Namco Bandai’s Iwai On Western Development And The Future Of Enslaved

By Spencer . February 10, 2011 . 2:32pm

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Yesterday, we posted our interview with Makoto Iwai, Bandai Label President, where we discussed the From Software publishing agreement and Namco Bandai’s partnerships with other external developers. Today’s topic is a little closer to home, it’s about Namco Bandai Games America’s internal studio. First announced as Surge, Namco Bandai’s Western studio made its debut with Afro Samurai in 2009 and recently finished work on Splatterhouse.

 

Iwai and Carlson Choi, Vice President of Marketing, address those topics and what’s next for Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.

 

Can you talk discuss the partnership with Capcom for Tekken X Street Fighter and Street Fighter x Tekken?

 

Carlson Choi, Vice President of Marketing: Have you been following Ono’s twitter channel? Did you see the attack?

 

Yeah, he walked into your office armed with the Dead Rising 2 spiked bat and knife gloves!

 

CC: He walked into the office and the next thing you know he’s like where you’re Tekken community manager? Where’s Rich! And I’m like what? He got into the board room and made a scene. I think for us Capcom is an exciting partnership. From Software is a great start. Saban [Power Rangers] is a great start. There is much more news company. That partnership is for multiple years and you’re going to see a lot of great things we’re  going to be doing as partners.

 

How did the Capcom X Tekken idea start in the first place?

 

Makoto Iwai, Bandai Label President: That’s more because of the small world of developers, they go out and get drinks. Haruda and Ono have known each other for many years and always talk about the future and cooperation. That came to be realized at last. The conversation started a long, long time ago.

 

We’ve seen a lot of partnerships with Japanese developers, but what will happen to Namco Bandai Games America’s internal studio?

 

MI: Unfortunately, it’s always a business. Business is always looking for results and if you come out with not good results, then you have to think about the alternatives. We are in a stage where we have to reconsider how we are going to build US development, internally and externally. Don’t misunderstand, we haven’t extinguished the fire yet. We still have a dev. team doing the work together with the teams in Japan. It’s not like the US is doing their own thing and Japan is doing their own thing. It’s more like collaboration between the two groups. Though the size of the group is small, our hope for the group is someday we can bring the small fire to a big flame.

 

Specifically when talking about results, how do you feel about games like Enslaved, which felt like they were geared more for the West than Japan?

 

MI: It’s hard to say black or white. Results are everything for a business unit, so we have to face it. But, we are proud of ourselves for being able to launch that game. The sales side wasn’t as good as expected, but the reviews were good and everybody loved it. Maybe… after the launch, always regrets come, but you can’t focus on those. We feel that we did a great job that we launched that game.

 

CC: Let me add to that. From an Enslaved perspective, it’s a good example. Quality is key and our mission is to bring the best quality. It’s an 80+ rated title [on Metacritic] it did extremely well from a game quality standpoint. At DICE, which is coming next week we got six nominations. It speaks to the one element that is critical, which is the quality of the game.

 

To answer that question of the challenge of the unit number it really didn’t do what we anticipated. To be perfectly frank, I think as a company prior to us reforming this organization, going to market, I think the game went to market at a very busy season. It launched in the midst of a busy holiday season. Last year, there were like 4000+ games for consoles. We didn’t do a good job finding the right time for it because when you look at the quality of the game it speaks for itself. An 80+ rated game is guaranteed a hit. We got DLC that came out that got 10 out of 10. Ultimately, I think that game had the quality needed to address the gamers. I think it’s a matter of getting into the market at the right time, which is something you will see us do much better. Even this morning with some of the announcements, we’re getting ourselves ahead of schedule letting you know when its coming and incorporating community communication.

 

enslaved

 

I think some of my readers would agree about the level of quality. Moving forward, since Enslaved is considered as one of the quality IPs that Namco Bandai owns, do you think there is a future for the it?

 

CC: You tell me, do you think gamers want more? I can assure you, a title like Enslaved, and every title we’ve worked on in the past we’re going to re-examine them and say what is the potential for the game? We’ve been doing a lot of studies, consumer engagement, and community engagement… let’s put it this way one of these days stay tuned there will be more news to come.


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  • SolidusSnake

    I can’t speak for all gamers but I would absolutely love to see more of Enslaved. I agree that the quality speaks for itself.

