Twice in two days? Holy moly! I’m avoiding the Olympics to bring you another soapbox piece – about mistakes. We all make them. Some more publicly than others (don’t ever ask me about my very public Soul Calibur 4 meltdown!). But its how we take those mistakes forward that reflects our true worth…
What is right and what is wrong?
On the internet, it can be very hard to get facts correct. Whilst data is certainly available, it is sometimes the very nature of the media and reporting to hype, corrupt and misquote for the sake of generating conversation and traffic, be it bad or good – it is still traffic generating advertising revenue for the most part.
But many feel that calling devs and others out on things is wrong, that they know best. My take on this? What is good for the goose must be good for the gander, and in a medium that is heavily focused on the consumer and their ever changing tastes and acceptances, you’re always going to be criticised – fairly and unfairly.
Recently, I was corrected. Many websites and reporters had stated that Lords of Shadow was not originally designed to be a Castlevania game. Considering it was trying to be a wholly different genre to its roots, this actually sounded plausible enough to be taken at face value – it didn’t seem like something that was factually incorrect because it looked, sounded and felt like an explanation for why, for me, Lords of Shadow felt so utterly devoid of personality.
And yet, this very plausible “fact” turns out to be incorrect. And I will hold my hands up here and admit it – I was suckered in by it, and I apologise for propogating the myth and will no longer do so. Admittedly, it also poses deeper and more interesting questions about Lords of Shadow, its design and development. But therein is part of the beauty of being corrected, and being open to criticism and correction.
For you see, we’re not always 100% right. Nothing is ever wholly perfect – except maybe Mark Kermode and Jim Sterling, but these are gods of men and therefore examples to the rest of us mere mortals of what we could be – and therefore there is an element of human failing in everything. By our nature, we’re not perfect. But it is in learning, and being corrected, that we ensure mistakes are not repeated and that we leave the situation more developed and rounded as a human being than before.
Games are there for us to buy, and criticism of games is therefore an important and valid part of the equation. We don’t always agree and we’re not always right, but if we’re being asked to pay $60 or £40 for a new game release, that’s a significant initial investment above and beyond the hardware expenses. We are allowed as buyers of these games to have an opinion on the quality of the game we have paid money for.
This is not being hard on developers who sometimes see their works being savaged – welcome to my early writing career, chaps, I can’t begin to tell you some of the comments and criticisms I got. But the thing is, as much as it hurts, as much as you are inclined to stick to your guns, as a writer you need stuff to be published, or a script to make it through to production, otherwise what is the point? These people know what they want, what works and therefore are correct in criticising me if I have got it wrong. It can be embarrassing, humiliating and degrading. But ultimately, you have to learn from it. And then you come back with something they do want and you prove them wrong. This is how we do it. That’s how many survive in a cut-throat world.
If a game is broken, or buggy, or a bit bland – there is nothing wrong with saying so. Like writers, developers are pitching their titles to you and I as consumers, potential clients for them to build franchises from. If we like a game and we have some concerns, then we can be justified in making them. If we really don’t like – or fully “get” – a title, then we should say so. Maybe others will explain it for us, or maybe the developers will do better next time. We are the judging panel, the Simon Cowell’s of the market. And even there, Simon has been proven wrong on many an occassion – and so will we.
I bring to you, as an example, Assassin’s Creed. The first one.
Assassin’s Creed was self-indulgent, it is true. It wasn’t mechanically sound as a game, it had too much padding to mask the fact its focus point was literally climbing stuff to drop down and kill others. Sure, we saw something in it – it was fabulously pretty for its time, and the soft-science plot was nice. But it fell apart in the gameplay – laboured, clunky and just a bit too dull to really captivate.
However, second chances happen, and in Assassin’s Creed 2, it was all changed. The story had more focus and personality, arguably with Ezio – the heavy Italian accent coupled with his swagger and ego meshed well with the new athletic, sporty ideals. With more ways to be an assassin, and more imagination and less emphasis on trying to be realistic, Assassin’s Creed 2 sang. Gameplay at its forefront, with a wonderfully ludicrous plot and a totally barking but brilliant supporting cast, it was just so much better than the first.
