Fez (video game)

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Fez
Fez (video game) cover art.png
Fez artwork by Bryan Lee O'Malley.
Developer(s) Polytron Corporation
Publisher(s)
Designer(s) Phil Fish
Programmer(s) Renaud Bédard
Composer(s) Rich Vreeland (Disasterpeace)
Engine Trixel
Platform(s) Xbox 360 (Xbox Live Arcade), Windows (Steam), Linux, OS X, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Release date(s)
Genre(s) Puzzle, platform
Mode(s) Single-player
Distribution Download

Fez (stylized as FEZ) is a 2012 puzzle platform game developed by indie developer Polytron Corporation and published by Polytron, Trapdoor, and Microsoft Studios. It is a 2D game set in a 3D world, as the two-dimensional player-character receives a fez that reveals a third dimension and consequently tears the fabric of his universe. Fez's puzzles are built around the core mechanic of rotating between four 2D views of a 3D space, as four sides around a cube, where the environment realigns between views to create new paths.

The game was an "underdog darling of the indie game scene"[2] during its high-profile and protracted five-year development cycle. Fez designer and Polytron founder Phil Fish received celebrity for his outspoken public persona[3][4] and prominence in the 2012 documentary Indie Game: The Movie, which included Fez's final stages of development and Polytron's related legal issues. The game was released as a yearlong Xbox Live Arcade exclusive on April 13, 2012 to critical acclaim, and was later ported to other platforms.

Fez won several awards, including the 2012 Independent Games Festival's Grand Prize, 2011 Indiecade's Best in Show and Best Story/World Design, and 2008 Independent Games Festival's Excellence in Visual Art. It was Eurogamer's 2012 Game of the Year. Fez had sold one million copies by the end of 2013. A sequel was planned, but was later canceled as Fish abruptly left the industry.

Gameplay[edit]

Fez trial gameplay, demonstrating the rotation mechanic and game objectives

Fez is a two-dimensional platform game set in a three-dimensional world. The player-character Gomez lives a peaceful, two-dimensional life until one day when he watches the breakup of a giant golden hexahedron tear the dimensional fabric. He receives a red fez hat with the revelation that his world has three dimensions before the game appears to glitch, reset, and reboot.[5] Subsequently, the player can rotate the viewable 2D world 90 degrees left or right about four sides of a cube, revealing four 2D views of a 3D space.[2][6] Fez's puzzles are built around how the environment interacts between these views.[2] When a level rotates, distant platforms materialize and new paths appear:[7] broken plates become a solid road, ladders missing sections become whole, traveling platforms stay on course.[8]

Gomez jumps between 2D ledges and quickly respawns upon falling to his death.[2] The platforming elements change with the setting, including tree branch platforms in the forest, and factory pistons that launch Gomez airborne. Other elements include crates that activate switches, bombs that reveal passages, collapsing platforms,[8] and climbable ivy.[9] The ultimate object of the game is to collect cubes and cube fragments,[5] which accrete to save the universe. There are two types of cubes[7] that count towards the 32 cube threshold needed for the ending.[5]

The basic idea for the 2D/3D aesthetic really just started with the Trixel idea. I figured that if we built our entire game world from these little cubes, all perfectly aligned on a 3D grid, we'd get this "3D Pixel" look.

Phil Fish, 2007 Gamasutra interview[10]

The game's puzzles are based around discovery. Progression through the game reveals hidden warp gates, enigmatic obelisks,[7] Tetris tetrominos, invisible platforms, puns,[5] pixelated hieroglyphics, a decipherable alphabet,[11] QR codes,[8] treasure maps,[12] and treasure chests with keys and artifacts that factor into later puzzles.[7] The game does not depend on item collection and an inventory,[12] but vague hints.[11] Its puzzles can be solved soon after their discovery.[12] Fez presents false signals alongside decipherable codes that the player can choose to interpret or ignore.[2] A recurring theme is the relics of an ancient civilization as it attempted to make sense of their dimension.[5]

The game has no foes, bosses, or punishments for failure.[6] The game emphasizes puzzle-solving and patience over platforming dexterity.[11][12] Fish described the game as a "'stop and smell the flowers' kind of game".[6] Fez features a pixelated art style with a limited palette.[2] The game harkens back to the 8-bit era[7] with Nintendo Entertainment System-style sound effects and the navigational aide Dot, who says, "Hey! Listen!"[13] The homage includes Tetris tetrominos inscribed on the walls and in the sky, treasure chests animations that liken to that of The Legend of Zelda, mushroom levels and travel by pipe and floating platforms à la Super Mario Bros.,[14] and sewer levels presented in the style of a Game Boy's screen.[11] Other settings include lighthouses, libraries, water towers, and alleyways with neon signs.[8] The game's New Game Plus mode imports previous game progress as Gomez collects "anti-cubes" for the harder puzzles towards the 64-cube goal,[5] and adds another perspective-based feature.[7] This second half of the game is less easygoing and focuses on code cracking.[15]

