Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Nobody Knows Anything

30 09 2009

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Here’s a little story. Back when I was working at Interplay, my then boss Bob Picunko (who’s now a big muckity-muck over at MTV) came into my office to talk about a game that he had heard that Disney was working on with Square Enix. It was called Kingdom Hearts and it combined Disney characters with Final Fantasy characters which on the surface sounds like most ridiculous combination around. Both of us dismissed the idea as something that would never work. Well, we were wrong. Kingdom Hearts turned out to be a smash hit and easily one of my all-time favorite PS2 games. Sometimes the strangest combinations come out of left field to knock your socks off (if I may mix my metaphors there).

Now of course, Kingdom Hearts is a mega-successful franchise that’s treasured and no doubt championed by many inside Disney and Square. Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan and all that. On the release of the latest iteration of the franchise though, it’s worthwhile to remember that this was not an idea that most people would have initially championed. I have enormous respect for my former boss — Bob’s the kind of smart, savvy guy I’d follow off a cliff and nobody knows games better, but he totally missed this one. Without blowing my own horn, I know gaming pretty well too and I dismissed Kingdom Hearts at first. Everyone in this industry has that kind of story — the one they totally missed.

Conversely, there are opposite stories as well. Ray Kassar, the head of Atari who presided over the original company’s destruction in the late ’70s was also the guy who essentially invented the home console port with the Atari 2600 Space Invaders. It behooves us all then to show a little humility sometimes, realizing that nobody really knows anything. We can make our best guesses, apply our facts and figures and bring all our experience to bear and still miss the forest for the trees. And sometimes we just get lucky because there’s a person or a team out there that everyone laughs at with a vision. In the mean time, if you’ve never played Kingdom Hearts — go do so and thank me later. If you have, enjoy the new game. I know I will!

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Steve Jobs Going after the Gaming Market — Seriously

10 09 2009

Dean Takahashi over at VentureBeat is reporting that Steve Jobs has finally set his sights on the gaming market. Apparently Jobs emphasized in a a New York Times Interview that the new iPod Touch is being repositioned as a game machine to compete with the Nintendo DSi and the new PSP. Not a bad pivot for a product that had ceased to have any reason for existing. Based on the report, Jobs seems serious this time — or at least as serious as he can be given that the iPod and the iPhone are rapidly turning into game machines whether he likes it or not.

Steve Jobs fascinates me (as he does many people). I believe he is what Robert X. Cringely referred to as a “positively-oriented sociopath.” That means that everyone in Jobs’ world has really been placed here for him to manipulate, use and discard at his whim — and that includes his customers. His mercurial nature is legendary and the products he produces are equally legendary for being built around Steve’s quirks (think about the original Mac being unable to network). The Mac hasn’t been taken seriously as a gaming machine simply because Jobs isn’t a gamer, doesn’t take gaming seriously and has always thought gaming to be an “impure” use for his machine.

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His influence was so powerful over the character of Apple as a company, that even when he wasn’t around, no gaming initiative Apple ever launched could find any traction. Every few years Apple announces that it’s finally taking gaming seriously and will be providing developers with the support and the APIs they need to turn the Mac into a world-class gaming machine. The result is always the same — the effort fizzles out and PC gamers go back to their beige boxes and the thousand shocks they’re heir to.

This could be different. The Apple iTouch could be the lower-priced entry to the world of the App store and with iPhoen games being cheaper to produce and sell, they’re starting to look really attractive to big game companies who are starting to seriously support the platform. Given that the huge pile of money that Nintendo floats on is produced in large part by their dominance in the handheld space, I’d imagine that there are a lot of sweaty and uncomfortable meetings happening in Japan right now. The irony of all this, of course is that if Apple does become a big player in the gaming market, it’ll happen despite, not because of Jobs’ genius. Of course if it works, he’ll still get the credit and claim this was his plan all along.

Knowing Jobs, he’ll probably believe it.

Update: Just got this Tweet from a friend over at IGN:

Phone just failed the impulse gaming test. Tried to buy 2 games but they were too big to download over the air. Sales lost.

Yeah. That’s a problem and something that if Jobs is really serious about turning the iTouch into a gaming platform. He’s going to have start imposing some uniform standards for apps in addition to actually providing developer support. It should be interesting to see just how serious he is with this.

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