10 Years of Fez: A Week in Games Special

Welcome to the second Week in Games: Special Edition! This time, celebrating 10 years since the release of indie classic, Fez.

“To me, games are like the ultimate art form. The ultimate medium. I mean, it’s the sum total of every expressive medium of all time, made interactive. Like, how is that not… It’s awesome! I want to be part of it. I want to have a say in what becomes of video games”– Phil Fish

You wake up in a tiny room typical of any classic video game, hopping enthusiastically out of bed and stepping outside into a quaint little village. And it’s beautiful. Flowers sway in the breeze, birds chirp, butterflies flutter, and the villagers look as happy and care-free as villagers can be. You skip and jump your way up to the top of the village when, under the clear blue sky, something strange happens; a giant yellow cube made of Tetris-pieces appears above your head. It lifts you off the ground into the air and the camera spins a full 360 degrees around you, around this previously two-dimensional landscape.

Suddenly, a red fez descends from the heavens and lands neatly on your head, bestowing upon you the ability to spin the camera yourself. But as you proceed to give your new power a good workout, the yellow cube explodes, and the game – in a rather cheeky moment, considering the Xbox 360’s tendency to crash and break itself back then – proceeds to ‘crash’. It re-boots and kicks you back to the start screen, forcing you to restart your game. Only this time as you awaken in your tiny room, something is different; you’re still wearing your glorious new red fez. And crucially, you have retained the ability to rotate the camera. 

What follows is a game of quite extraordinary craft. One full of puzzles and intrigue that sees you working your way through its small but intricately designed levels in order to find the pieces of the exploded cube that have been scattered across the world. A world dripping with creativity and subtext, and one that displays a love of gaming’s past throughout. One filled with mystery and secret codes and vague hints that hark back to the golden days of cheat codes and of playground rumours.

Fez is a game about perspective; impossible jumps and invisible puzzles that are revealed with a simple rotation of the camera. There’s deeper meaning there if you look for it, the game suggesting that no matter how insurmountable a problem can appear on the surface, sometimes all that’s needed to move forward is a little shift in your viewpoint. But Fez never loses sight of its main goal; to be an approachable and enjoyable video game – a celebration of the medium. And at that it succeeds with aplomb.

Of course, when it comes to Fez, it can be difficult to separate the art from the artist. Designer Phil Fish’s personality and actions throughout its development are intrinsically linked with his creation – his controversial industry views, public spats, the sudden cancellation of Fez II, and his exit from video game development are the stuff of legend (see some of the recommended articles later in this newsletter if you want to go deeper down that rabbit hole). But regardless of your thoughts on its creator, Fez deserves to be acknowledged as the colossal achievement it is.

“Fez II is cancelled. I am done. I take the money and run. This is as much as I can stomach. This isn’t the result of any one thing, but the end of a long, bloody campaign. You win”– Phil Fish

Phil Fish streaked across the gaming landscape like a comet during his short time in the industry, burning brightly enough to make everyone stop and look before exploding in a spectacular ball of flame. But in Fez he left behind the most wonderful of gifts. A clockwork wonder both bafflingly complex and deceptively simple. A game for the ages that should be celebrated and shared for decades to come.

An indie masterpiece.

This article is an extract from The Week in Games newsletter.

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