The Unfinished Swan

by KrazyFace, HSM guest contributor

Some of you reading this will be gamers, and if you’re a gamer and reading this the chances are you’re quite a discerning one, one that likes to try new ideas.

It also means there’s a slim chance you may have heard of a little Indy title called The Devil’s Tuning Fork. It uses the idea of echo-location; you’re in a completely blacked out space, and pinging a tuning fork sends out sound waves that mold around the nearby scenery, allowing you to see where you’re going. This is a skill actually used by some blind people who “click” to see where they’re going. True fact, that. Google it.

The Unfinished Swan uses a similar idea here, but instead of sound waves you use paint balls. This is a more permanent solution to finding your way around and actually works with the story as part of it as well as a mechanic for the game. The first few seconds of TUS (The Unfinished Swan) are slightly disorientating, due to being dropped into a completely white-washed world. Almost any button will throw a paint ball, though, and as soon as you do, a sudden solidity comes into this new white-space: flinging blobs of paint is the only way to find your way around, and it’s a rather satisfying one at that!

You know when you see a blanket of pure, fresh, untouched pristine snow, and you know that extremely satisfying crunch it makes as you plod your way across god’s new blank canvas? Well, TUS is kind of like that. As you go around, blindly chucking paint at everything to get an idea of where you are, the world is revealed in grass-tufts and apple carts, fencing and masonry, glass windows that bounce the paint balls back at you and disgruntled animals who don’t like being splatted with paint! The more you throw and explore, the more this stylized world is revealed. There’s an almost Escher quality to the look of the land when you get to certain view points, but it’s by no means as confusing. Occasionally there are handy, stark-yellow swan footprints to coax you on in the right direction if you find yourself disorientated, which can be a welcome help from time to time.

The sound design is worthy of particular note here too. Since the majority of the world around you is hued out in slight shadows at best, the echo of your footfall will subtly change as you cross under unseen archways or enter blacked out tunnels. All of these sound effects will be harmoniously punctuated if pushed through a surround sound system too, so if you have one, use it! The set pieces also carry a satisfying weight to them in their sound when you start causing the mechanical parts to move, but TUS doesn’t just stop at using paint and sound to help you through its world, oh no. It’ll let you play with controlling vegetation and light too, but these things are better discovered on your own.

Which leads us to another clever thing Giant Sparrow (the developers) have done here: there are no instructions on how to play. None. No tutorial, no “this button does this, do that to get to places like there,” et cetera — it’ll just let the player experiment, and that’s the key here; the sense of exploration you have. Unwritten rules become solidified as you try new things, sometimes being successful and other times not so much. Yet the lack of handholding tutorials makes perfect sense: find your own way around, and explore as a child would.

This is a particularly strong message, though, because in here you are a small boy: an orphan that lost his mother who used to paint, but never finished anything. The only thing you have left of her memory is the unfinished picture of a swan. As this small boy you’ll be following the Unfinished Swan throughout this world to uncover a message and a story. The story is uncovered by finding golden letters within the walls; when found and painted, a storybook page is revealed and the soft tone of a mother reading a bed-time story will read it to you. Through this there are many interpretations to be made, about why you’re here, who the King is and what bearing it all has on the relationship of the boy and his mother. Instead of going into a single interpretation, we’d say it’s best the player finds their own ideas of what bearing it has on them. It is, after all, within these interpretations that The Unfinished Swan hides its gravitas. Giant Sparrow have obviously been influenced by Journey and its message here; there’s even a little nod to it in this game – if you can find it.

A single playthrough shouldn’t take an average gamer any more than about three hours. But don’t think this is a one-time thing. Much like Journey and its subtleties of reincarnation, so too does TUS encourage a re-play. As you go through the game there are balloons to find and free, each one will help with unlocking more complex ways of play such as the ability to freeze time. Doing this will make your paint balls hang in the air until you release time, resulting in a satisfying splatter of paint in all directions depending on how many projectiles you’ve fired off. There are other things like a firehose upgrade for some serious splatting and all give a new incentive for another run-through of the game.

