Two-One Punch of Mega Man Million

Capcom recently updated their sales data in their Game Series Sales section, and with that we saw Mega Man gaining one more million units sold from 34 million to 35 million units since February 2019. That’s three million more units since June 2018. Their Annual report from the end of last, year, which I have a post about, stated that Mega Man 11 performed well. We could read between the lines that they were expecting it to perform worse, but the Blue Bomber still has some pulling power. With the cartoon series running, though not exactly making the biggest splash out there, the franchise has resurfaced again, much like how Devil May Cry made the news once more. Devil May Cry 5 performed a lot better, and if we’re completely honest, is the better game of the two. It was ambitious project that was true to the core gameplay but also pushed the 3D Action games just a little bit further once more. Mega Man 11, as much as the game is loved, did end up somewhat a shelf warmer. Compared to DMC5, MM11 is a lacklustre title. It was too safe a title.

It is because of Mega Man X Legacy Collection that the series gained one more million sales. Mega Man  11 sold some 870 000 units, so previous digital titles and X Legacy Collection must cover the rest. This is how Mega Man ultimately worked ever since the X-series was released. The Classic-series may have solidified the series’ status as an icon. Good games, to which Capcom would churn up sequel after sequel year by year, until they put the franchise in ice.

Neither Mega Man 11 or Mega Man X Legacy Collection sold one million units, as they don’t appear on Capcom’s Platinum million titles sold list. I don’t know Mega Man Battle Network 4 has sold so many units, it’s the very bottom feeder of the franchise itself. However, outside the NES era of games, most of Mega Man had one more or more sub-series running side by side. At best, Capcom offered 2D Action, 3D Action and RPG under Mega Man brand name during the busiest days of the franchise, and even more if you were in Japan.

If you were wondering, Mega Man 2 is the best selling title in the franchise

I would argue that outside the NES days of Classic series, when it showcased quality game design and tight controls in comparison to some of the schlock the NES and (especially) Famicom had, Mega Man‘s strength later on relied on its multiple approaches and titles on the market at the same time. Capcom did manage to avoid brand confusion by clearly having different kind of visual flavour across the board. The core mistake between Mega Man and Mega Man X is, really, that the two look too similar. X simply looks an older, edgier take on Mega Man. Which he arguably is, but that was the 1990’s. That was par for the course and I love it. Each subsequent Mega Man was different enough to tell the difference, even at their games, but recognisable enough to say that they were, indeed, a kind of super fighting robot.

Mega Man is a multimedia franchise, make no mistake about it. Despite the games are its main product and lot of the side pieces like comics and toys were there to support the sales of the games themselves, Mega Man saw its most success when you had a little bit of everything out there. Mostly in Japan, sure, but that really reflects the nature of the franchise world wide; the little bits of that everything that West ever got was cherished by the fans like nuggets of gold. When Hitoshi Ariga’s Mega Man Megamix got its English release, the fandom celebrated like no other. This wasn’t the first bit of comics Western world got from Mega Man, but it sure was one of the most wanted.

How did Mega Man gain all those millions of sales since the last update without neither of the two big releases hitting platinum sales point? I told you that already; combined sales of multiple products. Whether it is because 2D action games just don’t have the same market pull they used to, or because Mega Man had become such a standard for the genre that despite their high quality they’re seen as run-of-the-mill titles or just because the franchise’s envelope can’t be pushed all that easily like DMC’s, one Mega Man title hitting that platinum point in the current era of video game market must have something significant behind it.

On the other hand, Capcom could go the true and tested route, put together a standard Mega Man title like MM11 and comp it with something that’s a bit different. If they were brave, which they might actually become with these increased sales, they might even try to make a new sub-series that would break the mould. Love it or hate it, Battle Network was a smash hit. Legends, not so much. Still has a stupidly dedicated cult following, who still keep hope for Capcom reviving Mega Man Legends 3. 

Maybe that would be a decent pull, start the project from scratch and make it play better than what Gaist Crusher did. If you didn’t know, Legends 3‘s engine and very basic gameplay was more or less directly lifted and heavily adapted for two-part game series, which never really went anywhere despite having a cartoon and toys that interacted with the games. I’ve got few posts from 2013 (Christ that’s old and they’re terrible) about Gaist Crusher but never got around getting the second game and reviewing it. I guess I lost my interest in seeing how the series did, just like the Japanese kids it was aimed at.

Capcom could just go full stupid and release Mega Man titles like usual, throwing compilations left and right all the while not really considering how to grow and further the franchise. You know what? Give Mega Man Legends the REmake2 treatment. Take the base elements of the game, expand on the whole connected underground tunnels concept, polish and fully upgrade the gameplay, add more optional parts and possible modifications, explore further the concept of Rock being able to turn black rather than just have it a an interesting joke element (I’m pretty sure this ultimately evolved into the whole Black Mega Man and Synchro concept in Battle Network) and make the game look like a real Saturday morning cartoon it was clearly mimicking.

I can always dream.

Still, with these sales, Capcom probably will be making few Mega Man titles in the future, that much we wager to be certain. If they want to revive Mega Man properly rather than just with one game and collections, Mega Man X9 is probably high on their to-do list.

Heads in the clouds

Cloud gaming making some waves again, with Sony and Microsoft announcing collaboration with each other to explore solutions with their own streaming solutions. At least according to official statement from Microsoft. Despite being rivals within gaming market. We should always remind ourselves that out of the Big Three, only Nintendo deals exclusively with games. Both Microsoft and Sony have their fingers spread elsewhere, with Sony having movie and music studios, Microsoft with Windows and whatnot and so on. While Sony does rely heavily on the profits their gaming department is making (to the point of relying most of their profits coming from there seeing everything else has been going downhill for them), Microsoft doesn’t as much. I’m not even sure if Microsoft is still making any profit on their Xbox brand and products, considering neither the original box or the 360 saw any real profit throughout their lifespans. It’s like a prestige project for them, they gotta have their fingers in the biggest industry out there. The more competition, the better though. This does mean that neither Amazon or Google can partner with Sony for similar venture, but perhaps this was more or less a calculated move on both of their parts.

