VPN is digital importing

I’ve been importing games since the NES days. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project was supposed to get a full-blown PAL region release and was even advertised to get one, but the looming SNES probably was the reason they cancelled it. Too bad, TMNTIII is best of the bunch, even better than Turtles in Time. It’s been an easy time overall for importers. Region circumvention has been a thing since day-one and relatively easy. Sometimes you just need two pieces of wire, sometimes you need an extra in-between cart, and sometimes all you need is a boot disc that does the job. However, with the further digitalisation of machines, importing became somewhat an issue with the Xbox 360 and 3DS. The 360 was a semi-region free machine and it was up to the developer/publisher if their game was to work on different region machine. 360’s online store was also region bound to the console’s region, meaning you couldn’t access out-of-region stores and their exclusive titles and content. Sometimes a release of a game would work in two regions, sometimes in all three, but it’s really a toss of a coin without some resources on the ‘net, and not all of them are complete listings.

Importing machines is an adventure and a half unto themselves. With older hardware you’ll come across with stuff like having to get a separate power converter if the power leads are physically connected, or buying a new power cable at easiest. The hardest thing I’ve seen people doing is modding the power components or modding the cables to feed the proper volts and ampere. It would of course solve all the problems with the game compatibility, considering mixing NTSC and PAL software and hardware always produces mixed results, especially if your television doesn’t support both standards (though I know a Russian method to introduce colour to NTSC signal via extra lead on a PAL telly that can’t understand it) , importing consoles really solves a lot of problems in regards of the games and their online stores. The question just is if you’re willing to dish out several hundreds of your local squirrel skins to get one. Chances are that you’re not, and will resort to modding your machine and just use other ways to obtain the games for play.

Why am I talking about importing like this? Importing has been in a breaking point for some time, at least from a personal perspective. Yes, this post is a bit out of character, as you guessed. With the constant and further digitalisation of titles, you’d think unifying the regional availability would not be much of an issue. That’s ultimately hubris, considering everything from regional currency and legislation will step in to block this. You can’t appease everybody, and if you are adamant to attempt to do so, you’ll find yourself offering the same titles in different forms in different regions, which is already what they’ve been doing, or you’ll have to use the tightest and most draconian rules as a whole. I’ve discussed China’s policies to some extent and the whole thing with Sony now practicing global censorship is one of the end results you can get in the end. I would still consider censorship a service failure like this. Hell, it’s a brand failure, as it directly fights against PlayStation’s image as the console of choice for more adult and refined console. Censoring your games just shows how easily the brand is swayed by politics and ideologues outside the market’s wishes and demands, especially when kicking the developers nuts.  What’s the point in importing, if all the titles are the same across regions? One of the many reasons to import titles in the first place was to get uncensored version of the games, or games with extra content that were cut out or added in for whatever reason. The proverbial drive to find the purest version of the game out there usually takes some research, but with older titles you can bet religious and sexual themes, and gore, usually got cut on Nintendo consoles. Things change with time, for better or worse.

With the further digitalisation, using a VPN will end up being a modern way to import things. That is, to gain an access to region specific variety of goods that would not be available to you otherwise. This doesn’t work on consoles that have the region hardcoded into them, but increasing amount of machines allow cross-region stores to be accessed based on the account information. It’s not too uncommon to find a Switch or a PS4 with multiple accounts simply because they serve as a way to access multiple regions. Nevertheless, things like Amazon Prime, Netflix and even Steam can be access out-of-region with a VPN, and get that access protection while you’re at it. VPN, as much as I’d dislike to say it, is more or less a modern way to import in the digital environment that is the Internet. Not as much in ways of how it works, but in the principle of what’s the goal; access to materials that are not available in your region. Is there an echo in here?

This will become more and more relevant as companies want to downsize their physical output. Preaching the inevitable death of physical media has been around for good decade now, but the death has been extremely slow if it is going to happen, and the chances are it will never truly go away. There are too many collectors out there, and Japan still loves their physical media. This will also go in cycles, I bet your ass, where a new generation will begin to appreciate then obsolete way of having a physical copy you yourself own rather than have an access of bits and bytes on a server somewhere via your subscription to a service.

