First Came The Interview For This Unusual Wii U Indie Game, Then Came The Drama

This morning, I saw someone tweet an article called "Gaming Journalism versus Nintendo." Catchy enough headline. I had to check that one out. The article, written for the website Not Enough Shaders by a writer named Emily Rogers, levied a number of accusations at a large gaming website that was not named.

The article has since been taken down, but the folks at NeoGAF have saved the copy and you can read it in its entirety here.

According to Rogers, an indie game studio named AckkStudios took an interview with a large gaming website the week after Hurricane Sandy.

"Hey wait a minute," I thought to myself. "I work for a large gaming website. And I interviewed an indie game studio named AckkStudios the week after Hurricane Sandy."

According to Rogers, the folks at AckkStudios were upset that the interview had not yet been posted on that large gaming website. Rogers wrote that AckkStudios thought the interviewer only wanted to talk about how Nintendo mistreats indie game developers, and when AckkStudios wouldn't comply, the large gaming website decided not to post the article.

"That's not really how my interview with those folks went," I thought, "but my interview still isn't live. November has been so busy, and I haven't had a chance to transcribe it yet. Is she really talking about me?"

Then Rogers started getting more specific. "For the record, I'm NOT talking about IGN, GameSpot, Eurogamer, or Destructoid," she wrote. "The site I'm speaking of is just as well known as those sites though."

OK. That certainly narrowed it down. Rogers continued: "The irony is that the top guy behind this site has been regularly defending gaming journalism when his site has been the biggest contributor in manufacturing click-bait controversy." Could this have been a reference to our editor Stephen Totilo's recent story about game journalism?

"For the big site I am referring to, it has quite a negative reputation from Nintendo fans," she wrote. "Some gamers have made past claims that this site has an agenda against Nintendo, and I never believed it. I just assumed that Nintendo fans were being way too sensitive and defensive about any criticism against Nintendo. But now I'm starting to think there might be some kind of an agenda from this site."

While I certainly don't think Kotaku has an agenda against Nintendo, I've heard complaints like that before. This didn't seem like a coincidence. So a few hours after the article went live, I sent an e-mail to the folks at AckkStudios expressing my disappointment and explaining why my interview with them had yet to be published. They responded with an apology, and denied that the article was about us — "You guys were great in your interview, and we really enjoyed doing it," AckkStudios co-founder Brian Allanson told me. — making the whole situation even more confusing.

I also posted on the NeoGAF message board to explain my side of the story. Shortly after this, Rogers pulled her article from the web. She tweeted that she should not have written it. She also deleted several tweets referring to what had happened:

Rogers continued to deny that the article was about Kotaku, although I couldn't shake the feeling that it was. So I sent her an email asking if she'd hop on the phone — she said no, and she wouldn't comment on the record for this story — and I re-listened to the audio recording of my interview with AckkStudios. It certainly didn't seem leading. In the 37-minute conversation, we spent maybe two minutes talking about Nintendo's policies, and the talk never turned negative. I thought their game was very interesting, and I told them as much during our conversation.

So I gave AckkStudios another call to clear things up. Speaking to me on the phone this afternoon, Andrew Allanson, Brian's brother and co-founder of the company, told me he thinks Rogers' article was a series of miscommunications and incorrect facts. He said he did indeed think Rogers was talking about Kotaku, as AckkStudios had not had any other interviews with large gaming websites. He said they spoke to several European magazines and websites, and that they had received a call from someone who claimed to be from IGN (and said he would call them back later, but never did), but he couldn't recall any other recent interviews.

Allanson added that they had talked to Rogers about their interview with me, but he said they hadn't told her anything that she had written — "I had no idea she was writing an article about this," he said — and he said he asked Rogers to take the article down.

"She did exactly what she was accusing other people of doing... She is probably linking a lot of unrelated things," he said. "It's just bad journalism."

Rogers would not speak on the record for this story, although she has said on Twitter that she "removed the article to prevent any politics for the studio."

