All posts by Doctor Mike Reddy

My review of Reviews of Fez

Ok, here’s my take on @polytron and Fez. But first a disclaimer: I haven’t finished the game. But I won’t be posting links to other reviews, even though this is a piece about those reviews (Google them). But there’s a reason I feel qualified to comment. But before I explain that I’m going to summarise in one sentence so the haters can jump in to the comment section:

“Fez is about losing childhood.”

But am i ready yet to do the growing up?

Many reviews focus on the mechanics – retro 8 it platformer reflecting the days were games were real games and hard – or the multi-layered “get everyone talking in the playground (Internet forum?)” under the surface content. Some think it clever this is concealed (though what truly is when “walkthrough” is one of the most used word in search engines?) while others worry people “won’t get it”. Still a few naysayers accuse Phil Fish, who is invariably described as “outspoken” or linked to the GDC Japan games thing (Google it), of cunning manipulation. Of course, what’s always worse than a smart arse is a successful smart arse.

So, let’s take a look at what I have gleaned from “Fez: The Review: The Game” (FTRTG), which unlike “Fez: The Movie” (aka the Indie Game Movie that stubbornly resists being torrentable, and will only be shown once in the UK in Sheffield this year :-(so I’m not holding much hope of seeing any time soon) or “Fez: The Game”, which remains firmly unfinished (see my second but). Because I AM finished with FTRTG. All the various takes on Fez in print and web seem to each miss a different but important element – author’s blindspot, limited space or deadlines? – and only reading a selection can you see a growing theme. Like Gomez suddenly being aware of his 2D existence, but having a limited pallet to manipulate it, and his journey of discovery in a frankly bewildering world, I feel (yes, feel) there’s a metaphor here to our own childhood’s end (mistaken for nostalgia by many reviewers). It also cleverly refers to the mainstreamification of Games into modern culture. However, the obvious (and sometimes subtle) references aren’t only to games as some have suggested: the NYT review references meaningless hyroglyphs translated as “Help I’m a prisoner in a Fez factory” but fails to spot homage to a great children’s book “Help I’m a prisoner in a toothpaste factory” sadly, and there are other missed connections to innocent times. Fez is far deeper than many will give credit for. Maybe not deliberately on Polytron’s part, although I suspect it is, but this is, by the external requirements – QR codes, cyphers, and a (deliberately?) confusing multidimensional map – the players’ hero’s journey NOT that of Gomez.

Fez is an impressive addition to the canon of games that will require me to keep digging, and trying to not type “walkthrough” into Google. My only regret is the ephemeral nature of its meta content: will we still be able to use the QR codes in 20 years? it might take me that long, and a series of red rings, to fathom it all.

I did not like (Dan Golding’s review of ) Fez

It all started with a tweet:

@dangolding: I did not like Fez. Here’s why:

Something about the controversial title didn’t sit right. Checking it out, I couldn’t help feeling it was more rhetoric than reason. After reading the ‘review’ I replied on twitter asking Dan where it was going. It seemed nowhere. Dan asked if I thought his critique was unjustified. So, I said I’d read it again.

It read as a bash Fez for no reason emotional attack. Rather than calm me down, maybe think I’d over-reacted, it just made me feel more angry. So, I commented with a fairly inflammatory response. Go read his post first, and the “me too” comments; no doubt by now others may have sprung to defend him. Maybe they’re right, but something about this article is not right. Anyway, in case my reply has gone to moderator’s hell, here below is my comment on his article reproduced.

Like a previous poster, I’m going to quote this:

“But Gomez’s smile is empty and hollow. It is less a naive expression of nostalgia than it is a simpering, mincing appeal. He has nothing else to say, so he just grins.”

but not in order to praise the author. More than anything else, this piece of rhetoric belies the fact that this is a one dimensional opinion piece, playing on the topicality of attacking what is currently getting (undeserved?) praise. It’s not big, and it’s not clever. It’s just the first to burst the Fez hype balloon; like the mainstream media’s habit of building up, then tearing down people through the currency of celebrity.

