Saturday, March 10, 2007

In Defense of Chris Hecker

Just got back from GDC last night. A day has passed and I am still *spent*. Didn't help to get back to the airport to find my car battery dead either. *sigh*. A half-hour and a pair of jumper cables later and I was on my way home.

I plan on doing a pretty lengthy post about GDC, sessions, impressions, etc, but I wanted to first post my thoughts on the Chris Hecker, Wii-rant debacle.

So, for those coming up to speed, here's the short version:

GDC has had a 'rant' session three years running (summary of 2005, 2006, 2007 ). In one of the rants from this year's session, Chris Hecker (who works for EA/Maxis) gave a rant about the Nintendo Wii in which he called it a 'piece of sh**', also claiming that Nintendo doesn't care about games as art. The short version of the fallout is that the game bloggers all had a simultaneous blogo-gasm over the provided provocative headline, the Nintendo fanboys decended upon the internet with torches and pitchforks, and I'd imagine that EA's PR depart told them to get in line and wait till they were done getting medievel on his heiney. Hecker issued an apology the next day, but the torches and pitchforks continue to flame/poke on the web, and I'd imagine there are many calling for his head on a pike around the EA PR office. Perhaps they'll end up getting it.

With all the noise on the subject, I'm not sure my two cents is worth even that, but I'm going to give my opinion on the subject for those who care.

First off, I think it's clear he made a huge mistake, not knowing the weight and impact his statement would have, and more importantly, how it would be associated with his role at EA. Chris has spent the past (10? more?) years working as an indie. He's well known (more on this later), but it's different when the press can say "Spore Developer says...". Now, while I think he made a mistake not thinking about impact, I *agree* with what he said - at least if taken in the context of the talk as well as the rant session.

Chris' talk and it's intent have to be taken with the Rant session's setting in mind. People over state for purposes of firing up the room and to bring issues to the surface in hopes that people will consider those issues, discuss them, and perhaps do something about them.

My own read on Chris' intent with his talk was as follows:

  • That while people have raved about their innovative controller and the more risk-taking games they have brought to market, this should not give them a 'get out of jail free card' on the fact that they have delivered an underpowered machine.
  • That while it is certainly possible to deliver works of art in a minimalist fashion, artists shouldn't be REQUIRED to do so. (Just because it's possible to render fantastic art using only a piece of charcoal, that doesn't mean artists can't also accomplish a more varied spectrum of work using color, if you'll pardon the pun). This is as valid an argument as that of the people saying that "high def doesn't mean better games". Amen. [Worth noting that Hecker's rant last year was anti-Sony and anti-MS, chastising the two platforms for being graphics-heavy and general-computation-light]
  • The other part of his talk was chastising Nintendo's focus on lighter-weight fare and on 'fun' as being detrimental to the industry's efforts on getting games taken seriously as art. While I agree less with this one, I do think it was valuable to state, if for no other reason to get people having the conversation.

Since the talk, Chris has taken a lot of heat, and a lot of people have said some not-so-nice things about him. He's got thick skin, but it's got to be tough to have that many people coming down on you.

The Nintendo fanboys and others that are responsible for coming down on him like that should at the very least put this one rant in perspective with the rest of Chris' work. He won the IGDA community contribution award last year, and a ton of people said fantastic things about him. I still beleive those things are true. I respect Chris a great deal and would ask that those that are reacting to this one rant try to look past it and at the bigger picture.

27 comments:

john said...

Games are not art.

I do not want to play "art", I want to play a game.

Of course there is creativity/artistry in games and game design, they would suck otherwise, but to classify video games with other art forms is giving them too much credit. Nearly anything that is designed and requires differentiated skill could be deemed art if this is the qualification.

It seems to me that Chris is pissed that they (Nintendo) made a platform that does not fit with HIS idea of "art", and therefore it is a piece of shit. That his creativity can only be expressed in a form that requires enormous computing and graphics power is too bad, for him. There is a big market out there for those that can develop on the Wii.

Anonymous said...

What baffles me is the ANGER that the guy seemed to have, and the FEAR. He even entitled his speech "Fear of a Wii planet".

The Wii, with all it's faults, is the last thing we need to be afraid of. Even if it becomes the dominant platform in the world, it will not limit the speed in which technology progress towards photorealistic graphics.

The Wii provides innoavtion and cross over appeal that videogames desperately need, especially in Japan.

I personally was more afraid of the PS3, and what it represents in the evolution of gaming - High cost, minimal innovation, focus on games made for 14 year old boys and other traditional "hardcore gamers".

