A few minutes into starting last week’s Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner remaster, Mars, there’s an image that shows off some of the people who helped usher the celebrated 2003 action game into the age of 4K resolution and virtual reality. There’s also this small mention:
“A tribute to the original production staff and contents.”
This update to Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner was a collaboration between Cygames and Konami. It’s a team building on top of a game made by a very different set of people. I started looking into this crediting situation after seeing a tweet claiming the game didn’t acknowledge the work of its original developers at all. That’s not true, but it is complicated, and as I started looking into the way other remakes/remasters handle this, it’s a total mess. A mess that's lingered in games for decades.
“A tribute to the original production staff and contents” is a far cry from giving appropriate acknowledgement to the folks who designed the foundation. Where is game director Shuyo Murata, or artist Yoji Shinkawa?
By all accounts, the work Cygames did on this update is excellent, and was no small effort. Updating a game for 4K resolutions and virtual reality is not a matter of exporting some art from Photoshop and calling it a day.
The image above comes at the start of the game and is a form of weak, nonspecific crediting for the original staff, but you can only fit so many people on a single screen, so I figured there was more somewhere else. These days, it’s common for games to let players pull up a credits scene in the options menu, and Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner is no different. That section of credits, however, is solely dedicated to those who worked on the remaster. There is no mention of the original development staff, without a discernible reason why. There’s not even a shout out, as seen above. The former creatives aren’t acknowledged.
Huh. When I asked Konami about this, they were originally a little evasive.
“At this time, we do not have any additional information to share,” said a spokesperson.
A few days later, though, they followed up with the image seen in this very story.
It’s at this point I decided to dig a little deeper. The menu-bound credits screen was clearly built for this update. What happened to the original credits, the ones that roll when you beat the game? Some remasters keep that intact, others don't. I didn’t have time to play through Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner to find out, but thanks to the Internet, there was someone who’d already uploaded a full playthrough:
Lo and behold, there were the pure, untouched credits for the game—including producer Hideo Kojima, who infamously split from Konami years back during a bitter creative divorce. These don’t appear to have been touched by Cygames in any way, shape or form. They are simply the original credits, which means Cygames, who updated the game, isn’t mentioned.
It’s weird, right? And it only gets weirder when you see how other big games handle this.
Take, for example, Shadow of the Colossus from earlier this year. From left to right, here are the opening credits for the PlayStation 4 remake, the PlayStation 3 HD collection, and the original PlayStation 2 release. (The PS4 remake does not have an in-game credits option, like Zone of the Enders, so what appears at the end of the game is all that’s featured in it.)
The original staff are not mentioned, though designer Fumito Ueda is billed as “supervisor.” The credits do thank Sony’s Japanese arm for “supporting the legendary Shadow of the Colossus,” members of the staff whom “closely worked with us and played integral parts,” and the fans who Bluepoint Games credits with making this possible.
Trivia: Bluepoint Games handled the PS3 and PS4 updates to Shadow of the Colossus, putting them in the unique position of handling a remake and remaster of the same game.
2018’s Shadow of the Colossus is fundamentally different than Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, though—it’s a full-fledged aesthetic reimagining of the seminal 2005 action game. Not only that, but the amount of technical heavy lifting developer Bluepoint Games did to make the game completely authentic to the original game design is truly something else; their technology allows two game engines to run side-by-side, ensuring it’s the same game. This makes a credible argument for giving Bluepoint Games top billing on the PS4 version.
And yet… none of that matters without the original, right? If you can get two engines to run side-by-side, why not spent whatever time it takes to mention the people who came before?
“I believe that decision is made entirely by our publisher,” said a Bluepoint Games spokesperson over email. “We list the team members who worked on the remaster/remake, and the publisher tells us who else should be listed in the credits.”
Besides Shadow of the Colossus, Bluepoint has worked on several other technical updates.
Shadow of the Colossus was not the only from-the-ground-up remake in 2018; Vicarious Visions helped revive Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot, and knocked it out of the park. Like Shadow of the Colossus, it’s a gorgeous update to an aging classic. In the credits for the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, Vicarious Visions gets mentioned first, but there is this line:
“...and a super special shout out to Naughty Dog and the original Crash Bandicoot team members who contributed to the original three games!”
Crash Bandicoot is an interesting case because the original trilogy was developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony—they were premiere PlayStation exclusives at the time. Sony never outright owned the franchise, only publishing rights to the original trilogy. The remakes showed up on PlayStation 4 first, but are now available on multiple platforms.
This is a long way of saying Activision, who now owns Crash Bandicoot, doesn’t own Naughty Dog. There was no reason Naughty Dog had to be in the credits. But they were. (Albeit without specific staff names).
