“Open Roads,” which debuted at The Game Awards late last year, has been in development for the past two years and will release in 2021. Like Fullbright’s previous games, “Open Roads” is a narrative-driven adventure that centers on relationships. You play as Tess, a teenage girl on a road trip with her single mom, Opal. After the death of Tess’s grandmother, the mother and daughter rummage through grandma’s belongings, finding hints of “deep-rooted family secrets” about burglaries and lost treasure near the Canadian border.
“It sends them out on this shared journey of wanting to find out what really happened in their family that neither of them know the truth about,” Fullbright co-founder and “Open Roads” head writer Steve Gaynor told The Washington Post. “Along the way, they have these other more fundamental aspects of their relationship that they’re not aligned on.”
He believes that the mother-daughter relationship is one of the key reasons that Annapurna Interactive, the game’s publisher, took interest in the project. “A parent-child relationship there makes a lot of sense,” Gaynor said, reflecting on the story’s themes and trajectory. “It’s like you’re going somewhere with your parent that they knew when they were your age, and they’re sharing these memories with you.”
Gaynor calls the work of his development team “collaborative” — art director Megan Carlsen, for example, helped guide the direction of the game’s narrative, giving insight from her teenage years. Gaynor’s own writing partner is his wife, Rachel Jacks, who drew on her experiences as a daughter and as a new mother.
Annapurna Interactive’s ties to the film industry via Annapurna Pictures made it possible for “Open Roads” to enlist talent like Kaitlyn Dever (“Booksmart,” “Uncharted 4”) as Tess and Keri Russell (“The Americans,” “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker”) as Opal. Annapurna is bringing Hollywood actors to other games, too, like the upcoming “12 Minutes,” which features Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley and James McAvoy.
“With their film connections and with them having worked with high-profile voice actors on some of their other games, they definitely just had the Rolodex of like, ‘oh yeah, we have everybody’s agents,” Gaynor said. “We can just reach out and see what’s possible.’ So it’s something we would not be doing if we weren’t working with Annapurna.”
Recording lines with Dever and Russell has only just begun, Gaynor told The Post in late January. The pandemic presented some challenges: Gaynor prefers to “share a space and make eye contact” with the cast during recording sessions. He reminisced about flying down to L.A. to help direct voice work for “BioShock 2′s” Minerva’s Den DLC when he was working at the now-defunct Irrational Games. For “Open Roads,” all the recording is done through voice calls on Zoom.
“Since it’s about these two characters being in this relationship and having dialogue together, we really value recording those sessions with both of them present and having them perform scenes together as a back and forth and not piecemealing it, which can happen a lot,” Gaynor said. “We’re doing the best version of it right now that we can.”
The story is wrapped in a colorful aesthetic that mixes 3D backgrounds with 2D, hand-drawn characters, inspired by visual novels, mid-century Disney movies and Hayao Miyazaki films. The art direction encourages players to fill the blanks with their own imagination, similar to Fullbright games such as “Gone Home,” which has players examine objects to learn about characters who don’t make an appearance in the game, and “Tacoma,” which presents its cast as fuzzy holograms on a space station.
“In ‘Gone Home,’ it was really an important part of the experience that you heard [the player character’s sister] Sam telling her story in her own words, but you were just picturing what that was really like for her,” Gaynor said. “You weren’t seeing it.”
Though prior projects featured gay or lesbian characters, “Open Roads” does not. This is partly because it didn’t fit the story, but also so that Fullbright wouldn’t “pigeonhole” themselves, Gaynor said.
“With ‘Gone Home’ and ‘Tacoma,’ we had characters where queerness was an important part of their identity,” said Gaynor. “It had to be a central part of the narrative for that authenticity of telling their story. And in ‘Open Roads,’ it’s just not a focus of where these two characters are at in their lives.”