Comic books took the same approach in the 90's, and focused more and more on visual presentation then content diversity, quality and innovation and appealing to pre-existing comic book fans. This caused the eventual fall of both Marvel and DC comics.

Now comics have changed, writing is valued generally more than the art, and big companies like Marvel and DC try to appeal to all ages and both genders. And they are making a come back.

That's the direction games have to go in as well. And that is what the Wii is trying to do.

Anonymous said...

Two awesome comments. I couldnt agree more.

Jeremy said...

I'd say that Sony's current approach is far more Image than Marvel or DC. It's all special edition foil cover smoke and mirrors, missed deadlines and over-promise under-deliver, IMHO.

As long as the rest of the industry retains high quality properties, continues to deliver a good stream of original content, and in general sticks to a middle path, offering generalized power to developers while reducing the work required to make things look great, we're ok.

There's nothing to fear from Nintendo servicing Nintendo's market though, just as no one had anything to fear from Tiger handhelds. Increasingly, the titles on the boxes are no longer associated with the teams that made them famous. Lots of outsourcing, most of it not terribly transparent, is going on at Nintendo. They're using their properties as cash cows right now, instead of really pushing in any well defined direction, despite their rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

Great defense of him I'd say although just as it's stated that a new controller shouldn't overlook Nintendo's underpowered console, Chris' past achievements shouldn't give him a get out of jail free card on his rant.

My main issue with his rant is the suggestion that because Wii is not as powerful as the other consoles that it's incapable of creating games that might lend themselves as contribution to the industry being taken serious as an art form. Heck, there are past examples of software praised as much created on less powerful machines.

I mean, if his deal is for the industry to be taken seriously then he needs to look beyond his own qualms with Nintendo. For better or worse, Nintendo is at least deeply rooted in the integrity of this industry. Why not address WHY the industry isn't being taken seriously? The way the media sees the gamer population? The way the media reacts to incidents in the industry like the Hot Coffee incident or the addition of internet capability on consoles which could lead to children seeing pornographic material? Why not the ESRB and how it has yet to truly crack down on their own policies and do a better job of enforcing their system so the general consumer better understands why it's in place?

But no, attacking a fellow games' developer/publisher on issues that aren't holding back the industry from being seen as an art form? I'd argue that Nintendo's intent on expanding their focus to include more than just the core gamer is a better strategy for helping the industry being taken seriously than whatever his rant entailed.

I've read up on Chris' exploits so I don't doubt his integrity for a second, but in that same breath I do believe that the heat he has taken for this issue is very well justified. I personally felt his word choice throughout was poor which likely overshadowed whatever message he tried to get across, but thems the breaks I guess.

Adam said...

I'm tired of the games and art argument. It sounds like the elitist BS that every company tries to peddle but never comes.

If you want to talk about companies neglecting artistic games, point the finger at Capcom for closing Clover studios.

After beating Okami I wanted to go back and play it all over again because it was just that good, and yet it's another game like psychonauts which was so wonderful and fun, and depthy, and yet, despite it's amazing reviews, just swept under the carpet.

Fact of the matter is, lots of wonderful games get released but get pushed aside by the biggest titles just because companies sink so much PR money that they get every other game ignored.

It's because of this that we get the generic gamer who's only cares about Halo 3 and Gears of War. Also, this is probably why so many people like to play on X-box live with their headsets off, just so they don't have to listen to a few dozen 13 year olds screaming about hax.

God forbid that Nintendo try something new. Artistic or not, the industry needs to change because it's going in the wrong direction entirely. I fear the days when all we can look forward to is Military-themed shooter games.

John said...

I agree with you. In this world, you must be careful as perception is reality. What you say isn't as important as how it's said, where it's said, and where it can be taken (such as, out of context).

I do not like how people are forced to pander to the masses or to corporations. If we quit worrying about our image as being too perfect, I feel that we'd be able to grow more. More risks could be embraced and people wouldn't spend so much time, energy and money trying to appear nicer than possible.

As always, he's entitled to his opinion. If I disagree, I get to choose how much of my own breath I'll waste or share. If he thought the Wii was crap, so be it. I don't. I enjoy mine greatly. And I'll calmly tell others about how much I enjoy it. Why does everything have to be a showdown?

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but i have to agree with Chris on this one..the Wii is crap, this is nintendo being cheap and selling that little shit for $250.00 it's not worth it...

i am a gamer in the 18-34 age group and you would not catch me playing that shit.

