How I Learned to Love FEZ

It had been a long night. I’d been due in at the box office where I had been volunteering at 11 the next morning; I woke up at 11:22. I texted the girl working before me to apologize profusely, but she said it was okay, and that she would take care of my one-hour shift. I felt terrible, and tried to unwind with Rock Band. After failing out at AFI’s “Girl’s Not Grey” on hard, my internal monologue had this internal dialogue.

‘Hey. What’s today?’
‘Friday. Friday the 13th.’
‘It’s FEZ day.’

If you’re here because I spoon fed you a link, let me fill you in. FEZ is a game that’s been in development for five years, and since the day people heard about it the community has clambered to hear literally anything from the guy making it, an indie dev named Phil Fish. It’s based around a concept of dimensionality – specifically, how a two dimensional character would interact with a three dimensional world. Every six months or so we’d see a screenshot, or a short piece of music that would keep us alive until the next trickle of press. Fish had dined us on a meager diet of his creation, announcing its release in 2010, 2011, and finally 2012. Finally, a few weeks ago, he posted a cryptic image on his blog that later became a picture of a release date – April 13th, 2012.

[vimeo 40269839]
After having played it for a few hours, I will say this, and it’s primarily because of the way the game expects you to think.

Fez is the first step toward what games should be.

That is a crazy, sweeping declaration, so let me explain a bit. FEZ is the first game I’ve played in a while that makes me want to think, and not check a FAQ online so I don’t feel like I’m getting bogged down, something I do more often than I care to admit. I know the puzzle that caused me to realize this – one involving three blocks, but actually nine, except it’s four – but trying to reliably describe it in a wall of text would be like trying to explain the third dimension to a second dimensional character. (Which is what FEZ just happens to be about.)

The next paragraph will be abstract.Before I write it, I already know that. Now you do too.

It’s hard to put my finger on it, but FEZ is doing something very interesting with the idea of “solving” a puzzle. Yes, it’s interesting in that it is a new and unique way of interacting with a world and navigating a playspace, but it’s more than that. The basic thesis statement of any video game with a, well, character, is that you’ll need to get to a place, to do a thing, and you will do it by these means. Each part of that thesis should be rewarding and fun in some way, and the game itself is fun throughout the entire experience. In FEZ, at least the part I’m at, the trick is simply navigating to every part of the world you possibly can to see what’s there. When you’re doing the game the way FEZ suggests you should, by Those Means, Getting to the Place is Doing the Thing.

Underneath all of that is a different kind of game that the creator decided to insert to increase the challenge to a ridiculous degree  – cryptography, numerology, acoustics – and it fits the style of game, I suppose. As a whole FEZ is a very high-concept piece – the loading screen is a four-dimensional tesseract – but it does take away a tiny bit from my experience. I’m not at the point where it matters, but it does bother me knowing that there are parts of the game coming up I simply will not be able to solve without playing by committee. (Checking message boards, looking up FAQs, etc.) I know that those puzzles are where the Doing by the Means will fall apart.  But, as I said, those puzzles do fit. They belong. They’re a part of a whole that’s making a real and somehow profound statement, at least when it comes to my own personal experience with video games.

I’ve played Layton ever since the Professor took a trip to a Curious Village, and I used every hint coin I could poke up. I made every else’s first ten minutes in the world of Myst into a four-hour gameplay experience. Then I did the same thing with Riven. What I’m saying is that while I’m not very good at puzzle games, I love them anyway. I love FEZ. I know that eventually it’s going to get ridiculously hard. But for now, it’s just a lot of fun, and I love that.

"Fez Day"

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