10th Anniversary; I still believe you are in league with the butcher

When I started this blog ten years ago I was very much a different person. By design, I haven’t removed any posts. Revised some, but never really removed anything that had content to it. This hasn’t been a personal blog as it was never intended to be. Back when I launched this I was a far more naive person very much in the cumulus of things. The economy was just recovering from the financial crisis and the world seemed to be full of promise. I don’t particularly like to go back and read my old posts, mostly because I genuinely don’t consider anything I’ve done to be worth much anything. It’s an opinion I hold over myself, but rather the lack of success that’s the story of this blog. That too has been by intention, I must admit. From the get-go, I promised not to advertise myself or the blog itself. Linking to Twitter has been the sole exception to this, but that’s another story. Twitter has become more of a dumping ground for pictures and some archival over personal use. If you’ve been reading this blog or followed me on that bluebird site, I’d say you’re hardpressed to say much about the person behind the text. That too has been because of a choice I made early on. The blog in itself was not to be dumping ground of personal ideas, but rather from a point of view. Through the decade the tone and intention have shifted unintentionally as the two personae have made an amalgam. While you’d be hardpressed to find fanboyish reactions from the latter posts, earlier posts are full of those, I’d bet.

In reality, I don’t think I never found a tone for myself or for the blog. I’ve gone from one project to another aimlessly without any feedback from anyone, ultimately having to consider this blog a dead-end hobby that I have kept for no real reason, if we’re honest here. You can find better reading material out there. Hell, the fact that you have required to read makes the whole blogging thing rather archaic in the days when Youtube and podcasts are reigning supreme. I’m a non-Native English speaker, I can’t do either in place of this blog, I’ve tried. My enunciation is terrible, I have a semi-hard accent and I really don’t care about grammar when speaking. That’s something that is also very apparent from the texts I write. I was taught that grammar matters less than the content. If people are getting stuck to the grammar you’re using, they don’t care about the content in the first place. It’s easy to play a grammar Nazi, I do it too. I guess one of the few reasons I’ve kept this blog is that I am slightly dyslexic, and writing has kept me relatively straight when it comes to both reading and writing. I still miss the occasional word or letter here and there while swearing I typed it down, but that’s how it works for me. I skip words.

Few post types have been popular over the years, but I’ve never capitalised on them. There never was any point, as I never intended to make money on blogging. I never had the talent or skill for it. That’s one of the reasons I call this blog worthless for all to see, as there’s not one post that anyone would have paid for me to write or someone to read. Certainly, there are few posts that might be of worth. The Virtual-On retrospective is perhaps the single series of posts that I can honestly admit to adding value even when it’s largely useless and has terrible structure. I’m not sure if people are coming more for the rare image over the content the image is attached to, but I guess if I can make at least one person happy in a week with thousand plus posts I have up, maybe it has been worth it.

To meet with reality, it really hasn’t. What’s the end result of this decade? The rise of healthy macro-economics ended up people being able to drive agendas and products that ultimately were anti-consumer, attacking the market and its consumers with products that would have never been made otherwise. It appears that a healthy economy enables the production of trash products, like the Disney Star Wars movies and they’d still sell. The falling sales of each new entry in that series shows that you can trick the customer only so many times until they are fed up, and with the Wu Flu hammering the economy all of 2020, so many of these corporations pedalling with trash products found themselves in deep shit and in need of kicking people out and subsidising everything they were doing. However, the one thing this blog said from the beginning kept some of the companies in better condition; providers are there to serve the customer.

The core message of this blog, in the end, has to be as follows; If you are in a field of making something that is to be sold, it is your job to make sure it is the best it can be to satisfy the customer. Sometimes this means compromising with your own vision or integrity, sometimes it means the exact opposite. Nobody has to buy your product just as you don’t need to cater to anyone’s whims. You are, ultimately, in a business of customer service. It’s stupidly complicated and with so many opinions and tastes out there, sometimes its the best to be faithful to the product itself, though sometimes that’s a detriment towards the sales. None of this excludes creativity, it’s just the opposite. The best results are yielded when there are competition and limitations. The sheer drive to make something better drives variety and quality, something we don’t see much in modern gaming nowadays due to how much automation is used. This side tangent will make me mention how nobody really makes their own game engines anymore, making all these modern games feel and play very similarly. Nevertheless, a person with true creativity can always find a way to deliver not only what he intended, but also what the customer would want. More often than not, selfish creativity yields little profit.

Electronic gaming, of course, has been the main topic of this blog. Well, perhaps humanity’s play culture would be more fitting, as I made it a sort of passion to cover all sorts of historical curiosities from that Breakdown trilogy of posts to touching upon girls’ games early one. In hindsight, it’s interesting to note that girls’ adventure games have a lot in common with visual novels, with the major difference being that VNs are far heavier on story than play and interaction with the world. Ultimately, I have come to a conclusion that despite the play cultural differences between boys and girls, and by that extension men and women, in video games the difference is far smaller. Competitive gaming attracts a competitive person, and statistics I covered in one of the posts I had statistics on how games like Super Mario Bros. are very much sex-neutral in their userbase. I haven’t seen much modern statistics or analysations on the current trends but with new generations the gap between what sort of games are being consumed and by whom is growing narrower.

I’ll have to say Thank You to people I got to know through Muv-Luv. While I’m terrible at keeping in contact, practically all of the posts when it comes to Visual Novels, especially âge ones, would not have existed without the influence of Gabgrave, Chris, Evan, Jason and the rest of the romp. Yes, even the friendships that got cut because of differences in worldviews. I cherish you all still, despite all of you haven’t heard from me for some time. In the same breath, sorry to Froggy AKA A9 for pestering him to cover my ass with those Trek posts. Go check his stuff out.

I have asked this from myself for a few years now; What’s the point? Do I want to keep writing this blog still? It has become a habit, a chore of sorts. I’d like to think I’m doing this out of altruism and there’s some worth in there, hidden in plain sight for someone to take notice and appreciate it, but I’m realistic enough to admit that’s a childish, utopian thought. You can only go so far without getting anything back, and I stopped gaining anything from blogging a long time ago. I don’t mean that in any monetary manner or valuables. It depresses me to say this, but I’d like to quit. However, at the same time, I have found writing something, even something worthless like this blog, to be a rather nice pastime. As much as it has become a chore, it’s also become a habit. To reconcile between the two opposing wants, I’ve decided to ditch the notion of having any sort of schedules. This has, if anything, lead me kicking the dead horse over and over.

I’ve been wanting to give a shot at writing fiction for some time now. That needs its own blog though, I won’t start mixing here. Perhaps with this, I can disregard that knacking feeling of letting nonexistent readers down. Ten years of mostly consistent posting of text nobody really reads amounts to nothing, doesn’t it? Have I ever shown you new ideas or approaches as I intended? Has any of my retrospectives added to the overall wealth of knowledge on the Internet? The topics themselves surely haven’t helped any. Have any of my reviews given any information for someone deciding on a purchase? I don’t know. The lack of any kind of feedback, while never bothered me, ultimately showcased how insignificant this blog is. Sure, I never made big numbers in readers, I never intended to, but again, deep down I wished there was something of worth in there.

Perhaps, ultimately, all this has been a useless exercise despite all the good it has done to me personally. It sounds so pitiful, but that’s how it works. Some of us are just so small no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we pour our hearts into something, it’ll never be good enough for the people out there. I should have been more ambitious, should have made more connections, spread the word around far more and advertised that this little corner of the Internet exists. It’s not admirable to admit that all the things I’ve missed are of my own fault. It’s just the reality of things. All that said, I should not look for validation outside to any significant extent. That’s the child mindset I keep battling against, as well as the whole not having any self-confidence. I should not give one penny how things go or look to others if I’m having a blast myself and entertaining myself. This was supposed to be a hobby, not something that’d stress or undermine.

Things have to change, and rather than pressing for posts twice a week without no heart in them, I’ll be putting more heart in those posts and returning to topics and posts that I’ve left in the backburner for far too long. Maybe I’ll get to spend a Saturday or Sunday without having to stress over what to write about for once. I’ll get some time to get some drawing commission done and that eleven kilos of books on the scanner. No more Monhtly Music posts, those were a bad idea to begin with and haven’t served a purpose with less time on my hands to plan anything properly. I don’t want to be hampered by the word count limits anymore either, so that goes out of the window. Still, I’d like to practice some level of control over how bloated these posts end up being.

Nevertheless, I truly am grateful for all of you who have read any of the posts during this last decade. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a kernel or a spark of something you found interesting. Maybe that’s all for the time being.

 

Tom Paris; or, A Small Defense In Favour Of Nicholas Locarno

Guest post! Guest post! Aaltomies has some PC troubles so you know that’s a perfect moment for me to start yelling about Star Trek. I’m taking a small break from Enterprise this time around, but I still hope you’ll enjoy it in some capacity.

Maybe this topic has been discussed to death, I don’t know. Maybe I just felt like getting this off my chest. There are many things that can be said about Star Trek Voyager and I think it started off very promising. Sadly, they squandered their potential.

Voyager start off with the Maquis crew and we very quickly get introduced to them in their old ship, before being transported away. There we have the plot for the first part of the episode: Where did they go? And that’s where Voyager comes in, they are tasked to find them and bring them back. Added to that is the fact that a Starfleet security officer is still on board (and undercover), so it would be pretty cool if he could be retrieved as well.

The region the ship is lost in is known as the Badlands, an area of space that has been frequently mentioned in Deep Space Nine. An unstable area of space, lots of space tornadoes, not safe to fly in, you get the gist. So how does Starfleet get in there? By using an ex-Maquis pilot – enter Tom Paris played by Robert Duncan McNeill.

Just describing him as a cocky pilot is doing him a disservice. As the son of a distinguished Starfleet admiral he has always felt the pressure of living up to his fathers’ reputation, which wasn’t easy. Growing up the distance between the two grew larger and larger, turning Tom into a bit of a rebel. After finishing Starfleet academy he got involved into a cover-up incident in which three fellow officers died. Despite telling the truth later, he got dishonorably discharged from Starfleet and became a bit of a drifter – just out there looking for trouble. And trouble he found in the form of the Maquis which he joined as a mercenary, but only two weeks after joining on his first mission he got caught and thrown in a penal colony for treason. One cannot really blame the guy for being pretty cynical and sarcastic at this point.

His reputation is also quite well known at this point, with many an officer not wanting anything to do with him. Still, he gets recruited since he’s the best shot Starfleet has to find the missing ship. And that’s when you throw Harry Kim into the mix. A young, naive young man just fresh out of the academy. Even after being told what happened with Paris, he still gave him a chance and actually asked why he did what he did, starting a long-running friendship on the series

Now, Tom could have been one of the most interesting Voyager characters. You have the two allegiances and with mutiny being a real possibility he could join either party (if they would be willing to accept him). …but nothing of the sort happened, short of a small a what-if holodeck episode, so he just assimilated into the Starfleet crew without a hitch. Like everyone did. A major plot point (the cooperation of the two crews) got resolved way, way too early and should’ve been a (multi) season long struggle.

