SNK's dogged pursuit of old school gameplay values and 16-bit technology is something revered by the hardcore gamer, but only one company has stuck it out as long as SNK, which continues to carve its own niche in Japan and the US with 2D fighting games and run-and-gun platformers that most developers said goodbye to a decade or more ago. In 2001, the company was even forced to close its doors and say goodbye to its fans for good after filing for bankruptcy. Yet somehow SNK's name lived on, its assets changed hands and not only is it thriving once more, but has finally tied up European distribution of all the games we've missed out on over the past few years as well as the new ones coming down the pipe.
Fast-growing Ignition Software, headed up by Vijay Chadha, has - totally against the odds - snapped up the European distribution of all SNK titles, thanks to a combination of tenacious commitment and connections with SNK dating back to Chadha's involvement with his former firm Planet Distribution - the distributor of the fondly remembered Neo Geo Pocket Colour. As a hardcore gamer and energetic publishing front man, his signing of SNK for Europe firmly puts his young company on the map, and has raised eyebrows across the publishing community, with sources close to the SNK revealing that many of the biggest names in the entire business have been turned down along the way.
And with this deal now finalised and extended across more than a dozen titles, Eurogamer was granted a rare opportunity to speak to two of SNK's most senior execs; Yoshihito Koyama, the number three in the entire SNK organisation and director of overseas operations, and Shinya Morishita, the manager of SNK's overseas operations.
Initially SNK's line up will feature old favourites that many will be familiar with from the last few year's worth of Metal Slug and King Of Fighters titles, but looking to next year the firms will finally be unleashing 3D, home specific versions of both for launch simultaneously across the world (you read that correctly - Nintendo, Capcom, Konami, Square-Enix et al take note), as well as branching into new genres with completely new franchises - with Onimusha-style action fighting, and Tenchu-inspired stealth action titles apparently on the cards. TGS is said to be the launch pad for a slew of announcements, so tune in for a host of Euro-related SNK news over the coming months.
In the meantime read our full, in-depth interview that marks the first step of SNK's unlikely but entirely welcome re-introduction to the European audience...
So many other publishers approached us - I can't tell you the names [laughs]. [Ignition] have their own development teams, like Awesome Studios, so we are also a publisher for third party so we can understand each other much more quickly. We are not looking for just a publisher.
Initially we had discussions and meetings with many publishers in Europe, but Ignition is very serious about our products and they have enough knowledge as well.
[Ignition] approached us.
Since the last Tokyo Games Show in Japan, so since September 2003.
Our studios developed our games mainly for the arcade. This last few years we concentrated more to the consumer business.
Initially, Metal Slug 3 for the PS2, Xbox and also [Metal Slug Advance for] Game Boy Advance.
Don't know. Best ask Ignition! We just license out!
Yes - Metal Slug 3, 4 and 5, and King Of Fighters 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003. And King Of Fighters: Maximum Impact.
We're planning to have 10 titles
Yeah, 3D titles, especially designed for consumer markets.
For the 3D games, yes, they will be full price.
We're not planning to set up our own office, no.
We still haven't decided how long, you know, so, erm... [laughs]... each game is, erm...
Well, it depends...
Of course we will release all the games in the US to the PAL market as well. It depends on the approval from Xbox and Sony.
The European market is maybe 30 per cent of the whole market, so we think the US market is maybe 50 per cent, but the most important thing is to covert from NTSC to PAL. But with Sony you have to think about SCEA approval because they don't like 2D games, but SCEE, they accept 2D games for release, but SCEA say 'no, they must be 2 in 1', or something like this, so we must follow for the European release as well, you know, two in a package.
We will support both of them, 2D and 3D.
16-bit... that depends on the CPU, right, so the motherboard, the NVS specification is a 16-bit motherboard...
That's right... The CPU engine for Sega Dreamcast.
We released our franchise titles, such as King Of Fighters and Metal Slug and Samurai Shodown.
Sammy's hardware system.
We haven't decided. At this moment we say no, but someone told me some rumours about a Neo Geo motherboard 2, or something, but at this moment we are not planning to continue to develop arcade pieces.
[Laughs] It's quite risky.
The hardware business is risky. It's quite a tough market.
We're trying to keep to a few titles, franchises, Metal Slug, King Of Fighters, and Samurai Shodown. Now we're trying to release the original software only for the consumer titles [in] 3D. We're trying to release maybe two of our new titles [in] 3D.
We need to have something different... different categories of games such as sport or RPG, fighting adventure or something. We don't want to always do Metal Slug, King Of Fighters. We need to have something like Onimusha or Tenchu style of games.
Yes, next year we maybe plan to release two or three [all new] titles.
Tokyo Games Show.
We're trying to have simultaneous worldwide releases.
With NTSC/PAL, Xbox is easiest to convert. The problem is with Sony PlayStation 2.
It's the biggest problem, it takes a long time. Localisation for five different languages is okay, no problem, but this market must be 50Hz to 60Hz switchable, and the sprite is different, you know, we have to speed it up. But we will release at the same time...
After the bankruptcy of SNK in 2001 we got our own IP and we're very happy to be here, back to the European market. So many funds existed in the European market... very happy.
Well, at the moment the development is Japan based, but there is a possibility.
This is a very good point. Ignition has Awesome Studios, Archer MacLean.
Yes, but for the future titles.
I think maybe we can consider them for the US, because they have a big market.
We haven't decided yet.
It's a totally different market. Xbox has terrible penetration in the Japanese market, if you're comparing with the States and Europe. In Japan, PlayStation is dominating the market, GameCube is some way behind and Xbox is nothing. It's expensive and big. Japan likes things very small.
[Laughs] That's not certain yet.
There are so many discussions...
PSP and also DS is something we will carefully consider. We want to see what happens in the market.
No, we want to see what's going on...who's going to win and who's got the market share. We think about the PSP will be much quicker to [grow].
Ignition Entertainment will publish Metal Slug 3 on PS2 and Xbox and Metal Slug Advance on the GBA this October, with more games to follow running in to early 2005.
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