Music of the Month: Mecha Godzilla

Things change and we have to be like the willow in the wind; ever bending but never relenting. So it’s come about again that this blog has to change itself to accommodate life and changes. With my work changing, this time this blog will have its posts postponed by six hours. Normally these posts have gone online around 11:00 GMT 0, plus minus daylight saving time. From this post onwards, they will go online six hours later, around 17:00 GMT0. This change it due to two reasons, first being that my work schedule has changed for the moment, which has changed the times when I can sit down, research, read and write. The second reason is that I have often had the need to rush things, and hopefully by moving things back six hours I don’t have a reason to have a fire under my ass to hurry stuff out nobody’s paying me for.  You will see shorter posts on the workdays as well, as discussed in previous Monthly Musics. Weekend posts hopefully will see increase in length and quality. Hopefully being the keyword here.

As for the rest of the month’s topics, there are few I’ll aim to visit, but just as previously, all bets are off. Star Trek Picard had its run, and it’s been terrible. Discussing Artificial Intelligence again will be something we’ll revisit, this time inspired how badly Picard used Trek‘s own AI and how entertainment industry tends to use the same ol’ Evil-AI over and over. Incidentally, Muv-Luv is an example where you have two superintelligences showcasing two opposing sides, with the BETA being AI gone wrong (Kouki mentioned how the BETA on Earth in Muv-Luv Alternative were misbehaving) and how the 00 Unit is AI working as intended.  Still, we have the heavy tendency of anthropomorphising AI to a severe degree, while in reality AI will most likely be something completely different and, for the lack of better word, inhuman. Popular culture and media tends to think AI is like a super intelligent and fast thinking human-like intelligence, but that’s mostly fiction. Computers don’t think like humans do, their “logic” is not the same as human logic and so on and so on, you’ve heard this all. In sheer hardware, computers have been beating humans for several decades now, but the way they “think” and “remember” is extremely different, and ultimately frighteningly inhuman to some. Saying that AI is instant death to mankind is also hyperbole at its finest.

The second topic might be automation, again, but from a different angle. Sure automation is nice and everybody hypes it up every which way, but nobody ever tells you how putting up automation takes several years at best and even then will break down every five minutes or so because of existing tolerances, programming errors, mistakes in the materials, someone setting off some limit alarm and so on. While automation is the future, the kind of automation so many factory owner and company CEO dreams about is still far in the future, when these machines will actually be making almost everything and no human contact is in the middle. When we talk about automation taking over traditional jobs, we’re at a point where this evolution has been going around for several decades and thousands of hours of work to get shit done right before robots march into the factories. Automation is nice, but humans have always utilised tools to make their work easier. We’re still doing that, just in bigger scale and with more intelligent tools. A skilful user is still required.

As for the third, well, Monster Maker. I should get the original set within few days and then I just need to translate the rules. I’ve got few other versions on the side as well for comparisons’ sake, and few doujinshi offshoots, one which doesn’t have any relation but we’ll be throwing that in there anyway because why not. Rather than full-blown historics, I’ve decided to stick with the basics of the franchise, touch on topics here and there to make it familiar to the reader and point the way where to get the actual games if they’re interested in. Thirty years of history is a long time to cover, and impossible if there are no true sources to use. I would have to hunt down different PnP magazines and such for interviews and period-specific reviews, and if we’re honest, that ain’t happening. That money is going for more essential purchases.

With this being the first date of the month, I hope you’ll also remember to sharpen and oil your knives. A sharper knife is a sharper tool in the kitchen, and makes cooking that much more fun.

That one franchise Sony hasn’t screwed up at any point

Everybody’s Golf is not exactly the most exciting game franchise out there. It’s not the most entertaining golf game series either and it doesn’t actually simulate the golf experience all that well. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 is considered the cornerstone of modern video golf simulators, while something like Sid Meier’s SimGolf hits that golf course manager’s wet dream. There’s the good ol’ Mario Golf titles that are surprising hard core when you get to them, and of course the Wii could’ve outshone all of its competition with golf simulation, but you know what happened with that in the end. Still, Wii Sports’ golf is still extremely fun to boot up and play.

For a game series that has seven main entries, two spin-offs and two Tennis entries, there’s very little fuss about the games. The franchise gets decent scores, overall speaking, hit the Sony-fans’ weak spot by adding some iconic characters on PlayStation systems in different times, e.g. Ratchet from Ratchet and Clank as a playable avatar and a Pipo Monkey of Ape Escape as a caddie in Everybody’s Golf 4. The latest game in the series has seen collaboration celebration with Level-5 with addition of character from titles like Dark Cloud and White Knight Chronicles. The games are, without a doubt, entertaining and well made. Golf overall doesn’t appeal to everyone, and the way Everybody’s Golf flies under most consumers’ radars is understandable, especially in the Western markets. On the surface, it seems like a weird franchise for Sony to be constantly publishing and changing developers for now and then. It’s not Metal Gear or any other massive PlayStation associated franchise, Everybody’s Golf titles are often found warming the store shelves on the long run and being dropped into the sales bin. Yet they sell well enough to warrant constant development and publishing, and if we’re completely honest, also one of the most consistent and relaxing games out there.

Golf is a prestige sport and hobby in Japan. Having a membership and participating in golfing is considered to state a higher status in society, and solely considered an adult’s pastime. In Japanese media and popular culture, golf is an easy way emphasize a character or situation by showing them playing golf either on the field, or more probably, in their office room. For example, after its title screen scene, OVA Wicked City dives straight into showing an older, rounded Japanese man playing minigolf in his office, then proceed to discuss clubs in few lines. The clubs continue to be a strong element in that scene, emphasizing that the topic is serious and something that only people in high circles have a handle and knowledge of. Golf is something very expensive, increasingly so in Japan due to very limited area clubs and greens can be constructed on. Video golf is, at best, a cheap alternative to the real thing, even to put set-up in your office. It at least gives a glimpse of what the truly successful and wealthy do in their off hours, or when closing deals on the green.

Sony having their own golf franchise, one that’s doing pretty well all things considered, should by a forgone conclusion. While Sony is no longer a prestige brand, a maker with no faults in their productions or forerunner in quality and R&D, they still are a million dollar company worthy of golf. The first Everybody’s Golf, after all, was on the original PlayStation. The series may put an emphasis on cartoony and unrealistic characters, but the gameplay and the fields themselves are well thought out and extremely compelling, the few points that really matter. The rest is veneer, just there to deliver something to stand out from the crowd, though in years Everybody’s Golf has become the white noise of golf games in terms of visuals. EA’s Rory McIlroy: PGA Tour offers the most realistic approach with some name recognition while The Golf Club 2 is probably the most well-rounded. They’re not Everybody’s Golf though, and the catch is in the name.

