Carrying on from last week, I've sought to establish through current and ongoing trends what's likely to come in the future of Franchises. From the decades old household names that never change but just won't die to the big name big money critic proof annual releases that bulldozer the charts no matter how good they actually are.
Reinvigorating a franchise doesn’t have to come in the form of a remake or a ground up reboot, it can also come as a spin-off. Above you can see two very distinctly different visual styles of games from the same Capcom published game series developed within the same year.
Lost Planet 3
(pictured left) is developed by US developer Spark Unlimited and E.X. Troopers
(pictured right) was internally developed in Japan. Both belong to the Lost Planet
series and take very different shapes.
Lost Planet 3
(from the main series canon) offers the gritty atmospheric gravitas of a first person science fiction shooter set on a hostile alien planet whereas E.X.Troopers
( a spin-off) exudes a colourful anime adventure world with an exciting and engaging cast.
Having games within the same series take on such a different approach helps cast a wider net on the publisher’s audience rather than just re-invent the series. Unlike Devil May Cry
, a choice is presented rather than the nuclear option of resetting everything back to the drawing board. This is a great tactic in keeping games (and franchises) new and as a result accessible to new audiences while also showing established audiences that they get a more developed progression of what they already like as well as the prospect of something new on the side that would likely engage them rather than the more common expectation of merely a repetitive rehashing of the previous installment in the series.
However, presently Capcom appear to have shot themselves in the face by deciding not to release E.X. Troopers
outside of Japan, thus snuffing any chance of expanding into a new market. This comes despite the game being released on Playstation 3 as well as the Nintendo 3DS in Japan with both ports cited as being very similar and offering little difference in recent reviews. An exercise that personally seems needless and costly to me when greater gains could have been made (if need be on a single format ) worldwide. Disappointing and baffling to say the least. 1 step forward in development terms, 2 steps back in distribution.
Possibly one of the more drastic franchise reboots of recent times is that of Konami's reincarnation of the Castlevania
franchise (which over 25 years, without including spin-offs, ran through a somewhat cohesive narrative timeline spanning 21 games).
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
is an example of both a migrated franchise and a series reboot. With development duties passed to Madrid based developer MercuryStream, the direction for this game was lead by a unlikely party under the Konami banner. The Hideo Kojima helmed studio; Kojima Productions. Kojima productions operates under Konami as publisher but with the freedom to collaborate and offset it's own projects through and with other developers.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
has since spawned its own offshoot timeline, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
will follow on from the previous game with the series also migrating from home consoles to the Nintendo 3DS in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate
. Although not much is known about the games at this point in development, the direction appears to have switched fully to MercuryStream’s creative ends. Series stalwarts such as Simon and Trevor Belmont as well as Alucard (above) will make their first outings in a revised manifestation.
BAFTA Annual Games Lecture 2012.
The BAFTA annual games lecture once again helps to bring Games into the same spotlight other visual arts enjoy. This year’s lecture prepared the stage for an aforementioned visionary producer, Hideo Kojima. More an interview than lecture, a lot of the evening adhered to narrating his career and focusing on the Metal Gear
As mentioned, Kojima was charged with initially bestowing the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
reboot with the same sort of ethos he’d established with the Metal Gear
series at Konami.
When thinking about excommunicating the position and freedoms auteured works such as his have in the industry, it’s important to think about why he has those liberties when a lot of producers of such high profile (“AAA“) titles and series’ must adhere stringently to industry archetypes and set criteria established by the publishers. Simply put, having hit after hit offers the same sort of creative controls to a games producer that a Hollywood film director might enjoy. However, the games industry landscape is very different from films and has changed more dramatically over the last 20 years.
This may in part be due to new avenues of accessibility to new developers and markets due to the soaring rate of indie and mobile games appearing on the scene over the last 10 years or so. On the other end of the spectrum, Kojima’s end, we now have a stream of around 20 visually stunning heavyweight games appear every October from the Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed, Call Of Duty
(etc.) model. Not forgetting all the annual sports releases which perfected this pattern. The target is the Christmas market. Think of this occurrence as the ‘September Issue’ formula for the games industry.
It’s these later type games that command a high production value and large (often international) staff. These games cannot afford to miss their mark and that‘s why they don’t always deviate from the formula that made them so successful in the first place. The opposite of a game directed by an individual auteur (like Kojima) where the rules of the series can change on the whims of a producer, a product of a more or less singular vision . It’s because games such as Metal Gear Solid
and Metal Gear Solid 2:Sons of Liberty
(in particular) were hits before this landscape was established to such a high end that he has the freedom to work as a creative luminary. It’s also games like these that helped shape what is expected of today’s AAA titles.
