A toad left in the sun dries and dies

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Action that drives the narrative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Failed Fetch

While I haven’t followed what’s been happening with Pokémon for numerous years, I can’t really escape some of its news and whatever general stuff is happening due to friend circle having loads of friends who still spend about as much time gushing over the franchise as they did back in 1998. Guess how how many of them still live with their parents. However, I often check out what the new designs are like, because designs sensibilities with Pokémon has changed to the point of being constantly compared how they look like Digimon. There are some Digimon design articles on this blog by a visiting author, so check them out. This post is really how whomever designed and approved Farfecth’d long awaited evolution, Sirfetch’d, and how the design fails.

The original idea of the original Farfecth’d, as it stands now in the games, was largely a simple joke about the Japanese saying how something extremely convenient to the point derogation happens, hence the whole duck carrying its own leek theme. While the plant it carries is clearly a green onion, the games themselves simply called it a stalk or an unknown plant. In original design, Farfetch’d carried the leek in its mouth and was said to do so.

Majority of the time in games you can see this, though as early as Japanese Red you can see it leaning the stick against its wing. It wasn’t until around Dimaond/Pearl when it changed completely to holding the stick in its wing, which now effectively functions as a hand, which is also a breaking point in terms of design aesthetics when it comes Pokémon in general. However, Farfetch’d embodies the basic and the best approach in Pokémon design; animals with something interesting to them. In this case we have a duck with a leek as a sword-like weapon, and it can’t really live without its stick. Good for food, especially when it conveniently comes with its own onions. Just add a dash of salt and pepper and you’re done. Sadly, Game Freaks and Pokémon Company don’t actually utilise any sort of base guidelines and ideas when designing their new pocket monsters. This leads to stupid shit like Dhelmise or Stakataka, not to mention Trubbish or whatever that rubbish Pokémon’s name was, and let’s not forget Klingklang and Vanillite lines, which are metal gears and ice cream respectively. While some would argue that the first generation had its own designs in the same vain, but that doesn’t excuse literal trash bags and living cogs. A mysterious sphere could at least have some considerations behind it. But I digress.

Oh for fuck’s sake…

Isn’t Sirfetch’d more of the same then? I hear Liam asking. No, it isn’t. Much like how modern designs want to push these monsters into direction of adding more shit for the sake of adding more shit, and having them act nothing like animals they originally were supposed to represent, Sirfetch’d seems to be fundamentally flawed despite the outer appearance. Farfetch’d was always a fighter, so naturally it should become a knight in this region based on United Kingdom, with jousting lance and a shield replacing its sword. This evolution is achieved via numerous fights and victories, making Farfetch’d change its typing from its usual Normal/Flying to pure Fighting. What a load of bullshit.

The thing that rubs yours truly here is that this isn’t thematically fitting. Nothing with Farfetch’d has been about fighting per se, but I guess that one Pokédex entry saying the species fights over good sticks was the source for this. Does that justify this design? No, as what we’re getting with this almost the opposite. Farfetch’d was a rarity due to people eating it, a fleeting Pokémon that will defend its stick. Defending does not mean it’ll stick to a fight to the bloody end, that serves no purpose. Farfetch’d evolution should’ve been more akin to a ragged warrior, like a ronin, rather than a white knight. These two clash against each other, but I guess it was more important to get a white knight in. What a missed chance to make an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan take, or a samurai crane.

It doesn’t help that the simple black V-crest on Farfetch’d’s forehead has now become its eyebrows, which of course can now be used to make joke macros and such, especially Golgo-13 kind. So does its weapon, and I’m glad to see someone going all out on the whole design.

If Sirfetch’d was a new design related to Farfetch’d rather than its evolution, it’d serve the purpose just fine. Make it a regional variant or some sort of alternative form tied to the region or an item it carries. Making Sirfetch’d an evolution means Farfetch’d, a duck that’s designed around a Japanese pun and has been seen to be tied to this in various media, now evolves into an English white knight. I just hope the shiny version will be a black knight and not the golden one I’ve seen floating around.

Then you have the point that most Pokémon don’t look like animals anymore, not even cartoon animals. Sirfecth’d might be a thematically missed opportunity, but it also clashes with its pre-evolution stage’s design by being from the new Ducktales.

