Underestimating the player

Just recently SquEnix put out news that Nier: Automata will have an autoplay mode called Auto Mode. It essentially gives the player character an AI and the player can just sit back and let the game do the what the player is supposed to do.

The argument for autoplay is that allows the player to play the game through and through, from start to end. The question to this is why should he be able to do so if he lacks the skill? Games are designed to play within a set of rules and the players are expected to play after those rules. Breaking those rules is considered an offence, which gets you a sort of penalty. An automode elevates the player over the rules that apply to the gameplay, making them insignificant to a large degree. New Super Mario Bros. Wii had its own autoplay, where the player was prompted a possibility to let the AI slowly crawl a stage through, just without collecting any of the bonuses.

Does an autoplay remove what makes electronic games, especially console and PC games, stand apart from the movies and other passive media? When you distil games down to their core, nothing else but gameplay and their representative graphics stay. What you essentially get in an autoplay mode is the arcade machine’s demo screen.

Naturally, it’s just an option. You can choose not to use it, and that’s all fine and dandy. The consumer is supposed to enjoy the product they purchase fully, no? When it comes to game, they are able to, but it really depends on the game and their own life if they have enough time and will to invest into any game to fully exhaust its contents. That’s where we come into the point where autoplay could be regarded as a positive aspect, but that would ignore that the developers disregard the consumers and their own game design.

The stage design is New Super Mario Bros. Wii was a bit lacklustre all around, but 2D Mario was never hard in itself until the later levels. Super Mario Bros. is still a good example how the whole game is essentially relatively easy, but the people who challenged it, the pro players, played the game through stage by stage never using a Stage Warp. The design shines in the stages and it was no wonder how well Super Mario Bros. 3 was received as it was essentially a total expansion and revamp of the original game.

Platinum’s games have a certain niche. They certainly aren’t something the main mass consumers would go for simply because they don’t have a universal pull. Devil May Cry may have been one of Capcom’s most well-known franchise at one point, but that came from the industry itself as well. The Red Ocean market group in video games is the one that put it on the pedestal, while Mega Man Battle Network went to have six games, a cartoon, card game toys and whatever else a franchise could have. DMC got a cartoon a bit later, but it always a celebrated niche product.

This celebrated niche is what applies to most of Platinum’s products, and Nier itself being a cult classic rather than a mass success, makes a game that has a very specific audience installed to it already, and it can’t attract mass audience. Especially not in the West, because Nier: Automata has that anime flavour that the general consumer doesn’t really go for. That’s why Nier’s Western release had Father instead of Brother. The game itself didn’t change, and neither really did the plot. This audience that Nier: Automata already has because of its developer, writer and series fanbase is those who play action games as is. Especially Platinum fans, who rank up the difficulty to the highest possible and proceed to ram the game to the ground.

Nier: Automata does not need an autoplay mode to ease new players in. It needs a design that would allow the player, new or old, ease into the gameplay and learn its tricks properly as well as design those tricks to function as fluidly as possible. It is not the developers’ fault if the player simply can’t stand up to the task at hand, but it is their job to ease into the game. There is a need for certain games to be insanely hard just as there is a need for the exact opposite. The best of both worlds can be achieved in one game through difficulty selection and design that goes into it. Or even better, proper damn progression design, where the player is allowed to advance and build their strength to face the challenges in the game. The Legend of Zelda and Ultima are perfect examples of this, especially the first two Zelda. Goddamn I need to stop using those two examples, but never underestimate their influence, especially Ultima‘s, on how games now are.

The consumer is not as stupid as the industry likes to paint them as. Neither are they inept. Assuming that a game could sell better for newcomers if they had an option to allow the game to play itself is dumbfounding. It has, thus far, affected none to the sales of the games. Nintendo even included a How to Play DVD with Super Mario Galaxy 2 because they thought people didn’t get how to play the game, when in reality the mass market really wants a damn well made 2D Mario game. This sort of petty underestimation is absolutely retarded and nigh insulting.

The consumer can and will learn to play your game if they find it worth it. The various sports games, like Fifa, have surprisingly expansive and in-depth controls and gameplay, yet they see constantly good sales. Hell, Street Fighter II made a genre known of its relatively complex set-ups and executions a worldwide phenomena and it never dumbed itself down. Not until somebody had the brilliant idea of making autocombos a thing.

If you want people to enjoy your story, make it a movie or anything else. Games are meant to be played and people play games for the play, not to watch the game itself run on auto. That’s what movies are for.

Emotionally attached and rewound

It feels like both Hollywood and video game industry is full of rehashed products nowadays. HD releases, 3D releases, re-imaginings, compilations, upgrade releases for newer platforms and so on. Sometimes it looks and feels like we’re getting only these and sequels and less original, new products.

