Is the Game Industry Spending Itself to Death?

Is the Game Industry spending itself to death?


Sure, Gears of War 2 looks incredible, but is the game going to turn as much of a profit if everyone buys the game used?
I was really surprised with the discussion on the Giant Bombcast this week about the Publisher fear of used games. You can listen to the discussion yourself, but here are the cliff notes; used game retailers like Gamestop( I guess it's pretty much Gamestop at this point) have founded their entire business model on buying and selling used games instead of stocking up on new games(like a traditional big box retailer). Companies are pissed off because used games sales go directly to Gamestop instead of back to the publishers and developers, which means that a single game's sale for a company can potentially become a bevy of sales for this middleman. It sounds like these lost sales are hurting publishers, which explains the new fight against used game sale and resale in the form of downloadable content tied to a one time use serial code(like the Rock Band 2 downloadable bonus songs, and the Gears of War 2 Map pack) as well as trying to provide more compelling reasons to keep players from NOT trading in their games( the Burnout Paradise free content seems, in light of all this, to be EA's attempt to keep the game in the hands of users instead of allowing Gamestop to buy it on the cheap and resell it for profit). It's a sticky situation that seems to make everyone a loser (well, they either lose money or come across as the bad guy/enemy of capitalism).


The key moment in that discussion on the podcast, and the moment that's really had me thinking was a thoughtful comment from Ryan Davis: Why can't this industry function with a used market in the same way other industry's can? Why is the used game market so out of control that it's actually hurting publishers and developers?

My Co-Hosts, Special Guest  and I talked about this for a bit on the BSHAF recording on Saturday, but I keep coming back to that comment, trying to work through why the used market has been so damaging to console game sales, why piracy has seemed to lay waste to PC game developers and sales. And make no mistake; the used game market and PC piracy are most definitely linked together; they both represent the consumer's (perfectly reasonable) desire to buy items for as cheap as possible (or free, as the PC case might entail). It doesn't have anything to do with supporting game developers or trying to put down a shady corporation like Gamestop. So why are developers and publishers panicked? It almost seems like this industry seems to be....tearing itself in half.

That's the thought I came to not too long ago. And I don't mean in the sense that all this economic dilemma threatens to destroy video games forever. Rather, it seems like this industry is still functioning like we were still in the 90's: when companies could outspend each other on more and more lavish games, when consumers were so focused on this resolution/texture/lighting/graphical effects war between games, when piracy wasn't nearly as easy as it was today, and the used game market didn't seem to pose much of a threat to the Software Developers/Publishers.


It all comes down to money, it seems. Players want games on the cheap. Publishers want to recoup their dev costs and make a profit. Developers want to hold a job, and certainly wouldn't mind a little kickback from a successful game sale. These interests seem to be in dialectic conflict with the "Bigger, Better, More Bad Ass" expectations that players crave, forcing publishers and developers to spend and work like crazy to meet. Meanwhile, development costs for the 360, PS3 and PC have skyrocketed, and here we are: game's are still so expensive that people will happily buy used products, and developers lose control of their product(as well as cash) to Gamestop and other used retailers.

The very gaming world seems to be trapped between the past expectations of gaming as entertainment, and the future realities of development. The Game business seems to be filled to brim with opposites, design criteria from a bygone age that doesn't in any way mesh with the current consumer market:

Take developer Crytek, which turned out an absolutely beautiful product in Crysis, a game that is still, probably the finest looking game ever released. That's the kind of statement that would have guaranteed game sales in the 90's.....However, what's the active percentage of people who could effectively play Crysis the way is was meant to be played? Brutal system specs guarantee that a $3000 computer investment was necessary to play this $50 game. How on earth could anyone justify that kind of purchase? Crytek shot themselves in the foot by trying to be the "Best Looking Game Ever", and ultimately reduced the number of people who could play their game in the process, on top of what must have been a ridiculously costly development cycle. They made a game that most people couldn’t run. How did they expect for Crysis to be a success?

Between it's massive hardware requirements and the state of PC piracy, how did EA and Crytek expect to make money off this game?

Companies still feel like they need to produce visually stunning blockbusters at all times, forcing them either to create their own expensive engine tech, or go out and license, at the very least, a ton of different middleware products or, at most, someone else’s engine. Those licensing fees must sink into the development budget on a game, forcing the developers to depend on ridiculous new software sales. If the team decides to code their own stuff, they’re going to have to bring in a ton of new employees and workers to try and have the game live up to the unreasonable visual triumphs of this generation, which also eats into development costs and force them to depend on new software sales. Their “bleeding edge” design only forces them to rely more on a consumer base that has no problem paying less money for games, even if that cash doesn’t go to the people who made the game.

At the launch of the PS3 back in 2006, publisher Namco Bandai claimed that games would have to sell more than half a million copies to turn a profit. How many games ever come close to 500,000 sales? Plenty of the games that you and I love would be THRILLED to reach that many sales. How did we let development become so crazy that publishers can’t support the medium we love?

