Watching THQ

Gaming companies are definitely losing steam. In particular, Radical Entertainment has lost out on what it once was. And Kaos Studios closed its doors. Ben Kuchera over at The PA Report covered this with more detail. While I’m not about to make claims about doom and gloom, the fact is that something is wrong when companies are folding.

In my mind, I can see a good half a dozen reasons why games are suffering.

First, there’s the ongoing economic situation. There seems to be some remaining back-and-forthery about whether or not it’s still a recession. But while people can drown their sorrows in games for a while (better than booze), they cannot continue to shell out $50 to $60 for every great title that comes along.

The second aspect that is changing this is the available of SmartPhone and indie games. Most of these games are free or very cheap, and although aren’t as hardcore as console/PC games, are still quite fun especially among friends.

A third thing to consider is the ease of DRM software like Steam, which allows players to purchase old, classic titles for extremely low prices. Why play new games when you have a catalogue of older classics you need to catch up on? I know this very well as I have been downloading games I never got around to trying, like Bioshock.

Then there are the usual factors. A dash of piracy, people can’t afford to be shelling out money, so on. Perhaps the thing to consider here is that the gaming industry isn’t as immune to the recession as we were first led to believe. It certainly lasted far longer than most industries in the midst of rough economic times, but sooner or later you have to pay the piper. The field is shrinking.

Which brings us to the central focus of this blog. THQ.

THQ Inc. has actually been around since 1989. When I was a kid, I played their interesting Home Alone games back on the old 8-bit NES. Today, they’re responsible for the Red Faction series, Saints Row and especially the Warhammer 40,000 line up of games. Recently, THQ made news twice over, first by turning their UFC series to EA. And then a strange, reverse split restructuring of their stocks, consolidating shares at a rate of 10 to 1.

As an owner of some of THQ’s stock, I take considerable interest in this turn of events.

And as a guy who someday would like to make games, I find the whole set of news troubling. It is not an immediate dream I’d like to realize, but something I’d like to do in a few years. And I am working in that direction, bit by bit. But right now the industry is changing, adapting to a combination of new markets, fighting the effects of the recession and taking on riskier projections.

Times a changin’. Keep watching the future, folks.

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Final Fantasy VII Remake Explained

History repeats! But not for these guys...

History repeats! But not for these guys…

Both Kotaku and IGN have released stories about the shareholders meeting over at Square Enix. And the reasoning they provide as to why they haven’t created a remake actually makes perfect sense: They have yet to make a Final Fantasy better than VII financially and critically anyway. Although in all fairness, the most financially successful Final Fantasy was the first MMORPG, XI.

I had to add financially and critically. There’s always that guy who is quick to say, “FF7 was not my favorite,” as though their opinion obviously meant all the difference in the world.

So the gist of what we’re told is that if they do a FF7 remake before topping the game, then the Final Fantasy series is finished. That would be admitting that they cannot do any better than their crown jewel of the past. So until Square Enix is in a dire financial situation or they finally do come out with a title that tops FF7, it’s not going to happen.

I, however, have a slightly different theory as to why Square Enix doesn’t want to do it. Pride.

Hironobu Sakaguchi left the company Squaresoft in 2004, after the colossal bomb that was Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within. Although he did not direct a game since FFV, his creative touches were felt in the well remembered VI and VII (and several others). To not make a game better than those Sakaguchi helped to create is to admit that they will never be as successful as they once were.

And that’s not a message of weakness Square Enix would want to send.

Dead Space News

Blast off into spaaaaaaace! ... oh wait, that's a bad thing.

Blast off into spaaaaaaace! Wait, this is the opposite of what I wanted...

So Kotaku reports that EA is not only working on Dead Space 3, but also spinning off the main series with a first person shooter, adventure and… flight game. Furthermore, Dead Space 3 maybe the last game to star everyone’s favorite systems engineer, Isaac Clarke.

Huh. To be honest, I’ve got mixed feelings about these developments.

In one sense, I get it. EA wants to really develop a rich, interesting and original universe of its own that no one else has. And they’ve been doing that already, not only with Dead Space and its sequel, but the various spin off titles, comics, animated films and novels. Clarke, though a deeply interesting character I’ve come to admire, isn’t necessarily central to EA’s success.

I really do agree with Kotaku’s statement that these genre changes really risks moving a game great series away from its roots. First person shooter? Not much of a stretch given how great Doom 3 was in combining horror with fighting. Adventure game? Yeah, I guess it can work if they do it right, maybe.

Flight game? What?

The only way I can see this game working is if we move away from the horror aspect, as in the necromorphs, and focus on the rising conflict between the Church of Unitology, EarthGov, and any other factions we’ve yet to see. In other words, it would be a politically influenced game rather than survival horror.

Yeah, that worked well for Pitch Black‘s sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick. Oh, wait…

I’m also sad to hear how this maybe the last we see of Isaac Clarke. Whether he’s going to die or simply fade into the canonical background, I don’t know. It’s a real shame that modern gaming heroes can’t have the same timeless, lasting appeal of cute, round heroes like Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario or Link.

Nope, instead we’re getting used to bidding adieu to these characters after their trilogies and main arc series are complete. The Master Chief of Halo, Kratos of Gods of War, and Solid Snake of the Metal Gear Solid series. They come into our gaming lives with their dramatic and intense tales, leave their mark and then fade away into gaming history.

Gone but never forgotten. Not a hero, but a legend.

But there’s something about Isaac Clarke that is… I don’t know. Beyond mysterious. It’s tricky because he spent the very first game as a silent protagonist. So I wonder if maybe he has more story then what can be told in only a trilogy.

But I digress. In truth, Kotaku is only reporting on rumors and hearsay. Time will tell if we see Isaac Clarke after Dead Space 3, just as it will tell if EA’s bid to develop a fully detailed, expansive universe will pay off.

I am quite skeptical that they can do this. But then again, it is said that the Mobile Suit Gundam and Star Trek franchises were nearly canceled early in their beginnings.

And look what became of them.