The act of an Artista

I’ve been recently on a slight nostalgia bent with giant robots, and I decided to revisit a franchise I didn’t really have any interest to check out outside its designs, the 1986 comic Five Star Stories, (which is still running) illustrated and written by in/famous Mamoru Nagano. Nagano is somewhat a divisive person, mostly known for his extremely flowy and detailed mecha designs. Outside his own works, he’s known for mechanical designs for Heavy Metal G-Gaim, but his career includes fashion designing, making music, directing and writing. He tends to rub a bit wrong with some people, as a person he is strong willed to put it diplomatically, and is overprotective of his works to a fault. He has his own publishing company to make sure he has reins on Five Star Stories, called Toypress. He sounds like a person who just wants to protect his rights as an artist, but the stories from the animation and comic industry paints him an asshole at times, sometimes obsessively hands on projects to the point of detriment. Nagano’s visual style has always been heavy on the detail, and whenever he can, he won’t budge on the quality. Nagano considers that his works on L-Gaim were never incorporated properly, mostly due to his style being rather different. For something like L-Gaim this isn’t really as problem, but with a show like Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, you need to consider the existing motifs and design language, something Nagano understood only later on. Ollie Barder has rather extensive interview with Nagano Forbes that I warmly recommend reading.

Guess what time it is?

My nostalgia of course lead me to return to Nagano’s Gothicmade, an animated film he started making at least since 2006, perhaps even earlier. When it was announced, people were rather hype about it, as Nagano’s style and designs are still considered some of the best in the mecha genre. People were very eager to see what his new project would be like, with it taking to come out so long, when projects get stretched beyond their initial goals, people tend to find other things to occupy their attention. The movie finally debuted in 2012 in theatres, and has been rerun every now and then for limited time. As the first Japanese animated movie in 4K with D-Cinema 5.1, Nagano has stated that this movie won’t be leaving the theatres, because that is the only way he considers the proper form to experience his movie. As it happens with me, a lot of this kinda slipped out of memory, as things tend to do when you’re revisiting something you were hyping up over a decade ago.

Nagano isn’t the first artista, auteur, artist or whatever you want to name him to do something like this. All creators have an intended way for experiencing their production, which the consumer can break, much to the dismay of the creator. To use an old and worn out example, an elaborate set of dishes are often meant to be consumed in order and in particular fashion. Breaking the intended way of eating may, for example, produce the wrong taste due to incorrect order or because such. Similarly, a comic creator may only want his works to be read through printed medium, with specifically chosen paper and carefully curated choice of colours in order to ensure that not only his vision, but the accuracy of it, is best preserved for the reader. Then some slob just squirts ketchup from his hotdog and smudged shit up and glues the pages together. It happens. Some musician supposedly don’t like their music heard outside live concerts, and disdain recordings. That might be just the money issue, it’s a bit harder to pirate live concert in its best form than just ripping off a CD or music stream. Akira Ifukube didn’t want his compositions for Godzilla to be available separate from the movie until the 1980’s, as in his view the film and music had to be together to have the best effect; that the two complemented each other and both would be half as weak without the other.

Nagano isn’t the first one to argue for the sake of integrity of his work. While respectable, it could also be argued that home consumer technology has already passed Gothicmade. 4K image resolution has been passed some time ago with 8K screen being the new standard and we’re already seeing proper research and advancements made into 16K, with some production examples already being showcased, like Sony’s MicroLED display tech. When it comes to sound, home users can get fine sound, if not sometimes even better sound, from their home systems or headphones than what a theatre can offer. However, not everyone has the money, or want, to build themselves a home theatre to take full advantage of what they have. Screen sizes have become largely academical issue with screens and projects being able to throw image absolutely everywhere.

That is of course beside his main point. It’s not that home technology is well up to the task of showcasing Gothicmade to the home audiences, but that it is not intended to be viewed at home with any sort of system available there. You’re supposed to your way out there to get a ticket, then get into the theatre with other people of shared interest, sit on a cushion away from all the stuff you have at home, all the little mundane things that may scratch behind your dark unconscious mind, relax and take int the (supposedly) breath taking visuals on the screen, hear sound mixed as intended and proper volume and simply experience the marvel of the work. That is, if the work can actually deliver its intended effect.

Gothicmade was in the works for some six years because it was handled by Nagano himself and other small group of people. Nagano of course took the bulk of most tasks, and I recall jokes how he and three others worked the movie in his basement, which probably isn’t too far off the mark. Budget has never been revealed, but working in 4K in 2006 probably cost an arm and a leg, and then some. For all the reviews I’ve read throughout the years, Gothicmade has had the same criticism; it’s rather badly animated outside vast, spanning shots of the environment, it has pretty music and good voice acting, but action is very much lacking despite the detailed robot designs. The story is described something between trite and interesting, but ultimately dull. All this really shows in the trailers we’ve seen thus far as well, though most of them try to get around this and show the best bits.

Note how the trailer faps at the pretty robots by hammering home with the line How beautiful robot

There has been numerous theories why Gotchimade was kept in such a small team. Most often it’s assumed that Nagano doesn’t exactly like his works being adapted, after he was disappointed in the 1980’s movie adaptation of Five Star Stories, despite that movie has praised to heaven and back how beautiful it is. Incidentally, that movie will last the test of time better, as digital video dates itself extremely fast. Five Star Stories, for being on film, will ultimately find itself being remastered in higher resolutions as long as the original masters are intact, and even then magic can be made happen to up the quality. Unless Gothicmade‘s raw material is done on something that scaled at will, for example if everything was done with vectors. Somehow I doubt that. Five Star Stories was criticised to be pretty to look at, while light on story, but if we believe the reviews, Gothicmade fares no better, if not stumbling worse.

Then again, maybe Five Star Stories looks too detailed and overtly animated for its own good. Boatloads of cash and cocaine went into making these scenes, probably killing an animator or two. Nothing in Gothicmade‘s trailer comes even closer to this in terms of quality

Nagano probably is well aware of the criticism he has received from the viewers. I doubt any of that has affected his view on the work, as he has retconned Gothicmade as a major part of Five Star Stories comic, which some have found detrimental while others take it as a breath of fresh air, renewing the IP’s vigor. Part of me can’t help but wonder if Nagano is not willing to let his movie out of theatres because he knows of its value, or the lack of it, but wants to keep it as closely guarded secret as possible. Something that is kept limited from others has more perceived value after all, it makes people want it more. This of course ups the perceived value, and the holder of course gains more vertical value in eyes of others. This sort of thing can be seen on the Internet in various communities. Someone might have an image of a rare game and is refusing to share it, as that want adds value to the holders and others in the community. The same applies to scans and other materials, licensed, copyrighted or not. Perhaps Nagano knows that Gothicmade is rather lacklustre movie, but holding it at bay will keep its value up. Perhaps I’m blowing shit out as usual, maybe he really believes it to be a masterpiece and simply doesn’t want anyone to experience it the wrong way, though I am sure there would be licensing firms willing to simply sub the movie and have a limited run in local theatres or festivals.

