Music of the Month; Snow is falling in the Galaxy

Christmas time is upon us once more, and we all should slowly slow our work and hype down towards the end of the year. Don’t mind if some spend Christmas for religious reasons, don’t mind if some don’t, this end of the year shouldn’t be about bickering. Y’know, the usual platitudes, but they’re worth every word spoken and breath taken. Our modern societies do spend too much time working and worrying, be what gift to get to whom or global issues that ultimately may be outside one person’s reach. While there are issues we all can strive for as one unit, we have to remind ourselves that each individual has their own limitation, their own stamina that will run out at some point. If not for any other reason, slowing down, settling to a calmer mind set and spending some time with the people you care for the most (or in case you don’t have any, spending that well deserved self-time with your favourite pastime) is all worth it. Certainly there are those who may not be able to do this for numerous reasons. Maybe it’s the usual goodness of our heart, morality, or simply because taking care of fellow man should make us feel better, giving something for those who don’t have any would give some chances of people being able to slow and calm down, just like you most likely can.

That sounds like a lot of bullshit, diabetes inducing sweet talk and all that, but in the end, I would love if everyone could settle their bickering and fighting aside for at least for these few days in the year. You’ll have all the time to go bombastic and drunk when the New Year hits around anyway. All I really want is people get along, despite their differences in opinions and characters.

That’s probably the best I can say about the coming month. By the end of the year, I’ll most likely skip writing a post or two. It honestly will depend how much time I want to end up spending in front of the screen and typing something down, when I could be doing something else. That certainly sounds selfish. Maybe because it is, I don’t get paid. I get paid to build shit. That said, there should be a controller review coming up still, the Retrobit Saturn controller. As usual with these third party aftermarket controllers, licensed or not, I’ll be giving it a fair shake review and open it for a good pornographic inside view to the PCB and electrons inside. Not that I’ll be able to say much about it, outside overall construction quality and basic soldering, but there are people who appreciate pictures of PCBs. Maybe we’ll be able to see whether or not the controller would make a decent base for a project. It’d be nice of some company outside Madcatz would finally realise that there are people who want to build their own shit, and giving them some kind of decent base PCB would be a way to go.

The Post was in strike for good two weeks and then some, ending up with the prime minister and his government resigning, so whether or not the controller will actually arrive before the year ends is a big question. We’ll see. Just like we’ll see if those fifteen other packages that are stuck in the mail will arrive.

I’ll have to think what to do with this blog next year though. While topics will be around, I do consider this year to be a travesty in terms of quality. Nothing of worth has come out, outside one or two special cases. I still think the Virtual-On Retrospective in many ways is the best the blog can offer. Maybe I’ll change the working method and stop doing twice-a-week schedule and turn that to once-a-week while working on posts that take more time. Like those Guilty Gear and TSF comparisons. When you do don’t work 8h+ a day, somehow you find yourself having time and energy to put into something else. Maybe I’ll open a Patreon or Ko-Fi for people who want to drop a nickle or two for those “big post,” though I can assure you this blog would get zero monetary support. I know my own word’s worth, and it ain’t much. Though I could have plans for any support, like purchasing my own domain name and use that for the blog. I really would like to do more controller and gadget reviews still, especially on older stuff and optional third party items, because those have the most interesting things in them. The standard controllers usually don’t have much exciting itty bits in ’em, but something like that Mini Hori Commander for the Famicom, where they crammed all that stuff into two layers while arguably making a better controller the official Famicom or NES one, is that kind of jazz I simply adore.

As for anything âge or Muv-Luv related stuff, well, we’ll see. There are numerous topics I want to visit, but I’d have to refer you to the whole “big post” business I mentioned earlier, and I know hitting that audience all the time would make the blog more a success, but that would turn boring rather fast, and in the end it isn’t the main point of the blog. I maybe I should open a new one and do ML related posting there twice a month or so. Maybe after I reach that 10-years anniversary with this blog, which is coming in couple of years. Time will tell what happens and what doesn’t.

For now, just enjoy life and slow down a bit. There are no reasons to hurry, unless you’re badly injured and need medical help. While you’re at it, remember to sharpen and oil your knives. A sharp knife is a safer too in the kitchen, preventing the blade slipping like a dull blade tends to, because it can’t cut into the material. Oiling of course prevents rusting and all that, just be sure to use something like rapeseed oil rather than motor oil.

Old, reheating Capcom

Despite Capcom having big hit titles in the few recent years, mainly Devil May Cry 5, Monster Hunter World and Resident Evil 2 Remake, that’s pretty much it. Street Fighter V has been extremely safe game for them, the SF fandom can be very, very tribal about their loved title, and Capcom fighting games overall are still considered the golden standard. For a good reason too, but that’s not the main topic here, maybe we’ll revisit that a bit later.

For 2019, Capcom has released no truly new game. Everything Capcom has released this year has been either a remake, sequel or a port. 2018 was the same deal. Back in the day in the late 1980’s and 1990’s Capcom was blamed to rehash the same game over and over again with new sequels. This isn’t true, despite it feeling like that with a new Mega Man game almost every year or yet another variation of Street Fighter II. The Golden Age of Mega Man was a wild time in many ways, but at the same time Capcom kept pushing out new franchises to expand their library and offering. If there wasn’t something new on a console, the arcades probably had something interesting to check out, like Darkstalkers.

Modern Capcom is satisfied with the status quo they have going on now, at least on the front. Capcom is relying on their big-name, big-business titles. While SNK wants to become Marvel of video games, Capcom used to have this spot. I say used to, because as we are now, Capcom has become the company that does nothing but sequels or rehashes. Even Mega Man, franchise that used to renew itself every few years to some extent, is effectively buried again. Capcom lost all the momentum they gained with Mega Man 11 by not publishing any solid information of a new Mega Man game being developed. Well, there is Rockman X DiVE, but as with every other Capcom franchise, they go to die on mobile. DiVE is far from being a new Mega Man 11 in terms of impact and presence, mostly because the title is competing in a different market from the main bulk of Mega Man games. In the end, it is still a sequel, or rather a spinoff, to a well known franchise.

Has Capcom abandoned making new and strong IPs? In business, especially in Japanese business, sticking to what you know best and what has already established market slot and pull is the way to go. The reason you don’t get new sequels to long-dead franchises all the time or new IPs to bolster the library is because the current corporate culture in Capcom is not there. The young Capcom needed to expand and make new titles all the time. Not because they threw everything a the wall to see what stuck, but because there was that drive. The people who work in Capcom now are not the same people who launched these game IPs originally, and it’ll take someone exceptional, like Yoshinori Ono, to suggest and bear the weight of reviving an IP.

You would think that reviving an old IP with strong history would fit the category just fine. Reviving, however, means that the IP is dormant or dead, often because it has either seen a slouch in sales or the driving force behind the franchise is missing. Resident Evil has consistently seen good amount of sales and is considered Capcom’s modern mainstay franchise next to Monster Hunter. Both of these series are old, but have been reinvented as they’ve come along. They’re also consistent with Capcom’s changing image, with new blood coming in and tasked to make a new game for the series. Capcom shows that you can live off a limited amount of IPs under your belt just fine, as long as you keep quality high and the number of releases constant. A stagnant series that doesn’t have the drive behind or, or the corporate support compared to the other projects that are going on at the same time, doesn’t have much chances. As much as Final Fight plays an important role in Capcom’s history, it is a legacy series they can use to promote themselves and other titles for the old guard that’s out there, but Final Fight has been superseded by Devil May Cry as the action game.

