Phil Fish, the artist and designer who made the classic 2012 indie game Fez alongside programmer Renaud Bédard, has spoken candidly for the first time about the cancellation of its sequel the following year.
Fez 2 was canceled amid controversial circumstances, just one month after its June 2013 announcement. Fish, an outspoken and caustic figure both online and off, had been involved in a Twitter spat with journalist Marcus Beer after saying Fez 2 would not be released on Xbox. (The original game had debuted on Xbox 360 to great success, but Fish had fallen out with Microsoft over the patch certification process, among other things.)
When the argument with Beer went south, Fish abruptly announced his withdrawal from public life and the cancellation of the game, surprising even his colleagues at the studio he founded, Polytron. The assumption was that he’d done so in a fit of pique. “Fez 2 is cancelled. I am done. I take the money and I 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,” he wrote at the time.
In fact, as Fish told journalist and author Simon Parkin for Parkin’s My Perfect Console podcast, his heart wasn’t in Fez 2 in the first place.
“Obviously, I wasn’t feeling it to begin with,” Fish said. “It felt like the thing to do, strike while the iron’s hot and make a sequel. That’s what you do in video games, you make a franchise. And the more I started working on that seriously, the less I was feeling it, and the more I was getting [...] disillusioned with everything — even in my position of having just had a successful video game, having to follow up on that was a lot of pressure.”
This week's guest is Phil Fish, co-creator of Fez, who spoke about taking notes while playing Zelda with his father as a young child, how starring in Indie: Game the Movie changed his life, and why he cancelled Fez 2: https://t.co/DdcCT63k9M pic.twitter.com/QFEwT8PSaF— My Perfect Console Podcast (@myperfectcnsle) March 1, 2023
As for the inciting incident, the spat with Beer: “Maybe it was a bit of an out,” Fish conceded. “[It] was the last straw, where I was already thinking about doing all those things and there was just this one moment where, you know what, fuck it, I’m not doing that.”
Fish (whose real name is Philippe Poisson; yes, really) revealed that Fez 2 was extremely early in development, which made the decision to cancel it easy. “We weren’t that advanced, we didn’t have a whole lot to show other than the logo we showed,” he said. “I certainly had concepts and concept art and things like that, but we didn’t have anything playable. We were in pre-conceptual phase for the game when we announced it. Deciding to walk away was pretty easy, because there was no real investment at that point. It hadn’t really cost us anything in time or money or energy, and there was nothing really to be super attached to.”
Fish said he had previously “fantasized” about cancelling the first Fez during its tortuous five-year development, “but it was obviously not a realistic thing to actually do.”
At the same time as canceling Fez 2, Fish removed himself completely from social media and public life. Catapulted to stardom alongside other figures like Super Meat Boy’s Edmund McMillen and Braid’s Jonathan Blow — thanks in part to their appearances in the documentary Indie Game: The Movie — Fish had become a divisive, argumentative figure, and he struggled with managing his fame well.
“There’s no opt-out for the sewage pipe that gets opened up into your living room when you’re a public persona on the internet,” he said. “And just making that cut, that severance, of just like — you know, I’m just going to go back to just being private me, I don’t have to tweet every dumb thing that goes through my brain all the time? It was like kicking any other addiction at first, but after the worst of it is over, you see in hindsight, oh wow, that thing was driving me crazy. That was poison.” He certainly sounds like a calmer, more measured person now.
“To decide to go back to work in a completely quiet, secretive way, can be very hard but can be freeing also,” Fish added. “You don’t know the things that I didn’t finish, that I ended up canceling, these projects that I worked on. There’s no big drama around it.”
All of which begs the question of what Fish has been working on for the past nine years (aside from helping out with the release of VR game SuperHyperCube, and give or take, as he told Parkin, some six months losing himself in Skyrim). True to his commitment to privacy, he was unwilling to share details of his next project — but he hinted it might not be a video game.
“That was very liberating to break away from [Fez 2], and then realize that I can do something else. And it doesn’t even necessarily have to be a video game. I don’t want to say what, cause I’m still working on it, but… let’s go in a completely different direction.”
We may never see its sequel, but Polytron has made sure that Fez itself remains easy to find: it’s currently available on Steam and other PC stores, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and iOS. And it’s still as brilliant as it was a decade ago.