Back When it was Gooditus

Resident Evil 7. While it’s doing well commercially, it’s one of the most quiet best-sellers in recent memory. Maybe that has to do with the perception that the game is a flop. In February, it finished second to the well-marketed but incredibly ho-hum For Honor. Capcom projected four-million units sold through March. When they came up about a million short, their stock fell. Meanwhile, 2017 is arguably the best year in gaming history at this point (and we’re only in April) and nobody is buzzing about Resident Evil 7.

And it’s seriously amazingballs. Like Resident Evil 4, the seventh sequential Resident Evil is a radical departure from the foundation the franchise has laid. A first-person game that’s more Texas Chainsaw Massacre than the zombie-schlock Day of the Dead as run by Walmart top-heavy mythology that we’ve come to expect. I can’t even play survival-horror games in the proper lights-out setting thanks to my epilepsy, and I was still enthralled and genuinely on the edge of my seat playing through Resident Evil 7. While #4 makes fewer mistakes and has some of the best pacing any game has ever had, I actually think Resident Evil 7 might be the best entry in the series. The suspense and horror were white-knuckle, the writing wasn’t so cringe-inducing that you look prune-faced by time the credits roll (good writing in a Resident Evil? Come on, NOBODY saw that coming), and while the pacing is more stop-and-go than a loading Ferris Wheel, it never becomes a slog. Ever. It’s what I always wanted Resident Evil to be and never was. Everyone in my circle of friends who has taken the time to finish the game tells me exactly that.

In the case of Resident Evil 7, it’s more like “oh shit oh shit oh shit, they’re not buying it.”

So why is nobody talking about it?

I don’t think it has to do with Resident Evil 6 being bad. Don’t get me wrong, it is bad. But worse than being bad is being forgettable. It’s not even remembered as “the one with the four mediocre campaigns.” It’s not remembered at all. Even when my gaming friends and I talk about the Resident Evil series, it never comes up. At least for my circle of friends, we tend to think of Resident Evil 5 as the last “real” RE game. And that edition is known for being “like #4, only not as good.” The spin-offs are even worse than #6, with Operation Raccoon City and Umbrella Corps finding near-universal scorn. Thus, you have to go back to 2005’s Resident Evil 4 to find the last “good one” in the series. Twelve years ago. And one that was remastered and reissued a few times in the years that followed, indicating that Capcom themselves are aware that it’s the only desirable “recent” game in the series.

And that’s the issue. Not that fans are burned out on Resident Evil. Clearly that’s not the case. It’s more about the perception that the best days of the series are long behind it. In the twelve years since Resident Evil 4, new entries in the sequential series have been mediocre or worse. The spinoffs have been either forgettable or horrible. The best releases are reissues of older games, creating what I call “Back When it was Gooditus.” Why did fans chomp at the bit for the Silent Hill collection that was broken without hope of patchwork? Because it was the series “back when it was good.” Back When it was Gooditus is tough to recover from. Resident Evil 7 was the first game of the year contender to hit this year, but nobody is talking about it.

Resident Evil 7: it only took fifty years for video games to finally adapt Hide-and-Seek in a satisfying way. Maybe there’s hope for Duck Duck Goose yet.

So why not call it something else? Don’t say “because new IPs are tough to sell.” RE 7 was beat by a new IP, For Honor. Was it because Capcom was lazy, even by their own standards, in marketing it? Runaway horror games are scorching hot right now, and Resident Evil feels like the first big-budget mainstream attempt at one. But, attaching the Resident Evil name means you actually have to show that distinction off. Capcom didn’t do that. Their marketing was essentially “it’s the seventh Resident Evil. Need we say more?”

Um, yea. You really do.

Because the name Resident Evil is not synonymous with quality. Not only that, but the Resident Evil’s traditional brand of horror is considered archaic by today’s standards. The taint of RE 6 and the spinoffs, not to mention those God-awful Milla Jovovich films. Throw in the triple-whammy of Capcom endlessly flogging and remaking the previous games, inadvertently creating Back When it was Gooditus, and you have to wonder if Resident Evil 7 ever stood a chance. It reminds me of Red Steel 2, which is never a good thing. I wasn’t as in-love with it as many people were, but it was certainly a step up from the Wii launch abortion that was Red Steel. Considering that the original was universally despised and the sequel didn’t feature the same theme or setting of the original, I still can’t figure out why Ubisoft bothered tying the two together. It would be like serving a moderately tasty New York Strip steak with a week-old Big Mac and saying “well, they both have meat and thus basically the same thing.” Although my tongue was firmly in cheek when I suggested the name Spooky Creepy Scary Horror House 2017, SCSHH’17 comes with no baggage. Maybe it would have got people talking.

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IGC on Gaming: April 17, 2017

So I haven’t been updating a ton lately. That’s mostly due to health issues. I do have a lot of games in my queue to review, including sequels to high-ranking IGC Leaderboard titles such as Bleed 2 and Gunmetal Arcadia. Look for reviews of them soon. By soon I mean 2017. Keeping my window for it wide.

Indie Gamer Chick has primarily been a review site since its launch in July of 2011, but being unable to write as many reviews as I wish I could has left me in a predicament. Thankfully, I’ve built up a decent following in the last five years and those people, for whatever reason, care about my thoughts on other gaming related news. So, why not turn it into a regular column? Let’s hit it.

Is 2017 going to be the best year in gaming?

Resident Evil 7.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Nier: Automata.

Persona 5.

In a weaker year (think 2014, where the pretty good but unspectacular Shadow of Mordor ran away with nearly every Game of the Year award), any of these four games would have swept the competition and walked away with game of the year. It’s April. We’re not even a third of the way through the year and there are four games that are in the hunt. After playing Breath of the Wild, I would have bet it would cruise to a sweep next January. But, within weeks, Persona 5 and Automata hit, both of which I liked more.

It got me thinking: it’s April and we’re already debating among multiple titles for the year’s best, not to mention one wildly disappointing would-be contender (Mass Effect: Andromeda). These discussions are usually reserved for the Christmas season, yet children aren’t even on summer vacation yet.

Is 2017 set to be the greatest in gaming history?

Honest question: if this had been called anything BUT Resident Evil 7, would people have reacted differently to it? It’s really good, yet a lot of people I talk to need a lot of convincing to even try it on the basis of “meh, another Resident Evil.” They could have called it Spooky Creepy Scary Horror House 2017 and lured in more people.

Maybe I’m overrating Resident Evil 7 (to my credit, I’m not even a real fan of the series and liked #4 only), and maybe Pesrona 5 doesn’t have the type of wide appeal that Zelda does. But it’s already a debate. When was the last time we could even talk about a year in gaming at this time of the year? Before we’ve had this year’s E3, before many of the big holiday tent-pole games even have release dates, if nothing else came out at all in 2017. Wow. By any standard, this would have to be considered an amazing year from an artistic standpoint.

Still to come in 2017 is the sequel to what I consider the best game ever made (not my favorite game, just the best game), Red Dead Redemption. The first Mario game that has stoked my imagination since Mario Galaxy hits the Switch this year. Sony is giving one of my favorite unsung gems, LocoRoco, another kick at the can in 2017. It’s almost hard to believe that at least one more spectacular game could hit this year, let alone many. I think 2017 will be a year gamers will talk about for years to come.

Switch Thoughts

It’s alright.

NES Classic

Nintendo finally released hardware that became the most in-demand retail item they’ve had in generations. No, not the Switch. Everyone knows that I’m “anti-nostalgia”, which isn’t remotely correct. If you’re going to do nostalgia, something like the NES Classic is fine with me. And Nintendo seemingly struck gold with the Classic. Stores couldn’t keep it in stock, or the extra-controllers for it. After failing to capture any mainstream love with the Wii U, or outright being antagonistic towards their own fanbase with their anti-YouTube attitude, Nintendo finally came out with a product that serviced their fanbase and became desirable to casual gamers.

