Sakura Wars’ uphill battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compare the two song here;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sony’s warped perception of global standards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do gamers hate change?

While I do a lot to avoid politics and stuff on Twitter, seeing my feed is mostly about T&A and old oriental comics, sometimes I do see the occasional message about news that matter or political opinion. I don’t know who David Jaffe is nor do I really care, but the his tweet about, and I quote, basically hating change did get me thinking if he has something there. After all, gamers confuse him, but perhaps that’s because gamer is still a label that is very fluid and doesn’t stick with all. For example, yours truly most likely would be labelled as a gamer in overall terms, but the amount of time I spend writing exceeds the time I play per week, and the time I work is geometrically higher. Anecdotes don’t really count, but let’s try to be a bit Buddhist about this and consider for this once a subjective view.

All living beings have an aversion to pain. Humans are no different, we are mostly prefer to avoid risk and pain. We resist any chance of having us caused pain. We’re creatures of status quo comfort, and if something is rocking the boat, we are extremely vary of its causes and how it might affect us negatively. Change might be the only constant we have, until the probable heat death of the universe, but before that change will always offer us risks, and risks can be painful, be it physically or mentally. I’m not trying to be a smert person, just echoing things I’ve been taught in school and read from books. Of course change is the only thing that pushes us forwards, but evolution of things is a different thing.

Do gamers hate change? As much as any person out there. However, the examples Jaffe uses, Epic Games Store, Stadia and VR, are not new things. Epic Games Store is yet another digital platform on computer, which has not gained much positive press as of late. That aside, what it offers in its library doesn’t seem to appeal to all, but if that 40% users not having Steam account is true, then it does have its own niche and a consumer base that values it greatly. Good for the Epic Games Store, I hope they just get their shit straight and manage to do proper PR in order to do better in competition against GOG, Origin, Steam and such. I talked Stadia previously and how it  is not really nothing new. The only new thing about it is really the better infrastructure Google can offer, but that’s pretty much it. Gaming on demand is about decade old at this point, and has proven to be relatively hampered. Maybe Google can pull it off, but they also need to offer a solid library. As for VR, let’s be a bit Buddhist about it again. I tried VR in the 1990’s, 00’s and 10’s. I’ve never been impressed by it. Whatever the technology of VR offers, the library and its usage isn’t there. VR software for video or computer games doesn’t seem to work as imagined, or doesn’t have the technology to back it up. There is a cultural mentality what VR should be has not met. Outside my own experiences of VR being either a toy that’s not used well, or is throw in as an after thought, we heard from John Riccitiello last year how VR has yet to make a breakthrough and reasons for it. I have a post about it. Long story short; VR needs to advance in terms of software. To be completely open, VR seems to be more usable for research and furthering science than used for entertainment, and I would completely support moving it to that direction.

Jaffe seems to mix gamers as a whole to early adopters of technology, as well as lumping all kinds of gamers into one bunch. This is, of course, disingenuous to a large extent, but maybe he is just trying to rile people up. PC gamers might be tech savvy, they have to be. Building a PC is stupid simple nowadays though and even an idiot could build one. It’s like building a LEGO set. A very expensive LEGO set, with electricity and RGB everywhere. Console gamers don’t care about that, because they don’t have to. No need to fuss about what goes where or if your machine will run the latest game properly, everything’s set. Naturally there are those who go into both camps, like yours truly who doesn’t really play games on PC but still knows few things about soldering and tech stuff. Being tech savvy to be a gamer is a happy coincidence at best if you’re a gamer. It has to come from somewhere else than being interested in games.

Forward thinking? Maybe early adopters, but this is rather out there. Gamers are comparable consumers to sports fans, or tabletop players or anything that includes an action of play to some extent. A video game player probably doesn’t consider much about the future regarding their hobby outside how well it’ll serve him personally, how many games in the genre he most prefers will get and so on. Each sub-culture of course has their own things they want to push forwards and want to see happening. I doubt many gamers consider the impact their hobby is having on the nature, the world wide culture, the people overall or how it develops the brains. Without a doubt they’re aware of all of this and probably have read about it, but forward thinking? Only in terms how to get the next system or the game they want, rather than furthering something specific under normal conditions. After all, what technology and systems comes next is largely out of the consumers’ hands outside wallet voting, but that’s barely making any dent to companies’ policies overall. Who would’ve thought Nintendo DS with its two screen would’ve made such a splash or the Wii would’ve sold millions with its unconventional controls? The Wii U seemed like a good step forwards with the whole screen business in some terms, but it’s library just wasn’t there. Outside some consumer movements and wallet voting, gamers are like any other consumer group in that they’re reactionary, meaning the companies have to research and look at the numbers and consumer behaviour to deduce what next. Unless you’re Nintendo, who does whatever fuck they want.

