Smudboy Interview: The Analysis Avenger
Smudboy isn’t looking for praise, just answers to his questions. His channel is full of videos that simply ask questions, and dole out criticism where criticism is needed. It was great to be the one asking the questions, and there is a lot we’ve all wanted to know. I wanted to talk to the man behind the work, and he was kind enough to oblige. A big thanks goes to Smudboy for taking the time to speak with me!
Vern: For the viewers that haven’t subscribed yet, how would you describe your channel?
Smudboy: If you’re a fan of the few games I analyze, a place for your dreams to be broken.
Vern: You have amassed a following of over seven thousand people. Did you ever think your following would become that large and vocal so quickly?
Smudboy: It’s taken several years, though I haven’t really paid much attention to its size. As for people being vocal, that is natural of any fan.
Vern: When do you think your channel took off?
Smudboy: Probably during the whole ME2/ME3 fiasco, although many wouldn’t see ME2 as one.
Vern: Why did you choose Smudboy as your handle? What does it mean to you?
Smudboy: It started off as the funny way my mother pronounced my initials. I’m essentially a giant mamma’s boy.
Vern: For all the criticism you dish out toward certain video games and developers, you certainly have caught your share of what I’d say is less than criticism. How do you deal with some of the negativity directed toward you?
Smudboy: Complete indifference; usually such people don’t know all the facts. Only if they take the effort to put forth an opinion with references do I go into detail, which takes some time but clears up quite a bit of confusion. Eventually the truth of story, lore or logic comes out, but unfortunately this has not always had a positive impact on one’s appreciation of humanity and their capacity for argument.
Vern: You’ve made it clear on multiple occasions that you’re a guy that just asks questions in a detached manner. Do you think the review of any entertainment medium, especially game reviewing, can evolve to that level?
Smudboy: It must. Seeking an unbiased inquiry into a piece of media is usually motivated by confusion, interest, or outright disgust. So, an interviewer walks in with a certain sized chip on their shoulder. Regardless, a rigorous, intellectual standard should be set for both great and horrible works. So long as an individual focuses on the factual aspects of what they’ve observed, and armed with basic logic, they shouldn’t have much of a problem. The rest is basic understanding of a scene, and experience with various media. For example, I recently saw an episode of The Angry Joe Show. While I don’t consider him intellectually involved in game (or media) development, or favoring one aspect over another (graphics, storytelling, sound, etc.), it’s his layman, simple yet common sense approach to as many areas he discusses that make us appreciate his emotional state. He’s a hardcore gamer that can relate to many people. For reviewers like Matthewmatosis (another Youtuber), he provides a much quicker analysis (NOTE: by quicker I mean getting to the heart of his issues), and focuses on specific elements of a game that require appropriate explanation via logic. Due to games’ mixed-media nature, this is sometimes essential, as any media is only as good as its weakest expression. As for media in general, that is indicative of its format, genre and style; so a reviewer or critic of said media must balance their feigned ignorance with their expectations of, let’s say, what a detective story should possess and how it should be presented; regardless of genre, even in mixed or new media, how a story is told in its respective medium, should be the focus.
Vern: Your analyses are quite thorough. What has been your process in terms of making those types of videos? Do you take notes throughout the games you play?
Smudboy: I always open up a Google doc, and talk to others to make sure I’m not full of it, or am simply over-analyzing. I have been accused many times of being a bit “overconfident in my powers” (as Sherlock stated in The Adventure of the Yellow Face.) Experiencing media (or consuming, or slowly digesting it) while writing and talking about it is like going out to dinner. Let’s say you order a steak: if the steak is in fact a steak, and has with it no inherent flaws, we can focus on what makes that steak a steak (i.e. was it cooked to my request, juicy, succulent, well seasoned, have good side dishes, etc.) Thus, through the absence of negative variables, we can focus on what defines an experience; hopefully as something intelligent, creative to the genre and emotionally resonant. It must first reach a de facto, quintessential standard, or else it has no business calling itself a certain thing (romance, platformer, etc.) I tend to only analyze such games if they have those three things, no matter whether the steak is Aristotle or Dr. Seuss. As for makng the video itself, most of the time is spent in writing and video editing, which I am constantly telling others is the most important stage (editing) in the creative process.
