Hard mode is now DLC

So I was intending to leave this Friday’s post on a somewhat positive note on Switch’s possible future after reading Shigsy’s interview with Time. The largest positive thing here is that Miyamoto slightly hints that the Switch in few ways seems to be Iwata’s final piece, giving feedback on portability and ideas in networking and communicating. How much of the current networking elements are from Iwata and how much is made disregarding his feedback is an open question. Iwata spearheaded the Wii and the DS, and if the Switch is anywhere near them in terms of idea and approach, then the Switch will definitely do better than the Wii U. Not that doing that should be all that challenging.

However, Miyamoto also speaks of virtual reality again. In essence, Nintendo is looking into VR at the moment, which ties itself to the obsession of 3D Nintendo still has. If you look how long Nintendo has been pushing the idea 3D with games, you can trace it back at least to Rad Racer if not further. You could almost make an argument that the more Nintendo tries to push 3D and VR as the main element of their machine, the worse it does.

VR currently has gone nowhere. After the initial boom of Virtual Reality, nothing has come out of it. No software has changed the industry or has set new standards. We’ve been told that VR will be at its peak in few years for few years now, and this repeats every time a VR product comes out. It’s not about lack of marketing or failing to market the product right. It’s about the common consumer not really giving a damn about t he VR in actuality, and most VR headsets we currently have are far too expensive for their own good. None of them work independently, which only adds to the costs. They’re a high-end luxury product at best with no content to back them up.

That said, Miyamoto cites Iwata talking about blue ocean and red ocean marketing, two points that his own actions seem to dismiss most of the time, but does commend Iwata for bringing this ideology to the front within the company. To quote what Shigsy said;

This is something that Mr. Iwata did, to really link the philosophy of Nintendo to some of the business and corporate jargon, while also being able to convey that to all of the employees at Nintendo.

Iwata had a presence both with the company and consumers. While Nintendo had few faces after Yamauchi, Iwata stood out. He was the company’s corporate face that managed to juggle between worlds. If you’re a fan of his, you’ll probably find elements in the Switch that underline Iwata’s approach as the head of the company.

Nintendo has many faces now that Iwata has passed. It’s not just not Miyamoto and Iwata any longer, but numerous of their developers have come to front even further. It’s like almost each game or franchise is now attached to a face. Like you have The Legend of Zelda tied to Aonuma.

The recent BotW announcement video killed pretty much all my personal hopes for the game being something special, mainly because it confirms that even when Aonuma is wearing something that resembles a suit, he still comes off sloppy. Still, the video does right by having subtitles instead of him trying to speak English.

The fact that Hard Mode is now DLC signifies that Breath of the Wild won’t be Zelda returning to its glory days as an action title that requires skill, but it’ll continue being a dungeon puzzler. Whether or not these DLC packs are an afterthought or not, it strikes very worrying. The Legend of Zelda had a completely new quest after the first round. Aonuma saying that they’d like to give seasoned veterans something new and fun is outright bullshit. New Items and skins don’t add to the game but in miniscule ways. A Challenge Mode was in previous Zeldas from the get-go. Additional map features do jack shit, unless the base map is terrible in the game. New original story and a dungeon with further challenges are nothing new or exciting. These are basic run-of-the-mill post-game stuff Zelda used to have. Modern Zelda tends to have a terrible replay value, but this DLC announcement hints BotW has worse replay value than normal.

I guess this shows how Nintendo is going to deal with the Switch overall, at least after the launch. The Switch requires extra purchases to be complete, like to purchase the Charging Power Grip because the bundled ones don’t charge. The game industry has been blamed for cutting their games into pieces to sell as DLC, and it really does feel like that at times. DLC is often developed with the main game and nowadays DLC is planned from the very beginning. Taken this into account, with the announcement video with Aonuma Nintendo effectively showed that they took parts that used to be standard parts of modern Zelda to some extent and made them DLC. The veterans they refer to are core Zelda modern fans.

Nintendo can’t have two dud of a console in their hands now. Twenty years ago they could have N64 under-perform when it came out much later than it was supposed to, and GameCube couldn’t stand against the rampaging truck that the PlayStation 2 was. The economy was completely different now than what it was in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The Wii U was pretty much a disaster, but perhaps even more so that the Virtual Boy as it was Nintendo’s main home console with full backing of the company in the vain of two of the most successful consoles in game history. Granted, not all machines can see the success of Game Boy. They could, if developed properly and the software library would see proper maintenance from the first and second party developers.

I’m still going to stick with Switch being more a success than the Wii U. However, if Zelda BotW is any indication for the future, there is a fly in the ointment.

