A delicate piece of hardware

Much like with other modern technology, we’ve managed to squeeze more into smaller space. The laptops or pads we have nowadays are engineered to a point that barely anyone can open up their cases and fix them without further studying on the subject. Game consoles aren’t any different, though the PlayStation 4 is almost as big as the original Xbox. It wasn’t until we began to have consoles that began to show easily damaged sections in the mainline consoles. While the PlayStation could take some hefty damage (personal experience tells me it can survive a trip in a lake), the PlayStation 2 could be damaged by having enough weight at the wrong spot. This was the time when PCBs started to become thinner and more packed up with components downsizing with almost each year. You could lob a NES or SNES outside a window have it working with a cracked case, and the same really for the PlayStation as well. Personal experience, don’t ask. PlayStation 2 however was the first truly delicate piece of hardware that in the end begun to have issues with reading the discs. Sometimes from the very beginning.


Goddamn, this video came out sometime early 2000’s. Takes me back

Nintendo’s consoles usually have been durable, especially their handheld consoles. There has even been discussion how Iwata drove the DS’ tech team mad by demanding the console to be able to withstand multiple drops from a standard height.

However, the more we pack delicate technology in a smaller place, the more easy it is to break it. While most people fellate companies over the hardware, it’s uncommon to see anyone appreciate the design and intentions of the design. The PSP was applauded for its higher raw power over the DS, and while it was snazzy to have in your hands, it was a delicate piece of hardware that could break down very easily. The console wasn’t meant for everybody, and much like how SEGA used to sell Mega Drive for more mature gamers, SONY’s western branches clearly had the more adult audience in mind. The PSP really couldn’t take much damage, I’ve had to fix a few. The same applies to the Vita to some extent, thought the Vita seems to be able to take a beating or two more than its elder sibling.

The Switch has been out only for a while, but it’s already showcasing very erratic behaviour. Some have it going completely mad in sound department, some consoles refuse to launch games, connection issues with the controllers, and the screen’s been scratched by the dock itself. I saw the dock scratching issue the very moment the whole thing was revealed (it had no guiding rails to keep the screen clear), but having a plastic screen is a necessity. Why wouldn’t you want to have a glass screen? They’re so much better! The reason for this is safety and durability design. See, when you have a plastic screen, the console can dissipate a fall impact by wobbling around rather move the energy directly into rigid parts, destroying them. The very reason your phone’s screen shatters so easily is because it can’t bent, and the energy from the is released by shattering. It’s a design decision between durability and looks.

To sidetrack a bit, this really applies to Muv-Luv‘s BETA as well. The Destoyer-Class has a shield hardness of Mohs-15, but because that’s hardness topping that of a diamond, their shields should shatter when shot at. They don’t flex when hit due to their hardness. Mohs scale is for mineral hardness after all and should never be applied outside jewellery.

Newly borked devices is nothing new, either. The 360 had firmware issues since day one, and the infamous Red Ring of Death haunted machines every which way. Hell, the 360 may be a good example overall how to fuck your console from time to time, as some of my friends have told me their 360 crapped out because of an update. For better or worse, my 360 hasn’t crapped out yet.

No modern console is truly finished at launch. Firmware and software issues are relevant and will be patched out at a later date. This is largely due to modern technology. A Mega Drive never needed firmware patches, because it was less a computer than the modern machines. Whatever problems with the firmware Switch has now will be patched at a later date. However, the hardware and design problems are harder to fix, and if Nintendo is anything to go by, they may revise some of the designs in later production versions.

Though there really isn’t any good excuses to use paint coating that peels off with stickers. That’s just terrible. Who puts stickers on their consoles any more? You’d be surprised.

The first wave of adopters will always have to go through the same pains with modern technology. New smart phones and tablets suffer from firmware issues to the point of most common consumers willingly buying last year’s model in order to get a properly functioning device. The price has already dropped at that point too. Apple has been infamous with some of their smart devices’ firmware problems, and sometimes they were removing basic utilities from the hardware alone. Nobody really expected iPhone 7 not to have a headphone jack.

The question some have asked whether or not it’s worth buying a game console, or any modern smart device or computer component for the matter, if they require multiple updates months later down the line? We can’t see into the future, and it’s hard to say what device will go through a harsh update cycle. Essentially, you’ll need to look into history of a company and make a decision based on that. Just trusting that a company will update broken parts is strongly not recommended.

I guess releasing things partially unfinished and patching them up is an industry standard practice. Games get patched to hell and back, and while this isn’t much new for PC side of business, it’s one of those things that show how little of classic console business is in modern consoles. Not all games get patched though, even when they have console destroying bugs in them. NIS America’s track record with localised games that supposedly lock permanently and prevent you from finishing the game, break your console or generally have terrible translation would a perfect chance to use these patches to fix these issues. However, unlike with consoles and other devices, game developers can ignore these problems as the purchase has already been made and they probably are banking on hardcore fans.

Not that any product is final when it’s released. All products are good enough when released, but that good enough has seen a serious inflation with time.

A local question

Astro Boy, Gigantor and Eight Man are classic shows that have a place in American pop culture, even thou Eight Man is probably the most forgotten piece of the bunch. This was the 60’s, and a cartoon with robots flying in the sky, high-speed androids and robot boys fit the era fine. From what I’ve gathered from what people who grew up with these shows, nobody questioned their origin. They were entertaining shows on the telly and that’s all that mattered. I’d throw Speed Racer into the mix as well, thou it arrived just a tad later to the mix, but met with the same treatment.

Video and computer games have a similar history, all things considered. Nobody really cared where from arcade games came from, they just rocked the place. Not even the name Nintendo raised some eyebrows, it was just some exotic name cocked up in a meeting. Pretty much what Herb Powell did in The Simpsons.

Games had a shorter gestation period than robot cartoons when it comes to finding the source to some extent. US saw the mid-1970’s Shogun Warriors, a toyline that used wide variety of toys based on Toei’s show with some changed names to fit better the American market. The NES era is relatively infamous of its localised games, and much like how American reception of these Japanese cartoons ultimately was felt back in Japan, so was the localisations and changed made to games. Perhaps the best example of this would how Salamander became Life Force in its arcade re-release and effectively became its own spin-off from the base game.