Most golf games and simulators can be, and surprisingly often are, absolutely brutal. Even Pangya! or Super Swing Golf series ended up being stupidly difficult despite its cutesy graphics. Golf games are the kind of sports titles that on the surface look easy, and end up being hair tearing. Everybody’s Golf, however, is not. Perhaps because the series is easy to pick up, easy to get into and easy to play with surprisingly challenging content despite veering off from being a simulation, has made Everybody’s Golf a mainstay PlayStation franchise. It certainly doesn’t get the respect and street cred from RPG lovers and deep red ocean customers, though it doesn’t need to. Everybody’s Golf exists in a nice spot in the niches, where it seems to make good sales by offering everyone something special the other games don’t. Again, the franchise won’t explode the audience in cheers and clapping, people won’t mull over it or defend its development staff against supposedly tyrannical corporate overlords nor does it have a recognisable face. Hell, I’m not even sure if there is any kind of fandom that’s properly organised, the wiki has only eleven pages. There is demand enough to warrant the series’ future, even if it’s a bit off to the side. It shouldn’t be a surprise on its own how Sony has handled Everybody’s Golf throughout the years. An entry here, and entry there, on every platform they’ve released since the original PlayStation. The developers have concentrated on the core and strengths of the series, updating mechanics throughout the years and pushed some elements away while adding new ones, changing unlocking better characters to unlocking better clubs and becoming more open ended. Y’know the usual stuff games do to match contemporaries.

Perhaps because Everybody’s Golf does its job fine without any fuss, despite being rather bland, Sony has never had any reason to start messing with it, no reason to delay or change its platforms to serve some nebulous plans that ultimately doom themselves. Those who have run the franchise seem to be on the button what’s good for the series and how to make best use of it, and understand the niche they are occupying. Nothing better for a long-running game series than not trying to blow the lid, and think the series’ long-term goals.

Digital takeover?

With nations going to lockdown modes, travelling being restricted and products unable to move from place A to place B, the world faces changes. Some of the changes will be long lasting, while others will be temporary at best. In a way, we’re faced with a moment in time, where only the essentials should matter. If you’re not directly in relation of producing foods or essential services, or are able to work from home, chances are you’re going to miss some work. Entertainment is, to be brutally honest, is probably the least important part of life. While the modern society is mostly used to have content provided via whatever screen we choose, numerous places that offer entertainment outside your home environment. For example, the movie theatres are effectively closed for the time being, hurting their income and their workers’ pay. With the theatres closed, some of the studios have opted to stream their movies in much faster order than usual.

The discussion of digital superseding over physical is often only about the media, how games, music and movies are going to vanish from the store shelves in the future and be replaced with digital-only counterparts. While this is extremely rosy view of the future, this discussion should also include automatisation as an essential part of it. Some types of work will be replaced with their digital and automated, and on the long run, most work from medical care to translation can be automated. It’ll just take long time to get there, improvements in special kind of AI and automatisation, but nothing’s really out of question. At some point we are going to have discussions whether or not we are going to allow digitalisation of work to replace human workers in some particular fields. Futurism.com has an article about Artificial Intelligence that is able to make more accurate diagnoses as a doctor than a human one. In time, digitalisation will take things to the point that consumers will be taking goods and be served by automatons. Digitalisation promises offers of superior experience every which way. It is already spilling out from factories and whatnot to digital environment, where 3D models are already used to entice viewers to enjoy video contents more.

Though who needs mp3 players or whatnot when you can have a non-digital automaton playing tunes for you

The whole Virtual Youtuber thing is digitalisation at its best. Sure, you have someone acting behind the character, but the 3D model removes all the needs for the actors to change their body structures or put make up. Chaturbate users experienced what it means to compete with automated content, when Projekt Melody shot to the top and displaced most of the top models and was raking in money like no other. Projekt Melody is effectively a VTuber for porn and offers the exact same benefits that other automation offers; Better results in less time, and end result that will entice more customers. It’s more efficient and with the provider being able to deliver whatever visual designs and flavours the customers want, Projekt Melody is able deliver harder and faster the same experience live model have to work hard for. This lead many of the models on the site rioting, of course, resorting to name calling Projekt Melody’s viewers and fans (despite these exact same people are their potential customers) as well as claiming this was unfair competition. In reality, they are now facing the first steps in having digitalisation and automatisation entering their field of profession.

Digitalisation doesn’t straight up mean that robots and automatisation replaces someone’s work. Well, in practice it does, as rarely the same person is trained to maintain the automation. At least one human has to be behind automated work to keep it in check, to ensure that it runs well. A welder would do good by aiming to move from manual welding to become a robot operator, if possible, as in time welding in factory conditions will slowly but surely replace the human worker. The companies themselves might be against this, be it trusting human worker more or due to sociopolitical issues, but robots will always end up being more efficient than the humans, be it in the factory, in the doctor’s office or something you want to jerk off to. We are already happily using platforms that are supplanting physical environs. Netflix may be new television, but it has been said to be the reason why movie theatres are dying, online shopping has been replacing physical stores (which is a terrific example of its implementation as the customer feels like their doing something significant and non-automated), especially now that you can order your foodstuff to be delivered to your door. I wouldn’t put it past the post offices around the world to aim replacing their postmen with drones, like how Amazon is testing their drones. It all might have a high up-front cost, yet on the long run it’ll be that much cheaper. This is one of those things where companies may not want to prioritise short-term gains over permanent long-term gains and begin automation. Current structures may not support automated environments straight up, but all that is easy to change.

While digital media has not phased physical media out, there is a possibility that the infrastructure for that is being implemented at this moment in time. After that, there really isn’t a need to go back. Digitalisation and automatisation go hand in hand, and while customers are now inconvenienced by the epidemic, the most inconvenient and easier way to consume and explore entertainment is digitally. The discussions about consumer rights and ownership is not even thought about, something this blog has been discussing to a major extent in the past. Consumer behaviour has been drastically altered now and it is possible we are seeing a strong paradigm shift. Not only customers are going for the digital option, either because of fears or convenience, the companies have to make due with whatever production methods they have at hand. China’s factories being closed means everything has to be postponed or other forms of delivery (i.e. digital) have to take priority. Local production may be emphasised and thoughts about becoming more independent from foreign produce. Of course, some nations can’t really match up the sheer volume in production others can achieve, which will lead into local produce being costlier than imported. Whether or not this would be a chance to increase local production, or if people will simply change their habits of consumption, is open in the air. It’ll be interesting to look back few years from now to see how both customers and industries have changed.

Sony has no strong IP of their own

There’s a rumour going on that Sony would like to purchase Castlevania, Silent Hill and Metal Gear franchises from Konami. I’m sure you already heard about this, but the news sites have been making rounds. These being PlayStation 5 exclusive titles would make sense, as at one point Solid Snake, alongside Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the dragon, were considered Sony-only, unofficial mascots of sorts. The thing is, Sony has a terrible track record at maintaining and running their game franchises. Hell, Sony been butchering their movie franchises just the same, with Spider-Man only becoming success after failed reboot when Marvel stepped in to help. They’ve always been too reliant on third party titles and have taken exclusivity as a kind of self-evident point and understanding that the PC and console game markets are not in direct competition with each other.

