Licensed Games I’d Want to Work On – Part 1: Panzer Dragoon0
Matt posted in Licensed Games I'd Want to Work On on December 23rd, 2006
I’m sure everyone owns a licensed game. I own my fair share, and most of them aren’t very good. Certainly there are exceptions (I’ve heard the Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay was a great game despite the movie was completely over the top), but on the whole they aren’t very good. I think part of this is that the money is spent on the license, not the development of the game, but often a license just doesn’t prove to be very game-y. For example, the Simpsons has spawned more games than most choose to remember (Simpsons Wrestling?), and although there are a few gems (Simpsons: The Arcade Game), most aren’t that great. Some are pretty decent, but they are usually loose usages of the license. When a license follows a movie, it’s difficult to take a lot of liberties. Although I would rather work on original content, if I had to make a licensed game, Panzer Dragoon is my first choice (more licenses will follow with later posts).
Firstly, I don’t know if this counts as a license since it’s a video game, but getting the rights to do an established video game franchise is very similar to making a licensed game. Sometimes, the company that owns the franchise will be very protective of their IP and will try to prevent you from taking a lot of liberties or moving the series in a direction that they think will damage their IP. Other times, it seems more like a publisher is less concerned about the quality and more concerned about making the game as quickly and as cheaply as possible. That seemed to be the case with Spyro and Crash after Naughty Dog and Insomniac stopped working on them.
At any rate, I love Panzer Dragoon. Panzer Dragoon Saga is one of my very favorite games, if not my favorite. If you couldn’t tell, you might want to read my glowing praise in an earlier post. The Panzer Dragoon games take place in such a unique world that is both beautiful and fascinating. The art direction has always been superb even on the early Saturn games even though due to hardware limitations, it was difficult to tell what the collection of polygons were supposed to be. Panzer Dragoon Saga had amazing cutscenes and is by far the best looking Saturn game technically. It’s graphics are so good, one might even mistake it for a Playstation game! (Although, the video codec leaves much to be desired, which is unfortunate since there’s a lot of pre-rendered video in Panzer Dragoon Saga) I paid over $100 for Panzer Dragoon Saga, and after playing it, I would have paid twice that. The post-apocalyptic world blends all the best things from science fiction and fantasy together to create one of the most immersive worlds out of any video game. (Microsoft, why haven’t you made Panzer Dragoon Orta backwards compatible yet?!?! The last update did include Psychonauts, which is good)
In the Panzer Dragoon Universe, the characters in the game are constantly living in the shadow of a civilization that destroyed itself with various weapons. Great empires have risen up, and they harness the ancients technology to rule and destroy. Dragons, another biological weapon created by the ancients, prove to be the ultimate weapon to fight the oppressive governmental regimes. It was amazing that even with the poor hardware of the Saturn (not to speak ill of the Saturn. It is one of my favorite consoles) that they were able to create such an amazing setting for some wonderful games. Another thing that aids the immersiveness is that all the characters speak a unique language. No, Sega wasn’t just lazy in its localization. All the characters are speaking a completely new language similar to how Tolkien created the Elvish tongue for Lord of the Rings. Panzer Dragoon has one of the most rabid fanbases that it’s amazing Sega hasn’t made Live Arcade versions of the original or Zwei (although they did release the original for Playstation 2, and it was included in Panzer Dragoon Orta). Doing a downloadable version of Saga would definitely be worth it since it’s a fantastic game, and would be pretty easy to port. Sure, it’s on 4 CDs, but if they replaced the terrible compression codec with something reasonable like MPEG 4 or VC1, the game would end up pretty small. Unfortunately, I think the series has slipped off everyone at Sega’s radar, so I doubt any of this will happen. Interestingly, besides Psychonauts, I would say Panzer Dragoon Orta is the most requested game for Xbox 360 backwards compatibility (kotaku, joystiq and IGN all mentioned it) . Microsoft finally delivered on Psychonauts, but why not Panzer Dragoon? (I imagine it’s difficult to emulate since it is very technically impressive, but I think it’s well worth the effort.)
Another amazing thing about Panzer Dragoon is the music. Think back to a time where most games were created with simple bleeps and blips. Panzer Dragoon’s orchestral scores were a great addition to the game made possible by the CD medium. It really gave you that epic feeling as you flew on the back of a dragon destroying all sorts of mutant creatures that fought you. If you listen closely, you can tell that it was sequenced from samples and not actually a live orchestra, but the music still holds up to this day as some of the best game soundtracks.
I was really planning on focusing on what would make working on the game cool, but instead I went on a fanboy rant about how great the games were without doing a good job at conveying anything about the game other than how awesome I thought it was. So, I guess I’ll take a step back and try and get you up to speed. The first two games as well as the last (Orta for the Xbox) were rail shooters. They have the standard firing mechanism in a lot of Sega games where you drag your cursor over a bunch of targets and release to fire a barrage of lasers at all the targets. You have limited control over the dragon, so you can avoid obstacles. The enemies come at you from 360 degrees, so you press the shoulder buttons to rotate all around the dragon. The shooter games were flawlessly executed. The action was fast paced, the controls were fluid, the bosses were huge, and the action was frenetic. This on top of all of my other glowing praise made some really amazing games.
