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The Unfinished Swan: Art and Design Developer Diary

Ben Esposito's Avatar + Posted by Ben Esposito on Oct 17, 2012 // Game Designer, Giant Sparrow

Like a lot of folks, I first saw the tech demo for The Unfinished Swan when it made the rounds online in 2008. The idea stuck in the back of my head but it wasn’t until later when Giant Sparrow put up a job posting that I decided: I had to make that game. I had just graduated from college without much professional experience, so I did what I do best and made a game for them. You can check it out here if you’d like. The video cuts off because the end of the game says “Call me” and has my phone number on it. It got the attention of the Giant Sparrow team, and I ended up flying out to Los Angeles to work on the game. I was elated and a little shocked, but I came to learn that at Giant Sparrow, the player experience always comes first – and my little game was designed to create a very specific experience. Now, in October 2012, The Unfinished Swan is out in the wild (well, to PlayStation Plus members) and we’re proud that we were able to make a truly experiential game.

We had a very unique creative process. In planning out each level, we used a series of index cards representing emotional beats. I would then work with Ian to put together a rough version of the level. If something didn’t feel right, we’d cut it out and shuffle our cards. Hokyo sums it up really well when he says the experience of play is more like eating a meal than looking at a painting. We eat with our entire bodies, at our own pace, using all of our senses. The metaphor of food isn’t purely conceptual; both Hokyo and Ian’s love of food manifests itself in the personality of the King character. In one chapter, players explore the King’s dining hall, complete with an abandoned feast. Also, see if you can find a giant piece of toast hidden somewhere.

Working at Giant Sparrow has been a creative challenge. On one hand, we had a tremendous amount of freedom to experiment with new ideas. On the other, we were a very small team with limited resources, and working with a group of really creative people can be a game of compromises between tech, art, sound, and design. The best part about working with our small team was that the people posing questions were also the ones creating solutions.

Overall, The Unfinished Swan is a really personal game to all of us. We worked together for a long time and poured a lot of our own quirks and experiences into it. When you sit down to play, know that it was created from start to finish with your whole experience in mind. Go forth and explore.

//Add Your Own

28 Comments   5 Replies

1

+ snakeeyes211 on October 17th, 2012 at 6:15 am said:

$15 for a two hour game is too expensive


2

+ T3DV0L70L1N4 on October 17th, 2012 at 6:20 am said:

This game looks really interesting, but I agree that $15 is too steep. I heard rumors about it being 30% off for PS+ subscribers, possibly next week. Is there any truth to that rumor? I’d buy it in a heartbeat at $10.49, but not at $14.99.


3

+ Gadirok on October 17th, 2012 at 6:21 am said:

Actually looks pretty interesting. Painting your own world, right?


4

+ GhostMachine1 on October 17th, 2012 at 6:23 am said:

I bought this yesterday. It’s amazing so far.


5

+ T3DV0L70L1N4 on October 17th, 2012 at 6:33 am said:

Here’s where I saw it would be 30% off for PS+ subscribers. Too bad they didn’t get a screenshot before it was taken down.

http://www.playstationlifestyle.net/2012/10/16/the-unfinished-swan-will-be-30-off-for-playstation-plus-members/


6

+ Cyb3rfr34k-iso on October 17th, 2012 at 6:41 am said:

i like hokyo lim calm speaking :))


7

+ Ryumoau on October 17th, 2012 at 7:32 am said:

This game is WAY overpriced for the short experience. I can get the new Borderlands 2 Pirate dlc for cheaper.

I don’t why these indie companies think they can overcharge for their pretentious game projects. Would try it for $4.99 but not a dime more.


8

+ lisatsunami on October 17th, 2012 at 7:37 am said:

I played the first couple chapters last night. It is fantastic. So creative, so unique & enjoyable. Well done, Giant Sparrow. I see why Sony has been featuring you so much.


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    + Ben Esposito on October 17th, 2012 at 4:43 pm said:

    Thank you! We’ve got more games to come in the future!


9

+ secularsage on October 17th, 2012 at 8:55 am said:

Pricing is difficult, and a lot of us are getting spoiled on sales and DLC, often forgetting that the developers who work on these indie-style games have put in years of hard work to get the game into our hands. $14.99 isn’t a high price in an era of the $60 game, but it seems comparatively high when you look at all the $9.99 DLC or discounted titles available.

But some games are worth paying for the experience. Games like Ico, Rez, Child of Eden and Journey have all been short-but-sweet experiences that have really been worth the investment. And I’d say my experience thus far with The Unfinished Swan has been the same. The experience so far has been well worth $15 because this game’s going to have an enormous amount of replay value for those who like to slow down and explore.

Last night during my first hour of play, I found myself breathless at several points as the game opened up and revealed what was next. The frog jumping into the moat was a nice “wow” moment that I might have missed had I not explored. I’m genuinely excited to keep playing this game today, and I want to give a huge kudos to Giant Sparrow for not only seeing this neat vision through, but also in making the game so accessible and beautiful.


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    + Ben Esposito on October 17th, 2012 at 4:27 pm said:

    Thanks, that means a lot to us! We’re honored to be mentioned alongside experiential games like Ico & Rez.