Then again, Gothicmade‘s music and artwork has been released for home consumers with CDs, books, magazines, model kits and toys. Nagano is willing to license the work for other products, but home release is denied seven years after its initial debut. Hey, it gets asses into seats and apparently makes money that way, no reason to pay further distributors. You might argue that it’s not about the money, but it’s always about the money. Artists are just shit with finances by default and often won’t admit it or can’t even ask the proper sums before learning lack of finances the hard way. Does this serve the product itself to any significant extent? Perhaps it’s not about the movie experience. Considering how worshipping Nagano’s fans can get, perhaps Gothicmade would be best treated as some architectural painting you can’t see elsewhere but on the spot, a painting on the wall or a building itself. Something worth a mundane pilgrimage, or to be checked out when you’re around the neighbourhood.

The creator doesn’t matter, but the creator matters

One of the tenants this blog upholds is that The creator doesn’t matter, meaning that the consumer should not concern themselves over the product’s creator as long as the quality is up to standards. While we can only hope to fight brand loyalty, or even recognise we’re leashed by one, we nevertheless willingly recognise that as consumer we are willing to make illogical and outright stupid decision in regards of purchases as long as it is something we value. Like anything from a company that hasn’t produced anything noteworthy since 2007 or thirty years old comic books that would land you in jail in due to dated contents. Of course, the value may not be just on the product, but the prestige it delivers either vertically or horizontally, that our peers value these purchases in equal amount. It really sounds like bran loyalty ultimately is kind of secret dick measuring contest, sometimes a bit too practically.

Company products are always easy to see as mass of pieces anyone can produce, despite so many times a face is attached to certain brand or franchise for obvious reasons. Video game producers and directors are of course one of the best examples of this, as they have a full team underneath them, and in reality is that the actual work is done almost everyone else. It’s like having a model claiming the work for a painting. Overtly simplified and harshly reduced, but that needs to be done sometimes. Then again, as long as there is a clear models and blue prints how a game is designed and build, something like how a Super Mario Bros. or Metal Gear game works, others can easily surpass previous entries. This has happened time and time again with games, films, comics and so on, which really is the core where the take The creator doesn’t matter stems. While it would be a bit overzealous to claim “anyone could do it,” the reality is that anyone can’t really do it without proper experience, training, know-how and skills. All these can be attained, and sometimes it is worth getting someone with different sets of skills and experiences in order to gain a more improved product. I’m sure you can quote a story or two, or a game or three, where change of developer team, director or perhaps even company altogether resulted in a superior game in your opinion.

Within certain creative fields it isn’t rare to see people hired to replicate a style of visuals and/or writing. China, for example, is brimming with people who just plagiarise classic works for pay as close as possible. It’s pretty huge business. Asian countries overall seem to favour studying the visual arts via copying works of art, which then helps people to spin off to their own direction. This is rather apparent with Japanese comic industry, where assistants learn the ropes and ways to work from their boss, and often end up visually similar style before they begin to develop further. Sometimes they don’t. Of course, we have people who write, draw, colour, letter and do their whole comics themselves. Stan Sakai of Usagi Yojimbo fame is one of them, doing everything himself from the start, something the likes of Stan Lee were surprised and appreciated like no other. Don Rosa is another, though he is far more a victim of how Disney runs their comic business. Disney themselves has never produced comics as-is, they’ve always had some other company under the produce them for themselves. They’ve got companies for different markets, like Egmont that handles parts of Europe.

A competent illustrator/writer combo/individual could replicate either aforementioned man’s work just fine. In actuality it wouldn’t be the same, but at least the spirit of the work should be. Depending. It might end up being rather terrible, but the way images are drawn and stories told might be on the spot, but it might still end up being terrible for bad story overall or other factors. Hardcore fans might crucify such works, but as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has shown multiple times during its comic runs, people can make the core justice, even if it isn’t the same. Hell, that argument should apply to Don Rosa as well. Nevertheless, the point still stands; a creator can be replaced, it just matters with whom and what the results will be.

That’s half of but the creator matters from the title. The other half really is that despite the consumer shouldn’t need to concern himself with the creator (after all, the product should always be the best it could be [fat chance it ever being though]) the whole brand/creator loyalty thing aside, the industries and providers themselves really should care about them, but not in the manner the consumer does. To use Don Rosa further as an example, he is one of those comic creators who was, and still is, massively popular in Europe. He is known as the only true heir to Carl Bark’s legacy regarding Disney Duck comics, for his detailed and heavily worked illustrations, as well as incredibly well written stories standing atop historical accuracy and Bark’s legacy in comics. You’d imagine him and his works were treated like golden goose, a money printing machine, which they seemingly are considering Rosa’s Duck works constantly get reprinted. However, one of the many reasons why Rosa quit drawing in 2008, other being his heavily damaged vision, is because the comic industry, especially if you have to deal with anything with Disney, tends to fuck you in the ass. In his Don Rosa Collection Epilogue from 2013, Rosa tells how badly he has been treated by pretty much all the companies he has ever worked with regarding the Duck comics. His works gets published without permission, his name got abused without his consent to the point he had to trademark his name to prevent such thing, the sheer lousy money he was being paid per-page, a system as archaic that Carl Barks worked under it since the 1950’s and of course the stress all of it brought. Imagine if a musician would be paid per note or something, and the moment he gives the song to be pressed, he loses all rights to it and would never see a dime from further releases or any royalties from radio plays and the like. An archaic system like this, with work-for-hire and losing everything you do for the company, is one of the reasons why the Image team Marvel in 1990’s to form their own comic studios. We are talking about people not even getting their original comic pages back from the prints. If the editors felt like something would’ve been better changed, the author most likely found out only when he bought the magazine himself from the comic stand.

