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Opinion: Journalistic Rage
Opinion: Journalistic Rage
October 18, 2011 | By Brandon Sheffield

October 18, 2011 | By Brandon Sheffield
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    65 comments
More: Console/PC



[Game Developer magazine editor-in-chief Brandon Sheffield revisits how an "unspectacular" interview about id Software's Rage unexpectedly turned controversial, and what that means for game developers and journalists. This editorial was originally written for Game Developer's upcoming November issue.]

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.

Anger Management

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.

This motif would permeate my entire experience playing Rage. My character, instantly ready to kill anyone on command if someone suggests it, was given tasks by the fellow who saved him in the car. I would have to go up to a person who had a task for me, click on them, and they'd introduce themselves. They'd then wait around for me to click on them again to get a mission. I could just wander away if I wanted, and do something else.

But there was nothing else to do! If I wanted to progress in any way, I had to just go right back and click on them again. Why give me the illusion of freedom if really all I can do to advance the story is go to the next node? Why give me options that don't actually exist?

I asked these questions to Chang and Hollenshead, because I couldn't figure out why they'd done it this way. This is not some amateur developer, this is id, so they had to have good reasons for their systems, and the makeup of the universe they'd created. The hostile tone people may have picked up on was likely a misinterpretation of my surprise at their responses.

I was taken aback that there wasn't a reason that all the different factions in the game use different accents. I was surprised there wasn't a better explanation for why the mutants were so artistic. I asked, in a part of the interview that was cut, why they didn't just include the character introductions with the mission briefings. Hollenshead told me this was because they couldn't know when the player would want to do the missions. Maybe they'd just want an intro. This makes sense in some games, but if there's nothing else to do...?

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.

Blacklisted?

In my opinion, my interview with the Rage folks was unspectacular. It was the bare minimum we should expect from journalists. If something is said that doesn't match what you saw, ask about it. If you're curious about this or that, ask a question, no matter how “important” the interviewee may be. And sometimes the best answers can be gotten by playing devil's advocate. In my opinion, developers should be happy to have this sort of discussion. It allows you to explain your game's worldview and defend your gameplay choices, and your answers should tell you a lot about your own product.

Did I look like a jerk? Maybe a little. I would say a lot of the cutting done to the article makes my questions appear to come from nowhere, rather than being part of the hour-long conversation-space they occupied. But the interview addressed some rough spots that few had mentioned before, and which only surfaced once the game was reviewed.

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. I have no bias against id. How could I? They're an amazing developer, and have some of the best talent in the industry.

It's out of respect for id that I called them out on what I saw. I gave them an early chance to defend issues with the game that others were undoubtedly going to have upon release. 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.


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Comments


Jeremie Sinic
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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. I have never been so disappointed by a game (probably partly because I expected so much, looking at the graphics). It's basically graphics from the future (it's really awesome on Xbox360) mixed with gameplay from the past, not to mention an anecdotal and cliched story. The only game review I found accurate was Joystiq's review, giving the game 3 out of 5 and pointing these flaws better than I could.



[Edit]: but to get back to the point, nowhere I found the questions rude. Tough and to the point, maybe, but not disrespectful. As other readers pointed out, Gamasutra is a professional gaming industry site, so this is the kind of questions that a true journalist should ask.

Poul Wrist
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So what you're saying is that if it's a good game it's not OK to be critical?



Rage's biggest mistake is to have too much story and a regenerative health system.

The enemies could've done with a bit more variety, but at its care there is a fun game. The "gameplay from the past" is what is fun. Games these days suck at being games, and instead of focusing on fun gameplay, focus on some dumb, partially realised story. See the interview with Portal developers on how they wanted all this story stuff, but whenever the game dragged a bit, they CUT story away! Cut the stupid story out, leave the gameplay to tell its own story.

Rage sits somewhere on the brink of that philosophy, but they kept too much story stuff in there. They should've stayed with a purer game, instead of trying to make yet another interactive movie. Games just do not work as interactive movies.

Jeremie Sinic
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@Poul Wrist: What I was saying, and what I think many people thought, was that the game being developed by id, I had a bias toward thinking that the game could not be this much disappointing, and as a result thought at first that the questions were more aggressive than needed.

Also, if it were a really good game, id's Andy Change and Todd Hollenshead would've been able to defend it better than they did, and most of all, Brandon would not have had to ask those questions.

Regarding the "gameplay from the past", I reckon it doesn't mean much in itself, since to tell the truth, I had more fun playing Doom than playing Rage. But to have an FPS, nowadays, where enemies are attacking you with all sorts of weapons and you can never pick any of them on the ground, feels pretty outdated to me. It made sense in Doom, for sure, where most monsters were not human and didn't use conventional weapons, but here, it feels just like a sorry limitation.

And as you pointed out rightly, I would have loved it if the game had been more focusing on action and had totally got rid of or improved useless elements, but to me it is the racing (more than the story or regenerative health), which doesn't feel well integrated to the game experience. I mean, just look at the use of vehicles in Halo: it's totally fun and doesn't feel like just there to connect to the next dungeon. I might even like it if Rage was a succession of its dungeons, totally stripped of the boring dialogues and racing fillers :)

Regarding regenerative health as a "mistake", Halo/Gears of War use regenerative shield/health and they are fun games to play. In my opinion, it is not really regenerative health that makes or breaks a game (you cannot say it is bad in itself), but rather the way it is implemented.

