Music of the Month; Vanburlan of Darkness

I wanted to have a theme this month for the sake of old times, but due to things, I can’t really muster one. Mostly because I’m officially on my yearly leave and I would like to spend some time away from home and computer, if possible. Though I’ll try to stick to my summer tradition and write one large post just for the kicks.

There were bunch of Muv-Luv news on a stream that came out on the 1st, but it aired middle of the night here. Nothing much I can say about it now, but synopsis based on the two mobile games that were announced among other stuff might be in place for those who missed it as well. Not that I’m intending to become a news vendor or something, but a synopsis is always a synopsis.

An interesting phenomena on the Internet is how regionally people seem to consider certain standards as valid across the board. Maybe saying it another way would make it a bit more clear what I mean; People tend to default to their own frame rather than think universally, globally. Not only this leads to assuming what other people think or how they may react to something, but also tends to set certain framework under which we individually function. Take slavery as an easy example. Depending on your region the first thing you come to may be the slavery practised in Africa’s Sahel Region, child labour across the globe, historical slavery e.g. the ancient Romans practised, or as practised in the United States and other nations before it was ended. Possibilities are that you simply default to thinking the master/slave relation input and output has in technology. Perhaps some Asian region will still remember the slavery as practised by the Chinese throughout the ages, and is still practised some forms, like sexual slavery. Seeing how much American media tends to govern English language sites, it’s easy to see how their concepts and understandings tend to drip unto elsewhere, still recognised as foreign thinking. Different cultural standpoints don’t always meet, but they don’t need to be in direct conflict either. It’s as if anyone who has a different worldview despite similar values, just in different priorities and order, becomes somehow less and almost evil.

Ah well, that’s just me. I just want people to strive and aim for peace, not to win over each other. That can cause the pendulum swings to hit harder than intended. Saying something so generic probably will be construed to mean whatever people want to see in it, despite it just meaning what it says; I want people to be at peace with each other. I’ll aim to tone down whatever political shit there’s in the posts, but recently I’ve found myself veering into politics without intentions. Not everything needs to be political, not all things are political, after all.

Though I have a controller review coming up, but because the global parcel movement is completely fucked and packages are being lost and aren’t moving anywhere, it’s probably that I’ll get that controller only after my yearly leave is ended. That reminds me, I have few customer works to do, so those will take some significant time. Probably gonna override some posts, but who cares. It’s summer, everybody’s out, except the people living at the South side of the globe.

As it is a new month, be sure to sharpen, polish and oil your knives. Sharper knives make safer cooking.

Cultural revolution be damned

There’s no real soft way to say that toppling statues and journalists calling for cancellation of police shows is nothing short censorship. Misguided and well intending censorship, but censorship nevertheless. These rioters destroying and defaming public spaces and statues set in there are robbing culture away from the future generations, encouraging a lacklustre, unpolished and one-sided view on individuals and events. Not only that, but destroying individual masterpieces, sinking them into local bodies of water. That’s close to a cultural genocide, erasure of past. The world should’ve learned from the Chinese Cultural Revolution and steer far away from repeating that mistake. No matter how much Mao Zedong destroyed Four Olds, the incalculable amount of antiques from literature to paintings, from murals to statues, were hacked, burned, defaced and utterly decimated. Vandalism against cultural relics was rampant, something that’s happening still in the name of cultural reform, or in case of Middle-East, in name of religion. Yet modern China will loudly boast about their thousands of years of history and culture, despite the only place where you can see pre-Mao Zedong era China untouched is in Taiwan.

Of course, when it comes to the video game industry, journalists don’t want to do their job as independent news reporters or do investigative journalist. The video game journalism is activism for the industry, and people like Mitch Dyer supposedly already are having conversations with developers what kind of content games should have. Guessing if these are the same journalists who said being objective is impossible, being independent is as impossible as well. Media people like Dyer aren’t journalists, they’re activists gunning for a simple-minded message without any sides. Then again, Kotaku’s Imran Khan wants to change how police is being depicted in the games and they can’t be window dressing for game mechanics any more. That is, of course, loads of bullshit. Apparently, the American police can only be depicted as neutrally and as raw as possible. Majority of video game consumers don’t have issues with differentiating between reality and fiction, and thus the escapist vision of paladin-like police is what they should be. Khan’s example of a game with this sort of depiction is the recent Spider-Man game, which has far more fantastical elements than ideal police officers. Spider-Man himself, for one. Khan seems to be under the impression that all games need to represent the police as realistically as possible, which is of course is driving an agenda rather than trying to stay objective. Escapism demands fantasy.

