Talking With TotalBiscuit: A MomoCon 2016 Recap
Famous video game commentator and critic, TotalBiscuit, The Cynical Brit spoke on Friday at MomoCon 2016. Despite his ongoing battle with cancer, he seemed energetic and full of his trademark wit and cynicism.
Video game music
TotalBiscuit started off by talking about music -- specifically, video game music. He’s currently obsessed with the DOOM 2016 soundtrack. As TotalBiscuit fans know, he’s a big metalhead. What he really enjoyed about the 2016 soundtrack is that the composer, Mick Gordon, “took the older DOOM music and down-tuned it,” keeping in tune with the nostalgia of the original DOOM while giving it an upgrade.
TotalBiscuit also has some opinions about chiptune music (of course). With retro gaming and retro-style indies having become so popular, chiptune music and songs incorporating the style are finding their way into more and more of our playlists. He has been listening to a lot of Undertale remixes. “Undertale is a cultural phenomenon,” he said of the title.
For him, the important thing about a game’s music is that it fits the overall style of the game. Another title he referenced was Shovel Knight, which is “an example of chiptune music fitting in with Nintendo.”
Honesty and popularity
TotalBiscuit is known for being brutally honest in his video game critiques. When asked whether it was harder to be honest with indie titles, he responded that:
“...videos can have a huge impact on indies, especially PC. Devs can be grateful. It’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘we’re here to help them out.’”
TotalBiscuit has had developers send him gifts as gratitude for a positive review (he refuses them). He asserted that he keeps developers at arms’ length, or at least has a “barrier.” While it’s tempting to become friends with indie devs, TotalBiscuit reminds us not to fall into a “biased situation” when reviewing these games.
As YouTube personalities like TotalBiscuit often receive review copies of games for free, he says there's “there’s a huge difference in what is ‘good value’ to [other people] and what is ‘good value’ to [him].” Partly because of this, he cautioned, people may not share your opinion of a game.
When watching or reading video game reviews, it can be hard to distinguish where marketing starts and stops. Sometimes game companies will pay YouTube personalities to review their game, and there can be a moral gray area about your public opinion when money is involved.
Those who are familiar with TotalBiscuit know that he is a strong supporter of consumer protection. Since he receives free review copies and communicates with devs, TotalBiscuit said that he “errs on the side of disclosing more” about his relationships with developers because he doesn’t want anything to backfire on him. Each of his promotional videos has a prominent disclosure screen so that his viewers are aware of any such details. He says “users should hold companies to their standards” with regards to video game companies’ promotional activities.
Indie reviews vs AAA reviews
When asked is he is ever nicer to indies than other game developers, TotalBiscuit said that he “tries not to be.” If an indie title is bad, he asks:
“Bad compared to what? There’s a big difference between a truly awful indie game and a truly awful AAA. It’s hard to be super bad as a AAA because you have hundreds of competent people working on it versus one guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
“You have to take into account the overall intent of the person who created the art.”
As far as critiquing graphics, TotalBiscuit discussed the merits of artistic expression in video games. Crysis, for example, was showcasing ultra-realistic graphics and physics. Shovel Knight, on the other hand, is a retro platformer meant to look like something you would have played on the SNES.
“You have to take into account the overall intent of the person who created the art.”
The state of virtual reality: Expensive motion sickness
“How many of you have vomited as a direct result of using VR?”
More than a few people in the audience raised their hands.
“You can’t directly translate a game to VR,” TotalBiscuit said:
“There’s an issue with motion sickness and VR. The traditional ways of making games don’t work anymore -- you have to take VR into account. There are huge technological hurdles.”
There are a few genres that TotalBiscuit believes work well with VR as it stands, like racing and Euro Truck Simulator. The VR games that “just take you on a ride” are also a good application of the current technology. In most other genres, VR is a “gimmick.” In his opinion, most of the games currently available for the Vive are “just a cool demonstration of what the technology can do.”
“We’re still in the early adopter phase,” TotalBiscuit said. “It will either be successful or it will become another Kinect.” He continued to list some of the difficulties with VR, including ease of use. We’ve all seen the videos of VR gamers running into walls or falling over. Having a safe room to play VR games in is often necessary. “If you have to put a lot of effort into setting up a virtual reality gaming experience, most people won’t bother.”
Overall, motion sickness seems to be his chief complaint about current VR technology, saying that the camera movements still “aren’t right.”
TotalBiscuit’s worst VR experience
The Samsung Gear VR contributed to what TotalBiscuit claims is his worse VR experience. “You stick your phone in a box on your face and it looks ridiculous. It’s great.” The problem arose when he used the Gear VR on a plane trip.
“It was the one with the sharks in it. [Ocean] Rift? I thought it would be relaxing. As you get deeper, it gets terrifying. All the sudden there’s a giant shark in your face...We hit turbulence. Awful, awful idea.”
