Review of the Month; original Xbox Controller

The original Xbox controller is infamous for being on the large side. It was originally named the Fatty or Fatso, it later got nicknamed more favourably as The Duke. I had my chance to test it when Xbox originally came out, but never after that. The Xbox Controller S, nicknamed as Akebono, was designed for the Japanese iteration of the console and later was adopted worldwide as the new standard, for few damn good reasons. That said, this review is written from standard sized hand perspective.

Well shit, there goes the center symbol

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Industrial bloat

EA is the thing everybody likes to kick whenever its relevant. EA deserves it too, as the company has a long history of taking franchises and developer studios and running them to the ground. Very few have any love toward them, except sports gamers who buy the latest NHL and FIFA release each year. We can understand the mindset. They’re a corporation just like any other, and aim to do everything for profit. The methods just don’t seem to sit with some consumers, while others just don’t care.

That said, microtransactions and loot boxes have been talked to death a lot as of late, thanks to them taking more presence in the mainline games. The model can be said to come from mobile games, where it has essentially become the lifeline of many games, where games are offered free, but their larger content has to be paid for, or at least to succeed further requires putting some money in.

From psychological point, microtransaction is a well selling term. It give an idea of a transaction of miniscule size, almost something that doesn’t matter. The effect on the consumer is interesting, and these small transactions often can pile up when you can’t keep track on physical money. It is far easier to spend what you don’t see, and then suffer the consequences later on.

Loot boxes are another can-o-worms, especially when they’re the kind that are tied to promotional events or otherwise to something that forces the consumer to consume their time with the game’s event or related. Considering many games offer loot boxes to be bought with real money, or in-game money you can buy with real money, it is gambling. It is very much comparable to a lottery ticket where each ticket has some sort of win. While some make an arbitrary difference between loot boxes and gachas, the concept is largely the same. Here we could argue that loot boxes are similar to vending machine toys, and these are not counted as a form of gambling. However, the difference is of course that a vending machine does not insist you on a purchase, unlike the constant reinforcement video and mobile games tend to do with seasons, events and the like. The concept of gambling and video games is something I’ve touched before, with the argument that video and computer games themselves are not gambling, but can contain simulation of gambling, but loot boxes and gachas touch upon real world and games are designed to work with them as a core element, then we’re talking about a form of digital gambling.

However, the whole debacle of Star Wars: Battlefront II (2017) is a whole another thing. While it has seemed to be a PR nightmare to EA due to all the negativity its microtransactions and  how long it’ll take to open up new characters within the game, EA has managed to make use all of this and seem like a company that listens to their consumers. Buying whatever in-game money it is they use to unlock characters will be enabled at a later date.

There’s the rub though; Battlefront II (2017) and other games like it that offer purchased random goods already cost money. Essentially, the game companies have become bloated to each direction in how much higher ups get salary to production values and development time that they need to find new ways to make more revenues. In order to make the revenues go up, EA has opted to concentrate all their efforts on a whale of a game that should snag the most players. All this after you’ve payed the full price for the game, of course, and you can’t open things up through sheer effort and skill. The game has cool down periods, where you can’t acquire in-game money. Hell, you can expect only 1-3% of the game’s players to carry these microtransactions. These are the trouble consumers that may need serious help. Gamers, while saying one thing, often seem to do the exact opposite.

This isn’t exactly putting all your eggs into one basket. This is more like putting trying to sap out everything from the consumer through one product. What I mean by this is that EA has opted to get as much revenue out of the game as possible outside the sales of the game. There is no equivalent in other entertainment media due to the nature of games. This isn’t a subscription to digital service or the like.

All this is a symptom. The cause, if we’re to believe companies, is the rising development costs. Unlike what these corporations want to tell the consumer via their PR, consumers at large don’t expect cutting edge graphics or the like. The game design has always been the number one factor. The only game culture that has concerned themselves with highest possible graphical fidelity is the computer game culture. However, with the cross pollination and consoles becoming dumbed down PCs, with Steam serving as a digital game console platform, it’s no wonder this skewed sense has crept into game development. Much like how Hollywood execs are becoming further moved away from the common consumer, the same is happening in game industry. There are too many large houses doing far too large projects, there is only three consoles on the market, with Steam effectively being a fourth addition that play the bit part of everything. Uniqueness has been replaced with ports everywhere, and now that ports seemingly not making enough money, the consumer is expected to dosh out more for the product they purchased.