This ties to the previous post to some extent, with us expecting new products that would be better than out favourites. Having a movie that is better than something that has come before is always a positive thing. Having a game that obsoletes a previous one is just as great.

It’s never that simple thou. We’re not absolutely rational beings that can wage things with a perfect balance. We have preferences and we like things we know is most likely bad for us or is generally considered as shit. Some like modern pop music, some like the 80’s rocks and so on. We tend to be on the offensive when something we like is called out on its less than high quality nature or when something better comes up. We don’t just prefer what we know already, we are heavily biased towards to what we have forged an emotional bond with, and that’s what providers like. The moment they manage to make you emotionally attached to their brand and franchise, they are able to sell side products and other items to you. This isn’t something we should be ashamed of, as we do it willingly and we enjoy it to large extent. This applies to our philosophies and personal believes too despite them being absolutely insane at times. Then we look for similar circle and disregard the opposition most of the time, but we are able to step out from this circlejerk and observe ourselves and our interests and choices from a third view point. More often than not we simply do not enact this option due to comfort we have. It would be healthy and recommended thing to do, and I encourage everyone to do so occasionally.

But let’s move the talk towards remakes.

Remakes, any sort of remakes, is perhaps a bit too common thing nowadays. HD upgrades are a bit too common nowadays, but I it is in fashion to bring up older games to new hardware that does not support backwards compatibility. This is something that companies should avoid, as backwards compatibility was once a standard, and then came back with the PS2 and similar devices. With the increasing complexity in hardware, true backwards compatibility is becoming a rarer thing and companies are thus resorting in emulation. Emulating backwards compatibility is not the best option, and 360’s compatibility list is riddled with errors. Xbone’s compatibility is very, very low at this moment and it seems the developers needs to code an emulator for each and every single game separately to achieve at least satisfying results. Then again, consoles like NES don’t demand as much as juice to gain high accuracy emulation, and Nintendo should already offer cross-platform accounts, so we don’t need to buy Super Mario Bros. for each console one has.

In this sense, remakes do make sense. With a new release the developers are also able to upgrade the visuals to modern day standards if they so choose to, but also to fix errors and bugs in the game code. Perhaps even add a better translation, if necessary. This is very rarely the case. Remakes are more or less HD ports of PS2 games, and I would even call the games that were developed for the 360 and PS3 and then ported to current generation consoles as HD ports too. I’m not sure if they lump the DLC content with them, but if so, then you’re really getting the game that it should’ve been in the first place.

But if we have backwards compatibility, even if it is emulation, do we have a need for remakes? Seems like the customers seem to think so, especially if there’s an emotional attachment to the product.

You saw this coming; does Final Fantasy VII need a remake? Who am I to argue against the core fans of the product or those who have a deep emotional connection with the Final Fantasy VII as franchise? We all know it’ll make truckloads of money simply because it has such rabid fanbase and a lot of the people who weren’t even born when the game came out can now play the game without any problems with emulation or dated graphics.

Remakes can never really stand on their own because of their inherent nature. They will be, and should be, compared to the original piece they are based on. It’s not a given that they’ll be better than the progenitor. Maverick Hunter X on PSP, a remake of Mega Man X, is often regarded as a lesser version due to chances it made to the overall feeling of the game.

A question is; how can a remake of FFVII stand up to the original? Well, it really needs to be the same shit in different pants with better graphics and it’ll do fine. We know that the devs want to stick with the original as much as possible, or at least so they say. We’ll have to wait for the actual results when the game is released.

Let’s disregard the emotional and clear nature of the remake and fans. Let’s ask if a game that managed to be a huge hit in really needs to be remade. If the product is as good as people say and has managed to hit just the right spot with so many people across the world, then why should it need a remake? Because times have changed? Because they know how there are people who can’t stand pre-2010 graphics?

Final Fantasy VII doesn’t need a remake, as the original game plays as intended to this day and fantasy stories like this rarely lose their power. However, it does need a remake because Square-Enix likes to get money and the development team seems to be unable to make a better product. We can argue whether or not either Final Fantasy VIII or IX are better than XII, but that’s up to individual opinion. What we can’t argue against is the popularity VII still enjoys and the amount of its copies always sell. Then you have the fact that VII is the only series that has become a franchise of its own. It’s only natural to appease the long time fans and introduce the game to people who haven’t experienced it before.

The question is; will it concentrate on the plot more than previously? If it is a proper remake, it would also upgrade the game mechanics, but seeing how badly Final Fantasy XIII was handled as a whole, I’m not holding my breath. It is kind of sad to say that the only way to make a product obsolete is to remake that exact same product, just with a lick of new paint on it with additional bells and whistles, and then see it fly off the shelves. I don’t know if tells more about the consumers or about the companies.

Perhaps the remake turns out to be completely awful and everybody will be disappointed after their initial hype. You never know, but it wouldn’t be good to assume either direction. You always have the original, and it’s not going to go anywhere.