Naturally, they cancelled it after only five months of production.

A friend of a friend is a regional inventory manager for a top big-box chain. He informed me that department managers got more inquiries about NES Classic availability than any other product in the consumer-electronics department, starting months before the release and continuing well after the Switch. Consumers wanted this product. They wanted it badly, if prices on Ebay are used as a barometer. Discontinuing the unit when so little demand for it was met is the latest in a long series of middle fingers Nintendo has given to fans and non-fans alike. And, it would seem, Nintendo has finally gone too far. This is one “fuck off and die” that even the most rabid fanboys are feeling the sting of.

Mind you, I’ve met people who got copyright-striked on YouTube by Nintendo for videos that were gushing love letters to the company. Some of who tearfully apologized for overstepping their fandom and having the fucking gall to show footage of their beloved Nintendo franchises. Nintendo stomped them for being fans, and they thanked Nintendo for setting them straight. They accepted that. At that point, I would think nothing short of Nintendo sending people to burn their house down would make them realize how much contempt they are held in, and how ungrateful Nintendo is for their patronage.

Nintendo didn’t allow their sales force to accept pre-orders for the Classic, leaving them to base their inventory order on how similar platforms like the Atari Flashback were received. So, here’s a picture of Black Widow on Atari Vault, mostly because I don’t want to post a picture of a Nintendo character and get sued.

Those fans, the ones who were unable to get their hands on an NES Classic, are not happy campers today.

Sure, it’s kind of amusing that the thing that made them realize Nintendo isn’t their bestie isn’t having them say “the money your videos earn really belongs to us because you showed a clip of our product”, but rather Nintendo saying “yea, we don’t care if you wanted to give us money, we don’t want your money for this product anymore.” But, the cancellation of the NES Classic is indicative of a greater problem: Nintendo doesn’t do fan service anymore. Oh sure, they’ll bring out franchise titles Mario Kart or Zelda. I’m sure a new Smash Bros is in the works that will license a couple of third-party mascots and get the diehards lining up. But that’s not performing a service for their fans. That’s just products.

As recent as a decade ago, Nintendo bent over backwards for their fans. They put out relatively high-risk franchise revivals like Kid Icarus or Punch-Out!! They had their wonderful Nintendo reward system that let people register their games for free Nintendo swag or sometimes even games. It would be hard to believe Nintendo would release a product like the NES Classic and then pull the plug after meeting less than 10% of the demand for it. And it has nothing to do with them not wanting to compete with their own Switch console. The two products were not in competition with each-other. Non-gamers who grew up in the 80s were chomping at the bit to snag the Classic as much as the slobbering fanboys. It was simply a matter of stores couldn’t keep it in stock. With Father’s Day fast approaching and a product tailor-made for such a holiday, Nintendo simply saying “no” to more inventory is kind of shocking. I was never a fan of Iwata’s business sense, but even I can’t believe he would say no to mountains of cash with relatively little overhead that the Classic presented. A feel-good product that stood to introduce a new generation of gamers to the titles that made them synonymous with gaming. Nintendo took that, and managed to turn it into the latest in a long series of dick moves. Unreal.

Q&A with my Readers

We’ll close this experiment with some Q&A from Twitter.

@religiousgames asks: “How do you know if a game is indie?

After five years, I still don’t really have a clear definition for what makes a game indie or not. Self-funded? That would exclude games that used Kickstarter or Sony’s Pub Fund, so that can’t be it. Self-published? That would exclude games by small studios who were found by houses like Adult Swim Games, so that can’t be it. In general, I use the definition “games made by small studios without creative interference by AAA publishers.” But even that won’t be universally true. Hell, I still get people to this day questioning whether I should count 2012’s Journey as an indie or not. Ultimately, it’ll be up to you to decide what you consider to be “independent.”

@iamtenith asks “What is the most common mistake you see in many indie games?

Proper difficulty curve, easily. Most indie developers forget that they, themselves, are the best player at their own game. They struggle to get proper testers, or they handle their testers incorrectly, and ramp up their game’s difficulty to challenge themselves and not everyone else. In some cases, they’ll get good testers but then hover over them and explain to them how to finish parts of their games. Sometimes I’ll announce I’m reviewing a game and the developer will tweet or email me to offer help to make sure I don’t get stuck. Unless they plan to include a clone of themselves with every copy of their game, they really shouldn’t offer help to reviewers. If you feel the need to talk someone through parts of your game, you really need to go back and fix it, because it’s broken.

@riobux asks “What singular thing in a game trailer can deflate your enthusiasm and interest in a title like a needle through a blown-up condom?

I actually don’t base my purchasing decisions on trailers, so I wouldn’t be a good person to ask. Everyone will mention showing cut-scenes without gameplay footage. I was going to, but then I remember that Grand Theft Auto III’s ads when I was a kid were among the most effective commercials in gaming history and they had nearly zero gameplay footage.

For indies, an over-inflated sense of importance is always annoying. If you’re a no-name developer on their first game, you seriously do not need to release multiple teaser-trailers, then primary trailers, then final trailer, then DLC trailers. No, seriously, do not. You need one trailer a minute-or-less in length that addresses what genre the game is and what the game’s audience is. If you present your trailer properly, games sell themselves. The worst thing you can do is leave it too ambiguous when nobody knows who you are or what you’re working on. You only get one chance to make a good first impression.

From the Team

William reviewed Bleed 2 and Butcher

Marc explained how a company can own the video game rights to the word “Super”.

For more features, be sure to check out IndieGamerTeam.com, a place where my friends post reviews and editorials. They’re already better at this shit than me.

We’re currently preparing for the follow-up to #IndieXmas on social media, tentatively titled #IGCParty. It will take place July 10 – 14, with ten featured games and thousands of free games being handed out on Twitter. Stay tuned.

Yes, Twitter, this is the official website of @IndieGamerChick

Indie fans anxious for me to return to get back to reviewing full time, yes, I’ll be back to that soon.

In the meantime, my ego just can’t handle not having that little checkmark by my name on Twitter. So to verify, YES TWITTER whoever, I am the real Indie Gamer Chick, @indiegamerchick on Twitter. That is me. Please verify me. You guys have given out those checkmarks to people who couldn’t influence a person with a cold to sneeze properly. I think I’m slightly more influential.

The I in Team: Introducing IndieGamerTeam.com

I started IndieGamerChick.com in July of 2011. Serving my readers for the last over the last five-and-a-half years has been an honor and a privilege. I wish I had the time to cover more games, but the truth is I hadn’t even turned 22 when I started IGC. In my first year, I was posting four to five reviews a week. These days, I’m lucky if I have time to post a couple a month. While I do truly intend to create more content at Indie Gamer Chick, I also regret that so many hidden gems are sliding under the radar.

And so, IndieGamerTeam.com The goals of this project are as follows.

  • To provide more reviews of overlooked indie gems in the same review format as Indie Gamer Chick.
  • To provide writers struggling to find an audience a chance to find that audience.
  • Provide developers with a less formal format to post editorials.

With the exception of writers being required to pay for their own games, which is not practical for everyone, all Indie Gamer Chick rules will be in effect here. There will be no review scores. Writers will be expected to disclose their genre biases and have critical thoughts towards games. Since we’re not professional writers, we won’t behave like them. We’ll have fun. Crack a few jokes. Make you laugh while making you think. Video games are supposed to be fun, right? So, why should writing about them be boring?

So, hopefully everyone will enjoy Indie Gamer Team as much as they’ve enjoyed Indie Gamer Chick since 2011. And if you don’t, hey, it’s ALL THEIR FAULT!