But let’s rewind a bit, how did the character of Tom Paris came to be on the show? For that we have to jump back to The Next Generation with the episode The First Duty (also known as the best Wesley episode). In this episode we see another character played by McNeill called Nicholas Locarno, which can easily be described as a proto-Paris in his student years. He’s in an elite-student group along with the beloved character Wesley Crusher called Nova Squadron.

Being on the verge of graduation, Locarno wanted to go out with a bang by performing a dangerous five man shuttle maneuver. Sadly, one of them made a mistake and paid for that with his life. Locarno convinced the rest of the squadron to lie about the whole ordeal and started the cover-up, but it was found out by captain Jean-Luc Picard, who told Wesley Crusher to either come forward, or he would. With this being Star Trek, of course he did. Over the course of the episode Locarno becomes increasingly more hostile and panicked to truly become the villain of the episode, but in the end he takes full responsibility and becomes the only one that’s expelled from the academy while the other members would be held back one year.

So now we can compare these two characters. Their backgrounds are very alike, it’s the same actor, what happened here? One reason, given by the producer at the time (Jeri Taylor), stated:

We had liked the idea of a character like Tom Paris ever since we had done “First Duty” and had Lecarno [sic.]. We didn’t make Lecarno the con officer, because he was somewhat darker and more damaged. We felt Lecarno couldn’t be redeemed and we wanted to be on a journey of redemption.

And from the actor McNeill himself:

Locarno seemed like a nice guy, but deep down he was a bad guy. Tom Paris is an opposite premise in a way. Deep down he’s a good guy. He’s just made some mistakes.

I disagree with these statements, the redemption. The biggest difference between the two characters is that Locarno had his history shown on the older episodes – you saw his reactions and you knew his motives. With Paris however, the actual details of the incident have always been kept vague. There could have been many other circumstances to Paris’ incident, but it’s never told. Was this just to minimize the risk of a ‘slightly darker’ character like Locarno? In addition to that, why is Locarno irredeemable? They both created an incident, covered it up, and came forward in the end. The only difference being in Locarno’s case is that it was his teammate that did it. But let’s also take a step back here, Locarno was younger than Paris as well. You make stupid mistakes when you’re young. Does that mean he can never be redeemed? Doesn’t that give an even bigger road to redemption?

The writers on the other hand have a very different view on it and they too see no reason why Locarno couldn’t have come back. Both their histories were serious, why could one be redeemed? One possible reason was given (in a slightly joking manner), that the Voyager crew just didn’t want to pay royalties to them and that he also wouldn’t have minded cashing in said hypothetical cheques.

Finally I’d like to finish with a what-if. And don’t worry, I won’t go as far in-depth as those 36-part long Dragon Ball Z videos that cover What if Raditz turned good? or the like. What if Locarno got on that ship instead of Paris? I don’t think it’s outlandish to think that Locarno would’ve ended up with the Maquis as well and he has about the same piloting skills as Paris. With the character being played the same, the friendship with Harry would’ve still started. We would just have a character whose history was a little more defined, instead of a vague story.

Thanks to Memory Alpha for refreshing my memory.

Is that based on real science?

If we go back hundred years and then some in time, we would enter a world we’d recognize but would hardly be able to properly function in. Your own nation would have drastically different culture, ideologies and ways of doing things, and other cultures would be that much more alien as the global cross-pollination would still be curbed by the lack of fast connections. Though we can intellectually say that things were like this or that people thought like that based on books and documentation from that era, otherwise we can barely relate to them. We can’t interact with the past. The same applies to the future as well, but even more so. The present is steel in a forge, constantly being heated to its proper temperature. Human actions are the hammer blows that shape the metal into its proper form, but only after quenching and polishing, we can see what are the results. We might have a plan or intentions, but sometimes those don’t serve us. Other times we’re played like a fiddle by some unseen hand directing us towards something peculiar, like how the recent military coup in Burma, also called Myanmar, took place. Some people see and know what’s going to happen, while the rest have to wait and see until it’s presented to us. By that time, the showcase is over. Future generations will look back to this era the same way we see the past through coloured lenses and read the words of the victor.

If we extend the time span, we’re are being removed from pretty much everything we know. The man of now, be it in the 1800s or present, always considers themselves to be at the cutting edge of science and progress, that this is the best spot. Fifty years from now there will be people thinking the same way and wondering how backwards we were at the change of the millennium. Science probably has taken steps we barely have an inkling about currently, with social and cultural structures have seen a change. Future historians can make educated guesses where all this is going, but that’s all it is. Ask a future historian five years ago if the world would experience a massive scare in form of a global pandemic, and none of them has anything like that. Some of them probably would have guessed that an incoming depression would hit, but that was supposed to be around 2018. They weren’t quite right on the time, or for what reasons.

The concepts we have in our everyday life are magic. We can say we understand how, for example, Wi-Fi works with the signals and how they’re coded and encoded, but only in terms of This things exists. Very few truly understand what’s happening when wireless communication happens, or why. We can easily say that Wireless Fidelity is radio signals, and then expand that radio waves are a form of electromagnetic waves. This means it’s a wave with both electronic and magnetic component to it, meaning the signals are like light rays, except their wavelength is different. This is just going into what a radio signal is, and not even touching how information relies on through it. As a side note, it would be possible to “see” Wi-Fi waves if an organ or a device would have evolved or designed to see at that wavelength.

The Atomic Era and after saw a huge slew of science fiction making wild assumptions about the year 2000, which very few have come to pass. I’m still waiting for my atomic reactor powered flying cars. We have robots doing our jobs, but not in the manner of humaniform robots or androids, but rather as dedicated machines with specific types of arms and hands. General artificial intelligence was assumed to have been assembled already, but turns out making a sentient computer is harder than it seems like. Then again, in strict terms, the AI doesn’t even need to be sentient. It just has to appear to be so. However, we can’t fault science fiction writers for using the science they had in their present. You can’t use or invent what you don’t know is possible or could be done. Star Trek‘s communicators were a natural evolution of radio and wired phones. Nowadays, you can call anyone anywhere on the Earth, and probably on the orbit too, with your phone in your pocket. While teleportation has been deemed impossible, tests have shown otherwise. It’s just a matter of the scale of things and whether or not it would be feasible in the future, but progress has ways to make us surprised. After all, it was thought the world could only have three computers due to their massive size, but now that same phone you can call Frank is millions of times more capable in every aspect than those room-sized computers. Even the best guess based on the information they had then wasn’t exactly on the mark.

It helps if you’re a scientist of sorts when writing science fiction. You’d be in a better position to use that knowledge of how things work to take a few steps forwards. After all, once the reader picks up your book, you are in a silent agreement that this is fiction, and certain parts will be in the realm of impossibility. Even then, too many times the ideas people have supposed to be too fantastical have turned out to be possible. Then, of course, there’s the reverse or the Jurassic Park Effect. Michael Crichton did extensive research for the book, and for a short period in the 1980s, it was based on solid science and knowledge. Even the name of the Velociraptor was largely accurate for a whole year or two, before the species’ status, name and size were updated with further research. We also now know that dinosaurs had feathers of sorts, and have been able to determine some pigments from fossil remains. A few years back, a Texan scientist surmised that T-Rex probably didn’t even roar, but used similar closed-mouth communication we see in alligators and birds. So rather than a lion roar, it most likely had something akin to a deep, ground-shaking subsonic rumble. The whole issue of extracting DNA from amber sadly was also bunked when DNA’s half-life was confirmed, meaning even in the best condition a dinosaur’s DNA would have broken up in 6,8 million years. We’re a few millions of years too late to the party. Science fact of yesterday is science fiction of today.

Nevertheless, we can only base our ideas and guesses what is out there. Very few of us is making any progress on the scientific front, and even those who keep tabs on the latest news and research papers probably can’t even guess what’s the next technological revolution. Science fiction writers overall can’t really use what isn’t there. I keep using the Lensman series and some of the earlier Asimov’s works as examples where there are no computers. The way computers were in the 1950s and earlier don’t even begin to count in ways modern people understand what a computer is. Nevertheless, writers like Asimov and Clarke understood science to make use of it in an entertaining manner as well as discuss themes and concepts through their work. Larry Niven’s Ringworld novels are an example of an author going back to the work and making a sequel just to discuss how such a superstructure as Niven’s Ring could be possible. It points out how it can be made possible, but as it usually is with SF, not whether or not it is possible with our current understanding of materials and certain physics.

I’m sure you’re tired of me kicking this dead horse. However, the more I hear some unnamed contemporary SF writers aiming to write what follows “real science” while arguing that you shouldn’t elaborate, or even discuss, what isn’t possible seems cheating. Certainly, Star Trek Voyager made technobabble a sin in the eyes of hardcore SF fans. However, this is where that whole aforementioned point of having some kind of degree of science, or a deeper understanding of how things work steps in. Bad technobabble throws words in that sound scientific without any meaning. Good technobabble on the other hand does manage to make use of current concepts and take it a step further by asking the question What if… Then again, the highly technical speech itself sounds like technobabble, so the layman and general audience mostly put it as the tone of the work. It’s background noise, something that’s akin to the background music that’s making the beats. In the end, it doesn’t matter if the science or the depiction of vessels or beams is realistic and accurate as long as it serves the story. There’s no drama if we can’t see the lasers shot, or if a crew member is thrown back when using a phaser. While some viewers will complain that Star Trek and similar works are unrealistic how they depict their science and mechanics, the layman often retorts that how that’s a given; it’s television, none of it is real.

It is disingenuous to call any work of SF, like Star Trek, a work of fantasy based on its elements not being possible, at least in terms of the current understanding of how things work. The whole What If… plays an important role in one of Asimov’s best works, Gold. Asimov was dared to write a story with plutonium-186 isotope as the theme, which doesn’t and can’t exist. Yet Asimov took the base and built a story set in another universe with a different set of laws of physics that allowed such thing to exist. Discussing such topics and themes is a hallmark of science fiction as a genre.

All this wondering makes me want a hard science fact story that uses 1600s science as its basis.

There are no black bars

There is a misunderstanding with screen aspect ratios that states that using an image of different aspect ratio from your screen will leave black bars. This is of course completely incorrect but is so widely used that nobody questions it. Everybody just assumed people know what’s been said, which turns into the whole It’s common knowledge thing. This’ll be the last aspect ratio rant for the blog.

The above image shows a white 4:3 image in a wide-screen area format. Those aren’t black bars; that is the area where there is no image information. Open some random image in your computer that isn’t taken in your screen’s aspect ratio. You wouldn’t expect it to fill the screen, as it’s clearly not meant for that size. Yet some of you willingly crop or stretch video footage to fill that area. I’m sure your image viewer has some options to stretch stuff. If not, put it as your desktop wallpaper and choose that stretching option. Suddenly, it looks much less appealing.