It does make sense that the two would collaborate to support each other in cloud and streaming venture though. Sony already has an infrastructure for streaming gaming content with their PlayStation Now while Microsoft has the whole Azure cloud centre set up. The MS Azure contains lots of features, from computing  virtual machines and high density hosting of websites, to general and scalable data management all the way to media streaming and global content delivery. Safest bet would be that both MS and Sony are intending to share their know-how of content streaming, but it is doubtful if the two will actually share any content. Perhaps Sony’s music and films will be seen on Microsoft’s services, but don’t count on the games. However, I can’t help but guess if multiplatform games between the two could be specifically designed and developed for their combined streaming efforts. That’s a bit out there, as the collaboration is to find new solutions rather than build a common service the two would use. This is, like Satya Nadella said, about bringing MS Azure to further power Sony’s streaming services, and that’s completely different part of market from games at its core.

This does seem like Enemy-of-enemy like situation. Google’s Stadia is touted to be the next big hitter on the game market. It’s not unexpected for the two giants pull something that would weaken Stadia’s standing. This, despite Stadia already having boatloads of obstacles already, ranging from control latency to the quality of the streaming itself (end-user Internet connection still matters, especially if you live in the middle of nowhere surrounded by dense forests) to the very content itself probably being less than unique. Let’s not kid ourselves, cloud gaming is not for everyone despite what Google’s PR department wants you to think. Not everyone has the money or infrastructure to have a proper connection for cloud gaming. Anecdotes be damned, but there are lots of people living around here who have to rely on wireless Internet for everything, especially up North, because the population is so spread apart that putting data cables into the ground would not be worth it. Early 2000’s modem speeds are not unexpected, they’re a standard. If early reports on Stadia are to be believed, there’s some serious lag and latency on standard Internet connections. It’s not going to play well with someone who doesn’t put a whole lot money into their Internet connection, or just can’t. If we’re going to be completely open about this, only a fraction of the world can handle cloud gaming. 10.7 teraflop computing power and 4K resolutions for Stadia? A pipe dream at best.

Steaming interactive content like video and computer games is not easy. Music and video, that’s comparatively easy, just send that data to the consumer and you’re pretty much done. Gaming requires two-way communication at all times, and on top of that the service has to keep tabs on what’s going on at both ends within the game. No matter how robust the data centres are, no matter what sort of AI solutions are implemented, it all comes down to the whole thing about latency between the data centre and the end-user. Perhaps the best solution would be split the difference in a similar manner how mobile games have partial data on the phone whole syncing with the server side all the time. That, of course, would be pretty much against the whole core idea of cloud gaming, where the end-user would just hold an input device and a screen.

Cloud gaming has been tried for about a decade now. It’s still ways off, but it’s very understandable from the corporations’ perspective why they’d like it to become mainstream and successful. For one, it would remove one of the biggest hurdles from the consumer side; getting the hardware. You could just use your existing computer or smartypants phone to run things and you’re set. Maybe have a controller, but you can get those for twenty bucks. No need to pay several hundreds for a separate device just to run separate media software. Cloud gaming would be the next step in digital-only distribution, which would also offer better protection from piracy. Control is the major aspect of cloud gaming, where the end-user would have effectively none. You would have no saying in what games you have access to. One of the well marketed modern myths about streaming services is that everything is available 24/7, when in reality everything is determined by licenses. Star Trek vanished from Netflix for a time being, because the license ended, for example. This happens all the time. I’m sure there’s some list of lost media listing somewhere about digital-only films and shows that were lost due to publishing rights and licenses expiring. Lots of games having vanished from both Steam and GOG because of this, and if there are no physical copies floating around, pirating is your only option. For something like the Deadpool game, you can only get second-hand or newold stock, as the developer’s and publisher’s license expired few years back.

Will cloud gaming be the future? Probably at some point, but the infrastructure is way off still for it to become any sort of standard. It is, in the end, another take on the decentralised gaming Nintendo has going on with the Switch, moving away from the home media centre that the smartphones brought to us. Cloud gaming will take take firmer hold once they beat systems with local storage in value and performance. For now, enjoy the screen in your pocket.

Consumer agency W

I’ve talked about this topic to death on the blog, so this entry will be short. Omega Labyrinth got blocked by Sony in the Western market, and probably was one of the last Japanese games that didn’t have to go through the censorship police. Marvelous has been getting the shaft thanks to Senran Kagura to the point the series creator left them, and now they’re rather stuck with Rune Factory 5 and are telling to the public that they shouldn’t expect the game until April 2020. At this point, the Switch or Xbox One should be considered the best possible option for freedom of work, and leave hyper violence for Sony. I assume Sony would like keep things in check in a way that doesn’t pop like a sore thumb and slap you in the face.

Ah, I see Sony has fucked even the game’s logo

Omega Labyrinth Life just got announced, and ‘lo and behold what in the fuck. There’s no reason for the game to have two different logos across platforms, that’s never been a thing in of itself outside versions. There is no other reason for this than Sony practicing their now overt becoming censorship. Omega Labyrinth‘s logo has been pretty great in that it has always played with the whole playish aspect with the sexuality, having a comedic and cute approach to the whole thing and not taking it too seriously. Here, have some bouncy boobs and enjoy it the show. Nothing harmful, nobody has gotten PTSD from seeing joyful tits. Unlike certain 3D modeller at Netherrealms, who can’t sleep due to the horrifying shit he had to watch and use as a reference when making latest Mortal Kombat 11’s visceral violence. Without the whole Omega bit, the PS4 version is just Labyrinth Life. Not even kidding, the PS4 version was cut short.

