After playing through the surprisingly emotional game, The Unfinished Swan, I was thrilled to hear that developer Giant Sparrow was hard at work on its next game—the eerie looking, and ominously titled What Remains of Edith Finch.
What sticks out almost immediately when talking to Giant Sparrow’s Creative Director Ian Dallas is his sheer passion for what he does; gaming is clearly where Dallas is meant to be.
Dallas’ first game with Giant Sparrow, The Unfinished Swan, was extremely well-received, with honours that include the winning of a British Academy of Film & Television Award (BAFTA) in a category that most people didn’t know existed: “Game Innovation.” The praise could have given anyone an ego—anyone except for Dallas.
“I wouldn’t say the success has been unanimous or overwhelming,” Dallas says. “It’s a game that has an audience, which is great… [but] I don’t think that it was necessarily a game that people expected or wished it was.” The Unfinished Swan clearly resonated with many, including myself, but Dallas recognizes that this is not a universal experience. He says that breaking away from being a “traditional” puzzle game may have put off players, as it wasn’t the game that they thought they were playing.
But Dallas does love the personal stories that have come from different people playing Swan, and seeing the wide range of emotional connections that people make.
“For me personally,” Dallas says, “there are so many games and movies that are there, essentially just as a distraction or a way to waste time… and I wanted to make something a bit strange and more memorable.”
The BAFTA win was fortuitous for a couple of reasons, one being the prestige, but the other being that it further cemented Giant Swan’s relationship with Sony, who published The Unfinished Swan (and the upcoming Edith Finch in their Playstation Store).
“They were explicitly concerned with winning awards,” Dallas says. As a huge company taking a risk on a game that is unusual, no matter how great and how much you believe in it, “the critical validation helps quite a lot.” The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and Sony has continued to put faith in the studio, helping along the release of Giant Swan’s next unusual game.
The seeds for What Remains of Edith Finch were sown in Dallas’ mind during the development of The Unfinished Swan, so the game has been ruminating for some time. Dallas says the production has gone through a huge number of changes before getting to what has been featured in trailers, but serious work began on the game about a month after The Unfinished Swan was released. No rest for the wicked, nor the game developer. The contract with Sony for Edith’s development, however, was actually set and signed before Swan had even been released.
“What Remains of Edith Finch was initially a very different idea,” Dallas says. “For me it’s about what the feeling is, what the tone or area of interest that we’re exploring [is], and with [Edith] it was initially a scuba-diving game…based on my experience growing up in Washington State, and how it looks when you’re at the bottom of the ocean, to see the ground just kind of sloping away from you forever.”It’s that distinct sense of awe and insignificance that sits at the core of What Remains of Edith Finch. The awareness of how small we are and the understanding of, as Dallas puts it, the “sublime horror of nature.”
Realizing that an entire game made up of scuba-diving might make it harder to hold the attention of a more general audience, Dallas moved forward with the concept, thinking of where to take it next. From a game about scuba diving, came a game about a group of high schoolers, each sharing dreams and the meanings behind them. While that idea didn’t stick around, Dallas knew he wanted the game to incorporate elements of “weird short fiction.” Inspired by writers like H.P. Lovecraft, What Remains of Edith Finch became a story about a family, and the highly anticipated game it is now.
While the early ideas for Edith leaned more toward a traditional horror feel, as development continued Dallas says the game “morphed a bit,” as he found it “more interesting to be looking at those characters… and what it feels like to be overwhelmed.” While the shift didn’t remove the horror completely, it did switch focus to a character-driven experience, rather than a spooky haunted house ride.
With the same minds behind Edith as were behind The Unfinished Swan, there’s an obvious expectation of personal experience to be injected into the story.
“There is a lot of tonal overlap, for me,” Dallas says, “but [Edith and Swan] are very different worlds. Unfinished Swan is entirely in a kind of wonderland space, and Edith Finch is more about what the connections are between reality and the imagination, so Edith Finch is a much more surreal experience. You’re not quite sure what’s going on…it’s a lot murkier. I would say that both of those games are about the sense of awe; what it’s like to be surprised and to find yourself in a world that you don’t really understand.”
While the game is significantly different from where it started, the question remains whether Giant Sparrow is happy with the direction the game has taken, and where it rests currently. Dallas says his relationship is “mixed” at the moment, primarily because the game isn’t quite finished. That said, Dallas ensures that there are a number of moments that he feels are fantastic, and moments that he can’t wait to see the player response to. Dallas is confident that the time left in development will allow Finch to come together in a way that works well for him as a creative person.
“If [you] played and enjoyed The Unfinished Swan,” Dallas says, “there should be something in this game that will resonate.”
While the hope is that What Remains of Edith Finch will be released in 2016, Dallas isn’t able to say one way or another. He did say that “it’s not looking like it will be an early 2016 release…being as it’s already June.”
Keep your eyes open for Edith Finch sometime this year (we hope).