Monday, October 09, 2006

SOMETIMES THE BEST

How would Alexander the Great’s army have faired against the U.S. in Iraq? The American Army would have annihilated them in under an hour. Horses, arrows, and spears simply cannot compete against tanks, mortars, and machineguns.

By the same token, you cannot compare a game like the original Super Mario Bros. to the New Mario Bros. in a direct comparison.

An even better example would be to compare Carol Shaw’s breakthrough Activision hit River Raid against Namco’s Ace Combat Zero. The visual and technology make a head to head comparison impossible.

You can, however, compare the experience of playing these games. You can measure the excitement each game created in its time and historic situation.

For instance, I personally believe that FIFA Soccer for the 3DO is the most influential sports game of the last 20 years.

How would FIFA Soccer for 3DO compare against Winning Eleven or FIFA Soccer 07? It would not compare. In its day, the 3DO was an amazing system. Back then, however, the biggest consoles it had to stack up against were the Super NES and Genesis.

The 3DO version of FIFA Soccer included 3D stadiums, free-flowing play-by-play audio commentary, realistic audience response to goals. Remember, we are talking 1994. All of this was breakthrough material then.

Taken in their time and judged by the excitement and addiction they caused, I think Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Mike Tyson’s Punchout, and Tetris deserve to be known as the greatest games of their time and competitors for the greatest games of all-time. A list of other companies that created great games would need to include Square, Midway, Electronic Arts, Activision, Namco, Capcom, and on and on.

In short, I think Nintendo is the most important video game manufacturer ever and I believe that Nintendo published the three best games of all-time: The Legend of Zelda, Tetris, and Super Mario Bros. 3. Looking back historically, I do not believe that Nintendo created the most great games, however.

In my opinion, the company that created the most great games was SEGA.

Let me start by saying that I have never considered Sonic The Hedgehog on a par with Mario. I like Sonic. I think Sonic holds a great place in history. But in a battle between Sonic and Mario, the mighty plumber wins every round.

But let us take a step away from the battle of the mascots and look one shade deeper. Thanks to the popular success of its consoles, Nintendo got by with help from somewhat abused friends with Super NES and NES while SEGA had to go it alone. (Nintendo executives always said, "The name of the game is the game.”, but when their games could not get things done, they were not shy about turning to politics.)

Until Acclaim and Konami broke their treaties with Nintendo, Nintendo would not allow third-party publishers to publish games on Genesis and NES or Super NES simultaneously. Hence, games such as Tecmo Super Bowl, Super C, Batman, and Streetfighter II were either released exclusively on Nintendo systems or came out late on competing systems.

Witht few exceptions, most noteably Electronic Arts, SEGA had to go it alone.

Here is an example of how that made SEGA great. When the Super NES launched, Capcom provided a solid version of Final Fight. Unable to get its hands on Final Fight, SEGA responded with Streets of Rage.

I love Final Fight. I happen to consider Final Fight one of the most influential games of its time, but I greatly prefer Streets of Rage.

Forced to support the early days of Genesis alone, SEGA became a great innovator. Herzog Zwei, arguably the first RTS game, Sonic The Hedgehog, Mickey Mouse in Castle of Illusion, and Eternal Champions sprung from SEGA being forced to support itself while Nintendo had friends.

Despite having more support for Saturn, SEGA still showed innovation. As support for Saturn waned toward the end, however, the SEGA of old emerged. The last three games for Saturn were Panzer Dragoon Saga, Burning Ranger, and The House of the Dead. The House of the Dead and Burning Ranger suffered for the systems lack of power, but I believe Saturn left off on a brilliant level.

Then came Dreamcast. Allow me to repeat, THEN CAME DREAMCAST.

I believe that SEGA supported Dreamcast better than any single company has ever supported any console ever. From Sonic Adventure and Shenmmue to Space Channel 5 and Seaman, Dreamcast delivered and delivered and delivered.

