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Step Back and Think

by Jonathan Metts - November 29, 2000, 3:39 pm PST
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Jon takes a look at the logics behind the Eternal Darkness and Dino Planet GameCube rumours...

Lately a lot of talk has been going around regarding the future of a few key N64 titles. Some people seem to think that Eternal Darkness, Dinosaur Planet, and maybe even Conker's Bad Fur Day are destined to shift from N64 development over to the GameCube launch. Fair enough; I can see why they might think that, especially in light of Resident Evil Zero's similar upgrade just recently. Therefore, I make the case not that these games will remain on N64 (as no one but Nintendo really knows that), but rather that these games should remain on N64. Matt Cassamassina of IGN64 recently wrote an article on this very issue, and he makes a lot of bold, exciting, and frankly shallow arguments that I will be referring to for convenience. Click here to read the article for yourself, if you haven't already.

What truly worries me about this situation is not that the rumor exists. I like rumors a lot, even the silly ones (not that this particular one is silly at all), but what scares me is that the majority of the Nintendo gaming community seems to be in favor of the games moving to the NGC. I feel that many of these people have not thought the situation through all the way, so I invite you to step back for a moment and think...

What will we gain if these games move to GameCube? Graphic enhancements by the buttload, to be sure. But is that enough? Are graphics alone worth bumping Eternal Darkness to the new system? I say no. When I played ED this past May, the game was already the best looking N64 game around for its style, which is to say dark and realistic. The entire game ran in hi-res mode without the Expansion Pak, the polygonal backgrounds allowed for dramatic camera sweeps while still looking as detailed or even more so as the pre-rendered backgrounds made popular by Resident Evil and Final Fantasy on the Playstation. Furthermore, the framerate was excellent, and the special effects were some of the best I'd seen on the N64. It seems that porting the nearly-finished N64 version over to GameCube would waste an awful lot of Silicon Knights' effort to get the game looking so incredible on the old hardware.

What about new gameplay features or added length, thanks to the larger NGC disc media? Highly doubtful, if the titles are to make any semblance of a timely debut on the system. Conker's BFD has been in development (in one form or another) for going on five years now! It seemed very far along at this past E3, with several stages available for play (and quite possibly many more that Rare just wasn't showing at the time), and a fully functional multiplayer mode with several different scenarios, including a capture-the-flag mode and a tank battle. I can't say for Dinosaur Planet, because we still don't know a whole lot about it, but ED and BFD were both very far along in development, with the gameplay systems and the stages needing only some tweaking and expanding. To splice in a lot of new gameplay features at this stage would require a massive effort and would probably result in a somewhat disjointed game.

Would the games sell more on GameCube? A lot of people are saying "Of course, it will be the new system, the shiny new kid on the block!" Blah. By Christmas 2001, GameCube will probably have no more than 1 million users, perhaps twice that worldwide. Meanwhile, the N64 has a userbase 35 million+ strong, many of them in possession of the machine for less than two years. These people will still be looking for good new N64 games, and it would certainly be nice to have a few around for them. Gamers seem to be of the notion that software can't sell near or after a new system's launch, and I would offer them Super Mario RPG and Donkey Kong Country 3 as counter-examples. For Christmas 1996, I got Shadows of the Empire for my N64 and DKC3 for SNES...guess which one I played and enjoyed more. Sure, third-party N64 games aren't selling that great right now, but let's face the facts: most of them suck and are poorly marketed. Nintendo's first- and second-party titles are, for the most part, still selling quite well. Mario Tennis and Majora's Mask have both been very strong, and Banjo-Tooie seems likely to be a big hit over the holidays. All three of the games in question are by second-party, highly talented developers, and they will probably all three be published by Nintendo, the only company that can consistently market N64 titles with real success.

Now, what are some good reasons NOT to port these games up to GameCube? The most important one is time, pure and simple. To think that any of these games (again, save for perhaps the enigmatic DP) could be ready for the NGC launch borders on ludicrous. Eternal Darkness is, except for final bug-testing, complete at this time, or will be complete within a matter of weeks. I think it is being held back by Nintendo's infamous marketing department, who seems to think it a cardinal sin to release two high-profile games within six months of each other. To take a game that is literally 95% complete and then totally revamp it for another system is a light undertaking by no means. The game engine has to be re-written, polygonal models redone, sound and music re-recorded at higher qualities, etc. The reason Capcom can afford to do it for RE Zero is that their game was barely even started on the N64. To make matters worse for the Eternal Darkness example, Silicon Knights' other NGC game, Too Human, will have taken at least TWO YEARS to port from Playstation when it finally makes it onto shelves, and its release date will likely fall right next to a would-be GameCube port of Eternal Darkness, surely sending NOA's eager fingers to the dreaded "marketing delay" button. Conker wouldn't make it out until at least 2002, a mind-blowing six years after the game was originally started!

With all that said, the reason I hold most dear to my heart is that the N64 should have a chance to bow out gracefully and successfully, which is going to be damned hard if its last three most promising games are yanked off the schedule and onto the GameCube. Do you want your beloved system left to waste away in its final days, like some diseased dog that nobody wants to love? Folks, that's what Sega did to the Saturn owners, and I don't remember too many kind words about that era in the company's history. Let's remember the N64's final days with fondness, and be able to relive those glorious times any time we want by plugging in some Conker and pissing all over the bad guys. God bless Rare.

Anyway, hopefully I've changed your mind on this issue (if it needed changing), but I hope that I've at least made you rethink your reasoning, or just made you think, period. I personally think GameCube will have plenty of great games early on without stealing away the N64's last few gems. But that's just me.

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