Hi all! This is the first issue of what (hopefully) will become our weekly questions-and-answers column. Our intention in doing so is to spark discussions about the week’s most relevant news, related or not to games, gamers and the industry, as well as try to present the point-of-view of the Miyamoto Generation.

 

“This is not WarCraft in space. It’s much more complicated.”

This week’s most shocking news could be no other than the announcement, made by the folks at Blizzard Entertainment during their own special event in South Korea, that Starcraft II is being developed. The sequel to a 10-year-old classic, considered by many the best real-time strategy game ever made, Starcraft II will be another representative entry in the large collection of sequels-to-highly-successful-video-games that exist in the gaming universe. There is no doubt that intellectual property is the most valuable asset that a game company can have today, but does this multitude of sequels, spin-offs and side stories do more harm than good to the successful franchises they represent? Let’s ask the Miyamoto Generation!

 

Q: Hell, it’s about time! Starcraft II has been officially announced! Any first thoughts?

My first thought was “Hell, it’s about time!” but it was already used in the question… So… Great! Even though I’m not a huge RTS fan, I must admit that Starcraft got my attention, not just for being a wonderfully good game, but for its asymmetrical balance; THAT was huge, and I hope seeing more of it in the upcoming game!

First thoughts? Yeah, like “whoa, finally” and then “this game is gonna totally rock”, and then again “but how can Blizzard manage to make a game worth of a ten years wait?”. I’m really curious and excited, just not as much as with Fallout 3 (hey, this one better be REALLY good…).

StarCraft is probably the most complete RTS game ever made. Balance, evolution, cutscenes, sound and characters, all was perfect, none could resist watching a StarCraft match. LAN parties were a synonym of SC. The expansion pack only added more (I still think that the Terran’s Nurses were a bit unbalanced, but who cares :)). Great quotes and immortal characters like Tessadar, Kerrigan, Raynor, Fenix reincarnate as a Dragoon!!!!

My fear is that we expect so much from this game, and no matter what comes out, it will never be enough, it is never enough. Thus, I think the gameplay won’t change much.

Sure. As a fan of the franchise I was pleased when the now ghostly Starcraft: Ghost was announced, with awesome videos and gameplay features. And very displeased accompanying the changes that brought the game to its grave. With that my hunger for a Starcraft game has just been teased… now it’s about time it gets fed.

 

Q: In the heat of other major RTS releases, such as Relic’s highly-praised Company of Heroes, Chris Taylor’s Supreme Commander and the new Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, how do you think Starcraft II can add to the genre and secure its place in the hall of fame?

First of all, Starcraft is an icon. It is very probable that during development of those (really good) games, one member of the team told another, trying to explain something: “Yeah, it’s something like Starcraft!”. But, the genre grows up, improvements from one generation to the next result in excellent games, and even though Starcraft is the piece of art you remember when you hear “RTS”, times change and Blizzard will have to prove they don´t want to live by the Startcraft name, but by how good it feels playing it.

Well… first of all… we are talking about Starcraft II, not any of the other games mentioned, so that shows, at the very least, that they have a head start to the hall of fame… the hype that they caused. That can turn out to be something against the game, if it lacks new features and gameplay. But I sincerely doubt that Blizzard would wait this much only to release a Sci-Fi version of Warcraft III, they must have something up their sleeves… And if that shows up a good thing, the exposition that Starcraft II will have will certainly give them a respectful place among RTS (as if Starcraft wasn’t in one of these places already :)).

I am not much a fan of RTS games. I really enjoy the single player but the multiplayer kills me. I have seen some variations (like not building single units but platoons), but for me it’s more from the same. I hope SCII does for today’s RTS the same it did on the past: present a strong story, amazing and deep characters, kickass cutscenes and FX, quotes to be used for 10 more years and a new way to play RTS (hope it’s not totally new, or else people won’t play it and they will put the blame on me for that). I don’t know much about multiplayer, but I still think new gameplay will help to bring new players.

The little information already provided by the developer indicates that the game will be about managing large squads of units instead of micro-managing single ones, which clearly determines that Starcraft II will probably play very differently from Blizzard’s last RTS, Warcraft III. Also, the roots of the original Starcraft universe are being preserved, with the announcement that the game definitely will NOT feature a fourth playable race, in addition to the three classic ones. Such decisions show that Blizzard is probably having a hard time trying to achieve the balance between the legacy of the Starcraft formula and the latest breakthrough features in RTS games, which is, in my opinion, the only possible way to design a successful sequel to a game as representative as Starcraft.

