The Waiting Game

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The Waiting Game - Demon's Souls BadgeThere comes a moment in every gamer’s life when we sit back with satisfaction as the credits roll and think to ourselves: “That’s got to be one of the best games I’ve ever played.”

Unfortunately, just like you eventually get hungry after digging in at an all-you-can-eat buffet, that sense of satisfaction fades with time and an appetite for more gaming goodness gradually takes shape in your belly. The one thing that can get your adrenaline pumping and intensify that hunger is the announcement of a sequel or addition to this game series you’ve irrevocably pledged yourself to.

Think about how ecstatic Call of Duty fans get when a new game in the series is announced – they know it’s coming (one a year without exception it would seem) but that inevitability doesn’t seem to dampen their enthusiasm one iota.

I recently experienced this ‘hunger’ after completing Demon’s Souls for the second time. Although I have encountered people online (a PSN friend from Singapore springs to mind) who get endless hours of entertainment from this title’s cooperative and Player VS Player (PvP) features, I found myself craving new worlds to explore and new behemoths to take down (with a little help from fellow demon hunters of course).

The Waiting Game - Demon's Souls

So when a sequel was announced in September – code-named Project Dark – I was like a dog who makes a grand exit from the SPCA after being hand-picked by a sweet little girl with a pink ribbon in her hair. What made the news all the more exhilarating was the release date – 2011. I would have to wait a bit, sure, but what’s a year when you have other great games to play?

This article is about the highs and lows of ‘The Waiting Game.’ The question I’m attempting to answer here is: Which developers keep us waiting for far too long, and conversely, which developers take just the right amount of time to create a quality product that exceeds expectations and brings on the hunger pangs for the next game in the series. Are there some games that come out in double-quick time but cut too many corners? And what about those highly anticipated games which take an age to make but greatly disappoint upon release?

The Waiting Game - Yakuza 4

The Yakuza series is a huge money-spinner for SEGA, particularly in Japan. It’s a Playstation-exclusive franchise which has already produced three games this year – Yakuza 3 (Western release), Yakuza 4 (Japanese release) and the PSP game Yakuza: New Chapter Black Panther (Japanese release). The main reason they can churn out Yakuza titles so quickly is because the fictional city of Kamurocho that the games are set in is recycled from one game to the next. There are a few new locations added here and there, but by and large the layout of the map remains the same.

Yakuza 4 was developed in a single year, and features three new playable characters and an original storyline. Shouldn’t this game just have been released as an expansion to Yakuza 3 if it uses so many of its assets – something similar to GTA IV: Episodes from Liberty City? In my opinion one year is not enough to make a quality sequel on PS3. If you’re paying R500 – R600 for a game, you don’t want to run around the same environments as you did in the previous entry in the series, no matter how comforting you find familiarity. SEGA got it right with the Shenmue series on Dreamcast – the second game took two years to develop and featured a completely new set of locations which greatly exceeded the size and scope of those in the first one.

The Waiting Game - Persona 4

Two years seems to be the optimal time to create a quality sequel. One of my all-time favourites – Persona 4 – was developed over two years and is packed with quality content such as stylish anime cut-scenes, hours of well-voiced dialogue and one of the most intriguing stories in gaming history. Persona 3 is often regarded as an RPG classic, but I regard the sequel as an impressive evolution of the series and the better game overall.

Mass Effect 2 is another RPG gem which solidified over two and a bit years. Bioware are clearly a talented bunch of developers, and the improvements they made to the sequel are laudable. On top of the overwhelming amount of new content included in ME2, they fixed a number of graphical bugs while improving the overall look of the game, and upped the ante as far as the narrative intensity of the series is concerned. The first hour of ME2 gives a clear indication of what Bioware can achieve when they’re focused on transporting us to the brave new world of cinematic interactivity. Inspirational stuff!

