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Games Of October 2012: The Unfinished Swan

Though cutesy at times, The Unfinished Swan still leaves us exhilarated.

By John Teti • November 14, 2012

In case you missed it: On Monday’s edition of The Digest, we argued over Assassin’s Creed III, and yesterday, we sang the praises (mostly) of Forza Horizon.

Kotaku editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo returns to wrap up this week’s Digest as we talk about The Unfinished Swan. I was pretty skeptical of this one, and indeed, at times I grew frustrated with its twee mannerisms and lack of challenge. But the affecting final act of the game crystallized the whole experience for me.

Since I was met with howling derision in the comment threads when I maligned muffins in this space earlier in the week, I hesitate to say this, but I’ve never developed much of a taste for beer. So you could argue that I was BIAS against today’s digestible. But even I can enjoy a good beer from time to time, and this pumpkin ale was in another sphere altogether. When will the scourge of pumpkin flavor release its grip on this culture? WHEN? Okay, in a couple weeks, I guess. It was a rhetorical question.

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  • Drew Toal

    Well, this at least partially explains your reluctance to drink anything but gin-flavored beer. 

    • Enkidum

      Gin-flavored beer = gin? Ugh…. to quote a very old Milk And Cheese t-shirt: “Gin makes a man mean!” “Everybody booze up and riot!”

      • Chum Joely

        Awesome.  I know that comic too and I even wrote and recorded a nasty blues song about how gin makes a man mean.

      • PPPfive

        I still have that tshirt

  • Jackbert322

    3:38-3:43 is going to be the highlight of my week.

    • Chum Joely

      Twiddle-dee-twiddle-dee-DOO!

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    Teti stumbles through the hanging beads and muslin curtains into the blessedly anonymous haze of the wretched little room.
       The floor is littered with men, broken and lost.  The dim candlelight hovering by their heads perhaps the sole thread tethering them to this cold place.
       ”Mr. Teti, sir!  Here again so soon?”
        “Ravi, you know I’m not a ‘beer man’.”
       Teti loosens his tie and lay his head down in the lap of a teak Khali.  Ravi obediently crouches down to impart the long, thin pipe.
       And through the alkali, slate fog of dream a vision lingers…

    In Faxanadu did King Grieve
    Through meteor-induced madness decree:
    The Elven town must be shattered
    To steal the Elf Fountain Water
    Up four action-filled levels of a tree.

    • HobbesMkii

      I think this is the first time I’ve seen Coleridge used for comedy outside of Douglas Adams.

  • Enkidum

    How can a grown-ass man not like beer? That’s like not being interested in cars, or shooting people in the face!

    Not going to buy this until next year, probably, because I want to play it with the kids and they’re over-gamed right now (just bought my daughter a 3DS to match my son’s, it’s going to be enough of a chore to get them not playing them every evening). But I really like the look of this.

    • Jackbert322

      You give your children 3DS plural? (3DS’s? 3DSs? 3DSes? 3DS’?) Adopt me.

      • Enkidum

        It was probably a mistake – we got my son one for his birthday, and my daughter’s been bugging us for one ever since, and, y’know, anything that allows us to avoid actually parenting them is good.

        We were very cruel and didn’t let them play them tonight, though.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          That’s storybook villainy right there.  Me, I like to let my daughter watch Youtube alphabet videos on the iPad while I nap next to her on the couch.

        • Jackbert322

          From around two, my mama would drive me to the library and just leave me to my own devices for several hours. She would hide in the corner and read Cormac McCarthy and Flannery O’Conner, and I would wander around confused. On the bright side, I was reading at three because it was an alternative to ferally roaming the library, asking strangers for food.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           FLAGGED and child protective services contacted.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       I don’t really like beer, or booze in general – however, based on the excitement of basically every peer-age relative I have, including my decidedly more dionysian little brother, Teti should just leapfrog the pumpkininny tyranny of autumn ale and go straight to Christmas Ale, which is apparently the nectar of the gods.

      • Enkidum

        Overly sweet beers are generally ok for the first one, but after a dozen you just feel like shit.