 

Q: Starcraft is a franchise that has been treated with very special care by Blizzard Entertainment so far, so that it took ten years for a sequel to be officially announced, and we are probably at least six months away from its release. What do you think of Blizzard’s strategy in managing its franchises?

I think they are smart. They wait until the entire community starts to be nostalgic about a game, like what happened with WarCraft when StarCraft was out, and when they are thirsty for that, they release a nice video and voilà, the fans get mad and will talk about it until the game is out (hmmm, we are doing this right now, aren’t we? :)) and they will buy it as soon as it is released.

Blizzard is one of the few companies in the industry that know how to keep franchises fresh and interesting, while maintaining a release rate that is sufficient to assure a healthy cash flow every season. The respect and care with which they treat their IP is something venerable in the game development industry of our time.

There is a time for everything. They knew they had built an amazing game and didn’t want to disappoint the fans. As parents take care of their children, not allowing them to go out when it’s raining, or work hard to pay tuition for a good university, Blizzard has taken care of its prodigious son so he could be the best at what he always did: inspire.

Like I said before, Starcraft: Ghost was announced and never completed. The only special care Blizzard took with that one was only “The game sucks… well.. so we won’t sell it”. Because they made a lot of monkey business with it, Blizzard changed the gameplay focus more than once, it got into the hands of a (supposedly) inexperienced team (Swingin’ Ape), it got late… the console generation changed so it was too late. I think they learned from there and wouldn’t risk that again with a franchise that good, now they are doing what they are excellent at… an RTS game.

 

Q: A sequel can certainly help strengthen a franchise. What are the key factors to a successful sequel, in your opinion? Can you name a couple of particularly good sequels that you remember instantly, from games, movies or other entertainment media?

In my opinion, the key factors that make a successful sequel depend a lot on the history of the franchise. Continuing a highly successful game often requires a strong sense of respect for past entries, and the old saying “evolution, not revolution” is often the safest choice. When trying to bring a shadowed IP back to the limelight, however, exploring the franchise in original ways is probably the way to go.

Good sequels? Definitely, Phantasy Star IV for the Sega Genesis is the first one that comes to my mind. The sensibility with which it pays homage to the previous games in the series (particularly the first Phantasy Star for the Sega Master System, which has a place of its own in my memory) is astonishing and emotive. I have never seen such care in another game sequel. Other good sequels that must be mentioned are Lucasarts’ Monkey Island II, Bioware’s Baldur’s Gate II and id Software’s Doom III.

Key factor, that is something really hard. Let me see. Sometimes it is good to improve the gameplay and use that in new maps (Mario 3, Super Mario World); in other cases they take the a game, improve its gameplay and change the perspective (Super Metroid 2D and Metroid Prime 3D); in other cases, just throw out everything and create a new game (Resident Evil 4) with a minor link with the franchise.

But I think what makes a sequel a success is to be the same game, but better. It’s to keep a link with the previous game. The experiences you had on the previous game will be alive on the sequel, and that experiences have to get better and richer. It’s an alien feeling when you find things in a game that remind you of the previous game. Links between sequels mean a lot to me. I remember being called the Avatar, in the Ultima Series, and to be told about the Avatar deeds that I did myself in previous games! I was there when that happened (something close to what they did in Phantasy Star 4).

Good sequels? Sure. Games: Doom 2, Ultima 4, Ultima 6, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Diablo 2, Final Fantasy 4, Final Fantasy 5, Final Fantasy 6, Elders Scroll 2: DaggerFall, Elders Scroll 4: Oblivion, Dragon Warrior 2, Super Metroid, Metroid Prime, Mario 3, Super Mario World, Phantasy Star 4, Resident Evil 4, Soul Calibur 2, Castlevania 3, Unreal Tournament 2004, Hitman 2, Pokémon.

Movies: X-Men 2, Spider-man 2, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Terminator 2, Naked Gun 2.

No change of focus. Keep the game similar to the first one, if you change too much it doesn’t feel like a sequel. (I guess.. as the StarCraft II videos show they are keeping it similar, woohoo!!!) People who see the number 2 on the title expect to play a similar game in a different circumstance or story line… give them that.

