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The Unfinished Swan

Exploring The Blank Canvas Of PSN's The Unfinished Swan


Housed in Sony's Santa Monica studio, indie developer Giant Sparrow recently unveiled The Unfinished Swan, an upcoming PSN exclusive. The opening animation tells the story of a young boy named Monroe who has a mother that starts (but doesn’t finish) paintings. Among her 300 unfinished paintings, Monroe's favorite is the swan. The boy wakes one morning to find the swan is gone, and he sets out in search of the titular creature.

When players assume control, they're presented with nothing more than a white screen. Designer Ian Dallas explains that many players are thrown off by this novel beginning, and they begin hitting every button on the controller in an effort to make something happen. From the game’s first-person perspective, the R2 button causes Monroe to toss a black ball of paint in the direction of your small reticle. This supply of paint seems to be unlimited in the demo; players can toss as much or as little of it as they want.  Painted surfaces and white space appear starkly contrasted; I've never seen a game feature an art style quite like this.

As these paintballs begin to cover the environment, the space around Monroe becomes clearer. Walls and ceilings are suddenly visible, and objects like fences and plant life indicate when you step out into nature. At one point, a gigantic frog appears when it is struck with paint. As you navigate the environments with standard FPS controls, this mechanic gives The Unfinished Swan a distinct sense of discovery.

Monroe finds his way to a statue garden maintained by a character known only as the King. Tossing paint around this area reveals large statues of a chicken, a piece of bacon on a fork, and the King himself. Dallas says the King is a recurring character throughout the narrative, appearing at various stages of his life. All we know about him at this point is that he was going through what Giant Sparrow referred to as his "Salvador Dali" phase, complete with pencil-thin mustache.

After painting a portion of the statue garden, Monroe walks up some stairs to an overlook. Here, he can see the entire path he took to get there. Everything is white except for the spots that have been painted, and everything from the initial room to the fenced path is visible. This interesting visual demonstration of player progression indicates what kind of play style was used. If you use paint sparingly, you'll see a few black spots dotted across a white background. If you prefer to cover your surroundings in paint, you'll see a more complete picture of where you've been. Initially hiding the world from gamers is a novel concept, and exploration the surroundings yields rewards like collectible toys. We saw an item on the main menu that was dedicated to these, but Giant Sparrow wasn't ready to show them off yet.

Monroe turns from the overlook and spots a red letter T, which he hits with a paintball. This expands into a full page from a storybook to tell a tale about the King. The narrative continually unfolds in this fashion as players progress to reveal plenty of surprises. Some gamers may draw comparisons to other artsy downloadable titles like Journey, Limbo, and Braid, but The Unfinished Swan plays like nothing I've seen before. When I asked Dallas if Monroe would ever earn new colors, he said they're focusing more on introducing new game mechanics, and declined to elaborate further. For a game that’s so focused on discovery, surprise is a large part of the appeal.


  • the art style is very distinct and bold...not enough info to make a judgment yet but gonna keep my eye on this one..could end up being a cool sleeper hit

  • Looks intriguing. I will keep a watch for it

  • I think I've heard of this before, or heard of something like this. It's a really interesting idea, and I'm looking forward to hearing more about it.
  • Very interesting.

    And being a DLG, I'd say that for me what we here is enough that I can say I probably will buy it.

  • First Datura and now this. I think PSN is quickly becoming the superior download service. Closure is mind-blowing.
  • This looks amazing. I can't wait to see what it becomes.

  • Man Sony is the best at making these art like games

  • Mod

    These downloadable titles on XBLA and PSN are the best. Seriously, I can't get enough of these games, and I can't wait until this one is released.

  • This is right up my alley.

  • this is what i thought gaming would be when i played with the ps1 for the first time. alot of games for ps1 were weird and stylish and tried it's hardest to separate it's self from any and every game that was within it's genre. but somewhere along the way gamers wanted games that were grouped together and looked and played like the one before it. i am so glad to see games like this coming out that isn't afraid to go back to the ps1 drawing board and use imagination to tell a compelling story.
  • Reminds me of those old LittleBigPlanet 1 levels where you shoot paintballs to reveal the environment!

  • Interesting art style and intriguing concept. I very much like it.

  • Wow, this looks REALLY cool. It seems to me like PSN is more comfortable with releasing artsy projects from indie studios, and that's something that I appreciate. I would like to play this, and Journey as well.

  • Wow, that sounds really cool.

  • I like it! Some of my favorite experiences on the PS3 are games that are too far out there in concept for normal people to handle.
  • this sounds very different and since we don't have enough different in games today (getting more lately tho) i hope it does well when it comes out weather i'll get it or not tho depends upon my money situation when the time comes

  • This looks phenomenal.  I can't wait.

  • How can people say that games aren't art when stuff like this is being released?

  • I am a fan of Sony's gutsy, artsy titles. Journey, Flower and Datura are all amazing experiences. But this? Not a fan of this. The White background is too harsh on the eyes; it's too high contrast. They should've thought out the art direction a bit more.
  • Wow!  That's a really interesting looking game.

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