This applies to any picture that is out there, video or not. For whatever reason, people fear the void of having nothing on their screen as if its wasted, as if they weren’t getting their money’s worth. This is absurd, though possibly understandable. Nevertheless, the image size and dimensions you view are chosen specifically for the reasons that portray the image the best or were industry standards. If you put something like Jurassic Park on, you should notice that it has more vertical height than your standard modern TV-show, or most movies in widescreen format, because Spielberg chose that aspect ratio because it allowed to show more of the dinosaurs’ height. Compared to Jurassic World movies, which lack this extra height, you get much wider shot and lose that effect of massive size. You have too much room on the sides.

Whatever made filling this empty space with bloomed version of the video at this empty space is a neat response to fill that void, but that’s again needless and useless. I’d like to say Surely people understand that there are videos of different aspect ratios that don’t fill your screen? but that would be stepping in the whole trap of assuming it was common knowledge. It probably is, people just don’t think it though. Another thing people are doing is adding black areas to the top and bottom of the screen to simulate the film experience. This is just from ignorance as people who keep doing this don’t understand that films filmed in 21:9 aspect ratio has more width than height, which is why you have no information to fill all of your modern 16:9 aspect ratio screen.

Seems like Counter Strike players are somewhat split between widescreen and fullscreen formats. Some people talk about how glorious it is to have the game in full, widescreen format while some argue that having 4:3 “black bars” is better because of the focus it offers. Other games seem to have their own aspect ratio they run in, as Youtube’s also full of guides on how to stretch Valorant‘s footage, which again destroys the footage itself. Maybe it’s the new generation problem that older technology has with video footage. As I mentioned in my previous aspect ratio rant, companies used to cut and pan footage to fit 4:3 aspect ratio televisions, yet we have the same problem nowadays in slight reverse. People are stretching the image for 16:9 format and it looks even worse. I’d rather live with Pan and Scan over stretched image just because everything would still maintain their proper proportions.

With Counter Strike people are mislabelling the whole stretching thing. While looking for reasons why people stretch their picture, many consider changing the aspect ratio itself as stretching. The thing with some games is that they can function just fine under different aspect ratios without the need for mangling the image. Look a the following.

 

This image hasn’t been stretched or shrunk. This is two different aspect ratio images superimposed on top of each other, with the red coloured image being in 4:3. No assets are being stretched, the only thing that changes slightly is the field of view. However, the terminology often used between these two, removing black bars, stretching etc are just outright bonkers. The discussion should be about aspect ratio in cases like this and nothing else. It feels, and is stupid to point out that it’s no stretching if there is no stretching. If you’re interested why some Counter Strike players discuss the benefits of having 4:3 aspect ratio in the game, here’s a link to the Medium article where the pic was nabbed from.

Let’s take a step back a bit from that and take a very simple and rather small, random image from my folders and see how it scales.

This’ll do fine

It’s a very normal picture with a random aspect ratio and size. When you put in full screen, as in it would full whatever it can on the screen without stretching, it’d look like this.

As a lot of old digital footage is in crappy resolution with terrible compression, expanding the image well beyond its intended size will result in edges showcasing their low resolution and artifacting. It’ll be even worse if you want it to fill the screen so that it’s filled with the image’s information, even if doesn’t have anything to offer in that regard.

The stretching is visible, with the face becoming even pudgier and the hat suddenly gaining few kilos more. Now, what if someone were to do this in ultra-widescreen? You may think this sounds stupid, but it happens all the time. People love to stretch things for whatever reason.

If you’re ok with the third image, then you should have no problems with the fourth one either. The extreme might be wider, but the effect is still the same. You have now filled your screen with information and thus ended up distorting the image. To hammer this useless point in even further, I’ve superimposed the second and third images together, putting the proper aspect ratio’d picture to the left so the lines have the same starting point.

This hurts my eyes. Thanks astigmatism

Stretching is something that should not be tolerated and the above shows why. When put on top of each other like this, you can clearly see how much stretching displaces and distorts the depicted information.

I did mention I was looking around why people stretch their footage even when knowing it’ll make the picture look bad. The main reason seems to be the good ol’ feeling cheated if they don’t get everything filled from edge to edge in their screens. Televisions and monitors cost a pretty penny and not having that whole area used all the time seem to make people feel like they were cheated, that they could’ve gone with a smaller screen if they have to leave some areas unused due to the footage being in a different resolution or aspect ratio. It’s not rare for people to say It looks fine when justifying why they stretch or crop their picture, which can’t be helped. Just as often you hear the same people saying something about the image not exactly looking like it should. Sports especially tend to look weird in a wrong aspect ratio, because all the players and equipment are stretched sideways.

The second reason is buying into something they don’t have knowledge of. Often a screen is bought, set up, never calibrated or properly tested. If a station is sending the image in a different aspect ratio and the screen is set to automatically stretch, the end result will be a mangled image. Effectively, ignorance.

The third reason is by choice, whatever it might be. While there are intended ways to view something in its proper aspect ratio, we have to accept that people have the freedom to watch whatever they want in whatever size and shape they wish. I assume we’ll have to revisit everything how we approach image sizes and aspect ratios in the future as the image viewing technology takes its next major paradigm shift, or if another aspect ratio other than this widescreen format is implemented as a standard. Whoever writes about these things then will have one helluva time trying to explain to people how few hundred years ago the image was in two dimensions and didn’t contain holographic third dimension to fit their tru-3DVR glasses.

Why are there no black bars though? Because that’s just areas that are off, just like how your screen isn’t “black” when you switch it off. Thes sayings just kept going and had to be dumbed down, which lead misconceptions and further problems down the line. I guess this would count as an example of how we should punch up and educate people rather than punch everything else down. Lift people, so to say, rather than take things down across to the board.

 

 

 

 

Music of the Month; Wizardry

Don’t take this as me introducing Wizardry into the blog. The theme should be taken as something nostalgic, but as something that wasn’t originally there.

 

It has become increasingly more difficult to spent any significant portion of my day working on a post of quality. This has been a trend for some time now, and it’s something everyone has noticed. Planning posts in advance have become a chore of sorts, because most of the time an idea just doesn’t have enough lift under its wings, or it would overlap with something I’ve already discussed prior. Sometimes to extensive lengths, and I’d rather tone down on beating the dead horse. I’ve still got three projects under my belt unfinished, so after a certain date, I’ll have to make some modifications on how and why I still keep this blog up. You’ll have to wait a bit for that though. I do have an intention do writ up few device reviews once I’ve gotten my hands on Meanwhile, I’ll use this entry to cover some small topics that are about around now.

Google announced recently that they’re killing off their first-party developer for Stadia. It lasted only one and a half years, and I’m having a hard time remembering the studio’s name. This follows Google’s standard practices of the killing of products and projects in about two years of their existence. Not much love is lost between Stadia and its users, as it never delivered on its promises. Stadia, by all means, has largely been a failure. I’ve followed few of the early adopters on the sideline, and most of these people have ended up disappointed in the product.

Problem with Stadia, of course, is streaming games, its supposed bread and butter. While Virtual Reality is becoming a mature technology now that we have small enough components and robust enough hardware to make it happen, streaming games is woefully in baby shoes simply because of the existing infrastructure doesn’t support it, not to mention the bottlenecks Google’s servers themselves had. Unlike VR, Stadia could take advantage of existing games, though Stadia had little to no titles that excited the customers or made it a must-have device. Stadia didn’t have a leg against consoles hardware or software-wise, and as a computer peripheral or a smartphone addition, it was pathetically awkward and underpowered. Think it this way; would you lug around a PlayStation with a screen attached to it when you could have a GameBoy? Some would, while others might choose to play a laptop and whatever it offered.

Playing games anywhere, anytime, isn’t a new paradigm. People have been carrying decks of cards with them for hundreds of years and still do. Portable electronic games have been a thing since the late 1970s, at least. Stadia was never creating a new paradigm or a way to play games, nor did it expand the market. Google tried to portray Stadia as something for people who didn’t play video games, yet they failed to offer any games that would expand the market. Look at the NES, GameBoy, NDS and the Wii for example of a library that had something for everyone. Even when taking streaming games out of the equation, this was Stadia’s most important failure and it keeps repeating with every failed gaming device thus far; you can’t succeed without an appealing library, the hardware doesn’t matter. What’d I say about beating a dead horse?

Though Stadia’s hardware was effectively just the controller and whatever junk it has inside. Supposedly, there’s a wild variation whether or not the controllers break down easily or if they’re robust. Seems like this is dependent on whether or not the parts were good or if the assembler had a bad day. Nevertheless, what Google failed to realise is that expanded markets don’t really like game controllers, especially the much older generation. There are too many buttons, they have no intuitive way of learning them. The Wiimote, while often laughed at, was a brilliant design that opened an intuitive way to learn the controller not just because of its familiar shape but also limited buttons and placements. The reason a more traditional controllers Nintendo puts out are called Pro controllers is because they’re meant for people who don’t need to learn how to use a controller. It might be hard to imagine for people who have been playing electronic games most, if not all of their lives, but gaming controllers are still rather complex devices despite standardization and are far from intuitive to use. If Google truly wanted to have an open doors experience for everyone who wasn’t a self-appointed gamer, they would’ve made sure Stadia’s library would’ve appealed to these people and designed the controller to lower the entry challenge. Failing at both of these, Stadia ended up as a third wheel, a system that had no appeal whatsoever.

There’s a Mass Effect: Legendary Edition in the horizon, and unlike the guy who I get occasionally writing stuff when I need a break, wrote his view on the whole shebang. Give it a read. However, it must be questioned whether or not this remake should be. All these games run just fine on modern OS and console versions run just as dandy as they ever did. The time, money and all the other resources spent on this compilation of games could have been used to make a new game, or remaster something that would have been in a dire need to be properly updated for modern systems, or remade into a much better game. Pick your choice game of mediocre or outright terrible game that you think could be worked into a gem and you’re already there. Games that already are great, supposedly, don’t need to be remade into a new form. Mass Effect‘s problems as a game can’t be corrected with a remastering and technical update, it’d need to be taken back to the design board and make a whole new draft to make it a game with interesting and engaging play rather than a generic shootyshit with forced talkie bits. It’ll sell nevertheless. The gaming media has been hyping this one for some time now, and loud fans will invade anyone’s feed in any social media at some point.

In other news, all three companies involved in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, that is Activision, Infinity Ward and Major League Gaming Corp have been sued for copyright infringement. Clayton Haugen, a photographer with two books under his belt, accuses these companies of directly copying his character from a work he was promoting. The way these companies did it that they hired the same model/actor and supposedly asked her to obtain similar, if not the same gear as in Haugen’s photos. While a tacticool waifu isn’t anything special in itself, using the same model with almost the same outfit, posing, hairstyle and aiming to get the same kind of photo smells something rotten. Whether or not the accusations Haugen has levelled against the three are true per se, the similarities across the board are much closer to plagiarism and infringement than coincidental. It’s far too easy to fall in love with a design or character, and then just replicate and copy it with slight modifications, resulting in some cheap Chinese knock-off. It’s like those Transformers KO toys you see every so often. You know what they are and where they are from. These Call of Duty promotional shots are close enough to warrant slap strong enough to discourage corporations from doing something like this. They sure as hell will bring the banhammer if joe generic does something remotely IP infringing, yet corporations often get out of jail card for free, especially when it comes to using photos and such.

