TGS 2009: A Hot (Makuhari) Messe
This is my third year attending the Tokyo Game Show, and while I'll no doubt come back to the extremely lovely country of Japan, despite the rather large spiders that live here, I doubt I'll come back to TGS again.
Did I really have to travel to the opposite side of the globe to learn that THE PS3 VERSION OF BAYONETTA DOES NOT RUN AS WELL AS THE XBOX 360 VERSION DOES?
No joke, that was the extent of the big news and gossip here.
During a year in which E3 made its semi-glorious return to old form, when GDC San Francisco continues to grow like one of those magic sponge toys that you can soak in water overnight only to wake up to find a MUCH LARGER sponge toy in the same water glass the next morning; during an era when GamesCon in Europe retooled itself even though it really didn't have to retool itself and PAX announced an East Coast version of its nerdy gathering, it's hard to explain what went wrong with TGS this year.
But I'll try.
Exhibit A: Actual photo taken from the show floor on Thursday at 3:39 PM:
I've spoken with some of my colleagues about this. Some ideas as to what went wrong: The economy is bad here. Japanese developers, who once represented the cutting edge in the medium, have gotten in the habit of making the same game again and again. And there also seems to be a greater homogenization between the East and West now. You used to be able to come to TGS to find all kinds of crazy, nutty games that we knew would never see the light of day in the States. You used to be able to come to Tokyo to buy the latest hardware and software months, or sometimes years, before it ever reached U.S. store shelves.
Neither phenomenon holds true anymore. In fact, many of the games on the show floor are already out in the States.
Japanese developers also seem to be making conscious efforts to appeal more to U.S. gamers. Instead of these intense, nonsensical, but bizarrely gorgeous in their own way games that Japan is famous for, we're seeing Japanese developers borrowing heavily from Western games. Exhibit B: Quantum Space, a Gears of War rip-off from Tecmo. (See for yourself.) What kind of nutty, upside-down, backwards-ass world are we living in where Japanese developers are lifting ideas from Cliffy B.? Are pigs flying? Are yellow demons rotating on the tops of buildings?
Beyond that, look at the groundswell of Japanese publishers who are hiring North American developers to develop their games for them. Exhibit C: Capcom has hired Blue Castle Games in Vancouver to develop Dead Rising 2. Heck, Nintendo has been using Western developers for years, most recently, Next Level Games, who developed Punch-Out!! for the Wii.
Speaking of Nintendo, as usual, they were nowhere to be found at TGS. They never come to TGS, but I feel their absence was more pronounced this year than in previous years.
When arguably the most inherently Japanese of the Big Three console makers decides year after year that a convention in their own backyard isn't worth their while, that's says something. In a loud voice. One inch away from your ear.