Reprints and the aftermarket

In the wake of good news from the good ol’s Sega, they seems to be intending to further promote Yakuza in the US by doing a reprint run of the first four games. Reruns are good and bad news to collectors. Those who misses the original run can pick up these sort of games and enjoy them good as new. Then there are those who would hoard them for future sales who buy them amass. Scalpers, if you were to use the bad tongue.

The game aftermarket is bloody battle, and certain fields are largely controlled by a group of individuals. There are those who collect games in mint condition to use in the future as the basis for higher priced sales. It’s not an unknown tactic to buy the market empty of loose cartridges to eliminate competition, thus causing a shortage of supply to already supply diminished market.

Not that there isn’t anything wrong in that in itself. It’s the buyer who is stupid enough to pay extraordinary prices.

You're asking what now?
You’re asking how much now?

I picked up Battle Mania Daiginjou for some 200€ some years ago, and that was a stupidly high price. A reprint of the game would in place, but a reprint to a dead console like this is less than likely. But Aalt, why would you repress PS2 games then? Because pressing DVD is so much cheaper than mass producing plastic shells and PCBs to run a cartridge based games. As a side note, we’ll get back to this series on a later date in form of a review, and I’ll be revising Daiginjou‘s old review.

Some people were guessing that digital redistribution of games would bring down old games’ prices. Either it had no effect on the aftermarket or  raised prices further. In principle, there are more games available now than ever before in digital format for consumers. However, the core collectors who want the real deal, so to speak, are more or less willing to dish out the dosh for whatever. That’s pretty unhealthy, but such is the nature of a collector.

This is one of the reasons I don’t personally believe that physical distribution will die out any time soon, if you allow me to step outside my own rules here. As long as their collectors and people who wish to gain control over what they put money into, or value an item enough to wish to have total control over it. Not all people are comfortable with the idea of allowing another to have total control over their purchased goods. However, it is undeniable that digital distribution does cut down multiple factors in inconvenience, through the pricing overall is still overt, often meeting with physical releases’ prices. I’ve been told I’m wrong when it comes digital distribution for good decade now, and I’ve yet to see digital distribution killing the physical goods market. Diminishing it perhaps and taking its slot in there, but not killing the market overall. Of course, not all games have seen official digital redistribution, something that is extremely unfortunate. However, it is something we have to live with, especially with so many titles having their source code missing.

To get back on the subject, reprinting Yakuza is a rather clear sign from Sega what consumer market group they are targeting. It’s not the general public, but the collectors, red ocean gamers and Japanophiles. Let’s not forget the people who got into the series during PS3 games, who never managed to get their hands and play the first titles. The Yakuza games weren’t exactly hot sellers and ended up warming the shelves long enough to cut the price at least 80% in rather short time. The supply was rather large in comparison to the demand, but it seems that part of them were moved away from the circulation. In Japan the series is far more popular than in the West, and banking current fans and niche audiences is Sega’s best bet to have the series be successful.

Furthermore, the Yakuza series has not been through the best of localisations. Whatever you think of the first game’s dub, it was a fair attempt at making the game more open for the general public. The second game wasn’t tampered with, but pretty much all the rest of the games saw removal of minigames and missions to some degree, up until the latest titles. Whether or not we believe Sega’s statements why content was cut from the games, they didn’t really give them any positive press and seemed to affect the sales to some extent, considering these same niche audience that are their main target audience currently tends to prefer their games in more untouched form, head petting games intact and all. I can’t fault  them, I share their sentiments for my own reasons.

The question that rises from here whether or not it would be worth to run reprints on more games, even when the price might be higher. It’s not exactly an easy question from the consumer point of view. On one hand we do have collectors and retro collectors that would gladly purchase a new print of some high-calibre NES game like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Castlevania III, both games that tend to run at a higher price. The price would need to be gauged beforehand and probably be handled through a sort of pre-order similar to Kickstarter to meet up the costs of running a new production run. That is if we assume that we would replicate the original NES carts. As we’ve seen with 8bi Music Power and Kira Kira Star Night DX, there are more cost-effective alternatives. However, if we assume SMB3 would get this sort of reprint through modern technology, there would be split between the consumers; those who would like to have the “original” release and those would be “satisfied” with the reprint. In reality, both would be Nintendo produced official version of the game on NES. The semantic of what’s original and what’s not is strong with collectors, and these tend to drive up sales. NES is a prime example of a system to which people want to collect, and its partially because of its large library of games.

The retro game market may be skewered to hell and back, but that seems to be natural progression of valued old products market. It’ll take few decades before video games would be appreciated as proper antiques.

