tech news and opinions

Irrlicht on PS4 and Successful Game Characters

“spyro and cynder flying” by SpyroLover101

In the wake of the news about the Playstation 4 being very indie developer friendly, I was pleased to discover that Octodad 2 – a game created using the Irrlicht engine – has been ported to the PS4. On the irrlicht forums, luthyr spoke of the ease of porting: all he had to do was replace irrlicht’s OpenGL calls with calls from the PS4 SDK. As I write this, I still have yet to find where you can get ahold of the PS4 SDK (but if I do, I will most likely update this post). (Based on what I’ve read, PS4 games should also work on the VITA – and be transferable to and from them, so a game developed for one should work on both.) UPDATE: Info from luthyr: To get the SDK, you have to contact Sony via Nick Suttner, and probably register on the developer network. Of course, expects you to be a company with a mostly if not fully completed game.

Speaking of the PS4, already gamers are praising it for the DRM-free aspect, the fact that you can play second-hand games, and the ease of development. Whether they hold to their word or not, they have stolen the spotlight from Microsoft’s XBox One. The latter promises to hold true to the Microsoft standard: DRM, proprietary, copyright-enforcing, and anything else the FSF would frown on, but that’s just a means of doing business.

Interestingly enough, I’ve heard more and more about Playstation taking over the market these past four or five years than Nintendo. This may have something to do with the fact that I’m reading Siliconera… *twiddles thumbs* … (Can anyone say “Japanese games galore?”) Actually, Siliconera does a good job at reporting everyone, but since the Japs are pretty into the gaming market, and since Playstation is very popular over there, much of the news is Playstation. Even still, Nintendo hasn’t done much in the past few years. Being dominant in the U.S., they haven’t done much in the alley of RPGs (I’m oldschool – it means “Role Playing Game” – that’s “action adventure” for you new kids. At least my kind still exist in the MMORPG realm). But they’ve done random games for middle-aged and old people… like tennis. That’s nice – now I can go indoors and play rather than out in the hot sun where it’s good for me. *raises eyebrow*

But there’s one thing that Nintendo holds quite clearly over Sony: memorable game characters.

If you took a survey of people in the United States, the number 1 game character people would probably know of would be Nintendo’s Mario. He would win hands down. After him would be Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog. Then you might get Pacman, and the list becomes blurrier from there. Other notable mentions are generally Nintendo: Star Fox, Link, Donkey Kong, Kirby, etc. Minor characters like Falco, Yoshi, Luigi, Bowser, and Metaknight would be known mostly by gamers or people who had a sibling or family member that played or liked the games those characters were in. Nevertheless, it’s mostly Nintendo. This is Nintendo’s nitch in the video game market: memorable game characters. That’s why a game like “Super Smash Bros.” actually made sense and was very popular among gamers.

Other companies just don’t do this. Off the top of my head, only Sonic and Megaman stand out as popular game characters from companies outside of Nintendo (and even Sega pretty much handed Sonic to Nintendo (okay, so I wasn’t at the deal to count the zeros behind the first digit dollar)). That’s not to say there aren’t subcultures with avid fans of a particular character, but you have to be looking for these people to find them.

Anyone remember Crash Bandicoot? Talk about a blast from the past! Once upon a time, Playstation also had game characters. I can still recall Crash Bandicoot games being given as a bonus to people who bought pizza at “participating” franchises (Pizza Hut). Needless to say, the character didn’t see a world of success and was eventually… left in the shadows.

Next in line? Well… hard to pick. Spyro would be a good choice. He came at what I’d call the end of the Playstation era in the U.S. (developed between 1998-2000 by Insomniac Games). That’s not to say Playstation wasn’t here, but it seemed to disappear from my radar for a long time after that. There were a series of Spyro games, but no one I know is an avid Spyro fan or has mentioned it. A few years back, the character started making headlines again (though the first review I read was of a game that flopped). Last year at this time, Activision said their “Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure” was the number one console and handheld game. Go figure.

So what brought the game characters to the top? – My guess: Promotion and gameplay. Gameplay wise, Mario and Starfox were both unique for their day (or if they weren’t, they certainly capitalized on it). While Starfox could stand on its own feet, Mario was pushed as Nintendo’s friendly mascot character, and naturally a slew of other characters (Yoshi, Luigi, Peach, Bowser, Koopa Troopa, etc.) were tossed into the world. Pitch in some jolly music (no pun intended) and repeat the same platform style gameplay – with new graphics and worlds of course – and…

… Well, okay, other than propaganda and push, I don’t know why Mario is at the top. But what I can say is that I know about him and not much about Playstation characters. You are correct if you think I’m a rambling non-expert.

Back on topic: Should Sony try to make a memorable game character? … No. It works for startups and propaganda – when publicity is needed to keep the company going – but these days, Playstation doing fine, so don’t expect any new trademark characters anytime soon.

That being said, there are still games being created with characters who you won’t soon forget – even if you don’t know their name. And no, I’m not talking about games based on movies. Think games like Assassin’s Creed and Halo. The main character of the latter game is only known as “Master Chief” – real name unknown. The game series was popular, so the main character becomes infamous… or at least within the gaming community.

Who else is on that list?… That’s a hard question. From an ordinary Joe’s standpoint… oh, wait, I’ve already left that. But since I can’t speak for the gaming community, I leave you here. And if you’ve finished reading this article, my apologies, as you probably haven’t learned anything new. This article may only be useful in several years to someone doing a research paper on the history of game characters.


And to those of you without a suitable font, that’s Unicode splatter.

If you can think of any memorable game characters not listed, feel free to mention them.


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