Sony has recognised that both Metal Gear and Silent Hill franchises are often associated with the PlayStation. Both of them have their best titles on Sony platforms and made their impact and name on a PlayStation. They are games series that are both nostalgic to fans of Sony’s systems as well as franchises that have significantly driven the sales of PlayStation brand as a whole. If they can get Hideo Kojima involved as much as possible, to replicate the golden days of the Metal Gear franchise (despite Kojima historically saying he’s done with the franchise after the first game and after each subsequent sequel), then Sony would have whatever one-two punch they want to replicate from past. The thing is, as mentioned, Sony really can’t manage their own franchises worth shit and there’s no indication they would do any better with any of these. Kojima’s Death Stranding, despite all the hype, has strongly mixed reception and hasn’t made the impact or sales such hype train should deliver. I’m sure some guy sold his mattress to play Death Stranding, and fanboys will hype it, but data isn’t supporting Death Stranding all that much. Sony has tried to make amends between Konami and Kojima as well as tried to fund development of new titles, but no avail.

Nevertheless, Sony is feeling the absence of their strongest third-party lineup, and Konami not exactly wanting to make these games due to the bad blood associated with them, so buying the rights outright would seem to be the most sensible option. After all, reboots of other classic Sony associated franchises have seen strong sales. Final Fantasy VII Remake is almost guaranteed to sell platinum on its first quarter. Konami not making new entries is hurting Sony’s bottom line and Konami has no reason to sell or develop new titles at this moment. Selling their IPs to Sony is highly unlikely, as they still make money as franchises, be it as pachislot machines, animation, via collections or digital re-releases, toys etc. Konami isn’t just a game developer, their business heavily involves in producing other media content like animation, production of goods like toys and are heavily involved in other kinds of activity centres that are not involved in gaming directly. To them, there’d be no reason to sell IPs that trickle in money from things that aren’t video games despite them originating from there, like with the Castlevania cartoon.

If Sony were to purchase the IPs, and to bring in the big name hotshots that were running the franchises almost two decades ago, what’d that yield? The rumour says the first thing would be a remake of Metal Gear, which is currently probably the most obvious choice to many. Silent Hill would see a soft-reboot, again. Castlevania would see a hard reboot to model itself after the Dark Souls and Bloodborne (which would personally throw me into a fit as that’d be retarded. Castlevania was, and should always be, Hammer Horror Action Games.) All these probably would get an entry, and then nothing for some time. Just look how well Sony handled Gravity Rush, their most high profile new franchise that was expected to hit big and hard. It was the game the Vita was sold on, and then nothing until it got ported to PS4, effectively being the moment when Sony killed their handheld. The second game had lacklustre development cycle, had a timid release in the West and there is no word if spin-offs or third title in the series. Gravity Rush is a bust. It has a cult following and has a favourable opinion overall. It’s a franchise Sony could have worked with to improve it and make it a larger hit and build on that to make new IPs to balance the scales further. This isn’t what Sony does, this is what Nintendo would do.

Sony, much like Microsoft, really suck as handling their own, original IPs and pretty much every high quality title that’s mainly associated with has been bought from somewhere else or a third-party product. Sony, to this day, has not created a strong, long-standing franchise of their own that they could proudly stand-by. Their systems’ sales are dependant on these franchises, especially during periods of economic downward spirals, where convincing the customer to put their money into non-essentials like games is stupidly difficult. Sony wants to get all this under their belt to ensure the future of their own platform by name recognition, both in terms of IPs and with the faces of the developers, but that’d be throwing pearls to the pigs. What we’re looking at here is Sony effectively wanting to ‘Disney’ Konami’s franchises, especially Castlevania.

Sony wants to make money and Konami owning these franchises is preventing them from doing so. Their aim wouldn’t be treating these franchises right, or how art would demand, all that matters that is the customers see familiar names and faces alongside somewhat expected games. Sony needs this, and it wouldn’t be too far fetched to say they want to hammer nostalgia with remakes and reboots, especially now that they’ve got nothing of their own to makes those sales.

Lingo limbo

How many places you have where you use different language with different people, and how many terms and words you can muster that all have, ultimately, a different meaning? Then count all the specific terms you use just with certain people, words that outside that circle would have no idea what you’re talking about. Sure, you can surmise the overall meaning if you’re familiar on the topic, but even then you require knowledge of the sub-culture. To use a full sentence as an example, Dianne’s 6D+2 was no help against the Dragon when I had the Queen, but at least I had the Cleric can tell you something. Dianne is probably a character’s name, D6+2 means either six dice or six sided die with plus two to the gained value from the dice toss, the Dragon was the opponent being battled against and the battle was lost due to Queen’s having a some sort of negative effect in the game, but how Cleric could help isn’t clear. This is basic language for sure, and the dice bit is the only special bit of lingo used, but with the lack of context and further information the meaning is lacking. In this case, you’d need to be in the know about one specific game, where the Dragon is the strongest monster, the Queen kills player’s attack value by 2, and the Cleric has the ability to resurrect a downed character. But you wouldn’t know that if you haven’t spent any time playing table top role playing games or similar to get the dice lingo down, and then played this particular game to understand further meaning behind the character names, their position in the game’s structure and how they effect the game. This isn’t even a harsh example, unlike metroidvania.

I’ve been harsh on Metroidvania as a genre term in the past, and that hasn’t changed. It’s one of those terms that whenever used absolutely requires extended explanation for people who are not in the know what it means. For example, take a look at Record of Lodoss War -Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth‘s description on Steam.

Check the highlighted bit

Despite the term supposedly being universal in usage, an explanation had to be given. The reason is as simple as that as a descriptive word, metroidvania is a terrible one. People within the industry, within the core users know what it is through exposure to the industry magazines and their peers using it. However, step outside this deep red ocean market, and the word has no meaning. Hence, action-exploration is used here as a supplementary description, though the age-old action-adventure would have sufficed. This isn’t exactly uncommon though, only music nerds know what the hell acid jazz or nu metal actually are in terms of genres, but at least even the most casual music listener can surmise something from those two; one is some kind of jazz, one is some kind of Norwegian death screeching. Though if you’re more invested into music, you can deduce that acid is taken from the mid-1980’s sub-genre of house music, which is often described as somewhat psychedelic. Nu metal, well is new metal that mixes lot of then-current other popular genres like hip hop and grunge into one, something old death metal heads didn’t exactly appreciate.

Metroidvania doesn’t have these benefits of deduction, and that has something to do with the games used in the term, Metroid and Castlevania, having vastly different kind of games in their franchise. Depending when you got into these franchises, and if you ever did, you either got the action-exploration for Metroid and and Action for Castlevania, action-exploration for both, or First Person Adventure for Metroid, or 3D Action for both. As much as some of the classic Metroid fans wouldn’t want it to be, Metroid Prime was to many their first step into the franchise and defined lot of the world for them. Recalling back when Metroid Prime was released and FPA was used as its genre, a lot of magazines and people on the Internet were claiming that the genre name was bullshit and nobody should come up with such made-up names for genres. Times sure have changed.

Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth has a necessity to explain its genre for the larger audience that might come across it. This game already has a limited audience in people who are into 2D action-exploration and people who are fans of Record of Lodoss War franchise, and as such having some resemblance of explanation what it actually is all about is only sensible marketing solution. Though dropping metroidvania from the description would’ve saved them some space. No, using just metroidvania wouldn’t have been enough, as the whole post is about why.

It’s an issue that has no real solution. On one hand, using metroidvania for the red ocean market is fine and dandy, they’re catered with that. On the other hand, it’s a nonsense word that means nothing despite how much attempts people are trying to justify it. Sure, new words are invented and used in langauge, their widespread usage will make people understand them and so on, but it’s again a case where there is no need for such term, and there never was. Perhaps this is, alongside Doomclone, where the game industry and its core market are trying too hard to make themselves stand different unconsciously and spread their language and lingo. Using your own language and lingo is perhaps the best way to make a statement, and to divide people in Us and Them. Metroidvania in this regard is very much an innocent term, just a genre name for electronic games, unlike in political discussions, where people are categorised with the most unfavouring names even if they’re not applicable, but it is somewhat similar case; people see something familiar to them, even if inaccurate, and then proceed to use that naming even if it was inaccurate, didn’t make sense or outright wrong. Fling it long enough and it’ll stick, everything else be damned.

Though I have to say, the demo of Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth was a nice fresh air. The developer’s Toho action-adventure game was a massive letdown, but this seems to be hitting the stage design and character functions spot on. I just hope won’t become too gimmicky towards the end.

Another’s World

I can’t decide whether or not we live in an era where we are demanding authors’ and artists’ works to be untouched by outside forces, or we demand changes to these works for whatever reasons. I don’t really care either way, but the blog’s standpoint is that if a work is by one primary author, it should be left alone by external forces and be allowed to contest in the marketplace just as any. If the work is by a team effort, then it is subject to the hierarchy and decisions of that hierarchy, for better or worse. In video games, it’s rather common to see consumers demanding one of a game’s creator’s position to be the highest priority, that a game franchise should not continue because its perceived primary force is either in a bad position or abandoned. At the same, the same consumers keep consuming games that have the original teams long gone and don’t give a one damn about who’s in charge and what’s being done by whom.

Mega Man as a franchise is a great example of this. The first game’s original team effectively broke away, with only the core who wanted to do a sequel worked on the second game on their free time, and the third game had a producer who didn’t know what was going on so Keiji Inafune had to pull triple duty. The rest is history, with Inafune effectively being the only guy who worked on the first game and was coined as the Father of the franchise, until Mighty Number 9 hit the corner and the consumer opinion changed vastly. Still, the franchise has numerous games that have been worked by stupid amount of different people and some of the most acclaimed games have been developed by someone else other than Capcom, namely Minakuchi Engineering and Inti-Creates.

The Game Boy Mega Man titles, or Rockman World titles, were not developed by Capcom. Outside the second game, they were handled by Minakuchi Engineering, a game developer that mysteriously vanished around 2002. Due to developers going uncredited as part of branding and recognition, their website could only claim to have worked on over forty titles, including Mega Man X3. It wasn’t a practice to showcase who developed the game in the Japanese game industry, and as such none of the games until Mega Man Zero show any names or branding that would contradict Capcom. As far as the customers and the reviewers knew, the Game Boy games were developed by Capcom themselves. The second World game (I’ll just call the GB Mega Man games as World games from hereon) was developed by Japan System House, another dead developer, but one that has less favourable reputation. They later restructured into Biox Co., Ltd, and then into JSH Co, only to change back to Biox in 1997. GDRI has a list of titles confirmed they worked on.

We’ll never know the real reason why Capcom switched their developers for the World games few times around, but looking at the quality of World 2 game, it’s most likely that the sad quality of programming and designing was the main reason. The game was put into developed right after the first game and released five months later. Programming is one thing, but sound effects being completely off, sound being tinny hell and the whole package smelling like cheap chop job, it’s no wonder Capcom would turn back to Minakuchi Engineering. They became Capcom’s most important second team with Mega Man then, handling the rest of the Game Boy games, The Wily Wars and the aforementioned MMX3 before Inti-Creates took their spot. While World 3 is still about as uninspired as the previous games on the Game Boy, the fourth and fifth games have been praised for their quality and design, as well as taking some steps to try innovating with the franchise a bit.

I doubt anyone will contest me too eagerly if I claim Mega Man to be rather static franchise. For each series entry, there’s not a whole lot room for innovation as much as there is for improvement. Giving Mega Man a charged shot was more or less a natural evolution of ramping up his ready arsenal, with Rush being normal evolution of the Item Weapons. Giving Mega Man a a slide improved his mobility, but also allowed more complex stage designs and enemy patterns. Small changes like these seem that much more significant, when the core game play was effectively perfected on the first go. Understanding limitations and how to work with them isn’t anything special for original creators, as pretty much all of the changes Mega Man has seen in its franchise run are by from other than original creators. They’re also an example how someone else, like a third party developer, can understand the idea better than the originator, and understand the customer wants and needs that much better. Mega Man (World) 4 has two things that elevates this title above its three predecessors; Item Replicator is a way for t he player to gain items that would might want and need, alleviating the lack of resources with new type of resource in P-Chips. Collected Chips can be turned into Lives, different kind of restorative Tanks and so on. Item Replicator would go down as something that would appear in later games, like Mega Man 7. It’s a surprising major change, but not as major as the second improvement; proper cut-scenes with higher production values than most in the series. While Mega Man games have had introduction and ending sequences, in-game cutscenes have been rather sparse. World 4 had short, to the point scenes moving the game along in certain points. While nothing world changing for video games, Mega Man always asked for something like this, and after this the series would see far more of these story sequences, for better or worse. There are other small tweaks that change how the player has to approach the game, e.g. the charged shot now has a kickback that will mess with jump trajectories and can push Mega Man off a ledge.

Even a small thing like completely changing how the Stage Selection screen looks and functions gives a massive change in tone. Rather than presenting a static four faces (or the standard eight in NES games,) Mega Man (World 4) opted to use a selection wheel with the stage view underneath. This is one of those small improvements that stack upon each other, until few games later the you have completely different kind of game in your hands. The core of the game hasn’t been touched, but everything else has been improved in a way or another.

Minakuchi Engineering understood after their first take how Mega Man games are at their core play out, how the stages need to be structured to present the player a puzzle-like challenge that more often than not requires dexterity and action. Perhaps even better than Capcom did, as after World 4 Capcom was more or less gearing up for the SNES entries. The last portable hurrah for the original series of Game Boy games would end up being the best in the franchise, with Mega Man (World) 5 changing some of the series’ established structures more Capcom has done at any point in the franchise history to this point. If Capcom wanted to shake things up drastically, they’d make a new series. Minakuchi Engineering understood how Mega Man functioned and now they could go and break it.

