Crash Bandicoot Difficulty Is Shining A Light On The Ugly Side of Videogame Journalism

WhatCulture Gaming recently released a video entitled “Vicarious Visions Admit They Botched The Crash N.Sane Trilogy”. Let’s talk about that.

Crash Bandicoot Vicarious Visions.png

A hype train is easy to catch, no matter how fast it’s raging past you. The video game journalism industry already knows that all too well. However, just as games can be over-popularised for small reasons, they can be vilified as well. This seems to be what is happening to Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy since developers Vicarious Visions released a statement responding to comments on the remaster’s difficulty level.

The ground up remake has received amazing responses from reviewers and players, succeeding in giving old Crash lovers a new lease of life and introducing a brand new generation to the fuzzy l’il rascal. For many, however, the first title in the trilogy felt considerably more difficult. After some investigating from players, Vicarious Visions released this statement that listed new jump timings as the explanation for the heightened difficulty of the first Crash Bandicoot title. Crash falls quicker after the player releases the X button, meaning that some jumps require increased precision and others a greater eye for timing.

Crash Bandicoot jump

Personally, I noticed little difference in the actual gameplay of the game – you time your jumps with what you’ve experienced of the game just as you would any new title, it’s one of the fundamental, instinctive experiences of platform gaming that you just… do. If you’re playing a new IP platformer, you instinctively and often subconsciously register the size and speed of jumps and act accordingly. Unfortunately for Crash Bandicoot however, the first game has become a classic of muscle memory. This isn’t a post in explicit defence of Vicarious Visions’ decisions, though, it’s rather a worried statement about the state of the headlines chosen to present their explanation for this slight physical shift.

Dan Tanguay Vicarious Visions interview
Dan Tanguay, Game Director – Vicarious Visions

Vicarious Visions did not. On any planet. In any Universe. “Botch” Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. Neither did they “Cut Corners On The Freaking Jump Button” as Ars Technica so eloquently put it. It’s only a few outlets jumping on the idea that Vicarious Visions have somehow ‘admitted’ to releasing a somehow ‘crappy’ title, but it’s a few too many considering the hyperbole of their ego-propping sentiments.

I came across an article on emotional headline creation a few weeks ago by chance. Charlie Beckett’s discussion “How Journalism Is Turning Emotional And What That Might Mean For The News” delves into the role social media and the creation of the digital self in creating a new brand of headline crafted for sharing rather than information. And what draws the most attention on a Facebook feed? Emotion – we all learned that at GCSE so let’s get into the stuff that really speaks to the video game journalism industry.

emotional journalism cartoon

Beckett’s article features a slide from Allison Rockey that tells us we share news “to define ourselves to others” in the social media age. A headline that suggests that Vicarious Visions has “admitted” to “botching” their new release works to boost the sharer’s ego in a number of ways in their definition of their digital selves. It presents the sharer as someone who can see through ‘corporate’ marketing or fuzz, someone who knows the ins and outs of the industry – specifically someone who will not be fooled. It says ‘we all knew it – you knew it and I knew it, and now they’ve finally admitted what we know was wrong with their game’.

It works, but it’s dangerous.

cycle of emotional journalism
Courtesy of Charlie Beckett – Polis

Because nothing is ‘wrong’ with the game. Nothing is “botched”. The jump speed is different, not lazily cut or broken. The following paragraph from Beckett not only describes how this subjective, emotional headline aimed at the ego of the reader has come about, but also the danger of its continued use.

“With networked news where events are often being reported and discussed on social media – and their own journalism is subject to comment and sharing – they share this process with the public, live, as they are working. And as emotion becomes a more significant factor in that process for both the news-maker and the news-consumer or sharer, so, I would suggest, there will an interesting feed-back loop into the professional culture that may impact in its turn on how the news is produced in the future.”

The Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy difficulty saga was started on Reddit when a few players confirmed others’ sneaking suspicions that the jump function was slightly altered, making play slightly more difficult than they remembered from the first title. News outlets covered the reassuring sentiments that you aren’t just older, the game is actually a little more difficult. Then came the question of faithfulness that plagues any remake or remaster. I’m not here to comment on that, though so let’s stick to what happened next.

Side profile of a journalist typing on a typewriter

After Vicarious Visions caught wind of apparent player dissent with these decisions, they explained that jumps were different due to the redesign of the game. Using the jump physics from the most successful and relatable title (Warped), the team could recreate the original game with features and physics that were more recognisable to a modern audience. Of course, this news was started on social media, so back to social media it went. Enter Beckett’s “feed-back loop”. Dissent on social media caused media outlets to advertise such dissent further. They already knew how their readers felt, and by appealing to these easily available emotions they could relate and be shared. The readers can boost their own digital identity through sharing, and the writers can tap into an emotion they know already exists for an easy view count. It’s just a pity they apparently didn’t read Vicarious Visions’ “admission of guilt” on the matter and subsequently skewed the explanation provided.

cartoon of megaphone with social media share icons

This is dangerous for news as it is. This is extremely dangerous for the video game industry as it stands today. We constantly ask for a more open and honest relationship with our game developers, and yet when they provide such transparency we take it as an admission of guilt, or an excuse, and publicise it as such. The social media feedback loop, in combination with the uptake of headlines to suit a reader’s own digital identity, is placing a big old wad of tape over the developer’s mouth, for fear of a viral “admission” of a “botch”. Thankfully, the Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy difficulty saga is not one that has been met with such hyperbolic headlines across the board. In fact, it’s only a small number of outlets who have plastered these titles across their sites. Nevertheless this has the potential to be devastating, especially for independent developers, and has certainly tainted the title for those who have heard nothing else about it.

whispering

What this represents is the need to be careful in the video game journalism industry. The need to be careful not to appeal to the emotions you know already exist for a cheap share. The need to be careful with developer intentions and explanations. The need to fulfil the other side of the developer / press bargain while maintaining a healthy, objective balance and ensuring our video game journalism industry doesn’t just turn into a series of toys being thrown out of player carriages just for journalists to throw them further away.

 

 

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