Really, Sirfetch’d looks like a cheap Chinese knock-off of a Disney character with its buff chest, smirking face and off white colour. It’s become a cartoon caricature of a duck knight rather than a Pokémon. Gone are the days when wings were wings, now they function as hands just as much Dewey’s do in the cover above. There is a distinct lack of animal in this duck. You can put this on how the style has been changing from game to game as time as gone by, yet this is a hard backlash from old to new. Sirfecth’d is a good example how incoherent design philosophies and lack of proper guidelines can result into clashing motifs between two directly related objects. Imagine designing a chair, but because it has to be different, you end up designing a chair that’s horrible to sit in. Sirfetch’d is far from the most worst examples in this, but it is very timely example. The argument that the new designer shouldn’t fixate themselves to the past can be made and is sound, but at the same time the results will be more and more Digimon like Pokémon, where both rhyme and reason has been abandoned, and there is no division or sense in the designs themselves. The brand as a whole has lost most, if not already all of its visual coherence and design aspects at this point, while its competing monster collecting franchises have still managed hold them together in more proper manner.

 

If a media hurts your feelings, don’t consume it

Recently a Twitter user under the handle insatiablejudge got mad at earrings. Of course it’s a user on Twitter, and I’ll refer her as “the user” for the sake of my own sanity. What it is time? A motif on a character’s earrings supposedly uses Japanese Rising Sun motif, which then the user associates this with Nazis, imperialism and cultural genocide. Naturally she promotes censorship to remove the motif, which isn’t there. We can’t see the original post, because of course she has put her account into protected mode after people called her out on the bullshit she was spouting, but we can always use an archived version. Let’s take a closer look what image she was using to promote her push.

I could be petty about forgetting to use capitalised letters, but why do that when I could be petty about more important things. For example. the Rising Sun flag is still being flown by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force and hasn’t been retired from usage in total. The Japan SDF and Japan Ground Defence-Force use a different design with gold trims around the edges, so that’s one miss. Furthermore, it’s not the same design as the flag itself. The character’s earrings stem from Hanafuda cards’ design. There are no red sun rays from the red core. We can take a closer look at the design in comparison to the flag.

While an honest mistake could be made that the earrings represent the national flag, the design is very much different. As mentioned, it is based on the Hanfuda card design, which is why a set is being used the featured image. It is not a direct take on any of the cards per se, but rather using the visual themes and motifs. This much is confirmed by the series itself to boot. This would make the earrings themselves harmless, but of course if you don’t know the origin, or even properly see what’s drawn there, you might make some honest mistakes.

Whether or not the flag itself is controversial in South and East Asia (I think she mistyped and there), that should have nothing to do with the earrings themselves. The fact that nationalists use Japanese flag doesn’t really impact any arguments, as nationalism in itself is rather healthy in proper doses. It becomes a problem only at its extremes, whichever political ideology is using it. We shouldn’t abandon symbols simply because some unwanted or disliked group might be using a common symbol. For example, we should take the swastika back from its German National Socialist Party’s use and embrace its much older, far more positive and culturally significant meaning instead of leaving it to one sec only. We should also make strides to recognise how a Nazi swastika is a unique piece, standing on a tip at a 45-degree angle and “spinning” to the left, while .e.g. the Manji flat on its side, like this 卍.

An example of swastika used on a Viinikka’s church from 1930 before the German use even came to be.

I should probably mention that while some people might find themselves considering the Japanese flag, any version of it, associated with the World War II atrocities, the Japanese don’t. They associate the Imperial Rule Assistance Association’s symbol with the Nazi regime, as the para-fascist organisation formed in 1940, which aimed to create a totalitarian regime during wartime Japan. Even this is slightly skewed, as the organisation took some ideals and cues after the Nazis, but full-blown Nazism was not embraced or even desirable. It would seem the organisation has been somewhat dug into the ground, as many foreigners seem to either forget it existed, or didn’t know such organisation was a thing in the first place. There’s a whole history behind these guys, and a small post like this isn’t enough or even the place to dwell deeper into the Japanese wartime history in itself. That said, they got a really neatly designed symbol. What’s with these parties and appealing design sensibilities? Hugo boss still makes damn nice clothes too.

Of course, the user represented everyone in equal measure, which netted her loads and loads of South and East Asians coming in and stating that they don’t really give a damn. Y’know, the whole issue of someone stepping in and representing large sections of people without their consent. People like this should really ask consent before doing so, just like you have to have consent before sex.

