Seems like Sony likes to sit tight where they are

Sony’s Andrew House doesn’t really seem to get the Switch. It’s nothing new to see an industry member or a someone from media to compare handheld consoles to smart phones despite the two being in different markets. House’s claim that the Vita somehow lost its footing in the market place due to the changes in consumer preference for mobile devices has no basis, despite Bloomberg showing a graph of PSP’s and Vita’s waning sales. Correlation does not imply causation. It is far more likely that the PSP and Vita began losing its sales due to lack of software being presented. This is nothing new either, sadly, as game companies tend to begin moving towards their next generation consoles both in hardware and software.

House seems to correlate Vita’s lack of sales to the aforementioned trend. However, this is was not the case of the 3DS, which saw some rise in sales after its library got stronger. Funny how the 3DS seemed so weak compared to the robust Vita, but things turned completely other way around. The words House chooses to emphasize in the interview give off an impression that the Switch might have a market in the future. What he is missing is that the Switch has a robust demand and market now. Whether or not the Switch will keep it successful trend is dependent on how Nintendo will continue marketing it. If they decide to go the N64 and GameCube way, they’ll have another Wii U in their hands. Going for the NES, SNES and Game Boy route will yield them another DS/Wii. The Wii was supposed to be a passing trend, but in the end it sold hotcakes and everybody and their mother had a Wii. That’s a market that could be easily taken advantage of, if people were to make proper software.

Switch may have not impacted Sony’s sales, as House claims, but the same was said about the DS not impacting the PSP’s sales. Then again, House probably means that the Switch’s sales numbers don’t seem to affect PS4’s sales. The Vita is dead, Nintendo effectively has a market monopoly in the handheld console market. That is what the DS’ sales did to Sony’s handheld consoles. Of course, the Vita seems marginal success in Japan and other Asian countries, thought that’s not an oddity in itself. Japanese electronics companies do have some tendencies of offering support to long obsoleted devices within the nation itself, seeing how the market is smaller than what it is worldwide.

Nintendo’s bet, as Bloomberg puts it, for the hybrid console market as been a success thus far. As said, it’s only up to Nintendo take advantage of its current installation base to expand onward. The situation is much like it was with the DS after its first unsuccessful year (before Nintendo turned the machine into a money printing beast), but 2017 Nintendo is not the same one they were decade and then some ago.

If Andrew House says Sony hasn’t seen the hybrid market a big opportunity, that may give more insight how the company isn’t all too keen on expanding its market. Certainly they are in a nice position of having die-hard fans and general consumers who like the games that are on PS4, but most of them are on other platforms as well, lessening the console’s unique value. Sony’s emphasize of their home console being the central point to their other home entertainment devices is nothing new. Both Sony and Microsoft emphasized how the X360 and PS3 were home media centers. Virtual Reality has been largely a bust thus far with little to no impact on consumer markets. VR comes and goes. It’s always said that the tech is no better than last time around, but the software are still the same and offer no real value for the money needed.

Though it must be said that Sony should be able to juggle this sort of approach. They used to be the brand when it came to consumer electronics, be it music, video or whatnot. However, how consumer electronics are nowadays, with all of Sony’s products being matched in quality and beaten by lower price, one has to wonder how they’re floating around the way they are now. Maybe everything manages to scratch enough money to make their business profitable, but gaming has taken far too much attention from everywhere else from them. Well, PlayStation as a home media center.  Even the PlayStation’s success is rather weird in hindsight. It wasn’t until the DS and the Wii when Sony’s console saw striking competition. Xbox has been largely a failure, for the better or worse, and with the careful positive outlook of macro-economics we have going on right now, maybe Sony has been able to sail the right kind of currents to hits the right spots with their machine and marketing, and been able to secure better libraries. That is, until the DS and Wii decimated and expanded the market on their own.

