Review of the Month; 8bit Music Power Final

This one has been in the making for some time, mostly thanks to Amazon Japan never shipping my piece. I had to resort to proxy services to get a new copy and the sound jack expansion elsewhere. Rather than keep bitching, let’s jump to the review right away and start with the usual stuff on what’s on the outside.

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World needs more pastel blues

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Guilty Gear design comparison: BAIKEN

Baiken is a hodgepodge of samurai tropes. While her initial design does come from Kenshin of Rurouni Kenshin (whom Ishiwatari thought to be a woman at first,) Baiken is quite a lot more than just that. She gets her scar and lost arm from the literary character of Tange Sazen, though which eye has been scarred has been switched around. While Sazen is a man, the very second movie the character starred turned things around and starred Michiyo Okusu as Lady Sazen in Lady Sazen and the Drenched Swallow Sword.

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She may lack the Demon Tools, but Lady Sazen cuts people down like grass

Certainly we can trace some elements of Baiken’s designs to characters like Tezuka’s Hyakkimaru as well, but all this really is to show that Baiken encompasses characteristics from an archetypical ronin samurai stories, including her traumatic past and thirst for revenge. Hell, she even kicks tatami up with a special move, and let’s not forget she gets her name from Baiken Shishido, who probably influenced her use of Demon Tools through his proficiency with the kusarigama, the sickle-chain. However, I do argue that Lady Sazen and Kenshin were the main influences here, and everything else was more or less a supplement to fit popular samirai tropes.  Hell, she even has a pose where she holds her chin like Sanjuro from Yojinbo. Let’s get it on after the jump.

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An untouched library

There is an excess of video and computer games nowadays. Games are a luxury items from the get go and have always cost a high sum, especially computer and NES games in Europe. The amount of games released per system seems to to grow with each generation with the ease of digital publishing. However, there are fewer games that carry impact on the industry or the consumer crowd, partially due to how large the marketing push for Tripple A titles are getting and partially due to sheer amount of them. Despite the overwhelming amount of games released, some with extremely questionable quality, there won’t be next Video Game Crash. The core gamers will see to it.

A classic gamer seeks to build a library. Not just digital titles in your Steam subscription. That’s what mostly separates a modern gamer from an old-school one. The use of money also applies here. A Steam user builds a backlog so much faster and easier than an old-school gamer who picks what games he purchases and why. Valuing a single game in its entirety, if you will. There is a significant difference between purchasing a game from a store and… whatever the correct term is for getting a license to use game software in Valve’s digital console. The same really applies to GOG to lesser extent. The simple physicality of it all is a significant separation enough, though there is more to it, like owning a copy of a game rather than just having a right to use it.

It is harder and more expensive to collect a proper library than one in digital form. It’s not uncommon to see Steam users that have thousands of games in their Steam library, most of which are barely ever launched. Most of these games come from sales and bundles. It is a common practice to sit idly and wait for games to drop in price, and Steam’s sales have become rather expected even within the user community. These games that just sit in the library really have no value to the player, thus the overall perceived value is low and fetches low amounts of money. This sort of attitude really seeps into other titles easily, where the expectations of low prices has become a standard across the board.

This is a problem of sorts. It twists the market results quite a bit, and when everything is eventually available at a bargain price. The Tripple A titles saw a decline in sales from 2015 to 2016, and the trend seems to be continuing. This directly reflects to the fact that these high budget, highly hyped titles simply do not meet with the consumer demands. This really should tell something to the developers and publishers about their products and about their approach for them.

For these reasons, about 38% of game consumers have stated intending to purchase fewer games than previous year. With an increasingly number of titles in one’s software availability, putting more resources into something you won’t be able to consume and enjoy really seems stupid as hell. We’re getting to a point where people have more games than they can play in their lifetime, even if they were to become full-time gamers.

It doesn’t help that with emulators and such we have the access for most of the games produced. There is an excess of games, but that’s market for you.