It’s totally crazy that most developers are still trying to outspend the competition, especially when this generation of consoles has provided ample opportunity to make games cheaper, to sell them for cheaper, and to actually see a profit from sales. While most of the “hardcore” on high mountaintops are plenty happy to discourage the Nintendo Wii, it’s absolutely modest(backwards, in fact) hardware power means that games for the system are guaranteed to be made cheaper, and will probably have a better opportunity to make money. GameCube specs be damned, Nintendo proved that consumers would happily and gladly accept cheaper hardware and cheaper games. In fact, one could make a reasonable argument that the Wii’s lower price point was as crucial to its success as the Wii remote. I doubt that a single Wii game cost as much money as the majority of 360 and PS3 games. Developers didn’t need to go too crazy learning the ins and outs of the Wii, meaning games can be produced faster, sooner, for cheap, and for more people on the Wii. Why haven’t more companies jumped ship? Wii owners could use an influx of support from genuine 3 Party games to stop the rise of casual (crap not to say that casual games are crap, but to stop the influx of the crappy casual games). The Wii, every step of the way, has seemed to offer a ton of potential and reduced expenditures for all parties involved with the system.

Only one game in 2008 forced the player to masturbate with the Wii Remote. You can't put a price on that.

Indeed, compared to the other two consoles, the Wii seems to offer less headaches for consumers overall. Anyone reading this blog is tech savvy enough to appreciate how much better 360 and PS3 games can look with the right setup. But step back for a moment, and think about what it takes to look its best: a $700 dollar or more High Definition Television. Why on earth does it cost that much to get these “Next Gen” games to look as intended? And how many people, really, are able to take advantage of that setup? Stories like the “too small” text in Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts seems crazy for someone that’s been playing 360 games on a proper HD screen…..but I felt that away about those same complaints made about Dead Rising and Lost Planet, and even worse cases like last year’s release of Pro Evolution Soccer, where the game actually had a worse framerate when played on a lower resolution T.V. These complains indicate, to me at least, that there is still a substantial portion of game players who are enjoying their HD outputting consoles and SD sets, and haven’t found enough of a reason to upgrade. Why does this industry seem to want and outspend its users? Why should players need to buy expensive T.V’s to enjoy their games? The Wii doesn’t need an HD signal to look it’s best, and the result is that more people can enjoy the game. Meanwhile, 360 and PS3 owners with SD sets are looking at blurry games that are sometimes boned for those who had the gall to not pony up an extra 600 bucks for a shinier window.

I don't need advanced shaders and impressive lighting to know that KICKING ZOMBIES ARE BADASS.
The Wii isn’t the only system reveling in cheaper development. With the release of Left 4 Dead, Valve will have completed its 8 game released on the Source Engine. 8 games on one engine released in 2004. How many single developers can claim to have stuck with an engine for so long? Epic ‘s Unreal Engine 3 has become the status quo in licensed engines these days, with everyone hoping to get their hands on the tech’s powerful lighting and impressive texture possibilities. They may spend their whole budgets developing one game on that top of the line tech. Meanwhile, Source development, working on a 4 year old engine isn’t going to be NEARLY as expensive to work with as top of the line Unreal Tech. And to top it all off, games on the Source Engine, this aging game system, still look great. The Valve team put the Source engine’s power into more subtle systems—the facial animation, the physics, the actual character and movement animation—rather than other game engines’ focus on the never-ending Texture/Lighting/Draw Distance wars. As a result, those tiny little details still have the power to impress more than any particularly crisp texture of a bombed out building. Look at Left 4 Dead, and tell me what you notice more. Is it the engine’s muddy textures, or the low model poly count, or the simple lighting? Or is it the way character’s display emotion, or the dread of seeing 50 zombies come into the room, knock you to your knees, and starting kicking you, less like zombies and more like angered Soccer Rioters? It’s not even up for debate. There are plenty of things you can do with an older engine if you’re creative. Newer tech does not always an impressive game make. You don’t need to outspend the competition to make beautiful games. Used game sales aren’t going to kill Valve.

Hell, you don’t need to outspend the competition to make games period. Ironclad Games and Stardock made Sins of A Solar Empire for less than a million dollars. Would that kind of cash buy you an Unreal Development license? Meanwhile, the game has sold over 500,000 copies worldwide. The Witcher, an overlooked RPG delight from long time Polish Publisher/First Time Developer CD Projekt, is running on a modified version of the Aurora engine, the same tech that powered Neverwinter Nights 1 back in 2002. That 5 year old engine was still able to produce a stunning game that’s sold over 1 million copies to date. CD Projekt and Ironclad can handle the reality of game piracy, because they both went into development with lower development costs (The Witcher cost 11 million dollars to produce, meaning their 1 million sales covered their costs a few times over). Lower development costs and solid game design means a dev house is naturally going to make more money and it means they don’t need to rely on mass market sales to keep their business running.

We made an RTS so deep and complicated that we befuddled the PC Pirates entirely! Take that, jerks!