Arguing there is too much story is hardly defensible either, because take again Halo, the campaign actually manages to tell a story without breaking the rhythm of the game. On the other end of the spectrum, Fallout's dialogues with NPCs are actually meaningful and influence the overall story and sub-quests. In Rage, it first looks like dialogues will have the same impact on the story, but they don't, since you have no other choice than speaking to some specific NPC to make the story progress, and the story is nowhere as engaging as what you get in any Halo or Gears game, for all conventional these games story can be.

Last, I am not totally giving up on this game, since I kept it instead of reselling it as I first intended, but right now, there are too many better titles to play in any genre for this one to retain my attention.

Brian Baglow
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The whole point of speaking to a publication like GamaSutra is not simply the exposure, but the credibility you gain from the publication.



Journalists, especially when writing for an audience which will include industry peers and other game developers, should certainly be asking questions about aspects of the game they don't understand.



Good journalists should be able to pick up on hesitancy and uncertainty and chase it down. That is - or should be - a very big part of their job.



Too many large developers are now falling prey to this 'bubble' in which only their own opinions and input are used. In days of yore, before publishers locked everything down so very tightly, early work-in-progress pieces were far more common and it gave developers a useful perspective on their work so far.



The new and far more antagonistic approach publishers, marketing people and PR's have to journalists (i.e. that they should shut up, be grateful for all of the free games and get on with writing lovely things) is short sighted, unrealistic and bad for the long-term future of the industry, as it removes any sort of critical perspective.



The whole development period is already marked with a rosy glow from the press. Studios are given the benefit of the doubt more often than not, when shortcomings or problems are found. Tie in the somewhat heavy-handed approach of larger publishers to the media and you have every game in development looking like a classic.



There are few enough journalists within the games world willing to pursue developers (especially the big names) and ask questions. I think Brandon's original piece was fair, well put-together and with apologies to the iD guys, I thought they weren't particularly expecting his questions.



Which for me, made the article all the more readable and interesting, since it actually penetrated the normal company line and revealed more about the thinking behind the game.



Forget the specific game or company, we need journalists within the industry to be independent, critical and professional. It will make things better for all of us.

Wyatt Epp
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Having spent some time to consider the whole situation, I think the saddest part of it is that we've come to expect milquetoast fluff in place of journalism that Brandon was called out for not conforming even when we know that published interviews are always pared down. We didn't have all of the sides of the story, so it was read in the worst possible light by... apparently, a good many.

David Holmin
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I'm all for asking tough questions, but the interview did make it seem like you had an agenda to make Rage look bad. It's a shooter with racing, after all, and both the gunplay and the racing looks great (haven't tried it yet). If you want an open-ended game with player freedom, play Dark Souls. I do.

Tanguy MATIOSZEK
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I think the issue was more that the game kinda FAKES itself as an open-ended game with player freedom. (Which, BTW what Dark Souls is not really either.)

David Holmin
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@Tanguy MATIOSZEK



How does it fake that? I always imagined it as a linear FPS with some side objectives, from what I read about it.



And Dark Souls perhaps isn't "open-ended", if you take the term literally, because that would be something like Minecraft, but it sure as hell got non-linear progression on the same level as the original Zelda on NES, and player freedom in letting the player decide what to tackle next, etc. It's also very liberal in what places are accessible (and uses that properly by having some truly cool secrets).

Matt Cramp
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It's honestly kind of ridiculous that the industry is so fearful of one reviewer giving a game bad press. It puts reviewers in a very awkward position because they can't, as Brandon did, call it like they see it, for fear of being seen as overly hostile.

David Holmin
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@Matt



I'd love to see more honesty in gaming press, and more tough questions, it's not that. I just think said questions were asked from a somewhat strange standpoint, namely the standpoint that Rage should've been an RPG-like game. I played some of it yesterday, and I must say it seems really satisfactory as a shooter / arcade racer. More so than many other recent FPS.



On the topic of tougher questions, though, I'd love to see Mr Sheffield ask 2K Games why they're using the title of a traditionally squad-based, turn-based, tactical game to produce an FPS with light tactical elements, and if they're not afraid of confusing the old X-Com fanbase. For example. I've never ever seen a question like that being asked.

Billy Bissette
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@David Holmin



I think the comparisons between Rage and an RPG come directly from its similarities to Borderlands and Fallout. It looked like those games and sounded like those games. Before Rage was released, I was constantly hearing and reading people comparing it to those two games.



And those two games are RPG/shooter hybrids. Borderlands makes a lot of mistakes, and puts too much focus on levels in a bad way, but you wouldn't compare it to other FPS. Fallout 3 was knocked by some for not handling consequences or the world as well as the previous Fallout games, but you still wouldn't compare it directly to a generic third-person shooter design.



Normally, it wouldn't really be fair to compare a linear FPS to two RPG-like shooters. But Rage, due to its graphics, setting, tone, vehicles, and nearly everything else was already being compared to these two games, and only to these two games. The idea was already lurking in the minds of people. (And since the connection was already happening in the minds of the public, it becomes a worthy topic in an interview.)

David Holmin
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@Billy Bissette



I also heard those comparisons (between Rage and Borderlands) for the longest time before it was released, and I never understood why. Everything I read about Rage made it entirely clear it's a First Person Shooter at heart, with some arcade racing thrown in. Seriously, it's hardly Id's fault if people are so narrow-minded to think just because a game has a similar setting, it should play the same way. Also, Rage and its setting was announced before Borderlands, so its unfair to imply that Id were somehow influenced by Borderlands, like some people do.

