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”

Scanning as an act of preservation

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

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

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

Continue reading “Scanning as an act of preservation”

A Rude (re)Awakening

Just as I have a say about remakes and remixes, and manage to say that Nintendo doesn’t usually do traditional remakes, they come out from the woodwork and announced the Link’s Awakening is getting a full-blown remake, for whatever reason. The thing is, this is one of those cases where we can justify a remake. The Game Boy has stupid amount of great games that could use a full-blown remake, as the GB in itself was rather sorry little device. Not to fault it, according to history the machine with less power has come at the top in success and game library. However, why this game? Why not build on the world that Breath of the Wild gave to the player with its more direct-to-the-matter approach and stripped off some of the unnecessary baggage the series has seen since, well to be frank, since Eiji Aonuma got in. After all, he is the man driving the franchise and IP, has been since Majora’s Mask essentially.

To find an answer to this question we need to go back to an Iwata askswhere Aonuma directly states that Zelda titles didn’t have a plot before Link’s Awakening. This of course is horse shit and shows how Aonuma mistakes how games tell their stories naturally through the game’s play. A story of a game is more of the player’s action, the FMV sequences and such are just a framing device for the player to make up how they advance, even if it were in a strict manner. Furthermore, The Legend of Zelda and Link’s Adventure both excel in indirect world building, which is one of the best ways games can tell a story, by including settings and character the player has to interact with to a level. LoZ didn’t only make the player collect the pieces of the Triforce, but also introduced the setting, the main players and some of the most important settings of the world. Link’s Adventure went even further and expanded the map, named numerous towns and characters that would later appear in the series in various forms as well as introduced the third piece of the Triforce. Most of this in many ways were introduced in manner that didn’t require the player to stop and look at a story sequence for five minutes, as all of it was weaved into the fabric of the game. Aonuma’s direction for Zelda has always been away from this, as he has claimed to like the adventure games on PC more than action games on a console. Knowing Japanese PCs at the time, it’s somewhat safe bet he was “playing” one of those VNs on a NEC PC-98 with no pants on. Wouldn’t blame him, the dot graphic work in those is glorious.

However, Aonuma doesn’t care about those two, he barely even recognizes A Link to the Past. In 2004, he called Link’s Awakening a quintessential isometric Zelda game, two claims that can be argued very harshly. One would be if Zelda games are actually isometric, as oblique projection would be more accurate, and the second would of course be if Link’s Awakening is as quintessential as Aonuma claims. Of course, seeing Aonuma has a very heavy bias towards the game he himself has worked on and has been very dismissive on two first games in the series, something that has harshly rubbed off to the fandom to a point of revisionism, we can’t take his word for granted. Yes, Link’s Awakening is a popular title in the series and saw a colour remake in 1998, but as a whole it’s influence is relatively minor. Most it did was tweaked what A Link to the Past had done with some hefty points taken from The Frog Whom the Bells Toll, which shared an earlier engine with Link’s Awakening. In a game series like Zelda, with most of the entries celebrated in a way or another, almost all entries can be claimed to be important in a manner or another, be it by setting up the lore, setting up the story, setting up the structure and so on. It’s effectively empty air to throw at journalists for some positive PR points. However, we do know how Aonuma views the game, and considering he made an absolutely terrible Zelda game with trains just because his kid liked ’em, it’s not exactly a far-fetched view to see how Aonuma just wanted to bring this all-important classic back to the masses, so a new generation can appreciate what an important game it is.

So yes, Link’s Awakening is getting remade because it has a story, and apparently it’s something that drives Aonuma more than advancing Zelda as a game series.

