Wednesday, March 28, 2007

NiGHTS 2?



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 They no longer represent that name and ideal they so desperately cling onto now.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.

5 comments:

JC Barnett said...

"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"

Replace 'Sonic' and 'Nights' with any other game and 'Sega/Sammy' with almost any other publisher in Japan and you have the essence of JP development in a nutshell.

jpeg said...

Heh. You make a fair point.

Also, let me take this chance to clarify a few things that I have been asked by people regarding this post. Firstly, I have actually seen and played the code (both the Wii version and the older X360 version last year). Secondly, and related to that, there is the issue of supported platforms, which is a bit complex so let me start from the beginning.

1) Iizuka-san originally only wanted to make NiGHTS 2 on the X360 and PS3 - his vision for the game, which was a pretty grand one, could only be done on those platforms he argued and development started on them, even though the actual GDD was still being fleshed out and a Wii version was being considered.

2) By the time of TGS last year there were playable ROMS on X360 and the general response to the code was not positive. At this stage the directors questioned the X360/PS3 SKUs and suggested that Wii may be a better choice. Iizuka-san was against this because it would mean reigning in certain aspects of his design, but nonetheless Sega Studio USA (AKA Sonic Team USA) drew up a comparison doc for Wii and X360/PS3 version pros and cons. The summary of this was that they could produce a quick Wii version by FYO8 (2007) and then go onto a different version of NiGHTS 2 on X360/PS3 for FY09 (2008). By different I mean, different like Sonic The Hedgehog on X360/PS3 was a completely different title than Sonic Wii.

3) This was all up in the air for some time, and in the meantime Iizuka-san was convinced to start working on the Wii version primarily, leaving the other SKUs behind. Essentially they were canned, but there was and still is the option to continue as suggested and work on those versions once the Wii version is finished and released. In other words, NiGHTS on X360/PS3 is dependant on the success of NiGHTS on Wii.

So there you go.

thepizzaelemental said...

Really? Iizuka wanted to publish it on the PS3 and 360? I know the man has a lot of passion for this game. He really must have had something special in mind for it. I just hope the team manages to exploit the Wii to its full potential. I've been hoping for a new NiGHTS for a really long time, but there's little chance of it reaching its full potential with only a year of development. I'll still keep my fingers crossed, and I'll probably buy it regardless, but it won't be the same as it was the first time around.

Surixurient said...

Can you give as any info on what the 360 version was like? What was unimpressive about it?

Ryan said...

Sonic isn't iconic to Sega anymore. They may say he is, but Yojiro Ogawa - the lead on Sonic & The Secret Rings said Sega doesn't consider Sonic a mascot or anything anymore. He's just a vehicle for money.

Granted, as you said, that may be in part because of Sega's narrow-minded business-centric point of view right now. Sonic, the franchise they practically built the company on, is nothing more than a worthless marketing gimmick they feel they can exploit.

As a Sonic fan who has been with the series since 1991, it's like watching your best friend slowly waste away and die because he has cancer.