Games: Mario 3: Mario World, the Legend of Zelda (series), Paper Mario 64: Paper Mario The Thousand-Year Door, Resident Evil: Resident Evil 2, Sonic: Sonic 2.

Movies: Toy Story, Back to the Future, Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones.

I love sequels, well… I used to, until I wasted my money on that Spider-Man 3 movie..(don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Spider-Man) but that’s another story. For me, sequels must maintain the spirit of what originated them in the first place. In the case of a game, maintain what you did right, what kept people awake all night long and being late for work (OK, boss, now you know…). If we wait years for a sequel, we hope to feel the same we once did, or as close to that as possible. Good sequels were: Pirates of the Caribbean (movie), all The Simpsons episodes after the first (TV Show), God of War II and Resident Evil 4 (games).

 

Q: Obviously, a sequel can also completely frustrate the fans of a franchise. What are the common pitfalls of sequel development, in your opinion? Please mention a small number of particularly bad sequels that come to your mind.

YEAH! I was hoping to see this question! Spider-Man 3!! HORRIBE sequel! OK… I’m feeling better now. Well, a sequel can frustrate fans by breaking the fantasies about what they were waiting. I mean breaking at the point they can’t justify the changes to themselves. Sometimes by changing a character’s personality, or in the case of games in particular, changing the core gameplay. Unfortunately, these things happen more often when the publisher or whoever is responsible for release wants to get as much money as they can as soon as possible, and completely ruins what was good about it in the process, sometimes without even noticing it.

It is again, something very hard. I could say a common pitfall is to throw away all the experiences the player has acquired on the previous games and do something totally new. A game always comes to my mind when we talk about pitfalls and sequels: Resident Evil 4. The game has no virus, but a parasite, has a minor link with Umbrella Corporation (the main character remembers working for Umbrella four years ago), has silly puzzles (you just keep going and you will find how to solve it) has a new gameplay (camera position, movement, etc). Things that were an identity for RE fans. But the strongest points were kept: killing, shooting, collecting and being scared! The core of the game was completely new, but it had always a link with the other games and the experience some acquired on the previous games were booted on that game.

Bad sequels, games: Phantasy Star III, Half-Life 2, Castlevania 64, Secret of Mana 2 (Seiken Densetsu 3), Doom 3. Movies: Conan The Destroyer, Star Wars Episode 3: The Revenge of the Sith, Rambo 3.

Adding too much features in the game making old ones useless, changing completely the kind of game. Or, in most cases, losing the edge on the story and making all the series sound rubbish.

Game: ToeJam & Earl II (unfortunately). Movies: Matrix (although I personally like the trilogy… I think if they’d kept the first one alone, it would be much better).

The worst thing that can happen to a sequel is trying to reinvent the franchise with that-completely-weird-yet-genius-idea-that-no-one-has-ever-realized, without due respect to the series, its history, and its fan base. Unfortunately, bad sequels are far more frequent than good ones, such as ToeJam & Earl II, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, and several Tomb Raider games.

 

Q: Finally, please share with us your closing thoughts about game sequels. Can they do more harm than good to the industry?

I love sequels, I really tend to like games with strong, complex and well connected story lines, most of them come in form of a sequel or series. As long as not overused… it’s a great move that successful franchises can explore. And beyond that, feeling nostalgic and impressed with new stuff at the same time, seeing your favorite character in action again, knowing what happened after a game that you like… this is all awesome.

Good, a lot of good. Creating a story is not simple. People spent thousands of hours thinking about a good story. And good stories must be retold. “Life flows like a river and story repeats itself”. But a sequel is not just about the story. It’s about the same universe and its characters. Overall, they can do more good than harm. Bad sequels are dead as soon as they come out, anyway. Some can think that, since it’s a sequel, it’s an instant success, but gamers are no fools and won’t let it cheap :).

More sequels means more games, so I do not think of sequels as evil. But they do harm the industry when publisher decide not to take risks with originality and new IP in favor of “yet another spin-off in our 27-title world war II franchise”.

I don’t like comparing movies to games, I think they are completely different media, but for me, in this case, they share a common trait. A sequel must be made only if there is more of the story to be told, more fun to entertain the fans and more content to make people think they spent some good time, once again, within the “same reality” they so much liked before.

 

Dear readers, please contribute to our discussion with your comments. We intend to reply and build up on the issue as often as possible. Thanks a lot!

 

And… that’s it for this week! We surely hope to publish another Q&A issue next week. See ya!

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