Samer Abbas
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Considering that you were questioning them about some bad and/or odd design and creative choices, I find it hard not to think that your intent was malignant unless you were honestly expecting satisfactory answers for these questions. The "its id so they must have good reasons" line doesn't cut it though.



The issue is therefore not tone I think; the issue is that you asked these questions and follow up questions, then published an unspectacular and uninsightful feature.

Saul Gonzalez
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Samer, why is this an issue? If Brandon had an underwhelming experience with the game, why should he cover it up? If he perceived the game's marketing was insincere and exaggerated, why should he go along with the hype?

He does not work for id. He does not have a mandate to make the game or their developers look good at all costs. Gamasutra's mission is to offer insight on game development, not to be another marketing tool for game publishers.



I agree that the original interview comes across as irreverent and incisive. But Brandon was put in a position where to do otherwise would have run counter to his journalistic integrity. That's id's fault, not his.

Jonathan Lawn
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I think a journalist has to take responsibility not only for the tone of his interview, but for the way that it is edited down. The edited version is what the public sees and its tone must be seen as intentional. If Brandon wanted to give a harsh impression, that's fine, but it's no good saying "that's just how it edited down".



I certainly don't see any problem with the interview being confrontational, unless Brandon forgot to balance his inquisition with some lighter questions so that he was forced to give the wrong impression due to lack of positive material. It's a shame if he'd wanted to do a 50% positive preview after the meeting, but then only had the material to sound 25% positive.

Jesse Crafts-Finch
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It is part of a journalists job to expose inconsistencies - they are not supposed to ignore a topic simply because they do not believe the other party will have an unsatisfactory answer. Exposing such an answer is, in fact, part of their job.

Saul Gonzalez
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@Jonathan I fail to see why Brandon had any duty to "balance his inquisition". This was NOT a review of Rage, something a lot of commenters seem to have forgotten. It was an interview with the designers. If the most interesting thing about the interview was how the id staff was unable to justify their design decisions, why should the journalist include fluff or "positive material" to balance it? id made itself look bad all on its own, why should it be Brandon's job to prop them up?

Aaron Karp
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It seems to me that the lack of insight in the original interview came less from Sheffield's side than from Hollenshead and Chang. His questions were reasonable and their answers were featherweight. Games (even bad ones) often show clear signs of an almost excessive attention to world-building. I was shocked to see answers that were basically "It's that way because we felt like it," and it seems that Sheffield was as well. Maybe it was optimistic to expect more than that from id - they've always been masters of the technical side and just barely competent on the story side (don't get me wrong - they make great games, but their plots have never been more than thin window dressing). Even if that was the case, it doesn't make it Sheffield's fault that their answers lacked substance.



I think the second question, the follow-up about what makes Rage unique, is what makes most people characterize the interview as harsh or confrontational. Granted, as the second question, it is a bit of a shock, but it's a perfectly reasonable question. Looking at the art that accompanies the interview, it's impossible not to see deep similarities between Rage and Fallout 3 and Borderlands. Sheffield gave Hollenshead and Chang an opportunity to substantively address those similarities and they didn't, so he followed up with an honest opinion.



We hear rumors of media blacklists by game developers all too frequently. If games are going to evolve, game journalists need to ask tough questions and give scathing reviews when developers put out products that deserve them. Developers who simply take their ball and go home at any hint of criticism are missing an opportunity to grow and improve.

Jonathan Lawn
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@Enrique I'm quite happy for Brandon to grill the designers. It's very interesting and informative for us (and should have been for them too, by the sounds of it).



My comment was just addressing the sentence in the article "I would say a lot of the cutting done to the article makes my questions appear to come from nowhere ..." and your comment "I agree that the original interview comes across as irreverent and incisive". I was just saying that I don't think that these should be used as "excuses" for the tone. If Brandon wanted this tone, or felt he needed the article to have this tone to reflect the interview, then he should just say so. If he wishes he'd softened the tone with the odd extra sentence to counteract the impression that he'd won points against the devs in verbal sparring, then he should be happy to say that.



Either way, I agree that he was correct to report the questions and responses, and that we need more journalism like this!

Karl E
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There is a lesson to be learned here. Part of the reason why Brandon’s remarks were considered hostile is that they were delivered at a moment when it is too late to change the game. A sensible thing to do is to hire more outsiders with integrity earlier in the development cycle to point out flaws in the game. Thus avoiding the embarrassment when Brandon (as well as several reviewers) points out that the emperor has no clothes at a time when it is too late to put them on.

Sylvester O'Connor
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Brandon, I would like to say that I appreciate your questioning of id. Journalism has taken such a soft course over the years that people don't exactly know how to handle direct questioning. The reason why I never thought that your questions were hostile is because you asked exactly the type of questions that I, not as a developer but as a gamer, would have asked. Why wouldn't I be able to answer any question about the game that I made so that people will understand why we did what we did in how it is designed? I think more developers should do what Karl E mentioned and hire outsiders to point out the flaws in the game. They don't have to be in game design either. I found that at one of the games that I was on board with, we actually had a panel of about 5 people play it for about 3 hours and write down every thing that they had questions about.