    • Aara_Malik_Davoodi

      I just hope more people see the quality and buy the game. I loved the game so much even I was disappointed in the sales, and they don’t affect me in any way.

  • BelmontHeir

    I think Enslaved could have stood for some better marketing. Did anyone bother to read the copy writing for some of the game’s two-page ads in magazines? The writing was pretty bad and blatantly redundant. “In a world where machines rule and people live in fear of machines, you are a man with a device planted on your head by a woman…a woman controls the device on your head and you must do as she says, or die…”

    • z_merquise

      That description would definitely give a wrong impression to most people, that’s for sure.

    • SolidusSnake

      I don’t read gaming magazines, but that ad makes the game sound like some freaky S&M simulator.

  • Yui

    I can’t be the only one who thinks “yes, finally, some business sense from Namco Bandai!” when reading that sentence about more appropriately timed market releases, can I?

  • http://tristsantithesis.tumblr.com/ Tsunayoshi Sawada

    I think if they can incorporate some form of addictivie multiplayer on it in the future, then it will be a blockbuster hit. I know I would be intrigued to play the game.

    • Kris

      I’m going to have to disagree on this. How long did you play the multiplayer in Bioshock 2? Metal Gear Solid 4? Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena?
      Games don’t always need multiplayer, since there are already so many games out there that have the multiplayer audience’s attention.

      I’d rather see the development time put into a solid singleplayer experience, not a silly online multiplayer component that will be forgotten in a week. Besides, what would the narratively driven Enslaved do with multiplayer? Combat and traversal weren’t really that complex or rewarding. I would recommend checking Enslaved out anyway though, you can find it for like 20 bucks.

      • SolidusSnake

        I completely agree with you. I feel that there’s way too much emphasis on multiplayer this generation. Yes, there are a few games that have been blockbusters based on their multiplayer alone, *cough* mw2 *cough*, but there are still plenty of people who appreciate a solid, well-made single player campaign. Me, I’d take one Vanquish or Enslaved over 20 new installments of COD.

        I can understand the temptation of developers to try to cash in on the online gaming craze, but in some cases it just unnecessarily diverts time and money that would be better spent on refining and improving the campaign mode. None of the games you mentioned are going to be the next COD or Halo, and there is a substantial risk of missing the intended audience by wasting resources on a half-assed multiplayer mode.

        • http://tristsantithesis.tumblr.com/ Tsunayoshi Sawada

          I guess the plenty of people “who appreciate a solid, well-made single player game” failed to buy the games for neither Vanquish nor Enslaved set the charts on fire.

          Companies are large enough where they can give another studio the opportunity to make the multiplayer mode, ATVI and ERTS do it.

          • SolidusSnake

            You seem to be implying that they would have set the charts on fire if some shitty, half-assed multiplayer mode had been tacked onto them. So much for “koala tea,” eh?

          • http://tristsantithesis.tumblr.com/ Tsunayoshi Sawada

            They would have, there are no other big name heavily marketed traditionally single player game series that had a sequel with multiplayer incorporated in it, that sold less than their original counterparts…though in comparison to those original entries, Enslaved still sold worst….

          • Aara_Malik_Davoodi

            @Tsuna: Just because the sequel sold better and the sequel had multiplayer does not mean the sequel sold better because the sequel had multiplayer.

          • https://twitter.com/#!/Ojsinnerz Firo_Prochainezo

            TS, you’re going to loveeeeee Tony Hawk:Shred.

          • SolidusSnake

            Not gonna waste time arguing with you. Stop trolling and go back to your damn Black Ops.

          • mirumu

            I appreciate solid, well-made single player games, but to me at least Vanquish and Enslaved just didn’t appeal for various reasons. And yes, I didn’t buy them. A poor multiplayer mode would have only put me off even more.

      • Aara_Malik_Davoodi

        Yes Yes YES! Companies shouldn’t add in multiplayer just so they can say they have it. If it’s not good, I’d much rather you spend the time, money and effor on enhancing the single-player. (Hell, I didn’t even know MGS4 had multiplayer) But Assassin’s Creed, Bioshock, and even the just released Dead Space, no one plays the multiplayer anymore; waste of resources methinks

        • raymk

          I find it funny that no one mentions RE5 which had multilayer tacked on to it. Although i know plenty of people that play that with multilayer. Bio shock 2 is just not a good game in general to me.

