Hopefully story based games will be like this in the future. I say future because most devs make games like Gears of War that have way too much HP in an effort to make these game harder. Imagine watching that fight scene but instead of quickly and skillfully killing the Huron Indians, The player had to spend 1 minute with each enemy chipping away at Health Points, that what most games do wrong
That's why I like fast paced games like Vanquish that have fast paced fights. Gears of War with its slow moving player with a gun that fires a wide spread of fire, the bullet sponge enemies with no head shots, who duck behind cover too much will never be able to tell a story well through gameplay alone.
That said there's nothing wrong with boss fights been long, but when it comes to rank and file enemies, they should die quickly to keep the action moving smoothly.
This (half baked) article does two things, it goes into the state of the shmup genre and why the likes of CAVE and Grev, who are the Capcom and Ark System Works of the shmup genre have fallen on hard times and are facing somewhat of a perfect storm. The second part contains some news which might pull them and the genre out of the shit as to speak.
The State Of The Shmup Genre
The long version
With the resurgence of 2D retro games due to xbla and psn and the high number of shmups available for the 360 xbla and retail most casual onlookers would think shmups are as a whole in great shape too. But the sad thing is things arenít as rosy as they seem as Japanese shmup developers seem to be facing somewhat of a perfect storm hampering them from making a profit making and selling new titles.
1) Arcade development is no longer profitable. Shmups are usually developed as coin-op arcade games and while the arcades in Japan are still alive if only just. And since many shmups in the past never saw a console release and those that did were lesser ports due to the lacking horsepower of consoles. So shmup purists would buy the arcade PCBs which retailed up to $2000 new. With this generation of consoles finally able to fully emulate the arcade shmups. Many fans are less prepared to spend that kind of money when they can wait for the console port.
Like FTG like SSFIV and KoFXIII, the fact Japanese Shmups are still designed for the arcade means that titles are of a higher quality compared to run of the mill indie efforts
2) Shmups are a super niche genre and traditionally have been kept alive by a small fanbase who are prepared to pay a premium price for the console games that only usually sell 10k to 100k titles.
3) Traditionally most shmup devs tend to all develop for the same console which becomes the console to have for the fanbase. While it keeps sales higher than having their customers spread out on multiple systems. It does mean they are putting all their eggs in one basket. And with the failure of the 360 in Japan, domestic sales are shrinking and arnt enough to sustain profitability.
4) This means that shmup devs like CAVE and Grev are for the first time ever looking towards shmupfans outside of Japan. Unfortunately traditionally practically no western publishers would localise shmups (although the odd shmup made it to the US like the Raiden games) They didnít sell, received very little publicity from the gaming press and most reviews were from gamers who felt that they were a relic of bygone days and should stay there. Luckily with the advent of retro gaming reviews like this are a raraty now.
5) Unfortunately the genre doesnt have a big enough following to xbla viable for most games. The games are better off been sold at retail at a premium price given there low sales. Also the fanbase and collectors prefer them to be boxed aswell.As ive said in my last blog xbla is as good a prospect as other genres, Xbla shmups tend to go under the radar with MS usually not listing them as they should in the xbla marketplace. As unlike platformers and fighting games, shmups dont have their own genre tab and often are lumped into the shooter tab along with the FPS games.
Also its worth noting that most xbla shmups are rereleases of old games (eg Ikaruga, Trigger Heart Excelica, Guwange) or shmups that donít have the same content or quality as a AAA shmup (Space Invaders infinity gene, Space Invaders Extreame,Galaga DX, Omega 5) That leaves Trouble Witches Neo which was originally a doujin fangame that became a hit and Grev's Strania which while having ex Treasure employees working on it sold poorly. So for AAA shmups they are best sold as $30-$40 retail games.
6) Before CAVE fully entered into the west, they preformed an experiment and made two of their Japanese releases (Mushihimisama Futari & Esp Galuda2) region free so anyone with a western 360 could import them. They were a success and Aksys published Deathsmiles for NA and Rising Star Games published Deathsmiles for PAL. Also 2 other Japanese shmups from devs other than CAVE were released as region free.