The Switch clearly has a demand and that demand must be satiated. Hybrid market will only grow. I was part of the hybrid market when the DS was released with the question Why would we need home consoles when portable consoles are doing good enough graphics as is?  I’ve yet to pick up a Switch of my own, but whenever I get one, you can expect a design review on it. The question What will Sony do next? has been asked few times around, but the answer seems to be The same thing we always do. This may not be as sustainable as Sony might want to believe. Maybe their best bet could be to take this home entertainment connection thing to the Nth degree and play the role of some sort Japanese equivalent of Apple in lifestyle electronics department. Their designs already zig where Apple’s zags, so the hardest part is done, right? Nevertheless, Playstation’s future is not guaranteed if Sony won’t take it outside the readily made box. Vita should’ve taught them something about this already, but no. Whatever PlayStation 5 will be in the end, it should expand further away from the living room. Maybe going to the extreme lengths to make PlayStation de facto home entertainment hardware by incorporating everything they have to some extreme degree. Of course, all this would be at the expense of it being a game system, but that’s secondary as it is at best currently.

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The skill of play

With Cuphead raising such questions as What is gameplay? and Is easymode bad? we really do see something lurking inside the media. As little as any of us care about John Walker’s ignorance, the question is valid in its own way. As humans we tend to describe the same thing in different ways, sometimes expanding and taking away details depending on whatever, but his insistence that gameplay is a wrong word for interaction with a game. Then I guess putting a game into a console is gameplay, as that is interacting with the game. Smartass remarks aside, gameplay is a term that was originally used to describe the system of functions that the player would play with within a game, and because electronic games are a continuation of children’s play culture, this term has then trickled down the evolutionary ladder of games towards tabletop and other sort of games with play as an element. Interaction is far too large term, and nobody in their healthy mind would use anything like it to describe something so precise.

This leads us to Ben Kuchera’s post on Polygon, where he has missed the whole point of games. Using books and art galleries as his point of comparison is missing the point. Kuchera is comparing apples and oranges at best. Because a game like Cuphead has more in-common with sports parkour and card games than with books and art galleries, his comparisons lack any sort of oomph. Yes, a game expects basic competence from the player to be able to clear a level before you see the next. It is, after all, a game. You don’t win at a game, unless you know how it is played and are skilled enough to play. You don’t get freebies in Solitaire either.

Easy Mode is something nobody should have anything against, as options are just that: options. That is not the case of Skip Boss Button. Electronic games are self-tiered tournaments of sorts. You can not advance in a martial arts tournament further if you lack the skill and discipline to follow the rules and execute your desired moves. Similarly, in Street Fighter you have to have enough control over your character to defeat each opponent to advance further. In a 2D action game like Cuphead, bosses can be seen as a similar opponent to any normal Street Fighter fight, with the exception that a stage is a warm-up. Of course, it just may turn out that the stage was harder than the boss, but there are always healthy exceptions. Skipping a Boss effectively negates the need of any sort of skill, and while the idea does not have anything wrong in it inherently, it really does tell you how little some people are willing to put effort.

My notion of effort in this isn’t about getting good, though it certainly is a part of it. Much like any other product, not all games are for everyone and not all games are meant for everyone. I would use a food comparison here, but it wouldn’t be apt enough. The one I used previously, about how no game with multiple players allows one to advance without excelling, is what applies here. While in a single-player games cheating does not cause any harm to anyone, it would go against the structure of the game’s play and how it’s planned out. After all, games are virtual spaces made with restrictive rules that the player plays according to and with. A game that allows its structure and rules to be broken without any consequence often turns into a dull and wasted game rather fast, mostly because skipping play is essentially just not playing it at all. If you’re not intending to play the game, you might as well find your pass time with other titles that challenge you a different manner, or other forms of entertainment and play. After all, just like with pasta sauces, some games are more chunky and demand more active jaw work than runny ones you could just use intravenously.

The problem, quite frankly, is not that a game is too hard and that the players can’t see its “art,” as Kuchera puts it. The problem is that they’re not appreciating the art. If anything is art in video and computer games, it’s the mathematics, coding, the set of rules and design, the thing that ends up being called gameplay. Not the graphics, the sound, visual design or any other part, those belong to other schools of arts. The art of games is the art of designed play, and much like other forms of art, this one challenges us both mentally and physically. Why? Because electronic games are a form of play and without that play, they’d be virtual spaces of content to see and watch but never to be played with. The pathetic thing about all this is the fact how Kuchera and other supposed journalists like him want to remove a section of this art and force it to become something mundane and have no legs to stand on its own. Variety is demanded and required.