World 5‘s largest change is straight on the box itself; Mega Man now had a rocket punch as his main charged weapon. Dr. Wily didn’t end up being the villain of the game and the robots you fought were aliens. While the game plays like a Mega Man game in two dimensions should, it wasn’t chained down to the small progression any more. The Mega Arm, or the Rock’n Arm, doesn’t function like other standard weaponry. With purchasable upgrade it can grab items and enemies, meaning you can launch it to an enemy and keep causing it extra damage it would otherwise not receive due to the invincibility flicker. The Arm also has to return after being launched, meaning the player has to mind themselves for that period when they can shoot anything. While on the surface this seems like standard small addition, in a Mega Man game it breaks the slow gradual change in design, and the same applies with the Special Weapons, which now have far more wildly different applications. Both World 4 and 5 have some stages that you can tackle through different paths, and NES games already introduced few select hidden rooms for items, but Minakuchi Engineering ramped this up, and Capcom ramped this up again in Mega Man 7. Hell, if you look things in proper light, you’ll see that Mega Man 7 was very much influenced by the Game Boy titles. Starts with four stages selectable at the start, hidden room galore, Item Replicator, Mega Man has access to a weaker Rocket Punch with his armour, more and more cutscenes and more attempts to break away from the established moulding.

This is applicable to whatever form of entertainment. As long as you have someone who understand the underlying functions and structure, the original creators/authors are not required. That’s a big caveat, but something that anyone willing could be able to pull off as long as they’re willing to learn the ropes. World 4 is like a safe bet, not shaking the boat and showcasing a well-made meal everyone can enjoy, though it won’t blow anyone’s taste buds. World 5‘s meal would be still as expected, but the new chef prepared it with ingredients and new preparations methods that heighten the taste and texture.

I can’t wait to see when will Konami finally produce a new Metal Gear game to see how the franchise will be handled. Give it five or six more years, the Japanese game industry seems to have a habit to let a franchise lay silent for a period after some kind of hard negative event has taken place. Nevertheless, perhaps a Mega Man -like game with the grabbing mechanics and all that which World 5 made itself so good would’ve been a better option. There are always more room for more 2D action games.

Unmade money with old games and consoles

Masayuki Uemura was interviewed by Nintendolife recently. He was the main engineer of the Nintendo Family Computer, as well as the guy who lead Super Famicom development. Naturally, he also was behind the workings of their American and Western equivalents. The interview covers decent ground and has some interesting factoids spread around. For example, all the innards of the FC was to cost give thousand yen and then sold for fifteen. Taking inflation into count, that five thousand is about six and half thousand yen, or about fifty five euro. The FC wasn’t exactly cutting edge for its time either, and the initial FC games are a whole another world from what the Western world came to know with the NES. You could even say that the split between the games, sort of, is pre and post Super Mario Bros., as that game was build to be the ultimate cartridge game before the disk system hit the corner. After SMB‘s success, the quality of the games on the system skyrocketed in number and begun yielding classic titles after another. I still maintain that the NES’ US launch line-up was one of the best a console has seen, as Nintendo of America had the chance to hand pick all the most fitting titles from the Japanese releases to fit the American taste. The Wii also had a relatively low-cost innards, which didn’t hamper its success. Nintendo’s lack of support after few years though, and Wii’s sales were still top notch.The Wii’s Virtual Console on the other hand, that sold the system to so many people.

Uemura mentions costs to be one of the driving elements in the design, and this is something the common consumer doesn’t tend to think. Certainly you know that better materials cost more money, but that’s only part of the equation. Shapes and colour add to the cost as well. For example, pink plastic has a higher melting point than blue plastic, requiring more time and energy to melt the plastic into the moulds. The colours themselves are also a factor, as mixing and making different colours cost different sums. Of course, you also have consider what that colour can do to plastic on the long run and if it’s worth it. For example, Beast Wars era Transformers toys have Gold Plastic Syndrome, where the colour and flakes added to the plastic have chemically interacted with each other and brittled the plastic, making it prone to break very easily. Some examples were found on the store shelves during the 1990’s already, and the issues has only become more pressing with time. Let’s not forget the shape. The more complex the shape, the more time and money it takes to develop needed production methods and finding the proper material to work with those shapes. Machining and maintenance are the key factors, and sometimes shapes need to be simplified due to either needing excess amount of parts or corners and loops that simply wouldn’t fill. Uemura mentioning that they went through numerous different variations for the controller is nothing surprising, but something that hasn’t been recorded and archived anywhere. If NES would’ve had the same kind of joystick as the Atari 2600, it would not have been the same success. The choice to try out Game & Watch Directional Pad appears to have been a somewhat desperate attempt to cull costs and prevent breakage if a child steps on the controller, and it worked.

The most interesting, and perhaps even most important section in the interview, is Uemura talking about the Famicom Mini;

Why make it mini? I think they could still develop a regular Famicom and people would still buy it.

Uemura’s hitting the nail with this, and it’s not just Nintendo that this applies to. Unlike what the industry wants to tell you, a console has no true life cycle or end of it. A system lives as long as the parent company decides to support it. However, the practice currently is to support one home console and one handheld at a time, thought the Switch really does both. All these reproduction consoles that are going about are an example how there is a market that’s untapped by the original companies. If Nintendo decided to develop and official GameBoy with a backlit screen, it would sell not only to the collectors, but to all interested parties. Reproducing cartridges nowadays is much simpler and cost effective. I’ve discussed this topic previously in a review. While it would increase the cost of the mini-consoles to add a port where consumers could use their own old cartridges, it is something these companies should have strongly considered. The games and their players have not gone anywhere. These same games are being published time and time again either as individual games or as parts of compilations. The game industry is almost schizophrenic in this. Something is supposed to have a limited lifetime, and yet people pirate ROMs to play these games and purchase compilations. Developers try to push for the new titles and games with high budgets and production values, and it’s the small side-game that’s more true to the older games that sells like hotcakes. We are still playing the same board and card games from hundreds if not thousands of years ago, and the could apply to electronic gaming if the industry wouldn’t treat them as one-time consumables. Yes, old cartridges and consoles will yield to time, to wear and tear, but the question really is why isn’t any of these companies willing to address this? There is a market that Sega, Konami, Sony, Nintendo etc. could go and tap.

Of course, developing a new console that would be planned to run old games would be time off from the more modern and current projects. Where’s the prestige in that? It would take some time and effort to see what made the original systems tick, if we’re to avoid emulation, and then expand what they can do. Using HDMI would be the first step, though if fans have created modifications to add HDMI output to old systems, so can the parent companies themselves. That is, if there is know-how and skill to do yet. Just like in the film industry, where colour and digitalisation effectively killed old skills (nobody knows how to make a true black and white movie anymore or how to properly run a reel, everything’s just a guess) the video game industry is in the process of forgetting how to develop for analogue platforms. Only the enthusiasts and retro-game programmers are keeping these skills alive. Hell, most big developers don’t even develop their engines any more, opting to use pre-existing engines. Capcom is one of the few developers that do their own in-house R&D, and it shows. Perhaps the kind of sameness games nowadays exhibit is partially because of this, and partially because games don’t develop as fast any more. In the 1980’s and early-to-mid 1990’s the industry kept developing fast and weren’t defined to the point of being set to stone. You had separation what kind of game was on what kind of system (PC, console or arcade) yet now more games are more the same. I’m ranting again about this, aren’t I?