Perhaps because of the excess itself one should practice a more moderate approach in their purchasing habits. Considering digital games are pretty much always online, unless if it’s a licensed game, there really is no reason to purchase a game at launch or at sale. While library collecting is a part of the whole high-end game consumer culture, this should not displace the act of playing these games. With digital games it can’t be argued that someone is buying them for value either, as digital games can’t be sold onwards as such, especially not on Steam (which is why Valve had to change the description of their service.)

The fact is, the fewer games you have, the more you’ll be ending up playing those individual games, and thus your library will be end up being far better curated. Switch’s current library isn’t anything to call home about, especially so if we’re only counting the physical titles, but the more reason to practice this self-limiting, selective purchasing. All this really maximises the amount of time a consumer should be spending with an individual game. There is something in common with the idea of practising one motion a thousand times rather than practising a thousand motions once.

It is also easier to appreciate a game when you’ve spent enough time with it. If you’ve ever experienced lower-income households where money is tight, each luxury item is valued. This applies to each and every game purchased, despite their quality. Thank God rental videos and games was a thing, so people could test games before committing to a purchase before widespread use of the World Wide Web.

Collecting a library of games does not necessarily mean the consumer doesn’t have appreciation for the games he has, though without a doubt less than a person who has gone through nook and crannies of his own library.

This excess and the possibility to even collect a large library of games is taken as self-evident. While I did mention that another video game market crash is not likely to take place, an implosion is not. Steam’s Greenlight and Kickstarter have been full of titles that never went anywhere or have questionable quality at best. Anyone can become a game developer if they so choose to, but very few indeed can become good game developers or even successful ones.

I’ve said this before, but this is the first time in gaming short history where we live in an era where you can purchase most major titles from past consoles on your modern one. Not only a new game is competing with its contemporaries, it’s also competing with highly venerated classics. There are very few games that even intends to stand up to the challenge, and sadly there are those who are in for the simple quick-cash and nothing of worth or intending to push an agenda for the sake of it. Eventually, all this will reflect in sales and direction the consumer goes. When one-third of the consumers seem to go back to their untouched game library and rather than investing in new titles, that’s time for some alarm bells.

Games cost money to make and buy, and it would seem that it would be the right time for both consumers, developers and publishers to take a good look how they are spending their money.

A franchise chilled

This and the two previous posts would’ve formed good ol’ fashioned Monthly Three I put into indefinite hiatus, though this time it’s more or less on an accident of sorts. All in all, these should’ve been one long post.

A franchise has to have quality that is expected of it or higher. A fluke here and there is expected, but overall speaking a title in a series has to deliver at least to its core fans. When it comes to games, each and every title seem to be important and a drop in sales will be taken seriously. Seeing how the game industry barely understands how to hit the Blue Ocean market (making games easy or dumbing them down for “accessibility” is laughably weak method,) it is understandable how a franchise can fail miserably when its quality is weakened by newly added elements that are supposedly aiming to expand some aspects of the franchise.

I’m not really sure how Mass Effect got where it is now. As a franchise it was hailed as one of the stronger new franchise introduced during the Seventh Console Generation. Overall, it had a good balance between hitting the census of the consumers of the era (economics have changed quite a bit during the last decade) to the extent of Mass Effect being considered as one of the bigger franchises in the industry on par of the likes of Metal Gear. These are of course up to contention, to my knowledge no Mass Effect game has not been perfect enough to be considered for pachislot conversion.

However, as things tend to be in the industry, game sequels seem to get more attention from those who put the money down on these things. Mass Effect 3‘s colour coded ending has become infamous, but if the rumours are to be believed, EA was the one that put their boot down with the deadlines and BioWare had to relocate the “real ending” to DLC. Whatever the case is, Mass Effect 3‘s ending (and some argue the whole game) is below the average quality the consumers expected from the franchise. The ending is just one of the examples why Mass Effect 3 was panned by the core fans, mostly regarding contradictions in the setting, and inconsistencies regarding BioWare’s statements during development and how the game ended up being.

And a franchise it really is. While here up North we barely get anything relating to the spin-offs or licensed products, Mass Effect 2 and 3 had a huge ad campaign in magazines, television and in stores. Comparatively speaking, game ads have all but dried out from the general media, telling more about how they’re marketed and what the targeted consumers are than about their success. However, pretty much all fans of the franchise I’ve known have talked me about the mobile games, books, comics and whatnot. Even a movie based on the franchise has been under works since 2010, but very little has come of it.

