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So, What's Happening With Capcom?

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So, What's Happening With Capcom?

Capcom might just be the single most confusing company in videogames right now.

That’s right, more than Microsoft’s Xbox One backtracking, Nintendo’s WiiU bullishness, and Square Enix’s maddening attitude towards Final Fantasy, Capcom has managed to make their every business move so confusing, so baffling, that they’ve developed one of the largest hatedoms in gaming.

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There isn’t a news article about Capcom in existence that doesn’t have some commenter fuming beneath it about how it’s the worst company in existence ever and why did they kill Mega Man those horrible people. But I don’t think these people necessarily hate Capcom. It’s hard to hate a non-physical entity that exists to put out products for your entertainment, even when they aren’t always great. My best guess is that these people are, like me, completely and utterly baffled by Capcom, and are angry to see their favourite games caught up in the mess they’re making right now.

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Let’s start with the most recent red flag: PAX. At PAX last weekend, Capcom’s booth was only showcasing one unreleased game: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies. There was also a photo-op area for the new Strider game, and then demos of games that have already been released. Some demos for games like Monster Hunter 3, which came out in March. It’s strange, but it makes you think. Capcom’s marquee games right now are Ace Attorney and, judging by the amount of advertising still going on for it, Ducktales Remastered. Nothing against either of those games, especially not Ace Attorney since I love it so, but two digital only, niche titles don’t seem to spell out “marquee game for one of gaming’s giants” do they?

Meanwhile, Keiji Inafune, former head of R&D at Capcom and creator of Mega Man, announced a kickstarter for his new project, Mighty No. 9. To spare you the finer details, No. 9 is essentially Inafune making a new Mega Man game now that he’s left Capcom and no longer has access to his character. Inafune left Capcom while two Mega Man games were in development, both reportedly eaten alive by executive meddling, and cancelled soon after Inafune departed from the Company.

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But now that the Mighty No. 9 kickstarter is already funded and hitting stretch goals left and right, I imagine Capcom isn’t so pleased about cancelling those games. I imagine they’re wondering why they didn’t let Inafune make the Mega Man he (and the fans) wanted.

That or they’re still busy putting out other PR fires. Between Devil May Cry fans getting up in arms about the recent reboot, causing the game to miss sales expectations (one million copies isn’t bad, but it seemed like the game was worth a lot more to Capcom), and Resident Evil 6 hitting 4.9 million copies and still being considered a financial disappointment, Capcom is preoccupied with corporate schizophrenia. They can’t seem to decide what company they want to be.

Capcom, pictured here about to do battle with Capcom.

Capcom, pictured here about to do battle with Capcom.

Capcom wants to be like Activision, taking massive risks by pumping huge amounts of money into huge games and getting to call 4.9 million sales a disappointment. Capcom also wants to be like the more fiscally responsible Aksys games, relegating riskier propositions like a western release of Ace Attorney to digital only. But Capcom also wants to be like Atlus, releasing the previously digital only Ducktales Remastered in a limited physical edition with goodies inside the box. Of course, they also want to be like EA, taking risks on smaller games like Remember Me and making them big under Capcom’s umbrella. But then they also want to be like Nintendo, and rely on their classic staples by rereleasing old titles on every digital platform under the sun. And finally, they want to be like Capcom of the ‘90s, releasing minor updates and closely related sequels to Monster Hunter and Street Fighter for as long as people keep buying them.

But none of these companies MOs really fit together in any cohesive way. Especially when your company isn’t doing so well, financially speaking, and you’ve just suffered significant layoffs, like Capcom has.

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And what’s on the horizon for Capcom? Dead Rising 3, which, if its showing at E3 is anthing to go by, is trading off on the series’ trademark humour and zaniness for grim, gritty and brown, presumably to turn a once decently performing series into a next gen cash cow. It’s not a bad move for the company, since it’ll probably fall more in line with current popular consumer taste, but doesn’t bode well for Dead Rising fans, who seem to just want more servebot helmets and mega busters in their million zombie death carnivals thank you very much.

If I was Capcom’s PR, I’d be seeing a feast of good publicity just around the corner. With the company (seemingly) strapped for cash, reusing the Resident Evil 6 engine (which must have cost a fortune) and the DmC engine (which was 100% solid as a Devil May Cry game) for lower budget, back to basics games for each franchise seems like it would kill four birds with one or two stones. Fans would get their franchises back to normal; Capcom would release highly successful instalments in their marquee franchises, and make a nice profit off reusing assets from two underperforming games. I understand that fan desire isn’t enough to get games greenlit, but this seems like an obvious chose to (an admittedly outsider) me.

