Over the weekend, I spent some time watching this video:
Looking at my fellow GAMBIT bloggers' posts about the future-retro (as opposed to retro-future ) Mega Man 9, I'm struck by the warmth and appreciation felt for this older game. While the video makes a lot out of youthful nostalgia (could there be anything more full of nerdly tenderness than the line "The courage that you gave me is 110 million*"?), I don't think this is just about recovering some lost (if-ever-present) ephemeral innocence. As Darius Kazemi points out in the comments , we may not just talking about a reference or aesthetic redesign: the principles of play and game design, even sticking within 2D genre conventions, are substantially different between generations. The capabilities of the hardware not only change players' expectations, but also what kinds of affordances developers have to work with; and with this realization, looking back doesn't always have to mean restraint.
So if we've got an international appreciation for these games that includes dedicated groups of fans creating emotional and technological tributes to these games, I wonder what Capcom might be able to do to re-connect these fan practices to the launch of their new game? We know Capcom is both capable and willing of fantastic experimentation in their game design (Dead Rising's apparently-controversial save system; I loved it, for what its worth) as well as with their franchises (the successful transition of Resident Evil from horror-adventure to horror-action). I wonder if that spirit and freedom to experiment extends to their ability to manage community and to implement elements of social design?
Sure, they could create lots of Official MEGA MAN OLD SCHOOL t-shirts, and that would make sense. They'd be silly to ignore the possible coordination from reaching out to The Minibosses or The Advantage . In his post here, Kevin suggests linked leaderboards and multiplayer action similar to Dino Run. But if they really wanted to get these people interested in pushing MM9, why not push further: Allow users to record gameplay sessions, mix and edit them? Include new background music, or even gasp include a 2d level editor in the package? If you think I'm crazy, let's look at some of the game-related fan media that might be relevant.
First off, last year was a smashing success for the development and profile of indie games all-around. While to some it may have appeared to be a recent arrival, that's missing a vast wealth of releases extending many years back. For several years now, that trend has included a spate of fantastic and thrilling meditations on 8-bit game design: Cave Story , La Mulana , Knytt and Knytt Stories", I Wanna Be The Guy , You Have To Burn The Rope . I swear to you each of these is worth the time you put into them, and each is a sign that there's a given chunk of players who are still eager and interested in these games, old and new gamers alike.
But even outside the semi-official 'independent gaming' sphere, there's been a lot of attention on that generation of games. I can't help but think that much of the retro-revival of games of the past decade or so have been fueled in part by the relative availability of emulation and the ability to re-live games of yesteryear. Emulation has been in a legal grey area for the duration of its existence, Nintendo claims that there is no legitimate purpose for the existence of these emulators and Nintendo's desire to keep a lock on its IP in all forms is well-documented to the point of legend . And as the ever-insightful Anna Anthropy points out Mega Man has been the subject of significant games-specific fan works, including full-fledged remakes.
While I do admire WiiWare's extension of older libraries, it seems fairly obvious to me that emulators have creative capabilities outside their potential for use as piracy devices, and have let fans contribute unique -- and stunning-- bits of game-culture. The videos shown above, containing sprites and backgrounds and music from the games. We might also point to the incredible work done in tool-assisted speedruns. The presence of resulting quicksave, frame-by-frame, and movie-making features have allowed for some amazing level design, creative animations, emotive musical mashups, and -frankly- ridiculous levels of awesomeness.
Games (or perhaps more accurately, modded levels) like Air and SMF rely on those features not just for the creation of the games, but even for their playback.
Super Mario Forever (NSFW, beautiful use of English cursing):
Game Set Watch linked in 2006 to a remarkable video of someone using emulator technology to complete Mega Man X and X2 'simultaneously', by using the same input sequence in both games, a feat only possibly due to the unique procedural implementation of game movies in emulation:
Since those features aren't included in WiiWare titles, does that imply an eventual dying-out of the speedrun/mod communities? Doubtful, since they've thrived in their current web-based niche in the intervening years. More likely is a bifurcation of the potential audience, a loss of potential awesomeness,
One of the tools that Xbox Live has been pitching heavily since GDC is the ability to record gameplay videos; could similar features in WiiWare act as a recognition from companies like Capcom to the players that have, by their apparent admission, kept the embers going? While some recent statements made may reflect doubt on Nintendo's insights into their fanbase, there are plenty of smart and forward-thinking folks there as well. I should be careful not to conflate Nintendo and Capcom too closely here, but then again, both would play a substantial gatekeeping role in determining what the future potential of networked console play could be like.
One angle I don't quite have a handle on is the differences between American 'fans' and Japanese 'Doujin'. I suspect any analogy between Doujin works and American fan media only goes so far, especially in terms of legal status and corporate acceptance, and could shape this discourse very heavily. One thing I'm aware of is that many current manga and anime creators started in Doujinshi, and that there's a long history of Japanese homebrew and independent game development (well-curated and tracked these days by the likes of Brandon Sheffield and Vincent Diamante on the blog/news site Insert Credit. This does seem parallel to the fact that many game designers, artists and programmers in the PC game development world get their starts in modding communities.
In a specifically American context, we do have a possible comparison for a move of this type. In Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins discusses the LucasArts contests for official remixes of Star Wars footage. These kinds of top-down mechanisms don't have to spark a massive cultural movement; they can provide the hook for participation that often create stronger long-term communities. It can present challenges if you're of a prohibitionist mindset, but arguably a decent set of tools could be designed such that one would have to aim for at least subtlety in their slash, if that's the route they went. Regardless, this kind of participatory design seems like something you might want to implement when trying something new in a long-tail-cum-niche-oriented (Geoff, you will have to better explain the distinction to me here!) distribution scheme like WiiWare, mais non?
Alas that there is little I can divine about the original singers/remixers/compilers of these videos, as the youtube trails run cold, and my little brother refuses to translate the japanese for me right now. And as for the legal travails of such a movement, while I was collecting these videos, I found a number of them deleted between this weekend and this morning. Was it Capcom, or Nintendo perhaps? Could it have been the original host of the videos, Nico Nico Douga, biting the Youtube hand that fed it? Youtomb, the courage that you give me is 110 million! .
*I've seen the line translated in other videos as "a thousand million" and "infinite", but I think the point maintains.