This, of course, has been largely in America. Europe is a bit of a different thing, with France, Italy and Spain having their own imported animation culture to the point of Spain having a statue for Mazinger Z. I remember reading about a tennis comic that a French publisher continued after its end in Japan. This was done by hiring an illustrator who could replicate the original style and saw healthy sales for a time. Something that like probably could never happen in modern world, unless the original author has died and has made it clear that continuing his work is allowed. Somehow I can see titles like Mazinger  and Dragon Ball still gaining new entries to the franchise long after Go Nagai and Akira Toriyama have left for Mangahalla.

Sadly, I am not as well versed in pan-European phenomena when it comes to Japanese animation in the Old World, but there are numerous resources in both online and book format, often in native tongue. Perhaps worth investing time into for future entries.

While things like Robotech and Voltron made their names around the American landscape, the 1980’s saw a growing appreciation for the original, unaltered footage. This was the era of Laserdisc, and people were mail ordering cartoons solely based on the covers. Can’t blame them, LDs tend to have absolutely awesome covers. Whenever these shows were shown in a convention, a leaflet explaining the overall premise and the story would be spread among the visitors or a separate person would enter the stage and give a synopsis of the events on the screen. There were those who felt, and still feel, that localisation demeans the original work.

Similarly, game importing became a thing in the latter part of the 1980’s and in the early 1990’s with NES’ success, though it should be mentioned that Europe saw PC game importing across regions far more. The Nordic countries began importing NES games anywhere they could and specialised mail service stores popped up just to service this part of the population. It wasn’t uncommon to see Genesis and Mega Drive titles sold side by side in-game stores. Appreciation for the original game saw a rise, either because of it was simply cool to have shit in Japanese or from America, or because some level of censorship was present. However, more often it was because Europe was largely ignored when it came to releasing certain games. Importing unavailable games to a region is still relevant, perhaps even more so than previously now that companies are investing in English releases in Asian versions and region free consoles are becoming an industry standard.

The question I’ve been asking myself for a long time now, longer than I’ve been writing this blog, is that whether or not wholesome localisation like Space Battleship Yamato and Starblazers was a necessary evil of the time that we can be do without now, that we are grown culturally to accept the original work as a whole, or whether it’s just hubris of the people who are too close to their sub-culture and co-fans. A person who is tightly knit with music’s sub-culture doesn’t exactly understand the sub-culture of pinball or golf.

By that I mean that pop-culture in general doesn’t give jackshit whether or not panties are censored in a video game, it’s irrelevant in macro-scale. Even in a localised form a product can impact pop-culture in ways that the original couldn’t, the aforementioned Speed Racer and Robotech being highly impacting examples in American pop-culture. I guarantee that these shows would not have their impact without the localisation effort.

Is it a necessary evil then? Perhaps this is the subjective part with no answer. Those who value original, unaltered product without a doubt will always prefer the “purest” form of the product, whereas someone who doesn’t have the same priorities will most likely enjoy the localised version just as fine. It would be infantile to assume that people who don’t know better can’t appreciate the original piece or lack in intelligence somehow. It is merely a matter preference, and like assholes, everyone has one.

If it matters, I personally vouch for unaltered products whenever applicable for the sake of keeping the integrity of the product and the intentions of the creators intact. However, also see complete localisations having their valid place in e.g. children’s cartoons. While it would be nice to have two or more versions of everything for the sake of options, that’s not always an option for budgetary, marketing or some other reasons.

Perhaps that’s what could be argued; when it comes to Western culture, we are more acceptable to unlocalised products more than previously, but total localisations still have their place. Even without knowing much about the source, we can appreciate the intentions and look past the cultural difference.

Or at least we should be able to, and appreciate the differences and intentions without resorting to raising a hell for nothing.

Hard mode is now DLC

So I was intending to leave this Friday’s post on a somewhat positive note on Switch’s possible future after reading Shigsy’s interview with Time. The largest positive thing here is that Miyamoto slightly hints that the Switch in few ways seems to be Iwata’s final piece, giving feedback on portability and ideas in networking and communicating. How much of the current networking elements are from Iwata and how much is made disregarding his feedback is an open question. Iwata spearheaded the Wii and the DS, and if the Switch is anywhere near them in terms of idea and approach, then the Switch will definitely do better than the Wii U. Not that doing that should be all that challenging.

However, Miyamoto also speaks of virtual reality again. In essence, Nintendo is looking into VR at the moment, which ties itself to the obsession of 3D Nintendo still has. If you look how long Nintendo has been pushing the idea 3D with games, you can trace it back at least to Rad Racer if not further. You could almost make an argument that the more Nintendo tries to push 3D and VR as the main element of their machine, the worse it does.

VR currently has gone nowhere. After the initial boom of Virtual Reality, nothing has come out of it. No software has changed the industry or has set new standards. We’ve been told that VR will be at its peak in few years for few years now, and this repeats every time a VR product comes out. It’s not about lack of marketing or failing to market the product right. It’s about the common consumer not really giving a damn about t he VR in actuality, and most VR headsets we currently have are far too expensive for their own good. None of them work independently, which only adds to the costs. They’re a high-end luxury product at best with no content to back them up.

That said, Miyamoto cites Iwata talking about blue ocean and red ocean marketing, two points that his own actions seem to dismiss most of the time, but does commend Iwata for bringing this ideology to the front within the company. To quote what Shigsy said;

This is something that Mr. Iwata did, to really link the philosophy of Nintendo to some of the business and corporate jargon, while also being able to convey that to all of the employees at Nintendo.

Iwata had a presence both with the company and consumers. While Nintendo had few faces after Yamauchi, Iwata stood out. He was the company’s corporate face that managed to juggle between worlds. If you’re a fan of his, you’ll probably find elements in the Switch that underline Iwata’s approach as the head of the company.

Nintendo has many faces now that Iwata has passed. It’s not just not Miyamoto and Iwata any longer, but numerous of their developers have come to front even further. It’s like almost each game or franchise is now attached to a face. Like you have The Legend of Zelda tied to Aonuma.

