Today I want to “push back” against a couple of assumptions in a YouTube video. I want to be as respectful as possible as I feel that there’s too much negativity out there, especially when one person disagrees with another.
Liar’s Year 2020
So, the YouTuber in question is Jim Stirling and the video I want to push back against is his latest Jimquisition episode: Liar’s Year 2020. A little context: Jim is a video game’s journalist who started his own YouTube channel. While he does discuss video games, he takes it upon himself to point out various corporate shenanigans and duplicitous schemes within the larger corporate paradigm, but most specifically inside of the world of video games. As noted above, while don’t agree with him on some of his points (this obviously being one of them), I do watch his videos as he is one of the few voices that actually discusses the excesses of corporations–although I wish it could be done in a less strident way.
However, in this video, he rails against several game companies for not showing gameplay footage at their “gameplay” reveals or showing footage that is “aspirational” of what next generation will look like in the future. He takes Sony, Epic Games (Unreal Engine), Ubisoft, and Gearbox (among others) to task for their propensity in a new console generation to exaggerate, stretch the truth, and outright lie about the capabilities of the new machines. While he isn’t necessarily wrong, I do feel that he 1) overstates the case and 2) ignores the changes at least one company has made (Sony) to address his concerns.
Gameplay = Gameplay
Let’s start with that second one first, as it is the impetus for me writing this blog entry. Sony takes it on the chin (yet again) in this video. For as much as Sony is discussed, you would think that it was them, and not Microsoft (the true guilty party) who held a “Gameplay event” with trailers that barely showed any gameplay (or only stylized, non-representative gameplay). Sony, however, had the misfortune of releasing a Killzone video that was unrepresentative of actual gameplay in the early 2000s.
The reason I feel this is so wrong is that Sony has spent an entire console generation making up for that previous mistake. I’ve linked an entire 18 minute gameplay trailer for their upcoming game releasing this year: Ghost of Tshushima. It even included (what appears to be) HUD elements.
Now this isn’t the first game that Sony has done this for. Most of its major titles this generation have gotten this treatment: Infamous: Second Son, Horizon Zero Dawn, Spider-Man, The Last of Us, Part II, Until Dawn, God of War, The Last Guardian, The Order 1886 and even Killzone Shadowfall got “gameplay trailers” that showed actual gameplay. Below is a video of young woman skeptically wondering if the Horizon Zero Dawn “gameplay” trailer was actually “true” and being absolutely thrilled when she realized it was:
Sony has spent an entire “console generation” trying to win back the trust of gamers when presenting games to the public. While most Sony games are presented without UI/HUD, for the vast majority of their games, the game you see in the “gameplay demonstration” is the game you end up playing.
All Microsoft has to do is utter the words 12 terraflops and Gamepass and gamers (not necessarily Jim, but the gaming community in general) and Microsoft is forgiven for trying enact one of the most restrictive consoles policies and launches in the history of video games.
Overstating the Case
The other problem I have (in this instance) is that Jim “cherry-picks” his examples. For instance, nowhere does Jim discuss the original C. D. Projeckt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 48 minute gameplay demo in which the developers take pains to point out how much is in flux. This is the nature of game development in general. The exact arguments he levels against Sony, Epic, Unreal Engine 5, and Ubisoft are the very same arguments used by the developers of Cyberpunk 2020 to illustrate that they were still iterating on the design.
No where does he mention that this gameplay demonstration was presented in the same light as the gameplay demonstrations that he is objecting to, but Cyberpunk 2077’s gameplay wasn’t in Liar’s Year 2020, but 2018. This video has over 19 million hits and is insanely popular–but in the first 5 minutes of the video, the developers hedge the features and look of the demo, not once, but twice.
The start of a new console generation does allow developers, marketers, and executives to perhaps stretch the truth, but that’s not necessarily all on them–that’s also on us. One of the mantras should always be: check the reviews! Too many people buy games sight unseen based on the marketing materials.
Who Do You Trust?
In conclusion, I guess I really wanted to push back that the console generation switch means that “lies” are the only thing that is a part of the experience. When you have a console maker spend several years trying to make up for a mistake and show “gameplay” and when have another console maker not show “gameplay” at a “Gameplay Reveal Event,” it calls into question the credibility of the argument.
Whenever Sony does show its line-up, I have a fairly high confidence that what I’ll be seeing is what I’ll be playing. While I know that the Unreal 5 “tech demo” was just that, a proof of concept of what is possible on the hardware, it isn’t the prerendered trailers that we’ve been shown in the past and it represents what is possible at this time. Yes, much of it could be marketing hype. However, given the track record of Mark Cerney, chief architect of the Playstation 4 and Playstation 5, and the fact that games like Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last of Us (Parts I and II), Spider-Man, and God of War actually looked like and played as their gameplay demonstrations showed, I’m willing to give them more credibility versus an actor who is put in a game and is brought out on-stage to try to sell a game (Ubisoft & Microsoft, I’m looking at you). It is highly possible that the Unreal Engine 5 will not be able to do what it is promising, but based on Sony’s recent track record (especially in light of Microsoft’s), I’m willing to take that bet.
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