Do I contradict myself there? Regarding this blog yes, but I can always entertain the argument of games as art whenever necessary.

Kuchera then goes in a tirade of personal achievement how nobody’s stopping you from fast-forwarding a television show, but again misses the point; games aren’t television shows. Not that anyone who would like to review a series or a movie would use fast-forwarding, that’d be skipping on the content.

Games are about learning and using information learned. If you make a mistake, you should be learn from that and not make that mistake any more. Any sort of pastime we have with any sort of game, be it cards or miniature tabletop figurines, there are always rules that we abide to and learn new things we screw up. Of course, there is a group of people who are just unable to do this, but you can’t please anyone. You can never create a product of any kind that would be universal to everybody. Someone will always bitch about it, so might as well make it as good as you can the way you know it’ll work the best. While it is up to the provider to provide the piece for the consumers, the provider can always choose its targeted customers. There are other similar products out there that will suit the consumers outside your targeted demographic better, and if there isn’t… well, that’s a niche someone else can step in fulfill.

Or you could carry some personal responsibility and step up the game.

Expanding Switch

With the recent Nintendo Direct, which I’ve just manage to watch thanks to life, we can say that its first year of games is pretty damn good. Very rarely does a console get this sort of first year. For example, the DS’ first year was abysmal before Nintendo turned the console around and made it the top selling console. Perhaps the only consoles that can compete with the Switch’s library as it is now compared to their first year are the NES and SNES. Famicom had pretty terrible first year, which the NES managed to avoid to some extent.

Switch’s success is tied to three or four different elements, depending how you want to count them. First is, without a doubt, that it is a hybrid console. Its portability without a doubt  is part of the Switch’s charm. Much like all previous handheld consoles that had extensive support, namely the Game Boy series and the DS, Switch is enjoying consumers carrying it around, though in somewhat limited extent due to its size. Sony could’ve taken few lessons from Nintendo how not to drop the ball with handhelds. Poor Vita, people had such high expectations for you. Being handheld is not really a reason for Switch’s success, but it is certainly part of it. Hardware, that is. Switch seems to be easy to develop for and allows more ‘portable’ games to be made that don’t require to be stupidly expensive Triple A. They have their own slot in the fray.

Nintendo bringing their old arcade games to the system is great. While some will scoff at them, and never remember that Nintendo started as an arcade game company before entering the home console market, these titles will have their audience. The more Nintendo brings their older titles that have not seen a release in years, the better. Just tie all of my past purchases to an account I can carry between consoles, so I don’t need to buy the same game again and again for new systems.

Of course, Nintendo releasing a Switch/ Super Mario Odyssey bundle will see more sales. The game, despite whatever personal issues I have with it, does look fun and may see good amount of sales. Now if Nintendo put the same effort and quality into a 2D Mario game, we’d be golden.

The second reason is that Nintendo’s own software has been of high quality. Breath of the Wild has gained loads of support from the consumers and generally has been accepted one of the better Zelda games. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, while certainly mainly just an upgraded edition of the Wii U game, it has made it rounds. The Battle Mode and included DLC really showed Nintendo that doing a complete release with some extra characters thrown in and tweaked gameplay pays the bills better than trying to what Capcom did with Street Fighter X Tekken. These games, especially Breath of the Wild, are keys to why Switch has been successful thus far. Hardware’s prowess doesn’t come from it being extremely good or able to push out incredible graphics, but something that can keep costs low and still be able to deliver easy environment to develop for. Develop games, that determine the success of the console.

This third reason could be counted with the second reason, but it really deserves its own slot, and that is third party titles, including all the smaller releases. While some of the titles are ports and some pretty low quality, but the fact that they are there makes the deal. Once you have the Big Titles in your library, you will want to look at the smaller and cheaper titles you might want to pick up. Indies (oh there’s that term again) will drop this sort of titles into the store from time to time. The more you have titles of at least decent quality, the better. Call it shovelware if you want, but all winning consoles had the most shovelware people could choose their favourites from.