Gaming is an expensive hobby, and perhaps such I should argue that a forward thinking gamer would consider seriously what he puts his money into, plans budgets and how to put things forwards rather than jump into whatever bandwagon is currently en vogue. Thanks to the Internet we have access to such amount of information that gamers should be able to make rather well educated guesses what would serve him individually over buying into the hype. Perhaps being tech savvy steps in here, with gamers using their existing hardware and tech to the best of its extent instead of just abandoning it.

Do gamers prefer sitting in their PJ’s, playing SNES and eating Trix? No harm in that. The SNES has a great library of games and very few have played all the games it has to offer. Terranigma, for example, was missed everybody in North America and is a gem worth playing, PJ’s or not. If we’re to read into this a bit too much, over analyse it, it might seem that Jaff considers old games and consoles obsolete, something that you only play when you’re a child. This, of course, would be nonsense and nobody in their right mind would suppose such argument. Much like how Fonda Lee found out that she is competing with all the previously written literature, so are game developers and publishers competing against every old game title out there if available. Any platform that has to make games that reach the quality and status of Super Mario Bros. 3. and its ilk are in deep shit in terms of needing to stand up not just to the massive cultural standing of the title, but also to its sheer game design and quality. Games don’t always go forwards automatically in their quality, and a forward thinking gamer would look back into the history of games and play titles of old to gain perspective for modern games.

Perhaps Jaffe’s confusion about gamers stems that he lumps everyone in one bunch. To be frank about this, only an idiot and a hypocrite would categorise a whole sect of people based on one of their hobbies. No consumer group is made of homogeneous group mind. Playing games is just one part of human identity and doesn’t constitute much in the end. It does denote some aspects of people’s personalities that seem to be common across gamers, but even then that’s generalising far too much. However, the current Internet culture seems to think that one thing is always enough to determine everything about a person or group of people. One person does not represent a whole group, and a group should not be taken as representative of one individual, unless separately stated. Throwing guilt on other just because they associate with someone who belong to a group is inane at best, unnecessarily damaging at worst. The only way to clear some of his confusion away would be ignore his personal bias and views, and fully consider all the views he doesn’t agree with just as equally valid with a point in order further his understanding and lessen his confusion.

To answer the question in the title to end the post; Yes, gamers hate change as much as any people do, and even then, there are incredible amount of individual variety.

On Scanning comics and magazines

While I applauded the sheer amount of unnecessarily large file sizes with stupidly large amount information in scans in my last post about the subject, here I’ll be arguing against this to some extent. It’s all about where you want to go with the result and what you want to preserve.

Perhaps the main example is what you’re aiming at; the original artwork at the core, or the magazine itself. Old magazines tend to yellow their pages, so the question becomes extremely relevant. The lower quality the paper printed on, the worse the picture will end up being. Furthermore, I’ll be using comic scans for this post alone, and at a later date talk about magazine scans that are in colour at some later date as that’s another whole thing. To illustrate the diaspora, I’ll need to use proper examples, right after the jump. We’re bound to have large images sizes in this post, as I don’t want to showcase itty bitty pictures if I can help it.

Continue reading “On Scanning comics and magazines”

Scanning as an act of preservation

As much as piracy get the bad rap from those who seemingly suffer from it, it has constantly functioned as a tool of archiving, even if by accident. I doubt too many groups who ripped games or people who uploaded and shared music on eMule were thinking that they were doing historical archival of the era’ popular culture. This is probably best reflected in how things were, and still are, scanned. Be it books, booklets, manuals etc. you’ll most likely end up with scans that are harshly compressed and filled with artifacting across the board, destroying the original information of the image. This is like having lower and lower bitrate in digital music files, except worse, because usually scans around are of low resolution. Sadly, there are times when original works have been all but lost, and the only things we’re left is  sub-150dpi scans with heavy compression thrown in. They don’t stand to modern standards, they never really did.