The recent BotW announcement video killed pretty much all my personal hopes for the game being something special, mainly because it confirms that even when Aonuma is wearing something that resembles a suit, he still comes off sloppy. Still, the video does right by having subtitles instead of him trying to speak English.

The fact that Hard Mode is now DLC signifies that Breath of the Wild won’t be Zelda returning to its glory days as an action title that requires skill, but it’ll continue being a dungeon puzzler. Whether or not these DLC packs are an afterthought or not, it strikes very worrying. The Legend of Zelda had a completely new quest after the first round. Aonuma saying that they’d like to give seasoned veterans something new and fun is outright bullshit. New Items and skins don’t add to the game but in miniscule ways. A Challenge Mode was in previous Zeldas from the get-go. Additional map features do jack shit, unless the base map is terrible in the game. New original story and a dungeon with further challenges are nothing new or exciting. These are basic run-of-the-mill post-game stuff Zelda used to have. Modern Zelda tends to have a terrible replay value, but this DLC announcement hints BotW has worse replay value than normal.

I guess this shows how Nintendo is going to deal with the Switch overall, at least after the launch. The Switch requires extra purchases to be complete, like to purchase the Charging Power Grip because the bundled ones don’t charge. The game industry has been blamed for cutting their games into pieces to sell as DLC, and it really does feel like that at times. DLC is often developed with the main game and nowadays DLC is planned from the very beginning. Taken this into account, with the announcement video with Aonuma Nintendo effectively showed that they took parts that used to be standard parts of modern Zelda to some extent and made them DLC. The veterans they refer to are core Zelda modern fans.

Nintendo can’t have two dud of a console in their hands now. Twenty years ago they could have N64 under-perform when it came out much later than it was supposed to, and GameCube couldn’t stand against the rampaging truck that the PlayStation 2 was. The economy was completely different now than what it was in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The Wii U was pretty much a disaster, but perhaps even more so that the Virtual Boy as it was Nintendo’s main home console with full backing of the company in the vain of two of the most successful consoles in game history. Granted, not all machines can see the success of Game Boy. They could, if developed properly and the software library would see proper maintenance from the first and second party developers.

I’m still going to stick with Switch being more a success than the Wii U. However, if Zelda BotW is any indication for the future, there is a fly in the ointment.

Ageless games across generations

Video games have more in common with hide-and-seek than with movies, literature or music. This is due to video games, and electronic gaming in general, being the latest iteration of play culture. As such games of the past, be it the NES or Atari era, still find home within the new generation of consumers just as easily as any well planned out children’s play, game or even sports would. Only in video game industry we hear something become obsolete because of its archaic technology or because we have that aforementioned new generation. Soccer, basketball and numerous other sports still are around because they are ageless because each of them has been passed down to a new generation, just as children’s plays are.

Children will invent stories as they play along, be a costume play, playing with figures or something else. While there is a rudimentary narrative running in these plays, playing is the main thing. Electronic games, both PC and console games especially, are largely a legacy of these plays. The problem with electronic games is that they are static and can’t dynamically change as the player wants. This is why more varied games are always needed and the more unique titles we have, the better. The Legend of Zelda and Skyrim may be based on a similar notion of a hero in a fantasy land, but their realisation is different and serve different purposes. On the surface the ideas and even core structure seems similar. The reader already knows, the two games are vastly different in how they are played. Just like how the narrative in children’s plays are to enforce the action of playing rather than being the main thing, so do games use narrative as a support for playing the game. Changing it otherwise undermines both playing and gaming.

An ageless game will sell to future generations despite its technological backwardness. This is why emulation will never cease to exist, as anyone who knows the basic use of a computer and reading comprehension probably has already fired up at least one sort of emulator. As an anecdote, I’ve seen people as young as seven doing this without any outside help, and they enjoyed playing Super Mario Bros. on JNes. Why Super Mario Bros.? Because Mario is still a cultural icon, and using a Nintendo system most likely the one thing that people go for first. Not because of the modern entries in the series, but due to how large of an impact the franchise left on the face of culture in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Much like the game industry at large, those companies with a long history with electronic gaming often simply ignore the possibilities of their library. Instead, we may see plug-n-play conversions of some titles like with Atari 2600, but sometimes we get a piece of products that hits the cultural nerve just the right way and outsells itself to the point of amazing even the producers themselves. The NES Mini surprised Nintendo and its execs without any shadow of a doubt, as mentioned by Reggie in a CNET interview regarding the Switch. To quote him;

The challenge for us is that with this particular system, we thought honestly that the key consumer would be between 30 and 40 years old, with kids, who had stepped away from gaming for some period of time. And certainly we sold a lot of systems to that consumer.

Reggie claims that Nintendo is aware of the popularity of their classic games, which he contradicts with this statement. Furthermore, if they were aware how popular their classic games were, Nintendo would aim to make them obsolete rather than push games that enjoy less popularity. The NES Mini, as Reggie mentions above, wasn’t just popular with the people who grew up with the console, but with basically every age tier. Furthermore it should be noted that even in Europe the legacy of the NES has become that they were the victorious console, but do go back few entries to read how well Nintendo royally fucked NES in PAL territories.

It’s not just the nostalgia that sold NES Mini. As Reggie said, NES Mini is popular among kids, and kids have no nostalgia for a thirty years old game console. The games cherry picked for the system simply are mostly well designed and can stand the test of time. Super Mario Bros. does not appeal just because it is a Mario game, but because it’s a fun adventure in a fantasy land. Zelda‘s open world Action-RPG is popular outside the fans of the franchise (and I hope to God BotW will have an open world in the spirit if the original.) Metroid‘s action-adventure appeals similarly to a larger crowd than just to the fans, thou game devs have been furiously masturbating to this genre for the last years harshly.