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So what happened to Capcom? Just five years ago, they reinvented and revived the fighting game genre, turning Street Fighter into a serious franchise again and putting fighting games on everyone’s mind. Ten years ago, they created some of this generation’s most popular genres; the third person shooter with Resident Evil 4, and the third person action game with Devil May Cry. Twenty years ago, Capcom invented modern fighting games in the first place, and before that, codified the template for a side scrolling action game that wasn’t Mario. Now, they’re releasing bloated, broken Resident Evils, shutting down any Mega Man related project that might make it past the greenlight stage, all the while finding new, contradictory ways to baffle fans.

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Ace Attorney not receiving a limited physical release while Ducktales does makes a little bit of sense, considering Ducktales will sell more in a week than AA5 probably ever will, but still leave Ace Attorney fans in the cold. A $60 dollar limited edition with a soundtrack sold exclusively through the Capcom store would probably even make its money back at this point. Similarly, after touting that Mega Man Legends 3 will have unprecedented fan input on design decisions, Capcom cancelled the game, and never released the paid beta/demo. I have to imagine that making back any money on a cancelled project would be a high priority for a company that seems as down as Capcom right now, and releasing the demo on the 3DS eShop for 10 bucks would recoup something. And something is always better than nothing.

Honestly, what I think is happening to Capcom is what’s happening at every major Japanese publisher right now. The West has fully taken over, and these companies are struggling to find relevance now that they can’t just take being the mainstream for granted anymore. But Capcom’s the one that’s receiving most of the hate. People have totally given up on Sqaure Enix, and Nintendo will always have its diehards, but they always come back to hating Capcom. I’m not sure why. My best guess is because Capcom was one of the few companies that always had titles that appealed to the west. Games like Mega Man, Resident Evil and Street Fighter caught on in the west in a bigger way than Final Fantasy or Castlevania, and occupy a pretty big place in western gaming culture. People hate Capcom because they care about those games, and the longer Capcom spends confusing the living hell out of everyone, the longer we have to wait before seeing them get back to form.

I just hope they get back to form at all.

 

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The 2DS is Not an April Fool’s Joke: It’s a Really Smart Move

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The 2DS is Not an April Fool’s Joke: It’s a Really Smart Move

Over the years, I’ve learned it’s impossible to predict Nintendo, and that’s why you can never count them out. When the 3DS was dying, no one could have seen the massive price cut and ambassador program that gave the system the second wind it needed to become a serious threat that went on to essentially kill the Vita. But somehow, even though I expect to be surprised by then every time, Nintendo always manages to do something completely insane that no one could ever see coming.

This week, it was the 2DS.

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If you haven’t heard of it by now, the 2DS is Nintendo’s new 3DS iteration. It’s a kid-focused handheld that strips out the glassesless 3D feature and the clamshell design in exchange for a lower price and increased durability. Which is to say it looks like it was made by Tonka and it costs $119.99, about $40 cheaper than the standard 3DS.

According to Nintendo, it also boasts slightly increased battery life, a bigger stylus with a dock on the side of the system (where it should have always been), and a sleep mode switch that replaces closing the 3DS clamshell to activate sleep mode. Additonally, the two screens are actually one large touchscreen separated by the casing, with the top screen covered to prevent people from touching it.

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It’s a smart move from Nintendo. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence around the internet and from Gamestop employees about parents holding off on the 3DS out of worry that it’ll ruin their children’s eyes. The 3DS (and every 3DS game) even has to have a little notice on it, warning that children under 7 probably shouldn’t play games in 3D, lest their corneas rocket out of their eye sockets or something. So it assuages that worry for parents.

The new design also gets rid of the 3DS’s flimsy hinge. I’m not one to jump around and move a lot while playing a handheld game, but I’ve had the 3DS top screen shift around when the bus takes a sharp turn, or the subway gets a little bumpy, I can’t imagine how bad it must be for a kid, who’s probably going to get a little hyperactive with their new toy. The brick-like design, with the covered top screen and thick top makes the 2DS look like a safer proposition for parents afraid their kids will break their $160 toy on day one.

Now, it’s not all sunshine and roses for the 2DS. Its existence and branding aren’t exactly the best thing in the world for Nintendo. The name is one thing. We all know it’s ridiculous sounding, but it’s also too clever by half. Sure its sort of a cut little pun, similar to the 3DS, but think back to when that system launched. I can remember Gamestop employees frustrated trying to explain the difference between the regular DS and the 3DS to confused parents. They weren’t frustrated because the parents were misinformed; they were frustrated because it’s sort of hard to explain why a DSi can’t play 3DS games when their names are so close.

