One of the things I’m fasinated about learning about is how an industry, especially one like the Game Industry works. I know the basics – you pay $40 for a game and $17-18 makes its way to the publisher – but the little intricacies fascinate me. There are two particular instances that get me.
The first instance was exemplified by the Circuit City ad I saw Sunday. I see that there’s a new PlayStation game out. It’s called Blaster Master: Blasting Again. It’s a 3-D sequel to the old NES game Blaster Master – you know, the one with the little kid with the tank that can jump into the air. Okay, that looks kinda neat and it’s interesting that it finally came out, especially since I saw this one last previewed over a year ago. I had just assumed it had come out or that it had been canceled. However, it was just recently released and – get this – Circuit City was selling it for $4.99. That’s not all – it retails for $9.99. They never intended this game to sell for more than ten bucks.
Now part of me assumued it must be a horrible game – Daikatana went through a similar fate, being the rare FPS debuting at $29.99 and quickly dropping down in price ($4.99 currently). However the other part of me wanted to buy it – if it sucks I’m only out five bucks.
Now here’s the real hell of it – I go to see what sort of “scene” there is for Blaster Master – every old game pretty much has a small “scene” behind it, with one or two pages being the “definitive” page for it. I found the Blaster Master Underground. This guy has been following everything surrounding Blaster Master for a while now. The last report he had on Blasting Again was back in September, when it looked like the financial status of the developer was going to keep the game from hitting U.S. shores. The only way this guy found out about the game being released was when people emailed him to tell him it was in Target. There was no press release, no pre-release reviews, no nothing. The only way anyoune found out about this game was when stores started carrying it. In the industry this is referred to as “sneaking it out the door”.
Sometimes this is for good cause – Take Two snuck the Dreamcast port of KISS: Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child out the door after reviews of the PC game labeled it a bland title with no innovation and they didn’t want to waste their time conjuring up a multiplayer mode for the game. Supposedly the original reason for sitting on Blaster Master last year was because of the hype surrounding the PS2. Why then release it? And at such a small price? Last year we started to see the beginnings of the $10 PSX game – but most of them were just further discounted Greatest Hits titles or crap games from budget publishers – the game industry equivalent of a pulp fiction or romance novel publisher. So was this also a crap game?
Well luck had it that Circuit City had a very affordable fax machine, something my wife has wanted for some time now, so we went to go get it and I sort of threw the Blaster Master game into the mix, much like a congressman pork barrelling a small act for his hometown on some legislation that will surely pass. I’ve only played it for a short time (no PSX memory card) and I can say this – for $5 this game ain’t half bad. It’s not going to take on Metal Gear Solid but it works.
The second phonomenon that fasicnates me, though it’s a little more believeable, is when a game is cancelled for publication at the last minute. The best example of this is the Dreamcast port of Half-Life, which Sierra had Gearbox Studios port for them. This game even had review copies distributed to reviewers. It had been bandied about back and forth – the biggest question being whether or not to include online multiplayer. It was decided to separate the game into two separate staggered relesases – one with single player only and the second with multiplayer only. Sierra even went forward with the release after Sega announced in January that they would be abandoning the Dreamcast. However, quite literally at the last minute Sierra cancelled the game by announcing it on a forum somewhere (a full press release later followed). The reason was understanable, if a little friustrating – they figured the game wouldn’t sell well since the Dreamcast had stagnated and was essentially an abandoned platform, and they didn’t want to lose any more money printing millions of copies and not selling most of them. They were willing to accept the loss of the costs involved in developing the port, but no further losses. It didn’t help that this all happened during the Tribes 2 fiasco. Gearbox then turned its energies to the PlayStation 2 port of Half-Life, which was just released.
But what’s even more fascinating is when the game itself still winds up in the hands of the public, albeit in an unauthorized fashion. When Virgin Interactive was purchased by Electronic Arts, EA did what all good mergers do – they went through and cut some of the projects in production, to make the company they just bought more efficient. Part of the 10% killed was a game called Thrill Kill. A figthing game that was designed to be ultra-violent for violence’s sake, it was first to be cancelled if for no other reason than it would probably be a huge liability (yet more parent’s group protests). However somehow an ISO disc image of the game made its way to the Internet and the game is an underground classic. Kemco secured the rights to code and publish Daikatana on the Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Color. The GBC version actually follows the events, levels and story of the PC game as closely as a Zelda wannabe game could. However, while ROM images for various versions of the game have been on the Internet for some time now, I have no evidence the game was ever released. It was never at any game store I was at and it was never on Gamestop.com, EBGames.com or Amazon.com. I think it was quietly canceled. How people got ahold of ROM images is beyond me (though I can guess it may have been released in other countries). The Nintendo 64 game was another “constructed from scratch” port which was originally only released to Blockbuster for rentals. This was something the Nintendo 64 saw a lot of towards the end. The publishers liked it because it meant that they were guaranteed to sell the copies they made – all of which were sold to Blockbuster. Blockbuster liked it because then they had an exclusive game. Some games released in this fashion went on to see retail release if they rented well – a way to “test the waters” so to speak. Daikatana 64 went on to make a limited retailer run.
In any event, I’m off to go listen to the KISS boxed set.