How Gaming's Tech Obsession Drowned in a Puddle

Content warning for some ableist language.

Danielle, Natalie, Rob, and Patrick settle in for an in-depth discussion of "puddlegate"—the kerfuffle that occurred when some gamers thought the new Spider-Man game on PS4 had downgraded visuals compared to its E3 showing. We talk about tech fetishism, elitism, and entitlement, alongside social media frenzies and the media's role in it all. Then, we hit the question bucket and sign off for the weekend.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

This sort of thing really grinds my gears. I think it was Natalie that pointed out it is representative of a larger distrust in the media and an assumption that everyone is out to get the consumer / little guy. It is also an effect of communities that spend a lot of time agreeing with each other and patting themselves on the back. It’s very easy to get salty when everyone around you is salty.

The comment that Danielle read regarding the marble staircase really made me chuckle because that is EXACTLY the kind of thing that happens all the time in land development and construction. As projects progress there are always hiccups and things rarely turn out the way they appeared on the architect’s or designer’s initial submission.

The entitled and angry attitude on display in puddlegate is part of what has driven me away from gaming and being a part of the conversation is gaming.


I understyood what Patrick said when he admitted that there was a knowledge gap when it came to reviewers and techincal aspects, but I guess I’m not usre that’s necessary?

I know there are players who value technical stuff and appearance but to me that feels like a specific want. I guess for me, what I hear when Patrick says that is reviewers applying technical standards to all games while I would prefer a reviewer who is versed in technical stuff and picks out great technical successes (say, as a site might have a writer who knows what the great PC war strategy games are).

My fear is that many of the gamers who really like technical aspects don’t often view technical excellence as one aspect or as a great feature instead of an integral component. A game has to function and run well (like Patrick’s anecdote about Dead Cells on the switch) but I worry that if technical reviewing became a major aspect of many reviews, then indie games or more expressive games that do not have the budget or even the desire to do those sort of technological feats get dismissed because they don’t conform like that.


Getting blown away by something technical in a game: Kerbal Space Program. As a physics & space nerd since I was a small child, discovering Kerbal was a dream come true. I discovered it while it was still in beta and I continued to be amazed as the realism of the simulation improved. (No more banking at 45 degrees at about 75k to get into orbit :sweat_smile:) Realistic atmospheric breaking and heat buildup, sticking countless pieces together and having to account for the strength of various joints! Model rockets + mechano + robotics + … + delightful little Kerbins to make the inevitable failure sting a little less. Helped me learn orbital dynamics too!

Anyone else have similar experiences with Kerbal?

1 Like

It seem weird (when this medium is all about the potential and realisation of ever-progressing technology creating new canvases) that the conversation is often framed in this way. It’s “tech fetishism” to discuss the technical, rather than it being luddism to consider the opposite (which seems to quickly get wrapped into this, with suspicion at why people discuss technical topics or outright hostility to continuing progress and references back to previous eras as being better times - weird as those eras had far less accessible tools for making games and less headroom in the hardware capabilities so even games today that are styled as retro are made with modern tools that enable that to happen without needing the same labour that earlier pioneers required).

Threads hundreds of posts long about how “we can’t afford modern visuals” would seem to be just as much a product of a lack of understanding of the process of making games (and generating conspiracy theories that then loop into “oh but obviously we need the $150 of piecemeal DLC in our $80 AAA game to pay for the required visuals”) but approaching it from then luddite angle. Those threads attract very little derision and sometimes outright acceptance as fact (rather than budgets following revenue and there never being a cheaper time to make something of similar scope, but the scopes can keep growing as the market expands). [This being a conspiracy theory that is compatible with billion dollar corporations involved in maximising short term profits rather than, however misguided in the actual conspiracies, saying maybe consumers are lied to as the standard for advertising under late capitalism.]


I’m so crazy that all I can think of is the ways in which Kerbal’s simulation is wrong but yeah KSP is a masterpiece.

Without the “tech obsession”, we’d also lose the joy of finding the edges. Like, this is extremely fun and cool:

Which instantly reminds me of this dive into AC3 windows from over 5 and a half years ago. The how of various techniques that exist at the very edge of your awareness of what’s actually going on (the windows in Spider-Man look fine until you catch a glance into a room on the corner of a building and realise they didn’t want to render an in-out of looking into the room and out into the world behind it through a second window and then it all collapses into this M.C. Escher realisation of one of the tricks being employed to reach a visual level not yet possible with current technology).

1 Like

Having a look at a game’s technical merits is sort of where I hope Digital Foundry starts going instead of comparisons. They try to do a good job but console war garbage sort of butters their bread (Which is sad when they want to be educational and their retro series is fantastic) and leaving the reviews to everyone else. But then not even Digital Foundry can go through a game 100% and say “This is perfect”. I remember they said it about Mario 3D World on the Wii U, but some of the later challenge stages where there’s a lot of water physics and action going on can get a bit chunky FPS wise. There’s a section in Edith Finch that absolutely caves the FPS near the end of the game on all consoles including the Xbox One X as it uses a lot of post processing and particle effects (Not officially supported but even the boost mode can’t keep the FPS up). None of those hurt either game. They are both really good games in spite of it.