Panzer Dragoon Saga was an epic RPG that is possibly the most under appreciated game ever made. It’s hard to say whether this or Final Fantasy VII is my favorite game, but although they are both epic RPGs, they are very different. Firstly, Panzer Dragoon Saga is short. Yes, it’s on four discs, but unlike Final Fantasy VII, you can fully complete the game in 15-20 hours. I’m not complaining about that. There’s no grinding, there’s no waiting – it’s 20 hours of pure gaming bliss. My only complaint is that there aren’t too many different moves to learn, weapons or items, but everything is balanced fantastically and the game is super fun, so it’s a minor one. Panzer Dragoon Saga has walking around segments, but a lot of the game is exploring on the back of a dragon, which is a lot more interesting to play (in my opinion) than just walking around. Panzer Dragoon Saga’s strong point (besides the wonderful world in which it takes place) is the battle system. I’ve enjoyed the battle systems in many RPGs (especially Final Fantasy VII), but Panzer Dragon Saga is by far my favorite. It is simple, maybe a little too simple (because of the aforementioned lack of weapons and moves), but it is extremely exciting. The way it works is there are three bars that can charge. You can bring up a menu at any time in order to execute moves. Each move uses up a certain number of bars, so if you want to use your special attack you have to wait for all three of your bars to charge up. Now, you’re probably wondering how just waiting for bars can be an exciting combat system. Well, while you are waiting, you can move into one of four positions (ahead, behind, left and right) around the characters you are fighting. One of the positions usually has the enemy’s weakpoint that you can attack for massive damage. One of them is where their attacks are particularly potent. Other directions can be safe for your character. So, while you are waiting for your meters to charge, you and the enemy are trying to adjust positions in order to put the other combatant at a disadvantage. When you are shifting, your meters are no longer charging, so it’s important that you don’t just keep circling the enemy to avoid all of its fire. It’s hard to explain why this works out so well, but it really creates extremely exciting combat. No longer are you just staring at bars or menus, but you are constantly jostling for position with the enemy. Although that may not sound all that engaging, Team Andromeda’s execution works phenomenally well. You’ll have to play it for yourself to fully understand what an excellent system this is.
So, I’ll stop waxing poetic about the wonders of Panzer Dragoon in order to get to the intent of this article. Why would this be my first choice of a license to work on? (Although, I may be stretching the definition of a license) It should be painfully apparent that I am an enormous fan of Panzer Dragoon, and it’s always good to work on something that you are excited about. At Heavy Iron, I was glad that I was working on The Incredibles games rather than Spongebob Squarepants. I’m not really a fan of Spongebob, but I really love The Incredibles movie, so that was much more exciting to me. One of the reasons I wanted to work for High Impact besides that they had an amazing team was that they were making a Ratchet game, and I love Ratchet and thought this would be my only chance to work on Ratchet. (I wasn’t aware at the time that Insomniac was going to continue making Ratchet games) Unlike many other licenses, Panzer Dragoon is a license that lends itself well to making a game. (Did anyone play Toys the game based on the Robin Williams movie for Super Nintendo?) That may be obvious since it already was a game, but I think too often people neglect that when choosing a license. THQ made a poorly received game based on the Polar Express (I enjoyed IGN’s review because they mentioned that it made The Incredibles look “golden by comparison”), and although the movie may have been a good license from a financial standpoint (it had a lot of marketing budget behind it), it doesn’t really lend itself well to the interactive entertainment medium. Sure, maybe someone could have made a better game with the license, but I certainly didn’t envy the developers when I found out they were working on that game. Licenses can give you many advantages, which is why they are so popular. The main benefit is cross promotion and mindshare from the movie’s marketing, since the movie industry spends more money on marketing than games because despite what people say, the movie industry still is much larger than the games industry. It also can give you a fan base and a story or characters that are already well developed, so you save time and effort there. But, if you choose the wrong license, it makes the design of the game much more difficult. So, Panzer Dragoon has been proven with each iteration that it makes a great game.
Another reason is that the universe is something I’d like to explore creatively. I love the universe so much, I’d like to immerse myself in it only to expand it, to create it, to shape it in a way that I choose. I feel that I could do something that would do Team Andromeda proud, and if not, I don’t think anyone else could do better since Team Andromeda was abolished as was Smilebit (the developers of Panzer Dragoon Orta, which had several members from the original Team Andromeda). The gameplay featured in both the rail shooter and the RPG was really solid and leaves me as well as others wanting more. It certainly doesn’t seem like Sega has another Panzer Dragoon title in the works, so I would love to fill that Panzer Dragoon shaped hole in my own as well as others lives. Plus, you know what they say – if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. I’m not sure if any development team would do it justice. Unfortunately, a number of classic Sega franchises have been disappointments recently. Did anyone play Virtual On Marz? How about Shadow the Hedgehog? When the new Sonic game came out, I died a little inside. To be fair, I haven’t gotten a chance to play the released version, but the demo was really rough, and I heard not much changed for the released game. (I may write an article about what I’d want to do if I had the Sonic license) I’m very nervous about what may happen to Golden Axe, another one of my personal favorites that I would love to work on. (Secret Level, a recent Sega acquisition, is making a next-gen sequel called Golden Axe Riders, but little is known outside a few pictures.)
Well, I could go on, but all this talk of Panzer Dragoon really makes me want to hook up my Xbox and my Saturn and play all the games over again.