Sean Vanaman – Campo Santo

After completing the first season of Telltale’s critically acclaimed series The Walking Dead, lead writer Sean Vanaman and designer Jake Rodkin left to form their own studio – Campo Santo. For the last 10 months the team at Campo Santo has been hard at work on their first title, a mystery story set in the Wyoming wilderness called Firewatch. In this interview Sean and I discuss the challenges of starting a new studio, the fun (and stress) of being independent, and the upcoming Firewatch.


  • 0:00 – Introduction
  • 1:46 – The reception to the PAX Firewatch demo, the current state of the game, and what still needs to be done.
  • 4:21 – Confronting business realities as a game designer. Grappling with pragmatic concerns about selling and marketing a risky game.
  • 7:26 – The challenge of making a unique experience without alienating players, and why Han Solo just couldn’t die in Return of the Jedi.
  • 11:07 – The challenge of putting yourself in the player’s position and anticipating how they will feel while playing the game.
  • 12:18 – The culture of Campo Santo. Why it’s better to make development decisions by actually testing instead of guessing.
  • 16:36 – Balancing personal and professional relationships at Campo Santo. Jake and Sean’s sometimes scary fights and why it’s always alright in the end.
  • 20:25 – The unique stress of making commercial art. Why it’s so difficult and scary to make a living making games, or any other piece of entertainment.
  • 23:21 – Why everyone at Campo Santo is a designer. How design work is distributed at Campo Santo.
  • 27:28 – How game design at a small studio like Campo Santo is different from the design process at large AAA studio.
  • 30:08 – How Sean sees Campo Santo growing in the future. How outside investments dictate the size of a studio.
  • 32:42 – How Sean decided to leave Telltale and start Campo Santo.
  • 35:53 – How Campo Santo secured funding from first time game financier Panic. The uncertainty involved in securing funding for Firewatch.
  • 40:30 – How to identify and seize opportunities as an indie developer. The exciting (and sometimes frustrating) uncertainty of working at an independent studio.
  • 46:30 – How Sean’s childhood experiences in the Wyoming woods inspired Firewatch. The structure and style of Firewatch.
  • 51:07 – How co-hosting the Idle Thumbs podcast has affected Sean’s work as a developer. Why Danielle Riendeau is awesome.
  • 54:49 – Developers who have inspired Sean.
  • 59:04 – Books and Games that have inspired Sean.
  • 1:03:05 – Campo Santo’s strategy for communicating with fans while making Firewatch.
  • 1:05:28 – Sean discusses what he wants players of Firewatch to take away from the experience.

Rob is a software engineer and amateur game developer. He lives in Bellevue, Washington.

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1 comment

  1. Roy

    Great interview. Sean’s candidness was really interesting and his outlook on work and friendship is really admirable and inspiring. Thank you for recording this!

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