There is money to be made with games and consoles, even if the industry perception is that they wouldn’t be much worth. The NES Mini outsold itself twice, the SNES Mini sold itself out about as fast, the Mega Drive Mini has been hailed from left to right as the best Mini system to date with excellent choice in games and the PlayStation Mini is still sitting on the shelves for being shit. There needs to be quality of course, as not even the hardest of the core customers will stand for lack of proper effort and lacklustre products. This market isn’t just for the small percentage of people stuck in the past. Old games, as long as they are available, will sell. A game is an ever-green product you can press again and again and sell it over and over again. They don’t grow old, playing games is an ageless pastime. They are mass consumer entertainment, and if you were to present them in their proper, original form with somewhat updated hardware for the new times, you’d have a new pillar to support your business with. Then again, we’ll always be an impasse, as that’d be looking back into the past and not trying to push the latest newfangled stuff.

What drives hardware if the same software is available everywhere?

Business Insider recently published an article in which they interviewed a number of game developers for the Google Stadia. They went without their names attached to their words, and perhaps better for that. Without a criticism they’re offering about Stadia and its misgivings, the very same I went on about, wouldn’t reflect too well in their business relations. The main contest is incentives from Google, the benefits that the developer and publisher would gain for putting their title on Stadia. Or rather, the lack of them. Usually the audience would be an incentive on itself, the ones the Big Three currently hold, and Switch as the one with relatively unique and mixed amounts of users, while Stadia effectively has none to contest with. Google can’t compete with the amount of users they have compared to any other gaming platform out there, and they probably know just as well.

There is no reason for any outsider to put their meat on Google’s platter. They’ve done the exact same error so many other companies have before them when it comes to running a gaming platform, console or otherwise; you need to do the initial legwork yourself. To use Nintendo as an example, consumers purchase Nintendo’s consoles not because of gimmicks or whatnot, but because of the software Nintendo themselves are providing. That already offers a default installed consumers base, which can be easily expanded if new and proper software is presented on their platform. Without saying this also means the consoles with the most sales always had the most software on the system. Shovelware is rather important for the ecosystem to balance things out, but it can only balance if there are enough games on a platform. Otherwise it’ll just gather handful of games and they’re all junk. Not even shovelware, but just collection of ports and few exclusive titles worth jack shit. Atari Jaguar or CDi should be an example in of themselves enough.

If Google can’t offer that initial batch of games that would incentivise the customers to pick up their handy dandy controller, what are they using? Software sells hardware, and Google doesn’t have anything that would wake a customer interest. It’s as if they were expecting to come into the play on the backs of other developers and publishers without putting much of their own in there themselves. The few exclusive titles Stadia has seen have been less than stellar, and the whole of idea not having the baggage of prior culture of video games was absurd to begin with. Whether or not Google wants it to, Stadia is relying on pre-existing software that’s heavily ported from other platforms, and that brings the culture of those games and platforms with it. Not that there is a huge dividing lines between different consoles, though PC mindset is very much a different thing. Stadia, however, is very far from PC as a platform. Then again, so is Steam in its nature as a digital console, so maybe modern PC user’s mindset is far too eager to appease closed environments rather than open to controlling their system by themselves.

While other platforms can offer stability, especially the Big Three, Google can’t. You’d think that if Google is putting all this show, razzle and dazzle up to grab customers’ attention, surely they have a long-term plan for Stadia and see it through at least for the next six years. That probably isn’t the case. Google has a tendency to nix products and services that don’t succeed as well as expected, and Stadia is no different to them in terms of business. If it doesn’t rake in the expected revenue, it’ll be written off and they’ll move on. They don’t have the history of putting their best efforts to make a product or a service like Stadia succeed. Stadia, as it stands now, would need a soft-relaunch in terms of service and what products it has. This is similar how Nintendo had to relaunch the Nintendo DS through software and how to market the device. Rather than sell it as a portable N64, a pocket version of a system that was never a success to begin with and has a lousy software library, Nintendo turned the boat around and started to deliver its library closer as a portable Super Nintendo. From there the NDS went to success. Inversely, the Wii was marketed and sold very much like the NES was, but the moment they abandoned that mindset, which was directly reflected in the software library and how Nintendo moved to develop both the 3DS and the Wii U, its sales dropped. Still outsold the other Big Three consoles, but what also failed to carry over the new install base they had from both NDS and Wii.

Google is against all this and they haven’t really done anything to deal with it. Whatever fame Google has at the moment, it isn’t helping them with their gaming department. If all the reports of their customer service practically failing on the first day, some being completely in the dark Stadia was even a thing to begin with, and Day One delivers were multiple weeks late, it could almost be assumed Google was self-aware how things would end up going and had already given up internally. This wouldn’t be a surprise in itself, as at times corporations do put out big projects that might not go anywhere. Often it’s a project that’s been languishing in development hell for years on end and time has already passed it, like with CED, and other times a project is perceived as groundbreaking or making disturbing ways in the industry, but the technology turns out to be half-baked and barely functional. As much as VR has made its strives, in recent years, it has a thirty years history of numerous failed attempts and products. Well, VR will be a true hit when the headset becomes cordless and light enough to shove into basic goggles without the massive plastic housing.

Whether or not Google was unprepared or didn’t have their realities in check with Stadia is academic at best now. Stadia has been around few months now and the wakes it was supposed to make have been rather anemic. Still, let’s wait the first two quarters until we can say whether or not the direction Google has chosen is worth it, but if developers and publishers are willing to coin in and effectively show their distrust not only towards the system itself, but also towards the parent company, something very much askew. Google, as it stands now, really has nothing to compete with in Stadia, and whatever promises and statements they made about fast play anywhere you want without any baggage has turned out to be less fulfilling. If this really was Google trying to offer a way to play games to those who didn’t want to play games because of they hobby has its smears, they bet on the wrong horse.

Music of the Month; Barrelfire Desperado

After I hit that nine years of blogging anniversary few weeks back, I went back and looked back at the stuff I’ve written. Jesus Christ what drivel. I can’t deny that there aren’t any stuff I’d say I have a good feeling about. Proud is too strong a word, but maybe saying there’s worth in there works better. That’s probably something I need to work over for myself, that I try to be worth something to someone, but considerations what people consider worthwhile don’t match up with me (or with each other) all that often. Who would give a damn about archiving a random comic book from the 80’s nobody has never heard about? Well, that’s the point really, maybe archivists get it. Maybe they don’t, there’s so much data on the Internet and on physical archives already, and we just keep producing this stuff more and more every single damn day.

