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The Unfinished Swan: Dallas and Chen on PSN indie dev

Giant Sparrow’s The Unfinished Swan continues Sony and PSN’s support for the artistic indie. Johnny Cullen talks to creative director Ian Dallas and thatgamecompany co-founder Jenova Chen.

Giant Sparrow has been working on The Unfinished Swan since 2008. While there's been no information on the title for some time, it was announced yesterday the game will be published by Sony as part of a three-game deal.

Terms weren't discussed, but the deal is "extremely similar" to one previously signed by Jenova Chen's thatgamecompany. TGC ended its three-game agreement with Sony earlier this year with Journey, which shot the studio to indie superstardom.

Giant Sparrow's Ian Dallas tells me he hopes Sony's support will pay similar dividends to those received by TGC.

"We just feel very lucky that we have been able to focus on making a game," says Dallas.

"One of the great things about the incubation deal is that we didn't have to go out and find a building, we didn't have to set up IT, we could just focus on making a game."

The Unfinished Swan is a Move-based exploration game. The player controls a young boy named Monroe, who's chased a swan into an initially colourless world. To navigate, players use Move to splatter black paint on an environment inspired by Alice in Wonderland and the Ugly Duckling.

Dallas is hopeful the storybook aspect will give players a new perspective on storytelling in games.

“Storybooks were something that we kind of latched onto early on that informed not only the narrative, but also the way the whole game feels. One of the things that storybooks do really well is not tell readers everything.”

"If it wasn't for PSN, I would probably be working somewhere in a big studio these days."

The Unfinished Swan is merely a continuation of Sony’s support for indie dev, a stance exemplified by its hiring of Jenova Chen’s thatgamecompany. TGC released Flow, Flower and Journey as part of its three-game deal with Sony, with all titles shipping through PSN.

"If it wasn't for PSN, I would probably be working somewhere in a big studio these days," Chen tells VG247.

“[PSN] created a unique business opportunity so we could start a small studio with a relatively much smaller budget compared to retail games. PSN - and other digital distribution services like Xbox Live or Steam - allow you to lower the cost of distribution so that the budget of games can be smaller. There's more opportunity for you to take a risk."

The non-physical PSN has allowed small studios on low budgets to be successful for Sony; Chen believes discs’ days are numbered.

"Today, pretty much all publishers are shifting from retail to digital or supporting both," he says.

“Digital is definitely going to be the future. I don't even recall when I last bought a box from GameStop. Pretty much every game I've played in the past two years has been from digital distribution, either from Steam or Origin. It's just easier for the consumer."

Giant Sparrow's The Unfinished Swan.

Dallas agrees with Chen.

“The trajectory is certainly going digital," he says. "I love that Steam and PSN will box things up sometimes. Maybe there's a game you haven't seen before; now you can five of that developer's games at once. I think there's a chance to keep the past alive a little bit more."

This year has further strengthened the modern indie concept, with notable releases including Dear Esther on PC, Fez on Xbox 360 and Chen’s Journey on PSN. Dallas largely ascribes recent indie success to a more enlightened consumer.

"There are a lot of reasons why you've seen more indie games lately. Certainly, there are technological reasons, but I also think the audience is finally there for it. Thatgamecompany’s games have built up an audience that really appreciates games that are trying to do things that have never been done before."

Ian Dallas is the co-founder and creative director of Giant Sparrow. The Unfinished Swan launches later this year. Jenova Chen is the co-founder and creative director of thatgamecompany.

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Johnny Cullen


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