Best thing of all, the Switch version is basically advertised as This is the real version while the PS4 versions is hit with a slogan You can play this in front of your family! You thought I was kidding when I titled my last post about Sony’s censorship about them being family friendly, but this is really the way things are going with them. I’d laugh at the whole damn ordeal if it was just some bad parody, but it’s almost like some one at Sony took a joke seriously and ran with it. Gematsu has tl’d section what the further differences are between PS4 and Switch versions.

With two versions of the same game on two different platforms, the consumer has some freedom to choose, some agency has been given to them. While politic no little place in video games (one of the missteps Sony’s doing with their whole shtick here) deciding where to buy, what to buy and even how to buy a game can be used as a leverage to make a statement. While the money will ultimately end up with the developer and whoever’s in the middle, the choice given here can also be stated as follows; do you support a company for practicing censorship, or do you support the company that support creative freedom?

Aalt, you’re being facetious here. Of course I am, this is a hyperbolic statement, but no less valid when you consider how hard companies, especially Japanese companies, value raw data. This is probably D3 Publisher testing waters which direction to go in the future to some extent, but also probably just serving both sides of the console chasm all the while leaving something core goodness for the series’s fans. You’ve got some agency in your hands, if you’re interested in making a statement with your wallet here. I doubt many people reading this post has any interest in buying the game proper, but consider the following; would this have happened if the economy would be different, if there wasn’t room to pick and choose what’s on your platform for the sake of maximising profits?

Funny that, this is more solid stuff for Sony using almost racist depiction of American censorship standards; it’s A-OK to show someone, especially a man, being gutted, shot in the head, ripped apart, face smashed in and spine being ripped. R-18, s’all good, maybe even good for teen. A pair of boobs? X-rated and ban it.

Purple’s Qualia; Travel like light

I wonder where I should start with this one. Perhaps from the start, though what is the starting point is hard to determine. Maybe it was the fact that Back to the Future sparked my liking for time travel stories at a younger age, or that SF books and such have so much about it. Even the first Final Fantasy is a time travel story at the end, looping the beginning and end together. Time travel story after time travel story after time story. With further understanding on how world works, the stories themselves adapted the ideas, installing multiple world theories and others as the standard rather than BttF‘s popular linear time traveling.

At some point, it became clear that time traveling requires spatial traveling as well. I don’t remember what made this point clear to me, but one story had it as its major focus. It might’ve been a short story in a collection. Both spatial and dimensional travels are popular topics within fiction. These sometimes incorporate time travel, but time travel inherently has to have either of the other, sometimes both.

These stories are everywhere. Very few of them are anything new. Games, books, movies, comics, each form of media has taken their numerous takes on time and dimensional travel. I grew tired of them. Few times I didn’t exactly realise that these were major parts of a story, like Muv-Luv. You could say I did, seeing my main argument to hate it was Don’t bring you aliens and mecha into my realistic romance story but after learning it was an alternative world, I opened up to it.

Perhaps the thing that broke the camel’s back with these stories was the fact that branching universes breaks the intended motif of Muv-Luv, where Takeru has been set in an ever-looping hell before he can find that one path to save the world from certain death. However, with the series now having retroactively installed the whole branching timelines, there are no loops as such. Each time Takeru returns to origin point, he is at a branching point. Rather than saving humanity in BETAverse, he manages to save one of the infinite branches his actions are part of in infinite amount of BETAverses. The original intention, the very mechanic of Muv-Luv, of repeating a loop until one true path was found, was made moot.

How would you sell a story with time travel to someone who categorically is sick of them? I’ve been sold many stories described as the most scientifically accurate or realistic depiction of time travel, but that’s an oxymoron. With the current understanding, time traveling only exists forwards. We do it just by being. Nobody has yet gone back to the past and explained how it all works, or come returned (if that’s even applicable term) from the future to tell us how it works. To put it bluntly, none of if is realistic, none of it works, and we can only travel forwards.

Cover of the novel, with Marii’s purple eyes, but none of the qualia yet

Maybe that’s not exactly the starting point. More like presenting the colours and paint that are going to be used on the canvas. When Jinki:Extend was airing around 2005, I was aware of it but never watched the show. I liked its visuals but at the time I had my hands and mind busy elsewhere. Tsunashima Shiro’s style is distinctive and eye-pleasing. It is rather ageless as well, and will stand the test of time better than some of his contemporaries. Fast forward some thirteen years. At this time I’ve begun checking modern shows that I missed, comics to read during my downtime despite going through some hard times. Finding his works, very few translated as such, ultimately lead me to 2009 novel Purple’s Qualia by Hisamatsu Ueo and its 2011 comic adaptation.

Purple’s Qualia, or lit. translated from 紫色のクオリア as Purple Colour’s Qualia (officially formed as Qualia the Purple because of course this would be the official translation Japanese went with) is a story about infinite possibilities, about deep and loving friendship, sacrifices through trial and error, and perhaps most importantly, about a girl with purple eyes who sees all living things as robots. It is also a story with time and dimensional travel without actually having either.

More after the jump, we’re going a bit image heavy here.