Scanning guides on the Internet often seem to recommend using medium settings for the output file, arguing that it’ll save disk space. This may have been an argument in earlier days of computing, when space was at premium. With time, this has become effectively a non-issue, especially with Cloud storage being a thing. Keeping websites light was also a priority, so finding that sweet spot between good-enough quality and load times was important. 56kb dial-up modems weren’t exactly the most effective way to transfer data around, but that’s what was available at the time and can’t really complain about that. Nowadays with blazingly fast connections on our phones, that’s not exactly an issue. All sites are more or less Java hells anyway. Of course, a lot of sites that carry any sort of scans or cover photos would like to keep everything rather small in size in order to avoid copyright infringing claims. Amazon often has small scans from God know when for older products, and even some new products have extremely limited size, from which you can’t really see much. Again, the bandwidth and storage space is cited to be the issue, but nothing really would keep these guys from using a thumbnail as a link that would send the user directly into the largest possible version of the image available. We should of course consider that allowing everyone access to highest possible version to an image might lead into easier copyright infringing or knock-off productions, but tracing exists for a reason.

Because this post will be heavy on images, more after the jump.

Continue reading “Scanning as an act of preservation”

No one true point of view

Very rarely there is way true way to do thing. Options are always about and different methods to be utilised. Views and takes differ wildly from people to people, which make events and situations completely impossible to discern in an objective manner. It doesn’t help that there are those who would willfully obfuscate matters at hand for their own ends, which in turn tends to make matters seem more extreme than they truly are. At times, this can lead into one point of view to become so prevalent that it is accepted as true, which loses the nuance of things. For example, the Covington kids situation, where media and people jumped the gun based on intentionally falsified information. CNN and other news outlets and personalities are now being sued for defaming these kids under false accusations. After all, the video footage was there for everyone to see, but nobody really did the leg work. This is rather clear cut case, but in case of something the #GamerGate, it is still being obfuscated and twisted to serve whatever narrative a supposed journalist feels like using today. Few years back it was even tied to Trump being elected, and as usual for the tone with things like this, terms troll and radical right. Troll in itself has been misused and misunderstood for a long time now, but one has to question where radical right comes into play. Considering there has been very little actual research and high amount of hot air puffing about the whole dead movement, some of the statements L.A. Time’s article are lacking in any sort of clear evidence and do come across as claims with no backing. If it serves a purpose, damned be nuance and considering other views. If you’re interested in a breakdown on how much inaccuracies L.A. Time’s article has, Lucien Maverick’s Den has a rather exhaustive response.

I would argue that we are too stuck in our views and ways. Provocation becomes so much easier when we are unwilling to entertain and consider an opposite, even if we would find them completely and utterly abominable. At first glance, so many of us are so dead set on a point and a view, and in a stance that I am right that we lose to ourselves. Tempers are lost and words are not as much chosen as they are flung. This distorts discussion, especially when strong personalities vehemently argue for their own grounds. I admit that I take too much pleasure intentionally provoking people and rile them up, as that more often than not shows a person’s true colours to some extent and what they may think of the subject, and to some extent, of yours truly. Often, I must sadly say, it is very belittling.

It seems we should never expect another to see our point of view, to which I would argue that we ourselves should aim for this. However, the competitive species we are, that’s often rather difficult and sometimes leads into whomever we are having discussion with to consider themselves to have won an argument or the like. Personalities like this are often hard to deal with, and again I have to admit that I often end up winging and trying to rile them up even more just for fun. This is mostly because if the person I am discussing with is unwilling to to entertain other views to any extent, I don’t personally see any value in having that particular discussion. This is not about changing minds, but to discuss a topic in itself. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve been told off because my unwillingness to accommodate my discussion partner and seemingly change my mind. It’s hard to change mind on subjects you really don’t care.