-Cathy “Indie Gamer Chick” Vice
February 5, 2017

When an Indie Gamer Team member likes a game more than they dislike it, it will win this Seal of Approval. Because really, liking something more than not liking it is all that should matter.

When an Indie Gamer Team member likes a game more than they dislike it, it will win this Seal of Approval. Because really, liking something more than not liking it is all that should matter.

Switch It Up

No, I don’t hate Nintendo. There seems to be this perception among my fans and my critics that I’m overly critical on Nintendo. I’m not. If you’re a slobbering fanboy for the Big N operating under the delusion that Nintendo and you are besties because they played an important role in your pop-culture upbringing, anyone who is remotely critical of them comes across as too harsh. So if I say that I think the Wii U was a deeply flawed and ill-conceived console, or that having a controller remarkably similar to the one that was the final nail in THQ’s coffin was probably not a good idea, I come across as a total hater, at least in comparison to you. In reality, I am a fan of Nintendo. Fandom and obsession are not the same thing.

For example, I am obsessed with Power Rangers. A franchise designed for children with acting, writing, and special effects so cringe-worthy that my family and friends are all in danger of suffering Bell’s Palsy from being forced to watch it with me. When the teaser trailer for the big-budget Power Ranger movie hit, it was so horrible, so wretched, that I know my family was literally ashamed of me. It looked like a cheap parody trailer, a mix between Breakfast Club and Chronicle that looks and sounds nothing likethe source material, but there’s the faintest hint of the original show’s theme song riff just to make those truly obsessed fans squeal.

And I loved it.

Being obsessed, I came up with every possible excuse to justify its awfulness, and even as I type this, I feel I’m justified in it. “It’s Power Rangers, it’s supposed to be badly acted. It’s okay if it’s silly. It doesn’t need to make sense. Hey, doesn’t Rita look cool? Wow, I love how the morphing looks!” I’m twenty-seven-years-old, and I say this with no shame: I’m more excited by the Power Ranger movie than any person my age has any right to be. I honestly expect it to get a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but that doesn’t matter! I’m obsessed. That’s why, when the second, better trailer hit, I wasted no time rubbing it in the face of my boyfriend. Getting him to admit “it didn’t look bad” was perhaps the biggest victory of my life, even if he was trying to find the right words to break-up with me after I had to wipe tears from my eyes when Bryan Cranston said “it’s Morphin Time!” I mean, that’s Walter White! Saying “it’s Morphin Time!” Holy shit!

Brian would like to note that "doesn't look THAT" still means "looks bad" with the emphasis on "that." Yea, well, phooey on him.

Brian would like to note that “doesn’t look THAT bad” still means “looks bad” and that the emphasis is on “that.” Nuts to him.

Because of my epilepsy, I have to rent a theater to be able to watch a movie at cinemas. I usually get to do this twice a year, for my birthday in July and for Christmas. My family knows I won’t be able to wait for Power Rangers. I need to see it as soon as it comes out. I won’t be able to think straight until I do. I know it’s going to be shit. My heart sank when I saw the toy version of the film’s Megazord. It was so crappy looking that I could barely muster up the enthusiasm to finger myself over it.

So yea, I don’t just love Power Rangers. I am obsessed with Power Rangers. I don’t need to be convinced to see it. I was sold the moment it was announced.

I’m not that way with video games, even though they played a much bigger role in who I am as a person today. I am a fan of games and certain game companies. Obsession? That’s unhealthy. In 2015, I did two editorials on Shenmue III’s Kickstarter campaign. One defended the idea of a AAA using crowd funding to stake a high risk revival of a failed franchise, which is what a sequel to Shenmue is. The other said the actual pitch of the campaign was pretty bad. I got more anger over the article defending the campaign from Shenmue fans than I did the one that called it out for being a terrible pitch. Why? Because I noted that I wasn’t a fan of the series. I don’t get getting angry at something like that. Who cares if someone doesn’t like it? Shouldn’t all that matter to you be how much you like it?

Hey, remember how Vita became on of the biggest busts in gaming history due in no small part to necessary accessories like memory cards costing too much money? Well, this package here costs $79.99. That's a fairly big investment just to play multiplayer.

Hey, remember how Vita became one of the biggest busts in gaming history due in no small part to accessories like memory cards costing too much money? Well, this package here costs $79.99. That’s a fairly big investment just to play multiplayer, and you don’t even get the whole controller (the middle portion is sold separately for $29.99, bringing the total cost to $109.98). Buying just one costs $49.99. “But Cathy, Xbone and PS4 controllers cost $59.99!” Yea, but you get a whole controller for that, not half of one. EDIT: Excuse me, the non-charging center piece “grip” costs $14.99, meaning a complete setup is $94.98. Um, what a bargain?

Nintendo fans get that way too, though I noticed the oomph was taken out of their venom towards the end of the Wii U’s life cycle. When I got Star Fox Zero and said it sucked, it apparently didn’t ruin anyone’s life. But the explanation there was easy: Star Fox Zero fucking sucked. Even the most slobbery fanboys couldn’t believe how borderline-unplayable it was. But, it was the exception, not the norm. The truth is, the Wii U wasn’t horrible and gave us plenty of decent titles. It just looked like a barren wasteland compared to its rivals. Before release, third parties promised support that never arrived. Bayonetta 2 became the crown jewel that Nintendo waved around like a prized pig. Why Bayonetta 2? Of all the franchises Nintendo could have staked, why that one? Maybe the answer is that it’s all they could get. It reminds me of the 2010 NBA free agency season, where the New York Knicks had cleared insane amounts of cap space in hopes of landing LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, or some other prize. Who did they end up with? Amar’e Stoudemire. Bayonetta 2 was the Amar’e Stoudemire of gaming. A perfectly fine pick-up for your console, but nothing to get that excited over, nor are you going to win a lot of people over with it.

I’ve always felt that Nintendo landing Bayonetta 2 was more like settling for Bayonetta 2 after trying and failing to land something more mainstream and desirable, the same way the Knicks settled for Stoudemire.

If people think I’m gloating over Nintendo’s failures, I’ve got news for you: I owned a Wii U. I certainly didn’t want it to fail. Now that it’s basically dead, I can safely say I got my money’s worth. I enjoyed most of Nintendo’s first party stuff just fine, and hell, Splatoon and NES Remix alone were original enough for me to reflect positively overall on it. We got a couple decent new Mario games, a decent Donkey Kong Country game, a decent new Pikmin game, a fun little surprise in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Toad got his own game, and disc release!), and so forth, and so forth.

Here we are, in 2017, and Nintendo is still the best maker of gaming software on the planet. But they’ve had that title my entire gaming life. That’s why when they release something pitiful like Wii Music or Star Fox Zero, it stands out so much more. Because they are too good to make stuff that bad. That’s why pursuing exclusives like Bayonetta 2 or No More Heroes baffles me so much. Third party support or not, the Wii U had the most high quality, low-risk exclusives in gaming.

Switching between the buttons and the stick with the full Joy-Con doesn't exactly look comfy. Maybe Nintendo saved money on its development by firing the person responsible for their controllers ergonomics. It also cracks me up that a company that is so militant against fans uploading videos of their software to social media would have any form of a capture button.

Switching between the buttons and the stick with the full Joy-Con doesn’t exactly look comfy. Maybe Nintendo saved money on its development by firing the person responsible for their controller ergonomics. It also cracks me up that a company that is so militant against fans uploading videos of their software to social media would have any form of a capture button.

