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.