During the development of Punchbag Artists, I realised there was a problem with the article. Indies are the personal end of the market, they care about individual feedback and can also lose their cool in public. Developers in AAA shops are not afforded the same luxuries, often having their vocal chords castrated by the PR department. I only had indie voices in the article and I needed to hear, if possible, from a major developer. Someone with knuckleduster clout.
I sent a sober mail to Clint Hocking because Far Cry 2 comes in for some serious beating on the internet. But Clint didn’t reply. I was sad.
I sent mails to Gabe Newell and Tim Schafer to make myself feel better. Tim was probably, being rational about it and all, a stupid choice as forum-dredging wasn’t turning up any super-negative comments about Double Fine. But maybe he’d experienced the shaft end of the wedge like most developers have at one time or another. I was thinking about the whole Brütal Legend thing where reaction was a spunky and resounding “meh.” Even Yahtzee had issues.
But I’m not some well-known journalist neither was I able to wave a magazine name in front of the developer (originally I was going to publish Punchbag here and not at Resolution). Some out-of-the-box thinking was required. I had to make my e-mail noticeable. I had nothing to lose, right? From the Double Fine website:
If you have a question not already answered here, just mail it in to the Double Fine Info Line, and I promise you, within the next ten years or so, one of our grumpy, unpaid interns might read it or delete it. But steps will be taken, rest assured.
I set out to write to those grumpy interns.
Dear St. Tim,
I’m currently writing an article about what destructive criticism does to game developers. I’ve compiled some quotes from a number of small indie developers now and I was looking for some responses from the other end of the spectrum: AAA developers, Big Names.
So anyway, I thought it would be a good idea to send a mail to Clint Hocking, but Clint hasn’t sent a reply. Reading between the lines, I think he’s waiting for you to go first. And I’d advise you to reply to me quickly before I get a response from Gabe Newell and then, well, second place is really loser’s place, isn’t it?
Assuming this mail is not comfortably resident in a spam filter, here’s what I’m writing about. There’s plenty of disrespectful, developer-belittling criticism out there: “your game is just rubbish, go back to gaming school, you douche”. This kind of abuse, rife on the internet, can get an indie developer down. Even some professional reviews turn out this level of tripe.
I understand Brütal Legend wasn’t as loved as, say, Psychonauts – but I wouldn’t really know, I’m a PC-only man. (It’s true, I am a man.) Searching online I can find comments like “I was enjoying the game until all of a sudden I have to learn this complicated RTS-style game mechanic. It totally ruined it for me. Oh wait, it’s got Jack Black so that makes it cool? I dunno”
Can this kind of kneejerk criticism (not, say, a review that does a proper critique) still affect you, having already established quite a name for yourself? And if not – what of the other developers and artists that work at Double Fine? (Excluding the grumpy intern who is currently reading this mail, there’s $25 in the attachment if you can get this to Tim, if you can’t find it, it must’ve been eaten by your anti-virus scanner, sorry)
Looking forward to your inevitable Gabe Newell-beating reply – or alternatively complete silence.
Joel Goodwin (HM)
I received well-formatted complete silence.
You’re probably thinking I should’ve copied the same style I used on Gabe Newell, because he actually responded. Except that Gabe’s mail referred to his “Valve throne room, with instant access to world leaders via special Steam channels.”
Tim doesn’t have access to world leaders.