        Seriously, though, almost all holiday/winter beers are made only during that season because almost no one can drink them all year round. This is true of both pumpkin and christmas ales. They’re fine if you’re having a couple every year, beyond that just too damn cloying.

        • BarbleBapkins

          I really can’t stand beers that are flavored with any kind of fruit. Pumpkin is the most palatable, but any lemon/lime/berry stuff (even from brands I normally enjoy) just tastes like what I imagine floor cleaner tastes like.

          Fall and Winter are for malty, smooth beers. A prominent reason they are my favorite seasons.

    • Raging Bear

      Well, I’m a thoroughly mature grownup, and I consider beer to be icky-poo.

    • HobbesMkii

      I can’t decide if I imagine Teti to be more the sort of person who gets excited about a bottle of fine wine, or the sort of person who goes to the type of bars where they serve liquor in Mason jars. I don’t really see him as a barfly type, but you never know.

      • Enkidum

        Strawberry Ripple, by the bottle, under the bridge. Obviously.

    • stakkalee

      Beer is for fratboys and moms “going wild” at Tuesday night Happy Hour.  Now scotch, there’s a grown-up’s drink.

      There, that bit of nuanced commentary is sure to get some discussion going!

      • Enkidum

        I’m in favour of both, personally. TBH, I’m kind of a drunk, and not particularly fussy, although I vastly prefer to drink good stuff if it’s available.

  • http://twitter.com/TheBryanJZX90 Bryan Reynolds

    I enjoyed hearing from the Kotaku editors away from the mewling masses of their commentariat and the tabloid excess of Gawker. You can still tell on Kotaku that they are a thoughtful bunch, and it was good to see some thoughtful discussion here on Gameological as always. I hope that there will also be another Gameological podcast available soon!

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      The podcast makes its own triumphant (hopefully) return on either Friday or Monday, depending on availability of guests (read: my mom).

      • http://twitter.com/TheBryanJZX90 Bryan Reynolds

        I’m looking forward to her next review, and hopefully also some more embarrassing nicknames!

      • Jeff Bandy

        More Bonnie Teti! CATCH IT!

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    Non-smart-ass post; this game does look kinda wonderful.  It looks to have some of the same DNA as Flower, but the levels each with their own distinct art direction is a fantastic touch.
       Excepting the ‘story’ segments.  It’s got that ‘Target birthday card’ aesthetic I just can’t get behind. 

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       Yeah, this is definitely another one for the “If/when I finally get a PS3″ pile.

    • Chum Joely

      It’s pretty good.  I have to agree with John and Stephen (and some other posters below)– yes, this game is corny at times, but the feeling of discovery and the gentleness of the game made for a really unique experience. On the other hand, although the paint at the beginning was probably the most exciting gameplay mechanic (as all reviewers say), I’d say the specific mechanics for each of the subsequent levels were also pretty interesting in their own right (vines, lamps, blueprints).

      I was worried that I’d feel a bit short-changed for paying $15 for this short little game, but in the end I liked it quite a lot. Recommended.

      • Effigy_Power

        That’s generally a big issue with the use of “whimsy”. It’s very effective in creating a sense of wonder and strangeness without being threatening, but it’s almost impossible to level off properly. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, obviously in its Gene Wilder version, has that issue throughout, in that the whimsy is adorable and even managed to fill an adult with childlike wonder, but in several cases overloads to Seussian proportions.
        Despite thinking of whimsy as something that’s easily put in place to dupe kids into buying Harry Potter books and whatnot, I’d argue that as a literary device it is rarely used well, probably because it’s quite complicated to use.

      • Enkidum

        As soon as the discussion got around to the way the later mechanics weren’t quite as revelatory as the paint-splatter one, I thought of Portal II, where the gels and light beams and such are fun, and add an extra level of complexity to the puzzles, but just couldn’t possibly live up to the mind-bogglingly weird nature of the original portal mechanic.