It’s been long time since SEGA got positive financial results

Sega never really recovered after Nintendo beat them with Super Nintendo. No matter how much we want to discuss how good 2D machine the Saturn was or how accurate ports the Dreamcast got, the truth is both consoles were mismanaged to hell and back. Sega’s consoles weren’t the only thing they mismanaged, but their Western front as a whole saw a dump. Franchises that went strong and could’ve continued strongly were dropped dead as Sega of Japan wanted to concentrate their side of the business. As with Xbox, the hardcore Japanese media doesn’t really find all that great success here in the West outside the niche audience. Streets of Rage, for example, is inherently Western in its styling as was Eternal Champions. Neither survived the paradigm shift Sega went through in the mid-1990’s.

However, with the Mega Drive Sega pushed the idea of them being the more mature console over its contemporaries. It worked for a time, and things like allowing blood in Mortal Kombat showed that they’ll be willing to give more exploitative products room to breathe. It really worked, giving the Mega Drive (or Genesis in Ameriland) that games-for-adults fame. Sports games helped by the boatloads, never underestimate sports games even if you don’t like them. PlayStation would inherit Mega Drive’s status. Not Sony themselves, but the brand itself. Sony’s fame has gone poof in the last few decades, and nobody really knows what the hell they’re up to now. Their movies suck and don’t make money, their electronics aren’t top-notch any more and the only thing that they seem to make a buck on is games.

The Sega we used to know is long gone. Not just because I should be talking about Sega Sammy all this time, but because of the changes the company went through. They went from one of the top arcade game manufacturers to top-notch console and game corporation, and then just failed miserably only to step down and become a rather lousy third-party publisher. I’m willing to argue that Japan didn’t really get why they were popular in the West. After they went third-party, it’s like they don’t care any more.

This is reflected in their Flash report.  This consolidated financial statement from the last nine months of 2016 show a rather nice result for Sega, putting them squarely in the black and getting some extra while they were at it.

The games that special mentions come in set of three; Football Manager 2017, Ryu Ga Gotoku 6 and Phantasy Star Online 2. Outside Football Manager 2017, the two other titles are inherently related to how Sega sees their model; Japan first, the rest of the world later. Neither Ryu ga Gotoku 6 or PSO2 are available in the west, and while the western release of Ryu ga Gotoku 6 will be out under its Western title Yakuza 6 next year, PSO2 is still officially Japanese-only despite being released originally in 2012. Whether or not PSO2 would be a success in the West is an open question, but it would be a venture worth considering for Sega. Phantasy Star name is one of the few franchises that Sega kept alive ever since the Master System days, and still calls up some positive reactions from the high-end gaming consumers.

Yakuza has always had a limited audience in the West, and probably will continue to have. However, it’s perhaps a core example of Sega willing to go all out to put the money down into a game development they truly believe in. Another is that Yakuza series is outright maybe the most mature franchise in under their belt, and it’s easy to see why they would like tone down some of the elements in these. Luckily, they’ve manned up and begun listening to their core consumers on the matter. However, it is highly understandable why they never localised the two samurai spin-offs. Not because of themes like child prostitution, but because samurai games don’t sell in the West.

Soccer manager games will keep selling, there’s a good market place for them that seems to be relatively healthy and not too saturated with low-end releases to jumble the market up.

But as said, Sega doesn’t really care how things go in the West. Their Kantai Collection arcade game seems to rake in the dough just fine, something a similar product wouldn’t make its localisation money back. Yes, I’m talking shit about your waifu battle ship. Similarly, their smart device sales indicate a thing that most consumers don’t seem to realize; in order for a smart phone game to keep you with it, it requires constant content updates and events, at least in Japan. Once you miss something or start game later than others, you’ve already missed a chunk of its contents. This works Japan rather well, as their keitai culture grew to this in many ways (there’s a post up about Japan’s keitai somewhere on this blog, look it up) but for a Westerner who wants more wholesome package in one go it doesn’t really do the trick. A niche audience would keep it up for sure.

Their non-game related products seem to have done rather well and their plans for future releases seem to be solid and revolve around Japan mainly. Valkyrie: Azure Revolution most likely will hit Western shores at some point, whereas Initial D Arcade Stage most likely won’t due to the series being pretty much forgotten outside its meme status.

Talking about Sega is really dry and boring, because the company is like that. There’s no sazz or sparkle with them any more. It’s business as usual and that’s all there really is to them nowadays, but that’s not exactly a bad thing either. Them making some dough does warm up my shattered heart a big, because it also means once-loved company could possibly try to up itself at some point. (No they won’t.) The difference between Nintendo and Sega was always very pronounced, but how they work nowadays is like night and day. Still, I’m happy I managed to shove in a positive entry about Sega for once.

