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Trailer Review: The Unfinished Swan

By / Posted on 22 May 2012

The Unfinished SwanWith the onset of 3D graphics in computer games of the 1990s, the dominant perspective of mainstream gaming steadily transitioned from side-scrolling to first-person. Point-and-click adventures like Myst were early successes, but shooters like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Marathon challenged the entire gaming landscape, transforming the community as we knew it. Without the onset of the PC first-person-shooter (FPS), we might still have big launches for Sonic the Hedgehog instead of Call of Duty. FPSes like Halo and Medal of Honor vastly expanded the audience of games in the mainstream, but they unfortunately began to oversaturate the market, and there is always the lingering concern that they’re all… well… basically the same. There are dozens of FPSes released each year that play nearly identically, which is perhaps why it’s so refreshing when a game comes along that does something different with the first person perspective. Nintendo’s Metroid Prime had some shooting, but mostly it had exploration and puzzle-solving. Electronic Arts’ Mirror’s Edge was more about running, jumping, and dodging the enemies bullets instead of firing their own.

The game that really exemplifies the first-person non-shooter, though, is Valve’s Portal. A rallying beacon of the independent and thoughtful game design communities, Portal started out as a student game called Narbacular Drop and got the small dev team picked up by the beloved Valve Corporation, transforming their small project into a first-person puzzle game that opened eyes worldwide. Another student team was inspired by Portal with their project Tag: the Power of Paint, and once again that student team was brought in to incorporate their ideas into the award-winning and best-selling Portal 2. It’s understandable, after both of those remarkable successes, that so many young experimental game designers are trying their own spin on the first-person puzzle game.

One such game that we’d been wanting to play is The Unfinished Swan. Giant Sparrow’s black-and-white tech demo first crossed our radar over three years ago and we’ve been chomping at the bit for a playable version of news on its development. The Santa Monica-based team has been saying all along that a full version of the game was in development, but only this month have we finally seen any evidence to support or blind faith.

The creative set-up, from what we know so far, is fairly straightforward. The world is pure white, so white that—though there are objects, corridors, and other architectural furnishings—the player cannot perceive where one object ends and another begins. Infinite whiteness, you might as well be staring at nothing at all. The player has a gun of some sort, though, that lobs balls of black paint, splattering all over the white environments, defining objects and spaces, allowing the player to explore three-dimensional space. The effect is rather stunning and mind-shattering. The idea that there could be an invisible block directly in front of you at any time, or invisible enemies or collectibles that you can only perceive by splashing them with paint. Ooh, this is exciting!

The important part of this long-awaited news is that Giant Sparrow have entered an “incubation deal” with Sony, the same arrangement that worked famously for thegamecompany (Journey, Flower, flow). Basically, Sony gives Giant Sparrow the funding, equipment, and office space to finish the game, and in return Sony gets an exclusive game that is sure to wow gamers and critics alike, ideally being discussed for years to come at colleges, seminars, and churches (just like Flower has been, and likely Journey will be in the future). Giant Sparrow founder and The Unfinished Swan designer Ian Dallas says that the game is very nearly complete, so our fingers are crossed for a release within the next few months. We hate to set our hopes too high on an experimental game we’ve never played, but damn, we are totally pumped up for this one.

Also, just look at how flippin’ elegant that new logo is! The way the form of the swan plays perfectly off of the letters f-i-n-i? Love this!

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.