The Waiting Game - Mass Effect 2

Uncharted 2 was recently voted the best PlayStation game of all time in the Official Playstation Magazine poll. Isn’t it a wonder then that it took just under two years to develop? The graphics have such incredible fidelity and panache that I sometimes catch myself admiring the scenery or little details, such as a desk littered with books, when I should be paying attention during multiplayer. Even though I’ve played the game countless times, I still crack up over the playful quipping between the characters in single-player mode.

And I’ll be the first one to admit I’m addicted to UC2’s online multiplayer. Elimination mode is like hide-and-seek on steroids. If Naughty Dog can knock my socks off with the inevitable Uncharted 3 and release it before the end of 2011, I will be truly in awe of the consistent quality and pace of this Sony-owned studio. This is one team that sends a clear message out to other developers who tend to drag their feet: a remarkably good-looking, innovative, highly playable and masterfully-written game can be made in two years and scoop up practically every gaming award under the sun.

The Waiting Game - Uncharted 2

There are examples where a developer needs more than two years to craft a quality title. One such occasion is when it’s the first game in the series on a next generation console, since a whole lot of new code and assets need to be created – shifting a triple-A videogame series from PlayStation 2 to PlayStation 3 can take a good three years, as evidenced by Metal Gear Solid 4 (which took three and a half years to develop) and God of War III (which took exactly three years).

If you’ve watched any of the ‘making of’ movies for these games you will appreciate how much more detail had to go into the graphics due to the phenomenal increase in the amount of polygons you can display on-screen with PS3. New physics systems also had to be engineered as well as complex visual effects which were impossible to achieve on PS2. This all translates into years of time and effort, and often bigger teams are required to meet these intense workload demands.

The Waiting Game - God of War III

Now let me introduce you to the slowpokes of the industry. Yes, Polyphony Digital – I’m looking at you! Can someone please tell me why they needed five years to make Gran Turismo 5? I haven’t played the game myself but from what I hear it recycles many of the car and track models from previous entries in the series and has an archaic multiplayer set-up which doesn’t even feature a friends list. It’s great that they’re listening to fans’ complaints and steadily patching the game, and I only hope that the mended version eventually satisfies the Gran Turismo faithful who felt the wait was worth it.

It’s well-documented that the director of the series – Kazunori Yamauchi – is a perfectionist, but maybe his idea of perfection is a little off if the game is only averaging around 85% on Gamerankings. You’d expect a game that took five years to make and had so much funding from Sony behind it to score a little higher – at least sales so far have been good and the amount of PS3s sold in Japan effectively doubled when it was launched there. What’s obvious is that a lot of people had been waiting around for a long time for this game, and some people even used it as an excuse to pick up a PS3.

The Waiting Game - Gran Turismo 5

Are you a fan of Team Ico’s work? Looking forward to The Last Guardian on the PS3? Well, I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait a bit to get your hands on it. You see, Team Ico take their time when making a new title. There was a four year gap between Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, and if The Last Guardian is indeed released at the end of next year as indicated, we will have waited six years. A bit long to sit around for a game that will probably take in the region of 10 hours to complete and will have no multiplayer? I think so.

There’s no denying that Team Ico’s games are inspired and unique, and many consider them revolutionary. Naughty Dog’s co-president Evan Wells believes Ico has had a greater influence on the gaming industry than their own multiple award-winning Uncharted 2. Did anyone else notice how Shadow of Colossus’ creature-crawling boss battles ‘inspired’ similar antics in God of War III, Bayonetta and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow? It’s clear that Team Ico are masters at coming up with clever concepts, but why do they take so long to develop new titles when these are often on the short side? I only hope that The Last Guardian holds the key to this quandary and makes all that development time seem well worth it.

The Waiting Game - The Last Guardian

And the final offender is none other than Final Fantasy Versus XIII. No release date has been confirmed for it yet, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it only came out in 2012. It was first announced at E3 in 2006, so it’s one of those titles which are difficult to invest too much interest in lest we spontaneously combust from the volatile combo of over-eagerness and impatience. The director of the project – Tetsuya Nomura – is a multi-talented workaholic. He’s the main character designer for the Final Fantasy series, and even directed the film Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. He’s undoubtedly one of the most important figures over at Square Enix, and his r