The fourth reason is expansion. All consoles require their userbase being expanded at some point and it must be constant. Switch has been a success among Nintendo fans and general audience, but it still lacks certain appeal from its library. For example, Rocket League may be another port, and for a good reason gets dropped few notches because of it, but it offers something new not in other versions of the game. Same with Skyrim. The game may be six years old at this point, but there are still people who have not played it. It will also tap to the same core fantasy group that might find Breath of the Wild appealing, just with less Japanese feeling to it. Both Doom and Wolfenstein II both fall into a similar category with Skyrim in that they open doors to different interests the console currently offers. Back in the day, the media would say that the Switch is finally getting mature games to its library. It would have been preferable to have completely new entries to Switch in these franchises, but those can always follow if these are successful on the platform first and manage to solidify the userbase further.

Switch’s library is being expanded with these ports, like with L.A. Noir‘s updated one. While these are ports of past titles, they have an audience that will check them out, and another part will return to them if they’ve gotten rid of the previous version.

With this sort of tactic, the Switch has seen, and will see, a healthy game library from where both high-end and low-end product consumers will find something to enjoy. The problem of course with this is that it needs to be maintained. The Wii lost its steam halfway through due to Nintendo essentially dropping the support (Wii Music essentially killed the console), and looking at how Nintendo has released software on their previous systems, we can see that their main support is pretty much lost few years into a console, before things gear up for the development of its successor, with third party following in suit. As useless it is to hope that this time around that support wouldn’t vanish just like that, I highly doubt that’ll happen. While a console doesn’t have an expiration date other than when the developer drops their support, this five to six years cycle has become a standard of sorts. This is why we can be glad to see the Switch being expanded like this during its first year of existence, as that should lead into second and third year of further support and expansion.

 

Skill is glorified, universally

Dean Takahashi’s Cuphead play and the feedback it got seemed to have shaken some of the gaming media, as there has been a slew of posts popping here and there defending the lacklustre game play. Gotta defend your own tribe, I guess. Maybe the most snicker worthy text goes to Dante Douglas’ Videogame Culture needs to Stop Fetishizing Skill. Douglas, like so many others, has a sort of romantic view on the Third and Fourth Generation of games, where they were hard as hell. Much like nowadays, there were number of games that were difficult, which were eclipsed by the number of games that weren’t. Mega Man and Super Mario games, for example, were easy enough for five years old kids to play through.

Douglas’ main argument in his text is that you don’t need to be good at a game in order to criticise it. We can give him this just fine, to an extent. Games as a medium require execution and certain level of skill in order to be able consume them. People can play Street Fighter II at the easiest level just fine and experience what the game has to offer just fine, nobody expects them to go and win an EVO tournament. However, if you’re unable to play the game to even beat one opponent, then you’re far from being able to see what the game has to offer. Perhaps this is a bad example, but the would be the same across the board; consumption of video games require some skill and ability to learn the rules. Douglas vilifies the consumer groups who put weight on experience than observation by claiming skill has been fetishized. If Let’s Plays and other forms of watching someone else playing a game, then gaming media has no reason to exist anymore. All game journalists end up being obsolete under this mindset, and they’d turn into tech journos at best doing interviews and reports on game development and advertisements.

Wait, no scratch that. All those could be delivered by these streamers directly from the developers in joint attempt to close the gap between developers and consumers. All the reports on game development can be done that way too, or game companies could those directly via their PR staff. A video game journalist is a specialised job in that they’re required to practice journalism as well as be able to objectively view the level of excellence a product has through its consumption. At least with new media’s streamers and Let’s Plays we know where the producer stands. With game journalists we have to guess whether or not they’ve been paid up, whether or not there’s an agenda behind this or if there is an agreed stand across different companies how to handle a story.

However, you still require that mechanical interaction in order to, and I hate to use this term, experience the game yourself. We can’t experience what others do just yet, the technology doesn’t exist to create psychic links between human minds. You can not assert other’s actions as your own as an outsider. We tend to do that anyway, humans are emphatic beings in that sense. Yet, you can’t tell what sort of book your neighbour is reading just by watching him read.

