Ask the Chick (Issue #1)

So, I foolishly declared I’d post content every day at IGC in 2019. And then the bug zapper in my head went off for the first day in 2019. Yep.

But thankfully my fans were there to bail me out with a simple new feature: Ask the Chick. Where I’ll answer your gaming questions, indie or otherwise. And man, did they come through with some good ones. Like this one..

Basically, the new regime that took over Konami looked at their books for all outstanding projects and saw what Hideo was cooking up. It was Metal Gear Solid V (set to release very shortly when this all went down) and Silent Hills. Both were over-budget and behind schedule. So they looked into the books for the past few console generations and noticed all his games had gone over-budget. The Konami of old had essentially given him a blank-check to make games because he had a tendency to make hits. The new management didn’t give a fuck about any of that and decided they would hold him accountable to budgets for the first time in his career, and he didn’t like that.

You see, there’s this metric that many big businesses use called EBITDA. It stands for “Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization.” In layman’s terms: it’s the metric used to gauge how well an aspect or holding of a business performs. And many companies simply do not give a shit about anything BUT a holding’s EBITDA. If you looked at Hideo’s track record and saw one project after another going over-budget, some wildly over-budget, if you’re EBITDA-oriented, you’re going to shit in your pants a little. So the new regime basically said “you will stick to a budget or we will cancel your projects.” And he said “okay, fuck this, I’m out of here.” Had he not quit, he’d probably been fired or demoted and stripped of what control he did have over his projects if he had gone even a dime over-budget or fallen behind schedule.

Would *I* have done it? I don’t know how I would have handled it long-term. I personally see no problem holding someone to a budget. That’s what a responsible business does. That he had been in the industry for so long and had never once been held accountable for the budgets he should have been managing was straight-up irresponsible. Those in charge of him should never have let that go on as long as it did. I’ve always been of the belief that you can’t give a creative person a blank check. They’ll feed like a goldfish until they pop with it. Konami did with Kojima for decades, and sometimes that hurt them.

Having said that, if a person is used to one way of doing things for years, and that person is essentially the face of your company, the smart thing to do is EASE him into the new standard. Provide him with the tools and resources to become responsible for a budget. Kojima was loyal to the brand and so you give him a decade to adjust to the new reality. And then if it’s still not working, then you let him go for cause. I know people hate it when I talk about stuff like this and side with the companies, but sometimes you have to. Sometimes it’s the right call. Sometimes it’s the only call.

But short-term, you HAD to let him finish the shit he was already working on. Silent Hills was arguably the most-hyped Konami project since.. well.. probably since Metal Gear Solid way back on the original PlayStation. It was a sure-fire, can’t miss mega-hit in the making based on the buzz alone. Millions had already been spent on its production. And it probably had the most famous game teaser of all-time already creating a tsunami of anticipation. Letting that get cancelled.. even thinking about it.. given how far along it was, even if considerable delays were on tap, was stupid. If it had been a situation like Star Fox 2 or Mega Man Legends 3, where the game got shit-canned because they realized it wasn’t fun, that’d be one thing. But everything I’ve heard from insiders tells me this could have been an all-timer. It’s a shitty thing to have happened and it’s unreal that it played out the way it did. It was short-sighted and kind of power-trippy, and we all lost out because of it.

So, to answer your question: he was going to be held to a budget for the first time ever and didn’t like the idea of it. Konami was completely in the right to want to move in that direction but wrong in how they handled implementing it. I side with Kojima based on the fact that the most responsible thing for the company would have been to stay the course on the existing projects and begin the process of breaking him into working within a budget beginning with Survive, and they were unwilling to.

For many reasons..

-They’re direct competition. Let’s say an indie developer makes a free-to-play flash game with a popular IP that’s meaty, lengthy, and well produced. It’s a totally bullshit reason and I’ve never seen a shred of proof this has ever happened in the history of EVER, but it’s a stated reason. In theory, it might be harder to convince consumers aware of the game to buy future official installments of the franchise if there’s well made, free games that are so well done they could be mistaken as official games. Speaking of which..

-Sometimes they’re so well made that people could mistake them for official games by the company who owns the IP. This one is actually more valid than the idea of “competition” and is why you’ll see Paramount be very stingy with stuff like Star Trek Fan projects. Even with a disclaimer, it’s not kosher to make something so close to the authentic game that it creates market confusion as to whether or not it is an official release, free or not.

-The IP holders are responsible for maintaining the integrity of their characters. So if you have a game which features Mario doing unwholesome things, Nintendo aren’t being assholes by telling the creator to take it down. It’s their property. They have the right to tell you that.

