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Rage controversy: the Brandon Sheffield interview
 
Rage controversy: the Brandon Sheffield interview [ Community -> Editorial ]
Posted by Tofu Man Thu 20 Oct 2011, 4:42 AM
News related to Top Story: The sad, sad state of gaming journalism and the brash arrogance/cowardice of industry PR Departments | More info on Game: Rage | More info on Person: Todd Hollenshead | More info on Company: id Software

When Koc held me at gunpoint and forced me to join his gang of terrorist propaganda people, I thought I'd be alright. Games are a hobby, and my interest in them takes me to internet places to which wouldn't mind bringing dackers along, should it suit their fancy as well as the boss'. A couple of questions netted me the "(...)if you find something interesting and the first thing that comes to mind is "DAC must know!" then post it up." advise from Koc, and with that in hand, I was prepared to spare DaC the extra 5 minutes it takes to occasionally post one. Don't get me wrong, I still am alright. I was, however slightly unprepared for this:

The subject? Brandon Sheffield (a Gamasutra journalist) and his interview with an artist and a CEO, and the subsequent response to the controversy said interview generated. The injury? Rage. The insult? It's old news. Yet, the content was solid, the controversy newsworthy, the game fit the bill and there's not only one, but two points of interest. So what's so confusing in posting about that? Surely "DAC must know"? Certainly what's there is good enough to pry a comment even from people who're not at all interested in the subject matter. And from me along with them, hence my doubt. For now, seeing as this has gotten long enough to not be considered a news post anymore and moving dangerously closer to "that one post that no one read in that blog I never made" or, Cthulhu forbid, an editorial, here are some excerpts from the interview (titled "The Creative Intents of Rage") Sheffield had with Andy Chang (artist) and Todd Hollenshead (CEO) of id Software and posted on Gamasutra on the 3rd of October:

"I don't actually feel like it looks unlike every other game. It does kind of look like Borderlands or Fallout to me. I mean, I'm sure, when you really get into the tech, it looks different. But it does have a similar kind of look and feel.
Andy Chang: It really came down to the approach of how we constructed the landscapes and stuff. Rather than using procedurally generated mountain programs or stuff like that, we developed our own technique of making unique geometry, and used the stamping system to make sure it didn't apparently look like things were tiled, and stuff like that. So that's kind of the approach we took to making it unique.
Do you think people will really notice? I mean, on the consumer side?
AC: We notice, and we're gamers. We make an effort to make sure it's visually excellent, so that's pretty much my train of thought on that."

So, is the "controversy" bit of this post sinking in yet? Perhaps after a couple more questions:

"As we've noted, brown is one of the easiest colors to put in everything.
AC: Brown? Quake is famously brown, and I would say with Rage, the palette is more orange.
Did that come naturally or were you looking at the trend of popular culture now, as with the orange/blue trend in films?
AC: Not really. I mean, I think we had a lot of great concept artists, and when we were doing initial concepts and prototypes for the game that's generally just what we leaned to. Our artistic eyes move along with pop culture as well, so if it seems to be looking like a trend, then that's probably why.
Yeah, you're just getting swept along by the zeitgeist.
AC: Yeah.
"

Not to be accused of being unfair, let's bring id CEO Todd Hollenshead to the batting plate and watch how he tries to spin the fact that, when you get down to it, there's not a lot of choice in Rage.

"You said there are some meaningful choices, but so far the choices were basically, "Save this guy, or don't save this guy" or "look for this, or don't look for it"; it was more like, "Do you want to have a mission, or do you not want to have a mission?"
TH: Well the choice on that stuff is something like, "Pardon me. Is this something you want to do at this point, or do you want to come back to it later?" Or is it necessary? Some of this stuff has to be accomplished to be able to open up the game; for example, you're never going to get your car if you don't go get the buggy parts. So it's just, "Okay, you don't have to do it," but then you're not going to get any parts, and you're going to be stuck.
But the choices are more directed, I guess, at what players want to do. Do you want to collect stuff, or do you want to sell it?
Do you want to sell it to get the gun, or do you want to spend your money on getting the better gun now, or do you want to hoard it and wait and get it later, or see if the game doesn't present it to you in some different way? Do you want to buy the fat boy bullets, or do you want to buy the steel rounds for your assault rifle?
These things do impact how the game reacts to what you're doing in the game and will impact your experience.
And the game is flexible enough that we're still learning things about what happened. Literally last week in testing, we weren't even aware that you can do the fat boys out of order. You can, because you can go and do a little side quest where a guy gives you fat boys. Well once you get those, you don't get a lot of them, but then that actually opens up the vendor to sell them.
So when you get them, the intent or the idea behind the game is, "I'm going to take these, and I'm going to go, and I'm going to use these, and I'm going to go in this area, and battle these bandits." But the clever player says, "Oh, maybe I can go buy more of these," and then loads up on them. And then it really does change things, because now you're getting a much more powerful bullet. Those are one shot-kill bullets, and so it does change, tactically. That, to me, is an excellent example of a meaningful dynamic game decision that a player can make or not make.
"

So, what do you think? You know what, hold that thought and read some of what Gamasutra's audience thought, first:

"Do they let anyone who can spell be a game journalist these days? What's the difference between professionally done interview vs an interview done by an immature kid from the forum? Compare this interview with any developer interview on Game Informer. lol" - Shaun Huang


"i liked it. he wasn't accepting the sound bites at face value. he was comparing what was being said vs. what his actual experience of the game was." - Jin Choung


"Yep, the interviewer seemed actively hostile to the game and/or iD." - Chris Howe


"I couldn't disagree more. I found this review incredibly gratifying to read, and I have nothing against Id or Rage. To say this review was "hostile" is going a little overboard, and smacks of cowardice. I like to see developers pushed on their creative intent. If you want video games to be taken seriously, you should be interested in the design choices behind them." - Dan Eisenhower

I'd at this point remind you that Gamasutra is a gaming website that takes itself seriously. Dead seriously. Its aim is not on the games, rather the industry, the people and the business behind gaming. And from my perspective as a boring unprivileged industry outsider, I'd say they've largely hit what they're aiming at, even attracting a considerably educated and privvy commenter section, people who oftentimes are or were involved in the business themselves.