At some point, old IPs become new again after they’ve been dormant long enough. Street Fighter IV is a great example of this, and we can see Toho doing the same thing Godzilla periodically. Capcom still intents to revive some of their old, sleeping IPs (just like they said last year) but what are the chances of that happening? Perhaps what they mean by reviving they mean remaking old games that were big hits for the modern generations that hear the legends of these old games but won’t play because they’re too old. Maybe it means more ports upon ports. Probably both, as rumours say Capcom is already working on Resident Evil 3 remake. Understandable, considering how well REmake2 was did in sales and reception. While Capcom has loads of legacy franchises under its belt, they’re intentionally not making any use of them outside collections and re-releases. All the R&D goes to big name titles, which is closer to putting your eggs into one basket rather than betting on multiples. It seems to be working for Capcom just fine, but as argued last year, Capcom has both the manpower and economic capacity to develop smaller titles with smaller teams. They sort of are doing this with their mobile department, but that’s a different market from home consoles, and arguably different from PC market as well.

There’s no reason for Capcom to change their pattern right now, their big budget titles sell well and they are successful. Their caution is to back these up with re-releases. It’s safe and sure way to make business, and business is their main thing. Capcom wants big titles, big revenues. Small titles with meager sales won’t make that cut, but putting some money on re-releases, that’s a different thing. I wouldn’t expect Capcom to actually revive an old IP that doesn’t have some presence already. Sad to say, but at the moment, Capcom truly is the company they were joked to be, rehashing everything and unwilling to bring anything new to the table.

Forceful franchising

There has been a slew of bombs in the box office as of late. The latest Terminator met a dark fate of its own, and that reboot of Charlie’s Angels was a disaster to the same extent. If we were to got back few years, you can fill Star Wars into this as well. There are more flicks that fall among these three, but outside having a certain kind of political message to them, all three also had a second common factor; they were all forced.

By forced I mean that whatever the writers, directors etc wanted to do was forced on the franchise. It wasn’t just the political message that what forced, but the whole franchise is mangled and twisted to fit that mould. This forcing square peg into a round hole doesn’t need to be political though, it can range from that to a story that simply doesn’t work. Take the Terminator for example, a two movies series that, at its core, was about how we can choose to live and change the future. Any sequels to Terminator 2 would render the whole point of the two movies completely moot, which all of them did. Any and all stories set after the second have been nothing but microwaving the same leftovers over and over until nothing is left, until someone throws some goop on it to remoisturise it. Ends up being a terrible meal, just like Terminator: Dark Fate ended up being. Future War, the war against the machine seen in the two movies, would’ve made great material as a sequel and prequel at the same time. Showcasing the future that was prevented in all of its post-apocalyptic glory would’ve made great material, worth a trilogy of its own, but the closest thing we ever get to something like this on film was Terminator Salvation and that was terrible. For whatever reason, the franchise’s writers have some kind of hardon to shit on John Connor. Destroying a legacy character that is considered a major part of the franchise to any significant extension rarely goes well with the audience. You don’t need to look any further than Star Wars for another example of this, where all the Original Trilogy characters and concepts have been intentionally eradicated. Killing John Connor in the latest Terminator movie just for someone else to take his spot is not just an insult to Terminator 2, but a slap to the audience’s collective faces.

If you’re doing an entry to a franchise, you don’t get to tell your own story. You have to fit whatever you are intending to tell in that readily made setting without contradicting it too much. Otherwise it will not only cheapen the franchise as a whole, but also take away how believable your work is. Fanfiction writers are a good example for both better and worse, where some can write stories that don’t contradict the pre-established works but also supplants them, raising the overall value of the writing. Sometimes these people get to write new stories for their favourite franchise or similar, but on the other hand, you got the writers who intentionally disregard the pre-set world and proceed to write whatever is cool for them. The whole Mary Sue issue nothing short of common problem, something we see more often in ‘official’ franchise works nowadays. Star Wars again is a sad example, though I’ll cite The Force Unleashed‘s Galen Marek as an example here, as he has a lot of common with Rey, Both are “inspired” by Star Wars’ prototype material and both end up being very powerful in rather unassuming circumstances all the while making large and significant effects to the whole story despite not really having any reason to. I admit though that Marek/Starkiller was trained by Darth Vader, but that alone should raise some hairs. Sure, the whole thing about Sith backstabbing each other wasn’t anything new, but retreading the ground of What if Vader had an apprentice? was rather weak, especially when it turns out Marek ultimately played a large party in setting up the Rebellion… rather than, y’know, the people who clearly set up the Rebellion in Episode III and in previous materials.

I guess the success of the latest Rambo movie should show something Hollywood is missing most of the time. Reheating an old franchise is OK, as long as there is a point and doesn’t serve as a vehicle for something else, be it for an ego project, a trophy project or a political message as its main driver. In (John) Rambo we saw the titular character returning to home after all these years of seclusion and staying away, and while I’d consider that as the definitive end for the character’s story, Rambo: Last Blood visits the character’s everyday life once more, and to show that he can’t escape violence. The audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is rather positive 82%, and apparently most of the movie goers were women, if reports are to be believed. Much like how the gaming press writes to the developers rather than the customers, the movie reviewing professionals tend to review films for Hollywood, and often with an angle. Their score for the movie is 27%, which either shows that the larger audience has completely different taste in movies than the industry, or that the reviewers and Hollywood have lost all touch with the audiences. Most likely it’s partially both, and considering reviewers nowadays are dependent on the studios for review copies and favours, they are more inclined to give positive reviews than not. Ah, to be independent and burn bridges by trying to be honest.

That is not to say that you can’t have your own story or political message in a franchise work. Rather the opposite, but it also requires working the opposite way. Rather than slapping it on the surface like it was some sort of sticker, Hollywood (and games industry) is missing how it needs to be weaved as a part of the natural workings of the framework. Something like Jurassic Park is able to get away with its environmental message by having it as the major part of the work, but also balance it with everything else. Even during the dinner scene, where characters discuss the nature of genetics and whether or not it is for human to meddle with nature, we’re not left with just one side as we continue to marvel all that what has been criticised has left us. Star Trek rarely took the easy path during its more difficult episodes, especially during the best seasons of The Next Generation, while Discovery does the exact opposite, ridiculing and laughing instead of, y’know, taking the hard route and showcase characters as people rather than caricatures. Episodes like Darmok, Inner Light and Chain of Command didn’t only challenge the actors, but also the viewers. The Measure of a Man of course falls into this category as well, putting an ethical dilemma on the forefront, balancing on the issue without directly taking one clear side. While there is a story resolution, the episode still lingers. It is, ultimately, how well something is made. It’s like a good gravy; if you fuck it up, the lumps will make it terrible.

A Stadiaster

That title isn’t even punny. Yeah I know I’m bad at making jokes and people tend to take me all seriously whenever I make one on the blog, which is why I stopped doing them long time ago (or did I?) I didn’t follow Stadia’s launch per se, but news and people going on about the whole shebang just crept through the grapevines. I couldn’t help but feel slightly sorry for people who got Stadia, but this should also teach people that corporate speech is never to be trusted. While Stadia hasn’t been a complete disaster, it’s damn close to it.

