What’s a Phil Fish? We’ll get to that. I’m sure the lot of you who come around these parts are enthusiasts of all sorts of tech hobbies and that’s, you know, what brings you to this site. You come here for information, you come to read about advances in technology, how the Internet works, and to watch Chris and Diana Pirillo dork around on the vlogs or embed you with a slice of tech life. I dig that. That’s a good reason, you know? Easy, breezy, Covergirl, you know?
Once in a while though, you stumble on something and you think: what in the hell does this mean? Can someone break this down for me? I may not be able to tell you how to partition your Linux hard drive, and I can’t possibly explain to you what kind of coffee maker is better than the other, but I can give you some good ol’ fashion truth talk about gaming, the industry around it, and the people involved.
That’s what brings us here. I’ve had a lot of feedback in the recent days about the Phil Fish drama surrounding Fez 2, Polytron, and the non-stop feeding frenzy of the Internet around it and why a community of gamers, tech enthusiasts, and humans should care.
Who is Phil Fish? What is Fez? What is Going On?
Phil Fish is the creator of Fez, an indie game that had been one of several focused pieces in Indie Game: The Movie. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Fish was having several issues with being the creator of this game and seemed to not be terribly rooted in reality when it came to his game and the process. Phil Fish and Renaud Bédard had announced their game, Fez, during the Independent Games Festival in 2008 only to not actually release it until 2012 after a series of setbacks had riddled the Polytron duo. So Fish takes on Ken Schachter as a new partner and, after near meltdowns at every turn, starts to see the light of day. Fez releases in 2012 with some crushing bug issues that led to him going public with many of his gripes about the fees involved in patching and such. Nothing big, right?
Phil Fish is an indie developer and it’s hard to remember that these are creative minds in a fishbowl (no pun intended). They’re working on their game; they are essentially the only thing standing between the world at large and something they’ve personally spent years on crafting and perfecting. Sometimes, as one can see from how gloriously over-saturated of a mind that Jonathan Blow has, it’s easy to forget those things.
Fez is a brightly colored, two-dimensional game in a three-dimensional world featuring a hero named Gomez. There’s nothing of depth and disorder here, but it’s a beautiful and innocent thing to behold. Inside the game are tiny little moments and nuggets of Fish’s own perceptions and you can see where he couldn’t help but go back and rebuild and adapt new concepts over and over again. He wanted perfection. People lauded Fez for being so entertaining and for giving a new look to independent gaming — but few dug deeper into the length of time it took to put this game together due to Phil Fish’s untouched OCD.
I could go on and on about the time spent between the game’s final release and the bug patch debate where Phil Fish stood his ground and refused to patch his broken game until Microsoft would go easy on the heavy patch fees. I could sit and talk about the heavy-handed statements that Fish made about himself and about gaming and where he fit into it, and I could do more to probably destroy his credibility as one of the beautiful indie game developers out there who was on the side of the gamer and not the developers in big studios.
I have no reason to do that.
So What Happened Then? Why Are People So Mad?
Recently, someone went on the record during a podcast and called out Phil Fish and Jonathan Blow (of “Braid” fame) for getting angry at publications for asking questions about their games, their upcoming games, or even the documentary in which they were involved. Game Informer broke a story recently about Microsoft confirming independent self-publishing, which was big news because Sony had already stated that’s what it was doing for its next-gen console. Game Informer reached out to multiple Indie studios and, of course, Fish and Blow were on the list because their games were well-noted in the past couple of years and they’ve been extremely vocal about their opinions. It was never beneath either one of them to come out with both guns a-blazin’ and set the stage for everyone to hear what they thought on these topics. Phil Fish was always the most mouthy of the duo while Jonathan Blow tended to stick to the shadows and come out on comments and forums to speak his mind. Fish, however, used Twitter as a stage for the world to listen to his gripes.
Not this time.
No, instead of actually responding via email, the two of them took to Twitter and Phil Fish was the one stepping forward with the most hatred to spit toward game journalists who were doing their job. Microsoft giving free reign to independent developers was a massive deal and when multiple outlets like Joystiq, Polygon, IGN, and many more had gone to confirm it, the company wanted to get reactions from independents who had made a big splash. Microsoft hadn’t yet confirmed it, but would be doing so within a brief interlude; while it was waiting on that confirmation, Phil Fish had taken to Twitter and called out everyone who had asked him anything.
Fish damned the journalists who had reported on the story and basically stated they were reporting on “rumors” and acted completely irrationally while even being offensive to anyone who might’ve talked about the story. Game Informer broke the story on Microsoft and so, when Microsoft confirmed it, Fish never backtracked. No, he continued his tirade because now he had gone up against journalists for no real reason whatsoever. These are people who are paid and imbued in an industry that is about not just breaking stories but about bringing information to the enthusiasts who watch their feeds to find these things out. Fish and Blow chastised and condemened anyone who dared ask them about something as innocent and innocuous as this — and subsequently jerked each other off in a malaise of nasty tweets and retweets that went on for hours.
