Once upon a time, there was a game named Metroid. Metroid was highly regarded. It sold well. Nintendo bought and remade a company named Retro that made some games based on Metroid which were also highly regarded and sold well.
But in the end, the great Metroid franchise was destroyed by one Sakamoto. Unless Metroid is rebooted as one of the best games ever made (not a high probability considering how hard it is to make ‘one of the best games ever made’), the Metroid franchise has been permanently destroyed.
Going ‘Sakamoto’ is referring to the process that swiftly destroyed the Metroid franchise. Sakamoto was a Nintendo engineer who worked on the original Metroid. Instead of understanding the visionary genius of Metroid came from gamers who imprinted their own imaginations on the graphics, music, and minimalistic content, Sakamoto thought he was the fountainhead of the imagination bliss that was Metroid.
As Metroid games (that he was involved in) went on, he tried to put in more of his ‘visions’ into the game which always translated to cinematics and many lines of dialogue. This effect reduced the universe for the player. As Metroid Fusion and Metroid Zero Mission were handhelds and the reduction of game universe was seen as a given due to being a handheld, no one noticed this dangerous trend until Sakamoto made a console version of Metroid called Other M.
In Other M, Sakamoto wanted the game to be about a character named Samus. Samus was to think and feel. Samus was to have maternal instincts. The rest of the game became unrecognizable to what is called Metroid gameplay. Sakamoto went to great lengths to hire a voice actress for Samus.
We all know how Other M turned out. But this raises the question as to why game companies go Sakamoto on us? It is understandable why Chris Roberts went Sakamoto on us in trying to turn Wing Commander more and more into a movie (and eventually did become a movie). No one had really done anything like that and the increase in production effects did generate sales in the Wing Commander series. But look what happened when Square went Sakamoto on us with Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within movie? It was the movie that almost destroyed the company. A Sakamoto inside the company was convinced imaginative genius came from HIM and not gamers imprinting their own imagination onto the game. To this day, Nintendo doesn’t consider Other M to be ‘bad’ but to conflict with the imagination of the gamers. But that is where the imaginative genius of Metroid is found… not in the minds of developers but in the hearts of the gamers.
Let me give an illustration of the imaginary force. Love is, ultimately, imagination. Women, who have been getting the love of men for centuries and are experts at it, know that men fall in love with the illusion and not with the actual self. The man reflects his own nature onto her. If the man holds value in virtue, niceness, honesty, he will imprint those values onto her even if she is a mean, lying harlot. The man in love is a man in a dream state. Another example is the magician who has rabbits appear from his hat and a variety of other smoke and mirrors tricks. The magic is not in the smoke and mirrors but in the audience’s imaginary forces. The only imagination the magician has is how to summon up and excite the audience’s imagination.
An expert world builder provides the gunpowder for the audience and allows the audience to strike the spark. An amateur world builder tries to COMMUNICATE the world in his head to the audience by SHOWING NOT TELLING (because he heard that was how the professionals do it, LOL). Showing and not telling actually refers to writer to ‘show’ the world and let the reader’s imagination, like an oven, make the imagination rise from the ingredients. ‘Telling’ is trying to communicate the world that is inside the writer’s head. A good world builder is a seducer, not a communicator. It may be a connection as to why the great poets and playwrights are seducers in real life (and by seduction, I don’t mean barnyard carnality as is portrayed today. I mean seduction in the sense of exciting people’s imagination).
One difference between Blizzard’s games today and yesterday is that everyone says: “Blizzard games today feel like mathematical formulas.” The only reason why people would say that is if the imaginary forces are failing. Are the stories and world building in Blizzard games today considered bad? “Yes,” everyone says.
What is different with the stories and worlds of Battle.net 1.0 Blizzard versus Battle.net 2.0 Blizzard? 1.0 Blizzard stories were a mish mash of various elements and cliches with no central characters. 2.0 Blizzard stories revolve entirely around a character or two. These stories always focus on the feelings and inner turmoils of the characters.
While ‘maternal instincts’ defined Other M, ‘sad lover’ defines Starcraft 2 and Warcraft: Cataclysm. While Starcraft 1 was about establishing the universe of that game and seeing the races war and skirmish with victories and defeats, Starcraft 2 only resides in the universe of a few characters and seeing how their victories and defeats are results of that character. Blizzard thinks this is great writing.
No one cares.
No one cares that Raynor wants Kerrigan back especially when he swore he’d kill her at the end of Starcraft after the death of Fenix. No one cares about Thrall especially with his ‘inner struggles’ as he becomes a green Jesus.
Yet, Blizzard thinks this is amazing storytelling.
No one cares about the characters in Diablo 3 except for Cain (who was a Diablo 1 or 2 character). As Zolton Kulle said, “The fallen angel, the witch, they are using you for their own ends. You choose to be their puppet. But by your birthright, you ought to be a god!”
Characterization never works in video games because it forces players to become their puppets. By birthright, the gamer gets to be god. They don’t get to be a puppet. Sakamoto’s Other M has the player being nothing but a puppet to the bad script and even to ‘Adam’.