From what I’ve been told, the lag is present in almost every game to a stupidly extreme degree. Button presses are recognised whole seconds after the fact, and some games simply stutter and play slow like you’re in Nino Island Ruins in Mega Man Legends 2, just without the watery ripple effect. The instructions for Stadia recommends cutting everything off in your Internet usage while playing Stadia, including streaming music. It’s also recommended to connect it directly to the router rather than through computer or any other device’s WiFi. There are some additional helps people have found out, but it’s all really to make sure the Stadia has all the bandwidth. Not just some, but all it can have. When I called out Google’s bullshit that it’d do 60FPS 4K in a perfect manner and said nobody really has the speeds or connections to get games running in that quality, I knew people would be bewildered when their games would run terribly. Never trust corporate word, it’s meant to promote and sell, not to be truthful.

That should be few nails in the coffin for Stadia, but that’s just the game side of things. People haven’t got their codes, some have been missing their devices and Google’s own support isn’t even in the know about Stadia. Sure, Google’s a big million dollar company and not everything part of it can be made aware what sort of things the other is doing, but support should really be informed that this kind of product is coming and these are your instructions. This should show that Stadia’s launch very much a rushed thing, that Google barely had any time to put together proper documentations internally and did not prepare what was to come. I bet your ass they know well enough how badly everything would go, but hype will carry anything through. Now that they’re getting real-world test data from existing users, they can start tweaking stuff properly. While not standard, it isn’t unusual for a company to use early adopters as testbeds and beta testers. The “real” launch of Stadia will probably be sometime next year after they’ve further tweaked and fixed stuff, and when that supposed Freemium model of some sort gets launched.

Of course, when you fail at what you intended to do, you can always throw in identity politics and claim some brownie points through that. In an interview with CNN Business, Google VP and head of Stadia Phil Harrison claimed that Stadia is targeting women with Stadia controller. Here’s the archive link for it. If I’m being honest, this is load of bullshit. Stadia controller looks like a generic Chinese knock-off controller you can sometimes see being sold on eBay or other places, it looks like a blander version of the Xbox 360 controller. Controllers in multiple colours has been a thing since at least Commode 64 days, where you could find joysticks and other devices in different colours. Most often something neutral or targeting the pre-existing user group was offered, because those sell. The design director Isabelle Olsson claims that the wasabi colour they went with has universal appeal. There are vast amounts of colours that have universal appeal. Anything pale that’s close to white of course would have universal appeal, as it doesn’t make a strong statement for a direction or another. It’s like vanilla; it goes well with everything and nobody really fights against the taste. CNN Business claiming that it’s slightly easier for small hands to grip than similar products put out by rivals is nothing short of bullshit. All modern controllers that use the handle-grip design have to be designed to fit standard hand dimensions. The overall shape has to be different due to the patents and copyrights, but in recent memory there is only one controller that was intentionally designed to fit larger dimensions than the global standard, Xbox’s The Duke. Claiming that they’re targeting women with these design choices is laughable. It’s nice to say this, when in reality your product is aiming to become a success with general audiences and not just part of it.

Of course, Harrison also mentioned how they don’t have the baggage of pre-existing gamer culture, a thing that’s absolutely false. Whatever they actually mean by gamer culture is well up to debate (long-time readers know that “gamer culture” and its history stems well back to 1800’s and back at least), but you can’t escape the market pressure and demands if you intend to enter a market and succeed there. Stadia may not have history attached to it, but that’s just normal. No new product has a history attached to it, but at the same time, all the pre-existing games that were attached to Stadia bring their history and culture to the platform. Of course, this means Stadia can be the best of the best for a time being, before its core consumer base sets in, but at right now Stadia has more infamy to it than any other platform. Harrison and the rest of the staff that decided on the whole women-centric and sex-neutral marketing have undermined their supposed attempt by bringing in old games that are very well marred in this culture they don’t want to carry. It is extremely haughty to claim you’re targeting an audience that isn’t being catered to, when the world is full of options and readily-catering products. That’s PR for you, throwing out ideas of what you’re doing for the sake of making that sliver more sales. I guess that’s the angle Google has to take with Stadia on the outside to make them stand out from the competition, when their model of service isn’t meeting up with the wants and demands of the audience, targeted or not.

Hell hath no fury like a fan scorned

I have to admit I enjoy following a good shitstorm now and then. Especially on Tuesdays. The latest Pokémon games may be the third most selling Switch titles at the moment, but I’m constantly seeing news about modders injecting better models and textures, as well as importing monster models from the Go games into Sword and Shield. The fans haven’t taken the limited amount of monsters lightly either, alongside numerous other glitches, like the Auto Save glitch that can destroy all your save game data on the SD card, and quality control errors, like mislabeling items or having a mouse cursor moving in the end credits over the scene. All little things pile up very quickly, and even the smallest things, like vanishing Trainers during battles, end up being extremely irksome and simply showcases how badly this game was developed. Then add to the top that this is a series that hasn’t revised its core mechanics at all to the point of having giant ass bears walking in ankle high grass while their forest is one or two trees near, you get the idea that despite the new lick of paint, Pokémon at its core is out of date. At its core, Game Freak is still making that tile based sprite game in their heads rather than building proper worlds with modern tools, mechanics and visages. Then again, why should they bother, when the games still sell so well?

Pokémon Sword sits at 82 points from industry reviewers and 4.1 from general audience on Metacritic at the time of this writing. Eyeing through the reviews, most of the user reviews end up being more or less sensible, if not short. Some recognise that the series has been in decline for years now, while others note how the title Pokémon keeps it afloat to a large extent. Some are spiteful for sure, but that’s what you get for every game. On the contrast, the “professional” review side shows why having 100 points is useless. They really should have to choose between three stars and nothing more or less. All this is largely just academical, however. It’ll take at least six months for proper consumer reaction to show itself and how well sales have been made. It might be the third most sold Switch title at this moment, but will it be keeping its position for long? Considering the Switch doesn’t have exactly the rosiest future regarding additions to its library, it just might.

There are rumours of Game Freak setting up at least some of the missing monsters as event obtainables or the like, pose them as some kind of service, that they listened to their fans and are fulfilling their wishes. Whether or not this is true will be seen in the future, but this isn’t the first time Game Freak has got their fans mad at them, and this won’t be the last time they mostly, if not outright, ignore the consumer feedback. Pokémon has a fanbase dedicated enough to gloss over everything, but that’s emotional attachment to a brand for you.

That said, at least Game Freak and Pokémon at least can do something like this and not lose a whole lot. Well, Sword and Shield have already been financial success, so there’s that. The same can’t be said of Arc System and Guilty Gear, which is now intended to alienate the core fanbase by cutting the series’ play mechanics and drastically alter how the upcoming game is played. While movement options are still there, some series-defining mechanics are lost. For example, Gatling Combos are gone. This is just GG‘s fancy way of saying chain combo, where you can press attack buttons in ascending order for a combo. Roman Cancels, ability to cancel an action at any time, is now a physical hit effect and slows down the opponent rather than functioning as a reset too. The end goal is still the same, but the way you get there is different. Other differences in defence mechanisms and such are many, like how in blocking an aerial attack will change the blocker’s momentum backwards rather than down. The game has become heavy on resetting the player positions rather than encouraging constant forward thrust of offense. I have to admit that my personal preference for Guilty Gear stems from this. There isn’t really another fighting game where offence has all the tools available and is even encouraged.