The fanboys r just mad because Chris hit a nerve.

Anonymous said...

I think the problem here is the press. This was GDC. Its hot developer on developer action with no room for press. At the very least, the press should not sit in on a RANT session. Rants are suppose to be inflammatory. Hasn't anyone seen Lewis Black on the Daily Show. This is meant to get emotions out there. Not for the press to pick up on.

Anonymous said...

RE: Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but i have to agree with Chris on this one..the Wii is crap, this is nintendo being cheap and selling that little shit for $250.00 it's not worth it...

i am a gamer in the 18-34 age group and you would not catch me playing that shit.

The fanboys r just mad because Chris hit a nerve.


Have you even played the Wii? It's fun.

I think it's obvious what Nintendo is trying to do. While Sony and MS fight over the "gamers," Nintendo will focus on everyone else. It's not a piece of shit if the console does what it was designed for.

Chris should probably just stick to the PC.

Dread Lord CyberSkull said...

An excellent defense, I agree with the points made. I also agree with the comments that the Wii is the last thing we need to fear. Being provocative is a great way to raise an issue, but one must walk a fine line between it and inflammatory.

B said...

On the one hand I fully support the push for games as art. In fact I think they already are art. What type of art they are has yet to be decided and is probably relative to the game designer and the game player however.

But who says that the Wii can't be used to create art? As a creative person myself I believe that limits can actually inspire greater art than total freedom. Think about the demoscene (How Chris, a Spore designer, didn't consider them baffles me.) Demo makers pride themselves on using as little memory and disk space as possible to make incredible works of art. The Wii controller itself lets designers come up with brand new ways to let players explore virtual environments. While I would like for the Wii to be more powerful myself, it's not that great of a limitation. (Nintendo's dealings with third party companies, however, are a whole other matter. From what I've read, Chris didn't even touch on this which shows he wasn't really considering things.)

Personally, I think he was just trying to make a show of himself, especially knowing how devoted Nintendo fans are. But this has completely backfired on him and he deserves everything he is getting. Hopefully he won't be fired because of this but I think that he might have to polish his resume soon. His rant was a complete embarrassment to those of us who want games to be more than simple diversions and it was deeply insulting to Wii fans, Nintendo fans, and others at that rant session who used the podium to push more important issues.

WhatTheHeck said...

I want to play Spore, but the Wii is too weak to run it. Why read into what Hecker said more than that?

FunkyJ said...

Just because it's possible to render fantastic art using only a piece of charcoal, that doesn't mean artists can't also accomplish a more varied spectrum of work using color, if you'll pardon the pun

But, as many artists will tell you, limiting yourself to one single colour will allow you to explore the medium more thouroughly, allowing abstraction which is often more artistic than realistic representations.

For if artists were like game designers / players, there would be nothing but realism in the artistic universe, using only coloured inks on parchment - the best 'technology' for art.

But they don't. Artists still use chalk, paint, texta, plastic, paper, stone, clay, film, etc etc and still make some fantastic art.

And yes, I understand they shouldn't be limited to charcoal, the Wii is hardly a piece of petrified wood. It may not be as good as the Xbox360 or the PS3, but it is still better than 90% of the existing consoles in homes at the moment - the PS2.

And no one would say that games-as-art can't be done on the PS2, because it HAS been done numerous times.

Bildo said...

I agree and disagree with some of his comments, however there is one thing that people do now-a-days that really aggrivates me. Its people being fools and freaking out when one person has a very hard opinion on something, espically if they raise their voice. I have some news for you people, *espicaly* bloggers, its not that big of a deal that he said the Wii is a piece of shit. I do not agree with this statement but I have to say, all because he said the word shit, everyone is in an uproar over 'how the Wii was ranted' on. Everyone who looked at this piece of news and saw the word 'shit' and became angry at the man need to learn how to 1) not be so intimidated and 2) look at the facts.

Dictionary.com says this about the word rant:

1. to speak or declaim extravagantly or violently; talk in a wild or vehement way; rave: The demagogue ranted for hours

To say Chris ranted is way out of line here. Harsh yes, a rant? definatly not. A rant is something Kramer on seinfeld would say about black people. A rant is a nasty speech from Hitler about exterminting jews back in the early to mid 1900's. A rant is something that is said by a seemingly irrational person. Hitler ranted, Kramer ranted, Chris did not rant. He gave his points, which do have valididity at some point and backed them up. He has a right to think the Wii is a piece of shit, even though I do not think it is. Just because he called the Wii a piece of shit means nothing besides that he is a hard ass when it comes to videogames.

