Two steps forwards, one step back with video game censorship

This isn’t exactly a topic I intended to cover this soon after the whole Dead or Alive 6 PR fiasco. Tecmo sure has tried to rebuild their trust with the disassociated core audience with their latest update, but the damage from the initial barrage of news and statements is hard to recover from. Now, Sony’s stepped in for the third time to practice censorship on their platform. The brand that has been selling with the image of being the choice for an adult and mature electronics entertainment user is now a platform more prone to see your title being affected if the content has a sex-positive stance than Nintendo.

So, what’s it this time then? The Western release of Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal will have its skinship mode removed in the PlayStation 4 version, as stated by XSDEED. This is not their decisions, but Sony has wished this to be removed, i.e. they have issued a demand that if this mode exists in the game, it won’t be allowed to be on the platform. Someone at Sony hasn’t played much attention, as this kind mode has already existed on previous Senran Kagura titles without any word from them. It would seem that someone in power has a level of dislike towards Japanese video games with certain kind of fan service elements to them. Furthermore, thanks to GTA’s Hot Coffee controversy, no game can have material that’s not approved remain in the game code. If Sony demands complete removal of Skinship mode, it means XSEED has to spend extra cash to remove all vestiges from the code, which may affect some other parts of the game if not done properly. Hopefully, all they need to do is to dummy out the directory files in order to impact the game’s code least possible amount.

Before this, Sony had banned Omega Labyrinth Z from getting a Western release. They disapproved the title, despite it had successfully gained ESBR and PEGI classifications. PQcube, the title’s publisher, had already had most, if not all, of their translation work done for the title and were ready to release it. Because of the ban, PQube lost time and money, probably necessitating them to choose titles with less risque nature to them and avoid niche titles at least for a time. In order to port the game to e.g. Steam, it would probably take an extra $10 000 to happen, something the company may not want to throw in.

Around a week after screwing PQube, Sony delayed Nekopara Vol1, a visual novel about catgirls, got delayed worldwide. The title was slated for Summer 2018, but searching for the title on PSN gives no results for it. However, going into Nintendo’s Game Store and looking up Nekopara there gives a definitive result. At face value, it seems Nekopara never came to Sony’s platform while Nintendo had seemingly no problems with it. Delayed until further notice, but fans of the series probably have picked this one up elsewhere already, like Steam where they can patch it.

We understand the logic just fine; these titles’ fan service is in nature that does not conform to overall Western values. These three titles are inherently Japanese and do seem over-the-top in their nature of handling the characters every which way. Nevertheless, this exact aspect is part of their charm and have their audience. Omega Labyrinth Z does not have the luxury of having a Steam port like Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal. If fans want the game as intended and on console, they are required to import the Japanese version.

The issue of these characters being too young or the like has been discussed to death, even on this blog. I’ll always point out that this is digital and no human being is present, there is no exploitation or damage to done to anyone or anything. Dead or Alive Xtrme 3 is probably the best point to start with, and all these really raises the question if Sony themselves something to do with it not being published in the West and not just Tecmo wanting to showcase their sensibility towards loud fringe factions. If someone takes offense in how things looks, they can vote with their wallets and not buy the title.

Of course, the discussion that’s always sidestepped in the official circles is that this is taking away the intended artistry from these games, especially in case of Senran Kagura‘s, when an intended function and mode is removed. Sony and other corporations easily fling claims about games being art and such to gain image victories and promote the idea of games being larger than life entertainment like movies and music, which in reality all are rather mundane and at equal footing. When it comes to business and trying to stick to certain kind of ideologies, these words are flung out of the windows. They are pretty words, but that’s what they all are in the end. The industry, and the Red Ocean consumers, have been trying to sell the idea of games as art for so long that some of them take it as face value, but whenever a game is cancelled due to its content, censored because it might offense somebody or because the platform owner simply doesn’t want it for some reason, we are reminded that we are discussing an industry that is business and first and foremost.

Then again, perhaps we should consider games as art in its very classical form, where art is is just extension of craftsmanship and artisanal skills. Someonebody orders something to be made, a painting for example, giving the person money to pain what’s demanded of them and the artist fulfills the request. Art historically hasn’t been trying to express some deep emotions or find oneself, but to fulfill the customers demands and requests the best they can. No, it’s not commercial art, its art as it has been historically. Here we can argue whether or not the consumer should have the veto whether or not the artists, i.e. the developers and publishers, can put in their games as consumers are the one purchasing the end-product, but that would never succeed. The platform owners are just middle-hands, but they clearly have some sort of word what’s in and what’s no already, so the onus originally seems to be on whoever pays the biggest bill, often the publisher.

Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo directly in their wake, should take after Valve and allow free market to reign on their system with consumers being the end decider what’s successful and what isn’t. I’m as surprised as you are, didn’t see that coming. It’s almost crazy to think that Nintendo has been trying to make their platforms appear more mature with titles like Bayonetta, while Sony’s taking steps backwards.

Artificial Intelligence in Muv-Luv

I feel this post needs some prefacing. The topic of artificial intelligence is well discussed across all media in all possible forms. The subject’s rather dry if you want to get technical with it, rather than just touch the surface with throwaway philosophical concepts. As a topic it’s part mathematics and part economics, as AI requires both strong scientific and engineering to succeed, but these two require running budgets and political decisions to be feasible. There has been a few AI winters, where the interest had become extremely low due to lack of progress. In truth, we have multiple functioning AI in our current era, ranging from dedicated chess computers to whatever Google’s cooking up. The AI science fiction often employs and what most people seem to regard as the end-product of AI is a machine intelligence superior to human, a super intelligence. That might be one world, but I’d rather not have the spellcheck to shit on me every time I type it. AI research is still ongoing, though it would seem that most prominent research is directed at tool AI rather than general intelligence. It is hard to predict when superhuman intelligence will come to existence, but depending in what form it’ll be in, it might be the last invention mankind needs to make for obvious reasons.

This post will concentrate on discussing three different AI in Muv-Luv franchise, all three which are distinctly separate from each other. There are more in the background we’re never told about, but clearly exist. I will also go the unconventional route and disregard some of the depictions in the narrative in favour of larger discussion, and touch on this wherever relevant, e.g. how TSF AI autopilot should be more autodrone-like rather than weak AI autopilot it has. To spoil some of the latter discussion, how AI is treated in the setting is rather generic and follows SF conventions very closely to the point of not really adding anything new to it. At the same time, how AI is presented in BETAverse setting, a term I use for the world that Unlimited, Alternative and most of the spin-off take place in, is rather unconvincing and even unrealistic on closer look, even when you take into account that the main weapon used again the BETA are giant robots piloted by people in high-tech latex suits. I’m no professional in Artificial Intelligence or the like, so consider this post as musings of a fan.