          • Aara_Malik_Davoodi

            That just shows how worthless of an addition it was…

          • kupomogli

            I have actually yet to play RE5 one player(aside from Mercenaries which is the only mode I have played multiple times by myself.) A friend and I have beaten the game through twice as well as finishing a few difficulties on Desperate Escape and Lost in Nightmares. This is one game that’s actually a lot more fun playing two player.

        • kupomogli

          You must be talking about Uncharted if you’re talking about people not playing multiplayer, as Uncharted has no multiplayer. People are always playing multiplayer on Uncharted 2. When signing on, it even tells you how many people have logged in to play an online match in the last 24 hours, ranging from 35,000 to 60,000.

          Every time I go on to play Uncharted 2 I have no problems getting in a game. Who cares that Uncharted 2 isn’t like Call of Duty and there are over 500,000 players daily. Does it really matter? 35,000 or 500,000, you’re still going to play different people. Atleast with Uncharted 2 you don’t have 500,000 people trying to get into a game but can’t due to the terrible servers.

          • Aara_Malik_Davoodi

            Actually, I was referencing Uncharted 2. (Notice I didn’t add the 2 to Bioshock either or the suffix to AC) And really? I just tried to get into an Uncharted game and I literally could not find a match to join. For a month or two after it came out there was lots of people, but it’s slowly died down and now, like I said, I can’t find a match. What region are you in?

          • http://tristsantithesis.tumblr.com/ Tsunayoshi Sawada

            How are you unable to find a match. Youre in the US I thought and there are always no less than thousands on all the time (since its worldwide servers I think too). If you couldnt find a match then it was probably an issue with your connection potentially since I think it pairs one up with like connection speeds when one connects after each game.

            Its nowhere near empty as there would be no point for them continually doing the LAB experiences every other week and providing continuous updates on it on the naughty dog website…

          • malek86

            I don’t think many people bought UC2 for multiplayer. However, once you have the game, some might as well have tried the multiplayer mode, and maybe they liked it enough to keep playing…

            … so, if anything, adding a multiplayer mode could be a way to (very slightly) decrease the number of used copies circulating and the amount of people renting the game instead of buying it. And if people are half-interested in the multi, then it might also be a way to get them to buy the game sooner (when the community is still active) instead of waiting for a price drop.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1472407455 Charles Lupula

            Let me test out your theory. Playing in Brooklyn, New York.

            10:02AM: Booted up Uncharted 2.

            10:03AM: Clicked on multiplayer. The connecting screen appears.

            10:03AM: Clicked on matchmaking. Room is almost full in only a few seconds.

            ]10:04AM: Asks me to vote for what map. Game starting in 9 seconds.

            I guess people are still playing it.

            EDIT: 10:18 – my team lost.

          • Aara_Malik_Davoodi

            Fine, people still play Uncharted. I clearly extrapolated off of too little data. I’ll edit that game off of my original post.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1472407455 Charles Lupula

            I will admit that I, personally, almost never play the multiplayer in Uncharted 2. It’s not what I bought the game for. It was purely for the single player experience. That said, my experiment did prove that there are a lot of people playing it since it took less than 20 seconds for the room to fill up.

      • https://twitter.com/#!/SplashdownTiger STiger

        Metroid Prime 2 could have been better had they removed the multiplayer aspect.

      • http://tristsantithesis.tumblr.com/ Tsunayoshi Sawada

        I think the age of the single player game is already swiftly spiraling to its demise. Games need multiplayer to keep us hooked and playing more.

        Developers are also large enough where they can dish out the multiplayer component to a team and the single player experience to a team. From 2009 and onwards there have been numerous examples of games that have maintained their excellent solid single player groundbreaking experiences while incorporating addictive and fun multiplayer modes. Verily, with dedication, motivation, and fun gameplay, a solid and long lasting multiplayer experience can be created to complement narrative driven single player campaigns. There is enough proof that people can not have too many multiplayer experiences, if the that which you are implying was the case then online modes would be on the decrease and servers and support dropping as swiftly as ERTS does each year for sports games of yesteryears.

        • SolidusSnake

          I hate you.

          Edit: I’m not trying to be inflammatory, but seriously, when you come on to a post extolling the quality of a truly excellent single player game and post “LOL SINGLE PLAYER SUX BLACK OPS FTW!!!!” with the aid of a thesaurus, it really, REALLY makes you look like a douche. Go back to gamefaqs or amazon’s VGF if you’re gonna pull this crap.

