Nintendo Partnerships

Monday, July 21, 2003

Nintendo Partnerships

The past few years have been like a dream waiting to be realized since the days of the Super Nintendo. Recall the time when Nintendo was on top of the world. During this era, Nintendo rested contently within a golden roost that towered high above the gaming industry. Meanwhile, ordinary third-party developers toiled and slaved on projects to appease the almighty. With an ominous gaze from the authority in the sky, these third-party peasants crafted extraordinary games on their fragile, worn knees.

"We must make good-game to please master, yes."


Things have changed drastically since then. The days of Pimp Yamauchi and his Third-Party Hos are no more. The Nintendo of the 22nd century has been humbled by corporate juggernauts Sony and Microsoft. Nintendo has learned, perhaps by having no other choice, to work with third-parties side-by-genuine-side.

Indeed, the former dictator has become a peer and ally. On an ever growing scale, Nintendo has been funding, aiding, and conceiving new gaming experiences through the talent and ingenuity of third-party developers and publishers.

This is a chronological look at most, if not all the relationships Nintendo has formed with third-party developers over the recent generation. Some may be more established than others, however, that doesn't lessen their importance. And while many have yet to see their final outcomes, each alliance has helped provide a mosaic of the Nintendo we know today.

Left Field Productions

Future Potential: None

Left Field was one of the first development studios to begin software development for Nintendo's GameCube. Left Field developed such Nintendo 64 titles including Excitebike 64 and NBA Courtside. The company's last Nintendo 64 title was released in May of 2000. Work commenced on the GameCube version of Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside 2002 immediately thereafter. Meanwhile, a rift was beginning to grow between the two companies.

"Well, so far we haven't really had a whole lot of input [on our games] from Nintendo because we haven't really given them a whole lot on the GameCube yet," said Left Field president Michael Lamb. "That is one thing about Nintendo, though, is that everyone there really understands games and their input is quite valuable and always helpful. But it's not always welcome [laughs], especially when you've done a lot of work on something and somebody else comes up with another idea and you have to go back and change things."

NBA Courtside 2002 was released on January 14, 2002. Rumors developed shortly after regarding the departure of multiple employees from the Left Field team to Sega's Visual Concepts. Meanwhile, work began on the sequel to 1080 Snowboarding. Development, however, came to a quick halt when Nintendo sold its invested shares back to Left Field in September 2002. The two companies officially parted ways and wrote an ending chapter to their relationship. Despite this fact, there appears to be no hard feelings between the former allies.

"Nintendo has a very good company knowledge of games and they're real gamers," said Left Field president Michael Lamb. "Even the fact that Miyamoto has been promoted to the board shows that Nintendo realizes who's important -- they've got some people that really understand the process of making games there, and that's cool -- I like that."

Under publisher Infogrames, Left Field recently released Backyard Football on GameCube. While Left Field's relationship with Nintendo has come to a close, the company's experience developing for GameCube will likely see its continued software support.

Factor 5

Future Potential: Good

Originally located in Cologne, Germany, Factor 5 was offered in 1995, due to close collaboration with LucasArts, a move to Northern California. In May 1996 the staff, consisting of 19 people (Among them developers, programmers, graphic artists and musicians), moved to San Rafael, CA (Marin County). Factor 5 first started developing titles for Lucas Arts on the PlayStation. However, it moved on and started toying with the Nintendo 64. Its first major endeavor would turn out to be a development necessity rather than a game; it decided to rewrite the Nintendo 64's sound tools and use its own proprietary sound tools titled MusyX and MORT. Nintendo has been very close with Factor 5. Factor 5 also created the sound tools for Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, and the Nintendo GameCube. The company was one of the first developers to receive development kits for the GameCube, showing off its first GameCube title, Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II at Nintendo's 2000 Spaceworld show.

Most recently Factor 5, in collaboration with Lucas Arts, released Star Wars Rogue Squadron III during the 2003 holiday.

What is Factor 5 doing now? Well, rumors point to the company either 1) Porting the Rogue Squadron games to the Xbox or 2) Developing a sequel to Pilot Wings for Nintendo's next-generation home console. Which is true? Stay tuned.