So, why did the Wii U fail then? Because most gamers don’t want to be stuck with Nintendo-style games and nothing else. Even Nintendo fans don’t. That’s why they’re so excited to finally get their hands on Skyrim, a game that came out over five years and one full console generation ago. It’s something that’s not Nintendoish. Something big and exciting. Something Nintendo themselves would NEVER make. Something completely different to sink your teeth into between rounds of the latest remakes disguised as sequels of Mario Kart or Smash Bros.

The missing ingredient for Wii U wasn’t the stuff no other console owners could play, but the stuff all other console owners were playing.

Nintendo should already know this better than anyone else. In 1993, Mortal Kombat released on both the SNES and Genesis. At this point, Nintendo had Street Fighter II exclusively, and children of the 90s who chose the Super Nintendo over the Genesis had bragging rights. Then came Mortal Kombat, sanitized and lacking blood or fatalities on the SNES. Even though the Genesis controller didn’t have enough buttons to completely mimic the arcade experience, and even though the gore required a code to unlock it, it was a turning point in the Nintendo v Sega war. It bought the Genesis nearly two extra years of lifespan on its own.

Then came Mortal Kombat II. With blood intact, the SNES version far outsold the Genesis version when they sat side-by-side on the shelf.

That’s what the Switch needs. Not exclusives, but the same third-party software that Sony and Microsoft have. This alone would eliminate the dire perception problem that Nintendo has always had. The day consumers can go to a store on the release day of the latest Call of Duty or Madden or Battlefield and see a Nintendo port sitting alongside the PlayStation or Xbox, nearly indistinguishable from each-other, is the day Nintendo is finally back into the competition.

1-2-Switch looks like a perfectly fine tech demo pack-in. But it's not a pack-in. Utterly baffling to me. If it came with a controller, like Wii Play, then I could justified paying $50 for a tech demo.

1-2-Switch looks like a perfectly fine tech demo pack-in. But it’s not a pack-in. Utterly baffling to me. If it came with a controller, like Wii Play, then I could justified paying $50 for a tech demo.

Nintendo fans have told themselves for over a decade now that their favorite soulless corporation that targets its own fans on social media for uploading videos of them enjoying their products doesn’t need to compete. “People buy Nintendo consoles for Nintendo products.” Hell, even I’ve said that. But the Wii U had a relatively short life-cycle and never fully lived up to its potential. That’s because it costs money to experiment, and the risk of spending that money is lessened if the customer pool for the final product is big. One of my favorite mid-2000s titles was Katamari Damacy. There was nothing like it. It was weird, and quirky, and new, and different. But, if the PlayStation 2 hadn’t been a huge global success, Namco would never have taken it off the drawing board. If they had only had the Wii U’s base to draw from, it would have been too high risk to develop. Consoles can’t just appeal to the hardcore, never-say-die fans. There’s just not enough of them to move the amount of units a developer needs to be successful.

Will the Switch accomplish that? I don’t know. I’ve talked to a few directors at some major AAA studios. Some say it’s just powerful enough to port to. Some say it’s not. But here is an undeniable fact: Nintendo doesn’t have to do a whole lot to migrate its fans from one console to the next. They’re already sold. They were sold before the name was announced. They were sold before the controller was unveiled. They were sold before any software was shown. Much the same way that I’ll be there for Power Rangers day one, with a smile on my face, Nintendo fans need no convincing about the Switch. That has never been Nintendo’s problem. It’s everybody else. Having Call of Duty for Switch sit alongside Call of Duty for PlayStation and Xbox isn’t about convincing the diehards. It simply makes Switch a viable option. It enters it into the discussion, to buy or not to buy. Nintendo doesn’t need third-party exclusives. They just need third-party wide releases that look and feel close enough to their competition. Why waste energy trying to convince the skeptical with exclusives? They already have the best in gaming: their own first-party software.

The Best Five Years of my Life

Back in 2011, in desperate need of a hobby other than watching dash-cam footage of Russian car crashes, friends and family said I should start a blog. I had narrowed it down to two concepts: one was writing about lesser seen movies. The other was doing gaming, which not to sound sappy, but video games have been the love of my life. I wasn’t sure which to do. Then, one day, while going through my Xbox 360 collection, I spotted a game called Breath of Death VII that I had purchased a while back. “Oh yea, I totally forgot, there’s homemade games on Xbox 360.” Curious, I tried to find out what were the better games on the market of these so-called Xbox Live Indie Games. What I found were sites where the concept of critical analysis was unknown. It reminded me of the episode of the Simpsons where Homer becomes a food critic. Everything was eleven thumbs-up! And if the game was no good? Well then, it got the lowest score ever: seven thumbs-up. They weren’t exactly useful reviews for people who wanted quality for their dollars. Then a lightbulb went off. After grabbing a couple 4,000 Microsoft Point cards (remember Microsoft Points?) and buying far too many XBLIGs, I launched Indie Gamer Chick on July 1, 2011. Honestly, I never expected to stick with it, nor did I expect anyone to read it.

Being wrong never felt so good.

I love indie gaming. I love seeing dreams realized. I love seeing hard work pay off. While I’m noted for being harsher than the average critic, the truth is I’m so very in love with the entire community. There is nobody out there who wants to love your games as much as I do. I feel like someone who had court-side seats for an expansion team, and gets to see everyone grow up close. When I started IGC, indies were on the fringe of gaming. Today, indie games are highlighted by the console manufacturers during E3. They’re an essential part of modern gaming economics. We live in an era where Microsoft paid half the cost to acquire an indie property that Disney paid to acquire Star Wars. What a privilege to see. It’s a Golden Age for indies.

I won’t like all of your games, but I’ll never stop marveling at the potential you all show. Sometimes I even get jealous. I don’t consider myself a particularly creative person. I wish I could do what you guys and gals do. I have to settle for the occasional reader thanking me for exposing them to hidden indie gems that flew under their radar. There’s a rush that comes when that happens that words fail to describe. It’s an incredible feeling. One that seems to happen more often, as the community realizes the extent of its talent. Remember, you are limited only by your own drive and determination. If you’re receptive towards feedback and strive to outdo yourself, the sky is the limit for you. You could be the next studio targeted for a billion-dollar acquisition. That’s the indie ceiling. It’s so high you need a telescope to see it.

Five years later, and you, the indie community, still have the capability of leaving me in awe. That’s why, even five years later, I still get excited every time I boot up a new game. Win or lose, it’s rare that a game doesn’t leave me optimistic for the future of our community. When people thank me for what I’ve done at Indie Gamer Chick, I feel like I don’t deserve it. Without a thriving community of talented dreamers, I wouldn’t be anything. All I am is a messenger for what you accomplish. Whether you want to hug me or shoot me (or both), my message has been the same for five years now: gaming’s future is so bright that it’s almost blinding. I didn’t do that. You did. So now, as a I celebrate five years of my silly little indie review blog, I want to thank the entire indie gaming community. For the amazing games you’ve created. For those yet to come. My life is so much better for having found you, and for that, you have all my love and gratitude. No take backs.

-Catherine Vice
June 30, 2016

The Most Costly Games of All-Time

As a follow-up to my feature on gaming’s ten biggest mistakes, here are the seven single most costly games in history. I’m doing this list a little different, since it’s impossible to quantify the potential damage a game by itself can cause. Thus, I’ll be listing these in the order they were released.

I should note that this isn’t a list of the most expensive games of all time. You can go to Wikipedia for that. These are seven games that came at a different kind of price. They might have bankrupted a studio, or tainted a developer’s image, or made the industry as a whole look bad. As always, I debated the picks with my friends and asked for their suggestions. A couple of these were mentioned in the previous feature. I’m not double-dipping to be lazy. But in a list about games that came with a heavy cost, I can’t ignore them just because I already talked about them. However, I’ll try to include new material and anecdotes. I aim to please.

