MonkeyPaw Games is stepping up to the plate as a new East to West video game studio. Led by the previous CEO of Hudson USA, John Greiner wants to bring Japanese games that haven’t left the Land of the Rising Sun to North America. In addition to localizing games, perhaps releasing them digitally, Greiner wants to give retro games overhauls. Before we got to those topics, I asked Greiner how his company got started.
John Greiner, CEO: We started MonkeyPaw with a strong dose of inspiration. In my past experience as CEO of Hudson Entertainment, we were able to take classics and create more visceral versions that Western markets could enjoy. And we had a lot of success in publishing on the digital download front. Bomberman Blast won Game of the Year on XBLA and we followed up with a litany of like-quality games. So we have a knack for giving gamers what they want: fun.
This is something a lot of other developers probably want to know, funding a company from scratch is tough. How did you pull it off?
That’s a great question. We started our funding drive right as the US financial market tanked. Needless to say, there wasn’t much VC money floating around. But we had a good business plan and a lot of experience so investors were intrigued. Eventually persistence paid off and we ended up with wise and helpful angel investors with experience in the game business.
The idea of digital imports is intriguing, but are the games going to have Japanese text?
Some of our titles will be presented in all their original glory. We think this will appeal to the true aficionados who are our target market anyway. Sometimes, placing Western text and voice over the original deprives the titles of their intended flavor. Culture rarely translates. But obviously, RPGs and adventure games deserve a full localization.
How do you go about localizing classic games? I’ve heard of horror stories where original code is lost and so forth.
This is true in most cases. If an IP has lost its original publisher, code rarely follows. So at times it is impossible to localize.
MonkeyPaw has plans for PlayStation Network, but are you thinking about localizing classics for Virtual Console and Xbox Live Arcade too?
All three platforms are in play for us. In bringing back classics, the opportunities will depend on the original platform. It would be hard to bring old Nintendo games to XBLA, for example, unless you just offer an emulated version. That’s not our model. However, if we remake an IP, we will target all three platforms.
Some of the bigger publishers have titles that only they can bring back. Kojima-san could easily recast Policenauts or Snatcher. There are many obvious examples. I have a hankering for old PC Engine titles like Splatterhouse or even Kato Ken (previously ruined by the TG-16 release of JJ and Jeff, if you remember that one).
Beyond classics, is MonkeyPaw looking at current gen games? There are a lot of PSP games that don’t make it over, which could, perhaps, be released on PSN.
Indeed, many Japanese games are just waiting for a publisher to bring them to a home in America. We are constantly looking for these opportunities and we welcome your suggestions on what our users would like to see.
Is Monkeypaw going to develop or, perhaps, remake games?
Absolutely. Our model includes plans to do complete overhauls on retro games that have that special flair. We’ll take a classic mechanic and build out a whole new game that stretches the canvas that the creators intended. So there will be elements of the original but the game will resonate with today’s users and take advantage of 21st century platform power. If done successfully, you satisfy the retro fans and bring in younger ones, all equally compelled by the original addictive lure. Our first titles using this concept will be released later this year.
Bonk was a magical mix of ingenuity, timing and creativity that gave the TG-16 a mascot it so badly needed. There was a rumor that the artist modeled Bonk’s iconic head after my bald crown but I think that I probably had some hair at the time. The game has always been more popular in America than in Japan.
In fact, there were occasions when I literally had to beg our head office to bring out new versions. They just didn’t see the appeal. And the game never officially made it Europe. One reason being, in America, the word bonk resembles the sound of hitting your head, while in England, the word bonk means to copulate. Imagine the press on that one…a marketing masterpiece!
You know, Hudson started putting PC Engine games on PSN in Japan and there are a bunch of PC Engine games we missed out on like Far East of Eden II and Ys IV. Are you looking at those?
Well Hudson is a treasure box full of classics that surely should be remade for today’s platforms. Luckily, Hudson is an aggressive digital download player and they’re starting to see the demand for their back catalogue. The good part of this business model is that there is no shortage of quality Japanese titles to bring to US shores.