Screenshots of gameplay


Development[edit]

Main article: Development of Fez


Fez designer Phil Fish and
programmer Renaud Bédard

Fez's development cycle developed a reputation for its protracted five-year[16] length and public exposure.[2] Nathan Grayson of VG247 likened the game's rocky development process to "an indie Duke Nukem Forever".[17] Polygon reviewer Arthur Gies wrote that the game was an "underdog darling of the indie game scene" for four years prior to its release.[2] The game's designer, Phil Fish, became renowned in a way unusual for game developers due to his prominence in Indie Game: The Movie, which released in 2012.[18] While the game was released to wide acclaim, Fish himself became known for his outspoken and acerbic public persona.[3][4]

The game that became Fez began as Montreal-based Phil Fish and Toronto-based Shawn McGrath[19] collaborated on McGrath's idea for a puzzle game based on 2D views of a 3D space. Though their partnership crumbled due to creative differences,[6][note 1] the entirety of Fez's design, lore, and art descends from this game mechanic.[6] Fish continued to work on the game in his spare time[19] and solicited for a programmer on DeviantArt, where he found Renaud Bédard.[6] Fez was first announced in July 2007[20] on The Independent Gaming Source.[21] Fez was nominated for two awards at the 2008 Game Developers Conference (GDC) Independent Games Festival (IGF),[22] and when Fish was not permitted time off from his full-time game development job, he quit—a moment he recalled as "when I became indie".[19] The game won "Excellence in Visual Art", and created a surge of public interest in the game concurrent to a similar swell of interest in indie game developers. Fish received a Canadian government loan to open Polytron Corporation as a startup company and began full-time work on Fez.[19] In July 2009, Polytron announced that Fez would launch in early 2010[23] as an Xbox Live Arcade exclusive.[note 2] Development continued with a more experimental ethos until the company ran out of money.[24] Fish borrowed from friends and family to keep the company open and considered canceling the project[25] when the nearby Québécois developer-publisher Trapdoor offered to help.[24] Fish felt that partnership rescued the game.[25][note 3]

At times it seemed as though the noise surrounding Fez might drown out the game's own voice ... There were the controversial outbursts from creator Phil Fish in the press; the rumours of vicious infighting during development; the endless delays and, of course, the big-shot movie documenting the struggling creator's days as his life fell apart around the game in painful slow-motion.

Simon Parkin of Eurogamer on their 2012 Game of the Year[15]

Fez won awards at the 2011 Fantastic Arcade,[27] 2011 Indiecade (Best in Show),[28] and 2012 GDC Independent Games Festival (the Seumas McNally Grand Prize).[29] It was also a 2011 Penny Arcade Expo "PAX 10" selection.[30] Fish is shown preparing for Fez's booth at the earlier PAX East 2011 show in the 2012 documentary film Indie Game: The Movie. The film chronicles the stories of several indie developers at various stages of their games' development cycles.[31] As a subplot, the film presents Fish amidst a legal dispute with a former business partner that jeopardizes the game's future.[31][note 4] Game Informer called Fish the film's "most memorable developer",[32] and Rock, Paper, Shotgun wrote that Fish is portrayed as theatrical in a way that exacerbates his outspoken public perception.[33] Eurogamer said that the part where Fish resolves to kill himself if he does not release his game is "the film's most startling moment".[31] Near the end of development, Fish told a Gamasutra reporter that he had received positive feedback from Independent Games Festival Chairman Brandon Boyer and Braid designer Jonathan Blow, and that he felt "burnt out".[25] The final game included almost none of the original work from the first two years of development.[34] After several delays,[35] Fez was submitted for certification in February 2012.[36]

Fez development team at the 2012 GDC IGF (from left): composer Rich Vreeland, designer Phil Fish, sound designer Brandon McCartin, programmer Renaud Bédard