Leave the man alone! There was no rant at the GDC from Chris. Go blog about something else, or at least acknowledge that no rant took place.

Anonymous said...

@ WhatTheHeck

Well somehow Spore is being adapted for the DS. Why couldn't they take a similar approach with Wii?

Of course beyond that, I for one look further into Hecker's comments because of the offhand implication it has that Wii is incapable of helping the products of the industry being realized as an art form. Heck, I stand by initial statements that such an issue over Wii even if it existed would be the last thing to consider a barrier to games being art.

I mean, how many GDCs have there been where speakers have talked about issues that persist in gaming that need to be changed? I've heard of everything from reformatting the ESRB to getting the general media to understand that different games have a time and place and not all are suitable for every age.

I dunno, but aside from Costikyan who I feel is a pompous ass to begin with, Hecker is probably the only one I've seen to openly attack another developer on the basis that they're "influence" would be so detrimental.

Anonymous said...

If you look at what he actually said, he never suggested the Wii was not capable of creating games that were art. He called Nintendo out for specifically stating that games are meant to be fun but are not meant to be art; his problem was with Nintendo's promotion of the "games aren't art" perspective. Supporting that perspective only assists the anti-gamer legislation; therefore, in that context, what he said needed to be put out there. If the video game and console makers are saying that fun, interactive media aren't viable art forms and shouldn't bother trying to be, they might as well be saying video games aren't protected speech. To the wider public, that suggests that even the people who manufacture them think video games are trash; not the official image we need to be projecting.

Anonymous said...

There is interactive art and then there is interactive fun, games that is.

Nintendo makes fun games because they realize that its that why most people play games. For fun.

Good visuals naturally can enhance the fun, but in the end if you cannot prove fun in a game. What is it worth more than an interactive art piece.

Magus said...

I think its a good overview but I still think a lot of people kind of missed part of the point. I interpreted the part about nintendo not taking games seriously as art at a different tone tho. Their strategy has always been minimal cost to max out the profits providing little to no support and endorsement to anyone other than 3rd parties.
In his rant he’s calling out nintendo for looking at games as profit not as either games or art. To all the people talking about the correlation between graphics and art take another look at his rant. None of it is graphics orientated. Power does not = graphics, especially if you consider previous years and what he does. AI, physics, efficient algorithms, things that most choose to ignore can be art to another.

Anonymous said...

WTF do they let journalists into these things? This was a game developer rant, not a press release. The masses just don't get it (who probably think Spore will work just fine on DS).

Nick said...

I think that my fears are less that the Wii is innovating, bringing a new demographic, and is relatively inexpensive, and more that PS3 isn't bringing anything new to the table besides power, sells to one already existing group of people, and is particularly expensive.

Additionally, Chris Hecker can go to Hell if he thinks that the Wii is bad for the industry. Without Wii, I'd be stuck with DS, PSP, PS3, and/or 360. And with the latter two, I'd have to choose from games that do not have content readily available - instead of getting content upfront like we've been doing for generations, we have to pay for content in games that are already more expensive than last gen games. If they're adding microtransactions, they can't INCREASE the price. What is that $10.00 going to? So we can pay $50.00 extra dollars for some cars and tracks in Need for Speed?

fanboysputtheindustrysimageback20years said...

Those rabid fanboys need to feel thouroughly ashamed of themselves.

Disagree with what Hecker fine, join the debate about the direction Nintendo is taking the industry with its Wii console but do not act like a bunch of angry little children.

Hecker's comments were private and he is very unfortunate to have faced this barrage of unwarrented criticism for stating his opinion.

The fact he has had to apologise is a blow for free speech.

What are we going to have now? No developer is going to be able to voice his opinion even in private for fear it might get reported upon and the great unwashed will bitch about it online.

I say b*llocks to this. Hecker is quite entitled to say that the Wii is sh*t. It isn't a statement of fact it is his OPINION so frankly the mature reaction from the community would have been the 'I disagree with what you say, sir, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it', followed by a reasoned debate.

Instead we get teh ma33ive flamage1111111110111111!!!!! and untold bitching, death-threats and insults.

To be quite honest I think this says a lot more about the Nintendo fanbase than it does anything else, and I find it pathetic that so many people care so much about a bit of electronic kit.

Hell, conisdering the shockwaves this event across teh internetz one might have got the impression that more people care about the Wii than say, the Iraq war or world poverty given he amount of trasffic its generated.