You’ve probably followed the advent of SARS-CoV-19 virus’ makings its ways in China, and then steadily spreading across the globe. I’ve found some kind of macabre interest in following the events through the eyes of leakers and individuals who get their message out through the Chinese Communist Party blocked Internet. It’s not exactly the most uplifting hobby, especially when it went from following how well everything was screwed up in the early phases, where travellers were allowed to move willy nilly around, to what we have now. Ever increasing amount of spreading across the world with mortality rate piling up. The sickness it causes, COVID-19, isn’t exactly a laughing matter, especially considering how long the sickness festers before symptoms pop up. I would wish all of my readers to take care of your basic hygiene and avoid travelling to areas with confirmed cases, as well as limiting your Internet purchases from foreign regions for now. I’d also recommend getting full eight hours of sleep as often as possible, as sleep is the best natural resistance against viral diseases. I don’t intend to make any posts about the virus or the disease it spreads, unless something highly significant comes into play. Spreading of this virus can only be curbed if people are willing not to travel.

That said, global recession is a reality companies and corporations have to consider. If worst case hits China, their economy will tank and cheap produce from them will trickle down. Global market probably will follow in suit and tank, meaning we’re going to be in a place where consumers won’t have as much cash at hand just to throw at something expensive they don’t need. The Wii was perfectly priced console for its period, something the 360 and PS3 had to fight against. People still joke about $599 price. Especially considering if China’s production will tank much further, production of electronics and whatnot will grind slowly to a halt. This is where digital distribution should start to shine like no other, but they still need to sway with significantly cheaper price tags than their physical counterparts. Think of how the Wii found the perfect spot with cheaper hardware, good enough visual presentation and games people wanted to play. At least during Wii’s first half of life.

That’s a thing I’ve been told for some twenty years now, that digital will take over physical. Every five years, physical will be completely phased out with digital taking over. We’re fifteen years later after the first given deadline, and physical media is still around. While its sales have been diminished for sure, it isn’t languishing and has found its own niche.

As for something lighter things, and more related to the blog proper, I’ve cued up a Monster Maker franchise as the next short introduction. This is a perfect example how you pick up something completely harmless, think it’s just a series of five games across different systems and don’t think any of it. Then you start reading more about, look more into what items there has been for sale, what sort of deals and promotions have been tied to the name and finally you have in your hands a well loved staple of Japanese fantasy genre that started as a 1988 card game with five different entries with own unique sets of rules and cards, Rance Quest Edition via a deal with Alice Soft, few Revised editions and a 2018 Remake edition with revised rules, dozens of spin-off tabletop board and other games, additional video and computer games that range from simulating the actual game itself to fully-fledged console RPGs alá Dragon Quest, different pen and paper RPG iterations, strategy boardgames, few model kit lines that not only featured the characters, but dioramas and enemies in more of the expensive boxes, comics of all kind, light novels and God know what I’ve missed. I could spend a whole year cataloguing all this and I wouldn’t be finished because tracking down even the most common of the games can get rather expensive. Not to mention all the fan produced stuff, which of course ranges from crude homebrew simulations to erotic adventures of the characters in the world. By 1991, the game already had seven mainline entries.

Be sure to check Kugatsuhime’s Twitter. We’ll talk about the author/s whenever I get to the series introduction post proper. Which probably will be a series of posts at this point.

Even getting started is a chore (a gross understatement), because in order to properly describe the base game, or the 2018 Remake and Rance Quest Edition for now, the rules had to be translated because only the original game has dubious rules translations around the net. Well, whenever we get to the post proper, it will be supplemented with a PDF file for the rules for you to use alongside proper description for the 2018 Remake. I would love to use the original for this and make a direct comparison between the two, but we are talking about thirty years old card game that’s not exactly the easiest to find, and needing to purchase it. I’ve seen it go for 1000yen at one time, and another time over 10 000yen. There’s also a Revised edition that was published in the mid-00’s, with option to create your own cards for the deck (they sold blank cards for that specific purpose) but the cheapest I’ve seen it go in public trading has been around 18 000yen. Hell, just writing this itself made me check few more sites and I found yet another set of five entries I’ve missed prior. This is how you dig yourself in a deep ass hole, finding something that seems interesting, getting few stuff just to get you started and you find out you got thirty odd years of expansive franchise very few in the English speaking world even knows exists and you’re adamant to make it known more. I can honestly say that if you want to hear more about the franchise with scans and stuff around, those Ko-Fi tips would come in handy. Otherwise I’ll be drudging through as usual, and just pick the more prominent examples that are around.

On the meantime, remember to sharpen and oil your kitchen knives. A sharper knife makes safer and more pleasant cooking.

 

The power of the Customer

The customer chooses whether or not you succeed or if you fail. This can’t be overstated, but what has been understated that not all customers are one group. Take a sample of any consumer group, be it fans of a franchise, soda drinkers, candy eaters or whisky juggers, you’ll always find that they have something in common and something very much uncommon with each other. Within your target audience, you can’t appease everyone. You can hit different parts of your target audience with multiple products that appease different varieties of tastes, even if those tastes might clash harshly against each other. There’s a reason one of my random banners at the top is quote from Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, stating the there’s only one boss, the customer. Money moves almost everything in our daily lives, from the power you’re getting from your wall outlet to the clothes you’re probably wearing. Simple change in spending habits, like going to another chain’s store than your usual one, can affect things rather strongly. While the Internet has made campaigning against and for something so much easier, compared to letter campaigning or phone calling, the best form of stance taking is still hitting where it hurts the most; the wallet. However, wallet voting has taken hit on how effectively it is. The Internet has allowed movements to become louder and more obtuse, especially with the advent of social media. This has obfuscated the real amount of consumers doing anything, as majority of consumers are still silent. That is to say, most companies hear the voice of the minority of their customers, which leads only small sects sometimes impacting production, sales and whatnot of products that would otherwise have normal sales. Reasons vary, from mother’s campaigning to pull out GTA V from Target’s store shelves in Australia or some animal awareness group pointing out how Pokémon is animal abuse, you can take your pick from whatever ideological and political spectrum and you’ll find a group that’s making noise.

The creative industries have a hard time dealing with consumer wants and demands from time to time. Individual entrepreneurs have probably the hardest time finding and keeping a customer base. Individuals have to do everything on their own, and very few realise early on that having sensible finances and being able to keep your own book is highly important. Nowadays it is easier to find your own niche, though competition is even fiercer. Despite the rosy image of an artist giving his heart and soul to the piece and sees the world celebrating it, the reality is that artists still work in a service industry and their work needs to reflect the consumers. While art is culture, it is also a consumable. Only a fraction of a fraction of works that get cited as art will enter the cultural lexicon, something that’s becoming ever increasingly difficult as out 24/7 cycle of everything sees everything getting old within a matter of days. Fifteen minutes of fame has been reduced to closer to five.