The region free Dodonpachi Resurrection
7) Arksys pulled out from shmups after Deathsmiles leaving RSG as CAVEs only publisher in the west. RSG then released Dodonpachi Resurrection during novembergeddon and despite been region free so US gamers could import. It totally flew under the radar due to every major gaming site bar Eurogamer been focused towards the US market and didnt bother reviewing a niche PAL exclusive, instead they reviewed the mediocre Otomedius Excellent by Konami. Dodonpachi Resurrection was something of a flop with prices plummeting to £10 - £15 new after only been out a month.
8) Also during this time MS pulled the plug on region free with has become something of a band aid to push up sales of shmups that had little or no chance of been localised in the west and Japanese domestic sales shrinking even fuether. Then CAVE say they are to focus more on social games
For Those of you who cant be bothered reading all of that here's the short version
1) Most Japanese shmup devs develop for the 360 which isnít doing well in Japan
2) For the most part the genre is too small to make xbla profitable
3) Region free releases became something of a band aid for devs and propped up sales
4) MS pulled the plug on region free
5) Currently Rising Star Games is the only western publisher of retail shmups. Their last PAL exclusive (but region free) flopped due to not been reviewed by major gaming websites due to them been focused on the US market.
6) CAVE announces its losing money making arcade and 360 shmups and is to focus more on social gaming.
The news segment
So from what seemed as a resurgence of the genre only a year ago has suddenly made a change for the worst and even though a couple of shmups are in the pipeline Sina Mora for xbla and Under Defeat HD for Japan only these might be the dying gasps of air of shmups on the big screen.
CAVE's awesome horizontal shooter Akai Katana
Luckily Rising Star Games have announced they are opening shop in the US and plan to publish CAVE horizontal shmup Akai Katana both on PAL and NA at the same time! They have also opened a department to publish digitally on xbla, psn, iOS and STEAM! (what they plan to publish on these hasnít been announced)
Although im a UK gamer and was still getting Akai Katana anyway, this news is still very much welcomed due to most gaming sites been US focused its the only way to ensure the game gets enough coverage and has a shot at been a success. I hope that all of you who enjoy the genre will go out and but this quality game when it launches. RSG has shown that if they can make a profit they are more than happy to bring more titles to the west and it would be vital to survival of the best developers in the genre.
Its also worth pointing out that a little back ground on RSG and why they are highly regarded in certain niche gamer circles.
Compared to North America who have Altus, XSEED, NISA and many other niche publishers of Japanese game, PAL land is very much lacking with Rising Star Games been one of the few. Due to been a part of Marvellous Entertainment in the past their back catalog has been for the Wii and DS (Muramasa, No More Heroes, Rune Factory). But after their split they are releasing 360 / PS3 games as well. (Deadly Premonition & King of Fighters XIII) However its their relationship with shmup king CAVE that they are most noted for in arcade gaming circles. And with RSG been the sole western localiser of CAVE's shmups, they garner much praise and respect of the shooter fanbase.
Dont you guys think gamers have double standards when it comes to percieved value in which games are worth full price and which are only worth $15 on xbla
For example many gamers wont pay $30-$60 boxed for a game because they can get something similar on xbla for $10, even if there difference in quality and quantity.
With more and more genres and even 3D games like I Am Alive and Torchlight making their way to xbla and psn most gamers seem to have double standards when it comes to which genres are deemed worthy of been a boxed and with should always be relegated to xbla/ psn / indie no matter how good it is.
For example many gamers insist that all 2D even 3D shmups (and many other coin op arcade games) should be on xbla. The reason because been are lacking in visual graphical content compared to a 3D FPS or RPG. Or that a playthrough from start to finish usually last for just 30 minutes. What tends to be forgotten is that many new Japanese shmups have the highest quality stage design of any single player genre with the fine tuning for scoreplay that's on par with AAA competitive online games.
