It was fairly easy to sum up Square/Enix last week (thought I sure was long winded about it). They are the Final Fantasy/Dragon Quest company. That's all they do. Even though their attempts at other types of games have sometimes been great, they have never sold. Now the company is all Final Fantasy/Dragon Quest all the time, for better or worse.
Konami has done a lot of different sorts of games, so it's harder to sum them up as a developer. Game developers like Konami are more like record labels than musicians. Your average band does one or two types of music in their career, where as you average label produces multiple types of music through out it's life cycle. But there are some trends in Konami's history that are worth observing, and with those observations some predictions are possible.
Carl Sagan was right when he said "The past is the best predictor for the future". So let's get crackin'
Konami in the Nintendo era: The first "mature" game developer?
I'd say Konami was over all the #1 third party developer for the NES. Capcom and Square had some huge games, as did now nearly forgotten developers like Data East and Tecmo, but Konami had the most enormous, persistently popular game series on the NES, even more than the big N.
All the old school Konami games more or less had two things in common, attributes that made them beloved by the more "mature" and "hardcore" gaming dudes of the NES days. The first was Konami's unprecedented the use of big name Hollywood actors.
I still don't know how they got away with it, but Konami used more Hollywood actors in the 1980's than Heidi Fleiss did in the 1990's. Lance and Bill from Contra were clearly based off Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.
Another example, this time in GIF format.
Snake from Metal Gear was at times a Micheal Beihn (Terminator, Aliens) look-a-like...
...other times based off Kurt Russell.
Sean Connery clearly shows up in Metal Gear 2.
And lets not forget the unlicensed appearance of the Lethal Weapon dudes in Policenaughts.
Castlevania and Gradius are the two exceptions to this rule, as neither feature Hollywood stars. But a case could be made for Castlevania being the most like a American Action/Horror film out of all of Konami's games. It's got Karloff as Frankenstein, it's got Mummies, and it's got Wolfman. All appear in the game in the Hollywood style. But does Castlevania's Wolfman have "nards"? That's a question for another time.
Aw heck, I can't hold out on you like that. I'll just come out and say it.
As weird as it sounds, Konami's link to R rated Hollywood movies gave their games an air of sophistication. By using popular action stars in their games, Konami sent the message that video games were capable of standing right along side Hollywood films in terms of content, not just with cartoons and board games. Konami was arguably the first to take the "Hollywood" direction in game production that's now commonplace in today's gaming landscape.
The second thing that made Konami's NES games "mature" was the required level of practice and skill to play them.
Many big name Konami games were incredibly hard. Contra and Gradius were both one hit kill games. Castlevania's Simon Belmont usually dies after no more than 4 hits from common enemies, even less from bosses, not to mention his inability to control his jump sin mid-air leading to countless deaths via spikes and bottomless pits.
And Snake? He starts his special covert mission against hundreds of soldiers while armed with nothing but a pack of cigarettes. And if he smokes them, he'll slowly die. Does it get any "mature" and "hardcore" than that?
When first playing any NES Konami game, you expected to die at least once a minute, if not faster. But these games strayed away from cheap deaths. With skill and practice, both arguably traits of maturity, all Konami games could be mastered. And if not, then there was always the code.
Konami in the 90's: Hitting the ceiling on "maturity"
The early 90's were a difficult time for Konami. Many of their best developers had left the company to form Treasure, a developer many believe to be the greatest producers of shooters known to man. This left Konami without the skilled man power to continue creating the great shooters it had been known for. And beyond loss of quality employees, Konami had to cope with the entire world of gaming being turned on it's head. 2D gaming's future was in question, and 3D polygon based graphics were suddenly taking over. During this time of evolution every gaming developer had to evolve or die, and Konami was no exception.
Like many of NES's 3rd party developers, Konami more or less jumped ship on Nintendo with the advent of the N64. Nintendo reportedly charged exorbitant fees to develop on it's doomed cartridge based system. And the call of the limitless memory that CD ROM technology had to offer was too great for Konami to resist. The PSX became Konami's new home, and the developer was a key player in making the Playstation name what it is today.
Metal Gear Solid, the third game in the series, is considered by many to be the most "mature" game ever created. Not only is MGS rife with sexual and violent content, but the it's storyline has more intrigue, double cross, historical references, and and complex relationships than most R rated films. And the acting was often better than those films as well (I'm looking at you Beverly Hills Cop 3).
