Into the Maelstrom

What are your general thoughts on Sean Malstrom?

He’s a looney in his own way.
This piece sets him up really nicely as a contrast to Icycalm. The blog in general covers Malstrom and his idiosyncrasies if you care to read.

At the core of his ideology, he sets up quality as being related to sales, or more plainly profit. The more you can convince people in general to buy into your product, retroactively the better a product it is. This is an argument from popularity that ignores circumstances. A luxury car might sell less than a generic car, and luxury cars might be a smaller industry with less total profit than the generic car industry as a result, even if individual cars cost more, however by Malstrom’s setup, the generic car would be the better product because it does good for more people and brings its owners more profit.

Then you get developers like Platinum games who plainly produce extremely high quality games that don’t earn a lot of money

He has a lot of rationalizations for holes in his philosophy and altogether doesn’t seem very consistent in his beliefs. He’s flip flopped on a ton of topics, from the importance of graphics, to gameplay (and downplaying gameplay in favor of “content” sometimes), to story, to nearly whatever you can name.

He has a disdain for “hardcore players” though they’re not hardcore like you think they are, after all he considers Street Fighter IV to be the opposite of a hardcore game. Hardcore for him means more the vocally outspoken on messageboards rather than what he considers the will of the people as expressed through sales, however he’s entirely willing to take the side of people on messageboards when its convenient for him, and generally uses this established vagueness in what comprises majority opinion to claim whatever he wants about games. The key thing to understand is, when he mocks hardcore players, he’s probably not mocking you.

So Megaman 9 supposedly failed because people disliked the disappearing block sections and even though megaman 1 and 2 had the same things, megaman 9’s ones are bad according to Malstrom because you can’t skip the disappearing block sections with the rush jet in megaman 9, even though you actually can. He claims the casual crowd are better at games than the hardcore crowd, then reneges all the time for various frustrating instances of difficulty. He claims Smash Bros Melee was better than its sequels because the gravity was so high and the stages were designed to be easy to fall off. His reasoning for what comprises the unspoken widespread public opinion about games is all over the place and he’s willing to pick on any detail that makes sense for him. He lambastes Super Metroid for being too easy, saying the value of the original was it was so hard, then misses basic information in the dark souls tutorial and complains that the game is too focused on navigating 3d environments, which people are bad at, so they’re turned away.

He’s stated in the past that gamers didn’t have any issues with playing as cartoony characters, and mocked modern gamers for being so tied up in the hardcore fantasy of being a badass, then he turns this around for wind waker and a lot of other nintendo games whenever he feels like it.

Lemme quote a recent post, “What is ironic that as someone who supposedly ‘hates’ 3d games, I love games like Descent, Wing Commander, and FPS like Unreal Tournament. Why? It is because they are fun. These games also have cool aesthetics. Games like Super Mario 64 or Aonuma Zelda turn me off because they are NOT fun. I don’t see what is fun about doing 3d puzzles or scavenger hunts (for stars and stuff). Modern Mario games turn me off because of the terrible aesthetic.”

I dunno, I think this is just what you get when you try to base your entire philosophy on a data point like Sales. Sales aren’t something consistent enough to generate a real philosophy of games, so a ton of time has to be spent on apologetics and rationalizations, which ends up looking more like Sean trying to claim that what he likes is what the majority of people like, and he speaks for the unheard majority. In short, Sean’s trying to press his preferences onto other people, not necessarily advocate for what are the best or most profitable games.

His rationale for what will make a good game is so much based on circumstantial things that change practically every time he comments on why a game sells or doesn’t sell that it’s impossible to extrapolate his philosophy into any type of prediction about the future.

And yet…

Something about his philosophy can be appealing.

The idea specifically being that to make a game that is a financial success, it needs to appeal to everyone. You can’t make a casual game, which is just another word for a “r*tard game” (as he puts it), and expect success. The game needs to have a type of appeal to hardcore and casual players alike, there needs to be some form of actual substance to the game. The game that epitomizes this type of appeal to me is of course super smash bros melee. He points out that software basically sells the hardware, and the reason nintendo is failing is they’re putting all their hopes on the hardware without the fun games to back it. He turns the success of wii sports on its head, saying that it didn’t succeed because of motion controls, but rather that motion controls succeeded because there was a game that enabled them to work so well, and basically nothing else on the console could match that. The Wii U doesn’t have any great games that could only exist with the gamepad (it barely tried), so it’s seen as a hindrance.

