Wednesday, August 23, 2006

In-game? Real-time? The sad truth is, nobody cares....

Every other day there's a thread on here about how the 360 is going to win the console war. And thus far, while the 360 is enjoying very good sales, it's difficult to say that the machine has truly hit the mainstream. Like most people on this board, I would want the Xbox 360 to succeed, but the reason why it has yet to really take off isn't because of the power of the machine compared to its main rival, the Playstation 3. It also isn't because of the lack of support from Japanese developers. It's simply because the games need better characters.

The other day, I read this article from, and one part caught my eye:

John Carmack Details id's New Direction

id software's John Carmack stated at QuakeCon 2006 that his company is going in new directions, which involves putting content before graphics, creating new IP and refining the development process.

John Carmack can stand and deliver a keynote address that lasts two-and-a-half hours, and still keep people interested. At QuakeCon 2006, which took place earlier this month, he gave such a talk. He spoke with fluency about upcoming parallel-processing units, and he held his audience spell-bound.

Early in the speech, Carmack covered the simpler elements: that Nvidia is sponsoring one of his rockets (he's a serious rocket-builder); that id’s next game will be “visually breathtaking”; and that Carmack has no concourse with the Wii. “id Software has not historically had close ties with Nintendo," he said.

But the subtext of Carmack’s speech reveals that id Software, the quintessential PC developer and pioneer of the first-person shooter genre, is shifting. Graphics aren’t as important, and the design takes precedent.

I find reading the article ironic, considering right now I'm playing Quake 4 and I kinda understand where Carmack is going with his speech. "We've put too much demons and aliens in our games...", essentially.

This goes back to the age-old question: What makes a good game anyway? Sure there's a lot of argument about this and the debate shifts between gameplay and graphics. The other day I invited a friend of mine who is really invested in his Playstation 2. He enjoyed playing on my Xbox 360, but for some reason he didn't seem completely invested in the experience. The funny thing is, every time the much fandangled 'in-game, real time, utterly amazing graphics sequence' pops up in any game (be it Oblivion, Dead or Alive 4, or Dead Rising), the games overall just didn't win his complete attention. While he came off very impressed with the 360, he still didn't feel like buying one because there weren't enough games that caught his interest. "Metal Gear Solid, Devil May Cry, etc...isn't coming out on the 360, is it?" To which I replied, yup, they aren't.

And there's the rub: every Xbox fan thinks that the Xbox needs Japan to succeed. Now we all know that Japanese developers will never, ever, ever really support the Xbox 360 (with Capcom being the only exception, apparently); and even if they did give support to the 360, it's always cautious support, with the odd new franchise here and there which usually lacks that 'mainstream appeal'

But did you ever wonder, why do Japanese made games succeed so much with mainstream console gamers? It isn't because they have the MADE IN JAPAN sticker on them. There are a lot of Japanese entertainment products out there, but they don't all succeed, and they don't all reach that 'mainstream appeal'. I think the better question Xbox gamers should ask themselves is, why do some Japanese games succeed, and why do some fail to succeed?

Why does this work?

Final Fantasy XIII

Devil May Cry

Metal Gear Solid

The answer is simple: It's their characters. Usually characters in the more successful Japanese games have characters with interesting personalities which gamers can relate with. They're also put in interesting situations with other supporting characters, with villains that have interesting motivations for pursuing their evil plans (and sometimes they think that what they're doing is actually good/or sometimes their character makes them difficult to simply label them as good or evil).

Then it hit me. The Xbox 360 doesn't really need Japan to succeed at all....and you know why that is? The West already has a rich source of great storytelling, great characters, great villains and great settings, which go far beyond the usual space-marine-in-a-powersuit-with-a-big-fucking-gun:

Comic books.

Most successful Japanese games are based, or written like Japanese manga, which are essentially, Japanese comic books. If you think about it, western comic books have the same depth and breadth (in terms of interesting characters and settings) as their eastern counterparts. In some cases, western comic books are arguably much deeper in terms of storyline and character development than Japanese manga. (Note the word, arguably, ok...). My point is, why does Microsoft keep looking to the Far East to make the Xbox 360 succeed, when the best chance at success that they have is already right on their shores!?

My simple point: Get Marvel or DC or any of those creative minds in the comics world to create an original IP for the Xbox 360 Make the IP's storyline reside only on the Xbox 360 and nowhere else. Start from there, and you can eventually create a universe of unique characters and worlds that can rival and possibly surpass the characters in Japanese games.

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