Fez was released on April 13, 2012 and sold 200,000 copies in its yearlong exclusivity to the Xbox Live Arcade platform.[37] Fish "fiercely criticized" the game's co-publisher, Microsoft Games Studios, for botching its release,[38] with a lack of promotion and publicity.[38] Several months later, Polytron entered a high-profile[39] dispute with Microsoft over the cost of patching the game.[3][note 5] Nearly a year after release, Fish announced a PC port for release on May 1, 2013.[37] OS X and Linux ports debuted on September 11, 2013,[41][42] and PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation Vita ports by Blit Software debuted on March 25, 2014.[43][44][note 6] Ouya and iOS ports were also announced.[37] Bédard stayed to port the Windows release before joining Toronto's Capybara Games.[32] He credited the game's long development cycle to his own inexperience in game development (compounded by the team's small size and difficulty in setting reasonable milestones), the game's scope, and Fish's perfectionism.[47] Fish had hoped that players would discuss Fez's nuances online after the game's release.[34] Players collaborated online for a week to solve the final "monolith" puzzle by brute force.[48][49] Ars Technica described the apparent end to the game's harder puzzles as "anticlimactic",[50] but Fish told Eurogamer in March 2013 that hidden in-game secrets remain to be found.[51]

Design[edit]

Indie developer Shawn McGrath (pictured in 2011) contributed the game's core mechanic, but left early in development

Bédard coded the game in Microsoft Visual C# Express and XNA Game Studio Express.[10] He wrote the level editor[47] and the game engine, Trixel, which turns 2D tiles ("triles") into sides of a 3D cube pixel.[6] Fish made pixel art in Photoshop for each tiled side ("trile") of the 3D trixel,[note 7] which Bédard's custom software compiled into 3D trixels. Fish would then design levels in the editor by extruding surfaces,[10] a process he found "overwhelming",[34] but akin to playing with Lego blocks.[10] In their process, Fish first proposed ideas that Bédard would implement. The two would then discuss and fine-tune the addition[47]—they worked well together.[6]

The game came to adopt Metroidvania mechanics, with "secret passages, warp gates, and cheat codes".[24] Fish cited Myst as an inspiration and compared its open world, nonlinear narrative, and "obtuse metapuzzles" to Fez's own alphabet, numeric system, and an "almost unfairly hard to get" "second set of collectibles".[34][note 8] He was also inspired by the Nintendo Entertainment System games of his youth (particularly Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda), Hayao Miyazaki's signature "open blue sky", "feel-good" atmosphere,[10] and Fumito Ueda's Ico. Fish sought to emulate Ico's feeling of nostalgic and isolated loneliness, and Ueda's "design by subtraction" philosophy, where the Ico development team removed parts of the game nonessential to their vision. Fish made a personal challenge of designing a game without relying on "established mechanics".[34] As such, Fez was always a peaceful game and there was never an enemy coded into the game.[34]

Music[edit]

Composer Rich "Disasterpeace" Vreeland, 2012
"Trail", a medley by Disasterpeace from the Fez soundtrack remix album FZ: Side Z

Rich Vreeland, also known as Disasterpeace, composed the game's chiptune-esque[8] electronic soundtrack. Vreeland's background is in chiptune, but he wanted to distance the score from the genre while borrowing its sounds. He used soft synth pads and reverb to push the genre closer to 80s synth scores, and reduced reliance on percussion. He also incorporated distortion techniques like bitcrushing and wow. Vreeland opted for slower passages with varying tempos that could "ebb, flow, and breathe with the player".[53] He left some portions of the game without music. Vreeland worked on the soundtrack at night for about 14 months while scoring Shoot Many Robots.[53] Brandon McCartin of Aquaria designed the game's sound effects.[52]

"Continuum" is a synthesized rendition of Frédéric Chopin's Prelude, Op. 28, No. 4.[54]

The soundtrack was released in a digital format on April 20, 2012.[53] Pre-orders for the soundtrack topped the Bandcamp charts.[55] Kirk Hamilton of Kotaku wrote that Fez's sound effects evoked Jim Guthrie's Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP audio.[53] Joshua Kopstein of The Verge called the work "fantastic" and described it as a cross between a "1980s Vangelis synth odyssey" and a submerged vinyl record from an arcade.[55] Game Informer's Miller wrote that the soundtrack contributed to the "80s nostalgia vibe".[7] Eurogamer described the music as "lush, spooky, and electrifying",[5] and Edge compared it to "Holst put through a Mega Drive".[8] Oli Welsh of Eurogamer wrote that the music matched the game's themes of "hidden depth". Welsh heard influences of 60s English psychedelia (Pink Floyd, Soft Machine), 70s Krautrock (Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk), 80s synth (Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis), and Erik Satie. He added that the soundtrack's contribution to the game was "incalculable".[15] Damian Kastbauer of Game Developer used Vreeland's soundtrack to exemplify how a retrogaming aesthetic in sound and visuals could be both "futuristic and nostalgic" as the "right 'voice' to support the game's design intentions".[56]