Rogers also has some history with AckkStudios — according to the Allansons, she helped facilitate their relationship with Nintendo by writing an article about their game, Two Brothers. "Within maybe three days of the article being up, we were contacted by Emily, who said she was in touch with someone at Nintendo of America and they wanted to put us in touch with a representative," Andrew Allanson told me in our initial phone interview three weeks ago. "Within maybe two weeks of getting in touch with Nintendo, they gave us the go-ahead to start developing for the eShop."

It's a messy situation, and I don't know exactly what conversations have gone down between Rogers and the folks at AckkStudios over the past few weeks, although it has become clear both to me and Andrew Allanson that the negative article was indeed about Kotaku.

It's too bad. Their game sounds really interesting.

Two Bros

Some games tangled in controversy are not worthy of attention. This one certainly seems to be. Two Brothers, a game developed by the two brothers Brian and Andrew Allanson, looks and sounds fascinating.

The Allansons first started working on the game in January of 2010 as something of a hobby in addition to their full-time jobs — Brian is an artist for iOS apps, and Andrew composes music for films, concerts, and games — and eventually decided that it might just be good enough to release.

"On the weekends, Brian will work literally from 8'o'clock in the morning until... 3'o'clock in the morning," Andrew said when we all spoke three weeks ago. "It's only gotten crazier since we started working on it. I don't think we ever entirely intended on finishing it until it eventually kind of proved to be something we wanted to make. So Brian has put in a lot of time into it on the side. We eventually realised it had something, it had some potential to it."

"The sort of stereotype of Nintendo being difficult to work with as an indie developer... I feel like they're trying to fight against it."

Earlier in the year, they launched a Kickstarter for Two Brothers. It earned just over $US16,000 in funding, selling itself as an old-school action-RPG designed to appeal to your nostalgia-loving soul. On first glance Two Brothers looks straight out of a Game Boy colour, and the brothers say that's intentional. colour plays a large part in the game, which the Allansons say was inspired by the likes of Secret of Mana and Link's Awakening. The whole plot revolves around colour. You play an inventor who, after a near-death experience, envisions an after-life filled with colours, and starts to become obsessed with seeing and re-discovering those colours. So that's your job.

It's rather non-linear, the Allansons say — they compare the game to Shadow of the Colossus in that you'll be exploring the world and hunting down colours in any order you choose. One section, for example, tasks you with going out to the ocean, finding a colour, realising it was swallowed by a fish, finding a fishing rod, fishing for that fish, and then making your way inside of it to track down that colour.

"In the game, one thing we should point out is that everyone lives inside of animals," Andrew said.

"Why do people live inside of animals?" I asked.

"Why not?" Brian said.

Touché. Two Brothers was originally slated for PC, OSX, and Xbox 360, and now that the Allansons are licensed Nintendo developers, they plan to bring it to Wii U too. They say their experience with Nintendo has been nothing but pleasant, and that the only real restrictions involve in-game advertisement and product placement. They can charge what they want and add whatever they'd like without worrying about an outside force enacting creative control over their product — Nintendo gets final approval, but the Allansons say that's mostly for bug-catching and quality-controlling.

"It's refreshing to hear that you guys are having this experience with Nintendo," I said, noting that Nintendo boss Reggie Fils-Aime had made some disparaging comments about "garage developers" in the past.

"I'm relieved because I didn't know what to expect," Andrew said. "As soon as it was very clear that they had a direct business plan with how they want to work with indies, and that everything was very fair, the sort of stereotype of Nintendo being difficult to work with as an indie developer... I feel like they're trying to fight against it."

The Allansons want to keep working on Nintendo consoles. They've got some ideas for how to use the Wii U's GamePad with Two Brothers, and they say they've been tinkering with their next game — a game that Brian says will feel like "3D Earthbound" — which will be their next project for the Wii U. (Two Brothers will be out early next year.)

"We're not promising it'll be as good," Brian said when I pointed out what a lofty promise "3D Earthbound" would be to so many RPG fans. "But we promise it'll be inspired."