ICD-11 proposal for gaming disorder has no basis

World Health Organization has a new proposal in the ICD-11 category, one which would add ‘Gaming disorder’ as a valid disease. The definition for this disease would be the impaired control over daily life in which video games would gain priority despite negative consequences. This is tied to Hazardous gaming, where a pattern of gaming that causes physical or mental harm to the individual or to people around of this individual. Hazardous gaming is essentially just a step towards gaming disorder.

I’m calling bullshit on this proposal as it is now.

You probably clicked the link above and read the short description for gaming disorder. Just from that alone we can surmise few problems the proposal has. First of all, the proposal includes only video games, leaving arcade and PC gaming alone, and hazardous gaming simply refers it as ‘gaming.‘ Granted, the terminology I’m using is more old fashioned in comparison, but using video game as an umbrella term for all electronic gaming is weak at best and shows the authors have little knowledge of the industry’s history. Because of this the proposal ignores the fact that games like pachislot, that is undeniably a video game if we were to use the modern umbrella term, are more dependent on gambling addiction than on the proposed form of gaming disorder.

To add to this, those who are playing video games as a career in some form would be singled out to have this disorder. Psychology as a soft science struggles with things like this, as case studies may not apply to the larger population and vice versa. Furthermore, what is considered harmful in these cases is somewhat open question again. The discussion about what is normal behaviour falls into behavioural psychology a bit too heavily and would be a discussion on its own. I would argue in this case that a person who would have symptoms of gaming disorder may simply be a person who is a hermit and finds solitude in his hobby instead of mingling with people. Whether or not he has a disorder would be questioned. Furthermore, if we were to change the hobby in an individual case like this to something like watching movies, would he then have movie viewing disorder? Such disorder does not exist in the papers and has never been proposed thus far.

There are no long-term studies that would support gaming disorder as proposed. Even short-term studies are hard to come by, and the few examples I had in my mind have eluded for me for the time being. However, the addictive action that electronic games offer is not much any different from other forms of similar activities, but these are not singled out as separate diseases for whatever reason. No other leisure activity like video games, or electronic gaming if you’re an old fart like me, has been singled out like this. While some could argue that gambling falls into this category as a singled out, the psychology of gambling is a bit too much to open here and has proper research basis to back it up.

Furthermore, 26 scholars have written an open letter, rebutting this proposal. You can read the whole thing at Research Gate. Their arguments is that inclusion for gaming disorder, even as a proposal, would have economic effects on the industry. Singling a media out like this would be akin to showcasing the harmful effects of tobacco, the difference here being tobacco’ negative effects had solid evidence behind them. Possible effects of this proposal would be adverse limitations on the industry at large. At worst, possible prohibitions and limitations of what sort of games and what content games could have could be realised. South Korea already employs harsh limitations on games as it is. Last UN’s CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) wanted to ban Japanese media that depicted sexual violence against women. Kumiko Yamada, the representative of Japanese wing of Women’s Institute of Contemporary Media Culture, responded to CEDAW’s proposal by stating that their view on the matter was an absolute No. Translated version on Niche Gamer. The reasoning to Japan’s response was that first of all, they are fiction and do not threaten real people. Second reason was that these fields are filled with women, and such ban would do the exact opposite what CEDAW’s aimed at, as disallowing these women to portray fiction whatever they wished would create new venues of sexism towards women. If this proposal about gaming disorder would pass, it would mean limitations and even bans similar to this would come to pass under the guise of population health concerns.

As the open letter states, passing the proposal could lead into a moral panic. Gaming in general is no foreign to these, as the industry’s history is well marked with controversies regarding violent games, and more recently about games with sexual content. This would tie itself to the aforementioned limitations and bans, when in reality no good evidence is backing up.

As such, if the proposal would to pass, it would be met with harsh criticism and high scepticism from both common population and scholars. The open letter goes even further and states that passing gaming disorder would harm WHO’s reputation and medical community in general, would dramatically reduce the utility of such a diagnosis, especially when it is not grounded in proper evidence base. Singling games out from the rest of the media out there would open a Pandora’s box of behavioural disorders, where any and all activities from sports to gardening could be diagnosed as a behavioural disorder, saturating and demeaning the whole field at large.

The question you may have now whether or not I am deluded enough to say that there is no disordered gaming. That answer would be No. There are numerous ways a person may end up playing games more that it is healthy, but in numerous researched I’ve read the core reason is more often than not somewhere else. An action in itself can be just a symptom, and singling our excessive gaming in itself disorder would put a patient in possible danger if the underlying reasons are not solved and properly treated. The proposal’s worst case scenario considering health could be treating a symptom while completely disregarding the cause.