Not really sure if he realises how shit the game looks. I know, I shouldn’t take sides and just analyse stuff as is within the persona angle, but in this case I just won’t even try. If you look at how Capcom remade both Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2, they took everything they could to make the game work and look better than the original. The little we’ve seen about Link’s Awakening, it’s mostly a face lift, and it doesn’t look exactly great. You can argue all day long that the simplistic designs work and how its faithful to the original game, but at this point I’d rather enjoy the original game rather than play a remake with its edges bloomed with soft focus to hell. I’d rather not ruin my eyes. I’ve got a proper backlit GBA after all. Arguing over plants looking plastic and being glossy to convey how unnatural things are in a dream is loads of bullshit. This design world is that of toys. Certainly when asked about it, someone at Nintendo probably has a readily made answer that expands the whole thematic content like no other, but in reality probably had nothing to do with it. This remake looks like a LEGO set. A LEGO set that seems to replicate the original game to a tee rather than trying be its own thing or improve on the original. Aonuma didn’t have to stick with a super deformed look, but that’s what the original game was and you can’t steer away from pre-established things. The RE remakes are faithful to their original counterparts, RE:make perhaps to a fault, but they didn’t limit themselves to a similar look. They improved. This Link’s Awakening remake already fails as a remake because it doesn’t improve on the original visual, but instead opts to recreate them in 3D. That’s not enough. If your remake is effectively interchangeable with the original source material, it’s failed miserably. Remakes should always aim to obsolete the original, as should sequels, and thus adhering to the visual like this will hurt the game. There’s going to be people having nostalgia rush for it and argue that Zelda always used super deformed characters, which is true, but doesn’t really take into account that this game doesn’t need to. It could make better use of the hardware, create something new and interesting and still be visually familiar.

That’s the crux, isn’t it? This isn’t anything new. Nintendo doesn’t revisit old games like this too often, but every time they do, it’s not because there’s a consumer demand. It’s because the developer wants to, in this case Aonuma. He doesn’t want to recreate A Link’s Awakening the game, but A Link’s Awakening the story. Truth to be told, so very few game developer concentrates on making a game anymore, it’s all about the story. This remake probably doesn’t have the same budget as Breath of the Wild, but it is still largely a waste of resources. The recycle machine never stops. 2D Zelda still sells, there’s no question about that, so why didn’t they put their heads together and craft a completely new 2D Zelda that didn’t adhere itself to a past game? This is a pattern though, as A Link Between Worlds was effectively A Link to the Past 2. Seeing that was relatively popular and sold some decent units, might as well strike another familiar title while you’re at it, right? Half of the work’s done already, just grab the old design documents and go town.

If another company would make an action-RPG like The Legend of Zelda and use Terada Katsuya’s Zelda illustrations as a source of inspiration, they’d make bank.

The core of a Zelda is not in cutesy grass-hacker, but in the atmosphere of being on an adventure, exploring caves and forests, with all the dangers and perils it brings. Zelda is not about the story, that’s irrelevant. It’s about the adventure and the world

It’s all in the wrist

So for some time I’ve been looking into knives again. Not because I have a need for knives as such, but because it’s always nice to see what sort of bullshit the stores have in for the consumer from time to time. Sometimes you pick something that looks neat, sometimes you just have to wonder what batshit bonkers they were thinking when they began putting paint on the blades. It’s not really paint, but might as well be. It’s so fashionable to cut stuff when you’re blade is pink, right?

Enter Vitility and their wrong-way knives. Before I go further, I will say that these knives have their place. People with arthritis and extremely limited movement in the wrist might find there more useful, but that’s not exactly the whole truth. That’s because most people hold their kitchen knives the wrong way. Vitility know this and their marketing department will take advantage of this, even on the box of the product.

Are they using fillet knife to showcase the smallness of the competition?

 

As you can see there, right on the box of their veggie knife, they’re showcasing the wrong way to hold a knife. It’s true that holding a knife like that and doing the work with your wrist will wear it on the long run, but that’s only you hold your knife the wrong way. There are multiple resources when it comes to holding a knife, like Serious Eats, Not a Cook, The Manual or Eat Your Beets for kids. Most sources fail to mention that the motion that should be doing the work for cutting comes from the elbow and shoulder, and the wrist should stay relatively motionless. Only in fine cutting the wrist should be used relatively extensively. The main reason for wrist action in general cutting is because the knife’s blade has not been taken care of and has dulled. You’ll end up with more resistance than necessary, and you’ll end up trying to cut with the wrist.

