"It seemed to me that the most unfinished thing in the world is a child whose parents will never have a chance to finish raising them. So that’s where the back story for the player came from." - Giant Sparrow's Ian Dallas on 'The Unfinished Swan'
It's easy to think that a video game's successes are driven from stunning graphics and heavily campaigned commercials featuring A-list celebrities.
But strip away the 'Michael Bay' presentation, tear apart the shiny gift wrapping and sift past all of the reused box fillings other games have taken from one another.
Does a game really have a soul of its own?
'The Unfinished Swan' is one of those games that has just that. A story told in such a unique way that even the gamers themselves could feel as if they are the ones penning the fantasy tale.
This fresh approach to the first-person experience is just the beginning for developer Giant Sparrow. Warp Pipe spoke to Ian Dallas, creator of 'The Unfinished Swan' to learn more about the game and what is to come next:
Warp Pipe: There are not many video games out there that can be compared to 'The Unfinished Swan'. In your words, how would you best describe it to the average gamer?
Ian Dallas: The simple answer is that The Unfinished Swan is a first-person painting game that begins with an all-white landscape where players have to splatter paintballs to reveal the world around them.
The less direct answer is that this is a game about curiosity and wonder. Players find themselves in a mysterious and fantastical kingdom and are asked to use whatever tools they can find to explore the world for themselves. It’s a surreal experience inspired by Alice in Wonderland, Jim Henson, and Time Bandits.
The game is a rather short yet fulfilling adventure of shapes and color; was expanding the play through considered and what was the reasoning for the final choice of its length?
We always wanted the game to be short. That’s something that came out of looking at storybooks as a source of inspiration. The fact that you can pickup a storybook and just from the weight of it you know that you could read it all in one sitting is a big part of that experience. We also tried to be very respectful of the player’s time and not repeat ourselves, so people felt like the game was always giving them new things to think about which we felt was appropriate for a game about discovery.
WP: Monroe, his mother and the King have little dialogue yet play such a heartwarming role in 'The Unfinished Swan'. What went into the creation of these characters and why did you feel they would be received so well by gamers?
ID: The original inspiration was a very basic design problem: how do we explain why there’s a world that’s entirely white? What sort of place could that be? I hit on the idea of an unfinished kingdom and then spent awhile thinking about all sorts of unfinished things.
It seemed to me that the most unfinished thing in the world is a child whose parents will never have a chance to finish raising them. So that’s where the backstory for the player came from.
The character of the King didn’t really take shape until about halfway through development. As we were making the game we kept creating these ridiculous, grandiose spaces because those were the areas we felt the most interested in exploring as players. So there was a point where we took a look at all the areas we were designing and asked “who in their right mind would want to build all this crazy stuff?” And that’s how we ended up with this Salvador Dali-esque King who spends his life building whatever surreal fantasies pop into his head. It also tied in well with our focus on unfinished things. For the King these grand visions are kind of a curse because they’re so enormous that he never actually finishes any of them before he’s moved on to his next project.
WP: Speaking of the characters, the King was voiced by 'Monty Python' living legend Terry Gilliam. What was it like working with Terry and what was his opinion of the final product?
ID: Terry was fantastic. The usual procedure is for voice-over actors to read one line at a time and only move on after everyone is happy. Terry just read the whole scene from beginning to end a couple of times. Each reading was different and we were never totally sure if we had good takes for all his lines, but it gave his performance a nice, weird energy.
My favorite recording he did was when we asked him to laugh for a minute or so. He sounds delightfully unhinged. He’s just got this energetic, joyful, goofy, totally unique way about him that absolutely comes across in his laugh. I hope I can laugh like that when I’m his age.
I haven’t heard his reaction to the final game but judging from how many people I’ve heard comparing the game to Time Bandits I think he’d like it. I’m assuming he likes Time Bandits.
WP: What s next for Giant Sparrow? Has the story of 'The Unfinished Swan' finished?
ID: This was the first game in our 3-game deal with Sony. We’re not ready to start talking about our next game yet but you can safely imagine it’s going to be something players have never seen before.