Unpacking Unpacking with Designer Tim Dawson

Moving to a Mailbox Near You

By Jared Petty

I move way, way too much. I’ve moved over twenty times in my forty-odd years on earth, and with the exception of those few cases as a baby when I was more luggage than lug, I have a healthy memory of cardboard boxes, plastic bins, packing tape, and the back injuries that go along with the act of relocation. Every new home means closing down part of an old life and opening up a new one, and that also means packing away the signs and mementos of past experiences, culling some memories and saving others, and watching the course of my life unfold through that’s told by my old possessions laid out in new surroundings.

Unpacking hit me hard, so I was pretty darn thrilled after I came on to Limited Run Games to learn that we were publishing the physical edition. It’s easily my favorite game to be announced since my brief tenure here began. Tim Dawson, one of the designers on Unpacking, was gracious enough to offer up a little time and answer a few questions about what he and the team at Witch Beam created.

“It began with a real life move,” Tim said. “I moved in with Wren [Brier, co-creator at Witch Beam] and while we were unpacking my stuff Wren noticed how there was something game-like about the activity, and as we talked about that we realized there was a lot of storytelling potential there too. Once we started down that path the ideas flowed pretty readily, which made us feel like we might be onto something.”

“Unpacking started as a collaboration between Wren and myself - her wonderful pixel art defined the look while I wrestled with how to make an isometric grid system work intuitively. During those first couple of months of prototyping we were able to build this experience that neither of us really could have made on our own. Next Jeff joined the team and started defining the games music and sound design. The nuanced item foley sounds not only complimented the visually satisfying item snap placement but gave the items an extra layer of physicality which came to define the game experience. Next we brought on Angus as an additional artist - at first he needed to match Wren’s style to take some of the load off her but over time his creativity seeped into the game in many ways and became another creative collaborator. Ensuring that everyone on a team feels heard is both good for team morale but also a way to create something bigger than yourself.

LRG: What's something that was really difficult about creating Unpacking that might not be obvious to a player? How did you overcome that challenge?

So many things! As a programmer and designer it’s my job to hide as many of the difficult parts as possible though. Take clothing hangers for example - you can put a hanger on a rail then hang a shirt on that hanger, or take a hanger, pick up a shirt with that hanger then put both together on a rail, or use a shirt to pick up a hanger then instead of hanging it up, drop the shirt on a stack of clothing and be left holding a hanger. There’s a lot of permutations and it all has to feel logical in the moment. Like a lot of parts of Unpacking we just kept asking the question “what would the player expect or want to happen in this situation?” and kept at it until we had that result, even if the code got a bit scarier in the end.

LRG: A lot of our readers dream about creating their own games. How did you get started, and what do you recommend for those who are seriously thinking about creating games?

I got started by tinkering, both in programming languages like BASIC and in any tools/games that let me hook together triggers and if statements and similar things. Game modding is also a great entry point. It doesn’t really matter what you use as long as you get to experience the fun of deciding on rules and making things happen, and by trying as many things as possible you’ll learn what you like! The important part is not to jump too quickly into “I’m going to make and sell games”—give yourself time to explore and make weird stuff and break things and learn and enjoy the act of bringing something into the world before getting too serious.

LRG: What are you most proud of about this?

I’m proud of all the little things—stuff that didn’t have to be in the game but we put them in anyway. That you can shake the piggy bank and hear the coins inside or that the game consoles turn on or that you can draw on and erase the whiteboard. Often it required art, sound, and programming so even though they were small they were collaborative efforts which makes them feel extra precious.

LRG: What are you playing right now?

I’m currently playing Ghostwire: Tokyo—it’s been a treat to slip into something big and open world after working so hard on our own game for so long. My backlog is quite considerable at this point.

LRG: Up until this point, Unpacking has been a digital-only release. Not to get too meta, but are you looking forward to unpacking Unpacking once it's available as a physical cart?

It’s going to be great! We even designed an o-sleeve for the pre order releases that looks like the cardboard boxes in game so we can experience sliding Unpacking out of yet another box!

Unpacking is ready to pre-order at Limited Run for PS4, PS5, and Switch, but only until May 1.

Limited Run Games:

is a subsidiary of “Freemode”, an operative group comprised of gaming and entertainment companies owned by Embracer. Limited Run Games is the industry leader in the production and distribution of premium physical video games. Limited Run seeks to celebrate the legacy of gaming through its award-winning collector’s editions. Founded in 2015, they have published over 1,000 physical games, exclusive merch, and collectables. Limited Run is the gold standard in bringing digital games to physical form and now re-releasing retro titles on modern platforms via their proprietary Carbon Engine. Visit limitedrungames.com for the latest offerings and to learn more about Carbon Engine development. Follow the brand on your social media platform of choice for all LRG-related updates:@limitedrungames.

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