EA and other developers need to look inside of their own house and cut down on the overtly expensive development cycles.

The argument that games can’t cost over 60€ is also bullshit. Currently, the medium price for a game is lower than what it has been at their highest. Ultima games cost around 120 dollars, with some N64 games costing locally around 120€ when transferred to current currency. If there is a need to raise games’ prices to meet the production costs, so be it. The market will decide if that was the right call. That, or drop the development costs outside salaries. It’s not the consumer’s fault if the products are not meeting with expectations and incredibly over-estimated sales figures.

Tapping people who may have gambling tendencies though is not the way to go.

Guilty Gear design comparison: MAY

May’s one of those characters that were there from the beginning. Not really sure how to describe her but as the Dan of Guilty Gear, where she puts the joke where others are dead serious, except she’s actually viable character to use.

Some say May’s design hasn’t really changed. It’s true that her overall silhouette hasn’t changed, but the design of her costume went through rather significant design overhaul when Xrd hit around. It’s not a total change of outfit, but it is the little bits a total sum is build upon. She’s a pirate, and that’s what her design reflects. There isn’t too much anything deeper to it, though her name, May, is probably an allusion to Brian May, the lead guitarist of Queen.

X, Isuka and Xrd

While the above omits original and XX‘s designs, May’s one of those characters that didn’t exactly change during the Midnight Carnival haydays. Interestingly, she has few takes in the original, with slight tweaks to her design, one of which is probably an earlier picture that got used.

The two above May’s are different in tones and details. While the one of the left has two clips on both sides of her front flat, the right one does not. The skull on her hat doesn’t have a nose on the left one either. The belt is also shorter, as we can see it flapping much freer on the right one. It also lacks the metal end cap on the right card. This is the level of things we’re talking about when it comes to May’s details, but if you’ve read any of my previous comparisons, you know this is par for the course.

From head to toes, here we go.

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Updating the build-in obsolescence

Sometimes I come across news that just feel stupid. Logitech announced that they will shut down all services for their Harmony Link, essentially bricking the device with an update. Why? Well, they’re out of certificate on technology that’s inside the lil’ smart device remote. This of course caused rather serious backlash on the usual Internet forums, to which Logitech responded that they’ll replace the obsoleted devices to a new one.

This is, sadly, par for the course in modern era. Licenses and certificates from every which way is being implemented in devices that are not though to last. Devices are not thought to last at all, with some companies expecting you to replace your phone yearly. Apple, for example, optimises all their latest updates to their newest models, the old ones be damned, meaning the old hardware gets sub-optimal OS update, which will cause things to slow down and requires more numbers to be crunched. Apple pulled back one of their iOS updates after they released it, as it made older systems inoperable due to inability to make phone calls or unresponsive fingerprint sensors.

Back in the day, obsolescence was designed in the product from the get go. Some film companies even wanted VCRs to wipe tapes slightly each time they were played. This meant, that after certain number of watches, the tape would be blank and the consumer would be forced to buy a new copy of the movie. Imagine if a DVD or Blu-Ray discs and their players would’ve been built so that after certain amount of watches, the player’s laser would burn a mark that would prevent any further playbacks. Apple’s products are full of planned obsolescence from hardware to software, with the customer being completely dependent on the company’s services when it comes to maintenance and repair.