I’ve played fan games that use popular IPs. Some of them are so well made that it breaks my heart because I know what’s eventually going to happen to them. Be smart, guys. Focus that talent on creating original characters and IPs of your own, and maybe you’ll find success instead of a giant foot coming down from the sky to squash you.

Are polygons? Pixel art is fine, and I’ve often told readers that authentic-feeling retro mimicry is harder to pull off than most people realize. I’d like to see devs take games in more original directions, but sometimes players do want a no-frills neo-retro platformer with authentic 8/16bit art. The only time I’m against it is when it’s used cynically, meaning it’s the hook of the game on its own. It’s true that it’s not special to have 80’s-looking games anymore, but I don’t get the outcry of “over-saturation” when it’s a form of art that’s quintessentially video-gamey. The same people complaining should actually take comfort in the fact that 10-year-olds today cherish games with that style of graphics in ways beyond ironically-so.

Well, I don’t think the platform people choose for #DiscoverIndies matters, and in fact we encourage people to use their personal favorite gaming platform’s marketplace because we want to maximize the potential for enjoyment. Just the process of browsing to choose your game should be enough to open any gamer’s eyes to just how vast the indie market is on each platform. This will be remembered as the Golden Age of Indie Gaming. We’re living in it right now. And this Friday, when gamers start to #DiscoverIndies, they’ll also discover just how many options there are they never knew existed. It’s exciting.

What is the hardest platform for indies? Steam. New games release on Steam at such a fast-paced clip that you could be knocked-off the first page of the new-release list within hours of your game’s debut. That first page used to be so important, and now it’s a crap shoot. A game would be lucky to be on it for 24 hours. I once heard that the average gamer spends 20 seconds on a Kickstarter game’s campaign page. Twenty seconds. I don’t have numbers for how long the average gamer browses marketplaces, but you probably have only a matter of seconds to get someone’s attention, and if your game releases at 10AM and is already on page four of the new releases by dinner time, you’re going to struggle. Steam needs reform. Desperately. And Nintendo should watch what’s happened to developers there, because by the middle of 2019, the Switch could be in such a position itself.

PROMOTE THEIR GAMES! Far too many developers rely on the hope that high-follower content creators will stumble upon their work. In seven years, I could count on one hand the amount of times I’ve seen that happen, and even then it might not make a difference. Once upon a time, I was considered a very big deal on the XBLIG scene, but I reviewed fantastic games and sang their praises at the top of my lungs and those devs still abandoned gaming because nobody bought their work.

Developers have got to be proactive in getting their games attention. “If you build it, they will come” is a shitty catchphrase from an overrated movie and not remotely based on reality. You have to seek out and find your audience. They’re unlikely to find you. There’s just too much competition, and you’re a needle in a haystack.

Developers can also oversell their games too much. Trailers should be under a minute and focus on the game’s unique gameplay mechanics. I can’t stress the “unique mechanics” part enough. They’re the selling point of your game. What makes you stand out in a very, very crowded field. Don’t hide it. Don’t be coy with it. Show it off, because without it you’ll just be one of thousands of nameless, faceless indies who never found their audiences.

#DiscoverIndies

On Friday, January 4th, a new concept for trying to help spread awareness of under-the-radar indie games will get its first run, and it has the full backing of IndieCade.

I call it #DiscoverIndies
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#DiscoverIndies

The idea is simple: on first Friday of every month in 2019, gamers of all stripes will be encouraged to purchase a single indie game that they’ve never heard of before. It can be on any platform, any genre, or any price (including free-to-play), as long as they’ve never previously heard of it.

You then play that game and report back on how much (or how little) you enjoyed it on social media using the hashtag #DiscoverIndies, including screenshots and clips if possible. You can also stream the game, blog on it, do video essays on it, or review it. As long as you give the game a moment that it might otherwise have never gotten.

The hope is that people will see the activity from the event, see games that are enticing to them that they’ve also never heard of, and maybe inspire them to also purchase that game. While you are discovering games through the campaign, others will also get to share in your discovery, ultimately giving these games a chance to find their elusive audience.

I’ve been a member of the indie game community for seven years, and trust me when I say that most developers never find their audiences. Lack of fanbase should not be mistaken for lack of talent. I’ve played outstanding games from nameless, faceless developers who will never see their characters become Funko figures. If we, as a community, can make #DiscoverIndies a cool, trendy activity to participate in once a month, this could give them a shot at success on the level they’ve only dreamed of.

How do I participate?

On the first Friday of every month, go to the marketplace of your favorite gaming platform and just browse. You can use whatever filters you feel necessary to narrow your options. Just keep browsing until a game stands out to you that you’ve never heard of before that you would want to play. Buy it, play it, report back on it on social media using the hashtag #DiscoverIndies. It’s that simple.

