Friday, August 08, 2008

Come on Turrican!

How it started

Back in April 2007, we were told that Factor 5 returned to the cave, dug some skulls and bones, and unveiled an ancient franchise they had lost a long time ago. Turrican.

Woah, I couldn’t have been more excited by the news.
Oh but there was a catch, and I think it’s time for me to talk about it.
By picking quotes…

We've been concepting quite a bit internally. That's another universe creation thing. I was looking at Metroid Prime's reinventing of a franchise that had been out there for quite awhile, and we're facing the same thing with Turrican.
There's aspects of the old games where people will feel betrayed if we don't transform them into the next generation. On the other hand, there's other stuff which is simply cheesy, let's face it. I don't think gamers will accept those things anymore. It's a fine line to balance.

Yeah, 2D was all about world exploration in our games, but also about scale. That is one of the things we've transformed into our 3D games, where it's all about scale from macro to micro. I think some of these elements actually do apply, and they're quite different from what you've seen, say, in Metroid, which has a very rigid design.

One thing not to forget is that Nintendo has been sure to make the Metroid franchise a hit success, keeping it alive with extremely sophisticated mechanics in each single game. Nintendo never left the franchise in a deep coma state for years. They’ve always kept it on the front. They had the power to do so as well.

Now, the similarities between Turrican and certain aspects of Metroid are striking, notably between Turrican’s starfish / roller blade mode and Metroid’s morph ball. Metroid has always been expanding those mechanics and making them even richer game after game, offering more opportunities of play and action. One single example would be the bombs dropped in Metroid often used to reveal passages and jump higher through proper coordination, while the bombs of the Turrican suit in disc mode didn’t do more than damage enemies.
Turrican lagged behind in other departments. Bionic Commando had a grappling hook. It was a key and great feature. So for some reason, it found its way into the SNES iterations, Mega Turrican (Genesis version of Super Turrican) and Super Turrican II. Not a bad thing, surely, but not what we’d call a revolution neither something original.

When I look at the games I played decades ago, most of them wouldn’t stand a chance now, unless they were released within the limited confines of Virtual Consoles, XBLAhs and other PSNs. Of course, back then, fields were vast and wild, with genres unexploited.
The action was great, the collection of crystals compulsive, but that’s some very hardcore stuff there, and the action itself wasn’t exactly supported by what we could necessarily call visually jaw dropping sceneries. They were correct, but that’s all. They, above all, served their main function, which was to provide territories to explore, but in themselves, they didn’t make much sense.
That and the fact that the universe seemed to be a mish mash of about everything SF of that time.

Failures can happen. The history of Turrican is not all shine and glam. Some of the biggest mistakes surely being trying to turn the game into an adaptation of the movie Universal Soldier, but ending with an absurd hybrid with no soul nor sense, to say the least.
Besides, although being a dedicated SNES player, and fan of Turrican, I can’t recall hearing much about the Super versions.

Updating play from 2D to 3D (B.A.D.)

Putting this media coverage point aside, we really need to tackle the most important question which will decide of the success or death of any future iteration of Turrican:

Does Turrican fit in the 21th century?

The expression "it’s about time" could hardly convey more topics than it does now.

Factor 5 surely don’t want to do a Rygar 3D, right? Not that it was bad, but somehow a great deal of the original game’s bizarre and minimalist ambience seemed to be lost en route, probably butchered by what some execs thought would please new audiences. When you look at the game, the universe doesn’t really feel that different from any other random action game.

There has already been an attempt at moving the game to the 3D front, but it never saw the light. The odds are great. Think of Metal Slug going 3D. What the fuck, really?

I know I’m going to sound like a fundie in what follows, but there are realities to consider.

We know that we’re very likely dealing with a strong business move there. Budgets are not the same, and the mitigate success of Lair on the PS3 has not really helped the ex-German studio.
So they attempt some voodoo on Turrican.

If they move it to the 3D world, they have to acknowledge the existence of monsters, and future ones.
The land of action has been hit hard by Halo and Gears of War. Pseudo-realistic stuff with sometimes a gritty edge, this is not Turrican, and yet that’s what the audiences are served with.
Now you have to put cover in each single game, physics and things I probably some other staples.

Trying to revive a long dead franchise and strongly altering key elements of the past is extremely risky, up to the point you wonder why simply not make that a whole different game?
I’m concerned about the modification. It’s not angst, just some slight itching anxiety down the back see.
Will the game play like SDK? Or Earth Defense Force 2017? Go figure, the trip to the kingdom of 3D will be most difficult.

See, if you’re going to call it Turrican, it will only move the bowels of people who’ve played these games when it was live. This means grown gamers dragging a good deal of nostalgia. The new players probably know shit nor care about the franchise at all.
So that’s a steady process, and you really need to check thrice the definition of faithful in your dictionary.