        Of course that’s hardly a fair criticism: “The cool new mechanics in this game aren’t as revolutionary as the one in the last game that was possibly the most original game mechanic in the past decade!”. Cry me a river.

        Definitely getting this next year.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          For me, it was combining the new mechanics with the portal mechanic that made the game interesting. If you set your portals just right, you can make a never-ending fountain of gel. It doesn’t serve any purpose; it just looks really cool.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    Man, Totilo was on fire in this one. His insight about playing as a child was especially astute – I never stopped to consider how I rethink how I play when I’m playing a child character, but what he says makes so much sense, especially when playing a child character from the first-person perspective. I think that’s what worked so well about Quantum Conundrum (horrible first-person platforming mechanics notwithstanding) – the sense of wonder experienced as you progress through the increasingly convoluted mansion. If The Unfinished Swan provokes similar feelings, it’s something I’d like to experience. Too bad it’s a PS3 exclusive.

    • caspiancomic

       I’m going to throw a big ‘second’ onto this, Totilo was delightful, and clearly a really intelligent guy who knows his game theory. I was especially taken with his observations about the multiple facets of gaming being most efficient when they’re in harmony- particularly the mechanics and the narrative- because it’s one of the cornerstones of my own academical approach to gaming. I like the idea that the ‘act of doing’ is also ‘what the game is about’, thematically speaking (in this game, creation and exploration). It’s a very pure expression of that idea of action and interactivity not only being a component of gaming, but being a driving element in communicating a game’s plot, and tone, and characters. The symbiotic relationship between mechanics and narrative is pretty uniquely powerful, it’s a shame more games don’t examine that relationship more completely.

      • Jackbert322

        Speaking of Game Theory, I checked out your post from a couple weeks ago on TWEWY. It was pretty fucking sweet. I read the whole things, despite never playing TWEWY, though the DS was my first system.

        Tangent: Most of my DS games were bought by my aunt, and she got games with recognizable terms in the titles. So I got shovelware games featuring Superman, the Harlem Globetrotters, and M&Ms. I also ended up with Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, because…I don’t know, I really have no idea.

        Anyway, the DS is now buried somewhere in our tiny basement, (My mom took it away when I misbehaved once, and forgot where she hid it.) Maybe I’ll dig through the piles of shitty albums from when my mom worked for a record store in 90s, my old drawings that now look satanic (maybe that’s why I got Devil Survivor), and other relics from the past, and find it. Then I will play TWEWY and it’s ALL YOUR FAULT.

        Wow, that was rambling. Summary: your blog, it is cool.

        • caspiancomic

           Welp, my day is pretty much made, thanks man. Now that I’ve got my desktop back up and running with a brand new hard drive (it spent several days in the computer morgue/Apple repair shop, but is gloriously resurrected) I’ll be able to start work on the second part of that series.

    • dreadguacamole

       Thirded! These three episodes have been great.
       Also, the N’Gai Kroal mention had me thinking how awesome it’d be to nab him for the podcast…

  • caspiancomic

    Oh God, I really want to play this game, but I’m terrified of the havoc it will reap on my plasma screen. I can only play Jet Set Radio for like a hour at a stretch until my lifebar, timer, and paint cans start to ghost in. I can’t imagine playing a game so purely white on the poor thing.

    • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

      The difference is that those elements of JSR are static and can burn in, while you’re steadily moving throughout The Unfinished Swan and the only constant is the faded reticule in the center of the screen. I wouldn’t worry about what this game would do to your screen.

      I do worry about this sometimes. I had the crash meter from Burnout Paradise ghosted on my tv for a few weeks and whenever I visit my father I notice that his tv has the MSNBC logo and tagline permanently burned into place on every channel (Chris Matthews lulls the man to sleep every night)

      • caspiancomic

         I might give the demo of this game a whirl then (is there a demo?), since it really does look terrific. Cheers, Derrick.

    • Enkidum

      Wow, are plasmas really that bad for burn? Makes me glad I got an LCD/LED. 

