So Fez II got cancelled recently. Let’s talk about it.
So if you haven’t heard (And let’s be honest, by now you probably have) Phil Fish has cancelled Fez II. His reason for doing this wasn’t artistic integrity, or a lack of funding, or something else totally understandable, but rather, cyberbullying. It was a pretty interesting story.
Phil Fish has been at the heart of controversy for some time now, even before the release of Fez he made headlines with comments like “All Japanese Games Suck Period” (Which is patently false) and “Fez is a console game, not a PC game. End of story.” That last one in particular is interesting, not just because Fez now has a PC release, but because in a lot of ways I understand it. When it comes down to it, Phil Fish didn’t really say anything all that terrible to earn the flack he got. His comment basically came down to “The PC can’t emulate sitting on a couch with a controller” which, hilariously is totally doable now, but on some level I understand where he’s coming from.
The reason I bring this up is because this story has garnered two major responses, “What happened to Phil is a tragedy and just goes to show how toxic your comments can be”, and “Phil’s a whiny cunt whose absence will be a blessing.” I feel the need to preface that I don’t personally hate Phil Fish. As stupid as his comments are, I don’t feel like he was a detriment. I also don’t think he was a victim when he so bluntly invites controversy into his life. Moreover, I really want to talk about the greys of this situation. Let’s be totally clear here; Phil could not have deserved the massive outpouring of threats and cynicism he got, but he was ultimately the cause.
The internet is a pretty amazing thing, no doubt it’s one of the greatest creations of humanity. It’s an intricate web of wires that allows you to be best friends with someone a continent away and learn the lifestyles of those you otherwise wouldn’t know exist. Describing it is almost surreal, but it’s undoubtedly real. (I hope it is at least. It’s kind of hard to read this without it) Unfortunately we all too often see the big downside to this system. While the boundaries between people are lowered, it’s also much easier to cross lines you likely shouldn’t with diminished consequences. To say something like “I hope you get raped” in the real world would get you knocked out, arrested, or at the very least make you a social outcast. In virtual space, those rules are far, FAR harder to enforce.
This is likely because these threats are far less imposing on the internet. In reality, no one is going to track you down, likely across the country, to rape your wife because you talked shit about Japanese games. Still, it’s hard not to wipe your brow when someone says something like that because goddamn that is fucked up. When you enter the public spotlight, this intensifies considerably. So chances are, Phil was subject to some very brutal comments on a daily if not hourly basis. Once more I want to emphasis what you likely already know, that ain’t cool yo.
As depressing as it sounds this is simply a consequence of becoming a public persona, it always has been. The sheer amount of hate mail celebrities got even before the internet is proof that it is simply a drawback to the lifestyle. However, most celebrities have publicists and people to coach them on how to deal with these statements. Phil Fish, as an independent, didn’t get these people to guide him to his thicker skin. He got all of the downside and didn’t even get to have a month long burnout marriage. Weep with me dear reader. Weep for phil Fish.
So Phil Fish was in some pretty extreme circumstances, but it isn’t unprecedented. Many people bigger than phil have withstood the same torrent and maintained their status and dignity. The issue is that in a lot of respects, Phil intensified this torrent ne fold with his comments. Things like telling people to “Boycott harder” is bound to bring up more ire than is necessary. If you’re making such comments you need to be ready for that, (hell some people revel in it) and all signs point to Phil just not being ready for it. This isn’t some naive indie being crucified for making a platformer, this is someone inviting conflict into their lives and getting sad about it.
Were this the reason for Fez II’s cancellation I think I’d sympathize a lot more, but this was not the direct cause. Despite what many articles might imply, the shit stream may have weathered Fish but the killing blow was dealt by a man named Marcus Beer. After asking the question “Who the fuck is Marcus Beer?” I’m sure you want to know the answer to the real question, “No seriously, who the fuck is Marcus Beer?”
Well Marcus Beer is an internet personality who runs a show on Game trailers where he is better known as “The Annoyed Gamer.” You can probably see where this is going. Beer spends his show commenting on current events and one such event was a recent controversy between Phil Fish, fellow indie dev Jonathan Blow, and ever omnipresent game magazine Game Informer. You see, as of late Microsoft has been rolling back on their incredibly controversial policies regarding the Xbox one, one of those being the inability for indie devs to self publish on the service. The indie scene has become a huge part of the modern games industry, as development costs rise big publishers are less and less likely to take big risks on games, leading to a more and more homogenized industry. The indie has risen lately to be a hot bed of unique perspectives on old genres (Fez, Clone Inc.) interestingly simplistic games (Journey, Flower) and just outright fun ones (Bastion, Hotline Miami). Their presence is so important that Sony spent a chunk of their E3 presentation establishing how easy it is for Independents to develop for the new PS4, as well as showcasing some of the tiles that’ll be launch ready.
