Did you ever read Misery by Stephen King? Spoiler alert: It’s about an author, captured by his psychopathic ‘Number One Fan’. She reads his newest book, realises he’s bumped off her favourite character and goes apeshit. She cuts his foot off and makes him write another book, bringing her back. There’s a lot more to it than that (if you haven’t read it, you really should), but that’s pretty much the gist.
“How is this relevant to videogames?” I hear you ask.
Well, because at its heart, it’s a tale about an entitled fan. A fan who either cannot or will not accept a creator’s right to tell the tale he wants to in the way he wants to. A fan who wants her favourite character back. It’s about a fan who wants to exert control over the creator of her favourite series of novels, and by proxy control over them. It’s relevant because it’s the extreme version of where I sometimes think gamers are heading in their endless complaints at game developers – especially the more toxic among them. I think this is increasingly happening across all creative industries, but the games industry is probably experiencing the absolute worst of it.
Microsoft’s E3 conference was only 5 days ago – it feels like a decade, but yeah. 5 days. They revealed CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 onstage, and the internet exploded with glee.
Oh, what a difference a couple of days make. There’s an old adage that “24 hours is a long time in politics”… it turns out that it’s a long time in the perception of gamers too. Who knew?
Cyberpunk 2077 has been visible behind closed doors all week, with a small number of people getting the opportunity to spend an hour with a demo of the game – which will be out “when it’s ready” and reading between the lines probably on next-gen consoles. Press coverage of the game has been pretty much wholly positive, with media outlets singing its praises. There’s just one little problem. Just like there always is, where games and gamers are concerned.
If there’s one thing I, as a self-proclaimed ‘moderate’ gamer, can rely upon, it’s that the less moderate among our number will spend a chunk of time going batshit crazy over something that probably doesn’t matter now, and almost certainly won't matter by the time the game finally comes out. I’m referring, of course, to the fact that Cyberpunk 2077 is a (Shock! Horror!) first-person game instead of a third-person one.
Crisis, Baldrick! Crisis!
If I sound slightly exasperated by this, then I’m understating my reaction to the swirling negativity. This kind of thing drives me so fucking nuts that it makes me wonder about considering myself a ‘gamer’, if this is how ‘gamers’ feel the need to behave. Frankly, it makes me want to break things. I have no idea why a bunch of whining children feel like they have the right to piss and moan about something they haven’t even seen with their own eyes, and I also have no idea why anyone pays the slightest little bit of attention to them. But they do, and we do, and so the circle continues - and here I am writing about how much it bugs me that people pay attention. Rest assured, the irony is not lost on me. I’ll write the rest of this anyway.
I’m gonna lay out the reasons why I find this whole thing so… stupid. Bear with me. I’ll try to be polite – but be warned, I might fail.
Let’s start here, with the most obvious: Not one of the people complaining about the first-person perspective has actually played the game. In fact, they haven’t even seen it running outside of an in-engine trailer. They have no idea of how it works outside of written press coverage that makes mention of it front and centre. To decide you don’t like a game after playing it is reasonable. To decide you don’t like it after seeing it running is perhaps less reasonable, but probably understandable. To reject it based on being told something is, frankly, bordering on insane. To respond with the level of anger and vitriol we’re seeing about this? I don’t even know what that is. Other than ridiculous, of course.
Next up: I wonder how many of the people shouting about the perspective of the game have taken a moment to understand the reasons why a first-person perspective has been selected? Let’s not mess about here – The Witcher 3 was an outstanding game in every way – and I can’t imagine having played it in a first-person view. The open spaces, the sword swinging combat, the ranged magic – all of those things naturally lend themselves to a third-person view.
Let’s contrast those wide open, natural areas with the alleyways, high-rise apartments and concrete vistas of Cyberpunk. Let’s compare the swords and magic to the guns and cybernetic enhancements Do they resemble one another in any way, shape, or form? Not really, let’s face it. I guess it comes down to this: just because the studio’s last game was a really good third-person game, it doesn’t give anyone the right to start slagging off something they haven’t seen when they decide to do something different.
Finally, to the armchair developers out there raging about a decision they don’t like, try this:
Assume, just for a moment, that the people making the game know more about what they want their game to be than you do. Assume, just for a moment, that they spend their every working hour considering how best to build the game that they’re going to put their name to. Assume, just for a moment, that they know what they’re doing far better than you do - not least because they’re there and they’re actually doing it. The guys complaining on the internet aren’t. That’s at least part of the reason why they have so much spare time to complain on the internet. And assume, just for a moment, that making those decisions with their creations is not only their job, it is also their right.
Making a couple of very good and extremely successful third-person games does not confine a studio to making the same kind of game forever, nor should it. Creative types have a tendency to change. It’s why a band’s fifth album rarely sounds like the first one. It’s why a novelist’s third book will probably be stylistically slightly different to their first or second. People change, their tastes change, their abilities develop, and a demand for new challenges grows. Game development is a creative process, and it follows those same creative rules. When those changes don’t happen, you end up with Call of Duty or FIFA; following the same basic template every year with only minor changes around the edges of the systems – they sell well, but creatively fulfilling they can't possibly be.
My take? I wish CD Projekt Red +10 luck and +15 speed. Not to mention +50 armour. And on their track record, I’ll trust their judgment.