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And that’s the kicker. Nintendo painted themselves into a corner with the name. Of course they wanted to name it something similar to the DS, the DS sold tens of millions. But now consumers don’t get the difference. The same thing happened to the WiiU.  WiiU doesn’t sound like a sequel to the Wii, it sounds like an expansion, like the Wii MotionPlus, or the Wii Speak. Even Sony has the sense to just number them.

You now have three 3DS systems on the market, alongside the DS, which is still selling pretty decently. The DS can’t play 3DS games, but the 2DS can. But the 3DS and 3DS XL play all the games that the 2DS can, only with the option to play them in 3D. And the 3DS XL has bigger screens, which don’t actually change the experience. And depending o the DS you get it also has a slot at the bottom for Game Boy Advance games from a decade ago.

Do you see where it gets confusing?

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Not to mention the fact that the lack of 3D splinters the market. There really aren’t very many 3DS games that have a heavy focus on the 3D features, but games like Super Mario 3D Land, the best selling game on the system, have levels that can get pretty difficult if you have the 3D turned off. If the 2DS takes off, we’re less likely to see games that utilize the 3D, since anyone who has a 2DS won’t be able to play. Of course, I can’t remember the last time I turned on the 3D, so it’s no great loss to me, but it certainly got a lot trickier for a developer with an interesting idea for a 3D game to get the greenlight.

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But make no mistake. The 2DS will take off. It’s launching on October 12th, the same day as Pokémon X and Y, in blue and red colours that scream “bundle with Pokémon” to me. It’s targeted at young children, who are going to want Pokémon this holiday season, and is launching with a system that addresses parental concerns while also getting pretty close to very parent friendly $100. It’s an almost guaranteed formula for sales.

Nintendo is going to have an uphill battle explaining what the 2DS is to parents, and explaining why it’s different than the 3DS, but with enough signage, I think they can overcome that hurdle.

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There’s a more interesting nugget hidden amongst the 2DS debate though. It only has one screen, and it’s shaped shockingly like a tablet. You’d need to be living under a rock to miss all the news stories about kids getting into tablets at younger and younger ages, and becoming incredibly well informed about their devices. Nintendo wants a piece of that action, and they want it bad. Kids are mostly using tablets to play games, and Nintendo can offer something app developers can’t: Pokémon and Mario.

I doubt the 2DS is ever going to steal the iPad’s thunder, but between it and the Wii U game pad, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next Nintendo handheld doesn’t launch with tablet and clamshell options. One intended for kids, one marketed to older gamers. Nintendo might pretend they aren’t afraid of Apple, but the 2DS marks the start of a serious effort to take tablet gaming back into Nintendo’s hands. After all, the Game Boy was basically a brick with a screen, and what is that if not the tablet of the late ‘80s?

 

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Turn on, Tune In, Drop out (of Videogames): The Pandora's Box of Fan Interaction

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Turn on, Tune In, Drop out (of Videogames): The Pandora's Box of Fan Interaction

After a long, drawn-out twitter feud last week, Phil Fish cancelled his upcoming game, Fez 2, quit videogames, and for a few days there, quit the internet.

You might know the story by now. Phil Fish, game designer, creator of the “worst map ever” award winning game, Fez, and subject of the documentary Indie Game the Movie, is prone to emotional outbursts. If you haven’t heard of him from the projects he’s been involved in, you might remember the time he said that all Japanese games suck while on stage at last years Game Developers Conference. Or maybe you know him from his frequent twitter battles with games analyst Kevin Dent. Or maybe that time he publicly stated he couldn’t update his own game after releasing a broken patch due to Microsoft’s draconian patching policies.

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And more recently, Marcus Beer, who rants as the accused Fish and Braid creator Jonathan Blow of using the press as a means to an end. He specifically cited the fact that neither gave comments on Microsoft’s self publishing policy for indie games until after the fact. This led Beer to call the two “self-styled kings of indie games” and accused the pair of only giving quotes to the press when it suited their needs.

Fish took Beer to task on twitter, fans of the two, as well as casual observers and the legion of people don’t necessarily like Beer, but definitely don’t like Fish got involved, and the rest is history.

Basically, there hasn’t been a moment in the last couple of years where Fish wasn’t in the public eye, made even more apparent by his active twitter presence. Going back through his replies and looking at forum posts about him around the internet, it’s pretty clear that a significant number of people took it upon themselves to constantly put Fish down. Heck, according to him, the reason he’s getting out of videogames isn’t because of his most recent argument, but the constant abuse he faces on the internet, day in and day out.