It’s no wonder Mass Effect would go to a small hiatus. The trilogy had come to its more or less natural conclusion and the final part didn’t exactly match up what was expected. At times like this companies tend to take a small break and return when there is renewed interest. However, it would seem the franchise has now been put in ice for the time being due to the lacklustre success of the latest game, Mass Effect: Andromeda. While we can debate the finer details why the game performed worse than expected, the first bit that sounded alarms bells with yours truly when with the announcement of the game running on a new engine, which means you will see, hear and feel Mass Effect like never before. That’s a direct quote too. Clearly they missed the part that games need to play better than any of these.

Andromeda took five years and forty million dollars to develop. That sort of money and time is expected to deliver higher profits and far better reception. Alas, they the developers couldn’t even put a gun the right way in. Then you have issues of gameplay being worse than its ten years older progenitor and animations being absolutely all over the place and the plot’s not all that good either. Effectively, pretty much everything that should make a game great is sub-par. Andromeda overall shows how lack of quality control and professionalism, opting for making whatever brew you think would work the best.

It’s no wonder after an abysmal entry, the games went under hiatus. Sadly, Andromeda is probably the best example of current Tripple A games in the industry. One has to wonder where did the money go during the development. It doesn’t show up in the final production. When a franchise’s fame has taken a hit two times in a row, with the second making pretty much everyone who was involved a laughingstock, it is a good idea to take a step back and put the things on hold.

To use an example with Godzilla, Toho has put the franchise into ice three times over. First one was after the second movie when they had no idea how to continue properly onwards, though I still want to see Bride of Godzilla? realised in some form. The second time was in the 1970’s when the movies stopped bringing in enough profits, though the quality had dropped a lot since then. 1995’s Godzilla VS Destoroyah was supposed to end the franchise in Japan and have Hollywood continue it, but alas that was not to be. Godzilla was brought back fast in 1999, after the American attempt failed, and then was put back into ice after Godzilla: Final Wars. 2014 saw a new American Godzilla, and 2016 showcased us what I’m going to call a the bets modern Godzilla made in form of Shin Godzilla.

When a notable franchise like Godzilla returns after a significant hiatus, it is usually with a new take that is intended to make an impact. If a new Mass Effect game would be done right now, it would carry the baggage of Andromeda for the worse. As much as fans would like to see a game made right away to remedy the situation, sometimes it’s better just to wait for things to settle down and let time give more perspective on things. Whatever was done, be it due to corporate or personal interests from the developers’, the game took a sledgehammer to the franchise and damaged it. A hiatus also allows the developers and publishers to look into other options and possibly put resources into new IPs, though my personal trust in EA or BioWare has never been worth mentioning.

What is apparent that whatever happened during production of Mass Effect: Andromeda, it’s clear that the no research was done on what the consumers really wanted or needed, and that’s probably the worst offence a provider can do; not giving a jack shit about the consumer.

Your own brew of mead

The reason I tend to compare developing electronic games to cooking is that even with the right ingredients you may fail miserably for countless of reasons. This could of course be extended to pretty much any field that requires design, but for the sake of this blog we’ll stick with games.

However, the main obstacle with this comparison is that everybody capable has to learn how to cook something in order to produce food for consumption. We’re side-lining all the modern brouhaha of microwave dinners, because even then some preparations is required. In general, very few people are not inept within the kitchen and are able to use the oven and other appliances for some cooking.

This is not exactly comparable with game development, as one can argue that it takes longer to learn a coding language and create assets for a game. This is of course under the assumption that we have single chef compared to a sole developer. While food is a necessity, games are not. They are a common luxury item to many of us to the point that we barely even realise their worth and are willing to push their value down by any means necessary while expecting high enough production values. To be fair, this blog tends to argue that developing and publishing games as become too costly and grandiose, and should be scaled back and return to form. Video game industry does have its own Hollywood, and the same cores have taken effect; the committee.

