Kotaku sat with the new chief of Sega's American and European divisions yesterday to get an update on everything from Aliens to Yakuza.
Only on his new job for about two and a half weeks, Mike Hayes is the man who now oversees Sega West, the combined domain of Sega of America and Sega of Europe and the man who I asked yesterday to define, if such a term is possible, "Sega-ness."
Hayes, who formerly had been running just Sega of Europe and years before that was at Nintendo, was taking meetings in New York on the penthouse floor of a midtown Manhattan hotel. Based in London, he was paying the territory added to his portfolio a visit. Around him, in adjacent rooms, a line-up with a diversity that make even Sega's innovative line-ups of its old Genesis and Dreamcast eras look homogeneous was illuminating TV screens. A few doors in one direction were Aliens Vs. Predator and espionage role-playing game Alpha Protocol. In the other, beyond more than half a dozen other distinct games, were Daisy Fuentes Pilates and a Sonic kart-racing game.
Is there an essence of Sega that unifies the company's games? Something that a gamer unaware of the company logos on game boxes might still sense as a unifying aspect of Sega's games?
"In some cases, but not all," Hayes said, answering this early question with the thoughtfulness and lack of diplomatic self-censorship with which he'd field all of my questions. "When we are trying to do core games like Aliens Vs. Predator from Rebellion, I don't think you'll find any Seganess in that. However, there are a lot of games that we do do — whether it be particularly with our old intellectual property, like Monkey Ball, like with Mario and Sonic and … things like Let's Tap — it's that kind of slight risk-taking that Sega was renowned for as innovators that we still do and we still intend to do."
Such a publisher winds up having to field from an outlet like this one questions as wide-ranging as the fate of its Aliens license, its Sonic line and its heritage as a hardware maker. More on some of that later this week, but here's our first batch of updates.
Aliens is one of the murkier Sega topics. The company announced in 2006 that it would publish three games based on the famous chest-bursting movie monsters. Sega showed Aliens Vs. Predator at this event, demonstrating how games can play as a human marines or a Predator. Still under wraps is what playing like an Alien will be like. But this game wasn't expected to be the first Aliens game from Sega. That was going to be the Gearbox-developed Aliens: Colonial Marines shooter or the now-canceled Obsidian-developed Aliens RPG.
"The Gearbox project was moving along," Hayes said, recalling when the decision was made to take Colonial Marines out of the lead position. The game wasn't as far along as Aliens Vs. Predator, which originally wasn't backed by Sega. It was being made by Rebellion for publisher Vivendi, until that support ceased following Vivendi's 2008 merger with Activision. "There was an opportunity for us to take that." Its development progress put Gearbox's game into the second slot, to be released "a good period after" AvP, according to Hayes. The RPG won't be third because "it just wasn't coming along to the plan that we thought."
Might the newly announced, Ridley Scott Alien prequel project be a source of Aliens inspiration for Sega? "We're quite excited about that and buzzing from the news of that," Hayes said. But of the third game, Hayes would only say, " We'd like to think we'll be doing a third project but at the moment we haven't confirmed what the third project will be."
Another hyped grouping of Sega games has been its trio of Wii games targeted to the demographic of gamers that prefers a good headshot or chainsaw kill to an interactive sit-up routine: House of the Dead Overkill, MadWorld and The Conduit. Hayes views their fortunes as mixed. Sales reports don't show blockbuster numbers for any of the games, but, Hays said, "I just don't think, categorically, that you can therefore concludes that mature games won't work on Wii."
Hayes deemed profane Grindhouse-style in-rails shooter House of the Dead: Overkill a "big success in Europe," even though it performed less spectacularly in America. Hayes said the game's budget-priced Wii predecessor, which compiled two earlier games in the series, continues to do well, suggesting there's a future to this line. "We're still very keen on the House of the Dead franchise."
Conduit can also be deemed a success, Hayes said, qualifying its performance as a solid one in a summer that has seen a pre-Holiday Wii hardware and software "dip." The company has shipped 300,000 copies of the game worldwide and sold through more than half of them to gamers, about 100,000 in the U.S., according to figures from Segaof America v.p. of marketing, Sean Ratcliffe who attended our interview.
It is the mostly black-and-white, hyper-violent MadWorld that Hayes dubbed a "disappointment" for reasons he can't yet nail down. "It could be the consumers didn't like the art style," he said. "It could be the consumers had enough Mature-rated games to play on 360 and PS3 and didn't need a new experience on Wii."
Hayes sums up the mixed success of those titles with a sanguine recognition that any grouping of games will have its hit, its flop and some in-between performers. "That's video games," he said. And it's not the end of this Wii gamer narrative from Sega. " You will see more — I wouldn't say Mature as in M — but you will see more definitely more hardcore games from us on the Wii platform."
MadWorld was part of a second grouping of Sega titles, those developed by Platinum Games, the company led mainly by former design stars at Capcom. Bayonetta, now releasing in early 2010 in the U.S. will be the second, along with DS game Infinite Space. Hayes said there will be at least two more Platinum Games titles published by Sega beyond that, but wouldn't provide details nor confirm if either of those is the previously-announced game being developed by heralded Japanese game maker Shinji Mikami.
One of the biggest hits for Sega in Japan has been its Yakuza series, a line of story-driven brawlers set, mostly, in modern Tokyo and crafted with the help of a Japanese crime novelist and Toshihiro Nagoshi, the classically eclectic Sega developer who also dreamed up the kid-friendly Super Monkey Ball. Yakuza may be the Japanese series that most closely matches the urban antisocial vibe of the Grand Theft Auto series, but its two PlayStation 2 releases in America have sold poorly. A third PS2 Yakuza was not brought to America. A current-gen game, Yakuza 3, made its mark in Japan in February. The third is absent from Sega's announced U.S. release schedule. "We're looking into it," Hayes said, remarking that it would require "massive localization" work and that, yes, he's aware of the dedicated fans here clamoring for its release.
Hayes answered that Yakuza question outside of our interview, truth be told. We'd wrapped up. I was at the other end of the penthouse, preparing to play Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympics after commandeering Luigi on bobsled I saw Hayes and had to ask. Imagine the ability to transition from playing character-mascot Olympics to a discussion of a crime-filled city adventure, all without leaving the same publisher's demo hotel suite: Maybe that is the definition of "Sega-ness"