Khan holds the major misconception that games are the ones telling the story within these products, that the framework overrides what is the true story in games; player’s play. The use of Earthbound as an example of an evil, threatening police is weak at best, grasping at straws. There are no sins in telling fiction in manner the creators want. No amount of political pressure or other should be inflicted on creating a product. Wait, aren’t you exerting a pressure for the developers and publishers to cater to the audiences? No, that would be a misunderstanding. Game developers should be free to create whatever they want, but reality is that the decisions they make have consequences when it comes to selling games. Just as anyone is free to create anything within allotted laws, nobody is forced or required to buy these products. Market dynamics decide what sort of decisions are most fruitful and what dries on the shelves. Even when journalists are exerting their authoritarian pressure on game developers and publishers, the end line will still be on the store shelves and digital markets. If a developer wants to make a game that depicts reality, it must be set in proper manner in an overall realistic game. Sure, the NYPD has chased Spider-Man for years in the comics and have taken shots at him, though always fitting the books’ tone. Every time a Spider-Man story makes a whiplash in content, like having Peter Parker making a deal with the devil, it gets riled into the ground.

Public personas, from journalists to whatever hell influencers really are, want to promote themselves as patrons of culture and arts, as people who deliver you the best world can offer. Their activism breaks this illusion the moment they enforce their double standards and see both of the as equals. We can talk about art and artists as much as we want, but even these people will gladly downgrade their views on the subject whenever applicable and resort on assuming they have a say in what creators should be doing. Certainly loud public pressure will help, even when its only momentary and comes from relative minority. Often even from audience that isn’t buying their products. The less you spend time on popular media and entertainment industry, the more you will see normal people and proper customers voicing their displeasure on what these companies are spending their time and money on. Social media forms bubbles around us, making us see our own views as much larger entities than what they truly are. We consume media supports that bubble even further and get our news that further shield that bubble. Hell, with the riots and vandalising statues we’re seeing people go their way out and forcing that bubble unto others rather than exiting their own. The censorship, authoritarian attitudes and pushes we’re witnessing is destroying whatever bridge between the bubbles we could’ve built. There has been a push, and there will be shove. It may not be now, it may be six months later. It might be next year or even during the next generation, but there will be a push. There is no right side of history in current time, in the moment. That is only for the future generations to decide. Some of now-growing generation has seen their neighbourhood ransacked and burned down, homes lost and livelihoods destroyed. No amount of dabbling with the history studybooks can change a child’s memory of city on fire.

Escape from politics

Some hubbub pops up whenever you see someone saying they don’t politics in their video games or such. Naturally, there’s someone to point out that you have politics in these works by their nature as narratives. Especially in role playing games, where the framing device often sets the player in the thick of things. There is a false equivalency, as to what politics is being referred to is real politics. Video games is a method to escape the mundane life for a moment, and if it has a setting that’s interesting, the better. To say a product contains politics is not the same as to say that it is political. Even then, the best of these works tend to handle politics through the veneer of fiction and paint issues with different strokes in order to entertain ideas rather than force them down your throat.

Despite Star Trek not being a video game, the sentiment does extend to every field of entertainment media. It was said that Trek handled political matters of its time. Very rarely it ever pointed out at a topic in straightforward manner, but disguised with a veneer of science fiction, with alien races, androids and whatever situations were build from there. However, they never drove before the stories themselves, they were part of the whole work. Rather than say that Star Trek was political, it was about politics, often entertaining more than one view and exploring topics at hand. It didn’t just sit in one corner and preached about one singular truth over all others. Even in message shows, where things like racism or prejudice against homosexuals, where clearly the topic, the shows explored the topics under its guise. Sometimes with not exactly what you’d call a happy end, sometimes utterly failing. However, that’s not what modern Trek is, with showrunners and writers explicitly stating what their agenda is and what they intentions were. The franchise has become political and its lack of diversity in ideas and views makes extremely poor content.  In ST Picard, this has gone far enough that the show is completely unrecognisable, characters having been rewritten to be completely different. There is no more hope, only booze, darkness and death. Killing off characters in brutal ways just because their actor has different political views is degrading the franchise even further.

It’s understandable that many see comparative points in fiction related to real world events, more often where none has ever been intended. Humans like to recognise patterns, especially patterns we have a bias for and wish to find. This has gone to the point of some comparing politicians and events to characters and situations found in things like Harry Potter or whatever the current popular boom cartoon is. Hell, there are even those who can’t understand historical events or political intrigue without putting into a pop-culture context first, like putting one of those My Little Pony ponies into a photo about the Holocaust. Spending too much time on social media and the like will soon yield less faith in humanity the more you see any given leader compared to Voldemort or Emperor Palpatine. Not only it betrays how what media and how much these people consume, but also how limited their world views are. If you only consume media that are painted in strong black and white strokes, your world view won’t be much different.