      • caspiancomic

         It’s weird: some games seem to be particularly bad about it, others give me no problems whatsoever. Persona 3, which I’ve been playing like an insane person in sessions as long as four or five hours, has never given me any problems despite having a pretty consistent HUD element in the top right almost all the time. But another game like Jet Set Radio will start to ghost after only half an hour or so. I think it has something to do with certain values or hues being more likely to leave an impression. They do tend to vanish after a while though, and can usually be cured by leaving the scrolling bars on for a quarter of an hour or so.

    • http://twitter.com/TheBryanJZX90 Bryan Reynolds

      What kind of plasma do you have? Did you buy it recently? I play plenty of games with persistent HUDs for hours at a time and haven’t had any problems with mine, except for the one time I left a game paused, forgot about it, and went out to eat. Even then the ghosting just faded after watching TV for a bit.

      • caspiancomic

        I can’t remember the company who produced it, but we got it almost a full year ago. Normally the ghosting is pretty minimal, and sees itself out if you watch or play something relatively lively. It’s just a bit concerting to still be able to tell how much paint I have left even half an hour after exiting a game of JSR.

  • sirslud

    When you’re running your own show and you don’t really like beer, or pumpkins, or muffins, may I advise you to feature a tasty treat you will like? I only say this because the comments are always better when they devolve into games faster than they devolve into food. Constructive pumpki – er criticism!

    Also, muffins suck.

    • Enkidum

      I like the fact that 90% of the snacks thus far are awful, or partially consumed by cats.

      I also like the fact that Teti’s apartment (?) is apparently clean enough that he can film people sitting on his couch on a regular basis. I’d get divorced if I did that.

  • Captain Internet

    The moment that he mentioned Braid, I noticed that John Teti is undertaking Braid cosplay.

  • Effigy_Power

    You didn’t make it easy for this Digest’s comic, and it was hard to find a common theme, so I had to go with the food again.
    I think it worked out:

    http://i.imgbox.com/adgT2xvd.png

    PS: I never knew I could draw the Peanuts. Turns out I can. The awesome that is me only increases, which is pleasant.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      Very nice, Ms. Power.

    • HobbesMkii

      Awesome.

    • Fluka

      That is some mighty fine fan art there!

    • stakkalee

      Love love love this.  Teti-as-Linus, Evan’s cravat, the curl in the tie, it’s all perfect.

  • Fluka

    These Digest episodes are always so wonderful, and this month’s was no exception.  I was missing them, so it was nice to finally get them back!

    Also, what the hell is happening at 5:09?!  Is this the Amnesia section of the game?

    • Chum Joely

      That’s from the bit where you have to get through a dark forest by running from one circle of light to the next (with help from the ball-throwing mechanic specific to that level) whilst avoiding the deadly giant spiders that lurk in the darkness.

      • Fluka

        Wait…really?

        • Chum Joely

          Yep.  Well… You mostly just see their eyes, and their attacks are totally stylized as those red slashes that appear over the player viewpoint. No scary legs and claws coming at you (this ain’t Limbo). Even if you die from that, nothing dramatically scary happens, you just respawn immediately.

        • Fluka

          @ChumJoely:disqus Those reassurances aside, this game still sounds too intense for me.  *Checks clothing for spiders.*

        • Chum Joely

          @Fluka:disqus I find it very, very difficult to believe that this game could be too intense for anyone, but hey, if you REALLY hate spiders, who knows.

        • Citric

          I have a coworker who was unable to look at her computer because someone changed the background to a spider as a prank.

          It’s probably too intense for her.

  • ShrikeTheAvatar

    Why is the first Digest link a link to “Don’t Break the Chain”?

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      Because I messed up. I have no idea why that site becomes the default link in my word processor when I mess up, but it does. Anyhow, it’s fixed now, and much obliged for the heads-up!

      • ShrikeTheAvatar

        I guess you should just be glad it’s that and not something more embarrassing.  

    • Steve McCoy

      Teti’s going to eat a pumpkin treat every day now.

    • HobbesMkii

      I’d never heard of it before, but I’m going to use it. Maybe it’ll help break me out of my writer’s block.