And what about the slow, powerful rise of 2D development as a viable game format? As players have begun to look at 2D games not as a technical hurdle but a stylistic choice, 2D games have found a place on XBL and the PSN. Braid is the combined effort of one man under 200, 000 dollars of development cost. Sure, that game wasn’t a complete market success, but those who played that bundle of joy know, intrinsically, that the quality of the game is not equal to the size of its budget. Would the fine folks at The Behemoth find themselves successful 10 years ago as a 2D game going up against the 3D juggernauts? Their Brawl-RPG Castle Crashers, with its lavish 2D artwork and simple, fun gameplay proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that 2D is still a viable format for design, and that 2D games provide opportunities to programmers and artists to make games cheaply and easily (compared to pricy 3D engines).

My point is this; Game developers need to stop resisting the current state of the gaming culture. Yes, people are going to buy used games from crappy retailers like Gamestop. Yes, people are going to pirate games. Yes, people are jerks. The solution, it seems, isn’t to try and push gaming back to its previous “spend-a-thon” ways, hoping they can still spend a ton of money on games and recoup it in full. It just comes across as large corporations trying to beat back against the current, a futile excessive that refuses to see the current state of gaming for what it is: a large population of gamers who want to spend less on games. Instead, publishers need to take a step back and accept that the market isn’t going to change back to its 90’s era self right away and that means making games in a world where they can be bought used or stolen outright. That reality totally sucks, make no mistake, but companies need to start making games for this new era of development. They need to stop trying to outspend the competition, and start using more modest tech in more creative ways to keep players interested. They need to create more compelling, better designed artwork. The rapid growth of this industry in the last few years, and the major company’s devotion to turning a property into an annual franchise is going to drain those publishers entirely.

Adapt developers! Adapt to the new world and the new market! Accept that people are going to be jerks, and accept that they’re going to naturally want cheap games. Make cheaper games. Make games that don’t absolutely require a million sales to recoup their dev costs. Create a business model that understands that games will be misused by derelicts, and respond by making games that aren’t affected by those fools. Adapt to a model that can make money off of less game sales, or that can allow for cheaper games to be sold. License cheaper engines! Make Wii Games! Create smaller teams, and don’t stretch them to the breaking point. Because, as it stands, with ridiculous dev costs and unrealistic expectations for new game sales (amongst a game buying public that wants cheaper games), I think we all lose.

Do you like cool art? Braid probably cost less than the catering at Epic during Gears development

Except for Gamestop. Those Punks.

What do you guys think? What needs to happen to the game industry for developers and publishers to deal with the Used Game market and Piracy concerns?

11 Comments

Bomb Should Have A Face Episode 9: ChainSodomy

The Mods are back in town! MB joins the BSHAF crew!


This week, MattBodega, TokyoChicken, Jesnonb and Disgaeamad are joined by Forum Moderator/Chainsaw Enthusiast MB! Join the crew as they discuss the new Giant Bomb Trivia Feature, take a look at the new forum design, and get reminded by Lies of the features you aren't using(add credits to games!) Plus, is Giant Bomb going to shut down the IRC FOR PROFITZ?! Will MattBodega ever shut up about Trivia Moderators? And who is submitting the dumbest quiz questions? All this, plus a ton of talk about Gears of War 2 on Bomb Should Have A Face, Giant Bomb's Community Podcast for the community matters that matter most!
  
Listen to it here!

Or download it direct here!

Or Subscribe to it on iTunes here!
17 Comments

Bomb Should Have A Face Episode 8! Bears on Horses!

Bodega returns with a vengeance!


MattBodega is back in the hosting chair with fellow delinquents TokyoChicken, Jensonb, and Disgaeamad as community all-star/firestarter Jayge gets his opportunity for podcast stardom! Join the crew for a look at EA's maddening forum policy, the state of PC game piracy, and more holiday games than you can handle! We need reinforcements! Get the Bears on Horses Brigade!
  
Listen to the Show here!
Or Download the Show directly here!
And subscribe to us on iTunes here!
26 Comments

How to fix Sonic the Hedgehog

Oh, God. Another one of these?

When I think of the the possibility of ANOTHER Sonic game(especially given the quality of the previous games), I can’t help but be reminded of an old adage my mum used to whisper to me just before I would drift off to sleep.

“Son”, she would say, “You can’t strike lightning twice…especially when it comes to franchises that haven’t been good since the early 90’s”

(True Story!)

Its hard to believe that the last important release in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise was released more than 10 years ago. All those poor Genesis lovers plugging together their copies of Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles. Did they know, even then, that poor Sonic would never again be associated with “fun”? Oh, the humanity! Oh, the copies of Sonic 3D Blast!

What happened to the poor Bastard? Why has Sega been dragging Sonic’s name through the mud all this time? Why can’t they conjure that magic that made Sega a force to be reckoned with?

Some game players( those who still remember the hay-day of Sonic games and could be bothered to give a care about) think that Sonic:Unleashed might be a return to form for the franchise, putting Sonic in a game that more closely resembles the 2D side-scrollers that made him Nintendo’s worst enemy all those years ago. Fans think that a healthy dose of nostalgia for “th good ol’ days” might be exactly what Sonic needs. Sonic fans, deluded by a gamers greatest weakness (nostalgia),bought copies of Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, Sonic Heroes, Shadow the Hedgehog, and the “re-imagined” Sonic the Hedgehog.