The result of SEGA so often having to go it alone was a company that could boast such games as Phantasy Star, Shining the Holy Ark, Beyond Oasis, Legend of Oasis, SEGA Bass Fishing, NiGHTS, Samba de Amigo, NFL 2K1, Sonic Adventure, Panzer Dragoon, Burning Ranger, Daytona, Virtua Racing, Virtua Fighter 2, Virtua Cop, Space Channel 5, The Typing of the Dead, Crazy Taxi, Virtua Tennis, Jet Grind Radio, Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution, Seaman, Shenmue, Rez, and the list goes on and on.

Nintendo may have created the very best games, but I believe SEGA has the most great games on its resume. Forced to take risks to support its consoles, SEGA pushed innovation to new levels that Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo would never have dreamed of taking.

In recent years, SEGA has not been the risk taker it once was. Without a console to support, SEGA has settled back and become part of the pack. Manufacturing consoles forced SEGA to operate in the red from 1986 through 2003, but SEGA did near bankruptcy in style.

That is why I consider SEGA the greatest game maker of all time.

14 comments:

advancegrant said...

I think if someone would have asked me I would have said Nintendo, but after reading your post I agree with Sega as the answer.

Also - I am in the middle of your videogame history book - very interesting reading.

Steven Kent said...

I hope you enjoy the book. It's getting a bit long in the tooth as I first published it in 2000, the day before PlayStation 2 launched in the United States.

Sony was wise enough to update their console. Random House seems less interested in updating the book.

GoodRoads said...

YES, HELL YES, all of what you said has been in my mind in the past 8 or so years. Ive never been able to pin it down it words but what you said is dead on.

What kind of risks do you suggest that sega should take? Beacuse right now I couldnt even recongize a sega game from a budget random publisher/devolper.

Steven Kent said...

The thing that made SEGA great was that it was a company that could constantly surprise you. I don't know about you, but ToeJam and Earl caught me off guard. So did Ecco (though I confess I did not especially love the game, just the graphics), and even Eternal Champions.

Naka unleashed was a phenomanon on Saturn. How did you react the first time you played NiGHTS. Did you ever play Burning Ranger? The game wouold have been remembered as an all-time great had it had better graphics.

Then came Dreamcast. Today's SEGA would not plunk $45 million developing Shenmue (yes, the game ultimately failed and it exposed SEGA's spending problems, but that is my point, they have gone too far in the other direction.), and released Seaman and so many other games.

The entire 2K Sports line is another example. SEGA was willing to do what it took to make a viable online sports franchise. Those are the risks we no longer see out of SEGA.

Some of the spirit of SEGA left with Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Space Channel 5, Rez) and Rikiya Nakagawa (Golden Axe, and many great arcade games). They were great pioneers in gaming who lived for risk and gave gamers the unexpected.

They are missed.

Dr. Jones said...

Most definitely agreed.

Sega as hardware manufacturer was a different beast than the Sega we see today and will see in the future. In fact, I would go so far as to say that when they are not publishing games that are at least co-developed by Treasure, the amount of quality, original material coming from Sega will be on par with any other normal developer (in other words, not up to Sega's past levels).

But between the years of 1999 and 2001, Sega was freaking unstoppable. You are right on the money. The one thing I wish you would have reiterated more was the fact that Sega put out amazing game after amazing game on the Dreamcast IN TWO YEARS TIME.

They put out games like Samba de Amigo, Typing of the Dead, Virtua Tennis, Skies of Arcadia, Crazy Taxi, Chu Chu Rocket, Jet Grind Radio, Seaman, NFL2K1 and many more in less time than most kids finish middle school. That console also marked some of Capcom's greatest arcade style games (Power Stone, Marvel vs. Capcom, Mars Matrix, RE: Code Veronica).

I think what needs to be said about the Dreamcast is that it was the turning point in gaming. The Dreamcast was mostly about arcade style, fun, fast gameplay mixed in with the best graphics seen until the year 2001 and risky manuevers that pleased gamers like myself. But just as people are moving away from the arcades to stay at home, the market shifted away from Sega and without the help of people like EA, all the risky manuevers in the world couldn't save Sega.