With Guilty Gear Strive, ArcSys appears wanting to expand their consumer base, which in turn will alienate part of their existing one. It is an incredible balancing act, catering to both new and old. Thus far, every attempt at ArcSys trying to gain new audience with an old IP has been a failure to a large extent, but also that some of their attempts at new IPs have failed harshly. Nobody remembers Battle Fantasia, despite that being the game that Capcom feared due to its 3D prowess when developing Street Fighter IV. Some long-terms GG fans have already stated that they won’t move forwards from Xrd, which also was heavily criticised for dumping mechanics and elements from the previous games as well as slowing down the play. Xrd also allowed larger windows for inputs, but it should also be noted that the game before Xrd, Accent Core Plus R or whatever the latest revision was, was also marred with criticism on how balance and new mechanics threw a monkey wrench into the play. There are certain limitations all around, and unsurprisingly ArcSys has made clear they want new users. Ishiwatari stating how old GG fans are too old to play games and such. They did find success with BlazBlue, though there is overlap between the two series’ player base.

It is four times harder to gain new audience over keeping your old. While Dragon Ball FighterZ may have made loads of cash, it was largely driven by the IP rather than ArcSys themselves. Much like with Pokémon, the fandom often twists the hard data, but the same data also can’t be ignored. If there’s money to be made here in a certain manner, then better make the best of it. Guilty Gear doesn’t have the same backing, all it can support itself with is by its existing fans and the legacy of its past games. Legacy that Ishiwatari wanted to remove at some point, mostly due to licensing and trademark issues. It would appear that all the Guilty Gear games with Sega Sammy attached to them are, or at least were, in some sort of licensing or trademark hell, where ArcSys can’t really do much with them. Guilty Gear 2 was intended to be some sort of soft-reboot of the series, removing all the X-titled games from the canon and memory, but in the end Ishiwatari and co. gave up on that. Now X and XX games are side-stories, but we’ve covered all this in the past. The issue of GG Strive is whether or not can be a hit among new consumers with its more simplified play over the previous entries, and the series’ history tends to say no. While it will find people to play it, and probably enters tournaments just fine, it most likely will gain the same cold and lethargic reception and acceptance and Street Fighter V did. In many ways, fighting games have been aiming to expand their user bases by removing options and making the play more predictable, intended and more about formulaic pacing. SFV actively removed elements from characters that made them wild compared to the rest of the cast, something that could’ve been cool to use and make work. Instead, such things were culled. No-fun rule seems to be in place in modern fighting games, where everything has to be like Finnish autumn; grey with no colours in the nature, wet to the point of nothing ever drying, stupidly dark and enjoyed only by few. You can’t go outside in frolic in a T-shirt and boxers, else you get a pneumonia. That’s what playing SFV is like. While we can’t really tell if Strive will be that too, it’s very much going to that direction.

Much like the previous posts’ Battletoads, you can lose your customers relatively fast by going against the consumer grain. Battletoads had no modern legs to stand on while both Pokémon and Guilty Gear have full titles in recent memory. While Game Freak has to do a lot more damage to Pokémon before they need to put their A-game back into the ring, or reheat some old fan favourite again, ArcSys doesn’t have that luxury. While they could make a new franchise or revive Battle Fantasia for whatever style they want, something that they’d think would appeal to the wider audience, that probably isn’t possible. Recognition also plays a big part in this, but as said, all that can be pissed away if consumers deem your work worthless of the time and effort you put in. Nothing sucks more than having your work judged utter shit, but video games is a service industry. If you expect your customers to pay for your games, these games need to cater to their wants.

Whether or not the audience would like to a properly modernised Pokémon with high quality control and fighting games that are less crazy is up your decision really. You’re the customer, you make the decision where you put your money into.

A toad left in the sun dries and dies

You can bet your ass that Microsoft is not all that happy with the reception the upcoming reboot of Battletoads has gotten. Not only Microsoft’s official trailer on Youtube has gained 17 392 Dislikes against 7 888 likes, but also turns out people are actively avoiding the game whenever it is available for testing. From the word I’ve got, Microsoft did a special showcase in their new store in London for the game and about everyone who visited the store during that period actively avoided the game. That shouldn’t be surprising anyone who has looked how Battletoads has fared during developer and press events, where the game has been a flop, bombing in raising any notable interest.

This disinterest in Battletoads continued during the X02019 event in London earlier this week, where you could go and test the game itself. What better way to showcase how well the game plays and disinfect it from its visual disease by putting the best effort and light upon it. Well, history tends to rhyme, and the game ended up being the most avoided title on the show floor.

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Even Rare’s own Twitter feed regarding the game is rather sad.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
That is very, very disinterested ratio and amount of replies, likes and retweets. It should be very apparent to everyone that the consumers don’t want this game. The game has been delayed three times already and after the initial reveal, Rare’s name has been attached to it in a very visible way. Remember Rare, that one company you used to love because of Banjo Kazooie and Battletoads back in the day? Dlala Studios, the main developer of the game (Rare’s name is just tagged on because they originate the IP) is going to take a lot of heat when the game releases early 2020. The word on the street is that Microsoft wants to dump the game on Gamepass during some other larger release, which makes sense. A “small” digital release overshadowed by some major title often gets pity reviews. You can wholly expect the reviews of the game mention the backlash, call it unfair for the game to gain such negative reception just based on the visuals when it has (supposedly) pretty decent game play. Some will praise it to heavens high, some will push a political agenda, you know the drill how the game press already works. There are already slew of people saying that the game must have a fair shake and people must and should play it before judging the game.

Of course, that’s not how it works with consumers. The customer is your god.

Most of the backlash is very much based on failed consumer expectations. As I mentioned in my previous post about Battletoads, the franchise already had its visual tone established with Killer Instinct. Sure, different developers, different styles, different intentions. You could never expect this game to have 1:1 visual look with the KI iteration, but that was largely what people expected it to be. I don’t want to do a joke about the developers subverting expectations, because that’s not what they did. The design team simply misunderstood what was the core of Battletoad’s visual flavour, and rather than making it a mimicry of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with British flavour, they went with Ren & Stimpy instead. The consumers have made their voice already heard, this visual style is not wanted. You can argue about artistic integrity and intention as much as you want, but at the end of the day, making and selling games is a service job, and it their job to cater to wants of the customer. If you do something unwanted, you can expect diminished returns. It’s like a Pyrrhic victory; congratulations, you did what you wanted at the cost of everything else.

There could have been a chance for Battletoads to be Microsoft’s Devil May Cry, if they had wanted it to be. Three characters with three different kinds of approach to melee combat would’ve easily transitioned the gameplay into the third dimension, but relegating the game to be a 2D-beltscroller should give a hint what they wanted; a nostalgia cashgrab rather than a modern revival. The developer’s may have intended this game to be something special on its own rights, but at the end of the day, Battletoads could be a lot more than whatever we ended up with. Battletoads had a silver bullet how to make it a success among the consumers, but also how to take an oldy time classic and realise it in 3D.

Why 3D? Because there is s stigma of 2D games like this being something lesser than their big, full 3D environment games. Most 2D games are relegated as digital-only downloads. Maybe it’s because they tend to be shorter and smaller titles overall, or that the indie scene absolutely loves to do terrible pixel graphics games. It’s not just pixel graphics either, but also with titles like Mega Man 11, which was structured like a traditional Mega Man game. Completely perfect in every aspect, but somehow the overall feeling from the consumers, and even from some developers, was that this is archaic, somehow left behind and not up to date. Games overall sure have grown in size, but at the same time, most people don’t have the time to spend several tens or hundreds of hours playing one game that takes forever to get in and out. Games like Devil May Cry, however, have been a perfect blend of quick burst of action you can do per stage you can have and leave, then return to it a bit later for another burst session. Something like Yakuza or Red Dead Redemption are not like this, they require you sit on your ass properly and give them time.

