Thursday, December 27, 2012

Finishing the Swan

Today, I braved the Boxing Day shopping rush to grab something other than a deal. It was a PSN card, so that I could download and enjoy a breathtaking PSN title called The Unfinished Swan. I played the demo last night and was immediately drawn (or painted, in keeping with the theme) to it, so I knew I had to play it as soon as I could.

This game was released as a partnership with Santa Monica Studio's incubation program, which also released other fine independent titles such as Flower and Journey. Naturally, I had high hopes for this game.


You play as a young boy named Monroe whose mother has passed away. She loved to paint pictures of animals, but she would never finish them. When she died, he got to take one of her paintings as a memento, and it was a picture of an unfinished swan.

One night, Monroe awakens from his sleep, and the swan has gone missing from the painting. He goes to look for it, and he's pulled into a white world where he must begin by throwing balls of black paint to reveal his surroundings. All the while, he is following the golden footprints of the swan to try and track it down.

As the player, you watch the surroundings evolve from simplistic white canvas that reveals pathways and creatures through the thrown black paint balls, to landscapes that feature simple white with grey shadows, to all-around elaborate, inverted dark-to-light levels. The gameplay evolves from splattering paintballs, to using water balloons to grow vines that you can climb across, to creating blocks in an alternate dimension that will transfer to the regular dimension. Each chapter of the story teaches you how to play the game through sheer experimentation and simple puzzles that will bring you closer to completing the story. The puzzles never get too difficult, and the gameplay is very minimalistic, making it a good choice for experienced gamers and casual gamers alike. You can simply pick it up and play it.

Some of the game's concept art.
Design-wise, it relies on minimalistic colours, shapes and designs, and the character designs possess a nostalgic, Petit Prince-like quality. The world, though mainly empty of characters, is full of breathtaking scenery, reminiscent of ICO. Its gameplay, though it uses a number of different mechanics to bring it to life, can be summed up as a platformer, though, as many games are, this game is so much more than that. It's one of those refreshing games that is simple but complex. It creates a new idea of what gaming can look like, and the direction it might be headed.

Another interesting component of the story is the unexpected dual storyline. At first, you're witnessing Monroe's story alone, but as the game progresses, the story of a self-absorbed king begins to unfold, to the point that his story is as important as Monroe's. It also draws a lot of parallels to Monroe's story, and to his mother's story.

While the game deals with some dark or sad themes, it is considerably lighthearted. Part of this is because of the game's fairy tale-like storytelling. It deals with the subject of death in a way that is overt, yet sensitive and honest. To me, this is saying that death is a normal part of life, and how you accept death says a lot about you. The theme of leaving things unfinished is an interesting theme, as well, but I won't go too far into detail, or else I risk spoiling parts of the game.

The game is a triumphant voyage through the imagination. It's beautiful, uplifting, strange, mysterious, and just a little bit sad. I felt compelled to talk about it in detail after playing it, but I also know I'm not quite finished with it yet. Something about this game begs to be revisited. It's one of those games that, to me, feels almost allegorical, like a good piece of literature. It further cements the video game's place as a form of art and a storytelling device. While video games have been debated over for their artistic merits for a long time, to me there is no question that it's a remarkable art form. What other medium allows you to immerse yourself so wholly into the experience?

The game is available for purchase on the PSN for your Playstation 3 system. You can also download the demo for a free trial. For more info on the game, you can read an interview with Ian Dallas, the game's creative director, here. To add, Journey-lovers should check this game out. You may just find a little surprise hidden within.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Another chapter closed.

Today, I finished writing Population: 1, a blog-based writing project I've been working on for the past year and a half. It has been a very interesting journey and I can say that I'm proud of the end result.

Population: 1 started off as a strange  and brief short film that I made on Easter weekend of 2011. I was feeling a bit bored and stir-crazy, so I wrote, filmed, and edited it over the course of a day.

The music I used is from the soundtrack of the game Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon. I wanted to evoke the same kind of loneliness I felt when I played through that game. After the video was complete, though, I felt the need to turn it into something else. So, Population: 1 was born. I consider it the spiritual successor to Hub City Survival, being that it's set in a lonely, sad world, and it's written in a first-person journal format. Plus, Tracey and Dahlia seem to have quite a bit in common.

I designed the story to be interactive, having readers vote on what direction Dahlia could take. Some options may have resulted in a different ending for Dahlia, or perhaps a different outlook for her to take. As Dahlia learns of things, the readers do, and as such, some of the chosen options may have resulted in the readers knowing more, or less, than they do now. For this purpose, I made an in-character and an out-of-character blog.


The story featured a number of design implements. I drew the map of Cullingville, for instance, as it is a fictional town. I also developed the backstory of this bizarre town and have not shared it with anyone as of yet. Finally, the Five Petals group was an important part that needed to be fully fleshed out, and I made up family trees and timelines. It was a rather intensive piece of work for something that ended up being so short, but that's part of the reason I'm so pleased with it.

Now with this story complete, it's time for me to start another project. I haven't quite decided what it will be, but I'm certain it will be a novel. I have it narrowed down to three different ideas.

I'm also going to be working on a storyboard for a web comic, on a somewhat off-and-on level. The webcomic is something I plan on writing, but not illustrating. I would be interested in collaborating on someone with the comic, and I'm sure I'll post up sketches a bit later on when I'm further in the process.

I also still have Thread in the back of my mind and really want to do something with it. I have a series of three games in my head, but no way to really get them out. This is another project I'd love to collaborate with someone on!

Thanks to my readers for sharing yet another of my writing journeys with me. I hope to start my next project, whatever it may be, within the next week or so.