You would be surprised to know how much that feedback helped in our game and made it quite successful when it finally did release. Again, like Karl E said, taking questions about the game after the vault has been locked, doesn't make sense at all.



As a journalist, I hope you continue your work. I don't know how a developer could not be prepared to have their work analyzed. Yet and still they sit along with publishers looking for reviews to be published. Moving forward, we should be asking questions about our work as we continue to create them and not when they have already been placed in the box and packaged tight. Great piece.

Mathieu MarquisBolduc
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I just re-read the interview and I thought I was excellent. Its quite refreshing to see a journalist that doesnt just regurgitate the keysheet that PR gave him (and they DO gove you one. Back in my reviewing days I had publishers send me already-written reviews for their games).



All and all the interviewer calls them when they need calling out, but always give them an hook so that they may justify their design choice, and its not his fault if ID's answers fail to impress. ("Its not brown, its dark reddish!").



Maybe the CEO wasnt the best person to answer questions about the creative side, I dont know how they work at ID.

Jacek Wesolowski
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The questions in the interview did sound to me like there was a subtext: "I didn't like the game and I would like you to explain yourselves".



I think there's nothing wrong about that. It's called criticism. The questions were "fair", e.g. you asked them what the accents meant, rather than asking "why did you give them accents that don't make any sense?". In other words, you gave them the benefit of doubt. That's all anyone can ask. We need more interviews like that.



The interview format is a great way to criticise something, because the person whose work is being criticised can reply right away. You can have a discussion. To me, Hollenshead's and Chang's answers came across as a much stronger criticism than your questions, because they didn't really have any.



The core problem with criticism in the gamedev industry is that a lot of people on the development side, and I mean A LOT, cannot tell criticism from offense. Granted, these two are sometimes mixed. I suspect everyone has met at least one jerk who thought the fact of not liking something granted them a licence to insult. But, while it's difficult not to feel uncomfortable about someone lashing out at you, the inability to face criticism per se is a sign of immaturity, period. The difference between id and that hypothetical "AAA creative director" is that, next time around, id will make a better game, and the other studio will keep making the same stuff over and over.

Dave Smith
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i liked the interview. IMO Id seems to always get more of a pass than most studios. Doom 3 comes to mind.

Sylvester O'Connor
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Not just that, but how many times do devs make their games seem cutting edge? Look at Battlefield and COD. I have been to preview both and even now, I can see that they are pretty much the same this year even though I think BF is trying to do like most other games are doing which is being friendly to casuals.



I also agree with you Christian that journalism doesn't change because of industry.

B Smith
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"asking tough questions and not letting up when I didn't hear satisfying answers"



This is video games, not covering war or exposing govt corruption.

Benjamin Quintero
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@Brandon I went back and read the original interview, thinking that perhaps my views were colored that day. I questioned if maybe I was reading too deep between the lines. Though my opinion on the piece hasn't changed, I can only say that my issue was not with your stance in the article but the tone of the article.



Putting aside whether Rage was a good game or not, like most reviews, that is just an opinion. My concern was the tone that was taken and the words that were chosen. Much like an ill-fated email that tries to alleviate a brutal stream of consciousness with smiley faces, your choice of words did not reflect the mood that you described in the room. And trying to explain your position after the fact is a little moot. The damage has kind of been done.



I would not want to deter you from asking those pressing questions, and I do feel that a blacklist is a bit extreme, but perhaps this can be a lesson for us all. I can't blame Hollenshead and Chang for not knowing all of the answers. It felt kind of like corning EA's Riccitiello and asking him why some artist chose a particular reticule for their M4 rifle in Battlefield or why they chose to map reloading to a specific button. Games are made by hundreds of developers now and the days of asking anyone on the 5 man team are all but over unless you are interviewing an iOS developer.



Hollenshead is just a suit now, and the old days of id Software are long gone. I am sure that he is passionate about Rage but I highly doubt that he spends much time away from the stacks of papers on his desk to ask the developers about their motivations. Perhaps it was their mistake to place him in that interview situation.



I am not trying to make excuses for them but if journalists are going to ask the hard questions, it might be better served in a panel format where each expertise is represented; game design, engineering, art direction, business development. I know that it is an impossible situation to ask for and this is why we need to sometimes lighten up when we aren't getting the answers we want to hear.



I know that it can be frustrating to walk away with questions left unanswered but perhaps these are the best questions to use for a followup interview, with the right people.



[edit] Just because he smiled and shook your hand doesn't mean he wouldn't want to shiv you with the other =) <-- smiley face!

David Lee
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It's the responsibility of the company being interviewed to supply people prepared with proper answers. If the interviewee doesn't have the information, s/he should say, "I'm sorry, I don't know that personally but let me get you someone who does." I'm sure Brandon (or any writer) would love to have a panel representing the different disciplines to answer his questions, but let's be honest, companies don't want to assign all those resources for the purposes of PR. That's why the people being interviewed need to do their homework and be prepared to cover the territory of their colleagues if necessary.

Benjamin Quintero
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Oh @David.. if only it were so easy to say, "know the thoughts and inspirations of all 250 developers and contractors on this project" and it happen. It would make these situations much less awkward for sure.



What if Brandon only had questions about the internals of Megatextures, or the physics, or the animation system. Was Todd expected to know how they work and answer them intelligently as well? We have to draw the line based on the person we are questioning and not pile drive the same questions that can't be answered.