The overwhelming (if temporary) love fest (fezt?) that is the specialist game journalism coverage of this long awaited Fish product is as much his creation as the game itself; wheels within wheels of viral marketing that shows a credible awareness of the culture of game and how its members can be manipulated. However, if people are happy to be gently massaged, or creatively led through a series of superficial mysteries, who are we to judge. It just makes Fish’s achievement that much more canny. This isn’t shallow propaganda, it’s effective and clever marketing.

The author introduces the idea of “smart” indie games without justification, then straw man argues against his own categorisation as judgemental, then states that all video games would not stand up to Ballet, should we slip down the slope of cultural comparison.


Most reviews of Fez appear to be joyful description of play, rather than actual critique – for example – but this article presents itself as a critique:
@dangolding: I did not like Fez. Here’s why:

@DoctorMikeReddy: @dangolding ok, but what next. Your piece starts but doesn’t end. Where should we go?

@dangolding: @DoctorMikeReddy Well, it’s a critique, not a manifesto. I don’t want to dictate directions so much as analyze current trends.
*** Twitter ***

However, there is no meaningful analysis or identification of trends. It just resorts to a superficial description of what it describes as nostalgia, namely jumping and rotating, which doesn’t “say” anything.

Phil Fish doesn’t need to say anything; given his recent GDC running off at the mouth, this is probably a good thing. However, he maybe does need to “work the room” to make sales – something we should openly debate – and this he has done with remarkable success. To attack elements of the game instead of debating Fish’s multi-pronged technique to build interest in a long in the tooth product, just comes across as jealousy. Perhaps Dan resents the effectiveness of this manipulation, as I can’t see any other reasonable explanation for the vitriol. I can understand this, if it is accurate, but let’s call a spade a spade. Fez encourages a sense of (often bewildering) exploration, both within and without the game. A depth Dan’s article would do well to emulate.

Plagiarism is just what we do!

Subscribers to this blog may know that while I teach Computer Game Programming, I’ve had a long involvement in plagiarism in Academia, mostly through sitting on various national committees as well as actively campaigning for understanding why it occurs, rather than just blindly penalising it. Plagiarism is more of a hobby* than an actual research area for me, but through accident as much as design I have been in a position to influence the attitude of fellow teachers throughout the World. So, this article by @dantheduck, “Plagiarism as a moral choice”, which looks at the real world pressure to “clone” the work of others, is the collision of two normally separate worlds:
A Servant of Two Masters
The allusion to copying prior to it being considered a “crime” was/is refreshing. It brings home to me the value of working with creative “clay” rather than descriptive “pen” for assessment:

A) it’s hard to plagiarise an assignment when you are building rather than writing, and easy to spot copying when under the process of creation is missing.
B) it’s impossible in the medium to not encode traditional interactions, so novelty stands out, but competent copying is itself an achievement.**
C) on a vocational course – increasingly en vogue with this Government – competence is preferable to creativity for employers at least.

In the game industry, copying is difficult and is financially, if not morally, superior. There have been few legal battles over stolen content, ideas, techniques, compared to Art, Film and Literature. Creativity seems to be when copying produces better results than the original. The question is not whether but how much to copy.

It’s not theft it’s reuse

There is far more “recycling” in this industry than many others. Partly this is perceived as market-driven – as The Jam lyrics claim, “The Public wants what the Public gets!” – and in part is technical; film companies don’t tend to need to re-implement cinemas each time they make a movie. However, code reuse, if not level design, should be encouraged. And predictable user expectations for interaction – WASD anyone? – make game play straight-forward; there isn’t a BookFAQs web site explaining how to proceed with Lord of the Rings P1 by “turning the page and starting at the top of page 2” as far as I know.

Or is there?

Is the 90/10 copied to new ratio an extreme example of “standing on the shoulders of giants” ?

* I’ve tried to keep away from becoming a mainstream plagiarism researcher because I didn’t want to sink into depression.