All that said, the user seems to think that people who would get offended by the more classical Rising Sun flag wouldn’t get offended by the current one. These things run deep with certain people and associate any of a nation’s symbols with the worst. Some simply hate and abhor the sheer thought of Japan or Russia, despite the current state heads and most of the people within the nation having nothing to do with wartime events. Mulling over the past can only do so much good, sometimes the hatred for a nation can be driven by other kind of national pride or simple sheer unrelenting hatred.  Reasons are many and the politics are somewhat complicated, but at some point word just has to move on.

The chances the user suggest made to the earrings would remove the essence of the original design, contrary what she claims. The design consists of three elements; red circle, petal-like extrusions and ‘ground.” Removing any of these three would significantly alter the design’s essence. However, it would still leave the most offending part that most people associate with Japanese flag and its the red circle. The essence of the design would have been kept it the circle had been changed into burning orange or white, but of course it’s the petals that had to go, replaced by nonsensical lines. The red circle probably is the Sun, yet it is not the Rising Sun that it is assumed to be. Instead, it represents the character’s role as a successor to his father’s profession as a Hinokami Kagura, which would be loosely something long the lines of ‘Dancer for the Fire God.’ Then again, some Japanese posters claim it to be a flower, so take that as you will.

Claiming that pushing censorship isn’t controversial is outright bullshit. Whether or not it is easier to draw has nothing to do with her arguments. Whenever someone is pushing for censorship, especially when it comes to general arts, it is automatically controversial. Trying to kill a design, a drawing, a painting a message or whatever because it might be uncomfortable or injure someone’s sensibilities shows that lack of trust in people and how the consumer is treated like an idiot or an animal who can’t make heads or tails about the media he is consuming. Should we take into account people whose families got damaged somehow during World War II and change things for them? Absolutely not. Consumers should be aware what they consume. If you are consuming product created in Japan mainly for the Japanese market with clear Japanese motifs from the get go, you should damn well expect seeing Japanese imagery. Everything offends someone somehow. Hell, I’m offended by the user’s use of that particular grey with that red, green and white. Good job failing at Design 101; don’t fuck with viewer’s eyes if you’re intending to be informative; everything should be clear and easy to see, not feeling like you’re being stabbed in the eyes. If you can’t deal with something that you are not forced consume, you can either deal with it anyway, or consume something else. There is no reason for the creator or anyone else part of the creative process to capitulate and change their intended design and ideas to appease anyone else but themselves, or the targeted consumers.

Staying true to your work should always supersede giving in to censorship. Your main consumers are there for your work in its best, most pure form, not to see its altered, bastardised version no matter how small the changes might be.

Iczer Robo: A Visual History

This is a part of series of posts relating to Fight! Iczer-1 franchise. Please see Robot related materials above for further content on the subject

The intention of this post is to cover main appearances of Iczer Robo and its main different versions and successors from the Fight! Iczer-1 franchise. This is not an exhaustive list of all appearances and images, but an overview on some notable ones. This post is heavy with images, so the click below for more.

Continue reading “Iczer Robo: A Visual History”

Mecha design; Hard corners and round cylinders

The reason why soda pop cans are cylinders has three main reasons; it lacks the weak corners of a cube, has the same silhouette as a cube and a sphere depending whether you’re looking from the side or above, and its manufacturing hits a sweet spot between the two aforementioned shapes. For a mecha design, while a recognisable silhouette is important, and the thematic motif whether or not you want your look robot to look industrial war machine or hand crafted master piece, you should keep your setting in mind whether or not to use cubic or cylindrical shapes.

It is much cheaper to build an object that is shaped like a cube. It is relatively fast, cheap and easy, and by standard your cube’s can deviate few degree. However, no matter what material a cube is made of, its weakest spot will always be the corners. You can have it on its flat side, but if you were to hit its corner, all the force from the impact would be on that tip. The corners, while not as weak, too are weak spots, as they are thinner in material than the rest of the cube. When metal is bent, it stretches. The stretching is dependent on the material and the angle. A very rough rule of thumb is that steel 1mm thick has to be 1mm shorther than its intended measures, as the material will stretch 1mm during bending. This stretching naturally wears and stresses the metal down, and it now being thinner, is weaker. This can be countered by having additional material welded into the corners inside the cube, but this extends production time and adds mass.

