Panzer Dragoon Creator Talks Wii/Hardcore

1UP’s James Mielke has posted an interview with Yukio Futatsugi, the mangod behind two of gaming’s most underappreciated series – Panzer Dragoon and Phantom Dust. Aligning himself first with 32-bit era SEGA and, later, Microsoft Game Studios Japan, Futatsugi has historically appealed to the niche.

In the piece, he says of Japanese Xbox Gamers: “The only people who buy Xbox in Japan are people who like games. Hardcore gamers. If you ask them what their hobby is, they’ll say “playing games.” It’s true enough. With regional hardware sales still under 500k, anyone who owns a 360 in Japan is part of a pretty special bunch.

The stinger of the article, though, comes when Futatsugi makes an astute observation concerning the Wii: “The people I work with who bought the Wii aren’t playing it any more…Yeah, we’re still satisfied with it, the gaming experience and the Miis, we’re pretty satisfied with it, but there’s nothing to play any more so it just sits in the corner of your room. But whenever you talk with somebody else and they ask you if it was fun, it was fun, so a person who hears that goes out and buys the Wii, so the hardware keeps on selling and selling. But the software isn’t selling that well, because people don’t play it any more, so they don’t buy new software any more. That’s the current situation.”

Speak to the Nintendo-infatuated and they’ll tell you that Wii software sells just fine. Who to believe? Well, I think the truth leans more towards Futatsugi’s assessment, but it’s more a matter of what is selling to who. Let’s take a look at the two key Wii games burning up the charts – Wii Sports and Wii Play. The former doesn’t technically garner “sales” since it’s a pack-in, but it’s a key part of the system’s initial draw. Wii Sports is what brings them in. Play, on the other hand, offers an infinitely shallow experience bolstered by the appeal of a “free” controller. Clever marketing indeed, but so much more effective than anyone could’ve predicted. After all, if it’s a party machine, you’re going to need more than one wiimote. To an otherwise unassuming public, it’s the deal of the century.

But how many stick with Wii Play? Sports seems to fare better in this regard, but moreso with the “blue ocean” crowd. This is where we start to see the divide! A lot of the hardcore crowd really bought into Wii Sports at the outset, but the number that still play, much like Futatsugi’s crew, continues to dwindle. Instead, they bolster the sales of the console’s few conventional offerings of Zelda and Metroid. I argue that you’ll rarely see these games in the catalog of blue ocean gamer. Zelda and Metroid might fare respectably on the Wii, but those games are selling to the usual Nintendo crowd that once made those series million sellers on the GameCube and N64.

Will we see software sales drop off for the Wii? Well, actually they’re increasing. Nintendo’s a savvy company. They’ve always been good with promoting and selling their own games, but now they’ve got those whole other sector of new gamers to play with. As I said, their first-party games sold gangbusters on previous systems and due to lower operating and hardware costs, that was more than enough to turn a profit. With the Wii, they scream “innovation,” a word/concept they’re happy to have the mainstream press carry for them. In reality, it’s the same conservative company it’s always been. Nintendo doesn’t really need to fulfill their pretentions of delivering a new experience, because the perception is already there. The core gamers will continue to boost traditional first-party software right to the top, but they’ll also buy into the Wii Plays and Wii Fits of the world because doing so seems to support a general sense of Nintendomination. It’s all about “precision software strikes,” a technique the company has perfected over the past two generations. Mielke details his own version of this theory in the interview.

Meanwhile, Sony and even Microsoft forge ahead with ambitious new projects and concepts. XBLA and PSN are veritable breeding grounds for fresh ideas, while the visionary veterans of the industry have the processing power to giver birth to their immense creations. It really is about the hardware, or at least in the sense of taking advantage of what it affords. New advances in physics, AI, scale, graphics, networking, and distribution are more than enough to foster true innovation in the gaming world’s greatest minds. We’re already seeing it with games like LittleBigPlanet. The problem is reigning these ideas and creating a cohesive, appealing package to sell them in. Sometimes it works, and sometimes you get Lair, whose vanguard attempt at creating a Sixaxis-only control scheme backfired on the grounds that many gamers expect perfection from something so highly touted. Better marketing wouldn’t have hurt, but a more solid and less disorienting game experience would’ve gone a lot farther to soften the blow. Great ideas, bad implementation. I think it boils down to not only Sony’s own hardware engineers, but the programming and technology geeks that are producing the Playstation 3’s foremost games, obsessing over the capabilities of the system. It seems all too easy to become entranced with what the platform might allows you to do that it produces a sort of tunnel-vision. The rest of a game can easily fall apart if you focus too much on one particular aspect of it.

Anyway, enough musing for now. The rest of James Mielke’s interview with Futatsugi is really interesting and will continue over the next several weeks, so keep an eye on it!

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~ by Cavin Smith on September 9, 2007.

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