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locutus

a response to the gamasutra article on japanase vs english markets

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The article I am referring to is here: http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20040121/carless_01.shtml To me this article almost completely misses all the points that really seperate the Japanese and Western/American video game markets: 1. Arcade game product life cycle: Although arcades here are almost 100 percent dead, they are still pretty popular in Japan, in fact about as popular still as they ever were here. And even though many makers of Japanese arcade games have stopped making them, they are really important to understand the state of gaming in Japan. Arcade game product life cycle in Japan I would venture to say is one of the most important things to effect all of gaming, and I in fact blame it for the death of arcades in america. What is it? In America, an arcade operator will buy a new game (say Mr. Driller), and it will be played for 7 months, and then sit their for 2 more years collecting dust. In Japan, the same game will be bought, played, and replaced sometimes by the next month. In order to be able to do this while keeping costs as low as possible, the Japanese in the early to mid nineties (starting with the NEO-GEO, and later the CPS1) agressively shifted to using the same system in many arcade games with essentially different cartridges in them (essentially a arcade only console). This caused gigantic stagnation in graphical innovation, since in arcades this was almost always caused by new hardware, and not software improvements. This in turn caused arcades to lose the leading edge graphically over consoles, which I believe heavily contributed to their death in the US. I mean Japanese companies released games that were suicideally bad looking. This trend almost forced the remaining fans of those genres (such as 2d fighting games) to focus almost exclusively on the gameplay (whereas the average run of the day american video gamer has moved almost in the exact opposite direction). Essentially I believe that this has shaped the tastes of the average American gamer to be more graphics/storyline focused vs. the Japanese gamer who is on the whole a little more gameplay focused. Besides this, the short arcade product life cycle leads these companies to release throwaway games that are extremely generic and have no potential here in the US. Look for example at all the wierd games they released for the naomi: http://www.system16.com/sega/hrdw_naomi.html Also again even with the arcade scene being lesser then it was over there, the relatively super strong arcade scene calls for the types of games large American companies never make. EA will never make Ikaruga, Infogrames will never make a Street Fighter 3, Rez, Viewtfull Joe, etc. And don''t just say that these are old school games, rather, these are much more gameplay focused games, and their old schoolness comes from lack of gameplay innovation (in other words, don''t say that the future of the video game industry HAS to be an interactive movie). 2. Tottaly different team structure. Forget about differences in pay, have you payed attention to the credits of any Japanese game ever released? First of all, not only do we not have designer ego (except in extremely rare occasions), most of all designers use unintelligeble psedonyms which prevent anyone from knowing which individuals worked on what games! But besides that, a typical team will usually have such bizzare positions as "enemy programmer", "background programmer", and for example in a fighting game every character will be drawn by a different person. How this exactly affects the game design is a little complicated. On one hand, an artist whos job it is to draw say a single character in a fighting game, is at least stiffled creatively insofar as he has to conform to someone elses art style, and its highly likely that he simply has to do all the manual labor for what someone else has done a concept sketch for. On the other hand, a guy may be told to design a single level but to work as hard on it as possible and put as many new ideas into it as possible, and we get greatness like Super Mario Brothers 3. From all I can understand about the pretty murky waters of Japanese video game design workflow, it seems that the Japanese had a very centralized design team setup very early on going into the modern 32 bit and later 128 bit generations, with a core creator sculpting the game design and a horde of others (usually much larger then the corresponding american team) doing the manual labor. For example, even today on Doom 3, Carmack as an engine programmer is almost just designing what engine he wants, while Willits as a level designer is trying to make the best gameplay out of it and the artist''s assets. In Japan it seems like all of this would be done in a much more integrated way, and this effects the overall result of the game. These factors both have wedged somewhat the tastes between Western and Japanese gamers, and I believe that the Japanese are more focused on a game as a game (like monopolly), while the Western audience wants more an interactive, immersive, lose yourself via living vicariously through the main character, style of game. "My impression is that Japanese developers are highly organized and efficient, but a bit rigid in terms of being able to adapt to new practices. One thing that irks a lot of Western programmers who work in Japan is that generally, Japanese developers don''t share code. They spend months building new engines for almost every game instead of using that time to refine an already existing engine and give more time to the actual game design and development. This has changed a bit recently now that software like Renderware has become more widespread, but for the most part, Japan is still way behind in this area." This statement shows yet another problem with the American game design model. While its true that the Japanese really led to weakening of graphics innovation via switching to common systems even for arcades, sharing code and using common engines is even WORSE, because it almost always in practice results in games that do extremely little to push the graphic bounderies. From my experience in the last few years, the Japanese are always the ones to innovate new effects and up the graphics ante. Games like Stretch Panic, Time Crisis, Rez, Tekken 4, the proper use of cell shading, Guilty Gear XX, are all examples of this. Not counting unreleased games like Doom 3, the last 2 big ante uppers Ive seen from the West were the finally fully digitized texture mapped Max Payne, and the pretty well done large levels of GTA. Im not sure however that this hurts games from the West chances in doing well in Japan, but Im merely pointing this out as a posibility. What do you guys think?

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Seems like the game publishers in Japan are more willing to throw their weight behind new and untried concepts, thus encouraging more innovation on the parts of the development teams. The new input devices Namco seems obcessed with (The horse game where you ride a rocking horse, lots of several-degrees-of-freedom force feedback seats/controls, etc.). New types of games sometimes utililze these devices, like Dance Dance Revolution, Samba De Mi Amigo, Donkey Konga, etc. Nintendo''s dual-screened next-gen GBA device is another example.

