Last Day of June Interview — Lead Developer Talks Regret and Emotional Gameplay
DualShockers sits down with game designer Mattia Traverso to discuss Last Day of June, a game that aims to take players through a story of regret and heartache.
Last Day of June took us by surprise during the hectic conference that is E3. The game focuses on the feeling of regret after an accident where players assume the role of Carl, who will relive a tragedy in hopes of changing the outcome.
The game is developed by Ovosonico, known for the PlayStation Vita exclusive Murasaki Baby. Staying true to the studio’s impactful art direction, Last Day of June’s setting is in a strange yet familiar world where the character interaction and story has an enormous impact on the player’s emotions.
DualShockers had the chance to sit down with lead game designer Mattia Traverso to discuss Last Day of June in detail. It should be warned that there might be story spoilers ahead, so players wanting to play the game completely blind should skip the first couple of questions.
Last Day of June puts the player in some emotionally heavy situations: love, loss, regret, and others. What inspired you to make a game like this?
Mattia Traverso: I’m sure you have friends who do not play video games and often say they don’t like them. Of course, that’s cool: we all like different things. But if I went to them and said that I don’t like movies or music, they would look at me like I’m weird because it’s so broad. So why is it okay for people to say that they don’t like games, but it’s not okay to say that you don’t like movies or music?
We were very inspired by this and we figured it was because there’s not enough stories to tell a “feeling” or “theme” that more people can relate too. Now, I’m not dismissing traditional gaming – I play Overwatch a bit too often – but at the same time what if we could single out one feeling that we’ve all felt at one point in our lives? The feeling we chose is regret.
Last Day of June is about a car crash which takes June’s life. The game follows how Carl reacts to this and obsesses over what happened and wants to change it. In the game, besides the initial prologue, there are puzzles based on a “Groundhog’s Day” mechanic, where Carl relives the day of the accident and tries to save June.
Is knowing what happens to June considered a spoiler?
MT: Well obviously it would be best to play the game without any knowledge of it, but it’s crucial to talk about this to understand the nature of the game. The game is still designed to function, even if you know about the car crash.
With games like Firewatch and other story-driven titles, how do you feel about the term “Walking Simulator” and, as a developer, balance story and gameplay?
MT: A lot of the time, people talk about “walking simulators” and say they don’t have any gameplay. Sometimes I guess that’s a valid criticism, but there is a way to tell a story through mechanics that doesn’t mean you have agency or you can change things. There is some challenge in Last Day of June, where we use a mechanic to reinforce some of the feelings that we want the player to have. This mechanic hasn’t been revealed yet, but I’ll give you an example that I made up to explain the concept.
Say I’m making a game where time passes when you close your eyes. But, say you’re sick and stuck in bed so this is the only thing you can do: so, you can see people, but every time you close and open your eyes, time passes and you’re on to the next scene.
Now, people will probably classify this as having no gameplay because all you’re doing is closing your eyes: but, what if I told you that at any point in the game, you might die? Then you might be looking at the scene and not want to close your eyes but, instead, keep them wide open because you don’t want this to happen.
Using this untraditional mechanic, I am making you feel things that you wouldn’t normally feel without it being a game. So, walking simulators are not about what you can do, but they’re about the context: what you can do is related to the characters and their environment. I hope that made sense.
So how do you get the player to feel something while playing?
MT: There’s a famous book called Save the Cat, and it talks about this moment in a movie where a place is about to explode and we don’t really know the character that well yet, such as if we like them or not. So this character sees this cat and they go off-screen because they are trying to escape, but instead of just taking off, they come back and grab the cat. This is a tiny thing, but it makes the character human and makes you care about them a little bit.
Well in Last Day of June there is no cat to be saved, but there are moments where the characters are goofy or they express their feelings to each other that isn’t cool or amazing: instead they are human.
With the popularity of speedrunning on the rise, how do you get a player to slow down and take in their surroundings?
MT: I think it’s about how the player first approaches the intro of a game. Say that you start a game and a bomb is about to explode unless you run through a corridor to stop it: something you’d find in many Call of Duty-type games. So, the very first impression that you give the player is going to set in their mind the mood that the game has.
We start with a scene at a lake and we give a space for walking and exploring. There is an objective and you know what it is, but the game doesn’t constantly tell you to do it. Since the very beginning of the game does this, it kind of sets the pace for the game. That said, not everybody wants to play a game like that, and that’s fine: not everybody is going to like a game like this.
Your team’s previous title, Murasaki Baby, was a Vita exclusive: do you think Last Day of June could appear on the handheld?
MT: Nobody has ever asked that: I can safely say that the Vita is not being considered at the moment.
With a confirmed release on PlayStation 4 and Steam only, would the Switch be considered?
MT: That might be one of the consoles we are considering.
Last Day of June has an art direction that sets the mood for some scenes. Is this a running theme throughout the game?
MT: We use color a lot to tell the story and enhance a particular mood or moment. As you play, the color palette of the game changes depending on what area you are in the game.
Is there anything you’d like to say to those who are looking forward to the game?
MT: I would like to recommend the musician of the game, Steven Wilson, who is part of a progressive rock band called Porcupine Tree. We initially contacted him and didn’t expect a response back: we were just inspired by one of his songs. So we asked him to make the game together, but he was a bit skeptical because he used the line “I don’t really like games.”
Well, we worked on the scene of the lake and had him play it, showing him the setting and mood. He told us that he didn’t know it was possible to do things like this with video games, which for us was amazing. So please: check out our updates at www.ovosonico.com and please check out Steven’s music.
Last Day of June is coming to PlayStation 4 and PC via Steam in 2017.