There is nothing that would keep Nintendo from realizing the spirit of their older games in their future titles. Nothing keeps an old game from appealing to modern consumers, just like there’s nothing from modern children playing games invented couple of hundreds of years ago. We still play cards like Go Fish! or Shitpants with our kids. Hell, one could even say that when we grow into adults (or rather, we realize we are adults) we still keep playing the same games, but stakes are just higher. Poker may replace Go Fish!  but a new generation will still play that. A new card game for kids will appear in the future to supplement already large library of card games, but it’ll never be able replace anything if it doesn’t refine the formula somehow. Even then, it’s hard to beat a solid classic.

To use another Nintendo example is the Wii. Wii’s Virtual Console sold more titles than Nintendo’s big releases in the latter part of the console’s lifecycle, and saw a slow death on the 3DS. This seems to say that Nintendo doesn’t really take into heart the notion that classic games and their core are still viable. Instead, they concentrate on something surprising and that old games are only played due to nostalgia. A sentiment the game industry at large sadly seems to agree upon. With the success of NES Mini, will Nintendo begin to value their classic games more rather than just as the beginnings of an IP? Probably not, but Switch should tell us in due time.

The 9th console generation hits in March

Nintendo has a strong start with the Switch as it stands now. While the event did show numerous titles, in the end it left yearning for more. Seems like Nintendo’s intending to keep  a hype train going until the launch hits.

Overall, I have to say that the presentation itself was rather professional. No outlandish theatrics or anything like that. No real bullshit dead air, just proper and interesting presentation. The clothing was a highlight in itself, showcasing that most of these people are professionals. There was class in this event that is absent from most. Well, outside some choices, like Nogami aiming for funnier style that was more worth a facepalm than anything else, and Aonuma really needs to stop wearing that terrible looking hoodie. Actually, remove Aonuma altogether.

Having Tatsumi Kimishima on the stage in the very beginning was what was needed. He might not be Iwata or Yamauchi, but the public does not yet know who he is. He took the stage in a very sure and confident manner. Mikishima had a proper stage presence, which was enhanced by the fact he had an interpreter. Having a Japanese businessman speaking in broken English is jarring, as you have to concentrate on the words rather than on the content. Shibata of course went in with broken English as an exception.

Shinya Takahashi is another new-ish name. As with Kimishima, the public got to know him better. While Miyamoto has been the face of the company alongside Iwata for some time now, it seems Nintendo has been progressively been pushing to give a face for their franchises. After all, Nintendo has been becoming a company of IPs in few ways.

The info about the Switch goes from pretty damn neat to weak. First of all, region freedom is a welcome change in how Nintendo handles their machines, and this tickles all the importers’ nuts just the right way.

Paid online is hit on the system, but then again a game that relies solely on online multiplayer will become obsolete in number of years solely because of that. Like it or not, a game still needs to have a solid offline mode stand the test of time. Hopefully the subscription for the online is less than what either of their competitors prices theirs at, and is more usable than before.

Switch’s battery life is no worse than 3DS, but at least I can throw in a battery bank. However, the main hardware showcase, the real piece of hardware that really matters when it comes to game consoles, is the controller design. While I personally love all the stuff they managed to pack into the Joycons (the name is still terrible) the fact is that they are over-engineered. The reason the Switch retails at $300 is probably partially because the controllers. I intending to do a longer piece about the controller design itself sometime later, so let’s leave the rest for later.

joyconner
I admit that the size of the controllers seem to be on the smaller side.

The Pro Controller will retail at $70, which further reminds me how tired I am to pay stupidly high prices for controllers. The price point will hurt Switch’s sales, and with what looks like a Mushroom Kingdom-less 3D Mario, the Switch has few things going against it already.

I did expect to see more gameplay footage rather than promotional trailers, but I guess that was a foolhardy wish. 1-2-Switch is no WiiSports and won’t drive system sales. It probably works the best as a tech demo of sorts and a party game for some, but overall there will be no large interest in it. Arms won’t fare any better, but I hope it’ll have better controls than most of Wii’s boxing games. The logo’s also too industrial, something that would fit on a DeWalt drill. It needs to be punched up a bit. Splatoon has its fans, but a system seller it is not, and the sequel really doesn’t seem to change things around one bit.

Super Mario Odyssey is a surprise in that it reminds more Sonic Adventure than previous Mario titles. There is nothing special about 3D Mario, and moving to the “real world” instead of expanding on Mushroom Kingdom is a mistep. Now if they could put the same amount of effort and money into 2D Mario games, things would be great. 3D Mario hasn’t really driven high sales with Nintendo’s past consoles, and with the changes Odyssey has to the world, it’s doubtful this will drive sales either.

Xenoblade 2 looks nice and all, but I doubt it will be a huge hit either. Fire Emblem Musou will stay a niche title still. Only Japan cares about Dragon Quest, there are numerous reasons why Final Fantasy has always been more popular. Shin Megami Tensei‘s 25th anniversary title hopefully visits the roots of the franchise a bit more and hopefully gets a fully uncensored release in the West. Let’s be honest, RPGs is what Switch needs, which is why something like Skyrim will probably see at least decent sales. Project Octopath Traveller left people largely cold as it showed jack shit.

It was fun to see Suda-51, Sega’s and EA’s representatives come to the stage and mention they know the Switch exists and intend to develop for it. Props to EA’s interpreter. Europe loves FIFA, so this bit felt more fanservice towards soccer fans than anything else.

Despite the lineup we saw towards the end of the event, we didn’t get launch lineup, but we got confirmation for numerous titles, including a Street Fighter II (now confirmed as Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers) and a new Bomberman. Goddamit, a Bomberman title on launch? Sign me in. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild goes for the epic, and it still needs to convince me that it’s more than what the trailer show (i.e. less plot and more adventure content to play with lesser emphasize on puzzles.) However, between it and Super Mario Odyssey, it’s BotW that has the edge.

somebody-behind-him
Thou the edge needs to be cleaned up, it’s rusty and needs polishing

3rd of March is when the 9th console game generation hits. It was a nice ending for the show, though more info came soon after.