If you were to put those titles on a list, then congratulations: you’ve managed to create an in-depth and sophisticated feature about the worst 3-D platformers ever created.
Remind me who thought this was a good idea.


Bad camera, boring level design, anime voice acting, a story: looking at the “features” those games brought to bear, its no surprise that some game players wants Sonic to go back to his roots: old school side scrolling platformer.

They couldn’t be further for the truth.

Nostalgia is a dangerous weapon: by conjuring up the aforementioned “good ol’ days” in a new product, game makers con the average “Joe Gamer” into thinking their having fun. However, if developers continue to give players nostalgia trips rather than new experiences, the series is bound to fall into a rut. Going back to the “fun years” of 2-D gaming certainly won’t bring Sonic back. Much like the Sonic Rush games (the only halfway decent entries the series has seen in a while) a “new” old Sonic game will only be enjoyable, as Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann wisely puts it, “in a retro sense”; it might be a neat distraction, but it couldn’t possibly stand toe to toe with faster, more interesting modern games. It wouldn't compete with the faster games, and couldn't be counted toe-to-toe with the better platformers. In a no man's land where the series can't please the modern sensibilities of gamers, the franchise would lose interest even from the most die hard fans, and Sonic would be no more.

That puts the Sonic franchise in a bit of a quagmire, doesn’t it? Continuing to make the terrible 3-D platformers will surely put a nail in the series’ coffin, while making a “new” 2-D platformer will regulate the franchise to a lifetime of smaller, less important releases.
I truly believe that the Sonic franchise is worth saving. Does the 90’s “EXTREME!!” appeal wear thin in this day and age? Hell yes it does. Has the Sonic franchise continually mocked and spited me since the 90’s? Sure has. And yet I AM nostalgic for those older games. I was shocked by how inventive the Sonic CD game was, with its simple-but-effective time travel mechanic, its excellent level design, and its awesome music. I remember having fun with the Sonic the Hedgehog games.



I assert that, at a certain point in the development of the more modern Sonic games(starting with Sonic Adventure), the design team made a decision that was instrumental in destroying everything that was great about Sonic. Most of all, I think I know how to fix it. I think I know what could bring the sound and the fury back to Sega’s premiere franchise.

A quick note before I begin: My main focus, in this article is going to be on the mechanical elements of the series(actually playing the game) and less in terms of the obvious stuff(like how every character created after Knuckles is totally and completely horrible, how Shadow the Hedgehog is the worst of anything ever, how the Sonic Adventure games don’t hold up, how Anime voice acting is dumb, how Sonic + Final Fantasy inspired graphics = horrible, and so on and so forth) .

Dilemma: Straight is Dumb

Its important to start this “If you love it, change it” entry by describing just how the Sonic series strayed down its path of nostalgia/ruin, and it’s impossible to talk about Sonic now(just as it was in the early 90’s) without mentioning the once and future king of the platformer: Mario.

Sonic, as it is well publicized, was a character specifically designed to “beat” Mario at his own game; Sonic could walk the platformer walk, and it could talk the side-scrolling talk. Sure, Sonic was essentially the same type of game as the Mario platformers, but it was his signature aspect, the one thing Sonic had that Mario didn’t, that pushed the character into the realm of medium’s greatest characters.
Remember when we associated Sonic with good games? Yeah, me neither.

That’s right: his mad style.

NO! It was Sonic’s speed, and the speed of the Genesis’ “blast processing.” The phrase may have been a marketing term to describe the faster speed of the Genesis's processor( in comparison to the SNES) but it was this speed that cemented Sonic as the mascot of the 16-bit era.

Part of his success was that Sonic, and the various abilities he had, could be perfectly emulated within the design limitations of the 16-bit era; all Sonic had to do was move to the right, and move fast. No worries! There was no “bad camera” and no “difficult control” that made Sonic difficult to handle. Essentially, the platformer, as a genre of gaming, was advanced enough at the time to handle the Sonic Boom (Sonic Boom! Sonic Boom!)

All a platformer had to do, at the time, had to do was create a level. Each level was, effectively, a straight line. The camera focused on Sonic as he moved to the right(and on occasion, to the left). Moving in a straight line at high speeds was totally within the capacity of game machines at the time.

It’s the advent of 3-D graphics that present Sonic, and(at the time) the platforming genre with its biggest challenge. Now games, so used to only dealing with the X and Y axis, have to come to grips with a mischievous little axis known only as..... Z. With the ability of modern machines to create full virtual worlds, game designers now had to account for a character’s(and a players’s) ability to deal with 3-D environments.

Twelve years after its release, and I still have trouble naming better platformers(you know, that aren't Rayman 2)
Enter Super Mario 64.


The original 3-D platformer(for all intents and purposes), Mario 64 can be credited for all number of important innovations, ranging from it pioneered “camera” system that allowed players to change the angle being displayed around the character, to its impressive 3-D graphics. For the purposes of this entry(and for poor Sonic) the key element I’d like to focus on is Mario 64’s approach to level design. Essentially, Mario 64 took the standard straight line levels that characterized 8 and 16-bit gaming and turned them into 3D: a level that was once a straight line was now a box. The result of this design choice was environments larger than any that had been seen in previous games. Mario had multiple objectives( the Stars he was supposed to collect) in every level, and by widening the straight line levels into boxes, Mario had plenty of unique, different places to explorer.