A good idea is to start with the game’s title screen, include the platform you bought it on and the price you paid for it. If you have the time, check to see if you can find the developer’s handle and include it.

And then just play the game. Put a quality amount of time into it. When moments pop-out to you, take a screenshot or clip (these functions are built into all current game consoles and Steam) and then upload them to your social media (preferably Twitter). Make sure to include the #DiscoverIndies hashtag, so that others can see the game you played while browsing the tag.

Can I choose a game I already know about?

Then you’re not really discovering a game, are you? The discovery process is what makes this work and assures that the initiative doesn’t devolve into gamers promoting the same small handful of games. And so we ask participants to choose games they’ve never played so that they are the ones making the discovery, and let others share in your sense of discovery. While many of you feel that Undertale, Hollow Knight, Dead Cells, or Celeste deserve bigger audiences, the truth is they do have followings already. The goal of #DiscoverIndies is to help those games and developers that have little-to-no following.

But what if the game I already know about is under-the-radar?

We’re going to assume you’ve already been singing the praises of it and those who follow you should already have heard about the game from you, hence the need to pick a game you’ve never heard of before. If that’s not the case, why have you been keeping this hidden gem you’ve previously discovered to yourself? 99.99% of all indie games are fully dependent on word-of-mouth to find their audiences, so if you’ve already found a game and haven’t done your part to spread the word of the game, you can’t really call yourself a fan of it, can you?

How do I find the game?

You browse the marketplace pages of your favorite platforms and keep looking until a game catches your attention that you think you’ll have a good time on Friday with. Check to make sure it’s not published by a AAA studio, and if it’s not, grab it.

Use whatever criteria you need. To really make it fun, wait until the day of the event to shop for the game, and go off your first, visceral instinct.

What if I can’t afford to buy a game?

Steam has a WONDERFUL collection of free-to-play indie games by hungry developers looking to find their audiences. Check them out! There’s a very wide variety, including games that should be compatible with even low-end computers.

I’m gaming media. Can I do the #DiscoverIndies work before each Friday and then post the work on the day of the event?

Absolutely. If you’re going to go more in-depth with the game you select and need time to produce the content so that it’ll be ready for each #DiscoverIndies Friday, by all means do what you need to do to participate to the best of your ability.

Can the game be older or does it have to be a recent release?

You can choose any indie game released at any time. Every game deserves a chance to find its audience. As long as it’s under the radar and you’ve never heard of it, by all means choose it.

#DiscoverIndies Dates

January 4, 2019
February 1, 2019
March 1, 2019
April 5, 2019
May 3, 2019
June 7, 2019
July 5, 2019
August 2, 2019
September 6, 2019
October 4, 2019
November 1, 2019
December 6, 2019

Logo by Gordon Little

The Trouble with “Clone”

Pong wasn’t the first video game, or even the first arcade video game. It was the first commercially successful one, and the resulting popularity led to the most predictable consequence ever: it was copied. By everyone. In fact, this was so widespread that most people with only a passing interest in games who were around during the time assume Atari sold a lot more units than they actually did. Often, the competitors just straight-up directly copied every aspect of Pong component-for-component and slapped a generic name on the machine. Pong had no title screen and if you’d only heard of a newfangled electronic tennis TV game that cost a quarter to play, you wouldn’t know that Midway’s “Winner” wasn’t the original arcade video tennis machine. By the end of Pong’s market viability, there were over 25,000 “Pongs” installed in locations across the United States. But, around two-thirds of those were knock-offs with names like “Rally” or “Electronic Tennis” or “TV Ping Pong” made by companies besides Atari. Only about 8,000 actual Pong machines were built. The rest were eventually given the name “clones.”

Imagine living in a world before video games were everywhere and hearing about this “electronic tennis game you play on TV.” If you stumbled upon Rally, a Pong clone by Bally, would you have guessed or even cared that they had completely ripped-off Pong?

So it’s no surprise that the word “clone” is a major part of the gaming lexicon. The industry’s initial meteoric rise was built on a foundation of cloning. Unfortunately, we’ve stretched the definition of what is and isn’t a clone a little too thin. The word always has negative associations, yet we use it as a catch-all description for games similar to others. We do this even games we like. I’ve heard gamers call Axiom Verge a “Metroid clone” or Bloodstained a “Castlevania clone.” That seems like a slap in the face to such games, which strive to replicate the look and feel of classics but in a way that feels new and fresh. These are not clones.

They’re tributes.

The word “tribute” doesn’t come with the baggage that “clone” has. Well, unless you’re a child about to be forced into combat for the sake of somehow repressing rebellion among overworked and underpaid civilians in a dystopian society. I’ve never understood how that was supposed to work. It seems like that’s actually the exact sort of thing that would eventually cause such a rebellion. I mean, I would understand it if it was used as a threat. “Rise up against us one more time and we’ll force your kids to battle to the death for our amusement.”