For example, the Switch Online Service as a free trial period and seems to have the usual stuff you expect from modern online services: free games, exclusive deals and online multiplayer. However, the inclusion of device application for phones and tablets is stupid. Why would you need to use their dedicated application to call your friends to play an online game? You can just phone them. Online play for NES and SNES games can be good, if its implemented right and connection is up to it. Then again, not many retro game is worth online play, if we’re brutally honest. Co-op is fun and all, but without direction connection to the second player, it’s missing something essential from the mix.

News are pouring in all the time, but I’ll take the slow route with them. Little consideration and taking it easy instead of insta-blogging should do some good for the thought.

However, from what we already have here can make an educated guess that the Switch won’t probably be the same success story as the NES (sans Europe) or the Wii, but won’t be a bomb like the Wii U either. It’s going to do just fine, meandering on the more positive side of the story.

Monthly Three; The time Nintendo lost Europe

When we speak of NES’ success, it really is more about the success Nintendo saw in the United States and Japan. Europe, on the other hand, Nintendo lost in the 8-bit era due to their own direct actions and inactions, saw increased success with the SNES, but in overall terms their home consoles. While the PC market and console market are largely separate business regions when you get down to it, despite modern game consoles being dumbed down PCs and all that, they do exist in parallel and can influence one another. The European home computer market of the 1980’s and early 1990’s before the IBM revolution had set in permanently did compete with the home consoles almost directly, but there is a good damn reason for that.

When Nintendo brought the NES to the European region, it had to fight a different fight than in the US. The US console market was dead at the time, but in many ways such thing didn’t exist in Europe. European home computers, like ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC had firm footing in European game markets. One could even go as far to say that console market didn’t exist in the same form in Europe as it did in the US and Japan, and Nintendo’s entry to into European markets would be difficult at best. Let’s be fair, the second time North American video game market crashed in the 1983 affected European market worth jack shit. Atari was more known for their computers than for their consoles across the Old World.

Markets is the keyword here that needs to be remembered, as Europe is not one nation like the United States. While I’m sure everybody is aware that each nation in Europe has their own distinguished culture, people and legislation, I do feel a need to emphasize that you are largely required to deal with each nation independently. The European Union has made some things easier when it comes to business trading, but the less I talk about the EU here the better.

One of the weirdest pull Nintendo did for Europe was to split the PAL territory into two sub-territories when it came to locking, with Mattel handling distribution in the  so-called A-territory, while numerous other companies handled the B-territory. The Mattel branded territory also had Mattel produced NES variant, that looks exactly the same on the outside, except where it reads Mattel version and has that locking mechanism, keeping games from working on it. It doesn’t make much sense that you’d had to keep an eye on regional lockout within your own region, but that’s how Nintendo rolled, until in 1990 they established Nintendo of Europe to handle continent-wide dealings, kicking the Mattel version to the curb. One of the reasons was this that the NES was relatively rare console, especially in the UK, where the console was sold in specifically selected stores, mainly chemists and such, for whatever odd reason. You’d think selling NES at Woolworths would’ve been the best idea, but no. This applied to games too, but the rest of the Europe saw both games and consoles being more widespread. However, they were still relatively rarer sight in the late 1980’s compared to the computer software.

Some of the companies that handled NES outside UK fared better, some worse. Spain was handled by Spaco, who were lazy with their game distribution, and at some point tried to emphasize their own titles over others. In all European countries games came out few years later than their US versions, thou it should be mentioned that Sweden was one of the countries that got the NES as early as 1986, whereas some saw the console released few years later. Bergsala handles Fennoscandia overall nowadays, but before they only handled Sweden, Norway was Unsaco’s region, whereas Funente originally dealt with Finland. Importing games from other countries was a common practice in Fennoscandia, though the NES still had to fight against computers like the C64. Digging up all the history European NES has would fill a whole book, thus the scope of this entry will be kept limited.

The second reason why Nintendo failed the region was in the pricing of their games. While the US had always seen relatively high-priced games, the European market was almost the exact opposite. A standard NES release cost about £70 at the time, which turns into about 82€ or $86. Even now that price seems over the top. In comparison, Sega’s Master System had games going for some £25, or  about 34€ and $36. Even the Master System had lower sales than home computer software, that could see as low pricing as £10, or about 12€ / $12. Regional variants of course applied across the board, but the level of pricing didn’t change at any point. You just got less bang for you buck on the NES.

To add to this, the Sega MegaDrive saw PAL region release at a time when home computers were having a slight breakage point, and offered new games to play still at a lower price, making Super Nintendo’s market entry that much harder. Both Sega and Nintendo had American emphasizes titles as well, with Startropics being one of the best examples, and Sega’s overall strategy how to sell the Genesis in the US, but Europe had no saw no such emphasize. Even Sega tasked third-party companies to handle the PAL territory, such as Mastertronic in the UK, who marketed the Master System aggressively, selling the console an undercut price of £100. Sanura Suomi handled Master System in Finland, while the Belenux countries were Atoll handled Sega’s licenses between 1987 and 1993. Only a handful of European exclusive titles exist compared to the US and Japan, and they’re not remembered all that fondly in the annals of gaming history, mostly because the historians rarely give a damn about European gaming.

Furthermore, game enthusiasts quickly noticed that the NES games ran slower than intended with black bars on the screen. This was due to different standards, where PAL region ran at 50hz and the NTSC ran at 60hz. Companies across the board didn’t give a flying fuck porting their games properly, instead doing a quick job and making their games run around 17% slower. Interestingly, the only game that properly optimised for the PAL region is Top Gun 2. A more interesting oddball of the bunch is Kirby’s Adventure, which was patched to have proper pitch and tempo in music while having the engine running at PAL’s 50hz. Except for Kirby itself, who moves at normal speed, so everything around him moves at 17% slower speed than intended. This kind of screwfuckery didn’t really install confidence towards Nintendo among European consumers. In the end, the NES didn’t penetrate the market, sold games at far higher price than any of its competitor and had less titles distributed that were worse than their NTSC counterparts in terms of

Because of these reasons, many third-party titles that American and Japanese audiences enjoyed on the NES were enjoyed in different forms on various home computers at much lower prices, and sometimes in superior versions too. This was the era, where ports of one arcade title was drastically different from one another. The current differences between ports are laughable at best in comparison.