Of course you could weld the material together by its corners, but that would introduce heat and additional material. As the rule of thumb goes, when you heat metal up, it hardens, tempers. This might introduce a weak point. This is why you often see the weld seam to be in the middle of a side, because then the corners won’t become tempered by the heat. Then again, welding in itself is kind of intentional mistake whenever it is done. It would always be best to have any and all pieces as one whole, but manufacturing such objects is often extremely expensive and nigh impossible. Mechanical and chemical bonding are also good options to consider, e.g. airplanes’ surfaces are nowadays glued together with epoxy adhesive rather than riveted.

Cylindrical shapes on the other hand don’t have similar weak spots as such, as the whole thing can rolled from one sheet. A robot can weld a large cylinder together rather quickly from its ends. Nevertheless, by standard creating a cylinder shape is somewhat more expensive to manufacture than a cube due to the sheer amount of control the rollers must be under at all times. Unless the process has been automated to a high degree, and the general shape is simple to manufacture in proper fast steps, producing a cylinder can become stupidly expensive. The history of soda can design has allowed the shape and the manufacturing to be extremely efficient and automated, something that is not probably possible in a mecha setting for giant robot limbs and body shapes.

While G1 animation largely ignored the whole issue of corners, the fact is that most mecha designs realise that having hard corners is not a good idea and camfer them down. It might add complexity to the work scheduling and design, but its a small price compared to the benefits

No fiction really concentrates on these things really. Its all about the visual flavour of the design. Mazinger Z has a body based on round torso and cylinder limbs, because that’s what Go Nagai went for in a comic that was quick to work on. Gundam in general uses flat, cubic surfaces because that is industrially more sensible to work with. If you look at the difference between The Federation and Zeon Mobile Suits during One Year War or, you should see that, in rough terms, Zeon has a high number of machines with round and bulbous shapes in their MS, which all are rather expensive to manufacture, while Fed’s mass produced units like the GM are very much made cheaply with cubic shapes governing the limbs and body. Knowing OYW’s setting and its technological level, no MS production is fully automated. Building just one MS takes hundreds of people, of which part simply work to shape the sheets into their proper shapes before a welder prepares the parts for a welding robot to make the final seams, before another person comes in to check how the welding robot has fucked up this time and how he has to fix. We can safely assume that one of the many reasons why GM’s production cycle is much shorter than Zaku II’s due to the geometry of its armouring.

Another benefit in GM’s overall shape and silhouette is that it has a smaller profile than the Zaku II. Much like with real world tanks, the GM seems to have balance between mobility and armouring. It has less mass to move around compared to the Zaku II, though the Zeon MS most likely has better armouring overall. Nevertheless, its silhouette has more room of error what to hit. However, in a world where you have particle weapons able to pierce armouring like its was butter, GM’s silhouette offers less a target to hit. While MS designs would grow in size with time, and get all kinds of shapes to them, these considerations really aren’t an integral part of Gundam‘s base design idea. After all, in real world all Gundam designs have to adhere to the fact that the franchise is model kit driven first and foremost. This dictates everything from colours base faction design differences.

Tanks are the best real world example of balance between silhouette and best of both worlds with shapes.

Thanks Wikipedia

The above PLA’s Type 99a has a showcase of three important bits; round shapes, flat shapes and angles. The design of the turret tapers at the front in order to direct bullets and other hits away from the front section. The same applies to the  front of the tank, where a hit in an angle has higher chances to bounce off. If you look at the GM above, its flat surface invite bullets to penetrate it. The humanoid form is not exactly the most bullet resisting shape, hence why some mecha design elongate the chest further forwards to create a sort of cone effect. The silhouette of the hull increases in size towards back for the same reason as the turret. While its side view might be rather flat, there’s nothing much that can be done there outside additional armouring, be reactive or just additional plating. You want to face your opponent face to face to offer them the smallest possible target with the best protection you can offer. Certain tanks can also lower their aim below the horizon, meaning they can stay behind a hill and offer even smaller target.

While tank battles and their function is not directly relatable to giant robots, a Realistic setting would take into notion the cost of designing and producing shapes that make a mecha. It’s alright to want to design a super sports car for more unrealistic setting, where cost of production is no issue, but a serious take on mecha warfare is required to recognise that shape must not only be dictated by use and utility, but also by material and cost. Tanks give some idea for good utility of industrially probable shapes, while fighter jets can be used as reference point for aerodynamics.

Makes you wonder how the hell did Kouji’s grandfather manage to build Mazinger Z in his basement.