Continue reading “Purple’s Qualia; Travel like light”

Sakura Wars’ uphill battle

If you’re familiar with some of Sega’s (and Red Entertainment’s) prestige IPs, Sakura Taisen, or as known under its official English moniker, Sakura Wars, is a franchise that people sometimes bring up when discussing game IPs that never got a real chance in the West. When it did however, it bombed for whatever reasons. Only the fifth installment was released in the West, and you can imagine how well that went. To make matters worse, if reports are to be believed, even Japan gave a colder shoulder to that entry than the rest of the series. So not the greatest start for this series outside of Japan.

First game hit the shelves in 1996 and was touted as Sega’s most ambitious title for the Sega Saturn. Since then, this particular title saw ports to Dreamcast, PSP and Windows. The game got an expanded remake for the PS2 with the subtitle In Hot Blood. Original release was also a massive success, selling out from stores and selling over half of stock available in a week. It was the fastest selling Sega at the time

Something like Yakuza had to build its fanbase for a decade before it broke through its barriers toward the larger markets. Initially, it was marketed and touted as the spiritual sequel to Shuenmue but since then it has been allowed to flourish on its own. As a concept, it is more approachable game than Sakura Wars. After all, realistic modern day Japan is more approachable as a concept than fantasy version of Taishō period Japan. While it would be easy to simply Sakura Wars as a strategic RPG with classical oriental motif, the fact that it heavily marries its gameplay to visual novel styled story telling and certain level of emphasize on dating simulation, it is extremely clear why Sega would have worries whether or not any of the series’ games would a success enough in the West.

Despite what the sub-culture would like you to tell, Japanese media cartoons and comics are still a relatively small niche in the West, especially in the US. Sure, they’re probably the most stable mainstream than what it has ever been. Everything from dubbing to free streaming has been made to open the access points for people with interest, but even in Europe certain other forms of media are consumed more despite the how much e.g. France and Italy experienced Japanese classics in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. That was the time when the origin of these shows wasn’t made a huge deal, that their source wasn’t something that used to market. The best example of this is still with the US marketing of the NES and its games, where some have come to argue that Nintendo of America intentionally made people think the NES and its games were American products. Perhaps it was because how well Japan’s aggressive business practices did against US businesses, or maybe just to keep things as a cohesive whole. The source didn’t really matter, only that Nintendo’s branding was there and visible.

Kousuke Fujishima was instrumental in realising the characters and designs, balancing the era’s mix of Japanese and Western flavours with the magical steampunk world. Fujishima is know for such works as Oh My Goddess!, You’re Under Arrest and working on characters in the Tales of series. At the time, he was a household name and further drove the franchise’s initial success

Sakura Wars is inherently Japanese to the point of its detriment in the Western market.

My point of Yakuza taking a decade to make a solid fanbase comes is important, as it initially had, and still has, the same kind of wall on its way. However, the constant positive word of mouth and Sega sticking to their guns and releasing all the mainline games, and that one zombie sidegame, and ultimately growing positive press gave the series a pretty good reputation. It also helped that it was called Japanese Grand Theft Auto at some point during the two latest GTA games, which made more people curious about it. more than few fans were made through that.

Sakura Wars has none of this backing it up. While it has a small and dedicated cult following in the West, that’s all it has. Japan on the other hand treats the IP with silk gloves, though later games in the series simply didn’t have the selling power the earlier titles had. Sakura Wars is an expensive franchise to make with all the animated cutscenes, all the voices that need to be paid, the illustrated works and whole multimedia thing it has going on with cartoons, comics, figures and whatnot. It was designed from grounds up for Japanese markets only. It’s cultural ties are its most prominent element after all, specifically designed to invoke certain emotional response from the Japanese consumers. This is similar how Ciel Nosurge uses Shōwa era to directly invoke nostalgia from its older players. The Western audience has no links to this age in any form outside historical oddities. It becomes a double-edged sword in the Western markets.

Imagine if some US developer would make a fantasy RPG set in a romanticised version of the American Civil War with romance partner elements akin to Dragon Age. Whatever its success would be in the US, both European and Asian markets would not have any connections to the era and treat it as some kind of self-centered, bolstering product. Similarly, a British developer could make a similar product of their great colonial days, and it would have the same reception. This would be similar how Sakura Wars presents its idealised fantasy version of the Imperial Japan that no longer exists.

This carries even to the music of the series, with its main theme is a mix of Super Sentai opening song and 1949’s Aoi Sanmyaku‘s theme. Most of the character songs later in the franchise has been intentionally designed and composed to be nostalgic period pieces with characteristic twists. However, the main, ‘Geki! Teitoku Kagekidan’, or ‘Attack! Imperial Floral Assault Troop,’ has been the most repeated song in the franchise and is the most iconic representation whenever the series represents itself. Project Sakura Wars, the upcoming game, even uses a new variation on the song, further emphasising the fact that this is a new game.

Compare the two song here;

The main difference is in the lyrics while keeping the base composition the same. Perhaps I should also emphasise that the Japanese title of Project Sakura Wars is translated as New Sakura Wars. Again, culturally the song hits the times, as it was used to introduce melodic composition back to Japanese mainstream, and was Kohei Tanaka’s first major video game work, and helped him to further his career. I must admit I have an enormous soft spot for Kohei Tanaka’s works, and probably should count as one of his fans. I even have GaoGaiGar DVD box with his signature on it. (He was surprised and asked if I had seen the whole series, and was rather touched to hear that it made me a fan of his other works as well.) Sakura Wars music is one of the more important works for him, and has been used to describe his body of works in Western conventions. But I digress.

