three of the members worked together on Minerva's Den, the single-player expansion to BioShock 2. During the development of Gone Home, the crew worked and lived together in the same house. After its release, one team member quit to form a new firm, Dim Bulb Games. Fullbright's next game, Tacoma, was released in August 2017.


Founders


In March of 2012, Steve Gaynor, Johnnemann Nordhagen, and Karla Zimonja founded what would become The Fullbright Company. Kate Craig, an environment artist, joined the company full-time in August 2012. They had previously collaborated on video games at other studios, but "were attracted to the artistic autonomy and self-management of a tiny gaming firm," where they could set their own hours and avoid being tied down by anybody but themselves. They live and work together in a northeast Portland, Oregon, house known as the Fullbright House, except for Craig, who worked remotely from Vancouver. Craig said that the intimacy of the group was "like being in a band," comparing it to the necessity of sharing expensive resources like airfare and hotel rooms.


Steve Gaynor attended Portland State and dabbled in several arts fields before using level design to enter the games industry. It wasn't until 2006 that he landed a job as a games tester at Sony in San Francisco, having previously built his own levels for the first-person shooter video game F.E.A.R. Working on the low-pressure F.E.A.R. expansion Perseus Mandate at Houston's TimeGate Studios, he gained familiarity with F.E.A.R. levels. He joined 2K Marin in 2008 after receiving encouragement from the BioShock 2 creative director to apply. With the 2010 addition of Minerva's Den for single players, Gaynor took the helm as the game's chief designer. The Minerva team was small, and included Zimonja and Nordhagen. Zimonja, their 2D artist, worked with Gaynor on the game's storey. She considered herself more of an editor than a writer, although she contributed significantly to the project. Gaynor left 2K for Irrational Games in 2011 to work on BioShock Infinite. Unfortunately, the pair couldn't work together because Zimonja was in San Francisco working on The Bureau: XCOM Declassified in 2K while in Boston, where they had previously been working together. After becoming dissatisfied with his large-scale work, Gaynor and his wife relocated to Portland so that he could create a "personal game, one with an intimate narrative" without raising funds from investors or expanding his team size.


As Gaynor and Zimonja lacked computer programming expertise, they reached out to Nordhagen, who had recently sent an "existentially introspective" tweet about his career. Together, they formed The Fullbright Company.


Early Success


Gone Home is a video game that features a female protagonist. It included support for controllers, which Polygon credited to the team's experience on AAA first-person shooters. In its first weeks following release, Gone Home was a top seller on Steam and covered in The New York Times. It won "Best Debut" at the 2014 BAFTA Game Awards and 2014 Game Developers Choice Awards, and Polygon's 2013 game of the year. Its release begat discussions about narrative and gameplay in video games, for the game's focus on empathic story and lack of gun-based gameplay.


The Fullbright Company partnered with indie publisher Midnight City to produce a video game console port of Gone Home. Fullbright originally built the game for personal computers so as to not worry about the design limitations and optimizations necessary for a console release. Wanting to move on to their next game, the company sought out a publisher to do the porting work for them. Following release, Nordhagen left to found his own studio, Dim Bulb Games, in June 2014. The Fullbright Company rebranded itself as Fullbright two months later, on August 4, 2014, and wrote that its continued focus would be on "immersive, unforgettable story exploration video games".


Chris Plante of Polygon cited Fullbright as an example of "smaller, independently owned studios" whose games show signs of social progress in the video game medium. Fullbright announced their next game, Tacoma, at The Game Awards in December 2014. The brief trailer featured a radio dialogue between a man and a woman, set in the Lunar Transfer Station Tacoma 200,000 miles from Earth. Polygon noted that its aesthetic was similar to Rapture, the underwater city of BioShock. Tacoma was released on August 2, 2017 on PC and Xbox One. The company announced a new game, Open Roads, at The Game Awards on December 10, 2020. The game had been in development since at least 2019, when Fullbright had a staff of around twenty people.


Controversies


It was planned that Gone Home would make an appearance at PAX Prime 2013. However, Fullbright said they will be pulling the game from the event following a string of inflammatory statements made by Penny Arcade authors Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik. In the end, PAX declared that it would install Diversity Hubs at all future conventions for "attendees to learn more about how to address gender, sexual orientation, race, disability, and mental health concerns in video games.


Polygon reported in August 2021 that fifteen employees, including ten women, had departed the studio during the production of Open Roads owing to Gaynor's micromanagement, demeaning treatment, and other toxic practises, notably towards female colleagues. They did not see any sexual harassment, according to former employees.


In 2021, only six workers remained, and the release of Open Roads was put off indefinitely. In March of 2021, Gaynor gave up his role as head of creative direction. While Gaynor apologised for his mistreatment of employees and claimed that stepping back from development was the best option, planned Open Roads publisher Annapurna Interactive remained supportive of the Fullbright staff despite being informed of the move "has allowed me the time and distance to reevaluate my position at Fullbright, consult with a seasoned management consultant, and reevaluate my connection to the work I do there.

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