A lot of people like to use Dark Souls as a good example for… pretty much everything in terms of game development. And they do so for good reason, of course. But there is another developer worth noting who follows a similar development philosophy to that of From Software (and is also based in Japan. Imagine that.). That’s right. It’s Tecmo Koei and its subsidiary Omega Force.
Now there are quite a lot of people who don’t like Dynasty Warriors, so you may find the very idea of Tecmo Koei setting a good example to be preposterous. But I urge you to read on and at least see where I’m coming from.
Tecmo Koei doesn’t really talk about the budgets and sales numbers of their Dynasty Warriors games, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it’s not exactly a big-budget IP (I don’t say ‘franchise’ anymore because Phil Spencer made me hate that word). Since it has a relatively low-budget, that means the games are going to be crap, and will subsequently bomb, right? Well apparently not, considering Tecmo Koei is still making games. If you want to know what they’re doing right, then please:
Let’s say you’re a developer. You have this amazing idea for a game, but you don’t have enough money to make your vision a reality. What do you do? If your resources are heavily limited, then your first priority should be making sure your game is at least fun to play, right? If you agree then CONGRATULATIONS!!!! You’re smarter than almost every single Western and Westernized Eastern third party developer. Why? Because you have something they don’t:
Actually, the Western guys do have priorities as well. They just have them completely wrong. See, Western developers are like spoiled, over-privileged children. The publishers give them exorbitant sums of money for their games. And much like a spoiled child would use that money to buy something shiny and expensive, the developers will more often than not use most of their budget on graphics, Hollywood actors and all that crap. Next thing you know, the game sells multi-millions, still fails, and causes layoffs/closures.
And from the looks of it, this behavior will not stop anytime soon.
In an interview with VG247, Eric Boltjes, lead designer of Killzone: Shadow Fall, said that while the Playstation 4’s architecture makes games easier to develop, it actually takes more time, money, and effort to make the games (Totally called it, by the way. ‘Simpler,’ not ‘cheaper.’)
Boltjes had this to say:
“The architecture is really cool because it’s easier to develop for, you get more memory, you get more hard drive space, you get more processing power so the architecture is easier,”
“It’s also a lot more demanding, because the production effort needed just to make a next-gen title now is not doubled; it’s quadrupled.”
You hear that? QUADRUPLED!!! And this is coming from Guerrilla Games, a FIRST PARTY DEVELOPER!!! Now, Mr. Boltjes, why, despite having architecture that allows for simpler development, do next-gen games need so much more money and effort?
“That’s because everything needs to look that much better.”
And from the looks of it, it's only going to get worse.
Now what does all this have to do with Dynasty Warriors and what it does right? Well, since the games are low budget, Omega Force has the humility to push graphics aside and make sure the game is actually fun to play. A great example of this behavior is the Gamasutra interview with Platinum Games (another Japanese developer? Who would’ve thought?), when Atsushi Inaba says,
“Working with Nintendo, one thing that comes out of that is that we're not able to cover up weaknesses in the core gameplay by making the graphics prettier or adding cutscenes, or whatever. The concern, first and foremost, is the core of the game and the quality of the gameplay.”
Omega Force does almost the opposite in the sense that they cover up weaknesses in the graphics by making the gameplay freaking awesome. And before you say “But it’s just mashing one button over and over again!” try playing on Chaos Mode (the way it’s meant to be played) with that mindset, and we’ll compare notes.
But of course, while the game is fun, you can’t have it look like crap, right? See, you may have heard people (particularly those who primarily game on Nintendo systems) say that ‘Graphics don’t matter.’ What they mean is, ‘Graphics do matter, but they should not be the number one priority in game development.’ It just doesn't take as long to just say ‘Graphics don’t matter.’ Let’s face it; just like how we humans are with looks, if you say graphics don’t matter, you’re only fooling yourself. You need your game to look presentable in order to attract gamers. And that’s exactly what Dynasty Warriors’ graphics do. They may not be mind-blowing, but they get the job done.
Now I’m going to use Dynasty Warriors 8 for the Playstation 3 as my example. I’m not going to provide images or link videos because this is the type of game that needs to be seen in motion and raw, not still and compressed. Also, I understand Tecmo Koei announced a Playstation 4 version of Dynasty Warriors 8 with Xtreme Legends that has some graphical upgrades, but I’m not going to talk about that because we don’t know just how much of an improvement it will be over the PS3 version. Plus, since DW8 was released during the later years of the PS3, we can assume that that’s just about the best Omega Force can do with the hardware.
The way Omega Force approaches graphics is pretty simple: What is the player going to be looking at at all times? These are the things that need to look good. In the case of Dynasty Warriors, there are three things you’ll be looking at at all times: Your character, the weapon your character is using, and (if applicable) your character’s mount. Want to know why those three things look more detailed than everything else in the game? Because Omega Force knows you’re not going to spend much time looking at the other things.
