Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Thinking For Yourself is HARD!

Transcript of the tweets in case you can't read them from the screencap:
Ian Miles Cheong: Game journalists are incredibly bad at video games. It's painful to watch this. How do they think they're qualified to write about games?
Zach Gage: This hateful tweet is zooming around the internet but whoa what a great moment to talk about tutorials! my favorite subject (sort of. It may seem weird to players, but if ur a dev you have almost certainly had the experience of watching someone play your game like this. What's going wrong in this tutorial is that it's asking players to follow instructions and think for themselves within the same step.

Okay, fair warning. I'm about to get Very Angry About Video Games for the next one or two thousand words. There are some videos I need you to watch for context before we get into this. The first is Dean Takahashi of GamesBeat utterly forgetting the face of his father while trying to play the demo for the new action-platformer Cuphead. You don't have to watch the whole thing, trust me I didn't. A couple of minutes should do you fine.

Video Here.

The second is Arin Hanson (a.k.a. Egoraptor) explaining why the original Mega Man series is so good, and why Mega Man X is basically the best game of all time.

Video Here.

There's also a NicheGamer op-ed that you should probably peruse as well, talking about how games journalists should, you know, actually understand how to play video games so they're able to write about them.

Article Here.

Did you watch and read? Good, because there are no brakes on this train, we're going until I run out of steam.

First let me say that Cuphead does not look like all that difficult a game. It's a side-scrolling 2-D platformer, like Mega Man, in which you can jump, duck, run, dash, and shoot. This is basically every game on the NES and SuperNES, Street Fighter notwithstanding. I may not have played the original Mega Man games until recently, but there were dozens of games like this I did play. Contra, Ninja Gaiden, Kung-fu, Super Mario Bros., Bayou fucking Bill, the list is nigh inexhaustible. Games like this were also a staple of the libraries of consoles like the PSX and Nintendo 64 (although the 64 was more focused on 3-D games like Super Mario 64 and Goldeneye, as well as things like Mario Kart 64). 

Now, if you watched Egoraptor's video, that's basically how all these games went. They would give you a kind of intro stage, you would have some space to work out the controls, find out your jump, attack, etc, and then you were expected to hold your own. And most of us did all right. 

As children.

While I didn't beat games like Ninja Gaiden, Donkey Kong Country, and Mega Man X as a child (my gameplay time was too limited, and memory cards weren't a thing back then), I got reasonably far in them. Like I said, I did all right. To the point where I was able to roundly stomp most 3-D platformers like Crash Bandicoot 2 and Spyro The Dragon into the ground when I got ahold of them. They weren't nearly as difficult as the games I cut my teeth on, and that trend of simplification has continued over the years as games went from kid's stuff to Serious Multi-Billion Dollar A Year World Wide Industry. They had to start appealing to normies, and I understand that. I don't have to like it, but I understand.

So the obvious problem with Dean Takahashi isn't that he doesn't know how to play Cuphead. 2-D platformers aren't everyone's thing, and that's cool. The problem is that gamers are usually able to adapt to new gameplay mechanics pretty quickly. For instance, I despise the gameplay in Undertale. It's a lot of walking around and talking to people (which is standard RPG fare and I don't mind that), but then the battles are bullet hell Touhou-style dodge-fests, and that annoyed the absolute piss out of me. Even so, I managed to get pretty far in the game before I got bored with it. I think I stopped playing around the fight with Undyne, which as I understand it is about halfway through the game. I didn't stop playing because it was "too hard," I stopped playing because I didn't like the gameplay, and at a certain point the novelty of the new (to me) bullet hell mechanics wore off and I started to get bored.

Dean has 25 years of experience in journalism. Obviously he doesn't have this much experience in actually playing the things that he's writing about. Personally I couldn't make it five minutes into that godawful almost half-hour of gameplay footage. It takes this grown man multiple minutes to do what I figured out how to do as a child. You jump over the first block in the tutorial, and you've got jumping down. The next block is too tall for you to jump over, but there's a block you can get on top of next to it. You just jumped over it. So jump on it, then follow the ON-SCREEN INSTRUCTIONS (something we did not have 25 years ago) and jump-dash to the top of the tall block. 

This is not difficult stuff.

In fact, it's really simple. The game is actually telling you what to do. Pop-ups appear on-screen that tell you in plain terms a seven year old could understand that you need to jump from the small block, and dash mid-air onto the tall block to proceed. They couldn't have made it simpler. In Mega Man X there was none of this. I'd like to get footage of him playing that game, as a matter of fact. I'd like to see how he does when he has to learn by making mistakes, and not have the game hold his hand while he trips in a ditch anyway. 

But this is a major problem with GAEMS JURBALESM. These people are fucking incompetent, and they don't care about the medium they're covering. They don't play games, they're not a fan of games, they can't even understand basic instructions when they're PRINTED ON THE FUCKING SCREEN IN FRONT OF THEM IN SIMPLE ENGLISH. Which presumably Dean speaks. But even if he doesn't, that's no excuse. Cuphead is a run-jump-and-shoot game, not a fucking RPG with a deep story that you have to read hours of text to understand. Games do get simpler, but not by a whole lot. Move right to advance, shoot enemies, duck under/jump over obstacles/attacks. When I was playing NES this was pretty much every game I rented from the local video store. 

