This below is from a fellow working at PlatinumGames regarding his thoughts on Japanese vs. Western game developers.
He touches on a number of interesting things, but here are the highlights.
-”Most games from anywhere aren’t good.”
-”[AAA games] sell because they are good. They match great production values with great execution on great ideas. They sell on easy to understand themes. “
-”Friction means never underestimating the intelligence of your audience. Culturally, Japanese design is about being inclusive. They don’t want anyone left behind, so they will add friction to an experience. Except then you move at the pace of the slowest one in a group. It bogs the experience down for people who already get it.”
-”By the way – Nintendo games are so awesome and so successful because they are some of the most friction free games in the world.”
His message seems to be obvious; goods games come from combining high production value (technology, polish, craftsmanship) with interesting content (enjoyable settings, marketable characters, exciting action). But he also touches on the idea of “friction” in games, the disconnect between the player and their actions in a game world.
Looking back at a game like Super Mario Bros. 3, we see high production values paired up with remarkable content (Giant Land, the hidden warp whistles, the Air Ships). Gamers were given the tools needed to access this content all within the first minute of playing the game, and all without a single experience-ruining tutorial. Once you grasped how selecting a level worked and how to complete a stage, the game was free to pace out interesting content at a remarkable pace. There was essentially no “friction” between the player and the game. The game world was mine to explore. Every jump, every slide, every power-up was my own.
When I look at Super Mario Galaxy, we still see those great production values and fairly enticing content. But the entire experience is bogged down by friction. Even getting to a level is a painful experience, requiring that I traverse a content-free hub world (Mario 64 at least offered Peach’s Castle, which was exciting to explore) and then selecting a world, a mission, and then sitting through a Mario flying animation. Even basic design issues detract from the game world, such as unitutive camera angles and awkward controls. I always feel one step removed from the experience. I cannot freely enjoy the Galaxy setting if I feel like the developer is standing between me and my decisions.
And then, of course, Galaxy 2 gave us a tutorial on jumping. I didn’t even bother with that one.
I assume when he says Nintendo games are so friction free, he must be referring to their older titles. And that is certainly step one in moving gaming forward and generating new sales (just as Wii Sports had done, being the most friction free game from Nintendo during the Wii generation).
Oh dear. Must he pollute gaming language by trying to make up a new term? Friction? Get out of here.
I couldn’t disagree more. I believe the biggest different thing is the subject of ‘creativity’.
I mock and laugh at the concept of ‘creativity’ (which is a concept not even a century old). Did the greatest artists and playwrights in the world believe in creativity? No! They believed they were holding up a mirror to Nature. In fact, declaring you were ‘creative’ probably would have had you executed in the past. Why? Because only God could be creative. Only God can create things. And Man is not a god. If they heard someone declare themselves ‘creative’, it would be like hearing someone declare themselves to be a god.
Let me illustrate this difference:
Japanese Game Developer: “My game is popular because I tapped into my creativity and made something no one else had seen. Behold my genius! Behold my godhood!”
Western Game Developer: “My game is popular because it taps into the natural behavior of Man. Man’s natural impulses and instincts are stimulated by this game. I have created nothing but a mirror reflected at Nature.”
It is a joke that if you blindfold a publisher and have a Japanese or Western game developer pitch to you their game ideas, the Western game developer will say their game is ‘like this game and that game’ while the Japanese game developer will say how the game is ‘nothing else like it’.
Saying Nintendo is different on this matter isn’t saying much. Nintendo is different by it being a console company. It can’t afford the luxury of creativity. Nintendo must make the hardware sell. Mario sells the hardware. So Nintendo makes Mario games. And that is all she wrote.
Whenever sales are down, Nintendo puts aside their Japanese ‘Creativity Hat’ and makes stuff people want to buy. When sales are good, Nintendo cannot restrain itself and places a ‘Creativity Hat’ on its head and, if especially ambitious, makes a console revolving around 3d.
Ironically, Japan’s Golden Age of gaming did not revolve around creativity as it did naivety. The Japanese game developers were all young. They thought they were being creative, but they were making games many of us felt familiar. Games like Space Invaders and Donkey Kong remind people of certain famous movies.
Back during this ‘Golden Age of Japanese Gaming’, what I remember was not that anything was ‘creative’. I remember just how well POLISHED and EXECUTED everything was. Most importantly, I remember the music.
Yes, the music.
Oh God. The music.
Music is the most powerful medium ever made. I remember Nolan Bushnell saying Atari invested heavily in the sound effects because quality sound effects sold games. So when games began having music in them, it was then that they really did break out and become popular culture.
Great games are like great music. We keep going back to them without knowing why. As Shakespeare remarked on music: “How strange is it that sheep’s guts may hail souls out of men’s bodies?” Would that not apply to great games as well? How strange is it that 1s and 0s may hail souls out of men’s bodies!