How does all this affect the design you might have in your mind? Depending on your angle you take within the fiction, the overall governing surfaces are dictated by the intention. If they’re intended to be slow walking tanks, consider what direction is intended to be against the enemy fire and add proper slants or curved surfaces. Even if the angles around GM’s cockpit are laughably small, the fact that they are there gives some idea where the design was going. Sure, in reality it probably was just to conform to the humanoid shape, but we can assume the angles were calculated somewhat to encourage ricocheting. Zaku II armour seems to have designed under notion of heavy armour to withstand firepower overall, though as mentioned, particle beam weapons don’t really care unless you have a repelling surface. Consider the production angle as well; a highly mass-produced mecha wouldn’t necessarily have many separate armour segments and these segments would be whole pieces, like a car’s hood. Cars’ hoods and frames are designed to deform on impact, and rounder shapes are safer for this rather than straight surfaces with angles. There’s something on certain lines and shapes that are naturally “safer” to our sensibilities, be it from experience or otherwise, and often using decent logic and “what looks good” attitude with an intended function can yield a design that works well.

While you can completely ignore the realities of manufacturing and process of it, it would add a touch of realism if there is some consideration whether or not certain shapes and angles are probable within the fiction.

The price of production

End users very rarely think about the production of consumable and usable goods. Why should they, it doesn’t exactly touch their daily lives to any meaningful extent outside the price of the product and the environmental impact it causes, but outside that nobody really thinks things like how their forks have been produced. Even before you get to smelting and consuming the raw materials, whatever company procured the materials had to have their own equipment to obtain the metal, most likely via some sort of mining operation, which leads to the whole cycle of obtaining the materials, all the plastics and metals, to produce the necessary equipment. It is practically impossible for a general consume to ever know where and how their products have been sourced and from where. Many companies make big promises for ethical treatments of workers or environment, often both. Fairtrade is one of the prominent examples of this, with issues ranging from low pay for coffee to less money ending up to the growers themselves. The growers outside Fairtrade make three to four times more money by selling outside Fairtrade, whereas less than 12% of any of the money made from Fairtrade products ends up going back to the source despite the significantly more expensive price tag products under this brand are sold in. Fairtrade themselves claims the price is justified due to the high quality of their products, though that seems to be less the case the more you look into habits of hardcore foodies. Things like premium coffee markets were expanding in the 2010’s, and Fairtrade’s didn’t seem to meet with the quality. Olivier Riellinger of Les Maisons de Bricourt said it best, when he described the whole Fairtrade scheme neo-imperialistic that is being imposed on growers. However, Fairtrade continues to succeed to an extent with their branding of ethics and practices.

Let’s use another example, where production of something is completely ignored due to the perceived and argued value of the usable good; electric cars in Germany. The Brussels Times recently wrote that a German scientist had found out that electric vehicles in Germany cause more CO2 emissions than diesel cars. You might be wondering how this would be possible, as electric cars don’t really have CO2 emission. This study found that electric cars, despite their perceived position as an environmental saviour, ultimately cause further emissions due to the source of that power. The power needed to charge these cars comes from power plants, and in Germany they are phasing out the greenest and cleanest form of energy production; nuclear power. Each nation that is phasing out nuclear power in favour of alternative methods means either coal or far weaker form of energy production, and ultimately releases less radiation to the environment than the alternatives. Richard Rhodes has an excellent opinion piece on the subject that I would recommend reading.

While the history of nuclear power has its spots, so does every other form of energy. However, in most of these cases human neglect and lacking procedures have caused the most damage. In Chernobyl, the combination of old, inefficient Soviet nuclear tech and carelessness caused the meltdown. Fukushima Daiichi too was to be refurbished and upgraded many times before that fatal earthquake, but lobbyists and anti-nuclear power movements prevented this, ultimately leading Fukushima’s reactors and facilities to be out-of-date. If they had been upgraded when they were needed and indeed were supposed to originally years prior, Fukushima’s incident would have been avoided. The fact that it is cheapest, cleanest and most efficient power source we have makes every charge we do outside nuclear power damage the environment.

What do we charge? Mobile phones, portable torches, mp3 players, other mobile devices, e-readers, electric cars and so on. Everything runs on batteries, and mining that those metals and minerals; lithium, cobalt, manganese, iron, copper and hematite just to name few, takes energy in itself, often oil and coal powered. These materials are mined in massive amounts, and the insanely large amounts that are produced makes their end price as low as five buck a pack of ten AAA batteries. Then take the amount of chemicals these products require, from surface paintings to the adhesives and plastics parts used inside, and you have more materials required to be produced and assembled through hundreds of different hands.

