Kieron Gillen's workblog




An oddly anxious, insecure couple of days.

"Insecurity" isn't exactly the emotion which I'm generally tarred with, but beneath the chitinous carapace I'm as soft as everyone. Can't live like an arrow forever. Eventually, you hit something, the shaft falls to the floor and rolls around in the wind, to either rot or be picked up, polished up, and fired. And, of course, sometimes its efforts break it. But that hasn't happened yet, and I'm sincerely hoping it never does.

This is the sort of hope people would describe as "forlorn".

One is the Deus Ex: Invisible War demo, which has had such an overwhelming negative reaction that I feel as if I'm wondering if I was following the Digiworld model and being drunk on Gin when I've been playing preview code. My worry is that, with the game coming out in the US in a couple of week, I'm going to be hammering out a review relatively shortly. If I like it - and from what I've played, I can't imagine not - I'm going to end up feeling like King Canute arguing with the incessant hissing of the waves.

For those who aren't aware of my particular involvement with Deus Ex, it was pretty much an unknown game in the UK before I reviewed it in Gamer three years ago. Sure - it had recieved glowing previews, but it wasn't a sequel, by a Dev people really weren't sure about and had a name that sounded like "Day of Sex". My six page review in gamer is one of the most hyperbolic things I've ever written, and yet I wouldn't change a word (Except for the ones altered by an inexperienced freelance prod, which I'd change back to what they were originally, thankyouverymuch). It wasn't just a game with a very high mark - 95%. It was a game review that seems to have persuaded a load of people to give a damn about something they didn't even register before opening the magazine.

Or so I'm told, anyway.

The thing is I was writing in a vacuum. Only I knew about Deus Ex - how good it was and how it challenged everything that had been before. People were listening with no preconceptions, and played it with none bar what I provided them. Now, everyone has played the demo. A huge chunk actively despise it. And if I like it anyway...

Well, what if I'm wrong? If I'm not, how do you persuade someone with the evidence of their own eyes to act differently? Argue that "The Demo's shit, listen to me?"? While the Deus Ex review was a triumphant riot, this is going to end up feeling somewhat sour and small-mouthed. Would it be smarter to save some of the excess? Will people think going on how great I think it is overkill, and are more likely to respond to a carefully phrased piece or...

See, I'm second guessing, which is a killer. Or more than second guessing (Third? Fourth?), as I don't even know how good it is yet. No matter how it plays out, this is a review played out for huge stakes.

This isn't to say that the DX review wasn't risky. Giving a huge score to an unknown game is the riskiest thing you can do as a games journalist. First iterations, people tend to keep hold of their praise a little tighter, as they're not sure what they're meant to think. They rarely trust their own opinion that much. This is why sequels, often rarely related to their merits, score higher. A sequel proves that people like the game, so confirming whatever they know is a far less critically risky proposition than selling something that they don't.

But these are risks I'm pretty good at taking. Arguing against the whole world is... well... not appealing.

Since people ask, a few notes about the response to the demo. Firstly, whether you like it or not, it's a terrible representation of what makes DX interesting. A lot of the impressions based on it being "shallow" are based upon it being shown out of context rather than anything else. You are given a single set of abilities and left to play, rather than creating a character of your own. This makes - for example - hacking seem incredibly simple, when in actual fact you're in possession of a level 3 jack augmentation. This means that hacking is incredibly quick - as quick as it's possible for the game to be. Stealth is underplayed. In fact, combat complexity is underplayed due to the lack of weapon mods and similar - it certainly doesn't explain the single-reservoir ammunition well at all.

Bar that, the biggest problem is how much of the game they've given away in the demo. People have compared this sample of play directly to what was in the DX demo, and noted the latter was a sprawling epic and this is tiny and shit. They're not wrong. However this isn't because the game's play areas are smaller - but rather that they've given away less. The two interconnected maps in the DX:IW demo are out of the - If I'm counting correctly - twelve maps, arranged in the same style as DX1's Hong-Kong one. While DX1 essentially gave you about 80% of a level to explore, this gives you less than 1/6th. In terms of importance of play of the area in the game, it's of similar import to the first time you visit Pauls apartment in New York in DX1.

In fact, when I played through early code of it, I spent literally forty seconds in the hotel. I went in. I talked to the woman. I paid the bill. I left.

The demo's technical problems really doesn't help, as it's clearly a huge rush-job. Clearly, I still think we've got every reason to be optimistic about this. In some ways, I wish I wasn't. Saying a game's shit when it should be great is easy. Saying something is great when everyone thinks it's shit... well, that's one reason I'm losing sleep.

The second nagging insecurity on my list:

For those who are confused by the uncertain titling, it means "Graphic Novel". It's a big comic about Kurt Cobain's life and death. It is staggeringly bad in more ways that I can start to explain here. Rather than a documentary vibe, it takes a more artistic and impressionistic approach, having the Cobain himself narrate the story of his life from the moments before his death. It's clearly enamoured with the mythology of the man and... but oh my fuck, it's just embarassing for anyone whose love of Nirvana hasn't entirely overwhelmed a sense of propriety and its critical faculties. Stating the fucking obvious, Cobain would have despised this fauning nonsense. Both art and words are in a constant competition to who can succeed in creating the most cringe-worthy moment. I can't chose one. It's almost worth buying - seven quid in FOPP - just to read it yourself.

It's terrible. But, worse, it's also immensely disturbing, as it feels a little like the ghost of Christmas future.

As it's an awful lot like what PHONOGRAM could end up reading like, if McKelvie and myself fuck it up. I'm going to have to rely on every single friend I have to point out if we wander too close to its dread miasma. And even then...

I'm going to have to turn up the central heating. Maybe that will stop the shivers.

The other insecurities? None of your business, peeps. Be on your way.




Kieron Gillen's Workblog, foo'.