This post also assumed that you are at least familiar with the overall concepts and world of Muv-Luv, as I will not offer any expanding explanations on topics like Moorcock-Lechte Drive. Sources used for this post are the VNs themselves, as well as The Codex, hence Superordinate replacing the nomenclature for Superior.

 

Tactical Surface Fighter learning computer, a rudimentary seed AI?

A problem with fiction and AI is that it has coloured the whole concept. The aforementioned chess computer is perfect example of something that was thought to be incredibly hard to attain, simply because it was thought that beating a chess master required to have some sort of nebulous part of humanity with it. When Deep Blue, the successor of Deep Thought chess-computer, beat the chess master Garry Kasparov in 1997, it was deemed a pinnacle of AI, but relatively soon after Deep Blue was considered only a sophisticated piece of hardware dedicated on one task only. It would seem that once intended AI functions as originally intended, the goalpost moves automatically and previous breakthroughs are merely results of clever programming. Kasparov’s loss at the hands of Deep Blue has been downplayed for years, citing Kasparov having unsightly bad play on his part or generally downplaying the value of chess as a game as a measure of human intelligence, something that had been culturally significant part across the globe for at least few centuries already. The same of course can be attributed to the Chinese game of Go, where Google’s AlphaGo beat Lee Sedol, the 18-time world champion, in 2016. Deep Blue was, and still is, a rather weak artificial intelligence, intended for a single task. We’ve yet to achieve any level of general or super intelligence to compare to. However, it would appear that even weak artificial intelligence bests mankind at our own games.

The AI in TSFs is a sort of learning computer, a tool approached weak AI that’s intended to both assist the pilot as well as take take control whenever necessary. Just like Deep Blue, it is not a general intelligence capable of making aware decisions. It is an input/output AI through and though. Pilots are required to train and drill movements and patters to a memory unit within the Fortified Pilot Suit, which this pilot data can be transfers from TSF to TSF with the pilot. This would lead the AI to react to events and situations as indicated by the data, seemingly allowing the TSF to predict the pilot’s actions based on the thought interface based on the changes in the pilots thought pattern and muscle voltage. However, by default this would lead into each pilot data being usable only for certain TSFs with comparable performance and weapon layouts. and mixing data from e.g. F-4 to Phantom to F-16 Fighting Falcon should produce incompatibilities. This would mean the pilots would have to drill new pilot data in the simulators, or at least refine existing pilot data, for newer generation machines rather than directly jumping into them. The pilot data seems to be gathered relatively fast due to the thought control interface the TSFs utilise for faster man-machine interface. It should also be noted that TSF itself accumulates pilot data, meaning a new pilot needs to override the machine’s existing patterns with his own, or is newly rolled out, the pilot will have hard time piloting the TSF due to the AI expecting different input. This canon system is somewhat backwards, as it would make more sense for TSFs have a standard base AI, to which pilot data is applied to as the pilot enters the TSF. This would prevent pilots being tied down to one TSF for effective operation.

In-universe, a TSF at autopilot will have less reaction time and is weaker at close combat manoeuvres than human pilots. This seems to be a schizophrenic hardware limitation. Considering the pilot data is created to assist the pilots in their actions at any given time, from walking to close-quarter combat, the AI of the TSF is required to react to a threat faster than the human pilot in order to assist. If TSF already has the ability to avoid Laser Class’ shots faster than the pilot, then the narrative is faulty at some point. Let us assume that that the AI in the TSF requires input both from the perceived threat and the pilot in order to act, meaning that the pilot data would make the TSF’s actions smoother during the actions themselves. The pilot data then would serve to smooth out TSF motions, but this is largely countered by the fact that TSF base AI requires positional resets and can not accept overlapping commands to for a chain of actions.

It would not be a stretch to assume that despite being able to assist the pilot in some manner through pilot data, it would seem apparent that the TSF’s computational centre is not fast enough to actually use the the data by itself, hence why its autopilot functions are extremely lacking. Despite being able to perceive threats and assist the pilot, whatever CPU equivalent it has seems to be incapable of reacting and making proper decisions based on the taught data. Considering modern TSFs are OBL (Operation By Light) the input the TSF AI gains is effectively immediate. Thus, the bottleneck of the system has to be the CPU, and this is something XM3 can’t affect, meaning XM3’s most notable element isn’t that it uses Shirogane Takeru’s pilot data as its basis or allows chaining inputs, but that it has been optimised to the point of the CPU having enough time to make a decision based on the situation rather than dedicating the pilot to a manoeuvre. This is also why all XM3 equipped TSFs have revamped computing hardware, running parallel-computing computers in order to allow XM3 to function at all. However, if we assume that the CPU bottleneck was the reason why TSF autopilot had lower response time than pilot, the new parallel-computing hardware should also increase the old OS’ functions to a very large degree, allowing autopilot to use pilot data for far faster action. The main core difference between thus ends up being not just the smoother and more action-reinforcing AI, but the sheer hardware advantage parallel-computing has over the old hardware.

Assuming that with the advent of further hardware innovations other than parallel-computing, it should be relatively straightforward to create a drone-like TSF, where its functions are based on existing pilot data and environmental input. Considering the BETA on Earth are stuck on simple action patterns, even after then Alternative‘s events changed them to a degree, it should not be out of question to have these learning computers to learn directly on the field and choose the most proper output in a given situation. This learning would be extremely fast, as XM3 shares data across all the units, meaning all TSFs would share the end results of both successful and failed manoeuvres. This sort of dynamic learning would easily lead into autopilot TSFs easily matching, and then overcoming both their human and BETA opponents. With hundreds of hours logged into pilot data files, a TSF could in principle adopt the pilots manoeuvres and use that as the core base library, be it against BETA or humans. This might end up making the TSFs relatively predictable at first, but as data accumulates, the seed AI should learn to variate or even faint against human opponents.

The core function of TSF OS is effectively that of a seed AI that is being taught how to move and function as dictated by intention as a weak artificial intelligence tool, which in-universe seemed to have hit a stop-gap caused by computational technology hitting a snag. However, pretty much everything else around it is ready for the step to AI driven TSFs, as input/output technology is clearly miles ahead. Artificial muscles and fiber-optics allow at least near light-speed input from environment to be received, but decisions and sending commands back seems to be the issue. This is not the case with artificial limbs in their current iteration. Suzumiya Haruka had some troubles with her pair of limbs, whereas the 00 Unit full-body prosthetic had no obvious problems acting and moving like a natural human being.

