Too Human: The Story of Denis Dyack

Too Human.  Two words.  It is a game that has been in development over ten years.  Originally slated for release on the PlayStation 1, Too Human has since gone through iterations on the Nintendo GameCube and the Xbox 360, where at long last it has seen release.

This story isn’t about the game, though.  This story is about a man who helped make that game.  The man who is most closely associated with that game, and quite possibly, the man who has doomed that game.  Denis Dyack.

Denis Dyack has been around a while.  His studio, Silicon Knights is notable for their successful games Legacy of Kain, and Eternal Darkness.  They also orchestrated the GameCube remake of Kojima Productions’ breakthrough title Metal Gear Solid.  More specifically, Denis Dyack is a fairly talented guy who has gone more than a little bit wacko because of a few things, most notably the overly-long development cycle of a game he clearly has considered to be his magnum opus. Looking at the progression of his behavior and the media coverage of his game, they follow the same downward trend.

After E3 2006, there were many previews of Too Human written based on a demo, a demo that everyone knew was forced out by Microsoft despite being unfinished and unpolished.  Dyack knew what had happened, he knew the demo sucked, he knew why it sucked, and most importantly: everyone who played it knew all the same things. Listen to game journalists back in 2006, after they played that demo. There’s no antipathy. There’s no misunderstanding, there’s no one saying that Too Human was going to be a bad game because of an obviously forced demo. The demo got bad press, because the demo was bad, but that’s not what doomed the Dyack.

The community starts up doing what they do best, shitting things up for everyone.  NeoGAF, 1up boards, commenters across the blagoblags trash the Too Human demo. None of them have played it, most of them are trolls, and nothing they say should hold any merit. That is until Denis starts responding. Here’s a guy who has been working on a project that has crossed a full three systems, has been fighting against an engine that by all accounts was delivered broken and unusable, is starting what will inevitably be a public legal standoff with a very popular and prolific developer, Epic Games.  He is stressed-the-fuck-out.  He’s got to believe in the project, that it will be worth it, because after all the bullshit he’s had to put up with, it HAS to be worth it. Claims get more grandiose, he starts rebutting internet comments. He feeds trolls.

The media starts to turn on him. Luke Smith and Bryan Intihar, both formerly of 1up.com were probably the first two to come out swinging.  Those two came out swinging at a lot of things before they each jumped ship for two very prolific game studios, Bungie and Insomniac respectively. Of course, at this point, Dyack has said that game previews should be abolished, because the system is flawed. Of course it is flawed, but more importantly he feels like he has been particularly scorched by it.

Now one thing that all editorial media outlets have in common is that they don’t like people pissing in their coffee. One need look no further than the treatment of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert by the people at every network and news outlet save NBC, to realize this.  Same thing goes for movies. If a film director or studio doesn’t hold a private screening for critics in advance of the release, they get double secret slammed. Granted, the reason that studios decline advance screenings to critics is usually because they know they’re about to fling a pile of poop into the multiplex and want the general public to remain ignorant as long as they can manage. Still, I’d imagine that a bad movie will be reviewed as a horrible movie for no other reason than scorn.

Take it from me, writers have some egos on them. Its a job requirement of anyone who wants to tell other people what is and is not fit for their cultural consumption. You have to think you know better than everyone else.

Denis Dyack, though, he violates the one inviolable rule of dealing with the media: he points out a flaw. Over a period of time, the mood sours. The more he speaks, the more public opinion turns against him. He becomes the gaming equivalent of a Britney Spears, people report on his crazy antics just because its him, and because his antics be crazy. One other thing about the media: they all love a punching bag. Denis painted a big target on himself and kept adding rings to the bulls-eye through the months leading up to the release, culminating in an utterly ridiculous and intellectually bankrupt manifesto, that can be broken down to “NeoGAF is a shithole and I don’t like them.”

He’s right about that, too, but again, you don’t say that out loud. You certainly don’t pair it with a challenge to one of the web’s largest gaming forums. Now the game is out, the reviews are in, and guess what? They’re all reeking of bias. This is how the media takes their vengeance.  Go read the 1up news coverage of Too Human for the past week. It is vicious and abhorrent. You’d think no one worked at Silicon Knights besides Denis Dyack. The review, the press coverage, everything, they’re not about the game. They’re about Denis Dyack, and getting even. They’re about amplifying the flaws and please, please, pleeeeease, don’t let it sell well so we can run stories about that, too. Almost every piece of writing you can find on the subject from a professional outlet is laden with personal invective and editorial bias, the sort that would get you fired under any other circumstance.

However, Dyack brought this on himself, in a way. He pissed in the coffee, and now he’s going to have to pay the price.

Hopefully they’ll let him off before ritual suicide is invoked, but having all but murdered his career, I don’t think that’ll be necessary.  Too Human is more than a game at this point.  It is a symbol for one of its creators, and appropriately enough an adequate decription of him.  Denis Dyack, the man who was too human.

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3 Comments

  1. Denis makes me laugh. I think his arrogance is great for the industry!

  2. Reeking of bias? And Dennis doesn’t have any bias towards a game he worked on for ten years? Yeah, okay.

  3. Of course he has a bias, that’s why he defends it so ferociously, and over zealously. That’s what leads to pissing off the media, and that’s what leads to poor review scores. My own thoughts on the game will be elaborated on, but in my experience it is flawed but enjoyable. I’ve enjoyed it more than Assassin’s Creed, of course I had major problems with many aspects of Assassin’s Creed. Too Human will be a polarizing title always, that might work to its advantage but it probably won’t.


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