        • BelmontHeir

          If only the age of ill-informed and bone-headed comments exaggerating the “decline” of single-player games was coming to an end. ;D

          • http://tristsantithesis.tumblr.com/ Tsunayoshi Sawada

            Well its a tough pill to bite, but its true, just look to the newly announced games from Namco Bandai, notice how few single player games were unveiled; I just see Dark Souls and even that has some element of “multiplayer interactivity,” and publishers have even sad it, did not Square Enix say, “all their games going forward would have multiplayer in them?”

          • No9

            Multiplayer does NOT have to be in every game for the game to sell well. Heck I never even touched multiplayer in a ton of games that just tacked them on. The only games that people will keep playing are games that have a heavy focus on multiplayer i.e. Call of Duty and Medal of Honor. Do you honestly think anyone is playing Singularity or Resident Evil online? Or bought those games for the online mode? Also, Square is releasing Deus Ex and that game has no multiplayer. Not to mention Namco is releasing Knights Contract and Asura Wrath and neither have multiplayer.

          • http://tristsantithesis.tumblr.com/ Tsunayoshi Sawada

            @Tim L. The servers for Singularity dont seem to be offline so people must still be playing it. Isnt Deus Ex an Eidos game and in development before Square Enix acquired them, so I think its excluded. Knights Contract wasnt announced recently as I indicated, and Asura’s Wrath has barely any details so how is multiplayer ruled out for it already, it may not have online but it doesnt say anything about local…

            What game released in 2010 that lacked any form of multiplayer local, online, or co-op sold excellently on the charts? Doesnt seem like there were any…

          • No9

            They don’t usually take servers down until awhile later and if you look through discussion boards people always complain about not being able to find anyone else.As for Deus Ex, they could of delayed the game and tacked on multiplayer but they didn’t because they knew that it was needed and yes they would delay the game (already been delayed once). Plus go ask all the fans of Deus Ex and they’ll tell you that multiplayer isn’t important for that game. Knights contract was announced back in 2010 (though I think co-op could help that game since there are two protagonist…) but I heard Asuras Wrath wasn’t gonna have any type of multiplayer (as of now at least). But you missed my point, do you think people bought games like Singularity for the online component? Because I sure as hell didn’t. I bought it because it looked like it had a great storyline with an interesting time bending mechanic.

            Also some games that sold well in 2010 that lacked online include Mass Effect 2, God of War III, Final Fantasy XIII, Heavy Rain, Dante’s Inferno, Fallout New Vegas, God of War Ghost of Sparta, Just Cause 2, Limbo, Star Wars The Force Unleashed 2, Recettear, Super Scribblenauts and I’m sure I missed some others. But ummm where were you in 2010?

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1472407455 Charles Lupula

          You know those times when I stand up for you and try to defend you?

          This is not one of those times. I’m just going to try to contain my rage against your post right now instead of saying anything further.

  • z_merquise

    I never played Enslaved but I bought it as a gift for my brother since he loved the demo. He said that the gameplay is great, though the combat is not in the same league of Bayonetta and Devil may Cry. But I find the presentation and story to be very good.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/SplashdownTiger STiger

      Does he realize that the combat is part of the gameplay…?

      • z_merquise

        Well, he’s not really into fast-paced action games with deep combat like I do. He’s more of an old-school RPG gamer but he just happened to like Enslaved as well.

  • http://twitter.com/sheleigha Shel

    Do gamers want more Enslaved? The game didn’t interest myself, but I do know what fans DO want more of: .hack! >_>

  • https://twitter.com/#!/SplashdownTiger STiger

    The potential for Enslaved is that you created an interesting post-apocalyptic Earth and you’re stupid if you don’t utilize it.

  • neo_firenze

    OK, getting ready to be a little harsh here:

    I think Enslaved was all hype – and there was a LOT of hype in ads and the mainstream games media. I’d also say that the Metacritic scores are largely because the pathetic state of game “journalism” responds only to hype, PR bullet points, and parroting others as opposed to true quality. I actually feel somewhat vindicated in people in that word of mouth (and a flood of people selling the game back) hurt Enslaved’s sales, because the game didn’t deserve to succeed. What actual gamers were saying, with their words and their actions, was not the same thing as what the useless mainstream review industry was pushing.