For a long a long time the creative industries have been struggling with the problem of giving the creators the respect they deserve as people who have made the products themselves, as people who have been the ones to rake in the money, and as people who work as the faces of these products and companies. It’s easy to say that it’s all the businessmen in the suits doing that, thinking only about money, which never really hits the nail properly. Creators themselves downplay other people they work with, their egos clashing and sometimes even running companies and businesses down to a rut. More often than not these artsy creators find themselves facing the reality of business themselves on the long, with George Lucas with the success of Star Wars facing completely new mind-shattering business decision during The Empire Strikes Back‘s filming and development, and Todd McFarlane becoming a hypocrite for not giving visiting creators the rights to the characters they created or respect over them, a thing that got him to leave Marvel. The rosy image of creators being oppressed by businessmen is apt only, after which the creators become oppressors themselves, or oppress other creators in the same house in various manners. Freelancers, despite having one helluva weight on their back, may be happier not being marred with built-in hell. Nevertheless, the least these could get, anyone in any given industry really, is respect from their peers and people they work for. The customer shouldn’t care, but too many times we have to ask if we want to pay for a product from a company who fucks with its consumers and own creators.

Multi-disk/c

When looking back at these last few generations of gaming consoles, sometimes it seems like they have been exceptional in some ways. Not in terms of games, quality or the like, but the machines themselves. Outside Nintendo’s offerings, the HD Twins, as they were called, don’t really separate themselves too much anymore from what they do and how. Both Sony and Microsoft tend to push similar boundaries with their consoles without really doing anything special on the side. Microsoft has that whole Windows ecology to work with, and the Xbox brand has become their universal mark of gaming, more or less. Sony’s jumping the multiplatform cross-over play, for whatever reason, but I guess now that developers can make shit work across all major platforms is a positive thing to have in your back pocket. Then you have the whole upgraded systems thing, which hasn’t been a thing since the second generation of consoles, but came back rather hard with all the new upgraded consoles all the three major console companies have been pumping out. Guess the first modern example would be DSi.

One thing that seems to be making a comeback is games spanning multiple discs. Historically speaking this has always been a thing in gaming, with old PC games spanning multiples diskettes. I remember Beneath the Steel Sky coming on fifteen disks on the Amiga. X-Plane 10 supposedly spans eight DVDs. Everquest 2 was on ten CDs when it was released. Command and Conquer may have only come on two discs, one of each having campaign for the two respectable sides. Consoles didn’t have multi-cartridge games in similar manner due to how you can’t just yank the cart from the console without the danger of damaging both the console and the game. After all, there is a live current going through the cart, it is effectively part of the machine itself. Disk and discs are read and not part of the PCB, after all.

Not to say multi-disc games have been gone at any point really. The X360 used DVDs and many of its larger games came on multiple discs compared to their PlayStation 3 counterparts. Lords of Shadow is one, for example, and came on two discs. Blue Dragon supposedly required three. The Blu-Ray Disc, or BD, really allowed just to throw everything on the disc uncompressed. It’s sound files that most often take the space hungry spot, be it music or voices. Mostly voices nowadays. Because of practices like this, game filesizes have been increasing steadily to the point of stupid. Games that are several tens of gigabytes, or perhaps even hundreds, could be shaved down in size by compressing and packing things properly, but it seems that skill has been lost to modern game developers. Maybe it’s because all the tools and engines that are around are readily made and nobody really wants to tackle a problem nobody sees a problem, at least not in the industry itself. Consumers on the other hand tend to groan when they have to wait for several hours for their game to download when it’s a digital entry, not to mention shit has to be installed. I miss the days when I could throw a game inside a console and let ‘er rip, but nowadays I need to sit back and wait another thirty minutes it to install. There’s a damn good reason I keep playing Switch more than PS4 nowadays.

It’s strange to think that multiple discs per game would be a detriment in itself as it has been a standard practice, well, since the first floppy diskette couldn’t hold all the DnD characters some nerd had cooked up during his university days. Reading a bit around, I can’t really find any bonafide dislike toward multi-disc games, but there are some individuals here and there that seem to consider the industry is pushing for digital-only due to lack of space per disc, like Allie-RX, a Youtuber of some sorts. Should we consider multiple discs to be a valid reason to further a push for digital-only materials? Hard to say, but it might as well be one of the arguments, but with modern politics, the argument wouldn’t sway to the direction of lack of space. It’d be about how it is more environmentally more sound to have digital-only, that we’re going to save the planet by not printing all that plastic. Wording which is largely horse shit. As space limitation on the disc, BD XL has 128 Gb of space, and 4K Ultra HD BD discs offer some 100Gb. While we talk about terabytes and petabytes in modern computing as the standard large-scale units, we a game taking over 100Gb should raise an eyebrow and make you question what exactly is taking all that space. As mentioned, it’s largely the uncompressed data on the disc and the lack of know-how regarding compression and packing. We’re well past the era when developers had to develop new compression algorithms to shove everything to a disc or cut down the number of discs. For example, Capcom had to come up new effective ways to compress all sprite data of Mega Man X4 in order not to run out of space. The PlayStation really sucked for 2D sprite games with its limited RAM, and some companies had to come up clever ways to change the sprites in memory on the fly. Then you have companies that want to go for the flashy stuff, like Square and its FMVs in same era Final Fantasy games. Despite their quality and compression, these FMVs still took majority of the discs’ space. If you’d remove the FMVs from the games, each game would’ve fit into one CD just fine. That, I would argue, is where modern mindset comes from. It’s not that there isn’t enough space on modern discs, but that developers don’t need to concern themselves with limitation of space. Much like so many other aspects of game development, space is a thing that has lost its limitation and it is very easy just to let it bloat like a dead body in the water. So much rotten hot air inside, and the colour ain’t really healthy either.

Digital isn’t really a solution to the problem the industry supposedly faces. Not everyone has multiple terabytes of free space on their computers. Some people have the minimum required amount of space bloat on their PCs, some can’t even use external devices in of themselves to expand the memory. It’s a case where we may have all this space in our hands, yet there are surprising amount of consumers limited by it. An easy argument for streaming perhaps, but streaming anything has its own issues. It might be a solution for films, music, television and Visual Novels, but not for computer or console games. There is no real solution to any of this, though I guess HVD would be one if they ever managed to finalise this decade old tech and launch it commercially as BD’s successor, but BD still has life left to it. Still, 3.9 Tb of space on a single disc should be more than enough for all your needs regarding movies or games. I doubt people are willing to pay 100 bucks for a movie ever again, unlike what they did with VHS and LDs back in the day. Of course, the industry could also stop wasting space, but that ain’t happening.

Music of the Month; Midnight Chaser

Oy, why wasn’t there a post on Sunday? We’re creeping towards the end of quarterly year, so things are busy. Due to this, I’ve been doing some overtime shifts. Last weekend happened to be at night, so it was either sleep or writing a post, so guess which one I picked. Good side on this is that the salary I’m getting should cover me a server, which I might or might not use to set up something on the long run.

There hasn’t been much happening that I’d need to cover per se in this month’s starter. We reached 1k posts and that almost went by unnoticed, I’m not exactly the one to start celebrating such things. Nevertheless, there was a Different take on customers which I used to vent some stuff off. Not the usual kind, but taken from the maker’s point of view. Largely.

With the new Guilty Gear hitting the scene with trailers, those posts have been getting some attention. If I were some kind of grubby attention whore, or just someone seeking to expand and take advantage of current trends, I would’ve started dishing out GG design posts despite the hit they would’ve taken in quality. Nice to see people checking ’em out, but it also made me realise I need to rename the posts to include a direct reference to Xrd now that the upcoming game is the latest one. I’ll probably modify the existing posts to include the new game’s designs at some point, whenever I got enough materials at hand (and time to do ’em) all the while new entries will cover both Xrd and whatever this new game will be called. I hope it’ll get a proper title with four Xs.

I got a topic for a new mecha design post as well with the announcement of industrial design version of good ol’ Gundam. Now what makes it industrially designed is anyone’s guess, but probably the fact that Ken Okuyama designed Enzo Ferrari and has some pull. The topic would be hip design and the main approaches it has, open, skirted and what I call diapers. The linked Gundam has that diaper design, as did most old Transformers, so there’s some stuff to cover and wager how they function in comparison to each other.

There was relatively interesting discussion about game storytelling, where I discussed the complete opposite from the other person, with me sticking to the whole player-actions narrative approach while this other person promoted the idea of having separate sequences for clear storytelling, like FMV sequences. I could marriage this with critique why Hideo Kojima should move into making movies rather than games, seeing he has surrounded himself with Hollywood-types and lives in that bubble after leaving Konami, but we’ll see how that goes ends up.

Maybe the last proper topic I’ve simmered in my head during my downtime has been about the new push for digital-only games because one Blu-ray disc is not enough. Last of Us 2 was reported to come on two discs and this was somehow seen a detriment. As if games historically haven’t come on multiple discs or diskettes in the past. The push nevertheless was that this is somehow a great negative, and the post should cover how that’s bullshit. The last few generations have been exceptions on multiple disc games due how large BD space ultimately is, tho 360 games sometimes came on two discs instead of one due to size limitations, like Lords of Shadow is on two discs on 360 while on one with PS3. It’s like people thinking upgraded console is a new thing, despite early generations doing that willy nilly, or that the SNES is Nintendo’s second console.

I might finally do something Lemon People related, but it’d be a gallery of front covers that would get updated as I manage to slowly expand the collection. It appears I am aiming to collect all the published magazines, for better or worse.

This being a new month, I should remind you to take your knives and sharpen them, after which you should oil ’em. Majority of slips and cuts in the kitchen are because of dull knives slipping from their intended target. Cutting a tomato with a nice sharp knife is just so much nicer than trying to force an unsharp slab through it.

Well, work beckons, though when this goes live I’ll be fast asleep.

It looks like a movie

For some time now, I’ve been wondering what has been the definitive line splitting the old Star Wars and the Disney ones for yours truly. Outside the whole thing that their quality is questionable at best, outright offensively idiotic at worst, the one thing that ultimately stood out was how things were filmed, and ultimately written. This will be largely personal musings without any writer’s approach I usually employ.

Lucas’ directing and camerawork is not suited for big budget movies, as we saw during the Prequel films. Nevertheless we saw evolution of both during those three movies, where characters gained more meat on them as people who trained the actors in acting and effectively pre-directed them were brought in. The scripts, however, were more questionable in quality, but their tone, intention and motions were almost always on-point the same; as if it were real things happening.

This is largely how Lucas has always worked with his films, from building the sets to how he writes them and directs. Filming too, if he can help it. The world as it would be if these things were real. While the movies have the familiar structures to them and certain beats are made, the documentarian approach Lucas used is largely absent from Disney’s Star Wars movies. This approach was costly to him in terms of budget, as special effects, practical effects, the sets and the actors all had to blend in one shot together seamlessly and naturally. For example, in Episode IV after Death Star blows up Alderaan, we get a wide shot from inside of Millennium Falcon, showing the insides of the ship, Chewbacca playing games with the droids and Luke training with Obi-Wan. This shot could have been done cheaper by tightly focused shots that excludes the background, but the way things were filmed, as if they were real rather than a movie, doesn’t allow such budget conscious choices.

Furthermore, levity or jokes come from events and situations naturally. For example, C-3PO in Episode V often works as someone who brings some levity to the events and situation without breaking the tone. It comes through his natural being and interaction, unforced by external factors. For example, when 3PO breaks between Han’s and Leia’s tender moment within the Falcon, the audience doesn’t consider this as a forced joke. Rather, it is 3PO’s nature not to consider such things in his excitement. We saw some of this in Episode IV  as well, but how trusty he is with others to large degree when he has not foreknowledge. However, we should also consider him a strong diplomat, which 3PO shows rather well with the Ewoks in Episode VI. Sure, Lucas didn’t direct Episode V, or have much to do it with it creatively, but this just shows that Star Wars can be done right when in right hands. Nevertheless, the core story was still his.

The Disney Star Wars movies feel like they’ve been scripted and filmed like movies. The best example of this really is the start of The Last Jedi, where you have Your momma jokes shoved into a very deadly serious moment, breaking the tone of the scene and the whole sequence, especially when slapstick Force jokes are then put on the show when General Hux gets dragged on the floor in order to humiliate him. It doesn’t look natural, it doesn’t feel like what these characters would do if the movie was shot if it was real.

While we can always argue that the Disney movies are well made, that there is large effort to have the best look there is to them, the same can be said and argued for all the previous movies. It is easier and cheaper to make a movie look absolutely terrific, beautiful even, than what it was during making of Star Wars or Episode I. None of the modern CGI fests wouldn’t exists in their modern form if Lucas had not pushed the envelope in making his movies, something which ILM opened doors to other production to be lifted to new heights visually and technically, like Jurassic Park. The whole of Marvel movies would not just be possible without Lucas’ way to push technical limitations on the side, and at times it mostly seemed like Lucas was making movies to have something to edit or to try new tricks out. Digital filming broke its first grounds properly with the Prequels, for better or worse, but none of that really exists in Disney films. They’re rather safe to the point a fault. They are movies by the numbers, always using whatever trends currently are about, which is especially clear how Disney Star Wars and Marvel movies largely share the similar forced comedic, and the forced messages that are less than subtle.  Outside plastering Yoda’s face on a box of grapes, I can’t really think of any other way Disney has pushed Star Wars or film making onward. Sure, Lucas did franchise Star Wars like no other as well, but his was nothing compared to what Disney did. Well, maybe making Star Wars toys shelfwarmers should be considered some kind of achievement.

Remember when Star Wars somewhat subtle? Somehow I can’t help but think how Jar Jar’s comedy would be extremely fitting for Disney movies, seeing all the characters want to either act like a wall or a clown.

You could say that making Star Wars as by-the-books film should be enough, but it seems all the people who have been in the leading roles during Disney’s unwatchful eye, it’s a thing hard to actually pull off properly. Some would argue Lucas couldn’t with the Prequels, and with the media turning their tails on The Last Jedi, now calling it controversial instead of arguing how subverting it is, Star Wars is something that can be easily fucked up badly. Subverting expectations also have to lead into something of quality, something that would end in a positive net gain, which sorely is lacking with most stories that try to fail consumer expectations with some twist or another. Conventions and cliches exist for a reason. Denying them as sort of trash from the get-go is not only unproductive, but stupid. Not even a master storyteller can make a grand tale if all he does is fail the expectations of the audience. This doesn’t mean that the teller has to capitulate telling the tales and events the audience wants, but that he strikes with something even better, something that works even better than what they imagined. Unlike this blog.

Perhaps all this is really why Disney Star Wars feels so much like fan fiction. Not only are the new, original characters of the writers better than the original, they’re also eclipsing their roles altogether and failing to have any interesting developments and movements without the originals. Hell, I once argued that recasting all the characters with new actors should have been considered to continue their story after Episode VI, but if the rumours of Disney still paying royalties to Lucas due to him being original creator of most of these characters, it’s very easy to understand why they’d choose to opt killing the old cast in favour of their own. Also the reason why they excised the Expanded Universe, no need to pay any of the previous people anything when you can just push your own stuff. Just trickle an old character here and there as fanservice, that’ll keep the nerds happy. Now that Bob Iger’s autobio is out, we can see him throwing Lucas under the bus, as it states that George Lucas hates Star Wars. He isn’t the only one nowadays. Iger going on about how he didn’t appreciate Disney’s hard work on the new films and how Lucas didn’t like how all of his ideas were ignored reads like a hit piece. No matter how much hard work and effort you put into something, it can just a well amount to nothing. Well, in Star Wars case it has effectively become a tainted franchise thanks to Iger and the rest of the people from whoever that new Lucasfilm head was to J.J. You can’t blame Lucas for you own massive failures. They wanted to take the movies in their own direction, and that direction led to dropping revenues title by title. I can completely understand why Lucas would dislike Disney’s Star Wars, it’s really dumb after all. Most of the audiences seem to think the same way.

Well, can’t say I was there to begin with. The aforementioned Yoda branded grapes and the first initial shots and trailers we saw of The Force Awakens put me off a lot. It didn’t look right, the atmosphere was off, there was something in the back of my head saying this won’t end up well. That little voice of experience has saved me loads of money and headache, and I can honestly say that was the point when I bailed the ship. I wasn’t the only one, but lately we’ve seen more and more news about fans “quitting” Star Wars and kids being lost to other franchises. The franchise in itself is not at fault, but the way it has been managed, the way stories have been written, the goods and services that have been put out, are. I guess Star Wars is like a zombie of a long-past friend now, with some still flocking around for whatever reason, but the rest are just veering off due to the reeking, festering dead flesh.

Different take on customers; The Outrage must subdue

Every hundred posts we take a different stance on customers and industry. Except something different from the usual.

Call it Cancel Culture, Outrage crowd or whatever you want, what gives the everyday street walker, an anonymous in a crowd, any right to call someone’s work to be cut, his job to be terminated, his daily tasks ended, simply because you don’t like what he thinks? Actions to remove someone from a their work or aiming to cut their method livelihood shows that there is no more room for discussion from whomever wishes to ‘cancel’ a person, they’ve lost whatever debate or matter there might’ve been at hand. At what point do you as a consumer, a customer or as a random person consider for a moment that going after someone over words or whatever he thinks, realise that you’ve become a monster? Men call others monsters, but never realise they’ve become such instead. This isn’t the abyss looking back or the like. This is just people turning bad in zealous drives. Road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

I hated writing that, but the outrage isn’t just like this. It seems to seep into the layers of global culture and stain it. Even steel will soak oils and grease into its being, and when worked on, it will be porous. No weld will have proper penetration. Only thing you can really do is heat it up and burn all the staining oils for a purer metal. Culture  is like an ever-shaping metal with new bits and bops added in, tempered again and again, heated to remove unwanted elements only to be added in again as we find something lacking. The ones doing the tempering and smithing are the people. Just as people who don’t know how to mix the ingredients in proper ratios will ruin the metal, so are there people who don’t realise how much they’re degrading the works around them.

Imagine having a small, vocal minority bemoaning something because of their believes or find offensive to someone, it doesn’t need to be them, and manage to either censor someone or get items from the stores’ shelves. I’m rather certain most of you can pick up some event that fits the description, for better or worse. All I can say to this is Stop it. We have come to a point in societies that people have become blind to issues at hand, and some have become fanatical about them. Climate change, while an issue for certain, has become such a matter to some that it depresses them. While not exactly a laughing matter, it shows how every day life has become boring and without challenges. Then again, what do you expect when people want governments to ruin themselves and their economies with Basic income? That there are people who’d devalue money and work itself by getting free living in exchange by simply existing within a nation. What’s Basic income? In short, a mode where the government gives some sum of money for people to live on for nothing. Finland tested this, and it failed. It was supposed to promote the people to find work that’d pay better and make their lives better during that time, but turned out it didn’t. 600€ is not a lot of money. For basically nothing, it is. That’s about the same sum students get for studying. There are of course other issues. The 30% tax hike for everyone would be rather massive, and devaluing money and work on the side would be rather hard effect on economy as a whole.

You can’t be serious, with technological advancements old work will be replaced with automation. With those advancements there will be new venues of work. Journalists used to laugh at coal miners and told them to learn to code, mining was a thing of the past. Now these same journalists have been kicked out  either because the Internet has made their physical paper obsolete or because their news sites spouted one-sided opinion pieces with no basis. Their time to learn to code. With each machine that replaces a miner, there is a need for a worker to supervise the machine, someone to maintain the machine, someone to paint the machine, someone to build the machine, someone to design the machine, someone test that machine, someone to teach how to use the machine and so on. There will always be new venues of work, but respect for the old ones should not be lost. Instead they should be celebrated and held high, especially those that require lifelong dedication to properly learn. Sadly, not even craftsmen or painters get the respect for their work they deserve. We have to take responsibility on our actions, and in case of people who’d rather sit on their asses home doing jack shit nothing, inaction.

I’ve previously discussed how every field of work should be respected on their own rights, especially unseen work that most of our daily lives are build on. Almost literally when it concerns builders and people who create the materials we rely our daily lives on. Those windows that keep the elements out didn’t just come from nothing, someone had to make them. You don’t really think about it or ever crossed your mind. The latest thing someone said on the Internet made you mad.

All this are flakes throw into the metal of culture and it is making it weaker and brittle. Catering to small groups to score social points has run books, shows, movies and games down to the toilet. To use Star Wars as an example, the original movie was about Vietnam War, but most people never noticed it. It is because the movie was its own work first and foremost, and whatever its message was laid underneath the front layer. This is pretty much opposite to Disney Star Wars that put the message first and is very clear about it, especially when then staff when on and put shirt saying The Force is Female, which is just utter goddamn bullshit. Why this? Because their clique, because there are numerous people who put the messages and what they say over the product itself. The Good Word has to be preached, it must be made known, at the price of the products itself, in this case Star Wars as a franchise, and at the expense of the customers’ wallet.

Disney has no faith in their product at this point. Rumors are saying Disney and JJ have been leaking different drafts of the movie and its endings to estimate which cut and ending would be the best. We’ve come to a point where the movies just has to be successful enough no matter what. Isn’t this what you want though? Far from it. Disney Star Wars has no heart or soul. Its dead, Jim. Congratulation outrage crowd, your politics killed one of the major franchises out there. The Hollywood clique lives in a bubble, and that bubble only listens to small crowd. Disney and JJ are only now getting how badly they screwed Star Wars up, with each new movie making less and less money, with Solo movie faring the worst thus far. Star Wars movies used to be driven by Lucas, and all story ideas in the Expanded Universe more or less needed his approval. Not so with Disney, where nobody has any idea what’s happening and when. They have free range. While this might work with some franchises, Star Wars ultimately was the soul child of George Lucas, and really everything that has come after Disney’s purchase should be treated as bad fanfiction. Even if the rumours of Lucas being part of the newest movie’s production were true, it really is just a PR stunt. The franchise is dead in the water, kids aren’t interested in it when its direct competitor, the Marvel movies, has taken its place. For better or worse.

This isn’t just Star Wars though. It seems like we’ve abandoned creating anything new. All the old shit sells the most and no creator seems to be pushing for something new in of itself. Easy outrage, easy products, convenience over all. Nobody is wanting to push the envelope, but then again, why even try when Marvel movies get shit done by recycling decade old ideas? We could vote with our wallets and go our ways to encourage new things over everything old, but we are people of habit. Which is also why you see politics being pushed into these long-standing franchises. We’ve come to a point where political ideologies and approaches have to be installed into every franchise and media about to ensure correct way of thinking and censoring what is not appropriate. People can’t leave others to their own devices and enjoy their thing. No, they have to enjoy the right thing.

We all need to calm down and begin to behave ourselves. Doing things by the book, if nothing else. Civil discourse seems to have become a lost art, and the more we move away from harmless words to harmful actions, we’re going to make the steel of society brittler with each hammer blow. I dare say we were making nice headway to open society that could accept things not preferred, but instead we’ve taken U-turn to fucking it all up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genre of “Healing”

Iyashi, 癒やし, stands for healing. It is a rather non-standard game genre that some Japanese small-time developers have been bringing up to the surface at Comiket and sites like DLSite. There isn’t any official description for it, which is why so many lump it with Visual Novels due to its connections with the media format, but in reality it’d be more accurate to describe Healing games as Dating sims. Most might remember how Dating sim wasa  term attached to many, if not all visual novels in the 1990’s because the gameplay and aim was to date when the play mechanics were broken down. Nowadays this doesn’t apply, so many VNs are static novels or route selections over managing stats and events. A VN fan might object to this, but VNs lack interactivity a Healing title must have.

To break down the overall play elements and setting, there are few rules that can be observed in these titles. First one is that even that the player is always inserted as the playing character. Characters, events and everything are directed to him, he is never second tier character or otherwise put in the background. The only time things stop, so to speak, is when the player simple wants to take in the atmosphere.

That would be the second; the atmosphere should be relaxing, non-confrontational and serve to ease out stress both with characters, events and design. Colours, music, characters, even shapes, should somehow reflect the idea of comfort and relaxation to some degrees. You could even say that all this should help for the player to escape harsh reality for the time being, which is part of the whole Healing thing. Nothing is pressing you on in these games, you do your pace and relax. There’s no need to be a control god or execution master. Slow pace, a slow burn, is inherent in the genre as one of is main pillars of design. While fast-paced action games can offer a rush and the high feeling you get after a successful play session and puzzle games can give you a large satisfaction after solving numerous hard puzzles that made your head hurt, Healing games really are about taking a break from the hectic everyday life.

Third element would be some level of simulation, which varies from simple route selections like with VNs, but at their most robust includes deciding character clothing, planning events, managing stats or Action Points via dedicated selections and most importantly, simulation of relationship. This relationship can be either with just someone close, but more often the idea dating and being with lover are used in order to convey the whole feeling of companionship and that someone is there with you. This where the whole aspect of sex comes in, and the reason most of Healing genre is R-18. Not that this should be any surprise, sex in itself is an important part of a romantic and intimate relationship, and simulating it somehow is part of Healing. After all, getting your rocks off is one way to relax.

 

1room Runaway Girl is an example of a relatively high-budget doujin game with full voice acting. The options on the right shows what you can enact, and all of them open sub.options to take. Currently grayed out, because I went through this day already, with only few options left. The title is a full, official English translation you can pick up from e.g. DLSite.