 

Whole Brain Emulation, 00 Unit and super intelligence

Whole Brain Emulation is how the initial 00 Unit is gained its intelligence. The concept is solid; scan a brain from a given moment and use machine to replicate brain’s functions on some level to gain general intelligence. The level the brain must be replicated in order to have it properly function is not known, though in principle it should be enough to replicate the general function of the synapses rather than emulate the brain below cellular level. The advantage of successfully emulating brain functions is that we don’t exactly need to know the deeper functions as long as the brain’s state can be successfully emulated. As long as the emulation is low-level enough, the emulated synapses and other functions should take over by themselves. The hardware doesn’t have a control over them.

Another benefit in this is that the emulated intelligence can be tweaked to function faster, e.g. make the synapses shoot faster. As such, accurate emulation is not the intended end result if the end result is super intelligence, but whole brain emulation can be the first step towards to it. Emulated brains with tweaked functions would be able to think faster and more efficiently than normal brains as well as able to absorb far more information for further use. It is clear that the emulated brain within 00 Unit is not vanilla variety, but has hardware modifications applied. These include a level of ESP and general control over machinery either via ESP or unknown means. Furthermore, 00 Unit’s control and calculation abilities have greatly been boosted over her source brain abilities as per the intended usage as a communicator between the BETA and humanity. As such the Whole Brain Emulation we see in Muv-Luv Alternative and in the assumed future counts as super intelligence. Needless to say, 00 Unit is strong intelligence to TSF’s weak intelligence.

The emulation hardware the 00 Unit has is far superior than what TSFs use for their OS and functions, as if they were similar, it’d mean 00 Unit’s brain emulation would be pathetically slow. This of course is solved by having the solution brought from EXTRAverse, by having fifteen billion semi-conductors working in parallel to create an artificial brain build of material able to super conduct as room temperature called Grey Nine. This artificial brain is effectively a quantum computer in itself, and is able to quantum conduct. Effectively, it is a cross-dimensional quantum computer able to link itself to other worlds where 00 Units exists, effectively creating a pan-dimensional computing network. This is hilariously over the top in terms of processing power and science magic, well within the reach of accurately emulating every and all functions of a brain even at atomic level. The rest of the emulation, in order to cause disassociation with the emulated brain, is the body. 00 Unit is relatively traditional SF cyborg body, emulating all surface functions of a human, from breathing to function of sexual organs. Birth is apparently impossible, but with medical technology being this far, artificial wombs would be in the range of possibility. The egg might need to be donated elsewhere and inserted within the womb either through traditional means or already fertilised. The donor may be some other person, or perhaps the eggs have been harvested and frozen prior brain scanning.

The technology of brain scanning in Muv-Luv is destructive. The principle is that a brain is harvested at some point, probably frozen to some extent and then cut into extremely thin parts slices. These slices are dyed properly to map out each and every cell and their position, which in itself is an incredibly daunting task that required relatively advanced medical and analytical technology to replica in a virtual environment. It is probable that the same hardware that emulates the brain running 00 Unit was also necessary to even begin with the task of analysing the brain and its state. Considering we have the technology that are superior to our own eyes and ears, it would not be impossible to assume that perfect sight and hearing are a package deal here. It would also be completely possible to add strength and speed to the body, but the difference between the emulation’s original body and the artificial one would be more pronounced. Seeing that the emulation is perfect, as in it functions as the driving force rather than as a framework further software is run through, the emulated personality would have a relatively difficult period to accustom to their superhuman body compared if the cybernetic body would be human-like. Further upgrades of course can apply further post-human additions, from multiple arms to completely inhuman body.

Whole Brain Scanning and its successful application in perfect personality replication opens some hard questions. If the personality emulation is perfect, and there is no dissonance between the human and artificial body, can be say that the 00 Unit is simply a machine continuation of the brain donor? After all, the experiences of the donor continue directly where the brain’s functions were stopped. Booting up for the first time might be a similar experience to waking up from a sleep. This can be contrasted to Star Trek‘s teleportation dilemma, which asks if the person who comes out from the porter is the same person who entered it, as Trek‘s technology requires destruction of the original particles in order to record them, and then an assembly of this data at the other end. Effectively, the person needs to die in order to be teleported. Few times in the show’s history old data has been used to reconstruct previous states a ship member had been to reverse some ailments. Additionally, the transporter can remove or add elements from the data. It would not hard to assume that tweaking the data it would be possible to further modify the pattern. Consider also that about every seven years a human has renewed their cell structure, effectively replacing all the old there was. This sort of idea of at what point a ship is a new ship, if all of its parts are replaced one by one in time. At some point, nothing of the old ship exists any more.

In-universe, there are two takes. Kouzuki Yuuko having no connection to the brain donor largely treats the 00 Unit as an intended machine, despite 00 Unit having its own agency and persona. Shirogane Takeru on the other hand takes the approach that as long as the memories and personality are Kagami Sumika’s, the 00 Unit and her are one and the same. The continuation of the personality, the awareness and consciousness, is what defines her as over the fact that she is artificial. It would also seem impossible to replicate Kagami Sumika’s brain pattern to a new body. Despite the fact that her body functions on extraterrestrial G-elements, it should be possible to record her brain pattern off from her body and upload it to a new body. However, the fiction seems to indicate that this is not possible, either due to lack of technology like having multiple hardware builds to house further 00 Units, or that the scanning and pattern upload procedures are simultaneous, effectively hard coding the pattern to the hardware. We can then assume that tampering of the hardware could lead into large damage or total shutdown, or that 00 Unit’s body works similar to some arcade hardware that require constant power to be fed in order to keep the data in memory. We can also assume that the brain emulation is completely dependent on the artificial brain itself, and would require another where to record the pattern to. It might be that in the end there were not enough resources to create another artificial brain at that point in time. All this seems to be driven by the narrative’s need to have drama over that practicality of whole brain emulation.

Considering the momentary existence of the 00 Unit, Japan was the only nation in the world with super intelligence, meaning their edge over other nation in terms of sheer computational power was unmatched. In-fiction, the 00 Unit was capable enough to fool sensory readings of large amount of TSFs all the while controlling the Moorcock-Lechte Drive and its Rutherford Field. If 00 Unit was to used for intelligence gathering from neighbouring nations, or nations with stranglehold on world economics like the US, Japan would have decisive strategical advantage. Instead, 00 Unit was used to spy and map out BETA structures, though for unknown reasons this spy connecting via a BETA Reactor, a Brain Class, was more or less bidirectional.