His take on games evolving from just being puzzle boxes to stories is inaccurate. Games have always been about stories the player is a part of. It is unfortunately common to see people forgetting that video and computer games are part of game and play culture, all of which have stories as part of their structure. Playing GTA is essentially a play of Police and Robber, where the player plays the part of the Robber in an a more elaborate virtual environment, but the core is still the same. The Police this time around just happens to be an AI and the play is more controlled and directed than what kids would have. There is no real other way to experience the play than take part in it yourself. Certainly you can watch someone else play the part for you and have an onlooker experience. That, however, never replaces the experience of play itself.

Douglas’ argument that skill needs to be dropped from games in order for something better to happen for the industry and sub-culture is very much in the woods. While we can always discuss what a game is (a thing that we don’t really need to discuss any further, the question has evolved into what isn’t a game [Visual novels aren’t]), that is beside this whole discussion and an unnecessary addition to the mix. Game journalists need to step up and deliver what is expected of them by their consumers, the people who ultimately are responsible of them being employed. Attacking your customers is one of the worst tactics you could make.

In addition to Douglas’ ending his text in a very dishonest way of claiming They’re just games, there is praise to be given to a journalist or a reviewer who goes his way out to completely consume a product in order to wager all of its merits first hand. A Let’s Play shows you the visual side of things, yet you wouldn’t be able to describe the action of it. This is where game play can’t be directly compared to books or movies, as advancement requires, demands even, a genuine action on the players’ part. Not everybody is able to do so, and there’s nothing wrong in that. However, if you’re a journalist who would rather consume puzzle games rather than fast-paced actions games, it’d be better to stick to your repertoire in order to produce quality pieces.

Skill may not be fetishized, but it certainly is glorified within game cultures. This is nothing out of ordinary, as any hobby or sub-culture that contains a definitive action positively glorifies a finely executed action. Dean Takahashi’s struggle to beat the Training level and the first proper level of Cuphead would be like watching a reviewer struggling to build a plastic model of a tank and never managing to glue anything together. You can’t review a model properly unless you’re able to build it, and if your skills aren’t up to the task to execute the action to the end, you’re left on second guessing through someone else’s actions.

Why is skill glorified then? Perhaps one of the prominent reasons would be that skill in a given game isn’t exactly just that. A well executed game play doesn’t just look good, but also shows knowledge of a given game and genre as a whole. Being able to beat Super Mario Bros. doesn’t meant you’re a skilled player. Beating Super Mario Bros. without dying once, using no Level Warps or using any items however does show one’s skill. A reviewer isn’t expected to a tournament level player like Daigo to be able to consume Street Fighter III Third Strike, that is to say they’re not expected to pull of Moment #37 , but they are expected to throw Hadoukens successfully. Speaking of SFIII, if you’re interested in hearing what are the consequences of reducing skill gap within competitive games, Core-A Gaming has a good video on it.

That comparison isn’t exactly fair. Competitive gaming has always required more effort to gain probable skill in it than non-competitive, through self-imposed challenges and restrictions to “compete” against something is as old gaming itself. However, competitive gaming Journey, the player’s evolution from low-tier challenger to a skilled player, does give enough leeway to compare it to single-player games’ challenges, where beating the game and its challenges is part of the fun. This has been the backbone of majority of electronic games in its short history, where the player is expected to learn to rules and functions and develop enough ability to play the game head-to-head. This certainly is skill build-up, but it’s not skill as Douglas refers in his text.

Rather than forcing a square peg down a round hole by arguing game culture should drop difficulty and the required skill that it brings with it, it would be better if the game developers could produce games to expand the market and create new games to cater low-end game players, who for whatever reasons can’t muster the execution to challenge the higher-end products. This isn’t said in a negative tone, but in a fashion where we must face reality of different games suit different people. It’s like with food; a foodie with tomato allergy can’t consume foods with tomato, and simply observing someone else consume the food won’t cut it. You need someone who can in order for him to consume the food and be able to tell you about it.

Not everyone is cut to be a game journalist

With Gamescom going on, VentureBeat had their Dean Takahashi go in and play some games. What we got out of this was a pathetic showcase of Cuphead. For some 25 minutes, Takahashi tries to beat the first level of the game, after taking some twenty jumps to clear the tutorial. It becomes clear after these first few minutes, that Takahashi is woefully unequipped to play the game, which affects the content on whatever piece he would be writing about it.

