Death is a pretty common thing in video games. Shooters, RPGs, survival games, you name it, and it’s not often that we contemplate on the subject. Giant Sparrow’s What Remains of Edith Finch changes that by approaching Death is a definite, inevitable fact but something that can have its own beauty. Since releasing on April 25th, What Remains of Edith Finch has garnered widespread acclaim, both from critics and consumers.
GamingBolt had the opportunity to speak to creative director Ian Dallas about the game, how the team transitioned from their last project The Unfinished Swan and what ultimately went into developing Edith Finch.
"From my perspective, I feel like the game is what I hoped it would be even though it looks and plays nothing like what I’d originally expected."
How did you go from a game like The Unfinished Swan to something more complex and decidedly more morbid with What Remains of Edith Finch?
I think ultimately they’re both games about the unknown. For our last game, The Unfinished Swan, it was more about the awe and wonder of that experience. With our new game it’s more focused on the way those moments can be simultaneously beautiful and overwhelming. Our last game was inspired by children’s books so it looks very lighthearted, while this one was inspired by a literary genre from the 1930s called Weird Fiction so it looks a little more ominous, but underneath there’s a lot of overlap between the two games in terms of the feelings and moments they’re exploring.
It feels like Edith Finch has changed a lot since its initial announcement. What do you feel has changed the most over the course of development?
From my perspective, I feel like the game is what I hoped it would be even though it looks and plays nothing like what I’d originally expected. Some of that is having four and a half years to work on it and refine our ideas, and some of it is the effect of having a team of people all contributing and putting pieces of themselves into it.
The game has turned out to be a lot happier and joyful than I thought it would, which I’m glad about. We tried balancing the morbid and delightful aspects but it was pretty tricky. More than anything, I think the music helped us to finalize that balance, giving us a lot of control very late in development to push the emotional content of a scene in subtle but powerful ways.
“Death” as a theme encompasses the entire game but What Remains of Edith Finch takes a more solemn approach to it. How did you look at this from the outset and what was done to properly capture this particular tone of death?
I look at death as the ultimate reminder that there are things we will never know and things that will always be out of our control. And that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s certainly not something we can do anything about, so I think the sensible approach is to accept it and make the best of things.
I heard a saying recently that summed that up for me, “the situation is desperate but not serious.” We’re trying to honestly explore how a family deals with death but more by celebrating their interesting lives than by focusing on the tragedy of their dying.
"It’s true that there are a lot of stories in the game, but our focus was less on telling a particular story as it was on creating strange and beautiful moments."
Aesthetically, what techniques did you employ to properly convey the atmosphere?
In this game we focused a lot on lighting, among other things. That’s something Unreal Engine does a very nice job with and our lead artist was very interested in. It gave us a way to adjust how realistic / stylized we wanted the world to feel, just by adjusting how stylized our lighting choices were.
Each character in the game seems to have an overall different perspective on death. Was this a challenge, especially when it comes to players properly embodying the characters?
We tried to give each character a distinct perspective on death as a way of helping the characters stand out from each other and also encouraging players themselves to look at death in ways they might not have considered. One of the most significant challenges we ended up having was just getting players to remember 13 family members, so we were always looking for ways to make the family members stand out from each other.
What can you tell us about the gameplay in Edith Finch? It’s often described as a collection of short stories but how do you look at it?
I look at it as a series of bizarre and wonderful experiences. It’s true that there are a lot of stories in the game, but our focus was less on telling a particular story as it was on creating strange and beautiful moments. We described it as “falling down the rabbit hole,” this feeling of passing into a world you’ve never experienced before. Each of the stories is there to draw you in a little deeper.
How do you feel Edith Finch differs mechanically from other first person adventure titles? More particularly, how does it defy the simple label of “walking simulator”?
The thing that stands out most is that in What Remains of Edith Finch, the mechanics are constantly changing. Each story you encounter has its own gameplay and sometimes even several entirely different gameplay sequences within the same story. As a player, you’re always trying to figure out what’s going on, hopefully not in a way that’s difficult or frustrating, but more like what it feels like to pickup a new toy and play around with it to see how it works.
"We’re currently working on fixing bugs and polishing things up on all platforms. We don’t have any specific post-launch plans to announce just yet but stay tuned."
In comparison with other games people identify as “walking simulators” our game tries to evoke feelings through gameplay much more than through the story itself. The story is there to provide context for you as a player and to setup anticipation, but our hope is that most of the feeling comes from what the player is experiencing themselves as they explore and interact with this world.
Will there be multiple endings for the game to incentivize players to revisit the story?
No. But each of the stories in the game, including the ending, is meant to be open enough that there are many different ways to understand them, and that on playing it again you’ll come away with a different impression than what you had initially.
How long do you feel the game will be for the average player?
Between 2 – 3 hours, depending on how interested players are in exploring off the beaten path.
What kind of post-launch support can we expect for Edith Finch? Have you already begun thinking about your next game?
We’re currently working on fixing bugs and polishing things up on all platforms. We don’t have any specific post-launch plans to announce just yet but stay tuned.
What Remains of Edith Finch has only seen launches on PlayStation platforms or PCs. Is there a specific reason why your games are not launching on the Xbox?
For What Remains of Edith Finch we started by releasing on PS4 and PC but we’re still considering other platforms and might have something to announce soon.
"It’s nice to see that Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo all have such different strategies because as gamers it gives us a lot of interesting choices."
I am sure you must be following up on the iterative consoles…the PS4 Pro and Xbox One Scorpio, specially the latter which has over 12GB of memory. Do you think the latter will impact PC games in anyway (i.e. will 12GB of Scorpio will also increase memory PC requirements for games in the future)?
I think the PS4 Pro and Xbox One Scorpio are closer to what we’d consider a high end PC these days, but since we’ve already done a lot of work supporting the PC it’s more likely that work we’ve done on the PC for things like improved visual effects, etc would be used in those consoles than having it go the other way.
Do you think the power of Scorpio is something that might interest you to develop games for it?
We don’t have development kits for the Scorpio yet so it’s hard to tell, but it’s something we’re looking at.
What Remains of Edith Finch looks pretty amazing on the PS4 Pro. In what ways did you pushed the system to achieve the desired results?
On the PS4 Pro the main benefit we saw with our game was being able to take advantage of the extra memory and speed, which helps to reduce textures popping in and the need to throw up a loading screen to stream in new areas as the player moves around the world. The game doesn’t yet support 4K or HDR but it’s something we’re investigating.
As someone who is working on the PS4 Pro, you must be aware that the system is more of an initial step for console gaming towards 4K. The Scorpio is the first big step by a major console maker into the realm of 4K gaming. What is your opinion on the two different strategies adopted by these two gaming giants?
Honestly, I have no idea. It’s nice to see that Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo all have such different strategies because as gamers it gives us a lot of interesting choices.