The post I made earlier about Penny-Arcade's comic was a response to the brew-ha-ha surrounding a preview written in EGM magazine last May about the upcoming game Too Human. The game, believed to be one of the crown jewels of the Xbox 360 lineup was still well over a year out from release, was utterly trashed in the magazine. Dennis Dyack, founder and head of game developer Silicon Knights recently posted a lengthy article about this on his blog -- yes, nearly a year later -- and then this week went on EGM's podcast to, essentially, fight for his game. Literally. Again, this is all about something that happened nearly a year ago. And, I might add, something that everyone who might buy the game has completely forgotten about or never paid much attention to anyway. I mean, really, who reads EGM anyway?
I digress. I make a point of not listening to videogame podcasts as the ones I have listened to in the past were clearly aimed at a younger demographic. Like 5 year olds, perhaps. I listened to EGM's podcast today against my better judgment to see what the fuss was about. I have a morbid sense of curiosity, to say the least.
Before I comment about Dyack's comments and perceived hostility, I have to give credit where it's due -- I thought the EGM guys did a phenomenal job of maintaining their composure and politely stating their case and respectfully standing up for themselves.
That said, I think Dyack has a very good point -- that being that game previews serve no purpose at all. How many times have you seen a preview in a magazine or website that was anything less than positive, other than the case in question? You don't. If the game is bad, they simply say nothing at all or mention that it "shows promise".
Previews by nature have so many caveats attached to them (i.e. the game is unfinished, so everything we say may be wrong) that there is of little point in even writing or reading them. They have to be positive for fear of killing a relationship with a publisher (and let's not forget the lovely press junkets and swag) and promise of future early access and debug kits. Not to mention, there's no reason to not be positive for, as Dyack correctly pointed out, the game isn't done yet. I've had access to early builds of games for nearly 7 years now and I've attended E3 three or four times -- I've seen games change dramatically right up to two weeks before going gold. Take Gears of War for example: when I visitied Epic in August to see the game, I left impressed by the game but also very concerned about the unbalanced difficulty and some questionable weapons choices. When I returned at the end of September, it was almost as if I was playing an entirely different game. Everything that was a concern in August had been polished to a glossy sheen. Now take that and apply it to a game that isn't two months away from going Gold, but over a year out. See my point?
As for E3, the show floor is the absolute worst place to get a feel for a game unless it's one of the rare instances when you have a friendly, knowledgeable staff-member right there to walk you through it -- like Ubisoft had for Prince of Persia: Sands of Time three years ago. They provided phenomenal attention to booth visitors that year and everyone left completely mesmerized by the game -- I was so excited that I practically ran right back to the BradyGames booth and begged my Editor-In-Chief to let me write the guidebook for it.
Anyway, I understand the public wants a quick rundown of what went on at E3 and EGM has to sell magazines so they give the readers what they want. Where Dyack has a right to be mad, however, was the venomous tone the previewer took. In his attempts to be "edgy" and appeal to the youngsters who read EGM, he stepped over the line. The language he used should be saved for reviews of very, very, very bad games. Instead of trying to be so negative, he could have simply shown a screenshot and instead of calling the game "terrible" which is impossible to tell at that point -- or any other point before the game goes Gold -- he could have just put "needs work" or something less harsh. It would have still conveyed his feelings of the game as it was shown at E3, yet wouldn't have had the potentially business damaging repercussions.
Now, of course I agree that Silicon Knights and Microsoft shouldn't have pushed to make the game playable on the show floor if they weren't prepared to take the criticism they would get for it -- and Dyack even says they knew full well the game was going to get negative comments. And I'm sure that would have been fine, but the EGM writer went over the line. Maybe it was an attempt to just appeal to a juvenile readership or perhaps it really was a part of a subconscious allegiance to the "Nintendo Defense Force". Who knows?
Either way, I agree with Dyack that it is good to see E3 go the way of the dodo bird. And I really hope that previews go away too. Release screenshots, release trailers, wait for the game to be finished, then provide the reviewers with final code. Until then, everyone should get the benefit of the doubt.
But as for my thoughts on Too Human, I'm still disappointed about how bad Eternal Darkness was to say for sure that I'll buy any game Silicon Knights produces. One thing for certain though, is that I won't be basing that decision on a one-paragraph preview written over a year before the game comes out.