Tuesday, May 22, 2012
PS Vita Cases and "Project Phoenix"
Am I just a freelance consultant now? Is that what I'm do for a living, perform as the all-purpose "ideas" guy? Ah, well, t
It's a pity that Sony's PS Vita has essentially crashed and burned since its release. It's a sophisticated portable game system with lots of promise (but they need to lose that back-side touch pad), but nothing that could be solved with some quality software titles. Unfortunately, Sony seems lost and clueless, and the poor Vita is being overwhelmed by Nintendo's resurgent 3DS. Funny how that's turning out.
That said, my favorite feature of the PS Vita is something one wouldn't expect - the software cases. It's a terrific design, compact and snug, just the right proportions. I am mindful that the days of physical media for video games are numbered, as the game industry pushes towards a "service model" of digital downloads you will never really own, so I enjoy the idea of cartridges and game cards and plastic cases. The collector in me enjoys these things.
The PS Vita cases, in fact, would be perfect for our Sega "Project Phoenix" console that I've been raving about this week. That's the proposed super-system that would combine the Genesis, Saturn, and Dreamcast under one roof, sold for $99. The games would sell for $10-$20 and come on small cards, like Nintendo DS and...Sony's PS Vita. And those compact game cases would be absolutely perfect. The design is attractive, yet affordable, and in this business venture, cost is everything.
Imagine these Vita cases with our favorite Sega classics on the cover - The Revenge of Shinobi, Herzog Zwei, Panzer Dragoon Saga, Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Final Fight CD, Soul Calibur, NFL 2K1, Phantasy Star Online. With the right cover illustrations, and the proper layouts on the back, Phoenix games would look amazing. Packaging and presentation is 9/10ths of this business venture, and it's the key to making the "classic video game console" a success.
I really like the blue color of the Vita cases. It's keeping in line with Blu-Ray, which is smart branding. The interior is very simple, and even if the back of the Vita covers are too cluttered with text and legalese, the front covers are clean and elegant. They're inviting, even when I know the games aren't any good. I'm looking at you, Ridge Racer, ya cheapskate.
Now somebody tell the Sony bosses that video game systems need games to actually work. The Atari Jaguar had better support than this.
Anyway, let's get back to the topic of game packaging and our Project Phoenix. One of the great appeals to me in this project is the opportunity to correct one of Sega's most notorious blunders - those awful US covers. Here's Genesis Strider (1990) as an example, the Japanese cover on left, the US cover on right. The Japanese design effectively captures the spirit of the arcade game, is visually complex, detailed, and stylish in that anime/manga sense. In 1990, however, "Japanimation" (as it was called) was still perceived as a strange niche in the States, so the original inspired design had to go.
In its place, a more traditionally Western, "Flash Gordon" illustration was used, which probably baffles today's kids. Western video games in the 1980s took their cues from fantasy and science-fiction, so this kind of hero, who resembles a college athlete from the 1940s more than anything. There was also the need to embellish with the cover, to charge the players' imaginations, since, well...graphics weren't that good. Look at the wonderful cover illustrations to Atari 2600 VCS games. It was necessary for the suspension of disbelief.
With the arrival of 16-bit technology, graphics were becoming less abstract and more natural, so this sort of cover embellishments were no longer necessary. So we really didn't need to pretend that Strider was really the captain of the varsity football team.
From a design point-of-view, the US Strider cover is also overly cluttered with stickers and logos, oddly composed, and never quite captures the spirit of Capcom's arcade classic. The logo is mad cool, which is nice, but all this does is remind me of the NES Strider cover, which was crazy cool. Hmm...Sega really screwed up on this one. What were they thinking?
So if we're going to bring Strider to Project Phoenix - and it's a must-have title for me - we're going to need a new cover illustration. I'd rather commission new artwork, instead of using the old Japanese Megadrive design, if only because it helps to sell the "new-yet-retro" game system. But I would definitely use Japan for inspiration. And I would also pursue a classic illustration design for all the software titles - no CG Photoshop covers this time! We need to capture the spirit of the Golden Age of Video Games, and pull that spirit into our new century.