Witch Beam’s Tim Dawson Talks Making Unpacking


The principle of unboxing is disarmingly simple. The title’s playground is the rooms of a house (such as bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, etc.) containing boxes full of personal belongings.

Players must open these boxes, remove the items inside, and arrange them in the given space. Somehow, this simple task becomes so much more. Covering the years 1995-2015, the player watches the game’s narrator move through different houses through different stages of her life.

Unpacking is described as a harrowing action in the game, where one not only unpacks one’s belongings in a new environment, but also unpacks oneself: one’s trauma, one’s identity and one’s memories.

In a chat with Angshuman Dutta of Sportskeeda Esports, Tim Dawson, CTO of Unpacking, explained how the game came to be.

Unpacking CTO Tim Dawson talks about the game’s influences, development, and more

Tim Dawson provides insight into the making of a beautiful game that, on the surface at least, has simplistic mechanics. “Unfortunately, a simple premise doesn’t translate into simple levels,” he says.

The pixelated style effectively generates the emotions, and in the end, unboxing is an interesting experience for the player.

Here is the excerpt from the conversation.

Q: Although the title of the game is self-explanatory, could I ask you to talk a bit about what Unboxing is for our readers?

Tim: Unpacking is a game about unpacking after a move. You take things out of boxes and find places for them to go. But along the way, you learn about someone’s life from the possessions they bring with them: what they pick up along the way and what they leave behind.

Q: I remember reading a GIF that you all shared on Twitter that caught the attention of the community and went viral. That was three years ago and the game has moved away from cooking in this GIF. Can you share the game development experience?

Tim: It was a wild ride. The kitchen shown in this GIF is still in the game, but in the years since its release, we’ve built 34 more rooms around it, telling a story that spans two decades of a character’s life. .

Q: Focus on gameplay first: Why did the developers focus on this simple gameplay mechanic?

Tim: Simple mechanics are often solid mechanics, and the sooner a player can figure out what they can do, the more time they can spend thinking about what they can do or why they can do it.

I love games that are easy to play but still do something deep or interesting with it, and we wanted to make sure that Unpacking’s gameplay mechanics were smooth and intuitive for players so they could spend more time to reflect on the rest of the experience.

Q: What was it like to design the levels of the game, given the simple premise?

Tim: Unfortunately, a simple premise doesn’t translate into simple levels – the unboxing stages are complex and slow to build. Once we planned out a location and figured out what pieces it would have, Wren, our creative director and lead artist, would usually draw a pixel-perfect first draft of the piece and we’d start planning the elements that would go there.

We tried to balance telling a story while keeping the pieces interesting to unbox, which usually meant making sure we had items of different sizes and styles, or finding ways to surprise the player or move them from room to room.

Q: Although the idea of ​​unboxing is in itself simple, the emotions involved are not only an emotional activity, but also something that illuminates the identity of who we are. What were the influences that pushed you to create Unpacking?

Tim: Wren often cites Gone Home as a game she felt inspired by, but there are plenty of other games that tell stories through exploration, or games like the iOS title Florence that also tell a personal story through actions and activities.

The first house (Image via Unpacking)
The first house (Image via Unpacking)

In the end, the biggest influence on the game was an actual move, when Wren recognized that unboxing my stuff had a lot of gameplay elements in it. Using it to tell a story was a logical extension of that.

Q: Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected game development in any way?

Tim: We’ve always worked remotely (even though most of the team live in or around Brisbane) so luckily it didn’t affect us as much as it might have, but it did make things more difficult and prevented us to attend physical events.

Q: Given that the project has been in the works for a while now, what has been the experience since the game’s release?

Tim: Surprisingly busy! We were hoping to take a break, but instead we mostly responded to fans, submitted festivals, and tried to keep the buzz going.

Q: With nominations like this in GDC 2022, did you expect a positive response from players and critics?

Tim: We always hoped people would like our game and we’ve worked so hard to make it something we’re really proud of, but we’ve been blown away by the response. We’re thrilled with how the game has been received, both by critics and fans.

Last year we won Game of the Year at the Australian Game Developer Awards. And now we’re nominated for seven awards at this year’s GDC and in the Indie category at the upcoming DICE awards. We hope that many new fans will discover us this year!

Q: What’s it like to be an independent developer in Australia? What are the studio’s future plans?

Tim: Australia has a small but talented indie games scene, and Brisbane in particular has a wonderfully supportive community. Generally, being a game developer in Australia has been difficult as we are not in the same time zone as America or Europe, and getting to the most important conferences and events is expensive and difficult. Ironically, with Covid pushing so many events online, it has become a bit easier to participate.

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Witch Beam’s plan is to keep making games – we have another project going and after that we will be looking carefully for new ideas. We hope we can continue to surprise and entertain people with what we make.

Edited by Sandeep Banerjee

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