Premature Evaluation: Dovetail Games Fishing

“Carpe diem,” as the ancient Romans used to say, meaning, “Direct Message the carp”.

Each Monday, Marsh Davies sticks his beak into Steam Early Access and returns with whatever stories and/or pearlescent, writhing grubs he can find. This week, he pops a wriggler onto a hook and tosses it into the gentle waters of Dovetail Games Fishing.

“Welcome to the great indoors,” is Dovetail Games’ pitch for its simulation; all the fun of fishing without the need to cultivate a box of maggots in your fridge and then stand for hours on a mudbank while your core temperature slowly drops.

The current build doesn’t offer all the fun of fishing yet, though. It’s pretty slight, even given the lower Early Access asking price of a fiver. There’s a tutorial, teaching you the basics of casting a line and reeling it in, some challenge modes which ask you to lob your bait into circular targets within a time limit, and “Freedom Fishing” which entails liberating the same fish from the same body of water over and over again for as long as you can bear.

How will children learn to fear and abhor the natural world if it looks this nice?

In fairness to the developers, they themselves warn potential customers not to purchase expecting a full game – that £5 entitles you only to be a part of an ongoing development. But they do claim to have implemented the core action of pointlessly terrorising fish for pleasure. For once, I can actually hold this simulation to some sort of standard of reality, as I have actually been fishing – although I was only nine, never caught anything and I now realise that the entire sodden trip was a pretext for my mate’s dad to see his mistress, having first ditched us at the side of a lonely reservoir.

Deserting a pair of nervous pre-pubescents by a reservoir is the kind of thing you could do in 1992 with relative safety. Things are different now, but you wouldn’t realise that from Dovetail Games Fishing, which paints a picture of perfect, restive bucolia – all dappled sunlight and birdsong – and not the sort of oily backwater full of half-submerged shopping trolleys, soiled prophylactics and hammer-wielding amphibious sexual predators which we now know to be the real world of 2014.

The depiction of swans is strikingly abstract. Bold move.

The camera sweeps in to reveal my burly, bestubbled avatar standing beside a twinkling body of water, looking purposeful and well-equipped, immediately making the simulation even more alien to my experience. Perhaps blessedly, I don’t have to fiddle with the unpleasant process of puncturing a maggot with a hook. Instead, I’m instructed to press F to adopt the casting posture, and hold down the right mouse button to open the ball arm and grip the line. I don’t remember what a ball arm is, but I imagine it’s some sort of unsightly genetic malformation. With this aberrant growth activated, I drag the mouse back to heave the rod above my head like a samurai poised to attack a melon. Then I dash it forward and release the mouse button. The line unspools with a protracted “zizzle” sound, and yet somehow travels no distance, slowly floating to rest around my shoulders and feet. I must have released too soon.

The nautical phrase “sling your hook” has nothing to do with fishing, surprisingly. It's about hammocks.

Another attempt or two and I’m getting the hang of slinging the line to the far end of the pond. It feels nice – there’s a pleasing whip motion to the mouse-movements that mimics what little I recall of casting an actual line. The downside is that it demands a lot of desk-space for you to scrape the mouse back and forth, even with the sensitivity settings pushed up.

After passing a few competency challenges, only occasionally by accident, I move on to the “Fish-On” tutorial, which is hip fisherperson speak for “what to do when a fish is hooked”. The answer is: press left mouse button. This reels the fish in steadily. Or I can tap it, too, for reasons that are not clear to me. At any rate, when the fish takes the bait, it will suddenly start ricocheting all over the pond. I don’t want it in the reeds, because it’ll tangle the line and the fish might escape and live a marginally happier life. So I swing the mouse in the opposite direction, keep reeling, and tickle the mouse-wheel up. This increases the tension on the line – although I’m a little confused because I thought winding in the line would put tension on it anyway. Maybe this is an extra special kind of tension. The game warns me you can have too much of it, and clearly I do, as the fish promptly thrashes free. How dare it?

I hope it's a fish on the end of this and not a dead badger.

I see more success by wheeling up the tension just enough to start resting the fish away from the direction it’s desperately trying to swim, but no further. Eventually it tires out, and I can begin hauling it in.

There’s something not entirely plausible about the way the hooked fish seems to pinball between opposite banks of the pond, but what do I know? I never even caught a tiddler, let alone a carp the size of my thigh – which is what I apparently yank from the pond here. I pose for the camera with my exhausted, traumatized, suffocating prize, before slinging it back from whence it came, revealing this entire exercise to be nothing but a cruel paeon to my own human vanity.

FIN. Ha ha.

The full game promises more fish types, more environments and freely navigable banksides, so you can pick your own spot. Will that be enough? While I appreciate that the game excises many of the grim hardships of venturing into the Great Outdoors, with all its mud and maggots, it also excises the part of fishing which is contemplative, where you sit and consider the splendour and cruelty of the natural world, and physically feel your place within it. All this is possibly the point of fishing, more than the actual catching of fish – and if a game can’t easily recreate that sense of extreme, profound stillness, then it needs to offer more than a rapid, repetitive abstraction of casting and capturing. It needs to be more varied, more granular, more tactile and more tactical in its approach to catching a fish – a promise the game may well yet reel in, but hasn’t nearly hooked yet.

When do I unlock the machine gun?

Dovetail Games Fishing costs £5 on Steam, and I played version 4.4.0.0 available on 07/11/2014.

