In the second part of my interview with Allistair Pinsof, Pinsof claimed that a few years ago he had spoken to indie developer Shawn McGrath of Dyad fame about his role in the creation of Phil Fish’s critically acclaimed game Fez. Pinsof claims that Phil Fish “stole significantly from their [Mcgrath and Fish’s] code, projects and ideas to create Fez”. TechRaptor wanted to look into the validity of this claim as a matter of public interest.
I reached out to McGrath to comment who responded “I normally don’t want to talk about this stuff obviously but I probably have to now… so if you wanna talk about it still lemme know.” However, it seems after a Skype call with Kotaku’s Jason Schreier, McGrath no longer wishes to comment at TechRaptor and so I will take his statements to Kotaku as his official statements on the subject.
While as McGrath commented to Pinsof via chat back in 2012 that it is no secret that him and Fish were working together, their project and connection seems to have been pretty low profile.
Fish did comment in an interview back in 2007 that he had worked with McGrath on a project, but that the pair had “broke up”. In the interview he credits McGrath with the 3D/2D rotation mechanic of the game.
“His idea was the basic “rotation’ idea used in Fez. ” I had a very specific vision of how things should be, and he had a diametrically opposed vision of how things should be. But Shawn being the coder (I can’t code shit), he had the bigger end of the stick. So we had a bit of a fight, and we kinda ‘broke up'”
We can see the project the pair were working on below before their split. It was very much in its infancy, though the 3D/2D rotation mechanic is obviously the crux of the project at this point.
In his comments to Kotaku, McGrath notes that when he saw the trailer for Fez in 2007 he immediately gave up on his separate project presumably based on the same rotation mechanic.
“I had spent a long time on the game, and I liked what I was doing with it, and then the Fez trailer came out and I was like, well, I guess I just wasted a year of my life, so I just stopped working on it.”
While McGrath confirms Pinsof’s assertion that Fish stole his mechanic for Fez he denies that Fish took all of the credit for Fez, but was perhaps not open about the beginnings of the project.
“To say that he flat out took the credit I would disagree with. But to say that perhaps he was less forthcoming than he could have been maybe would have been a truthful statement, but I don’t think it’s true to say he stole the idea and then claimed it to be his own. I would agree that he stole the idea”
This assertion appears to be backed up in the credits for the game where McGrath’s name is mentioned under “Phil would like to thank …” Some other sources however tell a slightly different story of where Fish placed the credit. In his reddit iAMA back in 2014, he explicitly states, “renaud [Bedard] did all the code work” and does not state whether the code used for the rotation mechanic came from McGrath’s original concept. While Renaud notes in the comments “it [is] totally valid to call it [Fez] ‘mine’ on the same level that Phil can, and I think we both agree on that.” However, in terms of the credits and press coverage all eyes appear to land on Fish.
Also while indie developer Alec Holowka has since deleted this tweet claiming he had “a weird moment” he also seems to assert McGrath’s frustration at Fish for working on Fez, claiming Fish had “ripped off” Mcgrath’s work.
I think this line from McGrath sums up the situation between him and Fish best:
“it’s not like he stole a complete game or something. Like I think people are overreacting…. I’m not cool with what happened, but let’s be realistic about it.”
It seems that Fish did steal the idea for the rotation mechanism in Fez from McGrath’s idea, but whether the code was in fact McGrath’s remains ambiguous. Fez is obviously marked with Fish’s unique artistic design and with the amount of intricate puzzle and level design, it is unrealistic to say he “stole” the game from McGrath, when so much of his own ideas and work are embedded into the project.
UPDATE: Thanks to twitter user @thefartrises for bringing this to our attention. Reading Phil Fish’s journal on deviant art, Fish again confirms that he and McGrath were working on a project, that Mcgrath was writing all the code, that they broke up, and that Renaud took over the project which is now Fez. It is still ambiguous as to whether Renaud wrote a new code for the rotation mechanic, though it seems that Fish was adamant that they keep this mechanic as described in the second entry.
Techraptor reached out to Phil Fish for comment but have not received a response at this time.
What do you think about the connection between McGrath and Fish?