For media, sensationalism makes sales. Call it clickbait or ragebait, the core idea is the same; have something people can rile up and have an emotional reaction to. The more you can cater and deliver a point of view that supports that audience’s built-in view, the easier it is to catch clicks and money. Of course, there are a lot of those who are true believers in their quests and simply seem to find this the best method for them to spread whatever truth they consider the highest. They do not claim to be the truth, they present the truth. Accept no alternatives. This can lead people who are easily influenced or live within certain social bubbles to simply take everything as gospel. This might seem like a jab, but universities that tend to cater to an agenda or limit freedom of speech largely act like this, and opposite discourse and views are trampled rather than considered.

Naturally there are matters we can’t exactly argue about. Water is wet, ice is cold. Kitchen knives should be sharp, music is meant to be listened to. Plants produce oxygen, Earth’s atmosphere is made of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.9% argon and 0.03% carbon dioxide with very minor percentages of other elements thrown in. Earth is not flat, and light’s speed is 299 792 458m per second. If sun were to turn off suddenly, we wouldn’t notice it in the next 8 minutes and 17 seconds. These are the sort of facts we can’t argue against, as they’re not in the field of opinions. Outside soft sciences, we can’t really argue against what is proven through examination and tests. Science, however, is self-correcting as long as further tests and trials are made in a rigorous manner. However, again we must consider that humans will always have presumptions, which we need to be aware of. It is only natural that we rely on our past experiences, even to the extent that we rely on our experience of not having presumptions and prejudices that we end up being presuming we don’t have prejudices, and then start calling people shitheads when a view has been challenged.

I should remind my readers that this blog is written with a perspective, more often than not. In a way, it is a thought experiment and practice for an outside thinking. Even when the two personae have merged to a large extent during these eight years, it still helps me to stop for a moment and consider other options. Sometimes this has lead people to say I undermine my own argument by delivering a countering argument, but that’s the whole point of it. We should considering more than one argument, because more often than not more than one argument in overall discussion. After all, it’s more probable that we’re always wrong and just think we’re right, because of our goddamn egos.

Rules for me, rules for you

Have you ever noticed a thing that happens sometimes, where people apply rules to someone else but never follow through them themselves? As if the rules that bind others do not concern themselves. You may see this while driving, people ignoring the rules and doing whatever they want while cursing someone doing the same thing or something else that break the rules. It’s no hard either, human mind being so easily bent to believe two or more opposite things to the point of mental breakdown. We’re natural beings like that in mind, we don’t have binary in our brains. Chromosomes, sure. This is why it isn’t hard to believe James L. Brooks came out few days ago that he doesn’t believe in any kind of book burning, but is burning his own book by removing the episode Stark Raving Dad from The Simpsons. Not just from syndication, it will not be present in any future re-release or digital service. It’ll be gone, poof, burned from history.

This coincides with the documentary Leaving Neverland from HBO, which once more covers sexual assault allegations made against the late Michael Jackson in 1993, who played a major voice role in the episode. At the time, the episode was a big deal. Nobody truly knew if it was Jackson or someone else, but this episode opened a whole new door for The Simpsons with guest voice actors, for better or worse. Usually for the worse. Hopefully this won’t lead into anything other similar actions, especially considering the role The King of Pop had on music and culture at large. He was an icon, an important one more ways than one, but this ain’t the blog for that.

The question is; Does Brooks have the right to burn a chapter from his book? Almost thirty years after the fact, legally yes. Culturally and ethically, no. The same question that followed Star Wars’ Special Editions should apply here. If we count television series like The Simpsons as a form of art, this is willful destruction of art, something that most would argue against. Except if its art portraying opposite political ideology or people, then there are a lot of people who would rather destroy art just to forget the past and repeat it in the future. At what point does art belongs to the audience, the culture at large? Nowadays it seems never, as big corporations and people like Brooks seems to considering things in terms of fame and money only. Then again, that’s what matters to them, who cares if one episode of a long running series is removed, right? It’ll still make money.

But if we’re really going follow Brook’s mindset, why just stop with Stark Raving Dad? Back in 1995 Kelsey Grammer was charged for sexual assault on a 15-years old girl, but the jury refused to indict him based on lacking evidence. Larry King was accused of groping Terry Richard’s. Dustin Hoffman has allegations on him for harassing a 17-years old intern. Aerosmith as a band probably can gather more stuff together than most visiting actors, seeing how Steven Tyler once had a 14-years old girlfriend, whom of he had guardianship over. Wade Boggs was accused of being a racist. Jose Canseco was accused of sexual assault in Las Vegas. Probably most of the sports stars visiting the show have some baggage. Not even the series creator Matt Groening has escaped some kind of mud, as he was sued for discrimination. In future, there will be more cases that allege something towards someone in the cast.