While bricking updates are exactly nothing new, they’ve become more and more common at a steady pace. It has not been profitable to design and manufacture products that would last anymore. We have the technology to make phones and whatnot last a solid decade, but this would mean the companies wouldn’t get that steady stream of high revenue yearly. This may sound overtly dramatic or even anti-corporate, but this is more or less personal experience with numerous companies. The discussions I’ve had with professional from the industry who have worked in different fields of productions, from the cases to the software, all have said the same thing; it’s cheap. The outer shells cost barely anything to tool, the electronics manufactured and fabricated at a very low price in countries that don’t care about certain legislation issues, assembly is done in an area where pay is extremely low and people are prevented from doing suicides via nets. Shipping per unit costs absolutely jack shit, coding is done to drive the latest things up and probably is the second most costly bit after advertisement. It is the name that drives the price up. Hell, the lack of earphone jack and other physical properties in more modern phones nowadays is to drive the production price down while the sales price is jacked up.

The only thing that ultimately costs is the brand. iPhone X costs a thousand bucks to buy, and it has nothing to justify its price outside the Apple logo and branding. The profit margin is extraordinarily high. I won’t even try to calculate the production price, but a good guess would be that the production costs are hundreds times less than the final sales price. But hey, if people will pay for it, then that’s the rule of the market.

That veered a bit off the topic, but it’s relevant. The core problem in updated obsolescence is that it will be everywhere. Smart homes are not all that common nowadays, but the more we will have such devices on our homes, from freezers and microwaves to simple light switches. If any of these devices use similarly certified technology that has been essentially licensed from outside, they will face a kill-update. All these smart devices will contain programs and services, which the companies see as the main sales. From a company’s point of view, they’re not really selling you an item, but the service the item will enable. In this sense, the consumer is purchasing a long lasting license to their service via this device. From the customer’s point of view, they’re paying for a device that enables a function, like the smart device control with Logitech’s Harmony Link.

This disparity is clear in gaming as well, where companies and some consumers argue that nobody is purchasing anything anymore. Rather, you are subscribing to a service with one-time payment. However, nobody can come to your home and tell disable your games. Unless you’re using Steam.

If we’re to believe this tight device cycle will stay for the foreseeable future, it will also cause another issue to build up. Apple alone is responsible for a huge pileup of e-waste, and if we count all other electronics companies with similar pace of new product introduction, we’re getting large quantities of products that will not last long. Africa probably feels the brute of the hit from this, with tons of e-waste being dumped in Ghana’s landfills.

The first step to fight this cycle would be sustainable development and design. However, the core principle of sustainable design is against most corporate interests, as it dictates that a product should be designed to last as long as possible. However, a phone that would last a decade would not be as profitable compared to a phone that gets the shaft after two years.

Logitech’s response to the outcry of their kill-update isn’t any solution. The Harmony Link will become obsoleted not because the devices have broken, but because the company chooses to terminate its function. The action is not a solution, but a pathetic way to weasel out of it. This is not sustainable design.

I’m not an Earth hugging hippie by any stretch of the imagination you may get from this post, but sustainable development and design are two key factors that need to become more relevant as the time goes by. We only got one Earth, and seeing we’re not getting off this world any time soon, we should take better care of it.

More first-party Microsoft titles in the horizon

Why do people buy game consoles? To play games that are on them, there is very little reason to buy a console in themselves. Each company who puts out a console needs to have a library of games to waver the customers’ decision towards their product. The only way is to offer a product that the competition does not. The very core reason why Nintendo’s consoles sell is that people wish to consume Nintendo’s games. If games are not up to the task, the consoles won’t sell well. The opposite also applies.

What first party titles can you name from either Microsoft or Sony for their consoles? To many, they can name titles either company has published, like Halo or Gears of War, with Sony having Ape Escape and Gravity Rush listed. However, Microsoft mainly utilises second or third-party studios to develop their titles they have either exclusive deals with or employ to develop a game for them. Rather than having their own in-house development, Microsoft has numerous studios under their belt; Turn 10, Rare, the closed Lionhead Studios and such. This isn’t anything out of the ordinary, as both Nintendo and Sony have similar ownerships as well, but one never really could say that Halo was a Microsoft game like we can say Super Mario is a Nintendo game.