Battletoads will see a bit more positive reception on its release. The press will see to it. The reviews will claim them to be more objective, which should be almost an antithesis for them. They will say the game doesn’t look all that bad, instead it looks pretty good, if not great, with terrific animation and solid game play. There will be amends to its faults, of course. However, considering game reviewers that live in the bogs of video and computer game media and press write for the developers and publishers rather than to their intended consumer audience, that’s just part of the game. You can’t get developers and publishers of this caliber mad at you, you’d lose all the perks.

Battletoads is the probably the most prominent of example of customers rejecting a title based on its visual style. This wouldn’t happen to a new IP. With Battletoads, consumers know what what it should look like, they feel its energy and enjoy the visual flavour the series and its appearances have offered to the audiences. It should’ve been easy to hit the sweet spot between a modern style and classical look. If nothing else comes from this game, at least there’s a lesson to be learned how not to ignore consumer expectations.

Broken Luv

One pastime I’ve seen Muv-Luv taking part in has been making up ways how the core story could be translated and adapted for animation. Everything from two cours (aka twenty-four episodes) to a series of movies, things have been explored a lot. However, very few of the discussions have been what I’d describe realistic. They’ve been best case scenarios after all. With the announcement of Muv-Luv Alternative in Animation, the issue has become less academical. I’ll be using that in Animation suffix when specifically speaking about the upcoming animation to make a clear difference. It’s not its official title or anything, but I like the sound of it. Sue me. Guesses are left and right what form the adaptation will take and how many episodes, what changes will be made, what studio will be working on it and how the air-intake hairs will survive. Looking at modern trends and the history of Muv-Luv in animation should give us some idea.

The main reason Muv-Luv  as a whole can’t be adapted for television or otherwise is because at its core the storytelling is broken. Fans know that Muv-Luv was originally supposed to be relatively contemporary piece to Kimi ga Nozomu Eien/Rumbling Hearts (which really should be Trembling but âge English is kinda like that.) It was not intended to be three-part sprawling venture, but as KGNE saw success, plans grew and bloated to the point where it had to be cut in half. Extra was meant to be its namesake, an extra chapter after you’ve managed to find the one true love that would prevent world from going to hell with The Day After, not a character-setting twelve hour comedy romp it became. Unlimited wasn’t supposed to be a thing on itself even, but more akin to different routes that lead to similar ending. After multiple read-through, perhaps needing to unlock all other endings or just few at first, you would be able to find the titular True Love route. With ML Alternative putting emphasis on Takeru being cycled over and over again with little to no memory all the while retaining physical attributes, the original core design of the Visual Novel was completely different what we got. Its scale was smaller, more focused and KGNE‘s running success changed that.  âge originally pushed back Muv-Luv to a 2002  release instead of its original 2001 as they revised its scale, but ultimately had to be pushed out in February 2003 due to the company running out on time and money. At that point, the story the original product was already split and broken. Alternative would definitely follow in 2004. It wouldn’t until February 2006, and in the meanwhile some smaller stopgags like Muv-Luv Supplement were pushed out.

Muv-Luv is often described as a trilogy, but in two titles. This still trips people up, which further shows that something went wrong at some point. Maybe making a difference between Unlimited and Extra was a mistake in itself and something better should’ve been implemented. Merch and spinoffs make good use of the labelling though, but only if you already know what’s what. There is no product separately sold as Muv-Luv Unlimited

Muv-Luv and Muv-Luv Alternative has been criticised for being badly paced, and that’s just one result of the work as a whole becoming so huge. The Genre Shift between Extra and Unlimited is a direct result of this as well, which has lead many people to dislike the now-first part of the three core stories. Multiple real-world events changed the plot-line here and there, like the 2005 London bombing. Certain event later in Alternative probably saw the most changes, as âge wanted to avoid accusations of portraying terrorism in a positive light. That wasn’t the only issue, during development âge always feared that their work would be be labelled as extremely right-wing, so the original version of MLA’s Imperial Japan went through revisions. Some hints to the original plotlines still exist in the final work, like having a tsunami at the end of Operation 21st, whereas originally it as supposed to devastate Niigata. 2004 Chuuetsu earthquake was the reason its results are largely glossed over rather than be a significant part of the story, where Kashiwagi was supposed to have a major role. Discussion whether or not real world events should be allowed to influence artistic integrity and vision like this may be relevant, but at the same time we also have to remember how Muv-Luv overall is a commercial product and companies have to be aware of how they depict things in order to avoid bad rap. It’s a careful balancing act, sometimes you have to sacrifice some of your vision for the sake of the product itself.

With numerous revisions that weren’t originally intended, bloat finding its way in with meandering bits here and there, it’s not hard to see where bloat sets in by itself (just like this post, amrite guys?). Things kind of just ran ahead of themselves as the scope grew, but deadlines are a bitch and you can’t delay a product indefinitely, no matter how âge would like to do so. All three parts suffer from spots where the story grinds to a halt. The VNs are somewhat infamous for halting the progress of the story to deliver information to reader in major sections as info dumps. Very few works have managed to drop an hour’s worth of info into the reader’s lap and expect the reader to absorb it, and Muv-Luv isn’t one of them. No matter how interested you’re into the characters and the world, being stuck in a literal school lesson for information that could have been worked in better is simply bad design. Lacrosse arc’s existence is literally just to foreshadow how the character dynamics will clash later in, and has an equivalent even later in the story, yet the arc itself is considered to be low point in the whole body of work. It’s dull and we already knew the character’s personalities at that point. It’s overly long and some people just skip it. Despite the story itself being damn well written at its core, the bloat shows itself here and there. Muv-Luv is at its best when it has a nice jogging pace with few moments to slow down here and there before the events hit a nitro boost. It likes to wallow in going on and on about things, especially during Alternative. Being invested into the characters is its saving grace, but that’s almost a coin toss.

If an animation would like to cover all of Muv-Luv as it stands now, from the very start of Extra to the very finish of Alternative, we’re too late for that. With the lack of success with Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse and near total disaster with Schwarzesmarken, I can assure you Muv-Luv Alternative‘s animation adaptation will not get more than one cours, twelve episodes. The IP may have been in a better in late 00’s when Akane Maniax was supposed to set Muv-Luv animation up, which never happened as the deal fell through, but now the IP is volatile at best, dangerous money waste at worst. âge has not produced anything that has made an impact since Alternative and I’d argue their most successful project after that was the Kickstarter. That of course attracted lot of attention and played large part in the future of âge. A million dollar crowdfunding from an internationally unknown company is bound to raise some attention. We know that something is always going on in the corporate background, and you can bet animation rights were discussed in the background at that time, culminating in in Animation. Avex’s obtaining âge from Acid and ixtl being terminated in favour of /restructured into aNCHOR are all results from âge’s media failures and Kickstarter’s success. We should put an emphasis on the Kickstarter, as it served as a cornerstone for âge’s real realisation that they got international fans and untapped market. Well, as untapped as you can get with Visual Novels, they’re not exactly a success in Japan either with handful of companies going bust each year. The media being sold as games harms it, as it does not represent its true nature as literature allowed by our digital age. In short; VN based IPs are pretty fucked at the moment, unless they can diversify themselves. âge’s both mobile games have failed and closed in about year after their launch, VNs sales have been lacking (mostly due to lack of products) and both television shows were effectively bust. âge might still have faith in the IP, but the surrounding companies will think twice or thrice before throwing their lot in.