To be completely honest with you, I’m tired of importing, or considering to use a VPN in order to access sites and goods that I can’t otherwise. Some of these breaking legal boundaries without a doubt, especially when it comes to console modifications, and even after importing physical machines to access games sometimes isn’t enough. There are so many hoops and loops to get across, that straight up piracy is simply the best option. The provider won’t lose a sale anyway, because there is no way I could even make a purchase to begin with. You’d think that someone who’s game collection is 41% of imports and 60% with DVD/BD media, all this would be easy and nothing to worry about. I don’t have time for that anymore. Life has become so hectic that I’m late on every project I set up two years ago, not to mention the time I spend socialising with friends has dropped. Readers probably have noticed how my posts have gotten later and later due to this, and I might have to cut blogging to once per week, something I don’t want to do.

If physical goods has one edge over digital, it’s they’re available in online stores to purchase across the globe. As long as the seller is willing to ship outside their own nation, and there are always options, you can procure yourself an item without any hassles. Sometimes you might need a proxy service, but that’s a whole other post I probably will never type out.

Sony’s (possible) China connection

I’ve talked about Sony censoring games recently more than I’ve intended to, in addition with how DoA6 has been more or less a PR disaster (though they’ve turned that a bit around), but that has never been my intention. Talking about censorship in this manner has not been in spirit of the blog, but the latest twists and turns with Sony’s censorship lead me back into this rabbit hole. That said, this won’t be a usual post, and I’ll drop the author persona and try to gobble together something cohesive I’ve been reading around lately.

In an event held for Dies irae some time ago, the developers discuss how Sony has been moving towards disallowing ports and titles that would be R-18 or up, as it would be in case of certain nation’s rating systems. They go further into how these titles are being inspected with a magnifying glass with scrutiny. The developers are then presented with a questionnaire about their product’s content and are required to reply in English. This of course raises a language barrier between any developer who do not have staff with English skills, like most Japanese studios. Dies irae at the time of the event was completely finished and ready to go, but had been sitting on the waiting shelf, waiting for Sony’s approval on the content. Similarly, Nekopara Vol.1 sat on the approval list for the longest time to t he point of my previous post on the subject already thinking it was stealthily cancelled. However, turns out the developers had to spend extra time censoring the title. Interestingly enough, the Switch version has become home for Japanese console titles that have less censorship across the board than the PS4. I talked about the English-only bit previously, but it begs to be repeated as it was just edited in afterwards.

Why would Sony enact these policies relatively suddenly on what seems to be on a global scale? While virtue signalling around probably has something to do with it, seeing practically every company has jumped that ship and have enacted policies across the board to cover their assess just as globally, misaligned intentions from California probably wouldn’t pass at this scale. The reason why I’d argue this is because there is no money in there, and no other company has enacted similar policies. It’s not too often when Sony does something that is not following Nintendo’s example, like with the PlayStation Motion controller, but when they do, it’s always about the money they perceive to be possible.

China, of course, is where a lot of untapped console market might exists.

While China has seen loads of consoles throughout the years, they’ve been mostly pirated copies or heavily modified versions for their market. I’m sure most of my readers are old enough to remember how Chinese products were almost always guaranteed to be complete and utter garbage if they weren’t branded in a certain way or produced in a particular place. That applies nowadays too, but to a lesser extent. Piracy is still a problem, as is rampant IP infringement that the Chinese government themselves mostly ignore, as it brings them revenue. Chinese government is very self-centered and favours in-house competition over any fair and free market, but that is because they are a communist nation. They may not practice pure communism, but Chinese communism nevertheless colours the way business and market works there.