While some might scoff at wanting to escape for a time being into video games, taking a break from all this that we have to face in our daily lives is ever-consuming. It eats away our hearts and minds if we can’t break from it every now and then. Our 24/7 news cycle keeps bombarding us constantly, often with clickbaits and with titles that aim to infuriate us. The more mad you are as you click, the more likely you’ll engage with the site more. Ragebait makes money, but only for the time until the we’re spent. Like a friend put it just now while I was writing this post, You can only take so much cancer in a day. When the media you want to consume to let your soul rest becomes about all the same stuff with as gentle message as a hammer blow to the head, you turn away from it. This can be see in the success of the product, and to use Star Trek as an example again, Discovery and Picard have been failed experiments that have done nothing but marred already patina tarnished franchise. Fixing this ship will take replacing parts of it, instead of just throwing some polishing agents at it.

Maybe getting off the grid for a while would do some good for all of us. Turn off your phone, go outside to take a walk in the forest or whatever you have near you, a park or something. Breaking the cycle of constantly having a screen present in your life, in your pocket or otherwise, builds better health. Thank God we can make educated choices and not consume media we don’t want to see, read or hear. They can be forced on us only so much.

Kagawa prefecture’s gaming restrictions have weak scientific basis

Back in March, Japanese prefecture Kagawa announced their local assembly had passed an ordinance to limit the time children spend next to a screen, specifically stating that the excess usage of the Internet and playing video games lead to such results as socially reclusive behaviour and causing sleeping disorders. They admit that there are no ways to enforce the ruling properly and that it is more a recommendation of sorts. This of course comes in the wake of WHO classifying a gaming disorder without any proper evidence that such exist, something I’ve covered on the blog. While it seemingly has majority support, we have no real way of telling what sort of sample size there were that gave the over 80% positive support.

The ruling states that children are to have one hour of play time during weekdays and an hour and a half during weekends, as well as giving guidelines on the hours which devices can be used. Naoki Ogi, an educational pundit, praised the ruling as a way to give parents who are at loss to deal with their children’s smartphone usage. By giving specific guidelines parents are now able to create the proper household rules. This was echoed by a 43-year old mother of two children, who can’t stop her kids from playing games about two hours a day. At this glance, it would appear the ruling shows more support towards parents who can’t really handle their children, or know how to limit their screentime with games or phones. Kagawa’s ruling is about trying to curb the gaming disorder WHO has determined, and as such has an extremely weak leg to stand on as the scientific evidence ICD-11 stands on is weak at best, misinformed at worst.

This is why a teenager who goes by the name Wataru has decided to crowdfund a legal action against Kagawa and its ruling. He states that the government has no role to step in to rule over family matters such as these. Then again, this being Japan and the culture they have does rely rather heavily on pre-set rules and not wanting to rock the boat, so it is most likely a helpful thing for parents to have guidelines to work with in issues they have no real skill in. The generational gap between children and their parents when it comes to electronic entertainment and digital interactions is relatively strong, and parents who don’t understand why video games offer a way to release stress or entertain oneself most likely will only cause a negative impact. Some find solace in gaming as a hobby and thus belong to an extended world wide community. Argumentd that claim that gaming encourages anti-social behaviour is, to put it straight, horse shit. Gaming is one of the most social hobbies out there, connecting people through discussion groups or multiplayer sessions. People may not be meeting face to face in most cases, but people who share the same interests in the similar kind of games often find themselves forging new social ties. Of course there are children and adults who use gaming as a way to cope with their issues via escapism or such, in which case the issues isn’t the games. While there are cases where a person does end up being addicted to video games, the reasons have been less explored. It’s easy to blame the way these people have been coping rather than trying to deal with the underlying reasons.

Wataru argues that the guidelines Kagawa prefecture has put out have no scientific basis on the same grounds. He states that it is a false premise that gaming causes truancy and addition, when truancy is caused by external factors like issues in school and gaming is their way to find relief. Despite the ruling intended as general guidelines rather than solid law that should be enforced, Wataru has experienced being kicked off from servers after 22:00. It should be noted that 595 people signed a petition against the ruling when submitted, though now the count has growing towards 900. The petition is being still shared and supported. Wataru’s lawyer, Tomoshi Sakka, also sees the ruling to violate Japanese constitution, as it ensures a person’s right of self-determination. Taro Yamada, a House of Councilors member with experience and knowledge on the Internet’s usage and freedom of speech in Japan, has stated the ordinance to be nonsense and only targets time of usage and doesn’t account how integrated digital communication is in our, and our children’s, daily lives. This should be especially noted in Japan, which has a longer and richer history in usage of mobile phones as a form of daily interaction than in most countries, and why flip phones were a pop-cultural icon for almost twenty years (and in many ways, still are.) You can see Wataru’s interview on the topic and of his intentions on Youtube, but do note that it has no English subtitles.

Apparently, Japan has more rulings of this kind. Wataru noted that there has been an increase of rules to deter children’s right to have fun, citing an example how playgrounds have banned football, or the use of balls of any kind. Perhaps rulings like this are a symptom how Japanese population is growing older and considerations towards children are falling. The ageing population would find themselves passing rulings to support themselves first and foremost, but it might backfire and create a gulf between the generations. Kagawa’s ruling was the first of its kind Japan and the education board of Odate (Akita prefecture) intends to follow their blazing trail and introduce similar restrictions to combat video game addiction by submitting their own ordinance by March 2021. Not to say that an ordinance is all that unique. Back in 2014, Kariya of Aiichi prefecture banned children from using mobile devices after 21:00. Well back in 2009 the Japanese education ministry banned elementary and junior high school students from carrying phones at schools as they didn’t consider them a necessary part of education, but last year they revised their stance after ten years of technological advancements, noting that such devices had become essential in the classroom studies. The Education department of the Osaka Prefectural government had already allowed the aforementioned to carry phones into the classroom, mostly due to the earthquake that took place in northern part of Osaka in June 2018.

While it is uncertain if Wataru is able to sue Kagawa over its ruling, these past months, especially right after the ruling itself, social media has been buzzing about it. Politicians like Kenzo Fujisae of the independent Upper House lawmaker has opposed the ruling on his blog. He echoes statements the public and Wataru has made, questioning how valid is an ordinance that can’t be enforced or overseen as well as stating that combatting “gaming disorder” in this manner has no scientific basis. Fujisae also points out that by limiting the time of play like this retards the connections that can be through online games, which breaks connections between promising future partnerships. He notes that the interactions through the Internet and games can also save people, probably meaning that online intercourse may be some people’s only way to connect with the like-minded. Tokihiro Matsumoto of Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward also questioned the ruling by pointing out how it would directly affect local eSports participants as well as how he thinks how old fashioned it is to apply such restrictions. While these are just two examples, the buzz did get a reaction from Keizo Hamada, stating that they’d be open to discuss the contents of the proposed regulations back in January, but seeing Watasru is crowdfunding his a case against Kagawa would be a sign that no significant changes were made. It is doubtful that anything comes from the lawsuit, if it even gets off the ground. However, Kagawa’s ordinance relying on WHO’s gaming disorder is a dangerous precedence, as now other cities and prefectures can apply similar reasoning on other weak cases.

Short Series Introduction: Kaizou Choujin Shubibinman

While NCS and Masaya are more well known for their strategy titles, mostly Langrisser, their library consists of multiple genres across the board. However, they are very different in quality, some topping at some of the best games in a genre, while others are outright trash. Kaizou Choujin Shubibinman, or Chbibinman if you want to use their own official romanisation, falls somewhere in between. All the three titles, and a spin-off of sorts, all fall into the same kind of 2D action as the genre’s golden standard, Mega Man, but due to numerous small issues the franchise never really hits the same stride. Not that it intends to, as one of the most peculiar, and perhaps series defining element, is that every game plays significantly differently.

For a 1989 PC-Engine title, Kaizou Choujin Shubibinman the game somehow looks pretty damn nice and has frustrating graphics at the same time. Some sprites hold up better than some, mostly the player and enemy sprites, but the game underachieves with inanimate projectiles, bland character portraits and some of the worst lava of the era. Colours tend to be muted and nothing really pops up despite being clear, but this means all the sprites are easily tracked. Can’t say the same about some of the stage obstacles though, some platforms are exactly the same grey and the background. All the sprites are showcased directly from their side without much dynamic posing or the like, making the game look cheaper than it really is. This doesn’t really help the sprites’ designs, as most of the stage bosses are effectively the same recoloured sprite with an additional dragon head. There are also only three stage archetypes that get used until the final boss stage, which overstay their welcome. Nevertheless, in comparison to most other 1989 PC-E titles, Kaizou Choujin Shubibinman does have tad higher calibre graphics, with flavour that fits more a Mega Drive game.

Music falls into the same category, with only handful of songs on the card, but outside of one particular stage theme, none of them are offensive to the ear. They all fit their designated stages, with with one or two of them being almost worth getting stuck in your head. Having relatively clear voice samples in a HuCard game is a minor achievement, and they’re sprinkled around the game in proper spots.

While the game looks more or less run-of-the-mill, it’s gameplay has some great elements that make it stand out. The game is split between a map screen and an action stage à la Super Mario Bros. 3, with shop and all. You can take a couple of different routes to the final boss stage. Each stage is effectively a type of a mission, flavour wise, with interactions with the city’s denizens popping up at proper times. The cash gained from enemies is spent on upgrades, which are your usual flare, ranging frontrols are what you’d expect, about as tight as the second games with few oddities herm more Life to a charged projectile attack. These upgrades are necessary in the long run, as the game likes to throw fast moving enemies at you all the while stage hazards move at the speed of sound. The player has to move carefully and with patience all the while he needs to push forward as fast as he can. The faster you can remove threats from the screen while dodging whirling spikes of death and jumping monkeys you can, the higher are chances to survive. It takes a bit of time to get used to how the game flows, as it is equal amount of split-second reaction and knowing what’s coming. The game’s design tries to emulate Mega Man to some extent in stage design, but it is significantly less on-point with its challenge-per-screen design. Oh, and the game has a time limit how much you can dilly dally in stages collecting gold for the upgrades. If you don’t beat the game in an allotted time, it’s an automatic Game Over.