Gran Trak 10

Developed by Atari in 1974
Platform: Arcades

The Game: First, there was Pong. Then, there was a lot more Pong. And then even more Pong. Everybody else was doing Pong too. When Atari tried something different (like a maze game where players groped a pair of pink rubber titties to control the action) it flopped and they went back to Pong. There was Doubles Pong, Pin-Pong, Quadrapong, Pong in a Barrel, Puppy Pong, Doctor Pong, and Do Wah Pongy Diddly Pong Diddly Pong. Okay, I made the last one up, but I bet if they would have done it if they thought of it. Obviously something had to give. So Atari owner Nolan Bushnell hired a consulting firm in Grass Valley, CA to come up with new ideas. After smoking a metric fuck ton of weed (they don’t call it Grass Valley for nothing) someone came up with the bright idea of making a driving game. And behold, there was Gran Trak 10. I’ve never played it, but I’m sure it was revolutionary for its time. It must have been popular. It was Atari’s best-selling game of the year.

It looks, um.. old.

It looks, um.. old.

What Happened: The Grass Valley team Nolan hired were very good at doing computer specs and programming. Industrial engineering, on the other hand, was not exactly their forte. The blueprints they sent for the cabinet were simply not commercially viable. The machine wouldn’t have been capable of withstanding the type of abuse arcade cabinets get. Thus, Atari’s lead engineer Al Alcorn had to redesign the entire thing with more expensive components, some of which had to be built from scratch, which well exceeded Atari’s modest operating budget. And Atari wasn’t exactly a well-oiled machine when it came to assembly. They would place an empty cabinet in the middle of the facility and, one by one, people would come in with their components and affix them to the machine. They were starting to get better by time they were working on Gran Trak 10, but the process was still slow. Atari’s assembly workers were poorly trained, usually hired from an unemployment office with little to no vetting, and often were junkies or bikers that did drugs at work and stole equipment they could fleece to support their habits. Thus, a lot of the completed machines didn’t pass inspection and poor Alcorn had to fix them himself before sending them out.

An over-budget game designed by an outside consultant (later purchased by Bushnell, but not by this point) which had to be redesigned, that was manufactured at a slow rate. What else could go wrong?

An accounting error led to Atari selling the game at a loss. It cost $1,095 per unit to make Gran Trak 10. Atari sold it to operators for $995. Yep, I bet that stung. And again, it was their best-selling game of the year. Needless to say, Atari had a lot of communication problems by this point. On the bright side, Gran Trak 10 was a much-needed wake-up call for the company. They paid closer attention to their books, reorganized their assembly process, and stuck to their budgets much better.

For what it's worth, my father swears this was the coolest thing he had ever saw in his life up to that point. Mind you, at the time this came out, he had just arrived in Cuba, where the electricity would often go out for days at a time and where he lived in a building that had one toilet for all 100 people that lived in it. He wasn't exactly hard to impress at this point. The first time he saw a washing machine, he felt to his knees and cried. I'm not even kidding.

For what it’s worth, my father swears this was the coolest thing he had ever saw in his life up to that point. Mind you, at the time this came out, he had just arrived from Cuba, where the electricity would often go out for days at a time and where he lived in a building that had one toilet for all 100 people who lived in it. He wasn’t exactly hard to impress at this point. The first time he saw a hotdog stand, he fell to his knees and cried. I’m not even kidding.

The Cost: We’re going to enter the Marty McFly Zone a bit here. If Atari doesn’t sell Gran Trak 10 at a loss, it doesn’t sell as well as it did, but it probably still becomes their best seller of the year, and maybe their most profitable game ever. Atari accumulates a larger war chest with the profits. When they start the process of manufacturing Home Pong in 1975, they might not need to seek a venture capitalist to acquire the funding needed to build their inventory. Or, at the very least, they would have gotten much better terms that left them with more negotiable equity. Thus, when the time comes to do the more expensive Video Computer System (aka the Atari 2600), they would be able to do a round of venture capital instead of selling the company to Warner Bros. Nolan Bushnell would have never been fired from Atari and the video game world would be totally different today.

I guess an argument could be made that it wouldn’t necessarily be better today, at least for us. Bushnell never intended the Atari 2600 to last more than a couple of years. In fact, one of the disagreements that led to his dismissal from Atari was he thought they should discontinue the 2600 and begin working on a new console. This was almost immediately after it launched. And licensing Space Invaders from Taito, which is what ultimately blew up Atari, wasn’t his idea. It was Warner’s CEO Manny Gerard who thought it up after Nolan was gone. At the time Bushnell got beached, the 2600 was a flop and Warner had actually hired Ray Kassar (who became Atari’s CEO after Nolan was gone) as a consultant under the assumption that he would advise them to dump the company, not run it. I’m sure someone, somewhere would have eventually come up with the idea of licensing third-party arcade hits for home consoles, but still, it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Pac-Man

Developed by Atari in 1982
Platform: Atari 2600

The Game: Only the most successful arcade game of all-time, at least until its sequel hit. And one that Atari had secured the rights to for pennies on the dollar. In 1978, Atari was having a tiff with Namco, who had manufactured Atari coin-ops for distribution in Japan without paying royalties. Namco’s position was essentially “the check is in the mail.” Atari sent an executive named Joe Robbins to negotiate a settlement with them, with strict orders from Atari lead attorney Skip Paul to not sign anything. Not only did Robbins not listen, but he agreed to pay Namco a million dollars, renew their distributor agreement with Atari (Namco had no hits by this point and made most of their money from Atari-produced games), and wave a right-of-termination clause, meaning Atari couldn’t opt out of his crummy deal. In exchange, Atari received a small royalty from Namco’s arcades (really small, as in less than a single percentage point) and the exclusive home rights to all of Namco’s arcade games for a ten-year period.

Robbins was almost fired. But, in a story reminiscent of Jack and the Beanstalk, one of the magic beans Robbins brought back from Japan was the rights to Pac-Man, for a royalty so small it might as well have been non-existent.

What Happened: Unfortunately, Atari didn’t pass its incredible savings onto the development or manufacturing of Pac-Man for the Atari 2600. Because of the complexity of the game, engineers told Atari CEO Ray Kassar that the game couldn’t be done properly on a 4KB ROM cartridge. They said without 8KB, too many concessions would have to be made, rending it unrecognizable from its arcade heritage. By this point, Atari was the most profitable company in the entire world. Kassar was obsessed with setting records for net profits in a single year, and wanted to maximize Pac-Man’s potential, so they saved a few bucks per unit by going with 4KB instead of the 8KB everyone insisted it would take. People pointed out that Atari could afford to spend a little more, since they were paying Namco around one-tenth the royalty they paid Taito for Space Invaders. But Kassar had spoken, and after seeing the prototype programmer Tod Frye had come up with, he decided it was Pac-Manish enough and ordered it into manufacturing, with an initial order for an insane twelve-million units.

I love the cover art for this. It looks like Pac-Man eating a piece of taffy while being attacked by popsicles with eyeballs.

I love the cover art for this. It looks like Pac-Man is eating a communion wafer while being attacked by popsicles with eyeballs.

Unlike the other games I plan to feature in this article, I’m certain that Pac-Man for the 2600 turned a profit for Atari. Seven million units of Pac-Man 2600 were sold, a record at the time. I guarantee you it’s the most profitable licensed game ever made, even when stacked against the hottest movie or sports properties. I’m also sure Namco, who made almost nothing on the deal, spent at least one afternoon looking for a nice ledge to jump off of. The raw materials Atari used were relatively cheap, and even with five million units of dead inventory, Atari didn’t exactly take a bath in the crush they were left with.

