That ain’t a Shepherd

Yesterday was a… slightly unpleasant day. First there was the Rock, Paper, Shotgun review which, like the Auntie Pixelante review before it, really depressed the hell out of me. With both reviews I actually feel that the problem is more one of a mismatch of expectations and tone than anything else; sometimes we approach something we’d normally like from the wrong angle, and end up hating it. That’s certainly happened to me a number of times, and the RPS review contains a whole bunch of points that make me think the writer expected something rather different. I do wish people would have a closer look at the prose, sometimes: it’s not just walls of text or rambling nonsense. You may dislike it, of course, but there’s a great deal of thought behind every sentence, and there’s more layers to the story and the concepts behind it than just a bunch of puns and silly names (though those matter, too). That’s one reason I liked Gregory Weir’s review so much – because it mentions the darkness that hovers at the edge of the story.

Anyway. Then there was the bit where someone on Twitter accused the game of being a rip-off of Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure, which is a game that means absolutely nothing to me and that I wouldn’t imitate if someone put a gun to my head. I suppose anything hand-drawn is the same now, is it? I suppose making money off your 5-year-old’s game (and the shop that it spawned) makes you a serious artist, but trying to tell stories with their own unique tone and style counts as a cash-in? And the graphics in The Book of Living Magic lack authenticity, because they don’t look like they were drawn by a real 5-year-old, as if they were ever intended to look that way. (What were they supposed to look like? They were supposed to look exactly as they do. Colourful and detailed and textured. They’re not meant to ape reality, and the game would suck donkeyballs if they did.) Yes, the people who said that have now apologized, but I’m bothered by the sheer hatefulness of it all. You know, some of us are putting a whole lot of effort into this whole game-making thing, taking the form seriously, trying to create interesting and original works. I’ve been making games for a decade now with very little recognition and even less money, and this kind of comment just pisses me off. Seriously.

On Kongregate, The Book of Living Magic has sadly been displaced by BadgeMaster and BioGems in the weekly contest, which is a shame. Why is it a shame? Because making the kind of cash-in games that we make means that $250 would have been a lot of money. Yes, food for quite a few days. Hand to mouth, folks – that’s what happens when your games don’t get picked up by the national media because of their authenticity. Maybe we should have our cat design our next game, I’m sure some animated smudges and mouse organs will give it that level of artistry that our imitative works just lack.

Oh well. I’m not really complaining about the Kongregate thing, it’s great that the game got the attention that it did. Whatever some people may have to say about it, players are liking the game, and it’s players that I make my games for. Oh, and also wrote about it.

I really need to make the links more visible on this blog. And update the link list. And so much other stuff. But first I need to work on Catroidvania.

(If I’m grumpy, I blame my headache. And my headache is because of Captain America. A mediocre-to-bad movie turned into brain torture through the cunning use of 3D. But it did have Chris Evans in it, so we had to see it.)


  1. Regarding the RPS review: Well, even people with great taste can misunderstand something / dislike it. At least they do so in a comprehensible way which is always nice. On other news, the vast majority of comments I’ve read were most triumphant.


  2. James Patton

    I know how you feel about the RPS review. I respect their opinion so I was incredibly disappointed they didn’t like it; I can only imagine how you feel.

    But you’re right that expectations play a huge role in how we appreciate things. That ponycorns game that keeps getting mentioned was made by an eight-year-old, so people’s expectations were set to “extremely low but maybe cute”. If that same game had been made by Jackson Pollock, I would have been hostile towards it from the beginning (since I hate Pollock) and would have condemned it as ridiculous. Other people would have said it was the crowning artistic work of the 21st century, simply because it was made by Pollock.

    What annoys me the most is that the games currently scoring higher than tBoLM are so meaningless. Badge master is essentially an achievement sorting system for Kongregate, and while I don’t think achievements are totally pointless I’ve never seen the point because no truly worthwhile game would have them. If they made a “Brothers Karamazov” of games, one hopes there wouldn’t be a “Kill Fyodor Karamazov in less than six turns!” achievement: it would totally undermine the experience. And Biogems? It’s f***ing gem matching! GEM MATCHING. There are thousands of these pointless things on the internet. Clearly a lot of effort has gone into the graphics and music, but it’s still a game that centres around BEATING UP PEOPLE BY MATCHING GEMS.

    I just don’t understand how they can score higher than tBoLM. Okay, so it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it resonated with me on an emotional level to such an extent that I’ll never forget playing it. It has changed my life, if only in a small way, simply because its message spoke to me and gave me hope that not everything in the world has to be dull and meaningless.

    Sorry to be a bit down; I’m just so tired of tripe being lauded and making millions while the more meaningful and enriching things get ignored.

  3. aesir

    Hello, friend.
    I just came from via your link at the end of The Book of Living Magic. I was going to post my reaction on Kongregate, but after seeing the link to your blog I decided to come here and do so directly, instead.

    I was completely blown away. I am sorry a few lackluster reviews written by people for whom distractions by shiny objects is a major problem has caused you some grief. The game is a work of art. From the introduction until the credit screen I was completely immersed. I admit there were a few times when the text sprawls were a bit daunting, but the writing made every bit worth it. I painstakingly chased down every possible clickable icon, grinning at everything from “Kitten Kitten Kitten Kitten Kitten Kitten Kitten” to glow-in-the-dark eyeballs, groaning inwardly at the puns – and laughing outwardly at the poor eyeball who shared my taste! I was completely mesmerized by the goofy, poignant, surprising adventure that unfolded before me. Your creativity is beyond comparison. I enjoyed the way you would set a “trend” within a list of descriptions (e.g. describing the coloured tiles on the monkey’s stall as differently scented apples) then just I grew accustomed to that particular flavour of prose, you threw a red herring in just to make me smile. I did so, every time.

    I absolutely loved it. Again, I’m sorry a few unappreciative reviews got you down, but I hope that I have let you know today that some of us will stumble upon your art and appreciate it for what it is.

    I have bookmarked this blog, and will come back often. You, sir, have made a fan.

    If you have anything published, I would be interested in supporting you. I don’t own a kindle so I’m afraid I cannot purchase Verena’s novella just yet, but if there is another way I may support you, I would like to do so.

  4. Ian Stanway

    Chin up, lots and lots of people absolutely loved the game, me included, and made it as one of the best PC Gamer games this week.

    It’s a work of art and I am now going to go and play The Strange and Somewhat Sinister Tale of the House at Desert Bridge πŸ™‚


  5. It’s a difficult thing to persevere through “bad press” like this but the more of it you survive, the better you’re equipped for it in the future. (I have a similar toxic reaction to lack of traffic on Electron Dance, but it usually passes.)

    I am going to write about the indie developer mindset sometime before Christmas and this piece is a great springboard for it. Consider it a trackback in the making!

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