It still lives

So, the game’s not canned. this begs the question why it took nearly a week from SquEnix to respond to the rumours. At least FF Versus XIII will have proper cities if his word is anything to go by.

Nevertheless, the game has been under development so long, that any one of us can already call that it will be at the same level as Duke Nukem Forever. A long development time has never resulted into a good product. As an extreme example see the Space race which resulted in getting man on to the Moon in very short period of time. For contrast, the Furby toys had ten times the technology than what the astronauts had.

Time is a relevant factor in design, and in work in general. Without proper midpoints with set goals you’ll end up with products that has been released late and now ready. Everybody knows this but the game developers. Why are they allowing this kind of bullshit? Managing projects is one of the simplest and basic thing you learn in grade school, and yet these people can’t do that.

Limitations are STILL your friend

How’s that creativity working for ya, SquEnix? Japanese developers have an obsession for creating something new. Whenever a game designers from East comes in with an idea for a game and its design, the Eastern man will tell you how it will be new and nothing like has ever existed because it was the creativity he holds that gave the design birth. A Western developer will be more grounded and explain that his design will be like this game with elements of this and that game, but mixing with something his own or tweaking these elements.

And it’s the Eastern games that are in dire situation.

A long development time has always resulted in mediocre game at best. Eight times out of ten the game is nothing short of disappointment and falls into bargain bins faster than rock tied to a brick sinks to the bottom of the lake. Final Fantasy Versus XIII has has been under works for six years. In that time Squenix could’ve released at least four or five games with the same budget and they’ve could’ve made money. I’m adamant that creativity was reason to this elongated development time, if you can call it that. Most likely they were trying to do something new in their minds, but as with many artists, the developers most likely never understood what they were aiming at, or didn’t have a clue what they were supposed to be doing. In other words; they were not crafting anything, but sitting on their assess and telling each other how awesome their creative ideas are.

When it comes making a product that you want to succeed, you need to remember that creativity isn’t the key. It’s the lock. Knowledge is what you need. Creativity is not knowledge, it is the anti-knowledge, fiction of the mind.

A Final Fantasy game is actually easy to craft properly. Combine elements from both computer role playing games and arcade simplicity to create deep but simple gameplay, much like what Dragon Quest did. Final Fantasy games could be played with the D-Pad and one button alone if done properly. A computer RPG has a lot of content, and story is there to frame the world and this content, not the other way around like Squenix thinks. If they want to make story the foremost thing, then they should just make new Final Fantasies into million dollar Visual Novels with quick time events. They wouldn’t be making games any more, but they would be making better products. Final Fantasy XIII was an abomination of a game. The staff wanted to avoid making cities because it was hard and lot of work in HD. Tells the tale of creative developers and how HD is taking its toll on game development. On the NES and SNES you saw large cities and beautiful forests everywhere. The story was there to make the player travel throughout the world and fight against whatever evil was there. Final Fantasy games actually need purely evil characters much like Ultima games. That’s why Xenosaga’s story isn’t as compelling as it tries to be.

I’m not even interested in Final Fantasy. I was around FFVI, but it wasn’t until much later I visited the PlayStation and later games. They were pretty horrible. At least Dragon Quest games let me play the damn game. Final Fantasy Versus XIII would’ve followed the same line of downwards spiral that the series and company has been in for the last ten to fifteen years. The merge with Enix didn’t do anything to lift the quality of the games either. Some have argued the other way around. People may blame on bad sales or disinterest in the current franchises, but the main reason is creativity. Creativity won’t bring in any money.

Final Fantasy I was created under heavy pressure. It was supposed to be the last game developers were to make under the same roof, so they put in a simple but complex story for a NES game, refined command system from Dragon Quest and overall polished product. It was made in about a year, and it saved the company. There wasn’t just limitations from going out of business, but time was limited as, as was the resources they could pour in. With such limitations they made a product that launched the company into a new age.

You can’t have a successful product without limitations
. Allow creativity to take control and all the work has been for nothing.

This attitude really pisses me off. I’m willing to pay for my games the full price if they’re good. I paid full price on DonDonPachi Resurrection (shooting games will never be massively popular due to their nature) but I can’t recall what was the last game I paid full price before that on either HD console. Wouldn’t it be better if more people would pay full price on their games rather than waiting for sales and second-hand stores to have them?

Even if this rumour on Versus XIII is called false later on, you can mark my words that this product can never the money SqueNix has invested into it. As such, I’m glad that they decided to outsource their games to other developers. This way developers who want to make good Final Fantasy game are able to make more money and show how’s it done. This would be the best case, but seeing how the industry’s rolling I doubt that this’ll happen any time soon. Developers, please prove me wrong.