10

+ Thwip on October 17th, 2012 at 9:09 am said:

@secularsage
+1


11

+ jimmyfoxhound on October 17th, 2012 at 11:24 am said:

I’m really enjoying the game, it’s very unique and it’s such an interesting idea. I’m glad to play a game once in a while that doesn’t require me to shoot things with a gun.


12

+ snakeeyes211 on October 17th, 2012 at 11:41 am said:

@9
Almost every game that cost $60 has an less amount of replay value because of multiplayer or cooperative game play.


13

+ T3DV0L70L1N4 on October 17th, 2012 at 11:55 am said:

@secularsage

Thanks for the passionate review. I really love games that inspire feelings like that, and I’m definitely excited to play this game. However, money is a finite resource, and while I’m happy to support indie developers (I feel that’s where truly creative games come from), I still need to hunt down the best deal. Since there are rumors that Unfinished Swan will be 30% off for PS+ members, unfortunately I need to wait to see if that’s true.


14

+ snakeeyes211 on October 17th, 2012 at 12:11 pm said:

@13
I completely agree with your statement


15

+ DarthDanMan on October 17th, 2012 at 12:21 pm said:

@13
I you check that PSLifestyle article again it’s updated and says no longer valid. It would be a horrible decision if they did make it %30 off a week after release.

I’m debating upon getting this game. I would in a heartbeat but I spent too much $ this month. :-(


16

+ plaztiksyke on October 17th, 2012 at 12:29 pm said:

This is a fantastic game that no one should miss, and is well worth the $15.

That being said, I hope Sony is hearing us on these willingness-to-pay issues. I’m happy to pay $15 so that an indie team who’s been sleeping at the office and barely eating for a few years can realize their investment, but not everyone is as high-minded. I think that these shorter, more potent, experiences need to have a little more ‘icing’ to entice gamers: 24-bit HD audio, something only the PS3 can do; 1080p native rendering and assets; FXAA; and Platinum trophies (or at least several gold ones) when possible.

In cases where most of those ‘icing’ items can’t be met, the game shouldn’t be $15. $10? sure. $12? maybe.

Perhaps there will be free/cheap DLC later that improved that value proposition? Depending on the sales numbers, maybe communicating that next week would be helpful :) I know this really helped many of my friends who were on the fence about Costume Quest.


17

+ ThatCarlosGuy on October 17th, 2012 at 12:35 pm said:

Played through the game last night and really enjoyed every minute of it.

Great job and good luck on the next game.

Also, what’s going on with the trophies not synching?

No matter how many times I synch they just won’t reflect on my trophy card.

Nevertheless, the game is worth every cent and everyone should try it.


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    + Ben Esposito on October 17th, 2012 at 5:28 pm said:

    ThatCarlosGuy, we’re aware of this issue and are looking into fixing it ASAP! Thanks for your patience.


18

+ horndoghorner on October 17th, 2012 at 1:01 pm said:

@17 thank you so much for mentioning this! i really thought it was just me, couldnt find it mentioned anywhere on the internet. thought my trophies were blocked or something. anyone elses trophies not syncing?


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    + Ben Esposito on October 17th, 2012 at 6:11 pm said:

    The problem has been fixed, try syncing again!


19

+ lisatsunami on October 17th, 2012 at 2:14 pm said:

I only played the first couple chapters & it took that long for 1 trophy. I didn’t check the synch though. But I just got one for Dark Souls so I’ll check tonight.


20

+ Logan22 on October 17th, 2012 at 3:11 pm said:

Can this 2008 demo still be seen/found somewhere? I would like to see how the game looked back then.


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    + Ben Esposito on October 17th, 2012 at 4:16 pm said:

    You can check out the video of the tech demo here: http://vimeo.com/1807754. As for my application, maybe some day (if I can find the source files).


21

+ Logan22 on October 17th, 2012 at 3:21 pm said:

Can you release a version of the application game to the web? One without the phone number of course?


22

+ Logan22 on October 17th, 2012 at 5:00 pm said:

Thanks Ben!


23

+ Elvick_ on October 17th, 2012 at 5:49 pm said:

Great game. The trophy for no more that 3 splots is going to suck…

Tried with sound, and it is hard. I get turned around before getting to the duck feet. D;

Anyhoo, DLC for other games requires you to have the game. It is an ADDITIONAL price added to the price of the full game. It is not cheaper. Go buy the borderlands 2 DLC without owning the game and see how much value that is.

Game is easily worth 15.


24

+ Elvick_ on October 17th, 2012 at 5:56 pm said:

PS: The voice acting and music were on point.


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25

+ Ben Esposito on October 17th, 2012 at 6:10 pm said:

Update for anyone who was having trouble with syncing trophies, it should be fixed now!


26

+ musicman182 on October 17th, 2012 at 6:47 pm said:

I just finished playing through this and I loved every minute of it!!! Great job :) And I chuckled at the reference to another game I won’t spoil the name of in Chapter 3.


27

+ Decapodiformes on October 17th, 2012 at 11:12 pm said:

Oh how strange, trophies still aren’t syncing for me? The game is fantastic, totally worth the $15. Anyone that hasn’t picked it up should.


28

+ DASHAWN44UNIT on October 19th, 2012 at 5:49 am said:

yea i was wondering if u can make (Dragon Ball Z Shin Budokai another road) play on ps vita because i have it in my download list and i download it to my ps3 it dont show up on my ps vita so can u help?


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