The controls don’t exactly help any with the game, as player characters need to accelerate to their full speed every time you start moving, plus jumping is awkward at best. The jump arc feels rather unnatural and lacking, requiring somewhat precise platforming. With some stages having overtly bullshit hazard designs, enemies having jerky patterns and nothing really delivering satisfying feeling from being hit, the game feels and plays loose. However, it must be given props to the developer for allowing the screen to scroll forwards when the player is 2/5 from the screen’s left side, rather than other way around like in Valis series. This gives the player ample time to see and react to whatever the game is dishing at him.

Despite all this, Shubibinman went on to have three sequels. While the above seems to be all negative, as a whole the game comes together as a unique little title. It’s not exactly the lengthiest title, and allowing simultaneous two-player mode changes how the players have to approach the stages and bosses. While the two share the same Life bar, and the only difference between the two is their design and voices, the charged attacks become even more powerful when used in unison. All the things the game lacks in quality is met charm and personality. The game did come out during time when Japanese pop-culture media was going through certain kind parody phase towards 70’s and early 80’s media, especially old tokusatsu shows. Shubibinman, much like Battle Golder YUI, plays the whole android/cyborg angle that was the cornerstone of so many henshin hero shows and goes to have fun with it.

The game’s setting is, after all, about two cyborgs: Tasuke and Kyapiko. Tasuke was a fisherman before Doctor Goutokuji operated on him, much like how Kyapiko was a normal highschool girl. The two got mad over the doctor operating on their bodies, and promised to return both of them back to their old selves. Apparently the doctor is rather paranoid and predicted the incoming Akumadan invasion. With their modified superhuman bodies, Tasuke and Kyapiko venture forth to save the city, block by block. That’s pretty much all there is, but as I said, the charm-factor is strong. After every stage your chosen hero makes a pose and conveys its personality, and the same thing happens when being hit by a hazard and the like. Little things like that made the game go some extended ways, but you can easily tell that this game was NCS/Masaya’s first try at an outright action game, though development was done by Winds. The formula was interesting on its own already, and probably with some tweaking would yield a high-class action game, but seems like the staff didn’t manage to escape Mega Man‘s influence.

Kaizou Choujin Shubibinman 2: Aratanaru Teki (tl; A New Enemy) ditches the map parts from the first game and goes straight up level-by-level fare. Significantly more important is the complete loss of the sword and all close combat weapons, as the game goes for shooting action. Few stages do shake things up and are played like a standard vertical shooting game, though don’t expect them to play like Gradius or R-Type in terms of quality. The charge shot is still in there from the first game, with the player character yelling Shubibeam! every time its launched. It can get grating after a while. Pretty much everything from the first game has been upgraded, with graphics have more colour and variety in them, sprites having much better designs and animations all around. All the characters now showcase their persona much better, with some enemies being on point with the whole parodying things. Big eyed robots with silly faces are great, and they’d fit just fine with other games that parody tropes and genres, like Battle Mania.

Much like sprites, all the stages look pretty great with more variety in them. The shooting stages look significantly different from the action ones, though that can be said most of the stages and some of their respective areas. You go from cityscape to techno-mines and everything in-between. Some stages also scroll upwards, much like how Super Mario Bros. 2 did compared to the first Mario game. The layout design is not directly action, not all the time. The first game’s stages were almost all about the hazards and this has been carried over to some extent into the second game. They don’t pose the same head cracking challenge without any context though, outside few specific bits here and there. Many of the stages have dramatic moments built into their sections during play, but every stage also has a specifically designed spot to have story bits happening.

Music’s great, with more songs and some very memorable ones to boot. There’s not much to say about it, outside that the main theme of the game seems to be considered sort of unofficial theme for the whole series as it has seen the most remixes, with one of the famous one being in Dangerous Mezashi Cat’s 14th release, Newtype Destroyer.

In a straight up side by side comparison, Shubibinman 2 is the better game, but the play between the two is different enough to mention something about apples and oranges. Perhaps the improvements over the first game were enough to convince its release in the US a year later under the name Shockman. To modern players, and fans of the series, it’s less an issue whether or not one game plays better over the other, but which kind of play they like. The same could be said for the tone and the story of the game too.

While Shubibinman 2 still parodies, it does take itself tad more seriously. The whole silly side can be found in character’s expressions and enemy designs, as well in other silly matters, but the interactions are more serious in nature. This actually does follow up well with how the parodying was evolving in the early 90’s, peaking with comedic franchises like Slayers that don’t explicitly parody anything, but under the hood those in the know are having a good damn time. The story in itself is a cliché (intentionally though), with a new enemy and evil versions of Tasuke and Kyapiko, just because. Taking place some time after the first game, Tasuke is still working as a fisherman while Kyapiko is dealing with her classes. Despite his promises to put the two under the knife and return their bodies back to normal, Doctor Goutokuji has been putting that back due to him expecting a new invasion. After many wild goose chases, Emperor Ryo and his two Shubibinman Shades, Jeeta and Myu begin begin their attack. While Jeeta is played out like any generic black repaint rival that wants to destroy the original, Myu is that meek and somewhat forced in her role, wanting peace rather than war. Spoilers, but Emperor Ryo kills her bit over halfway into the game. Of course Jeeta thinks the player offed her, and after beating him and after some convincing, one of the game’s best moments hits when Jeeta joins the player for a stage, like you were playing with another player.