The way the European markets preferred Sega and home computer products over the NES are directly due to how different the market was, and badly Nintendo handled themselves. The sheer amount of game software the home computers, and even the SMS, had at the time essentially made the rarer NES and its library a niche. Certainly, the NES saw a small renaissance in the very early 1990’s prior to the introduction of the SNES, but at this point it was already a lost battle. There were companies offering decently priced low-end and high-quality titles for other machines than the NES.

As such, it would do good to remember that while the disruption strategy works, each region requires equal amount of care in the manner that fits that said region. If a company were to push highly Japanese titles to America, it would fail. If a company would be pushing highly American titles to Japan, it would fail. Europe on the other hand is different, with each country having a different uptake on things. Countries like France and Italy at one point were the biggest European otakulands without them even noticing it, while others shunned both Japanese and American products, concentrating on their own titles. In order to succeed in European game markets further, companies had to learn some new tricks and utilise each nation’s or region’s specific nature to their advantage. European game markets have changed drastically since late 1980’s, and perhaps that’s for the better. However, the face of European game markets, and industry itself, left a mark that is still seen and felt how companies approach European consumers. Sometimes, they just don’t.

On retro throwbacks

Double Dragon is one of those classic game franchises that a generation grew up. Not just on the NES, but in arcades and whole slew of home computers as well, including the likes of Atari 520ST. With time other franchises came along and did things better than Double Dragon, namely Final Fight and Streets of Rage, not to forget all the belt-scrolling-action games Konami put out. There is a huge legacy for Double Dragon, which has been tapped on an occasion after the disaster that was the 1990’s. These range from extremely poor to absolutely incredible. In hindsight, Double Dragon Neon is a terrible game, only beaten by that Korean Double Dragon II title nobody ever played. The best game in the franchise, and one of the best games on GameBoy Advance no less, is Double Dragon Advance. That game didn’t just aim to push the game to its possible peaks without compromising much with what the series had already built up, but also expanded what the series could be. Every game that have upheld the Double Dragon name since then have been utter trash in comparison. Oh yes, this’ll be one of those more personal posts again.

So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that ArcSys was going to release Double Dragon IV early next year. What possibilities had opened up. ArcSys could do even better than what Million did in 2003.

Of course, if I had not just taken triangle pills to kill down my fever and chugged down a bottle or two, I would have remembered that ArcSys has been milking the Kunio-kun franchise as a retro dot graphics throwback for number of years now. Even the opening text announcing the 30th year anniversary looks lazy and thrown in there by a six years old.

These throwbakcs work once in a blue moon when there has been sufficient time between releases. Hell, people flocked New Super Mario Bros. because it was a new 2D Mario game decades and New Super Mario Bros. Wii outsold Super Mario Galaxy just by the fact Nintendo brought back the Koopalings. However, the main reason why these two titles succeeded was because consumers fucking love 2D Mario boatloads more than 3D Mario. The same happened with Mega Man 9 and 10. Mega Man 9 saw some success because it was the original Mega Man back in action in a title that was based on a survey… that the hardcore fans had filled out. No wonder the game played into perceived tropes the series has instead to the ones it actually has. Mega Man 10  didn’t just have worse design overall, but at that point these dot graphics games were dime in a dozen. Hell, most indie titles seem to go for faux-old school look or use Minecraft‘s voxels.

The Kunio-kun warm ups were fun little games, I can’t argue against that. Nevertheless they still feel disappointing in how they look and play, because the cutesy dot graphics don’t carry the impact the game should have. It’s playing on the nostalgia of the consumers while ignoring to advance the game franchise further. Even the silliness the new Kunio-kun titles had worked for their favour, because those games were inherently silly… after the first arcade title, at least. Nevertheless they had an air of seriousness about them and each new title in the franchise tried to push a little bit farther.

Double Dragon Advance is still a retro throwback on its own rights, utilising pretty much the same overall visual design, just upgraded to be more detailed and fluid than the original games, whatever system you want to pick Double Dragon from. Perhaps this has been deemed to sell less than using the same fucking sprites they made thirty years ago. Who am I to judge a business decision that’ll make a company more money? Well, everything really, as it’s my damn money I want to spend that hard-earned cash for something else than just another rehash of 8-bit sprites with a new overlay.

Even 2D Mario saw declining sales with New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi  U, partly because nobody owns a Wii U, but mostly because the New Super Mario Bros. had run its course. There was nothing new in the games and the production values were laughable compared to its 3D sisters. If the same care would have been put in the 2D games, given the same orchestral treatment and not the WAH WAH music, Nintendo wouldn’t bat an eye at a suggestion of a new 2D Mario game. At the surface, it would seem the same thing happened with the new Kunio-kun titles, except the nostalgic cashgrab element they had going on. As mentioned, Mega Man met the same faith.

I don’t expect anything major from Double Dragon IV and no way in Hell I’m willing to put money down on it. Personally, I’m sick and tired of 8-bit graphics on old franchises. I would have expected game developers to want increase the potential of their games with new hardware and find ways to breathe new life franchises of bygone years. All I’m getting now is sprites from thirty years ago with terrible remixes. Somebody tell ArcSys to hire Vertexguy to remix their music rather than using shitty synth.

Perhaps the current hardware and retroware worship has made developers lazy, and kids and nostalgia blinded forty years old still eat up these titles. Just gimme new entries in these old franchises that aim to be their own thing with the aim of pushing the envelope.

Switch the talk from hardware

I really do sound like a broken record at this point. With the leaks about Switch being less powerful than the PlayStation 4, things have gotten on the overdrive again with calling it a failure on the launch. None of Nintendo’s more powerful consoles have been a success. As Yamauchi said, a game console is just a box to play games on.