** I tell my students each year that copying – i.e. reproducing in their own code – Miamoto’s 6502 assembler implementation of Mario’s jump in Super Mario Brothers is the ultimate challenge.

What motivates me?

I’d like to write a really short post today (late)… (as usual)… and leave you with a question to ponder:

“What motivates me?”

And I’d like to leave you with a cartoon I discovered recently, which keeps haunting me. Particularly the last frame. It’ll be down there at the end of this short post. Go now if you don’t want the preachy, uninformed, ivory tower like stuff.

You see, I have developer’s block. I have three games that are hideously late. Mostly due to the unexpected complexity of needing to make them ‘editable’ as well as ‘educational’ and ‘excellent’ (of course, we need the last one, otherwise these will be three very worthy educational games that no one will want to play). And I also have to write a huge report explaining why the games are late, why that isn’t a bad thing, as we are discovering all sorts of interesting things about the process of writing educational games that actually are educational and games. And this report writing is, ironically, stopping me from finishing the games. However, it is important. Without the report, the second year of funding – the most important part, the testing of the games with teachers, parents and students – won’t happen. So, hopefully you will forgive this brief bit of work avoidance. Now I have to get back to writing the report, getting the funding, enabling the really important stuff to happen; namely the actual testing of games to see if they make a difference, rather than just on paper sounding like they will. Of a two year project, only 3 months to make 6 games. Six games that can be adapted, modified, extended and used in ways we don’t really expect. No wonder we are a bit behind schedule.

Anyway, here’s the cartoon. I promised it. Afterwards, think what motivates you. Is it 5 minutes of playing a quick game level after an hour of programming? Is it a cup of coffee and cake? What is it that you do, when you should be doing something else, and the deadline whizzed past ages ago? What is your lizard brain reward? What is it that you do when you are tired of playing games?

Reality is Borken* – How do we avoid the ‘Workification’ of Game Programming

For whatever reason, I was thinking of the Matrix just now**, and it hit me: All this talk of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and encouraging programming in schools was an embodiment of the needs of the parents/Government/IT Sector and not really that of the children. In the Matrix, Neo (and other escapees from a manufactured delusion) fight a system that wants them put in a pod, unwittingly contributing to a global economy – as batteries in the film, but you get what I mean – where even the illusion of personal choice is manufactured.

We need coders, lots of coders

Ian Livingstone OBE, life president of Eidos and recent recipient of a well deserved Develop Award for a lifetime achievement in Games, as well as some other guy (!) published the Livingstone-Hope Review eight months ago, which has been covered in great detail

Progress from this has been ‘slow’ if his recent presentation at the Develop Conference in Brighton in July is anything to go by, despite Michael Gove, UK Education Secretary, recently declaring that Games offer “huge potential for maths and science teaching”

Livingstone-Hope declared:

“Computer science must be part of the school national curriculum. The current curriculum includes ICT, but the authors of the report argue that ICT, with its focus on every day applications such as word processing, does not teach the valuable computer programming knowledge that is vital to high-tech industries such as videogames and visual effects.”


“Young people must be given more opportunity to study art and technology together.”

but both of these rely on what my tutor at Leeds, Dan McDade***, used to call a “utopian indicative”: if more children are exposed to ‘proper’ Computer Science in schools there will be a sudden and impressive flood of kids wanting to go into IT careers. It might be right. Might.

…it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself

The imposed homogeneity of a National Curriculum has been with us a long time – I decided to leave school teaching as a result of this and other silliness in the late 80s – but, sadly, there is no waking up from this particular rabbit hole. Even in universities, where you might assume because students have elected to be there, institutional pragmatism as well as ‘customer’ expectations dictate a passive sameness in Higher Education; this will only get worse as HE is increasingly commercialised. Students and staff alike are fearful of opportunities to diversify, for a variety of reasons. It’s hard to assess when there isn’t a level playing field. Learners are often ill-equipped to be pro-active in their own education. Everyone longs for the easy life of spoon-feeding, and those that fight it, face poor feedback, more headaches and longer hours.