THIS is the blueprint for the modern 3-D platformer (and really, for 3-D games in general). Designers turned their straight line levels and made them 3-D boxes. With the camera situated above the box looking down at the character( or inside the box looking at the character), 3-D games could now be created and navigated. They could still have the tight controls and the excellent level designs of the older 2-D platformers.


Somehow, the folks at Sonic Team didn’t get the message.

Sonic introduction into 3-D gaming( not counting the atrocious Sonic 3-D Blast which viewed the Sonic action from an isometric perspective that made the action incredibly slow, crippling any chance of Sonic displaying his trademark speed) comes in the form of Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast. It is here that we to enter the shady, almost insidious world known as “That place where we insult the Dreamcast”

And we must, friends. Because Sonic Adventure is not a good game. It is a bad game in every way Super Mario 64 is a good game.
It was the 90's! We were stupid back in the 90's!


The designers at Sonic Team understood that, just as he did on the Genesis, Sonic was going to have to bring the ridiculous speed that made his games so successful. This time, however, that speed was going to have to translate into 3-D.

The focus of the game became to showcase the Sonic’s ludicrous speed, and, to show off that speed, Sonic Team decided, apparently, not to follow the status quo set by every other successful 3-D game ever created. Sonic Adventure did not feature Mario’s expansive levels, but, instead, featured the straight-line level designs that had made the older Sonic games so popular.

Levels in the 3-D Sonic games are long corridors. You can run really fast down them. Sometimes you turn. Occasionally you fight some enemies. These areas are, essentially, 3-D rectangles for Sonic to maneuver. Sonic had some small degree of movement inside the corridors themselves, but there was none of Mario’s explanation. The camera in these Sonic games insisted of staying behind Sonic, and the player watched mostly from behind as Sonic did his running.

So now, the level design for the 3-D sonic games consists of a long, mostly straight series of rectanglular hallways. The straight line level design of the old games hasn’t been expanded as it was in Mario 64, but rather, it was rotated: players (and Sonic) down into these rectangles. And then Sonic ran.

He's running in a straight line. Weeee.

This is the downfall of every 3-D Sonic game.

You see, by opting to stay away from, you know, the modern advances of the platformer genre, Sonic Adventure features these long hallways. Forget the fact that the controls were far too touchy in the game, or that the camera never framed the action correctly, or that the story and extra characters were lame. Beyond all that periphery, the core of Sonic Adventure was a game that was so squarely designed to frame the speed and make Sonic seem fast that it neglected to create interesting level design. The few moments of interesting level design that would appear in the games couldn’t even be properly navigated, as the “looking into the rectangle” perspective made judging the distance of some jumps far more difficult than it should have been. Compared to the interesting tricks and traps of Mario 64, Sonic 3-D rectangles, while graphically impressive at the time, do nothing to hide now the fact that the game is about as interesting as a Saltine( and far less practical)


Sonic Adventure’s approach to 3-D game play made the entire game boring.

Perhaps what’s worse about all this is that game players should have known, going in, that this was boring.
Because this game had been made and played before.

Years before Sonic Adventure and the 3-D Sonic platformers,Game players have already taken a mascot through straight 3-D rectangles with a minimum of interesting things to see or do.

That’s right, the game that Sonic Adventure(and all 3-D Sonic games) most closely resemble is not the masterpiece Mario 64.

It's Crash Bandicoot.
Running in straight lines years before Sonic was screwing it up.


Yes, the bizarre “mascot” of the Playstation featured almost the exact same design philosophy as Sonic adventure. Members of the design team have admitted that Crash’s straight line levels in 3-D rectangles was designed to be, effectively, a cop-out: a way to make the Crash series seem like a 3-D platformer in a world where game designers did not yet understand how to make a 3-D platformer.

If Super Mario 64 was the genuine article, and Crash Bandicoot was the cop out, Sonic Adventure is the rip-off of the cop out. In fact, Crash Bandicoot's better controls and less fussy camera make his outing a better game than Sonic Adventure

YOU HEARD IT HEAR FIRST: CRASH BANDICOOT IS BETTER THAN SONIC. FACT.

And that( finally) is the inherent design problem with the 3-D Sonic games. They’ve been ripping off the design concepts of outmoded platformers. Rather than fix the concept, Sega continued making the games worse and worse over time, until the release of Sonic the Hedgehog in the 360 and PS3, the most boring entry of the series to date. Without interesting level design(the lifeblood of a platformer) the modern Sonic games have been disasterbacles( a disaster and a debacle....duh.)


So now that we have outlined the actual problem with the 3-D entry’s in the Sonic franchise. You may have also guessed how I would change the games to make them better!

As you have no doubt surmised I have an incredible love and respect for Mario 64. I think (and, given how many 3-D platformers are similar to it, the industry agrees), that the way Mario 64 turns the straight line 2-D levels of older consoles and turns them into large, open 3-D boxes with plenty to explore represents the best way to move a 2-D concept into 3-D.