Again, I understand Brandon's frustrations. Journalists are often put in uneasy situations. Though it could have been handled better, hindsight is 20/20 right? If Brandon still stands by his words after having time to reflect on them, then we can only assume that he feels justified.



Personally, I'd like to see a Postmortem on Rage and give them an opportunity to articulate their intent and discuss the right and wrong. I know that the choice to use Megatextures is one that must have plagued them throughout development and I'd love to hear their thoughts for the future of idTech. Gamasutra, maybe you can push for this?

Christopher Braithwaite
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I agree, it's the tone of the article rather than the questions that is off-putting. This makes the questions appear hostile where they may not have been. It reads as if the developers were cornered in a room being peppered with 'gotcha' questions. If the interview was cordial then Brandon did the article (and himself) a disservice by failing to provide proper context for the interview.

Steven Ranck
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I agree with both your original article post and this one, Benjamin. I'm sure Brandon's a smart guy and playing the naive card here doesn't hold weight. I believe he knew exactly how his questions were being perceived by id at the time he asked them, and I'm sure he's since reread his article on Gama and is perfectly aware of how the interview is being perceived by some of the readers.



The way the article reads to me is that Brandon played this game that was getting a lot of hype, and he made it a point to catalog (and perhaps go out of his way to find) everything he didn't like about it. Then, sitting in front of the devs, he barraged them with a series of complaints one after another. Which is just not the right thing to go about an interview.



I'm about 12 hours into Rage and am really enjoying it. You can nit pic any game, and Brandon came across as doing only that. But there's an awful lot that Rage does incredibly well, almost to perfection. If I had had the rare opportunity to spend a whole hour with id as Brandon did, I wouldn't have wasted it all with a series of nit picky questions that really had little relevance in the grand scheme of Rage.



In Brandon's defense, if indeed what was posted was only a small handful of negatively charged questions out of an entire hour of more beneficial questions, well then there's a completely different problem going on here.

warren blyth
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"we need to sometimes lighten up when we aren't getting the answers we want to hear."



What answers are you referring to? The interview I read was full of interesting answers.

When Sheffield asked for clarifications: he got them.



Many seem to be characterizing the interview as if it was an endless stream of "no comments," where the developers were backed into a corner and harrassed. I cannot follow this perspective at all, because they offer many lengthy replies and seem quite cheerful and at ease.

Bruno Patatas
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I think that Brandon's original interview was quite refreshing and I enjoyed it, as also enjoyed Ars Technica review of Rage.

I played Rage and for me it was an extreme disappointment. As someone said in a previous comment, it seems the majority of the money is being spent on graphics and the rest of the game is almost like an afterthought. For me, Rage felt like that.

I was expecting more, much more from Rage. People say: "It's a id game, what more do you expect?" Well, I expect them to evolve. Probably they don't want, which is fine. A lot of people like them as they are.

But for me, as a gamer, Rage is not interesting at all. It's a generic FPS's that doesn't adds anything new to the genre.

Id for me is not the "holy cow" anymore. The times of Doom are well buried in the past, and on my case, the benefit of doubt will be difficult to have again.

David Holmin
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Out of curiousity, which FPS games do you find better than Rage? I'm not a big fan of the genre anymore, but Rage seems a lot more fun to me than, for example, Gears of War (technically TPS, but still). More variation, better weapon punch, better tempo, and let's not forget better looking. It seems like they could've scrapped the story, though.

sean lindskog
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I have no doubt that Brandon's journalistic integrity is completely intact here. I don't believe he was purposefully sabotaging the game or the interviewees. I agree with the voices above that this is an all-too-rare example of a journalist asking tough questions.



That being said, it is completely clear that Brandon raises several valid critiques of the design, for which the Rage guys have no good answer. The tone I get from the article is Brandon thinking, "there's some seriously stupid sh*t going on here, and your answers aren't helping."



I think we should respect Brandon for his candor. Perhaps he could have balanced the interview with (or even mentioned) things he DID like about the game, so as to not focus so much on the negative aspects. But the questions he did ask were completely honest and valid.



Undeniably, this interview was bad PR for Rage. From a business perspective, I think game studios and publishers will understandably be more cautious doing interviews with Brandon. That's just the natural conflict between business and journalistic/artistic integrity. We should respect the studios who DO continue to do interviews with Brandon, despite it not being a free ticket to easy PR.

Harry Fields
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The game, for id standards, sucks balls. He called them out on it. The game's released and lo and behold, nearly everyone is disappointed.

David Holmin
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For id standards? I think Rage looks quite a bit more fun than Doom 3. Sure, it won't come close to Quake (1), but the FPS genre has declined since, in everything but graphics, id being no exception.

Harry Fields
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LOL, forgot about Doom 3. Got me there. Someone remind me why id is so highly regarded. Quake 3 Arena was the last time I had any fun with one of their titles...

David Holmin
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Well, I played Rage a bit at a friend's place the other day, and I had pretty fun. The town races seem really fun, and the shooting has the punch that Doom 3 lacked. Hitting a mutie in the shoulder to see him spin around and keep stumbling towards you before you gib him old school is pretty satisfactory.



That being said, it seems to completely lack the complexity of Quake (1) levels, with all their secrets and hidden interconnections. I'm still waiting for Id to do a game like that again. Preferably reusing the Lovecraftian sci-fi universe of Quake (not the Strogg one of the sequels).



