Vision: The Unfinished Swan (PS3)

The conjecture when facing a blank canvas makes for a poignant introduction. The environments we step into are usually pre-fabricated with refinement and lustre; to captivate and hold our attention.

The Unfinished Swan inaugurates a white space poised with a central reticule; it wants you to surrender with an impatient button press. Any provisional ideas of exploring negative space are immediately abolished, without some kind of reference point there is no sense of movement or progress. The inevitable yielding launches an insolent black ball of paint; the staining of its target brings a revelation; the appearance of surrounding structures underneath the void. It is a remarkable sight and it sets the temperament of its shooter; the competitive will quickly race to uncover a way out, the completest will reveal the integrity of the structures and the stunned will just stand there, beguiled by the possibilities.

The linearity of your path is equipoise by the freedom to reveal your pathway, there is no limitation to the amount of ink you command, but self-restraint creates an appealing impressionistic view of the landscape. The opposite effect is throwing copious amounts of black onto black which renders everything invisible again. Despite the world’s pre-existence behind the emptiness, it is an ambit you have uniquely revealed. It is all too easy to disclose the intricacies of both the story and the visions, but the central mechanic excels by stumbling upon the wonders rather having an anticipatory mindset.

As you progress; shadows introduced to the emptiness accentuate edges of constructions, the architecture almost begging not to be spoiled by your dye. The developers (Giant Sparrow) later indulge in this unblemished vista by replacing your ink cache with spheres of water. The spectacle of seeing water thrown onto white is arguably more appealing than ink; flirting with insights of the locale and then evaporating into nothing.

In contrast to the initial elucidation, pre-rendered buildings are presented bathing you in a haze of relaxation. The unhurried pace and minimal aesthetic is a pleasure to traverse, reminiscent of a lazy Mediterranean town in the summer. This departure from the opening however has been controversial. The introduction of auxiliary mechanics and change of graphical integrity had some critics unconvinced, citing a mismatch of ideas usurping the opportunities that could have been explored. It is a valid point but does not diminish cohesion, The Unfinished swan is clearly introduced as an imaginative bedtime story. The interrelation of conducting ascendable vines to the latter creation of geometric blocks fits within this whimsical realm of magic, giants and Floating airships.

The Unfinished swan may have been more impactful following its initial concept but Giant Sparrow should be applauded for exploring diversity over the one visual trick, and perhaps this departure makes that aesthetic even more potent. There is a simple exploitation of traditional game proponents which unifies conviviality, such as walking over a maze instead of through it. It is not innovative but it supplements the simplicity of the puzzles, they are completed effortlessly and feel congenial rather than taxing. Like the visions of relative contemporaries; Thatgamecompany, to whose work this will be compared, restraint is needed from revealing too much.

Ultimately The Unfinished swan takes a stimulating game mechanic and offers eloquence, nurtured through the warmth and buoyancy of its story. It’s virtues lie in the enchantment of a unique atmosphere and this ambiance keeps you seduced until the credits roll. Ian Dallas, Max Geiger and the rest of  the Giant Sparrow team have somehow bottled vivacity; inimitable energy pours from bleached buildings and crystal waters, they serve as conduits of peacefulness, for you to get lost in, for you to uncover reverence.

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Hindsight: Tokyo game show 2012

The dust has settled over the Makuhari Messe convention centre, home of the Tokyo game show. An event to showcase new ideas and ingenuity; the creation of the future and the unimaginable. In hindsight the future was nothing but deja-vu; reminiscent of a prosaic E3 earlier this year. TGS’s main floor was replete with the sequels and micro extensions of franchises found in previous years, all vying for consumer attention. The obliging crowds queued feverishly, not for the creative thinkers however but for the imitators; games already played in some incarnation or another. The lack of basic self-questioning from attendees was bewildering, a simple ‘what am I playing and have I played this before?’ would have redirected hour+ queues to the creative integrity of something like The Unfinished Swan.

Thankfully TGS’s outlet for lionizing innovation was the presentation of SOWN (Sense of wonder night); it brought some much-needed originality to the event and stood as an advocate of individualism.

Objectives of SOWN:

  • To introduce games with a game design and ideas that are experimental and creative, and that cannot be called conventional or traditional
  • To heighten awareness of the importance of creating a game that gives people a “sense of wonder”, a sense that something will change in their world, and to invigorate the game industry
  •  To offer people creating experimental games opportunities for the future
  •  To create new domains in the game industry

Those objectives would make an exemplary template for the whole of the Tokyo Game Show and for E3 for that matter, rather than the plagiarism that filled 95% of both spaces. For that to happen a different mind-set would be required from both the developers and the consumers; where ques were formed for ideas not seen before, rather than the incredulous fraud that seems to be blindly followed each year.

These were the visions of developers that were unique and offered something neoteric

TENGAMI

A company made of former Rare developers delivered understated elegance in the form of Tengami; a paper engineered pop up adventure capturing the tranquility of Japanese romanticism.

MEMORY OF A BROKEN DIMENSION

Ezra Hanson-White’s superlative first person work, proved to be the most unique of the show which can be read in a previous feature here.

THE LIGHT SHOOTER

A Tokyo University of Technology project designed by Masasuke Yasumoto. The work earned an award from Microsoft Japan for its stunning light based interaction.

UNFINISHED SWAN

Shortly due for release by Giant Sparrow, this unalloyed wonder captures the imagination through its paint throwing mechanics.

BREAKS

Takayuki Yanagihara’s visceral lazer show delivers hectic ball play through a touch pad interface.