Good bye Cross-Omega, don’t let the door hit you on your way out

I assume you know something about Super Robot Wars game series. If you don’t, it’s a series of turn-based strategy games that mixes multiple giant robot IPs together with a game original character and its plot as overall tying glue. The series is incredibly plastic, allowing multiple takes on the concept, sometimes dropping the whole strategy bit from in exchange for action or something else. The series started on the humble Game Boy in 1991, it itself was a spin-off from Bandai’s Compati Hero series.

Despite its age, the SRW series has never significantly changed its play mechanics. You can look at the footage from the first game in the series and recognise that modern games use almost the exact same kind of base system; player and AI have their own turns they move on a grid, and if an enemy is in the vicinity, an attack can be made, which leads into an animated encounter with the attacker’s theme playing in the background. This system has been iterated slowly but surely to take out jank from it. It is an archaic system by all means, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. The way the series tries to innovate itself is with flavour differences and additional systems, like Squad based play, where multiple units exist in a squad to move in a field. This became pretty much a necessary addition with 2nd SRW Alpha game due to the size of the roster. The roster, in fact, is the main pulling power of the series, as it brings back classic shows to be combined with new ones, making it an effective way for Bandai and Sunrise to market their favourite shows and for the staff to expose younger generations with older titles. For example, Steel Jeeg‘s entry in the aforementioned Alpha 2 game lead into Dynamic Pro producing a rewarmed remake for the original shows, Steel God Jeeg in 2007, while Bandai’s executives forced Alpha 3 to have Gundam SEED as one of the entries in the series to drive plastic model sales. This didn’t really work all that well for the game, as it made the deep-space scenario of the game bound to Earth.

With thirty years under its belt Super Robot Wars itself has spin-offs up the wazoo, with one of the most notable one being Original Generation sub-series, which crosses over the main game series’ original characters and robots with each other. A personal favourite with these spin-offs would be Another Century’s Episode, mostly because the first three games are some of the best games Fromsoftware has ever made. Most SRW spin-offs are not exactly high-quality titles. For example, SRW: Scramble Commander tried to take its usual strategy based-play and push it into 3D with some semi-realtime mechanics, but it is incredibly janky, sluggish, boring and looks like a bargain bin PlayStation 2 game. Most footage you’ll find for the game on Youtube also has been stretched sideways, because for whatever reason a lot of people think PS2 games were in widescreen.

Nevertheless, SRW as a series is extremely valuable as a marketing tool. The series’ popularity in Japan means you can’t really drop any series in and have it work. Crossing with other IPs is its bread and butter, and it makes money. The mobile game spin-off SRW X-Ω, or Cross-Omega, was devised as a way to bring SRW spin-off experience to the mobile phones while having a new series cross over almost every month. The number of new franchises Cross-Omega introduced to the SRW label include Muv-Luv Alternative, for example, while the mainline series has always steered away from adapting Visual Novel franchises. I can hear somebody mention SRW UX and Demonbane, and I’ll have to remind this person that they adapted Demonbane‘s animation, not the original work. Similarly, you can expect Muv-Luv Alternative to enter SRW through its animation adaptation, not through its original VN work.

Cross-Omega‘s cross-overs, however, were completely out there. Because it was a mobile game that lived in cross-over content in order to make sales, pretty much everything crossed over with everything else. For example, you had a crossover with a crossover when A Certain Magical Virtual-On made its entry Cross-Omega. If that sounds familiar, I have a review on the game. This lead into situations, like with this player, where you had an SRW original Granzon on the field with the Mega Zord from Power Rangers, Godzilla stomping around, supported by Bass from Mega Man and Accelerator piloting Specineff from the aforementioned A Certain Magical Virtual-On. However, from the linked footage you should already tell something about the game; it’s not very good. While it’s something special to see Muv-Luv Alternative‘s cast discuss and interact with the cast from King of Braves GaoGaiGar and Shin Getter Robo, it never saved the game from being an utter bore. You can claim that you’re there for the plot, but most western fans won’t understand a word because it’s all in Japanese.

I haven’t talked what sort of play Cross-Omega had, because it’s a simple tower-defence game. You have few lanes the enemies keep coming in, and your robots defend a base ship. Most of the play comes from managing the team and making nice combinations of your favourite shows, but not only the battles themselves are short, but they are also boring to watch. I should keep saying things in the past tense, as Cross-Omega is being shut down on March 30th. I won’t even try to put up the writer persona for this one, I’m glad this series-leeching piece of shit will be removed. It wasn’t fun to play and it was a pain to see so many series making their first official entry to Super Robot Wars in such a pathetic and neutered manner. The game was full of predatory gacha practices, like the vast majority of mobile phone games out there, and even then what you got was mostly utter shit due to the game’s design being pulled from the laziest of meetings. All these shows, and Super Robot Wars overall, deserved the far better game. Instead, we got generic garbage that could’ve been any other IP out there.

Not that adapting Super Robot Wars play for mobile phones was difficult. SRW DD is still in action and a normal SRW play with a mobile twist to it. This is similar to how Langrisser and Fire Emblem took their basic play, modified the surrounding systems a little bit, and dropped them unto phones for gacha whales to make some profit for them. In practice, there was no reason why SRW‘s classic play could not have been adapted for Cross-Omega, but we can only surmise they wanted to push the entry down and try to appeal to the most common, to the lowest denominator for whatever audience out there. It was only after Fire Emblem Heroes and other outright tactical games made their mark and showcased that people aren’t dumb fucks that can’t understand how a thirty years olds mechanics work until DD became a synaptic spark in someone’s sorry ass. Not that SRW DD is any better, as its still a dumbed-down random chance gacha bullshit like any other mobile game, but at least you have something proper to play. While it most likely keeps some people employed, its existence is still that of a tumour, sapping away resources and ideas that could be put into the production of proper SRW games. Now all of this is going to be wasted, with only Youtube videos and some asset rips reminding that there were people putting their best effort into it.

 

Battle Network’s near perfect combat

Mega Man Battle Network is known for its unique battle system that hasn’t been replicated outside its sequel series, the Lego Ninjago: Spinjitzu Smash Flash games, with one of them outright ripping sprites for testing purposes, and to a lesser extent in One Step From Eden. All these mentioned titles don’t really replicate the polish Battle Network had, mostly because the team went through numerous iterations during the first game’s development and managed to polish it up in the second and third game. The three last games in the main series sadly don’t do justice to the combat system, and it’s all because Battle Network‘s combat system maintains a very delicate balance that’s very easy to break in terms how well it works. Think of the many versions of Tetris that change the shapes and number of tiles per shape, and you get the gist of it.

A standard field layout, with red being the player side and blue the enemy side

At the base of the Battle Network combat experience lays two elements; movement and resources. As every game’s battlefield is a grid of 3×6 panels, most often initially split as 3×3 for player and opponents, movement becomes impossibly crucial. The 3×3 area is a combination of multiple factors, one being that it is both claustrophobic and roomy enough to allow swift motion from one panel to another. Motion between panels is animated through a zip, where the characters sort of teleport between the panels. While you could have a character jumping or running, or just doing away with the animation, the zipping has a small frame of animation that deactivates and actives the hitboxes on each panel.

Timing becomes incredibly important, as in some games successfully avoiding enemy attacks might require high-level of movement management, though rarely frame accurate. Because of this the play often gets hectic as the player is required to navigate panels, or whole lines and rows of panels, to which opponents’ attacks land all the while trying to land your own hits. The 3×3 panel layout is perfect for this, as it keeps the area wide enough that going from one corner to another requires moving four panel’s distance, as there is no moving in angles. It allows wide enough variety in enemy attack patterns as well as options to escape to enforce quick movements without necessitating for the player to move too far. Perhaps it’d be better to showcase a video, and then go deeper why the system works the best in its most famous form.

A very simple, very easy battle, where the player still has to mind the Mettaur and Ghost’s movements. Instead of using Battle Chips, he chooses to delete the Mettaur by Buster. While doing this, he blocks the Ghost’s attack, in which it moves in front of the player and licks him, By positioning in front of the Mettaur, the Ghost has to retreat. Longplays are a nice way to grab a small segment and just embed from a certain timecode onwards.

4×4, the layout One Step From Eden uses is one panel line and row too big, as traversing the area becomes too large for fast-paced action. Even if movement speed was raised, it’d still be an extra panel to traverse Not only that but the balance breaks as there is no longer a central panel. All attack patterns can become far too widespread. 2×2 would be too small on the other hand and too limiting in every sense, which is the case with Mega Man Star Force, as it effectively butchered the play by limiting the player to one row of movement while enemies have 5×3 area to cover. Moving only left and right is not nearly as engaging as full-range of movement. One of the main issues that end up popping up also from a larger grid stems from the player’s need to scan a much wider area for enemy action. With 3×6 you have large enough space to keep an eye on everything that’s happening, yet with larger fields require splitting attention due to wider spread space, enemy patterns and landing attacks. The issue is inverse in smaller grids, where you end up having less space to keep an eye, which also has to simplify the patterns.

While One Step From Eden flows well, it’s hampered by its expanded field

The full range of movement there is with the caveat that the player can only move in X or Y axis in Battle Network. Allowing the player to move diagonally would break the balance, though in larger fields it might become a necessary addition. The 3×3 layout and up-down, left-right movement offers a balance between the player being able to effectively navigate all those safe zones while leaving the chances of player cornering himself by mistake or making bad judgement calls. 4×4 or larger does contain the same thing, but again that extra low and line build that safety margin too much, making balancing the attack patterns and movements that much more difficult.

The 3×3 panel is perfectly balanced to offer tile-based movement that isn’t too widespread or too tight. It’s an optimal solution.

All this of course can only be supported by the resources, which are aplenty. First is, of course, the selection of weaponry in form of Battle Chips, which go from single-row attacks to multi-panel X-shape shots. A standard Virus opponent often has only one form of attack and defence, though sometimes this defence is just moving. The Viruses are thus paired with other types that either compensate each other weaknesses or pose a challenge for the player in terms of panel navigation. Some Viruses have passive defences that must be circumvented in an indirect manner, some have none. For example, there is a Virus that has a shield in front of it that prevents direct damage from ahead and moves towards the player area. Once it reaches its area limit, it puts the shield on the player side and causes gradual damage via Poison. Early on the best method for the player to deal with this Virus is to use a Wide Sword, a close-range attack that does 1×3 area of damage in front of the player, the player being in the centre. Other times the player finds himself against a tree Virus that recovers HP faster than the player might be able to dish out due to the panels having a beneficial element. Thus, either cracking or literally burning the grass off from the panel the tree is standing of negates this effect.