Comments

    It was Kotaku :p

    I don't think Rogers would have written the article unless someone at AckkStudios had given her the wrong impression about the interview. It's probably a stuff-up at their end and they are back-peddling to try and cover themselves. Storm in a teacup really.

    Damn you Kotaku and your Illuminati esk conspiracies of an anti-Nintendo nature

    Anybody keen on that #1reasonwhy hashtag should know this particular journalist no longer has a Twitter account.

    And that's a shame.

      Can you explain the link between a journalist deleting her twitter account because she posted what amounts to libel and why fewer than 50% of game developers are women? I don't see how gender factors into the equation. Maybe if someone was arguing that women shouldn't be journalists and was taking Ms. Rogers work as a case for all female writers.

      Not trolling. I genuinely can't work out the link, and I think a lot gets lost in the 140 character limit on twitter.

        Who said there was a link?

          "Anybody keen on that #1reasonwhy hashtag should know this particular journalist no longer has a Twitter account.

          And that's a shame."

          There's an implication here that the fact Ms. Rogers deleted her twitter account is an important piece of information for anyone interested in #1reasonwhy. They have "female" and "greater video game industry" in common. Perhaps that's it, and I'm simply scraping for deeper meaning where there is none.

    I should have not written that article without talking to the interviewer and Ackkstudios.

    Jason this is absolutely disgusting of her. I've mentioned a few times on here I used to do interviews on a few movie sites in the past. (Recently googled a few oldies and they're as far back as '06 :O ) There were a couple of accusations thrown around back then by journalists towards other journalists, a couple of bad snide comments written into articles that you'd only get if you were sort of on the inside or taking part in group phone interviews, but not one of us, not one at the time with any credibility, would have written the drivel and pure shit that she did. That quote up there puts it absolutely in context. Not only did she *not* check her sources for credibility, not only did she not check her *facts*, she plain made it all up. She assumed. I could have made up 3/4 of my interviews with Uwe Boll, all three times I interviewed him, but I never did, because I had (still have!) integrity. I also have no doubt you do too, by posting this openly like this. It's a credit to you to do so. Good work mate.

    This woman is an absolute joke. I'm going to re-post your story in a few places, linking it, and I will definitely make sure I re-post what she's done too. What an absolute hack journalist this woman is.

    Maybe she'd be better off working at ACA or TT... they're surely of her caliber..

      As a side note, what is Uwe Troll like as a person?

        A really nice bloke. Batshit crazy and delusional lol. The first time we spoke, I emailed him directly, he does his own PR. He gave me his mobile number and I skyped him. We spoke for an hour while he walked his two dogs. He's friendly and approachable. I think our first convesation from memory was just after he made Alone in the Dark and POSTAL was about to be released? Because I was due to interview Zack Ward for Transformers (his bit part in it). But Uwe was actually really approachable and nice but you could tell, just by the way he spoke about the movie making process, he's 100% delusional lol.

    Can you (re)post the review without the write up on game journalism? Two Brothers looks interesting - can you give it the chance to shine without this irrelevant controversy.

      Good idea! I think that Two Brothers deserves some clean air.

      Definitely, they should get their article put up without the controversy surrounding it too for sure.

        Seriously guys... can you post the full article about the game or at least link us to an official website? The game got lost between Kotaku V. Smallfry... :-/

    As a big Ninty fan, I've never felt Kotaku ever treated the company unfairly, nor Microsoft or Sony for that matter. However, IMO that sort of biased writing (by particular journos) can be easily found on another large gaming website. For the record, I’m NOT talking about GameSpot, Eurogamer, or Destructoid. The site I’m speaking of is just as well known as those sites though.

      To be fair, I would say that Kotaku was somewhat like this in the past but I believe Stephen Totilo has gone a long way to rectify that situation and open up Kotaku to more audiences than "xbox 360 fps fans".

    Seems like she has deleted her Twitter account too..

    I personally find reading many articles by Jason to be devoid of any extreme hate towards particular game companies such as Nintendo from what I briefly remember :/
    Regardless, Rogers' poor choice of words for her article was quite a disappointment

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