Why 'Bionic Commando' Is Finally Back In 2008 - And How The PSP Played Two Key Roles

Bionic CommandoSan Francisco -- Ben Judd, a producer at Capcom, is sympathetic to many an online complaint about the two "Bionic Commando" games he is producing -- the first major new ones in 20 years -- perhaps because he too can be a pest.

In fact, if Ben Judd wasn't good at being a pest, there probably wouldn't be anything for anyone to complain about. When I asked him last week at the Game Developers Conference why the "Bionic Commando" series was coming back after so many years on hiatus, he told me it was because he kept nagging his bosses about it, for the last four years.

So, those "BC" fans complaining about the new PS3/Xbox360 game's hot dog arm?

Judd has nagged worse, but does feel bad enough about the complaint that the color of the tubes on the hero's arm are now "more like snake skin."

Those "BC" fans not happy with the main character's hair cut?

He's impervious, saying "when you try to re-do a game that's 20 years old, that nostalgia has crystallized." The crew cut isn't coming back, though maybe it could be an unlockable.

Those Nintendo fans feeling left out and aggressively petitioning Capcom to bring some sort of "Bionic Commando" to the Wii?

He's reasonable, saying, "I understand where they're coming from." But he's also realistic about the suggestion that it should involve swinging the remote to make the game's hero swing his bionic arm: "If we did a Wii version it would not be with one-to-one swinging… you couldn't do [that] for more than 10 minutes."

So what about Judd's own nagging? And how does the PSP -- a system the new "Bionic Commando" is not being released on -- play two key roles? You read about one of them earlier today.

For the rest, read on...

Bionic Commando"The original 'Bionic Commando' didn't sell well in Japan," Judd told me while a colleague of his from Capcom swung through a new build of the PS3/360/PC game. "And Capcom is a Japanese company." One of the problems with the original was that it was very hard, a degree of challenge not terribly popular in Japan.

But four years ago, Judd, who works in Capcom's offices in Osaka, Japan, began lobbying. He wasn't from Japan, and so he loved that original game. In 2004 he made a design document. He laughs about it now, saying it was an amateurish attempt to get his bosses excited. "I had listed sales figures for other games that had gone from 2D to 3D like 'Metal Gear Solid.' I had quotes from GameFAQS." His pitch fell flat. When it came to the appeal of "Bionic Commando," he said the higher-ups at Capcom "just didn't know it."

Then Judd went to E3 with Capcom's now-head of game development Keiji Inafune who Judd had gotten close with while working on "Dead Rising." At E3, Inafune and Judd met a reporter. "There was an editor, Ben Turner," Judd said, "And he had a business card that had the Bionic Commando 1-up icon. I said 'look,' and Inafune-san said, 'You set me up.'" Inafune got it. He was sold on the potential of a new "Bionic Commando."

So Judd started to work with a team on a new "BC" game… for the PSP. By late 2005, things changed. "As we were building it out, Inafune-san said, 'I think we need to make a next-gen game.'"

As the next-gen version was being developed -- the one with the new haircut and the temporarily hot-dog-colored arms -- a side-scrolling remake of the original "Bionic Commando" also got the green light. Both would be produced in Japan but built by the Swedish development studio Grin.

Both the big home game and the downloadable re-make were on display during my meeting with Judd. He and I played the re-make, called "Bionic Commando: Rearmed" co-op (during which I learned I hadn't played enough of the original to have any muscle memory guide me through). The bigger game, just called "Bionic Commando," was too early for me to play but looked smooth and fun.

I asked Judd for more information about "Rearmed," which hadn't been shown to reporters before, as far as I could tell. He mentioned that the Xbox Live Arcade version will include a leaderboard for special challenges, but that the PlayStation Network PS3 version will have better textures, because PSN doesn't force the size restrictions that XBLA does (a Microsoft executive told me a day later that the company hadn't been aware of the "BC" issue and would work with Capcom to address it). Judd said the PC version of "Rearmed" might have extra content. All versions of the game will also have "Metal Gear Solid"-style virtual reality training missions.

Bionic Commando: RearmedOne other PSN "Rearmed" bonus: the game will support Remote Play, the feature that enables gamers to play some of their PS3 games on their PSP using a WiFi connection. "So it's coming out on the PSP in a way, anyway," Judd said. The project has come full circle.

So this is what being a nag gets you: two "Bionic Commando" games for the first time in more than a decade. That, at least, is what Ben Judd's nagging gets you.

And give some thanks to Inafune, Judd said. "That's what you're seeing, is him listening."