When I find myself looking at anime and wondering if it was always just a series of horrible premises and teenage breasts, Cowboy Bebop is kind of my fallback. If you’ve never seen it, you should go fix that, but you could do worse than boiling it down as Firefly without references to the Civil War and with references to the mob. It’s not much of a leap from the two, is what I’m saying.
There have been two attempts to bring the title into video game format, one of which was an on-rail shooter that was more or less forgotten in the time it took to write this sentence while the other almost had a US release before everyone noticed that it was a terrible game. On the one hand, it’s somewhat refreshing to see a popular anime neither based off of video games nor mired in a series of weak and forgettable game adaptations. But what makes a Cowboy Bebop game so hard to get moving in the first place? Is it all the same problems that stymie a Firefly game?
Nope! It’s a comfortably unique series of problems.
In 2004, nobody would have predicted that one of the most popular video games would involve standing in front of your television with a fake plastic guitar and pretending to play music. In 2011, the idea seems pretty ridiculous. And yet the Guitar Hero franchise exploded in 2005, enjoyed huge popularity, then violently collapsed and can now be found littering bargain trade-in bins sans guitar. Not that it’s alone in this; the Rock Band franchise dropped in the same timeframe, which for those who don’t remember was the spiritual successor by the same team as the original Guitar Hero.
Fads in gaming are nothing new, but the sheer popularity and the sudden drop-off is worth exploring. It’s an astonishingly quick rise and fall, and it’s not as if the core idea – “pretend to play music” – suddenly became forbidden like whatever the plot was in that Aerosmith video game. But when you think about it, it’s less a matter of surprise that the games didn’t last forever and more a surprise that they were ever a thing at all, because they’re the definition of a hard project.
I’m going to be totally honest here and say that as much as it’s supposedly a part of the subculture, I’ve never much cared for Lord of the Rings. This isn’t a case like Star Wars, where I think the thing as a whole is undeserving of praise; J.R.R. Tolkien seems to have been a fantastic guy, he wrote one of my all-time favorite fantasy novels (The Hobbit), and he did sort of kick of an entire genre. It’s not his fault that later fantasy writers have resorted to making thin pastiches of his original work, and while it is his fault that he found heroic sagas way more interesting than I do, that’s… not really a “fault” thing.
But it’s really, really difficult to make a game set in that universe, despite its popularity. We’ve gotten a lot of magnificent games in the universe already, sure, but this is a unique project insofar as every successful one makes each subsequent one that much harder. We should be thankful for what we have so far, but it’s getting harder to fit in more stuff.
You know, it’s a brand new year. And it can’t go worse than last year did for the genre that I sort of get paid to write about, because 2014 was a wash in terms of new releases. Every single big title that released in 2014 managed to screw things up something awful, and when you factor in Blizzard cancelling a title that realistically was never coming out anyway and didn’t have any impact on the industry unless you’re watching it like a hawk and speculating, you have plenty of people calling the industry dead.
It’s an absurd statement. The one bit of traction it gets, though, is that making an MMO is hard. Very hard. No matter how certain the IP you have to work with, no matter how much money you can throw at the project, no matter how experienced the developers are. MMOs, to a one, are hard projects. When you take things like a significant budget or experienced developers out of the equation, the project just gets harder, but it’s sort of a minor miracle that the dozens actually on the market actually exist, much less that they work so well.
Hydrophobia: Prophecy is not a very good game overall, but it sure is an amazing tech demo for water physics. The way that water behaves in that game is absolutely amazing. It flows believably, moves your character around like water ought to, and generally serves as a clear indicator that the majority of work was on creating the best damn water simulation ever. Actual gameplay and stuff like that was a secondary concern at best. Which is fine; it joins a long list of tech games that aren’t very good.
Tech games are exactly what they sound like, demonstrations of technology that have a game wrapped around them. They are also almost universally terrible. In fact, there’s only one company out there which has managed to produce good tech games with any consistency – Nintendo. And there’s a good reason why, wince that ties into both why tech games are a hard project and why it’s so difficult for third-party developers to make a good game for a Nintendo console released in the past twenty-ish years.