Take a look at Nintendo’s history with consoles. NES was underpowered compared to its competitors, yet it came on the top. Well, except in Europe, where Nintendo fucked their marketing and Europeans had their computer games. SNES was ultimately weaker than the Mega Drive thanks to the addons and despite them still came to the top, not to mention the other competitors of the time. N64 failed despite having more powerful hardware than the PlayStation or Saturn. GameCube too was ultimately a failure despite topping the PS2. The Wii was a massive hit despite being weaker. The Wii U on the other hand had jack shit when it came to software (just like the N64) and had that huge controller nobody wanted. The same can be seen in the handheld market. The Game Boy slaughtered all of its competition as did the DS. The Vita could have trumped the 3DS if it had any software worth shit, but SONY repeated the exact same travesty they did with the PSP.

The common consumer doesn’t give jack shit about how strong a console is. Why? Because they know hardware does not mean better games. People absolutely hate paying for new hardware, because it’s the games that matter. The hardware race has always been part of the PC culture, not console. Consoles have been about software race. Tech fans no need to apply for console gaming, if we’re being brutally blunt here.

Because Super Mario Bros. was such a success, you saw a lieu of games trying to replicate its success, most notably Sonic the Hedgehog. The developers just need to do their job and optimise the games, and even better, design games from the ground up for the Switch and all is golden. Of course, because everything just runs on the same engine as everything else and nobody bothers doing any extensive optimisation to ensure the smoothest possible experience (or even know how to do that at worst case) we’ll just get sad and hastily put together ports.

Consumers never bought Nintendo consoles for them being Nintendo consoles. Not outside fanboys. People bought them for the software, for Mario and Zelda. People bought PlayStation for the same reason; it had games they wanted to play, not because the hardware. Nintendo is not a niche as some would assume because of their approach. No, on the contrary. Their consoles tended to be cheaper and smaller than the competitors’ because of matured technology. This is again one of those things we’ve gone over so many times, but seems like people are still ignoring the fact when Nintendo uses Gunpei Yokoi’s philosophy alongside Yamauchi’s, they strike gold. Nintendo, when they are at their best (NES, Game Boy, Wii) Nintendo is far from being a niche. Electronic games isn’t just a hobby of selected group of people, but something all can enjoy, and striking that Blue Ocean should be expected and even wanted, not the opposite. Losing hope over lack of hardware prowess is useless. Your life doesn’t depend on a game console, go outside camping sometimes.

Switch has few points going for it that most seem to ignore. One is the cartridges. This needs more fanfare, as it means the games themselves will be far more longlasting than the optical media. The lack of long loading times helps too. Oh now you care about hardware? Oh you. Secondly, the fact that the Switch is a hybrid also means the games are not required to be connected to the Internet all the damn time.

The biggest problem the Switch currently has is the fact that Nintendo isn’t showcasing any of that software. This is the sole reason why people are talking about Switch’s hardware to the extent they currently are and each and every bit of information is torn apart. There’s nothing else to talk about the Switch, and I haven’t seen anyone else to discuss its design either. The latest The Legend of Zelda got pushed back too, so the media can’t discuss that either. So, hardware it is for them to keep the clicks up. I guess I’m no better, commenting on the fact. Unless Nintendo rolls something significant on the software side with the Switch, there’s no valid reason for me to discuss it any further.

One of my New Year’s promises should be to throw this broken record to trash and just re-blog the sentence Software matters more than hardware whenever applicable.

To heighten and value

Artists tend to hate the exact accuracy the more mass productive industries tend to have as a standard. Discussion with friends and colleagues who work in the and industry have claimed that the schedules and accuracy needed stifles their creativity and kills motivation. Some don’t give two damns about the industry while some deem any industry that’s prone to mass-production an evil entity serving the global agenda to kill culture and creativity via capitalism.

The other side of the coin does the same, just differently. The metal industry doesn’t value artisans or craftsmen and often seem to lump them together with blacksmiths. Then again, who does know what an artisan does? I’ve noticed only handful of people. The words I’ve heard described is that their work is useless and carry no need in modern world, whereas a welder’s job hasn’t changed a bit in the last forty years and are still needed. In a sense they are right, but just as machination has made these traditional creative industries all but obsolete, the future of technology will aim to make welders as they are now obsolete as well. We already have robots that know how to drive taxis and trucks, and it’s just the question of time when welders will see their work being replaced with automation, who do their job more efficiently.

Still, somebody has to sit on their ass and design all these up.

To be fair, splitting creative industries so that there would be a clear-cut opposition is hard, as creative industries themselves contain huge amounts of mass productions. Film, music and game industries are all but creating that one thing that makes your heart aflutter, and then press it million times over with slight variations.

Nevertheless, this sort of undermining of each others’ value seems to be prevalent. We tend to think our work is undervalued while others’ are overvalued. The truth is that some work indeed does have less value than other in objective terms, but we barely recognize these to any extent. We barely appreciate cleaners who keep our streets and offices clean while we shit things up. Mailmen, while busting our packages left and right, have to work hard hours in the worst of weathers carrying our packages and letters with pretty bad overall conditions. Hell, even the police get shit on their neck despite them being an essential part of upholding the law in modern societies, otherwise there would be anarchy. We can discuss whether or not anarchy has any merit some other time. Hell, people who work at child care and daycare centres deserve boatloads of recognition for working with any and all sorts of kids, and I tell you modern kids can be complete nightmares to work with.

Perhaps it’s because we undervalue someone’s work, be it whatever it is, we either expect jack shit from them or expect the highest possible results with the lowest possible resources. We as consumers may not even value their work to any extent and disregard any of their efforts. Yet, whenever they fuck up, we’re sure to let them know and demand better next time. Yet we don’t give enough shit to demand elevation for that work, just better results.

This again ties back to the theme we’ve had in our semi-Monthly Three. When we do not value something enough and it’s just good enough, we are doing a disservice to that industry and workers in there by saying their work, their very best, is not needed. They don’t need to elevate themselves or their products any higher as it sells as it is and it can remain on a level that’s just satisfactory. This encourages further degradation of the industry and how it’s valued, opening more ways to exploit both the work and the worker for other means.

But we don’t really care, do we? As long as products that come out cheaply at the minimum most standards met, if even those, we’re satisfied as consumers. I can’t stress enough how important proper translation for anything is. After all, language is one of the pillar of our culture/s, and should be valued just as any major pillar.