The Cost: It was the game that cooled Atari’s jets and shook consumer confidence. It was the first time that consumers went back to stores demanding refunds because the game was so different from the arcade counterpart. Only ten million people actively used Atari 2600s at the time it was released, with the assumption being that people would buy the console just to play it, like they had for Space Invaders and Asteroids before it. I asked a friend of mine who is the main buyer for a big box chain in the San Francisco Bay Area if it was remotely reasonable to expect the type of penetration Kassar expected from Pac-Man 2600. He’s been in retail for thirty years, and he said, for a product that had already been on retail shelves for five years, it would be unfathomable. That no rational person would ever expect that, even if you had the single hottest product on the market and the single most desirable accessory for it. Kassar’s manufacturing of twelve-million units, and as reminder, he expected to call for an additional eight-million over the following twelve months, was basically him betting on a penetration rate that anyone else would deem to be impossible. His superiors at Warner should have fired him for the recklessness he showed. It’s only because of luck with timing (the cost of goods for manufacturing Atari carts had dropped significantly over the previous fiscal quarter) and licensing (thank you Mr. Robbins) that Atari’s dead inventory didn’t cripple them on the spot.

I can't even watch a video of Pac-Man 2600 (or most Atari 2600 titles for that matter) because of my epilepsy. Oh, you mean I'll never be able to play it myself? Oh um, what a shame or something.

I can’t even watch a video of Pac-Man 2600 (or most Atari 2600 titles for that matter) because of my epilepsy. Oh, you mean I’ll never be able to play it myself? Oh um, what a shame or something.

A quirky side note which you can add to the cost of Pac-Man: in a roundabout sort of way, it’s the reason Atari chose not to license Donkey Kong from Nintendo. Atari paid Taito about $1.50 per unit for Space Invaders. This became the standard price Atari paid for other licensed properties, such as Berzerk or Defender. Because of the deal Joe Robbins got from Namco, the royalty for Pac-Man was a piddly 15 cents per unit. When Nintendo was shopping around Donkey Kong, the second most popular arcade game (behind Pac-Man) at the time, they wanted $2 per unit. Ray Kassar balked, saying they were paying a fraction of that for a more popular game. Coleco, needing a killer app, gladly took Nintendo’s offer (and also gave them an addition $1.50 per unit for a table-top version). When Warner Bros. CEO Manny Gerard found out they didn’t get Donkey Kong, he blew a gasket on Kassar. Without it, they would have used Mouse Trap as its pack-in title, and the Colecovision would never have caught on. Atari would have had a closer relationship with Nintendo and an even better shot at securing the worldwide rights to the Famicom, and history would have played out totally different.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Developed by Atari in 1982
Platform: Atari 2600

The Game: This is the last entry that was also talked about at length from the previous list, I swear. We all know the story. It’s one of the worst video games ever made.

What Happened: Like I wrote about last time, it was Warner’s top executives (Manny Gerard and CEO Steve Ross) who struck the deal that landed Atari the E.T. license. The deal was more about securing Spielberg to direct movies for Warner, with the E.T. game being little more than a dangled carrot. Which is not to say Spielberg was only looking for a paycheck. He enjoyed gaming (and would later help design Boom Blox, one of the Nintendo Wii’s unsung gems) and looked forward to working with Howard Scott Warshaw, the man who had made Raiders of the Lost Ark for the Atari 2600. Warshaw, who took the assignment on short notice, had only a few days to come up with a concept to pitch to Spielberg, and came up with a relatively ambitious adventure/collect-a-thon idea. When he showed it to Spielberg, the director didn’t like it. He thought it should be something similar to Pac-Man. Howard was like “meh, it’s been done.” Later, he admitted that in retrospect, it might not have been a bad idea. Anyway, I’ve never played it, but I hear it wasn’t the most well-received game.

It looks more like

It looks more like dinosaur with its head turned to the left.

The Cost: $25,000,000 up front to Steven Spielberg, plus a royalty for him and for Universal Studios (the guys who actually made the movie), all of which negated the game’s earnings from the 1,500,000 units it did sell. Contrary to popular belief, the 2.5 million units of dead inventory wasn’t that costly, since Atari carts were relatively cheap to manufacture, and the costs of making them had dropped in 1982. But you’ve all heard those numbers before. So I’ll give you another number to chew on: zero.

That’s the number of games for Atari platforms (besides pack-ins) released after E.T. that sold one million units. Not one. Nor did any sell 500,000 units, and no games for the 5200, 7800, Lynx, or Jaguar sold 250,000 units. Of course, the crash helped with that, and all of Atari’s horrible policies under Warner and later Jack Tramiel afterwards. So while E.T. (and Pac-Man 2600, for that matter) doesn’t shoulder all the blame, you have to admit, it’s kind of telling that the last game for an Atari platform that anyone could describe as a “best seller” was this, possibly the worst game ever made.

Tetris (Tengen Version)

Developed by Atari Games in 1989
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System

The Game: It’s Tetris. I seriously doubt anyone here needs an explanation on it. However, I will note that most people consider Tengen’s version (developed by Ed Logg of Asteroids, Centipede, and Gauntlet fame) to be superior to Nintendo’s port for the NES.

What Happened: You practically need a flow chart to explain how Nintendo ended up with the exclusive rights to Tetris. It starts in 1986 when Robert Stein, president of a UK-based software company called Andromeda, contacted the Moscow Academy of Science, where Tetris was created by Alexey Pajitnov. Stein wanted to negotiate with the creator directly, thinking he had the rights to sell his software. However, in the USSR, you didn’t own anything you created, which meant that Pajitnov neither owned Tetris nor could negotiate the rights to it. Stein didn’t know that, secured the rights to Tetris (or claimed he did), and started licensing it before signing any official deal. Then, the people who he was merely licensing the game to started selling the Tetris license themselves. Spectrum Holobyte sold the rights to a man named Henk Rogers, who was a freelance game designer that sometimes acted as a liaison for Nintendo. Meanwhile, a company called Mirrorsoft, sold their rights to Atari Games, which was the former coin-op division of Atari before the company was divided in two and the home division was sold to the Tramiels. Are you confused yet? Just wait.

Henk Rogers, believing he only owned the console rights in Japan, realized nobody apparently had the rights for handheld devices, and Nintendo wanted Tetris to be the showcase game for their new Game Boy system. Rather than deal with any of the other people who claimed to own the rights to Tetris, Henk, with Nintendo’s authorization, was sent to Moscow to secure the handheld rights directly from the Soviets. When he got there, they surprised him by offering the worldwide video game rights to Tetris, which he had been under the impression had already been sold and were owned by Atari. Rogers, realizing he was in over his head, called Nintendo of America heads Minoru Arakawa and Howard Lincoln, who secured the international home video game rights to Tetris on March 22, 1988.

I'm pretty sure this was the only time the Russians caused an international incident.

I’m pretty sure this was the only time the Russians caused an international incident.

Nine days later, Nintendo, aware that Atari Games (who published unlicensed games for the NES under the name Tengen) was making their own version of Tetris for the NES, sent them a notice that Nintendo had exclusive rights to Tetris. Atari Games rejected this, having already bought what they believed was the home rights to the game, and filed for a copyright on their product weeks later. Nintendo and Atari Games had been going at each-others throats over Atari Games releasing unlicensed games for the NES. The two companies ended up in court, where it was revealed that Atari Games was able to access the security code Nintendo used to lockout unauthorized third parties by forging documents and presenting them to the US patent office. Had Atari Games not done that, it’s likely they would have won their lawsuit and set a new precedent for third parties in gaming (which would later come to pass when a company named Accolade sued Sega and won on an appeal). While they were in the middle of this, the Tetris case came up. Nintendo, with direct authorization from the USSR, had such an airtight claim to the rights that Judge Fern Smith cancelled the trial and declared Nintendo the sole owner of the rights to Tetris.