China has argued that video games have harmful effects on their users, and probably were the force that ultimately pushed ICD-11’s video game addiction through, on which I’ve covered in two occasions. ICD-11 regarding video game addiction has weak basis at best, and with official representative admitting Asian governments pushing for its acceptance would jive with how certain Asian nations like China and South Korea. China has become more and more influencing power as their economy has grown, though that bubble might burst sometime in the near future as it has no real basis. Related to their negative view on video games can be found in China’s social credit system, which views video games as harmful and buying too many games within an allotted time will impact a citizen’s credit negatively. None of this has been the first time Chinese government has dabbled in disallowing video games to an extent, as a complete game console ban existed form 2000 to 2014. However, the ban was not lifted because Chinese government deemed game consoles as worthwhile entertainment, but to allow the Shanghai Free Trade Zone to produce these consoles. The government’s attitude towards these consoles and the sheer amount of regulations and censorship they enact on the games require specific modifications to be made just for the market, something that costs resources. Developers of course are less interested in making region specific titles, but rather simply enact the demanded censoring globally. I guess that’s one result of game regions meshing together more and more, and both Sony and Nintendo allowing access to their cross-region stores on any console. That, of course, is one thing the Chinese would not like. For example, when interviewing foreigners they are demanded not to speak of Japan or Taiwan in relation to China. If you follow Western Youtubers like ADVChina or StrangeParts, you can pick certain parts here and there where self-censorship is practiced in order not get in trouble with the local police. The old communist practice of informing another to the government is still in place.

Nintendo did attempt to break into the Chinese game markets in 2003 with a localised variation of N64 named iQue Player with the help of Wei Yen, a Chinese American developer. At the time iQue got some press in the West, but was fast forgotten due to low sales. This Dreamcast controller-lookalike was essentially a plug-n-play console-on-a-chip deal, and was advertised to be beneficial for children’s growth in terms of cognitive thinking and hand-eye coordination skills. What sort of loophole Nintendo and Wei Yen used hasn’t been expanded upon, but some have guessed it being related to the N64 being a console before the ban was put into effect, but it is more probable that the letter of the law banned consoles in a very specific manner, where consoles had separate cartridges. The plug-n-play nature of the system, like that of many Famiclones, circumvented it altogether by not having any separate games, though you could download new games from an iQue Depot or Fugue online. None of the games on the system were exactly offending, with all the text and spoken language were translated into Chinese.

Video game sales, while stronger than what they were a decade ago, don’t seem to sate Sony. Much like in gaming, China has become the main audience and revenue area for Hollywood to the point of China being incorporated into the movies in hamfisted manners, .e.g. including Chinese characters and locations in order to cater to the market. Something like Star Wars could not be a success there, as it can’t be directly made to cater to the Chinese audience without intentionally making it fully transparent and degrading the brand itself. Chinese design mentality has also affected video game character and environmental designs, as they are extremely keen on perfect and beautiful characters. Whole King of Fighters XIV was lambasted for its visual style and design, but that was an intentional design choice in order to appeal to the Chinese market. It is a prime example how a franchise can lose certain kind of ruggedness and down-to-earth designs on their characters and be cleaned, polished and waxed for an audience that wants that sort of visual ‘perfection’ from their entertainment. This is the reason why some Japanese actors, AV, porn or other, have found some success in the Chinese market as they have a chance to sell their looks first and foremost while downplaying their nationality, like Sora Aoi.

However, just as I’ve covered, Chinese market is not easy to access. The 2016 Ghostbusters bombed like no other, and Sony lost more money after it turned out it wouldn’t get a Chinese release due to it having a supernatural element. Numerous games have been censored for the same reason, with violence probably being the largest offender in the eyes of the Chinese, with nudity following as the runner up. The Censorship wikia has some examples listed, but it is woefully incomplete. If a company is intending to enter the market, they have to abide to the rules. It should be noted that despite China pushing censorship on loads of foreign titles across the board, but the same does not apply to their own products, at least not to the same extent.

