Spoiler Warning – Game Journalism is Really Terrible

Recently there has been much ado about a Doom mod called Total Chaos – Overgrowth, thanks largely to the teaser video, which you can watch below:

It is a pretty good teaser, and the mod looks like it has potential. I enjoy the mood, the visuals, and the cited inspiration of STALKER.

What concerns me is the coverage of it. Kotaku titled it as such:

Doom “Mod” Makes The Game Look Very 21st Century

Rock Paper Shotgun titled it:

Astoundingly, Total Chaos Is A Doom II Mod

There seems to be doubt as to the term mod or the fact that it is Doom 2. The visuals, the result of artwork and post-processing, are incompatible in the minds of major game writers. Doom is a specific resolution and a specific setting. Surely this isn’t Doom. Yet it is. Yes it is using GZDoom for true mouselook (an actually major change considering how Doom fills a frame of data by not caring about vertical spaces beyond the current view) and many other features. But the project is still using WAD files (“Where’s All the Data”), the world is still composed of linedefs, sidedefs, and sectors. It is still a two-dimensional scene displayed with perspective and data tracked with a third dimension. Despite this, Kotaku doubted the use of the term mod (a Total Conversion is a more appropriate term, at least once they remove the player fall grunt) and Rock Paper Shotgun remarked on it as being astounding.

It looks great, it does. But it is a mod, and it isn’t astounding. It is a well scoped project playing to its strengths. Now if these were random internet comments, I could get past it a little. But these people are gatekeepers of information in gaming, and they might even call themselves journalist. Yet they haven’t the foggiest as to the basics of game development, or game technology. They don’t even understand what makes for game technology. They see pretty pictures and blurring, and suddenly it is advanced. Heaven forbid these people write for a car magazine, or they would give top ratings to everything with a flame paint job and a spoiler. Before you write about something, try to take five minutes to make sure you have some basic grasp of it. Read the wiki article on the Doom engine, it doesn’t take long and provides a great overview. Understand the differences between higher resolution textures, different rendering methods for that texture, and different types of world construction. If you don’t know even the basic fundamentals of how a game works beyond clicking PLAY in Steam or on your favorite console, if you aren’t comfortable with installing mods (not even making them) without using a self-unpacking installer, then perhaps you aren’t the best person to be writing about technical achievements in a release.

And if you aren’t at least a little bit interested in how these things work, how much are you actually interested in games, versus it just being your current preferred distraction from your life? I am not an authority on these issues, but I have read enough that I have some concept as to how much more I do not know.

The real tragedy here is that no one has talked about the gameplay prospects of Total Chaos – Overgrowth. Doom is renowned for movement based combat (though two dimensionally). This mod doesn’t have combat, and you are moving slowly. How will that play? Even in STALKER you could sprint (especially with Moonbeam equipped), so this is a departure from the base game, base technology, and the inspiration. Did anyone note the traditional point and click adventure menu? The player couldn’t just Use the locked door once they got the key, they had to get to the door, locate the specific key in their inventory, and then apply that to the door. Gameplay was still going. It is quite literally a game where you can fumble for the keys in your pocket, like you see in horror movies. That is interesting, can’t we talk about that?

But no, we focus on the fact that the project looks pretty nice. Why do we take these writers seriously after posts like these? Luke Plunkett posts a fair bit on Kotaku. Nathan Grayson posts very regularly on Rock Paper Shotgun. They didn’t talk about the gameplay in any real way, and they focused on the tech in a way that reveals their ignorance to the entire foundation of the subject matter of their industry. Remember this. Do not suffer the Gell-Mann amnesia effect in game writing as well.

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.
In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know. -Michael Crichton

Remember when you encounter articles like these, that the writers who do the gaming equivalent of “wet streets cause rain” are also writing the reviews, they’re asking the questions in previews, and are framing the discussion for gaming culture and industry news as well. Some times they do an alright job, but largely the perspective is on par with that of the typical gamer in comprehension. And if that is the level of quality they are bringing you, you can find the same quality in the longer winded YouTube comments, or reddit threads. By the same measure, you can get your non-gaming news, such as finance, politicals, and major world wide events from pretty much anyone. Because that is the level of quality they can assure.

Expect more, make the market bring you better information than you could find on your own. At least expect them to have read a synopsis of something before they post. I’m sure I got things incorrect in this post, and others, but I talk about that. Do not take my word for it, and most certainly do not take the word of outlets like Kotaku and Rock Paper Shotgun for it. Expect more.

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