Does it matter that some of these are confirmed, some just allegations and some deemed untrue? Doesn’t matter if we go Brook’s rules. The case against Jackson was settled, and the agreement specifically stated that there was no wrongdoing. There was never enough solid evidence to charge Jackson, and the only person who had a word stopped cooperating with the police after the settlement. You can’t bribe people not to testify, so if he had been sitting in the stand based on the charges, he would’ve had to tell what he knew. According to the grand juries, none of the witnesses had seen enough proof to implicate Jackson on anything. Even in the further cases in 2003, he was found to be guiltless to all charges in 2005. However, despite him being freed of all charges, Jackson’s name was pulled through the mud, his career damaged, Sega stopped working with him (this affected production of Sonic the Hedgehog 3), franchise agreements were cancelled and the man never really recovered.

Is one of the best episodes of The Simpsons so little worth, that a documentary, a defaming one at that against a dead man, is enough to have it pulled from the show? If so, then for what reason? Political correctness? All in all, it seems because he feels convinced by the HBO documentary of Jackson’s guilt. That is his call. Documentaries are always with a perspective, usually that of the maker. Very rarely you see an objective documentary that makes balanced arguments on all sides. It’s easier and more profitable to make something sensational. Watching a documentary is like reading a news article in that the viewer needs to analyse what’s been show and in what way, what is not shown and why, how things are shot and what sort of manipulative elements are presented e.g. in background music selection and colour hues used.

But the deed is done. We’re going to lose one of the best animated episodes of television to date, saved only by previous releases. However, I did hear a familiar face musing that this might’ve been Brooks just having a good time to pull out the episode, that they wouldn’t need to pay the Jackson estate any further, but no reports of this has come out.

Maybe this would be time to ask the usual question if we are able, or if we should, separate art from the artist. After all, the content itself is not the creator. Can we diminish the value of pieces of art and products if their creator, any of them, suddenly is found to have done something objectionable? Roman Polanski might be the best known case, where court found him guilty of sexual child abuse. Perhaps this is one of those times where we find ourselves making use of that human duality, allotting rule breaks for others while expecting rest to follow them perfectly.

It’s a shame, that’s all I can personally say. Such a waste.

Selling with sex

So Dead or Alive 6 got released with some limited fanfare, and it hasn’t really made an impact. For all the PR lip service it made for it and its direction to become more serious in visual tone was just that. It is getting sixes and sevens out of ten, which doesn’t really mean much nowadays seeing most games get sixes or sevens. Reviews range from utterly baffling (Eurogamer wants to make sure there’s some sort of agenda in there by name-dropping the Trumps) to somewhat competent but failing due to having an idea that isn’t exactly true (like Destructoid‘s review, where the reviewer thinks we’re living the most experimental era of fighting games.) Most Western reviews of course will tote the whole thing about sex appeal. While that is certainly an element of the series, there’s significant lack of mentioning the chiseled bodies and female-fantasy level physiques to direction or another at offer. The old saying Sex sells hasn’t ever been as true as people might make it, but in this case it is true. All these people are making their money on speaking about sex. Like that Eurogamer writer, who apparently thinks having a nude model for Resident Evil 2 remake’s Mr. X would be the best thing since corn. They may not realise it themselves, but whenever these sources make a hullabaloo about skimpy outfits or sexualised content to any direction, they’re selling their content with a sexual boost. They’re no better, or worse, than the people they may criticise.

Does this make me hypocritical, seeing I talk about sexualised content at a rather decent rate? I’m not selling you anything, and the stance on the blog has always been pro-sex for wherever applicable and designed into the product.