Bosses often had extra shielding or similar gimmicks. Here, the player probably tries to limit the Boss’ movement through cracking the panels

Resources like these change how the player must meet the battles, at least until the player unlocks game-breaking combos and other fun post-game content. Combining action games’ fast movement, albeit in a more limited sense, to an RPG standard rock-paper-scissors Elemental system makes the resources an essential part of the play, and managing to design and develop these resources makes or breaks the whole system. Not only does the player have to have access to a wide variety of solutions to a single combat problem through the selection of Battle Chips, but also have them balanced so that these strategies must be changed from time to time.

The Battle Chips selection changes as the series grows, and many of the staples get dropped in favour of new Chips. This has caused numerous balance issues, as many high utility Chips are dropped in subsequent games and their replacements are not nearly as useful. While this forces the player to adopt new tactics for each game, the truth is that the selection of weaponry does determine how well the battles are fought, and how enjoyable the play ends up being. While there are a couple of hundred of listed Chips and their combined Program Advances, the majority of these Chips end up being copies of each other in different strength. This is of course to give the player chance to use the same family of Chips in stronger form as enemies become tougher and acquire more HP fat. This is another standard RPG mechanic though, much like how Final Fantasy has Fire, Fire 2 and Fire 3, so does Battle Network have Cannon, HiCannon and M(ega)Cannon.

The selection of these battle resources allows the players to express themselves and their favourite ways of battle. While others prefer the straightforward Cannons, others might aim for more damage with combinations of Chips. One method would be to use Area Steal, which takes one 1×3 area from the enemy side and turns it into area player can enter. This temporary steal deprives the opponent panels to move in and greatly expands the player’s movement options. This disrupts the opponent’s movement options while greatly increasing the player’s. Either side can, in effect, steal all of the opponent’s side bar the one they are standing on, causing what’s called an Area Lock. This is extremely useful in games where Battle Chips randomly hit enemy panels for damage multiple times. Area Locking an enemy to a single panel forces all the hits to concentrate on one panel, causing e.g. a hit worth of 80 repeating on one panel five times, causing total damage of 400. Add Chips that increase damage per hit, and the damage increases significantly.

Battle Network needs to limit access to these resources so that the player can’t have the perfect build all the time. This is realised first in making a Folder with a set limit of 30 Battle Chips. You can’t have less or more. By doing this, the player is forced to insert multiple different strategies into the Folder, often in a way where combinations of Chips can also work on their own, if necessary.

An example of similar Chips and Codes in a Folder

Secondly, all Chips have a letter code that limits what the player can choose in one go. Unless multiples of the same Chip is selected, no Code can be mixed and matched, outside the *-Code. For example, the player could have Cannon A and Cannon B or Cannon B and Bomb B, but not Cannon A and Bomb B. This locks the player from having all the strategies at his and at the same time but also introduces the chance of having only one Chip they could choose of they build their Folder without much thought. The amount of same Chips per Folder varies between games, with the first game allowing ten of the same, second game dropping this to four, third game rising it to five, and the sixth game introducing the idea of each Chip having a megabyte size, with larger Chips only be allowed a lower amount. Higher ranking Chips are more limited, with Giga Chips only allowed one entry per Folder.

Thirdly, the player can only access five Chips from his library via Custom screen at the start of a battle by the standard. The importance of having a Folder with large amounts of the same Chips, or same Code letter, becomes pressing depending on the player strategies. The player has to live with the selection the random number generator has given him until about ten seconds pass as dictated by Custom Gauge. At this point, the player can access the selection screen again, where he can choose another set of Chips, with the used one replaced with Chips from his Folder. The cycle between Custom screens is called a turn, though by standard a turn can last as long as the player wants. Under certain conditions, the Gauge can be fastened up or slowed down. In certain games, it becomes a puzzle element, where specific battles must be done under a turn limit and the Custom screen is opened automatically when the Gauge has filled up.

Custom Screen open at the beginning of a battle, with BN3’s Boss visible

The player can affect the number of Chips in their selection during the Custom screen by using the Add command rather than selecting any Chips. In the first game, it adds five more Chips to the Custom screen, with another use adding another five. This wasn’t the best system, as you’d lose all the additional Chips the turn you chose to use something. It wasn’t much fun. The second game introduced a change to the Add system, where the player had to sacrifice up to five Chips in the Custom screen to gain access to additional Chips. This Add system totalled to a maximum of ten, but the addition was permanent for the rest of the battle. This made the risk and reward already presented by the random choices as you might find it necessary to sacrifice stronger weaponry for a wider selection. It also expanded turn-by-turn options dramatically. The number of Chips available could be affected with outside effects, like Styles that changed the player’s element and weapons, but also via Customisation blocks that would become available in the third game. These ended up as the only options for the player to expand the selection, as the Add function was removed. However, this also removed the added risk and reward option, and further limited the maximum amount of chips from 10 to 8, drastically changing the nature and the balance of the battles themselves.

The balance in a combat system that heavily relies both on certain kind of spatial movement and a large variety of resources and conditions. The first game doesn’t exactly use the system the best, with everything being more or less unpolished. By the third game, the balance between damage output, method variety, hit patterns, additional conditions, panel elements and more extensive character customisation that affects all these directly made the balance stand on its tiptoes, but perhaps ultimately also showcased how well the developers understood it all.

The Navi Customizer from BN3 further expanded how the players could play and with what strategies

All these things have to tick in proper sync to work, something that the staff of the later games didn’t understand as well as the previous team. For example, removing the Add option might not seem an important decision, but it nevertheless favoured few types of approach more in character customisation and Folder building over others. Chip selection, or rather designing how the Chips would work is nothing short of do-or-die, and sadly from the fourth game onwards, the Battle Chips were never quite balanced, often teetering on practically useless to game-breaking on their own. Of course, the enemy selection had to be on par with this, which again became an object of inquiry as the games went on, with some enemy patterns being simply not fun. The system lends itself for challenge battles well enough, though it became questionable when Battle Network 5 introduced Liberation Mission, a combination of turn-based strategy with turn-limited battles. While others enjoyed the challenge they posed, its attempts to shake the combat experience by putting the player in the middle of the field, sandwiched by two enemy sides, didn’t work out all that well. These combat scenarios became janky and even more dependent on proper Chip selection that forced players to farm certain kinds of resources, putting far too high emphasize on the Chips themselves rather than having a combination of player’s action parts and collecting.

Some of the higher level player-VS-player battles showcase strategies that aren’t used all that much in single-player campaign, and they can end up being relatively boring to watch and slower-paced than in-game matches. Balancing the Chips selection between single and multiplayer play is rather hard, as some Chips ended up useful only in one area or the other

The system itself is nearly perfect. At its core, it’s something that only a video game can do, similar to Tetris. However, because it is reliant on how the resources are designed and managed, it is very easy to screw up. Despite the first and the last three games managing to screw up this balance nicely, the wide variety of Battle Chips and their combinations despite other system changes also means the players can and will find ways to cheese the system. As such, the best way to expand the system is not to change the absolute core of the system, that is the movement and the 3×6 grid, but to expand on resources and the ways all the combatants can make use of them.

This is probably one those things where Battle Network truly failed in its play. While most of the enemies were Viruses, majority of the standard Bosses didn’t utilise Battle Chips until later on. Instead, they all have their own gimmick and are designed around them. However, if the Bosses would’ve had similar access to at least a proper Folder of their own in addition to their specialised field, the games could’ve been a step more challenging as well as throwing a wrench to the player’s gears at times. This might’ve taken away from the uniqueness of each of the bosses, though evidently, developers agreed the Bosses should use Battle Chips at least to a limited amount.

Secondly is that most storyline End Bosses simply don’t conform to the established rules. They are largely inanimate and despite their hype, end up being lacklustre due them becoming an issue of hitting their weak point, which is often covered until certain phases. Incidentally, post-game Bosses end up being far more entertaining in their difficulty and methods, as they break the rules just enough to be unique all the while having all the same benefits most other characters, including the player’s, have on the field. Bass is probably the best example of this, as his level of strength is relative to the game he is in. Initially being covered by Dream Aura that requires 100HP worth of damage, Bass gains new patterns and strikes in each subsequent title relative to the overall balance and content of the game.

While BN3’s Bass BS isn’t the most difficult version of him, in many ways it is one of the more iconic ones. This Japanese voice-over here describes its attacks and a method to beat him. The battle here showcases some creative use of Battle Chips, as well as FolderBack, a Giga Chip that restores all used Battle Chips back to usable state. It happens to be the most broken Chip across the series

The system doesn’t lend itself to be modified and replicated in large fashion without a complete overhaul. Any change to the core requires a total change to effectively every part of the system to achieve a similar balance. This is one of the reasons why Battle Network didn’t spawn copycat series despite its popularity, as any game that might use a system derived from it would instantly be called out. Star Force tried to adapt some of the core mechanics, but it didn’t pan out all that well. Player movement is one of the most fun aspect of the system, and reducing it to one dimension made everything else having to compensate for this, which they can’t. The system was already robust in the first game, though unpolished. Be it by design or happy accident, this prevents similar iterations and alterations that something like Dragon Quest would lead to.

For better or worse, Mega Man Battle Network combat is still unique since nothing quite like it has turned up. Perhaps it’s better that way, as the system was already explored and almost broken under Capcom, and variations of it have not succeeded to the same level. This, combined with the whole thing not being to everyone’s taste, probably means we’ll never see it outside few oddities once in a decade until Capcom decides to re-release or remaster the Battle Network games. Here’s hoping for that Phantom of Network remake.

Are the BETA a form of life?

In my post Artificial Intelligence in Muv-Luv from a few years back I introduced the idea of the BETA to be a superintelligence, an artificial intelligence construct that is superior in speed and processing power to general intelligence, or human level AI. The stance that the BETA is a biological equivalent of human build machinery in practice stems from the Visual Novel itself, though Yoshimune Koki has mentioned in one of the streams âge does that the BETA on Earth were somehow faulty in their action. However, this post will ignore this, as author intent can change at any moment and what we know of BETA via official materials does not corroborate this to any significant measure. The closest thing we have is their homing sense towards silicon chips, which wouldn’t really do well if the Siliconians were present. Why would you create excavation units to violently home towards your own kind? This post will cross some topics covered with the post linked previously, but the core of the topic is very much different.

The BETA do not consider themselves a form of life, which must be a pre-programmed state. This is because the BETA can be assumed to be constructs of the Siliconians similar to how humans construct vehicles and other machinery, including computers. Each individual BETA outside the Superordinate have tool AI. They are akin to chess computer Deep Blue in that they are able to execute decisions based on pre-established patterns and motions. The BETA on Earth are mostly excavation tools, and pretty much everything in their path is matter to be collected and transformed in order to produce more BETA or to be sent back to the home planetary system in a transformed form.

