There is no excellence without labor. One cannot dream oneself into either usefulness or happiness. - Liberty Hyde Bailey
I used to think the most fun I’ve ever had was watching our pet cats emerge from general anesthetic after their vasectomy, seeing them walk around the garden like little drunk, emasculated zombie hobos, propping themselves against trees and falling over hilariously But then Nintendo gone and done and went and did finally release Super Mario Galaxy and it has totally turned my appreciation of fun on its head.
Of all the stunningly excellent games we have been able to enjoy over the last few months and that are on the release lists for the coming holiday season it’s only Super Mario Galaxy that I feel warrants a perfect score, with the only improvement that could be made at this point in time is to have more of it.
The sad thing is that releases like this usually give rise to the old developer complaint that “only Nintendo makes money on Nintendo consoles”. And this is true to an extent. With licensing and production fees any third party title that is released on a Wii or DS will also generate an income for Nintendo, in pretty much the same way it does for any of the consoles. However, the implication is that Nintendo has some kind of monopoly over sales hits on their own consoles. They do, apparently, but the reason as to why is hardly a mystery.
Mario is of course a very strong IP that is hard to compete with, but it only became so because of the continued care Nintendo seem to pay to its products. They spend time and money on doing it right and it shows. You are pretty much guaranteed a Nintendo developed product is going to deliver a standard of quality, because it has always done so in the past. If anything we can thank Sonic for proving the idea that an IP only remains strong with continued care and support. If you’re going to hastily develop a game with a small team, low budget and tight deadline then obviously you’ll never be able to compete. Yet because so many publishers and developers have accepted the notion that it’s impossible to compete with Nintendo software that they are unwilling to invest heavily in games developed for Nintendo hardware, thus proving their own preposterous hypothesis. You’ll need to invest a lot of time, money and talent into any game if you’re aiming for quality, let alone one that has to compete with Zelda or Mario, yet publishers keep on rushing out substandard titles and complaining how they don’t sell.
With the increasing costs of development for current generation consoles, the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, (funny how Microsoft Word underlines that name with a red squiggly line) publishers have gotten into the mindset of cross-platform development, using one console, usually the 360, as a base from which to easily and quickly generate different SKUs. This is why some of the Playstation 3 titles look no better than the 360 versions. This is also why Wii titles from this heritage look so rubbish. They are simply toning down the graphics and shoehorning in a motion sensor control. It’s a natural progression, I guess,, but by now it should be obvious that Wii titles require their own approach and can’t simply be extracted from cross-platform source.
Many complain about how weak the Wii is in terms of power. It is indeed not as fast or big as its competitors but most developers use it as an excuse for their ugly games. Yet Super Mario Galaxy is gorgeous. It has a more solid, beautiful look to it than most Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 titles. This is because they have a little thing called “art direction”. Rather than aiming for realism, bloom and normalmaps they aim for design, something Nintendo, and the wider Japanese industry, seems to be petty good at. Obviously, having a more intimate knowledge of the hardware and probably better technical support than any 3rd party developer helps, but to condemn the Wii for its visuals is misdirecting your ire; blame bad art direction instead or, more accurately, uninspired art direction. Technology doesn’t make pretty pictures, design does.
Gameplay-wise Nintendo games also shine out. Sure, it’s hard to compete with that but most developers just seem to give up, in a defeatist, exasperated way. Has Nintendo somehow hired all the truly creative minds in our entire industry? I hardly think so. There is some amazing talent strewn across the globe. That inspirational spark of genius that often ignites Nintendo-made games can be fostered elsewhere, given the right working environment. That is to say, nurture your talent and avoid design by committee. I’m pretty sure every designer in the world has a few genius ideas of how to utilize the Wii’s control system, yet publishers are usually unwilling to allow these to be followed up on until some other company has already proven it to be a success.
So my message to developers and publishers is, in no small part due to my desire for more good Wii games to play, to make an effort! Put your better team on Wii titles. Develop them from the ground up, and don’t just make inferior ports of multiplatform titles. And stop crying over your spilled milk; the reason Nintendo seems to be ruling the Nintendo market is largely due to the lack of any real competition. With the surprisingly huge Wii install base, even if Nintendo earns a slice of your pie when you release a Wii title, there is a huge market of hungry gamers out there, gagging for quality products. Stop complaining and step up!