Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I'm not sure how to interpret this

i just read this over at kotaku, and I gots to say, I'm not sure what to make of it.

Saying that "Japanese gaming is dead" is a rather vague and comparatively skewed statement.  What constitutes "Japanese gaming"?  Is it a reference to Japanese developed games?  Or to games that are sold exclusively in Japan?  Or something else entirely?

The example given is how Resident Evil 5 sold 5 million copies in comparison to 17 million for Grand Theft Auto 4, and 20 million for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.  Ok, bad example buddy.  You are basing an argument on a radically different demographic.

The most notable thing here is that, this is Resident Evil 5, and unlike Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, this series has an established canon and a cohesive story.  All the games in the series are interconnected, and there is a lot of back story for someone to need to know to make all the elements of the story presented in this particular game to make sense.  For someone going to the game store and seeing this on the shelf, who is just turning 17 or 18 or 15 or whatever, they are probably going to pass on this title because of a lack of familiarity with it.

Resident Evil is almost 14 years old now.  I think.  I think the first game came out in 1997.  Regardless, the point stands, the series was introduced at a time when selling a million copies of a game was a HUGE landmark.  As the original Playstation aged and had its installed base grow, it was still easy to go out and pick up the first game, the first 2 games, and sit down and play through them and talk about them with a few of your friends who had also played the game.  Playstation 2 comes along, and there was 2 new Resident Evil games for the system:  Code Veronica and 4.  After that, the series shifted to remakes and prequels.  Not as many people generally buy those kinds of games. 

Jump ahead 4 years, and Resident Evil 5 comes out.  Is it a blockbuster name?  Yeah, sure, but the target demographic and the actual demographic for the game are going to be radically different.  The Resident Evil games got more and more convoluted as the series went on, and trying to jump in late in the series is not going to be easy or fun for the majority of people, regardless of what you are talking about.  You aren't going to read Harry Potter book 6 without having read books 1-5 first, are you?

Fuck no.  You'll just be confused as shit.

Now, continuing on, Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto are radically different.  There is no interconnection with these games outside of the fact that they are new iterations of high profile titles.  What happened in Grand Theft Auto 3 had absolutely nothing to do with Grand Theft Auto 4, nor San Andreas or Vice City.  Jumping straight in to Grand Theft Auto is easy and requires no character background.  Call of Duty is no different.  You put the disc in, choose multiplayer, and go to town.  Everything you need to know about the past, present, and future of that game you learn as you play.

Now, having said those things, you also have to look at what makes those games sell the 20 million copies they do.  For Grand Theft Auto 4, its media attention, straight up.  The NAME has a history because of notoriety, so it profits from sensationalism.  There is nothing spectacular about Grand Theft Auto from a playability standpoint.  The game is horribly boring when you are not doing a story driven mission.  If you are just walking around the street shopping for clothes or whatever, that shit is boring as fuck.  The game has almost no replay value because ones you play through the mission, you don't really care what happens to anyone involved.  And anyone who says they actually enjoy the free roaming of the game is lieing about something. 

Did I pick up the game after beating it to go around and kill people?  Yeah, but its not because it was fun.  Its because it was FUNNY.  It was funny to hear the random shit the people in the town would say when you pulled a gun on them, or stole their car, or to watch them fly 60 feet through the air when you hit them with a helicopter rotor.  After you do it a few times, it becomes monotonous.  I know I started doing it just to kill time when I was waiting to go to work, or watch a particular show on TV, or hang out with someone.

Looking at Call of Duty, the thing that makes it popular is you get to talk shit to people as you are stuffing a grenade up their ass.  Its actually fun because it is constantly a challenge, and the experience, while repetitious, is not necessarily predictable.  Its fun because you never know how many headshots you will get on your best friend, or how many you will take from someone else.

So, saying "Japanese gaming is dead" because your company didn't make Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto is a pretty jealous statement I think.

But more importantly, what exactly is "Japanese gaming"?

When I think Japanese gaming, I think games developed by Japanese companies.  Games like Star Ocean, and Final Fantasy, and Ico, and Pokemon.  But more specifically, I think genres.  Role-playing games, adventure games, puzzle games, and those god damn dating sim games.  What the fuck is the point of those?

When I think western games, I think of games like Mass Effect, and Fable, and Dead Space, things like that.  Western games have a tendency to take elements from multiple types of games and try to make them work as a unique experience.  Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn't, sometimes it leads to a good result, sometimes it leads to a bad result.

Looking at Dead Space (because I actually like that game), its an FPS game, done in third person, with RPG elements thrown in.

If you look at games similar to Dead Space that came before, you see Doom, and Wolfenstein, and Half-life, your standard First Person shooters.  But you can also see inspiration from games like Resident Evil and Silent hill.  The first few games are purely western developed, that latter are Japanese developed.  In the first games, the concept is simple:  pick up a gun, kill shit, save the world.  There is nothing more to it than that.  Half-Life has a few puzzles to solve, you may have to step on a platform in one area to open a door somewhere else in the original Doom and Wolfenstein, but at the end of the day, it comes down to "I have bullets, you will die."

Resident Evil and Silent hill are radically different.  Same idea, sure, you find bullets, you kill shit, but the primary focus of those games is more on figuring out why what is happening is happening, with killing shit thrown in because its what people like to do in games. 

Jump forward a couple ten years, and we are introduced to games like Dead Space and Mass Effect and similar things.  Dead space is a western developed FPS that takes a lot of the deeper elements of Japanese designed games and makes a mixing of the two styles.  Which is a natural, and for the most part, good progression.  Dead Space has the inventory management and puzzle solving and story development of something like Resident Evil, while also delivering the pure, fun, "I'm killing shit" of games like doom.

At the same time, you have a Japanese game like Demon's Souls that comes along, and as complex as it is, it has damn near nothing as far as story is concerned, so in that aspect, it is very much similar to old western games like Doom and Wolfenstein.  All you know, and all you need to know in Demon's Souls is that a demon is trying to take over the world, and you are going to stop him.

But anyone who reads gaming magazines or sights know it is not that simple.  The fact of the matter is, if you make bad games, no one is going to buy your games.  And bad can be bad for a number of reasons, and commonly, in Japanese games, it is complexity, or repitition.  One frustrates, the other bores, and both kill sales.

So, again, all that blathering aside, what constitutes "Japanese gaming"?  I don't live there, so I don't know.  All I know is what I see, and that is that Japanese developers suffer from developing for too specific of demographics, and are apparently expecting to see broad demographic sales.  So yeah, if you look at it from a warped standpoint and compare apples to oranges, you are going to look like you are lagging behind.

Shoot for what you are aiming for.  If you want to keep developing entries in long established series, don't expect to see the sales numbers of pick up and play games.  If you want pick up and play sales, don't churn out another Persona so 11 people will by it and realize how fucking boring the 13 year old turn based combat is.

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