Everyone seems to have a game that has flown under the radar, but as soon as they see a trailer their imagination just goes more crazy than when they first heard about it. For me, that game is What Remains of Edith Finch. As soon as you watch the trailer it feels like you are about to watch an unsolved mysteries special. So when we found out that Lead Designer Chris Bell was going to be attending PAX South, we made absolute sure that Kara found him to learn the question; What Remains of Edith Finch?
GC: What would you like us to know about Edith Finch?
CB: Edith Finch is a collection of short stories set in Washington state where you play as Edith. She’s a girl with an eccentric family with a lot of tragic history who is essentially the last member of the Finch family still alive and she’s returning to her family home. She left the home as a child where she had a lot of questions. It’s tragic because there was a lot of death in the family and when someone dies in the family they have this ritual where they seal the bedroom up like a time capsule and build another bedroom up on top for the next person. So once you start sealing doors the only way you can build is up. So it’s a big towering house coming out of the woods, but at the same time it still feels plausible and real. It’s dense and lived in and feels like it’s soaked up in time and history. Over the course of the game this family spans over 100 years of history so there are multiple generations. Each generation is a new generation and Edith Finch’s room is at the very top of the house. It’s a march through time and a march towards Edith’s house to understand what sort of questions she has that have gone unanswered.
So you’ve come into the house, you’ve grown up here and were locked out of the room and were sealed off from half the room as a kid so you have a lot of questions. You break the seal, find your way behind the curtain, and go into the individual rooms of your family members. Each room sealed the night they died and you uncover a story about how they died. You’ll jump into their perspective and you play out the final moments of their life through their eyes. Each one of those stories is told through a completely different set of game mechanics so you’ll never do the same thing again that you will in the next.
GC: What inspired the story? Was it from binge watching mysterious disappearance documentaries?
CB: There’s a lot that has gone into it. It’s very dense. It doesn’t just have different game mechanics or art styles. There’s two different references we use here. One is being underwater and watching the sand sort of fade away into the abyss. The other is looking up at the night sky and seeing it as both beautiful and overwhelming. So death is sort of this great unknown. The game sort of meant to be a model of the unknown and the inspiration of the unknown. The hope is that in playing it you’re encountering some of these beautiful things and you’re also overwhelmed by this density and the constant shifting of beneath your feet over this experience. So you feel like you never have your footing the whole way through. Hopefully by the time you’re done it sorta feels like being hit by a wave is how I like to think of it. It just pools you out to sea and you’re just lift floating.
Also just looking at a way to tell stories. Like when you read a book it makes your mind travel and it really embodies you into the experience. A game that actually feels like reading a book. A game that actually changes mechanically what it’s doing to match externally and experimentally with the story that you are hearing and playing out. Fiction like Edger Allen Poe, strange foreign horror tales, classical literature, there’s a lot in here that we pull from.
GC: Who is Edith Finch?
CB: Edith Finch is this girl who has been away from this house that she lived in with this crazy family. Her slice of history that she knows is very little like living in the house with her grandmother and her brother, but living in a house where all the history before that was pretty much locked away. So getting a tiny slice of that experience and she hasn’t been back in a long time. She still has many questions, but what was that childhood like. So as a player you’re just working with her and willing to understand that with her. She’s been gone a long time and has a sudden need to come back and going through this and hopefully she fits into this. What could she take from this and maybe do something about the curse perceived the family is on. Anything she can do to just find her footing amidst all this craziness.
GC: Is it safe to say that death is central to the experience?
CB: Absolutely! Every story ends with a death. Hopefully by accepting that as a player cause even though every story ends with a death they can possibly let that lie and be comfortable with that to sorta appreciate the ride while they’re on it. The Finch family go far and beyond what a person might feel comfortable doing and that might not end well for them, but they end up in many cases getting what the wanted. It’s not try to be morbid by death, but to land in this place where you’re kinda happy about them. It’s sad, but you look at them and say ‘that was beautiful while it lasted.’
GC: Do we really get to play as a shark in the game?
CB: Yeah! It kinda comes out of nowhere for a lot of people. Not only are you playing as a shark, but you’re a shark that is rolling down a hill. It’s the experience we are kinda going for. We set something up and we pull a 90, then we 90 again, and a 90 again. Hopefully that catches people off guard and puts them in a place to where we could possibly stew with that. I think for the shark rolling in particular, this is the mind of a young 7 or 10-year-old child so it’s not outlandish for her to literally transform or transform in her mind. We try not to be ambiguous about what is actually happening, is there magic, is there not versus trying to answer that as a player because it gives you a better space.
GC: How has the feedback from E3 and PSX affected development?
CG: Every time we get to place the game in front of people and see how it plays we take a million notes. There’s a ton of stuff in here and there’s a ton of things to polish all the time. We’re at the point where we’re kinda tightening the final knobs, but I’ll still look and go home after PAX is done and just make a tweak here and there based on what we’re seeing. Overall the reception has been super positive. It’s a game that we just love to bring to conventions because what you might play and what you see on a screen beside you are wildly different. It’s cool to see people at these shows walk by and go ‘Is that the same game?’ and that’s not something you hear about most games. So the fact that it has this mystic makes it great.
GC: What kinds of emotions do you hope players take away from What Remains of Edith Finch?
CG: I don’t really want to speak that much into that because hopefully the game is the thing that says that, but I think the game is about death and with that maybe internalizing and bearing witness to our own mortality is a good thing. Despite something being painfully obvious and right in front of someone, it’s not something that people like to talk about. So hopefully it is in some ways comforting and that it allows us to bear-witness that fact that it’s not such a bad thing.