Sony entering the Chinese market is nothing new, this was news in 2014 when the ban was lifted. The PlayStation 4 has been in China about three years now, and according to Sony their largest challenge has been localisation. Not only the high price of the consoles have curbed the sales, but so has the strict regulation. Last year, only 52 titles were approved to be on sale on the system. That’s 52 out of 1 837. That is less than two percent of the library, and its growing constantly, while the approval rating is stagnating in comparison. This means if a Chinese video game consumer wants access to larger library or certain games, they are required to import or use the system’s digital stores to get off-region sales. That is, if the system or their Internet allows that. China is the biggest single market for games, though the vast majority of it is taken by PC and mobile phone titles. Console gaming, however, doesn’t seem to be all that hot. The China Hero project isn’t dead yet and is entering its second stage, all the while Sony’s pushing both Spider-Man and Monster Hunter World as their killer titles. It should be noted that MonHunWorld‘s Steam version got pulled from the store in China, despite Tencent, the game’s publisher there, had already made changes needing those approvals. Tencent is a company we’ll have to talk some other day.

Sony has tried to push through the market with their China Hero project, which aimed to produce games by Chinese developers to the Chinese consumers. However, that seems to have been a bust. Sony has put lots of money into trying to become a success in the Chinese market, both in and out of gaming, but only their movie division has seen some success. Even then, they’re more or less bleeding money and haven’t had a breakthrough. This leads to the natural idea of simply enacting the demanded limitations and regulations to the games even before they are published on the platform, netting Sony credit both in the eyes of the Chinese government and the fringe political left that demand similar censorship across the board. Saving money all the while ensuring more titles will be available in China seems like a sureshot bet, though whether or not China actually wants these games is a matter altogether different.

All this is just conjecture and a conspiracy theory, I hear you and little voice in my head say. It’s true that there is no solid leads to with and all we have is what we’re presented with. China probably is part of the puzzle as is Sony’s North American section demanding the censorship. However, in business things coincide with each other within one company more than you’d think, and running after a region with little direct competition seems appetising. Considering Sony hasn’t exactly been the leading model for market expansion, their attempt in China should be followed with keen eyes. We’re not talking a company like Nintendo tapping a market with specific products designed to expand the market, but a company putting regulations that would turn all products viable within a market into effect, if I’m even close with all this. This is also why no petition will work, like the one on the change.org. This isn’t just ideological, but also because Sony seems to think PlayStation is a strong brand enough with quality titles to make similar big bucks in Chinese game market. I doubt they expect smartphone game level income, but considering what sort of expectations some of these corporations have, I wouldn’t put it past them altogether either.

All that said, this is probably the best argument against games as art. They’re made into a mould to be pressed and sold, damned be the author’s or authors’ original intent. Sony can deliver whatever flowery PR speech about high art, when they’re effectively stabbing the core idea of free expression.

Stan Lee, 1922-2018

When a person like Stan Lee passes away, there’s very little someone like yours truly can add to what’s already been said and written many times over. To some he has been an inspiration, to some a crook who has taken credit from someone else’s work. Nevertheless, he was one of the main instruments to create Marvel as a comic publishing powerhouse to rival any competition, and did have his hands in creating characters and stories that have turned into modern myths.

While Lee’s cameos in Marvel movies have been his probably the most visible appearances in terms of world wide exposure, the most exposure I got of him was in the comics’ pages themselves. Stan Lee Presents… almost served as a badge of quality. Lee’s voice in the NeverSoft’s Spider-Man game was made the game more legit, something that Lee’s voice lend itself for very well. Hell, he even appeared in-person in the 90’s Spider-man cartoon. Then again, his first appearance was in the 1989’s The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, so he has a history with these, both in and out of Marvel related productions.

Even if all this was a facade, just a front to serve Stan Lee better as the company face, I can’t doubt his enthusiasm to be in almost everything he was part of. To take his own words at face value, Stan Lee ended up loving the fact he entertained people through the comics. They served as a basis to delight, scare and bring new worlds and experiences to the reader, sometimes just brightening up someone’s day, sometimes perhaps even pulling them away from the edge. Bringing joy to people just by being there seemed to be a lot for him, and probably the paycheck that it brought with it, but let that one slide for now.