It’s just a weird case where everyone must fight for the sake of fighting on social media and its kinda the double edged blade of being slightly more educated about it. I remember people used to send in graphics glitches and physics absurdity to a UK N64 magazine and get prizes. They even printed how they made their own game type in Perfect Dark which was just using the most effects heavy weapons to absolutely crater the framerate (N-Bomb’s plus Alien Guns did the trick) while playing capture the flag. Our relationship with how a game runs and looks has changed and sometimes it just feels like another stick for the Angry Gamers™ to beat Developers and Publishers with. Granted, tech performance can absolutely benefit or hinder a game. But making it the be all and end all is a bit worrying where even tiny details being sacrificed for performance devolve into digital mud slinging.


I’ve been around the block gaming wise. I’ve built my own PC, bought an Xbox One X for the 4K bump, I care on some level about specs. But playing Spider-Man last night on my launch PS4 still blew me away. The game is gorgeous, on not only a technical level, but also on an artistic presentation level. It felt like the time I walked into the theatre to see the first Raimi movie; utterly floored that they could do justice to my favorite superhero. The internet can have it’s stupid puddle argument, I’m just going to appreciate how good this game is.

1 Like

I wonder what Rob has to say about this issue


Like I understand that the remote recording and lag can be an issue, but this is very much mid-sentence.

1 Like

Thanks for making me wonder if I’m a Solipsist gamer, waypoint!
(also having to look up solipsism… only had a vague memory of that word…)

Short answer, might be true, games certainly let me indulge that side of myself!

Remember last year in the midst of the “single player games are dead” moment where an exec at Microsoft came out and said that their core market cares mainly about resolution and tech?

I didn’t really believe her until I saw people lose their minds over a puddle.


I know it’s not entirely fair, but I can’t help comparing it to movie criticism. Like, a reviewer needs to know why Wes Anderson’s movies look off. It’s not that they necessarily need to point out the reasons in every review, but if they don’t know the rules of cinematography, they can’t recognize when they’re being broken.

Similarly, someone can call Marvel movies visually dull, or say The Last Jedi is more visually interesting than previous films, but it’s really valuable to have someone like Patrick (H) Willems break down why that is.

I also think it’s telling that there are countless Cinematography 101-type essays on YouTube and nobody cares, but one GIF and Kotaku story on frustum culling and you get a bunch of devs snarking on Twitter about what idiots players are for being impressed by it.

The problem, of course, is that video game theory incorporates virtually everything about film theory as well as countless other mediums. I’m really interested to see what happens when we see more media/culture commenters who studied game design instead of film, like Mother’s Basement. I’m sure it’s inevitable.


Someone else might correct me on this, but I believe part of the dev response came from people trying to correct people on the erroneous assumption that this technique was unique or special to this one game. Though there was also straight up elitist snark too.

Rob and Natalie’s point that at this stage of technical advancement more horsepower ≠ more beauty is well made, but I think it’s slightly complicated by the aesthetic approach taken by the majority of AAA games. When your visual goal is “realism”, you’re undoubtedly going to get closer to that the more densely you can pack animated fronds of grass, or whatever. My personal preference has always been for distinct visual styles and creative use of available resources to achieve an overall affect - less Tekken 2, more Tobal 2.

It’s weird that everyone on the podcast was so impressed with the reflections in Deus Ex when that game had 3rd-person dialogue sequences as early as the first five minutes of the game.

Players saw a LOT of JC Denton (who came in multiple skins, remember) before they even encountered a mirror in that game.

The impressive part was that mirrors are a real technical feat that most developers don’t bother with. Case in point; the original Prey opened with your character staring at his reflection in a bathroom mirror. Over a decade later and with more powerful hardware, the new Prey doesn’t have a single working mirror in it.

1 Like

Prey 2016 has no working mirrors?

I could swear the trailer for that game has the protagonist examining themself in the mirror!

(I’d make a “MirrorGate” hastag as a joke except “…Gate” jokes became uncomfortable in 2014)

The gender selection before you load into the game proper is two screens from the bathroom of the protagonist (so effectively looking out of a mirror but with VDU fx to make it clear this is future camera display rather than silver on glass).

I agree with this take. Better technology enables a greater range of artistic expression. I don’t think it’s at all true that current technology is so good that an artist can create whatever they choose, and that it will ‘work’ as intended. Photorealism is bar that continually raises, for example. Plus, game design stories are full of incredibly clever tricks take to fool us in to thinking that our current tech is capable of certain feats, when it’s actually not, and we’re not seeing what we think we’re seeing.

I do agree that tech fetishism for the sake of being impressed by some numbers is completely pointless. It’s a sad fact of our current online culture that hot takes about “they took my puddles away!” are given any thought whatsoever. That level of pointless entitlement is what makes the internet so very draining… We should concentrate on being impressed by the results, and that means asking ourselves, honestly, did the game live up to its artistic premise.