Whatever the relationship happens to be with the developer and with the people who pays them, be it an in-house team or an employed outside studio, the core intention in the end is to produce a game that you won’t have on another platform. The third-party houses can do whatever they want, to certain degrees, but the games the console manufacturer puts out have to be great. This is due to how much weight the first-party has, in the end. If they can’t build an initial user base well enough, third-party will join the platform much later, only with ports, or in some cases not at all. While it is the first-party’s job to deliver impacting titles to open the market, initial ports can be a third-party’s way to test the waters a bit before taking the full dive. It is, of course, cheap to take an existing product and shove it unto another platform nowadays, seeing you don’t have to build the port from scratch.

Microsoft’s Phil Spencer intends to move Microsoft’s Xbox plans towards games. Games have never been Microsoft’s main front, despite the what the article wants to imply, though their emphasize when it comes to gaming used to reside on the computer market. There is where Microsoft used to shine like no other, but with the advent of the original Xbox, it fell to the wayside. If Microsoft had emphasized their computer gaming divisions like they did in the 90’s, Steam probably would not have taken root in exactly the same way it did.

This is why it is proper for Microsoft to utilise outside studios they may or may not own for their library of games. Microsoft, as it stands as an individual company, should always give emphasize to the operating system market and whatever needs personal computers may have nowadays. Perhaps spinning Xbox to its own company with practical in-house ties to the parent company should be considered, but this won’t ever happen for practical and political reasons.

What is true, however, is that Sony outsells Microsoft on the console game market. The only things that have any proper saying on this are the games. Microsoft only demerits their console if they continue to port their games to Windows, though in the end Microsoft is the company that would get the money from both ends. However, this line of thought doesn’t help when it comes to Xbox. While both Microsoft and Sony enjoy a rather healthy amount of third-party titles on their systems to the point of those games being the main reason to purchase their consoles rather than the first party ones. Sony has, for example, the Ryu ga Gotoku/ Yakuza series going on for them, and while the series has always been a bit niche, it has found its audience and has managed to expand its fanbase with constant releases. However, much like other Sony-only titles, e.g. most of Senran Kagura, Yakuza is a very Japanese game series that certain fringe groups find distasteful.

Microsoft also is expanding on software and services, whatever that ultimately means for Xbox brand. If Spencer is right about Microsoft probably rolling out a streaming service that doesn’t require the console, then there might be something working against Xbox as a console in the background. Perhaps not directly or even intentionally, but common logic would state that bot putting all your eggs in one basked it the best way to go. This doesn’t apply if you want to have a product like a game console survive on the market. It requires putting effort into it with almost all-or-nothing attitude and making it as unique in software library as possible. Look at Nintendo for a good example; it may not be an electronics company that makes the most money, but it is also pretty much the top company when it comes to making money on games and consoles alone. The mindset is completely different, you can’t have a dry rut too often.

The sort of services and software outside gaming Microsoft develops in the near future will have some impact on Xbox as a brand. While emphasising games has been in need for a long time now, it’s better later than never. There would also be some need to rework Xbox’s image, if we’re completely frank, as outside the US its image is rather redneck-y at places. The best place to show the brand’s lower quality is in Japan, and how little success it has there. Perhaps what Microsoft should do with this would be to customise the brand to an extent. The NES and SNES would be a good example what I’m after with this. You can’t really help with the American kusoge image though, that can only be done with getting more Japanese developers getting on-board and making games for Japanese to consume on Xbox. Of course, other realities then come into play, like how Japanese don’t really play home consoles like they used to, with portable consoles taking the top spots most of the time.

Still, if Spencer’s plans to make Xbox more game emphasised that before, that’d be great.

Death of an element in the game industry

How stupidly vague title. That is because for as long as game industry has existed in its modern form, there have been predictions and expectations for certain things to happen. Trip Hawkins is somewhat infamous for expecting Nintendo to die out in the 80’s, something long time gamers probably remember hearing each generation. Yet, it’s consistently been The Big N that seems to push video game innovation forwards in the grand scheme of things. In reality, everything they launch or new things they introduce already exists on the market in some form, Nintendo just manages to make use of old technology and represents it in a new manner. I’ve discussed the fact that I’ve been hearing that physical games will vanish in the next five years or so since 2005, which still hasn’t taken place. Certainly digital downloads and distribution has taken hold and has allowed far more smaller developers to pitch in, though they have not replaced physical games, especially on the video game market. The computer game market on the other hand has been consolised by Steam to the point of being unrecognisable from its former, free self.

