So, after my recent indie-game epiphany from watching Indie Game: The Movie I followed a few related individuals on Twitter, did a few lazy google searches and most importantly bought Fez (more on that in a bit). The sad thing though is that I discovered the avalanche of abuse that seems to be directed squarely at Phil Fish. Phil has been the target of such a campaign of internet vitriol and hatred that the other day, Phil seemed to finally give up on defending himself and his game and went completely AFK.
It makes me wonder. What can Phil have done to deserve this kind of abuse? Can he really have angered the entire internet? Is any of it deserved? Let’s take a look at the evidence.
Fez, was initially announced by Phil way back in July 2007 on TIGSource.com but would not see the light of day until it was released onto Xbox Live Arcade in 2012. So what took so long? The answer, it seems, is a combination of perfectionism and sheer numbers. Fez isn’t the product of a large development house, it isn’t even the product of a small-medium developer, it is the product of a tiny handful of individuals, the majority of the tangible output being done by Fish himself. Over half a decade Phil reworked, rebuilt and redrew almost every element of Fez until it was the way he wanted it. His counterpart, Renaud Bedard, was on-board as programmer and responsible for the game’s Trixel engine (Renaud has since moved onto new pastures at Capybara). While they burned the candle at both ends, the murky waters of the message boards and comment threads churned with impatience.
Gamerfront - Fez Delayed Yet Again
Kotaku - Oh By The Way Fez Is Delayed Again
Games Radar - Fez Turns Corner. Gets Delayed Until 2012
Fez started to get a reputation as the DNF of the indie scene and was even described as ‘vaporware’. But ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ as the old saying goes, right? People were certainly talking up a storm but (as is likely to happen when you keep a bunch of entitled, anonymous, opinionated strangers waiting 5 years) the mood was turning sour.
Indie Game: The Movie (IG:TM) was my first contact with the phenomenon of Fish. I watched that movie without pre-conception or a notion of who Phil would be. What I saw was a man on the edge. Phil, by his own admission had lived, eaten and slept Fez for years during which time he had seen his parents’ divorce, had his girlfriend leave him and been dragged into a legal battle with his former partner over the rights to Fez. In the movie we see Phil travelling to PAX with his booth under his arm, not even knowing if trying to sell his game is going land him in legal hot water. When asked what he would do if Fez didn’t happen he replies emphatically “I would kill myself,” a response which has often been cited as being indicative of Fish’s self-important or pretentious nature.
What I saw was someone who not only managed to retain the passion he had for creating something but was still so desperate to see it come to fruition despite no small amount of personal struggle that, yeah, his rhetoric occasionally became a tad manic. I think I’d probably act the same if not a lot worse if placed in a similar situation. It’s easy for armchair-Redditors and casual tweeters to criticise when they have nothing on the line and have invested literally zero time in creating anything worthwhile.
It’s interesting that, if you trawl some of the buzz around the film you begin to uncover some equally poisonous comments directed at Jonathan Blow (creator of Braid) and Team Meat. It’s obvious from watching the movie that both Braid and Super Meat Boy have deep, personal meaning for their creators and it’s clear what that is to anyone that pays real attention. But, without understanding beyond their brief recreational fulfilment, the detractors feel downright offended. On Reddit, user I_LOVE_TO_EAT_SHIT states
“Braids creator also hates everyone because they didn’t like Braid for the reasons he does, like no one “got it” or understood it. Its fucking pathetic.”
Charming. So Jonathan Blow makes a game that takes a bit of time to appreciate. Fuck him right? It would appear so as he currently holds 2nd place behind Fish for Internet’s Most Talented Pariah.
All the developers in the movie were of very similar mindsets but Tommy Refenes (Team Meat) articulated it best when he said that “If you want to make the next Halo or Call of Duty then go do that but I think those games are shit”. These guys are not interested in making games tailored to your whims like the heavily market-driven COD or Halo. They have the downright bare-faced cheek to be making games that mean something personally to them and making them well enough that a lot of like-minded people buy and play them which in turn undermines the system that produces CODs and Halos by making them seem like the bland products of unfeeling giants.