Oh, and why Id is highly regarded? John Carmack. Take one more look at the graphics and how silky smoothly it runs, and you have the answer.

Lo Pan
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I'm with Harry on this, the game design was piss poor. Playing this game was like going on a date with a supermodel - amazing to look at but interpersonal interaction severely lacking. I sold the game back to the retailer two days after playing and went back into GOW 3.



An interesting observation/comment in the article 'It felt as though the game had been developed in a bubble, where they were told everything they were doing was great, without question.' - really drove home the problem with certain teams/games. I see this more in Japanese games with poor usability and controls are often the result. Its the job of Production (with the absolute support of Sr. Management) to ask hard questions of the design from the developer.

brandon sheffield
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One thing that's interesting to look at, after this game's release and the subsequent reviews, is metacritic scores. I'm not going to make any big claims here, but if you look at the professional critical reviews, you'll find they're hovering around 80%.



On the other hand, on console the user reviews are around 6.5 out of 10, with nearly 180 reviews. http://www.metacritic.com/game/xbox-360/rage



On the PC, user reviews are at 3.9, with over 580 reviews. http://www.metacritic.com/game/pc/rage



On the PC side, that's likely down to people having installation troubles, difficulties with their hardware, et cetera - but it still speaks to something. The popular opinion seems to be rather different from the critical opinion, and I do wonder what is going on there. It may simply be a difference in dealing with expectations. The critics expected something great, and perhaps that wore off on them, and was reflected in their enthusiasm. Users expected something great, but didn't consistently find it, and that was reflected in their perhaps overly negative reaction.



Again, I can't claim to know what's going on here, but it is pretty rare for the average critical reviews to be so much higher than user reviews. Users have traditionally much more willing to "find the good," or will at least hover near the critical reviews. But lately I'm seeing a trend toward lower user reviews in general - Dark Souls, Catherine, and El Shaddai all have slightly lower user reviews, for example. But the gap here is quite a bit wider.

Luis Guimaraes
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I'm sure that 3.9 is made of lots of 0.0 scorings.

Julian Cram
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Come on Brandon, do you really think user scores are indicative of what people actually think?



Half the people don't even play the game they give a score to!



They have a bee in their bonnet about the company, or DRM, or reaction to a news article, or even the fact it's on device X instead of device Y or Z.



They think they can "stick it to the man" for whatever perceived affront that's been committed by giving them low scores on these bullshit aggregate sites.

David Holmin
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Dragon Age 2 is like this also. Critics, ~80 / 100, Users, ~4.4 / 10.



As for Rage, because the gap is so much wider on the PC platform, I suspect it has a lot to do with the buggy PC version, as you mentioned, in combination with the fact that many PC "elitists" feel Id sold out by going console. They've always prioritized PC, across all OS, but now the PC version was the buggiest one.

Billy Bissette
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Skimming the user reviews at Metacritic, I saw at least four Xbox 360 reviews that were posted by people complaining about the PC version. There may be other low Xbox scores that are really about the PC version.



As for the rest, the "mixed/bad" opinions mostly seem to be that while the game looks great, it is lacking in the area of gameplay. There are also some negative comparisons to Borderlands.

Chris Daniel
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The fact alone that a journalist wants to explain himself after asking totally logic questions says a lot about the niveau of game journalism in general.



A sophisticated design concept would have delivered solid answers to solid questions.

Brian Tsukerman
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Isn't this simply another example of the catch-22 that exists between video game developers and video game journalists?

Game developers don't want ACCURATE reviews, they want GOOD reviews. They'd prefer it if those two were one and the same, but like any company that invests oodles of capital into a product, they'd rather have the latter than risk the former painting their project in an unflattering light.

Journalists, meanwhile, depend on their connections with developers in order to stay competitive in their field. As such, they have to weigh the value of presenting their opinions with the value of maintaining a relationship with the developers. In your case, the e-mail you received is an indicator of the fallout that your review generated.

The result, in my opinion, is an inseparable entanglement of PR and journalism in video games that prevents me from placing any significant value on any reviews I find.



However, I appreciate you highlighting these points in Rage since it addresses an inconsistency between how the game is marketed and how it actually plays. Nonetheless, the fact that you focus predominantly on these faults without bringing up anything that you actually liked or impressed you makes you seem very harsh when compared to most reviewers.

John Hahn
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Except this wasn't a game review. This was an interview with 2 developers.

sean lindskog
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@John - whether it was a review or an interview is irrelevant to Brian's point. All that matters is that businesses want good publicity, because good publicity=good sales, and bad publicity=bad sales. Reviews and interviews are equally capable of generating good or bad publicity.



@Brian - well said.



I think we, as fans and consumers of game journalism can play a role in fixing this problem. We need to flock towards honest critical journalism, and ignore fluff game review sites who artificially inflate their reviews to appease a developer/publisher. This way, if developers want to speak to a large audience, their only choice will be with real journalists.

John Hahn
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@Sean - I take your point. However, don't forget the old saying, "There's no such thing as bad publicity." In certain situations, bad publicity = good sales. Throughout the history of games, anytime parents or uptight conservatives say that violent games like Doom or GTA or whatever pollute the youth, it actually increases sales. Kind of like rebellious rock stars or something. The youth want to do whatever their parents don't want them to do.



I realize this is a different situation, but I'm just being devil's advocate and saying that sometimes bad/controversial publicity is good for an entertainment company.

Tom Bodaine
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>> 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."