…I can dodge bullets? …when you’re ready, you won’t have to.

The trick, of course, is to keep the ‘cool’ (if any beyond novelty) of games and, more challengingly, programming because of the huge difference between choosing what (and whether) to play and the stranger task of designing/making/coding games. Part of the problem is the big gap between what children can reasonably program and the polished products that they are used to consuming. The other issue is what I call ‘Workification’; the consistent transforming of something fun and creative into mindless drudgery by well-meaning, possibly desperate educators, trying to make important skills relevant to an apparently disaffected youth.

Tonight, Ian Livingstone is touting the Next Gen initiative, which is the update showing what has happened post Livingstone-Hope, due at the end of October but being raised on NewsNight early next week according to Livingstone:

Ian Livingstone (@ian_livingstone)
07/10/2011 15:41
Newsnight running a feature on Next Gen report on 10 October ahead of the response. Hope Mr Gove watches!

There are, apparently lots of positives, but I feel were we in HE have the biggest contribution to make is in supporting teacher continuing professional development (CPD) and training for the new beyond ICT curricula that the Creative Technology agenda will be asking for. That’s where I will be putting my efforts!


I’m thinking of writing a book, “Reality is Borken”, in which I expound at length about how amazingly creative technologies have been squandered in Education by being over-hyped, over-used and under-evaluated. Somehow, I don’t think Jane McGonigal is going to be writing the Foreword.

    * credit to Corrado Morgana, a colleague at my university for inspiring this title. Otherwise, I’d have gone with “Reality is NOT broken”, which doesn’t have the same ring.
    ** This is a classic case of work avoidance, because I started all this with a complety different altdevblog idea!
    *** Dan, if you’re reading this, I’ve forgiven you now for losing (and subsequently not marking) one of my PGCE essays, costing me the Distinction I was working towards. It taught me a lot, that particular lesson.

The ants pick the food, the ants eat the food, and the grasshoppers leave.

“Universities have been bashed over quality, relevance and value of computer games courses for too long. Like complaining that a cafe’s food is disgusting and the portion’s too small, now even schools appear to Gove, Livingstone, Hope and Braben et al to be failing. By turns it’s either too many or too few games, not enough programming, etc, that is to blame for the lack of a stream of compliant, skilled workers streaming from HE into the dark Satanic Mill of game development. Well, Education’s had enough. We aren’t training sweatshops. We don’t teach skills, we teach people. Now bog off and let us do our job!”

This is the summary and abstract for a talk I will be giving at Brains Eden in Cambridge on Monday 11th July.

The title is a quote from “A Bug’s Life”, but few know it was based not only on Kursowa’s “The Seven Samurai” (aka “The Magnificent Seven”) but also on one of my favourite Aesop’s Fables, The Ant and the Grasshopper, where an individual of a playful nature does little to sustain his existence, then expects to long serving collective to support him with resources.

The analogy should be clear. Ok, yes, this IS meant to be controverial. Deliberately so, as the organisers have asked me to be. For the past couple of years Games Eden have organised ‘Brains Eden’, a gaming festival designed to bring together industry, academia and students. This year it will revolve around a 48-hour Game Jam hosted at Anglia Ruskin University, with representatives from the local companies speaking on Monday on a range of subjects. However, what the schedule seemed to be missing was someone from academia to do a 15 minute talk; “the livelier and more controversial the subject matter the better.”