What are we doing in the US? Ye olde RTSes, FPSes, and RPGs (SP and MMO) are the big PC titles, and sports+movie/comic book licensed action games dominate the consoles, with a few standout Japanese ports (which never seem to retail well in the US) of different-ish 3D-action-platformers and RPGs. Thats the difference right there. There is so much money in the US industry right now, hits have to be big- why spend 50 million across 5 original titles (which might be hit and miss, only have a 50/50 chance on getting a hit out of the bunch) when you can spend 50 million on a sequel to a blockbuster hit or on a big-name license? The US industry is too conservative (imho).



Another contributing factor to the demise of the arcade machine''s superiority in terms of hardware capability parallels the PC and high-end workstation industry in the early to mid-nineties. The power of mass-produced commodity PCs began to equal, then overtake the limited-production run high-end workstation equipment (your Sun, SGI, Dec, high-end HP and IBM and the like). By the end of the ''90s, most of this hardware was all but obsolete. Even the uber-high end graphics chips in most things are derivatives of the equipment found in PCs today.

The same thing happened with arcade equipment- compare the chips used in Sega home equipment in the mid to late 90s with the equipment in the arcade machines. Generally, the equipment in the home machine was several Hitachi SHx mips chips, all one or two generations behind the arcade hardware, but tied together in a similar ocnfiguration. This meant easy arcade ports (you lose a little speed and detail, but not much). I believe that all/most of Namco''s arcade machines starting about ''95 or ''96 are nothing but a PS1 (and later, in the Tekken 4 generation, PS2) in a big box with a TV, with arcade buttons and a joystick tied in. Even games with unconvential controls use at least the motherboard of a PSX-class machine. Now, most arcade hardware is just a PC or a console in a big box, with a custom set of user interface peripherals.

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quote:
Original post by locutus
These factors both have wedged somewhat the tastes between Western and Japanese gamers, and I believe that the Japanese are more focused on a game as a game (like monopolly), while the Western audience wants more an interactive, immersive, lose yourself via living vicariously through the main character, style of game.


I think that suggestion alone is totally wrong, given that Japan produces more RPGs than the rest of the world combined.

I also totally disagree with your comment on graphics, which implies that the quality of a game design model is almost entirely based on how cool the graphics look. No, no, no. Give me 6 months of working on gameplay rather than the latest sad rendering style, please.

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[edited by - Kylotan on January 24, 2004 3:54:59 PM]

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Yeah, but in most Japanese RPG''s you''re not living vicariously through the main character; you don''t mold Cloud''s personality, or Squall''s, or Zidane''s. They''re all pretty clearly defined already.

Whereas in, say, Fallout or KOTOR, they''re pretty much a blank slate.

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This is a very interesting thread.

I kept coming up with examples of differences and throwing them away while thinking about this. The subject is very broad and will create lots of contention due to the need to generalize.

Both Japan and the west have innovators. Some of the best-selling and most notable contemporary games originate with the West: Half-Life, The Sims, and GTA come to mind.

For technical innovations, you could point out Half-Life 2. For story innovations, you could applaud KOTOR (freedom is a good thing).

The innovative games from Japan that get the most of my gameplay time (in comparison to other Japanese games) are rythmic: DDR, Space Channel 5.

The renkei (skillchain) system and job system in Final Fantasy XI are both wonderful innovations. Skillchains bring a much needed element of strategy to the standard MMO battle equation and the job system allows players to develop their characters in different roles without the necessity of building other characters from scratch or unlearning skills. With subjobs, players can make all sorts of interesting hybrids from the mix.

I love how this thread attempts to answer the question of why Japanese and American developers innovate differently though.


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To start, let me say that I was totally educated on the arcade scene in Japan by that original post. Eye-opening stuff.

I''ve not worked on a game in Japan, but I have worked with developers who came from Japanese development houses. I''ll say that they were uniformly bad, and were always let go before the end of the project.

And when I say they were bad, I don''t mean to disparage the quality of their work or their work effort. Top marks in both respects.

What I mean is that they never integrated with the team. My development teams always include lots of banter about the game, about games in general, and about improvements, changes, and so forth. I''d say 40-50% of my game designs comes from in-office suggestions during the project.

These asian transplants though, they never offered any suggestions. When we asked them for opinions regarding something, they might answer or not, but they were always embarrassed.

So that to me is the difference between the team dynamics. My teams are a bunch of professionals who really respect eachother and get involved with each project on multiple levels. My impression of the Japanese side is that the lower tier of developers live in fear for their jobs, and just churn stuff out. In that model, innovation has to come from the guy at the top - it''s not going to come from some flunky.

--Mr. Strange

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Guest Anonymous Poster
It could be rather problem with your company. Lets look at list of problems you posted.

Integration with team. Do you like eye contact or are you try to evade it?
What would happen if person proposed something in one sentence, but other team mates would try to throw it away without thinking? One sentence proposal, three others "Aw common, don''t be silly. You can''t be serious it would be a lot of work (and I''m lazy.) What did you say?"
So how looks work in your team? Lots of chatting? When is actual work done? Not everyone could code and talk at same time, nor it''s always desirable. Too much is truth on saying: "Too much chatting, little work was done." ~_^
So they were embarased? I would too if someone asked me. Have you told them they''d have a little time for answer, until tomorow and their answer is welcome for you and all team? They wouldn''t sleep all night, however you could be surpried in the morning.
quote:
So that to me is the difference between the team dynamics. My teams are a bunch of professionals who really respect eachother and get involved with each project on multiple levels. My impression of the Japanese side is that the lower tier of developers live in fear for their jobs, and just churn stuff out. In that model, innovation has to come from the guy at the top - it''s not going to come from some flunky.

It''s not just companies in Japan, it''s common nearly everywhere.
You team could be an exception in that, but you should be also able to expect that some people could be too damaged by previous work/experience.
It might be also team that was too closed to others...

Raghar

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