Games are action and action takes practice. While video games are for everybody, not everybody can play video games. Low-end games may be a sweet spot for many, just like a low-end stereo equipment is sufficient to loads of users. However, unlike with stereo equipment, moving from low-end to high-end isn’t about how much money and time you put into it with games. With games you have to excel and have execution. You can’t just wing it and call it a day. Unlike a stereo reviewer, a game reviewer has a necessity to be able to handle the whatever demands any tier of game requires.

To use a comparison, the minimum requirement for a book reviewer is that he is able to read the text. This produces poor reviews, as simply being able to read is not enough. You have to understand the text. This can produce some mediocre reviews. Understanding is not enough, as the reviewer should be able to analyse the structure, the intent, pacing and have proper understanding on the style of fiction and academics of writing. Merely being able to read does not produce results, there needs to be more behind it.

Dean Takahashi’s poor play with Cuphead may not represent anyone else but himself. He might become the most popular example nevertheless, followed by Polygon’s Doom gameplay video, where they spent most of the time shooting floors and walls rather than the enemies while showcasing extremely poor control of movement.

This isn’t a Git Gud jab either. No, this just might be. You should be able to do the required execution of an action, if you’re intending to comment on the environment where the action is done. For electronic games, it’s the gameplay. That’s not enough though. You also need to know the basics of writing a review, how to approach a game to understand its underlying structure and understand it.

You don’t need to be good at playing electronic games. You simply need to be able to do play them properly and as intended. These two examples of Takahashi and Polygon showcases that they are not cut for the job. The rest on the other is somewhat questionable. Certainly there are those who are able to play games properly, there’s no arguing that.

There is a large distrust towards the game journalists nowadays, thanks for the media attempting to kill the industry and attacking their own consumers. The articles that signed the death of the gamers were numerous and appeared at the same time; Gamasutra, Kotaku, Polygon, Buzzfeed, Ars Technica and numerous others wrote articles with the same content. If “the gamer” was dead, then so was the industry. While guilt by association should always be avoided, I can’t help but to notice how people have become more careful when assessing what the game media is saying about games, or the people consuming electronic games. Erik Kain of Forbes, however, had a different, a more positive take on the issue. However, as usual, it’s better for you to check these sources yourself rather than put your trust on someone on the Internet. Kain certainly did and pointed out that deceiving linking is not of good taste, despite the intentions behind it.

The fact that VentureBeat went and changed the video’s title after the comments began to pour in gives the whole thing a shameful atmosphere. Furthermore, when inquired about Takahashi performance, he tends to ask other people to do better than him all the while telling Cuphead‘s somewhere between Super Mario Bros. and Dark Souls. That is a huge as hell region, which tells absolutely nothing. It would be more accurate the describe as a mix of Gunstar Heroes and Mega Man, as those have served as some of the sources inspirations for Cuphead. Takahashi may be getting vitriol from the Internet and belittled for his lack of skills, but the core point still exists; how can a person report or create a proper assessment on a product he is unable to consume properly? Whatever the end piece would be, it would be a twisted and inaccurate representation of the product.

It’s the Mania

I’m sure some of you are already completely tired of hearing people telling you how good Sonic Mania is. Despite all its faults and recycled content from Mega Drive Sonic games, it still ends up being the best game in the franchise. It’s a sort of The Best of Sonic, if you will. It’s essentially a game the fans, and people at large, have been waiting for since Sonic 3 and Knuckles came out.

There have been pretty good 2D Sonic  games since then. Sonic Advance games were overall enjoyable games to play, although their stage design and some of the physics were off. Sonic Rush games on the other hand nothing but the speed, and this was evident in rather lacklustre stage design again with the speed Boost gimmick being the main culprit. Nevertheless, still pretty good time. Just not as good as the Mega Drive games. That’s where we always go back, because those three (or four, depends how you want to count) games were in many ways the pinnacle of the series in the eyes of fans, sales and cultural impact. Sonic made its name on the Mega Drive.