“Okay, now remember: in the event that these adorable, photogenic children from your district are the ones that die screaming in agony, absolutely no rioting and/or rebelling. If you do.. um.. I’m not entirely sure actually. Really, we’re already killing your offspring for our entertainment. That’s about as horrific as it gets, it would seem. You know, I need to bring this up during the next cabinet meeting and ask President Snow if we’ve really thought this whole thing through. I mean, I can see some of you are not on-board with our plans. I don’t know what people itching for an uprising look like, but if I had to venture a guess, I’d guess they look something like you people. You have that ‘overthrow the tyrannical government’ look about you. But don’t.”

Where was I?

Tributes. It just makes more sense to me to call a modern indie title inspired by the hits of gaming’s past a “tribute.” Because that’s what they are. And the word works whether the game is fun or not. Calling Yooka-Laylee a failed tribute to Banjo-Kazooie is more accurate than describing it as a clone. It’s not a clone. It does try to somewhat modernize Banjo’s concept with things like a physics engine that closely resembles games of the 21st century. The way they implemented the idea completely missed the mark to such a degree that the mark shot itself in despair, but that doesn’t change the fact that the intent was to pay tribute.

I’m not saying actual clones don’t exist in the modern-day. Anyone who searched the mobile market during the Summer of 2013 will remember endless copy-cats of Flappy Bird, which itself wasn’t exactly the high-mark of game design. But it was popular, and it got knocked off. But there’s a big difference between that and being inspired by a 1988 game in 2018. And it’s especially irksome because gaming is the only medium where such things are called “clones.” Nobody called Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad or Big Bad Beetleborgs a clone of Power Rangers. Hell, nobody even called the uber-cheap, so bad that it caused organ failure across the country Rangers knock-off Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills a “clone.” What about Cloverfield? By the standards of the usage of “clone” in gaming, is it not a “clone” of Godzilla? If every mining game is essentially a clone of Minecraft, surely every disaster movie must be a clone of the Towering Inferno?

So why do people say Shovel Knight is essentially a clone of DuckTales? Or even Terraria being essentially a clone of Minecraft? Clone is such a dismissive term. There’s no positivity to it at all. And maybe this message sounds weird coming from someone who regularly boils games in oil, but y’all need to be more positive. It’s such a disservice to these games to simply brush them off and lazily describe them as clones. Tribute is much more versatile. It can apply to games not out yet (“attempts to pay tribute”), good games (“wonderful tribute!”) or bad games. (“tried to pay tribute”). No matter what modifier you use on clone, it still sounds bad. Even “good clone” makes a game sound derivative and uninspired. And what happens when something does get cloned? In the event you run into an actual knock-off that deserves the title of clone, the proper meaning of the word has less weight when people say, completely seriously, that Dead Cells is, more or less, a 2D “clone” of Dark Souls.

That wasn’t a joke. I spent about a month tweeting media from my Dead Cells play sessions and had multiple people shrug their shoulders and call it a 2D Dark Souls clone. If I could strike one word from the gaming lexicon, it’d be clone. Well, actually I’d like to strike the pejorative “gay” from it too, which would remove about 75% of your average Xbox Live player’s vocabulary.

The indie community struggles enough with finding and maintaining an audience. Writing-off every neo-retro game as a clone of some classic title isn’t helping with that. The real shame is the work that goes into the games is the part of the equation that is lost most when someone casually dismisses a new release as a clone of some all-time great. “Cloning” suggests a lack of effort. Yooka-Laylee was terrible, but actual effort was made regardless of its failure. If they had set out to simply copy it, that could have been done with a lot less effort and a much smaller budget. Cloning is easy. It’s simple reverse-engineering. Building a new game from the ground-up that aspires to invoke the spirit of a legendary classic takes work. Win or lose, the effort should be worthy of the title “tribute.” And maybe we owe developers that kind of consideration. Let’s pay tribute to their work and ditch “clone” for good.

And if you don’t, I’ll force your kids to battle to the death for my amusement. See, that’s how you make it work!

My Reviews are Biased

This is going to come as an incredible shock to my dozens of readers, but all the reviews I’ve ever posted at Indie Gamer Chick had some degree of bias in them. And I’m not talking about that ridiculous “objective review” nonsense, though I suppose that requires a quick addressing: no reviews are objective. They are all 100% subjective. Every single review you’ve ever read or watched, by every single critic, in every single field. All of them subjective. There’s no objectivity in them. None. Zero.

