So out of touch with fans it’s not even funny
I’m mad. I’m so peeved reading the interview between Capcom Vancouver and GamesIndustry.biz I don’t even know where to begin. How about a series recap? Dead Rising was an amazing Xbox 360 exclusive title that came out of nowhere in late 2006 and became an instant classic.
I remember going over to my friends house before I even had a 360 to not only play it, but get all 1000 Achievement points that weekend. The idea was so simple but so fun. Walk around a mall like Dawn of the Dead and use anything and everything to ward off zombies, including boxer shorts and beam swords you unlock in the fun survivor mode (which I didn’t get to keep because my game froze upon letting a zombie kill me after spending 14+ consecutive hours getting the 7 Day Survivor Achievement). The best part is the humor they imbued the game with. When so many games try so hard to be so serious all the time, it was refreshing to have something goofy to just mess around in. The humor wasn’t in-your-face and obnoxious, but subtle: mall music, silly costumes that showed in cutscenes, the eating animations, and Frank West’s quippy one-liners.
Dead Rising 2 was, to me, somehow even better. Not everyone agrees, but I think Chuck Greene was a perfect fit for the the subtle humor. His one-liners topped that of Frank West, and his more serious stone-cold face made goofy costumes even more hilarious. The biggest improvements were survivor AI, lowered difficulty, combo weapons, and online multiplayer. The combo weapons were stroke of genius that fit the series so perfectly it makes you wonder how they weren’t in the first game. The online multiplayer was surprisingly excellent. Getting into crazy zombie antics with a friend in co-op made the experience that much more insane, memorable, and most of all, fun.
Competitive online was a contest on the in-universe reality show Terror is Reality with fun zombie-slaying mini-games, and the cash you won transferred to your campaign save. Off the Record was an update that added new weapons, replaced the superior Chuck Greene with Frank West because too many people complained about not having West, changed the story slightly, and even added a whole new amusement park area. Dead Rising 2 is seriously one of my favorite games of all time.
And then Dead Rising 3 happened. I didn’t even buy it or play it myself and it has sold about 500,000 less copies worldwide than its predecessors. They sucked out the camp, humor, and color. They took out the mall aspect and threw you into some brown neighborhood. Instead of a pretentious, campy story that you don’t have to give much thought to, they tried to make it deeply serious but it came out boring. The only goofiness that remains is some absurd weapons and costumes that feel more like tacked-on excuses to say “You see guys, we’re still silly!” rather than heartfelt effort. The costume changes still reflect in the cutscenes but the humor of it is not as effective when your story is actually taking itself seriously. It reviewed fine, and plays fine on a technical level, but when talking about classic Dead Rising experiences, no one is going to be talking about Dead Rising 3.
Capcom Vancouver was originally called Blue Castle Games before being bought out by Capcom following the release of the last good Dead Rising game, Dead Rising 2. It shouldn’t surprise anyone the series transformed into a generic, creatively-barren husk after such an acquisition.
Dead Rising 4 looks to be headed further down the line of Dead Rising 3 and further away from what made this series great. For a while I was excited. “Hey maybe they’ll learn that people want to have fun and go back to the old games.” Boy was I wrong. Just look at the header of this article; does that look like Dead Rising to you? Besides the lack of color, they ripped out co-op altogether, brought back Frank but replaced his voice actor despite fan requests, and removed the time factor that only people who don’t understand it complain about.
It’s not a time limit because like in Majora’s Mask, you have always been able to reset back to the beginning and keep everything but your expendable inventory. If you just wanted to explore and fuck around you did not have to do story missions. It will let you continue to play even once the main missions fail. When you want to do the main story, they give you ample time.
The time component, much like in Shenmue and Majora’s Mask, allows for the open world given to you to be dynamic and change. Environments and weather change and quests and NPCs are available only at certain times. Some people go on to complain about Zombrex in DR2, but once you find a few locations it takes no time at all to get them for progressing through the story. Sometimes it’s good to listen to fans, but sometimes it’s better to stick to your original vision. Not that Capcom listens to its fans; otherwise Frank would have his original voice actor in Dead Rising 4, it would be a colorful campy again again, and it would include co-op.
So finally let’s get to the interview that I’ve been putting off for the sake of my health. Grab your emesis bags. Capcom Vancouver studio head Joe Nickolls explains the series’ direction to GamesIndustry.biz’s Christopher Dring.
They first talk about the writing and Nickolls mentions how they not only have three writers, but mentions how much better they are than their previous writers because one worked on Deus Ex. He explains, or perhaps relays from corporate, “This time we got a proper video game designer/writer. Anyone, theoretically, can write a story, but writing a story that makes sense and that you can play, that’s a real skill. Right down to getting behind why these characters are doing this, why would that guy snap and wear that stupid costume? Those are the sorts of questions we’re asking. 90 percent of the consumers who play this game, they don’t think as much as we do about these things, but for the 10 percent that do want that depth, we’ve got it.”
First of all, why are you even hiring someone who wrote Deus Ex instead of, say, the writer for King’s Quest (2015), let alone the writers of the first two games? That’s almost as bad as BioWare replacing Drew Karpyshyn with Mac Walters for Mass Effect. More importantly, you want to write more into why he puts on costumes? Pardon my Al Bhed but who the fuck wants something like that explained? Oh, Nickolls answered: no one but we did it anyway. He even says later on, “The internet has allowed everyone to become a critic, and everyone is equal on the internet. I think the way that Capcom, and our studio in particular, wins is by talking to them.” Which is it, guys? You say you listen to fans when it comes to stupid decisions, but when it goes against what the fans want you just shift away and say “well we’re the developers with experience so were doing it anyway.”