Sadly, the Sonic titles are one of the worst sufferers of creators wanting something new and grand, something that doesn’t meet the expectations of the paying consumer. Sonic Adventure had a heavy emphasize on the story, something that peaked with Sonic ’06. I’ll tell you how to weed out the bad Sonic games from the good ones; the bad ones put the story to the front of things. Sonic‘s gameplay is hard, if not impossible, to transfer to 3D. They’ve been trying to do it for some two decades now, and even Sonic Generations, a game that was hailed as the first good Sonic game in a long time, felt off with everything done in 3D. Sonic 4 was just terrible.

The franchise really is a case study of creators losing sight what made their product wanted and revered. One could even go far enough to say that Sonic Team and Sega as a whole can’t do classic Sonic anymore, and have had no intention of replicating the Mega Drive games in any fashion. Sonic Generations could’ve been one, but physics clearly weren’t replicated accurately.

It’s not much of a surprise to see Sega hiring  fans to create a 25th anniversary game then. Fans, who have showcased themselves as capable in replicated the mould that made the Sonic franchise what it used to be. To say that the fans knew better than Sega would not be exaggeration. However, Sega did screw up the game by not giving it a proper physical release, and even the limited edition package comes with a digital download code only. I’m guessing they’re banking on Sonic Forces, which will probably end up lesser of the two games. The simple fact that its colour palette is dry and consists of black, red and beige is a harsh contrast to Sonic Mania‘s bright blue red and yellow.

Sonic the Hedgehog as a brand suffers from Sega overusing nostalgia mixed with whatever hell they’re trying to do in their latest games. Much like how Super Mario can exist in two different iterations at the same time, modern 3D Sonic could exist with classic 2D games. The biggest misstep of Sonic Mania is that it adhered to old stages, albeit remixing them with new areas and secrets. Sega’s no stranger to this, as their obsession of pushing out the Western teams at the end of Mega Drive’s era.

Nintendo is a stark contrast to this. While Nintendo has given some of their most significant IPs to outside companies to work with, like Retro Studios’ Metroid Prime, their attitude towards them and their fans is cold at best. Metroid Other M supposedly removed the Prime series from the canon, though why that should matter isn’t the point. The point is that Sakamoto himself didn’t deem the Prime series good enough. Other M and the upcoming Metroid II remake are the worst entries in the series and all that is on Sakamoto.

Nintendo is also infamous for their Cease and Desist letters to fans, like with the Another Metroid 2 Remake. Nintendo has had hard time celebrating their fans works or even allowed legally sound fan-products to be made. While they are required to protect their intellectual properties, this has never been good PR for them. Of course, you don’t want to have the same situation Paramount/CBS had with Star Trek Axanar, though it’s no secret Axanar challenged the official Trek stuff, and the team behind Axanar essentially broke the rules by making money off of their piece. There’s always the question why wouldn’t you want to make something original and new if you’re able to design and code a whole new game.

Sonic Mania is essentially the New Super Mario Bros. of the franchise. Much like with 2D Mario, classic Sonic is something people have been wanting for ages. However, whether or not this is just a one-hit-wonder or if Sega sees some sense and continues on developing and releasing more of these classic games is still open. However, they should learn from the failures of NSMB series and improve upon the concept and allow the games to stand up more and give them full fledged release status. Nostalgia is a delicate thing, and as said, Sega’s been overusing it already. Pushing the stage designs and sprite graphics to Saturn level next while still keeping with the style of Sonic Mania might be a natural step. Sonic Mania, as an anniversary game, does things right and manages to squeeze in twists that you’d never see in an equivalent Nintendo game.

A game of Puyo Po– I mean Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine as a Boss Battle in Chemical Plant Zone? This is the right stuff right there

Sega could do right with the rest of their franchises and seek out the right people to work on them in a similar manner. There are development houses that would love to give, for example, Streets of Rage a similar best-of treatment. The iron is now red hot, it’s time for Sega to hammer it.

Cross pollution evolution

With the amount of cross pollution between console and computer gaming we’ve seen during these last ten years plus, it’s not wonder it sometimes seems that things have almost flipped around. With the further advent of Steam and its competitors like GOG, combined with the ever-furthering PC gamification of the consoles, consumers do move towards the PC and its digital consoles.