All this, and the current trends, tells me that Muv-Luv Alternative will be a one cours show with about twelve episodes. We’ve already seen numerous redesigns of the characters in Exogularity books, and modern take on the characters is effectively required. The show and the story must be retooled to fit the modern age, both in its core structure and in designs. I’ll argue that the Tactical Surface Fighters are the best designs in the franchise, as they’ve been designed to be largely ageless. They don’t really look like mechas from the early and mid-00’s. Hell, if anything the visual flavour TSFs are in has become somewhat popular. Sure, you have the paper thin waist and some oddities here and there, but largely TSF designs are made well enough to still look fresh. The same can’t be said for the characters, who look like they’re stuck in the change of millennium. Anime style has dropped geometrical (and puffy) hair in favour of sleeker, flatter hair. I don’t find anything offensive about the characters despite being an old fart who still buys 1980’s comics like they were new, yet we can’t ignore how each era has its own visual flavour. The above are not the animation designs or anything related to the animation in itself, but this is the direction we’re going to some extent. âge is a trend follower rather than setter in this. Despite Ban being 10/10 in visual style and I would want him to be employed 24/7 with everything I love, you should expect something different still. Something that’s already tested the waters and that is massively successful. Maybe the guy who did Girls und Panzers or the LoveLive guy will do the redesigns for the anime. Those have been popular shows, and something people would recognise. Hell now I want to see Sugimori-style Muv-Luv content just for the kickers.

One cours adaptation might be able to fix Muv-Luv‘s pacing as much as it probably will completely destroy it. If it gets more than one cours, hey that’d be fine too. However, what Muv-Luv Alternative in Animation needs from the original work is its core intention. The original form of Muv-Luv is still there, under all that extended plotlines and content, all that bloat and info dumps, under all the sectioned and split parts. Let’s take it as face value and consider the title as true; it will be just the Alternative portion of the package. This would mean both Extra and Unlimited would be relegated to being flashbacks and references. The series would be build on mystery about this one guy who clearly knows something bad is going to happen if things aren’t done the right way, but at the same time he doesn’t belong here. There’s a crashed giant robot outside his home, but somehow that doesn’t really phase him. Familiar faces, familiar places, but it’s not his home. Muv-Luv Alternative in Animation would have to build itself on the last cycle of the original design, and on Alternative we got, relegating Extra and Unlimited as necessary flashbacks, maybe even visiting those events. You could start the series with one episode of showcasing everyday comedy in Extra setting, then move into an episode ending cliffhanger with the BETAverse. In between this, show Takeru dreaming of all the other possible routes and events, all the misery and death the world would know if he didn’t put the foreknowledge be obtained from repeated deaths into proper and immediate use. While the Visual Novels build on the reader becoming invested into the characters and even falling in love with them, that is the result of the whole product having been restructured. It has become the VNs main strength and weakness. If you’re dedicated and invested in these characters, you will stand through the bloat and bad pacing. Hell, you probably won’t notice them all that much, because you’re heart and soul is in it. If you’re not, the rest will probably kill your interest before you get to the main dish of the whole story. Muv-Luv Alternative in Animation has to focus on the core and leave all what we now consider as set-up as something a mystery. Other characters will get emphasised, lesser ones will be cut. The same applies to events, and some will see modified, rest assured. Twelve episodes is enough to adapt Alternative with some Extra and Unlimited trickled in, but as said, it’s a delicate surgeon’s job. It will be familiar to the fans, but at the same time, this show really needs to be a hit with the larger audience. At this point, a Muv-Luv Alternative animation can’t serve just a commercial vehicle for the Visual Novels, we’re about a decade too late for that.

While we’re at it, go watch AyuMayu Theatre

I have no data why âge’s 20th anniversary stream didn’t put anything solid down on development and releases outside Project MIKHAIL. All we got We’d like to do this and We don’ have budget set. At face value you could almost believe that âge doesn’t have the money to put projects into full development cycle and publish their products. Maybe that rumoured Kimi ga Nozomu Eien translation got stuck due to the same issue, maybe requiring crowdfunding down the line or be split into two products like Schwarzesmarken was. SM VN’s sales were terrible, mind you, splitting a whole product like that is never a good idea. Except they kind of did that with Muv-Luv already. Still, the lack of sales would indicate this for sure, but at the same time I have to question if the fans have been the only thing keeping âge alive? If the fandom wasn’t so solid and willing towards the company, would âge have gone the way of the dodo already? That Kimi ga Nozomu Eien remake has been in the works on some level for at least five years now, and Muv-Luv Integrate seems to take elements from Strike Frontier’s second season but I’ll get to that whenever I write about Integrate. A new The Day After probably will most like maybe be done. Everything’s vague, outside that we’re going to get that animation, and that’s probably a linchpin in all this. If this is the third time a Muv-Luv animation fails, they don’t have much material to work on anymore. The core story where everything else stems from has to hit the mark, there really aren’t any other options.

Just as a quick tangent, what can they hope to do with Kimi ga Nozomu Eien‘s Reboot? The story doesn’t need more elaboration on, it is a full package unto itself. The only worthwhile addition I can see it happening to it if they’d actually make it more an actual game, with scheduled events, character stat management and Adventure game styled options to interact with each scene. I don’t have faith that modern âge can add anything worthwhile to the package. If it’s going to end up being similar to Kimi ga Ita Kisetsu remake, aka worthless waste of everyone’s time, I can say I’m not interested. I may be be a fan, but I’m not one to blow money blindly on products that can’t make their original versions obsolete. Sure, modernise it with new style, tweak the story a bit here and there to fix some of its problems, maybe add a scenario or two, but what are they going to do in order to add unique value? Tie it more to Muv-Luv? I’d consider that a major misstep. Integrate may be a project to bring all that together, but Christ if everything just ends up being Muv-Luv in a way or another, I’d like to have that early 00’s struggling âge back in order to force them to work with smaller scale titles and even more limited budget and staff. It’d be the very opposite of diversifying your product line. KGNE Reboot has to have value on its own, something that will both obsolete the original product and its Latest Edition iteration, and make it stand alone on its own two feet without resorting to nostalgia and other IPs.

It’s both rather funny and disheartening to consider Kimi ga Nozomu Eien to be âge’s breakout title, but also the title that made the company name to be reckoned with. As much as Muv-Luv Alternative is talked to have influenced this and that, like Attack on Titan, it still had less an impact that KGNE. Hell, at the time I was reading Japanese magazines claiming the title solely created so-called nakege, titles intended for the consumer to cry over due to its emotionally hitting writing and topics. Tsundere is often coined for âge and KGNE as the originator, which isn’t exactly all that correct, but sure let’s just go with it. It was also KGNE animation that broke through to the general consensus and people who didn’t care for VNs at the time were reportedly picking up the PS2 version just to check the it out. The sheer success of that one property was never replicated in later works, and ultimately âge became almost obsessed solely to make Muv-Luv related products, dropping their other sub-brands completely and all other types of products they were making. I don’t see this as a healthy way of doing  business. Visual Novel companies never had million dollar budgets to throw around, especially now that they’re a slowly dying niche. It is a small miracle Muv-Luv and Alternative were even made with in their current form, especially by a company who often gets criticised for mishandling scheduling and budgets.