The Cost: Over 250,000 units of Tengen Tetris were recalled and destroyed, making the surviving copies a treasured rarity for NES collectors. The Tetris fiasco also shook the confidence of stores, most of which dropped Tengen products from their shelves. Initially, they had the support of retailers during their ongoing trial with Nintendo. Instead, Tetris set off a domino effect, at a time when parent company Warner was being merged with Time Inc. Warner slashed Atari’s budget, it took several years for the lawsuit (which was won by Nintendo) to resolve, and in the meantime, Tengen was practically persona non grata in the industry. Eventually, the bottom fell out and they were sold to Midway for a piddly $10,000,000 (they were generating a multiple of that during their heyday as an NES publisher). Tetris isn’t single-handedly responsible for all of that, but it unquestionably got the ball rolling.

Night Trap

Developed by Digital Pictures in 1992
Platform: Sega CD

The Game: Do you want me to describe the actual game or the game the United States Congress seemed to think Night Trap was? In real life, it’s a horrible full-motion-video title where you have to activate boobytraps to capture novice vampires (wearing ski masks for some reason) to save girls at a slumber party, or something like that.

If you’re the United States Congress, it’s a game where you murder girls. SHUT UP IT TOTALLY IS! No, Mr. Zito, we don’t wish to hear from you. We saw the footage. We know what we’re talking about you shameless smut peddler, you.

Kill it! Kill it with Fire!

Kill it! Kill it with Fire!

What Happened: Seriously, watch footage of someone playing Night Trap. This shit is positively tame. Your average Disney cartoon has more violence. Yet, Night Trap somehow became the prime exhibit in congressional hearings on video game violence in 1993. When you read the transcripts of the hearings, it’s pretty clear nobody (especially Joseph Lieberman, the pseudo liberal from Connecticut who initiated the whole thing) had ever played Night Trap, or seen footage of it outside of one very specific game-over clip where the vampires use a gizmo to suck the blood out of a girl wearing a (quite frankly, very modest) teddy. During the hearings, it was made out like you were the one controlling the vampires and the object was to murder the girls. Whenever anyone from Digital Pictures or Sega tried to explain that wasn’t what the game was about, they were told to sit down and shut up. Things went really downhill when a precursor to Anita Sarkeesian named Marilyn Droz took the stand. Someone was finally able to point out that the scene everyone kept referencing was actually a game over scene. She responded that was actually worse, because if you lose and someone dies, it is bad for self-esteem. And now I have a concussion from banging my head on my desk, repeatedly.

The whole thing was basically a witch-hunt against Sega, who also had an uncensored version of Mortal Kombat (next on this list). Nintendo had made ties with a senator named Slade Gordon, who acted as a liaison for the company to purchase the Seattle Mariners to prevent them from relocating to Miami. When Lieberman discovered Mortal Kombat, Gordon told him that Nintendo were the good guys, the company that kept tight regulations on their games, and that it was Sega who was tarnishing the industry’s image. Mind you, Sega was the first company to actively put ratings on their titles. During the testimony, Nintendo had an air of innocence (and arrogance) about them, with Howard Lincoln in particular going off on Sega, claiming that they were lying about having an older audience than Nintendo. This whole clusterfuck eventually led to the creation of the ESRB.

What a douche.

What a douche.

The Cost: I’m not going to go off on the ESRB, even if they are shady as all fuck. No, I’m going to focus on real costs against Sega. The notoriety of Night Trap helped it sell significantly more copies than it likely would have if everyone just ignored it for being a piece of shit of a game. But, because Sega came across so bad during the congressional hearings, a lot of stores dropped the new and fledgling Sega CD, which Night Trap was exclusively on. Sega, who had been planning to slash the price of it, was now stuck with millions of units of inventory and a smaller network of retailers to distribute them to. Thus they had to delay their price drop, which they had planned to center around the release of the hotly anticipated Sonic CD. Ultimately, the add-on’s dead inventory was too much to overcome and it was phased out, having lost millions for the company.

And then the Japanese offices got pissed off over Sega of America causing them so much trouble with these wacky FMV games that they were never big fans of. Sega’s Japanese leaders demanded that their American branch significantly tone down their marketing and attempt to appeal to a younger audience, with less focus on violence. You can see the ramifications in the Sega Saturn, which lacked many of the more mature Genesis properties like Streets of Rage. Even the Sega Scream was ordered to be removed from advertising. This kinder, gentler Sega (which granted, still was about to base its next system’s launch around a fighting game) lost its older demographic to the PlayStation. They also had almost no chance to claim the younger demographic away from Nintendo. So, in a way, you can lay claim that Sega’s downward spiral actually began with these hearings. And, if Night Trap had never existed, there’s a good chance it never would have come to that.

 Mortal Kombat

Developed by Acclaim in 1993
Platform: SNES

The Game: For some reason, in order to conquer our dimension, an evil wizard needs to win ten consecutive MMA tournaments that are held “once a generation.” Our world has lost nine straight. If we lose this one, they get to take over the world. Thankfully it’s a fighting tournament and not a baseball game featuring the Chicago Cubs, or we’d be fucked. I guess in this scenario, the role of Johnny Cage is played by Steve Bartman. I know people are gaga over Mortal Kombat’s storyline, but it’s raving batshit. Anyway, the game was slightly before my time, but I think it’s hugely overrated, at least compared to the more elegant and refined Street Fighter II. Really, the over-the-top violence is the only thing the original Mortal Kombat had going for it. If not for that, I don’t think it would have lived to get a sequel. Though the series did later become pretty cool. Sickening x-ray moves that realistically would be way worse than half the fatalities not withstanding.

What Happened: Well, you can sort of blame all the bullshit Sega went through with Night Trap on Mortal Kombat, since it’s the game that started the whole thing. But actually, the fiasco I had in mind is about the home port of Mortal Kombat for the Super Nintendo. The one that replaced the blood with sweat and pussified the finishing moves. To say this decision by Nintendo didn’t go over well is an understatement. Nintendo got thousands of complaint letters, many of them from parents who were offended that Nintendo would dare censor their children’s games.

Dear Nintendo,

Don’t tell me what my kids can and cannot see. I’m the parent. I’m doing the raising. Now go make the game my child played in the arcade while I was getting my hair done exactly as it was in the arcade so that he can sit in front of the television for hours at a time and leave me alone while I gossip on the phone and ignore him.
-Mother of the Year 1993

What a douche.

Lieberman’s favorite game.

Despite the fact that the Genesis version played slower, lacked enough buttons, and sounded like crap, it outsold the SNES version by a 3 to 1 margin. Which sort of proves my point about how the only real appeal in the original MK was the gore. People flocked in droves to a mediocre port of an already mediocre game because they could see a little splash of blood and someone get their heart ripped out.

The Cost: Nintendo still kind of feels the effects to this day. This is where the “Nintendo is for children” label primarily comes from. The decision to sanitize Mortal Kombat revitalized the stagnate Sega Genesis, which lost ground to the Super Nintendo following the release of Street Fighter II. With new relevance, the Genesis clung to life for longer than it was supposed to. Sega had slashed the operating budget of the Mega Drive internationally, a decision Sega of America head Tom Kalinke had fought against for the US side of things. Mega Drive hadn’t caught on, especially in Japan, and Sega expected 3DO to take a big piece of their pie, based on how the mainstream media was going throwing roses at the new console. Of course, it never happened, but it could have.

I mean, really, look at it. Johnny Cage's fatality on the SNES version looks like a clipping glitch. Hell, maybe it was and they just ran with it.

I mean, really, look at it. Johnny Cage’s fatality on the SNES version looks like a clipping glitch. Hell, maybe it was and they just ran with it.