If a critic claims any degree of objectivity, they’re both lying and full of themselves. Believing you are objective about your opinions while everyone who disagrees with you is subjective is a sign of clinical narcissism. This applies to gamers too. When someone is mad about one of my reviews, about one-third of the time they’ll try to use the classic “the game you bitched about is objectively good” argument. I find it hilarious that people who are so in-love with games that their entire life is based around finding all dissenting opinions so they can white-knight for them will say you are the one not being objective. Because their slobbering fandom that forces them to base their self-esteem around everyone else liking the game as much as they do came about entirely through objective means.

Uh huh.

No, actually your opinion is just as subjective as mine AND you’re a narcissistic asshole just for thinking you’re at all objective. That’s just how it is.

But that’s not why I’m here today. We need to talk about this notion that games are reviewed in a vacuum. That a critic has to be a complete blank slate when playing a game. This is such a ludicrous notion that I literally can’t believe I have to write an editorial explaining just how absurd thinking this way is, but it comes up all the time. All the time.

In over seven years of being a game critic, I’ve never once had someone who agreed with one of my reviews tell me I needed to be more objective. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

I’ve been writing game reviews since July 1, 2011, when I opened Indie Gamer Chick. But, I started playing games much earlier. I’m lucky, because I know the two most important dates for my gaming upbringing: December 25, 1996 (when I got a PlayStation with Crash Bandicoot under the Christmas Tree) and July 11, 1998 (when I got a Nintendo 64 with Banjo-Kazooie for my 9th birthday). The former planted the seed for my gaming existence. The latter could arguably be the most important day of my entire life, because that’s the point where gaming became my passion. I was lucky growing up too, because money was never an issue with my family, and gaming was the one thing my parents spoiled me with. I got a lot of games. Mostly because it was such a positive influence on my life. The only thing I wasn’t allowed to play was M rated games (besides Perfect Dark and Halo, which I played entirely multiplayer), because my parents were afraid that if I was allowed to play such filth I might grow up to be someone who regularly uses vulgarity and jokes about arbitrary murder. The results speak for themselves.

So, if you do the math, between the start of my full-time gamer existence and the time I became a game critic, that adds up to 4,738 days I was a game player but not a game critic. Apparently, the argument about game criticism is I’m not supposed to allow any of the opinions, preferences, or biases that I formed on the thousands of games I consumed in those 4,738 days to shape my opinions of the games I play now. Not to mention the thousands of extra days since then that I’ve been an actual critic.

Seriously?

You guys realize that game critics aren’t robots, right? We can’t just turn that shit on and off. If a critic claims they can, that critic is lying, either to you or to themselves. You shouldn’t read them because they can’t be trusted. They’ll spend their entire review more focused on trying to come across as neutral and not enough on making sure their opinions are expressed honestly and articulately. I’m going to tell you the truth: my reviews.. all of them.. are in some way tainted by my cumulative gaming experience. When I play any game, I have some form of an expectation of what a game should or shouldn’t do.

For example, I just played a title called Emerald Shores for PlayStation 4. It’s a platformer that has RPG mechanics. Within just seconds of starting the actual gameplay, I realized Emerald Shores would have problems. The controls were incredibly loose and floaty, which meant precision movement would be very difficult. So naturally the game, right from the opening stages, relied heavily on very narrow platforms with spikes or pits surrounding them. The collision detection is some of the worst I’ve ever seen. You can have what appears to be a comfortable amount of distance between you and the spikes and still take damage. The enemies in the early stages require jumping on them as much as fifteen times to kill. FIFTEEN! Even the first enemies take around eight jumps. Imagine if the first two Goombas in Super Mario Bros. took eight jumps each to kill. It’d be horrible. And Emerald Shores is horrible. It would have to be in the discussion of the worst games I’ve ever played.

You’ll notice in this picture I’m taking damage from the spike in front of me. The one I’m not even grazing. Emerald Shores might be the worst game on PlayStation 4. I’ve spoken with quality indie developers who are downright distraught that such a piece of shit of a game can get a listing while they can’t.

But, if I could truly play Emerald Shores in a vacuum, like some brain-dead people seem to believe I should, how would I know it was bad? By what standard would I measure it? Would someone look at the fact that when you push the controller in one direction and the character on the screen moves that direction, that the game works and therefore it must be objectively good? That if you push the jump button and the character jumps instead of doing anything but jumping, that the developer achieved what they set out to do and thus the game is successful? I’m asking because I’m often questioned when I post a negative review why I was so harsh and never considered if the game “achieved what it set out to do?”

Achieved what it set out to do? As opposed to what? Crashing during the load screen? Shitting itself? Gaining sentience and attacking you through the screen like the girl from The Ring?

Did it achieve what it set out to do?

Are you fucking kidding me?

