If longtime fans of Oxenfree have thought about jumping back into the adventure on PC before Oxenfree II’s release next year, they might be surprised to find some radio transmissions they didn’t find the first time around. And if you’re one of those players, don’t worry – you’re not forgetting some key story beats or realizing you missed some important conversations. Five years after its release, Night School Studio has periodically been updating its acclaimed, original choice-driven narrative with a series of new audio teases that directly tie into the villains of Oxenfree II.
It’s an ambitious gambit, but absolutely befitting of Oxenfree’s paranormal, meta-story. The villains of the upcoming sequel are so powerful, or messing with forces that are, that they’re literally changing the fabric of the original’s world and appearing, at least audibly, where they once weren’t. Night School Studio has dipped into fourth-wall-breaking territory before, but to find out more about this exciting undertaking, I spoke with members of the Night School team about why they decided to bridge the games like this, how it prepares players for the sequel, and more.
Some details may be considered spoilers for Oxenfree II, so turn back if you don’t want to know any details about the sequel ahead of its launch. Otherwise, watch the new video below for more on Oxenfree’s updates and how they set up the villains of Oxenfree II.
What Oxenfree’s Updates Hint at in Oxenfree II
A couple of updates to the Steam version of Oxenfree have already gone live, and fans have been piecing together what these radio broadcasts might be leading toward. And as perceptive fans may have already realized, these broadcasts are offering insight into the world of the sequel’s villains, a collective group known as Parentage. These broadcasts offer players who discover them a bit of characterization and background for these characters, while also showing how significant a force they might be if their actions are reverberating through the original game.
It’s a startling approach, but one that the developers felt was absolutely natural to the world they’ve created and are now building upon.
“The rules of the world, and the rules of the universe, allows things that happen in the future to reverberate into the past, and vice-versa,” Studio Lead Writer Adam Hines told IGN.
“We wanted to make sure that we went deeper with it [than other ARGs], and made sure to honor the Night School pillars of really strong characters, really compelling dialogue, and nice and scary as well,” Writer Adam Esquenazi Douglas added.
Screens – Oxenfree 2
In that sense, as Douglas explained, the radio updates being added for players to discover are aimed to feel like a complete story themselves, with a beginning, middle, and end that should satisfy those who discover them all, while also offering depth to what’s to come in the sequel. And the team is highly aware of the challenges that come with telling such a story, in such a peculiar way, namely in not wanting to spoil the experience of the sequel, and in producing a story in this series of transmissions that not all Oxenfree II players may experience.
“We’re always very cautious about spoilers and not wanting to ruin the mystery aspect. That’s such a big chunk of why people play these types of games is being able to really dig in as much as they want,” Hines said. “We landed in a really good spot of giving hints of intent, and giving hints that someone is really intentionally trying to push their way into what Alex and her friends unwittingly stumbled into in Oxenfree 1, and got stuck in and had to deal with. Now, with Oxenfree II, we’re dealing with a group that is very specifically and intentionally trying to uncover and discover this stuff. And, poke at it and see what you can do with portals, time, and space.
“Of course it’s all going to go horribly wrong. So, we get to see hints of that through these radio updates,” Hines continued. “This is giving you a sense of who the quote-unquote bad guys are going to be for Oxenfree II. And, then also when you start to play Oxenfree II, and start to push up against these characters and meet them, if you’ve done the radio update journey from Oxenfree 1, hopefully that will feel like you already have a sense of how they got to where they are.”
“There was never a clear antagonist [in Oxenfree 1],” Studio Director Sean Krankel elaborated. “We’re dropping you into this weird mystery island, and you’re going to have to unravel it. And, we didn’t think we could do that again this time, frankly. And, so introducing the antagonists in an interesting way just felt like a compelling, cool thing to do instead of having a trailer just focused on them. Why not let you hear them doing their dirty work in the first game?”
That sets the table for players exploring these audio logs to have some fascinating insight into Parentage ahead of Oxenfree II, but Night School was also very cognizant that not every player who jumps into the sequel may have discovered or even heard these radio additions. In that sense the team worked hard to make something rewarding for players, both in the act of discovering it and what it entailed, but also something that, should you miss out on this bit of worldbuilding, won’t hamper a player’s experience of the sequel.
Hearing the Future
As these updates are sound-based radio transmissions, they tie into a common element of Oxenfree – its evocative sound design. So much of Oxenfree’s mood-setting came through audio, whether it be the voice acting, the glitchy sound effects of its supernatural-meets-real-world story, or the memorable score by Composer Andy Rohrmann, aka scntfc. And as Rohrmann explains, these radio updates provide further ways for him to not only play with what he’s done before, but tie it into Oxenfree’s world in fascinating ways.