It’s a double edged sword, this “rocking the boat” malarkey. Not one I am unfamiliar with, even outside of games, having singlehandedly destroyed Higher Education on at least one occasion – according to the Daily Mail
and the Telegraph, though (sadly) not the News of the World – or started a revolution in 21st century university assessment – according to the Times Higher Ed Supplement (THES) and the Guardian – it’s cleary time to don the asbestos suit again. However, this time it has been planned. There is much that is right, or potentially so, with Industry getting involved with HE, although why anyone would think that some form of company sponsored national curriculum was a good idea I don’t know, or even with computer games revolutionising Education generally. So this blog post is more about airing the subject for debate. A proto rant. Do you think the Brabens, Livingstones and Hopes of this World are right? That we should return to an 80s (Thatcherite) approach to teaching programming in schools, in the forelorn hope it will ignite a new generation of bedroom coders – just like it didn’t in the actual 80s? Or that HE has been doing such a bad job of fitting the loyalty chips in the necks of serfs bound for indentured servitude at the nearest Triple-A studio that Industry, which has little or no pedagogical expertise or interest beyond easing the recruitment/staff turnover (burnout?) problem, should step in and “well and truly sort us out!” If so, comment here. It’ll all be good ammunition or target practice for me, when next week I’m thrown to the Lionheads; see what I did there?

It’s not just about Games, it’s far less serious than that.

Playing Devil’s advocate to the R4 ban

MCV has an article describing the recent ban on R4 cards – devices that allow backed up, or more likely illegally copied games on the DS handheld console – here:

And why I don’t think that the ban will make much difference at all.

Sites still selling R4 cards which even tells you that illegal games will be pre-loaded for you!

“The genuine Kingston’s microSD cards filled with latest games pre-loaded in the micro card for instant use on any game cards that we are selling. 2/4/8GB available.
please confirm the game card that you are using from the drop down menu
Games include :
–Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Mobilized
–Runaway: The Dream of the Turtle
–Mario & Sonic at The Olympic Winter Games
–Astro Boy: The Video Game
–Need for Speed: Nitro
view more games in the product detail”

What was the legal judgement?
OK, I have read the summary judgement now – thanks for to JS in the comments section of this story:

for the link:

which I might not have otherwise found – and a couple of things spring to mind.
1) the judgement refers to devices that fit in one slot
2) flashing the DS seems again a real possibility; the NLDF would then not be needed, if indeed the argument for one breaching copyright, etc, stands up.
3) Section 25 refers to copyright protection applied to data that is not a computer program, refering to art assets, sound, etc, and that it is these that are key to the argument.

Also, I am intrigued over the “partial settlement” mentioned in the early paragraphs…

How about making a device that doesn’t fit into only one slot, but both (DS Phat and Lite only); a whole new legal case might be needed to then include these, as each individual component might not entirely allow all the required clauses to be confirmed. Or a device that allows programs to be run, but not data to be copied; really little use for playing backup games. Or a device that doesn’t do one of the required things in the judgement; i.e. contain the NLDF, etc. For example, a GBA slot device that stores backup game files, which can be legal to create, with a flashed DS to enable play. These was the original route prior to the more convenient Slot 1 devices. These GBA devices also had the purpose of allowing MP3 files etc to be played, so weren’t primarily for game copying, and didn’t need the NLDF files.

Flashing devices could be provided free (no commercial purposes) to enable these other devices to then allow game copies. Also, it would be interesting to see if there were issues related to an individual consumer being prevented from making backups, which they have a legal right to do…

Hey, if the defendant hadn’t actually been selling these devices, but giving them away… Who’s up for predicting how quickly some bright spark putting up all the schematics, etc, and a “how to” to build your own R4 card for free – i.e. not for commercial purposes –  now that they cannot legally be sold. Both approaches could, ironically, get round the judgement.

The ultimate effect of this judgement will be almost negligible for determined tech-savvy users, but will reduce dramatically the “casual” copier, and probably provide a very small increase in purchased games. This is probably the best effect, really, as I don’t want piracy any more than anyone in the Industry. Those that know how to flash their DSs are more likely to be the ones who are genuinely interested in hacking and homebrew. Interesting to note, though, that I know quite a few professional game developers who have these devices. And not all of them are as stringent as I in not having illegal roms installed.

WHY you do something is WHY you succeed.

This article is quite short, but touches on possibly an obvious truth once stated that why you do something is why you succeed. Something that I feel I’ve taken for granted until now. am I alone, I wonder.

Well worth checking the TEDx video link half way down. 🙂