Why was this? According to UbiSoft, they listened to the criticisms of the first game and did their best to make sure those elements that we didn’t like were made better.
And the end result was a far, far superior game.
Of course, not everyone thinks this way. There are developers who really don’t listen to their users, or a portion of their users – World of Warcraft and its current insistence that Rogues are perfectly fine, despite the real backlash of rogues who insist otherwise, is a good example to pick up on. If you mistreat a portion of your userbase, or ignore them, then they simply won’t stick around. 5% of 10 million users is 500,000 rogues. Multiply that by their on average £8.99 subscription fee, and you have a potential kicker of £4,495,000 to lose. Hell, if that’s the sort of scratch Blizzard feel they can afford to throw away and ignore, then let them do it. Rogues will find the likes of Rift and Guild Wars 2 will be much more sympathetic to their methods of play. Don’t feel like you MUST take it. If rogues drop to one percent or less, than Blizzard will have to accept something is wrong – or remove one of its most iconic classes, which will certainly damage its credibility on the market.
We all have a choice on whether to learn from our mistakes or not. Steam does and continues to, Origin kind of doesn’t. Avalanche Studios boss Christofer Sundberg does, whereas Peter Molyneux… well, is Peter Molyneux, who exists in a world parallel to ours. We liked Just Cause 2 for more emphasis on fun and frolicks, and we criticised Fable 3 for just being too damned linear and simplistic, ignoring all criticisms of Fable 2. It is by listening to criticisms that things are made better. We learn, and those not capable of learning – or those who refuse to learn – will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again, often in a very public forum like the gaming industry discrediting themselves in the process of this. Sonic Team are prime examples of this. That the worth of Sonic the Hedgehog is so low nowadays is sad, but after so many truly terrible games, it’s hardly something that should come as a surprise. And if they are angry at criticism, good. They should feel the same anger that Sonic fans feel. Getting that passion back, and fire to completely turn things around and prove the detractors wrong, is essential in the case of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Criticism is important for us as a species. We absolutely should criticise and lambast certain elements of society and how things are done, whereas some elements that are under attack in the world are frivolous and unimportant in the grand scheme of things that serve no purpose than to distract us from more valid, important and essential problems that need to be addressed.
And that’s why I enjoy the internet, despite its inherent flaws and problems. We are still learning on a medium that whilst it has developed incredibly fast, is still inherently a new medium, newer than video games to be certain. The internet is inherently about us, a reflection of us, and our own flaws. Information is not always perfect – but like anything, it is in the correction and re-correction that we all learn, and part of that blushing red-faced embarassment at times is to reinforce into our memories that what we did was wrong. And it sticks, and we remember, and we don’t tend to do it again.
Whether you believe you are right or wrong is another matter entirely. Thinking your opinion is the only one that matters only leads to making more mistakes. But regardless, we learn from the mistakes we do make – and by and large, we become better people for it. My first steps on the internet were not great, and I was a shouty, sweary teenager with a crass mouth and a filthy mind. I still have a filthy mind, but I’ve developed along with making mistakes. I’ve learned to identify my manic moments. I have grown, and grown up, and learned much, and yet have much still to learn.
This is true for every person in the world. Except those gods of men I mentioned earlier who are NEVER WRONG EVER. Ahem. Ass-kissing aside, it is part of the human condition to always be learning. Once upon a time, as a species if we didn’t learn from our mistakes or the mistakes of others, we would die. Now, it’s less final but just as important to keep our minds healthy, active and sharp to always have something to learn, and be learning.
Whatever you do, whatever you make, however you make it. Mistakes happen. It’s how you take that along for the future that matters most of all. And more power to those that take it in good humour and yet still work hard to prove they can be better, do better, make better.
That’s how progress is made. And thank whatever gods you believe in for it.