The Last Campfire is going to be a quiet and contemplative journey. A short narrative adventure delivered through the interactive medium, the pages of this storybook turning as you explore strange lands and travel to puzzling places. The characters you'll meet on this journey have lost their way, and it's through small acts of kindness and compassion that you'll be able to help these lost spirits find their way home. Your path is obscured, and it's only by rekindling the dying embers of the last campfire itself – a location lost, one discovered by those that carry hope in their heart – that you'll be able to lift the shadow that looms over the land and find your own way home.
This is the next game from Hello Games, the studio behind Joe Danger and No Man's Sky. While it would be all too easy to assume that The Last Campfire, this little intimate adventure, is quite unlike anything that Hello Games has put out in the past – a score-attack racing game and a procedurally-generated space exploration game. But the truth is that these titles have far more in common than may immediately meet the eye.
"A lot of people think that there isn't a clear through-line between Joe Danger, No Man's Sky, and The Last Campfire," Sean Murray tells me, Hello Games' co-founder and managing director. "To me, though, there is this super obvious thread which has to do with the magic that happens when a team is super-small, focused, and determined."
Small teams and big ambitions
Development of The Last Campfire has been underway for a number of years now, with Chris Symonds and Steven Burgess at the helm. The creative duo is perhaps best known for its work on the enchanting adventure game LostWinds, though they have long been friends and collaborators with Hello Games. "We've known Stevie and Chris for ages. They worked on LostWinds at Frontier, a game we loved. Then Stevie worked on the mobile versions of Joe Danger for us. The Last Campfire is their pet project."
"When we first started talking about it, Hello Games were looking for ways to incubate new ideas in the studio," says Murray. "Joe Danger and No Man's Sky were both born out of small teams, and we thought we could nurture other folks to be able to do the same. We brought them into the Hello Games team and tried to give them the resources, the support, and hopefully the time they needed to try to do that."
Hello Games is now in a position of stability following a tumultuous few years, as No Man's Sky continues to grow its player base and evolve its play in ways that few ever expected. From the way Murray frames the earliest days of The Last Campfire's development, it sounds as if the studio is eager to pay all of that success forward into bold new creative endeavors.
The Last Campfire's production has, after all, followed the same path as No Man's Sky and Joe Danger – a small group of friends with a big idea, locked in a room, hashing out the details until the concept came to life, and Murray stresses that "all three started off as a 2-4 person project with a real focus on things which are vibrant and artistically interesting."
Even though The Last Campfire is designed to be far more intimate than the infinite vastness of No Man's Sky, however, Murray is keen to emphasize that the two games are driven by a shared independent spirit. "Weirdly enough, the two aren't as different as you may think," he tells me. "No Man's Sky started off in that vein, and [the team] is still very small, even as we do the kind of things we're doing in that game across multiple platforms, multiplayer, and virtual reality. Both teams are relatively tiny for what they are up to."
"For The Last Campfire, Chris did all the art, all of it, and Stevie did most of the coding. For a long time, it was just the two of them. James [Chillcott], the lead coder on LostWinds joined the team last year. Since we announced The Last Campfire, the team has grown a little in size and a lot in terms of ambition."
The key, Murray explains, is for the studio to work on and support projects that it believes in. No Man's Sky may have spiraled into a far larger project than Hello Games had ever envisioned, but there's still a core set of beliefs driving it behind the scenes.
"I guess we've all got similar sensibilities in both teams – we're not really focused on games about killing people, for instance. We like to make things which are artistic and innovative. Joe Danger was where we learned a lot about making a game on our own, and it really helped us to build No Man's Sky. I'm excited about The Last Campfire, but of course, I'm also excited about what those folks do next as well."
Exploring The Last Campfire
"Next", because the Last Campfire could well be the beginning of a wider initiative within Hello Games. Murray has framed this new creative endeavor as a 'Hello Games Short' – much like the shorts Pixar has put into production, it's a way to foster creativity and new voices from within the studio – which he says is a "useful way to help describe what we were trying to create with The Last Campfire – a short-form, single-player narrative-driven game which was more akin to playing through an animated movie or a storybook."
The Last Campfire trailer, pinning the game to a Summer 2020 release for PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One, gives us but a hint of what's to come. Still, it's clear that we should expect a heartfelt examination of love and loss in a world that reflects our own, a beautiful artistic design, mournful music, and intuitive platforming and puzzle-solving.
If you're looking to get a sense of the influences that have inspired The Last Campfire to get a better sense of it, look no further than one of the true formative masters of faerie and folktale. "Stevie and Chris grew up with a deep fondness for folk tales, like those in the books from our childhood illustrated by Brian Froud – whose later work on Labyrinth and the Dark Crystal would continue to influence us in a fundamental way," says Murray. "In those storybooks, each page felt like it hid a secret that only you could see. That aspect of peering into another world appeals to them on some deep level."
With this in mind, it's easy to understand why The Last Campfire looks the way it does, and why it is so easily able to draw in your attention. "We want Campfire to feel like its own intimate world," Murray continues. "Each area you stumble across has something to discover: a puzzle, a character, or a secret that will let you into the mystery of the world."
Hello Games is eager to let the game speak for itself, although Murray is willing to offer some very light contextual detail. "At its heart, The Last Campfire is a game about rekindling hope in a hopeless world. Really, we talk in the studio about a certain type of emotion we want players to feel. The thing is, I think it's important for folks to experience that themselves rather than us try to tell them beforehand. It's a game that's bittersweet, very maudlin at times, but with real charm. Meaning is down to what people want to take away from something, but we are really focused on the emotion."
That will be reflected in this world of folklore and shadow, particularly in the lost folk that you'll encounter along the way. "Each of the characters you meet on the adventure has a sadness which has caused them to turn forlorn. As Ember, you can try to help them deal with this sadness through compassionate actions which restore their hope," Murray tells me, although he's willing to offer very little info on the protagonist. "Ember is a little more mysterious, they definitely have a determined spirit, but the only thing we know about them is that they are searching for a way home, and this search will lead them to the last campfire."
It's an exciting time for Hello Games. The studio is still hard at work on developing new content for No Man's Sky, and is still tinkering away on a secret project that it has had in incubation for quite some time behind the scenes too. Still, as I wrap up my time with Murray, I ask him if he believes that The Last Campfire is a way of Hello Games returning to its roots – free of the broad expectation that has become associated with the studio following the release and evolution of No Man's Sky. This isn't a return, Murray assures me, because the studio has never forgotten where it came from.
"We don't see The Last Campfire as the only manifestation of the independent spirit. We'd like to think that No Man's Sky, as big as it's become, still fits that definition. As for what's coming next from Hello Games – the long term future of the studio – that probably won't be small. It will be stupidly ambitious, and that for us is what independent spirit is all about."
For more, check out all the biggest new games of 2020 to keep an eye on, or watch our latest episode of Dialogue Options below.