This is why I laughed at the part of Game Informer’s review that said that the wall textures in the bases are laughable. Seriously, how much time do you spend in a base during a battle? Most of the time is spent in large open areas, so why waste time and money making the walls look pretty?
And the cannon fodder that serve as enemies. Why do they all look the same… and crappy? Well let’s look at their purpose in the game: They run up to you, get hit, fall on the ground, and disappear. If your budget is limited, why spend time and money making different and good-looking models, especially if they’re just going to disappear when they die?
The lesson Omega Force is teaching us here is that a lot of what we refer to as ‘finer details’ in games are not worth the time and money because the majority of gamers are too impatient and/or shortsighted to admire them when they're actually playing the games.
Wow, look at the detail on this thing that none of us are going to look at when we actually play the game.
It does look nice, yes. But here’s the thing: It’s a pump. Since it’s a third-person shooter, you’re going to be too busy shooting people to admire the finer details in the game world. And you’re not going to look at them when the fight’s over. You’re going to rush to the next fight so you can keep shooting things.
This is part of why I believe that this next generation is not going to be anywhere near as big a graphical leap as people are hyping it up to be. See, when the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 were announced, all they had to do was show off their games and let them speak for themselves. People understood that the graphics got a whole lot better just by watching. But with the Xbox One and Playstation 4, now developers have to show us tech demos and use fancy technical terms like occlusion mapping, tactleneck physics, dynamic particles and other terms that people pretend to understand but don’t in actuality (I’m one of them, if you couldn’t tell).
And that is what worries me. The games cannot speak for themselves anymore. If you sat down and were shown a gameplay video of Watch Dogs, you would not be able to tell which system it was being played on unless someone or something told you ahead of time. If Ubisoft did not post that video showcasing the features of the next-gen versions of Assassin’s Creed IV, you would not notice any of them when playing the game. If Mark Cerny did not show that ‘million particle’ demo before announcing Knack during the Playstation 4 reveal, I would have thought it was just an uninspired game, and not a glorified tech demo disguised as an uninspired game. Every time I see gameplay of Infamous: Second Son, while the developer hypes up the graphics, I always say to myself, “Well, it does look pretty… but I think I’ve played this game already… twice.” And don’t even get me started on EA Sports and Crytek.
Do you know why developers talk so much about graphics? It’s because they know that when it comes down to it, their games bring absolutely nothing new to the table. With the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, you’re going to be playing the exact same games you’ve been playing for the last 8 years, but with a slightly shinier coat of paint. In fact, after the PS4 reveal, Jim Sterling did a Jimquisition on it, and he expressed concern that due to the industry not changing its attitude, this next generation may not be a generation in its own right, but rather an extension to the current one with slightly better graphics.
And he’s right. As long as it’s “the same old gaming industry with its same old bullshit,” nothing is going to change.
But developers are not wholly to blame. For the last 7-8 years, I’ve run into tons of people talking about how a certain game is awesome because ‘the graphics are amazing.’ And every time I hear that, I jump into the conversation and ask them what specific details in said game blew them away.
To this day, I have yet to find a person that could properly answer that question.
And I know exactly why they can’t answer the question: like developers, gamers throw the word ‘graphics’ around as a buzzword. Developers say ‘next-gen graphics,’ and gamers and press alike just eat it up. Gamers say a game/console is awesome or sucks because of graphics, and people immediately believe them, so they don't have to worry about further justifying their opinion.
Developers’ prioritization of graphics over gameplay has taken a toll on the reasoning of the average gamer, which only serves to further strengthen their desire to make better graphics. It is the unhealthiest relationship this industry has seen, and it has caused both parties to become delusional to the point where they think the hype train is still going when it arrived at its destination a couple years ago.
This could all be easily fixed. All these people have to do is follow the examples of their Japanese counterparts (as well as the indie developers, of course). People keep saying Dynasty Warriors is the same game every time, yet I doubt any of them would even give it a chance to see what changes are made with each installment and see why people keep buying them. People like to rag on Platinum Games for their games not selling, but at least they have the balls to make the games they actually want to make and not just quick, safe cash grabs. People constantly bash Nintendo for ‘being stuck in the 90s,’ which I consider to be a good thing, since apparently running a game business like it’s the 21st Century only ensures bankruptcy.
But let’s be realistic. For years, these Western developers have shown that they would rather go out of business than abandon their ‘next-gen’ ideals. And according to Guerrilla Games, the collective cost of their recklessness will be even greater this generation.
Assuming Sony lasts long enough for Omega Force to make a Playstation 4 Dynasty Warriors from the ground up, I hope that they stick to their development principles. In fact, I hope all the Japanese developers I’ve mentioned stick to their guns in the short period of next-gen development being ‘the thing.’ Because if they do, they will be among the few remaining after the industry receives its long overdue wakeup call.
And believe me. It’s going to happen this generation. Guerrilla Games pretty much confirmed it.
And when the dust settles, the fallen (and there will be many) will wonder how it all went wrong. And the survivors can only tell them: