Foundation of disappointment

Much like Apple TV+’s teaser starts, people have been trying to adapt Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels for fifty years and have failed. Even Dune is more adaptable than Foundation. This may sound overtly exaggerated, but it’s all about the fundamental nature of Foundation; it is about the sociology of humanity, not the psychology. What I mean by this that Foundation has no protagonist we follow through or witness heroic events. Foundation is all about concepts and promises of action, much like how Hitchcock would plant a bomb underneath a table to make two men discussing something suspenseful. Even the creator of the novels’ psychohistory, Hari Seldon, is not seen in the flesh after the first story, par prequel novels.

Perhaps I need to get back to what Foundation is about. It is not exactly about the fall of the Galactic Empire. The fall in itself is not important, it’s background material, the start of it all. Foundation is about humanity’s actions and how we can use psychohistory, a fictional statistical science combined with psychology, to statistically predict how humanity will act in the future. While seemingly a success at first, Asimov moves towards proving faults and weaknesses in psychohistory later in the series, much like how he established the Laws of Robotics and then proceeded to explore all the ways they could be broken and how faulty they innately were. As said, the fall of the Galactic Empire is just the background, the kick-off point where the Seldon Plan begins, a plan for Seldon’s established the Foundation to nudge humanity bit by bit to certain directions with careful manipulations to shorten the galactic Dark Age that follows after the fall of the Empire from thirty thousand years of barbarism and violence to mere thousand. Everything goes right at first, there are no deviations with the plans and Seldon’s recordings are correct what happens long after he has been dead. These Seldon Crises are predicted events that put the Foundation to the test, first being how the Foundation has to deal with four different kingdoms who broke off from Empire during the fall. These crisis are dealt with in a manner how Seldon has predicted, until an element outside humanity throws a monkey wrench into the gears. Psychohistory can only account humanity and its actions, but not unknowns from outside. Though even that becomes somewhat questionable due to introduction of Robots into the Foundation series and Hari Seldon being aware of future plans of one R. Daneel Olivaw.

None of this would make terribly exciting television of film though. Foundation lacks punching action that most other science fiction works might find themselves under, like the Robot novels. Supposedly, Asimov himself had said how he regretted how much of Foundation was people sitting around and talking. It works in book form, especially when it’s the concepts and realisation of those concepts matter, but on television it is jarring. You simply can’t be faithful to the Foundation novels when adapting them, which is why Apple TV+’s adaptation takes the predictable action-romp route. It’s extremely easy to take the first Foundation story and simply set it during the Fall of the Galactic Empire, with all the violence and murder that would take place at Trantor, the capital world of the Empire. However, all the interesting spots for television and films happens removed from what’s truly interesting in the novels. Take for an example the Second Seldon Crisis, where the Foundation has provided nuclear power to its neighbouring kingdoms after the first crisis, but has tied its running and maintenance into a guise of religion of the Great Galactic Spirit. When one of the nations try to advantage of their superior military power and attack the Foundation, the population revolts against the rulers as they have violated against the Galactic Spirit. For television and film, all the military parts and people revolting would make good entertainment, but what’s on paper is not this. What Asimov wrote was about discussing how and why the Foundation enacted these religious rules, proceeding to a discussion about the nature of this religion and how much power this religion truly holds as the mastermind of the attack futilely tries to act on his plan. This is one of the motifs in Foundation, where there is heightened tension, which is solved because of plans and solutions build into the problem itself, negating violence. Violence is the last resort of the incompetence, as the series states.

Foundation is space opera and political thriller with heavy emphasize on solving problems. Hollywood must have something bombastic. Science fiction as a genre on TV and film require huge front-up savings, be on streaming services or in the theatres. Thus, resorting to Star Wars-ifying Foundation with battles and action, be it in riots or shoot-outs, is the easiest way to it easily palpable to the generic audiences. This is why, for example, the SciFi original mini-series adaptation of the Dune had some added action elements, or why its 1980’s movies version changed and added things to make carry more impact on the screen. Sure we can argue that milking a cat is a very Lynchian change, and making it rain on a desert planet makes a great looking ending even if it is absolutely retarded. What the Apple TV+ teaser promises is not Foundation, but Foundation as adapted by Hollywood; a dreary looking series filled with action and violence in space. Is that all SF is now? Ever since rebooted Battle Star Galactica science fiction on television has become more and more depressing and violent, making shows like Star Trek effectively remove their true core in exchange of violence and swearing.

If adaptations for the Foundation has been attempted for the last fifty years, why would it suddenly be feasible? Technology has never been the issue. We’ve had great script writers who have been able to adapt books before into movies in faithful and successful manner well before the millennium change hit us. The only thing that seems to have changed is streaming and companies wanting to find themselves IPs they can market and gain viewers. Foundation, being a cornerstone in literature, seemingly would fit just fine among all the other SF works that streaming services are offering. It only makes sense to actionify it then, seeing it’s going against shows like modern Star Trek shows, Mandalorian and whatever else Star Wars stuff that Disney’s going to throw out, and even The Orville. The name is used to drive a similar vehicle just to match these other titles. This adaptation has been lingering in development hell for a decade and then some. It’s no surprise it’s getting out in this form at this time. As such, what hopes there are for an adaptations that wouldn’t bastardise the source material? There ‘s no love in here for Foundation. If you’ve read the original novels, or have heard the terrific radio drama by BBC 4, you can expect this adaptation to disappoint.

Rebooting the honeymoon period

Before a franchise becomes a running success, it goes through golden days of sheer creativity. This lasts until certain unwritten rules become commonplace, which are largely determined by both success of entries in the franchise itself. Take Mobile Suit Gundam for example, where this period of exploring what Gundam as a franchise could be and how it was to be depicted lasted about a decade and arguably ended with Gaia Gear, a series of novels and audiodramas set into the far future of the original’s timeline. While the story and setting is very much what we could expect from a Gundam entry, it separated itself from the series by not having the title Gundam anywhere and its titular mech Gaia Gear had only a passing resemblance to mainline designs in the series.

On the left you can visually identify the mech as a Gundam-type. It has the distinct white-blue-yellow colours, the right type of structure with the cockpit in the chest/stomach region, vents on either side of the chest, a pronounced cockpiece and now-iconic Gundam head. Gaia Gear breaks basically every rule outside the vents on the chest. It could be argued that because it’s not a Gundam in name it doesn’t need to follow the conventions. However, most Mobile Suits in Gundam follow similar structure in body designs with only special cases deviating heavily from them. That is not to say that Gaia Gear didn’t get a repaint later on that matches with Gundam colours, but that’s really neither here or there. As a whole Gaia Gear was one of the last entries that broke with decade long exploration what Gundam was and what it could be, until Mobile Fighter G Gundam would present with the first alternative timeline on television, but the designs would still stick to the already established mould.

Sometimes this period lasts only one entry. Take the Halloween film franchise as an example, where the third movie veered off from the first two movies’ setting and characters in attempt to make the series different with each entry. With the backlash the movie got, the period of experimentation ended and all future films would stick to the first movie’ shtick, exploring only its characters and set-ups while not entertaining the idea of an anthology series. It could be argued that the two first movies already set the what the franchise as a whole would be in stone, and isn’t exactly comparable to changing designs in Gundam, but the gist is the same; Something is made in multiple entries and tries to find its sweet spot, and once it does, it sticks to it like glue.

When the honeymoon period with the franchise’s golden days ends, it leads to formulaic entries one after another. This doesn’t mean the quality drops automatically. Rather it means the consumers have certain expectations of the brand and creators behind the brand are expected to deliver. They can improve the formula bit by bit and explore it to some extent without majorly changing elements. Usually turning things completely on their sides of changing the core concepts massively is reserved for spin-offs, and ultimately for reboots when a franchise is considered to be too heavy on history and pre-established lore.

The Gold Key comics followed, or perhaps enforced, the standard Trek formula that DC and Marvel would break a bit more later down the line in manners TV couldn’t

Star Trek is probably a common example here, where majorly affected spin-offs were relegated to comics and games, while small but major tweaks to the formula were represented in Voyager and Deep Space Nine. With the J.J. Abram’s rebooting the franchise, and requesting only his take on Trek to maintain any presence, we’ve gone through the whole period of exploring the franchise again in the comics, while the movies stuck to the formula right after. We can see the reaction the studio and creators had to the receptions of the Abram’s Trek take in Discovery and Picard, where this new take on the series followed the modern action line it was restructured to be in place of exploring the human condition though guise of science fiction. Sometimes reboots are used as a way to gain a recognizable property to make business with while ignoring the existing wants and needs.

A franchise that has established itself builds up expectations with each successive entry, especially if there’s a series of entries that improve the core concepts one after another. This is best seen in video games, where styles of play and elements that exist in a franchise often are built up, and about just as often began to fall apart at some point for multitude of reasons. Take the Splinter Cell franchise as an example.

Those three green dots became a well recognised during the golden days of Splinter Cell. Not so much now

The Splinter Cell franchise was Ubisoft’s golden cow at one point with receptions like no other. Sure it came in the wake of Thief and Metal Gear Solid, but the franchise is most well known for its three first games, nowadays titled as the Splinter Cell Trilogy, while the rets of the games are more or less pushed aside. This mostly is because the first three games emphasised stealth as a play mechanics, especially using the shadows as the main point of play much like Thief did before it. The first three games expanded on the whole (relatively) open stages and ways the player could tackle mission specific targets in a stealthy manner. The first three games in the series build up the mechanics and laid down the core structure what could be expected of the franchise, but after that the most common criticism has been the franchise moving away from stealth and becoming a more generic action play with less freedom players has per stage, relying on a linear design. With lacklustre entries that fall between the cracks and not meeting with the expectations the franchise had already built up, UIbisoft hasn’t put out a new entry in a while.

Not that many teams would like to tackle Splinter Cell all that eagerly, as each new title is expected to return to the glory days of the franchise that would stand to the original tagline of the Splinter Cell, Stealth Action Redefined. It wouldn’t be surprising if Ubisoft would simply reboot the whole franchise, effectively nullifying expectations the franchise has, cleaning the slate for developers and riding a recognisable name all the while.

Hovering hands are the devil’s workshop

There’s a thing I personally have grown hate more and more with science fiction; Holographic displays and controls. Long story short, they’re hammy way to make stuff look futuristic and cool while being absolutely retarded.

Minority Report may have popularised holographic displays in cinema and television like no other (it wasn’t the first of its kind but sure made an impact) but that’s what they are; movie magic. In practice a lot of SF tropes don’t really jive well with reality, ranging from giant robots to particle or beam weaponry, at least in our current tech. However, we can already create a simulacrum of holodisplays and controls thanks to VR setups, which can emulate these in a virtual environment. You’re already seeing where the first point is where they fail, it’s the title after all.

The above vid makes a point how the user interface is gesture based, something that’s become an everyday thing for us on mobile devices, and to some on laptops, but the vid completely ignores how stupid this scene is. Just try acting this scene out yourself flail your hands about like that with those large motions sweeping across the scene. It’s very dramatic and works in the movie itself, but of course you don’t see how tiresome it is. Even if you’re a buff guy like Liam there next to you, waggling and waving your arms at your head’s height, or at times higher, it tires you the fuck out. The ergonomics and the stress this sort of work is terrifying to think and nobody should ever have to work in that kind of position to any extended period. It’s a good workout, but as with any workout, you’ll end up taking breaks between sets and won’t do the same stuff day in, day out. There’s a reason most of the shit in your house and everywhere else sets usable levels below your shoulders, because that’s where stuff is comfortable to work with. Actually, you don’t even need to try to act this scene out like a flailing monkey, just glue your phone or tablet to a well at your face’s height and use for an hour there while listening to Rock Shop.

The ergonomic issue is one major issue and it leads directly to the second, which is the layout of holographic controls. They make little sense when in actual use, as they’re almost always spread across the scene. Any and all user interfaces you have in your life are laid out so that they’re easily accessible and make sense. They’re not there for show, they have a reason and intention. SF holocontrols have jack shit this, especially in movies and television where the actor just has to act whatever shit they have to make the scene work. That’s why the holodisplays and controls are at face height, as its much easier to put the effect there rather than underneath hands where they could work. Sure, there are exceptions, yet those are rare and obscure at best.

Then you have the issue of having no feedback. With holographic displays you’re tapping into empty air and you will never had any feedback at the tip of your fingers what the hell you’re doing without some kind of gloves that give some kind of tactile feeling or are necessary to work the displays in the first place, which kinda defeats the point of holographic shit in your face. You could say that it’s really a hardlight construct, but you could have an anti-grav display or floaty display 0-G environment while you’re at it. This is exponentially worse if the holographics control goes around your hand and a wrist to make it look like you’re holding someone’s joystick to wank around. Again, there is no feedback from light, unless there are additional hardware solutions in the middle, and when the software fails, you wish you had that actual stick in your hand to grasp and yank.

There’s also a technological issue the projection, that it is projection. You need multiple spots where the light comes from to form the hologram, and if one fails, you better have more than one spare that can take over the projection. You can actually disable a ship that uses holographic displays and control just by taping or breaking the projectors’ lenses. Weak argument maybe, but consider how stupidly expensive and complex the projectors need to be. Not only they need to have software and hardware that is able to project and recognise “presses” on buttons, basically where your finger breaks the light’s barrier, but also do this in less time than a physical controls. The software has to make extra jumps to get the same end gain, Future tech may be able to do that, just as future tech needs to be self-cleaning and adjusting. All the dust and other particles will start cover the sensors and projectors eventually, and someone needs to clean them. All the displays also need to be adjusted from time to time to show the screens properly and scale on a whim. Such tech will always be less reliable and more expensive than physical controls and screen that, ultimately, do the same stuff in a more effective manner.

Look at the scene here from different Star Treks, mostly the scene from Picard where Daahjz or whatever the hell her name is uses a holodisplay. Not only her hands are high and uncomfortably positioned, but she’s tapping thin air and everything is spread out. Yet her main working area is in front, or in this case, just above her head where she has to bend back to look at the holodisplay. The layout makes no sense and there’s nothing intuitive there. It’s not like LCARS was any less cumbersome to get, but you could see what it was displaying. Holodisplays like in the vid above look terrible for the audience, especially when you realise that they don’t really cast any light on the actors, which leads to the third point; how the hell you’re supposed see them?

Almost all holodisplays have the issue that they’re transparent. Holograms are made of light, and a well lit environment you shouldn’t be able to see them properly without harsh contrast and brightness settings. Holographic displays make the best of themselves in dim environments, and your Chinese cartoon has taught you when you pirated it, you should watch screens from a distance in a well lit room. Not only they’re a bother to see, they’re always showcased with less than ideal edges and full of bloom. The sheer lack of proper sharp shapes that define the layouts and what you see makes holodisplays a lousy experience (imagine reading a book or your screen you’re staring at this very moment with glasses that fog and distort the text and colours.) We’re just starting to get a point where these modern LCD screens and other thinsplays are slowly matching CRT screens in colour and depth but apparently it is the future to throw all that away for eye ruining bloom filled shitfest that makes your shoulders and neck muscles stiff and are extremely uncomfortable to work with. You could make the holodisplays and controls solid and prevent any light passing through either side, but that’d be like having a real screen in front of your face, which in all honesty, would be a better option.

Holodisplays being transparent also lead into security issues. If you’re able to see the screen from both sides, anyone could snap a high resolution image and just flip it to read what it’s saying. In a military environment or otherwise this would be a high-risk matter and no force would ever think including holodisplays outside entertaining guests or showcasing post-post-modern art. Not only the see-through nature of these displays make them unsafe, but because they have low definition and are bloomy, being able to see everything beyond the screen makes them somewhat hard to focus on, which again translate to the whole straining your eyes. Solid displays don’t have any of these problems, because you can’t see through them.

Holodisplays and controls are there for effect in shows and movies. They look fancy and remove the necessity to design and create physical props when you can do the same nonsense cheaper and easier by slapping a camera tracking overlay of something that looks nice. However, even at a closer glance holopgrahic displays make little sense and how they’re portrayed is often more or less completely off or false for effect. In case of Star Trek Picard, it even breaks the logic in-universe, as holographic technology is at a point where you can have whatever object or person look and feel like the real thing. Picard using stereotypical see-through crap is vehemently against the whole replication/holodeck tech they already have. They could have displays and controls that simply come from the air wherever they need, and would look like real paper and feel like you’re pressing something.

It makes no logical sense why would anyone downgrade their holographic projectors to garbage when in Star Trek you can have projections that are, in all effect, sentient and alive. The only reason holodisplays exist like in the videos above is because they’re a science fiction trope to allow more dramatic effect. Rhyme or reason need not apply, only rule of cool. Even that rule can skip the class, seeing nearly all holodisplay designs, and how they’re used, are low-tier cool factor and a moment’s thinking breaks the immersion they aim to create.

Well done, Turner!

We have more electronic games at hand than we’ve had ever before. Same with television, with Youtube and other streaming services allowing each individual to put their own show and tell what’s on their mind. The same way how blogs and such are the newspapers’ opinionated pieces of the Internet. The more we got everything, the less the little gems pop up, the less we’ll know about those single pieces of media that are being lost in the twenty-four/seven information onslaught. We can talk about how nothing is lost to the media and how every game or show gets reviewed by someone and you’re able to find some bits of information about something, but that’s not even the case with English language games. Less so with titles that are only in a language you personally don’t understand. There’s absolutely nothing about African video game industry on the overall Internet, as they’re all extremely local and do not do well in comparisons. There are no reporters or interest looking into what’s happening there outside curiosities. You’d think this wouldn’t apply to Japanese markets, but even then you have stupid amounts of self-published titles that haven’t been listed anywhere, despite later being introduced to digital stores like DLSite. Big names roll the most, and looking at the titles that are the most hyped and on the nose of the market, there’s nothing new on the table.

From what I gleamed quickly at a casual glance, the Internet’s all about the new Doom game, the new Animal Crossing and about Final Fantasy VII Remake. There certainly are some other titles there too, but these are the ones that seem to pop up the most frequently. All three are titles belonging to long running franchises, and you could argue Doom Eternal is a remake of sorts of Doom II. All three have been selling like hotcakes and not many people are complaining about any of the three. They all have different target audiences, and all three resort to combination of the two Ns; Nostalgia and Novelty.

Good ol’ saying from the business world is that the customer is afraid of everything new. That is largely true, as people tend to find the most comfortable spot with the things they are most used to, the things they know the best. The things they’re connected with the most. With games this is easily seen in genres some people prefer over other and sometimes aren’t willing to step outside their comfort zone to try out something completely new. For example, a person who has always played Role-Playing Games ‘knows’ he wouldn’t like a semi-realistic hunting simulator. It just isn’t something he’d like. Customers are strange beasts in that we don’t actually know what we like or what we want. While our purchasing decisions are based on complex sets of decisions on merits of a product compared to its competition and how it’d do in our personal use. We might deviate from the usual product we buy if there’s something cheaper at hand that does the job better, or we want to change things up. It’s more common to abhor a new product or its competition though, and we want to change things even less if we’re emotionally connected. All things corporations capitalise on, hence why you see one company offering multiple different kind of sauces on the store shelf. On one hand, you might like that runny tomato sauce from X Brand, but that chunky tomato sauce looks pretty good and now they’re having a sale of three for price of two. Plus, that new sauce with seeds and chopped stuff in it looks good too and I know this brand has good sauces, so trying that out won’t lose me much. Turns out you love the chunky sauce and wonder why you never tried it out before.

I tend to default for mint ice cream.

The three aforementioned games are like that. They’re safe options for anyone who has experienced a game in their series or have a passing experience within the genre. All three titles also belong to games that have made an impact on the cultural scene, though Animal Crossing‘s the least of three. It’s effectively Japanese Sims with anthropomorphised characters, a simulator of everyday activities in a more peculiar environment. Doom created the modern first-person shooter, while Final Fantasy is effectively the golden standard series for role-playing games as a whole. You can contest Dragon Quest or some other franchise here, but as a global phenomena they can’t really hold the candle. They’re safe bets, titles that will deliver profits even when handled in a half-assed manner. They’re a franchise, something will keep ’em afloat just fine. With title like Final Fantasy VII Remake, there was never any questions if it made any money. The question was how much money it would make. Not because FFVII Remake would ever be reviewed or seen by its own title, but because it is a remake of a game that is perceived as one of the pinnacles of modern-day popular culture. Because the game this remake was based on managed to attach consumers emotionally to the brand and the name, striking just the right time in the right place. Whether or not the game was put into production because the developers felt they could do FFVII more justice with modern tools and methods doesn’t really enter the equation, when the game was a safe bet. It has been requested for years on end and it would be gobbled up no matter what the end result was, and the sheer power of personal emotional attachment would colour however the game would end up being. All usual business, and I’m ranting about this again.

We could split the history of video games in slots where certain genres or certain styles were the most popular. The First electronic game Generation saw large amounts of Pong clones, with the Second Generation trying out a lot more stuff with titles like Pac-Man and Space Invaders. From the Third Generation onward we saw the 2D platformer surfacing as the most common type, but whether or not 2D action was the game that was best done in that manner could be open to debate. PC side was doing 3D stuff at the time already, but not all that well. Come to modern day, and most games, even RPGs, are third-person action. While mechanics may be a bit different, they’re effectively the same kind of game all over again. The coat of paint might be different, yet third person is the way to go now. In reality, that’s not the case, is it? Despite some of the most spoken about games in last years, from Nier: Automata to Metal Gear Solid V and even Senran Kagura are all variations of this same core game concept of controlling a character’s actions from behind them. Despite the third person view, it isn’t uncommon for players to refer the character on the screen as themselves in action. “I have to sneak there,” for example. Even with VR the most titles are some kind of variation of the first person type, because there’s nothing much else you can do. Perhaps that’s part of the equation, where gaming isn’t exactly able to do anything else what we’re now having. After all, playing with Star Wars dolls is in effect the same action as playing Knights of the Old Republic or how Doom is like taking a toy gun and going outside to play war with your friends. The framing and limitations are just different, the act of playing is still the same

The game industry is already feeling a moment where they are having workers who have grown up with video games. Logic would dictate that these workers know how a game functions, but that becomes a limitation and a liability. Games like The Legend of Zelda are based on real-life experiences, the adventures and explorations a child does in a forest with a wood stick as his sword and finding a cavern. Pokémon is about insect collecting and finding the biggest, baddest one and then to compete with your friend. When your life experiences are with games and the game media all around, you ultimately end up resorting to what you know best, your experiences and nostalgia. Games based on other games become saturated by its own culture, inbreeding itself. The concept of the play has already been somewhat lost in modern gaming, where story is considered to come from pre-existing narrative rather than from the act of playing. Interestingly, it is common for games to section themselves into story bits and game bits, and has been doing this increasingly so as time has passed. Perhaps nostalgia and experience with previous generations of games has produced this approach with experimentation being left out. The inverse of course is if a person doesn’t have any experience with games and comes from another industry, like film, a game might lose its play in favour of film elements. This arguably already happened with the FMV titles in the 1990’s, when gaming was being pushed to become a second Hollywood and abandon the element of game in favour of video, and left a crater on the gaming as a media. That said, it’s easy to pick up one of the modern games offered and trace its influence in gaming back at least a decade or two. Easier still with titles like the FFVIIR, where you see the connection with the original FFVII and Kingdom Hearts in terms of gameplay and how progression is handled. History of the developers on the showcase.

The mainstream gaming doesn’t see many truly innovative games, or games that try to tackle the pre-established mould all that often. When it does, it’s often tacked unto a pre-existing IP. While Mega Man Battle Network still splits some opinions, it is a game series that doesn’t have much imitators. Its combination of RPG elements with real-time action with card collecting makes it stand as a unique piece, but something that didn’t necessarily need the Mega Man IP name to carry it. While it certainly helped with the recognition of the game at first, we’ll never know of Battle Network could’ve been bigger if had been something completely original.

That’s where the whole thing rolls back around to itself. Customers know these things, they’re familiar with certain kind of things, execs and investors want to make the best bucks and developers end up making games according to these points. However, it’s also a point that while developers are chained to this leash, often devs also want to make a game similar to this fashion or that fashion, a game in this particular genre and this way. Japanese may showcase some of their titles as unique titles with no real connection to the past, but that’s PR speech and trying to pass yourself in a higher degree compared to the lower tier workers in the company hierarchy. Shit rolls downhill. You look at a developer like Platinum and their library of games, and you don’t see any real innovation and chances. All of their high profile games are effectively one-horse tricks. There’s no innovation in them for the medium as a whole, they’re “just” well made games in a given genre. Just like the big heads sitting in the board meetings, the devs resort on pre-established patterns and methods which have been found to be working and a success. No need to fix what’s broken, and that applies to the creatives just as much. Sometimes you find the perfection combination of chance, time and people with the rights wants and intentions that push the envelope, even if by mistake, but combining all the right parts of past in a way that creates a new tapestry. To use an old example, whole Super Mario Bros. wasn’t anything new, the way it was put together and as to end the cartridge games on the Famicom, the genre gained a completely new lease in life and a the franchise in itself was reborn more Super.

Digital takeover?

With nations going to lockdown modes, travelling being restricted and products unable to move from place A to place B, the world faces changes. Some of the changes will be long lasting, while others will be temporary at best. In a way, we’re faced with a moment in time, where only the essentials should matter. If you’re not directly in relation of producing foods or essential services, or are able to work from home, chances are you’re going to miss some work. Entertainment is, to be brutally honest, is probably the least important part of life. While the modern society is mostly used to have content provided via whatever screen we choose, numerous places that offer entertainment outside your home environment. For example, the movie theatres are effectively closed for the time being, hurting their income and their workers’ pay. With the theatres closed, some of the studios have opted to stream their movies in much faster order than usual.

The discussion of digital superseding over physical is often only about the media, how games, music and movies are going to vanish from the store shelves in the future and be replaced with digital-only counterparts. While this is extremely rosy view of the future, this discussion should also include automatisation as an essential part of it. Some types of work will be replaced with their digital and automated, and on the long run, most work from medical care to translation can be automated. It’ll just take long time to get there, improvements in special kind of AI and automatisation, but nothing’s really out of question. At some point we are going to have discussions whether or not we are going to allow digitalisation of work to replace human workers in some particular fields. Futurism.com has an article about Artificial Intelligence that is able to make more accurate diagnoses as a doctor than a human one. In time, digitalisation will take things to the point that consumers will be taking goods and be served by automatons. Digitalisation promises offers of superior experience every which way. It is already spilling out from factories and whatnot to digital environment, where 3D models are already used to entice viewers to enjoy video contents more.

Though who needs mp3 players or whatnot when you can have a non-digital automaton playing tunes for you

The whole Virtual Youtuber thing is digitalisation at its best. Sure, you have someone acting behind the character, but the 3D model removes all the needs for the actors to change their body structures or put make up. Chaturbate users experienced what it means to compete with automated content, when Projekt Melody shot to the top and displaced most of the top models and was raking in money like no other. Projekt Melody is effectively a VTuber for porn and offers the exact same benefits that other automation offers; Better results in less time, and end result that will entice more customers. It’s more efficient and with the provider being able to deliver whatever visual designs and flavours the customers want, Projekt Melody is able deliver harder and faster the same experience live model have to work hard for. This lead many of the models on the site rioting, of course, resorting to name calling Projekt Melody’s viewers and fans (despite these exact same people are their potential customers) as well as claiming this was unfair competition. In reality, they are now facing the first steps in having digitalisation and automatisation entering their field of profession.

Digitalisation doesn’t straight up mean that robots and automatisation replaces someone’s work. Well, in practice it does, as rarely the same person is trained to maintain the automation. At least one human has to be behind automated work to keep it in check, to ensure that it runs well. A welder would do good by aiming to move from manual welding to become a robot operator, if possible, as in time welding in factory conditions will slowly but surely replace the human worker. The companies themselves might be against this, be it trusting human worker more or due to sociopolitical issues, but robots will always end up being more efficient than the humans, be it in the factory, in the doctor’s office or something you want to jerk off to. We are already happily using platforms that are supplanting physical environs. Netflix may be new television, but it has been said to be the reason why movie theatres are dying, online shopping has been replacing physical stores (which is a terrific example of its implementation as the customer feels like their doing something significant and non-automated), especially now that you can order your foodstuff to be delivered to your door. I wouldn’t put it past the post offices around the world to aim replacing their postmen with drones, like how Amazon is testing their drones. It all might have a high up-front cost, yet on the long run it’ll be that much cheaper. This is one of those things where companies may not want to prioritise short-term gains over permanent long-term gains and begin automation. Current structures may not support automated environments straight up, but all that is easy to change.

While digital media has not phased physical media out, there is a possibility that the infrastructure for that is being implemented at this moment in time. After that, there really isn’t a need to go back. Digitalisation and automatisation go hand in hand, and while customers are now inconvenienced by the epidemic, the most inconvenient and easier way to consume and explore entertainment is digitally. The discussions about consumer rights and ownership is not even thought about, something this blog has been discussing to a major extent in the past. Consumer behaviour has been drastically altered now and it is possible we are seeing a strong paradigm shift. Not only customers are going for the digital option, either because of fears or convenience, the companies have to make due with whatever production methods they have at hand. China’s factories being closed means everything has to be postponed or other forms of delivery (i.e. digital) have to take priority. Local production may be emphasised and thoughts about becoming more independent from foreign produce. Of course, some nations can’t really match up the sheer volume in production others can achieve, which will lead into local produce being costlier than imported. Whether or not this would be a chance to increase local production, or if people will simply change their habits of consumption, is open in the air. It’ll be interesting to look back few years from now to see how both customers and industries have changed.

Play as movie

The recent success of the Sonic the Hedgehog movie has given a raise to the discussion why and how adapting video games as films is supposedly difficult. This haughty attitude usually comes from Hollywood, and when Hollywood wants to make games or show the ropes how to make great entertainment, the games themselves turn out to be less than desirable and low in success. On the other hand, a movie turned video game is usually about as successful, and the more it veers off the course and does its own thing, the better success it tends to garner. Take the NES Batman as an example, a game that is less than spectacular adaptation of the Tim Burton movie, but as a game it has aged like fine wine.

Perhaps one of the best early examples of using a movie as the basis rather than directly adapting it. There’s also that top-tier Sunsoft soundtrack

The issue is rather old topic for the blog, but perhaps it needs to be stated again; games’ stories are player acting them out. The FMVs, story sequence and all that, those are the framing device for player’s action, not the other way around. Describing someone playing is boring, but when you’re the one doing the playing, be it with dolls, wooden swords, card games or whatever, it’s interesting: entertaining. Hence games are about personal action within given rules, and real story is build by player actions. Take the TAS above; the framing is Batman must defeat Joker and his minions but the way to defeat the Joker and his minions is far more interesting when it’s a game. How do you approach an enemy, how do you avoid this trap, what’s the best route to take in a given situation? These moment to moment actions are what builds the game’s experience, the story the player is weaving with the game. The less player actions there are in a game, the less there is a play to be had. This play can’t be turned into a movie, a book or anything passive. You, the viewer, can’t be the actor.

This really is the crux of the issue. When a game is being adapted into a series, movie or whatnot, the first thing that is being looked is at the framing device. In Mega Man, the main character fights evil robots lead by a mad scientist. Easy to adapt, the games have sold millions so a story as simple as this should be a piece of cake. The issue of course is that Mega Man games don’t exactly celebrate how well their framing stories have been constructed. After all, all of them are just there to facilitate player going through stages and beating enemies. You always have to write something extra, create new content that might make a good story. You can make Mega Man running through a stage into an action scene for sure, but eight times in a row? A movie doesn’t have for such things, and even in comics action chapter after action chapter without a breather makes you feel stupid. A TV-series, surprisingly, is the best place for a video game adaptation in overall terms, as it not only gives time to explore expanded characters, but also gives leeway for action. Even one cours series, that is about twelve episodes, would be enough to adapt any game.

The Mega Man OVAs are interesting beasts in that they didn’t adapt the games at all, unlike the Ruby-Spears TV-series. Instead, they were vehicles to introduce children to cultural heritage, hence the it was Presented by Japan Center for Interculultual Communications. It should be cultural, but typos tend to sneak in even.

A game becomes easier to adapt to the silver screen, or elsewhere really, the more there is framing for the play. That is, the less there is chaotic elements, the less player actions there are. The frame never changes. This applies to role playing games as well, and the difficulty bar gets set higher the more options the player has. For example, RPGs that allows completely customisable characters and party creation determines how the characters advance forwards. With each change to the party characters, and how the player wants to approach any given opponent, the story has already changed. Perhaps in one playthrough the player goes with an axe wielding warrior to save the day, and in another opts for a mage build. The connotations, suggestions and approaches are all different and while the base framing is the same, the core story has been drastically altered. Perhaps the player character opts to use a fork as his only weapon. I heard you can make a fork as one of the most broken weapons possible in Skyrim.

It is largely evident that most game adaptions on television and the silver screen have people working on the product that don’t understand games. Sure the framing is easy to get. Expanding that to a full film-length story is what’s usually done. You can’t turn play into passive entertainment, unless that play has been executed extremely well. The reason why I linked Batman TAS is because of this. A mundane playthrough of the game might look boring, but a TAS, in principle the most effective and best way the game could be beat, becomes almost cinematic. Issue of course is that you need to know how the play is acted out, and that’s different from genre to genre. On the reverse, it’s also hard to make a movie into a game, as movies don’t tend to have content that can be easily turned into an active play. They might offer one or two set pieces, but games require far more freedom than what a strictly structured story can offer. A game of course can fill in missing spots in an action sequence or the like, but the more game adheres to its adapted source material, the less room for play there is.

Then again, the easier and less chaotic the game’s play is, like a tournament fighter akin to Mortal Kombat, the more clear how to adapt and how becomes. Nevertheless what kind of source material you have in your hands, the adapted material can always trump over the source, and adapting always asks for something more than directly lifting elements from one medium to another. Individual decisions and actions are just far more difficult to adapt to the silverscreen than, e.g. a comic panel. You could, of course, take one well played game and turn that into a film, considering that would be that particular player’s story and all the emotions and excitement it brought with it. Perhaps that should be considered more rather than just the framing.

This is why something like Game Center CX is entertaining. It’s not just about the game or the play, but about the how the games are played and what happens during the play. That’s the core of a game’s story

As an end note, this blog’s 9th anniversary was yesterday.

Modern displays can’t represent the reality of old

I’m not sure where the notion of CRT screen being worse than flat screen came about, initially. I can surmise that this is the case of usual old-tech being outed by new and shiny one, and marketers always want to push the newflanged thing as the best thing ever all while putting down the old stuff. Y’know, like the articles about Star Trek: Picard are calling The Next Generation old and outdated. Looking at the modern screens we have nowadays, even the ones I’m looking at right now, we’re still lacking in many ways that a good ol’ tube isn’t. It’s all about those colours, refresh rate and sheer quality of image.

I can’t really say that a CRTs got the proper end of the stick, tech-wise. All they had at the time was comparatively low-quality image to showcase. A VHS tape didn’t exactly push CRT’s image quality all that much. People talking about the fuzzy look on those screens was always more about the lacking quality of the medium rather than the quality of the screen itself. I have to admit that I only realised this after the fact, after putting a movie spinning from a Laserdisc in a showcase to some people via CRT. The image quality was, not to overstate, a shocker to some. The image wasn’t fuzzy and there was definition they didn’t remember. This wasn’t just some connection via RF or RC cables, but from BNC to RGB SCART via build-in adapter. The technology itself holds up, but what’s lacking is the standards for connectivity. No CRT screen I know of has, for example, HDMI ports or the like. Even if there were, it’d require some kind of adapter or decoder change the signal something the screen would understand, as we’re again speaking two different technological ways of transferring images. An analogue end rarely accepts digital source without some form of adaption, and vise versa. Often there’s some confusion how things should really look like, which is why so many times an old output device looks wrong on a modern screen. Correct aspect ratio is a thing so many people still just don’t get. It’d be neat to see a CRT designed around modern day standards. Completely doable, but also far more expensive than flat screens.

The latency between a CRT and modern flat screens is touchable. When it comes to gaming, old consoles expect the screen to respond to input actions as fast as the console can send its signals. Modern screen latency that isn’t present with CRTs, and often you end up seeing an image that’s notably late compared to what’s actually happening inside the machine. Modern games are actively working around the latency by delaying inputs and actions, and this adds up with games like Tekken 7 actively simulating network environment lag as well with input delays. Effectively, modern games expect the player to react to something that’s already happened in the game’s logic rather than what’s happening at that precise moment. This is why so many people who emulate NES titles like Battletoads find themselves in trouble, when fast-paced stages like Turbo Tunnel requires much faster reaction time than they would if played via CRT. Arino of Game Center CX would probably see his gaming performance getting better, if he would use a CTR instead a cheap LCD screen. Then again, scripted shows and all that.

GCCX fans of course know that they originally did have a CRT and have gone through numerous flat screen through the years

Outside the whole refresh rate/response time dick waggling competition, the one thing CRTs still have over any modern screen tech is the existence of true blacks and whites, as well as true colours. Why do you remember the colours being terrible on your CRT way back when? Probably because of NTSC format, which sucked when it came to chroma and colour. NTSC format gained the nickname Never The Same Colour for a reason, and this is the reason. A lot of shows originally encoded in NTSC have high saturation colours, because they’d get whacked during output and would produce whatever the device decided. Despite NTSC running in 60Hz, that’s not exactly a saving grace when PAL had both superior screen resolution and colour. This colours the mental image people have about how well CRTs showcase colour. When you output something modern with better colour coding to a CRT (like PAL60), the results are rather high quality. Not even modern HDR can do the same justice. When properly calibrated, blacks on a decent CRT are true blacks; the lack of light or colour. The same can be said about whites. I admit that most of my life was spent with low-quality CRTs that had glow to them, where certain kind of definition was lost. I could assume this was somewhat common, as later in life with higher-end, more expensive CRTs this glow was absent. Blacks were truly as dark as they were supposed to and colours were as intended. Screen and colour calibration are still important nowadays, but rarely anyone has time for them. Most people just go with the standard factory preset, which sometimes is all you need. In some lower tier screens, not to much. That’s the difference between low-tier flats and CRTs; even a mediocre CRT has better screen response time and colours to a mediocre flat screen. Some modern flat screens, even HDR and OLED ones, can’t replicate colours accurately. Sometimes they lack the brightness, sometimes they just lack the needed cells for the colour reproduction. Film buffs can bitch about film vs video all day long, but in the end their film will be seen via digital means nowadays and that will screw them up in the end.

The disparity of old media on modern screens has split some of the userbases with film and games. While most film and TV-series enthusiasts have easy time what should be the correct image format for their media, games are not as lucky. Most computers and consoles run on different line resolutions, which don’t really fit any screen format readily. However, considering the 4:3 screen ratio was universal standard across the globe during pre-widescreen television and digital standards, it is safe to say this was the intended screen ratio despite what the consoles internal resolution may have been. For example the SNES uses 8:7 as its internal ratio, which meant the developers would need to take the difference in account when making assets for their games. Hence why certain games look a bit squished when seen in their then-intended end ratio of 4:3. This is also an issue of technological gap, as all modern screens are effectively fixed-pixel screens; all pixels are the same size no matter what. CRT tech doesn’t use pixels, and in comparison are non-fixed. A ‘pixel’ could be of different size from another. When using the peculiarities of the screen, you could get things like rainbow effects to waterfalls or have raster lines and dithering meld together into proper, smooth colour. Effectively, the use of lower quality video signal was used for a greater effect in the final product. Displaced Gamers has an excellent video regarding dithering on the Mega Drive with Composite Video. If we use Shiny Entertainment as an example of people working with machines that would end up using a CRT as its main display, we can assume that developers not only were aware of the systems’ limitations, but also the possibilities effects like dithering would have. This is also the reason why so many NEC PC-98 titles are dithering heaven, as the CRT screens the PCs would use would blend the dithering into colours that didn’t really exist in the graphics. This was used to add, for example, extra shading. Nowadays dithering doesn’t work the same way, and is mostly an aesthetics matter.

While perhaps not the best example, Giga’s Harlem Blade from 1996 (should probably be Harem, but Engrish is a thing) gives us an access to Kimura Takahiro’s original work and the CG used in the game. What we don’t see is how the CGs should be seen. Modern display screens simply don’t draw the graphics the same way. By 1996, most PC98 titles were seeing ports to Windows platforms, which already changed how graphics were designed and drawn. You see this kind clear, far better defined graphics in the latter part of the 1990’s compared to titles in the earlier years of the decade, but evolution of PC98 graphics is not the topic here. That would also count the note of style of dithering changing, as many early PC98 titles were upgraded ports of PC88 titles, which more limited colour palette to work with, resulting in different kind of dithering, but the same end; creating new colours on the screen, melding shading together etc.

So much brighter. Source is Fairytale’s Strawberry Daisenryaku Novu from 1990, PC98

Here’s a hacky method I can remotely simulate how things might’ve looked like in real; a hi-res scan from a magazine from 1994 that has a photo taken for a CRT screen, then fit it into the same size as the original CG.

While this CG from Giga’s Variable Geo is clean and doesn’t showcase much effects with the dithering, the photo taken has lots of stuff going on with it. Sure, it’s a bit crooked, the lighting settings probably were slightly off, but those are beside the point. The dithering gives off a far smoother look to shading and colours overall, especially on skin and on that yellow shirt. You could fix the colours to represent the in-game CG better, but that’d be removing the point of the scan; it aims to convey how the game’s graphics were seen in real life. Hell, perhaps the colours really were more saturated on a CRT due to the output and screen itself. The way you see the CG on the left on your modern screen right now is, ultimately, wrong. Even with the scan you’re watching a picture of digitised print. I’m not even sure if this is the best way to represent old CGs like this on modern screens, or there already exists some kind of super add-on plugin that would allow natural CRT look. Ignore the darker left on the scan, it wasn’t a clean scan. I’m not to unbind a relatively rare magazine when I only have one copy of it.

If you want to see the uncropped CG and that 1200dpi scan, you click here and here.

Despite our modern screen tech considered superior to whatever tech CRT was used, it still fails to replicate the intended results of older media. The discussion of quality of the media, be it shows, movies or games, should always remind itself that technology has changed. Ignoring the originally intended mode of viewing is common to the point most simply forget something like SNES or PlayStation was never intended to be viewed with completely clean output on a flat screen. Adding scansline effects or whatnot is not a true answer how to get closer to the originally intended image, but we’re getting there. Maybe at some point we might get plugins, addons or maybe even screen modes that would be able to emulate the way CRT screen drew images now that the pixel resolution is high enough to handle non-fixed pixels. I doubt that’s going to be a common thing anyway, as the priorities and goals have changed. Now modding old tech or increasing internal resolutions during emulation is seen as an answer to what are considered deficiencies, when in reality users are forcing an analogue format into modern digital form. It’d be like trying to make a modern car run on whale grease. Can probably be done, but needs some stuff in-between to work properly.

Some of the issues are raised by the kind of new mindset, where power users are trying to get better quality image our from their machines than what was intended. As mentioned, number of games rely on the level of image output that was available at the time and no better. With upscalers and modern tools we’re not only losing the intended viewing display, but also the intended way of seeing the image. The clarity of the image has become so omnipresent and oppressive presence that users are disregarding the reality and the environment of the time when CRTs existed. That above discussion about SNES’ internal resolution and the end output is exactly the issue we’re having here; we have a method to circumvent the whole display issue and use then raw internal output, but at the same time that’s not the output that was ultimately intended. We can’t even showcase the issue properly on the Internet, becasue taking footage of a CRT is rather troublesome and digitised footage does not represent reality in this case. Digital video crunches down the footage into pixels it can understand. Effectively, we’re upscaling something that can, but we never ask if we should. Clearly something like a VHS footage or LD doesn’t look good when it’s blown up from its original size, which is why we have digital remasters. With games the issue is a bit foggier, because these are digital products and in practice can be blown up into size as long as the aspect ratio is kept right. The principle of upscaling the resolution often produces very blur marred image. Of course, emulation is its own thing and some emulators allow increasing emulated machine’s internal resolution, but that’s again trying to fix something that isn’t broken rather than finding the solution to the actual problem; what we see on modern displays do not represent the intended end-product from CRT era.

Maybe microLED might be the answer and key for flat screens surpassing CRTs in every aspect. If not those, then maybe we need to wait whatever will obsolete microLED.

Something new and the countering culture

For some time now, I’ve criticised companies for rehashing the same old IP and the same old stories for a new product. Ever since we got The Force Awakens‘ first trailer really, when I had a post how they’re effectively recycling concepts from the cutting floor. 2016’s Ghostbusters is an extreme example of this in many ways, where it was beat for beat remake of the original. Well, so was Force Awakens and that’s the problem really. At some point all these big franchises that we’re now getting remakes and sequels of and to were something new, something ground breaking even.

Star Wars was born from New Hollywood. It was counter culture, much like how American Graffiti was before it. It something new, something that wasn’t done at the time. The 1970’s America was rather drab places, marred with controversies about war and politics. New Hollywood wanted to move away from what the establishment was doing, and as it tends to be with counter culture, it won and became the new establishment down the line. Goerge Lucas might’ve hated Hollywood and wanted to do this own thing, but during the production of Empire Strikes Back, he became a Hollywood producer himself in practice, and ultimately Return of the Jedi was more of the same, just like The Force Awakens. You have the Vietnam War parallels even stronger, you have the Wookies in form of Ewoks in the movie Lucas wanted in the first movie, but couldn’t have, you have another Death Star and a daring run into it to blow it up. The Force Awakens might “rhyme” with A New Hope, but it’s the second movie to do so in the franchise. It might be what people expected more, at first, but it’s also the deathknell of a franchise. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again. Franchises that keep revisiting and recycling are stale, and the revenues will diminish as more of their audience will turn away.

Star Wars as a franchise is the primary example of this, because it has revisited its stories so many times already. Rogue One was about getting the plans for the Death Star, something people who read the comics, books and played the games already had seen three times already, and it is something that had bled into the popular culture through osmosis. There is a trilogy of books of Han Solo’s childhood and backstory, a series of books that’s superior in every respect what the Solo movie was, despite it lifting elements from said books. In principle Disney made the right decision to purge the old Expanded Universe, as much as that made people disappointed, but what they proceeded to do was nothing new. They began to re-introduce old characters into the new canon, like Thrawn, rather than taking this chance and completely recreate something new. Disney, in effect, took the most popular pieces and simply made marketable works out of them. The short term revenues will be there, but will damage the brand and the franchise on the long run, just like The Force Awakens and the movies following it have done to Star Wars overall. You either have to be new to popular culture to consider The Force Awakens something new, or be a child who has no experience with culture at large yet.

That is an argument with some, that recycling stories for children is nothing new and older people should already grow up or move along. That’s a weak argument. Children more often than not will be entertained by something their parents are heavily invested in, that’s normal generational behaviour. New children’s franchises are successful and popular because they’re new a tailor made for that generation, be it either through tools or paradigms governing a given era. Repeated creation of the same ol’ thing without adding anything new to it will not create new content. It might be good business, especially if you have lots of IPs under your belt that you can reuse and recycle years on end, yet you will come to a point where that’s all the business will be. A competitor that innovates and puts out something new, creating paradigm shifts and shaking the industry standards, that’s where the money is in the long run.

The game business is not exactly analogous with Hollwyood. In Hollywood, things like Ghostbusters 2016 might fly in theory, and in practice fail simply because Hollywood can’t think anything new by itself. Hollwyood has a problem of thinking one-way and nothing else can enter its sphere. Hollwyood as a problem in diversity of thought, if we’re completely honest. You often see big movies like The Last Jedi including something about how capitalism is bad and evil, despite being the most capitalist engines on the planet with lots of gravy of nepotism. Woes is the world and its poor nations when big titles have larger budgets than some nation’s GDP. Hollywood has no touch with the general public or the world at large, it’s an insulated bubble that’s sold on one thing at a time and it shows in the movies. It’s no wonder China has become the main stage, when they’re making movies the general audiences don’t really care for. Certainly one-time event movies will make big bucks, like Avengers: End Game and The Force Awakens, but that works only once or twice. After that you have to introduce something new, something of high quality, something that shows We can do better, we can deliver superior produce. All big movie franchises have failed in this. More often than not, when things fail, the fans are called to be at fault, that their expectations and voices ruin movies and TV-shows, despite these people only hearing everything after the fact.

Look at Star Trek for another example. The nuTrek, the branch-off J.J. Abrams put out, are not Star Trek in its core element. However, because they effectively failed to captivate the audience and the fourth movie is on the chopping block, seeing nobody wants to fund the fourth movie, you got Discovery. If Star Trek Discovery had been affected by the fan reactions and backlash from the Abrams’ movies, it would have been very different show, more akin to The Next Generation if nothing else. Rather, the powers that be decided to make whatever the hell they wanted, and only after the reactions from the audience you began getting all those news pieces how toxic a fandom is and the like. Hollywood doesn’t care whether or not they make films and shows that are faithful to the franchise, or even well written. There are only few people who want to make movies for the sake of making movies, and people who want to produce something of actual worth. These people are going against the Hollywood grain.

Video games are a bit different as they are not just something you consume passively. You can drop an hour or two into a movie or a TV-show, watch something part of your streaming service or once in a whole buy a ticket or a disc from the store. There’s not much investment into a movie, it doesn’t take much of your attention or time. A game does, and a game requires something from the player in regards of skill and participation. Sequels and remakes to games are expected to expand on the play of the game more than on the story. Games that don’t do this languish and die out. Look at the New Super Mario Bros. series of games as an example. Massive first success with the DS title, the first 2D Mario game in years, and after that the series does nothing with it. Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario Bros. 3 are great examples of game sequels that expanded everything about the predecessors. The Japanese SMB2 didn’t and it’s best left as Lost Levels, as it really is a great example of a lacking sequel.

Games like Resident Evil 2 Remake and Final Fantasy VII Remake are hitting the nostalgia boner people have. Nostalgia is extremely easy way to make money, especially with IP and franchises that are still running and popular. They’re safe for busainess due existing fanbase, there’s not much PR that company has to do to be a hit. At least that first few times. REmake2 and 3 only work this one time, and Capcom can’t go on remaking titles like this down the line. At a point customers, even new ones, will ask if this is all.

Popular culture, and culture overall, thrives when something of new worth is added to it. Star Wars originally was an amalgamation of ideas that Lucas had met before that point. Star Wars wasn’t a ripoff or copy of something, but an amalgamation of multiple aspects into one new whole. We haven’t seen this happening for some time now. Rather than having something new on the table, existing concepts are reused and recycled. Marvel movies, Disney Star Wars, 2016 Ghostbusters, that new Charlie’s Angels, New Super Mario Bros., Resident Evil remakes, Final Fantasy VIII Remake, four last Terminator films and so on are all creatively and conceptually bankrupt. None of them have added to the cultural scape what their predecessors did. They are hollow cases, filled with content that will taste sweet for a moment and rot away fast.

Something like original Resident Evil or Star Wars doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It needs someone to say I want to create something of my own and do it. Creativity doesn’t just happen, you have to work for it. You make your own environ and the sources of inspirations. You can’t make a great Star Wars movie if you only grew up with the media and culture surrounding it. You have to read into the world mythos and philosophy, watch old movie serials and films from different cultures, understand core concepts of human psychology if you are to make something that would be like the first Star Wars. If you only understand a story, be it a film, a game, a visual novel, comic or anything else, on its own, you don’t truly understand it all.

Forceful franchising

There has been a slew of bombs in the box office as of late. The latest Terminator met a dark fate of its own, and that reboot of Charlie’s Angels was a disaster to the same extent. If we were to got back few years, you can fill Star Wars into this as well. There are more flicks that fall among these three, but outside having a certain kind of political message to them, all three also had a second common factor; they were all forced.

By forced I mean that whatever the writers, directors etc wanted to do was forced on the franchise. It wasn’t just the political message that what forced, but the whole franchise is mangled and twisted to fit that mould. This forcing square peg into a round hole doesn’t need to be political though, it can range from that to a story that simply doesn’t work. Take the Terminator for example, a two movies series that, at its core, was about how we can choose to live and change the future. Any sequels to Terminator 2 would render the whole point of the two movies completely moot, which all of them did. Any and all stories set after the second have been nothing but microwaving the same leftovers over and over until nothing is left, until someone throws some goop on it to remoisturise it. Ends up being a terrible meal, just like Terminator: Dark Fate ended up being. Future War, the war against the machine seen in the two movies, would’ve made great material as a sequel and prequel at the same time. Showcasing the future that was prevented in all of its post-apocalyptic glory would’ve made great material, worth a trilogy of its own, but the closest thing we ever get to something like this on film was Terminator Salvation and that was terrible. For whatever reason, the franchise’s writers have some kind of hardon to shit on John Connor. Destroying a legacy character that is considered a major part of the franchise to any significant extension rarely goes well with the audience. You don’t need to look any further than Star Wars for another example of this, where all the Original Trilogy characters and concepts have been intentionally eradicated. Killing John Connor in the latest Terminator movie just for someone else to take his spot is not just an insult to Terminator 2, but a slap to the audience’s collective faces.

If you’re doing an entry to a franchise, you don’t get to tell your own story. You have to fit whatever you are intending to tell in that readily made setting without contradicting it too much. Otherwise it will not only cheapen the franchise as a whole, but also take away how believable your work is. Fanfiction writers are a good example for both better and worse, where some can write stories that don’t contradict the pre-established works but also supplants them, raising the overall value of the writing. Sometimes these people get to write new stories for their favourite franchise or similar, but on the other hand, you got the writers who intentionally disregard the pre-set world and proceed to write whatever is cool for them. The whole Mary Sue issue nothing short of common problem, something we see more often in ‘official’ franchise works nowadays. Star Wars again is a sad example, though I’ll cite The Force Unleashed‘s Galen Marek as an example here, as he has a lot of common with Rey, Both are “inspired” by Star Wars’ prototype material and both end up being very powerful in rather unassuming circumstances all the while making large and significant effects to the whole story despite not really having any reason to. I admit though that Marek/Starkiller was trained by Darth Vader, but that alone should raise some hairs. Sure, the whole thing about Sith backstabbing each other wasn’t anything new, but retreading the ground of What if Vader had an apprentice? was rather weak, especially when it turns out Marek ultimately played a large party in setting up the Rebellion… rather than, y’know, the people who clearly set up the Rebellion in Episode III and in previous materials.

I guess the success of the latest Rambo movie should show something Hollywood is missing most of the time. Reheating an old franchise is OK, as long as there is a point and doesn’t serve as a vehicle for something else, be it for an ego project, a trophy project or a political message as its main driver. In (John) Rambo we saw the titular character returning to home after all these years of seclusion and staying away, and while I’d consider that as the definitive end for the character’s story, Rambo: Last Blood visits the character’s everyday life once more, and to show that he can’t escape violence. The audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is rather positive 82%, and apparently most of the movie goers were women, if reports are to be believed. Much like how the gaming press writes to the developers rather than the customers, the movie reviewing professionals tend to review films for Hollywood, and often with an angle. Their score for the movie is 27%, which either shows that the larger audience has completely different taste in movies than the industry, or that the reviewers and Hollywood have lost all touch with the audiences. Most likely it’s partially both, and considering reviewers nowadays are dependent on the studios for review copies and favours, they are more inclined to give positive reviews than not. Ah, to be independent and burn bridges by trying to be honest.

That is not to say that you can’t have your own story or political message in a franchise work. Rather the opposite, but it also requires working the opposite way. Rather than slapping it on the surface like it was some sort of sticker, Hollywood (and games industry) is missing how it needs to be weaved as a part of the natural workings of the framework. Something like Jurassic Park is able to get away with its environmental message by having it as the major part of the work, but also balance it with everything else. Even during the dinner scene, where characters discuss the nature of genetics and whether or not it is for human to meddle with nature, we’re not left with just one side as we continue to marvel all that what has been criticised has left us. Star Trek rarely took the easy path during its more difficult episodes, especially during the best seasons of The Next Generation, while Discovery does the exact opposite, ridiculing and laughing instead of, y’know, taking the hard route and showcase characters as people rather than caricatures. Episodes like Darmok, Inner Light and Chain of Command didn’t only challenge the actors, but also the viewers. The Measure of a Man of course falls into this category as well, putting an ethical dilemma on the forefront, balancing on the issue without directly taking one clear side. While there is a story resolution, the episode still lingers. It is, ultimately, how well something is made. It’s like a good gravy; if you fuck it up, the lumps will make it terrible.

The Moving American Dream

Why is Disney adapting their animated works into live-action? has been a question asked more time than answered. Money is of course the answer, and plays a large, major part in whatever decision Disney does, but it’s also about the good ol’ attitude of Animation isn’t enough. The film, movie, flick or whatever you want to call them, is still considered to be the top form of art in the American culture, which then has spread across the world to some extent. This of course does not apply globally, we know Japan loves its animation about as much as it loves its live-acted ones, but embraces them completely differently from a cultural point of view. Consider porn, for example. You got relatively large amounts of drawn and cartoon porn in Japan and very few will bat an eye to it, but in America, no such industry exist in the same way. The American culture couldn’t have created something like Lemon People in the 1980’s. Hell, technically the comic I compare it to, Heavy Metal, was originally French comic called Métal Hurlant. But when it comes to live performances caught on film, there’s nothing quite Hollywood.

What Golden Age of Hollywood sold to its public, and through that to the culture at large, was a window. What this window sold was glimpses to glory, to love, to murder, to horror and yearning the human soul is heir to. You can see the people through the window and embrace their stories as they’re shown, not told. When you sit a theater to watch a movie, you see through the window the faux-reality presented and you’re sold on it. It’s wish fulfillment, whatever it is. Perhaps we want to see how badly someone else’s life is through gruesomely realistic depiction of some wretched bastard taking another shot of heroin and beating the shit out of one’s family to have something to contrast to our own lives, or perhaps that one glorious, fabulous story about love between two completely opposite people in stance and personality ultimately break the accepted mould the society has set up, coming at the top and showing nothing can stand in the way of true love. The Hollywood film has sold its viewers thousands upon thousands of stories and emotion to the point of becoming the way to do so. Books are fine, but you can’t see the world, not really. Animation offers all the possibilities, but it’s animation, not real. Movies on the other hand, they show you that it’s (fake) real.

The reality of films is not created by just the actors, though the play the most important part. Even when the sets and costumes might be drab and the everything looks fake, as long as the actor can sell you the role and the emotions their characters are going through, you’re sold. Everything else comes after. The sets, the costumes, the special effects, all that is there to sell the reality of things. Even if it’s science fiction or fantasy, as long as you can see it on screen with people, you can believe what you see through that window. Add in the music, that more often than not is intended to support the scenes, pull your heart strings, make it beat harder, seed fear in to the back of your head or have your stomach hurt from laughter.

The live part is important, as that is the true connection we make through the window. While animation does have all the other elements, it lacks the real person on screen. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? doesn’t count, and neither do the Marvel flicks, despite being 90% of computer generated animation rather than the reality itself. That is strange in itself. The Western attitude towards animation became that it is only for children or child minded some time after the Second World War, and perhaps it’s Disney we should put blame on, because pre-war cartoons and animations were for all ages and adult animations were a thing. The cultural shift wasn’t a done deal overnight, or within a decade even, but a gradual shift as movies as a media matured. Perhaps that choice of word puts it in the right place when it comes to what happened; in the minds of people who grew up, things had to be more mature. Silly cartoons with silly characters doesn’t cut it, and the sentiment seems to have spread from there. Animation, despite allowing impossible depictions, just doesn’t stand up to the window of reality. With most big even blockbuster movies the animation has taken its role as depicting the impossible while you still have some resemblances of that window to reality. Superman told you that you’d believe a man can fly, and that was a massive special effects extravaganza for its time. Now, it’s quint, something anyone and their mothers could do via Windows Movie Maker’s special effects tab, or whatever the modern alternatives are.

Perhaps the example how the media are seen are best embodied with 1980’s films-into-cartoons groove, where movies like Robocop and Rambo saw Saturday morning cartoons made out of them. You could give any film franchise this treatment, like Aliens. Well, it never got made, but you had Conan the Adventurer to take its place. Perhaps it’s the fact that kids tend to watch more cartoons, but is that because cartoons are more made for kids? Or is that there aren’t cartoons that are made for adults in the same manner? Perhaps that’s what the Marvel and other comic book movies are, cartoons for adults. We can still call them live-action because there’s an actor on the screen and some live places, but majority of it is special effects and computer rendered backgrounds.

Whatever we call Hollywood to be, an empty and vapid cesspool of actors and directors living in a bubble, or peddlers of dreams and stories, it sold us the culture of film and they are perceived, for better or worse. The appreciation of film is at the top of the ladder. A comic isn’t enough, a book isn’t enough, a cartoon isn’t enough, a TV-show isn’t enough. It can be made into a movie. A million dollar production with bombastic soundtrack that shows the richness of the story and the depth of the characters with fully realised and believable world. All seen through that one window, the silver screen. The film is the end-all top of American art, where all other forms of art go become one unit. Movies have cultured a near religion around them, a modern myth of its myth and importance above all. No other form of media can compete with them. Well, except computer and video games that have larger markets.

Movies are inherently passive, you are sitting there only to watch and listen, never participate. Games have been chasing movies in presentation and how they tell their stories since early on, never really realising that the player is the actor and his actions are the story worth, not the readily set scenes. The mindset we still have from movies and other media is that we are presented a story separate from the consumer, something we must observe. Games inherently break this, unless the game is stopped for that story to take place. There are attempts where these same scenes are set during play, where characters may yell stuff during a boss fight, but that’s still passively listening to a performance. Gaming at its core fights against this, as the core is still from wholly different culture of games, not of theater. Games are active storytelling; the mission to collect five coins is not the story, but the action of collecting of those coins is. In a movie, you’d get a montage or a music scene to skip the boring walking bits, but for a game those walking bits are the main story, and that main story changes with every player. No player plays the same way and films will never be able to have that. Whenever you replay a game, it will be a slightly different story. Perhaps your character is rogue instead of a knight this time around. Movies never change. You can not take a game and make it a movie without breaking it and vice versa. You can take the framing of the game and make that into a movie, but never the game itself. It’s no wonder streaming and eSports are popular nowadays as those could be argued to be the only true representation of games in passive form; they are live theater with no script other than what the game allows.

It’s not surprise lots of film makers want to get into making games, but more often than not, their involvement has produced largely low-quality products. A movie doesn’t make a good game. Framing games in terms of storytelling like movies will end up with a lacklustre game. Viewed as a film it may be a good product, but at that point you might as well make your game into an animated feature, or take the same amount of money and produce a movie. It’d be outright laughable to say any story would be too weird or hard to make a movie out of. Hell, the amount of weird shit out there due to all the indie movies we’ve seen through the years beats games in the weirdness factor by a mile or three. Hideo Kojima probably won’t be making a movie, because Hollywood and film makers overall don’t understand how games truly tell the story, and this seems to apply the same with many developers. There is a deep contradicting element how games tell their story, and how they are made to tell the story. Part of it is because passive storytelling is glorified. Games are, after all, about choice. The passive approach stifles this. Some games manage to weave the story where the player is in-person all the time without any breaks in the way, while others intend to tell one story and one story only. In a game this can only be done by breaking the game itself and make the player passive parts, because traditional storytelling expects you to sit back and watch as the teller tells his tale. Thank God for Skip button.

Companies like Nintendo and Capcom consistently have taken advantage of movies and television as vehicles to promote their main products, the games. Street Fighter the Movies might be a terrible movie on its own rights, but it is an excellent vehicle to make the consumer aware of the brand. It doesn’t need to be accurate to the games as long as its remotely similar and the same names. The movie, when it comes to Capcom, is secondary. It’s not the end-all product. It’s brings in money and consumer awareness, both of which are turned to produce new games and that awareness is taken advantage. More people will be aware of Monster Hunter as a brand whenever that film comes out, despite MH World breaking series records. Yet Capcom’s stance on the movies is that they’re great marketing vehicle, just big budget commercials. Y’know, on the same treatment level as the detergent commercial on telly, just with more in-depth plot and characters with music to go with it. There has been a slow shift how movies are seen with new generations that have grown with computer and video games, and the older generations who value Hollywood and films more don’t seem to understand what makes a game tick.

Nevertheless, movies’ position hasn’t really changed in the last fifty odd years, and probably won’t change until something that could kick it off the pole. In many ways, movies took the place live theater had. Gaming probably won’t dethrone films despite being a bigger industry, as its origin and place in consumer media inhabits a different ecosystem. At some point a new form of entertainment will kick in, but much like how movies are successors to theater, I’ll bet the dethroning will be done by a media that will grow out from films. Same goes for video games. It might not be until technology advances to some unimaginable point in the future we won’t be alive to see, but progress can’t be stopped. Unless we manage to nuke ourselves back to the stone age. Better learn how to make pine cone animals while you still can.