Gaming News: The Chinese Room Responds To Criticism – Jump-Scares, Fabrications and Generalisations

Written by Callum Shephard Thursday, 17 October 2013

Gaming News

Whenever a major franchise changes hands between developers, it is always a source of concern for any fandom. Views might change, approaches might differ and the dreaded statement of approaching a “Wider audience” sometimes involving the words “Call of Duty” might be uttered. For fans of the hit horror title Amnesia, this came in the form of its sequel by The Chinese Room. A divisive developer, they have been praised and criticised alike for building atmosphere but, to quote developer Jessica Curry “Mechanics will never be our core focus.”

This might sound like a film producer claiming that visual appearance will never be a priority, and indeed Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs was streamlined to the point of completely removing many interactive mechanics. Some critics emphasised upon the lack of sanity meter, inventory management and non-linearity, which had made the first game so frightening and risky to play. Not to mention enemies who would not follow beyond very limited areas. While the game did indeed have a much improved art direction, tighter story and excellent voice acting, some players of the previous still heavily criticised many changes. Representatives of The Chinese Room, Dan Pinchbeck and Jessica Curry, have now responded to these critics in an article on The Guardian, but not quite with the answers people wanted.

One of the foremost statements quoted by the article was by Pinchbeck who claimed that We wanted to make a horror game, there was a distinction in our mind between making a horror game and making a game with jump scares in it.” This follows a paragraph citing how the sequel “departs from the idea of jump scares and shock,” and lists it as a major reason for the rift between the audiences. Along with appearing to deride the choices of the original title, Amnesia: The Dark Descent was never praised for its use of jump scares. While popularised by YouTube scare-cam videos, critics constantly praised the title’s use of atmosphere and building up a sense of dread, not monsters leaping out of doorways at the player. As such the idea that the lack of jump-scares within the title somehow separates it from The Dark Descent is ultimately false.

Pinchbeck placed emphasis upon the YouTube angle, further stating that “People that might think that Amnesia's about Let's Plays and jump scares absolutely hate it” and furthermore that “I'm happy to sit with the game fans as opposed to the Let's Play fans.” Effectively cementing the appearance they felt that much of the opposition and criticism towards their changes was coming from YouTubers rather than actual fans that appreciated what the original offered.  This was not helped when the statement concluded with an open pot-shot at those who made videos about the game: if we had wanted to make something that's incredibly Let's Play friendly, then we wouldn't have made the game that we made, because we would have made fairly bland corridors, and a shit ton of jump scares."

When the subject moved onto the mechanics involved, the developers defended their removal by trying to emphasise how A Machine For Pigs built upon emotions rather than mechanics. The first half an hour of gameplay was specifically stated to be not informing the player of the mechanics involved but “teaching you the emotional way of playing the game.” This was contrasted with the likes of Fable and Assassin’s Creed, which were listed as being “two-hour learning curve(s).” At no point however was it mentioned that The Dark Descent was easily capable of building the same atmosphere and teaching the player the mechanics vital to going through the game, yet never had the latter diminished the former. Nor did the developers at any point outright state, word for word, that the changes made were ultimately an improvement or natural progression of what had come before.

Besides claiming that gaming audiences’ negative receptions of The Chinese Room’s previous title was due to “ignoring their actual personal response to the mechanics of it, more interested in classifying it than they were playing it” the interview concluded with a fabricated quote. John Bain, also known as Totalbiscuit was someone who criticised Dear Esther over its lack of interactivity or any real engagement video games are identified with. This resulted in Pinchbeck making the claim that "We've destroyed the games industry according to Total Biscuit," a statement which the commentator never made. Bain responded stating as such in a following podcast: “Get rid of the space and I’m fine with the quote being there, though it’s unequivocally false.”

The article does give insight into the mentality behind developers of The Chinese Room and their approach to games. However, it shows their unfortunate responses to criticism and those that deride the choices they make. The opening comment to that article alone criticises how the developers generalise those who dislike their games into specific, somewhat negative, audiences. How well this will reflect upon them in the future remains to be seen.

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