Friday, March 9, 2012

My Thoughts on PlatinumGames

NOTE: This is from a casual gamer's perspective.

When I'm asked about who my favorite game developers are, my mind doesn't usually go to PlatinumGames/Clover Studios quickly despite the fact that several of my favorite games have come from the developer. I thought this way rather strange, so I asked myself why I thought this way, and I came to the conclusion that it was due to the shortness of the impact that the games from Platinum makes.

To make a comparison, games from Platinum (with one exception, but more on that later) provide a similar experience and satisfaction to that of the best games of the golden days of the arcade. Classics like Afterburner, Dungeons & Dragons, The King of Fighters, Metal Slug, House of the Dead, etc. are probably the closest comparisons I can make to the games of Platinum. Why? Because the experiences provided by these games are original, stylish, satisfying, and memorable, yet are over fairly quickly. Yet despite the short length of time we played games in the arcades, we still felt it was time and money well spent because the experiences we had with the games, however short, felt rich and satisfying. I think Platinum's games carry that same sort of weight.

Games like Bayonetta and Vanquish are incredible action games with superb gameplay, graphics, music, and execution there-of. With that said, both games can be completed in 6 hours or less. Does this make them bad games? No. However, I feel it does hurt their staying power in the minds of gamers, at least those who don't pour dozens upon dozens of hours to achieve insanely high scores or try to get every single achievement. The feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction are there, but because the experience was so short, there isn't much to remember or take away from the experience, especially when looking back on the game after a lot of time has past. The same effect occurs with fighting games; what's present is very enjoyable, but ultimately, a fighting game is a contained amount of content that doesn't really grow much other than the player understanding the systems more. Of course, this is satisfying for a while, but ultimately, the fact that the player is restricted by the contained amount of content given to them comes to light and satisfaction begins to take a dip. Viewtiful Joe, Bayonetta, Vanquish, Godhand; all amazing games, but all ultimately harmed by their contained amount of content. This is where I feel the games of Platinum/Clover share their similarities with arcade games.

So how did arcade games deal with the constraints that their limited memory caused them to have? They made sequels, and lots of them. These sequels allowed the games of the arcade to not only grow in terms of content, but learn from the mistakes of their ealier iterations and make even better games with their sequels. This process of making sequels not only gave the gaming audience more content to enjoy, but better content. And it is with this observation that I find my opinion on Platinum/Clover comes full circle: the games of Platinum/Clover are superb gaming experiences, yet when they are finished, that's it. Replaying a game from Platinum/Clover can only provide so much satisfaction, so when I've had my fill, the game simply becomes a nostalgic memory, rather than an experience that sticks with the player.

How can Platinum remedy this?

- One way is to make sequels. To me, SNK was the Platinum/Clover of the 90s; they had so many incredible games and made many sequels to these games, thus creating a legacy. It is this legacy that I remember most. I don't remember a specific KOF or Metal Slug game, rather, I remember the entire series as cohesive and satisfying wholes. I believe creating sequels for games like Bayonetta, Madworld, and Vanquish would help create such legacies and thereby make the games feel less like short-but-sweet game experiences and more like expansive experiences that covered many years of my life. Of course, I would say the same for games like Viewtiful Joe (which, granted, was on the right track thanks to recieveing two sequels; perhaps that is why I remember Viewtiful Joe the fondest of all Platinum/Clover's games) and Godhand, but, of course, the split from Capcom prevents that.

- The other way is to expand past creating "arcade" games, and create vast, expansive experiences. Platinum/Clover has already done this with Okami, a game I constantly forget was made by the same group that made Viewtiful Joe and Bayonetta, simply because of how expansive and epic it is in scope and gameplay. The epic scope of Okami provided an entirely different level of satisfaction than the arcade-style of games that Platinum/Clover had made previously, and has made since. Okami is the one game made by Platinum/Clover that I had no desire to see a sequel to because of just how whole it felt; in that sense, Okami created its own legacy. If Platinum could create another game with such scope as Okami, than the creation of sequels would not be neccessary, but as it stands, games such as Madworld, Bayonetta, and Vanquish cannot do such a thing because of their small amount of content and restraints there-of, no matter how satisfying they are.

In conclusion, my fondest memories of the arcade come from The King of Fighters and Metal Slug series. They had strong origins with KOF '94 and Metal Slug, both of which had amazing graphics, music, and gameplay. However, they didn't stop there, both games received sequel after sequel and expanded and enhanced their content to new levels with each new game. In doing so, SNK created an amazing legacy of games that feels like one cohesive whole rather than seperate pieces of a puzzle. It is this legacy I want Platinum to create with their games.

Now, I understand that PlatinumGames isn't the biggest developer, and the constant creation of sequels is a practice that isn't really looked at in the highest respect, especially in this generation of games. However, I feel that PlatinumGames has yet to create a true impact on the industry, which I find surprising considering that they are perhaps the most talented game developer at present. What's holding them back is this constant stream of "arcade"-style games. Each one of their games has been "revolutionary" in that they set the bar for certain aspect(s) of game design, whether it be graphics, gameplay, or execution there-of, but because their games are scattered about in different genres, styles, and directors (have you noticed how divisive the games from Platinum/Clover are based upon their directors), its difficult for their games to have a focused impact on the industry. A legacy cannot be built upon a small group of countries scattered about; it needs to grow from one central location and expand upon itself.

How PlatinumGames can create this legacy, I am not sure. I have suggestions above, but because I am ignorant on how the game industry functions, my suggestions could be completely asinine. Furthermore, my suggestions are basically asking PlatinumGames to limit themselves to certain genres, styles, characters, and gameplay systems. Limitation on a developer's talents is something I'd hate to even suggest, but I feel that if a developer could continue to be creative and innovative while making sequels or large-in-scope projects, its PlatinumGames.

This is all my opinion of course, but I really want PlatinumGames to create a legacy for themselves. I want there to be collections of artbooks and CDs that cover their entire legacy, and I want there to be legends of the developers that created their games, and not just their directors, but the artists, the musicians, the designers, and programmers. I want Platinum to make a name for themselves. Many will probably tell me that they already have, but I'd have to disagree with that. The games from Platinum are remembered for specifics rather than their cohesive wholes, and that is no way to leave your mark on the industry. People have to look at PlatinumGames and have a clear picture in their mind; a state I don't believe they've reached quite yet.

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