Vern: What have you taken away from your time as a content producer on Youtube?
Smudboy: To respect people’s opinions even if they physically hurt you; subsequent analyses and replies are cathartic.
Vern: Did you pay any attention to E3 2014 at all? If so, how would you describe the presentations this year as opposed to previous years? If not, do you actively avoid these types of things and why?
Smudboy: I saw only a few. The best presentations, or any worthy of attention, showed game play. Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Unity was perhaps my favorite, as I think the French Revolution would be a fantastic time period to experience (in traditional AC murdering-parkour manner.) I am anxiously awaiting any media regarding their Comet project, as experiencing ancient Rome would be a historians dream come true. I already knew of No Man’s Sky, so no surprise there. I understand that Pillars of Eternity had a private showing, which seems on par for the team’s way of doing things. I think Splatoon looked like a fun, silly and colorful experience. And I hope and pray Dragon Age Inquisition doesn’t cause Bioware to explode into a fiery painful death, with its gigantic roster, Skyrim-esque environments and pre-order goodies up the wazoo.
Vern: When did you start gaming?
Smudboy: I think I was 3 or 4. Started with Commodore 10’s Spy Hunter, a host of TI-99 games (Parsec, Alpiner, Munch Man, etc.), C64 (Carmen Sandiego, Swiss Family Robinson, Chessmaster), and old Macintosh games at my uncle’s (B.C’s Quest for Tires, Load Runner), and some random Coleco vision games (Frog Bog.) Ah, my childhood.
Vern: What is your favorite game of all time?
Smudboy: Planescape: Torment
Vern: What games, if any, are you looking forward to?
Smudboy: Definitely the three I helped Kickstart. Pillars of Eternity, Numenera: Tides of Wasteland 2 and Witchmarsh. Of course, Elite: Dangerous, The Witcher 3, Beyond Earth, and, Koobismo’s “The Sci-Fi Interactive Theatre” come to mind.
Vern: For those who are unaware of that particular situation, would you mind giving a brief rundown of what occurred with the folks at Clevernoobs?
Smudboy: I left some comments on his video; he responded poorly. I made a video response (back when Youtube still had that feature) exercising my powers of fair use; he DMCA’d it (A.K.A., took it down via legal powers.) He systematically blocked any comments that responded in contrary to his opinion on his various videos, or involved me, his DMCA of my video, et al. I asked for an apology; he refused. And now I’m suing him for Misrepresentation.
Vern: It’s a big downer that this debacle with Clevernoobs had to happen at all. However, in the midst of your channels going back and forth, I made a comment on one of their response videos geared toward you. The comment was deleted (which is interesting because it wasn’t even an insulting comment), but somehow ended up in your Deleted and Blocked, But Not Forgotten video. Did you really take the time to screenshot all of those comments? And why?
Smudboy: Oh yes, only for about a week, before I got tired of it. I estimate a few hundred if not a thousand or so comments were deleted. Dozens of people were writing to me, showing me their screens caps, and expressing their opinion during the month my video was taken down. Like you, others had no idea why they were being deleted and then blocked, especially when the majority of comments were in no ways offensive, had ad hominem remarks, or were threatening in any way. Plain and simple: it was censorship. During this time, I was hearing contrary opinions between his direct emails to me, and his emails to the public. It was under his suggestion I should apologize for my behavior (whereupon I have yet to be shown what I did wrong), all under the guise of some friendship, and some sort of collaborative re-work of his original video. Lies between the validity of my points and what he was telling others began piling up, and I could no longer sit back and watch (whereupon I made my Smudboy: Slanderous, Immature and Intellectually Dishonest video.) It was appalling that such censorship could occur, let alone that I should feel pity for such an individual, and somehow develop congenial feelings for, enough to want to associate and make a video with, on a topic I’ve already expressed myself on, let alone re-express myself because someone can’t understand me the first time through. For a critic, this is a clear attack on ones freedom of speech, and whose purpose was to squelch others, simply for having a contrary opinion. I don’t know how protective Americans are of their First Amendment, but in Canada, we take this very seriously.