The BETA, or rather the Superordinate, is an equivalent of Deep Blue’s staff who go over information gathered from the rest of the BETA and able to device new plans and actions. The best example for its creative thinking is its early rollout of Laser Class BETA as anti-air against planes, which gave the BETA an effective air superiority without flying units. The Laser Class most likely was never intended to be used as a warfare unit, but the particle beam it emits could be used an effective fly swatter of sorts. Later on, we’d see the Laser Fort Class, which was modified to ignore other BETA in its line of fire. Whether or not the BETA on Earth had a databank of warfare units and Laser Fort Class is something Superordinate pulled out, or if it was a new unit built based on existing unit data combined to make a haphazard combat unit, is unknown.

Each BETA thus has to have some equivalent of the brain inside them, but outside the Superordinate, are designed not to be creative thinkers. Hence the automaton comparison, and deduction that the BETA are not alive. In the modern era, we do not consider machines to be alive. They fulfil no requirements we set for life in this sense. They perceive themselves not to be alive constructs. Whatever the BETA definition of life, or their creators’, ultimately is, it does include the ability to revive from an inert state. The example for this is towards the end of Muv-Luv Alternative, where the Superordinate requires a proof that mankind is a form of life, producing a ripped body and demanding it be returned to the state to activation.

We can infer from this that the BETA, and by this extension the Siliconians, consider the ability to boot oneself into an active state from the inert state as one determining measure for life. This is analogous how computers can be powered on and off, something that can’t be done for either BETA or humans. In this sense, the 00 Unit is a paradox for the BETA, where her nature as a silicon-based lifeform due to her android status via full-body prosthesis still requires her to be fully active at all times, as running out of power leads to total scale failure of the full brain emulation 00 Units employ. 00 Units, despite their machine nature, can’t be rebooted from what we’ve seen, and death is as permanent as with humans and BETA.

The view that the BETA are not alive is a view from the Siliconians have installed in their constructs. Nevertheless, from the human point of view, the BETA can be considered a form of life. The classical view of being a physical entity with biological processes fits their bill, and the BETA actions can be described in animalistic senses, where human-level reasoning is lacking in both intelligence and creative thinking, but still work similarly to animals. For example, the Tank Class, or the Red Little Bastards, behave almost like ants when confronting humans or Tactical Surface Fighters. They tend to cover whatever large object they have with large numbers and begin to rip in. Other BETA have similar animals equivalences, though that can be put for storytelling and meta reasons rather than in-universe explanations, with few exceptions that clearly exhibit Earth-born characteristics the Superordinate has adopted for whatever reasons.

Due to multiple ways life can be defined, the BETA can nevertheless be viewed to be alive even in case of accepting them to be artificial constructs. Humanity perceived the BETA as a form of life, an invading alien force, due to their behaviour. On the surface, the BETA showcase all the necessary points to be considered alive, even if they are smart, and perhaps not even properly sentient. However, just there is a split in the scientific community whether or not viruses constitute a life form, the same goes for the BETA. The individual BETA strains do not seem to be able to reproduce autonomously and require to be built as they don’t manifest all the functions that definition covers.

This is one of the sticking points where the BETA do not fulfill the requirements for biological life. The BETA don’t adapt either to their environments, but rather they are adapted by intelligent design. From what we’ve seen, all BETA strains are of same size and same form, which would hint that the BETA are manufactured, or birthed, in their full form. Perhaps the BETA are formed in a type of artificial abiogenesis, overseen by the Superordinate rather than being born in any fashion. There is no growth for BETA as such, but they are able to be repaired to some extent. Some of the Destroyer Class BETA showcase different patterns on their shells, which indicate areas that have healed from damage. Whether or not this repair is from BETA’s own self-repair function or there is an unseen strain that functions are a medic of sorts is unknown, but I assume Destroyer Class’ shield would indicate self-repair, though just like with Earth-born lifeforms, this self-repair system can easily be overcome.

The BETA can be considered as artificial life, automatons that have processes which resemble or are designed based on biological processes. This is what they essentially are, whether or not it is by coincidence, as constructs. This is mostly engineer speak though, as in common parlance A-Life is mostly a marketing term used to describe things like AI toys and such, like Sony’s Aibo line of products. While we can say that the robot dog toy isn’t alive, we still tend to reflect towards it as if it were. There are numerous companions toys that are designed to just do this, like Hasbro’s Joy for All robotic cat that is intended to act like a very friendly cat to alleviate loneliness people, especially the elderly, experience. While these A-Life toys have been designed to exhibit how real animals may act, so do BETA, at least from the human perspective even if comprehending their core intention eludes.

We could say that the BETA clearly exhibit biological functions that other Earthborn creatures do. This would very much a human perspective, which is in conflict how the Siliconians see the matter. Nevertheless, mankind’s tendency to see life where there is none, like in cars and electrical outlet, puts all the above in question. This is because it is all about perspective and how we want to regard things. For example, some people already consider cars as if they were alive, with them having their own quirks and little things they do that set them apart from other cars. They behave in a certain manner. The same applies to computers, which use an extensive library of different kinds of tool AI to assist the user. They too have different behaviours that might be exhibited throughout their span of life, some of which are completely unique to one specific computer. You often find people talking to machines like they were alive. While nowadays we don’t consider the run-of-the-mill computer to be alive, this might not be the case in the future.

The future generations will live in more information spread world than what we do now. This will require more various kinds of AIs to be used across the board, which will turn machines to be more personable. Assistants like Siri already make phones sound like you’re talking to a person and their sophisticated AI routines aim to make this feel even more real down the line. At some point, there will be a generation that will consider computers to be alive in some sense. Perhaps not wholly scientific, but the definition of life has already changed and expanded multiple times. Sure, we could already say that computers are artificial life, even if they lack any sort of mimicry of biological life. They might be alien cars, trucks and mining machines for the aliens, but that doesn’t keep mankind from extending the same personifications towards the BETA in the exact same manner you talk to your computer. (Chances are you more often speak to the screen, which is effectively “the face” of your computer.)

On the surface, the BETA do exhibit necessary functions to be called their own form of life among others. Even when taking into notion that they are artificial constructs, they exhibit similar functions to terrestrial life overall. Whatever their method of reproduction is, be it literal construction from raw materials or some kind of multiuse womb they are quickly grown to full maturity, BETA are no of natural origin. I can’t overstate enough that while mankind regards the BETA as a form of life based on history and perspective, the Siliconians are in the opposite. If we extend the comparison of the BETA being nothing but biological machines, Siliconans probably would be about as surprised to find how a random connections of carbons have managed to form something that resemblances sentience, and even weirder, managed to construct life forms with limited sentience. In the end, whether or not the BETA are a form of life still ends up being a matter of opinion and viewpoint, depending on which side of the argument convinces you the most.

The “true fan” is a blind customer

With Monster Hunter Rise getting a demo on the Switch recently, I decided to visit their recent stream about the game. ‘lo and behold, I saw the usual people throwing stuff like As a community we… and Only true fans… among other stuff to counter criticism or whatnot. This kind of fan behaviour has been as old as I can recall. It is effectively a way to push down someone who might voice an opposing opinion that might devalue a product in some manner or raise issues that might impact negatively. For example, people noting that the somewhat recent Capcom leaks showcased how Monster Hunter Rise has already been slated for Steam release a year after the initial Switch version got told down that only true fans would buy it on the release and then purchase the Steam version later to support the game. There are quite many people who purchase games twice just to show their support, which largely screws up the actual user numbers and twists the true popularity of a product.

It’s not a toxic behaviour as much as it is pathetic. This sort of blind consumer behaviour can be seen everywhere, especially on forums and closed circles where new ideas or opposing ideas are actively purged. If there’s a live-action adaptation of a book series or something like that coming up, e.g. The Wheel of Time, I’d almost recommend checking some forums just to see large the difference between proper criticism and fellation. Corporations of course love people who feel deeply connected to their brands and go out to defend whatever decision is made and whatever product is put out. There’s a whole industry behind creating a positive image as forums and other platforms like Youtube are filled with people getting paid to give a positive view. It’s a livelihood for sure, and a way to market directly to the customers without directly associating with the corporation and the brand itself. With electronic gaming, it is very common for streamers to make contracts with companies to play their games for a certain time while giving only borderline criticism as dictated by the company. Once the contract expires, the game changes. NDA, of course, keeps these streamers quiet of their real thoughts and what they think of the games they play. Nothing wrong in this as long as the whole thing is being disclosed, but stealth marketers don’t come at you telling they’re marketing something to you.

A blind consumer doesn’t think about the product’s value or anything else related to it really that doesn’t directly concern his own emotional attachment. There’s a large amount of justifying your own purchases and decisions that comes with the saying A true fan… as they have to make sure their decision to invest into something fully is met not only on a personal level but also on a peer level. Perhaps there is some feeling of superiority in there to boot. Hence, when they’re met with no real peer rewards for them being a fan, their world gets shaken a bit. It’s not too rare to find someone who has invested most of their time and resources on something they think will be met with high praise only to find out that they’re more ridiculed than anything else. Perhaps criticising their loved brand itself is enough to shake their views and make them feel threatened.

Customer blindness is often a composite of choosing to be blind and unable to see through emotional attachment. Because how people think isn’t binary and we can accept contradictory statements as true and valid, we can often find ourselves rallying for the brand we love while ignoring its faults, yet do the exact opposite for another brand that shares the same faults. A true fan disregards all the bad things a product and a brand has. Even the positives sometimes seem to be lacking in a discussion, as everything stems from the emotional attachment. While it’s nice that people have something they truly love and are enthusiastic about, corporations are entities that mostly use this exact thing to make more sales and squeeze out that little bit more money out.

Of course, the whole stealth marketing wants you specifically to think in a certain manner that makes a purchase. Direct marketing does only so much. Corporations have embraced the idea of positive word-of-mouth being the best advertisement anyone could have, and they want to make sure your friend or a person you follow on the Internet gives a good word for them. There’s a kind of state of the cold war between customers and corporations, where the customer doesn’t have any other avenue of influence outside voting by their wallet, as corporations have everything in their hands, including your fellow customers that promote the corporate brand for free.

The idea of community giving voice behind one person is equally laughable. There is no one community for anything, there are multiple ones of different sizes and kinds, with some being as small as two. If someone claims that they are voicing the community, the best thing really is to disregard them and/or ask for reference where the community has voiced their opinion as a whole. Surely nobody would be bold enough to claim that they know what the community, or multiple communities, think without first taking proper steps to have everyone heard. However, if someone analyses a certain community, or follows their actions and thinking from an outside perspective and makes deductions based on collected data would be in a position to say what a community of people think. That’s what marketers do, and that’s why marketing has become rather effective on the Internet. Sneak in some people in these communities to slowly but surely change the opinions and views to cater certain point of view that benefits the corporations, and presto you have another set of people willing to market the brand for free.