The claim that single-player games are dying out at some speed is, to be completely frank, laughable. The Switch may have been Zelda the Console for some time now, with some other good titles sprinkled here and there, though that just shows how much people appreciate single-player games. With Super Mario Odyssey hitting two million units sold in three days, and the amount of single-player games mobile devices offer, not to mention the odd Facebook browser game and Cuphead going platinum in few weeks, it seems the idea of single-player games being a dying breed is hot air.

The classic electronic games trinity was the arcade machine, home video game console and personal computer. With the death of the arcades, this trinity has become more or less obsolete. However, it was never replaced with anything, as consoles have become increasingly dumbed-down computers all the while consolification of PC has been taking place. The trinity was supported by duality of both single-player and multi.player games, and the mix of the two.

To make it a bit more clear, the game industry has always stood on the idea of games you can play with or against the computer, and games that allow you to play with your friends. The two do not exclude each other in any way, as many single-player games also offer multiplayer mode. While I’ve seen some forums claim that single-player games are relics of old time, when you couldn’t have people playing together, this is bullshit. Both Tennis for Two from 1958 and Spacewar! from 1962 required two players to properly function.

If we were to go further back in game culture, we would find that there has always been a healthy split between games and game-like devices that were designed around single person to use. The phénakisticope is an example of a game-like device that was reserved for only one to use. Pinball machines and their predecessors like the bagatelle or Billard japonais, while able to support sequential multi-player, ultimately were one person devices. Hell, even in card games you have single-player variants, and some card games can only be played by one person properly. Solitaire is most famous for its single-player variant, with the multi-player one being relegated to curiosity.

Where I’m getting at here is that throughout the history, games and plays have always had a need for specific games that allow action done with a group, or action done alone.

If I were to turn this completely around for a moment, in many ways true single-player games have already died. Most, if not all, modern games already require something to run the game’s script and AI, meaning the player is actively playing with a non-human being, as limited as it may be. The fact that most modern games could not function without some level AI, like Nier Automata, means that every time we are playing such a game, we are playing against and with something. The only games that still are truly single-player are games like Breakout, which have no AI element to them.

That’s not what people mean by single-player game though.

The fact that there are cultural and historical reasons why games for one exist is nothing anyone should overlook. The fact that most modern games have a multi-player element to them is simply due to the fact that modern information technology allows it. We are in an era where we can mix the single-player experience with interactions with others without it being its completely own mode does not mean single-player games are dead. The traditional way of thinking the split between single- and multi-player games has to be reexamined with the advent of new technology. The godforsaken fact we’re connected to each other 24/7 also allows means to enhance these single-player experiences. The aforementioned Nier Automata does this by introducing other players’ dead characters on the field you can either pilfer or revive. Similarly, Gravity Rush 2 used player taken pictures as hints for others in treasure hunts. These methods do not change a game to become single-player, it uses the connectivity to enhance and give it more flavour, much like how base infiltration did in Metal Gear Solid V.

Lastly, there is still an immense market for single-player games. Despite online connectivity being what it is nowadays, multi-player games require specific sort of marketing, design on the cooperation or competitive side and expansion to keep the user base happy. The emphasize is laid differently for single-player games, where the challenge comes largely from the designers setting things up for the player, rather than expecting other players to make use of existing tools.

A good game will be in demand, be it single-player or not. Unless we experience a very deep shift in how human psyche works, there is a place for games we can play for ourselves. Electronic games, like everything else, evolves. Both single- and multi-player games need to evolve to meet with new demands and probably will end up taking elements from each other further.

Then again, Japan still pushes out fuckloads of single-player games so I don’t know what the hell people are jabbering about. Get off my lawn.

Music of the Month: Second Dream

There are times when you just want to have something smokey, something classy, something with good brass sound. Ah to hell with it, hit it Jason.

If you know Sora Aoi is, ’nuff said.