Vern: I noticed that you have a donation link on your Second Slice blog. What is that for?
Smudboy: Aside from the defendant, who isn’t for freedom of speech? While I can handle the cost of this legal battle myself, the community needs to be involved. This issue is bigger than some small Youtuber. Freedom of speech is one of our fundamental rights. I wanted the community, and not just my channel, to feel involved in the process. Finding various others whom this has happened to (e.g. girlwriteswhat, LiberalViewer, The Justicar, etc.) will hopefully grow awareness of the abuse of the DMCA tool.
Vern: According to your latest blog post, you went to IdeaCity 2014. How did you enjoy your trip?
Smudboy: The blog post describes some of the amazing (and strange) people I met there. I actually work for the company that hosts it, so I was behind the scenes on their website, video stream, and a few other things. It was like a personal form of TED talks. Let’s just say the after parties were a blast. You can never have enough free scotch, mentalists and hypnotists. Or Lord Monckton explaining to a MarsOne candidate the probability of success.
Vern: What is your opinion on kale?
Smudboy: While I’m a fan of bitter things, just give me a steak. All those greens taste the same when paired to a juicy, succulent, hot, medium-rare rib eye served with warm bone marrow, a tangy-hot horseradish sauce, covered in spicy peppercorns, and served with a Belgian champagne style Tuscany beer, all after an appetizer of shucked lemon clams and a creamy steak tartare, and a home made Amaro… I hear it’s good for you.
Vern: Do you have a Youtube channel that you frequent often?
Smudboy: The Justicar.
Vern: Can we expect any Smudboy Smash entries in the near future?
Smudboy: Those usually come after a recommendation. Something needs to be sufficiently horrifying to warrant that level of destruction.
Vern: In your opinion, how have video games changed for the better or for the worse? Or a bit of both?
Smudboy: Video games have almost always (or should have) been creative wheel-re-inventions of one man/woman trying to combine multimedia into some sort of coherent mess. While we can look to ad populum problems of every FPS ripping off each other ad absurdum, or the next FIFA/EA Sports/Bruce Lee in X-game as being a reoccurring oddity, I feel crowd funding and the resurgence of Infinity Engine style games whose focus is storytelling should keep the medium fresh. This however hasn’t been too successful in the adventure game genre, but we have yet to see what Double Fine is doing (Jane Jensen’s Moebius was lackluster.) As for the medium as a whole, games should always be about gaming. To bring meaning to that, you need storytelling. To bring fun and excitement, you need control. With beta access to development, and social media helping developers be more aware of bugs and problems, games are becoming much more community developed, at least in a technical, iterative way.
Vern: Speaking of gaming, name one aspect of gaming you’d either like to see improved or axed. For example, I would like to see more RPGs that have blank character templates. If they’re going to insist that we make our own characters, they should dump the default templates and let us actually create our own characters.
Smudboy: I’d like to see game play have more storytelling uses. None of this “emergent storytelling” nonsense. I want such game play to reflect the player character. So the basic mechanics should impact character development.
Vern: I’m sure you get messages similar to caralon3105’s. What compelled you to make a whole video about it?
Smudboy: When one is blessed with a truly absurd experience. It defies logic, reason; one can only simply enjoy the endless comedy of the ignorant.
Vern: Of all the videos you’ve done, do you have a favorite?
Smudboy: Probably the ME1 analysis. It was a great game with a lot of flaws, but what was there managed to keep the story together, which was largely a positive experience for me to talk about.
Vern: What is your opinion on virtual reality and it’s applicability to gaming as it is today? And do you have any thoughts on the Oculus Rift in the hands of Facebook?
Smudboy: I actually have quite a lot. I’ve been holding off as I’ve been hoping the haters have calmed down. I’ve recently made some small opinions known on Gamespot.com. Having worked at a company that has been bought out, I have some basic insight on the matter. But after next month, I’ll definitely want to make a video about it. To summarize: calm down and try not to throw up.
Vern: What is your opinion of Disney’s omnivorous takeover of almost everything in entertainment (Star Wars, Marvel, etc.)?