He was a character that seemed to be full of life and joy, though at the later years of his life there had been some rumours that age had got to him, and how there were people in his close circles trying to swindle his property away from him. Of course, only few are privy how he really was for all those years, but as a legendary icon, it doesn’t really matter much. This is one of those cases, where the person has been eclipsed by his cultural status and has embraced it. I’d say we should too, at least for the time being before historians and nerds begin write biographies and True Stories of Stan Lee.

That’s where Stan Lee will stay for long time. The image people have in their heads about him vary somewhat, but often I see people drawing him with the heroes he created, next to a drawing table or otherwise entwined with then goings of comics and related phenomena. Always smiling in his trademark glasses and moustache, and that go-get ’em attitude. Dare I say, as an icon, Lee’s legacy could be called inspirational. Perhaps that’s why I returned making an entry about a celebrity’s death, despite stopped doing so after few early on in my blogging. In my head, I always reserved two more spots after Ralph McQuarrie; for Stan Lee and Go Nagai. While I can’t say I am sad at his departure, I can’t deny a part of me thinks that something that has been with me on the pages of comics has now left.

There will be someone to take his place, at some point. There won’t be another Stan Lee, but there is no need for that. If Lee was there to entertain us, there are and will be people who would take up on that mantle, and entertain us like there was no other, in their own fantastic and amazing ways.

Excelsior to eternity, Stan Lee.

An era of hamfisted franchises

Using very sources or examples is never really a proper thing to do, but recently I can’t help but to feel that as of late more and more companies have been trying to expand their franchises at the cost of the core audience. I don’t mean the usual memetic way, but at the expense of the franchise themselves.

Take both Star Trek and Star Wars as an example. Hell, throw in Ghostbusters in there for good measure. I’m not wondering what the hell happened, because we know what happened in both cases. With Star Trek, we first had the Abrams’ reboot films, which weren’t great to any degree. He didn’t care about the franchise, he didn’t get it. Whatever he did wasn’t in the spirit of Trek and it showed on-screen. The same applies to the second movie, revisiting the same beats for characters like Spock being essentially reset to his original form in the first movie. The PR team directly lying to the audiences about the villain disn’t do any favours. After all, trying to remake what is considered the best of Star Trek movies is a tall task, something the writers and directors weren’t up to. Into Darkness is considered the worst in the series for a good reason, even if it hamfists the usual Trek message in like a truck. Third film may be a fan favourite from the reboot timeline, bu that’s little worth when the movie itself made the least amount of revenues.

All this is really ramps up with Star Trek Discovery, the least viewed Trek if we go by what Midnight’s Edge’s latest Trek video. The overall reaction to it has been less than favourable, but this is not surprising. Les Moonves micromanaged the show to the point of failure. He didn’t care for the franchise, but saw the potential in it to make money. What he or the rest of CBS’ staff didn’t seem to realise that failure would mean further losses on the long run. Any person running a franchise with fifty years of history and a cultural position will tell you that you don’t play the game for short-term gains. The Next Generation‘s later seasons, and the subsequent series didn’t dabble in current politics too much. Instead, good storytelling was at the front with the occasional thematic comment, much like how the Original Series had gone. Deep Space 9 had few episodes that were about racism and culture, yet these were woven into the story in a significant way. The same can’t be said about Discovery, which sadly pushes the politics over the story to the point of the main character Michael Burnham being unable to do anything wrong and comes out the most unpleasant main spot character across the franchise. Pretty much everything was driven by political ideology, with Klingons being turned into representation of political views.

Star Wars suffers from this same approach. Rather than tell a good story, a fitting story for the franchise, Episode VII gave us a terrible story that only got worse in the next mainline movie. The current Expanded Universe has seen vehicles for further one-sided agenda both in books and comics in a similar manner, and it all shows in the falling revenues.

There is no respect towards the franchises or the stories in either camp.

The best stories in either Trek or Wars have been fantastical character pieces. The comparisons of current politics have always been present, but largely in an allegorical method or as motif that is woven in to the overall fabric. You may not notice them, but your brain sure does. This is where so many modern stories fail. For example, the struggle between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire is an allegory to certain war with small and technologically weak group fighting a large and overpowering enemy, the Viet Cong against the United States. However, that isn’t emphasized to any degree within the Sequel Trilogy outside the setup.