Who gives a shit if it achieved what it set out to do? IS IT FUN? Have we really reached the point where you can’t say a game sucks, no matter how lazy, broken, or unplayable it is, as long as it boots up and the stuff the developer wanted to do is in the game, mangled or not? Because if the standard of excellence is being faithful to the developer’s intent, you can’t really consider whether the game is fun to play, can you?

“Achieved what it set out to do.” Oh please. You know, I’ve never heard of a person who set out to build a bridge and somehow made a video game by accident. “Well, I’d like to give this game high marks, but the developer’s intent was to find a cure for cancer and instead they ended up making NHL 2019. Fun game but it’s not what they set out to do, so I rate it a 2.5 out of 10. The .5 is because it might have cleared up my cataracts.”

Once upon a time, I thought Goldeneye (and Perfect Dark) would be untouchable in the realm of first person shooters. But I was 10-years-old when I started playing it, and my sample-size for FPSs was 0. Ten-year-old me played Goldeneye in a vacuum. 29-year-old me did not, and it really doesn’t hold up by any standard today except historical importance, which doesn’t make a game more fun to play in 2018.

I had thirteen years of gameplay experience to draw upon when starting Indie Gamer Chick. That I grew to like some genres more than others should be obvious. But, as a game critic, I’m expected to pretend that none of those things factors into my reviews. If I dislike overly difficult games like Cuphead, people say that I’m letting my opinions get in the way of my.. uh.. opinions? Huh? You guys realize reviews are opinions, right? When people say that portions of games are “objectively” good, I ask by what standard? Because that stuff is all subjective too. Every component of every game is subjective. That the game is a game is the one objective thing about it (well, unless it’s something like Proteus, where it’s subjective as to whether it’s a game or a glorified screen-saver). Whether it looks good or plays good is subjective no matter how universally acclaimed it is. The same people who want me to put aside my personal opinions also want me to dip into my accumulated gaming experience to concede that the game is good by the standards of other games, even if I disagree with that. It seems like a double standard to me, and it’s a reminder that the “objective” argument comes only from self-righteous types with absolutely no understanding of what objectivity means.

I’ve had people say AH HA! like they caught my hand in the cookie jar when I unflinchingly declare that my reviews are biased and completely subjective. Well, no shit they are. Not biased in the sense that I favor some developers over others (my dev friends who had to watch as I delivered scathing reviews of their work might secretly wish I was that type of biased), but biased in the sense that I openly admit I’m almost certain to like certain games more than others. This is true of every critic, but a lot of us don’t admit to it. I think because it sounds unprofessional. Really, shouldn’t the opposite be true? Shouldn’t a professional critic have significantly more experience dissecting games than you or I? Critics are humans, and humans favor some things over others, even if they shouldn’t. That’s why every parent has a favorite child. Long before I was a game critic, I was someone who only read reviews, and I often wished I knew what writers liked and didn’t like going into the game being covered. That’d been nice to know, because I could have weighed that against the body of the review itself. Context is everything.

That’s why, when I know those preferences that I’ve had for years factored into my opinion, I always try to find a way to disclose it within the first part of the review. For my Yoku’s Island Express review, the first few paragraphs provide my readers with the following information:

  1. That I’m a fan of Metroidvanias, so much so that they’re probably my favorite genre.
  2. That I love pinball..
  3. But I don’t play a lot of video pinball.

Don’t you think those three things are important for people to know when I’m sharing my opinion on a game that combines a Metroidvania with video pinball?

Yea, me too.

But, a large population of gamers believes that a critic shouldn’t allow these personal biases to factor into a review. How stupid and/or silly is that? How do you expect the review to be useful without ANY context? Because really, isn’t that what the argument comes down to? Removing context?

Since writing the Yoku’s Island review, I’ve had a lot of people bombard me with “if you liked it, you’ll like..” suggestions for similar games that mix video pinball with other things. Apparently a golden age for video pinball mashups dawned and I slept through it.

If you review games in a vacuum, you draw your opinion from a pool of zero games. Any game you review has to be the best ever made and the worst ever made. In that world, Emerald Shores doesn’t control bad because I have nothing to cite that controls good. The collision detection isn’t horrible, because I don’t know that taking damage from spikes you’re not even touching is sloppy design. If I could erase all previous gaming experience from my head, I might very well be mesmerized by Emerald Shores, believing it to be the single greatest achievement in entertainment in human history.

Want proof that I’m right? Ask any gamer in their 40s about their favorite childhood games and how much time they put into them, and then go play those games now. I recently purchased Atari Vault for Steam, which contains one hundred games, most of which are first-party Atari games for the Video Computer System (aka the Atari 2600). I’ve long wanted to experience for myself the childhood classics that raised the majority of my readers (who tend to be ten years older than me), and Atari Vault has options to remove the dangerous-for-my-epilepsy flicker many vintage games had. What did I discover? The games that owned their childhood are, in many cases, so fundamentally bad on many levels that they’re practically unplayable today. I’m not talking about the graphics or the limitations, but just the raw, naked gameplay. Without any historical context, they’re really bad. But, by the standards of the time, they must have been incredible.