It’s hard to say whether or not the departure from the first game was met with split fandom, but whatever the case, the third game would mix things up again, this time with the power of compact disc.

By 1992, PC-Engine had saw the success in its CD ad-ons and so many games on the system took advantage of the larger space with CD-quality audio and animated cutscenes, and Kaizou Choujin Shubibinman 3: Ikai no Princess (tl: Princess of Another World) was there to fulfil the trope. It also changes how the game plays, though this time it’s a hybrid between the two first games. Fighting with a sword makes as return, and alongside the slightly numb feeling when you’re hitting an opponent. Shubibinbeam is still in as a charged attack, though this time it functions more like a magical projectile you have limited controls over, like how it moves up and down, left and right. However, keeping your character intact and moving the sphere around does require some skill. Controls are what you’d expect, about as tight as the second game, though some of the hitboxes can be wonky at times. The screen also scrolls only when you’ve passed the middle mark, making this one of those games where you can’t see where you’re going. The game also likes to employ the Japanese action game design of Throw everything at the player, where enemies spawn almost constantly and keep attacking until they’re defeated or the player scrolls far enough. This in turn makes the best strategy to keep hacking and moving forwards as fast as you can. If this sounds familiar, a lot of Japanese 2D actions games did this at the time. Luckily the sword swing hits both above and slightly back of the player character, so crowd control isn’t impossible.

Sadly, all of the bosses are one-trick ponies and none of them really pose any threat. They just take time to beat. Combined with the numb game play and lacking level design, the game is rather boring in the play department. Hell, there’s exactly one spot in the whole game you need to walljump, but you wouldn’t know that unless the game told you to do that. Whether or not the game was rushed is an open question, but the game lacks specific stage hazards that had defined the first two games. It’s also probably the easiest game in the series.

Visually, the game is more or less standard PC-Engine CD quality, though it does look significantly better than its two predecessors. Most characters are now built from multiple sprites that give them some extra movement and looks rather damn nice. Sprites are bigger to boot, which does give them more detail and appear more lively. The animated FMV sequences are nothing to write home about, but at least they’re fully voiced. Just like the game, the FMVs are middle of the road. Stages use colours to a large extent and the overall is very pleasant and crisp. Sadly, the stage’s designs themselves aren’t all that interesting, as most of them have been stripped of any platforming. Few of them feel like run-through fares. Still, the background and enemy designs do stand out, even if its a fantasy fare in a SF series. Some of the enemy designs are absolutely gorgeous though, and for a 1991 title, the game does look rather impressive.

As for the sound, the levels are a bit off, effects seem like they’re taken from stock archives and music’s surprisingly muted. Despite this, the soundrack is very much what you can expect from a PC-Engine game, full of synth rock and chips in the side. You’ll probably find something to like if  you have a preference for Falcom’s PC-Engine games’ soundtrack and the like.

It appears Hitoshi Ariga worked at Winds at the time. Ariga is better known for his comics, especially of his Mega Man Megamix series. Note the translation done,

As you’d expect from the title, the story is a generic another-world tale. Shubibinman are summoned to another world during their beach vacation (androids do find appreciation in vacations, apparently.) Shubibinman end up fighting the titular princess’ forces after being summoned due to misunderstanding (hilarity ensued), until they’re thrown into the underworld to fight Demon Lord Kargan and his troops. Right after Kargan is defeated, they’re thrown back to the beach, and the princess and her goons want that technology to gain more power. Even for a series that doesn’t put much emphasize on story outside comedy, this is rather out of place. The Shubibinman Shade, rescued at the end of the second game, only appear as an omake during the credit sequence.

Whatever transpired between the third and the fourth game has never been revealed, but Kaizou Choujin Shubibinman Zero was finalised in 1994, but was released in 1997 for Super Famicom’s Satellaview service, where users could download games and other material off a special online service. The game is, in all essence, a reboot with only Doc returning from the previous games. Tasuke and Kyapiko have been replaced with Raita and Azuki, and their designs look painfully mid-90’s anime. Columbus Circle’s recent re-release makes them look much better. Tomomi Seki’s designs usually are on the spot, but for whatever reason this time they’re a miss with the in-game graphics.

