In a recent blog for Coney, writer, director and performer Chloe Mashiter explored the topic of audiences and players, sharing reflections from the making process of her brilliant new audio game The Last Thing Left. And now, we’re incredibly excited to share that the game is available to play.
The Last Thing Left can be played on a laptop, tablet or smartphone, and is best played using headphones. The game cannot be paused or saved during play; it takes a maximum of 15-20 minutes to play through in full. When you’re ready, you can play here.
Coney’s Director Tassos has been mentoring Chloe through the making process, ever since it all began with her Headlong Digital Artist Award back in 2016. This week, to celebrate the game’s release and reflect on the making process, they had a chat about creating games, and what it means to mentor and be mentored:
Tassos: Can you tell me where The Last Thing Left originally came from?
Chloe: Headlong had invited pitches for their Digital Artist Award responding to themes that related to their current season, and the one that struck me was conflict and people’s experience of it.
I can remember the moment I knew I wanted it to be primarily audio. I was working as an assistant on a show that had a band, and while they warmed up, I was able to work on my laptop with headphones on. Listening to something dark and serious like the Editors while seeing this skiffle band dancing around and playing the spoons made me realise how much I enjoyed the tension between what I was hearing and what I was seeing, which led me to think about how isolating that is. Even if someone looked over my shoulder at the screen, they wouldn’t have the exact experience I was having. That’s what led me down the rabbit hole of audio games – though I could only find about five major examples when I was first making it.
Chloe: There have been a lot of discussions over whether The Last Thing Left is an audio game, an interactive audio story, or something else. What are the words that you would use to describe or categorise it?
Tassos: I find the challenge of nouns to be never-ending. Looking at Coney, we make all kinds of play where people can take a meaningful part, and we can qualify that as theatre, adventures, games. I think of A Small Town Anywhere as one exemplar of the kind of theatre we make, Adventure 1 as an exemplar of adventure and A Game Of Legacy as an examplar of a game, but there’s lots of work that falls between the cracks of those definitions.
I think the desire to pin it down is only important in terms of how we’re communicating to audiences the kind of experience they can expect, so they can make a meaningful choice about whether they are going to engage. For most people, ‘theatre’ means going to a big pretty building that’s probably filled with people who are a bit older than you, sitting on a hundred seats all facing the same way, and watching other people on a stage pretend and tell you a story. That’s all conveyed in the noun. For The Last Thing Left, ‘Game‘ isn’t a bad noun. It’s something that you play, on a screen… and the other things I’d use to describe it are spoilers!
Chloe: You have experience of working with digital and what I sometimes call ‘analogue’ games. For you, what can digital games do that might be harder with live games?
Tassos: A key thing for Coney now is making digital work (though I hate the word ‘digital’!) where the screen is more about facilitating people to play in a room with each other. For me, what matters is reaching people whenever and wherever they are – and making something which has a degree of responsiveness, can keep track of players’ actions and choices and is also repeatable
Chloe: Something I hope I’ve achieved with this game is to play with the personal nature of audio games. What is your experience of moments in games that you’ve found to create a striking sense of an intimate experience?
Tassos: My first experience of making any kind of screen game was Papa Sangré, which is an iPhone game with no visuals, where you are in a pitch dark world being guided by what I dubbed unreliable navigators. You have somebody whispering in your ear while something else is happening – it’s incredibly intimate and powerful, and can have a lot more impact because of that.
Tassos: Ten years from now, what do you think this piece will mean in terms of your own practice and its development?
Chloe: I think it’s going to be the starting point in a longer stream of work and pieces, but I doubt that 10 years down the line there’ll be this and then a lot of RPG’s; there’ll be a real variety of things.
Strangely, it could also be the piece where I learnt how to take criticism in a very different way from ever before. It feels very weird from a theatre background, knowing there are people out there who could simply pick up and play the game, but who I will never be able to have direct chats with about my thought process. To have something unchangeable out there in the world has taught me a very different relationship to how I take on feedback, and allow people space for their opinions.
And this is the first project where I’ve had an official mentor. A huge part of this has been learning the importance and significance of being able to talk to someone, not just about the project but also about the industry and my career – it’s been immense.
Chloe: On that note, what was it that interested you about being a mentor on this particular project?
Tassos: Coney had collaborated with Headlong on What’s She Like, and that was a really good experience, especially the relationship with Sarah Grochala (then Digital Associate). When the Digital Artist Award came about, it seemed best to give it to someone who would learn most from the process, who wasn’t ‘fully formed’ yet. And I remember you being really impressive in the interview! The project felt both incredibly ambitious and also feasible. Something I really admire about the piece is the way that the form and the story it tells are really knitted together, and that was clear from the outset.
In a more general sense, the impact of myself being mentored on my practice and my life has been huge, so that seems important to give back. But I think there’s also something to be said about the impact of being a mentor for somebody else – it’s not just about what you give, it’s what you get back as well. It’s been fantastic to have all these conversations, a really mutual collaboration. I think everyone should be mentored and everyone should be a mentor.
Tassos: Finally, looking back, what are the biggest differences in the piece now and when you first imagined it?
Chloe: It’s shorter – it was originally going to be an hour long! This was my first time working on a game and I was being quite idealistic about what I would make. And there’s something more restrained about it. Kieran Lucas (sound designer), and Alex Heeton, (game developer) have been amazing throughout at figuring out how not to over-egg things. Thanks to their input and the playtesting process, we’ve been able to make very small creative decisions – small sound effects, little beats, small changes to how controls work – that are quite graceful ways of communicating ideas.
It’s also more meditative and slower than I initially thought. I was envisaging rising sounds and intensifying heartbeats and things that would signify ‘Drama’, whereas through the influence of the other people working on it – the cast, Zoe, Daniel and Katie, the other creatives, and yourself – we’ve moved away from that slightly more threatening drive.