08 March 2007

This is Our Art: Useless, Boring, Impotent, Elitist and Very Very Angry at the Wii

So apparently Chris Hecker (whose name is far too close to my own) gave a speech at the Games Developers Conference about how the Wii was a "piece of shit", and that Nintendo are a bunch of assholes who only care about making "fun games" rather than "art".

My first reaction was to roll my eyes and realize that there are apparently people in the video game world who share the attitudes of pretentious funnybook fans, who insist on correcting the creators of comics on how they are actually producing graphic novels, not *snf* COMICS. Hecker seemed to be running along similarly joyless, self-important rails. But really, his complaints seemed almost self-parodic: because Nintendo doesn't use the word 'art' on their website and Sony/Microsoft do, that means they aren't interested in art? Processing power is the means with which to create art? I wish the full content of the speech was available somewhere online, because this sounds almost knowingly hypocritical, and I'd like some dude who is working on Spore and whose name is almost phonetically identical to my own to be a misunderstood satirist and not a pretentious jerk.

I did find a transcript of his participation on the "rant" panel back in 2005 where he complains about how all the forthcoming "nextgen" systems (PS3 and X-Box 360) are pumping out so much effort on graphics while ignoring other functions of gameplay: "Look, how are we going to get where gameplay, graphics and physics are all evenly well balanced? At the moment we’re the 120lb weakling, except nowadays his right arm here, graphics, is enormous." His complaints appear to be more technical (about how the chipsets used for really impressive graphics actually process gameplay/AI functions slower than less graphically-impressive chips, for reasons I personally am not capable of analyzing) than aesthetic.

Although, as more pull-quotes are leaking out of the speech, I guess I need to resign myself to the fact that he's serious. "What I want to be able to do is spend CPU to make the machine smarter, more interesting and more automatically intelligent. It's about interactivity - that is the key differentiator of our art form, and interactivity is about doing something interesting with that input and threading it back to the user. You can't do that with a piece of sh*t underpowered computer."

I realize that I'm coming at this from a lay person's view, but in terms of "interactivity", stuff like the DS's dual/touch-screens, the Wii's controller and even novelties like the DK Bongos feel more "innovative" and "interactive" than a bigger sexier processor to compile all of Hecker's complicated AI code. The whole rant seems kind of superfluous too, since as of right now the game he's working on (Spore, which looks fucking awesome for the record) is being developed for the PC, meaning he isn't being constrained by Nintendo's stupid desire to make things "fun" instead of "art". Still, given that the Wii is outselling the other current consoles by a wide margin, I suppose on an industry-level someone so concerned about processing and "art" could be vexed.

This is getting to be a lot longer than I had planned, but I for one fully support the Wii and Nintendo's gaming philosophy in general - a bold move, I know! I don't have a Wii myself, but recently purchased one for my father, who along with my brother has essentially turned my parents' basement into a Wii Bowling Alley. To give you an idea of what a big deal this is, my father's last serious dalliances with video games were The Legend of Zelda and The Adventures of Lolo, with a couple of business trips in the early 1990s given over to Game Boy Golf and Tetris.

But after fifteen years of deciding that video games were too complicated to be rewarding, my dad has decided to jump back in because of the Wii's simplistic "fun" and apparent "artlessness". My brother and uncle, neither of whom have completely abandoned video games but have certainly backed off since the 8-bit era, are also full Wii converts. I wanted to talk about other video game concept stuff and this really nice interview with Will Wright, but this is so long I should bracket it off now.

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