To use another example, solar panels themselves are considered very environmentally friendly source of energy. Yet this discussion almost always omits the copious amounts of quarts that is required to be mined in order to turn that into silicon in furnaces that emit sulfur and carbon dioxides in large amounts as well as have large amounts of wasted heat. Let’s not forget all the particle pollution this causes. Then you have all the chemicals that are required and produced during the production of the both prepare and wafer the silicon for the panels themselves. Second issue of course is the panels themselves, or rather, the shadows they cast. If a solar panel is placed anywhere else that isn’t a building roof or a wall, like a large field or on a lake, it will cast shadow on the ground. When you have large areas cast in shadows, this impacts the growth on the plants and can screw up small animals in that region. Of course, when the panels are finally up and running, they do produce clean energy, even if it gets quarter cut in production due to all the coal that’s being burned to charge those solar cars.

To reiterate, production of any good takes resources, even especially invisible goods like electricity in your home. It comes from somewhere, and its making requires materials of its own and someone to make, even if it just one guy in a control room making sure shit doesn’t just explode. Whatever product you have in your hands now, be it a cup of coffee or a mouse, consider for a moment how many different individual elements of production it has gone through, and how many hands have been making it, before it ended up in your care. The number is, most likely, more than we can guess.

Iterations vs innovations

The two things in the title do not exclude each other, but for the sake of argument let’s consider them as two things that don’t exactly mesh. Why? Because when we consider video and computer game sequels, we often see both practiced quite a lot, and there’s no real cohesion which one the consumer prefers, but at the same time we can see both criticised for different reasons. That should already tell is that this is kind of tomato sauce case, where people are split in preference. As usual, there’s no real one way to go with things.

If we were to use examples of iterative games, perhaps the best example would be Super Mario Bros. and the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 that was got the Lost Levels name in the West. This Japanese SMB2 is an iterative sequel, intended to effectively be more of the same, a pro-player’s version with the stage design and difficulty kicked up a notch for those who found the first game to be lacking. Western Super Mario Bros. 2, which got the USA label in Japan later on, is innovative sequel in contrast, as it expanded the playable roster, the world, characters and mechanics that would be seen later on in the series. Yes, we are going to ignore Doki Doki Panic, and if we didn’t I could use the same points of arguments for Super Mario Bros. 3, which we could use as a third example of innovative evolution of the Super Mario Bros. trilogy of games on the NES. If we extent the lineage to Mario Bros. the innovations become clearer, as the sheer point of having well scrolling action game at that time was something of a marvel, something past consoles didn’t really do or do well. Even Pitfall, the game some would argue to be the best action game on an Atari platform, moved in screens rather than with scrolling. Computers at the time had a hard time to do scrolling well, which is very apparent how the games were structured as per-screen basis or had a chunky scrolling, like what Konami did with their MSX shooting games like Nemesis.

While the Japanese SMB2 is a good example of an iterative game, we’ll use something like Doom and Doom II as an example most people should know. We can extend to this to numerous WADS that simply add stages or weapons, and perhaps even to some total conversion and such, but at the core there will be the good ol’ Doom experience; Shooting demons and trying to save your bunny from being staked. Doom II is by all means a large expansion with new weapons and levels, which was the team exactly did. The levels in Doom II are far more expansive and intricate compared to the first game thanks to the advanced in basic hardware. The enemy type number was effectively doubled. For an original Doom experience, the second game and its later iterations are effectively a sort of Best Of version, though some hardcore purists would argue that the pure classic experience still lays in the first game. Pokémon falls into this category as well, effectively being unchanged since the first game. The series has no renewed itself at any point, which has been more or less why its spin-offs have played with some of the concepts a bit more.

Adding new stages, some new mechanics and weapons don’t really innovate anything; they’re adding things on top of the base that’s already there. Innovation requires that a game is thought again from the grounds up, where the basic premise of the core design is effectively blown apart and the best parts are picked up while discarding everything that didn’t all the while building something new. Innovation is to take a house and renovate it from bottom floor all the while you’re considering all the room framing and how the yard is. Iterative is effectively building a new garage. Sometimes all you need is a new garage and some good lick of paint, because not all innovation hits the spot.