Music of the Month; Shoujo A

The problem in playing Yakuza 0 is the overabundance of 1980’s atmosphere. The game’s definitely one that keeps you invested and how it rolls is pretty damn great, but I’m not all that certain that it’ll end u in my Top 5 games of the year. I’ve been playing these titles since the first one on and off, and in the end it’s the same thing, just sleeker and works better. That’s not a bad thing at all, and sequels should always be more refined that their predecessors, but is that all that is needed to be one of the best games of the year? Not sure yet. Though Yakuza 0 setting back 29 years really makes me feel giddy. Not that yours truly was already 80’s junkie to a point. There’s really only one song that could represent Japan of the era.


Another option would’ve been Nakamori’s Slow Motion

Now that Monthly Three is officially dead, or on indefinite hiatus if you like that more, I’ll probably aim to launch a subseries named Longpost, which intends to break the normal length of these entries. The 1000 character limitation is a bit harsh at times, and some subjects that just need more stuff behind them. Pop-culture and game posts from last year really used them the best they could, like the very first Monthly Three about Breakout and its genre’s evolution. One of the few post series I have personal affection for. Longposts won’t be a monthly thing, so that’s kind of load off my back, unless a topic requires it. Most of the play culture posts could use it, as there’s a lot of stuff that can be handled.

As for what’s planned for the month, there isn’t any. I haven’t had any time to think so far ahead, and this month I’ve actually had week or so worth of material as a bumper, hence there has been less commenting on current events, outside the Nintendo Switch. Whenever I have time, I’ll try to create a large bumper like this with entries that can be posted at any time. Seeing how life is what it is currently, with deadlines and workloads progressively getting heavier, there are times when I can’t really write anything down. The bumper helped me quite a lot during January, and creating a bumper that has a month’s worth of material would seem a good idea. Asks me to go bit on an override. There are some few topics that I want to visit, although few of them might rustle some people a bit.

You might’ve also noticed how January’s posts came out like a clockwork around 10:00 GMT0 on Tuesdays and Fridays. The bumper is the reason for this, and I intend to keep this rhythm going, if possible. I guess that gives me a semi-official schedule when it comes to publishing.

Schwarzesmarken‘s review was long time in coming, but take it as a one-year celebration for the TV-series. Whether or not there will be a TSF comparison this month is a bit open, and it’ll probably be from either Euro Front or Total Eclipse. Maybe I’ll try to do a viewpoint post on something regarding Muv-Luv, like the one I did about 00-Unit long time ago. Not really sure if such posts are necessary, this blog is less about an opinion and more about a point of view. Don’t expect a new ARG anytime soon, the schedule the TL has to work under is very tight. Combine that with the differences in time zones, it has become rather difficult, to say the least. Speaking of ARG, you really should go read Chris Adamson’s blog, it’s pretty great.

While I try to encourage interaction with readers, and I aim to reply to every comment made here, I also set up a Curiouscat account for those who want to be even more anonymous. This is largely for fun, and I’m more than aware how the account will be a wasteland.

Whether or not mecha design section will expand on transformations this time around, but it could be a running theme for the year. The problem with form changing robots is that it takes about two to three times the work to get my stuff together with them, as there is so much to cover. Well, not all that much, in the end, but I’d like to go deeper rather than just scratch the surface. The basics are largely the same, but when you start going into how to turn a block into a humanoid form might take time to iron out. Time that I don’t really have.

As for the review of the month,  I’ll probably end up resorting to a game review or finally getting around photoing Dual Shock 4. There’s a poll up asking whether or not reviews actually have any worth on this blog. For the more obscure stuff like 8bit Music Power for sure, as I’ve seen it cited here and there. However, for more common stuff I’m losing my sight on the point. Maybe you should count the Guilty Gear comparison posts as ones, as there is a critical component in them. Furthermore, numerous readers seem to be interested in these aspects of their character designs as the posts tend to drive visitors in on their own. This of course opens the question whether or not I am keeping this blog for the existing readers or anyone out there, possibly intending to expand the audience through some means. If I were to have monetary gain, I would aim to expand the audience through multitude of means. However, this being just a hobby, I’m content on delivering whatever brain vomit my hands type down and hope people enjoy it.

Maybe I should stop downplaying everything I do so much, it’s not really healthy.

