We’re always moaning that things aren’t as good as they used to be. Because it's true. Even if that earlier iteration of that thing we liked only happened five minutes ago, we were younger then, and even 300 seconds of nostalgia is a powerful thing. Yeah, it’s just perception, but what the hell else is reality, at the end of the day?
It’s not always just a vain flailing for times gone by though. With game devs, it’s often because talent moves on. Company names remain the same of course, but sometimes it just isn’t the same company any more. We’re seeing it happen with Infinity Ward right now, so we thought we’d check out a few other cases and see how badly those studios suffered the loss of their best and brightest.
Above: Even before HD, Rare were great. Actually, make that especially before HD...
In the glory days made: Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, every other amazing non-Nintendo N64 game you can think of.
But recently: Has made a few disappointing 360 games before disappearing into the background at Microsoft, presumably to work on Natal stuff.
Who’s missing? Remember when everyone moaned that 360 launch title Perfect Dark Zero wasn't as good as the original Perfect Dark and Goldeneye? There’s a reason for that. It might have had the Rare badge on the box, but a barrage of the guys who made those pioneering skull perforation simulators had left the company years before its development started.
Above: Forget Bond. Last-gen it was all about gangsters and monkeys
Head of Software Martin Hollis went to Nintendo of America in 1998. A large chunk of Goldeneye and Perfect Dark’s designers left to form Free Radical Design in 1999 – explaining why Timesplitters 2 was more fitting follow-up to the two Rare FPS than Perfect Dark Zero ever was. Seven designers had already jumped ship for Eighth Wonder in 1997, and signed a deal with Sony. Throw in the departure of company founders Chris and Tim Stamper in 2007, and you’ve now got a Rare very rarely reminiscent of its 64-bit self.
How badly has Rare suffered? In traditional black and white terms, pretty heavily. Rare’s game output hasn’t been anything like as frequent or consistent this generation. Though to be fair, it has now been refocused on design and development projects within Microsoft (Xbox Avatars, say hello), and it could be argued that the loss of the Goldeneye boys wasn’t that big a deal, given how Timesplitters 3 and Haze turned out.
Above: The XBLA version. Justin could tell this by the naked eye
In the glory days made: Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, NiGHTS, Samba De Amigo
But recently: Has made a load of old shit
Who’s missing? Sonic Team’s structure has been melting for a very long time, to the point that these days it's more a brand name that a coherent and regular set of developers. None of the original Sonic the Hedgehog creators remain. Naoto Oshima left in the mid-‘90s to form Artoon. Original game designer Hirokazu Yasuhara left for Naughty Dog in 2002. And most recently, Yuji Naka, the most widely-recognised godfather of Sonic, scooted off to create his own studio, Probe. Oh, and he took ten other people with him.
How badly has Sonic Team suffered? See below.
Above: Yeah. Yeah that is what it looks like. Rather mortifyingly
Above: Bright, brash, and cleverly designed. That was the Capcom of old
In the glory days made: Street Fighter II, Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts, Mega Man, Resident Evil 4, Devil May Cry, Okami, Viewtiful Joe, Godhand
But recently: Has made Street Fighter IV, Mega Man download games, and a load of not-as-good versions of its last-gen games. Oh, and Lost Planet 1 & 2, for some reason.
Who’s missing? Platinum Games, essentially. Those last five games on the glory days list? All headed up by people who left Capcom to create the Japanese indie dream team. Remember Clover Studio, the now religiously-revered Capcom team responsible for Viewtiful Joe and bastion of all that is right and pure, Okami? Remember how Capcom shut it down after its fantastic games failed to sell as well as expected?
Above: The face of progress
Well at the time, it contained Resi 4 Director Shinji Mikami, DMC creator Hideki Kamiya and Phoenix Wright, Godhand and Okami man Atsushi Inaba. Capcom, say goodbye to your greatest design talents. Along with a whole bunch of other ex-Clover devs, those three set up Platinum. So far they’ve given us the disappointing Madworld, the incandescently fantastic Bayonetta, and are currently lining up Mikami’s batshit third-person shooter Vanquish.
How badly has Capcom suffered? Significantly. Without Mikami, Resident Evil 5 didn’t have half the ideas or flair of its predecessor. Without Kamiya, Devil May Cry 4 was a sluggish and increasingly-anachronistic retread of previous entries (embarrassingly so when compared to Kamiya’s evolution of the genre with Bayonetta), and most of Capcom’s other big releases have been farmed out to western third-party devs. And have usually been a bit crap. Only the Street Fighter series remains as good as ever.
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