 

00 Unit waypoint to TSF machine intelligence?

As mentioned, even if normal human mind can’t create general machine intelligence, Whole Brain Emulated AI would easily have access to the necessary power to solve the equations. In Muv-Luv, 00 Unit’s extremely efficient quantum network would be able to create the necessary theories and solution in order to create general machine intelligence. This could be then applied to each sector that relies on AI support, such as TSFs. While I’ve painted a picture that even in-fiction TSF driven by tool super intelligence is not far, similar stories have been told in our real world. Since the 1940’s the advent of AI has been expected to take place within the next two decades, but it has been moved forwards with each win and failure, as the AI goalpost is being moved each time a successful weak AI has been implemented. Such is the case of Deep Blue.

TSF super intelligence would not need to be general AI. Quite the opposite, despite being super intelligence, it could be created to lack agency of its own. The solution to create new 00 Units exists and is being taken advantage of by 2040’s, meaning that general machine intelligence should be a thing to some extent. If we take this into account, it would be possible to downgrade the artificial brains to only emulate standard human brains without the quantum connection and install these as TSF’s on-board computers. This of course means you’d be giving a giant robot access to its own agency, which might end up badly. To take this even further, perhaps with enough materials and scanned brains it would be possible to excise cockpits as such from TSFs altogether and simply have pilots move have their conscious temporarily moved into the TSF shell. This would be a temporary upload, which would then upload itself back to the pilot body when TSF returns to its hangar. Death of a pilot would only mean that an iteration that was uploaded to the TSF would cease to exist, whilst the originator of that thought pattern would still be safe and could be used for further action. With XM3 sharing data across the TSFs, further developments might even be able to return the uploaded pattern back to the pilot’s body before destruction due to the sheer speed fiber optics allow.

This of course raises numerous ethical and existential questions about treatment of humanity and how we define what is to be human or alive. Though who knows, maybe F-47 Ishkur has some sort of on-board AI assisting the pilot.

The described AI TSF exists within the setting, though in somewhat different from and function. In MLA Total Eclipse, there exists a device that has a shape like a rounded coffin, which houses a live esper. When activated, a red aura emanates from inside of it, and engulfs the TSF in a similar aura. This red aura seems to denote malicious presence, as opposed to the blue aura other espers can envelope TSFs with. This aura is called the Nastroyka Effect, and its overall brightness and effect is linked to the esper’s Prafka, an effect which induces esper with a state that increases their ability to pilot. The П3 Plan, fully titled as Polnoye Zatmeniye Plan or Total Eclipse Plan, aimed to create TSFs driven by these esper pods for more efficient operations. By triggering the Prafka on these pods, each TSF equipped with them would have superior operational efficiency over other TSFs. A human pilot was still necessary to be present for command and control over the overall actions.

Because the esper pods would control the TSF via their psychic linkage, they could be counted as AI driven by biological compuers, the espers themselves. However, whether or not we should count living humans appropriated for such task as AI is an open question. However, it could also be possible that these espers were modified to function only in this manner via brainwashing or other memory alteration techniques, and the rest of their humanity was retarded to non-existence. This would mean they would not function in any other form. Considering the Soviet Union doesn’t think espers as nothing else but dolls to be used and discarded when their usefulness end, it would sound apt they’d remove all the “unnecessary” elements from their autopilots. The ethics of this plan are highly dubious, as birthing and raising humans to function as nothing else but biological AI effectively does seem to break numerous human rights.

 

Biological super intelligence

The fact that BETA are artificial beings mean their intelligence is also artificial, engineered by their creators to function in intended ways. Due to their alien origin, assuming anything on how BETA AI works can only be surmised from their actions. All the smaller strains, if not all other strains outside the Heavy Brain Class that sits at the core of Original Hive, seem to function on tool general intelligence. No other strain exhibits creative thinking or change in behaviour patterns despite few decades of warring. They are to serve a role in a larger function, and their behaviour is set up by the Superordinate a.k.a the Heavy Brain Class. Considering BETA tactics had no reason the change after the initial aerial barrages up until the first unknown contact with the 00 Unit via a Reactor a.k.a Brain Class. The reason for this is rather obvious, as BETA on Earth are resource collectors, recycling all materials they need for production. They have AI that has agency. It is assumed these refined materials are send to the BETA creator’s home world.

The fact that only Heavy Brain Class BETA can modify the AI of any other BETA, meaning change their original intended function like using the Laser Class as anti-air weaponry, the lower tier BETA follow very strict AI pattern that does not allow them to veer off course. While on the surface this code seems to be relatively simple and strict, BETA have exhibited large range of actions to achieve their goals, like a Tank Class BETA jumping in the air to land on a tank rather than the usual swarming. This sort of leeway allows the BETA to have dynamic actions on the battlefield in their point of view, while in comparison to human battle doctrines they have essentially no deviation. New BETA can only be designed at the Original Hive or in a Hive where a Heavy Brain Class exists, meaning there is a strict and archaic hierarchy within the BETA command structure. The Super Heavy Laser Class seen towards the end of Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse is the most prominent example of Heavy Brain Class creating new Class to fight an opponent, though Soldier Class strain is most likely Earth-exclusive due to its resemblance to the human form.

Considering all this, the BETA are effectively super intelligence side in the war on Earth against them. The sheer raw computational power and ability to create new BETA strains to counter human tactics is even more significant than just their larger numbers. With enough input, the Superordinate would be capable of producing a single strain that would be end of mankind, with or without relative strategies. Of course, because BETA don’t have a tactic, they aren’t war machines after all, such devices would only be utilised at extreme situations. If the Superordinate would assess mankind a life form, and accept that it was with only one side surviving, it would most likely alter its largely inert behaviour and become an active participant.

Calling BETA biological machines would not be all that incorrect, considering the Superordinate requests Shirogane Takeru to reactivate then torso-shredded Tamase Miki. Machines can be re-activated even after some damage, something BETA seem to consider themselves capable of doing, hence they consider themselves as non-lifeforms. This definition carries to humans, as revealed by a psychic contact during Alternative 3 procedures, and can be assumed to extend to all other lifeforms based on carbon. This naturally means that the BETA aren’t exactly hostile from their point of view, but rather carrying out pre-ordered function to gather materials. They are effectively as much as a machine to their creators as cars and trucks are to us.

Ultimately, the fight between humanity and the BETA is effectively a story of humanity fighting AI. Similar how TSFs have a weak tool AI, so have the smaller strains. Similarly, 00 Unit being the humanoid quantum computer in silicon the Superordinate is a biological quantum computer, which probably explains why it has to sit atop a mushroom shaped reactor. However, for all intents and purposes, the BETA AI is somewhat humanised, for the lack of better word. While it seems alien and first, the fact that the whole functions similar to archaic computers. Even with human made general AI, not to mention super intelligence, there should be little reason to assume that it would function similar to human patterns or restricts itself to hardware routes, especially if it has any capabilities of self-enhancement. It is highly possible that the Heavy Brain Class is able to do this, as it was able to comprehend human speech and mind at staggering speed. Despite this, its innate programming may not have allowed it to expand further, unless necessary input was presented. The probability of a human being able to do this are largely nil.