Terranigma would sell… most likely

Square-Enix was once a company I followed. Two actually, Squaresoft and Enix. During the last decade after their merging we can pretty safely say that they made most of their money on remakes of their past titles of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. The new Final Fantasy games haven’t even made me interested in them, and I bought Final Fantasy XII just because it’s part of the Ivalice Alliance. Never really bothered playing it more than some eight hours, and then basically discarded it to me shelf. Perhaps some day I’ll return to it.

I have to ask if Square-Enix is having a bias towards the games they own. We’ve seen that it’s the Square side of the company controlling and overseeing everything, and very little Enix is in there. We’ve seen rereleases of multiple Final Fantasy games from PlayStation to GameBoy Advance to PSP, but we really haven’t seen any Enix games been remade and released.

SquEnix has an interesting in this regard. They could play it all out with the Heaven and Earth tetralogy and call it the the only contender ever to stand against Final Fantasy on equal grounds or the like. Back in the day you could hear whispers of Terranigma being the challenger to Final Fantasy III (VI). Nowadays it’s almost universally accepted as one of the defining games in the Action RPG genre on the SNES. Being only released in Europe and Japan, the game’s pretty damn expensive unless you’re buying the German language version. Rereleasing this game (and adding more dungeons and other nifty extra stuff) would drop the English cart’s price even among collectors, and more importantly it would allow pretty much everybody to get their hands on Terranigma. The game does need a retranslation much like every other 16-bit game does. SNES game reverse engineering is easy these days even of they have lost the source code; they can just use the same tools emulation scene uses. It’s not unheard of.

Then on what console should Terranigma be rereleased, you ask. Seeing we’re getting bunch on new consoles next year in E3, putting (updated) Terranigma into WiiWare, XBLA and PSN wouldn’t be a bad move. I’d love the idea of getting a PSP/Vita or some sort of DS release, but seeing neither Sony’s or Nintendo’s handhelds are making any proper money, the only realistic route is digital sale. That doesn’t mean they could be cheap about it. On the contrary, they could be smart and pour few extra resources into the project and convert it into proper HD, or at least make it that the pixels won’t make your eyes bleed on a 50″ screen.

I’m usually against digital distribution because the customer has the least control over his products in that form. Good Old Games is one of the few digital distributors I can trust. However, I do recognize it’s advantages, and with Terranigma we can actually put the game’s quality into test with digital distribution. One advantage it has over traditional physical distribution that some of the competition is levelled down. It’s not eliminated, but every product has the same equal opportunity. On WiiWare it would be going against the likes of Super Mario Bros. in popularity. On XBLA and PSN there’s PacMan and the like. It’s a harsh competition. If Terranigma is as good as people tend to regard it as, it’ll sell like hotcakes. If it’s not, then most it’ll most likely stay somewhere around Top 50 selling games, but that’s it.

I do believe that Terranigma would sell. It depends on what SquEnix would do with it. The vanilla Terranigma shouldn’t cost more than 5 bucks or so. Twenty if they remake it like they did with the GBA and PSP ports. SquEnix doesn’t really have anything to lose with this idea, much like they don’t have anything to lose if they ever actually decide to remake Final Fantasy VII. However, FFVII remake would fetch far larger development team and longer time to properly make, while they can just whip Terranigma up just like they did with the Chrono Trigger port to the DS.

Speaking of Chrono Trigger, the amount if English cartridges on both Trigger and Terranigma are limited, but if you ever happen to check the prices of the Japanese carts you’ll notice that they’re much cheaper. Chrono Trigger’s actually commonly bundled with random 10 Super Famicom game packs that game stores sell to get rid of them, as is Terranigma. I actually got my copy of Tenchi Souzou around 15 euros few years back, complete with box, manual and the protective plastic bag. Seeing how the game frequently fetches 80€+ prices in every auction, it makes me a bit dumbfounded that SquEnix hasn’t managed to shove their hands in. 80€ is high price for Terraniga, seeing that a rather large quantity of them is in circulation in the end. Just like with bad games, it’s the collectors’ value and all that which jacks up the price. It’s stupid to see Terranigma go with such high prices. Having played the game quite some time, I can safely say that it is a good game by every standard you can think of. However, just like Final Fantasy III/VI, you do feel how age has caught upon some of its mechanics. Games like Super Mario Bros. 3 are basically ageless, but games like Final Fantasy and Terranigma are usually ravaged by time. Slowly, but surely. Another example would be the Ys series, but Nihon Falcom has been remaking the series for some time now and these remakes will stand the test of time better than the two SNES classics. Not because they’re newer, but because they’re more refined, just like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Space Invaders is. SquEnix has all the means to make Terranigma shine like it should.

And while they’re at it, they might want to check the rest of the tetralogy; Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia/Time and The Granstream Saga.

Hmm, perhaps I’ll dwell deeper into Granstream Saga some day. It’s the ignored last game of the Heaven and Earth tetralogy, so visiting it after visiting Ys would seem viable.