Going Sakamoto is a very serious cancer for Blizzard. It can and will destroy the entire company unless it is stopped. As Diablo, Starcraft, and Warcraft depend entirely on the fantasy world constructed, the universes for those games falling apart put everything in jeopardy. Unlike a gameplay issue or a technical issue, which can be fixed with expansion packs, a broken universe cannot be mended so easily.
Going Sakamoto implies a video game company making love to Hollywood. I was shocked to hear that Blizzard employees are becoming unionized by the Screen Actors Guild. You’re a video game company. Why are you even messing with Hollywood unions in the first place? The reason why Hollywood unions are trying to expand is because movies aren’t made in the United States anymore to avoid the ridiculously high cost that unions have. And if you remember the ‘strikes’ such as the writer union’s strike that occurred recently, all of that can be done against a video game company whose employees become unionized.
From an interview with Joseph Lawrence of the Sound Design Team at Blizzard, we read:
What’s a sound that you really like from the game?
I’m a little biased because I actually did it, but the cackles of the skeletons when they laugh uncontrollably. I did them very early on when I was trying to figure out what those guys sounded like. You actually have to sit there and wait for a while, but then they just burst into this maniacal laughter.
That was before we were union, so all of that got grandfathered in. Now we wouldn’t be able to do such stuff unless I got a SAG card, but back in the old days we were able to do that.
Blizzard can now no longer tell its employees what to do. They can also no longer do what they wish to do. They’re not in control anymore. This is a huge, huge problem. I have to wonder who is responsible for allowing it to happen.
Those got done a really long time ago, back again before we were union. That was a really important tool that we don’t have anymore—because we’re sound designers, we know exactly what we want to do. We can hear it in our head, and a lot of us used to just do it on the spot. We would just grab a mic and spit out what we thought we needed and then take it and process it immediately.
The flipside to that is, some of the union actors that we use now for monster noises are absolutely amazing. Some of the stuff they do, it just doesn’t sound like it’s coming from a human being. You watch these people and you’re like, “That is not possible; that dude is possessed or something.” I miss the days when we could have done more of that, but at the same time now we’ve got this stable of monster actors.
For those who don’t know, the way how this works is MASSIVE COSTS and MASSIVE INEFFICIENCIES. A broadway actor told me about how he auditioned in New York. His audition required a chair. So, naturally, he picked up a chair and placed it where he wanted. Screams came out at him. “Don’t you DARE touch that chair!” Stage workers are unionized, and they insist on moving all the material on the stage. Why? It is because if it is realized they are not needed (that actors can do the stage stuff without them), their fat salary and all gets eliminated.
Why bring in a ‘professional actor’ for something in a game when a passionate game developer can pull off something ‘good enough’? After all, the gamer cares about the game. No one buys a game for the voice acting.
Some of the decisions by Blizzard seem downright bizarre. Why change the voice actress of Kerrigan from Glynnis Talken (who also voice acted the rogue in Diablo and the Dryad in Warcraft 3) to Tricia Helfer (of the blonde bimbo cyclon of the Battlestar Galactica remake)? The fans liked Talken. Blizzard didn’t. Why? Perhaps it is that Talken wasn’t unionized and the SAG insisted that all the voice actors be unionized? Especially the big roles? What Talken showed is that a romance author can do a better job of voice acting than a Hollywood style model/actress can. And the SAG doesn’t want people to realize that.
If the sound department at Blizzard is becoming unionized, I guarantee you the writing side of it is as well. The reason why Blizzard games all sound like Hollywood trash is because Hollywood trash are now writing the Blizzard stories. How this change came about or why Blizzard decided to make love to Hollywood, I have no idea. But with so much audience being in video games, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Hollywood who pushed themselves onto Blizzard instead of the other way around (and the naive developers at Blizzard just accept it thinking it is an upgrade to the ‘many hats’ way of doing things. Next thing you know, the entire company is unionized and out of the CEO’s control).
Some might say, “People don’t care about the world, Malstrom. With Starcraft, it is the competitive multiplayer. With Diablo, it is the loot hunt. With Warcraft, it is hanging out with their friends.” If this is true, then why does Chess retain its medieval aesthetics? Gameplay, in and of itself, is not enough. There must be content. Without the universe, Blizzard’s games will just collapse.
What I haven’t figured out is who are the decision makers responsible for this? I do know that Blizzard games now are fragmented into different teams that cannot impact one another. For example, people blaming Jay Wilson for the story of Diablo 3 are blaming the wrong person. Jay Wilson has no control over the story. He also has no control over the decision to make the game online only. His role is primarily confined to the gameplay and the flow of that gameplay. So who is responsible for the story? Who is responsible for the things in the game that you hate?
Notice how we’re not getting these answers. It shouldn’t be this hard to figure out who is responsible for these decisions. Nintendo didn’t hide that Sakamoto was the person behind the ‘story’ of Metroid: Other M. When wille Blizzard stop hiding these people and have them face the public like real men? (But if they are from Hollywood, there won’t be any real men. Insult intended.)