Indie Game: The Movie tells the story of three groups of indie developers; Team Meat, responsible for big hits such as Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac. Jon Blow, who by himself made the critically acclaimed Braid, and Phil Fish, the frustrated genius who desperately wants to finish his game Fez. After watching the film over a year ago and seeing specifically the stress Phil went through to get Fez out there created sympathy for me. Now while this article isn’t about the film or even Phil, I feel it’s worth mentioning part of my love for Fez is because I know about Phil.
I didn’t play Fez when it first came out in 2012. I only just got it about a month ago on my PS4 so I was aware there was more to this platformer than an axis-changing mechanic. But that still didn’t prepare me for what Fez is; it feels autobiographical. I know the types of video games Phil likes, and the game echoes the classic NES games of the 80’s, Super Mario Bros., the Metroid/Zelda type of pacing and adventure. Even Tetris has an influence which some may not even notice. The sense of discovery and adventure I had when stumbling across a new area of the game is one I don’t think I have ever felt from many games. Maybe Bioshock or Shadow of the Colossus, but from a platformer?
Modern video games have been criticised for hand-holding and never truly challenging the player. Fez is quite strange; not actually being challenging, there is no combat, the platforming doesn’t require skill or quick timing. The goal of the game is to collect enough gold cubes to open a door to another area until your reach the end. On it’s surface the game looks and feels simple, and as said before, there are no enemies or anything particular challenging in the game. With the soundtrack being as strong as it is, it’s easier to get into the recliner position on couch and enjoy the game in peace. It allows you to do that and you will leave the game after a few hours feeling relaxed, but there is something else going on beneath the pixel art and Blade Runner-like soundtrack. If you go through the game collecting the minimal cubes possible you will miss out on whole areas, puzzles and even story.
I played this game along with my friend, and every morning for a week on the train into university we would spend time talking about Fez; “Did you go there”, “Did you see that!”. Conversations like this I feel don’t really exist; sure I talk about games with friends but not never on the level of asking for help or sharing information about the Tetris code. Throughout the game there are vertical symbols along walls that seem to resemble Tetris, knowing something was important about them but having no clue how to solve whatever the puzzle is I would move on, until I finally found the room hidden deep in one of the areas. This explained the code and I quickly sketched it down. Taking notes and writing down clues from an area is something I have never done with a game ever before. Why is it Fez has grabbed me the way it did for the six hours I played it? Being in my second year at university work is getting more intense and I do miss the days of when a weekend actually meant not having to do anything but play games. Now I am by no means saying my life is tough now, just I do miss the early teenage years. Fez took me back to a simpler mindscape and I did get immersed in its world and gameplay mechanics more than I intended, and I left feeling benefited and glad I had played it. True inspiration.
It’s a shame that, as of the writing of this article, Phil Fish is retired. Fez 2 has been cancelled for a number of potential reasons, one being Phil’s online presence. Marcus Beer of GameTrailers called out Phil and fellow indie dev Jonathan Blow on being rude to the press. This was not the first of Phil’s online rampages but was however the last, maybe it was the last straw. But playing Fez I really see the guy put everything he had into finishing it and in the documentary you can see he was stressed (to put it lightly) and only concerned about his game.
After five years of just one thing, maybe jumping into a sequel almost straight away would have been a huge toll. Regardless of the man behind the game, the game stands as high in my opinion with any classic indie game. This maybe Phil’s only game but he stands as one of the most interesting and clever game developers of the modern era.