The Gamer’s Conscience 09.15.03

First off, you’re going to have to forgive me for doing something I usually refrain from doing at all. You’ve no doubt read what I’m about to type in other forums of discussion, on countless message boards, over a friendly game of Halo (yes, Cory, it does exist!). Or in my case, the NES version of Marble Madness.

Despite the technological leaps and bounds of today’s systems, it’s great to be able to fire up a title on an older system, and for a small shred of time be engrossed in something arguably more original than what is on the racks today. Sometimes it makes me want to hang up the academic tone for just a split second, and delve into the layman territory with the passion of a GameFAQs board member, exclaiming with unparalleled conviction “The 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System rules all of your sorry arses!” Maybe I’m just getting that much older, but it really does seem that the commitment to originality in today’s games is waning like the Attorney General’s duty to safeguard civil liberties.

Now, there’s probably going to be a contingent of readers out there that may think that after that little sleep-deprived rant in bold, I must be experiencing some sort of delusion. Getting back into an academic candor, I say “not so.” While newer systems have hit the market long since the NES rode off into the digital sunset, the NES still sits on my shelf and many of my friend’s shelves today. Sure I could sit around all day wiping the floor with said friends in Capcom Vs SNK 2 without the EO Chump Mode, but sweat doesn’t hit the un-laminated hard wood floor until Dr. Mario makes a house call. Call it what you will, but you haven’t experienced true fear until both of you are down to one red virus and two red pill pieces on top of! oh man, I get chills just thinking about it.

Regardless of my terrified disposition, I got to thinking about something. Alongside the NES on my shelf, there also sits a Genesis. A 3DO. A Sega CD and some other items that, rather than letting them collect dust in a closet, are collecting dust in open light. The reason they’re out in the first place is because, during their heyday, they had some great games to offer- even prompting me to say that some of these games are better than what’s being put out. You know, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell me why I enjoy Sonic 2 more than Sonic Adventure. Maybe to make sense of the speed factor, but that’s another story!

In any case, the aforementioned systems are regarded by the industry at large as relics; obsolete pieces of equipment whose time to elicit a substantial profit has passed. While there does exist a place for this mentality to operate, it’s my strong feeling that in today’s gaming environment, this viewpoint is incorrect. What these console manufacturers fail to realize is that the Atari Jaguars and the Sega Saturns of yesteryear can still be profitable platforms. Or maybe the problem is that these console manufacturers are simply afraid of what profit they don’t make entirely on their own!

What I’m getting at here is this: these systems are on my shelf, hooked up and ready to play. They’re most likely wired in your home too, and tons of other homes across America. While the suits up at Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony are pondering ways to invade your living rooms with new pieces of gaming hardware, there’s been something that they’ve been completely overlooking; something that could really be a boon for whomever decides to implement it first.

It’s with this fact in mind that I propose an idea to all console producers in the industry; the rich and the poor, the tall and the small, the down-trotted and the successful, an idea that could allow a new segment of the gaming market to emerge from years of commercial gaming atrophy and start something so apparently revolutionary that it really isn’t: allow the homebrew companies to make games for your older hardware via some kind of open licensing system.

While the exact details need to be ironed out, the potential execution of this is more than plausible: through a licensing structure created by those who hold the rights to their respective consoles, homebrew developers and publishers can, accessibly and cheaply, seek permission to develop for their hardware of choice, with the developer/publisher sharing the revenue of their game with the console manufactures, who would provide manufacturing costs in exchange for outside development. By letting homebrew artists, who have been active for quite some time on the outskirts of gaming life, have a crack at limited distribution, the quantitative and qualitative rewards for all of those involved (manufacturer, developer, and player) would be immeasurable.

In order to understand this concept more fully, compare the video game industry with the movie industry, and the abbreviated process starting from the idea, to ending with the final product.

In both, you start with teams who are assembled to put together a quality concept, who race toward a deadline to finish the game. In the movie industry, that house is called a production company, while in the game industry we would call them a development team. When the game is completed, it is taken to a publisher for polishing and packaging for retail consumption; the name ‘publisher’ seems to be synonymous in both industries. After all that retail processing is done, the publisher markets it out to the consumer via commercials and reviews, to where the consumer eats it up; the consumer here being either the movie viewer, or the game player.

So I ask, what’s the difference between From Software (Developer) developing Armored Core (Concept) for Sony Computer Entertainment of America (Publisher), and DreamWorks Pictures (Developer) making Gladiator (Concept) for Universal Pictures (Publisher)?

The only difference is the medium on which it is presented, and this is the fundamental difference between these two industries, or any other large entertainment industries for that matter: whether they own the MEANS of distribution. While Universal has no claim to that movie projector or DVD player, that Playstation on your shelf came from Sony. When this stranglehold on game platforms is opened up to homebrew developers in some method, everyone will benefit. Not only will console manufacturers begin to see some revenue coming from seemingly outdated relics, but the gaming community as a whole will witness a kind of gaming renaissance.

Call it optimism if you wish, but wouldn’t it be damned cool to see a gaming world with something like an art-house community of developers? How great would it be to see the gaming equivalent of Clerks, something so irreverent that most major studios wouldn’t even touch it, show up on a Saturn? I can read the headline now: “411Games: An Exclusive Interview with the Small-Time Development House that Changed the Gaming World.” That would be amazing indeed, and a reality under some kind of open licensing system. The author and those involved in the development of the game would earn their cash, and Sega would make a small return on all copies sold.

Or what about that one developer sitting in his or her bedroom, creating an RPG that uniquely reflected his or her life experiences in a certain town? How about getting local bands to contribute music to the soundtrack? Or having real, actual friends do the voice tracks of the NPCs? A genuine caricature of life created into a game like this would be possible under some semblance of an open licensing system. Both developer and console manufacturer would prosper.

Without a doubt, I sincerely believe that something like this could revolutionize the way we play games. I mean, what kind of artistic world would we have if only Salvador Dali own a paintbrush? Or if Eric Clapton were the only one allowed to strum a guitar? Or if Karl Marx were the only person licensed to carry a pen?

In some respect, the playing field is already beginning to be leveled. Cruise on over to Cryptic Allusion Games and check out the excellent work that they’re doing on Feet of Fury, a quality ‘post mortem’ title for the Dreamcast. Further down the line of publishing and development, you have online retailer and now publisher Good Deal Games and their latest release, BUG BLASTERS: The Exterminators Special Edition for the Sega CD. These development and publishing groups are the pioneers of what, God willing, will be the changing face of game on home console development.

When the development playing field is opened to homebrewers, large and small, there will be nothing but benefit for every one involved. A new infusion of originality will be injected into the lifeblood of the industry, and we as game players will be there to enjoy the fruits of it’s labor. That is, if the big three will allow access to the tree.

Opening the country club of game development to further reflect the passion of the gaming community at large.

That’s the Gamer’s Conscience.

I’d like to take this portion to ask any homebrew developers out there what they think on this subject, and what kind of set up would be the most beneficial to all parties involved. You can send feedback my way using the link below.

And as always, developer or not, feedback is always welcomed. There’s a great week ahead here at 411 Games brought to you by the gamers you know and love. Until next time!