And that’s what needs to be done to Sonic the Hedgehog. The franchise doesn’t need to stay in 2-D. Rather, it finally needs to make the jump to a fully realized 3-D world

How to change Sonic the Hedgehog

1. Create an Open World environment for Sonic
Certainly the use of the term “open world” conjures up images of the free-roaming nature of Rockstar’s sublime GTA series. However, to make the most out of Sonic’s unique abilities, don’t think about GTA.
Think Crackdown. (or Burnout Paradise, in a pinch)
Crackdown's open world gave players super powers and let them go around and explore the city. Sonic could learn a thing or two.


Put Sonic in a large, alive open world. Give him the ability to run though it at blazing speeds, to run directly up buildings, sideways across buildings. Give him a powerful jump to leap from the tops of buildings. Fill the environment with tons of various tasks for Sonic( he could be helping people in a city, or helping someone fight Robotnik, as an example.) Give Sonic plenty of objectives in the environment, as well as plenty of rewards for exploring around the environment. Don’t limit exploration to a city environment: create a whole world, with open world desert levels and open world ice worlds, etc. Give Sonic easy ways to redirect momentum and to regain speed after hard turns. There are so many directions you can go by putting Sonic in an open world game(more so than by keeping him in a 2-D platformer or a terrible 3-D platformer)

A large open world would offer Sonic an excellent environment to showcase his blazing speed, while also giving him enough unique/ridiculous environmental design to keep the actual experience of moving in the world fast and fun.

The key here is to make Sonic simply fun to control, and put him in an environment that takes advantage of the fun.

Every other good idea you could add to the Sonic franchise is essentially an extension of this first change. For example

2. Give Sonic moving baddies to fight
While its always fun to see the weird machines the Robotnik creates at the end of the levels in the 2-D Sonic games, most of the boss fights in the game aren’t very interesting; you would just jump on their weak spot until they’d explode. The BIG difference cam from Boss fights against any kind of fast moving enemies (think the race against Metal Sonic in Sonic CD, or Knuckles fight with the first boss in Sonic and Knuckles). In a new game, provide Sonic plenty of baddies for him to chase or be chased by, as these provide the most interesting encounters. Put them in a Open World environment with interesting level designs, and set up enemy encounters that interact or lead players to the awesome level design, anf you have a terrific fight encounter.

3. It’s not necessary to keep Sonic linear
At this point, Sonic doesn’t necessarily need to move linearly from level to level as in previous Sonic games, nor does he need to take one single path to the end of the level. Give the player a huge number of ways to “complete” an area(hopefully by completing tons of tasks) and offer the player different rewards/treats for exploring these different paths.

4. Make Sonic’s environment seem natural
Sonic world often features bizarre loop-di-loops , random underground tunnels, and a whole host of other bizarre physical obstacles. The challenge of a new game in this style would be to incorporate all of those bizarre landscapes into an environment. When an environment in a game seems to be natural –that is, it doesn’t feel like it was “created” by a “level designer” but has always existed- the player becomes more attached to the world, and can allow the player to have more fun than if placed in an extremely obvious an artificial environment. Games like Assassins Creed and the Naruto game on the 360 both featured extremely “natural” environments that enhanced the believability of these ridiculous games. Making that work for a Sonic game is certainly a tricky proposition, but a successful one will be remembered as one of the greatest areas ever designed for the franchise.
The Level Design in Assassin's Creed didn't even feel like level design. It was a surprisingly natural world, and it made Altair's powers more impressive in context.

5. Nostalgia should be subtle.
Yes, I know I spent the beginning of this blog post( God, that must have been 4 hours ago at this point) that nostalgia can ruin games and bamboozle players into thinking that they are having fun. However, a few clever references to older games/characters can provide players with the sensation that the game makers do, in fact, love the previous game in the franchise. When a game beats you over the head with nostalgia(Super Smash Bros. Melee) it ceases to feel genuine, especially when it doesn’t hide problems with the gameplay. Just a few references to Sonic’s past efforts or other adventures can remind players that this game was developed by people who LOVE games.


6. Fix the controls
Here we’re getting into the obvious stuff, but this new open world Sonic game would not be able to function with the old 3-D platformers control scheme. Put in a camera that actually works. Give Sonic more responsive controls especially for movement. Let Sonic navigate areas without forcing the player to destroy a game controller in rage and disgust.

7. Give Sonic some more subtle abilities
This is an idea I've been toying with in my mind since I remembered how good Starbreeze's
"The Chronicles of Riddick" game was. One of that game's most notable achievements was creating a very subtle way to let the player know that he was sufficiently hidden in the dark: the screen would be tinted purple. It was an extremely minimalistic choice that worked beautifully.

So why not apply it to an open world Sonic game? As Sonic is coming up to a 90 degree turn, slowly tint the screen a color(blue for example!). When the screen is tinted as much as the developers intended, offer the player some sequence of buttons to make the sharp turn.
When Sonic is coming up to a jump, slowly tint the screen a different color(let's say green!).Increase the tint's color untill, when it reaches the developers logical limit, the player is at the point where they need to jump. this saves the player from spending too much time spinning the camera to look for upcomming turns and jumps, while also keeping Sonic moving. This could be applied to any aspect of the game!

