Earlier this week, game designer Phil Fish (above), best known for Fez, set off a firestorm. During a Q&A after documentary Indie Games: The Movie, a Japanese game designer asked Fish what he thought of modern Japanese games. Fish gave his honest opinion—rather bluntly. "Your games just suck," Fish infamously said.
But who was that game designer? How did he feel after being told Japanese games "just suck"?
Earlier today, Japanese website IT Media ran a piece on the developer who asked the question. His name is Makoto Goto, a Tokyo-based game programmer and designer. This was his first Games Developer Conference, and he paid his own way from Tokyo. It was also his first trip abroad by himself.
While watching Indie Games: The Movie, Goto noted how Fish and the other indie game makers seemed influenced by Japanese retro games—something that made him proud. During the Q&A after the documentary, he asked the panel what they thought of Japanese games today.
After Fish's answer, people in the screening room snickered, laughed or let out exclamations of surprise or shock. They all understood what Fish had said—what Fish meant. Goto, however, did not.
Watching an entire movie in another language, without subtitles, is no easy task. Japanese people study English in school, but listening comprehension is notoriously difficult for them. Goto obviously has a good grasp of spoken English.
Moreover, he also seems confident to use his English. Many Japanese people can speak pretty good English, but they are often reluctant to use it, worrying that their pronunciation is bad or that they'll make mistakes. Standing up in an auditorium and speaking in front of a crowd of people is nerve-wracking for some—it's nerve racking for me. It becomes even more so when you're speaking in a language that's not your own.
Goto didn't know what Fish meant by "suck". It's slang and not taught in schools or textbooks. Rather, he gathered what it meant by the reaction it caused and the way the mood in the room changed. He, as they say in Japanese, "read the air". Goto was taken aback.
With everyone looking at him, Goto said, "I broke out into an uncomfortable sweat." That night, Goto couldn't sleep, turning over the question over and over again in his mind. Goto seemed worried that he didn't understand.
Fish's comment, as previously detailed on Kotaku, blew up. Japanese forums and blogs were buzzing with the young game designer's remarks. Many Japanese gamers were understandably angered. Yet Goto, the person at the center of this hurricane, showed himself to be levelheaded.