Indie Queue

Indie Queue: Hats Off To Fez

Nathan Meunier | 5 Jul 2009 13:00
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Landing a steady paying job as part of the development team at a major publisher is a dream come true for many budding young game designers. For Phil Fish, the unexpected and unpleasant reality of the situation he found himself in - working for a large studio as an anonymous drone amongst hundreds of others in an impersonal, sweatshop-like environment - made him momentarily question his choice of careers. However, far from crushing his spirit, the hellish personal experience actually fortified his resolve. Fish didn't give up; he went indie. And much like the red hat-toting protagonist in Fez, he's discovering there's another whole other dimension to be found hidden within a seemingly two-dimensional world.

After ditching employment at his aforementioned soul-sucking work gig, Fish and several kindred spirits co-founded the Montreal-based Polytron Corporation - an independent development studio he ardently insists has been "a leader in the field of computer entertainment and entertainment computers since 1969" - in order to work full-time on a gaming project that will undoubtedly put a huge smile on scores of players faces when it officially debuts. Along with cohorts Renaud B├ędard and Jason DeGroot, Fish is buffing and shining up their game for maximum retro-tastiness.

Fez is a colorful, mostly-vertical platformer with an old-school-inspired art direction that playfully invokes the spirit of the classic games on the Super Nintendo and NES. "Since day one, my three main models were Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and ICO." he says. "Platforming, exploration and mystery/ambiance: A mysterious world full of secrets to explore via 2D platforming." The game stars a lovable, fez-wearing creature named Gomez who discovers the beautiful 2D world he resides in far deeper and more complex than he'd ever imagined. Eventually gaining the power to transition into the third dimension, Gomez embarks on a skyward journey wrought with twisting puzzles. "It's all about the ZU, this ancient race of 2D people who mastered the secrets of higher spatial dimensions, built a mighty 3D empire and then vanished," says Fish. "There aren't that many other characters in the game. It's a lonely adventure."

Instead of worrying about killing baddies, the game has a laid back atmosphere that encourages you to poke around the multifaceted world and hunt for the ample secrets buried within. "It's pretty chill. It really is all about exploration, not combat," he says. The team considered giving Gomez some attacks and foes to dispatch but decided it wasn't an appropriate fit for the game they set out to create. Without enemies to battle, much of the adventure focuses on the landscape itself, which is where Fez's unusual game mechanics truly dazzle.

The adventure starts out in 2D to introduce the core concepts, though it's not long before you gain the ability to rotate the entire screen around like the different faces of a 3D cube in order to solve puzzles, progress onward and access hidden areas. If you're wondering exactly what that looks like, it's pretty mind-bending. "There is a 3D world, and you can only interact with it from four different 2D perspectives," Fish explains. "You can rotate at any point to change your perspective. Even though you are two-dimensional, you can interact with 3D objects and move them around in space."

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