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Two Gamecubes duct taped together

posted on March 8th, 2007 by the gang

Chris Hecker angered a lot of people by calling the Wii a piece of shit at this years Game Developer’s Conference. The thrust of his “argument” seems to be that games are art and Nintendo is focusing solely on making entertainment, not art, and therefore Nintendo is bad. It’s worth noting that on his website Chris says he is the Editor at large of Game Developer magazine, yet their website and the february issue I hold in my hands neglect to mention he holds any position there. But back to the issue at hand – some of the videolamer staff have been kind enough to tell us their thoughts on the situation.

Pat says:
This speech took place during a “rant” session, which seems to encourage hyperbolic, polarizing comments. So while my first reaction was “Who cares?” my second reaction was about his argument that the Wii does not have the processing power for complicated AI. I know nothing about hardware specs, but that does seem like a potential problem. Idiotic suggestions such as: “make a console that doesn’t suck ass.” are completely useless, but criticisms about the limitations seem legitimate. Too bad they will be completely obscured by Hecker’s inflammatory red-faced screaming.

As for his derisive comment that Nintendo only makes fun games, I do think, in a perfect world, there is room in the market for games that are fun and games that are art (not that the two have to be mutually exclusive), and I am actually glad there are some people who are thinking about this issue, and turning games into a more serious medium. However, I am not sure the audience is there yet when it comes to games. Think about how many people read, and what percentage of them pick up Proust before Grisham, or the movie-going audience that goes to see arthouse and independent movies rather than blockbusters. The audience for artistic games is also comparatively small. So I am definitely hoping for more (some?) games that are worthy of the label art, but I’m not holding my breath.

Tony says:
Chris Hecker’s an ass. Every time someone puts a microphone in front of his face he uses that time to say something idiotic and inflammatory. He’s always talking about an “imbalance of power” in the videogames industry which leads to nothing but crap coming from the major studios yet he works for Microsoft, then Will Wright (who’s like the Tim Burton of videogames – not as indie as everyone would like to think) and now he reportedly is going to work for EA. He’s started two game companies, neither of which have released a game, and now that he’s attached to the next big deal with Spore I think he might be a little too confident for his own good. His new shtick is pushing the “games as art” line to anyone stupid enough to listen.

His Holmes-ian research skills allowed him to prove without a doubt that Nintendo doesn’t care about games as art because it didn’t show up on a search of their website. Well my own search of Chris’ website showed me all he cares about is banding together with equally like-minded developers so they can kick the less talented people to the curb and make all of the games as they see fit. At the end of his rant he sums up his argument using a tweaked quote from Voltaire “The good-enough is the enemy of the excellent.” Yeah, Chris … everyone else is keeping you and your awesome artsy games down by making systems like the Wii. Oh, if we could just do away with all of those other pesky developers and let Mr. Hecker shine like the brilliant star he is, then we’d be flying free!

Chris says:
Chris Hecker’s rant about how the Wii is bringing down the idea of “games as art” seems like an overreaction to me. Although his point that the Wii can’t process spectacular graphics or AI is valid, is that necessary for a game to be art? What are some examples of games that would be considered “art” nowadays? Shadow of the Colossus, perhaps. SotC is reliant on graphics, but they are designed to convey a style, and it has a very simple AI. I would argue that Symphony of the Night could also be considered art; its graphics are also designed to convey a style, but aren’t as reliant on hardware, and it also has very simple AI. Being complex (in terms of graphics, AI, or mechanics) doesn’t make a game art. If it did, Disgaea would be Da Vinci.

Say all the consoles up until now were charcoal and crayons, and the PS3 and XBox360 each have a varying palette of various paints. The Wii is a fine-tip pencil; accessible, friendly, and will make easy-to-understand (if more simple) art. Art is just as possible with any of these; likewise better cinematography hasn’t made all new movies “art”, nor have more complex printing methods made all new books “art”.

Another point he makes is that Nintendo is not directly furthering the cause of games as art in the public eye. Neither is Microsoft or Sony; do we want any of them to? How could the game industry persuade the public that games are art, anyway? Acting distant, wearing berets and pretending that “nobody understands” how wonderful video games are? I think the transition in the public eye from “entertainment” to “art” will come with the popularization of the format, like it did with just about every other industry. And in terms of popularization, Nintendo is trying to do the most of any company.

Christian says:
The first reaction everyone has to this speech is anger, confusion, frustration, or a mix of each. Just who does this guy think he is? He has no published game under his belt, no sales yet to speak of, and he sounds like a pretentious art house reject who doesn’t realize what gaming is about. How dare he insult Nintendo and their smashing success?

This seems to be the prevailing mood around the ‘net. It’s not surprising, though it is kind of boring. I’m not going to criticize this perspective, but at the same time, I’ve got no beef with this guy. His speech comes from the part of GDC meant for rants and raves. This was supposed to be something completely radical and out of the blue, to get people talking and to let off some steam. If you take away the vitriol, you can at least understand that Maxis games have never been about pushing the graphical boundaries, but instead have focused greatly on AI and other things. The Wii might not actually be powerful enough for some of the ideas they have bouncing around, and some of that frustration spilled out in this rant. Add in the fact that the Wii won’t fail on this one man’s words, and I’m not going to stew about this for any period of time. Instead I’m more concerned about whether Spore will be fun for more than a week’s worth of play :)

Matt says:
When I first read about this, I nearly flipped my lid. First, I think the guy was way too rude to even consider listening to. You’re in front of some hugely influential players in the industry, and there’s no excuse for cursing your brains out like that. He probably offended a few people in the audience with just his demeanor, losing ground with his opinion almost immediately.