 

The AI elements in Muv-Luv should be considered as standard SF fare. It is not the main focus or the point of the franchise. Yes, the BETA are effectively AI and cyborgs and what are successors of 00 Unit will appear later in the franchise, if the roadmap indicated by Exogularity Volume 1 is anything to go by. There probably won’t be any sort of fully AI driven TSFs despite the path now being completely open for them, though the BETA AI will probably be touched to some extent depending whether or not the Heartless One is human or BETA agent. While AI is more or less an afterthought, a sidestepped issue in all of the current stories released thus far, the current setup does allow the staff discuss the philosophy and concepts of Artificial Intelligence down the line, especially when the intention is to showcase mankind in a state where it is natural, posthuman and transhuman at the same time.

Thoughts on designing a Switch dock

There really wasn’t any good title for this post, and I’m most likely going to make this an incoherent ramble. In my previous post, the review about three Switch stances, I mentioned that that making designs for a game console is damn difficult. Regarding a console itself, the reign’s free as long as the hardware sits in, everything else has to be build for purpose like the controllers, but at the same time they need to be unique pieces that stand out from the competition, adhere to the overall branding and still offer what now are considered as universal necessities from e.g. a controller.  The stuff like four face buttons, two sticks, a D-Pad, and four shoulder buttons are industry standards generally regarded started by the SNES controller and set in stone by PlayStation’s controllers. Pretty much every controller afterwards have included some variation of these, with the Wii probably being the best example of breaking the mould with its standard Wiimote. Of course, there was the Pro Controller that still keeps itself around as a brand, meaning Nintendo continues to use some variation of it still. This is gonna end up as a companion to the review, isn’t it?

With the Switch docks reviewed, each and every one of them had lacked something while beating another in something. The stock official was an absolute waste of space but had HDMI. The DIY one, one of the many that share the exact same design, doesn’t offer the best support for the console on favour of smallness. Pretty much the exact opposite for the stock one, but at least it doesn’t scratch the screen. The HORI one excelled and beats the two other in every respect, except it lacks the HDMI connection. The faults of the designs are intentional, as the designs are driven by their primary idea, the rest be damned. If a design does one thing right and keeps doing it as intended without breaking down in use, its done its job. If it can’t do what it is not designed to do, that’s not exactly a problem.

If this is the case, wouldn’t it be wrong of me to detract points from each of the docks for what is essentially core of their design? The stock dock is intended to be that big in order to accompany the system overall and provide the best stability possible while keeping the glare from the Switch’s screen behind a layer. The DIY stand is meant to be as small as possible, so few sacrifices had to be made to minimise the form and usage. The HORI stand lacked HDMI because it is intended solely for table mode gaming, and had to find a sweet spot between the two sizes to do so in a sensible manner. Who am I to say that thing X in these designs are not wanted or is a terrible direction? As a customer I do have certain expectation and wants from the products. It is unreasonable to expect a car to fly in the sky, but it would not be unreasonable to expect one of these three docks to support the Switch standing in a vertical position. HORI’s table mode stand should have taken this into account, especially considering it is a dedicated for doing just that. It is understandable that the USB-C connector can make this a challenge, as it might have force directed at it from 90-degree angle that could lead to some damage, but that’s where the dock’s design must accommodate this. Such stand could utilise parts that extend or has to be unfolded, like HORI’s stand. This of course would raise the price of the product, as the design time would extend, more tooling would be required to produce the moulds and assembly time would increase. Additions that probably would add to a significant increase in price, at least towards the end-consumer. Hiking the price from thirty bucks to forty or more usually does make or break a purchase decision.

I omitted a fourth stand from the review altogether, mostly because it’s a generic two dollar Chinese stand for everything under the sun, from phones to handheld consoles. It’s flip-flop design is pretty excellent, able to collapse to a flat state and supports Switch every which way you throw it at it. It may not be powered, but its rubber pads keeps it extremely stable and keeps the Switch in place just fine. No wobbling here. It has no power or USB port support, but allows the USB-C power to be attached if wanted. As stupid as it sounds, this cheap hunk of plastic is indeed one of the better overall stands for the Switch and beats even Hori’s stand in overall usability. I’m sure you could just chuck some sort of USB-C hub at it for additional controllers. With some slight modding, you’d probably be able the Nintendo stock dock’s PCB with it after some generous additions to the bottom case, something I should probably look into.

What’s the deal with the vertical mode?, I was asked in the wake of the review. The Switch isn’t he first portable games console to naturally lend itself to a vertical mode. The first handheld specifically designed for it was the Wonder Swan. Namco Wonder Classic is an excellent example of this, as the game benefits everything by being vertical. Vertical shooting games benefit of this as well, like the ported Psikyo games Gunbird and Sengoku Ace. Screen space is better used and there is no need for separate bars at the sides to fill in the space with artwork or other useless junk. However, due to whatever reason, Nintendo opted not to consider system’s vertical nature at all, as the standard leg does not support Switch sideways, and none of their games thus far have even hinted any sort of vertical usage. This is strange, considering Nintendo usually wants to utilise their system’s peculiarities to some stupid extent. Yet, this self-evident mode has been just dismissed thus far. For all the talk of innovation and moving forwards, they’re missing a dimension of their console that would have opened new possibilities for game design. Holding the Switch vertical in your hands may be a bit awkward, but you can find at least three positions for you hands on the system; hold it from left side only, accessing the stick and C-buttons; hold it high with left and low with right, accessing the left Joy-Con’s action and shoulder buttons, and C-buttons; and holding having your left hand on the left Joy-Con while accessing right’s stick. Of course, the system has not been designed for these, but they’re less awkward that you’d imagine and more comfortable than e.g. clawing the PSP. Of course, the table top mode comes in play in this. Sadly, the Switch has no legs or rubber pads to keep it from sliding to its back, so a stand is more or less required, and only a two-dollar stand seems to be offering a solution for this. This is  simply waste of potential.

Ultimately, the question I want to ask about Switch docks and stands in general is “What are they for?”. Naturally the answer is to provide a standing support for the Nintendo Switch itself in a stationary form and possibly offer support for docked mode. Just like when designing a chair, the end results from this starting point vary just as much as there are people tackling it, but as a simple eBay search shows, it’s just easy to take an existing design and toy with it a bit. Just like a chair example I wrote years back on just how stupidly varied and difficult a single simple design can be in the end, designing a stand for a console has its own harsh limitations. At least with a chair you can trust it being usable for the most part in the far future, excluding the obesity problem this modern world has been facing, but with something like this you’re going to get few years worth of existence before being phased out by the next product down the line. Who wants to put the effort to make the definitive product for anything that’s essentially a flashby, when you could try to immortalise yourself elsewhere?