And this isn't Ender's Game level shit, either. No armies, no command positions, no beachheads to take, no real strategy other than DON'T DIE, DUMBASS. It's a fucking 2-D platformer, for christ's sake. 

But this is the state of Games Journalism™ now. We've been trying to tell people for, what? Three years now? This business is sick. It's full of ideologues who don't care about video games, actively alienate their customers (you know, the people whose attention allows them to pay their bills), and attempt to change the medium to suit their tastes, thus destroying it. Maybe RagingGoldenEagle is right. Maybe we do need another crash. And while we're at it we can purge all people like this from games journalism, and bring in a crowd of actual gamers who know what the fuck they're talking about. 

But back to those tweets at the top. 

Given that I linked to a Mega Man X video, we'll stick with that for a comparison to Cuphead. So in the first level of X, they give you all the information that you need to know to play the entirety of the game, all without annoying popups or on-screen instructions. This is assuming you know how to hold a controller and work the buttons, and don't attempt to swallow it first like a drooling mongoloid. In Cuphead, the process is far more in-your-face. They let you experiment with the controls, but also tell you what you need to do to advance via on-screen instructions and popups. 

So it's entirely possible to play the tutorial for Cuphead, completely ignore the on-screen instructions, and just figure it out yourself. I haven't even played the game and I can tell that from watching the footage. Is this really what games and games journalism has come to? I understand streamlining it for people who've never played a Cuphead-style game before, but this isn't even as big of a difference as the difference between Morrowind and Skyrim. The mechanics are still the same, they've just made figuring them out a bit easier, whereas the difference between the mechanics of those two Elder Scrolls games is immense. And jarring, if you go from 200+ hours in Skyrim to starting a new game in Morrowind. 

The reason I'm banging on about this is to lead to another point. There's been a lot of talk recently about "elitism" in video games, especially after Dark Souls kicked so many people's asses, myself included. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't meant to be. That's part of the fun. You have to learn the mechanics and then apply them properly to advance in the game. This is what's meant by the phrase "git gud." You get better at a game the more you play it. There's a learning curve.

The reason for this is that video games are an interactive storytelling medium. You need a certain level of skill to unlock the rest of the story. They're not like books, which have no quiz after a chapter to make sure you really understood it before you can advance to the next. The medium is fundamentally different, and video games shouldn't function like books, in my opinion. To interact with the game, you need to be able to learn, apply lessons, and think for yourself to come up with creative solutions to problems or develop strategies to deal with bosses. We all love Resident Evil 4, but the "tap X to not die" mechanic is the laziest shit ever introduced into video games, and I'm convinced that's what's lead to this "Let me skip the combat!" whining among lazy assholes that don't want to challenge themselves.

So, in an interactive medium like a video game, if you're not skilled or clever enough to get past a certain point, you don't deserve to get past it. It's earned. That's the entire point. Through skill, luck, persistence, and the application of lessons the game has taught you, you advance and unlock more of the story. If you're unable to do that, then you don't deserve to see the rest of the story. 

I'm not good enough to beat Ninja Gaiden. I admit it. I don't deserve to see the ending, because I can't make it there. I accept that. So why is it so difficult for people who play video games and talk about them for a living to do the same? I'm just some doof in his bedroom who's been at this hobby since I could hold a controller. These people were hired to be able to play games, and do it reasonably well. I'm not asking for MLG G.O.A.T. level gamers to take up games journalism and tell us about games, but a reasonable level of skill with the medium and love for the subject matter should be the bar for games journalists. And that's not a lot to ask. 

Film critics love movies, anime critics love anime, food critics love food, and so on and so forth. None of these people have to know how to make the thing they're commenting on, and such is the case with games journalists. It might help for parsing small details about what a game does wrong or right, but it's by no means a prerequisite. There's no excuse, and I mean none, for a game journalist being this bad at video games. I've picked up brand new games I've never touched before while so abominably drunk I literally could not see straight and done all right at the game. 

Once again, we tried to tell you all that these people really are this bad, but nobody wanted to listen because vagina. Also that whole collusion and agenda pushing thing, but that aside. What this is is blatant evidence that games journalism is precisely the cancer we've been yelling that it is for over 3 years now, and it needs to be burned to the ground and started over. Polygon, Game Informer, that scourge on the industry straight from the asshole of Gawker itself Kotaku, they're all exactly as bad as you think they are, and they need to go.

Stop clicking on their articles, stop visiting the websites, stop sharing articles that aren't archives. Just fucking stop it. Choke them off at the root. If these people aren't able to follow instructions while thinking for themselves at the same time, which is akin to walking and chewing gum at the same time, they have no business commentating on an interactive storytelling medium that rakes in more jack every year than film and music COMBINED.

These people are not proper stewards of our hobby, let alone the massive multi-billion dollar industry that grew out of that hobby. It's far beyond time to get rid of them.

All that said, Cuphead looks like a lot of fun, and I look forward to playing it when it finally comes out. Look around and see if you can find someone playing it who's not a games journalist, and take a look for yourself. 

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