The best thing to do would be not to be a true fan then. Each consumer is ultimately an individual despite whether or not they belong to a community. Each of us has to make our own decisions based on our own, whatever we base them on. Ignoring peer pressure or validation for our own opinions is not easy. In these matters, your own opinions trump all, as it only concerns you in the end. I doesn’t matter what a reviewer or a friend says or thinks, because ultimately you’re the one who has to evaluate the product for yourself. In other words, the best way to combat stealth marketing remove yourself from the negative influence that goats you to validate someone else is to take responsibility of your own decisions and actions they lead into.

Japan is a brand; Outside regulation would diminish the value of products of Japanese culture

One of Japan’s most important export product is its culture. For numerous years, their ministry has taken serious notice of their cultural goods making large-scale sales abroad. Cartoons, comics, novels, electronic games and even pornography has seen a constant rise in popularity since the Second World War. Even before that, there were people who were fascinated by this culture that is that much different than the Western hemisphere can offer.

Mitsurugi and his replacement for regions with censorship regarding Japanese imagery

However, this is a rather new event. Japanese culture was not exported by the government itself, but rather by foreigners who entered the country and brought it with them as they returned to their home counties. Whether or not it was because of the infamy of the Japanese actions during the war, or because the culture in itself was not seen as a profitable good to be imported. To this day, import of Japanese culture is seen as a taboo in some parts of the Asian world. For example, South Korea discourages and often outright censors depiction of Japanese culture in their media, which has lead companies to provide modified versions of their games for Korean markets. For example, the samurai Mitsurugi was replaced with Arthur, a European character that just happens to don Japanese armour and sword. Other fields of censorship South Korea frequently employs is regarding Shinto symbols, which get scrubbed from both television programmes and comics. Thailand has a long history with self-censorship, which has extended in policies against media displaying .e.g. Buddhist imagery. Sri Lanka also issues with certain religious concepts being showcased on air.

South Korea nevertheless has imported numerous Japanese products via copyright infringement and piracy among the official releases and has presented numerous Japanese-original products as their own. One of the more famous examples of this might be the design of Robot Taekwon V, which is a modified Mazinger-type design. The later designs in the series incorporate elements from Mobile Suit Gundam and especially from Combat Mecha Xabungle. Numerous bargain bin cartoons, like Space Thunderkids, exhibit numerous types of plagiarism Koreans practised at the time, ranging from music to character designs.

Original Taekwon V and Great Mazinger. Taekwon’s creator, Kim Cheong-gi, has been very open of his plagiarism as he wanted to create Korean-original robot in wake of Mazinger’s popularity

Koreans taking after a Japanese product should not be a surprise though. Japan improved its relation with their fellow Asian countries during the 1970s and 1980s, which in turn allowed their industry to grow even more by exporting their products. It was during this period when Japanese technology gained its fame, with cars making their way across the world and names like Sony were associated with high-quality products par none. A little company called Nintendo also effectively saved the American video game industry while struggling to compete against Sega in European markets.

An iconic pairing on both sides of the sea

Even earlier than that, the world had already begun to see the sort of creativity Japanese media was enjoying. It is thanks to Gigantor and Jonny Sokko and His Flying Robot (Tetsujin #28 and Giant Robot, respectively) that America associated Japan with giant robots, which was only enforced by the upcoming slow but sure burn of animation. Speedracer and other Japanimation paved the way of current trends for Western acceptance of anime. While current mainstream might discourage anyone from visiting these localized products, where characters, stories and sometimes even music were replaced via Americanization, they nevertheless helped these shows to gain a larger audience. They may not have been accurate, or even faithful to the original Japanese product, but that was not how you made business at the time. There was no market for original-language products in the same manner, in many ways, there still are not as many countries across the world still heavily localize and dub for the local market’s consumption.

Whether or not something is localized, unless completely redone from the ground up, you cannot divorce localized material from its original counterpart. The language may change, the story might change or maybe even the whole point of the product might change, yet the core idea will still stay and shine through. All the discussed examples, whether localized or plagiarized, are inherently Japanese on idea level and in concept.

All these shows were imported by individual entities and corporations, so they were mostly to make money. Some products, like the original Godzilla, did see a subtitles release before its localized version, which is an example of a foreign product made to fit the home market in a proper way. Without that, we would not have Godzilla in the global pop-culture landscape. It wasn’t until the late 1980s when Japan’s Takeshita government took the first true initiative to market Japanese culture abroad via exporting Japanese television programmes to other Asian countries. The Japan Media Communication Center, JAMCO for short, was established in 1991 by joint efforts of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Post and Telecommunication. This led to the translation of Japanese television programmes into English as well as developing shows specifically for export markets. Most of these shows were aired in other Asian countries, but many of them also found their way into the Western world. It’s easy to see a show like Iron Chef being promoted for foreign markets thanks to its local popularity, and it could be easily trimmed down from its hour-long episodes into shorter episodes.

Chairman Kaga and his Iron Chefs

All these efforts were furthered in 2001, when Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s (METI) Media and Contents Industry Division established a think-tank examine what challenges and prospects there were in promoting Japanese culture, especially its media contents, to overseas market. In fact, even before that METI had recognized the growing trend of Japanese culture-products to have a rising trend in export, and estimated that multimedia industries, that of electronic entertainment, music, films, software, broadcasting and such would generate over 55 trillion yen, a boost that post-Bubblegum Bubble Japan could’ve used. It would be an understatement that the Japanese government was becoming well aware of the potential of their cultural export.

The combination of Japanese products’ quality and the further steps of having Japanese media presented as Japanese has created its own brand image. Made in Japan is still seen as a certain brand of quality, but nowadays just Japan delivers a certain kind of image of the cultural landscape and the type of products it offers. The constant export of Japanese media goods has furthered the expansion of their culture, with electronic entertainment and multimedia products being in the lead. This might be due to Japan having a much longer history in multimedia productions, something that did not hit the Western world until the 1980s.

Outside electronic games, Japanese comics and cartoons have experienced almost a thirty years rise in popularity in the Western markets, with the late 1990s early 2000s experiencing a breakthrough boom when a new generation found anime. The blooming Internet culture at the exchange of the millennium continued the older VHS fan subtitle culture in digital form, and freely shared shows with added subtitles spread Japanese popular culture even wider. In many ways, the current state of affairs, where almost every new animated programme gains official subtitled release of some sort, is a direct result of this fansub culture and the piracy it promoted. It was, in effect, years of the best kind of promotion and advertisement, which lead these people taking steps to be involved in the industry and make sure that the market would get what it yearned.

I agree, Hank did whine too much. There’s a small story behind all this

Without a doubt, METI’s think-tank is partially responsible for the rise of Japanese media in the Western hemisphere during the previous two decades. When you combine both the existing yet largely untapped market’s yearn with government-driven agenda to promote these products, it is easier to understand how Japanese media products became for more common that what they already were. Japanese cartoons and comics went from an underground culture to mainstream, with anime and manga became terms much more recognized. They became a brand of their own, which effectively state A product of Japan.

Cannon’s American Ninja was just one of the many movies tapping the ninja craze

While this post is focusing on media, it should be noted that Japanese cultural exports also include martial arts. The martial arts and ninja boom of the 1970s and 80s were largely thanks to Japanese influences and Hong Kong cinema. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of the properties that is, in effect, a result of Japanese cultural exports and their prevalence in the United States (even though that’s still media). It should be emphasized, that almost every city has at least one form of martial arts school that ties itself to Japan. Be it karate, judo or other forms of budo, the Japanese martial arts have a high status and is one of the more important cultural exports Japan has ever had, but they themselves don’t make much revenue. Nevertheless, Judo was considered significant martial art to the point of being accepted as an Olympic sport at the 1964 games.

Furthermore, Japanese innovation such as Just-in-Time manufacturing Toyota pioneered alongside lean manufacturing have left a worldwide impact. Companies like Motorola and John Deere have employed these in their manufacturing decisions. I would amiss if I would not mention the 5S method, which lays out how to organize workspace for efficiency, which also affects standardization.

If I am to believe the Japanese people that I have conversed with throughout the years, as well as the occasional cultural report I have read, the Japanese enjoy how foreigners take interest in their culture and its products. It is something they take pride in. Works like Super Dimensional Fortress Macross effectively celebrate the culture by weaponising it against the alien species Zentraedi, as they lack their own. To be specific, Macross weaponises the early 1980’s idol culture and makes songs an effective counterattack to disharmonize enemy actions and show that war is not the only option in life. Macross has continued to use songs, idols and robots as a means to celebrate each decade in its own ways, which shows how long-lasting the property is and how much faith Japan has in its culture.

Incidentally, Macross II would aim to undermine the superiority of the idol culture, as its staff considered the idol culture outdated and that it’d become obsolete by the end of the decade. They bet on the wrong racehorse

If you look further into their media products, you will see a pattern forming, where their own country and its people are in focus almost exclusively. Even in works that take place outside Japanese borders (or in fictional worlds) they have heavily implemented their own cultural landscape. Final Fantasy VII may be one of the most globally celebrated roleplaying games, but everything from its design language, storytelling, character designs, music and play is stereotypically Japanese. You have thin heroes with comically large weapons, a mix of science fiction and fantasy in a manner where there is no distinction between the two, cheap drama that is executed in a most exquisite manner and numerous other elements that can be described as Japanisms.

Yasuda Kosuke’s Sakurako Himegasaki is still pitiably cute today (姫ヶ崎櫻子は今日も不憫可愛い) is an example of Japanism about childhood friend taken to the meta-level, as the comic plays tropes straight all the while turning the expected end-results, e.g. the main lead is in love in another character and the friend loses, on their head in a comedic fashion

Japanisms are what could be described as storytelling stereotypes or tropes that exist and are specifically used in Japanese media. It also includes cultural concepts and behaviour that is very much their own thing. To use an example from modern stories, in romance stories the childhood friend of the main character often is in a losing position, thus creating a unique character trope. Japanisms can be silly in their own right, and can often detract the story they are in, they are largely embraced as expected, almost essential, parts of certain genres. These Japanisms also constantly evolve when it comes to the media, with the whole other-world genre taking more and more cues after Japanese roleplaying games instead of general fantasy to the point of actual play mechanics and RPG status screens becoming one of the tropes. The whole genre has become so common, that even foreign publishers have adopted the Japanese name for its, isekai, to further illustrate the contents to customers in-the-know.

These Japanisms are one of the reasons why their cultural exports are of interest and make sales. Be it transforming robot toys or whatnot, certain concepts simply take form in a different culture in a completely different manner. Just as you find stereotypically American ideas in their caped hero comics or novels, French stereotypes in their cartoons and British mangy grossness in their media, Japan has the things you can only find in their products and that interests people. The Britons were the only people who could have come up with 2000 AD’s Judge Dredd due to their culture much like how Superman was the ultimate realization of an immigrant to the Americas in the early 20th century.