Guess what, "AAA creative director?"



Honest game journalists have peers too. They're called gamers and/or consumers and they pay your salary. You're triple-zed if no one is buying your games.



On the basis of your hostile and clearly biased contempt for honest journalism I have instructed *MY* peers not to buy Rage. Let's see who has numbers on their side.

brandon sheffield
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I should point out that the email gave no indication it was from anyone on the Rage team! I'd be very very surprised if it were.

Saul Gonzalez
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Brandon: There is something that I'd like to ask about. In the article you stated that you received an anonymous, possibly fake email. If that's the case, why did you bring it up at all? You must get all sorts of crazy email. If this is just some random guy's empty opinion, why give it so much weight?

This makes me think that you consider the blacklisting threat to be more genuine that what you implied.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Enrique brings up an interesting point. You know your general email trends and audience more than we do Brandon; if you have any reason to believe that email was legit, please let us know. There are good developers in this industry that would rather our crappy mistakes be held in an honest light than for everything to go through the PR taxidermy factory, and I promise we'll have your back =).



If Brandon thinks it is real, then I say we start a campaign to find out who sent it. I want to know what studio I never want to work at/never want to purchase products from.

brandon sheffield
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Enrique - I actually don't get very much random email! It's mostly quite targeted... I get weirder phone calls, but I don't answer my phone, so that works itself out.



The reason I brought it up is that it so enraged someone that they went to the lengths of signing up for a new gmail account to hide their identity, and shoot off that email - even if it weren't a real email, most peoples' anger doesn't seem to last more than the 30 seconds it takes to type up a curt reply. Actually going to some effort to fabricate a personality (or whatever - perhaps it was real) indicates an anger greater than I/we usually incite. So that's why I brought it up. Clearly other folks thought this was a bigger deal than I did, and that email is a good indication.

Shaun Huang
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Face it. That interview was full of "questions" that were purely intended to ridicule. I know of a well-known journalistic channel that does that a lot in their interviews: Fox News.



Actually, at least the anchors got paid good money to make a hit on someone, you did it out of ugly, ugly personal spite. What do you think about what you did? Honestly? Yes I just asked you a "journalistic" interview question. Let me interview you about your position as editor in chief. Do you think it is possible that I might do a better job interviewing you than you did with Rage developers?



Hey I've read a lot of trolling comments on the forum and your interview sounded just like them. What do you think about that resemblance?

Ian Uniacke
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I agree. The correctness of whether the game was overall bad or not is irrelevant. The interview was full of non questions, and when the interviewer didn't get what he wanted in response he further extrapolated with more insulting versions of the "questions" (eg "Yeah, you're just getting swept along by the zeitgeist."). This further article kind of makes Brandon (who I do have respect for as a journalist by the way) look hypocritical, as if to say "how DARE you criticise me for being critical". Can you not see the irony Brandon? You could have just taken the criticism of commenters on board. I can see one of two scenarios. a) you take on board the criticism, accept the point, but decide that you liked how you did the interview and moved on. b) you take on board the criticism, decide that hey maybe my questions were a little to acidic, and chosen a better way to word your interrogating questions in the future. Instead you opted for c) publicly cry about how upset you were by the commenters, who were only giving a little bit of karmic retribution in the first place.



edit: Maybe I'm being guilty of the same thing here and I'm not trying to be mean just trying to get at the crux of the issue.

Jeff Yarnell
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I originally thought the interview was fine. My only complaint was that none of the answers seemed to have much substance.

I purchased the game because it looked nice and gave the impression that it was a little more "open" then it was.. After playing it all the way through I have to say I would of asked the developers some of the same questions, and would of done so a lot less politely. All of the information released by id about the game gave the impression that it was more then it turned out to be. Almost every question was answered with a whole lot of garbage with very little substance. Once Brandon asked for clarification on some things we see that the main focus of the game was to showcase the tech, the game is very linear with pretend freedom, the "meaningful choices" the player makes are what ammo type to use, and that the towns are really only well painted mission hubs.

I kinda wish I read the interview a little closer, so I was not so disappointed in the game itself. The game is pretty but it feels like its dead inside. The game was fun, it was ok, but it didn't have any redeeming value. Kinda like fast food, a flashy action movie with no plot, or a long night in Las Vegas. I'm not gonna play it again, and I have a bad taste left in my mouth. I got the feeling from the press releases and the buzz before it came out that it was an expansive post-apocalyptic game whit a rich story and meaningful choices that have an impact on the world. It was not. It was a flashy romp through a pretty static world, and would of been better received if it was marketed as one.

The fact that the interview tried to bring up these inconsistencies should be praised and the fact that they existed should make people angry, not the "tone" of the interview.

Vikram N
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Brandon was rude, so are all superheroes. But superheroes make mistakes.



If you go through his previous interviews, you rarely find him making statements - they usually are questions.



Things I found absurd for his interview standards -



"Driving around the environments, I noticed these bandits are incredibly artistic.

They've got art up on the walls, they're building structures and sculptures, and things like that.

I feel like I'm going around and murdering an artist colony somehow."



"As we've noted, brown is one of the easiest colors to put in everything."



And especially - "Yeah, you're just getting swept along by the zeitgeist."



These are more like game-review statements.



I feel Brandon shouldn't have taken out his game-play experience (read frustration) on those people. It was more like "Roast of Id team."