The cross-pollination has also become increasingly more and more evident with the Japanese developers porting their titles to Steam due to having to deal less bullshit from Valve’s end to certain extent, and not having to care about other licensing issues or having to give a second thought about physical media. This is essentially the cheap option, when you don’t have money to release a full physical release. The recent Kickastarter for Arcana Heart 3 Love Max Six Stars!!!!!! (yes, with six goddamn exclamations) basically had no chance of seeing further ports if it hadn’t been for Steam. Depending how the title will see success after it’s been launched at whatever date in the far-flung future, the possibility of convincing execs to further port the game for other platforms is possible.

That’s probably the main reason why Japanese companies have begun to see Steam as a valid option; costs. Much like with Muv-Luv‘s Kickstarter, Japanese game developing execs have to be convinced with data and analysis. And tradition, can’t forget that. It’s the corporate culture. To keep using the aforementioned Arcana Heart as an example, the cost of developing a port of an arcade game that never saw major success on consoles and never would stand out from obscurity is just tad too high. The main problems with this isn’t just paying the workers to port the game, but the ad campaigning and licensing costs to console companies too. Pressing the physical media isn’t as expensive as people would think, but the logistics and rising material costs do add up pretty fast, especially if you’re intending to do region specific releases, which nowadays is absolutely stupid thing to do. Just throw in a language selection in the menu and be done with it.

Steam publishing removes quite a lot of logistic headaches in this regard, and in Arcana Heart‘s case may not require too much porting depending on the arcade hardware it’s running on. Which seems to be Taito Type X2 Hardware, which means it’s Windows XP driven. Easy as shit to port to Steam and other similar hardware to be honest and shouldn’t cost much anything. Hell, I think there’s a version out there on the Internet that’s essentially just the arcade executable, that runs just fine on Win7, but I remember that could ruin Window’s core folder structure or something else. Anyway, due to the lack of sales with Arcana Heart means that whatever way to save money and have it out there at the lowest expense possible means that it might make some money.

It’s no wonder Japanese companies have begun to aim to release games on Steam as well. Steam may not have the installation base in Japan that it has in Europe and US of A, but if they want to tap that digital sales market they better rip their preconceptions out and strike when the iron is still hot. This is evident with all the digital services Japan has for its own indie scene with the likes of DMM and DLsite, which work more as online shops for digital content than dedicated clients. These have been popular for number of years before Japanese developers begun to move their software to Steam. Once the ice was broken, even the smaller success software would bring in data to show that Westerners indeed would purchase their titles in digital form. Make no mistake, all Japanese titles that have seen success on Steam is all thanks to Western consumers.

The old argument for cross-pollination is that it offers the consumer choices, that the consumer can play a game on whichever platform they choose to. This is only a good argument on the surface. If you had all the titles on all platforms, the concept of having different platforms makes no more sense. The PC would always come out on the top. Not because it’s superior, but because everyone needs a goddamn computer of some sort nowadays. People hate buying new console hardware, but if it’s on PC, might as well skip purchasing that new Sony console. Steam’s model as a digital console steps in just fine, thought their UI has a terrible design, it functions quick and easy. It might seem awkward, but having multiple different systems with different games would further encourage software and hardware developers to hit different niches and expand the market. Nintendo’s consoles won’t disappear as long as Nintendo keeps making exclusive games that people want to play. Uniqueness in library content after all is the lifeline of a console. The more unique a library is, the more contest the console can tackle. Take that uniqueness away, and you’ll effectively get Steam, a system everybody wants to pick up because it’s the cheapest option.

Not even joking about that. One of Steam’s main point is that it’s cheap both to the consumer and developer. Most games don’t even require a high-end PC anymore because consoles have become dumbed down PCs to the point that Steam is getting ports from consoles and they’re for all intents and purposes identical. Hell, cross-play between console and PC versions has become a completely viable option. It’s no wonder console gamers who are sick and tired of seeing developers screwing them over and seeing support being dropped in favour for the upcoming systems and moving to PC, where they have no real need to concern themselves over that.

All platforms shouldn’t offer the same experience. The cross-pollination however will go to the point where consumers will have a choice to just select one and have everything on it, damn the quality and competition. Valve and Steam will keep themselves relevant while both Sony and Microsoft will cannibalise each other. Nintendo will most likely keep themselves relevant by hitting the market consensus by innovating and expanding the market. All this is really a change we just have to live with.