Where the double standards comes into play is that for some strange reason is that 2D fighting games from Capcom and SNK are deemed worthy of been full priced. Even though as a genre FTGs have even less visual content than shmups do and a playthrough only lasts 1-20 minutes. Both are arcade genres and the only difference is one is a deep competitive single player game (1credit clear and highscore play) and the other is a deep competitive multiplayer.
How much is Wartech: Senko Ronde a VS fighter / shmup hybrid worth?
The thing about indies is that the games they make are generally niche games that the market deems isn't worth AAA full price. They are all genres that tend to have a niche following. In a way its good for indie devs but sucks for those of us who dream of playing the same games but made as an all singing dancing AAA game.
Obviously i'm making generalisations here, but one thing does seem apparent is that gamers on one platform tend to deem different games as $15 only compared to the demographic of another. For example ild imagine the worst offenders would be 360 and PS3 gamers with all their retro 2D games on xbla and psn. Then there's Wii/ Nintendo gamers who are almost the opposite since Ninty consoles always have retro games at full price which for Ninty's own titles never drop far from full RRP. Gamers moan that Nintys always has crappy online & digital distro but imo they are been smart and don't want to devalue their own games like retro games on Xbla.
To say MS is very focused in marketing, they suck at it, especially for niche games
Then you have the PC gamer which has many different indie genres including all the indies that have stepped in to replace all the AAA PC devs that left for console land 5 years ago. Ild image that many PC gamers are thrilled that at least the indies are there making classic PC games they want, but still long for the golden era of PC games 10 years ago.
I suppose that what i'm talking about speaks a lot for how badly MS and Sony have their digi distro set up. In That how good steam is really does make it viable for games that are in between AAA and indie (IE B games). And how The MS and Sony are really damaging B games due to their cap of $15 and that with their streamlined frontpage that's focused more on films and except a few MS published games like Fez, Limbo & Treasure HD remakes most xbla titles are really shoved to the back with little marketing. And XBL IG even worse.
Steam copies from bricks and mortar retail for a reason as streamling doesnt work in a store
With just how many critically acclaimed niche boxed games have been flops recently, I really hope the next generation of consoles does things better because it's really damaging the industry and those of us gamers who like niche games and dont want all our niche games on handhelds. Gamers like to think that niche developers are just been gready by selling their games as boxed retail, but in some cases the reason been that they cant afford to put them up on xbla, same goes for using DLC. Ild rather have a game with DLC content than no game. Capcom been the money grubbing buggers they are exempt from this :D
It really is a shame Japanese devs and gamers arn't really into PC gaming (expect mmos and visual novels) given that for the moment, getting their games onto Steam is the best thing they could do for when it comes to letting gamers know their games even exist. There is a reason why I tend to be more intrested in console gaming news, Is to keep abreast of whats going on with PC all I need to do is to log into my Steam account.
While Iím a older UK gamer who has been a PC gamer for years, one thing that Iím finding more and more spicy to my gamer palette is rediscovering Japanese games I loved as a kid which have always been lacking on PC. What I love is how vibrant and interesting Japanese games are especially compared to western AAA games. Sadly though it seems that people who think like I do are a rarity.
Gamersí are a weird lot
I really donít understand gamers they moan on that modern gaming is becoming dumbed down and clichťd, but then rush out to buy the latest COD sequel and stick their noses up at games that dare to innovative, deep or complex and weather they be Japanese or Western. This trend is especially troublesome for Japanese games given how different they are to PC style western games. Itís not just the games but the entire mentality of the gamers has changed so that a mainstream gamer who passed over a western game like E.Y.E or Psychonauts because they did understand the game has no chance of understanding what makes something like DeathSmiles or Sin & Punishment 2 so fun. Its mulling over this that makes up the rest of my article. Much of it is conjecture and Iím interested if others agree or disagree.