Game Developer listed Vreeland in their 2012 Power 50 for his work on the soundtrack, which they described as "atmospheric, pensive, and maybe even a little bit melancholy".[57] In keeping with the game's theme of secrets, images visible only through spectrogram were embedded into the soundtrack audio. Images included that of Harry S. Truman, Jesus, and a QR code of a list of years.[58] Vreeland released a remix album, FZ: Side F, a year later on April 20, 2013. It features tracks from other artists, including Jim Guthrie.[59] He later released another remix album, FZ: Side Z, and all three albums were included in the August 2013 Game Music Bundle 5.[60]


Reception[edit]

Reception
Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings X360: 89%[62]
PC: 94%[63]
Metacritic X360: 89/100[64]
PC: 91/100[65]
Review scores
Publication Score
Edge 9/10[8]
Eurogamer 10/10[5]
Game Informer 9.25/10[7]
GameSpot 8/10[9]
IGN 9.5/10[13]
Polygon 8/10[2]

The video game review aggregator Metacritic described reviews for the 2012 Xbox 360 Fez as "generally favorable"[64] and those for the 2013 PC version as "universal acclaim".[65] GameRankings ranks Fez as the 73rd highest-rated Xbox 360 game[62] and 15th highest-rated PC game.[63] While in development, Fez had won the 2012 GDC Independent Games Festival's Seumas McNally Grand Prize,[29][note 9] the 2011 Indiecade Best in Show and Best Story/World Design,[28] the 2011 Fantastic Arcade Audience Choice Award,[27] and the 2008 GDC Independent Games Festival's Excellence in Visual Art.[19] Eurogamer awarded Fez a perfect score[5] and named the "perfect, wordless sci-fi parable" their 2012 Game of the Year.[15] Digital Spy listed Fez eighth in its Best Games of 2012, ahead of high-budget games like Black Ops 2 and Halo 4.[68][69] Fez was Diamond Trust of London developer Jason Rohrer and Halo 4 lead game designer Scott Warner's 2012 game of the year.[70] The PC port was Metacritic's tenth best-reviewed video game of 2013.[71]

The New York Times's called Fez Fish's "tribute to 1980s gaming ... lovingly, almost excessively, devoted to the golden age of Nintendo".[14] Arthur Gies of Polygon described the game's aesthetics as "so retro it hurts", citing the pixelated look, chiptune soundtrack, and ways of clueing the player without explicit guidance. Gies felt that though "8-bit nostalgia" was outmoded, the game showed an understanding of its influences and was the "most authentic" of the style.[2] Jeremy Parish of 1UP.com called the game's minimalism "admirable" and likened its art style to Cave Story.[12] IGN's video review said the game "drags the 8-bit era into the future".[13] Kotaku described the game's nostalgic manner as "the video game aesthetic".[53] Oli Welsh of Eurogamer lamented how "retro pixel art" became an indie game cliché during the length of the game's development, but saw a departure from other indie game stereotypes alongside the game's dedication to the wonderment of early Nintendo titles, noting, "Fish clearly worships the Nintendo of his boyhood". Welsh described the game as Shigeru Miyamoto's peace-loving 1970s surrealist 2001: A Space Odyssey, and saw its social role as "the darling of a certain indie clique" with "studied hipster cool".[5] Edge described the game as "a place built from gaming's history", whose playfulness makes it "an unexpected heir to Super Mario Bros." with levels like well-crafted toys.[8]

Journalists likened Fez's rotation mechanic to the 2D–3D shifts of games like Echochrome, Super Paper Mario,[2][7][12][23] and Crush.[8][36] Early in development, Fish himself said that the idea is "nothing mind-blowing" and that the game could have been made "at any point in the last 15 years".[6] Polygon's Gies wrote that Echochrome did it better, among others,[2] and Tom Mc Shea of GameSpot considered the mechanic a gimmick.[9] Matt Miller of Game Informer thought that Fez fulfilled the idea's potential best of the bunch, commending the puzzle design and pacing up until the endgame. He also compared the game's story to that of the novella Flatland, where the protagonist similarly discovers the complexities of another dimension.[7] 1UP.com's Parish said that Fez's rotation mechanic was deeper than Super Paper Mario and not as Escher-heavy as Echochrome.[12] Edge felt that the game's technique was "far less self-conscious" and "more harmonious" than Endochrome and Crush, and that Fez's indoor puzzles were its best.[8] Eurogamer's Welsh compared the game's "wraparound platforming" to 80s game Nebulus.[5]

Reviewers commended the game's emphasis on discovery and freedom,[5][7][8] but regretted the game's navigation and endgame's requisite backtracking as tedious.[7][11] Parish of 1UP.com wrote that open-world action games like Metroid Prime all have these issues,[11] while Edge found the 3D map more helpful than its first impression. They compared the game's esoteric tricks to an older age of game development that packed games with Easter eggs, secrets, and codes, citing titles such as Exile and Jet Set Willy.[8] IGN's Mitch Dyer contrasted Fez's riddles to Metal Gear Solid's codec frequency puzzle, where the answer was on the game's case.[13] Jeffrey Matulef of Eurogamer related his experience to the feeling of first playing the 1994 Myst.[15] The New York Times called Fez "a Finnegan's Wake of video games" for its codebreaking that "makes the player feel like John Nash as portrayed by Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind".[14] Game Informer recommended Fez for completionists who seek challenges.[7] Polygon's Gies described his uncertainty about the intentionality of technical frame rate issues as having a "certain genius".[2] Other reviewers noted its technical faults: Game Informer as minor,[7] and 1UP.com as "easily the glitchiest game I've played on my 360".[11]

The game sold 100,000 copies in less than two months,[72] 200,000 within a year,[73] and after the Humble Bundle, one million by the end of 2013.[74] It was Xbox Live's 13th bestselling Arcade title of 2012.[75] Fez was cited as an inspiration for the 2014 indie puzzle game Monument Valley.[76]

Sequel[edit]

Fez 2 is cancelled. I am done. I take the money and I run. This is as much as I can stomach. This isn't the result of any one thing, but the end of a long, bloody campaign. You win.

Fez 2 cancellation post on Polytron's website[77]

Fez 2 was announced as "one more thing" at end of the Horizon indie game press conference during the June 2013 Electronic Entertainment Expo.[78] A Twitter argument between Fish and GameTrailers journalist Marcus Beer a month later culminated in the project's cancellation and Fish's exit from the industry. In an episode of his show Invisible Walls, Beer had criticized Fish's recent response to questions about Microsoft's Xbox One self-publishing policy change. On Twitter, Fish condemned the industry for its negativity before his final tweet announced the cancellation and his leave.[77] The news came as a surprise to the rest of his company,[79] which has not commented on upcoming projects other than ports since the sequel's cancellation.[80] Polygon listed Fish in their top 50 newsmakers of 2013 for the social power of his "caustic use of Twitter".[81]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Fish wanted to create a platform game. After the split, McGrath made Dyad with his new company, ][ (Left Square Bracket Right Square Bracket).[6]
  2. ^ Fish designed the game to be played "with a controller on a couch".[24]
  3. ^ Polytron itself became an indie game publisher in June 2014.[26]
  4. ^ The former business partner, believed to be Jason DeGroot, is portrayed negatively and does not participate onscreen.[82] The film's end credits were later corrected to reflect that the partner was not asked for input.[82] An early trailer convinced Jason DeGroot to join the Fez development team as a producer[19] and composer.[10] He worked on Fez as far back as September 2007[83] and released demo tracks in late 2009,[84] although he later left the project.[82] The soundtrack was ultimately composed by Rich "Disasterpeace" Vreeland[53] and the sound effects by Brandon McCartin, who were both on the project in 2010.[52] DeGroot later worked on games including Dyad (with Shawn McGrath) and Sound Shapes.[82]
  5. ^ Polytron had released a fix that resolved many of the game's technical issues but introduced another that corrupted the saved games for about one percent of users. They withdrew the patch, but found Microsoft's fee for subsequent patch releases unviable, and chose to reinstate the withdrawn patch as their most utilitarian option.[3] Microsoft removed the fee a year later.[40]
  6. ^ The PlayStation releases include cross-console support for "cross-buy" (where one digital purchase allows access across multiple consoles)[45] and "cross-save" (game save sharing between consoles), as well as support for 3D televisions, the DualShock 4 controller's decorative lightbar,[43] and graphical upgrades due to the full port into the C++ programming language.[46]
  7. ^ Fez had three different animators through its development: Paul Robertson of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game, who did the game's animals and some of Gomez's animations,[6] Adam Saltsman of Canabalt,[52] and Graham Lackey, who did some character animations.[10]
  8. ^ Fish originally fought the inclusion of an in-game map and the navigational assistant, Dot, but later changed his mind.[51]
  9. ^ Fez was also a finalist in Technical Excellence and an honorable mention in Excellence in Audio at the 2011 Independent Games Festival,[66] as well as a finalist in Best Debut at the 13th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards in 2013.[67]

References[edit]

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