Smudboy: Irrelevant. I’m more concerned with LucasArts announcement of all the previous non-movie media being non-canon. So Knights of the Old Republic 1 & 2, comics, and novels are non-canon? Now, that’s horrifying. But, considering how SNAFU everything in Star Wars lore and its “levels of canon” are, making a broad announcement like that might be a good thing. I know a handful of video game franchises who can use a giant lobotomy. But to remove Kreia? Nothing short of sacrilege.
Vern: How does it feel to watch this real-life, Disney version of Monopoly play out?
Smudboy: Since when was it more than just a Happy Meal collectible card game for adults?
Vern: You seem to have a deep understanding of literature and story-crafting. Did you study English literature at some point?
Smudboy: No, but my brother was an English graduate with Honors from York U, so whenever I ran out of things to read I’d delve into his library (which was mostly poetry.) We’ve always been critics of the media we consume, so we’d have plenty of arguments over what makes a certain piece of media from such-and-such a genre, from video games to comic books. I did take a class on Creative Writing & The Short Story in college, and after finishing that semester, returned for two more semesters just to sit in round table discussions. This is where my real editing and training in analyzing stories was refined, specific to short stories. The round table discussions of each story that was worthy of critique was run through a gauntlet. People would break into tears and quit on the first analysis meetings (I recall one such student essentially writing a Diablo plot.) One of my stories was eventually published in a student anthology. It really helps when you have a PhD English grammar fanatic of a teacher who loves what he does, and colleagues who “get it”. We’d spend hours after class analyzing proper form and composition of our own stories. It was very much a literary development and production line, as each student had to compose at least 3 stories, and act as Quality Control. Each others stories became our homework, as one student took point on presenting another’s.
Vern: You must have other interests. What do you do when you’re not tearing narratives to shreds?
Smudboy: I go out a lot. Toronto is known for live music, local craft beers, international movies via TIFF, a host of stage productions, young people’s theatre, and of course, some excellent restaurants. With multiple festivals every month, and some overlap (I think last week was Pride.) Meeting new, interesting people is what it’s all about. One place I like is called Snakes and Lattes, (or Snakes and Lagers for a more mature venue.) One cannot go wrong with babes and beer. Wait. Yes you can.
Vern: Considering the gall it took for Bioware to come out two years in a row to simply say, ‘we’re making a new Mass Effect game and a new IP… k thx bye’, I highly doubt they have much to show us at this point. It feels a bit silly to even ask this, but are you looking forward to the next Mass Effect game?
Smudboy: Of course. If there’s any chance of throwing away the baby and bathwater, (bathtub, sink and the neighbour’s entire kitchen) by creating some new, eldridge abomination of a story? It’s the Bioware team. If Time magazine can quote ME2 as being “the Avatar of video games — except it’s better written,” then how much comedy can we have this time around? Retcons, complete canon-removal, and trying to explain away — or work with — ME3, is going to be like watching the latest Star Wars movie: entertainment for the whole family. We can only dream one of the producers gets a broken leg, finds Ghandi and makes another handheld Sonic RPG. (Oddly, this still wouldn’t be as entertaining.)
Vern: Are you sure you don’t want a N7 Leather Jacket? Come on. It’s only $200 on Amazon.
Smudboy: I actually saw a tall thin guy in Toronto walk around with one of the limited edition ones a few months ago. I can assure you: No sir.
Vern: It’s been a little while since you asked for ideas on how to fix Mass Effect 3, and I’m looking forward to the ensuing video series. How is that whole process coming along?
Smudboy: It’s stopped. We’re not dropping it, but it takes sufficient time to edit and sew all the ideas together, and then have those critiqued. That, and we’re a bit more ambitious in doing a playable demo of sorts.
Vern: Do you have anything you’d like to say to your subscribers?
Smudboy: Thanks for listening, your donations, and all your support over the years. My legal battle is in a few weeks, and you’ve been wonderfully supportive. I’ll try and keep up to at least two vids a month.
Thanks to Smudboy for taking the time out to answer the stack of questions I threw at him. For those who feel they need to view more of Smudboy’s work, visit the links to his content below! Thank for reading!