So Game Informer has revealed the cover of their December issue, and since it will be the last one of the decade, they went all out and created a three page cover featuring gaming’s most iconic characters of the last ten years.
One thing I noticed about this picture, almost no Japanese game characters. But as I wondered how Japan, the country who really created home consoles, could be excluded from a decade of gaming I began to realize how the landscape of game development has shifted from East to the West. Think of the biggest Japanese franchises in console gaming today. Final Fantasy, Ninja Gaiden, Pokemon, and of course, Mario reigning king among them. However, while all of these franchises have had an impact in gaming, they all began long before the 2000’s.
It makes you wonder, did they get excluded becuase they have their roots in the 90’s? or has Japanese gaming given up it’s throne to Western developers? Think about it, the platformer, long the domain of Mario and his friends, didn’t translate all that well to 3D (out side Mario’s games of course). But then the Prince of Persia series cam along and gave the genre some new life. The spirit of those games lives on now in the Assassin’s Creed games which is about to release it’s third iteration. For driving games, the Gran Tourismo series was the standard for hardcore racing fans. But thanks to endless delays, (The game was announced in 2005) the Forza Motor Sport games have stepped in and taken a foot hold. For the 3rd person action game, despite a fantastic 4th entry to the Metal Gear solid series, Sam Fisher or Nathan Drake, or Kratos and the God of War series is more recognizable than Solid Snake these days.
Not to mention the RPG genre, something the Japanese basically created and dominated through the 80’s and 90’s, is now dominated by the likes of Bethesda or Edmonton’s Bioware. And it’s been Bioware who has done the most to turn the RPG genre on it’s head. First with their Star Wars RPG and getting rid of turn-based combat. Then throwing all the turns out the window in the near perfect Mass Effect, an epic space opera that pushed the boundaries of the genre far beyond anything seen before.
I think part of the shift had to start with the one genre that Japan didn’t really participate in, the first person shooter. It’s gotta take a lot to move the proverbial centre of the universe from Japan to the West, and I think it started when console started making really good shooters. It took games like Halo 2 which made headlines for smashing single day entertainment sales records. Having games like Grand Theft Auto made headlines for sales and controversy definitely helped, but few would argue that the shooter market has done the most for both the industry and western developers.
Now with the industry headed into it’s new, if not ill-advised, shift to motion gaming, we’ll have to see who the leaders of the industry will be now that all the big players are going after people who have never played games before.