As for the actual content, I can’t agree with one thing he said. First, it sounds like he thinks Nintendo makes bad games to begin with on the Wii. Strike one. Then he blames the Wii for not focusing on “artsy” games when that’s a clear decision that Nintendo made. You have the right to your opinion, and so does Nintendo. They have as much right to get pissed off at you, Mr. Hecker, for wanting only “artsy” games to be made. If you really want to do those games, fine. Go get a PS3 or 360 dev kit. Strike two. Oh, and Shadow of the Colossus, which was made on the aging PS2 while still looking amazing, isn’t good enough for you and your “art” movement? Strike three, you’re out. I’m pretty sure if someone put the time into it, they could make exactly what this guy wants on the Wii. Hecker just sounds like a lazy bastard to me.

Golden Jew says:
Incoherent rants are fun! From someone only mildly entertained by the Wii, I find that Chris Hecker’s useful commentary is caught up in his broad sweeping statements with little actual data to back them up, sprinkled with “deep” rambling about games as art.

First, the fact the Wii is underpowered is no surprise. But, as a developer, EXPLAIN exactly what you’re trying to do and failing. Saying the CPU sucks so much you can’t make it more interactive is great–for an opening sentence. Tell me what you tried to do. Tell me how it failed. Tell me how this fits into the scope of the games the Wii is designed for. THEN what you say makes sense. Perhaps your game isn’t suited for the Wii’s target audience. Then make PS2/3 or Xbox 360 games. Or perhaps your complaint is valid–but without context, this is impossible to determine.

Games as art. Wow. What a segue. You went from ranting about interactivity to declaring your work art and the fact that some Nintendo developers don’t feel the same way as you. Big fucking deal. In the real art world, some people create art for fun, others for deep philosophical meaning. There’s a market for each. But to attack the platform as a whole because of a loosely cobbled argument that “I can’t make my game think, so therefore it can’t be art!” is pretty weak. And just because the Zelda designer is “fun” centric doesn’t mean your game can’t be “artistic”–unless Nintendo has a hidden “no art, only fun” policy.

It’s a shame, because Hecker touches on some valid concerns, but fails to follow up with them in a scientific or at least thorough manner. I guess that’s the price of being an artist though, you lose the ability to reason meaningfully.

Jay says:
Wow, a relatively unknown and unaccomplished designer is suddenly the man of the hour (for this and only this hour), what do you know? I will sum up my opinion on the matter with a quote by Steve Martin, “I believe entertainment can aspire to be art, and can become art, but if you set out to make art you’re an idiot.”

4 Comments

  1. Dan said on March 10, 2007:

    I don’t want to sound like an idiot here in front of all you smart people, but do games, much like paintings, necessarily have to be the most realistic things on the planet to be considered art? I mean, we all agree that Da Vinci was a great artist, but so was Monet right? Do graphics have to be hyper realistic for Chris Hecker, or anyone else for that matter, to consider a game art? I know that powerful graphic capabilities is not the only part of Mr. Hecker’s argument, he states that good AI is essential for (I suppose) games to be considered art. And, much like golden Jew said, if Hecker actually explained this critical part of his argument, I would be much more sympathetic to his pleas. Until then, I don’t understand why a console, which is more powerful than the next generation (even if only by a little bit) is non-conducive for making art-type games when the last generation of consoles could. I if feel there is a great possibility for games to look and move beautifully, without looking like another Final Fantasy movie. Okami just looks like a gorgeous, and it entire interface and game play is designed to feel like a painting. Yet this gem came out for the PS2 (which, oddly enough sold better than the xbox 360, wii, and PS3 in December according to Slate.com http://www.slate.com/id/2161405/ ). It seems like Hecker is saying that is it impossible to make art like games without the absolute latest in processing power. I say that he just lacks imagination.

  2. Matt said on March 10, 2007:

    I definitely agree Dan, art does not come from stronger processors only. It that was the case, we wouldn’t have had Okami or Wind Waker, or whatever game passes for art these days. He did say AI would help to achieve "art" and that’s something I don’t even understand. How does more complex AI bring about art? And again, Halo on the original Xbox had some complex AI. Personally, i think a lot of what he said was not planned out. It was a rant, and it seemed he didn’t even plan what to say. He just said it, and because it was a rant, he started to get heated about the whole thing. It then just turned into jibberish with a good helping of cursing. I wouldn’t even take half of what he said as something coherent.

  3. matt said on March 11, 2007:

    And trust me, I’m not that smart. 

  4. Christian said on March 12, 2007:

    Funny thing is, the most "artistic" games seem to be ones that never tried to be artistic, but simply had a concept they wanted to convey and execute. They were then done so well that they became powerful games. All these guys going out there with the intent to create art are going to find themselves making something entirely shallow or pretentious.  

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