That Video of that Journalist Failing at Cuphead

Watch the first minute and a half of this. Have a laugh! It’s okay to laugh! It’s pretty painful to watch. You’re getting a glimpse into how it feels to be a game designer watching playtesters.

So we all on the same page? Alright. So there has been a lot of discussion about this video online and I’ve been spouting off thoughts on twitter and I feel like I have enough to put them all down in one place. First, the boring one for me.

Don’t Games Journalists need to be Good at Games?

No. Absolutely not. “But if someone was bad at understanding movies or only watched kids movies, would you want them to review stuff?” Not the same thing. It’d be like saying only people who played in the NFL could comment on and critique NFL play. Which some people say, but most people agree is stupid. Knowledge and expertise do not necessarily imply skill. Also the consumer of game reviews are not necessarily great videogame players. For the average gamer, the opinion of an expert is just as far from their perspective as a poor player. Even with levels of play THIS poor, it’s important to remember that Platformer skill is a niche skill these days and nothing I’ve heard indicated that the player wrote a review or anything based off this. A journalist was just bad at a game. If you made me say, play a moba or a console FPS, I’d look like a jackass too, probably. Maybe not as much of one, but still. Maybe you don’t want someone who’s bad at a genre to review a genre (unless that’s the point of the review) but that isn’t the discussion people are having.

Not only is it okay, it’s BENEFICIAL. If every reviewer was good at games, whole areas of concern and accessibility would go completely unaddressed. More voices give more variety and more insight. You can argue about how those voices are used or w/e but they should absolutely exist. It’d be like saying ‘only great players should test games’ which is obviously absurd.

On Testing, and on the Game Design Perspective

So while everyone on twitter was burying this guy for being awful, pretty much every game designer I knew who was talking about it was like “okay but how do we make the TUTORIAL better???”. A lot of non-devs were like “WTH???” because to them it was like “Look this guy is CLEARLY bad and clueless it’s not the game’s fault.”

First things first. Even a complete knucklehead can teach you about your game. Bad players can teach you TONS of stuff. You might be like “Well why fix something to help people through who won’t be good at the game anyways?” because yeah, perhaps this guy wouldn’t be able to get far. But improving things like how the tutorial works improves things in little nice ways for everyone.

So what’s wrong with this tutorial?

It’s mixing elements really quickly. You have a dash you haven’t been asked to use yet and you have to jump, dash, and do so off a rock that isn’t a part of this  section but is an obstacle for the last. Also you gotta do this pretty strictly at the peak of your jump. Some people made fun of him dashing into the pillar over and over again but in tons of games that’s actually WHAT YOU DO. Dash into things to break them!

Now most experienced players can figure this out, but if you can make things nice and clean… if it doesn’t take that much more effort, why -wouldn’t- you do it? Some people protested like “Well, it’s not fair to make devs compromise their creative vision for bad players!” Lets ignore the fact that, like I said, most devs were already all about how to make this better, who’s CREATIVE VISION involves a really quick tutorial segment? “JUMPING OFF THE ROCK IS FOUNDATIONAL TO THE MESSAGE OF THE GAME!” I’ll just tell you right now, I don’t know the Cuphead guys and I don’t know if it’ll be different in the final version, but I can tell you it’s not an important part of their vision. But what if it was?

Working on BEP I used to have real old school castlevania jumps. No air control at all. But then I had some friends test it who aren’t that great a platformers. One of them I saw struggling to jump up on things. They’d neutral jump and then try and press forward to get on platforms. And they’d do this over and over again. Pressing forward and jump at the same time from a stand still didn’t come naturally to some players. Walking to and jumping over a pit, sure no problem, but it screwed up their vertical platforming.

Obviously I didn’t want to compromise my vision for my own game but sometimes you gotta ask yourself “What IS your vision?” Was my vision “No jump control?” No. but I definitely wanted a jump that had weight and commitment behind it. I didn’t want the player to be nimble in the air. I wanted a slow, deliberate game. So I built up a jump to fit my needs. I gave the player a strong neutral jump — one where they could change to a forward or a backward jump arc at any time. Which was fun for dealing with projectiles. Then then for the normal jumps, I gave the ability to slow down or speed up a little. Jumps felt like braking while driving a heavy truck. The jump had character, but also fit my goals and ALSO fixed a lot of problems players had. So did I compromise my vision? No, I got a clearer understanding of my vision and executed it. Those changes also allowed for more challenging gameplay in later parts of the game so changing things for accessibility strengthened my vision and benefitted hardcore players in the end.