The First Order from the new movies abandon this altogether and simply makes them sci-fi Nazi Germany, both in action and visuals. This lack of any sort of subtle approach undermines whatever the writer wanted to say to the point of making the First Order seem like Saturday morning cartoon villains, especially in Episode VIII.

The difference between the two isn’t just that Nazi Germany, or Nazis overall, aren’t just largely irrelevant nowadays as a political power, but also shows the fundamental misunderstanding of the franchise and its visuals. This applied to the older Expanded Universe as well, which explain clearly how the Third Reich marched into the cinemas. Abrams can tell us he is a fan of Star Wars how many times he wants, but the end result shows that he isn’t up to the task to write a good Star Wars movie like so many other before him. The same applies to largely almost every piece of SW fiction produced under Disney rule. It is understandable that Disney didn’t want to start making movies based off the Thrawn Trilogy or the like, as that would have meant they’d need to pone up some money for the original writers. The less they have to tie themselves to pre-existing stories and can make whatever the hell they can all the while milking fans’ affection towards characters like Thrawn, it’s all good to them.

Except when their movies are bombing and toys are barely selling. Disney is now trying to course correct the franchise with their next mainline movie, despite being adamant that nothing has been going wrong. Hollywood PR mandates a studio to keep their shit straight and tell nothing’s wrong, until sometime later they can just admit everything being gone to hell and silently try to fix stuff. It’d be better PR to admit they’ve gone wrong and are looking into ways to correct the matter. You’ll never see a studio do this though.

Trek is also taking a new direction, trying to capitalise on the success of The Orville of all things. ST Discovery‘s second season trailer already shows that they have a new direction, with emphasize on more adventure and fun, with Lower Decks being a straight out comedy from the writer of Rick and Morty. While we shouldn’t pass a judgement on series that haven’t even aired an episode yet, but an educated guess about their intentions isn’t hard to make. Discovery, by all means, has been a failure. Rather than looking at what makes a good Trek show and how to go on about it, CBS has opted to see what the direct competitor was doing and wants The Orville audience. Doing comedic Star Trek isn’t the way, doing proper Star Trek and not whatever Discovery ended up being should have been their first course of action, but that’s not how business is done when blind data is looked at without any consideration to the franchise.

Maybe all of these companies should look into making new IPs rather than bastardise existing ones to function as their vehicles. The Orville did it, against all the odds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on designing a Switch dock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subscription service as the future of video games?

Screw the blog personality for this post. We’re doing this in-person. Shigsy had an interview with Bloomberg, where he warns other video game developers about greed. This is rich, coming from a dev who can do whatever the hell he wants rather than doing titles that the market has yearned for some time. It’s no secret 2D Mario titles sell more than 3D ones, but they’re too much work and bothersome to design. He’d rather have games developed like a school project.

Shigsy doesn’t really say anything especially worthwhile. His criticism on F2P and lootboxes echoes so many others, and you can read between the lines how there is irritation about mobile games with gacha are making tons of money. Fate Grand Order or whatever it was is making millions per day, supposedly. Shigsy saying the fixed-cost model hasn’t been a success is bullshit though. Something that has worked for pretty much everything thus far doesn’t suddenly become unsuccessful just it seems to be under fire now. Sure, Shigsy talks mostly in context of mobile gaming. Nintendo tackling mobile games has been criticised for good reasons, as the market is widely different from console game market. It’s like entering a market selling pizzas with hamburgers. There is a reason why Nintendo’s IPs on computers has always been handled by other companies, like Hudson with Super Mario Bros. Special.