Let’s use Warren Robinett’s 1979 classic Adventure as an example. It’s an undisputed all-timer. Probably the most commonly-cited “still holds up today” game in entire VCS catalog. But, when I played it, I honestly could not comprehend how anyone would argue it still holds up. A bland, personality-devoid maze game. It’s a dot. It’s a maze. There’s ducks. There’s arrows. There’s a bridge you can pick up and move around that you can easily drop in a way you can’t retrieve. Yea, randomly generated maps is nifty, especially for its time. But, like, it’s just kind of boring. At least today, without the historical context. It certainly can’t stand on its own in 2018. And it’s not even fair to try and make it.

Having said that, I’m so in favor of the Dot being added to the Smash Bros Ultimate roster.

But in 1979, gamers played Adventure in a vacuum, because there was nothing like it. The impact it had on their gaming lives, which carries over nearly 40 years later, is every bit as real as the impact Goldeneye had on my life. A game that, at the age of ten, I found no fault in. Of course I didn’t. My sample-size to compare it to was 0 first-person games and probably under 100 total games. Or, going more extreme, how about Crash Bandicoot? It wasn’t the first game I ever played (my family tells me that would be Super Mario Kart for the SNES), but it was the first game I ever wanted. Is it fair for me to say Crash Bandicoot is one of the most important titles of my life? Yes. Is it morally right for me to recommend people buy it today, in 2018, over games that I, myself, would rather play today, now that I have a lifetime of context to stack Crash up against? No. Actually, that seems like it would be a shitty thing to do.

That’s why I prefer to disclose all my preferences and biases in my reviews. It levels the playfield. It gives my readers the information they need to know. If they’re looking for the opinions of someone who enjoys the camp and quirk of classic FMVs, they know within the first line of my review for Press X to Not Die that I’m not the critic they should be reading. “I hate FMV games..” Simple and to the point. Now, all the words that follow have context that my fans can weigh against them. Yea, I hated Press X to Not Die, but I was predisposed to hating it. I admitted it, because otherwise I’m doing a disservice to my fans. I serve at the pleasure of my readers. I have to do right by them.

No, I don’t want to play Crash again. I played it once. Why do people think it’s weird that I’d rather play stuff I’ve never experienced before?

When my readers absorb one of my reviews, there’s not just getting the opinions of Cathy Vice for the hours that I played the game in question. In a way, each review I do is something that my entire gaming life built up to. When I fawn over Dead Cells, I know it’s good because every previous game I’ve played had some role in that enjoyment. Perhaps the fact that I’m open about not liking roguelikes adds extra weight to those words. Or, maybe when I talk glowingly about Axiom Verge, my review means more to some readers and less to others because my favorite genre is Metroidvanias. Most importantly, the experience of playing those will carry over to the next games I review. A critic is the sum of their parts just as much as a game is.

And that lifetime of opinions and preferences and biases is what makes your opinion matter. I wouldn’t buy golf clubs based on a review by someone who had never previously swung one up to that point. So, why would anyone expect that from a game critic? Reviews are a dime a dozen. Anyone can do them. It’s not just my opinion that my readers value, but rather everything that led to that opinion. That doesn’t just start when I became Indie Gamer Chick. That goes all the way back to a little girl on Christmas morning playing Crash Bandicoot and having a blast right up until she fell into the acid seven times in a row, flipped the controller in the air and blurted out “FUCKERS” while her parents gasped in horror. I wish when they were taking a belt to me that, someone had been there to tell them that a pseudo-famous game critic had just been born. That context would have been nice for them to have had.

Emerald Shores releases on November 21. A review copy was supplied to Indie Gamer Chick. During the week of November 21, a copy of Emerald Shores will be purchased by Cathy. All games reviewed at Indie Gamer Chick are paid for in full by Cathy.

Something Incredible

Seven years.

That’s a long time.

As I sat here to gather my thoughts on beginning my seventh year as Indie Gamer Chick, that number kept hitting me. Has it really been that long already? My brain refused to process this information to such a degree that I ended up counting the years from 2011 to today convinced that I simply had to be wrong about the fundamentals of mathematics this entire time. “4.. 5.. 6.. huh, I guess it really is seven.”

It sounds almost wrong. I mean, seven years? That’s how old I was when my parents bought me my first game console, an original PlayStation, for Christmas in 1996. I don’t know. It just seems like the number should feel longer ago. Hell, there were already three Transformers movies when I opened IGC. Then again, Green Lantern had also just come out and that feels like a lifetime ago.