While this is not a blog about personal matters, I’ve made a tendency to mention if something more significant that might affect the blog is taking place. These month openers are the only spot where I can also step outside the writer persona, though I’ve pretty much merged the two during these years. Anyway, this year long process of getting myself some new academic papers is more or less coming to an end, which means new career roads have been unlocked, one of which may lead me to take position as a teacher down the line. I’ve already been asked to substitute if needed in the future, which is why I may take up on this chance, despite it being something I never really thought about. Nevertheless, I’ve been looking at the blog from those eyes, and I guess you could see how I like to share information to others. The previous post is essentially a guide what to do after you’ve finished Muv-Luv Alternative, and while I initially found making it somewhat unnecessary, the amount visitors just for it has been surprising. Thus, thanks to all of you for that, even few readers makes this hobby worth it all. Whatever comes in the near future, I’m sure to be on an empty spot first, needing to look into the options and doing some “freelance” before setting on a path again.

Though if everything goes to hell and my freelance time gets extended, maybe I can finally get off of my ass and start making those voice blogs I’ve been talking about the last six months. I swear, sometimes I feel like I’ve taken inspiration from âge how much time I take in delivering on things I’ve promised to type out. I think the Laserdisc player review took me a whole year and then some, and it actually gets hits on a weekly basis, because it seems to be one of the more common models on the aftermarket. A good player though, can’t complain.

Back to the blog’s business, last month I had to drop mecha design and review into one piece with the Mega Bots VS Kuratas post. This was unintended, but due to extremely tight schedule I’ve been under, I couldn’t muster the time to research a mecha design or gather something interesting to review. Things should be otherwise this time around, especially if you’re a fan of the Iczer franchise. I guess it’s only me, one old guy from the Middle East and two random Japanese from Twitter.

While I was intending to get a version of the Switch for Christmas, it now is looking like I need to pass on that due to those changes I’ve mentioned, but I’m still intending to review it and its controllers like I’ve done in the past with some other consoles. I may actually bust out Mini Super Nintendo and review it anyway for the sake of reviewing, even when it’s going to be a Christmas gift for my nephews.

On Muv-Luv front I can’t really do much anything currently, unless there would be demand to look back at older materials compared to newer ones. For example, more about TSF design in the context of real world design choices rather than what’s done in-universe. The first three TSF generations are based on real-world evolution of mecha design throughout the years, with each generation reflecting a decade of sorts. We’ve seen ripples of some significant changes going about, with Avex Pictures acquiring ixtl, the company that essentially runs everything Muv-Luv related and âge being a brand front. For example, the recent inquiry they had before TGS was not done Degica, the company who has been running the Kickstarter, but handled by the guys at ixtl/âge. You can check the results in a mirror Youtube video. This may have been something Avex kicked into gear, and we’re bound to see things change with this. I’ve amused the idea of Avex wanting to turn Muv-Luv‘s Alternative side to a similar franchise to Attack on Titan, the question is just how. An anime, however, is more or less a question of time at this point. One just have to wonder if this is how Koki wanted to see things go, as we all remember how well Hudson Soft was treated under Konami’s rule.

The year’s also closing by, with two months left. To me, this means I need to start gathering all the new games I’ve played this year and write down whether or not they get the desired spot in the Top 5 games of the Year listing. This year has been different from the past once in that I’ve spent less on classic games almost solely of modern games, which means the end result will just as skewed as always, just to another extreme. Not that anyone gives a damn, those Top 5’s are the least read posts, with Guilty Gear character designs slowly but surely rising to the top.

Which also reminds me that I intend to making a Guilty Guilty character design comparison sometime this month. If you’d be so inclined, I’ll be putting up a poll which character I should drag to the limelight next on Twitter sometime on Saturday, and leave it on for a day. I need to double-check which character is still in the limbo, but I’m betting both Zato-1/Eddy and Kum Haehyun are on the list. Y’know, Jam just took the priority over everything else.

But for now, I need to time this post to go online at 10:00 GMT0, open a bottle of beer and relax for the rest of the evening.