Guess that’s the same effort that goes into this blog.

Review: Nintendo Switch Docks, Official, DIY and HORI

Designing a game console in itself is sort of stupid hard on itself. There are no real rules to govern them. Sure, it needs to sit nicely and be as stable as possible while in use, offer good airflow and all that, but there are no ergonomic rules to follow. Not even the buttons are required to follow any set standard. The Famicom was designed to look like a toy, with short cords to the controllers and such, whereas the NES could be mistaken for a grey VCR at a quick glance. The Mega Drive was supposed to be cool with its sleek lines and shapes, contrasting shiny bits with stark black plastic. The PlayStation was supposed to sit among other grey AV station equipment, something all the subsequent PlayStations followed. Things like that, but never anything truly set in stone. What if you have some clear-cut necessities and rules determined by use? The Switch has its official docking station that is designed around the necessities to house the console and offer HDMI stance. It’s also far from being the only dock, or stand, the system has, as third parties and DIY groups have put out numerous iterations. I’ll be covering three in this review, covering the best and worst parts of each of them.

Let’s start with the Nintendo official dock.

Your normal waste of space and plastic

I have to say that from the start this has been a disappointing hunk of plastic. It has weight behind it, but that’s because it is just a huge hunk of plastic. The way the Switch sits inside of it, and how the front covers it, means that whenever you move the console up or down the front will have hard plastic pushing against the screen, scratching it at worst. Only at the very base there are itty bitty rubber pads to keep the console in place, which is laughable. You’d imagine there had been some more effort to prevent scratching. At least it guides the console in just the right way, as the USB-C port at the bottom is rigid and does not move.

That’s all the soft bits you have to hold the console itself down. Not the best solution

At the back we have this this cover flap for whatever reason, perhaps to make it look more uniform. It’s really another useless piece of plastic that should be thrown away. You can see the air vent slots there, which don’t really do much. The other vent actually goes through the PCB housing on the right, meaning the heat that it puts out goes directly inside the dock’s most important bits. A single USB and HDMI ports, with USB-C for power. Nothing much to see here. You don’t see any of them here, because I’ve already taken the stuff out and put them into another dock.

You can throw the lid away and replace it with a fan from a third-party

The stock Nintendo dock is pretty terrible. It doesn’t look attractive and is mostly just waste of resources. You could cut its size down by half and not lose in stability or usability. It’s like a last minute idea that just had to be pushed through, a necessary evil. That doesn’t excuse it from being excessive.

The PCB from this went into a DIY kit that’s sold all around the net, from Amazon to eBay and some random Chinese auction sites. I picked this one from eBay for about seven euros.

This being DIY, I’ve added those soft pads to keep the console from shifting around to any extent

In terms of size, it is one of the smallest docks for the Switch, and it of course brings some stability issues. The dock itself sits down just fine, but due to the design necessitating taking the main connecting parts from the stock dock itself means that the Switch will rock back and fort just slightly enough to make you worried. While the idea to make this DIY dock portable, it should have a base that extents whole of the main body of the console. This would have made it a very clear choice for all situations. The extensions could have been optional or foldable for added portability, but either option would have raised the price. Then again, perhaps not a bad idea.

It is very bland overall, but you can always paint it or add stickers. The HDMI and other USB ports are on the other of the dock

You really get what you pay for. You are required to do some work because it is DIY, but taking the Switch dock apart and installing the PCB into this one takes about five to ten minutes. The airflow is better in every respect and the ports are easily accessible. It’s a very straightforward dock, which can be made even better with some additional work. It is DIY after all, no reason to just leave as-is if there are additional ideas how to make it better. The only major problem is that the Switch, as mentioned, does wobble a bit while sitting on it, and this can cause some stress to the USB-C connector, as it is rigid as ever. Well, those added softpads help a lot.

Everything’s black. It’s then again, everything is black

Sure, it has more mass and size than the DIY dock before it, but considering it has a folding design means it is carries easy. It’s air vents on the back do not obstruct airflow at all either. The Switch sits on the console without any real wobble despite having no locking mechanism present. This is because of the two rubber pads put on the dock that keep the console in place just fine. There is no moving accepting level like with the stock dock. The USB-C connectors moves back and forth instead, meaning it takes more stress to break it accidentally. This is a grand design choice and shows how HORI understands some of the more important details that the Big Three often miss.

When folded, it also covers the USB-C connector, adding protection

The dock sports four standard USB ports, meaning each of the four players can plug in their own USB controller, though none of them are USB 3. Sadly, HORI’ s PS3 controller’s don’t work with it. USB-C port means you can charge the console on this dock as well, or just use it to play any game in portable mode. The dock has multiple angles that will do the job more than fine. This would be an excellent dock to the point of replacing the Nintendo’s official one, except it has not HDMI port. While this is a dedicated portable mode stand, the addition of HDMI capability would have made this probably the best dock the Switch has. Now, that goes to many of the other variants that recycle Nintendo’s official PCB in their housings. Well, it does advertise itself as Portable Table Mode on the cover, so perhaps it is a bit unfair to harp on the lack of HDMI. Despite having a folding design, it just bulky enough not to fit with any of them smaller Switch carry cases. Still, far more portable than the base dock.

Another losing point is that it has no support for vertical mode whatsoever. You can put it sideways and have the whole contraption sitting rather awkwardly and somewhat unstable on the table, but it’s far car what it should be. HORI missed this altogether, which drops the dock’s overall score a bit. Sure, none of the other docks to either, but this is supposed to be dedicated tabletop mode dock.

This isn’t recommended. I’m pretty sure adding some sort of additional leg to the bottom that can be folded out or something would be easy to implement, but haven’t got around seeing how to mod it in yet

Out of all these three, there really is no one better over the other. They all lack something, while beating others in some aspect. It all depends which mode you enjoy your Switch the most. If you’re all about portable mode, Hori’s tabletop dock is your best choice. For TV play, you could do worse than the small DIY dock. Ranking it higher than Nintendo’s own product may seem cheap, but the sheer bulk is its downfall. I have to say that it is disappointing that none of the docks I’ve seen thus far have not taken vertical mode into account to any significant extent, meaning playing games in that mode is still difficult.

