Little Inferno may look like a awful time waster, but there’s a message buried beneath the ashes of all your smouldering possessions. What is it? We ask Tomorrow Corporation for an explanation.
Little Inferno left me with a lot of burning questions. It was a game that kept me thinking way past its short running time – and even pondering whether that time was well spent simply burning anything and everything I could get my hands on or waiting to receive more things to torch. Still, it’s a game you should most definitely play, but what exactly is it all about? I asked Tomorrow Corporation’s Kyle Gabler, Kyle Gray and Allan Blomquist if they’d be willing to explain the reasoning behind all the pyromania.
“We will always love watching things explode,” suggests Gray. “Just as we will always enjoy watching attractive people walk, the taste of an excellently crafted ham sandwich, or the majesty of narwhals.”
While that may be true, Gabler offers a far more sensible reason.
“There’s a simple idea that everything hangs off of in the game,” he explains. “It’s that feeling that you’ve been spending your time doing something silly and unproductive, but that once you realize it, you always have the option to burn it all down and move on.” There’s a gut-wrenching kicker in there, though. “But you can’t ever get that time back.”
“But why do we continue doing something that’s warm and comfortable, maybe embarrassingly satisfying, even though it’s clearly unproductive? It’s a question the game is fascinated with.”
Working title: Fireville
It seems a fitting query when you look at it in the context of some of the videogame industry’s output. Head on to Facebook, or look at some of the worst offenders in the free-to-play market and you’ll spot all sorts of rubbish games that keep their claws in you with similar mechanics to Little Inferno. There are drawn out energy timers, requests from other players to send them worthless objects and dull actions you need to repeat to progress. In fact, you’ll spend most of your time waiting for items to arrive, only to see them burn up in a matter of seconds. Yet, for Gabler, that’s kind of the point.
“Little Inferno is a quiet, introverted, art game intentionally masquerading as a loud, extroverted, crappy Zynga game. We knew there would be a wide range of opinions from players who “get it” and those who totally miss the joke by a mile.
“We enjoy the bewildered Youtube comments from folks like: “What?! You throw things in a fire to get money to buy more things to throw in a fire? That’s pointless and stupid!” And of course it’s pointless and stupid! The characters in the game muse about the very same thing in different ways.”
It’s the characters that really drive that message home, including your neighbour, Sugar Lumps, who manages to break free from the fireplace and the head of the in-game Tomorrow Corporation, Miss Nancy. She may have been the one who created the Little Inferno fireplace, but she’s a bit of a wannabe adventurer herself, although the passing of time has meant she is no longer able to fulfil all of her dreams. Still, to her, there’s always something greater out there, something more exciting to reach for, and even when you think you’ve run out of ideas, “DREAM BIGGER!” She exclaims. Life is full of possibilities.
“We chose to illustrate that by making a satire of crappy games that knowingly waste your time for insulting, hollow rewards,” explains Gabler. “But it just as easily could have been about a dead end job or a numb relationship or many other things.”
It’s never too late to try
But there’s a reason to keep going, to keep burning your life away, at least in the game. The story suggests more. “You are never left alone and cold without a goal and a string of little surprises,” Gray says. “There is a very clear direction you are heading. You can’t play in the sandbox forever. There is an end.”
Yes. An end. I hear that phrase again: “But you can’t ever get that time back.”
Little Inferno isn’t just poking fun at rubbish social games or unrewarding time wasters, but what we do with the limited time in our lives. Mortality may seem like a fairly grandiose subject for a game to tackle, considering the majority of games hinge on our enjoyment of taking lives – albeit digital ones – but it seems to be something Gabler and the rest of the team at Tomorrow Corporation are intentionally addressing.
“Just like any indie game, we’ve filled Little Inferno with all of our own anxieties and fears and idiosyncrasies – not to try and be artistic or anything – but because they just naturally seep in there.”
It’s not just at the wider story level, but at a mechanics level too. The repetitious actions, the endless waiting and the fact that you’re stuck staring at the same fireplace for most of the game. The apparent safety and security of that fireplace is a lie, a limitation when there’s a huge world out there to explore. You’ve only got to turn around, go out there and embrace it. But where does that leave the Tomorrow Corporation now that they’ve addressed life, the universe and everything in a single game?
“I hear there’s a clear horizon as far as the eye can see! Not sure what’s next, but we’re excited to explore what’s out there,” says Gabler. And if Little Inferno has taught us anything, it’s that we should be eager to explore what’s out there too.