 

The thing is, I find it hard to blame him for this. It’s hard to make things for an audience that seems to only be out for your blood, especially something as personal and draining as a videogame. I think he could have handled it more elegantly and not quit videogames entirely, but at the end of the day it’s hard to argue with the kind of abuse he put up with.

We live in an era of facebook, twitter and e-mail, where the person who created your favourite game, song, movie or book is just a few keystrokes away. But for most people, we live in an era where the person who made something you don’t like is so much closer. It’s hard to be genuine and express your gratitude for something you like. It’s easier to find someone you don’t and by a jerk to them. Abuse is easy to give, but it’s hard to filter through for the person getting it.

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Sure, Fish has a reputation for making emotionally charged, off the cuff remarks, and he probably knows that. Yes, he could have put two and two together and realized that being constantly active on twitter and engaging with his trolls would eventually lead to a situation like this, but these days, it’s becoming impossible not to be a public persona.

Look at Super Smash Bros. director Masahiro Sakurai. There aren’t a lot of public Japanese developers, at least not public from a Western perspective, but Sakurai has an active twitter presence, he writes a monthly column on game design in Famitsu magazine, and when developing a Smash Bros. game, makes daily updates to fans on his progress.

Nowadays, he posts pictures to the Smash Bros. community on miiverse, Nintendo’s Wii U social network. The most interesting comments are preserved by a blog called Please Sakurai, where the blog’s manager spotlights the posts made by people specifically trying to contact Sakurai.

 

Wherein Megaman is Sakurai, and DK is the fans.

Wherein Megaman is Sakurai, and DK is the fans.

As far as I know, Sakurai doesn’t speak English, but the people trying to reply to him, at least on the North American miiverse, don’t really know that. They request (mostly outlandish) characters, new info, and occasionally, get very angry and try to insult Sakurai personally for his design choices. 

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These aren’t the only mean-spirited comments on the blog, but they’re probably some of the most mean spirited. The blog doesn’t really highlight any posts that are people having rational, logical problems with the game, but knowing how the internet works, I have to imagine they’re very, very rare in the first place.

There are plenty of positive comments too, but always tied to requests. I know Sakurai can’t read these, so I’m left to imagine what would happen if he could. First of all he wouldn’t be able to do anything, because I’m pretty sure the character roster and choices about cutscenes were finalized a long time ago. But I wonder if he’d be disheartened by the negative comments. Maybe not enough to change anything, definitely not enough to make him quit, but enough to make him wonder why there are people who are dedicating their time and internet presence to attacking him.

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Not so say that communication between audience and creators is a bad thing. Look at what happened to Mass Effect. Fans got together and expressed their displeasure with the game, then found rational arguments, and presented a unified front. The organized campaign wasn’t one of personal attacks or internet bile, but of a reasoned argument made by people who loved Mass Effect, and wanted to see it end in a more satisfying way.

Whether they were right to do it, or if the ending actually sucked, or if their motivations were pure doesn’t matter. What does is that they created positive change in a game they loved by speaking with the creators. And they did it without resorting to being anonymous jerks on the internet, at least for the most part.

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The internet’s obsession with social media and reducing anonymity has opened this channel for people to communicate with creators. The audience and the artist are no longer separated by each other by security guards, PR handlers, critics, and the work they’re associated with. The two can now speak, one on one.

I think it does more good than bad. I think a lot of people have thick enough skin that an anonymous internet troll won’t affect them as much, and are more capable of focusing on the people who stay positive. I also think we might see more instances of fans banding together and creative negative change. Right now, focus grouping and the unbelievable success of Call of Duty has “told” publishers that first person shooters will always sell, and a game needs multiplayer to be viable. That’s completely different from this, but it’s not hard to imagine that publishers and market researchers will turn to the internet next, and look to the masses of uniformed fans who don’t necessarily know what they want out of a game until they get it.

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But, I also think that having this channel opened between artists and creators makes both more informed. Fans get to learn more about how the sausage is made, and developers find out more about what they people who play their games want. They can choose to listen or not, and then hope that when they don’t, the internet abuse will be worth it because they’ll know they’re right.

It’s become impossible not to be on some social network or another for people under 30, and as time keeps passing, less and less of people responsible for making the media we consume will be able to be private people. The internet has offered these people Pandora’s box. Do they want to hear exactly what fans want from them? Do they want to know what’s popular? Do they want to hear the personal stories of the people who were touched by the thing they made? All they have to do is open the box. But with that comes the abuse, the trolls, and the people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

For now, the choice is theirs. The box isn’t open for everyone just yet. But give it a few years, and there won’t be a single person left without a presence on the internet. After all, everyone always opens the box; we all just want to know what’s inside.

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