Giant Sparrow’s mystery adventure title, What Remains of Edith Finch, was an unmitigated success. The game sent shockwaves through the community for its unique approach to storytelling, picking up the BAFTA for Best Game, and beating out a host of AAA titles in the process. We got in touch with the game’s Technical Art Lead, Chelsea Hash, to find out more about Edith Finch, and the future of the studio…
For those who have yet to play the game, what can they expect from What Remains of Edith Finch?
The story of Edith Finch is the telling of a story about people so specific that they just may remind you of someone.
Were you expecting What Remains of Edith Finch to be such a critical and commercial success?
While I hadn’t counted on the overwhelmingly positive reception, there was a point in development after the last voice over recording session that we knew we had made a good thing. Whether or not that translated to commercial success, and the total public reaction would be wide ranging (including valid criticism), there was no universe where it wouldn’t be meaningful to some people.
How long did it take to create the game from start to finish, and was it a different experience to producing The Unfinished Swan?
Edith Finch was in development for just over 4 years, and by comparison (although I didn’t work on that project), The Unfinished Swan was in some form of development for 7. Our first publisher really pushed Finch out of pre-production early, and I believe it forced us to stretch foundational decisions throughout development. The frame of the game evolved substantially, from a largely underwater scuba game to a suspenseful title with magic spells (“The Nightmares of Edith Finch”) and finally fully settled into the magical realism with the cursed family history at the forefront.
Were they any specific influences, from within the world of video games or otherwise, which went into the design of the game?
The influences were mostly from outside of games, and often from film or music about capturing tone or pacing at such a small granularity it would feel odd to list it as an inspiration. The strongest and earliest influences however, that carried throughout the course of development, were 100 Years of Solitude, The Twilight Zone and broadly the genre of weird fiction.
What was the biggest challenge that you had to face in the development of the game?
The biggest challenge was choosing what to compromise on, and being okay with letting whole scenes and stories end up on the cutting room floor. Two thirds of what we developed ended up on the cutting room floor, and it wasn’t always because it wasn’t good. It wasn’t enough for our character stories to just be fun or visually evocative, they had to lay out, or at least imply a series of specific events. We cut whole generations and collapsed them into one another. Some of the visual systems I was the most excited about presenting didn’t tell enough of a tale to make it into the final version. We were fortunate enough to be able to develop that much content, do the editing and have enough left over to create a complete experience. Some people wanted more. Some people were exhausted by the end. There are definitely fragments that I believe could have found their place with more time, but nothing that was essential was lost.
What’s next? Can we expect Giant Sparrow to continue to focus on first-person adventures, or might future releases bring something different?
Giant Sparrow’s continuity comes from an opinionated approach to a point of view. Whether that’s first person or not is up to how that point of view is best served. Time will tell!
Do you have any advice for indie developers who are trying to replicate your achievements?
We are very fortunate to be backed by a publishing team that believes in Giant Sparrow’s vision. It’s hard to tell someone to replicate the series of fortunate events that allowed the team to hammer at these ideas for so long, but what they can do is champion their own perspective that can’t just be replicated by another team with an even bigger budget. Scope concerns are often impressed on indie developers and they feel the need to retreat to certain formulas and mechanics designed to stretch over hours of re-combinations of a narrow kit of parts. The QA is different; the risk per map is different. It’s still a lot of work to pull off. More and more there is also room for the hand crafted moment that can only be experienced once. Your QA becomes how it feels and reads instead of tuning collision and game economies. It has a different kind of ROI and to make it work you shouldn’t be afraid to work with outside partners. Find those partners that believe in what you want to build and, while I can’t say there won’t be compromises, the unique insight of an individual has a certain magnetism that can supersede the limitations of resources, technology and market tastes that often dictate what gets built.
The developer’s position has only been solidified by the release of Edith Finch, and any lingering doubts over whether “difficult second album” syndrome would rear its head have been assuaged. As the popularity of Giant Sparrow titles increases, the studio offers a model for how to make games the right way, with plenty of development time and a real passion for making the best finished product possible. Whatever it is that comes next for Giant Sparrow, the future certainly does look bright.
If you are yet to read our in-depth analysis of What Remains of Edith Finch (Spoilers), then you can take a look at it here.