I’m really starting to get tired of all of my electronics being black, grey or white. Where’s the use of colours? All we get nowadays are LED highlights and such. I miss the 90’s colourful devices

Music of the Month; Queen in the Dark

Well, it’s that time of the year. Bats, pumpkins and other scary things like Russian bots telling The Last Jedi was a bad movie, Halloween’s around the corner and it won’t affect this blog one bit. I’m not sure if I’ve ever done anything seasonal outside the occasional Christmas and New Year’s greetings, but I’m not about to start. Unless I get a stroke or something else that forces me to stay at home for extended period of time.

The above music is from Rusty, a NEC PC-98 game that was heavily inspired by Castelvania. It got a translation few years back, which I recommend checking out if you’re into Castlevania and haven’t experienced much of the golden system of classic Japanese PC gaming. That’s a topic worth considering getting into, as classic Japanese PC gaming was a very much its own thing, which most people tend to ignore in favour of consoles of the era. The US had its Macs, UK had ZX Speccy, Finland had C64, France had Amstrad and Japan and NEC PC-88 series.

Anyway, the month came to an abrupt end. I didn’t have time to do that promised Integral Works and Codex comparisons for those who were looking for some new Muv-Luv stuff on the blog, but we’re getting there. Hopefully this month too, before I lose all the sunlight. The SNES controller comparative review was sort of a stop-gag while waiting for the Switch stand parts to arrive, though they should arrive within the next few weeks. For whatever reason the post has been extremely slow as of late. However, it did serve its purpose, considering these SNES-styled USB controllers are dime in the dozen. There are so many different kind of cheapo USB controllers out there that it has stopped being funny seven years ago. Far too often people spend some ten bucks on a controller and then complain that it is nothing but crap. No shit. There’s a magical point with controllers where any new controller above twenty euro tend to be of decent quality. The Hori controllers I’ve reviewed thus far have been relatively cheap and above that price point, for example. Numerous other controllers I own, like few USB Logitech ones, also go above this threshold. You could say that under twenty you get just trash, and proper budget tier range for controller is between 20-35€. From above that we’re getting to the mid-tier range well enough. There should be no reason to start going into why controllers are so expensive nowadays, with the materials and shit going into them and companies trying to gain certain revenue marks off them. A cheapo USB controller that costs a dollar to make will always be inferior to a controller that costs ten bucks to make. If you’re interested in how to calculate a product’s true production value, I have that in a blog post somewhere around here.

On the other side of things, I need to get a new computer. No, this is not trying to shill some sort of Patreon-like service to you, just giving you a notice that at some point I’ll most likely miss a post because I’ll be trouble shooting and testing stuff before fully having a system in use. While I’m not a hardcore computer upgrader or the like, I do like to take my sweet time to pick up all the parts and then go with something good, and then spend a week or so just to get things right before taking things into normal use. I’ll be going AMD route this time, as Intel politicised their company few years back and never looked back. I don’t exactly care about companies and brands getting into politics per se, but many consumers do. Personally I don’t really care if companies get political, unless it clearly begins to affect the quality of the product. Few times this blog has gone dangerously close of being about politics, but that’s never the intention. However, don’t expect to hear much about the computer in itself once it is in use, though there is something I’d like to say about picking new PC parts if you’re building your own rig. Things are just so much simpler if you don’t really give a damn and just get a pre-build set, or want to think differently and get a Mac. Considering they botched iPhone XS’s charging and nobody knows if its hardware or software issue, I’m not putting my trust into Apple’s care.

This being a whole new month, especially the season where some people cook and cut things more often thanks to Halloween, I duly recommend sharpening your knives and oiling them with mineral oil or similar. Sharper knives are safer to use, as blunt knives will not properly and most likely will slip and cut the user instead. A sharp knife is easy to control and handle. Oiling them will also extend their live and keep rust from collecting to any extent. Honing should be done each time a knife is used, if we want to go there, but sharpening once per month should be enough. he difference between sharpening and honing is that sharpening is removal of material to give it an edge, while honing is to fine tune the edge. Both are integral part of keeping your edged tools in good shape, and basic kitchen skills everybody should know.

Let the consumer make the decision

I’ve often criticised modern video game developers, saying that they lack the tact of their predecessors both in and out of industry. One thing that has been an age old golden rule; don’t attack your customers. However, this latter part of the 2010’s has seen the media itself come after its consumers, like Gamasutra with their Gamers don’t need to be you audience article, which was echoed in numerous other outlets at the same time. For example, now beaten to death event where one of the staff members of Battlefield V outright told the consumers and outlets that if they didn’t like the direction where they were taking the series and the title, they always had the option not to buy it. A corporation shouldn’t really remind its consumers that wallet voting is the best way to make their voice the most heard, especially when some sort of controversy or contest is going on, as this effectively ended up in the game being delayed and the game overall taken to a slightly different direction.

To give a short run about what the whole thing was about, Battlefield has always sold on its more realistic take of warfare (within video games). The trailer shows a female character with a rather high-tech artificial limb going on a battlefield of World War II, and while such thing may have occurred, the statistical reality of that is absolutely minuscule. Well, completely impossible if it was a bionic enhancement, but I’ve read some disagreeing info. Outside this being an highly implausible scenario, the game’s demo more or less confirmed something that other series have done time and time again and rarely succeeded; we want the other game’s audience. Fortnite has been mentioned many times to be the target this new Battlefield target, changing elements of the series to fit this new mould to some extent. For any business, it is at least twice has hard to gain new customers than to keep the old ones, and trying to go half-cocked way in trying to do both is not the answer. Or you could be Patrick Söderlund and make this completely unrelated but politically much more rosy issue and tell your consumers not to buy the game. Unsurprisingly, after this debacle Battlefield V‘s release date was pushed back and the game is seeing further additional work to get it back into the Battlefield formula to a larger degree, but seeing how the game play itself suffers, not to mention the whole approach how the game has been designed, I’m not trusting that the game will come out at the top and satisfy any real consumer base as such. For context, give this video a look for the review for the demo.

Damage control is important, but it should really come from somewhere else than telling your consumers off. Well, I’m guessing we all know the reason why Söderlund is no longer with EA, nothing hurts a corporation more than losing massive sales due to single person fucking PR up.

Söderlund has not been the only person to tell his customers off. Total War: Rome II has been patched for some year now with increasingly more and more questionable changes in regards of historical authenticity. Scratch that, supposedly Creative Assembly’s stance is that Rome II is authentic, but not accurate. This is standard bullshit weasel worlds and the situation should have never achieved this point. What the patches have done is that the number of female generals with darker skin tone have seen a raised percentage, which would seem to contradict historical records. However, the thing is that the patch that changes the percentages are over half a year old. The current controversy is about Creative Assembly telling their consumers to stop playing the game, or mod the patches out. Again, it’s easier to give this a spin the narrative to something that’s politically more palatable than having a PR catastrophe at their hands. One Angry Gamer has a rather decent article on the debacle, but do keep in mind that it is somewhat one-sided.