29 Comments

Top comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Graham Smith says:

    In case anyone was wondering: Lighthouse Customer has come to an end. Its author Chris Livingston has moved on to new pastures and was no longer available to write it. We wish him well.

    Marsh is one of my favourite writers and has been popping up on RPS on and off for the past year. Although the remit is the same - write about early access games - we decided to take the opportunity to rename the column, both to mark it as a fresh start and because no one ever understood what Lighthouse Customer meant.

    The fish puns are a good way to make him feel welcome.
  1. w0bbl3r says:

    From what I saw of the trailer on the steam store page, it’s only about casting rather than actual fishing.
    It turns the hobby of fishing into a kind of third person shooter, where you are firing lines over an arc instead of bullets in a straight line.

    But either way, I can never get my head around why anyone would pay ANY money to buy this, when they could just go fishing?
    I mean are game developers REALLY trying that hard to stop people from enjoying the countryside? Is every company out there just intent on making people stay at home and never leave?
    From ordering pizza on your mobile app (I hate apps, don’t even have my “phone” connected to the internet, because… it’s a fucking PHONE), to shopping from tesco on your sofa with your OTHER mobile app, to signing on the dole from your sofa (while playing a GAME about working in a warehouse or being a truck driver or taxi driver, ffs), to actually having other hobbies that are still not really hobbies because they are a part of your gaming hobby.
    The world has gone insane, and people are racing it to get there.
    Maybe I am just old, but I really feel like I want to torch the whole fucking lot sometimes (a lot of times actually)

  2. Ashrand says:

    “hammer-wielding amphibious sexual predators”
    Well SOMEONE has seen the script for TMNT 2 before the rest of us.

    Still though, more writing about the quality of early access products can only be a good thing.
    also when that fish got away from you, would you say you dropped the bass?

  3. Perjoss says:

    This will probably be really popular among Cod fans.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Graham Smith says:

    In case anyone was wondering: Lighthouse Customer has come to an end. Its author Chris Livingston has moved on to new pastures and was no longer available to write it. We wish him well.

    Marsh is one of my favourite writers and has been popping up on RPS on and off for the past year. Although the remit is the same – write about early access games – we decided to take the opportunity to rename the column, both to mark it as a fresh start and because no one ever understood what Lighthouse Customer meant.

    The fish puns are a good way to make him feel welcome.

    • Freud says:

      Angling for praise for the new writer, eh?

    • J. Cosmo Cohen says:

      You’ve lured me in with the rename.

      • tasteful says:

        i thought it was a bit of a bait and switch

        • Buuurr says:

          Maybe he just wants to be chums…

        • Premium User Badge

          gritz says:

          Nah, Marsh and Livingston are just from two different schools of thought.

          • Buuurr says:

            Oh, well good then. Maybe we can hope to reel in a whopper with this one… maybe it will have some unexpected depth and… FISHY FISHY FISHY!

    • Palindrome says:

      As long as nobody starts trolling.

      Its a sad day when you have to explain your own puns but in this case its probably a little bit of a niche reference so meh…..
      link to en.wikipedia.org

    • richard says:

      Hi from across the pond, Marsh.

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      I quite liked the joke connected to the first image. I laughed out audibly (not loud – I almost never do that when reading).

      I don’t have a fish-pun to contribute, though. I nearly had one this big, but it got away.

    • Caiman says:

      Early Access games can be a bit fishy, but after reading this article I’m hooked and await the final version with baited breath.

    • Premium User Badge

      Skabooga says:

      Is this Marsh character for reel?

      (Nice article! Looking forward to many more.)

  5. VoxClamant says:

    “Premature evaluation” — subtle. :-) Must be the “…logging your bait into a circular target” that got you!

    • NarcoSleepy says:

      Most come here for the game coverage and analysis. I come for the witty article title names, and pun-filled comments. I don’t even own a conventional pc anymore.

  6. Anthile says:

    That man just caught a massive carp and yet he looks like there is nothing but a howling void inside of him.

    • Ormu says:

      I actually thought it was Agent 47 when I first just looked at the picture.

      • GameCat says:

        Seems like he at last got that using some fake hair will make his disguises much better.

    • Buuurr says:

      “That man just caught a massive carp and yet he looks like there is nothing but a howling void inside of him.”

      I was thinking the same thing. Maybe not even fishing can cheer him up, maybe he still feels like a worm…

  7. Martel says:

    Welcome to the party Marsh.

    What are you going to do with all the early access games you end up buying when they come out? Start of a new series maybe? :)

  8. HumpX says:

    I always assumed Carp fishing was a waste of time, that they wouldnt put up a good fight etc.

    I finally hooked into one last season and it was like trying to pull in a small freight train. While they rarely leap, the strength and heart these fish have more than makes up for it.

    I still refuse to eat one of the disgusting motherfuckers tho…..

  9. Antsy says:

    It’s a fish.

  10. Arren says:

    Couldn’t have any less interest in the game, but this was a joy to read. Looking forward to more.

  11. Wowbagger says:

    Is it weird that I now read this mentally in Marsh’s voice as I’ve been listening to the Crate & Crowbar podcasts?

    (Which are well worth a listen if you haven’t ventured already)

  12. Shardz says:

    We are in dire need of a proper fishing game and I hope this will fill the void. I don’t want a dumbed down arcade type of vibe, but a PROPER fishing game. Unreal can produce stunning results, let’s hope this studio can as well. Although, the video reminds me of an insurance company pitch.