7. Get rid of anime voice acting
Hell, keep the characters from speaking all together. That’d be just fine too.
I hate you so much.

8. Ditch the ludicrous, extraneous characters
Sonic, Tails,, Robotnik, Knuckles. That's it.
If you like Shadow the Hedgehog, as a character or game, you are everything that’s wrong with video games.

There are certainly other little design choices and changes I could make to the Sonic franchise, and some of the design changes are pretty obvious but the most important change I wanted to illustrate was the shift from the fake 3-D of the new Sonic platformers to actual 3-D. this is the most radical change that could be made to the franchise, but it would ultimately provide so many opportunities for the design team to get creative, and to finally put out a Sonic game worthy, not just of its legacy, but of this ridiculous blog entry.
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Computer Broke, Podcast BSHAFED

So, is this the second or third time I've kept the BSHAF from recording consecutive episodes? Probably whichever number is more embarrassing. Thanks to a mind boggling hard drive  crash, the Ol' Lappy was kept down for the weekend, keeping  me from podcasting or sleeping(the latter comes from trying to come to grips with the upcoming re-write of the 15 page paper on various films for film history class...I have to write about Rashomon AGAIN! Totally bananas.

Now, I know what you're thinking. "Matt Bodega, you wild, magnificent Marlin, yearning to burst from the ocean and take flight.....how long will you be cursed to this life of No Internets? I can hardly bear to think what a lawless, joyless place the IRC is without your warm smile and Mako infused eyes!" Fear not, dear reader(Singular!)! The new hard drive and Vista disks should be here this Monday, meaning that the fun never ends!....Starting on Monday!...or whenever I find out how in the name of god to crack open a laptop.

That last part isn't true. I have seen the inside of a laptop....and I thought of winter.

In the meantime, here are super short reviews of games that I really need to write up in full at some point.

Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulation: If you stuck with the series this long, why stop now? It's a pretty fitting end to the Ace Attorney Trillogy, and while and while the gameplay remains virtually unchanged from "...And Justice For All"(meaning that newcomers to the series won't understand a lick of it, and those who've don't like the series won't be convinced to try it again) the cases are so messed up and so inbred that it's fun to see them through to their conclusion.
3 Stars.

Apollo Justice, Ace Attorney: The immediate joy of a Ace Attorney game built from the ground up for the DS(which means better looking characters, clever use of the DS microphone and touch screen, and the best soundtrack since the first Phoenix Wright game) is soon diluted with the realization that this is still the same Ace Attorney gameplay. Series Vets will get a kick out of it(especially the game's last case, which manages to interweave every single character introduced over the course of the game), but it's the same faux-adventure game fans have been playing since 2004, meaning it's for the devotees only
3 Stars.

World Of Goo: Like most good games, World of Goo will impress you with it's construction-building, physics heavy game play. The big surprise of World of Goo is the wonderful presentation, surreal music, and surprisingly effective writing that keeps the game logged in your brain after you beat the games diabolical puzzles
(Need to finish, but thinking 4 stars)

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7: Contains the line "Sephiroth! Have you lost weight?", Which is hysterical in every conceivable way.  Oh, and it's a gorgeous, surprisingly fun Action RPG that moves at a faster pace than almost anything else in the genre.
(Need to finish, but maybe 5 stars!)

Rock Band 2: It's still radical. I like that Panic at The Disco song in the game. A lot. I'm not in tune with the youth, but I am a hipster, so please let me know if liking that song makes me uncool.
5 Stars

Castle Crashers: Playing through games with a buddy makes everything better. Playing through games with Sweep makes every game perfect.
Oh, and it's a fun beat em up. Absolutely gorgeous 2-D characters and backgrounds, and a solid leveling up mechanic to keep you pushing forward.
5 Stars.

I'll try to right a compelling/thoughtful blog later tonight to try out the new forum code!

8 Comments

Bomb Should Have A Face Episode 6! Tearing Down the Good Will!

Bomb Should Have A Face Episode 6: Tearing Down the Good Will!


Remember all that good will we built up last week when Giant Bomb's Dave Snider joined us on the BSHAF? This week, we're throwing it out the window.

Matt Bodega , Tokyo Chicken, JensonB and Disgaeamad are joined by Bombing Run All Star/ Force Unleasher Systech, as they take a good hard look at Giant Bomb's advertising packages, become increasingly paranoid that the mods are out to get us, and write the Bioshock movie, all on the podcast for the community matters that matter most!

Once again, you can hit up the podcast here.

Subscribe through iTunes here.

Download (Rish Click>Save As) here.
  

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Bomb Should Have A Face Episode 6: Tearing Down the Good Will!


Remember all that good will we built up last week when Giant Bomb's Dave Snider joined us on the BSHAF? This week, we're throwing it out the window.

Matt Bodega , Tokyo Chicken, JensonB and Disgaeamad are joined by Bombing Run All Star/ Force Unleasher Systech, as they take a good hard look at Giant Bomb's advertising packages, become increasingly paranoid that the mods are out to get us, and write the Bioshock movie, all on the podcast for the community matters that matter most!

Once again, you can hit up the podcast here.

