Feature: Fire Nick Bennett


Posted by Conor - Feb 10th 2006 20:25


A Defence
Written by Nick Bennett


"It is amusingly ironic that my article, inspired by demands for a games journalist to be fired, would lead to demands for my own removal from Revolution Europe."
The response to my article, The Developer’s New Clothes, was surprising in many respects. “Fire that Nick Bennett fellow” and “What an amazingly bitter rant” are choice quotes. There was an intolerant condemnation of my remarks, yet there were some welcome exceptions.

Still flawed

A number of posters did indeed acknowledge the technical flaws of various Rare games. Yet the defence of Rare was curious, dependent on accusing me of having only just played the games, that I was approaching them from a “modern day perspective”: “You sound as if you've only just played Rare N64 games recently and are comparing them to the rose tinted versions you see of Nintendo games from the past”, “It doesn't seem like you were there when these games first came out”, and this comment on Perfect Dark: “damn, does it suck. But 5 years ago? I played it everyday. It was a good game, and I guess times change.”

While I did play the games back in the day, whether I played them in 1997 or 2006 is irrelevant. Did something happen to Rare’s games during the last decade that has drained them of their quality? If any game is to be considered a classic it needs to stand the test of time: by implication, Rare’s defenders are admitting that the games that seemed so brilliant on N64 are no longer quite so special. On their own terms then, they cannot be considered to be truly great. Super Mario 64 is a classic, as it stands up well after nearly ten years: it was not just good “for its time”.

Sidestep

It is telling that those who criticised my points did so, not by addressing the demonstrable gameplay flaws of Diddy Kong Racing (poor frame rates) or Perfect Dark (derivative level design), but by attacking me personally, calling into question my sincerity and deliberately ignoring the positive comments made. Some on the forum did not appear to believe that I rate Goldeneye and Blast Corps (and Perfect Dark multiplayer), despite my explicit praise for those titles. The best defence for Perfect Dark is indeed the weapons, multiplayer and options – all of which I noted. There is no reason for me to single out those games if I thought all Rare titles were weak, although risibly my critics feign to know my own gaming tastes better than I do myself.

In addition, the article was berated for being “badly researched”. If by that you mean that I did not defer to the gospel according to Gamerankings, then I am guilty as charged. But Gamerankings is only of limited use, and referencing an average review score is not “research” in any sense. Since Gamerankings only takes a median of other reviews – reviews from heavily advertised sites such as IGN, GameSpy, etc., who tend to hand out inflated scores – then it is not always a helpful indicator of quality. Goldeneye: Rogue Agent and other flops regularly receive 60%+ averages from Gamerankings, making it flattering to poor titles.

Off message

Also disappointing was the effort to discredit my quoted sources, GameCentral (“It's famous for being pretty piss poor”) and Eurogamer, while willfully disregarding their legitimate critiques – and, nonsensically, deriding my “lack of research” at the same time. I assume that my critics were (erroneously) referring to mediocre games magazine Gamestation on UK television’s Ceefax, and not to respected and honest reviewers GameCentral on Channel 4’s Teletext service. GameCentral’s lack of advertising and no-nonsense reviews, which utilise the entire scale from 1 to 10, make it one of the most invaluable sources out there. Eurogamer does not have an “agenda against Microsoft’s console offerings”. The low scores given to some Xbox 360 launch titles are simply because games like Kameo: Elements of Power turned out to be deeply average. Recently Eurogamer panned Mario Party 7, giving it 3/10 – presumably they are anti-Nintendo as well? At any rate, Eurogamer’s points were flatly ignored, in spite of (or rather because of) their well-founded remark regarding the technical achievements, but lack of imagination, in Kameo.

As for sales, the fact of the matter is that Rare’s recent titles have sold poorly. Perfect Dark Zero may be “the third best selling game on the 360 worldwide” (hardly indicative of a runaway hit either) but this does not change the fact that the rest of their games have disappointed sales-wise. With regard to misrepresentation, one disingenuous forum claim held that Goldeneye and Perfect Dark had combined sales of over 8 million. True in a sense: Goldeneye accounts for 8 million of those sales, and Perfect Dark 2.5 million.

Escape veracity

Charges of bias and inaccuracy are also false. Stating that Perfect Dark suffers from poor frame rates is not a distortion. Nor is pointing out that Jet Force Gemini has unwieldy controls that change in boss battles. These points can be demonstrated to be correct. Unless anybody cares to deny that Pelagic II, Perfect Dark’s ship mission, is anything other than a mind-numbing corridor-fest?

Accusations of “bias” and “pursuing an agenda” are (possibly) good rhetoric, but are utilised in the stead of real counter arguments. Politicians and ideologues have “agendas”: I do not. It is amusingly ironic that my article, inspired by demands for a games journalist to be fired, would lead to demands for my own removal from Revolution Europe. How absurd it is that some would insist on a games writer to lose his job: do my critics believe that I wrote the article clandestinely out of “vitriol”, pulled a mind trick on the staff, and maintained it on the site to further my “agenda”? I think they overrate my Sith Lord powers. Strident demands for a video games article (“this filth you call journalism”) to be banned are disappointing in the extreme, an affront to any sense of freedom of expression. My thanks to poster StoopidLikeaFox, who noted “while I don't agree with what you say about [Banjo-Kazooie] I’ll defend to the death your right to say it!!”

Open debate, always

My article is consistent throughout. In a nutshell: with the exception of Blast Corps and Goldeneye, Rare were overrated in the N64 era. Their 3D platformers and adventures were unexceptional. Had accusations of fanboyism been valid, I would have written this piece in September 2002 and attacked the sale of Rare to Microsoft. Rather, I waited for the next generation to play out, read the reviews and tested the games before reaching a final judgment. The recent games place Rare into historical context. Consistency, it turns out, is the central problem for Rare apologists. Why is it that Conker’s Bad Fur Day “surpasses Mario 64”, yet Conker: Live and Reloaded (basically the same game) is seen as being deeply average? Why Jet Force Gemini and not Grabbed by the Ghoulies? What is the difference?

The answer is: there is none. Those games were and are ordinary, and if that makes me biased, it only makes me biased against mediocre titles in favour of brilliant ones. A number of comments on the forum were largely supportive toward my article, or at the very least open-minded, and I am grateful for that. In any case: that this debate over Rare has happened and will continue is a great tribute to Revolution Europe, who are always ready to ask questions and reconsider the games industry from different perspectives. The site remains committed to challenging itself, its readership and the gaming community, and will always welcome open debate. Because we just aren’t into banning things around here.

Nick Bennett
n_p_bennett@yahoo.co.uk



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