Gamers have no skillz: With the west and its PC origins quick save has allowed ppl to cheat their way past difficult sections, it also leads to problems with balancing. Plus with how easy both in twitch and taxing my brain there is less incentive for gamers to play in a skilful manner. When I went back to playing retro Japanese games after many years of PC gaming, I found that I wasnít just rusty but really lacking in my skill with a D-pad. It took me a long time to relearn what Iíve lost. The problem is that the skill level of most gamers has fallen even though someone might be really good at FPSí or RTS they probably wouldnít have a clue how to play a platformer or a shmup.
Niche genres which only cater to the hardcore: With everyone playing FPS or MMOs, it seems that more and more genres are becoming niche nowadays. The problem with niche games is that they are made for the ppl who play them, as the player base becomes more skilled the games are made harder to challenge them making it tough for noobs to get into them. Just look at shmups they are usually very hard and are extremely deep and complex to play, noobs donít even understand what makes them fun, let alone how to play them.
Marketing PR: this is a biggy imo, gamers are been constantly told by the PR what they should like and dislike. For example when 3D games took off, gamers where brainwashed into thinking all 2D games were old hat and bad. In fact anything thatís old is bad which makes sense when the industry is trying to sell you their latest hardware and games. Its even worse when devs think this and try too hard in innovating without bothering to get the basics right or downright ignore tried and tested game design theory.
Gamers are spoilt with vanilla mainstream games have too high standards. They want a game to tick all the boxes and arenít prepared to take the rough with the smooth.
Many gamers donít understand what makes a certain game or genre fun, thus they totally miss the point.
They try too hard too fit a square peg into a round hole, Gamers have this notion that every game should accommodate whatever they want, instead of the other way around and playing on the games terms. For example playing Vanquish as a normal cover based shooter even though the game penalizes you for playing that way. To sum it up gamers just dont get it and are playing the game wrong way. (weíve all seen those posts from gamers who think devs should stop making games that arenít FPS titles. Is it any wonder why every AAA is slowly becoming a FPS)
Yesterday news of Ryu Umemoto's death was posted posthumously on his twitter page, rumours say that he was hospitalised 5 months ago with bronchitis/pneumonia symptoms.
While many people don't know the name some of you will know he's music as he was one of shmup dev CAVE's main composers with Esp Galuda II Black Label, Nin2Jump and Akai Katana soundtracks credited to his name, as well as been the arranger of a score of CAVE's arrange albums.
Visual Novel fans might also know of his FM synthesis soundtracks for some late 90's PC-98 games, Namely YU-NO, EVE Burst Error and Desire. Here is his full discography http://vgmdb.net/artist/50
If you don't know of his music here is a small selection of his work.
We have seen NOA response to localising Japanese games of the Wii. My only guess as to why they wont localise them is do an marketing issue. All 3 hardware companies do it, they wont release one type of game in fear that it will confuse their biggest customer demo-graph. For example Sony at one time wouldn't allow 2D arcade / retro games on the PS3 because they didn't want to detract from the console's state of the art image. (disclaimer: this is partly conjecture on my part but allot of the evidence about Sony allowing retro games on the PS3 points to this)
Rather than cockblocking the games just because they love winding up shmup fans. Instead Sony saw it would be more economically prudent to ignore a tiny demograph for the sake of the their core business, which make sense. My guess is that NOA is doing exactly the same thing with ignoring their hardcore demographic for their main demograph that is the Wii Fit 40 year old mother and her young kiddies who play Mario and Kirby.
Although what i'd rather see is NOA, Sony & MS make attempts to cater to everybody rather than one piece of hardware for just one demograph. They could do this just by marketing the games to each of their respective demograph so for the WII they market to Casual, Child, Western Gamer, Japanese Hardcore Gamer. Just a simple labelling system so that customers can easily see if a game is something they'll enjoy or something that isn't. One could say that boxart has its own genre conventions with games for girls been very pink and FPS having a man with a gun on the cover, I still think more could be done to define who the game is targeted at, especially when it comes to the casual market.
Maybe some like putting a big colour coded border around the boxart would be a good idea? What do you guys think on this subject?