Three approaches to transforming mecha designs

Unfolding, folding, opening, twisting, turning, exposing areas and revealing hidden parts is basically what mecha transformation is all about. There is no one way to do it, and the sheer amount of examples there exists eclipses the scope I’m willing to work for free. To tackle transformation schemes in general requires part problem solving and part puzzle making in a nice balance, where a irregular shapes can be turned into e.g. a humanoid and vice versa. By first introducing this sort of base idea of categorizing transforming mechas into will give some foresight how I’ll tackle the subject down the line.

Much like Three approaches in mecha design (which will be rewritten at some point this year,) I tend to employ a similar template for transforming mechas specifically. These three are not necessarily connected to the three initial approaches as some sort of rule, but they do work under them if you’d wish to make a transforming mecha. These might help you to lock down your approach better. This post can barely scratch the surface of it all with the given limit I’ve set to myself.

The three approaches in transforming mecha design are Fantastic, Toyetic and Realistic. As with previous, there are overlapping elements with each of the three and can be even split into sub-categories if necessary. Examples of Fantastic transforming robots are all the outright impossible ones in any form outside animation and movies. Getter Robo and Gurren Lagann are probably the best examples, where thing just fall into their place and morph into new shapes. Mass shifting is nothing short of expected and even mandatory.

Continue reading “Three approaches to transforming mecha designs”

Review of the Month; Schwarzesmarken TV

To preface this review, I do have a bias for Schwarzesmarken as a fan of Muv-Luv overall. However, because of this bias I’ve decided to approach this series from the point of view that it is a singular entity without any ties to pre-existing franchises. This decision also stems from the fact Schwarzesmarken was marketed with that title alone without any naming connections to Muv-Luv. Within the fiction there is no pretence about the connection, and one can only guess why this decision was ultimately applied. Whatever the case may be, the show still needs to stand on its own and deliver a solid show for a positive review.

To expand upon the series needing to stand on its own, this review could compare Schwarzesmarken to the Light Novels and the Visual Novel, and to Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse. This wouldn’t allow the work to present itself as it is. A comparison between different versions of Schwarzesmarken is worthy of its own post altogether.

A television series is a different beast to literal works. Total Eclipse is a lot of people’s first experience with the franchise and Schwarzesmarken served the same role to some extent. Because of this, in this review, I won’t hold against the staff for the changes that were made during the adaptation. Whatever is on the screen and how it is conveyed to the viewer are the only things that matters, supplemental and source materials be damned.

This’ll  be more or less in-line with the Kimi ga Nozomu Eien and Muv-Luv posts I’ve done. Expect a general outline of the whole series with commentary running along with it. Not the best way to make a review, but never thought I’d go over this episode-by-episode basis. Expect loads of terrible jokes to boot. If you want a short tl;dr version, you can slip straight to the end paragraphs.

Now that you know where this review will have its base stance on regarding the series, let’s start with the show.

Continue reading “Review of the Month; Schwarzesmarken TV”

Guilty Gear design comparison; Johnny

Johnny Sfondi didn’t enter the series until Guilty Gear X, but what I remember from that time he quickly became the favourite on many feminine guys who played the game. To some Johnny has always been part of the series, if you jumped in during the XX craze. Of course this was to be expected from an adolescent audience, but it does tell volumes of Johnny’s design overall. It may be rather simple without huge as hell belt buckle thrown into the mix, but his shades combined with that self-confident as hell attitude just works and has a balance to it. Johnny is, after all, an eye candy that works both in visual flavour and in gameplay.

Continue reading “Guilty Gear design comparison; Johnny”

Ageless games across generations

Video games have more in common with hide-and-seek than with movies, literature or music. This is due to video games, and electronic gaming in general, being the latest iteration of play culture. As such games of the past, be it the NES or Atari era, still find home within the new generation of consumers just as easily as any well planned out children’s play, game or even sports would. Only in video game industry we hear something become obsolete because of its archaic technology or because we have that aforementioned new generation. Soccer, basketball and numerous other sports still are around because they are ageless because each of them has been passed down to a new generation, just as children’s plays are.

Children will invent stories as they play along, be a costume play, playing with figures or something else. While there is a rudimentary narrative running in these plays, playing is the main thing. Electronic games, both PC and console games especially, are largely a legacy of these plays. The problem with electronic games is that they are static and can’t dynamically change as the player wants. This is why more varied games are always needed and the more unique titles we have, the better. The Legend of Zelda and Skyrim may be based on a similar notion of a hero in a fantasy land, but their realisation is different and serve different purposes. On the surface the ideas and even core structure seems similar. The reader already knows, the two games are vastly different in how they are played. Just like how the narrative in children’s plays are to enforce the action of playing rather than being the main thing, so do games use narrative as a support for playing the game. Changing it otherwise undermines both playing and gaming.

