Low Expectations: How Fans of the SHMUP Genre Can Often Be Their Own Worst Enemies

Before I start, understand something: I am the progeny of Generation X. My generation was around to live through the burgeoning of the public Internet. Since then, I’ve witnessed many a chatroom, messenger client, and social media website come and go over the years. My point is this: It used to be, if you had something to say to someone, you had little choice other than to say it to their literal faces. In fact, in many cases, you actually preferred it that way! After all, it was a matter of your personal integrity

Unfortunately, the advent of online anonymity has bred entire generations of individuals who have never had to be held accountable for the words that they say, and it is a pitiful shame.

Just know this: I welcome your comments and feedback…even your abject criticism. But know that I am not your personal virtual punching bag, m’kay? So long as you present yourself respectfully, I will do so in-kind. But do yourselves a favor and don’t come here like I owe you something that you haven’t yet earned.

Lastly, I just got out of (yet another) argument online about the SHMUP genre…this time on Discord. To be honest: YES, I know that the questions that I am asking will likely provoke debate. Okay, sure. Fine. But no one said that people have to default to being straight-up assholes about it. Let’s just have a reasonable conversation if it can be had. Just note that in most cases I’m not trying to prove myself right or change anyone’s mind. And I guess the art of just having an academic debate has been all but lost in this day and age of the consummate keyboard warrior. Alas. That said…

Let Me Ask You A Question

Of the past several years, the Game Awards has yet to recognize a game title in the SHMUP genre. The closest being Cuphead back in 2017, which is arguably more of a run-and-gun, even though it does feature some classic shoot-’em-up action. My question to you is: Why?

When I asked this question on Discord’s Shmup Junkie[*] channel, I got the following responses (paraphrased):

  • Why should we care? i.e.; We don’t care that the SHMUP genre doesn’t appeal to the masses
  • Why should we care? Part 2, i.e.; We don’t care about a “silly” award ceremony, anyway!
  • AAA games are expensive to produce, and SHMUPs represent too much risk to a game studio  who’s primary goal is to make money
  • SHMUPS are inherently too difficult to go mainstream
  • SHMUPs don’t need to be mainstream!

Unfortunately, people tend to want to just argue for the sake of arguing, and in their stubbornness, ended up mischaracterizing my question as if I were arguing that the primary goal of SHMUP developers should be to please the mainstream masses in such a way that wins awards. But wait…even in that gross mischaracterization…think about it: Why not? If one were to actually pay attention to my ongoing thesis, it should be obvious that an excellent game should receive praise from gamers and acclaim by the industry.

Again: A great game WILL garner unanimous praise!

And that’s my point when it comes to the SHMUP genre: Where are the GREAT SHMUPs that win critical acclaim like those recognized by the Game Awards? That’s all I’m asking. It’s Occam’s Razor: The proof is self-evident.

More damning; any argument against my simple question is purely circular, i.e.: SHMUPs don’t earn enough money. Why? Because the genre is too risky for AAA studios to take a chance on. Why? The genre is inherently too difficult for most gamers. Okay, then explain why the Souls series is so widely acclaimed? Because a AAA studio was able to invest in it. Okay…so where are the AAA studios investing in SHMUPs? Rinse and repeat.

So what’s the point of my question? Simple: If a AAA studio won’t take the risk of developing a SHMUP, then it’s up to an indie studio to take that risk. But in order to do so, they have to take the genre SERIOUSLY. What do I mean by that? Take Cuphead: Say what you will about the whimsical cartoonish style of the game; but you simply cannot deny the amazing heights of its production values. Now take Blasternal: The game may feature more than its share of satire, but no one will be able to deny how SERIOUSLY I took the production values!

What do I mean by SERIOUSLY? I mean anything but pixel art graphics that harken back to the heyday of the 32-bit era, or cute little anime girls who’s magical attacks make enemies explode into gold coins and treasure.

And speaking of production values: I don’t think most SHMUP fans would even know how to appreciate a game with high production values. Why? Because there is an understandable stigma that the more fancy and flashy a game is, the more it seems that the graphics are being used to hide lackluster gameplay. And I get that sentiment…I really do! But here’s an idea: If SHMUP fans DEMANDED MORE from their favorite genre, then perhaps AAA studios might start listening! Demand, meet supply.

But then, therein lies the problem…hence, the title of this blog post: SHMUP fans can’t help but have low expectations. Therefore, indie game developers—despite helping keep the genre alive—can afford to not focus on high production values and focus instead on new and unique gameplay elements that they hope might set them apart from the rest. Rarely do you find that intersection between high production values and tremendously satisfying gameplay when it comes to SHMUPs, and it’s a real shame!

Take note that my first goal with Blasternal is to introduce a style of gameplay that is familiar, yet done in a way that I personally have never seen done before. And while I intend on focusing on delivering superb gameplay, I fully intend on spending just as much effort taking the SHMUP genre SERIOUSLY and cram as much high production values into it as I possibly can.

Call me crazy now, but you’ll be thanking me later…

*P.S.: In my unintended debate on Discord’s Shmup Junkie channel, my conversation was sequestered to a separate thread. It was there that a moderator lost his patience with me and threatened to mute me from the channel. I asked him why I should be muted: What did I say that was so wrong and so offensive? Worse, whenever someone was flat-out rude to me—and they most certainly were—I merely called them out for it instead of being rude back to them, but the moderator took it as my “playing victim”…which makes no sense whatsoever. Anyway, I refused to kowtow to his threat, assuring him that—this was “just the internet” after all—and for that, he subsequently muted me. In turn, I left the channel: Not out of a petty “rage quit”, but as a grown man, don’t you dare expect me to be “timed-out” like somebody’s toddler, then have the nerve to imagine that I would give you the satisfaction of my returning to your sad little internet safe space. Haha! Forget that. I bet his “mod complex” afforded him a healthy dose of endorphins from his power trip. I can only imagine the sh*t talk he and others engaged in once they realized that I had left the channel.