Future Potential: Good

Back in 1998, Hudson and Nintendo began a joint venture that would sponsor development of Nintendo 64, 64DD, and Game Boy projects. It was called Monegi. Monegi's president, Hiroshi Ikeda, was a former Nintendo Manufacturing Division Chief. In March of 2000, Hudson underwrote the allocation of new shares to a third party for the Monegi Corporation and changed the company to a subsidiary (with enlarged capital stock of 150 million yen, ownership: 60% Hudson Soft and 40% Nintendo)

Nintendo's Mario Party series of games come from this relationship with Hudson. The GameCube received the fourth title in the series, Mario Party 4, on October 21, 2002, the fifth game Mario Party 5, on November 11, 2003, and the sixth is currently scheduled for the 2004 holiday season. A bit excessive? Well, not if people continue to buy them.

It's unknown if this alliance will be expanded to pursue additional Nintendo licenses. For now, it looks like they'll be sticking to Mario Party.


Future Potential: Poor

The Nintendo 64 was lacking in Japanese third party support. To cure this, Nintendo of Japan decided to build a canvas to garner more software development from outside parties. Marigul was established in July 1996 as a joint venture between Recruit (60%) and Nintendo (40%). The name Marigul coincidentally, is a hybrid from MARIo and seeGUL (Recruits corporate mascot). Marigul serves as an agent to independent game developers. Once you sign a contract with Marigul, your job is to concentrate on developing the software. Marigul gathers the budget from investors for you. Their only requirement of you is to have the game completed in five years. Mariguls list of Japanese oriented games include: Pikachu Denki Dechu, Custom Robo, Kyojin no Doshin, Echo Delta, Derby Stallion, and Dobutso Bancho.

At this point, Marigul has failed to be of importance to the Western game-playing audience. Doshin the Giant is likely the only game you are familiar with as it was tentively scheduled for a North American release. Giles Goddard, of 1080 Snowboarding fame ported the title to GameCube, complete with its oddball design and addictive gameplay. Doshin the Giant was ultimately released only in Europe and Japan.

There have been no direct Nintendo of America releases of Marigul supported software. However, Dobutso Bancho, also known as Animal Leader, was picked up by publisher Atlus and released in North America under the title of Cubivore.

The first published game by NOA will occur on May 10, 2004, with the debut of Custom Robo for GameCube.

Silicon Knights

Future Potential: Good

An important relationship began to transpire in late 1998 between an extremely talented Ontario, Canada-located development studio and a prominent Japanese corporation. The alliance was being formed between developer Silicon Knights and publisher Nintendo Co., Ltd. through the creation of a Nintendo 64 video game entitled Eternal Darkness. The game was first unveiled at E3 1999 and had many in the gaming industry were immediately intrigued with its catalog of innovative features and unique description of "psychological thriller". Eternal Darkness was eventually given a pending release date of October 31, 2000, residing directly on the ominous celebration of Halloween. For a time, the development of Eternal Darkness continued without diversion.

As result of their close development contact, the fond relationship between Silicon Knights and Nintendo became increasingly amplified. On May 3, 2000, to the surprise of few, Nintendo officially announced its acquirement of Silicon Knights Inc. as a second-party developer. The deal made the development house an immediate exclusive developer. Silicon Knights is known for its thought-provoking and innovative video game software.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem released on June 24, 2002 and into the hands of excited gamers.

In 2003, Nintendo, Konami, and Silicon Knights partnered to develop Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes for GameCube. The title was released in North America on March 9, 2004.

Silicon Knights currently has its former Playstation sci-fi thriller, Too Human in development for either GameCube or Nintendo's next-generation console. Silicon Knights' president Denis Dyack, is a huge Nintendo fan. You can expect many innovative games from this company.


Future Potential: None

The saga of Rare. If there is such thing as companies being soulmates, Nintendo and Rare would be it.

In the spring of 1995, Rare's ability to create innovative games landed itself a landmark partnership with Nintendo. The Japanese videogames giant purchased a 25% share of the developer, "honoring it with the first fiscal investment it had ever undertaken in an overseas company." Rare would enjoy a privileged gateway to a widely expanding market.

Through the years that followed, Nintendo and Rare would collaborate on games such as Donkey Kong Country. When GameCube was announced, Nintendo and Rare made the decision to take the then Nintendo 64 title Dinosaur Planet and develop it for GameCube using the Starfox franchise. Dinosaur Planet, transformed into Starfox Adventures, released for the GameCube on September 23, 2002.

As Rare was purchased by Microsoft in 2002, this was the very first and last GameCube game to come out of Nintendo and Rare's long-time friendship.

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