Controversy as Polytron director Phil Fish publicly ridicules modern Japanese developers
Phil Fish, the indie games designer who broke onto the scene with his unpublished platformer Fez, today sparked anger by publicly deriding the work of Japanese games developers in front of a packed audience at GDC.
Following a GDC screening of Indie Game The Movie – a documentary about games design that Fish heavily features in – the Canadian Polytron developer took part in a Q&A discussion with the audience.
A standing ovation for the movie itself set the tone for an open and positive discussion about indie games with the audience, yet when an unknown Japanese developer took to the mic to ask a question, the mood visibly turned.
The Japanese developer praised the movie and said he was pleased to see how many independent developers had been inspired by games such as Super Mario Bros and Zelda since their childhood.
But when he asked what the panel thought of modern Japanese video games, Phil Fish (pictured) immediately replied “your games just suck” – a comment that sparked an audible reaction from the crowd, though some were cheering.
Others looked on awkwardly as the Japanese developer was then subjected to a string criticisms about game design flaws in his native country. The developer nevertheless thanked the panel for their response and returned to his seat.
After the Q&A many attendees were heard to be privately criticising Fish’s comments, though some went public with their complaints.
Developer and filmmaker Zack Guido tweeted Fish the message: “It's shameful to sit on a panel discussing an inspiring heart-felt film and then arrogantly disrespect someone's culture”.
Miami University student Ben Sironko said that Jonathan Blow, who also discussed the drawbacks of modern Japanese games, was “way more constructive” with his feedback.
Pietro Righi Riva of Milan-based game design studio Santa Ragione, said “the answer to the Japanese scene question at the GDC screening of Indie Game The Movie was a bit unfair and brutal, there were more things to say”.
It appears that, at the time of writing, none of the developers in attendance have defended Fish’s comments on Twitter.
Before his controversial comment, Fish had been answering various questions for about twenty minutes and had built a strong rapport with the audience, perhaps to the extent that he had let his guard down and was speaking without foresight. He had been applauded by audience members before and after he launched into his criticism of Japanese developers.
The Japan games industry – which to many is the spiritual home of the modern games – has in recent years become the subject of criticisms both from overseas and domestically.
Infamous ex-Capcom producer Keiji Inafune surprised onlookers at TGS in September 2009 with a damning appraisal of the nation’s development sector.
After perusing the games line-up on the TGS showfloor, Inafune lamented the lack of high-profile Japanese titles and progress the sector was making as a whole.
“Personally when I looked around [at] all the different games at the TGS floor I said ‘Man, Japan is over,’” he said.
“We're done. Our game industry is finished.”
The infamous quote caused many across the global games industry to re-evaluate the value of Japan’s contribution to the medium.
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