The guy is against stories and puzzles, in favor of arcadey action gameplay, as a means to generate profit. A lot of his criticisms of the Zelda series ring true to me. The idea that more arcadey action influenced titles being capable of generating profit is a thing that seems plausible the way he puts it, and it’s something I would like to believe.

The hardcore that he demonizes, if you look at the traits they represent, happen to match up with undesirable elements of the gaming public and gaming press, saying that they’re actually a vocal minority who are overrepresented.

He’s in opposition to DLC and other means of attempting to extract maximum short term profits from consumers, saying it ruins the company’s reputation in the long run and minimizes future sales. And hell, that’s something I’d like to believe.

And hell, I kinda want to buy into these things even if it’s from a nut. It’s kind of a statement to me that a type of good game design can be financially successful.

But that’s probably my own delusion, confirmation bias. I don’t want to give up hope for the future and some of this guy’s ideas seem plausible enough sometimes, even if there’s glaring issues with consistency.

Then I post an article written by him to twitter for one basic point, “Game commentators don’t seem to care about gameplay anymore, they’re more willing to discuss literally anything else as if its actually important” and other people point out to me that message I read between the lines has a bunch of other crap around it because the dude’s crazy.

Also he has a really weird voice to his writing, like he’s trying to lecture you and set you straight, he brings up a lot of things like they’re self evident (though a number of these are things he’s riffed on before, but coming at it from the end of the archive it can seem like he pulled his conclusions out of nowhere), and it comes off as a bit self-absorbed. That he describes his preferences as if they’re the majority’s preferences adds to this. Dunno if anyone else picks up that vibe.
In this one he literally says that he’s the voice of the majority of consumers.

2 thoughts on “Into the Maelstrom

  1. FALCOMASTER January 18, 2016 / 3:40 pm

    This guy is fucking retarded. There is no way someone who finds 3D Mario ‘imprecise’ or ‘difficult to understand’ could ever play Descent. There’s some dishonesty there for sure. Either he doesn’t know how to play Descent or, more likely, he’s just some butthurt nostalgia-freak who misses the ‘good ol’ days’ of non-3D Nintendo.

    It’s funny observing how he went from sales and gameplay to babbling about aesthetics. I think he must have stumbled upon clam-boy, and I think clam-boy must’ve stumbled upon sean as well. Notice how his early articles were sort of about mechanical complexity and niche games and people not appreciating those things, but then at some point he just started drooling over popular stuff like CoD and BF, often saying that these things were the best because they were garnered the most hype (basically they have the highest sales, mainstream opinions dictate art and culture, etc.).

    Anyway, there’s also all his terrible ‘real life’ advice, which is basically just regurgitate self-help nonsense.

    I once checked out the forum his fans made and it was a weird place, to say the least. Tons of crazy in-fighting and psycho and sociopathic behavior. It was like a bunch of people from normal society that moved in to a cave and occasionally had bits and pieces of the real world trickled to them through a drip feed. I visited the place a long while later on a bored Sunday or something, and it was funny how dead the forum was, with a lot of its members having publicly announced that they were no longer following sean and how they always believed he was wrong about a lot of things because most of writing stems from his schizo tastes (kind of the reverse of people who start to revere artists and thinkers once they’ve died). And the best was this one guy who fell in love with niche fighters. Like REALLY niche fighters. But, like sean and most of his cult members, he’s probably made up some twisted justification for why he can enjoy their complex systems and Japanese aesthetics, while decrying Wind Waker and Nintendo’s “weeb” aesthetics.

    I have hard time deciding who’s worse, sean of clam. Both are retards who’ve made some decent points, though neither of them have ever said anything particularly insightful or revolutionary.


    • Chris Wagar January 19, 2016 / 5:44 am

      Interesting points. Especially about the exchange and change in focus for sean and clam, as well as the fate of sean’s fan forum.


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