I’m not worrying over Muv-Luv Alternative in Animation. If it fails, nothing has changed and the course of the company will stay the same. If it succeeds, âge should have more resources under its belt to get something off the ground again. While you can live on your core fans to certain point, with remakes, localisations and sequels, expanding that base is required if you want to do more and expand your company. Maybe building a full-fledged strategy RPG could do the trick, or an action game similar to Virtual-On and Another Century’s Episode could do draw in some attention. The setting surely allows all this. Perhaps finally create something new and not rely on Muv-Luv as the only piece they have to offer.

I hope I’m not alone in thinking how Muv-Luv and Muv-Luv Alternative together make a great story, but the way the story is told in the Visual Novels is not exactly a class in masterclass prose. Perhaps the original intention was worse, maybe it was better. Maybe all those revisions, all the work that, blood and tears that went into making its final form, flawed and lacking as it may be, allowed the title to be the very best it could. It might have become somewhat impenetrable to some. Muv-Luv may not have become a pop-cultural juggernaut, but its impact on different sects of popular sub-cultures can’t be denied. If Muv-Luv were ever to get a full-on remake, I’d wish the originally intended form to be implemented, that its original intention would be realised  in full-scale. in Animation has all the chances to fix the spots where Alternative faulters. It’s going to be a tough job, especially all the while it has to be modernised for completely new audience that wasn’t there in the early and mid 00’s. Expectations are high. We’ll have to sit tight to wait and see.

Gaming Disorder lacks supporting evidence still

As a prepper for this post, I’d recommend reading on ICD-11 in my two previous posts about the topic. Long story short though, APA’s and WHO’ recognised Gaming Disorder in May of 2019, which is determined by three factors: impaired control over gaming, where a person can’t control intensity, time, context or termination of a playing session; increased priority given to gaming over other daily activities and interests; and constant continuation and escalation of gaming despite its harmful effects on the patient and his surroundings. If these sound somewhat loose, that’s because they are. The determinants can fit any person who has a keen interest and passion to anything ranging from people who go to the gym, dancers, film fanatics and so on. The diagnosis was pushed through despite lacking in hard data and evidence, and unnamed whistleblowers have stated that it passed because of certain Asian countries pushing for it. It’s not hard to see China having its fingers in the pie, considering China has been getting bad rap for its Social status system, and now have put legislative limitations how long a minor can play. There’s also a curfew, disallowing plating games between 22:00 and 08:00. There’s also limitations on how much money people can spend on games.

University of Oxford recently announced results of a study, where they found gaming to have no real psychologically negative impact on their set of 1000 participants. The study found that adolescents’ gaming was more tied to their innate and natural need for competition, competence, autonomy and part of social belonging with their peers as part of their social circles. This isn’t anything new in itself, as play has always been part of human social structure. Despite what adults may tell their kids, even adults play games, be it chess, cards or whatnot. The form of play may change, even become work, but play is necessary link of almost every psyche on this planet. Key findings from the research support this, as most adolescents played at least one Internet game-based game daily, aka some sort of online multiplayer game, less than half online gamers reported symptoms of obsessive gaming, daily players clocked around three hours of highly engaged and motivated playing and there was little evidence of obsessive gaming impacting the participants. While allowing the participants to fill in their own forms and reporting on their behaviour isn’t exactly the best method, we should note their guardians were also part of the study and probably could see their children’s habits a bit better.

However, it would seem like a minority of gamers still found themselves obsessively playing games due to everyday frustrations and psychological satisfactions games bring. It would seem that modern gaming offers similar gateways for escapism as literature and film do, but this time with the element of action, not just inaction. It should not be surprising that a person might find escapist satisfaction in an online multiplayer game, where he might be a grand knight of some sort, whilst in his everyday life he goes unappreciated and his deeds go unnoticed.

Earlier on, Przybylski was part of a study that found no evidence on video games causing violent behaviour. This research has been described as most definitive to date, noting that there are multiple ways to analyse the same data, resulting in opposite results, in which a researcher can intentionally or not practice cherry picking. While there is no correlation between gaming and violence in the study, it does note that gaming affects the player like any other media or non-digital/electronic game. Trash talking in a competitive situation is more or less normal behaviour and even expected. The issue lays less with games themselves than in expected action and sheer nature of competition. Much like how social media doesn’t drive depression (in reality, it is the people on social media that do it, and you can affect how you feel when using social media by choosing what you view and how) and how technology addiction is supposedly lowering quality of life (which has no basis or support behind it), there are assumptions that the consumed form of media is the main culprit behind the unbalanced behaviour rather than the result. Gaming isn’t like smoking tobacco, but obsessive and excessive gaming could be described to be similar why some people smoke three packs a day; their life is stupidly stressful and they have to have some way out, be it by filling themselves with nicotine to calm and relax themselves or competing in a virtual environment where they excel or want to lose themselves in there.

Of course, if there were no video games to be consumed, these people would find some other outlet for their behaviour. There’s a chart floating around, which shows how violent crimes fell right after Doom was released, jokingly suggesting people who otherwise might’ve end up going on the streets and beating people up opted to play a violent game instead. After all, you can get an extremely intense feeling and its release with a video game, perhaps even safer than what would otherwise be possible. While I’m not suggesting games are full replacement for real actions, substitute actions via play is again something very much part of human nature and such things as playfighting is what animals do as well. We’ve just managed to create elaborate virtual environments for that. Forbes has a small article on this, pointing out that there are numerous studies mostly pointing the opposite.

If you’ve read this blog to some extent, you’ve heard all this before, and probably know that the unsaid criticism of modern game studies and industry itself is that it’s nothing new; video and computer games are just the same old games in a new package. Playing games and losing yourself in fiction is nothing new, they have existed in the human psyche for ages. Only the way play has been presented and packaged as has changed. At the base level, playing a game is still a form of competition against or for something. The Gaming Disorder is putting a blame on something that, in reality, has little to do with the lack of mental well-being in daily life that drives some people to obsessive gaming. If there were no modern electronic games, the object of obsession would be something different, like gambling or other from of media. It’s an easy blame for a problem that is hard to handle and solve.

Action that drives the narrative

The more scholar video video games consumers out there have often argued to my face that the games are at their best when they are driven by a narrative, that games need to grow from their infantile state to something more whole and unique, to more mature a form to take part among other fully formed media like film and literature. Reading through some comments left on numerous Youtube videos on Death Stranding reminded me how little consumers think of video games, especially its main audience. Yes, reading through ‘tube comments is about as recommended task as licking a malaria ridden opossum, but sometimes curiosity takes wins over sense.

In all seriousness, it’s no surprise that consumers use theories and practices used in film and literature theory when discussing video game storytelling. This is understandable to an extent, as they are considered higher in the hierarchy of studies over game and play studies, topics which people who work with children have to be relatively familiar with. When we discuss story driven games with children, we are talking about a directed play, where play is directed and told through a story. The story in itself is important only as a setting, something to facilitate the actual intention and core of the game; the play. The narrative however can not advance if the play is not advanced. It’s not unusual for the story to changed due to how the children may play the parts differently from the intended directed play, but that’s business as usual. This isn’t a theatrical play, but a children’s game.

Video games still don’t have dynamic storytelling implemented in them, not in a way where moment to moment decision could directly affect the whole flow the game to wholly different results. For example, you can’t decide to just walk out on the mission for the water purifying chip, that is your set mission and frame you are intended to play in. You have a limited map you can’t escape and certain set role. This is the exact same as in a game of football (your choice, soccer or handegg) where the player is set to play with certain rules. Both the player of football and Fallout must adhere to the set rules. Both can cheat by breaking the rules, though in both cases other would frown on the action, and in case of the football player, he would get a penalty of sorts.