Shigsy clearly likes the idea of subscription based gaming, like how Netflix is for movies and TV shows. To him, how games have been sold thus far seems to have failed despite gaming has become larger than Hollywood through it. F2P games with in-game purchases is greedy way to make profit to him, but this is business. You make money the best way you can. Subbing services on the other hand would still have the consumer pay a front fee to access titles to begin with, but just as with Netflix and other of its competitors, the question about what games would be available. Nintendo’s upcoming service for the Switch is abysmal in this, as the game variety they’re offering is extremely limited. A subbing service requires to have extremely wide variety of titles, and having something else than the same NES titles over and over.

It’s trite for Shigsy to argue for Nintendo wanting to bring their games to widest possible audience via mobile games. If Nintendo truly wanted to do this, they’re start doing third party games for Microsoft and Sony. That’s not going to happen, so what they’re really about with mobile games is cross-platform advertising. Show people who play games on mobile phones how great titles Nintendo has with selected IPs, and maybe some of them will be interested enough to jump the bandwagon with Switch.

This has been Nintendo’s strategy with across media platforms and consumables before as well. All the cartoons, toys, cereals, comics and so on were only to promote Nintendo’s games and consoles. Mobile phone games are the exact same thing, as their primary value is to advertise the brands and IPs instead of raking money on themselves.

I’m almost baffled how Shigsy thinks there isn’t already a culture of paying for valued software. Your normal everyday person doesn’t have thousands or millions to blow money on games. Hell, most people don’t even put hundreds into games. Outside some stupidly obsessed people, consumers have a very strong tendency on purchasing products they deem worthy. Nobody simply blows their cash on whatever kind of products if they can help.

Considering Nintendo of Japan seems to has jack shit understanding about global market, I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t one of Shigsy’s and Nintendo’s brain farts how consumers act. The main reason why Fire Emblem and Famicom Wars never hit the West before GBA was because Nintendo’s staff thought Americans didn’t like strategy games, despite PCs being filled with them. Then again, this probably is partially true due to how most successful strategy games have been on PC, and we’ve seen, Nintendo didn’t deal in the PC market. Nevertheless, Advance Wars became more popular in the West than in Japan. Then you had Nintendo’s official, can’t remember who, proudly mentioning how Japanese children loved to craft and play with cardboard. Honestly, Nintendo’s corporate culture in this sense has their heads deep in their asses. This line really should be read that Shigsy wants a culture where games he values would be purchased. I bet he is still salty about Donkey Kong Country being the breakthrough title for the Super Nintendo.

Consumers already have a habit of paying money for applications and software  they deem worth the money. Trying to act like this is not the case goes against reality. If this is some sort of jab at piracy and how Nintendo has been fighting against ROMs and the like as of late, it further shows how out of loop he and the rest of the company is. Virtual Console was a massive success to the point of titles outselling new games Nintendo was putting out. There is a market for these older titles, hence why people are willing to pirate and play ROMs. This the same reason why the Classic Mini systems are selling like hotcakes. By not offering a way for consumers to purchase and access them is effectively shooting yourself to the leg and not offering software people are willing to pay for. This isn’t any goddamn rocket science. The habit Shigsy wants consumers to have is already there, but they’re not willing to provide the software. On the contrary, they’ve killed all avenues to obtain these titles. Furthermore, piracy has promoted products far more than any other field; it is not an outright negative impact in itself. A pirated title is not a lost sale, as the case often is that there was no intention to purchase that title in the first place. Comparison with music streaming is false equivalency but its the best Shigsy can muster. You can’t play games Youtube either, so into the trash with it.

Does changing things into Netflix-like subbing service change anything in this? Of course not. If the library of games is lacklustre compared to other similar services, or even outright stores, you won’t see customers subbing. The price has to be low enough to warrant subbing to it as well, and lose all rights to the games. Never underestimate customers’ will to have ownership over what they’ve paid.

CBS should trek toward something new

With the recent new of Patrick Steward returning as Jean-Luc Picard in his own Star Trek spinoff after the questionable ST Discovery. With CBS now footing the bill for the second season after Netflix essentially paying for the ride for the first one, Abrams’ Trek movies effectively being dead in the water as main cast members are walking away from it and Les Moonves of CBS still wanting to screw things up to the point crashing the franchise. Midnight’s Edge’s recent video goes over the background events of the Abrams’ Trek movies, what the current license and copyright mess is and dire the situation for the franchise is overall. To put it short; the man currently in charge doesn’t like SF and wants to remove all the history of Star Trek by somehow collapsing timelines in-fiction to justify to do whatever kind of story he wants.