Of course, one thing this series is known for in certain circles the most are its steampunk mechas, the Koubu, which the fair maidens use to war against demons

With only one low-selling game in the West, Sega’s best bet to market this game in the West is to tie itself to Sakura Wars’ popularity and status as a prestige franchise within their home market.  The series has always shown strong national and historical pride despite its fantastic nature, which probably will rub some small groups the wrong way. Unless this time the rule is that North Americans and Europeans can’t show national pride, but others can. The gameplay elements, with its strong emphasize what Sega has coined as ‘dramatic adventure,’ naturally will get the dating sim label, which still carries the whole ‘dating sim=porn game’ stigma that’s been around since the early 1990’s. To the same extent, no matter what the hardcore VN fans tells you, the general perception is still ‘VN=porn game’.

Still, as a certain Youtuber told me in a chat why he didn’t get into the series was because, and I quote; “Does that actually have gameplay? I sat down once for an hour and they just wouldn’t shut the fuck up.” Oh gee, another PS2 RPG!” This isn’t all too rare a reaction to the series from the two decades I’ve followed the series from the sidelines. Sony made a similar notion, as an yet unnamed company tried to localise the ports of the two first Sakura Wars, but were rejected by Sony when they categorised the series as text novels due to sheer amount of text compared to the game play.

Yakuza is the game franchise that showed Sega that inherently Japanese products can succeed in the West. With their newfound courage and willingness to serve a niche audience is always welcome, and perhaps there’s some hopes that they’ll keep expanding if the series becomes a cult hit. Then again, Yakuza visually doesn’t look cartoony and sticks its legs into more realistic graphics and setting over girls with magical powers controlling robots to defeat demons. One more thing that makes it easier to sell. Nevertheless, there is a niche for the series. If Fire Emblem can find its niche despite its low acceptance first, all Sakura Wars needs to do is to be present and have a new entry available.

While Sakura Wars had massive initial success, the fourth game was a rushed job and gained rather negative reception, while the fifth pretty much ended the series with completely new set of characters and new setting. In few ways, Sakura Wars is like Virtual-On in that you can follow the last truly glorious days of Sega end in misery

This isn’t enough as is though, it also has to stay true to its nature to keep that niche. Capitulating to trends, removing game play elements, censoring anything either during development or in overseas version or removing any cultural motifs among numerous others will impact how that niche will view the game, thus affecting how the word of mouth will treat the title. They also need to do translation and localisation in-house and follow Yakuza‘s later steps, as Sakura Wars; So Long My Love has the usual NISA quality of translation and buggy coding. The PS2 version came with two discs in the West, one with faithful translation with Japanese voices, and one that had NISA’s less-than-accurate translations with extremely subpar English voice acting. The Wii version is based on the second NISA-fied disc, so you might burn it. Sadly, the Wii version was the only version released in Europe, making Sakura Wars initial entry in the PAL region doubly worse. Then again, starting with fifth game in the franchise might not be a good idea. A soft reboot on the franchise probably was the best move outside complete modern remake of the first game.

There is hope for Project Sakura Wars to be best it can, seeing the development team is using lessons learned from Yakuza how to present the game, but it was also mentioned that battles would be easier to go through in order for new players to have a better time. This interview with Famitsu is rather good representation how carefully the new entry is approached, but perhaps it also the text between the lines is telling how they’re putting more effort on story segments over gameplay, which will only raise the wall for the mass audiences. People who play games for stories, games like Persona 5, probably would like their direction.

Sega will have to deal with Sakura Wars being inherently anime and Japanese, which are probably its biggest obstacles in the larger markets while being one of major selling points to sub-culture niches. The best way to build toward an expanding market is up start with a  cult-hit. I wish this series would see some decent success in order to ensure further longevity of the franchise and more localised entries, despite its niche status in the West. It’s an expensive endeavour for Sega, but perhaps the market niche is large enough now for this new Sakura Wars to bloom in spring 2020.

In the meanwhile, you can visit Japan and play that Pachislot machine.

Reviving for new ages is a challenge

Earthworm Jim is one of those franchises that had a momentary impact. After two good games, a decent TV-show and mediocre three-isue comic series by Marvel, it all went to the shitter. It’s a weird IP, tied to a weird era of television and culture in terms of design and visuals. Everything from the slightly scratchy and clearly hand drawn visuals to the slightly gross-out and weird designs that was hallmark of shows like Cow and Chicken and even Rugrats. You would think that making a heroic earthworm in intergalactic quest for peace with comedic overtones would be relatively easy to work out, but the sheer nonsense humour and how the games presented themselves didn’t really leave much room for the TV-show or the comics to flourish. Earthworm Jim 2 is even more nonsensical than its predecessor. Both of them are quality titles for the system they were released for, but adapting something like Earthworm Jim is just stupidly hard due to the lack of any cohesive world, and that’s kinda the point too. Sit back and enjoy the chaos and whatever ensues. EWJ is a like an acid trip that kept pushing envelope of What the Fuck.

Earthworm Jim, much like many other franchises and IPs, needs updating from time to time. Especially now EWJ is effectively being resurrected both in comic form and as a game for the upcoming Intellivision Amico. I agree, resurrecting Intellivision is a nifty move, but keeping the controllers like they were in original Intellivision won’t bode well. Hopefully optional controls will be a thing. One point that Intellivision should update itself to modern era. To use examples of IPs that kept renewing itself for new generations  are numerous, from The Transformers to Super Mario, most long running franchises have managed to find new ways to expand their consumers or find a new niche. Sometimes both. There are numerous examples of franchises getting screwed by badly handled renewals, like how Star Trek Discovery is less Star Trek than The Orville. Star Wars can be used as an example for an IP that war warmed up again and then revamped for the 1990’s with comics, books, games and whatnot. Let’s not talk about 2000’s and 2010’s Star Wars for now.