Parody anyone -



// Pacman

B: Why is Pac-man yellow

X: We had only 8 bit colors, we need something nice n yet have a contrast

B: Really? Yellow? You have issues...



// Mario

B: Mushroom makes you taller and plant gives you fire power. I felt like they were propagating drug-use and vegans. Kids shouldn't be playing this.

Jeffrey Baird
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Oh boo @#(*ing hoo. I still don't see what he did wrong. They set him up to play their game while they watch, followed by discussion about it after, and he somehow broke etiquette by asking questions that were not vetted by the PR department first? And then some bizarro email threat? And you devs want to be able to say Games are Art? I wish OMM was still around, Chet & Erik would have been arrested!

Duncan Rabone
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I can't believe people even made a goddamn fuss about this.



People seem to forget that this is a Game Development centric site, we don't just want to know about the game and how many features it has or how shiny the graphics are. We want to know about the developers and what went into their games, what they think, et. al. Even if the question sounded silly, the answers were very interesting.



That's the point. It's not what the interviewer asks, it's what the interviewee answers. In my opinion it's the drive for getting these answers that makes a good journalist. I can literally tell from the interview that it was a conversation and that Brandon really sat there playing the game and thinking "oh that's interesting I would like to know about that, I should ask them." He was asking the questions that we all ask when the game is good and out and we are playing it. "Why did they do that?" "This game is sure like that other one..." "I wonder what this part means?" "Gee this is sooo much of that!" etc etc



At the end of reading this interview I realised that I really had wanted to know what a prestigious company like id thought about: Borderlands and Fallout, the 'lots of brown' whether they were really going for some RPG or just linear shooting.

Philip Ford
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Brandon's interview was spot-on and a tonic in a time of unremarkable game journalism across the board. I think Brandon's remarks about id devs operating in some kind of a bubble where everyone only ever tells them how great they are might have an uncomfortable ring about it. Hubris is a terrible thing and often exacts a high price.



Good work, Gamasutra. Now, if you could only set this guy to work on a few other self-satisfied, smug devs and publishers I'd be a very happy reader.

Tom Bodaine
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>> I should point out that the email gave no indication it was from anyone on the Rage team! I'd be very very surprised if it were.



How soon after the article went live did you receive the email? Ten minutes? Ten hours? The time frame is germane. Had you informed the Rage team when the article would go live? In addition, who else would have cause to threaten blacklisting? Certainly not a Rage competitor, who, one presumes, would feel nothing but satisfaction at the criticism of Rage. A very simple way to test this is to solicit information from the Rage team on some future game and see if they lock you out. Or, of course, make routine inquiries at other game companies during the regular course of your work. The company, or companies, who routinely lock you and Gamasutra out become suspects, then perhaps collect names of the top creative directors at those companies. Also, talk to other game journos and see if certain companies are doing this to other journos. Likely if they are, it's systemic.



Like I said... let's see who has numbers. Company drones can play the blacklisting game, but information sharing by consumers can turn the tables.

William Johnson
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This is ridiculous. Have people never been to college, defended a thesis, or even been trolled on an internet message board? Its not rocket science to defend your work, and yet Andy Chang and Todd Hollenshead failed at it. And people seem to be coming out of the woodworks to defend id when id had ample time to do it themselves.



I mean, when you are making a game for 5 YEARS(!) you do have a certain expectation. I don't think its unreasonable to assume that id has some designers working on level design, progression, the whole user experience in that 5 years. But you sure wouldn't know it from the way the answers in the interview, and followed by the game's actual release and reviews, which raised many question on the internal working of id now.



Anyway, to get off the topic of why I'm disappointed in Rage and id, lets get on the real point here. Journalistic integrity. This is not a review. This is a window in to the minds of id. And it looked very empty. But should gaming journalism sugar coat the truth for us? No. Never.



Were the questions inappropriate? No. The whole point on why I come to and love Gamasutra is because I want to know and understand why games are built. Why are they designed the way they are. And how I can be better at design through what people who are more experienced then me have to say.



This ain't go fluffy sugar coated review site. This, I would think, is a site dedicated to developers and spreading and perfecting our art. Not a cog in the PR machine.



This is a nonissue. And the fact that it is an issue shows a real problem in the game industry.

Marc Schaerer
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I liked the interview.

After playing Rage I've to agree to some points and I think if someone were to blame at all it would be the Rage level design team that designed an 'open world' which then were artificially limited or the PR team that didn't play it a single time and took the wrong screenshots (or even did it on purpose, in that case I hope they all get fired)



Nobody has something against non open worlds, Quake 4 and Doom 3 have proofen that more than enough, but these games were also designed accordingly to their 'corridor shooter nature' so there was no implication that there is 'more to do' than just going from A to B, shooting at whatever crosses your path.



Rage on the other hand focused a lot, too much for my liking, on pretending to be an open game, most its PR material yells 'hey look at this cool open world' and on any reviewer page thats not corrupted and payed by publishers (thanks gamespot and ign, you once used to be good prior the open showing of how corrupt you are by firing top notch reviewers for giving $20M++ titles a bad review cause they just sucked), they were rated down as anybody else in any other industry where you fail so seriously on deliverying what you 'PR'ed. We have global media, its no longer the days where you can pay the top 5 mags and 'buy your way to success', mouth to mouth propaganda will ensure that bad titles get known as such, so stop scolding journalists that unlike your game testers, designers and PR do their damn job right!


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