Monday, May 16, 2011

On My Mind: Radical Directions

Over the recent months, two publishers announced and showcased two sequels to successful franchises that have garnered less than favourable reception: SSX (EA) and Ridge Racer (Namco). In both cases, the franchises are well established with a core group of fans, but the game may have fallen into obscurity for numerous reasons: lack of release (SSX) and shrinking market (Ridge Racer). So why are the fans up in arms? Should they matter?

This isn't a rant post with a series of donotwant.gif pics, but let's get out of the way.

Let's look at each game individually.


With SSX, the easiest way to explain it is visually. This is a screenshot of SSX Tricky on the PS2.

And this is a screenshot of SSX Deadly Descent that was announced coming January 2012

In the first released trailer, SSX Deadly Descents has dark and gritty visual look, with the unknown snowboarding jumping out of a military like helicopter, sliding away at a dangerous mountain, losing control, pulling out a pickaxe to regain control, then falling off the cliff and opening the squirrel suit.

You know what games recently also had a pickaxe in an icy area, jumping off a cliff, and squirrel suits? Call of Duty.

So why make this change? EA knows that the franchise is still good, but how big is that market? When the first SSX came out, it ushered in a new era of extreme sports games. In 2011, these extreme sports games are dead: Tony Hawk is irrelevant, Shaun White didn't sell on PS3/360, the market has moved on. EA needs a new audience to pitch this game to, so the "dudebro" segment it is. In later interviews and discussions, the developers claim that they are still sticking to the core of what the SSX franchise means, I guess in this case, maybe the developers and fans don't agree with what the franchise is to begin with.

Is it a good change? Don't know. Will this new audience find this interesting? Maybe. Will it piss off the existing fans? Yes. Will those fans come back to the game anyways? Maybe. It's interesting to note that recent dev diaries have not mentioned the dark and gritty feel, and has pointed the direction of the game closer to something between SSX3 and Tricky. Maybe the developer did listen.


Ridge Racer Unbounded, on the other hand, should be shown via video:

and compare that to this

Many have gone and compared this new Ridge Racer to the likes of Burnout, Split Second, or even BugBear (the new developer)'s previous title FlatOut, and I don't blame them. At the surface, this game seems to take nothing from Ridge Racer franchise, instead it chooses to be closer to what the market has been getting. The worry here is why be a "me-too" product? Why fight against Split Second, Burnout, or even Motorstorm, which are all doing destructible environments and races? Bringing your design closer to the competition means you need to work that much harder to differentiate yourself and sell to your audience.

The more interesting observation here is "why not?" I believe Ridge Racer is one of those franchises that can actually withstand flops because of it's development and sales target/cycle. Consider that every Ridge Racer game since Ridge Racer Type 4 (save for a few exception, like RR64 and Ridge Racers 2 PSP) have been launch titles, it's obvious that Namco uses this franchises as a testing ground for a platform. Even if Unbounded does bad in sales, when the next generation system comes, we'll see another Ridge Racer back in it's old form anyways. In the best case, this Ridge Racer title could become what happened to the Need For Speed series. "Ridge Racer" becomes the nameholder for Namco's racing games, and racing titles within the same universe sits under it, even if they don't relate to each other.


Understand that I'm advocating for no change. Looking at both games, I understand what the thought process and the reasoning was. Sometimes, franchises do get stale, and needs a refreshing kick in the face for things to get better (I can name a few, but I won't do it here). Some franchises have made that jump: Metroid Prime was a great example of changing both gameplay and even genre. However, developers, publishers, and even the game audience needs to understand and expect that changes may not be well received by everyone, and sometimes to gain a new audience, you need to be ready to lose all your existing fans.


  1. I think it has to be said that the initial critic in me says that changing the core flavor of a game based around the selling points of other games basically is like a band selling out. In that I think what we might be seeing here is the factor that the art directors, tech art directors, creative directors and audio leads are not being listened to in terms of what would just make the initial design more immersive, but rather the producers and sales people(marketing) dictating that not only does the original activity they are trying to reproduce on screen seem boring by most people but actually borrowing a new set of rules from other knee jerk paradigms that bring a sense of instant gratuity that all the fiends need. You can't make a simulation or a version of an activity that kinda represents the core of an activity any more fun than just experiencing it.... But video games don't make it a life's journey to master say snowboarding. Instead they want to bore you after a good year or so. So tack on the icing and make it tasty and easy to digest, rather than make it really challenging and develop skills based on that activity. Imagine if it took 2 years to master snowboarding balance in a game... It doesn't translate but you know people who kill to snowboard.... So it's odd. I think these types of paradigm shifts are based around a throw away software function. Whereas say something like burnout paradise has shown to be lucrative and a great model of evolution in games where the game engine and the activity become the focus rather than the mediocriy of doing the same act over and over again. Fake thrills don't last. Catching 80 feet in a 360 over moguls is exhilarating.

    So yeah I agree purity is more important than minute long enjoyment. I wish hockey games would just improve on one engine and let us become experts at it rather than introducing new crap every year and stealing 80 bucks every time...

  2. I don't know if this is a case of more icing for people to easily digest, or what I'd consider "reaching for Dudebros". When you mentioned hockey, yeah, I agree that they're just randomly throwing out new ideas, but they're nowhere being as aggressive as with those two games above. In my mind, the equivalent would have been replacing NHL with NHL Hitz, along with with a wrestling style presentation and execution.