Ergonomics is a thing that’s relatively easy to market this way. Most consumers don’t think about it, because great ergonomics is something you don’t notice or appreciate. It becomes relevant only when something is uncomfortable to use. Thus, marketing has a really easy time to make use of this, and claim that their wrong-way around knives are more ergonomic than all the normal ones, despite this not being the case. If you look at Vitility’s knife’s grip, it’s rather oval. Very basic, probably some sort of rubber on it. However, it’s not ergonomic as ergonomic as it could be, as it lacks any and all grooves or shapes to support the hand further. It’s about as ergonomic as your dollar binge knife, because I bet the person using this knife will end up using it wrong anyway.

It comes back to the sharpness again. When Vitility knife gets dull, you’ll end up exerting more force to it. As you do it, your wrist will bend upwards, similarly when you’re using a standard knife. It’s a bit different position overall, but the end is the same. These knives will get dull about as fast as any other too, as they’re mentioned to be stainless steel, which tells us exactly jack shit. Usually cheap stainless steel knives like this are basic steel that has a stainless steel chrome coating on top, but whether or not this is the case with Vitility is an open question. This is also why more expensive knives need to be taken care of, as their build is not just generic stainless steel. These knives can stain faster, but their edge retention can be superior or can be bend into insane curves. Knife Planet has a basic but still decent overview on some of the most common steels used in knives. A personal favourite is mentioned on the list, which is 1095 High Carbon. My guess would be that Vitility uses something that’s similar to 420J, which is on the aforementioned list as one of the lower quality stainless steels out there. It also mentions ceramic knives, and unlike what the PR says, you actually do need to sharpen a ceramic knife. It just happens very so rarely and in situations where the blade has been chipped or hit a hard spot like a bone. You’ll probably snap one half before needing to sharpen it, however. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend ceramic blades.

To get back to knife ergonomics, there is no magical solution. The best knife handles are great to hold simply because the guide the hand right. You instinctively grasp it the right way. This requires shapes on the handle, and this will of course mean the knife will not fit all. Humans are different, hand sizes vary and so on. The oval-tube shaped knife handle Vitility uses is probably the most generic shape you can have that’s still nice to grasp. Round is a terrible shape for a blade’s handle, you don’t know where the edge is directed to and you wouldn’t be able to put much proper pressure on it. There are some exceptions, there always are. Still, Vitility’s claim that their knife is ergonomic stands, just as any. The showcase on the packaging just likes to puts things into rather different light from reality, but that’s the usual PR for you.

Honestly, holding a knife properly is something that needs to be learned, it doesn’t come naturally. Even then, the most ergonomic knife won’t do you any good if the blade’s not been taken care of. As such, the consumer really should remember to not only learn how to use the knife, but also how to sharpen, hone and oil it. Takes about ten to twenty minutes of your time per month, and will make cooking so much faster and safer. Ergonomic or not, a dull knife is dangerous as hell.

Sony has (almost) no classics

Is that a hyperbole enough? Should be, as by now it’s more or less clear that Sony has no idea why Nintendo’s Classic consoles have sold out like hot cakes and occasionally still vanish off the shelves. Well, mostly because they’re not Nintendo and the Sony has no classics. PlayStation as a console as definitive classics, but Sony as a company really has jack shit.

Let’s put aside the fact that the PlayStation Classic’s hardware is rather terrible and emulation is spotty at best, but people can put those things aside for a long time. Just look at the people who are still using ZSNES. Sony has no Mario or Sonic. You’d think the whole thing with mascots is so 1990’s, but outside the era slowly coming into fashion (can’t wait to see shit in colour again) the whole mascot wars did at least one or two things right. First, companies had a face other than a human. You couldn’t separate a game console from its mascot. Now, you have such cute mascots as Sakurai attached to Nintendo instead. Nobody cared who or what made our games back then to the same extent, video game developers were not rock stars, which was only a good thing. Secondly, in order to beat the other furry mascots and whatnot you had back then, you had to have quality. Tells you how much quality you ended up having when the only ones that are still relevant today are effectively Mario and Sonic. Sony never had a mascot, not an official one. No, Polygon Man doesn’t count as they dropped its ass faster than your ice cream melts in the sun and it never had any games around it. Sony had all these unofficial mascots that the company liked to tote around like and Sony wanted to keep close to their heart. That was a problem, because that changed from time to time. Both Spyro and Crash were the faces for the kiddies, while Solid Snake and stuff from Twisted Metal served for the adulties. Hell, Kojima even favoured PlayStation for Metal Gear titles and probably would’ve loved to see it stay Sony exclusive to the end of time, which we all agree would’ve been bad because Ghost Babel really is the best Metal Gear game. At times you saw Cloud’s potato LEGO face when talking about RPGs, though Phantasy Star did the whole killing-a-waifu thing first. No, Sony and PlayStation never had anything of their own, and they were largely dependent on whatever shit the platform saw.