There are, most likely, a combination of factors to explain what’s happening here, ranging from ignorance to indifference to internal politics to potentially unknowable legal questions.
“The credits clause for the new devs could disallow for that, but I've never seen it,” said attorney Ryan Morrison of Morrison/Lee, a firm specializing in games, esports, and Internet-based entertainment. “I think it's more a business reason than a legal reason.”
Bluepoint Games’ explanation for Shadow of the Colossus certainly backs that up.
Overshadowing all of it, however, is the stark reality that game developers have no way to enforce crediting for their work. Everyone’s at the mercy of the publishers writing checks, and if they choose to not credit, there’s basically nothing you (or anyone) can do about it.
The International Game Developers Association, a non-profit group who talks like a union but lacks the power to enforce anything, adopted this standard: “any person, contractor or employee, who has contributed to the production of the game for at least 5.0% or 30 days (whichever is least) of the project’s total workdays in development must be credited.”
That’s reasonable, but again: unenforceable. It’s a suggestion of policy and nothing more. Despite the growth of groups like Game Workers Unite, game developers aren’t currently unionized and are unlikely to soon, which means they have no way of forcing proper crediting, whether it’s on the game they explicitly worked on or a remake/re-release later.
In 2008, Mythic Entertainment didn’t credit for their work on the MMO Warhammer Online unless they were at the studio when it shipped. Mythic eventually relented. In 2009, there was a similar situation with Codemasters shooter Operation Flashpoint 2. Codemasters stuck by the Warhammer Online excuse, before adding some developers. In 2011, a group of 149 developers who’d previously worked on Rockstar Games’ L.A. Noire but were not credited in the final product banded together to demand recognition. Rockstar never budged.
This has been going on for as long as video games have existed, however. Credits are not merely about feeling proud by association. It’s building a resume, explicit proof you were part of a thing that was made, finished, and shipped. Because workers have no power over them, they become an explicit tool of power for companies who’ve stacked the deck in their favor.
"Some developers and studio heads see a credit as a 'badge,’” said Brian Robbins, chair of the IGDA board of directors and founder of mobile developer Riptide Games to me in a 2011 piece about L.A. Noire. “They see credits as an award ribbon that you get for crossing the finish line or the pat on the back for sticking through long hours and poor working conditions. The people that feel this way might consider giving credit to an artist that worked on the game two years previous and left for greener pastures after a year almost insulting."
The desire to be credited can be used to exert pressure on employees to stick through a project, even if they’d like to leave. It can prevent other companies from knowing who worked on that, explicitly so they’ll be unable to hire said employee. It’s power and control.
In Blake Harris’ book Console Wars, documenting the bruising fights between Nintendo and Sega in the 90s, he shared a story about Sonic the Hedgehog designer Yuji Naka, who’d become a superstar at the company because of Sonic’s success, especially overseas. But Naka was upset at Sega over several grievances, including lack of credit for his hard work:
“It’s not like he was asking for his name to be in the title, but Sega of Japan wouldn’t even allow his name to appear at the end of the game. It was company policy not to credit anyone from the development teams, partially to instill an all-for-one attitude, but mostly to prevent other companies from knowing who did what, which would allow them the chance to poach programmers. Naka understood the policy, but that didn’t make it right. Artists sign paintings, writers get bylines, and a movie director’s work is hailed as “A film by So-and-So.” His desire for credit was less about ego and more about peace of mind.”
The first line really stands out: “It’s not like he was asking for his name to be in the title.” The notion of being given topline credit was absurd to the point of not being up for consideration!
Naka did find a way to credit himself and the team behind Sonic the Hedgehog, though. The game briefly opens with a black screen stating “Sonic Team Presents.” Hidden in black text on the screen’s black background, though, are full credits: programmer Yuuji Naka; planner Yirokazu Yasuhara; designers Naoto Ooshima, Jina Isiwatari, Rieko Kataoka; sound producer Masato Nakamura; and sound programmers Hiroshi Kubota and Yukifumi Makino.
It’s not possible to see these credits unless you’re playing the game in Japanese, but if you type in a specific code, followed up by another code, then the mysterious credits are visible.
It seems unlikely Konami was playing this game with Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner. If Konami was going to play crediting hardball with anyone, it’d be Hideo Kojima, and he’s happily featured when you beat the game. It’s probably somewhere in the middle, a mixture of indifference and a historical precedent building on a similar indifference that’s lingered forever in games, Japanese or otherwise. This is not a regional issue, it’s an industry issue.
In my 2011 story about L.A. Noire, a developer told me “the biggest enemy to an industry crediting standard is apathy.” That was true in 2011, and 20 years before that. It’s true now.
Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.