What Remains of Edith Finch was announced late in 2014 as the sophomore effort from Giant Sparrow, the developers behind The Unfinished Swan. After some twists and turns in the development process, we’re now on the precipice of this highly anticipated game finally being released. Before it drops at the end of April, though, I got a chance to go hands-on recently with one more new demo from the game.

For those who don’t know the game’s basic premise, What Remains of Edith Finch follows the titular Edith through her familial home. The house serves as a gateway to Edith’s family tree, with new rooms being added—and subsequently cordoned off—as family members are born and later pass on. As you explore with Edith, you’ll learn of some of the more fantastic ways her family members passed from this world via diaries and other mementos, learning about the Finches alongside her.

This latest demo touches upon Lewis, Edith’s brother and most direct relative we’ve seen to date. Like many of the other stories that have been revealed, Lewis’ tale is a sad one of big dreams that are dashed as he lives out his life, working daily at a fish cannery plant up in Washington state. It continues the superb storytelling I’ve seen from the previous demos, and has me chomping at the bit for this title even more. As I try to avoid spoiling the game too much, unlike the other demos we’ve seen, Lewis’ story purposely tries to divide your attention, making you more vulnerable emotionally via mundane tasks before it hits you with the gripping finale.

I also had the chance to sit down and speak with the game’s creative director, Ian Dallas, specifically about this demo, the game as a whole, and get some background on what went into the making of What Remains of Edith Finch. The transcription of that conversation is below.

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EGM: This is the third different demo I’ve played of What Remains of Edith Finch, and the bittersweet quality to every short story is really evident at this point. How do you go about making it so that you still have these emotional moments that end on a down note, but keep players playing? 

Ian Dallas: Well, we hope in some ways that each of these is also a triumph, but especially after playing a couple of them in the game, yeah, it’ll dawn on players that everyone is going to die. And then going into each of these stories you might be a bit reserved, but hopefully you’ll get lost in the moments before getting back to that point where you’re like, “Oh, right, this is going to happen again.” But, the journey’s a more joyful version of that.

EGM: Each story thus far that I’ve seen is drastically different from the others. How was it to develop each one of these, and what was some of the process?

ID: For each story it was really different. It all started with whatever the kernel was of that story. Like Calvin’s story on the swing, for example, it was really just asking what is it like to be on a swing, and for that one the team knew early on it wouldn’t be a 20-minute story. It would be something punchier, and we wanted to make sure that the pacing matched where we wanted it to be. Sure, we could’ve made it longer or shorter, but we wanted people to have just enough time to get acclimated, but then not overstay our welcome.

We’re also always trying to keep people on their toes and never settling into a routine. There’s this weird thing that happens with games where, at the beginning, most players are always really open to whatever it might be, and experimenting, and trying new things. And then there’s a point where it switches over to thinking about how to maximize the tools given to you, and finding the optimal path here. We wanted to prevent players from getting into that mindset and always, right when they’re about to get comfortable, throw them into a new thing. But, at the same time, we also had to make sure that wasn’t frustrating, and that was the hard part for us. How to keep throwing new things at people without them getting frustrated, because we also found that there’s a really short fuse that people have when you’ve given them a new thing to do and it’s slightly difficult.

If it’s the very beginning of a game and the player just paid $60 for it, they’re more open to accepting something might be a bit complicated, and feel it’s on them to figure it out. If they’re halfway through a game and you change the mechanics on them three times in a minute and they can’t figure it out, they shift the blame onto us, the developers. So, in trying to balance that, but not make it too simplistic, the answer we found was always to make it more complicated, and then simplify it after.

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When we first started working on the demo you played, we had it ridiculously complex. There was a boss in the fish factory constantly checking on you, checking to see if you were chopping the fish the right way, and initially, you could chop your fingers off if you weren’t careful. On paper it made sense, because we wanted you expending more mental resources and have players thinking about these things and have some real risk, you know. Then, once we got all these things together, we realized no, we don’t need that.

We talk about cognitive load a lot. How much are people dealing with—and it’s hard to know when people are playing the game—how much are they thinking about the story that just happened, or maybe the story before that, or the bedroom they were just in. So, I think we consciously tried to simplify a lot of these stories a year or two ago when they were all on their feet, and we could play through and test the game from beginning to end, and we realized it was too much. In order to keep the focus not completely on the mechanics and struggling, but instead have them feel like they’re falling down a rabbit hole, or this spiral that’s going faster and faster. There was a lot of tuning to make it not too difficult in a weird way. We didn’t want to make it too easy, either, but I think we ended up in a nice place where people are engaged, and it feels like there are so many things going on, but it’s actually a relatively simple path through the game. It’s the illusion of all this stuff going on, and I think it was better for us ultimately instead of giving some open-world sandbox thing considering the brevity of a lot of these stories.

EGM: More than the other stories I’ve played so far, the fish cannery plant with Edith’s brother, Lewis, seems to purposely focus on dividing my attention. There’s a strong emphasis on the narration and story being told here, combined with two distinct, yet simple gameplay elements that carefully split my focus. It actually made it feel like the story was more powerful this way. Can you talk to how the gameplay informs, but also emphasizes the story in a seemingly subtle way?

ID: The hope in this case is that it does feel monotonous after a while. You don’t want to make it so monotonous it’s boring, but yeah, we found just that hint of monotony does help with the processing of this particular story. In this case, we’re telling the story of someone at work doing a kind of boring thing, and the monotony can trigger similar feelings. Almost like a smell can remind you of a time in childhood per se. And, in the case of the fish cannery plant, doing this monotonous thing hopefully reminds you of times where you yourself might’ve been in similar situations.

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EGM: That’s kind of the game in a nutshell, no? Of the three stories I’ve played, it starts off as normal situations that quickly turn fantastical. That start makes them instantly relatable, though. Was that a goal for you in developing this game?

ID: Yeah, and actually that’s what the house is there for really. I look at it sort of like with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with Arthur Dent where if it’s just Zaphod Beeblebrox and it’s an interesting story, but it’s not something you can connect to. Being able to see through a lens of the familiar into the bizarre really helps to bring things into focus. So, the house is a way for us, no matter how crazy we go, and I think Lewis’s story is one of the crazier ones, you’re right back into the bedroom of someone who died. This is Edith’s brother. This is someone who was referenced in other stories. In this world, he’s a real person and he had a life and hobbies. And we had to balance that. But it also allowed us to just go even crazier the next time. It’s peaks and valleys. You don’t want everything to be at the high point because then nothing is really the high point. Balancing and mixing things up, making sure it’s not all surreal crazy fever dreams, making sure there’s some of you just walking around looking at things.

EGM: You mentioned Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. Would you consider that an inspiration for the game? What might you consider some of your other inspirations for the game?

ID: Hitchhiker’s Guide was one for sure, although I wouldn’t say it was the inspiration. I just think Arthur Dent is this nice character that is inconspicuously in the middle of this insane world and in terms of Edith, Arthur Dent was one figure we looked at. Brazil, too, where the whole world is crazy, but the central character in that is pretty sensible. One Hundred Years of Solitude was a big influence. It’s hard to tell the story of a family and have these arcs that interweave without it being completely impenetrable. Twilight Zone was an influence and then just weird fiction in general. Things like Lovecraft, or modern writers like Neil Gaiman where it might be a little scary, but it’s really more about the feeling of being in a universe where you as a human cannot understand, and suspect you will never understand. It’s beyond comprehension and dealing with that.

What Remains of Edith Finch will be available on PS4 and PC on April 25.

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