I want to reiterate that no corporation should tell their consumers to piss off. The end result is that they will and they will go to the competitor, or simply go without your product. Especially with video games, which are a non-essential luxury product nobody truly needs, and there are always alternatives. Even in an industry that is at the top of the entertainment ladder, losing one big sale can damage a property to a point where it is simply cut off. Look at what happened to the sales of the most recent Mass Effect and where the series is now. A franchise once dead in the water is rather hard to resurrect, as it requires winning back the old audience first and foremost, and to make a splash in general. Despite the slow change of mass demographic throughout the years, the fact is that any product that is aiming to sell widely should stay universal. When brands get into politics, it automatically cuts a section of your consumers off intentionally. Your competition will only gain consumers through these actions. Your conscience might have it good, but not if your company starts going under. Imagine if something like Cif, the window cleaner, was announced as the choice of -insert politician and party you dislike here- and the company producing Cif now openly supports whatever political agenda or message they have. I’m making a wild guess a lot of people would trade brands if they would, for example, become pro-Trump in their next ad campaign. While this sounds like the issue is only on the business side, both Battlefield V and Total War: Rome II were affected by decisions unfavoured by large portion of their consumers who enjoy historical authenticity and accuracy. The results of going against the consumer has visibly affected the games’ contents negatively and their reception has seen a downfall. This can be seen especially in the reviews of Rome II on Steam, where it has seen a drop from Positive to Mixed. This is about a game that came out five years ago no less, so before the consumes were really enjoying the game as it was. Creative Assembly’s stance and message has also caused a consumer backlash, resulting their other games being rated downward on Steam, though there is no real reason for this outside consumers just getting back at the company. This is, however, nothing out usual, sadly. Rather than trying to force a round peg through a square hole, perhaps it’d be best to cater to different audiences with different products.

Perhaps it is the current economic situation, devs and companies can make choices like this. There are less threats overall, and pretty much everything is selling. Perhaps certain levels of recession where products are required to be worth the money invested is needed, and consumers have to select their purchase choices with higher rigor than normally.

 

Real fresh game

This may be a localised phenomena, but in the early late 90’s and early to mid 00’s there was a consensus that ‘a real game’ was something that had it all; great graphics, voiced characters and an expansive story, while gameplay was kinda a secondary thing. Pretty much what modern Triple A gaming has become, which should make sense, as people who grew up in that era are now making games. This was also the era where arcades died, and simple games seemed to be relegated to the Internet as Flash or Shockwave titles, and to few collections released on consoles. This mentality wasn’t anything new, it can be argued that it stemmed from the mid-90’s 3D and FMV craze, which was also driven by the fact that Saturn wasn’t exactly allowed to have 2D titles on it in the West, in favour of 3D. The idea of something being old and past its time was something that few would argue against, despite some companies putting outs absolutely fantastic 2D works out during this time, like Castelvania: Symphony of the Night and the Street Fighter III series.

This doesn’t exactly hold water nowadays anymore, with the whole retro scene being popular and all that. Old stuff is not regarded as junk any longer, but rather something of value. However, it is clear that what has replaced the old-and-busted mentality is raw mentality of value. By this I mean that the games that were considered as ‘real games’ have now become a sort of gold standard, not necessarily just Triple A as I mentioned, something that simply seemingly has more value. Take the whole thing with 2D and 3D Mario as an example, where Nintendo themselves clearly consider 3D Mario a more valuable title and type of game. Those titles get the budget and big bang releases, the effort and the marketing. 2D Mario on the other hand gets repackaged and overall just doesn’t have the same respect towards it. Perhaps this is because the 90’s 3D craze did leave a scar of sorts on gaming overall, with PC culture furthering things with its hardware fetishism. For whatever reason, a direct 2D game rarely can be just games, despite some smaller titles on the indie stores fighting against this trend. Very few 2D title follows the arcade original examples of almost pure distilled gameplay, and have opted to ‘expand’ the content their offer.

By expansion I don’t mean something like expanding the game’s landscale, more levels and such. It’s a case where a title suddenly gets a full-fledged story scenes, extending the game’s length by interrupting the play and other elements trying to find ways to add more ‘content.’ Content’s the wrong term, but close enough for our use. Take Mega Man 7  and Mega Man X as examples. On the NES, Mega Man games had no story sequences outside opening and ending, with one or two Dr. Wily reveals. Three stops in a whole game is not a whole lot, when nowadays you have to sit back more than thirty minutes just to play Pokémon. Changing gameplay elements is another, as Mega Man as a franchise has constantly kept itself next to what the era tried to be about; X added armour collecting trying to mimic RPGs, Legends jumped to 3D as that was the trend, Battle Network revised the whole shebang and followed the collecting/trading card scene, Zero remodelled the series with darker tones and heavier emphasize on story (something each X-series game did as well) and the with action-adventure in ZX/A titles. Then back again to the roots when retro was at its raviest. It didn’t exactly work as intended, as the franchise was put into ice until this year, essentially.

To use a more modern example of trying to expand an existing game series with more ‘content’ would be Umihara Kawase. The first three games are very style-pure titles. Direct to the point, stage by stage. The series expanded itself in a natural way with completely new stages each time with slightly reworked mechanics. Sayonara Umihara Kawase added new characters with gameplay gimmicks to stop time or similar function, which honestly didn’t sit too well with the series’ puristic approach. However, the latest title in the series, Umihara Kawase Fresh does what pretty much every 2D game did in the 90’s; adds more ‘content.’

Rather than having stages, narration here calls it an open world game, which works much better as a descriptor than metroidvania. Because of this change, the game’s progression is now based on Time Attack and Quests, and rather than having environment being your best ally and threat, failure of contacting enemies is not punished my losing a life or confused state, but by gaining damage to the Hunger meter. This drastically has changed how the game is approached to a decree. Then again, this title does carry Fresh in it, which more or less means Sayonara was the last of classic line of Umihara Kawase games. These changes exist solely to add more value to the title and differentiate it from its predecessors. It has more stuff to play, more stuff to extend the play time with necessary plot scenes and other sequences and now you have to managed two different gauges rather than just try and clear a stage. It’s a whole open world.

Can a game stay at its purest anymore, or does it need to have all the bells and whistles bolted to it in order to sell better?

This would seem to be the case. A game that has a puristic approach to video games seems to be left behind in terms of value to the point of being relegated to digital-only title. If it’s not a title like Sonia Mania Plus that has already showcased how well it can sell, there seems to be surprisingly little on the way. While physical releases seem to be going the way of the dodo, but we still got time before that happens, especially if people are waking up what digital ownership really means.