“Be vig­i­lant for down­grades, but don’t reach for the pitch­forks”

Spi­der-Man’s bizarre Pud­dle­gate con­tro­versy po­larised opin­ion, but the dis­cus­sion left no room for nu­ance says Phil Iwa­niuk

Games Master - - Up Front -

Spi­der-Man, for so long the pre­serve of sub-stan­dard Beenox re­leases and rose-tinted PS2-era mem­o­ries, is a cred­itable fig­ure in ac­tion gam­ing once again. In­som­niac’s mus­cle with this sort of thing – vis­ual de­sign, open-world know-how, the in­tan­gi­bles of player move­ment – have paid off. But to some play­ers, Mar­vel’s Spi­der-Man presents a web of lies. In­evitably there’s a con­tro­versy here. ‘Pud­dle­gate’ be­gan when a Red­di­tor posted a still from E3 2017 which showed some bad men in a New York al­ley­way, all steam from air vents and murky pud­dles. Be­low it, they posted an in-game screen from that same area, which isn’t quite so wa­ter­logged now. Peo­ple quickly yelled “Down­grade!” like schoolkids spot­ting an off-bal­ance peer and in­cit­ing a pile-on. In re­sponse, a slew of op-eds launched re­tal­ia­tory salvos de­fend­ing In­som­niac’s work.

Wa­ter, wa­ter ev­ery­where, and not a drop of nu­ance. What I didn’t see was any­body sug­gest­ing that, yes, af­ter years of cyn­i­cally mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tive con­fer­ence show­ings we’re right to be vig­i­lant for signs of a down­grade, but that doesn’t mean reach­ing for the pitch­forks when you spot any dis­crep­ancy from pre­view to re­tail. There’s a mid­dle ground.

Splash dam­age

Be­cause this is ac­tu­ally a com­plex is­sue, isn’t it? De­vel­op­ers are forced by the na­ture of the medium to show us a half-fin­ished prod­uct at some point, so there’s a pre­car­i­ous bal­ance be­tween stu­dios re­spect­ing us as con­sumers and, for our part, us re­spect­ing their cre­ative free­dom. What if In­som­niac sim­ply de­cided that scene looked bet­ter with­out quite so many pud­dles? (This was ex­actly the case, by the stu­dio’s own ac­count). Artists are en­ti­tled to make artis­tic de­ci­sions, and they’re not fleec­ing con­sumers by do­ing so.

Al­low me to call upon The Peo­ple Ver­sus Bioshock In­fi­nite, 2013, for ref­er­ence. Ir­ra­tional’s game changed a lot dur­ing devel­op­ment, vis­ually and me­chan­i­cally, and when you look at the kind of world-tear­ing, horse-re­viv­ing, di­men­sion hop­ping ca­per that was in­ti­mated by early show­ings you might rea­son­ably say it was a bit mis­lead­ing.

But I also saw peo­ple us­ing El­iz­a­beth’s re­design as ev­i­dence of a vis­ual down­grade, of­ten be­cause they sim­ply pre­ferred the ear­lier char­ac­ter ren­der. Let’s be clear: de­vel­op­ers mak­ing artis­tic calls that you don’t agree with does not con­sti­tute a down­grade. Pre-or­der­ing a game doesn’t make you a stake­holder in the com­pany; you’re en­ti­tled only to the prod­uct, not a say in the process. So it goes with Spidey. Cyn­i­cism is healthy and down­grade-vig­i­lance war­ranted, but we need to re­mem­ber that change doesn’t al­ways con­sti­tute a loss of value. More pud­dles don’t mean a bet­ter game.

“devs mak­ing artis­tic calls that you don’t agree with does not con­sti­tute a down­grade”

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