Very few IP can stay the same without any change throughout its existence if the owners want to milk it years on end. Something like EWJ was mishandled extremely badly after the second game was released. Some of the later Mega Man games were terribly handled as well, ranging  from utter garbage like Mega Man X 7 to series ending games like Star Force. EWJ revival is in good hands, seeing his original creators Doug TenNapel, David Perry and the rest of the motley crew are working on it. Doug’s handicraft especially is what has always given Jim his iconic look. While there are some who would rather not have Doug on-board, and that this blog holds the stance that original creators are not necessary in order to create great, if not even better, new installments to an IP, the history of EWJ games has been lacklustre without the original Shiny Entertainment team. Something like Metal Gear is relatively easy to approach, as the series’ core is easy to follow and has set tropes to the extent first few Solid games are just remakes of Metal Gear 2 in many ways. The weird humour EWJ employes is harder to trace down properly and replicate by someone else without it looking like a botched copy. It can be done, but it without a doubt would require people who are willing to let loose. Maybe be willing to have few magic brownies too. As weird as it may sound to people who didn’t see EWJ’s momentary popularity, it was on a straight road to stars, only to crash and burn.

EWJ can’t become a similar hit it used to be at this time with the current zeitgeist in popular culture and video games. Even with revising it’ll have the baggage of past games on it. It will be compared to the best of the franchise and expected to at least be on the same level. Beating Earthworm Jim 3D isn’t hard, or that GBC game, but it’s extremely easy to lapse how this new game is being handled. It’s just as easy to follow the first two game’s example and make a third entry that’s just an extension of one or the other, which would really would probably meet a positive reception, albeit lukewarm in reviews and be called a derivative work. It’d be just as easy just to do something completely different and unrelated, failing to understand why the first two EWJ games were so well loved. Nevertheless, it is easier to do a proper EWJ title nowadays than what it was twenty years ago. The IP is inherently 2D action. With 2D being again accepted as a valid, completely and perfectly normal view and gameplay angle, Earthworm Jim has a chance of becoming popular again. Anywhere between late-1990’s to mid 2000’s that’d been almost an impossible task, though even now 2D games often get the shaft.

However, the era of anthropomorphic mascots has been long over, with Sonic effectively being the only one left. Jim was immediate result of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle‘s explosive popularity, much like Battletoads was. What we have now related to anything of the sort simply doesn’t exist. Cartoons solely for kids in similar manner to the 1990’s are rather rare and cross-media franchising has changed. It’s not kids that are the main target of these cartoons and toys anymore. It’s still the same people who live with their parents and still buy the Spider-Man toys from the local store. You can’t dismiss these lifelong fans, but at the same time considering expanding the market, especially towards kids if the IP is originally a children’s franchise, is important. It’s a mess of a juggling act, trying to appease the long time fans that demand and rave multitude of things, trying to keep true with the origin and serve new possible customers while you’re at it all the while trying to make something new.

Sometimes it’d be the best to ignore everyone and everything and see what makes a worm tick, and follow those lines to perfection. Sometimes.

Music of the Month; Harmony

It may not come as any kind of surprise, but I like three things about ‘koto.’ I’ve always found the music played with the instrument rather relaxing, though something that I do not listen very often. Very rarely, if we’re completely honest about this, it’s something that works best in certain rare moods. Secondly, I really like the colour that carries its name. Koto was a name given to a certain shade of natural light wood brown lacquer, which I extensively used back in the day when I had the chance to do woodwork on the side of learning how to handle steel. Thirdly, I simply like the sound of it as a name, much like how Hibiki resonates with me. The two purposes this choice then reflects are the fact I really need to relax more and not overwork myself (It has shown itself rather harshly at times in overt tiredness and leaving all personal projects aside) and that the new era of Reiwa has begun on Japan. Perhaps this makes the blog seem like weeb garbage, but these monthly openers are one of those posts that don’t need to follow any cohesive line for the blog.

So, what does the music represent for the month? Even I have no clear rhyme or reason for that outside that I mostly likely have to drop few posts in order to make time for projects that have been on ice or waiting to get done for quite literal years now. They’re not massive, just extremely boring and time consuming. Most of these are scanning projects, one of them is writing a book, and the rest are assortment of things like finishing some personal design work, changing the blog’s outlook and things like that. You might consider most of these trivial and fast things to do, but striving for quality takes time. For example, the quality in scanning I try to aim takes time. A book takes a whole day of dealing with, from unbinding to scanning and correcting the pages. While not hard, it is tedious and errors are bound to be made.

While I usually do some sort of coverage regarding what’s been popular on the blog on a yearly basis, I’ll have to make a special mention on the slight rising popularity of the Guilty Gear character design comparisons., which is also why they got their own dedicated page at the top of the page bar. They’ve been making around a bit more than usual, which is positive direction and does give me some faith that this little hobby might end up being entertaining or maybe even slightly informative for someone. I’m not surprised that most popular posts are also the ones that take the most time to make. I did plan to drop the amount of posts I make in order to make longer ones, but that plan kinda backfired on me thanks to the whole overworking myself thing.

In the same manner, I’ve have started the next Fighter elements in TSFs post, but due to lack of certain resources on my part and the sheer burnout I had with Muv-Luv, it’s been sitting in my top item in Illustrator for some time. Yes, the one franchise this blog probably made biggest rounds with at a point sort of burned me through rather badly, and it has been rather gruesome task to slowly but surely to reacquaint myself with all of it again. I’ll introducing the franchise to an audience at a con this summer (their English page is strangely lacking in any sort of programme description) in respect of a friend’s request, so it’s a good chance to revisit things. If things go as intended, I hope to spin things off from that and do something of the kind every year, covering TSFs and such as we go by. Then again, none of this should be any surprise to anyone who follows this blogs or whatever shit I throw at the small amount of social media I use under guise. To tell you the truth, a lot of things regarding Muv-Luv were out of obligation, and I intended to carry those to the end. I just hope it won’t burn the throughout and leave me distanced from the series altogether. If your whole world is just tasty chocolate and strawberries, those two will become the most mundane and repetitive taste there is. I guess the same can be applied to those those Guilty Gear posts I mentioned before. At first they were a riot to make, but with lack of time and constantly trying to read the lore and musical reference turned something interesting into tedium.

