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The maker controversy

First of all I want to clarify that in this post I’m focusing on 8-bit games, but you can find similar controversies and attitudes around makers in any gamedev market (see Game Maker Studio or Unity, for example).

It is a bit unfortunate that there is a lot of gatekeeping in the retro-community, and it has many forms: people that advocate using only the real hardware –dismissing those aficionados that use emulators, or even FPGAs–, what type of screen you must use (CRTs vs anything else), games must push the machines to their limits –if the game is fun or not, who cares?–, or that true gamedevs use ASM. Without being an excuse, I understand that this is a hobby and people are passionate and intense about it. And the gatekeepers are extremely loud!

As you can see, I’m also biased –everybody is, as long as you have an opinion–. Perhaps I’m in the let people enjoy things camp, which I hope can’t be considered gatekeeping.

One of the recurrent topics in all these discussions is how games made with makers –tools or frameworks that help you to make games, for example AGD or The Mojon Twins’ MKs–, are looked down as less quality games.

And it is true that you can find games that aren’t great, but that’s not necessarily because the way they are made, but because other reasons. It could be because the author didn’t use an original idea, or didn’t know how to use the tools, or directly because they reused too much from the basics that the tools offer, resulting in a game that it too similar to other games made with that tool. It could be as well that you don’t like the game.

However, in my opinion, that doesn’t mean it is because the tools –although they may have limitations, like any game engine, like I do have my own limitations as programmer because of time, interests or skills–. When you are playing a game and you are having fun (or not) you can’t say that is is because the tools that were used to make it, and that’s because those tools allow a wide range of results, all depending on the author’s skills using it.

Sure, you can have a flickering mess than moves slowly on the screen and ruins any chance of enjoyment, but the truth is that those cases are very unlikely because these makers tend to have a more than acceptable technical level –although I’m sure any tool, doesn’t matter how good it is, can deliver terrible results in the wrong hands–.

We got to the point where a very atmospheric game such as Nosy for the ZX Spectrum gets a good score on Crash Micro Action #2 (90%, with a Crash Smash!), and people complain and argue that the score is too high because the game was made with a maker. Apparently there are even people saying that any game made with a maker should have a 20% penalty, under the argument that it is unfair to compare this game –again, made with a maker– with masterpieces such as Aliens: Neoplasma.

(Edit 2021-06-09 19:00:00 BST: I’m referring to what I’ve been told, despite the original post not saying exactly that. The complaint was about the score and the Crash Smash, and the fact that the game was made with the MK1 engine was used to support the opinion that it is an average game. The post suggested that the score should be reduced by a 20% in all categories, and not that all games made with makers should score less. That was the origin of the controversy around Nosy, and it adds to the usual criticism of makers –and the community drama–. The post in question can be read in FB’s Crash Annual and Magazine public group)

We are living a new golden age for the 8-bit microcomputers. Despite being past their time, we keep getting new games, that are made by people putting a lot of love on them. And because people do things for love –most of these games a free as well–, you have games targeting the ZX Spectrum 48K, ZX Spectrum 128K, ZX Spectrum Next –I can hear gatekeepers screaming “that’s not a Spectrum!”–, or even games that use modern hardware add-ons such as Dandanator cartridges. All at the same time, with some people stuck in 1985, others in 1990, and some others living in the future! How can you compare all those games in different time-lines?

I don’t feel like deciding here how Crash reviews should be written, even if I have an opinion and not always agree with the reviews –which, by the way, is just another opinion–. I’m just happy that they exist, and the same goes with all those makers and people making games with them. Please, don’t stop!

I wish we could have a bit less gatekeeping, so everybody was welcome no matter how they want to enjoy this hobby. We can all help, by politely asking to those shouting to be a bit quieter.

Would you like to discuss the post? You can send me an email!