Kojima’s dedication to following a more creative controlled approach to his work is undoubtedly more commonly seen in the film industry. It is unsurprising then that he is overseeing a forthcoming Sony and Columbia pictures movie adaptation of Metal Gear Solid. This creative approach works, Kojima is far from the only auteur to produce work the way he does in the Games industry.
Kojima productions are moving their hallmark Metal Gear Solid franchise forward in two distinct directions. That internally developed first direction is with Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeros.
Ground Zeros is the next canonical sequel to the series narrative featuring series icon Snake (whichever Snake that may be) as the lead protagonist.
A game created solely using Kojima's "Fox" engine. The intention of the new software is that other developers (primarily published through Konami) will also be able to take advantage if utilising it. Konami have already reportedly used the engine to develop Pro Evolution Soccer 2013
. Kojima is rumoured to be using it in the next Silent Hill
game. Just as with the Epic's Unreal engine (which made it's engine available for other publishers as well as developers), thus developers are able to co develop with each others tech.
Also unveiled this year, Square-Enix's Luminous Engine shows us the next step in visuals for the publisher and its development teams. Whether S-E opens the engine up for other devs and publishers to use remains to be seen.
Before Ground Zeroes, the Next stage for Kojima Productions and it's Metal Gear
Franchise is already set. Metal Gear Rising: Revengence
is a Platunum games developed action game following supporting protagonist Raiden.
This is an example of a migrated franchise, however the game play style is completely different from the core Metal Gear
series so can also be considered a spin-off. On top of that this is an auteur lead subsidiary studio of Konami, that has outsourced it’s creative property to an independent third party developer - Platinum games. Platinum’s style of action games such as Bayonetta and Vanquish stems from Hideki Kamiya’s work on Capcom games like Devil May Cry
I’m lucky enough to have played it already at the Eurogamer Expo and the frantic sword play and over the shoulder fighting reminded me of other Platinum games Bayonetta
and the forthcoming Anarchy Reigns
The visual and narrative style carry on from Kojima Productions while the gameplay and cinematic style are easily identifiable as Platinum’s. In my mind the shows a well considered collaboration where both parties have clear avenues of the creative control. Providing the game performs well in slaes, It also allows an easy transition to a continuous spin off series which would surely benefit both parties.
The Franchise Horizon.
As explored, large companies like Nintendo as well as corporate publishers like Capcom, Sega, Konami and Square-Enix must raise and maintain franchises. A franchise can either flourish by having it’s direction controlled stringently from the central publisher, even when the games are being made by another party. A franchise can also hope to expand by moving it’s familiar hallmarks and structures associated with it in a dramatically different direction. Rather than have this achieved from within the core publisher, this is often a duty assigned to another party to ‘make or break’.
The first method of keeping things familiar can result in too much of a predictable experience resulting in a diminishing audience. The second method of reinventing the franchise could potentially alienate the greater audience. The losses and risks are high but the publisher must continue to introduce new franchises to help itself prepare for the fallout of having a core franchise break down.
Auteurs like Hideo Kojima, Suda 51, Peter Moleneux, Cliff Bleszinski and other creative pioneers that either work through their own development studio or assume a high level of artistic control in their work, allow themselves a different approach to franchises. The franchise is associated not solely to the publisher but more often to the creative controller. Like a film studio hiring a top director. A high level of quality is expected. The publishers that fund or own studios affiliated to auteurs have a stake in a product that will be created with little corporate supervision. If it’s not a hit, the publisher can detach from the developer. Everything hinges on the auteur and increasingly what is expected from them in the minds of the more hardcore gaming audience who will be familiar with their work.
I feel the need to create spin offs (such as E.X.Troopers
and Metal Gear Rising: Revengence
) affords the publisher the ability to return the original series un-singed should the spin-off fail to meet expectations. It gives an audience the option of something new rather than taking away what they loved and replacing it with something completely different they could easily hate. Reboots on the other hand are a final option. If a reboot is so radically different, then why not just allow the ‘reboot game’ to stand on it’s own legs as a new original title instead? Remember, Instead of Devil May Cry
being a game-changer sequel to Resident Evil
(as was originally intended), it became something new and just as big as it’s progenitor. Just as in the examples mentioned, spin offs provide an opportunity to allow a new style and creative talent to prove themselves, to trial new approaches. It is a costly practice but I feel it poses less risk than the nuclear option of rebooting a franchise completely and can be done while the franchise is still a hit in preparation for when it might not be.
As the computer game industry continues to grow I think that the need for more influential creative individuals is greater than ever. Publishers need to not only nurture creatives from their own subsidiary developers to continue the corporate vision for a franchise, but also to support more up and coming self sufficient creatives they can outsource too when they need something new. The indie game circuit is an exemplary talent pool where risks are less severe and only the more unique and pioneering works are noticed. I suspect it’s in this grass roots arena where not only future auteurs will appear but where the possibility of future franchises as well as the future for our existing beloved franchises, will stem from.