Fourth is sometimes used, sometimes isn’t, but never-ending play has become more common with time, and this element is why the genre has crept itself into my interest (regarding the blog.) While some titles simply present VN-like direct path from start to end with some deviation, the more popular Healing games that are on the surface, including the Kickstarter I’ve mentioned constantly to the point of detriment, have no end. This means that the game usually has a day-night cycle and the player has to manage points to engage with certain actions that trigger certain events. Depending on the title, only certain amount of actions can be taken and the player has to decide which actions they go for. Some might advance the relationship, some might increase stats, some might open new options later down the line and sometimes you have to forgo doing any action to save action points for later cycle.

 

Daily options the player has with Konko. There is four Action Points left, which means you can do only so many actions. Chatting costs one point, giving a headpat costs a point, having tea costs two and watching a period drama takes whopping three. Later on more options, meaning you’ll be pressed to choose more carefully as things progress to manage events and such. The player is in no hurry with Konko; the game is endless and there is shitloads of events and items to see and collect.

An intentionally endless game has to have large amount of unique content. Most of it also has to be behind some sort of barrier, where the player must make correct choices on the long run, and trial error doesn’t really end up in the game ending, just having that cycle end. This also makes the games somewhat repetitious, but unlike with most other games, or VNs, the intention of Healing games is not mass consumption in one go. Instead, the player should simmer in the atmosphere, take in the relaxing feeling and play these games little by little without any hurrying. This isn’t to cover game’s short length or the like, but is part of the whole healing thing that the genre is all about. Certainly, there might be a storyline that continues onward slowly but surely, like with 1room Runway Girl, or it might be largely static like with Konko. While 1room encourages player to slowly move and make the in-game life better slowly but surely, Konko on the other hand offers truckloads of unlockable content in form of clothing, accessories and event variations. While both of these titles aim for rather lengthy experience, especially if you only play a cycle or two per day, or do a cycle once per day, the other option would of course aim for a short burst of play.

 

NEVER EVER

Seismic’s Wolf Girl With You offers only three scenarios each cycle that have some slight variations to them, meaning that you’ll probably see them all in an hour if you just blow through them. However, this is a case of quality over quantity, as the game is fully voiced with all actions animated. The title took long-ass time to be developed, and promptly shot to #1 spot in DLSite sales and stayed there for a good damn time. Its delays and constant jokes of never happening made it popular among image board users, and is a rare case of game not failing expectations.

Seismic’s intention with this title, with all of his titles, is to convey the feeling of being together with someone, a homely feel with a girlfriend. While others succeed in this better than others, this is his intention, which probably explains why most of his titles are well received, though he has fully admitted that he wants to create original work next without resorting to existing characters. All these he has stated on his Youtube channel, where he sometimes streams his fish tanks or Street Fighter, of which he has few.

Perhaps that sort of approach is common with most of Healing games. It certainly reflects some of modern society, where there is a split between the sexes and certain interests and positions are simply scoffed at or outright disliked. While some would argue that Healing games are nothing but pathetic escapism for people who can’t get a real girlfriend, the issues why these titles exist much deeper than that. Then you have the issue of sexual depiction, to which some will have strong opinions on. If things continue as they are now in the global society at large, or worsen, it would not be impossible for Healing as a genre to find new venues and ways to push the genre forwards as the emotional gap between sexes become larger. That is where the interest regarding this blog lies; How do you design and develop a game with no end and yet have enough content for long-term play? Do you have that plot that runs alongside with each proper decision per cycle, do you insert lots and lots of collectables that require certain actions under hard limits, or do you simply ignore that and embrace repetition with quality?

Considering how limited budget most of these doujinshi (homebrew, indie, pick your poison) titles often have, things like full voice acting must make a large dent on resources. Then you have production of unique assets, most of which you probably can’t recycle all that easily outside recolors. Static images are always an easy way, though the more detail and time is put into them, the less images there will be, which might also mean planned content might be cut. While DLC and other forms of additional content are possible and even enacted (Konko for example added new pieces of clothing and content via updates) the base idea of leading the player along would go against the genre’s own intention and approach.

Setting itself of course would need to be carefully considered. Some would like a full blown fantasy setting, while others might want to the complete opposite with mundane life. Everyday home life or reliving best years seems to be the most popular setting, but considering school years before work seem to be the ideal time for Japanese, it’s not exactly hard to see why most things set in that period of life. Perhaps you could separate from this setting and have the player character set in adult life with an adult counterpart character. Maybe even have an option to choose when starting the game, but as mentioned, the more work there is, the more resources it takes.

While making a Healing game is relatively simple in terms of aim and concept, God lives in the details. With pretty much everything having to have some weight and be of worth, there’s not much free space to move around if something doesn’t work or just fails. It has to be fixed, it just can’t be one of the weaker parts of the game. Sure, there will always be something that doesn’t measure up to the rest, but with games with this relatively low amount of total content all that just has to matter and have the designed impact. An Action game can afford to have a stage with low quality design here and there, it’s passed through quick, and a RPG can have some bad sections that drag for a bit. A Healing game, not so much. It’s the slow burn nature that has to be dealt with some proper quality.

Looking back at the genre’s history, it has spun off from games like Princess Maker and other life/relationship simulations that were also counted as part of the whole Dating simulator label. However, Healing has been part of Japanese audio drama scene for much longer, again mostly produced by independent groups. Even Konko has two audio dramas that’s mostly about everyday healing, with some few more intimate scenes to boot.

Y’know, sometimes I wonder how in the hell I’ve ended up taking a liking on so many weird shit nobody gives a damn about

Audio dramas are still damn popular in Japan. Most popular, even less popular franchises, get an audio drama or two. Healing is easier to do in audio format. In principle it just needs someone to talk nice things into the listener’s ears, but that’s of course simplifying things to a fault. Some are as long as three hours from what I’ve seen, and that must take serious writing, pre-planning and multiple recording sessions. Props to these people who are working on things they love.

What’s the point really? I hear Jacksie asking. Some relax with beer, others at the gym. Some play hard games until their eyes bleed and others simple want something comfortable. It doesn’t, and sometimes shouldn’t, be real but something they can take individual, personal solace in. Introverts tend to be able to charge when they’re alone, but even then human is a pack animal. Offering some form of virtual interaction might just scratch that itch other people can’t. A good possibility to consider how expansive a game for that purpose could be.

Inexperience and unforeseen accidents

I’ve been talking on and off about few Kickstarters as of late. Y’know, the one with the fox girl and the one that would make you a part of a self-publishing comic circle? This lead to some discussions how Kickstarter has become a sort of jinx to some, and to some it is something others veer far away due to it simply being Kickstarter. Looking back at the whole system, it’s really easy to see how Kickstarter can be abused, and have been numerous times, but at the same time how the backers constantly misunderstand what the service is about.