Subscribe through iTunes here.

Download (Rish Click>Save As) here.
  
3 Comments

Bomb Should Have A Face Episode Five!

Bomb Should Have A Face Episode 5: 27!


It's the biggest episode of Bomb Should Have A Face yet!

This week, Matt Bodega, Tokyo Chicken, JensonB, and Disgaeamad are joined by Dave Snider, the designer of Giant Bomb Dot Com! Listen to Dave talk about how to work for an awesome game site, and see the "World Exclusive" first look of upcoming Giant Bomb features, including Achievements(yes!!), new review system( What?!?) and User Videos(now we're just lying!). Plus, find out where the BSHAF stands on canceled games in the GB Wiki, the increased Wiki Point rewards, and the games we'd play with our special ladies (No Rez Jokes!) All this, plus your Emails on the podcast for the community matters that matter most!


  

You can download the podcast directly in this link!
Or you can subscribe to Bomb Should Have A Face on iTunes!
10 Comments

OVER Sexualization!

What has me so interested in Bayonetta isn't it's gameplay, which seems positively standard( I believe the term is character action game?) but rather the completely out of control oversexualization in this game. We've all played games where female characters are randomly/haphazardly inserted into the game, either as a protagonist or a love interest, where a set of ridiculous boobs is a substitute for characterization. The few times in gaming where we play as or see  facinating, well developed female heroines are so rare that they barely manage to stand afloat against the tide of a thousand boobed wave.

I'm interested in the game intellectually....I'm not kidding.

Part of the problem with these female characters is their sexualization. These "characters" move and speak in ways that let you instantly know that the game was written and developed by dudes drawing characters from fantasy, either their own twisted dreams or the twisted dreams of a targeted demographic.. Bad dudes, to say the least. The only possible explanation for Ivy, a character who should just appear naked in the next Soul Calibur game, is a group of designers trying to create a character to titillate, from her sadomasochistic whip to her bizarre phraseology("Squirm!).

So these character's are simple sex creatures. Bayonetta COULD be a character drawn from the same cloth...except that her sexualization outstrips the feeble attempts of the Soul Calibur wanabe's.

The shot in that recent trailer that defines Bayonetta, at least for me, is the camera movement in the FMV, that travel's through Bayonetta's legs....and then UP her body. The shot is absolutely ridiculous....and ridiculous in a way that Ivy is not ridiculous.

Why is Bayonetta, a game where the main charecter rubs her pistols against her rump, somehow less creepy than Soul Calibur 4?

Bayonetta is self concious. It KNOWS that the sexualization is nuts. That game seems like it's sole purpose is to go as far as possible into the over fetishized world of violence and sex so pervasive in our medium.
Think a Colbert Report of Sex in Games.

 If Bayonetta tries to actvily expose the ridiculous nature of Sex in games by going AS FAR AS POSSIBLE into creepy sexuality, the end result is a game that is MORE Honest about sexuallity than every other game on the market. Like No More Heroes, Bayonetta seems to understand that gaming's long standing traditions and taboo's about sexuality can make a perfect fodder for game design, be it a cleverly designed masturbatory minigame linking Sex to violence, or an OVER Sexualized main charecter who shows players just how ridiculous these artificially designed, artifically "enhanced" female charecters have become.
13 Comments

Podcast Broken!

No BSHAF this week!
Why, you ask?
Did the BSHAF record this weekend? You bet.
Was the guest there? Joseppie was!
So what happened?   My Skype recording program didn't catch the podcast!
About halfway though the podcast, my mic started freaking out and cutting in and out. I swapped the mic to finish recording, but the Call Graph didn't start recording. So, most of the podcast is gone, and the begining of the podcast can't be salvaged.
In all seriousness, I apologize for the lack of podcast this week. Big apologies to my co-hosts, TokyoChicken, Disgaeamad, and JensonB. I'm sorry my tech ruined a good, fun podcast. I wish it hadn't gone down like that. Even bigger apologies to our awesome guest Joseppie, who brought interesting discussion and Giant Bomb inside jokes to the show(you know, exactly what we want on the show). I'm really sorry, Joe. You have yourself a  "get onto podcast free" card, but it still sucks. You all did everything right, but my tech wasn't doing what it needed to.Totally sucks. Totally Embarresing. Super Sorry.

BSHAF will continue this weekend.

18 Comments

Bomb Should Have A Face Episode 4! JensonB is a Derelict!

Bomb Should Have A Face Episode 4! JensonB is a Derelict!


Last week I couldn't be bothered to edit the podcast, but this week I left the editing th JensonB! What madness did that manky Scott put in BSHAF? Join MattBodega, TokyoChicken, JensonB, Disgaeamad, and community guest/friend of the show Kevin as they tackle the tough community issues, including Adult Game pages, Wiki Points, and advertising, all  on the podcast with all the community matters that matter most!


  

You  can subscribe to Bomb Should Have A Face oniTunes here!

You can also directly download thepodcast here!

Want to be a Community Guest on Bomb Should Have A Face? Have questions/comments about the show? Post in the comments, or send me a PM! Or email us at thebshaf@gmail.com!

7 Comments