In a nutshell the big gamer community is saying “How dare you think your tiny game can compete with the big games we already love.” To which the response seems to be “We don’t. We don’t care if you like it. We just wanted to make it and for it to be awesome.”
PCs are for spreadsheets
I’m sure Phil didn’t want to specifically attack PC gamers, he probably just didn’t feel his game belonged there at the time. Nevertheless that didn’t stop the hordes from cursing his name from the hilltops when he suggested that ‘PCs are for spreadsheets. Fez is a console game.” The vitriol resurfaced recently when Fez was listed on Steam
Well, I guess you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you do having said explicitly that you never will.
In March 2012, Phil attended a screening of IG:TM at GDC and during a Q&A session was asked what he thought of Japanese games. His response was obviously off the cuff as is more often the case at a Q&A but he said that Japanese games “just suck”. The discussion spilled over onto Twitter where he said,
“I’m sorry Japanese guy! I was a bit rough, but your country’s games are f***ing terrible nowadays.”
Now, when you say Japanese games suck you’re actually ruffling the feathers of a multitude of weird subcultures. There’s the Final Fantasy geeks and any other JRPG fanbases, the dating sim guys (it’s guys, there’s no girls in there, right?), the Monster Hunter people, the Pokemon/Digimon players, the 2D fighting underworld, something to do with Yu-Gi-Oh probably. The list is pretty damn long. Keep in mind also that these genres have fans that span the globe and have a large, vocal US or UK proponent.
I’m sure that Phil Fish didn’t intend to start some kind of pointless slanging match with Japanese game fans, he was just being brutally honest in response to a direct question. And in all honesty my response would have been pretty similar.
The Japanese gaming industry is like a teenager with a rental car. It gets hold of something that works and then grinds it until the wheels pop off. Pokemon, Digimon, Streetfighter, DDR, etc are all comparatively ancient series’ that still squeeze revenue out of the resale value of the same brands and there’s no sign they’ll stop any time soon. Even Capcom, famous for SF II, Mega Man and a staggering back catalogue of arcade and console titles now just roll out the next disappointing iteration of whatever people bought last year. The once proud Resident Evil is skidding downhill, there’s another Monster Hunter, and Dragon’s Dogma occupies the wobbly territory of a well-executed but less than original title. On a personal note I have a special hatred for Dead Rising or any other game that gives me minimal save points (SAVE POINTS!), a camera that won’t behave and a time limit. Nope. F*ck that noise, madam.
In summary, I agree with Phil. Japanese games suck. NEXT!
I could go on about the patch that people argued should have been deployed (at an extreme cost to the developer) or the people who didn’t think Fez was discounted enough when it was released on Steam but already you start to see the picture taking shape. Phil isn’t wholly paranoid when he says that it seems like ‘scientific fact’ that he’s regarded as an asshole. After a long development period and a few high-visibility media scuffles, it has now become socially acceptable to attack Phil Fish without fear of reproach or guilty conscience. His unfiltered honesty combined with the internet’s ability to get at you no matter where you are or what you do has led to him becoming the ultimate ‘low hanging fruit’. The easy target.
Luckily I think that a change is coming. Phil, along with Jonathan Blow, Tommy Refenes and Edmund McMillen represent the forefront of a new wave of developers that have taken game development back to its roots in the bedrooms of geeks and they now have a supply route that can bypass the big publishers. If the outcome is people like Phil and games like Fez then I think gaming is about to get interesting. Developers who have historically been kept into the shadows are going to become the new celebrities of game development and with that comes passion and honesty, desperation and mania.
People can talk big but, like most situations, you gotta watch where the money’s going and a lot of it is being spent on copies of Fez and Super Meat Boy. Even on machines that are clearly just for spreadsheets.