The net’s full of comparisons like this

This has lead some to question if fans, a.k.a. consumers, have too much power over the products they consume. Or to put it like BBC Culture did, are fans too entitled? To touch the opinion piece a little bit, it mostly covers history of fans able to change and influence creators, citing examples like Sir Conan Doyle resurrecting Sherlock Holmes ten years after killing him off due to an intense reaction from the readers. For 1893, maybe ten years was long enough time for the books to spread. That, or in reality the considerable large sums of money ultimately changed his mind. After all, that made him one of the most well paid writers of his time. Stephen Kelly, the aforementioned piece’s writer, considers the change of Sonic’s model change in Sonic the Hedgehog unprecedented in modern relationship between artist and fan, something that is false. Video game characters have seen redesigns from time to time for numerous reasons after fans backlash, or have the perceived atmosphere has directly impacted the designs. This most notably has affected female characters, while the male characters have been left mostly alone. From Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s Tifa being more toned down compared to her original design (despite still getting riled by some) to something minor like a win pose being changed in Overwatch. While changing how Sonic looks in his movie resulted in tons of good PR, and the staff have been saying the fan feedback was invaluable. Whether or not this is a positive example is really up to you. Whether or not you prefer the original movie Sonic design compared to the current one.

The point of the piece is whether or not fans have entitlement over the things they buy. One example she cites where a minority of fans hammered down a movie despite critics and other fans liking it is The Last Jedi, though now that we’re two years after the fact looking at the results of the film, and how it affected the franchise as a whole, it wasn’t exactly a minority that rejected the movie. Sure it has its core fans, but the culture and general consumers at large simply for numerous reasons, which all can ultimately be bogged down as They didn’t like it. The franchise is feeling and reeling from the after shakes still, and will be for the foreseeable future. Kelly tying identity politics with Star Wars and the 2016 Ghostbusters is false, as the 2016 Ghostbusters is simply a terrible movie that failed to launch a new franchise for Sony to bank on. Then again, #GG is used as a boogyman in the piece and represented highly inaccurately, and really has nothing to do with anything aforementioned. There is no true conclusion to Kelly’s writing outside Fans are the problem, but fans are also the solution, which really means jack shit.

Let’s take a recent case about fans being split about a character redesign. A Japanese illustrator and character designer named Ban was employed by Flame Toys to redesign a Transformers character named Windblade for their Furai Model line of model kits. Flame Toys is known to redesign characters while working under Hasbro’s license, and these redesigns can be drastically different from the original works. If you check Ban’s Pixiv, you will notice at least two things; clean and smooth style, and that a lot of his works are Adult Only. His works are hard to represent in plastic due to him employing some shading and linework that works only in 2D. After Flame Toys revealed Windblade’s physical prototype in New York Toys Fare, there was a backlash against the design, forcing them to take down their posts on social media. The designer, Ban, still retained the prototype images on his Twitter.

Arguments about this design were conflicted. While a portion disliked it, a larger portion seems to like it. Difference is, most of the detractors on social media were English speaking customers, while the customers with positive feedback shared both English and Japanese. Unsurprisingly, few different posts explaining the backlash to the Japanese fans popped up, to which some Japanese laughed at and some thought the situation was unfortunate. Criticism ranged from it not being aligned with the original design of the character, which should have been a given seeing this is a Flame Toys product and that The Transformers toyline is full of redesigns of all sorts, to all the way how Ban’s design gave the character bikini, despite Wingblade’s bust and crotch always had red accents, as seen on the right. The wings where a sticking point to some, as they seem to be clipped in Ban’s redesign. This is of course natural, as Ban emphasized their nature as the bow in obi, the sash Japanese use with kimonos. I didn’t hear anything about the head crest’s size, but some issues with the second proto photo’s pose, and some were asking why the other, masculine models weren’t put in the same position. This is an example of false equivalency though, as what attracts men and women, and what shows their best sides, is different between the two sexes. The two sexes also value each other in different ways, emphasizing regions of body in altogether different manner, which is very much apparent in most more designed Transformers toys, where masculine emphasizes can be seen on broad shoulders, well defined chest and flat, sixpack stomach regions. Let’s not forget strong chins.

If I’m honest, I never liked Windblade’s design. The head crest is silly, the wings looked dull and generic, turbines everywhere, they manage to make the face look terrible, not much unique body definition after seeing what sort of design Animated series had. Personally, I don’t think Transformers as a whole needed sex, the species is mechanical in nature and could’ve been treated as one-sex or sexless

The fans were split, and not evenly even. This is an example where smaller sections of the target consumer group was split on a character design. You had a section that disliked it, you had a section that was as vocal about liking it, and then you have those who don’t really care. This is a gross simplification, as the reality is that there are thousands of small fractured groups working under similar umbrellas. Some have echo chambers, some don’t even interact with the rest of the fandom, and some simply had no interest on the topic as it was about a model and not about a transforming toy. Considering Furai Model kits are targeted at adult collectors, the niche audience this model was targeting most likely already excluded a lot of voices on both sides. A French Youtuber put many peoples’ thoughts rather well; There is a store package version for children, and this model kit is clearly not for them, but one of the many adult collector’s figurines. It’s pretty funny to use the term “objective” about a machine… Last bit of course refers to the complaint that Ban’s design is sexist and makes women sex objects. It considering this is a robot toy, objectification of a fictional robot is expected, as that’s what making a toy is. The design is sexy without a doubt, with expected curves, but as a friend so elegantly put it, You’re telling me Ban draws something else than boys with dicks? the design is rather held back from what it could have been.

If we are to consider the creative industries, or just arts, as something untouchable by external forces, why shouldn’t Flame Toys celebrate Ban’s redesign of Windblade and sell it to the customers? Or should they listen to the part of their broader possible customers and cancel it, losing whatever money they’ve had thus far in the production? If we were to stick with the idea that art should be independent and ignore both positive and negative feedback, Sonic’s designs wouldn’t have changed and Flame Toys would still have their New York Toys Fare posts up just fine. Some might see this as false equivalency due to supposed ideologies and whatnot, but stripping all the excess fat off and getting to the point, it’s all about customers voicing their opinion on a revealed character design.

Every kind of design and form of media has its customers. One thing has more than other, I doubt anyone really contests that in a serious discussion. However, not all products require to sell high numbers. Prestige and deluxe products are intended to be produced in relatively low quantities but in high quality. Their price tag represents this, often tacking more than few zeros at the end. The main difference between the two main examples in this post, Sonic the Hedgehog is intended for all audiences at an open marketplace. Furai Model Windblade on the other hand is (maybe was at this point) targeted at a niche of a niche market, an adult collector who builds robot models. The two markets are at rather opposite ends in popular culture media landspace, but not quite.

There’s no real stance here regarding the blog. While one of the stances this blog has is pro-consumer, it also supports the idea of companies looking at the cold data over customer response. The reason for this is that the customer doesn’t know what they want. We as customer think what we want, but when we’re given options to choose from, we often find ourselves picking something completely new, something we didn’t expect we’d want further down the line. Despite customers voicing their disagreement at times, offering variety of products is as important to hit all the niches in your targeted customers. This of course leads into juggling with the PR, both positive and negative such move creates, but that’s business as usual, as this is a chance to use both positive and negative attention for net positive gain.