Nickolls continues to talk in circles, seemingly unsure if they really should listen to fans or not and sometimes sounding like he’s complaining about them. “One of our goals is to really make a product that means we can make Dead Rising 5, 6, 7. That involves expanding and changing the franchise, and therefore sometimes we need to take risks. That means some people will be upset with what you did…Bryce and I have been doing this for such a long time that we remember the very first time that a second analogue stick came out. I remember working at EA and they were making NHL, which was the first sports game to use the right stick. And people were like: ‘I hate it. I’m not using it.’ Now everyone uses it. Steve Jobs said it best when he said: ‘A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.'”
Oh okay, so we don’t know that we don’t actually want color, camp, fun, original voice actors, and co-op, right? Deep down we actually want what Capcom market research deems we should want: brown and grey color palettes, an overly serious stories, and a lack of features. Are they seriously implying gamers don’t know what they want? This just comes across as an excuse to ignore fans whenever it is convenient for them.
When they bring in testers to try out the game and comment on changes such as making a button to automatically consume food from your inventory instead of having to manually select it in your inventory, Nickolls remarks, “Some people didn’t like that, they said it took things away from the original game. But everyone asked for it, it tested really well… we don’t just do it and hope for the best.”
Dring counters that “there is a risk of over focus-testing your products, and stripping out great ideas or moments just because a small group of players didn’t appreciate it” to which Bryce Cochrane agreeably states: “That’s why you have to go with your gut a little bit, too. You have to be committed to the franchise, and you have to listen. But you also have to push through when you think something is right. So even if it doesn’t test well to begin with, as you keep pushing and revising it, you get somewhere.”
So there you have it. They aren’t stupid, they know what’s dumb and who shouldn’t be influencing game design decisions, but they don’t apply this logic to changes that are obviously made to cater to casuals and attempt to widen the audience.
Who exactly is play-testing the games? If you harp so much on gamers not knowing what they want and deferring to your experience as a game developer, these decisions to make it more casual that longtime fans don’t want to see changed should be the place where you say no to demand. This is where you “push through when you think something is right.” But I get it; Capcom is in charge of the castle now, and it needs to make it like every other brown action game to make even more money. Even though Dead Rising 3 didn’t sell as well as the first two. Logic!
So what’s the game about, then? “The message behind the game is around consumerism and Black Friday, and we’re asking: who is the monster? The zombies running around or is it what caused everyone to fight each other and demand these products and services? I often say this is not the thinking man’s game, but there are some messages in there that might make you think a little bit more than usual.”
Is this a dream? Am I alive right now? Do they really think people care at all about the most generic, cliché “who is the real monster?” crap in a series where you put a Rambo-inspired teddy bear on an automated wheelchair equipped with machine guns? If I want to see the more serious side of a zombie apocalypse and the sort of choices humans make in such a scenario, I’ll go watch The Walking Dead or play the Telltale games, thanks.
In response to the Black Friday theme and question of who is the real monster, Dring completely misunderstands South Park, saying, “Having made their statement on the evils of consumerism, the South Park writers wryly end the story by promoting their upcoming consumer product, the video game South Park: The Stick of Truth. I had to ask if Capcom Vancouver is embracing that same deliberate, comical hypocrisy, on one hand condemning how Christmas has become about buying things, whilst simultaneously making a game for people to buy that comes out just before Christmas.” South Park never takes a strong stance either way on certain topics, but makes fun of all sides equally to literally make fun of the situation for the sake of entertainment, not political messaging.
Creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker go so far that you sometimes can’t even tell if they are mocking something directly, or mocking people’s perception of that thing. For example, there are people who think Manbearpig is making fun of Al Gore and global warming as a chimera of different things whose resultant entity is not real (or is it?), but there are just as many people who think it is instead insulting that very idea: that people view global warming as an imaginary chimera. This ambiguity is intentional and consistent across the history of South Park. As you’d expect, Nickolls hesitates and avoids addressing the question posed to him about whether or not they are being hypocritical by selling a product that may critique consumerism. Maybe because Dead Rising doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, discuss politics.
Nickolls isn’t wrong when he offers a bit of wisdom to criticism in general: “Often, the people that are the most vocal are the ones that have something negative to say. It is always the way.” That’s no doubt true of me and this article, to be sure. But the most vocal and most negative are often the people who care the most, the people who most want to see you succeed. I don’t talk about Deus Ex and each new entry’s flaws because I don’t care. I care about Dead Rising because I love the older games so much and I just want to see them return to form, but I am really losing hope. Especially with comments like, “This game needs to compete against Call of Duty, and it also has to compete against South Park.” No, your game does not need to compete against Call of Duty, and it won’t even come close.
If you feel sick, you should, though I wouldn’t direct any hate at either Mr. Nickolls or Mr. Cochrane as they are probably just relaying what Capcom tells them to say. Dead Rising 4 releases for Xbox One and Windows on December 6, 2016, otherwise known as my birthday. You know what else releases on my birthday? The Last Guardian. Take a guess which one is getting my birthday yen. Hint: the one made with heart.