When a long time, 18 year old gamer played MGS for the first time, they felt like gaming had truly grown up along with them. MGS was the perfect hybrid of Hollywood movies and the classic NES Metal Gear games, coming together to create a new form of entertainment. To a lesser degree, the same could be said for Konami's Resident Evil/Clive Barker tribute Silent Hill,. But that's not to say Konami was all about innovation. For the old schooler Konami provided Castlevania:Symphony of the Night and the Suikoden series, staying true to their hardcore 2d roots.
To sum up, in the 90's Konami spearheaded the move towards adult appropriate storytelling in games, while "keeping it real" with old school 2D gaming goodness.
Konami now: More of the same, plus Hollywood
What worries me about current day Konami is the same thing that worries me about Square Enix. They are stuck in a rut, no longer pursuing new IP's and instead rely on the same games that got them big in the 80's and 90's. Metal Gear Solid 4 looks great, but beyond the graphical upgrade it promises to be more of the same. That's great for diehard fans of the series, but the chances of MGS4 appealing to a new audiences are slim. The MGS series has always been marred with a high difficulty, weird controls, and long winded cut scenes. These elements remain highly appealing to fans of the series, but also continue to turn off non-fans. And the lack of intense action in the MGS series compared to the FPS of Survival Horror genres is also a turn off to many. Minutes may go by in a MGS game without a shot being fired. To the average Halo fan, that's practically blasphemy.
Konami also continues to churn out cookie cutter DDR, Contra, and Castelvania games to please their diehard fans, but the latest titles in those series will do nothing to bring in new players. Teh new Contra looks awesome for Nostalgia freaks and will likely please who dropped the series after it left Nintendo consoles, but if you don't already love hyper-difficult 2D shooters, Contra IV is not likely to change you mind. All attempts at a 3D Castlevania have more or less failed, and though Tristero's awesome interview with Castlevania's current producer revealed that Konami would still like to do a proper 3D game in the series, nothing to that effect has yet been announced.
But it's not all stagnation with Konami in the 2K. A place where Konami is actively innovating is in the realm of video game movies. It's some how not a surprise that the company that made it's name on Hollywood inspired games is now poised to excel in Hollywood itself. The Silent Hill movie was a relative success, a hit with both fans of the game and with those totally unfamiliar with it. How'd they do it? Well, the creators of the movie reportedly were actually fans of their source material, and thought the film adaptation to be worthy of a serious tone. The Silent Hill the movie has no over the top "video game" moments like the Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, or Street Fighter movies. It's a "real movie", and was therefore respected like one. With any luck tho forth coming MGS and Castelvania movies will follow suit.
Konami: What they should do in 2008
This is a tough one. The easy answer is of course "make awesome games on every platform", because that's what Konami has always done in the past (except for the N64 and Saturn). More specifically, Konami would be wise to cease it's seemingly singular support of the PS3. The PS3 continues to look like the losing horse in the console race, at least for 2008, so Konami better start making games for other consoles if it wants to survive the year. A 360 port of MGS4 is one obvious move, as is putting some sort of MGS and Castlevania game on the Wii.
But more than anything, Konami needs some new IP's. There are a whole new batch of Hollywood actors that Konomi could steal and put in contemporary games. Why not a Hiedi Fliess inspired GTA style game, where you do crimes and pimp out whores to the likes of all new Stallone, Russel, and Schwarzenegger inspired characters? I know I'd pre-order that game, with or without Hot Coffee.
Or at the very least, Konami needs to start to using their old IP's in new ways. Why not a 3D Castelvania game that plays like a cross between Simon's Quest and Assassin's Creed? Or why not a Castlevania MMORPG? Why keep turning out the same Devil May Cry wanna-be turds?
And it's time for some new talent. Iga and Kojima haven't worn out their welcome, but they seem worn out themselves. They turn out quality games, but they turn out the same quality games year after year. Neither seems to do well outside their famous franchise (Castlevania for Iga, Metal Gear for Kojima), and it might be wise to hire some blood for those series, while giving each of the above famous producers a well needed rest to reflect on gaming and actually come up with some new ideas.
And lastly, a new Bayou Billy game for the Wii (called Bayou Wiilly, of course) seems like a no brainer. Pew Pew Pew, mate.
But enough out of me. After all, An Analyst is YOU! How do you think Konami's going to do next year, and what do you think they should do to succeed?