An ageless game will sell to future generations despite its technological backwardness. This is why emulation will never cease to exist, as anyone who knows the basic use of a computer and reading comprehension probably has already fired up at least one sort of emulator. As an anecdote, I’ve seen people as young as seven doing this without any outside help, and they enjoyed playing Super Mario Bros. on JNes. Why Super Mario Bros.? Because Mario is still a cultural icon, and using a Nintendo system most likely the one thing that people go for first. Not because of the modern entries in the series, but due to how large of an impact the franchise left on the face of culture in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Much like the game industry at large, those companies with a long history with electronic gaming often simply ignore the possibilities of their library. Instead, we may see plug-n-play conversions of some titles like with Atari 2600, but sometimes we get a piece of products that hits the cultural nerve just the right way and outsells itself to the point of amazing even the producers themselves. The NES Mini surprised Nintendo and its execs without any shadow of a doubt, as mentioned by Reggie in a CNET interview regarding the Switch. To quote him;

The challenge for us is that with this particular system, we thought honestly that the key consumer would be between 30 and 40 years old, with kids, who had stepped away from gaming for some period of time. And certainly we sold a lot of systems to that consumer.

Reggie claims that Nintendo is aware of the popularity of their classic games, which he contradicts with this statement. Furthermore, if they were aware how popular their classic games were, Nintendo would aim to make them obsolete rather than push games that enjoy less popularity. The NES Mini, as Reggie mentions above, wasn’t just popular with the people who grew up with the console, but with basically every age tier. Furthermore it should be noted that even in Europe the legacy of the NES has become that they were the victorious console, but do go back few entries to read how well Nintendo royally fucked NES in PAL territories.

It’s not just the nostalgia that sold NES Mini. As Reggie said, NES Mini is popular among kids, and kids have no nostalgia for a thirty years old game console. The games cherry picked for the system simply are mostly well designed and can stand the test of time. Super Mario Bros. does not appeal just because it is a Mario game, but because it’s a fun adventure in a fantasy land. Zelda‘s open world Action-RPG is popular outside the fans of the franchise (and I hope to God BotW will have an open world in the spirit if the original.) Metroid‘s action-adventure appeals similarly to a larger crowd than just to the fans, thou game devs have been furiously masturbating to this genre for the last years harshly.

There is nothing that would keep Nintendo from realizing the spirit of their older games in their future titles. Nothing keeps an old game from appealing to modern consumers, just like there’s nothing from modern children playing games invented couple of hundreds of years ago. We still play cards like Go Fish! or Shitpants with our kids. Hell, one could even say that when we grow into adults (or rather, we realize we are adults) we still keep playing the same games, but stakes are just higher. Poker may replace Go Fish!  but a new generation will still play that. A new card game for kids will appear in the future to supplement already large library of card games, but it’ll never be able replace anything if it doesn’t refine the formula somehow. Even then, it’s hard to beat a solid classic.

To use another Nintendo example is the Wii. Wii’s Virtual Console sold more titles than Nintendo’s big releases in the latter part of the console’s lifecycle, and saw a slow death on the 3DS. This seems to say that Nintendo doesn’t really take into heart the notion that classic games and their core are still viable. Instead, they concentrate on something surprising and that old games are only played due to nostalgia. A sentiment the game industry at large sadly seems to agree upon. With the success of NES Mini, will Nintendo begin to value their classic games more rather than just as the beginnings of an IP? Probably not, but Switch should tell us in due time.

Monthly Three; The Game Boy march

While reading on materials on the history of the Game Boy, there was always two things that popped up; people saying it outsold like no other despite having technological disadvantage and the fans of the its competitors calling each others’ favourites a piece of overpriced garbage. Unlike the NES, the Game Boy was a much larger success in all three main regions, despite it still seeing shortages in Europe overall. However, going into GB’s market success is not the point here. The design philosophy is, and how pretty much all ‘victorious’ consoles reflect this.

While I tend to give Gunpei Yokoi loads of credits about his philosophy about mature technology, he was no different from any other Japanese business executive. The corporate culture is that the man upstairs gets the glory over the hard-working underling, and this can go well up to the main chairman if it benefits them. Such was the fate of Satoru Okada in Nintendo’s R&D1 under Yokoi. In an interview with Retro Gamer (shortened here) he goes over the main design points that the Game & Watch, the Game Boy and the Nintendo DS had. Even in this small bit you see that Yokoi’s Game & Watch series was a good starting point for what was to come, as the Yokoi’s group first wanted to downsize it and make more pocket fitting. Indeed, while Game & Watch was led by Yokoi, and the D-pad design is credit to him, Satoru Okada deserves the same amount of credit for creating said device when he handled the technicality of things. A designer is only part of the solution, unless he is a jack of all trades, master of none.