“Some [ways the score is integrated] are just kind of fun musical tricks. But, there’s also ideas of music that might show up in the radio plays is actual [Oxenfree] score. But we’re using it diegetically in this instance. So…they break a lot of these concepts of ‘What is the game,'” Rohrmann explained.
These radio plays, and the connective tissue that then gives the two games, also gave Rohrmann a unique opportunity to work with the first game’s soundtrack in a way that not only let the new music be in dialogue with that first score, but also speak to the wider themes at play.
“There’s actually time looping, and the way these narrative threads are structured, makes it almost make too much sense to go back and rework something,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s less work, but, it’s a great opportunity to essentially remix my own work in relevant ways.”
Though Rohrmann did not, of course, want to spoil what work he may be doing with this ARG or ahead of the sequel that could lead to Oxenfree II clues, he did point to an ARG moment in the past that gives an indication of what may come.
“I’ll give one more example just because this may be relevant in the future. We seeded ARG elements six months before Oxenfree one came out, which was a song I said, “Oh, here’s a song from this game. You can listen to it if you want.’ It had morse coding. People have since realized that the melody was playing morse code. They would have been onto something six months before the game came out, but, obviously nobody knew who it was. So, it sat dormant until the week of the game coming out. Then, people thought ‘Oh, that’s morse code.’
“Once I discovered [that people realized this], I could change it because front-facing on band camp, you can’t tell if a file has changed. And, so we got to play with this idea of time in the real world; ‘I went there yesterday, and then I downloaded it today, and it’s different.’
And Rohrmann’s work may be more relevant to Oxenfree than some fans may realize.
“Andy really has been so much of the foundation of the more mind-bendy aspects of the game. In the first one, everything from his actual recording process, which was super analog. He literally broadcast himself, recorded the broadcast, and then put them on a reel and stretched it out and broke it up. All that stuff leads into the design. The tape reels from the first game, dealing with time loops, all that Andy heavily influenced,” Krankel said.
“The foundation [of Oxenfree] is already begging to be messed with, to be meta and strange,” Krankel continued. “Audio and radio broadcasts being the foundation of how you interact with that has meant that Andy has been more than a composer. He is really like a designer on this project and was on the first one as well.”
Is Talking About It Spoiling the ARG?
Night School has a history with ARG’s and Oxenfree, the original of which actually involved real-world locations, but tried their best to play up the mystery of it. And the funny thing about ARGs for fictional stories is where the creators draw the line. To acknowledge an ARG is going on breaks some of the fun that comes from imagining a story bleeding into our world. Then again, actually addressing it helps bring awareness, more curiosity, and, ultimately, more chances for fans to collaborate and work on piecing everything together. And, frankly, it’s cool when a story can be told in such a unique way like this.
“With the first game, it was important to be secretive about it because the world was being introduced to these characters and this lore. And, we also just didn’t think anybody was looking at us. If anything, they were looking at the game,” Krankel said. “Any ARG components a few years ago, we wanted them under this shroud of secrecy. But, as we’ve moved forward, and as we’re building out this next team, the way that we look at it is there can be multiple touchpoints that tell a singular story.”
“As much effort as goes into the game’s story, is going into this story, and it’s all intended to be one singular piece of work. It just so happens that part of it isn’t in Oxenfree II. Before we cared about being top secret about everything, now we want everybody to know it’s out there, and see it and feel it.”
“We’ve been trying to strike a delicate balance between wanting to give enough that you want to know more. But, not too much that it feels like the apple has gone rotten,” Hines added.
“This is great because now it’s not so much waiting for a puzzle so people can rush to solve it [like in other ARGs]. It’s more a story, and it’s more narrative,” Rohrmann said.
And Night School very knowingly made this interwoven story with the idea that fans would dissect every element of it, and hope that process will be as rewarding as it was coming up with how to implement it.
“One of the great things about our fan base is that no matter what we put out they will pick it apart to the atoms, just to figure out what we’re going for,” Douglas said. “And, we wrote a lot of this content specifically with them in mind. So, whenever a sentence stops halfway through and you really want that sentence to finish. That’s why we did it. It’s because of you.”
“There are still things out there that we’ve already dropped, that had yet to be discovered,” Rohrmann said. “We’ve already seeded mysteries and things. So, it’s been really fun to take those ideas and integrate them into a game that came out five years ago. I mean, that’s so cool. How often does that happen?”
Oxenfree II is headed to PC, PS4, PS5, and Nintendo Switch in 2022. Oxenfree’s new updates are currently only available via the Steam version of the original game.
Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s Senior Features Editor, PlayStation Lead, and host of Podcast Beyond! He’s the proud dog father of a BOY named Loki. Talk to him on Twitter @jmdornbush.