The whole thing about Dead or Alive and its sex appeal is more or less old news. It warrants no real criticism at this point anymore. Everyone and their mothers have effectively covered it, but its the easiest topic to discuss. It is also always topical, as different sections if different cultures have completely different ideas and standpoints where respective culture, worldwide or local, should stand in terms of body representation and sexualised content. None of them are inherently negative or positive, though all sides might argue otherwise. Then again, humanity has always admired the shape of a body in sculptures, paintings, songs and writing, almost mirroring their respective eras. Sometimes the bodies are idolised, sometimes they’re represented in a more natural state. The 3D models in Dead or Alive, or in any game that in any way tries to achieve some sort of elevation of a human shape, be it via clothes or body shape, is closer to statues of old representing the same core idea. Of course, sexualising men and women is largely different in nature. The whole procreation and nature of women as the birthing side in the two sexes of mankind serves a strong drive, whereas women value athletic bodies and social positioning. The small stubble, somewhat pronounced square chin, slo-mo motions of the camera and actors you always see in certain commercials are to hit this spot with the women in the audience. These too are tied to eon old genes, but everyone has their quirks, and some deviations are more common than others. Like the people who’d rather fuck cars.

While the whole discussion whether or not certain Western Christian traditions are the reason why parts of the world has become rather prudish when it comes to the nudity and sex business, there is a point there. Excess use and availability of something does devalue the matter, like what would happen to money if it was shared around to everyone willy nilly. The value of money would plummet, and maybe in certain ways the access to perfectly shaped bodies, fictional or not, take away something from the value of having a perfectly shaped body here and there. Unhealthy living is an issue though, and being a fatass is not only detrimental to oneself and making a dent to the value, but also promotes rising costs and risks to the society. I’ve discussed to death how more and more items like beds and chairs need to be designed to take account the increasing weight and body mass people have in Western nations, especially in the US. Crematoriums catching fire have become an issue as well, as cremating overly obese bodies raises the risk of starting a grease fire, like what happened in Ohio few years back. There’s no value in increasing costs like this. In this sense, promoting the idolised bodies to strive for could be seen as a very positive thing. After all, as long as go for it, it doesn’t really matter if we achieve a perfect body. Some people just can’t due to genes, but we shouldn’t let genes to decide such a thing. In the end, our bodies is the best thing we can put money into and take care of, as my shoulder currently reminds me of.

Dead or Alive or any other IP with human body idolised, but not necessarily sexualised, will always get scrutiny. It’s a never-ending issue, which seems to change hands from time to time. Before the current climate of progressive stack and political movements driving this whole agenda to censor sexual content from pretty much everything, it was the puritanical and zealous Christians. I wonder when it’ll exchange hands to some other group and for what reason. It’s an eternal hot topic that each generation will have to deal with their own way. Make no mistake, sex does sell, but only when it has been applied properly. After all, it makes money, and in an era where clickbaiting and outrage culture produces positive financial results, it’s an extremely easy subject to keep tackling over and over again. It’s a cycle that a lot of these sources that seem to be mad about how culture portrays something would lose a significant element from their usual roll. Then again, there are people who can’t be pleased to any extent, so you shouldn’t even stoop down to try.

Ever increasing competition

The video game market is in a point where we are getting more games released every month. More games are being released year by year. More and more people want to get into the industry and realise their dream game, but end up working on a some mobile cashcow title instead. I haven’t managed to keep up with what games are being released at what point and by whom, or who has been developing them for some time. To be completely straight, all the little insignificant titles that get the indie label fall between the rather large gaps. It takes money and position to have your game advertised out there, especially in the extremely fierce Red Ocean market. In market, where expansion is less a concern than making the next big thing. Very few game or platform shakes the market nowadays, and despite the Switch being relatively successful console as a hybrid console, there hasn’t been anything like the Wii. The market has of course changed, and replicating the NES-Wii type phenomena has become increasingly more challenging if not for the changes in the macro-economics but also in within the industry and market as well. Expansion is an issue, as there will be a plateu as some point, where the Red Ocean can’t maintain itself any further. Well, not exactly. The Video game Crash of 1983 happened due to lack of sales. The modern electronic game consumer isn’t like that. We have people who would keep buying games even after their quality had dropped through the floor and was digging itself through the basement floors. Lifelong fandom has become such a driving force that companies are solely banking on that to make success of some of their games despite willingly releasing them in less than half-finished state. It’ll sell, the brand has a good reputation and a strong fanbase. It’ll sell, unless you overtly attack your consumers and tell them not to buy it if your political views are different.