TotalBiscuit, the developer?
Has TotalBiscuit ever considered going into video game development? “Yes, a couple times.” He has definitely considered game development during downtime and “especially during [cancer] treatments.” However, good he may be as a commentator or critic, he is “utterly hopeless” with programming.
When he was just a young biscuit, TotalBiscuit learned Visual Basic. The most complex thing he claims to have made was a quiz game in which he accidentally misspelled the answers in the code. In order to win the game, you’d have to misspell the answers the same way he had misspelled them in the code.
“It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you know how to design a game just because you’ve critiqued them. I have great respect for developers. It is utterly unfair to tear them apart because they’ve spent so much time and have such skill.”
Despite this statement, TotalBiscuit said that he would love to develop a game, but that he doesn’t have the knowledge, time, or skills to do so.
What makes a game fun?
Many factors go into making a game enjoyable, unique, and addictive. Games attempt to add gimmicks such as crafting, homes or pets to spice things up. If the gameplay itself is lacking though, playing can quickly become a chore.
“A game must have an enjoyable game core loop,” said TotalBiscuit. “What you regularly do in the game must be enjoyable.”
When you strip away all extraneous aspects of a game like cutscenes, voice acting and soundtrack, you’re left with the game mechanics. “You must enjoy the core of what the game’s asking you to do...running and jumping in Super Mario is never gonna get old.”
Never gonna give you up
There are certain games that every gamer just keeps coming back to. As someone who plays a ton of games, TotalBiscuit claims to get bored of games "surprisingly easily." Nonetheless, he gravitates towards multiplayer games like Dota 2, CS:GO, StarCraft II and HearthStone, saying that the games he has "spent the most time on have all been multiplayer-only games."
This is surprising to hear, given that many gamers are reluctant to spend money on multiplayer-only titles. TotalBiscuit's reasoning is that in these multiplayer games, the player gets a unique experience with every match:
"You're always going to come out of that with something unique that's never happened before and will never happen again."
Once again, he referenced the core or essence of gaming as a reason for enjoying this particular type of game:
"Gaming down to the very core is competition. You're competing against other players. You're competing against what the programmer has made for you. Competition in itself can be a story."
What is TotalBiscuit's guilty pleasure game?
Clash Royale -- from the same studio that brought you Clash of Clans. This is what you'll find TotalBiscuit tapping away at in his spare time.
"Most core gamers will turn around and stick their noses up at Clash of Clans while secretly playing Clash of Clans."
He had no qualms about listing off another past mobile vice, Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes. Mobile gaming definitely has a certain stigma of being "shameless cash vampires...The only purpose that they serve is to get as much money out of kids and bored housewives as humanly possible and they do a great job."
Another guilty pleasure? "Hearthstone. Always Hearthstone." On the other hand, TotalBiscuit also buys Call of Duty every year. With such a large and loyal player base, gamers have to "get a kick out of it...And then people get better than you and then you get sick of it and you leave."
We must fix discussion online
Come to the table thinking that...an exchange of views, even if you don't agree with them, is going to be a positive experience
Referencing one of his more popular videos, "5 Words I'd Like to See Retired from Game Discussion," the moderator asked TotalBiscuit if he'd like to add any additional words or phrases to this list. While there were two new additions ("reskin" because it contributes to the propagation of "shallow discussion" in gaming and "problematic" because it's a vague, overused word that is "poisonous to discussion"), the heart of the issue is that online discussions are flawed.
There needs to be a fundamental change in the way we approach online discussion in general, not just in gaming:
"Approach discussion online...from a position of good faith...Maybe the person on the other end of the discussion isn't a horrible monster, and isn't an awful human being, and is not someone you need to demonize or treat as an enemy. Maybe come to the table thinking that...an exchange of views, even if you don't agree with them, is going to be a positive experience for both people and maybe you're going to come out of it having learned something."
TotalBiscuit orders you to think for yourself
"If you had to order one thing for your cynical army to do, what would it be?" asked the moderator.
"Don't be my cynical army," said TotalBiscuit.
We're all aware that people can garner fame quickly and widely online, becoming YouTube stars virtually overnight. With this fame comes unexpected power (and great responsibility). According to TotalBiscuit:
"The idea that there would be a fandom that would refer to themselves as an army is inherently quite a dangerous thing."
This type of behavior encourages mob mentality. Online personalities can rally their fans to action, whether or not they do so on purpose. By treating someone as an idol, you give them "an awful lot of power over you...don't let yourself be defined by somebody else."
Wise words from The Cynical Brit. Hopefully he'll continue to dish out honest commentary and words to remember for years to come.
Overall, TotalBiscuit was as wittily informative as I hoped he’d be. Did you learn anything new from his MomoCon 2016 talk?