Speaking of stuff that I’ve taken a small break from, there has been a significant lack of Iczer-1 stuff as of late from me, so those production materials that I threw up last weekend are there to keep things up on that front. That Iczer-3 radiocassette drama coverage will come through one of these days, but its in the backburner way behind the ML stuff I have to go through first.

Didn’t really mean to turn this post into complaining or opening my mind with this stuff. This day is International Worker’s Day, and you should be having a day off and relaxing. Take things easy, sit back and a sip from the mug whatever you have in it.

The price of production

End users very rarely think about the production of consumable and usable goods. Why should they, it doesn’t exactly touch their daily lives to any meaningful extent outside the price of the product and the environmental impact it causes, but outside that nobody really thinks things like how their forks have been produced. Even before you get to smelting and consuming the raw materials, whatever company procured the materials had to have their own equipment to obtain the metal, most likely via some sort of mining operation, which leads to the whole cycle of obtaining the materials, all the plastics and metals, to produce the necessary equipment. It is practically impossible for a general consume to ever know where and how their products have been sourced and from where. Many companies make big promises for ethical treatments of workers or environment, often both. Fairtrade is one of the prominent examples of this, with issues ranging from low pay for coffee to less money ending up to the growers themselves. The growers outside Fairtrade make three to four times more money by selling outside Fairtrade, whereas less than 12% of any of the money made from Fairtrade products ends up going back to the source despite the significantly more expensive price tag products under this brand are sold in. Fairtrade themselves claims the price is justified due to the high quality of their products, though that seems to be less the case the more you look into habits of hardcore foodies. Things like premium coffee markets were expanding in the 2010’s, and Fairtrade’s didn’t seem to meet with the quality. Olivier Riellinger of Les Maisons de Bricourt said it best, when he described the whole Fairtrade scheme neo-imperialistic that is being imposed on growers. However, Fairtrade continues to succeed to an extent with their branding of ethics and practices.

Let’s use another example, where production of something is completely ignored due to the perceived and argued value of the usable good; electric cars in Germany. The Brussels Times recently wrote that a German scientist had found out that electric vehicles in Germany cause more CO2 emissions than diesel cars. You might be wondering how this would be possible, as electric cars don’t really have CO2 emission. This study found that electric cars, despite their perceived position as an environmental saviour, ultimately cause further emissions due to the source of that power. The power needed to charge these cars comes from power plants, and in Germany they are phasing out the greenest and cleanest form of energy production; nuclear power. Each nation that is phasing out nuclear power in favour of alternative methods means either coal or far weaker form of energy production, and ultimately releases less radiation to the environment than the alternatives. Richard Rhodes has an excellent opinion piece on the subject that I would recommend reading.

While the history of nuclear power has its spots, so does every other form of energy. However, in most of these cases human neglect and lacking procedures have caused the most damage. In Chernobyl, the combination of old, inefficient Soviet nuclear tech and carelessness caused the meltdown. Fukushima Daiichi too was to be refurbished and upgraded many times before that fatal earthquake, but lobbyists and anti-nuclear power movements prevented this, ultimately leading Fukushima’s reactors and facilities to be out-of-date. If they had been upgraded when they were needed and indeed were supposed to originally years prior, Fukushima’s incident would have been avoided. The fact that it is cheapest, cleanest and most efficient power source we have makes every charge we do outside nuclear power damage the environment.

What do we charge? Mobile phones, portable torches, mp3 players, other mobile devices, e-readers, electric cars and so on. Everything runs on batteries, and mining that those metals and minerals; lithium, cobalt, manganese, iron, copper and hematite just to name few, takes energy in itself, often oil and coal powered. These materials are mined in massive amounts, and the insanely large amounts that are produced makes their end price as low as five buck a pack of ten AAA batteries. Then take the amount of chemicals these products require, from surface paintings to the adhesives and plastics parts used inside, and you have more materials required to be produced and assembled through hundreds of different hands.

To use another example, solar panels themselves are considered very environmentally friendly source of energy. Yet this discussion almost always omits the copious amounts of quarts that is required to be mined in order to turn that into silicon in furnaces that emit sulfur and carbon dioxides in large amounts as well as have large amounts of wasted heat. Let’s not forget all the particle pollution this causes. Then you have all the chemicals that are required and produced during the production of the both prepare and wafer the silicon for the panels themselves. Second issue of course is the panels themselves, or rather, the shadows they cast. If a solar panel is placed anywhere else that isn’t a building roof or a wall, like a large field or on a lake, it will cast shadow on the ground. When you have large areas cast in shadows, this impacts the growth on the plants and can screw up small animals in that region. Of course, when the panels are finally up and running, they do produce clean energy, even if it gets quarter cut in production due to all the coal that’s being burned to charge those solar cars.

To reiterate, production of any good takes resources, even especially invisible goods like electricity in your home. It comes from somewhere, and its making requires materials of its own and someone to make, even if it just one guy in a control room making sure shit doesn’t just explode. Whatever product you have in your hands now, be it a cup of coffee or a mouse, consider for a moment how many different individual elements of production it has gone through, and how many hands have been making it, before it ended up in your care. The number is, most likely, more than we can guess.

