So a NiGHTS sequel has almost been confirmed (Update - 2/4/07: It's official now.). If only that made me as happy as when I first heard about it. Unfortunately it doesn't. You see, working in the games industry affords me a somewhat unique view of the industry, including this game in particular. As much as I'd love to believe otherwise, from what I have seen and experienced of it so far I'm 90% certain this game will disappoint. Of course there are still many months of development left, but unfortunately this is not seen as a "it'll be released when it's done" game by Sega bosses... there is a tight and relatively short schedule. Consider this: work didn't even begin on this Wii version until around Sept/Oct 2006 (up to that point it was being developed for X360/PS3 until those platforms were canned against Iizuka-san's wishes) and it's due out this autumn-winter. Take into account the 4-6 week Nintendo submission time and you're basically talking about roughly a year's actual development (i.e. coding; not pre-production) time.
The fact that it's being made at all is not even a good sign, for this only came about due to a combination of Iizuka-san's efforts and Sega's managers finally relenting and giving Sonic Team a brief break from the monotony of Sonic related development (e.g in Sonic Team USA's case Shadow The Hedgehog) - there is no genuine expectation from Sega's bosses that this title will perform well and thus they will spare little development time, thought and marketing spend on it. Furthermore I know Sonic Team, by which I mean I know them in person, in a professional sense. I know how they work, and the (difficult) conditions they work under. I also know the aforementioned Iizuka-san, the director of this new NiGHTS game (who was also one of the leading creative forces behind the original NiGHTS). Knowing all this, I am still not hopeful (not, I should clarify, for any lack of faith in Iizuka-san's talent and commitment, neither of which are in question; but rather because of the environment and conditions he has been forced to work in on this project).
Sonic Team, for all their past accomplishments (long past one should emphasize), are not the development force they once were. They no longer represent that name and ideal they so desperately cling onto now. While other great SEGA studios - UGA, Hitmaker, Smilebit, Overworks, Rosso - became dissolved and re-structured into new R&D departments (or in UGA's case became part of Sonic Team); Sonic Team managed to keep its name (at least externally for marketing reasons) and position thanks to the efforts (and in no small part the massive ego) of Yuji Naka. But this move was what trapped the team in a Sonic-filled purgatory, and ultimately led to Naka's departure in 2006. Instead of using the re-structuring for good Sonic Team became complacent slaves of their earlier successes. Their primary goal now is purely business driven: to please the managing directors wth good ROIs; this is not so abnormal - it is a business after all - but they leave little room for creativity and originality in their particular brand of working practices.
So here we are. Clearly the blame does not lay squarely at Naka and Sonic Team's door - the direction of Sega (or rather Sammy) as a corporation; the narrow-minded short-term annual business-plan practices and development processes (i.e. tight development schedule) that demand yearly churning out of Sonic products all play a major part in potentially damanging any chances NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams has of being a good game. But there's no doubt that Sonic Team have lost their quality touch. They are worse than talentless: they are without passion. Bored, weary, closed-minded and out of touch with any sense of what makes games good anymore; not to mention what consumers want (and in the long-term what the company itself so desperately needs).
Sonic Team are a relic from a past age who have overstayed their welcome. For the same marketing reasons that their name was initially kept (and has since backfired) they should be dissolved - it may already be too late for NiGHTS (and I really hope it isn't and they manage to turn it around, which with Iizuka-san's passion for the project is a possibility), but for the good of the company's image; for the future of Sega's other prestigious IPs and lastly for its iconic mascot it needs to be done... before they release another Sonic game with a transforming Evil 'Night' Sonic who looks like a werewolf and can stretch his arms out Dhalsim-style. It will happen, mark my words.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Posted by jpeg at 10:27