It's a shame too, because Sega (in my eyes) created EA Sports. I cannot take anyone seriously who believes that the SNES versions of EA Sports games were better than the Genesis versions. It's unbelievable.

I don't know, I'm still reeling from the demise of the Dreamcast, because it's like everything I believed was good and right with gaming died with it. There is no more central location for all types of games I want to play anymore...

Sega Ronin for Life

Feargus Urquhart said...

Speaking from a very biased point of view, I'm actually really impressed with some of the recent decisions by Sega. Compared to a number of publishers out there, they are very interested to talk to developers about original game ideas. A lot of that has come from Simon Jeffrey, the current President of Sega of America, who has always been a great supporter of developers.

Feargus Urquhart said...

Speaking from a very biased point of view, I'm actually really impressed with some of the recent decisions by Sega. Compared to a number of publishers out there, they are very interested to talk to developers about original game ideas. A lot of that has come from Simon Jeffrey, the current President of Sega of America, who has always been a great supporter of developers.

thebuilder said...

Wow, great to see that you have a blog. I'm a big fan, and have been reading your stuff since you were publishing articles from The First Quarter in Next Generation. Keep on keepin' on.

thebuilder said...

Wow, great to see that you have a blog. I'm a big fan, and have been reading your stuff since you were publishing articles from The First Quarter in Next Generation. Keep on keepin' on.

Steven Kent said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steven Kent said...

Man, I started that column in 1996 as I recall. That was a long, long time ago. Thanks for sticking with me for so long.

-ben said...

The problem I have with your list is that half of Segas great console games are actually Arcade ports.

And if Sega holds the title to most best games... then they also hold the title to best worst sequels.

Sega repeatedly screws up their IPs whereas Nintendo constatnly improves them.

I can't think of one CONSOLE franchise that Sega has going for it. I mean yeah VF is probably the best fighting series out there but it is Arcade based. The 2k series depends from year to year. And there hasn't been a good Sonic game since SA.

Steven Kent said...

Yes, many of SEGA's great games are arcade ports. I am not sure why you would want to exclude arcade ports, especially as SEGA historically ported arcade hits quite well.

Think about it. If you remove arcade hits, what becomes of Midway. You take away Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, Biltz, and almost everything else that company has done.

I agree, SEGA has lot its way with Sonic. I think SEGA has lost its way in a lot of areas. Remember, I am the one saying that SEGA without hardware to support is hardly SEGA at all.

I will disagree with you on one franchise, though. I think Panzer Dragoon is as great now as ever.

thebuilder said...

Jumping in late here...
I have made a point of closely following the history and business habits of Sega more than any other publisher since the advent of the Master System, and my feelings regarding the company run deep. That said, I essentially agree with everything you have stated above. Sega made a point of, as you eloquently summated, delivering and delivering. They were a perfect (and ultimately rare) example of a company that exhibited a true love for its fans and for gaming, and demonstrated what could be done when monetary constraints did not figure into the equation.

But as far as I'm concerned, the Sega that I loved died with Isao Ohkawa and his generous donation of hundreds of millions from his personal fortune to cover the company's debts. It was as if they took that as their cue to get their act together. When all the figuring was done, this somehow meant abondoning the production of great games with unique concepts (Space Channel 5, Seaman, Samba de Amigo, etc). It is, as far as I'm concerned, one of the great yet tragic paradoxes of gaming history that Sega's triple-A efforts were ultimately determined to be unprofitable, and yet games such as the admittedly bad Sonic Heroes do well for them.

At the end of the day though, I do not blame Sega for this. Honestly, I believe that the blame falls on gamers. It was a massive failure on the part of gamers everywhere to seize what was, by all first-hand accounts, a shining future. The majority of gamers prejudiciously regarded Sega as a company incapable of delivering a quality gaming experience, and generally held them in abject esteem. I never once heard someone say "Yeah, the Dreamcast looks good, but I'd rather have a PS2." It was always "Sega/Dreamcast sucks. I'm waiting for PS2."

(sigh)

Well, at least it was fun while it lasted, huh?