Hollywood blockbusters tend to be described committee movies to an extent, with loads of people from marketing and higher ranks having a check-list of things that need to be included in a movie due to statistics and research showing that this and this age group and this and this audience likes certain factors in a given movie and genre. They’re not wrong either. The very reason you have dozens of different flavoured products is that people like certain things in a certain way. The movie being here the whole of pasta sauces and each variant an ingredient of a given movie.

I admit that this blog does emphasize the whole statistics perspective quite a lot, perhaps to a degree that it has given a hidden bias. However, trends are made to be broken, and it’s not beneficial to look just what the paper says works. Ultimately, this approach will only yield one design, one style product that will be repeated to ad nauseam. Film trailers tend to be a prime example of this, where they follow what was proven to be popular to the point of each trailer essentially having the exact same blueprint independent of the movie, genre or studio. An example that pissed yours truly off few times around was the BAWWMMM sound effect from Inception. Let’s not forget the distorted booms and stuttered downers either. Guardians of the Galaxy did set up a new trend for comic book movies with its use of music, for better or worse.

Nevertheless, there’s very little reason to fix what’s not broken. That’s not to say we can’t make previous items obsolete. In fact, we can make any design obsolete as there is no one perfect product out there. Well, the only good contender for that title is the Kikkoman soy sauce bottle, but we’ve talked about that already. Here’s where the whole thing about your own brew steps in.

At home you can produce your own mead or vine and have it taste pretty much perfect to your taste. Same with cooking and games. However, once you step into the market place, your tastes apply very little.

That is to say, whatever a designer thinks may be a great product for the user does not tell whether or not the product in reality is a great product for the user.

We can’t completely separate personal preferences from the cold statistics when producing a product, be it a game, book or food. They need to be married together in harmony that will push through the personal investment as well as present it in a fashion that is relatively easy to digest. This is not an argument for dumbing down, this is an argument for creating a product that comes half-way through to the consumer so that the more intricate aspects of it can be absorbed.

To use an example, we had plays before movies. The jump from one to another, while somewhat drastic in technology, ultimately relies in same core elements while having its own identity as a form of media. Further there we have movie genres, techniques and so forth that have taken the field onwards, both in terms of visuals and storytelling. Consumers have easier time adopting new movie formats and ways things are set up due them being accepted by the consumers, and most of the industry people, to contain valid values across the board.

The same goes for video games, albeit due to harsh crevice existing between the Blue and Red Ocean markets it should be noted that the trends valued in one does not necessarily meet with the other. These values are not just technological or design aspects, but also philosophical and political. As video games are escapism (undervaluing escapism as some sort of lesser act or even detrimental is a topic on its own) there are subjects and things that can be handled well, and that can be forced from a certain perspective towards the player.

The problem here is that the biggest sin a game can do is to take control from the player without their own action, e.g. for a cut scene. This lack of control is best shown in RPGs, where some games tend to showcase a topic through one facet only and ignore all others, deciding for the player in black and white terms what should be done and how. This sort of railroading is done for the benefit of the story and detriments the game’s play.

I would argue that in both game industry and in Hollywood the execs and marketing departments should lift some of the pressure off from the developers, but at the same time these creators should not ignore the audience’s wishes and wants (while aiming for needs.)  The mead you brewed might be the best shit you’ve ever tasted, but your neighbour probably thinks it tastes like piss.

No, this does not need to be in

Consumers purchase what they like. No sensible person would put their hard-earned (or Patreon) money into something they don’t deem worth the effort they’ve put into the work they’ve done. Corporations exist to make money and the way they make money is to produce goods and services that interest, are in demand and are wanted by the consumer, and thus the consumer in the end dictates what goods are produced by their use of money.

However, no organisation is ever required to make anything the consumer wants. They don’t need to include elements that would hit the consumer consensus. That is if they don’t want to make any profit on their product.