    Enslaved was severely lacking in content. This is coming from someone who actually PREFERS shorter games, since I can actually complete them with my limited time with which to play lots of games. My issue is not that it was an 8 hour long experience, it’s that even in that relatively short time the game started to get stale. Overly simplistic combat, a tiny variety of enemy types, and most levels looked the same (bright colors in a post-apocalyptic game is a fine idea, but the SAME oversaturated neon green visuals for 80% of the game is lacking variety). I got bored and felt like the game was recycling stuff even in a sub-10 hour game. There was ZERO motivation to ever replay it again, because it wore out its welcome well before I finished the game.

    And the underlying mechanics just aren’t very fun – the visceral canned animations of beating on a robot with a staff are pretty cool the first couple times you see them. Not so cool the next hundred times you lose direct control of you character to see the screen slow down for a “cinematic” view of another repetitive kill. Ninja Theory’s inept combat design in Enslaved made me dread the new DMC far more than any controversial character designs ever could.

    Oh, and the ending sucked. At least the voice acting was really good, I’ll give them credit for that.

    I hope Enslaved’s lack of commercial success leads Namco to go back to the stuff that made me love them, instead of contracting second tier western developers to make mediocre mainstream action games in a misguided attempt to appeal to the “western audience”. And even if it’s not internal projects (Tekken vs. SF, Soul Calibur 5, Tales series, Ace Combat), I’m much happier with a partnership with someone like a From Software than I am with insipid “western-focused” slop.

    • Belenger

      About your last paragraph… too late Ridge Racer Unbound with Bugbear Entertainment.

      • neo_firenze

        Shhh… Namco was on such a roll in the past couple weeks before that little announcement ;)

        For now I’ll hold onto hope that they rethink things with RR Unbounded (even the subtitle is ridiculous). Wouldn’t be the first time a non console launch Ridge Racer spinoff ended up disappointing people though. Hi there R: Racing Evolution – yep, we still remember you.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rogerio-Yoshikawa/100001014091065 Rogerio Yoshikawa

      Amen.

    • Aara_Malik_Davoodi

      Did you know that the Enslaved was meant to be a movie animated by the Unreal engine in real-time? That’s why the gameplay is lacking but the story/visuals are great. Not justifying it, it is a video game after all, although I really enjoyed the game, just giving the most probable explanation

    • malek86

      As a western gamer myself, I’m tired of this bullcrap about the so-called “western focus”.

      That was just an excuse made up by japanese companies (who don’t know jack about western tastes btw) to try and expand their production. Fact is, these games didn’t appeal to anybody at all. If they appealed to the west, people would have bought them.

      Also why do people seem to think that only japanese developers can make good games?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1472407455 Charles Lupula

        There are a lot of great Western developers too (Insomniac, Sony Santa Monica, Visceral, Sucker Punch, Double Fine, Bioware, Valve), but there is a definite tendency amongst a lot of Western studios to just crap out the lowest common denominator in their games. I mean a studio like Ninja Theory have shown that they’re not very good with the gameplay portions of their games, but excel in the story telling. On the other hand, say, Double Helix have never done a single good thing in all of the games they’ve made, but still keep getting to ruin solid franchises.

        Then you have Western developers who make games that are unacceptably buggy like Betheseda, no matter what the quality of the actual game itself.

        It’s not that Western = crap. It’s that there are more bad Western studios who do high profile titles than bad Japanese ones.

    • badmoogle

      Well said man!Your first paragraph especially is spot on.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1472407455 Charles Lupula

      Couldn’t have said it better, myself.

  • PrinceHeir

    i just want more Tales games and Super Robot Wars games from them :D

  • daizyujin

    I don’t know why but I initially read that as Power Rangers and Saban as a partnership and thought for a moment he was talking about a Tekken Vs Power Rangers game. Now that would be original.

  • badmoogle

    When a game as flawed as Enslaved scores 80+ on Metacritic (thanks to this industry’s “experts”) i really fear for this medium’s future.
    In a few years there won’t be any actual games left,only interactive movies.The “gamers” will not discuss about things like gameplay and controls but they will rather talk about things like story,plot twists and characters.Everything will be automatic and the “games” will actually play themselves.

    It will be cool if these interactive movies stay only as a genre (i’m all up for diversity) but unfortunately this is currently a trend that threatens to engulf all video game genres as if movies are the holy grail developers where searching for so long.

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