The thing is, he always could.

The worst decision that franchises like this do is writing prequels. By doing that, the staff is essentially tied to defined future of the story. If they break the future, the overall story and canon makes less and less sense with each little breakage. One drop doesn’t break a damn, but enough drops turn into a tidal whale. For long time fans of any franchise, they know how prequels often turn out. Not all that great, sometimes even sullying the story they’re based on.

The better option is to move forwards. If Star Trek Discovery had been another Trek show set in whatever time span after Star Trek: Nemesis, there would have been far less cacophony from the audience. No strings attached, no character references needed, no plot points to follow, everything can be made new and shiny.

But that takes effort and references seem to something Hollywood and TV writers and execs things are needed to bring in the fanbase. They seem to treat their audience as some sort of imbeciles.

References to past parts of a franchise is the easiest way to make sure the fans and general audience in the know understand that the series is part of it. For Star Trek, it’s the recurring species of Klingons and such with the occasional visitor from other shows, like how DeForest Kelley made an appearance in the first episode of The Next Generation as an older Leonard McCoy. While it supposedly gives legitimacy to the series as a sequel, it all really ends up being useless fan pandering. Similarly, Picard appeared in Deep Space 9‘s first episode to give it a sendoff, and that was about just as needless. The story had already tied itself to a past even, the Battle of Wolf 359. It can be argued that this was more a necessary cameo due to Picard’s role as the enemy in that battle, and to showcase the difference between Sisko and Picard. Problem of course was, the show could’ve done this by itself. At worst, a cameo like this makes a show look weak, as if it couldn’t stand on its own two legs. This was one of Discovery‘s worst weakness, as it was directly tied to the Original series through introducing yet another relative to Spock, and using Spock’ father Sarek prominently throughout the first season. The second season will have Spock in some role as well, meaning Discovery further loses its unique status as a show and as a story, making the world so much smaller.

Of course, it is financially more viable to do this. Referencing and using existing characters and actors ensures the fans, or at least part of the fandom, will flock and pay for these characters. This allows modern versions to be made of these characters and these modernisations then can be licensed onward to toy manufacturers and such. It makes money, and is a safe bet to give that aforementioned legitimacy. It’s a no-brainer why CBS told Abrams and Paramount that their Trek wouldn’t be the only game in town in terms of licensing. I don’t believe there ever was brand confusion among core fans, or even with general audiences to any significant extent, as the visuals between Abrams’ Trek and old Star Trek shows were like night and day, or rather, difference between well shot scene and one filled with lensflares. Any audience, fans or not, are willing to pay for products that they have connected with when it comes to franchise merch, and considering how low quality Abram’s Trek is, it’s no wonder why its toys and other merch didn’t sell. On the other hand, the culture at large has direct emotional connection to the classic Star Trek shows, especially in the US, which means its much easier to sell new merch based on those series.

And as I’ve beaten this dead horse, using those characters to which the audience has emotional contact with in other shows is just good financial sense.

In a way, it is always risky to start with new characters as they have no history or properly set path, and it’s a slight gamble whether or not the audience will like them. The audience may no connect with the characters. Neelix from Voyager is a great example how not to do a character in Trek, as he was never improved upon. He stayed a shithead throughout the series. Character like Bashir is a great example how to improve your character throughout the series, as he started as annoying prick, and then evolved into one of the more likeable and stronger characters of the show.

However, despite the risks, starting from a clean table with new characters and new stories without any of the baggage of old yields better rewards than tying things down. All it takes is proper planning and using the heart of the franchise to its fullest extent, and building up a new story with brand new characters. A new Star Trek should just be that, a new Star Trek, advancing what the series can be about and going toward the future, but ever since Enterprise, everything has just stepped backwards and stalling the franchise.