The game’s play of course is nothing like the previous titles’. Instead of characters only being visually different, now the two characters play differently. Raita smashes through generic mooks with his diamond tipped boxing gloves, while Azuki plays closer to classic Shubibinman heroes with a sword. Both still have Shubibeam as their charged projectile, but that’s pretty much the only thing that was carried over. In terms of play, the game plays like a one-lane 2D brawler, a beat-em-up, with a focus on platforming at places. The controls are tight, the best in the series, and the same goes for the level design. Most of the enemies are, quite literally, grey mobs you just hack through, with some interesting level specific enemies here and there. Bosses are much better than in the previous game, but they’re a joke if you’re doing a two-player run, as the Super Shubibeam is overpoweringly strong, taking care of some bosses in one shot. You also gain experience from defeated enemies, which upgrades your health meter

Sadly, this being a Satellaview game, as well as a Super Famicom game, the sprites have been toned back. There is a nice use of colours, but both characters and stages lack in detail, and this is due to size of the sprites themselves. Shubibinman 2 and 3 made great headway how the sprites look, but Zero had to take a step back and make them look like upgraded NES sprites. Some stages use a nice green, but there’s also an overuse of brown in couple of them. That said, some of the sprite designs to convey the characters’ personalities through just fine, though not to the same extent previous two games.

The soundtrack suffered as well, with some memorable tunes here and there, but Super Famicom always sounds like it’s played through a tunnel. Some samples are very Capcom-y in places and can even get you in the mood, but the overall soundtrack doesn’t really stand out too much from the rest of Super Famicom library.

The story doesn’t go out of its way to impress, concentrating on BB Gang’s criminal activities stealing stuff left and right while blowing stuff up, and Shubibinman are there to stop them. BB Gang has their own trump card in Kagemaru, a response of sorts to the Shubibinman, while Galko, the gang’s leader, is your classic high-class lady in hi-heels ready to whip and command every and all mooks.

While there is a minor resurrection with Masaya’s IPs, with Langrisser I and II remade, Kaizou Choujin Shubibinman probably won’t resurface. Columbus Circle re-releasing Shubibinman Zero made the game properly available for the first time, and you can still pick up a copy off your favourite import stores. The rest of the games have been easily available everywhere, as PC-Engine games have been ported via emulation, like on PSN. They’re always cheaper there than their original releases, as despite the overall mediocre quality of the franchise, Shubibinman did gain a strong following and is remembered as one of the better PC-Engine games overall. It might be an example of mediocre Japanese games, the kind of Japanese consoles are full of, but its charm and overall competence does make rise to the surface a bit more. It’s not an obscure or forgotten franchise, despite what Youtube might tell you. It’s just that many other games just did it better and it’s a perfect example of products of its time.

Bubbles galore

Looking at the sales numbers that Final Fantasy VII Remake is having seems to have split some people. While Famitsu has stated the game has sold rather well, like selling more than the original game all the while pushing the sales of PlayStation 4 (which has been lacklustre compared to the Big N juggernaut), some have argued that there is a lack of sales both in digital and physical. As usual, I’m a fence sitter who says we have to wait at least six months to see proper results, but I admit that if we start seeing articles about shipped units rather than sales, then the sales have been less than expected, and that rumour about Nomura being worried over sales numbers might have something to them. Not that it really matters any more, Sony and Naughty Dog have marred themselves in quite the pit with the whole debacle with The Last of Us 2, which I’ve honestly missed. After looking into it, I know I should care about it for the blog, but personally just couldn’t give a rat’s ass. Sony just doesn’t get a break, but they’re the one responsible for pushing internal censorship, releasing games the worst times and now not exactly having the closest relationships with their second and third parties. Sony can play the whole Final Fantasy belongs to a Sony platform charade as long as they want, but with all the timed exclusivities and such around. Sony likes to sell with an image, similar how Apple has sold itself as a lifestyle.

Sony has their bubble about FFVIIR much like Sony has. However, while I haven’t paid attention to the whole scene (or to the blog’s content quality), I’ve been listening to both people who love the Remake and who despite is. The rancour between the two is palpable at times, with two mindsets clashing with each other like pop rocks crackling in your mouth. It’s fun, harmless and ultimately pointless and makes you fat. Well, at least as a third party. It doesn’t really matter if the two sides find what things a pro or a con, sometimes they find the same thing to be objectionably opposite, but it does says something about how much there are bubbles people are in. On one hand it’s nice people find others like minded to spend time with and gush over the things they drool over, but it doesn’t do all that good to shut out the opposite view. If you’re only in a position where your views are enforces and never challenged, you’ll never really get a wholesome view on a topic. In this case, FFVIIR, as stupid as that is. It’d be useless anyway if you’re not willing to even consider what the other bubble is saying, or willing to put your own views under scrutiny. All this is really humbug stuff, really.