Factor 5 would need to find a way to make a workable grappling system if they were to keep the SNES system. Unless they have some super idea in the back of their head, the system could already feel dated and would obviously be compared to the new 3D Bionic Commando’s system.
One of Turrican’s most important game mechanics, the cannon fired in swivelling mode all around the avatar, was entirely dependant of the 2D view. How does this translate into a 3D environment?

While I’m certain this mechanic would have been perfect for another 2D game, I’m not sure it works for a 3D one, nor how we would retrieve the origin of the system in the new form weapon, which could surely become some omnidirectional gun, by moving a cursor across a sphere. How would this be any different than a thousand games already released by now?
How is that interesting, since other than those aspects, Turrican as a whole doesn’t offer much functions that makes it different.

All is this worth the hassle? How couldn’t it end like a clone of Metroid?
They’d need to add a lot of stuff. Would it still be Turrican though?
Again, why keep the dusty name?

I’m extremely tempted to say that Turrican 3D is a nonsense, at least for the moment.

Does the franchise even need to move to the 3D realm yet?

Shouldn’t it be wiser right now, for Factor 5, to sharpen their knives on the traditional gameplay, just to see if they can do it again, and make a solid 2D game?
It just makes sense, really.

Austin Powers?

After the concerns about the transfer of 2D mechanics to the 3D world, we have to consider the franchise as a whole, the universe, the design, and see if all that would still work these days.

Factor 5 thinks that there’s a major barrier to break there, that of so called cheese. You know, stuff that is outdated and feels embarrassing nowadays.

OK, so just answer to this: Am I living on the same planet where another Superman movie was released two years ago, with the same guy wearing a flapping red cape, sporting a big yellow S on his torso, glued his hairs with amniotic fluid and flew in tight blue pantyhose? Just… please. Couldn’t it be cheesier than this?

The film cost at the very least $270 million… O.O … and still grossed $391,081,192 in more than four thousand theatres across the world.
If there’s a market for that, I’m sure there’s a market for those who cherish the fond memories they closely keep within their hearts.

Cheese, as they put it, is not always a killing blow to the success of a franchise.
That’s coming from a new Battlestar Galactica fan. I have vague but pleasing recollections of the original show, but I know I only watched it with a passing interest when we’d miraculously catch it on TV, and the family wasn’t that much hooked on it anyway… however, Buck Rogers or Space 1999, the story was entirely different, don’t ask why.

More concretely, there’s a shit load of cheese in Farscape, and it’s great. There’s also a great lack of cheese in the new Star Wars stuff, which is largely why the new films seem to be so empty, because a totally assumed level of cheesiness what was made the films what they are.

Turrican, besides, is not pure cheese. In fact, the cheesy elements aren’t that numerous. You don’t need to turn Bren Mc Guire (the hero's name) into a turbo testosterone mound of muscles you know. Mc Guire originally was a young charming lad with a funny hairdo serving in the United Planets Freedom Force and a memeber of what looked like a sort of boys band.
Maybe updating the combat suit’s design a very little? I don’t even know if it’s necessary. I can see it coming from miles away, slick, shiny, with more Japanese fins sticking out of the back, more stupid glow here and there, and even more super menacing look.
It still look at Darth Vader’s stupid helmet and insect eyes and the mouth grid which looks like something I’d pee through, and it’s loved by millions.
Probably because when the character works, such details become trivial.

Is it nostalgia speaking? Surely, there has to be a lot, but the universe would loose a lot by following the contemporary trend of making everything darker, edgy, robotic and slick.
There’s something teasingly boombastick about the aura of the classic Turrican and its action.
This is actually a force of the franchise, one that sets it apart.
All pulp SF back then had tints of disco in it to some degree. Disco is still very catchy.

Seriously, if the 2D gameplay is definitely addictive, I don’t think you’d have too much to fear about the style of the game.

The game, however, would be greatly awaited by the old fans, and that’s an enormous responsibility. In my opinion, going for a classical opus first would be wiser, if only to probe the waters, see if it stick to the wall, and if yes, then think about developing the franchise with a 3D lineage, while keeping 2D iterations on portable consoles.

After all, talking about developing 2D games is not absurd. A new Megaman, old style, is in the works, people are perfectly happy with that.
Megaman is a solid franchise that doesn’t need to move to the 3D plane (yes, Megaman 3D, or Legends, or even X7, as we should call them, were just pure cash-ins to surf on the 3D wave, Megamans in name only). The days of the Playstation crusades and conversions are long gone, and people are getting used to play 2D games on machines which cost a hundred meals.
We’ve been served with a good number of 2D games lately, notably on the DS and PSP, and very good ones by the way, like Ultimate Ghosts n’ Goblins, an amazing and gorgeous gem on all points, which approached the difficulty intelligently, by providing an entry level adjusted for modern standards, while keeping truly super hardcore difficulties.
It had to deal with the critics of people not understand why the game had such an unforgiving jump system, but that’s part of the franchise, that’s how it’s played. Despite all the harsh criticism the game took from rather ignorant reviews, this game scored very well, and did grab high scores across the whole gaming press.