The hell are you getting at? I hear Charlie asking in the third row. Well, if we’re completely honest, PlayStation games that were most requested and wanted on the Classic couldn’t be included. Spyro and Crash had their remakes just on the side, so including those would’ve fought against sales. Metal Gear Solid has been re-released digitally to death at this point and anyone who wanted the game already probably had it. Original GTA is pretty shit. But it’s not about the game library, not really. It’s about the sales. It’s always about the sales. And the game library.

Nintendo’s Classics didn’t only sell to people who wanted to play the games and scalpers, they sold to people who wanted their kids to play these older games that had no modern equivalents. There is a certain code standard to NES and SNES titles, a sort-of must play coda that was shared between the Western nations. Not so much in Japan, they had their own groove. Better to think the Famicom library as a whole another thing altogether. PlayStation is a modern console with most of its games having some sort of modern equivalent. It’s not that people wouldn’t love to play PlayStation games now, because they are. It’s not just via PSN, but with through remakes, sequels and remasters. Tekken 3 might be the last good Tekken or the first bad Tekken, depending who you ask, but do you really expect people to jump unto a game that is eclipsed by its own sequel everybody plays, especially when its running on a terrible hardware and Toshinden next to it? I too have a strange nostalgia boner for Toshinden thanks to the PC version I used to play like no other, but holy shit it’s not a classic title in any regard that deserves this spot. Then again, what should take its spot? Street Fighter II is a tied to the 16-bit consoles more, Sega had Virtua Fighter. Legitimately does the PlayStation have another game series outside Tekken that can be argued to be a stone engraved classic to end of times? No, it doesn’t. Guilty Gear got its status only with GGXStreet Fighter Alpha 3 had superior ports on the Saturn and Dreamcast, Dead or Alive was all over the place and didn’t get the attention until tits hit Dreamcast and PlayStation 2.

Wouldn’t that mean it was about bad game choices and thus about the library? What are the core PlayStation games people most remember, and how many of those still exist? The PlayStation nostalgia is not the like nostalgia for the NES and SNES. The PlayStation was, for all intentions, the first console that was cool to own. Mega Drive aimed for the adult audience and the NES had lots of adult players for the sports games, but the PlayStation had incredible success with the whole cool factor. Hell, WipeOut alone was like a drug gold mine with the European trance club culture of the time. Would you buy a Classic console to play WipeOut when there are so many sequels out there on other Sony consoles and a remake that make this version obsolete?

Nostalgia for the PlayStation is a large part of the console’s successors in various forms that do not exist on the Nintendo platforms from the get-go when it comes to the Classic Era of consoles. If Nintendo is to make N64 Classic, it’ll have the same problem and will face the fact that N64 classics are counted with one hand. It’ll be consisting of titles that either have been ground to halt or are just terrible choices. At least Nintendo doesn’t need to rely on third-party support and have licensing problems, which without a doubt was a major problem with some of the developers and publishers. The consumer population doesn’t have the same affection for the PlayStation as it does for the NES and the SNES. That is not to say there isn’t one or that’s some kind of negative. It’s just different by a different generation.

Sony has often followed what Nintendo does without really realising why Nintendo does things or why they’ve been successful with some of their things. The PlayStation Classic was going to war with trumpets lambasting, but with no weapons carried. Hardware and software are an issue where Sony failed like a dead fish in bed, and the game version choices were weak at best, but those honestly are rather small compared to the problem that Sony completely mistook what made the original PlayStation a hit and didn’t understand the system’s nostalgia. PlayStation nostalgia is hard to capture, because it’s like Xbox nostalgia in that it never really went away, just like 3D Mario. 