And now, back to the interview (which by the way you can and should read in full, right here) and to what I asked. What do you think? I beg your pardon? Rethorical? Why I'd never-

I mean, how scary is that? The gaming site (that I know of) that's reputed for bringing the most gaming industry-savvy people together and half the comments on there are ripping on the interviewer for being rude or inconsiderate or whatever? How scary is that? These are the people who are into games in the way we gamers are not, at a professional level, and half of them think that posing questions that can't be answered with the marketing blurb "du jour" is out of line? How scary is that? Have we really come to this, when so much as wearing the same cologne as Stephen Sackur (that's the journalist who does "Hardtalk" on BBC News, a notoriously firm interviewer, himself) gets grown men up in arms shouting "Treason!" and acting in such a fanboyish manner?

It's damn scary, that's what it is. I realise Duck and Cover is a site that attracts an international audience, even though we're all really either hicks, lumberjacks, highwaymen or mancunian (oh right, there's that marxist moose, too, pay him no mind), but even then, I'd like to think that all of us (well, most of us, at any rate) were educated so that we'd just know that a lie, that deceit is inherently wrong, even when its use might be justified. And selling me entertainment isn't one such case.

A healthy dose of cynicism and my twenty-something years of gaming "experience" (!? lol?) have shown me my share of "reviews" that are paid for, adverts masquerading as journalism, the existence of guerrila marketing companies whose job it is to infiltrate forums and seed dissent towards their competition's products while promoting their own, and I've reacted to any of these over the years the exact same way I reacted when I noticed one such thing for the very first time. With spite. It was and is wrong, I just fucking knew it then and I know it just as well now. Yet when even Gamasutra's audience suddenly becomes indistinguishable from IGN or Gamespot's teenager fanboy mobs on the most important matter of all, the matter of principle; when they demand more restraint from an interviewer that, unlike most in the gaming news sector, is actually doing his job instead of the PR firm's, it's just demoralising. Has PR really done this much to gamers and the industry?

It being the site he works for, Brandon Sheffield was obviously no stranger to the commotion going on below his interview's post and two weeks later, he reacted in this fashion:

"A few weeks ago I published an interview on Gamasutra about id Software's Rage. I spoke with CEO Todd Hollenshead and artist Andy Chang, and it created a bit of a stir.
My line of questioning was perceived by some as abrasive, or rude, or even hostile. Others, journalists and indie developers especially, thought I was simply asking tough questions and not letting up when I didn't hear satisfying answers. While the latter is closer to the truth, I had no real angle - we were just having a conversation.
"

And goes on about his experience with the game:

"I played Rage about two months before launch, in a hotel space in San Francisco, with decent screens and nice headphones. At the beginning of the game, you wake up in an "Ark," and stumble outside. You're almost killed by mutants, but are saved by someone in a nearby car.
The next thing you're meant to do is get in the car with him. But as game players, we tend to like to test the limits of systems. So I looked around to see what else I could do. There was another path leading the other direction, so I figured I'd see what was up there.
"Oh!" I heard behind me. It was Andy Chang. "What's wrong?" I asked. "Nothing,” he chuckled. “You'll see.” I walked up the path, and was killed instantly by a bullet from an invisible enemy. I got game over, and had to start anew, calibrating my controller all over again. This time I got in the car.
"

He then goes into the actual interview...:

"The oddest thing was how unprepared Hollenshead and Chang were for my questions. How had nobody broached these subjects before? It felt as though the game had been developed in a bubble, where they were told everything they were doing was great, without question. I can understand that, it's id after all. But Hollenshead seemed to genuinely appreciate that I had taken a laser-focus to the game’s systems, and the air in the room was contemplative, not hostile. We spoke for an hour, and smiled and shook hands at the end."

...and what happened to him as a result:

"The evening the interview went live, I received an email from an anonymous "AAA creative director," saying that "on the basis of your hostile and clearly biased line of questioning I have instructed my PR manager to refuse any and all future requests from you and your outlet regarding our game. Having spoken to industry peers in similar leadership positions, I can assure you that I am not alone."
While I highly doubt the veracity of this email, it's interesting that something as simple as asking followup questions and not letting go of a topic would be viewed as biased and hostile
."

He then ends the opinion piece (which I've quoted almost in full; be sure, however, to visit Gamasutra and read the whole deal) with a somewhat depressing sentence. It's not that it's true, it's that it needed saying in the first place:

"If treating someone else's work the way you'd treat your own - that is to say with scrutiny and criticism - is disrespectful, then we clearly have different definitions of the word." ("respect" is the word in question -ED)

It's at the point I read this that I asked myself if there was anything positive to this whole ordeal. But then I read the very first comment:

"I must admit I found your tone a bit harsh when I first read the interview, but that was before I got my hands on the game. (...)"

Oh, ok, glad we got that sorted. I guess it's good to know that when Valve decides to invade a third world country, evict the democratically elected leader and kill thousands of civilians on their way to impose a pro-DRM dictatorial regime, none of us are gonna be that bothered by it.

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