Besides, the franchise enjoys a lot of fan revivals and remakes. And two games for mobiles phones. All in 2D of course.

But there’s more to look at…

Victory themes for a space hero

The music, that constant paradox of often being treated last in games and yet mattering most.

I feel guilty to talk about it at the end of this article, since I treasure music in games as much as the gameplay, and I’m literally convinced that it’s what made the Turrican series so great.

Turrican would not be Turrican in the hearts of old gamers if not for Chris Hülsbeck’s escapist themes.

There’s something special about the Turrican style. The chiptune and Van Halenish melodies… the industrial noises… the complex and varied themes I loved listening to in loop, the punchy rhythms, the upbeat songs and the dramatic mood inducing hues, all scored among the best original soundtracks ever made, and great sources for remixes and other covers.

It’s not without surprise that this music still enjoys great success and is played by symphonic orchestras (keep an eye on Symphonic Shades).
I tell you, the music is really one of the major essences which originally defined Turrican.
They literally pushed you through the levels.

Well, that’s for the computer. On the SNES, it’s a very different story.
How could all this fantastic material suddenly turn into such bleak “compositions”?
I don’t know why, it seems like Chris got severely restricted in his abilities or imagination, and aside from using bare variations of Turrican II’s Undirectional Fight theme for the main theme of the console titles mixed to pale shades of the pure and original kick ass themes of Turrican I & II, the rest was rather weak and typical console background techno noise for action games of that period.

So if somehow, they manage to revive the transcendental vibe of the old themes, then it’s absolutely going to rock.
There would be no shame using chiptunes to some degree, they’re in vogue.

Right now, we don’t really know if the new game has moved beyond the pitch stage. If yes, god knows what it’s actually looking like. I can only cross fingers in the hope that they don’t ruin it.

PS: I suppose that on the legal side of things, it turned out positively in favour of Factor 5 against Rainbow Arts and SoftGold, since they didn't speak of Thornado at all. They clearly said a Turrican sequel.


Predabot said...

I think, if they do make another Turrican, they need to lay off the things that Turrican borrowed from other games, and sci-fi franchises.

Most notably the flying power-ups from Contra, and the final level of the Machine, which is a total rip-off of Alien, complete with actual Alien heads in the walls and attacking face-huggers.

Stuff like that isn't really acceptable in todays world. I've just finished the game myself for the first time, and a great game it was, but it has a few problems that need to be washed away.

The ability to swing around with a grappling-hook that was introduced in Mega Turrican (t3 is a port of Mega) could probably be dropped, because it's not as crucial a part of the game as in BC, nor is it as well-executed, another rip-off.

The blade-wheel needs to be kept tho, because the entire game breathes an aura of Metroid, and removing that aura you remove the heart of Turrican. Just like removing the Mario out of the Giana Sisters removes the heart of Giana Sisters.

In order to make it viable however, one can always improve on the idea, with several modes to the wheel, as well as perhaps power-ups of various kinds, for the spikes.

Lastly we come to the question about the music... oh yes. Getting Chris Hülsbeck on the new Turrican is essential, it's simply not the same experience without him.

I guess that's where the game could truly shine distinguish itself, it's shot at glory with a new and old audience.

That's my take on the whole thing.

Stone Bytes said...

I agree, a considerable amount of work would need to be put into the franchise to give its own unique theme and atmosphere.
Thus far, it's certainly been a mix of plenty of things.
That said, it's not like Contra is a saint here. I remember my days of Probotector (the robot version of the two mercenaries), and I wouldn't say it made much sense. You still had the ALIEN level at the end.

I don't think it would be wise to try to compete with Metroid, therefore the game should opt for a more arcade and linear system, very action driven and impressive weapons.

The spinning cannon should be put to great use, the wheel extended with new functions; under the wheel form, you could attach yourself to a mech or a bike, you could turn into a predator mode and the wheel would extend longer claws or casting a disintegration field.

The wheel mode would require more flexibility as to the ability to turn into the wheel at any point.

Some combos could be considered, with the ability to switch between different weapons very rapidly. For example, one weapon would be useful to lure a given type of enemy or reveal a weakness in a boss, another would be the one that would actually deal damage.
Combo moves could be interesting as well. Or it could be used to activate a series of timed switches, with another weapon acting as a blaster key to finally unlock a system, and so on.

There's obviously some potential, but let's be honest, a moderate reboot to some degree seems necessary as well.