Finally, someone had enough of it. Marcus Beer, known as AnnoyedGamer on Twitter, took to a podcast and discussed his irritation at the two of them for being prima donnas over the whole situation. (I’ve included a clip of the podcast that started the fire toward Marcus). There wasn’t even a lengthy second or two before Fish got wind of it and the back and forth became a wildfire. Beer wasn’t backing down whatsoever, but Fish seemingly couldn’t continue to take the Twitter banter and even physical threats were being thrown around, apologies demanded, and the likes of something you wouldn’t see coming from a big name studio.
It got nasty.
What Happened When the Dust Settled?
Phil Fish has stated time and time again that he hates when his tweets are used as “news,” but then doesn’t respond to requests for email correspondence, which leads people to use his tweets as the only form of confirmation of his ideas. Yes, we’re supposed to come at them and ask questions and we’re supposed to know how they feel about things — that is the job of a paid journalist. When you’re asked to get news on something, you get news on something. Phil Fish and Jonathan Blow have never made it easy whatsoever unless you played on their terms. Being indie game developers, they have all the cards in their hands.
Fish proved that when he cancelled Fez 2.
Confirmed by Polytron, the company that houses Phil Fish, Fez, and the properties around it, Fez 2 was cancelled mere moments after the drama had started. It seemed that this could’ve just been a mild meltdown and that, once cooler heads and investors could talk some sense into Fish, we could see a reversal. Instead, he went to Twitter and said he was quitting the industry and went on endlessly about irresponsibility on the Internet. The mob had gone after him for his reckless words and instead of sucking it up and brushing it off because of the strong following he has for his game, he quit. I have said a thousand times that the mob mentality of the Internet can be a dangerous thing, but in this case, it was about standing up for the right thing.
When Phil Fish tore apart game journalists of all makes and models, he was essentially pissing on the people who were there to tell his story. As if Jonathan Blow and Phil Fish thought they were debutantes and Game Informer was TMZ, they acted as if they were being preyed upon when they weren’t. They were being hoisted up and their voices were offered into publication in a story that could’ve garnered them and their upcoming titles the proper attention by being included. This wasn’t Kanye West ripping a camera out of the hand of a ruthless paparazzo who was getting too close to him as he was trying to leave an airport; this was innocent questioning about an important topic. This is about some kid getting shitty on the Internet and questioning the integrity of people who fight hard and work hard daily to do their jobs and do them, not just for the paycheck, but for the love of the game.
So you can see why people would get a bit heated, yeah?
Where Do We Get Off?
I’m all about the facts, you know? I know when I wanted to get to the depth of how far this rabbit hole went with Phil Fish, Fez 2, and Polytron, that I should go to multiple sources close to the situation and ask questions — and yes, I included those facts. However, I have to admit that it burns my gut to hear and see how and what mark this left on these people. These aren’t the random WordPress bloggers and these aren’t the Twitter and YouTube personalities who don’t grind daily; these are the journalists. To hear the anger and hurt they feel over being shamed for doing their job and to their best ability sets me on fire. I know what it’s like to be called out for an opinion, but these aren’t opinions and ideas, but actual facts. When you start screaming at people over fact, you become part of the problem.
Now that Phil Fish has essentially yanked the tablecloth out from under the china, nobody wants to touch him. Why would anyone want to? You will see people come to Fish’s aid as fellow designers and state that you have to keep going for the audience — and that’s true to a degree — but where is the option for him wanting to? For needing to? It’s a gamble you take when you mess around with indie game designers at any level because they’re not housed by big studios. In a big triple A studio, if one developer goes “Fuck this, I’m out. Someone on Twitter was a dick,” then you find another person for that seat and the game keeps moving. You piss off someone who creates a game with the help of one other person and they can easily pocket the cash, flip the world off, and go pout in some remote corner where they can lick their wounds.
I wasn’t innocent in my vitriol toward Phil Fish and his behavior, because it’s not the first time he’s acted out this way. As I saw it, he and Jonathan Blow went after people I cared about and no amount of “PR responses” could atone for that kind of blood in the water. I can’t be nice when you go after my own, and those people who damn a writer’s integrity because of their fragile self-image, well, they need to be talked to. Write all of your open letters to Phil Fish and disregard the Twitter battles and none of it matters in the long run. What matters is that designers and journalists alike need to realize that we can’t evolve in this industry if we don’t work together. Stop seeing everyone writing about your game or your product as an enemy and go to them as the person who is trying to spread a message. Did they mess up some facts? Are they not being impartial enough? Talk to them about it in a way that isn’t eviscerating them in a public forum, because that’s not how you get known for being one of the greats.
Can you imagine Shigeru Miyamoto taking someone to task for asking honest, simple questions?
No? Yeah, me either.
Images from author’s Twitter feed and Frits Ahlefeldt with editing.