There is safety in iterative games, as they don’t fix something that was already broken, though sometimes they don’t fix what was broken. To use Pokémon as an example again, its iterations are interesting in that each new entry creates a new side mechanic only to be forgotten and abandoned in the next. Seasons of the year still hasn’t made a return from Diamond and Pearl. To contrast this, Digimon games have been widely different from each other from time to time and how they play, both to its benefit and detriment, as the franchise doesn’t have a cohesive core. Super Mario Bros. is a franchise that has a cohesive evolution with its games that innovate, as they don’t simply change the games’ genre on the fly. Side games certainly do, and New SMB series has effectively been nothing but iteration after iteration instead of innovating how the series could play in 2D, despite 2D Mario still making the biggest bank out of the series.

Maybe there are franchises that don’t exactly require innovation as such without effectively breaking the game’s core design. Umihara Kawase is a platforming game that has always been about the rubber band physics action; how to get from point A to point B, or C or D. If you’re not familiar with this niche classic, check this longplay for few minutes to get the idea. The point of the game is to use physics and mechanics tied to the physics in order to clear a stage, and these elements were further polished with its PlayStation sequel, Umihara Kawase Shun. Except in its PSP release, which broke the physics completely. Sayonara Umihara Kawase added new playable characters, a time stopping stopping mechanic for one of them and few new things, but ultimately where this series’ concentration on the sequels has been in the level design. If the physics change even a bit, or of new mechanics are introduced, the stage designs can and must reflect this either with new geometry or with additional hazards and interactive stage elements. Changing the core gameplay has to be taken seriously with heavy consideration in order not to break the basic design. Umihara Kawase Fresh changes the series’ core structure significantly from stage-per-stage progression to open world exploration with story elements, quests and health management. Effectively, the development team has taken the same route as so many other 2D action game team, and made it action-adventure in fashion of Montezuma’s Revenge and Metroid. While on surface and as an idea this sounds like changing the genre altogether would be in lieu with SMB’s innovation path, we have to seriously question whether or not the series benefits from these changes and additions.

Innovation in itself does not necessarily mean change for the positive. You can innovate something, completely overhaul and change the core of things and be left with something that is broken and doesn’t work. Umihara Kawase Fresh may now be broken due to its additional mechanics and heavy emphasize on story compared to its previous iterations (in which Shun is still the best entry in the series) though at the same time we have to grant the game the benefit of the doubt that the developers are able to keep the core design and mechanics at the forefront and not overshadowed or hindered by the new additions. I’ll probably end up buying the game for a review rather than out of joy to get a new Umihara Kawase.

Innovating a game’s core gameplay to the point of changing a genre can also impact the consumer reception rather harshly, as was feared with Metroid Prime. While taken against the larger FPS crowd, Metroid Prime isn’t stellar material, but against the 2D Metroid titles it made the transfer to three dimensions all the while making stuff work as intended was nothing short of on point. We can argue whether or not Prime actually innovated anything or if it simply moved dimensions, but the rest of the series’ entries have been iterative. Nevertheless, the genre change the game had to carry with it was received relatively well. This might not go so well with niche franchises with a cult following. Shububinman as a series might’ve been changing with each entry, and despite being semi-popular in Japan, the series effectively died with the end of the 16-bit machines. Personally, I’m afraid the management mechanics and story emphasize in Umihara Kawase Fresh will effectively kill the game, though it might as well bring it to a larger audience that can’t handle a straight-up platformer nowadays. Perhaps this is one of those cases, where the developer thinks their game is “just” a platform game, that it needs to be more and slaps everything on top of it. I doubt many would choose a well made meal over haphazardly made five course dinner with raw bits everywhere.

The danger of innovating a product in a way that it backfires is rather common. Ultimately, very few corporation do straight up innovation without having multiple product iterations under their belt already, though some new companies make their breakthrough with something newfangled innovation that hits the consumers’ wants and wishes just right. Games are like any other product though when it comes to sentimental values and emotional attachment, and this extents to the gameplay, mechanics and even visuals. You can innovate something to be something completely new and you might even test well, but if you make an error in what the consumers value in your games and change those elements, you’ll end up like New Coca-Cola. Not every game franchise can innovate itself step-by-step and so many of them are expected to have only incremental changes in their iterations. If you play the first Super Robot Wars now, and then move to the latest one, you’ll see that almost thirty years of iteration upon iteration has transformed the game to something rather different, but still has that familiar game play. While companies have a large amount of research in how people attach themselves to names and faces, brands and such, I’ve yet to see any research on preference on game play mechanics and how they’re presented. Perhaps this is significant part enough for the game developers and publishers to put more attention into, and would possibly explain why Call of Duty and Battlefield titles alongside EA’s sports titles sell year after year despite their most common criticism being in not changing anything. The consumer just has that preference for it, and even positive innovation is met with a cold shoulder.