The whole human resource question with this as well. Blizzard recently laid off a lot of its staff despite making a record breaking year, but these two are not necessarily related. A company making large profit probably already knows how much of that profit will be lost on the long run, if the people at higher levels are able to do their job right. Profits don’t just end up as cold cash in someone’s pocket. Capcom, for example, has their fingers in so many things from internal Research and Development to encouraging local businesses and industries in Japanese cities that might, for example, require more tourism. Not all companies do this, of course, and companies like Konami has other venues of revenue outside of video games to the point of gaming probably being one of the lesser ones. A single human tragedy is more or less lost to the sea of people working in the industry, and not to put a much fine point to this, the people don’t really matter. Sure, none of these companies would be successful without the people working hard for their goods, but just as well they wouldn’t be working if there weren’t people buying these goods. There are people trying to enter the workforce all the time, and ultimately nobody is irreplaceable. Even goods can be changed for an equivalent at a whim, and despite entertainment being relatively unique in this sense, especially in gaming where game systems can be extremely unique for one series alone (e.g. Mega Man Battle Network), this happens all the time. Sometimes the superfluous elements are enough, like how yours truly could change between fantasy RPGs on a whim just because they’re so goddamn boring most of the time, systems be damned.

How many times we do really think about the people working in any industry in the end? I doubt anyone has thought the hundreds of people who worked on the car you drive. The people who made the nuts and bolts, the people who coated those nuts and bolts, the people who made the windshield, the people who designed the windshield, the people who milled the steel for the chassis, the people who cut the steel and bent the steel in its shape so it can be put together with thousands of components. A single car is not a work of one man, but the end result is the work of one company, the one whose logo is on it. We don’t care about these ‘little people’ who work on everything we use daily for hours on end. The only face that matters, in the end, is who is selling it to us and for how much. With Internet, even that is gone to a large extent. How many of us really think about the feelings or ongoings of the store clerk we buy our groceries from? Not much I’d bet, unless you’re a frequent customers and get to know them, at which point you’re close. You begin to care, because on the surface you know these people.

The nature of competition determines a lot of things. It requires effort and skill to make a product that would beat most other products on the market. However, this doesn’t mean your product has to be the best. Best is often extremely costly, extremely premium. A product that hits the best middle spot and is regarded as good enough, but “better” than its competitors often gets golden trophy. Or in case of Monster Hunter, the total lack of any real competition means you’re competing with yourself and with the idea of the brand. It’s not exactly something that drives the quality through competition. After all, the amount of people and money going in and out is limited, and if the industry doesn’t want to expand, it will stagnate and break.

More and more games are coming out, and more and more games effectively being lost to the sheer numbers. Some games on mobile phone App stores have single digit downloads, and I dare argue some indie titles on multiple platforms have the same fate. Large games cost more and more to produce, and to make sure they make their money back, they get ever more expensive marketing campaign. All the media outlets understandably want their share of this, be it via clicks or some other way. Corruption in the game media isn’t anything new, it’s laughably transparent and at times driven by politics. At this point companies might a well begin do direct marketing and news coverage themselves. A digital version of Nintendo Power, if you will. However, as long as the industry keeps getting bigger and bigger, the competition and everything that it entails will get sharper and more gruesome. There has been no more than three consoles on the market for almost two decades now, despite at one point around five was the standard. Even the three we have now might become two, and for a competition that’s too low a number. However, the consumer culture keeps changing, and the industry has to keep up. If television has become streaming services and alternative media, where will video games ultimately go? Maybe hybridisation is the route to take or something else. VR it an’t for now.

Valve’s hard candy

Here we go again, talking about games being banned.

Despite Valve openly advertising their take on allowing any game that doesn’t break laws on Steam, this clearly has not been the case thus far. Few days ago, HuniePop 2 was announced to release in censored form on Steam. This shouldn’t be necessary, seeing how the game’s contents wouldn’t break any laws and Valve themselves shouldn’t have anything against it.