La parisienne japonaise by Belgian painter Alfred Stevens is an example of French Japonisme, the effect of Japanese aesthetics, design and art influencing western Europe in the 19th century after Japan was forced to reopen their trade in 1858

With the global information exchange constantly growing and ideas exchanging hands, consumers have become more and more aware of exclusive goods. Importing cultural goods, like pots, books and such, has always been a thing, yet towards the new millennium, this has become more and more a mundane thing. While we might have bought a car that was made locally on in the neighbouring country, we have found ourselves in a word where we can get anything from anywhere, if we just want to go through the trouble. Appreciating cultural differences has become more common at the same time, though the United States has stereotypically been the top dog of having others appreciate their cultural differences rather than the other way around. The current global trend of having one, overwhelming global culture to overrun all others is a direct legacy of American export of culture.

As the Japanese government has a history of investing themselves in the exportation of their cultural goods, they have also been concerned about its nature. In June of 2020, Ken Akamatsu of Love Hina fame explained in his Twitter account that he was invited to the House of Councilors questioning sessions, where the government asked What measures are needed for Japanese manga to survive in the world? Akamatsu’s reply was that freedom of expression must come first, as he sees this as Japan’s strength over overseas competition. His fear is to see foreign platforms, which already have larger global influence and market shares, dictating rules and regulations on Japanese originated comics. According to him, the members of the parliament agreed with his sentimentality.

The above in Akamatsu’s own Tweet stating the above and a link

His view is opposed by D.J. Kirkland from Viz Media, who has been vocal for changing and producing manga for Western markets. According to Kirkland, there is going to be a conversation between stakeholders in Japan and Western publishers when it comes to creating content that appeals more to the Western audience. His view that anime is a business is a correct one, yet his intentions largely leave the original creators and their intents out of the equation. Kirkland also ignores that anime and manga have been specifically made for the Japanese market alone and its success as an export product leans heavily on this. Kirkland’s word at its face value, he also considers that US and Western market to be one and the same when this isn’t the case. France, for example, doesn’t exactly rely on English language releases of Japanese works nearly to the same extent as some other countries. English language releases from the US certainly make themselves around the world and do skew the numbers, but the point still stands.

Akamatsu’s worry regarding governmental or industrial over-regulation is relevant. He was the key person in stopping Japanese corporations taking actions against the Japanese homemade comic scene, the doujinshi scene, which sees people making their own created comics they do not own and publishing them at events. This is infringing copyright, something all the companies would have all the power to stop, but due to the nature of doujinshi being a major part of the Japanese popular culture, they are allowed to continue with this half-decade long tradition without much trouble. In fact, majority of the Japanese comic creators have some roots in the doujinshi scene, such as ever-popular CLAMP, and it is not uncommon to find a popular creator having drawn adult material before moving to mainstream comics.

Sony has also showcased how its internal censorship has affected the PlayStation as a platform, as a brand and its library. With numerous games being rejected from the platform, forcing the removal of content and content having to change to meet their Californian HQ’s standards, we have already seen a shift in how Japanese creators’ content has been dictated by an outside force. As Sony has concentrated to cater to Western, or rather, American taste, they’ve lost sales and position in Japan to Nintendo. Furthermore, Switch sales have increased as their more lax policies still allow creators and developers to continue in their usual fashion. This has increased overseas importation of Switch games, as numerous titles get Asian-English releases nowadays. I’ve covered Sony’s censorship before in this blog. You can find the posts on the topic here, here and here. I probably missed one or two.

Original comic design on the left, tweaked design on the right

Some Japanese corporations like Square-Enix have taken precautions to quell possible conflicts by changing pre-existing designs. Final Fantasy VII Remake Tifa’s design got criticized for unnecessary changes, while others still criticized the design for unrealistic body proportions. Character Maam from a 1991 Dragon Quest comic, Dai’s Great Adventure, also saw a redesign from her original Martial Artist class design when revealing mobile iteration of Dai’s Great Adventure.

Censorship on Japanese products isn’t anything new in itself. Ever since Japanese comics and cartoons have arrived to the Western front, be it the US, South America, or parts of Europe, they have seen some degree of censorship. Sometimes its removal of religious imagery as in older Nintendo games, sometimes its removal of blood from comics and cartoons, covering up bare skin or making sure characters say they saw a parachute after blowing up an enemy robot. Viz themselves have a long history in censoring comics they localise, removing whatever they find objectionable at a given time, sometimes making panels look weird even out of their proper context.

Viz’s run for Pokémon Adventures may be infamous for all the female figures they redrew, but scenes like this also got toned down and ended up looking silly

The main difference is that all these have been external changes. Whatever Viz Media has done to censor the versions they publish is their and their customers’ business. The original creator was not limited by anything else but what he had discussed with his editor and staff. What Kirkland, and some of the Japanese government may be proposing, is to control the output of the creators at the source, practising self-censorship and limiting what they can and cannot to create. It would be imposing outsiders’ values and views in order to make Japanese cultural products more palatable for them.

What Sony is imposing on their worldwide developers, and what Ken Akamatsu is fearing, is cultural colonialism.

Homogenizing Japanese products according to outside rules would mean losing all the edge they have held over the competition. Cultural colonialism ultimately destroys the uniqueness of culture and replaces it whatever it currently acceptable by the people who enforced it in the first place. The American censorship is flippant at best, and as they show themselves as the face of the Western world, they would be in the lead of spreading their view of correct and proper culture. The US might not act as the world police as much as it used to in terms of military power, but that’s because war has changed. Now, the war is about information, controlling it and impacting how people behave. By trying to make everyone think and act the same, it becomes easier to exert power over people, even if they’re in a whole different country. Controlling what can be produced, or in what tone, is one step in controlling the way the culture begins to think despite what reality is.

The Japanese culture is a result of their long isolation until they were forced to open trade connections. While many Western nations have their identity moulded through constant interaction with neighbouring countries, Japan has always had the luxury in many ways unique from most of the world. This does bring its own baggage, which has resulted in less than favourable view of Japan around Asia. Outside a few tribe cultures that have had no contact with the rest of the world, the Japanese culture is in many ways closest to an alien culture a Westerner can easily access. Throughout the years this has caused certain fetishization of the culture, which has created the occasional Exotic Orient boom, in which various items and people have been exhibited to the public at large like some circus freaks. Racism has played some part in this, as numerous times these booms haven’t really cared whether or not depictions have been correct, and Asians were seen largely interchangeable with each other. This lead to things like kung fu being a Japanese martial art or Korean language cited as Chinese. These have become less common place nowadays, but the idea of Exotic Orient still raises its head sometimes, but in a more positive light nowadays thanks to the efforts of Asian nations themselves making themselves known brands.

The Japanese government’s worry over Japanese comics losing place in the overseas market is baseless. Currently, Shonen Jump comics are outselling Marvel and DC in the US. Various European countries have a steady flow of Japanese titles on their publishing lists. France especially has an impressive library of Japanese comics, perhaps the most in the European sphere that does not speak English as their first language.

Jump comics last circulation numbers. These are figures to salivate after

The government would have to worry if the industry itself or the government would begin to regulate the creative industries for Western markets. For the last thirty years, the Japanese government has done a lot to promote Japanese culture and its products, thus have seen a steady rise in overseas exports in every media field. While some programming has been specifically made to fit overseas market tastes, only a few individuals have taken straight actions to produce overseas market-specific products, like Mazinger. However, more and more mixed media projects concern themselves with the overseas market, resulting in shows that end up on Netflix and built to fit the global streaming service. In itself, there is nothing negative in trying to make products appeal to more than one market. That is just business. However, that approach does not take anime and manga’s primary target consumers to be the Japanese. The true uniqueness of what manga and anime as brands would offer would be removed, and the brand of Japan would be exchangeable with whatever other countries. In other words, under cultural colonialism, that uniqueness would vanish.

First Comics published Go Nagai’s Mazinger specifically for the US market in 1998. A single issue A Treville Book would retain the same moniker, but the book was rebranded as Mazinger U.S.A. Version for the Japanese markets in 1999.

Nevertheless, if the Japanese media would be regulated to suit foreign markets, they would undermine all the efforts the government has seen thus far as it would lead to current market objecting. It would be the opposite what the market has loudly wanted for decades now; uncensored, uninhibited works that are presented in the same forms as they originally were in Japan. Of course, by installing regulations at the source, the customers wants and wishes could be underhandedly circumvented. Outsider regulation at the source could, of course, cut costs when the localizing company publishes it, as there might not find any need to edit the content as it was already made for their liking. While the occasional overseas market-specific piece isn’t all that rare, they are also transparently pandering and lower in quality. Numerous properties have been turned into international brands later in their life, which has given away their visible deterioration of quality and loss of that original spark.

If it was just a few companies pushing for this level of censorship, they could be stepped around by using other companies or forming new ones. However, if these regulations would come from the government, it would damage the Japanese media industries deeply and heavily. A market suicide of this scale would be unpresented. Not only the government think-tanks would have to device new ways to market now-censored products that supposedly should sell better to the Westerners, but the companies that enjoyed large customer bases would have to spend insurmountable amount of money for marketing in order to keep now-damaged market while trying to expand it with these new pieces.

Furthermore, the generation that initiated the new millennium anime boom in the West will be replaced with a new one in the upcoming decade or two, and chances are Japanese media will see less consumption naturally at a global scale. This is due to the new generation always wanting to replace what their parents thing. This is the natural relation between parents and children. The best way Japanese government and the industries can combat this is to have their new generation of creators to take reins after the old masters, something that seems to be natural for the Japanese culture.

The question that lies under all this is What has made Japanese cultural products so appealing? The answer can be shortly be given as They’re Japanese. A product of another culture always offers a whole new alternative that can’t be found anywhere else. Perhaps it is the aesthetics that hit the right spot with some, perhaps it is the story beats. Maybe it’s all those Japanisms that inhabit each and every work to the brim. It still has to be admitted that Japan might need to cater to the overseas market in any case in the future. This is due to their constantly ageing population, which drops the buying power the nation overall has. The inverted age-pyramid keeps growing as the childbirth rates keep falling. This will ultimately require a shift in the Japanese culture when it comes to foreign markets and to foreigners themselves, but what kind of shift it’ll be we’ll have to wait and see. In a connected world as ours, it might be hard to imagine Japan closing itself once again, but that isn’t completely out of the question if physical connections are lost and we become connected only digitally. Nevertheless, at some point, there will be a need for people who would rather make comics and cartoons to work in other fields due to social changes, but that too will result in cultural works that reflect their times.

Japanese media, and their culture, is unique. The Japanese people know this and they celebrate it, more so than some other countries out there. They don’t hate themselves. They’re not afraid of showing it either, and they wish to share it with the world, if possible, with certain limitations. Their nation and the identity it has is strong and cohesive with a large number of regional differences to give vivid accents to any work. To break Japan’s export of culture with cultural colonialism would be heavily damaging, if not outright erasing the identity cultural products voice. Cultural exchange should not be this sort of one-sided corporate exchange, but where both sides agree and celebrate each other’s differences while agreeing to disagree with the incompatible ones. These are individuals and private companies who have a set target audience, and they should not be forced to cater other audiences or their whims if they choose not to.