(This is an editorial I wrote for MyGamer.com back in 2004.)
Is it me, or are we caught in a time-loop? What was fashionable in the 90’s seems to be making a comeback. Amidst uncertain economic and political times, we have: another Bush in the White House, a war in the Middle East, and a deficit the size of Ben Affleck’s head. Much in the same way, it seems that we are experiencing a comeback in gaming trends. While modern updates of classic titles are old-hat, other practices by the gaming industry are returning as well, and their iron-fisted tactics are even less welcome than the recent 3D rehashes of E.T. and Pong combined.
As an avid gamer, I like to keep informed on the latest news. There are several websites and forums that I frequent for my gaming journalism fill. While cruising through various forums one day, a blurb caught me off-guard. Viewtiful Joe, the GameCube-exclusive action-platformer, was rumored to be heading to the PlayStation 2.
“Nothing new,” I thought, “Capcom wants to get more sales…”
…But then I kept reading. It appears that the PS2 port is planned for Japan (and possibly Europe), but no word of a North American release. This piqued my interest. Games planned for a Japanese and European release usually see the light of day in the U.S. The possibility that we might miss out set me off on a mission. However, after looking for more info I didn’t like what I found. Several articles were devoted toViewtiful Joe, but many of them also contained an unconfirmed rumor: Sony already denied the game for a North American release.
I shrugged it off. “They’re rumors! Rumors, I say!” I didn’t want to believe that Sony would turn a deaf ear to one of the most creative platform games in some time, so I kept reading.
Capcom recently made news of translating several of their games — many once GameCube and Dreamcast exclusives — to Sony’s behemoth. Perhaps in part due to the slowdown of the gaming industry or the sales backlash of Capcom’s GameCube-exclusive deal; several of their games are now being primed for greener pastures. Like the Viewtiful Joe rumors, these releases are in jeopardy for our side of the Pacific. The arcade conversion of SVC Chaos: SNK VS. Capcom as allegedly been canned in the USA. Similarly, news on the PS2 port of Street Fighter III: Third Strike reveals that no date is set for American-soil. Even a few non-Capcom games, Metal Slug 3 and The King of Fighters 2002, are rumored to not meet Sony’s approval.
Then it all hit me. I had seen this kind of behavior before. In September of 1995, Sony stuck its toe into the gaming pool with the original PlayStation. Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA) supposedly enforced strict policies against role-playing and two-dimensional games being released in the United States, much like Nintendo’s ivory-tower policies during their heyday. Never mind the fact that RPG’s had an increasing fanbase, thanks to Square’s stellar SNES Final Fantasy games, Chrono Trigger, and Secret of Mana. Never mind that 2D games were still a viable commodity, and that the majority of game releases were sprite-based. Never mind that 3D console games were still in their infancy and suffering growing-pains. SCEA wanted all of their games to be polygon-based.
Gamers cried foul. Letter campaigns sprouted up to demand Japanese-exclusive releases in the U.S.. They wanted Arc the Lad and Beyond the Beyond to soothe their role-playing itch. Capcom fanatics e-mailed and wrote in hopes of seeing the 32-bit Mega Man 8 one day grace our shores. They fought against SCEA’s oppression, and it paid off a few months later. Sony relaxed the silent ban, and gamers were rewarded with new and exciting experiences — although no one won with the abysmal Beyond the Beyond. They even gave us a crappy port of The King of Fighters ’95 (no, thank YOU! ).
If you think about it, we wouldn’t have Final Fantasy VII orCastlevania: Symphony of the Night if SCEA had their way.
Now almost nine years later, we are seeing a similar trend. 2D games are once again the target of scrutiny. Officially, there is no reason for the sudden turn. For the three year plus life of the PS2 in the U.S., we’ve seen everything from Gradius to Marvel VS. Capcom 2 to Guilty Gear X2 head our way. While there are significantly more 3D games, quality 2D games still find their way onto the shelves.
Sprite-based titles have become a niche market in today’s gaming culture. Gamers weaned on their Playstation may see 2D games as inferior. The eroding 2D fighting genre is now a shell of its former self, with few games taking advantage of the amazing hardware of the current generation of systems. Many of the more notable releases — Marvel VS. Capcom 2 and Capcom VS. SNK 2 — are ports from the arcade or other consoles. Meanwhile, 2D powerhouse games like Keio Yugetaki and Silhouette Mirage are due for mind-blowing sequels on today’s systems. In general, little advancement has been made in what was once considered an art form.
Unfortunately, 2D titles don’t sell. The gaming industry now carries the burden of multi-million dollar budgets, meeting substantial fiscal goals, and pleasing stockholders. Few developers are willing to pony up the funds to take a chance on a niche game in America. If a game is less than likely to make back the money spent to develop it, common sense would suggest to not bother; and from all sides, 2D games no longer seem to fit into the financial equation. It wouldn’t hurt to note that SCEA pockets a percentage from each game sale, so do the math.
Being a passionate game player, I don’t want to buy into that logic. I don’t care about the bottom dollar. I do not care whether the penny-pinchers cry in red ink. I care about playing the best games, and damn them if they don’t believe it to be in the best interest of their bottom line. What about the gamers that miss out on the releases their Japanese and European comrades get to enjoy? What about the future of hand-drawn, meticulously animated, sprite-based games on console systems? I don’t want to have to modify my system to play the same games we should have received in the first place. Why spend the extra money and void my warranty to import these games? If Capcom was able to bring the ultra-niche (and ultra-expensive) Steel Battalion and controller to America, the less-expensive Hyper Street Fighter II should be more than feasible. I guess I’m crazy, huh?
In the grand scheme of things, the losers end up being the gamers. We should have a voice about what should be brought over. Fiscal concerns aside, the game players ultimately determine the size of the gaming marketplace. Quality games are being left behind because of the ignorant belief that it won’t sell. The market has to tell publishers what will sell, and the only way to do that is with our wallets. The age-old credo of spending money to make a difference speaks volumes.
Another way to get heard is to actually say something. One person might not make a difference, but a few hundred certainly do. Forums and gaming news sites are great places to voice your opinions and learn about possible (and not possible) releases. Publishers are within a few keystrokes of the average gamer, and a few thousand e-mails might drive the point home, it certainly worked for Square fans in 1998. Xenogears anyone?
So it seems that gaming on Sony’s platform has come full-circle; and, once again, the only way to get the games the Japanese and Europeans enjoy is to fight for them. If you care at all about what you’re not getting, let the publishers and Sony know. Some trends are good for gaming, but being denied games on the basis of graphics alone is not a good one. Reading these rumors has me riled up for a good battle. I’d like to have the option to play Viewtiful Joe and SVC Chaos on my PlayStation 2, and I have every intention of letting Capcom and Sony know it. You should, too.