If we start with the latter, I still see people considering a Kickstarter backing the same as pre-ordering something off the net. This has never been the case, though it is understandable how the misconception can form. After all, your usual backer doesn’t exactly realise that they are effectively financiers of a business venture of some kind, but rather than having a stake in the business or similar, they instead are offered items as incentives for their funding. Truth to be told, backing a Kickstarter should never be made under assumption that you will gain anything back. As with any funding venture, there are chance that it all goes tits up and you’ll just lose money. This is part financial funding, where you have to decide yourself whether or not fund something or not. Difference is that Kickstarter is a softer form of funding someone’s venture, where you as a backer don’t really have any power a real financial backer would but get all the nice items you backed for. Intention is to realise a creator’s aim and wish, their desire to produce something and so on, rather than tie him down with Wallstreet-type bullshit. Not many seem to make this distinction however, and people just consider Kickstarter as that aforementioned pre-order service.

Your usual Kickstarter backer ultimately had to come to a conclusion that they need to vet people and organisations they fund. Check people’s histories and what sort of things they are able to truly pull off. If actual companies were involved, chances were that people with know-how and experience were included, and the only thing they really lacked was money. Even then it can be shooting the dark. As much a Kickstarter requires an experienced runner, the backer really has to make some educated guesses; even a man with best reputation can fuck things up royally, like it was with Mighty No.9. As a side-note, I never backed that game up. Why? Because nothing that was shown during the campaign equated to anything that might be in the final game and the footage shown was less than enticing. The music was bland, the concept seemed something that wouldn’t work and most of the people working on the title didn’t seem to have the best credits. Forward to years later, and the game gets shot the very moment people get their hands on it. Be it that it was supposed to be ported to every alive platform under the sun and that the staff were inexperienced with online multiplayer, plus the whole social media debacle, Mighty No.9 killed Inafune’s fame and whatever true story behind the game’s lacklustre development is, the media, backers and pretty much everyone in the industry has black listed him.

Backers can’t really tell sometimes if the person or a team behind a campaign has experience to handle what they intend to do. Often a Kickstarter fails either because money runs out for whatever reason, like the project leader being inept and inexperienced to the point of crashing the whole thing, or sometimes because producing something costs a lot more than expected. One of the major parts of doing a Kickstarter should be able to calculate expenses and project everything well enough to make a sensible estimation. The double that amount. This might be a personal interjection, but considering how many unforeseen events can hit the scene, you really need extra in the bank. While some might bark at this idea, consider what would happen if you get funding to buy a candy bar and share it with your friend. On the trip to the shop you get overrun or the candy melts on the way back. Without that safety net, you’re effectively screwed. With something extra in there, you can either deliver a bit more than promised, or you can recover from whatever mishap might’ve come across. However, all expenses really should be figured out beforehand to their best possible degree, so that money isn’t wasted by accident or surprise. There are stories I might tell you later how some companies and startups failed in this regard.

All that said, inexperience in itself should not be scoffed at. Asking for help or further information either from more experienced people or perhaps even asking backers’ feedback and such should not be something to be ashamed of. Openness with your backers, however, is absolutely vital. These aren’t your customers, these are the people who have given their money for you to work on something. If customers decide whether or not you succeed, your backers have made it even possible for you to have a shot. Never underestimate the value of giving some small update on anything. La-Mulana 2‘s Kickstarter was perhaps one of the best examples how I’ve seen a KS do it; every Friday there would be an update talking about some aspect of the game, be it lore, production, on-goings or overall development. Small and constant updates talking what’s going on are better than once-in-a-month or similar, as it keeps the backers enticed. Not only it makes for good PR, but also promotes the feeling of you caring for them, that you’re thankful for their money. Sure someone will call you an asshat hack and demand their money back, but as usual, you should always expect negative feedback. Negative feedback and criticism should always be noted with more care than positive, as positive feedback often is just stroking your dick and telling yer doing a good job. While spirit lifting, also absolutely worthless.

There is a night and day difference between people who have large experience, and those who don’t. Presentation is one of the major parts, but so is engagement with the backers. If you look at, for example, Anime Eigo’s Megazone23 Kickstarter, you can see that list of things are large and relatively detailed. If you browse the comments section, you can see Robert J. Woodhead, the project manager, replying across the board to relevant question, one being opening the KS for International backers. For example, when questioned about the soundtrack as a possible add-on, Woodhead replies that music licensing is both outside the scope of the project, but also outside their expertise. This kind of straight and transparent interaction is night must for a system like this, as it gives an idea what is possible and what isn’t. Anime Eigo has had numerous projects already, so they also have a history to back them up. This is similar to the fox girl Kickstarter going on at the moment, where a staff member from DLSite is handling the English side of things. While the developing circle, Megamisoft, don’t have history with Kickstarter, they’ve been selling merch of their titles in Comikets for some years now, thus have a very good handle how to get their items produced. The items they offer as backer rewards are largely the same, with additions of soundtracks and such. The only thing holding them back is international shipping, but that’s that isn’t all that different from sending a package in your own nation, overall. As a contrast, NijiGEN, the project to put up a shop for you to buy your own doujinshi, has rather lacklustre presentation with its video in comparison, zero comments, but has still crept halfway its funding. I’m guessing this is mostly because the people providing the comics are veterans and know how to set things up comic-side properly. All you need is the service, and then hope it’ll do good. Considering they list their corporation number gives them far more credibility than most as well.

Now I did promise to use more images per post some time back, so let me be cheeky for a moment and present you a (lacklustre) gallery of items that foxgirl Kickstarter is offering. How’d I got my hands on these? Via their Campfire campaign, of course. Each image has a review of sorts attached, so if you’re interested to see how things are done in the orient, or what sort of stuff is part of the Kickstarter, do check em out. Mind you, they were taken in terrible light conditions, so quality has suffered.

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All this considered, it is amused to see people asking for refunds from projects they’ve backed. Despite many projects have seen its backers refund their money, the reality is that they’ve given their faith to see a project succeed, but as it sometimes (rather often actually) happens, the project is a failure. At that point its best to suck it up and write it off as a loss. If this was actual financial funding, you might be able to recover some money through some business deals or even stock trading, but that’s not a reality here. All that said, there is a certain skewed view on Kickstarter as a service. The service in itself is rather sound and solid, but you really need to make a call whether or not each individual project is trustworthy of your money. Nobody else can make the decision for you whether or not to put your money and faith into someone, and sometimes life just gives you lemons instead of Kyoto girlfriend pillows.