The point of this group wanting to do technologically better game system is nothing new, and while on surface is all about the cutting edge technology, nothing in the Game & Watch games was new when it came to hardware. This is where the design sets in with the D-Pad and the overall shape of the unit. These are the hardware design choices that matter more than how powerful the CPU is or the architecture of the machine in terms of what makes things tick right. It’s not exactly about bringing in something new. I hate to use this term, but innovating based on existing facts. The D-Pad was, and is still a great solution to a control problem. Single buttons don’t really give the most intuitive feeling out there, unless they’re in a cross shape like on the PlayStation controller. The wrong kind of design can make it feel terrible, like on the Dreamcast and Xbox 360. In the end, the D-pad really is a very downscaled, flattened joystick in its core form.

As for the Game Boy, what is a surprise that Yokoi’s initial pitch is essentially a continuation of the Game & Watch, which Tiger Electronics’ games essentially were in many ways. Indeed, the Game Boy as it came out is the child of Satoru Okada’s ambition to push the envelope further. If Yokoi had not given in to Okada’s persistence to develop a far more robust and ambitious handheld gaming machine, we might be calling any other handheld game console a Game Gear.

This is one of the elements of the silver bullets in creation a successful console. It’s not enough it to use existing, mature technology and innovate with it, but it also is required to innovate. The Game Boy’s legacy for future handheld consoles is in its careful design to be cheaply produced and sold, while offering a lasting housing that can be carried easily and take serious damage before being decommissioned (or even survive a missile strike in Gulf War), but also offered games that last more than few minute at a time. The hardware was not cutting edge for these reasons precisely, but was good enough. Good enough is a magical term that is more successful than cutting edge. Game Boy didn’t succeed because it was like the Game & Watch, it succeeded because it used the same ambitious model the FC and NES had… at least in Japan and US. We know how well Nintendo handled Europe.

There is nothing special or magical in Game Boy’s victory march over Atari Lynx, Sega Game Gear or PC Engine GT/TurboExpress. It sold for $99 at launch and was packed with Tetris, the only game that could be called perfect in design. Atari’s Lynx was out at $179.99 two months later, with lesser titles in its launch library. Game Gear launched at slightly lower price of $149 with the usual marketing campaign of it being the cooler option for mature gamers who liked hardcore titles. Like the PSP. While Game Gear was essentially a Sega Master System in a smaller box, the PC Engine GT really was a portable PC-Engine and able to play the same card based games as the home version. Its $249.99 price point was stupidly high, and this is 1990 money we’re talking about. Taking account devaluation of the dollar, the price equals around to $453.00 modern day money.

Paying $99 for a console that came with a game, earphones and a link cable to play with your friend was an option that couldn’t be beaten. Better, more robust hardware with backlit and coloured screens lost to a console designed to be enjoyed en masse by everyone, everywhere. Batteries ain’t cheap, and the fact that you got a whole lot more bang for you buck with the Game Boy than with any of its competition. The successive sales encourages more third party developers to develop games of the Game Boy over less popular options, and the rest is history. Nintendo would replicate the grey brick’s success with the DS… after they stopped treating it like portable N64 and tackled it as it were a portable SNES.

Yokoi left Nintendo at a point in the mid-1990’s and developed the WonderSwan, a terribly Game Boy-like console, for Bandai. Other than its extremely slim form and monstrous battery life of over 24h on a single AA-battery, it was also completely out of date and had no driving ambition behind it. Even its buttons were inferior in design, especially the loose D-pad that had no feeling to it. For a handheld console that came out in 1999, it had no legs to stand against Game Boy Color that was released a year prior. SwanCrystal, the best version of the console with colour LCD, saw a release in 2002, but with little support and mostly Bandai’s own games on the system, it was a relative niche product overall. Sure, it saw one of the best versions of Final Fantasy I, II and IV before modern era remakes, and even that is debated sometimes. WonderSwan is something what Game Boy could’ve been if Yokoi’s original idea had been implemented instead of Satoru Okada’s; a system standing on old ideas, re-using concepts rather than innovating based on them and creating something new.

To return to the opening to the start of the post, the very reason why people are astonished by the fact the Game Boy was so successful is because it was good enough, but still better than its predecessors. You don’t need to be cutting edge, just ambitious to have the good stuff available for everyone, and keep the quality high while delivering all sorts of games across the spectrum.

With this, I’m officially putting Monthly Three’s on hold. Whenever I get a subject that requires more than one post, it’ll return.