Review; Darius Cozmic Collection Special Edition box

There has been some interesting development in regards of certain video game packaging as of late, if you’re someone who has a thing for package designs. Mainly that there has been a large movement to unify them under a generic design, especially if they’re from Limited Run Games or by a Japanese company. Two could be a coincidence or style chosen by a certain corporation. Three’s a company, but five starts to say there’s a standard going on. Game Paradise Cruisin’ Mix Special, Dariusburst Chronicles Saviours both JP and Limited Run Games release, Senko no Ronde 2, and now Darius Cozmic Collection all use the same kind semi-slim box design that can be used to house multiple types of objects by changing the inlays. With this basic design, the thickness of the box is easy to adjust as well to offer more room. People who like uniform shelves will like this direction quite a lot, as the boxes now are of same height and width, with some changes in thickness. Still, an evolution from the widely and stupidly different kind of collector’s editions boxes that just don’t really fit anywhere. I can’t help but feel that this homogenisation of boxes takes something special from these special editions.

If you read the review on Dariusburst Chronicles Saviours box few years back, you should mostly know already what to expect.

 

As you’d expect from the front, Darius Cozmic Collection Special Edition looks rather spiffy. Sure, the logo’s taking a lot of room from the cover, but all the six main images try to come through in a good balance. The only bit that ruins the Switch logo on the top left, with it being the largest logo on the box. Taito’s and CERO logos at the bottom are perfectly sized in order not to mess with the layout, but the Switch logo just hits your face. It’s a box front, and the back’s as you’d expect it to be. The layout’s nice, uses some of the game graphics and rather than trying to sell the game with overtly just vomiting text, the graphics are there to sell the package. They do that nicely. The usual required legalese at the bottom doesn’t interfere with the rest, as it functions like a some sort  pedestal for the rest of the back.

When you first open the package, you’re greeted with the miniature marquee plaques. This is an absolutely beautiful set, even if its just bunch of transparent plastic with layered printing on the back. The printing is sharp and of high quality. Nothing less would really suffice, if we’re honest here. Most often Japanese companies don’t sacrifice quality when it comes to limited editions, and know that the perceived value gained from putting the effort into stuff like this is enormous benefit. It works, and you could attach these to anything you’d wish. There’s a not much weight to them either, so just throwing some bluetac behind them would keep ’em in place, though they’d truly shine if you had something to light them from behind.

After lifting the plaques and two spacer sheets around out, the main book of the package reveals itself. Darius Odysseys have always been great source material books with some slight change in emphasize, with the previous Dariusburst collections emphasizing on listing enemies. This time we have emphasize on production, both the actual cabinets, prototype artwork to layout the screen scenes, packaging scans, preliminary sketches and all the that good stuff yours truly loves to see. Hell, even the scans for the game packaging are of great quality and highly appreciated in the wholesome box form they’re presented. It’s a nice and thick book with great production value to it. The only thing that could’ve made it better would have been hard covers. This is the kind of material we rarely see, and it’s a marvel to see production material like this.

Lifting the space the book is recessed in reveals the last bit at the bottom of the; the bog standard Switch game case and the soundtrack slot. Funnily enough, this game with two soundtracks, and only one fit inside the box. The other was just laying inside the box, but seeing that was more or less a seller’s special, it should impact on the value of the core box. It would’ve been better to use a different cover for the Limited Edition and standard edition cases, but I guess this sort of unifying look to the whole package has its benefits too.

A package like this really lives through prestige. Most of it is sturdy, can take a hit or two just fine, just like the rest of the boxes like it. Nothing’s flimsy here, not even with the spacers. It’s a bit weird that one of the two CDs, even if it was just a seller exclusive item, had not slot designed inside the box. Now it’s just floating around somewhere on my couch among all the other stuff. Still, a package design like this might be somewhat dull, but it’s extremely well thought out for multiple intended uses. If this has become the standard for limited editions in Japan, guess this is the golden standard we should compare the rest of the gaming packaging we come across in the future.

 

On Scanning comics and magazines

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

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

Continue reading “On Scanning comics and magazines”