Sony’s warped perception of global standards

While Sony of America confirmed to the Washington Street Journal that they have installed a standard policy on censorship for games that are allowed on Sony’s platforms, Sony of Japan has stepped and made a statement themselves that this isn’t the case. According to a source on Game*Spark (the asterisk is important), they evaluate games by case by case basis rather than a new overall policy. However, their source does state that how Sony now handles titles internally is independent of any rating system that exists, be it CERO or ESRB (or PEGI for the matter.) The source refers to a nebulous global standard they wish to adhere to.

I’ve discussed this topic far too much for this particular blog (maybe branching off to a new one that covers video game censorship solely might be worthy project), but Sony’s stances really tell two thing. First is that they’ve lost touch to their consumers, that they don’t seem to understand their own fame and status in the market. Theirs is a console that was free of regulations that marred Nintendo as the console for kids for years. Theirs is a console that could be picked up and have games that would be completely across the board all the while pushing the envelope to whatever direction the developers and publishers wanted. Not so much anymore. Secondly, there is no global standard. It’s rather clear that Sony and numerous other publishers and developers live in a social bubble, that they only listen and read certain publications. It’s like thinking Twitter reflects real life to any extent. US allows more violence than sexual content, while France and certain other European nations are the opposite. UK lacks balls on both violence and sex, and even for horror, especially if you remember the Video Nasties censorship. Hell, even outside that the British Board of Film Classification continued to cut and censor movies, e.g. requiring movies to cut certain moments like the moment of bullet impacts, twisting of necks and almost always lessening the sound effects added to punches and kicks. There’s a whole Youtube channel that concentrates on film censorship in US and UK. Russia has its own policies of course that are widely different from Western world. While the US and Japan might be comfortable in showing lesbians kissing in their games, Russia’s not exactly fan gay rights. Then again, neither is China, who have absolutely the heaviest demands on games released in their region. Australia’s somewhere down there, and thye’ve got bans left and right, mostly for violence. You couldn’t buy Mortal Kombat in Australia at one point. Sony of Japan seems to think outrage culture has somehow changed the global standards, or rather created them, and try to adhere to something that does not exist.

This gives birth to the warped perception that PlayStation will be the best playground to all consumers if they limit the amount of sex, sexual content or sexually suggestive themes. This would, of course, not be true. You can’t create a product for everyone. I’m a broken clock with this, always saying that you can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t. A platform like a game console can only wish to have everything across the board, from the most violent mess to most sexualised ecstasy to the most child friendly content possible. If you cut one part off from this triangle, you’ve effectively cutting off both developers’ interests in developing titles more freely and consumers possibility to purchase whatever violent smut they want. Violence, of course, seems not to be a problem. It’s the eternal discussion, especially in the US, how you can show someone getting shot and skull bashed in, but a sight of a breast raises an uproar. We could take this discussion even further and wonder why violence seems to be accepted when targeted one of the sexes, but not for the other. There is a very strong double standard going in the industry, but that’s nothing out of usual really.

You know the British term Nanny state? The term coined describes governmental policies that are overprotective or interfering in personal choice of freedom. This can be directly adopted for Sony as nanny corporation. Their paternalism has affected the market already. Developers and publishers have lost money because of Sony’s relatively newfound (and highly questionable) moral standards, money they won’t be making back. Omega Labyrinth Z will never see an English release because of Sony’s practices, despite the game was ready to hit the shelves. We could roughly estimate that these policies were installed later in 2017, as the game got a normal Japanese release in 2017, and then was blocked by Sony in 2018. PQube lost money in this venture. Localising game isn’t exactly cheap, and they have no way of making that money back with the game. It’s a dead product.

Whether or not Sony has a blanket standard or they go by case-by-case basis makes little difference. They’ve abandoned the actual global standards that are the local rating systems like PEGI and CERO, and are effectively self-censoring their platforms content even before anything gets to the rating boards. This is almost a repeat of Comics Code Authority, except this for PlayStation titles only. However, question how many developer will be willing to make changes in their multiplatform title, when it’d take more money to make a more censored version for Sony than with others. Just slapping some sort of beam of lights isn’t a solution to all games like Senran Kagura, where losing a game mode effectively removes ten, fifteen percent of the game’s content.

Can we just blame parents for not keeping an eye on the rating labels on games, or does the blame belong on outrage the Internet outrage culture? Probably both, with slight emphasize on outrage culture and media bubble Sony’s execs live in. We’re going through a moment in video game history, where a corporation known for freedom in content adopted censorious practices of their own outside pre-established rating systems, limiting both their library in content and options the consumer in the end has. The sad thing is, all this will be ridiculed and laughed at, pointing that it’s only for tits and ass with no value, while never considering that games like Omega Labyrinth Z are rather hardcore dungeon crawling games that give no quarter to the player, that Senran Kagura at its best requires the player to skillfully control their movement and attacks combined with the limited special resources they have. You could make these games without any of the fan service or titillation for sure, killing the unique natures of the titles. It’d be like removing all SF and fantasy stuff from Star Wars because they’re unrealistic, or setting The Lord of the Rings in a realistic middle-ages with no magic or hairy legged midgets in lead. Games are an audiovisual medium with rules to play with, not just core mechanics. A fighting game character is not just a set of moves and mechanics bolted to a visual frame, but a whole personality of its own.

I admit that it personally depresses me that any sort of censorship has been implemented. Games as entertainment, especially on consoles, had been making good progress towards freedom in content for such a long time, but now that’s been cut down and things won’t heal easily. It’s always easier to break something down, to hold something back or break rather than allow something to move onward, especially if your personal view or preferences are against it.