Retro Fighters’ Brawler 64 controller review Part 2; New Parts

Be sure to check the first part of the review here.

I’ll just assume you’ve red the previous part or overall know the issues that Retro Fighters’ Brawler 64 controller had. Mostly, it was the left shoulder button issue, where rocking the stick to the top left would lift it and make it move. don’t expect major revisions on any other department.

Let’s spend any time on the front for now, let’s jump willy nilly into the insides of it and see what changes were made to the mould to fix issues.

Whoops, forgot to take off that Turbo Button from the old shell

First of all, their solution was the expected one; retooling. Retooling is to change mould just enough to use it further for with minimum costs. This in itself is nothing to scoff at, as it usually saves time and money from the consumers’ pockets. At first, the differences in the shell are apparent, mainly that the extrusions for the build-in vibrators have been removed. They added to nothing else but teeny tiny weight, but it would have been nice to have build-in rumbling that could have been toggled on or off via a switch. No unnecessary expansion pack uses. This really would have added to the value of the controller.

The second change is in the shoulder buttons, which actually use leaf-switch mechanic to spring back up. If you look at the bottom of the L-Button, the one at the top right corner of the photo, you can see that it has no hook on it. The R-Button has it and so does the old mould. This is part of the solution in order to fix the problem I mentioned in the first paragraph. Now that the button is not restricted to stay in its slot, it can freely move about. This of course raises the question if the button can raise itself from its resting place, and it can. You’d need to deliberately lift it off though, but accidents happen. This is a solution, but without a doubt not the most optimal one. This shows signs of hurry and stress, something all designers can relate to, but this solution, despite fixing the problem itself, does degrade from its overall value. It’s a hatchet job at best.

Let’s take a look at the back half of the shell then.

For better or worse, they are clearly labelled 1 and 2 for our pleasure. Similar to the front half, there are no brackets for a vibrator motor. More importantly, the extremely lacklustre expansion lock has been upgraded and fixed. On the original, on the right, you can see the lock mechanism being in an angle, making inserting and pulling expansion packs out rather tiresome and at best infuriating. Now that the lock sits straight, the whole ordeal is as smooth as you’d expect it to be. This is a definitive plus.

The main difference between the new and old halves seems to be that the controller’s front half seems to be slightly raised in order to keep the stick from bumping into the L-Button. This has necessitated to include new A, B and C Buttons. I first expected the A and B to stand more raised from the surface, but this was not the case. However, quality often showcases itself with the smallest details, and the C-Button’s new moulds were not up to standard.

The C-Buttons are completely uncleaned. All that junk, both at the base and on the notches that guide them into their proper place, had to be cleaned with a knife. While this wasn’t a major deal, backers who opted to change their shells themselves might’ve found themselves slightly puzzled why their C-Buttons were jamming. Granted, Retro Fighers did post a Youtube video how to change the parts, but a customer shouldn’t have to shave plastic off from their spanking new buttons they just received three weeks later than everyone else in the world. I build models, so this wasn’t a problem, but knowing people already asked about this tells you how backers weren’t happy with this.

When put together, the controller doesn’t look any different from the old one, outside a different sticker on the back, so I’ll just recycle a picture from the first part here.

With the new parts installed, there are no buttons or stick interacting with each other and remind you that you overpaid for the controller. Yes, considering Retro Fighters had to put out new parts to fix something like this and didn’t deliver on the promise of full N64 support due to something they never explicitly stated, the controller remains as second option at best despite being better than the stock N64 controller in almost every way. The stock N64’s controller might be a bit awkward even after all these years and its stick is pretty janky piece, but its construction and build quality leave no room for guesswork. The same can be said of some other peripheral controllers released for the N64, some of which I’d like to get for the sake of comparisons, though putting money into a system I don’t play on a regular basis would be unwise.

However, I must admit that despite all the issues it has, it does make a good backup or secondary controller. If you can find it on sale, change the Not Recommended status into Worth Considering and hope that Retro Fighters have put more second versions out there than the first ones, and that they’re willing to change parts if you end up with the first version somehow. Otherwise, I can’t recommend this controller, it’s just not up to par standards-wise.

Thoughts on designing a Switch dock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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