To use an example, the non-controversy with Ghost in the Shell‘s lead being Scarlett Johansson irked some, while most of the rest of the consumers didn’t give a rat’s ass because of two reasons; they had no prior experience with the franchise, and they’re not obsessed by who acts. Johansson has star power behind her that attracts the general consumer and has shown to be a capable action movie star from time to time. So for a company aiming for profit, this is a natural selection over less known actresses. After all, the licensed company has all the power to decide over the product, and the decisions made will be reflected in the box office. At no time they are required to pander to an audience, for better or worse.

To take this a bit further and dwelve in the subject, at no point there is any reason to create a cast of characters of diverse background in a given movie or a work. This can be twisted in multiple ways, but be sure just to take this as it’s said; the provider can do whatever they like with their product. The only way to really change what is provided is either by making it a more viable option for profit, or produce a product that fulfils that niche.

Just as companies like Twitter and Facebook can run their business in whatever way they like, just as much the consumer of these platforms can decide that their time and money is better spent elsewhere. The discussion what is moral or what are the responsibilities of huge platforms that have become part of everyday life to some extent is a discussion for another time. However, perhaps it should be noted that companies do tend to be on the nerve of whatever is on the boiling surface of social discourse and will take advantage of this for either direction. Pepsi’s recent commercial with a protester giving a can of Pepsi to a police officer as a supposed gesture of friendship, while on the surface wanting to comment on the event (which can be read oh so many ways) is ultimately advertising and showing signs towards certain crowd. It’s PR management after all.

It goes without saying, if someone thinks there is a market, for example,  for a certain kind of movie with certain kind lead actor, surely they’ll tackle this market and rake in the profits themselves. That’s capitalism, after all. Finding a niche to blossom in is the best way to climb to the general consensus. This is not Make it yourself argument. A niche that has demand is usually filled by those who know it exist and have a little know-how to tackle the market. The know-how can even be purchased nowadays thanks to all the companies and individuals offering market research and help in putting up a company.

All this really ends up with the good ol’ idea of wallet voting. You buy what you like, you don’t buy what you don’t like. I’m told time and time again that wallet voting doesn’t work, and every time I have to respond in laughter; it does work, more people just vote against your interests. This is consumer democracy that is decided through free use of money. However, there is a problem within this. There is always a demographic that wants to control a product or field of products without consuming the product itself. This twists the perception of the provider to an extent and can even prevent production and release of a product that would have otherwise faced no problems. The past example of Grand Theft Auto V being pulled from stores is an example of this, and maybe the whole issue with Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 should get a shoutout.

A product that sees most sales doesn’t mean anything else but that the consumers deem it valuable enough of their money. Whatever other reasons may be behind the decision to invest money into a product is up to an individual and a separate study for these reasons should be conducted as they are not something that come up through raw sales statistics. Often you can’t even deduce what sort of consumer group has put their money in a given product, outside what the product itself promises.

A traditional corporation would aim to invest into a development of a product and its sales to rake in money to fill the pockets if their investors and pay the workers, as well as to put money back into further development of future products. This of course requires the consumer to value the product first of all. However, in recent years there has been providers, especially game developers, who seem to consider their right to be paid and gain success by the virtue of them providing something, be it in demand, wanted, needed or not. Naturally, if your product does not meet with the demands of the consumer, you shouldn’t expect high profits.

Of course, you could claim to be a stereotypical art-type provider and do your piece for the sake of love of it, to express yourself to the fullest and never see a dime.

This is not to say a provider can’t make something described above and make money. Finding the right balance between the thing you want to do and providing the consumers is tricky business, but not impossible. It just takes two things; hard work and research. Guts is optional but recommended.

As you might have surmised, this topic was originally supposed to be part of Another take on customers series of posts, but we’re good 40 posts away from our next hundredth post. Thus, decided to timely put this down now rather than forget the content I had scribbled down into a memo.

Music of the Month; WANTED!

We’re going to return towards more video game music with these month openers. What a better way to open than use a song that’s essentially a poster child a game series called Metal Max. The series is like a cross-bred hybrid between Terminator, Mad Max and a 1990’s environmental messaging. How? The game series takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where the initiator was a supercomputer called Noah. Noah’s initial intent was to save the world through recycling, but deemed human race a threat and orchestrated a war to wipe out humanity. Didn’t do that good a job, but Noah’s recycled creations, like a hippo with a cannon in its mouth, roam the world. The main character in each game is a Monster Hunter, a person who goes out there to deal with these recycled monster hybrids while dealing with their own stuff.