Time is weird. The perception of time. The way it messes with your head. I remember like it was yesterday the moment when Brian and I were going through games on my Xbox 360 and he asked me why Breath of Death VII’s “box art” looked different. It’s what set in motion the creation of Indie Gamer Chick. And yet, I look at some of my reviews from just three or four years ago and I’m like “when the Hell did I write THIS this review?” Given my less than stellar level of review productivity over the last few years, it seems hard to believe that I’ve cranked out over six-hundred reviews and editorials in that time. Most of those came in the first three years.

The vast majority of people who recognize me or know of this “Indie Gamer Chick” person these days probably know me more from social media than from my actual blog. I’m active on Twitter (some say too active) and do my best to reply to everyone who takes the time to message me (for some reason, WordPress insists I want that to read “massage me.” Hey, if y’all want, but I warn you, I’m a bit bony). And that’s weird because I’ve always sort of considered Indie Gamer Chick to be an exaggerated, semi-fictionalized version of the real me. The real Cathy, without a filter. Maybe Indie Gamer Chick is the way I wish I really was. Quick-witted, confident, secure in who I am. It surprises people when they hear that in real life, I didn’t even start to speak in complete sentences until I was sixteen years old. I’m on the autism spectrum, and it’s super obvious for the most part (even though my particular diagnosis of PDD-NOS is no longer really used). I grew out of some of the more intense effects of that, such as the no-complete sentences stuff, but I can’t even hold eye contact with those I love to this day.

I look at what I’ve done as Indie Gamer Chick. Not just the reviews or making fans (which still sounds bizarre to me. I have fans? WTF?) but moments where I know I made a positive impact on someone’s life, and I ask myself how I ever grew up to be that person. I never was fated to be that. One time the mother of a developer whose game hadn’t caught on, who couldn’t get any coverage, contacted me. I had reviewed her son’s game and gave it the Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval. He’d heard of me but hadn’t asked me to review his game. I picked it out at random to play, and I liked it. I thought he showed great potential. And I ended up talking with him and told him that very few people will make it as top-tier indie developers, but if he was genuinely passionate and loved making games as much as he loved playing them when he was younger, to keep pushing forward. That was in 2012. Today that guy is a project manager at a major AAA studio. And last week he sent me a note saying “you know, I was going to quit until I saw your review.”

Wow.

Seven years later and I still get stories like that all the time. I’ve loved video games since I was a kid. Loved them. When I developed epilepsy at the age of sixteen, I was considering suicide if the doctors had come back and said I wouldn’t be able to play games ever again. I’m not proud that I was, but it’s true. I loved gaming so much that young me couldn’t imagine a life without it.

Being part of gaming? I never thought about that. I never aspired to it. Just one summer day, nothing to do, no new games coming out, and a chance encounter on my Xbox 360 dashboard with one of the two XBLIGs I had previously bought and my life was changed forever.

Seven years later, and it’s still something incredible.

Thank you so much to the entire indie game community. I love you all. Thank you for the best seven years of my life. And here’s to the next seven yet to come.

-Cathy Vice
June 30, 2018

In memory of John “TotalBiscuit” Bain

I was saddened to hear of the passing of John Bain, better known as TotalBiscuit, earlier today. He was only 33 years-old. Yea, fuck cancer.

Since I’m sure social media will be flooded with tributes from those closest to him, I want to simply acknowledge his contributions to the indie game community. While I didn’t always agree with his commentaries on games, I admired that TotalBiscuit recognized the position he found himself in. That he had the power, all by himself, to make or break an indie game. And yet, he never once abused this position, nor did he seem to take it for granted. It’s rare that someone finds him or herself in such a position, and even rarer when those people don’t at least explore the potential for abuse.

It was that integrity that was his greatest gift to gaming culture.

And so, on this day, I tip my hat to John Bain and offer my condolences to his family, friends, and fans all across the world.

Let the example he set be the benchmark for the next generation of gaming media personalities. When those he inspired become the next stars of gaming culture, I think we’ll all be grateful that TotalBiscuit’s star shined as brightly as it did.

Beware: gamerchick.contact@gmail.com is not me or anyone associated with me.

I’ve gotten a ton of notices at this point over the last few days from developers trying to verify that I requested a review code of their game from the email address gamerchick.contact@gmail.com

That is not me. That is someone posing as me trying to score free games. As my FAQ states, I don’t take review codes unless the game isn’t out yet. And typically when I do request reviews, I do so on social media, specifically from @IndieGamerChick on Twitter.

By the way, this tactic is super common, so to all indie developers, DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Make sure the requests are coming from the authentic source, not someone posing as the famous (or in my case, pseudo-famous) gaming personality.

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