That is not to say that there is room for budget products that simply fill a niche, but perhaps there we can see valuing work at its finest. Not everybody has the money to buy a Rolls Royce, but those who can pick up a standard rugged car that can stand slings and arrows of outrageous fortune will appreciate that car just as well. China produces numerous alternatives for almost any product out there, and many of them do the exact same thing at a lower price just as fine. However, this isn’t exactly the same thing, but slides alongside the main point.

To use video games as example, consumers expected No Man’s Sky to be something like the second coming of Jesus. They expected the game to be a lot more, demanded even, and when the game was released, the consumers who bought the hype were let down. Promises were made and not kept, but people still demand more satisfactory gameplay they’ll probably never get. All the possibilities were there, and are still there, but the developing group clearly can’t fulfil the demand their promises made. This is what the situation is with Bandai Namco’s Asian English translations. They’re just as broken and a let down as No Man’s Sky is. While the hardcore video game consumer values most of game developers, they largely give jack shit all the industries the game industry requires to go with it, undervaluing their work and thus showing the corporations they don’t need to value them either. Just as we demand respect towards our own work, we also need to rise up to the occasion and respect others’ work. Easier said than done.

However, I’m afraid that consumers tend to have a twisted vision of industry outside their own. A level of appreciation requires a certain amount of studying, learning whys and hows of a system before we can see the time and effort put into anything we see or use. A simple thing like a the fork you eat with was first planned up my a human mind before put into production, but do you value that effort and appreciate that simple yet frequently used item in your hands? Even the smallest, most mundane things are of value.

Appreciate each others’ work

How things have been rolling as of late has reminded me of Ralph McQuarrie’s quote A real artist wakes up and does what he wants, instead of what the client wants, the agent wants, the gallery wants, etc. I consider myself a craftsman, a draughstaman. The reason for this is standards.

To use the product design industry as an example, consider your main chair back home. It may be wooden, plastic or combination of multitude of materials to create a cohesive whole that fits your taste. How many times have you given that chair a thought after your first purchase and impressions outside the few times you felt uncomfortable in it?

The best of designs tend to go unnoticed in many ways. That chair you use is most likely built to human body standards and it is made to support your back just the right way. After slight adjusting here and there, of course. Maybe it even has a headrest and an armrest pair that allows you a more supportive and comfortable positions. You may find them nice and appeasing your needs, but sweet hell does it take a forever to find that right spot during the design phase.

Design is a source of life enhancement was the motto of the late Kenji Ekuan, best known as the designer of the Kikkoman soy sauce bottle, which probably stands as the best design of the previous century. It is without a doubt a bottle that has a nice curves and size that fits your hand just right. How it’s used and it functions is even more impressive and took Ekuan long enough to fine tune it. If we were to talk about high standards, the Kikkoman bottle is up there in regards how an everyday item should be.

That’s not exactly the standards that has been muddling my mind, but they’re part of it all in the end. To return to your chair, if it is one of the workstation chairs with combination of multiple materials, you can bet your ass that each connected section has sub-millimetre standard that the producer has to adhere to in order to make a satisfactory product that will not break down, can withstand certain loads and stresses and still be economically feasible to produce. Each section has required some bit of machining at some point in the production, be it when making the moulds for the plastic or some bolt, these are within third of a millimetre standard deviation in size, and that’s not even the finest allowed standard deviation.

The welded parts of that chair of yours have standards of their own as well. If you start taking notice of welded parts, you should notice the same thing repeating in most cases; uniform look, uniform thickness and uniform methods. The common consumer most likely doesn’t give one flying fuck about this, as it is something they are never concerned with in their lives. Welding is just something that a worker does and it keeps shit together. Nevertheless it is an arduous work to gain experience in and requires both hands on training and theory studying. Credit is where credit is due, and it would seem everybody thinks that their work is least appreciated out of the bunch.

If your chair is wood and not made by your local craftsman, you can be sure that in the factory it came out they have similar standards when it comes to joint manufacturing and so on. If you picked something from IKEA and had to build it yourself, each of the part is made with standards.

This combines somewhat to the previous issue with Bandai Namco’s Asian English translations, making this a possible Monthly Three in retrospect. Translation has standards as well, yet especially companies and corporations are very willing to simply force through the translation process instead. However, imagine if companies would do the same thing with your chair. It’s good enough if it just manages to hold together and sells, the consumer be damned. The reason why consumer would not find this satisfactory is because things would break down or bend out of shape due to out of standards cheap black iron parts, terrible fragile plastics used and the most rough deviation machining used. The design itself would be somewhere out there and wouldn’t support your back or contour accordingly. That’s what Bandai Namco’s Asian English translations are, with the only difference that we don’t have any other options to choose from outside Japanese. Honestly, the scripts would look loads more polished if they were just edited properly. I can almost see some fans taking the existing English scripts and just doing that. Currently, they’re just waste of space and resources, and support further detrimentation of not just English translations, but translations overall.

To return to McQuarry’s quote, the one thing an artist doesn’t need to bother himself with is standards. That could be seen as one of the things that separate art and other fields. For example, in design you still need to adhere to standards and conventions to achieve certain desired results. Within art, there are no standards as such what you can or how. This becomes more muddles when we take into notice classical paintings that adhere to a puristic style like realism and were ordered pieces. However, art has always been about selling your piece, and the modern take on being something that shouldn’t be “sold-out” is largely laughable. Just like dada.

To assume this is valid, it is one more argument for things like literacy and movies not being largely art in themselves. For exactly that reason we have art movies that encompass that whole thing of doing whatever the hell they want however they want, sometimes even changing the concept of how a movie is played in a theatre. Books too have these takes, as some books make a statement by having hundred blank pages or a poem collection with just one word per opening. Seems like a waste of material, but who am I to judge what people buy?

We tend to not give a damn about standards unless they directly apply to us and rarely even realize how strictly standards play out in our daily lives. We don’t appreciate them to a certain degree, and while we want shit to work like it should, we also give in far too often and far too much in certain things like translations where these standards should be hold up as almost sacred things. Not just because it will create a better product, but for both culture and appreciation of each and every field of work there is, art or not.