The series’ main is its vehicles, which you can customise to an extent. There is a huge emphasize on tanks, because why not? The above remix’s image and the cover scan below probably tell you a lot just by looking at them.

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Sadly, only one game in the series was ever localised in the West, and that was a spin-off of sorts named Metal Saga. The reason for this was that the developers and publisher went bankrupt, the rights fell into obscurity before they were acquired by Kadokawa Games

I’ll probably return to write more about the series as I play the games. It’s one of those I’ve been wanting to get in for number of years now, and finally broke down and I am tracking each game in the series that I can purchase. Rather than doing a game-by-game review, I’m considering doing a series-wide review. That’d be something interesting and I probably could do a some sort of video on how the song above has evolved throughout the ages. As a side note, the song’s original title is お尋ね者との戦い, Otazunemonoto no Tatakai, or The Battle with the Wanted in some early soundtracks. Later on it was simplified in English as WANTED! and serves just fine.

As for what plans I’m having for this month’s posts, I’ll aim to do a TSF related comparison of some sorts after a long time. I’ve tried to keep up with the whole transforming mechas in this relation for the year, and as there really aren’t a huge amount of transforming TSFs, I’ve put A-6 Intruder’s review on hold for some time now. There isn’t a whole lot to talk about between the TSF and the real life plane, but there are some interesting design choices that are lifted from the good ol’ Grumman attack aircraft.

I’d better explain why 8Bit Music Power Final wasn’t reviewed last month despite I having all intentions of doing so. The reason for this is that Amazon Japan fucked up my order and despite my early pre-order, they never shipped a unit to me. Hell, they don’t even have one stock, if their reply to my inquiry when they might ship it. I was compensated a whole three hundred yen, translating to whole damn 2,46€, for them essentially dismissing the order for whatever reason.

Because of that I picked up another peculiarity from an online retro game store. The Hori Famicom Commander Mini controller was something I expected to be just a curiosity, as Hori seems to have a knack with their smaller controllers, but ‘lo and behold I really grew fond of the little bugger. I do intend to switch out its cord to another one, or do a dual-mod, where it has both NES and Famicom style connectors.

All in all, maybe this means I have another month to go to procure an item to review. That just leaves the rest of the year open. I’ll probably need to up my game in this regard, in some monetary restrictions, mind you. Perhaps the aforementioned series-wide reviews might be of interest. Individual game reviews tend to be a bit on the dry side, but introducing, comparing and contrasting different elements and designs in a given series could be an interesting approach. The main obstacle with this, even with a relatively small series as Metal Max, is that I’d need to play through relatively long games with loads of content, and properly finish them too, before making such a review. Maybe starting with something that two or three games might be for the best.

Or I’ll really start reviewing game console designs.

I really should loom up if Baiken already has a hi-resolution full-body illustration up and do a another Guilty Gear character comparison. In all honesty, those have been getting nice views across the board, especially from the ones who want to see Jam’s panties.

On some other news, the whole idea of starting voice blogging has been on hold some time now due to all the busy work I’ve been doing, and now things are starting to speed up further. As such, I’m considering picking up some old posts I’ve written and start with those. Maybe not any of the âge related ones as they tend to be long and boring, but perhaps something that doesn’t rely too much on images. I don’t really have confidence on my voice, to be honest, but I do have a certain public speaking and reading voice you’ve heard once or twice on ARG. The voice blogs would be changed a bit from their text form, but considering I do write these posts if I were talking them aloud should make the transition easier. Now if I just could get rid of my accent and pronounce things like a proper American like Evan would. Then again, maybe you’ll enjoy this Northern accent after you’ve accustomed to it. If I manage to get this project off the ground, it wouldn’t replace normal blogging by far.

We are slowly crawling towards 800 posts, 758 with this one, but I may do a Different take on customers early due to a particularly good subjecting presenting itself to me constantly. We’ll see how much time I have on my hands to look into that.