The Cuphead Runneth Over Dean

GamesBeat writer Dean Takahashi, @deantak, recently had some trouble playing Cuphead:

This new video has, in many ways, brought back the game journalist competency debate that last reared its ugly head when Polygon’s Arthur Gies played Doom and didn’t do it very well.

The emergent arguments and accusations levied at the person in question have been as various as they are dubious: That Mr. Takahashi’s specific position, as a video game journalist, requires him to be good at all games, or flatly refuse to touch anything and everything that he is not “good enough” at; and that his incompetence at one game now renders him entirely incompetent on the whole, furthermore throwing his entire review history under question. In addition, his performance has not only at once “embarrassed” him, but also the entity he works for.

Finally, it was to be noted, Takahashi’s flub had once again illustrated – nay, revealed – the review charade, calling into question the entire premise of not only games journalism, games journalists, but also journalism and the media on the whole!

This is to say nothing of the dismaying meanness directed at Takahashi, which quite obviously relates, in large part, to a collective psychosis, an osmosis into social media -based outrage culture, wherein any and all faces protruding from the otherwise ubiquitous and oblique mass media diet are instantly bandwagoned upon, to be smitten with holy anger for daring to err, in public, or in private. There were also those that simply tried throwing further fuel on the fire, like @stillgray, who chose to abandon professional courtesy in favour of blatant populism.

In this post – which is, by the way, not a defense of Takahashi, or in favour of any other specific person – I discuss the idea of whether we can have, at all, a shared criterion of competence that can be applied uniformly, and fairly, to video game criticism. I also discuss the unique – and very, very difficult position – that games journalism, and especially reviewing as one of its sub-sections, occupies amidst different types, or forms, of the objects of aesthetic analysis.

If you, in your heart of hearts, think that Mr. Dean Takahashi is a bad, or a flawed, person because he’s bad at Cuphead, and that as a journalist, this would then imply that he essentially fakes his his way through reviews (also discussing game endings), then I guess that’s fine, too. Takahashi makes for an easy target for criticism, after all: One can easily bring up some of the more indefensible things that he’s written, even discounting all the PR release talk, like his claim that a Warhammer 40 000 game ripped off Gears of War.1

That being said, I think it might be pertinent, for this article, to read and attempt to understand his personal response to the debacle, which unfortunately ran with the same clichéd headline I had prepared for my own article.

The essential point of this article is simply this: If you at all believe that occasions such as these are clear-cut, open-and-shut cases in favour of the idea that “games journalists are all bad and should feel bad,” then I want to present an argument to the opposite. I also detest the idea of intentionally avoiding the complexities, difficulties, and ambiguities of the topic and believe that does a great, great disservice to all of us: To those writing reviews, and to those reading them.

There is nothing simple at all about the constant negotiation and balancing act that a games journalist does, between the three terrible pillars of competence, objectivity, and public servitude.

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  1. I do actually, personally, think the addendum to the original Space Marine article makes it a fantastic read. It actually encapsulates many of the problems that I discuss in this article. []

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The Calculated Corporate Cynicism of Shadow of War’s Charity DLC

Note: For the purpose of this post, I have created a new category of post called “Contemporary Cynicism”. In this series, we are going to offer opinions that discuss the question of right and wrong in video games without adherence to common constraints set upon such public discourse. Since the video game companies of today often seem to be so beyond what we consider ethical behaviour, then maybe we should be, too.

Several outlets are now reporting that Monolith is releasing a charity DLC, for Middle-earth: Shadow of War, in memory of their late executive producer Michael David Forgey (1973-2016). Here is a promotional video for the “Forthog Orcslayer” DLC:

 

This stirring, even touching advertisement, which stands in direct opposition to an earlier trailer released for the game, contains music written and performed by the late Michael Forgey himself, advertises the DLC as available for pre-order now, for $4.99. The product is described as follows:

A legend among the Orcs of Mordor, Forthog Orcslayer is an unstoppable warrior who saves Mordor’s mightiest heroes at their moment of greatest need.

Mike “”Forthog”” Forgey was our Executive Producer and great friend here at Monolith. He was always ready to leap into the fray and save the game whenever and wherever he was most needed. We lost Mike to cancer during the development of Shadow of War, and we want to remember and honor him with a little bit of immortality in Mordor. The legendary Forthog Orcslayer is our way to continue having Mike leap into battle and save us when we’re down.

We hope that you will share in the experience of being saved by the legendary Forthog Orcslayer as you enter the land of shadow.

According to the announcement, “WB Games will donate $3.50 of every Forthog Orc-Slayer purchase to the Forgey family through 31st December 2019.” (more…)

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G2A, Gearbox, and the Problem of Good and Evil

The recent Gearbox-G2A-TotalBiscuit debacle (reported on excellently at Vice’s Waypoint by Patrick Klepek over a series of news articles here, here and here) that was the result of a deal struck to officially distribute Bulletstorm via G2A, was in the offing for the longest time.

It had to happen, because the legitimate online price-race (one that has now cooled, to be frank, after several online retailers have been, or are in the process of, shutting down shop) drives a portion of consumers to find the best available price every time, and every time they are caught unawares by the illegitimate practices of various services such as Cdkeys, Kinguin and the titular G2A, it is principally because of the way we are being sold games, and because of a lack of consumer education.

Therefore, such a burst of activity around this topic has been a good refresher and reminder to gamers that not all is above the board with these cd-key shops. Of course, by now it should be so very clear to all of us that anything that has the word “keys” plastered to it is morally bankrupt in the general view of the retail establishment. But it isn’t, and won’t be, not until the system changes – and that change will probably be to the worse.

The thing is, the framing of Gearbox’s brush with the Bad Guys was largely from the point of view of the scorned developer, as with the help of TotalBiscuit, Gearbox navigated the situation deftly and swiftly, which had the unfortunate side effect of distorting the crux of the issue, and perhaps side-stepping other relevant questions of digital distribution that absolutely led into the intended (or unintended) result of blending questions of legitimacy with illegitimacy, and proper practice with improper practice.

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Stranded Review

Note: This review was written entirely sans PR materials and research; ordinarily, we pride ourselves on diligence and copious amounts of background research, but due to the game’s clear intentions and sensibilities, chose to approach this review differently.

The single worst thing about adventure games – the one aspect that is also almost wholly unique to them – is being stuck. (Worse still, in fact, is knowing when you’re badly stuck.) For players, after all, adventure games are all about progression; for developers, they are all about managing it.

The genre on the whole is a curious balancing act of controlling tempo, pacing, difficulty, balance, and the flow of information.

Peter Moorhead’s Stranded, then, is supposed to be

“[…] a minimalist adventure game that foregoes dialogue and puzzles to focus on atmosphere, mystery, and exploration; it is both a love letter to classic point & click adventures, and an experiment with the fundamentals of the genre.“1

To read the store page like the Devil does the Bible, then, according to the quote the fundamentals of adventure games are 1) dialogue, and 2) puzzles. From what I could gather, Stranded has neither of these things. Hence, it would be perfectly fair to state that Stranded is either a piss-poor adventure, or it isn’t one at all. Love letter? More like breaking up with emoji. (more…)

  1. http://store.steampowered.com/app/295250/ []

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