Thanks in part to the spike of hardware sales Sega received from Mortal Kombat, Sega avoided having to phase out the Genesis, like they were preparing to do. In essence, censoring Mortal Kombat cost Nintendo maybe a year of having no real opposition in mass advertising. In retail, having no competition is typically a good thing. And yeah, Sega did get unexpectedly hot around this period. The best-selling third-party game that ever existed on a Sega platform, Disney’s Aladdin, released just two months after Mortal Kombat did, and would go on to sell over four-million units worldwide. But, and I think this is important, nobody bought a Sega Genesis (or a Mega Drive) just to play Aladdin. People did that for gory Mortal Kombat, and they only did it because Nintendo had a weak stomach.

As a funny side note, Nintendo almost didn’t learn their lesson. With Mortal Kombat II for the SNES, Nintendo originally ordered it censored on there too. Acclaim left all the fatalities in, but the screen would turn black and white when the actual death happened. Oh, and all the blood was turned green this time. At the last minute, Nintendo changed their minds and allowed an uncensored version, with red blood, to launch in North America. It outsold the Genesis version roughly 3 to 1 in the United States. The censored version was released in Japan. I guess the country that brought us Battle Royale thought video game characters decapitating each other was too much. ‘

 Shenmue

Developed by Sega in 2000
Platform: Dreamcast

The Game: Please for God’s sake don’t burn down my house. Shenmue hit when I was eleven years old. The hype on it was unreal. A teaser trailer (in the days before YouTube) was included on a demo disc in the Official Dreamcast Magazine. It looked so awesome. I didn’t emote a ton as a child, a product of having autism, but I distinctly remember getting goosebumps for it. My parents, out of sheer spite for me, made me wait for “Santa Claus” to bring it on Christmas morning. That morning, I opened the first over-sized CD case-shaped present I could find, told my parents the rest of the gifts could wait, and popped that sucker into my Dreamcast.

Three hours later, I had a hunch that I must have been a naughty little girl the previous year, because Shenmue was the ultimate lump of coal. And I’m not really talking about the slow, boring gameplay. This was a game that was supposed to take place in a real world, where every decision you made and every person you interacted with would effect the gameplay. With so much emphasis on this, why did Sega so completely half-ass the stuff that matters for immersion? The voice acting is on par with House of the Dead, which shouldn’t have surprised me since that was Sega too. Devoid of emotion, and for a story that is driven completely by the emotional state of the hero, that really took me out of it right from the get-go. The dialog is also embarrassing. I’m told the writing in the Japanese version was more realistic and something got lost in translation when it came to the states. Maybe it did, but I can’t excuse it just because a version I didn’t have access to sucked less.

Fans complained that the story never completed, and keep begging for Sega to finish the story. Here’s the deal, guys. The first game sold alright. Not spectacular or anything, but decent enough. But the sequel did horrible, both in the United States and in other markets, where people had simply moved past the Dreamcast.

And then there are those who would sell their first born for this set.

And then there are those who would sell their first born for this set.

But, and here’s a thought: maybe most people didn’t like Shenmue. Yes, it has very vocal fans, but it also left a trail of people who thought it was overly long, badly written, and boring. Here’s another thought: instead of doing a sequel, this is one of the few games I would be in favor of remaking. But, I would want it remade using modern sandbox game mechanics and functionality. Give the guys at Rockstar the same story with the engine they used for GTA V and I promise you a superior game. Hell, maybe even one with an actual ending.

What Happened: Shenmue began development way back when Sega was still trying desperately to find a killer app for Saturn. At first, it was going to be a traditional RPG using the some of the main characters from Virtua Fighter. But then Yu Suzuki got sick of being handcuffed by limited mythology he made for that, so he altered the characters and came up with an original story. Development started in 1996 and dragged, mostly because of the notoriously difficult to work with Saturn. When Sega finalized the specs for the Dreamcast in early 1998, it took Suzuki about two seconds to say “yep, fuck this” and scrap the code, starting fresh. Suzuki’s new vision was basically a sandbox style game before that was really a thing. But this necessitated new technologies to be created, and those were expensive. Shenmue would be an episodic game, with the first game containing the first of sixteen chapters. The second game would have chapters 3 – 5 (chapter 2 being exclusively released as a comic book, because that would be the dumbest idea ever and thus right up Sega’s alley), and future installments would eventually lead to between four to six releases, depending on what day of the week Suzuki is telling the story. Games one and two would not be enough to get a return on the project. The theory was, game three would be the breakeven and start to turn a profit, with all the games afterwards being all profit. After it was apparent there was no chance of the game ever making its money back, Sega decided that Shenmue III should run chapters 6 through16, so the fans could have closure. Then it was cancelled, and people are still complaining about it. Every time E3 rolled around, people expected them to announce it. Shit like this makes me better understand how some people are convinced Elvis is still alive. Then it really was announced in 2015, as a Kickstarter. Maybe there’s still hope for The King yet.

The Cost: Look, I’m not going to blame Shenmue on the collapse of the Sega Dreamcast or anything like that. This is one of the rare games on this list where the cost is merely cold hard cash. Shenmue’s budget ballooned to around $70,000,000, making it the most expensive game ever made at that point. Shenmue and Shenmue II (the only titles in the series that were completed for Dreamcast) could have sold at a one-to-one ratio for every Dreamcast owner in the world and it still wouldn’t have been profitable. To really give you perspective, chew on this: if Sega had never made Shenmue and instead on November 8, 2000 gave every single Dreamcast owner in the United States $25, that would have cost them less money.

I don’t blame Suzuki for this. His superiors, on the other hand, should never have allowed this to happen. Among other issues, the business model they had planned for Shenmue didn’t take into account Moore’s Law. The cutting edge technology behind Shenmue would have been obsolete before the series was even turning a profit. It would have cost even more money to keep it up with the times, meaning it would have taken longer for the series to turn a profit. And that’s just from the graphics side of things. Less than one year after Shenmue launched in North America, Grand Theft Auto III hit on the PlayStation 2. Shenmue promoted itself as a game where you were basically free to do anything you wanted. Hell, the engine was called “FREE” (Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment). But GTA III, although not as pretty, offered way more freedom than Shenmue could have ever hoped for. And, from a story delivery perspective, it had sharper writing and professional voice actors that sounded like they actually gave a shit. It moved the standards of what gamers expected well past what Sega was capable of delivering during this time.

Hopefully they follow-up the Shenmue revival with a return to Virtua Fighter Kids. That had limitless potential, damnit!

Hopefully they follow-up the Shenmue revival with a return to Virtua Fighter Kids. That had limitless potential, damnit!

I’m not trying to turn this into an anti-Sega piece. The Dreamcast might be my favorite console of all time. It was the first console I ever got on launch day. I loved that Sega had at least one major first-party game every month for it. I loved the demo disc that came with every issue of the official DC magazine. It was the first time I paid attention to release dates and development schedules and learned about specific studios. Although PlayStation One is where I discovered gaming and the Nintendo 64 is where I fell in love with it, the Dreamcast is what made me the gamer I am today. But, by time Shenmue came out, the salad days of the system were over. Sega’s CEO Isao Okawa was dying, many top designers were looking to leave the company, and the PlayStation 2 had just arrived. Less than two months after Shenmue released, Sega announced the Dreamcast was discontinued and they would become a third-party. Naturally, their first step was to give the North American rights for Shenmue II to Microsoft. I’m sure they were compensated for it, but there’s no way Xbox had the potential to move as many units of Shenmue II as the PlayStation 2 had. The demographics for Shenmue II and PS2 clearly were more compatible. Some people have speculated that it was an I.O.U. from Sega to Microsoft, since they still owed debt to them because of the Windows CE operating system the Dreamcast had. Either way, the franchise died, and it only took over 70,000 people paying over six-and-a-half million dollars to bring it back.

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