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Fez studio Polytron is back from the brink with Polytron Partners

Everyone’s favorite (or least favorite) indie rabble-rouser Phil Fish is apparently not quite done with the gaming industry from which he so publicly cut ties last year after a Twitter argument with a journalist led him to cancel development on Fez 2. He’s now back in the fold with some newfound enthusiasm to announce Polytron Partners, a “sort of micro non-publisher” that will work with other indie developers to help bring their games to market.

The new venture’s first project is a partnership with Finji Games to help release Fernando Ramallo and David Kanaga’s Panoramical, a “digital anthology of musical landscapes” that has been making the rounds at festivals. It’s an intriguing description that brings to mind 2013 indie darling Proteus and the more recent FRACT OSC.

Finji will be providing day-to-day logistical support, while Polytron takes the lead on coordinating the home stretch of promoting the game, allowing the developers to just focus on completing the game itself.

Fish stresses that what they are doing is a partnership and not publishing, “because what does that even mean in 2014, really?” The wide range of easily-accessible distribution channels available now makes it possible for savvy independent game designers to eschew traditional publishers entirely (especially when there’s platform flexibility), but navigating the Internet wilderness of self-publishing still requires a degree of know-how that can be intimidating to first-timers.

Polygon Partners aims to help close that knowledge gap by sharing its experience, resources, and established clout with smaller developers that want to work outside of the brick-and-mortar-rooted world of traditional publishers. This is a new model of peer-to-peer game development that is truly native to the Internet.

Fish became notorious in the gaming community as one of the main subjects of Indie Game: The Movie, which documented the stormy latter days of development for his magnum opus platform puzzler, Fez. Four years of delays after its head-turning debut at the 2008 Independent Games Festival built up a fever pitch of anticipation over the beautiful little game, which was fueled by Fish’s tendency for public drama. 

Fez might have just been written off as overhyped vaporware, but when it finally did come out the game garnered near-universal praise as an instant classic. Unfortunately, though, a triumphant release to XBLA was hardly an end to the game’s tortured saga, first followed by a spat with Microsoft over the large fees attached to providing critical bug fixes (a policy that was later overturned) and then the aforementioned announcement and near-immediate cancellation of a sequel over a Twitter argument, leading to Fish’s stated decision to leave games entirely.

The fallout left Fish with nothing nice to say about the industry, but time and Fez’s continued success on five more platforms seems to have softened him somewhat. Fish acknowledged in the Polytron Partners announcement that Fez’s success was only made possible by the passion and generosity of many people, and he sees this new venture as an opportunity to pay that goodwill forward. This is exciting news for fans of independent games, as more production models means a more inclusive industry, and thus a wider range of interesting new ideas reaching broad audiences.

Panoramical is set to release in early 2015 for PC and Mac. With a promoter as vocal as Phil Fish, we can no doubt expect to hear plenty about the game in the lead-up to exploring its “synaesthetic alien vistas like an ambient disco-god controlling your own tiny universe.”

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