Phil Fish canceled Fez II this weekend and walked away from game development. In an open letter posted to his personal Tumblr account, Cliff Bleszinski implores the young designer to return.
After a heated debate with Marcus “AnnoyedGamer” Beer on Twitter this weekend, Fez creator Phil Fish threw his hands up and, by all accounts, walked away from development on Fez II. Now, out of respect to both parties—who, quite frankly, I feel are both at fault, each in their own way—I’m not going to bother explaining what, exactly, went down this weekend. Plenty of other outlets covered it, it was conducted over a public forum. Anything I write will be filtered, both subconsciously and actively, through my personal interpretation and feelings on the matter.
Just know that as it stands, Fez II has been canceled, and Phil Fish has effectively quit life as an indie developer. As for why EGM didn’t immediately cover the news? Honestly, I didn’t know how to approach it. Didn’t want to take sides. I also wanted to give Fish a day or two to cool off and maybe resurface, reveal that he’s changed his mind. I’m no stranger to fits of rage-quit myself.
Now, that said, Mr. Fish is not without his supports—one of whom is game designer Cliff Bleszinski of Unreal Tournament and Gears of War fame. The former Epic bigwig posted the following open letter on his personal Tumblr account:
We’ve hung out a few times and enjoyed some beverages and rather animated conversations together. I don’t know you that well outside of those interactions. I found Fez to be refreshing in a chic retro way (you were doing that style before many others, which is a tiny bit hipster, sorry!) and the fact that you were so much of the project reminds me of myself in the Jazz Jackrabbit era. Waking up every day (or in some instances, the early afternoon) to sit right back down and stare at that PC as you paint your own mystery, pixel by pixel, line of code after line of code can wear you down. Not to mention the sheer magnitude of legal bullshit involved in running your own legitimate business as well as whatever the heck was going on with your old partner in Indie Game: The Movie.
I also know that, when it comes to any form of journalism, be it a profile piece or a reality TV show or documentary the viewer or consumer only sees what the author wants them to see, through their often very skewed lens. I’ve said before that I identified with your frustration at PAX showing off your baby for the first time. That pressure is only amplified when Pajot and crew are sticking a camera in your face. Any grown person might act strange under that pressure.
Right before the Beer-Twitter explosion I saw that you acquired your Oculus Rift and your tweets about it were extremely exciting. I could only imagine what talented, nutty Phil would craft for a device that I believe in so much that I put my own fucking money into it. (There’s your disclaimer.) I’d like to think that I know a good thing when I see it in life.
Read this fantastic article on Giant Bomb on your situation and the internet in general. I personally have been called every name in the book. Even back in, what, 1999 when I made a website about scanning cats on a flatbed scanner (look it up, folks, I exploited cats online before it was cool!) I got hate mail that was insane. Someone telling me that I should have “died in a gas chamber” (assuming my last name is of Polish/Jewish heritage; only half right.)
My first time being flamed online happened when I was 15 on a BBS the summer my father died suddenly from heart issues. I was learning how to code and I wrote a simple screen saver; one of those dancing multi colored lines programs. I released it to a BBS and someone anonymously posted “Your dead father could have coded something better.” I was furious, hurt, and I replied with an implied death threat. The website called my house and I got in trouble for the comment, but the damage was done. I went back to mowing my neighbor’s two acre lawn with his shitty push mower for ten bucks and Bionic Commando. 😉
My skin started to thicken, as did my resolve to do something with my life.
Never underestimate the intestinal fortitude of the anonymous loser hiding behind a monitor and his or her ability to sling vitriol at someone who willingly puts themselves out there. The fact of the matter, Phil, is that you were trending worldwide on Twitter. How many game developers can say that? Does no one realize that while you may seem somewhat unstable at times you also have Andy Kaufman as your Twitter AVI? (Kids, google Andy, and suddenly Phil might just make more sense to you. Or watch “Man On The Moon.”)
Never forget that the internet can be a fantastic thing, but it can also be fantastically dumb. Reddit is a wonderful community for finding out funny memes or random facts until they falsely accuse someone of being the Boston Bomber or go out of their way to protect the r/creepshots loser. And never forget that the Internet can be one big game of telephone amplified by anonymous myopic monkeys jamming on keyboards who are so angry about their meatball sandwich.
(How do you think I feel when my wife reads a tweet to her that says “come sit on my face” or “you are a bitch”?)
Someone on Twitter asked me how to deal with haters. I have some experience on the subject for well over 20 years now. Blow says you can’t ignore it because by the time you’ve read the words it’s too late. The key with the idiots is to outwit them because the idiot uses hate (and poor spelling/grammar) because the idiot does not know how to be witty. Watch what people like Ricky Gervais and Patton Oswalt do on Twitter. Heck, like him or not, even Piers Morgan is pretty good at fending them off.
Every idiot that you outwit wins you five times the fans and that much more respect.
The other key is to absorb all of that hate into one big fireball of motivation inside of your belly and then pour all of that energy into your work until you can unleash one big giant motherfucking HADOKEN upon the community that wins awards and sells millions and then the haters will truly be eating a giant bushel of dicks as you roll in a pile of money, acclaim, and community love.
You don’t owe a damned thing to any gaming journalist. We’ve seen the rise of many “Rush Limbaughs” in the gaming industry, people who do videos or podcasts digging a finger into an open wound that gets the gaming community going because, hits. You DO owe a great product to your community, something I hope you’ll resume doing some time in the near future. The industry needs people like you to speak with their hearts before their brains because I’m tired of hearing the PR approved appropriate response. I’m tired of games that feel like they’ve been developed by focus groups or clueless executives going “Hey that Call of Duty is big, we need one of those!”
Besides, at the end of the day, that cycle of community feedback and crafting that big fireball is entirely too addictive.
Come back, Phil. We miss you already. Maybe I’ll be right behind you, returning with Adamantium skin.