Although TUS may not have the spiritual impact of Journey, it’s still an amazingly fresh idea for a game, in a similar sense of originality and the way it conveys its message to the player. This is a perfect example of how different games are from the other media that surround us — and, if wielded properly, how they can be used in a much more powerful way as a medium in its own right.

 

November 28th, 2012 by | 5 comments
KrazyFace has been a gamer for longer than he can remember. In fact its been so long he's pretty sure he started gaming with rocks and sticks in a cave someplace off the coast of Africa, when it was joined on to France. However long its been, he's got enough experience behind him to know a good game when he sees one. He's also a bit of a Home addict, you'll find him in there whenever he's got spare time - or not playing a game.

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5 Responses to “The Unfinished Swan”

  1. Kassadee Marie says:

    That was a great review and this sounds like a really interesting way to play. Thanks for finding and writing about this little game.

  2. riff says:

    Great review Mr. K… I have been playing this for a bit and the only drawback I can see is that it is not a multi-player game. (I think one of the significant things about the “Journey” experience is that, while it imposes a certain uniformity, it still manages to UNITE players in its world. What both games have in common is a certain deprivation of a common element we take for granted in our daily lives -In Journey its outward individualism, and in TUS it is color and a defined path. This deprivation helps the insightful player to discover the significance of what lies beneath the superficial distracting facade we commonly partake in as a deeply spiritual species and heightens our awareness to what we have been overlooking -much like a virtual reality allows us to actually know someone deeper than we might if we first were inundated with a very real physical appearance- one must put stock in words on PSH -if we are honest with ourselves and the others we come in contact with we can ultimately know our companions from the inside out) However, I don’t know how TUS could be multiplayer and still maintain its graphic impact.

    I agree that there is a certain M.C. Escher quality to this game especially when you consider some of his skewed and disorienting perspectives and of course his maze work. It is visually quite stunning.

    After playing in black and white for a while one gets a tantalizing exposure to color which explodes on the senses after a long absence… the deprivation indeed makes you appreciate what you have been missing -and it certainly has made my heart grow fonder.

    Kudos for Thatgamecompany’s involvement -they are by far my favorite. Namaste Jenova Chen.

    Nice to see your second article here and cannot wait to read more of your insightful reviews.

    A fan
    Riff

    • KrazyFace says:

      Thank you Riff. I think the exclusion of Multiplayer in this is a good call, in the paint sections I’m sure everything would become just pure black after a few mins if there was even a second player! But this is about soul searching, and has a pretty complex message to convey, which would be overlooked if played with an extra person -- I think.

      • riff says:

        I think that I just like the idea of people having to work together to discover and overcome. For me it always comes down to that line at the end of Starman with Jeff Bridges:

        “You are a strange species. Not like any other. And you’d be surprised how many there are. Intelligent but savage. Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you? You are at your very best when things are worst.”

        I took it to mean that when a disaster happens or if there is some definable progress made in human development it is because people actually put aside their differences and work together.

        I guess this is something I experienced when I was sailing -you don’t have to have a personality to get things done. When the ship was in a storm and it was “all hands” It really did not matter if you liked someone or not, you worked together to adapt and overcome. And weirdly enough I began to feel this thing that is maybe deeper and more abstract than friendship or liking someone because of their personality. And at the end of it -when you are exhausted to the bone and you have been up around the clock for god knows how long… there is this moment when you come out the other side and you feel a sort of unified sense of accomplishment -and you feel it for and with everyone no matter your personal differences. It opens the door for an undefinable connection to another person that goes beyond who they are.

        I mention this because Journey sort of taps into this for me. And I guess I was hoping the next game that Santa Monica Studios came out with would provide the same multiplayer depth that Journey did. TUS doesn’t have it and I miss it.

        As far as the paint I imagine there would have to be some level of communication with another player coming on board to coordinate paint splatters but it might be fun to lob some stuff at each other :D

        Maybe the next game they will create something like that- A game where you get to decide how to make the other person’s avatar from the ground up and they are subjected to whatever you decide for them.

        I know some people that might be really good at a game like that.

        Heh.

  3. ted2112 says:

    Great Review Krazy!

    I loved the Unfinished Swan! These games coming out of the San Monica Studio are really setting the bar very high lately. The blending of a very good story and exploration are the key I think to this I think. Keep the great articles coming!

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