Both games also work in a similar framework of a story. For the football player, it is all the history him and his team alongside the history of his opponents. That is their lives stories all in all. It is truly dynamic and is told bit by bit, injury by injury. Fallout may have a pre-made framing with its story, but neither story can move forwards if there is inaction; the only way a game’s narrative can progress if there is action on the player’s part. If players don’t play, there is no forward motion in the game. The story stands still. The true narrative that moves game forwards, video game or otherwise, is active narrative.

What I mean with active narrative is of course the interaction the user must have and the intention through that action. Pressing buttons in itself is no action of playing, but the meaning behind it is. It is vital, perhaps the most important part, as there is no game that is passive. There must always be a participant to take action and follow readily laid out rules. The opposite of this would be passive narrative, something we practice when we read or watch something. We can’t participate in this narrative, it is readily there and can not be shifted. There is no rules to play according to. The narration of text or video moves along without their consumer. The story of Super Mario Bros. is about a plumber from Brooklyn saving the princess, but the narrative never moves on without the player deciding how the plumber saves the princess. Will he avoid most dangers, or will he attack every possible enemy? Will he come out rich from collecting all the coins, or will he ignore them? How fast he will run through the Worlds, or will he take a more careful pace and just walk along? All these decisions are what makes a game’s active narrative, and it is always dynamic simply because rules of play within a game always allow some variation how game is tackled, often coloured by the player itself.

Fighting games are probably the simplest example of this. There is a tournament and a final boss. Who won the tournament and in what order? The order that playthrough time showcased. There might be ‘official’ story set, but more of then than not that sort of detail is an afterthought. Street Fighter used to handle this in a clever fashion, where each game were in continuity, but not necessarily the way each game set themselves. The story, the little most fighting games had in the 1990’s, was there to facilitate the framing. Guilty Gear XX, or rather its later revisions, handled Story mode in a clever fashion, where paths would change depending how player won or which moves he used. This is completely the opposite to Guilty Gear Xrd, all of which tell their story in a form of a movie. Technically speaking, the game portion of Guilty Gear Xrd has no story, but there is a story that gives enough set-up for the play. Like an example I used years ago, only games could make walking vast distances with nothing in-between interesting because it is action that drives the game and its narrative. Death Stranding, from everything we’ve seen thus far, embodies this the best. Well, next to Desert Bus.

A game requires active narrative. Without one, it ends up being something else, either a film or work of literature. Visual Novels are somewhere between these, it is its own form of media. The fact that the framing has grown more important than the actual sections that drive the narrative is rather strange, but that might just be technological limitations we have now, but also the intentions. Games, as they largely are now, are equivalent of directed play, just without the possibility of real dynamic story. That might be limitations in technology, or just that such video game would be incredibly difficult to design and develop. It is much easier to set a framed structure that gives the player a set-up to play in and motivation to drive them with, like Save the princess.  The rest, hopefully the majority, is all about the story the player carves himself. That is the pull games have over films; the player is the driving force, the necessary element in active narrative.

Music of the Month; P-O-L-O-N

For some weeks now I’ve been trying to tackle how would I write about the death of one Hideo Azuma. He was a major force in the Japanese comic industry during his golden ages in the 1970’s and 1980’s. He worked alongside with such giants as Monkey Punch of Lupin the 3rd from very early on. His humorous gag comics made him relatively popular, and he increased his following by making science fiction comics in the mid-70’s. Azuma is credit for the first mainstream lolicon work Umi Kara Kita Kikai or The Machine that Came from the Sea. This is the kind of classical lolicon I described in a previous post (I highly recommend reading the linked post for context), not the twisted understanding world has now. Azuma’s works became increasingly erotic in nature, and could be said to be one of the forerunners of the styles and themes that coloured the 1980’s Japanese pop-culture, starting with the late 1970’s doujinshi series Cybele, culminating in motifs found if magazines like Manga Burikko and Comic Lemon People. When Osamu Tezuka created Prime Rosehe stated that there was only one person he considered to be his rival and equal to beat in both themes and visuals, and that was Hideo Azuma. He was already a household name, but with his 1977 comic Ochamegami Monogatari Korokoro Polon already having a TV-adaptation, the effect Azuma had on both media and otaku culture in the 1980’s should not be underestimated, he had become a giant.

Azuma’s increasingly larger workload from the past twenty odd years and larger amount of works in numerous big name magazines would cause him to fall into alcoholism and neglect, ultimately making him simply vanish from his work and home for months end, sometimes over a year, with at least one attempted suicide. During these excursions he would live as a homeless man, finding food wherever he could, sometimes finding an odd job he would take to make some kind of living. Ultimately he would be forced into an alcohol rehab centre. Azuma would create a semi-fictional biography of this time with Disappearance Diary, the only work of his that has been translated in English. Some European countries would see the aforementioned Pollon and Azuma’s most famous work, Nanako SOS, localised, but the rest of his library of works has yet to be officially translated. I warmly, and strongly, recommend picking up Disappearance Diary and give it a good read. It should still be available, as the book got reprinted few times over.

Hideo Azuma continued working with comics, never stopping to draw a new comic. The last pages he ever draw were done on his deathbed, the two last pages on a manuscript that probably will never be published. He died of esophageal cancer at age of 69 in October 13th. He had been treated for it for some before, but ultimately there was very little that could be done at the stage the cancer was in.

Hideo Azuma’s works could be described to he humorous, but that’d be disservice. He has a lot of gag comics under his belt, just as he has numerous erotica, science fiction, fantasy and slice-of-life published. He wasn’t limited by one genre, though during the 2000’s and 2010’s people would call his work moe, a term Azuma himself disliked, feeling that would box him into a unnecessarily small range. It could be argued his works paved the way to modern moe, but that would be disservice. His storytelling ranged from very clear cut and straight, like the aforementioned award winning Disappearance Diary, to something that’s almost like a dream, with landscapes and characters floating through the story as if the pages weren’t really there.

This short concept video shows so much of Azuma’s style and looks, but also slightly touches on other works his was inspired by. There is also footage of him working on an illustration, which in itself is a small marvel

Azuma should be considered among the giants of the industry alongside other of his contemporaries. His works may be largely unknown in the West due to the modern stigma on his 1980’s productions, yet the aftershocks can be seen in the current generation of cute comics and shows. Not even the expanded edition of Disappearance Diary has made its way to the Western markets. With the current market, and how most consumers of Japanese comics tend to be on the adult side, Hideo Azuma’s works might find its market. That said, if Tezuka’s works have a hard time making it through the layers, there’s very little chances a publisher will take a chance with Azuma’s work that isn’t an award winner. There are numerous recommended collections of Azuma’s works that shouldn’t take too much effort to publish, but I’m guessing a Western publisher might want to revise some of the covers.

To tell you the truth, I can not do justice to Hideo Azuma’s life and work. It is so expansive and filled with detail I can’t even begin to scratch, as I’ve always put getting into his works aside every time something else has popped up. It’s as if I am too late now, and though becoming a fan of works after author’s death is nothing new to me. This, however, is a case where I’ve consciously been eyeing Hideo Azuma on the sidelines for several years, waiting that best of times for me to jump all in. That of course never came, and perhaps that’s what I learned from him, and from his Disappearance Diary; you have to make it yourself, nothing will wait for you.

To quote someone who knew him better; Rest in peace, king of lolicon.