The rise of independent developers in the games industry has overwhelmingly been a blessing. Small teams of programmers an visionaries have been able to create smaller budget games, catering to a niche idea, without the pressures that major publishers put on their development studios to design characters in a certain way, limit how themes are explored and even choosing how music is handled, all in the effort of driving sales. While the PC gets the vast majority of major indie titles, even consoles have been fortunate to have incredible titles like Castle Crashers, Bastion and the subject of this week’s Twitter blowup, Fez.
Fez was a quirky title that had a wonderful retro aesthetic in its 8-bit styled graphics with puzzles that combined 2D platforming and 3D manipulation of the game’s geography. It is an enjoyable game that has a ton of value, especially at its low price point. I played the first couple of hours and enjoyed the retro art style and soundtrack, as well as the platforming exploration and originality with the rotation of the maps. Definitely a good game to visit on occasion, but found the expansive world of Fez to be a bit daunting on subsequent dives into my progression. The game isn’t overly long, it just gets complicated when warp zones and the world map are introduced, leaving me forgotten and dizzy more than a few times.
Fez’s creator, Phil Fish, has had a contentious relationship with Microsoft. Fez was initially launched on the Xbox 360’s Live Arcade platform to a reasonable amount of success. The problems arose when Polytron, the team behind Fez, released a patch (to fix a slew of launch bugs) that ultimately caused a game corrupting issue for a fraction of Fez’s players. A patch was promised but Fish complained, at length, about Microsoft’s policy to charge developers for patches beyond an initial bug patch, even for a game corrupting emergency fix.
Fish’s contentious relationship with Microsoft continued when the big M announced their policy to not allow independent developers to self-publish on the incoming Xbox One. Fish told Polygon, …they’ve made it painfully clear they don’t want my ilk on their platform.” When Microsoft was rumored last week to be retracting their policy on self-publishing, gaming journalists reached out to Fish to see if he would soften his stance, Fez, after all, was a hit on the Xbox 360. Fish’s non-response was met with some as a message of disrespect to journalist, where Marcus Beer, the self proclaimed Annoyed Gamer of GameTrailers.com, took issue with.
Beer took Fish’s silence and ran with it, accusing Fish of bitching and moaning when the circumstances benefited him and his studio, yet casting the media aside when it didn’t align with his vision. Beer would continue to call Fish a wanker, a hipster, a tosspot and an asshole throughout the show. Fish, in a fit of rage following the broadcast, demanded an apology, entered a verbal spat with Beer, told Beer to kill himself and decided he would have no more of this drama and cancelled Fez II.
Fish’s outburst did not come as a surprise, he had an outspoken nature, accusing Japanese game development as “fucking terrible” and calling gamers the “worst fucking people.” He never responded particularly well to the aggressive nature of Twitter, often throwing out insults as vicious as the ones being slung at him, hardly normal for somebody in the public eye. So Fish’s temper tantrum to Beer’s barb’s was a logical progression, given his argumentative nature.
But the truth of the matter is that these individuals, both Phil Fish and Marcus Beer, are individuals entitled to their opinion. Beer makes a living as a video game pundit. He may like to sling the word journalist around, but he is an opinionated pundit with an agenda, much like Bill O’Reilly or even Colin Cowherd. His job is to make his show interesting by providing the opinions that others won’t push. If that involves antagonizing an indie developer and goading him into a response, then he’ll be happy to do it.
Like it or not, Fish is also entitled to his opinions. It is, after all, why he is an independent developer and not slinging code for a major publisher. He can act like a prick, he can design whatever he wants and he can quit if the mood fits. Whom we should feel sorry for is the remaining staff at Polytron, now in limbo as to whether even ports of the original Fez are still in the works.
But here’s where both where wrong. As much as journalism is about finding the whole story, and I credit Beer for attempting to get an interview, even while Fish was slinging insults, an interviewee can always decline to respond. A no response is still a response, even though Fish was prodded enough to reply in expletive extremes. Similarly, for Fish, the media is a tool that the gaming industry needs to thrive. If he really wanted to avoid the parasitic nature of games journalism as he saw it, he would have avoided contact with them altogether. Instead, Fish chose to angrily reply to conflict in twitter, deliver brunt interviews where he was rarely apologetic and only embraced mediums where his image was tailored to his liking, such as in the Indie Game Movie. Being savvy with the media works both ways.
Fish was a polarizing figure who always spoke his mind, even if he probably could have used a good PR representative. Fez was an achievement of a game but Fish had a convoluted perception of the world he designed games for. It was his pretentious attitude and naive approach that ultimately became his calling card. Entitled would be a good summary of his brief foray into gaming’s history as he clearly was entitled to his visions and opinions, but his sense of entitlement was so great that he forgot about being a decent person.