I say leave the man alone and get your priorities straight. He made a disparaging remark about a bit of equipment, it's not like he punched a preganant women. Get.Over.It.

Nick said...

Again, Hecker can eat me if he thinks that what's good for the industry is extremely expensive hardware and software in addition to giving people incomplete games and forcing them to pay to complete it. At no point will I accept that as the "future" of gaming. In all other industries, as hardware evolves, it eventually gets cheaper. With the PS3 and 360, it's gotten unbelievably expensive. DVD players eventually dropped to a much lower average price, but not only have Sony and Microsoft jacked up the prices, they don't compromise - they jack up hardware, software, and even try to rape gamers by selling them unfinished games for $60.00, and then demanding them to pay $100.00 for the rest of the game.

Anonymous said...

@John

You SHOULD want to play games that are art, since games as art includes every aspect from enjoyability to story, not just looks. Fun games are almost always art; to consider them lesser than other art forms just because they're "new" is as shortsighted as considering novels to be non-art when they first originated. Once the newness wears off, the truth becomes obvious.

@Nick

Are you arguing based off of what you assumed was said instead of what was said? If you look at the guy's history, he did complain about expensive new toys and graphics being wrong as the only focus. This year, he's complaining about something else.
Don't get mad because Sony and Microsoft are selling hardware worth much more for much more than what you expect to pay for a console, and then praise Nintendo for selling their hardware for twice its value because that's an acceptable price for you. If DVD prices dropping as they get cheaper to make reflects badly on anyone, it's Nintendo, the only ones significantly overcharging for the hardware.
Yes, most of us (gamers) and a lot of other people are willing to pay that much because it's a system with fun games and new controls we enjoy, but you have no right to hold them blameless with the points of your specific rant. At least Sony and Microsoft are charging close to the actual value of their hardware; less, in Sony's case.
I also suspect most of us are willing to pay more for better hardware and software, just not necessarily capable. And only Microsoft is selling people "incomplete" games for full-game prices then charging more to get the rest, so far. Again, point your criticism where its due, not at the manufacturers you're mad at. Unlike his rant, which was aimed at Nintendo for specific deeds of overcharging for their equipment's value and not considering games art (and his complaint had nothing to do with graphics, games as art includes storytelling, gameplay, and numerous other features to include aesthetics), your rant comes across as mere anger at the other two companies--which you have so conflated in your mind that you blame them for overcharging Nintendo is far more guilty of and blame both for microtransactions only one has yet abused.
Rant with the right reasons, please, if you're complaining about somebody else's rant. The rest of us have games to get back to playing on ALL of the systems for how much we enjoy them rather than prejudiced biases.

Anonymous said...

Games are not art.

I do not want to play "art", I want to play a game.


Movies are not art.

I do not want to watch "art", I want to watch a movie.

"Art" is where you find it; saying video games aren't art is incredibly short-sighted.

Anonymous said...

I just read this and I am unfortunately a little late to the party. I'll explain why though. I was going to Chris Heckers site to find an article he wrote way back in 1995 about perspective correct texture mapping. I'm a wanna be programmer and have not had much luck in breaking the 2D to 3D wall and wanted to try again this year. His article is well written and thorough and he mentioned this controversy. Heres the reality people. One of these articles actually praised the N64 for perspective correct texture mapping in hardware a technical feature above the psx and 3do affine texture mapping of the day. It also had more raw processing power. This is just proof that what this guy like "the high end" doesn't have anything to do with success.

The argument could be made that because of other limitations of this cart based system is why it was pounced so easily by the inferior psx. The problem with that logic is Nintendo went that route with the gcn as did microsoft with the xbox. The proof exists right here that you can make a more powerful and technically impressive machine and that won't automatically hand you the win. Further proof can be found in the sales of this weaker console.

Chris Hecker isn't a nintendo hater. He is simply a tech head which isn't bad but it has nothing to do with the success of or in the industry. He should know this now he has been writing about it for 13 years and still hasn't seen a technically superior system gain the win.

Is the wii a piece of sh**? No but I'm sure he was using harsh words to make his point stand out. A bad choice in hindsight but the system is weaker.

The companies do need take Nintendo seriously. If you can only create "ART" on a 3.2 gigahertz machine then you really missed the point. He pointed it out himself in the articles mentioned above. He stated while speaking of texture mapping that texture mapping or more particularly good texture mapping doesn't necessarily make a game good. He used the original smb as a reference stating that even though it had no texture mapping or I'm sure if he thinks about it "processor power" that it was a great game.

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