That is not the case, however. It is somewhat evident that Valve is practicing behind-the-scenes ruling based on whatever they wish rather than sticking to their guns. Visual Novels are included in these banned and removed games, whilst some are self-playing games like MaoMao Discovery Team. It would seem Valve is mostly covering their asses in case of someone might come down on them whether or not they’re selling titles with child pornography. The aforementioned MaoMao Discovery Team most likely falls directly into this category, seeing Maomao herself has a petite look, though this is more a stylistics choice in design. After all, the design does harken back to the 1980’s character designs, where a lot of adult characters were still portrayed as petite. It can go the other way around, with Pokémon being a good example how all the main characters are about ten years old but look older. Valve did confirm this one by telling the developer that the game exploited children, and thus they deemed to be illegal.

Outside the apparent visual design of the characters, a common element with some of the banned titles is the school setting. Usually this was circumvented by either removing any references to the characters’ ages, like they did in one of the Senran Kagura titles, or just up them to 18 and be done with it. However, Valve’s having none of that at this moment. An All-Ages VN named Hello, Good-bye got the banhammer brought down on it as well.

This raises a question I’ve hard tried to avoid; do games exploit children if they have characters that are younger 18 and in risque situations? Look at me trying to be all politically correct and not mention about games showing teens fucking.

There’s no one answer, there never is. Cultural differences are vastly different across the board, and what goes in Japan doesn’t fly in the US. Most of the titles that have been banned from Steam are Japanese made, and especially the Visual Novels tend to hit that tender ever-seventeen range with its characters. Arguably Muv-Luv should see some scrutiny as well due to Tamase Miki being an effective lolicon bait. In the US, some states legislation state any kind of depiction of children, be it real or fictional, in risque or sexual, or even just overall nudity situations counts as child exploitation. The same applies to numerous European countries, which do no make a difference between reality and fictional. Valve can’t juggle across the board, and most likely has a dedicated person who has been given the command to remove content that might offend any of the laws around. It is effectively a business necessity to cover their assess as one of the larger digital games platform. I discussed how Valve seems to follow the Washington state laws inaccurately, so read on that.

However, there are platforms who would rather fight this mentality. Some of the titles, like the aforementioned Maomao Discovery Team, has been re-released on JAST USA alongside Cross Love and Imolicious. You also have English language DLSite, which effectively gives you free pass to any and all titles that would be banned on Steam the moment they were submitted. This is stupidly evident by itself, but nothing else matters; if it looks wrong, it gets the banhammer.

There are no nuances in the issue as far as Valve or numerous groups and national laws are concerned. To use an example where law was read by its letter, let’s take a look at a case in North Carolina from 2015. In this case, a couple was charged with making and distributing child pornography by sending nude photos of themselves to each other. The couple was sixteen at the time. To many this was a case of dysfunctional law, and was not put into force according to the spirit of the law. To some this was an example of law being exercised as it was written. This case did bring up the question whether or not babyhood and childhood pictures where people can happen to be nude would count as child exploitation as well, and if we go by this example, any and all such pictures would. The same would apply to many television commercials that have nude babies advertising diapers or such, despite having no depiction of genitals. A sensible person probably would dismiss most, if not all of these, as unnecessary noise about nothing and over reaction.

So why are we acting like fictional depictions of nudity count as any worse?

There really isn’t an answer. It might be how humans are creatures that constantly contrast themselves to everything around them in trying to recognise a pattern, like seeing a face on a power outlet, and seeing an immoral depiction of a character having sex or simply nude hits that center hard, forcing us to empathise with non-living entities and attributing them with human characteristics. We anthropomorphise everything by nature, and thus everything that has a human shape or depicts humanity fictionally automatically is given a human status. A drawing of an underage character is not seen just as a drawing or depiction, but as some sort of mirror to reality. This is doubled when it comes to realistic 3D models, especially if details are modeled in with care.

It’s almost as of we automatically install moral ideas and practices to what isn’t there. A drawing having sex is not real, but its depiction of possible reality as true. The more offensive and hard the fiction is, the more we think how wrong it is. That’s the point where we have to remind ourselves that vast majority of fictional characters are not real, nobody could ever exploit them to any extent.

That of course is mostly lost to us. Humans are strange creatures.

If you’d like to hear my own view on this, it’s as follows; you draw and publish anything you like. You should have no limits, as long nobody has been hurt in the making. Nowadays you can do wonders with 3D models anyway, no need for human models to be present.

There’s no real end for this post. While I’d like to directly argue how fictional characters and their situations do not count as exploitation unto themselves, that’s a rabbit hole very few can get out.