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Opinion: Ori Director’s Potshots Are a Bad Look

A locked ResetEra post by Thomas Mahler is making the rounds because of its scathing industry commentary, and it’s not the first time he’s praised his own work by swinging at his peers.

Update: Mahler has released an apology in a statement on Twitter.

In a forum post titled Why are gamers so eager to trust and even forgive the snake oil salesmen?, Mahler, co-founder and game director at Moon Studios, laments what he interprets as gamers “being made fools of” and journalists “happily [playing] along, each and every single time.”

The nine-paragraph post makes a list of wide-ranging accusations including:

  • Peter Molyneux: “lies” to gamers and journalists about his products for “a good decade or more.”
  • Sean Murray: “initial lies and deception” about No Man’s Sky before the game’s release.
  • Geoff Keighley: Rewarding Sean Murray after No Man’s Sky improved with post-launch updates, which Mahler sarcastically adds “will surely help the industry grow stronger.”
  • CD Projekt Red PR department: “took all the cues from what worked for Molyneux and Murray and just went completely apeshit with it.”
  • Journalists: “happily played along, each and every single time.”
  • Gamers: “Don’t really seem to mind all that much.”
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After presenting his grievances, Mahler says a journalist told him in 2014 that Ori “almost got the cover article” of an unnamed publication he read frequently, but that they “had to pick No Man’s Sky cause it was the ‘bigger game.’”

“I know this whole thread might come off as me sounding bitter and I’m sure there’ll be some people that see this as me shitting on other devs,” Mahler said in the post. “No, I’m not…”

Molyneux and Murray are both well-known for their development work prior to founding studios, similar to Mahler. No Man’s Sky and The Witcher 3 were each nominated for game awards against Ori and the Blind Forest in 2015.

While many readers appreciate and relate to Mahler’s issue with hype and a relative absence of consequences for failure-to-deliver in the industry, the judgment required to make the post and the level of discretion exercised in composing it may be a red flag when it comes from a studio head responsible for 80+ employees. It’s tempting to excuse the post as a hastily-typed message on a topic he’s passionate about, but he seems very comfortable praising his studio’s work and tearing everything else down in the same breath.

“I think motion capture is dumb,” Mahler told GamesRadar+ in March 2020. “All the animations look kinda stilted and wooden, whereas with Ori we’re able to put so much expression into each character, conveying their mood, personality, and intention completely flawlessly.” Ori and the Will of the Wisps was nominated against several mo-cap games for Best Art Direction at The Game Awards 2020. Ghost of Tsushima, a mo-cap game, won the award.

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Records of Mahler’s activity at ResetEra seem to show a history of frequent (when not daily) posting, and while he is quick to point out he doesn’t condone any form of harassment, he also appears very comfortable criticizing other games and developers.

One of the most common complaints among critics of No Man’s Sky is actually aimed at Sean Murray himself—as one user at the Frontier forums puts it, “[he] needs a good dose of PR training.” This casts Thomas Mahler’s conduct in an interesting light. He’s clearly a longtime gamer at heart, still passionate about the medium and quick to speak his mind, but surely he’s past the point in his career where there’s no harm in freely and hastily criticizing the faces behind the games that disappointed him. Thousands of industry professionals have touched the projects Mahler has put on blast in interviews, and surely those who see Mahler’s comments will have a bad taste in their mouth.

Moon Studios seems to operate primarily remotely, and so far, no significantly negative stories have circulated about the company. With two recent award-winning games and a largely pandemic-proof studio, Mahler should be on top of the world. Surely he should let the Ori series stand on its own and put his critic days behind him.

Source: ResetEra

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By Todd Mitchell

Todd Mitchell is an independent game developer and freelance journalist. He is the founder of CodeWritePlay where he produces and hosts the GameDev Breakdown podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mechatodzilla.

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