Thursday, December 15, 2005

RIP Working Designs

(I wrote this and then felt sort of embarrassed about having put so much thought into so small an issue, but what the hell, I wrote it, here it is)

Alas! Of course, it’s a rather small subset of videogames—let alone new videogames—that I enjoy nowadays, but still: too bad. Lunar was fun. Both Lunars. Alundra, too. However—it must be said—I find it difficult to get behind Mr. Ireland’s efforts to blame outside forces for the company’s demise. They brought it on themselves, plain and simple. Now, it was okay when they were content to just quietly translated two or three games with small but devoted fanbases per year—not the all-time most lucrative venture, perhaps, but enough to keep them solvent, apparently. And yes, at a time when most localizations were indifferent at best, it was nice to see a company put real effort into such things.


In hindsight (always 20/20, I know, I know), they were kind of sowing the seeds of their own destruction right from the beginning—reading the masturbatory “production notes” that accompanied each of their releases, one couldn’t help getting the impression that they were a little too impressed by their own staggeringly awesome integrity. This really kicked into high gear, however, with the release of PS1 Lunar: what with the larger box and making-of documentary and whatnot, they really seemed to think they were on a divine mission.

And we all know what happens to God’s messengers.

Listen: videogames, some videogames, are really fun, and I’m glad to have them. But you know what videogames aren’t? They aren’t newly-unearthed Mayan codices or Gnostic gospels or Euripides plays. If they’re good, I’m glad when they’re translated, and even gladder when they’re translated well. But in the end, if they’re not—it’s really not, in the grand scheme of things, that big a deal.

The increasingly bloated, tchotchke-laden boxes for Lunar 2 and Arc the Lad and Growlanser—along with the ridiculous, hardcover collector’s edition strategy guides—made it extremely difficult to see how they were staying afloat. But what really did them in was their unwillingness to play on their publishers’ terms—another indicator of the ol’ messiah complex. Their mission was so unbelievably vital and pure that they simply could not would not compromise. Instead, they would remain obstinate. A really bad idea. Because the thing is, Sega and then Sony had all of the power in this relationship. They had none of the power. This was not a representative democracy, and there was simply no way they were going to win any dispute over licensing. Of course, this wasn’t only a problem for Working Designs—everyone who wanted to release games on the Saturn or Playstation had to play by Sega/Sony’s rules. The difference, though, was that “everyone” didn’t think they were on a Mission From God. But in WD’s eyes, it was a choice between knuckling under and being unjustly persecuted. And prophets do not, as a whole, tend to be the knuckling under types.

So, unsurprisingly, they collapsed under the weight of their own pretensions. Fine. But none of this cross of gold stuff. You did what you did, and you got the results that you must, on some level, have wanted. Godspeed.


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