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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.

mcgrath email

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.

pic1fix

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?


Georgina Young

Contributor

British girl, currently in Japan. Surviving on a diet of retro games. Worshiping the god that is the Sega Megadrive. I like Nintendo.



  • Wirend

    I’d say that Pinsof was dead on about his fear of the clique and fear of Fish.

  • Kain Yusanagi

    McGrath sounds more like he knew nothing but his name crushed would come of pressing his claim, so he doesn’t want anything to do with that. Sad really.

  • alejandro

    (edit: being nice)

  • alejandro

    All these dudes just seem like genuinely unlikeable cowards.

  • Sounds like someone at Kotaku made him know how he’d be smeared up and down by speaking to the “wrong” press outlets.

    Which is strange, since the press doesn’t buy games. Customers do. And speaking directly to them on sites that favor them wouldn’t be a bad idea.

    Just a thought.

  • Mitchell Pollock

    They’re clearly circling the wagons again and he’s been pressured into playing nice for the sake of his future prospects. Fish is a thief that’s why he hasn’t made the sequel, because he can’t.

  • To be fair, this is their livelihood, and anyone would be expected to protect the source of their financial well-being. It keeps you fed and a roof overhead, so defending that at all costs (including the cost of your own pride, dignity, spine, etc.) isn’t all that farfetched.

  • alejandro

    Anyone legit afraid of the hipster mafia needs their fucking head examined. These people are to be laughed at, not feared like fucking mob bosses.

  • Wirend

    We live in a world in which victims stick up for the thieves who robbed them in order to protect themselves from further abuse. Something is very very wrong in San Francisco.

  • Anonymoose

    Funny how the consumers are lambasted over their attacking of female developers when Fish is probably going to get it much worse (again) and not a word of it will make it to the network news cycle.

    I wonder why that is.

  • Sounds like he was frightened into silence. :s

  • Fenrir007

    To no one’s surprise, Jason manages to sound even more fishy even in an article that isn’t about him.

  • Spectrumpigg

    Fear and manipulation is working. Looks like Jason got his way and making sure people don’ talk. If you honestly don’t think this is happening, then I don’t know what to say.

    This has been going on for far too long and it needs to end now.

  • calbeck

    I’d say that Fish definitely stole from McGrath, to the point where Fez effectively killed McGrath’s desire to continue developing a different game.

    Of more concern, perhaps, is that Schreier immediately labeled this simple reality as a “GamerGate conspiracy theory”, ignoring another reality in the process: that no one originating any of this story is affiliated with that group. Schreier also engaged in constant deflection, strawmanning a claim of Fish claiming total credit for Fez — which no one alleged. Whether he did or not would be irrelevant compared to the issue of stolen work, in any case.

    It seems that ANY instances of corruption in the gaming industry are now being treated with loud screams of “conspiracy theory!” in order to dismiss them out of hand.

  • Meittimies

    However, if they’d truly care about their financial well-being, they wouldve been open and transparent from the start, since it yields longer lasting good results. I guess the fact they’ve made sure nobody likes or trust them outside their own clique is more of a sign of short-sighted stupidity than anything.

  • Psichaos

    What a weird mafia mentality that has developed in the indie scene. McGrath decides to speak out and the suddenly gets a “visit” from the very people he may be talking against and now he’s silent. This is video games for goodness sake, not some 1920s Speakeasy in Chicago.

  • Jake Martinez

    I am sensing a trend among “indie developers” here:

    – Don’t actually code anything. They get “nerds” to do that for them.
    – Lift and borrow ideas from people, sometimes each other.
    – Act like insufferable assholes online
    – All seem to know each other and donate to each others Patreons

  • under_score

    So Fish can’t code and stole the main gimmick of Fez. What does he do? Is it any wonder he hasn’t created anything else? Calling this guy a game developer is a joke.

  • At this point I’m gonna side with the assumption that Fish didn’t steal the code, just the idea. It might be possible he stole the code as well but there’s not sufficient proof.

  • Jonathan Roberts

    They have a genuinely unlikable fan base too!

  • DEADBEEF

    I find it a bit suspicious that he declined to Skype with you after the Kotaku interview, but it is what it is.

    I’m assuming McGrath has a non-confrontational personally and didn’t want to rock the boat more by making accusatory or otherwise aggressive statements.

  • Erthwjim

    The rotation mechanic is one of the main reasons I liked the game, without it I would be less inclined to get it. I think McGrath deserves more credit (and money) than was given to him.

  • Jalil Middleton

    Anything that exposes corruption in the system is labeled as “conspiracy theory”, but hey, I wear that label and put on my tinfoil hat most of the time.

    Fish knew he couldn’t make another game, so he stole code.

  • NorBdelta

    Kotaku needs to burn for this, they probably threatened never ending slander if he did an interview, this is the epitome of anti-consumer activity with their cliques and secret email lists.

  • JARose

    Wow did Schrier just threaten to fit McGrath for cement shoes?

    When did games media start operating like Mafiosi?

  • hots

    All this talk about stealing 2D/3D mechanics. Can’t we all just agree everyone stole it from Super Paper Mario (or whatever 2D/3D hybrid game came first)?

    Stealing code should be the actual concern.

  • Syndromic

    While I dislike Fish, but I do hate Mr Jason objectivity is a silly thing to strive for Schreier just as much.

  • Zanard Bell

    First, McGrath, then Holowka. So we’re just scaring off witnesses, left and right.

    By the way, considering Jason Schreier doesn’t consider himself objective enough (or has no problem being not objective), I’ll take TechRaptor’s articles and interviews as the final word on the subject.

  • Ncrdrg

    While I can’t speak for Fish (other than yes, he’s a total douche online), I can assure you that the main programmer for Fez, Renaud Bédard knows how to code and very well at that.

    I went to school and then to college with him, we both went into programming. Imagine my surprise when I found out he was the programmer behind Fez. Renaud has as much nerd cred as I do.

  • Ajt

    But it IS about him. Schrieir was one of the key players in the GJP that actively and criminally blacklisted Pinsoff. Something that is not disclosed in any of Shrieirs articles concerning Pinsoff’s claims. Jason is up to his armpits in the story and is using his pulpit to falsify and misdirect.

  • True enough, but the problem remains – if you’re looking to have guaranteed promotion and hoisting by the development community, you need to fall in line and not speak out against anyone in the power base or connected to it. That’s the fear motivator in effect.

  • Chicago_Joe_GG

    The idea was already done by Nintendo anyway, both of these guys are hacks. Only this one was dumb enough to get ripped off by the other one.

  • MungeParty

    Not all of them are talentless. Jonathan Blow worked hard to make Braid what it was. The insufferable assholes part is true though, for example Blow maintains that the storytelling in Braid was the interesting part. ThatGameCompany was the start of this bullshit. “Indie” darlings who landed a 3-game contract with Sony, who then had to airdrop real developers in to finish all of their games for them, while they took all the credit. Sony didn’t care because the indie story sells the games, but that was the beginning of runaway ego problem among that indie clique. Kellee Santiago’s TED talk from 2010 shows what they thought of games back then. “Chicken scratches” up until folks like them came along to save the medium. They all got too big for their britches.