While writing my book on Indie Games, I have the chance to interview Ian Dallas. He answered a lot of questions and some of the answers were not published. Here is a part of the interview dedicated to What Remains of Edith Finch.
Inspirations for What Remains of Edith Finch
Did Dear Esther or Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture inspire you for What Remains of Edith Finch?
Ian Dallas : I think for both games we took a bit of inspiration.
In the case of Dear Esther, I was impressed by how little of what we think of as traditional gameplay you could get away with and still have a coherent, engaging experience.
Because just entering a new world and walking encompassing, looking at things, is already a very rich interaction.
In the case of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, I think for me, as a player, I wanted more interactivity.
For players who are more story-focused, I think that game works beautifully, but for me personally, I think that game felt larger and lusher than Dear Esther.
So I found myself wanting more to do as a player than walk around and investigate.
They’re both very interesting, thoughtful games, but I found the more constrained framing device of Dear Esther was a better fit for a world with limited interactivity.
Related article : Interview with Eric Chahi on being an indie game dev
Characters and gameplay
In the game, each room is like a puzzle representing one person. How did you define the objects or the layout of elements to create this personification through the environment?
Ian Dallas : In each bedroom, we had three primary goals:
- convey a high-level, archetypal sense of this character (e.g., “child star”),
- show their name as many places as possible (e.g., “Barbara”),
- and give players a sense of what year this is (with technology, photos, calendars, etc.).
Just trying to hit each of those goals was a big challenge.
Each room went through several complete redesigns, often based on playtest feedback with players getting distracted or missing elements.
So, in terms of personification, it wasn’t a primary goal.
It was something that emerged as we spent more and more time in these rooms and tried to find ways of solving our primary goals in ways that were appropriate to that character and time period.
What prompted you to give different gameplay for each character?
Ian Dallas : Our focus was always on the experience of how it feels to be in a given situation (e.g., being a child on a swing set), rather than focusing on things like the character’s themselves or the overall story.
So, each story began as a basic mechanic that explored some feeling, like flying a kite on a beach.
And it was only after those prototypes started to feel cohesive that we began worrying about any other elements of what it would take to tell that story.
Interfaces in What Remains of Edith Finch
The text is displayed creatively on the screen (i.e., it floats in the air, appears written in a comic strip, takes the shape of a road). How did you get that idea?
Ian Dallas : I think originally it was an idea that was cut from our last game, The Unfinished Swan. We wanted to have a chapter set in an enormous library.
And once we had basic 3D text working, we realized that in addition to being inherently interesting, it was a way for us to solve lots of other problems.
Chiefly, it was a way to encourage players to look in certain directions, to highlight things they might have missed.
It also gave us a chance to add life and movement to the house, which was otherwise fairly static, since it’s been abandoned for many years.
Lastly, in some cases like in Gus’ story, the letters were a way for us to introduce somewhat game-y feeling conceits (pick up all the letters with your kite) but not break the reality of the world.
The moving letters also fit nicely with one of the major themes in the game: the way in which familiar, human elements transition into more monstrous, organic ones.
Like the way the Finch house looks fairly normal for the first two floors, but then becomes increasingly ramshackle, or the way the number and size of book stacks in the house hits a tipping point where they start to feel obsessive and surreal.
We’re accustomed to looking at hundreds of letters on a page, and it seems quite ordinary, but as soon as they all start to move, the letters go from being quite human to something more like ants or fireflies.
Related article : Interview with Amanita Design, indie studio in Czech Republic
Emotions in What Remains of Edith Finch
Even though the game represents different deaths, there is a lot of humor. How did you manage to tweak and blend all these feelings?
Ian Dallas : It was important to me that the game not feel depressing because I personally don’t see death as being a sad thing. It’s just a fact of life.
And when players hear that it’s a game about death, the first reaction for many people is that this is going to be something dark or dreary.
At the same time, we wanted to hit a tone that felt respectful, to help players see these characters as human beings and empathize with them.
The tone of the writing bounced around quite a bit during development, particularly for Edith’s VO, which had the least constraints in terms of needing to tell a story.
Ultimately what we found after play testing and hearing players talk about their experience is that players brought a ton of seriousness and gravity with them.
There was no need for us to emphasize that, since the context established enough in the air already, which left us free to have a lighter touch and introduce quite a bit of humor and whimsy.
The ending is surprising because it makes you think about death in an unusual way. Is the game your way of mourning and celebrating the dead?
Ian Dallas : More than anything, the game is my attempt to encourage players to think about death at all.
It’s amazing to me how many people go through life with the sense that they’re never going to die.
Not literally, obviously, everyone knows that someday they’ll die and that their family will die, but when it happens, it still comes as such a huge shock.
By creating 13 very distinct family members and showing players how each of them dies, the hope is that at least one of these characters and perspectives feels familiar enough that it reminds them of something in their own life so that by the end it’s not just a game about a family that died, it’s a reminder that someday each of us is going to die as well.
For the other parts of the interview, it’s in this book: Indie Games: Histoire, artwork, sound design des jeux vidéo indépendants.
And if you’ve read so far and enjoyed the article, buy me a coffee 🙂