Phil Fish was at the forefront of this indie wave with his game Fez. While blow may have established the console market as viable for indie developers with his pinnacle of pretension, Braid, Fez’s development was well known and followed in the gaming press from it’s reveal in 2007, to it’s eventual release in 2012. In a lot of ways Fez was the little indie that could, as it’s development was wrought with problems both professional and personal. 2012 was ultimately the year that independent seemed to prove it was on par with blockbuster titles, and in review the indie scene was the most heavily awarded when the time game for the various outlets to name their top titles. Fez also topped many of these list, competing with fellow indie tiles Journey and The Walking Dead.
Phil Fish was fairly vocal about sony’s “Commitment to indie devs” and had Fez II slated for a PS4 release, so it makes sense that he (and Braid developer Jonathan Blow) would have something to say when Microsoft decided to remove the hefty cost of publishing on the Xbox, which was previously around 10,000 dollars. As Marcus Beer recounts it, “[They] decided to go bananas and bitch and moan to Game Informer, in particular about “How dare you, how dare you ask us questions about this story! I’m sick of you guys wanting my opinion on this story!” Both of them, both bitching away.” marcus is not known for his sensitivity.
In short, Gameinformer tried to interview the two on their opinion of the new system, but neither of them wanted to comment and seemed upset with how they felt hounded by the press on anything indie. Notably the duo starred in a film about the development of indie games (the aptly named Indie Game: The Movie) and became (as Mr. Beer puts it) “The self styled kings of indie” explaining their predicament. He goes on to point out that the press promotes their games and without them, Fez would not have been successful, and by cooperating with them they only get more coverage.Mr. beer may be a shithead but in some sense I do agree with him. Fez, and by proxy Fish, was the heart of a controversy when a game breaking bug in Fez couldn’t be fixed because of the cost. While the patch was relatively simple, Microsoft requires a fee of a few thousand dollars per patch.
Considering this and that the press are trying to feel out what the policies mean to developers themselves, it wouldn’t really be a big deal for them to comment on it, and the two do come off as fairly snippy considering how big they are in the indie scene, largely BECAUSE of the gaming press. Regardless, Marcus lacks tact and comes off as a massive dickhead in his words, even if they have merit. Ironically, it’s exactly how I’d describe Phil Fish. Needless to say, Phil got a little upset at his.
Okay he got mad wack yo.
Marcus Beer may have said some unnecessarily mean things but the worst thing he called Phil was an asshole. phil’s response is drastically worse, as you can see. Just so you know, “Compare your life to mine and then kill yourself” is a futurama quote. One that doesn’t actually work out of context. So as you might ascertain, Phil was not very happy. He was pretty far from happy. From here, marcus Beer offered to bring Fish on the show to debate this topic but of course Phil wasn’t in the mood. He then cancelled Fez II.
Fez II’s cancellation was hasty and just as sudden as the above statement. It came out of the blue, and was stated to be “The end of a long, bloody campaign” for Phil. And with a bang, Phil Fish leaves games behind.
The fallout for this controversy was, in many respects, more interesting than the controversy itself. Patrick Klepek of Giant Bomb spent the latter half of his article trying to convince the audience (or more likely, himself) that there was enough positives to the internet to justify it’s existence, noting the out pouring and love the site received for the recently deceased Ryan Davis. Edge Online had a particularly mean remark with it’s closing line, “You might hate him- but at the end of the day he made Fez, so he’s probably better than you.” Which seems in incredibly poor taste.
In all of this, few have pointed out the grand irony in all this. From his glass house, phil Fish claims that people “Don’t know how much this shit hurts.” At the same time, He says things like “It must suck to be a small time commentator, only being able to vomit from the sidelines.” Marcus Ber may have thrown the first stone, but he didn’t throw them as hard as Phil.
Ultimately, Phil’s departure is not a blight on the industry. We did not lose a bright star who was attempting to elevate the medium like Hideo Kojima, or change the very way the industry provides a service like Gabe Newell. He’s an indie dev who made a retro platformer. He made a good one, but there will be others, and the loss of Fez II is not a black cloud that we will never leave behind. It’s just an egotistical prima donna taking his frustration out on the few people who made it worth it- his fans. And that’s the worst part about it.