E3: Superlative opportunities?

This year’s E3 delivered predictable franchise sequels and not much in the way of originality. Is the developer reproach misplaced however, highlighting insentient consumer support for more of the same?

New IP: Watch Dogs (Ubisoft) and The last of us (Naughty Dog) helped to refresh the lacklustre event. They inadvertently emphasised however that we still traverse the same obstacle courses, littered with the same generic thugs with the same missions. There is no doubt both games will be entertaining, but there is a feeling that we have witnessed the inauguration for myriad sequels at future shows.

The games that offered us superlative opportunities were predominantly for Sony Platforms and inventive content at the IndieCade booth. The unveiling of Nintendo’s new Wii U software failed to capture imaginations with only Platinum games offering something refreshing (arguably usurping Pikmin 3’s announcement).

In an ocean of generic content, these were the games that offered us something inventive:

UNFINISHED SWAN (PS3)

Giant Sparrow’s experimental adventure of throwing paint, turning negative space into tangible assets.

SOUND SHAPES (PS3/PS Vita)

A phonic tool that amalgamates sound and 2D objects in unison, developed by Queasy games.

LANGUISH (PC)

Designed by Erik Loyer, Languish is a journey through the mind by interacting with collective ideas.

A MOTHER’S INFERNO (PC)

Students at DADIU created this vociferous First person horror that aesthetically reminiscent of Suda 51’s Killer 7.

BEYOND: TWO SOULS (PS3)

David cage and Quantic dream tease their next project after the successful Heavy Rain.

CHASING AURORA (Multi)

Developer Broken Rules origami enthused dream of flight.

PROJECT P-100 (Wii U)

Platinum games, creators of  Bayonetta and the upcoming Metal Gear Rising bring this exclusively to Wii U.

Vision: Journey

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Platform: PS3
Developer: Thatgamecompany

“They-and he-cared about one thing; this fusion of their mentalities oriented their attention on the hill, the climb, the need to ascend. Step by step it evolved, so slowly as to be nearly imperceptible. But it was there. Higher, he thought as stones rattled downward under his feet. Today we are higher than yesterday, and tomorrow-he, the compound figure of Wilbur Mercer, glanced up to view the ascent ahead. Impossible to make out the end. Too far. But it would come.”

In Philip K. Dick’s book; Do androids dream of electric sheep? (Blade runner) a robed image of Wilbur Mercer was virtually assumed through an empathy box. Scrambling upwards amidst desolate burning sands, his ambition, always the same; ascend the top of a mountain, every step taunted under the supervision of the towering peak.

His struggle is cruel and suppressive, but despite his ordeal, he perseveres relentlessly.

When Thatgamecompany announced details of their fourth game; journey, Mercers image burned in my mind, but uncomfortably so. It deliberated something too incongruous with TGC’s mantra.
Cruel doesn’t exactly fit in with TGC’s previous visions;

Flow: an underwater ballet dance about evolution and Flower: a carnival of light and colour, the rejuvenation of earth. They were love letters to nature and creation, exuding calmness and relaxation.

Journey is a linear, undeviating adventure, mirroring Mercers aim of transcending a distant peak. It is inevitable that you will reach the summit, but not in the same way as I or anyone else will. I have been craving to shout about my experience since its conclusion; the locations, the friendships and the revelations, but it feels inappropriate. It is a betrayal not only to those who have not yet made the voyage but also to the vision itself, it should be discovered, not pre-empted. In a perfect world, TGC would have released the game without any promotion whatsoever, no screenshots or videos, because any information dilutes the experience, the less you know about Journey, the better.

Many reviewers will talk about its intricacies, but as much as I want to, I am not going to do that, it really is detrimental to what is an intensely personal experience.

How can I convey what Journey is like without revealing anything?

By its emotional content and the feelings it generated. This is my unique Journey in note form, as it happened from start to finish:

Resplendent, playful, strain, restricted, arduous, solitude, calm, intruder, competitor, claustrophobic, irritating, accomplishment, vivacious, mystery, guidance, friendship, love, fear, insignificance, unyielding, defiance, elated, captivated, pious, virtuous, astonishing, superlative, euphoric, celestial, perfect.

None of those emotions or events were produced from incoherent controls or level design, there are some very traditional gameplay elements in effect but the execution of these are flawless and innovative. After Journeys completion I was left in an indeterminate state, videogames are capable of crafting intimate experiences but I had not felt them as a cohesive whole before.
I have never pushed an analogue stick with such ferocity, at one point realizing there was no need but my body still urged towards the mountains summit, my mind was lost in the ether.

When a next generation console is launched, there are promises of the future. What you habitually receive however are the same games as the preceding generation, just with updated graphics. Journey fulfils this promise not graphically or phonically (which are remarkable); but through something that has never been made before. Something that left me staring at the screen long after the credits rolled. I have always thought this interactive medium was restricted by its vocabulary, primarily because of the words; game, fun and play. Journey is fun, but the question of whether a game is fun or not should not be the epitome of this medium. At times it resonates with Mercers passage, feeling cruel and claustrophobic, at times transcending into the heights of spirituality. Journeys gift is that it eradicates the label of fun and delivers myriad feelings not associated with a videogame.

Jenova Chen and his team are visionaries, calling Journey a game is erroneous; this is an interactive vision in its purest form, directly entrenched from their minds into your hands.

There was a time when consoles were shipped with pre built-in games; Journey must be etched onto the hard drive of every PS3 produced. This should be the first experience that everyone has of Sony’s own empathy box.