Where the bubbles come in is with marketing. The modern “influencers,” be it Youtubers, bloggers or whatnot with large following and who have strong preference for something make good platform to market to bubbles from within. Marketing on television is marketing from the outside, but when somebody you like to follow and agree to some extent tells this bread is the best bread, you consider getting that bread. Not right away, not necessarily. The seed’s planted there though, and with more interaction with your bubble peers who agree with the guy you follow and with you, the inclination to purchase something rises. This isn’t anything new in itself and you probably know all about how this happens. First step to sell your stuff is to get people being aware of it, and through that, I am also stepping into this whole trap myself by using FFVIIR as an example. Sometimes it’s worth to cultivate negative talk alongside all the positive talk, as that encourages some consumers to look deeper into the product and perhaps come around. This applies to both sides. However, if you’re inclined to buy a product, like a game, the more your personal view is enforced, the more likely you’re going to buy something. By having some negativity in there, the world is painted to seem more balanced. The reality is the opposite still. You can see this in numerous game and film reviews, where certain corporations have paid for reviews or have given instructions what sort of review they’d like to have with specific emphasizes given. While you can expect reviewers and such find the same spots to comment on, using the same phrasing and pointing out the exact same things kinda should raise worries.

Social bubbles are prime ground for marketing. While corporations may show how much they care for whatever matter you find the most important one, it’ll all end as soon as the revenues drop too low. The whole thing about a face of a corporation for you to get attached to becomes more important. After all, how could you find a faceless corporation a likeably entity if there wasn’t something to have a relationship with? It’s not just about markets and sales that benefit from bubble. The consumer, or normal citizen overall, doesn’t benefit in being in a bubble. You may consider those others needing to exit theirs and come to you, but it’s best to star from ourselves. This may be hard, as the bubble protects and enforces our own views. Doubly so, when we have to work against the current, and may get booted from the bubble. The Us vs Them that benefits corporations and other similar entities.

Taking chances with products, as well as becoming aware of our own biases also encourages companies to aim for quality with ageless components and less for one-hit wonders that are fast forgotten. Sadly, that might just be the Internet’s doing. Everything comes at us fast, and goes by even faster when then next attention grabbing thing slaps us.

Wool socks

Product providers have a hard time bringing the right stuff to the table based on what consumers say what they want and how they behave. The two don’t always, if rarely, meet up. Y’know, that example I always use about customers saying they like a runny tomato sauce because that’s the standard and they’ve always eaten that, but when they’re given the chance to eat chunky tomato sauce, they find that’s the bee’s knees best thing. As a side consequence, or perhaps as an addition, you have the example of wool socks. Y’know, the present nobody wishes until they wish they had some nice damn wool socks to warm their feet.

A diverse product catalogue in a given niche is a must to have. There are some that can survive with just one kind of product, but then they’re extremely specialised to that one kind of product either as a sub-contractor or something similar. An example would be something like a farm equipment manufacturer, which doesn’t only provide tractors, but also other equipment to maintain the farm from shovels to clothing to small tools. The more you can offer, the less you’ll have a situation customers will slide towards the competition that have something you can’t offer. Within video games you can take Nintendo as an example as a provider that has a library of games from their own end, ranging from action to sport, from music to cardboard building. Looking at Sony, they don’t have the same offering. They have to employ third parties, just like Microsoft. These third party titles are, however, on every platform in some form and thus it loses its competitive edge. Exclusivity on the other hand gives an edge over the competition; you’re the only one that can provide this particular catalogue. The competition may be able to offer simulacrum, but not the real deal. Hence, there must be something they do to directly compete, but that’s become a less a thing nowadays the more platforms share the same library.

Still, all of them need to have wool socks in there. Wool socks are kind of product that are mostly given as a gift during Christmas or the like, and more often than not they go unappreciated at first. Especially children will find wool socks a present to despise, they’re not as fun as that toy train Jack got. However, with time and need wool socks, or other so-called soft presents, will gain a spot where you simply want to have one every year because they’re something you use. It’s a product that has a long shelf-life, may go unused for a long time, may be even scoffed by the customers at first, but dammit they just sell and they’re stuff customers find need for.

Games, and entertainment media overall, don’t really have anything like this as they’re a non-essential market. We can slightly modify it to depict genres or games that the customer doesn’t exactly want actively, but when such title is produced, it flies off the shelves. Not that there are many like that, the customer behaviour is a good indicator what’s in-demand all the time and what the customers would like to purchase. 2D Super Mario titles have always sold more than the series’ 3D games, but certain key staff members don’t want to produce 2D Mario due to the sheer work they require. Developing and producing games is labour intensive, and while we can understand a developer opting to produce games that they can treat like a school project, often then end result doesn’t serve the customer. The wool sock situation is reversed, sort of. Instead of customer not really wanting wool socks, the customers really do want to feel that nice and comfy warmth around their legs, but the provider doesn’t want to knit any. Instead they want to provide these thin-ass socks that don’t reach to your ankles and your toes keep freezing over even during summer season. It doesn’t help that the gaming media touts for the industry, not for the customers.

It must be said that appreciation for wool socks increases with age. The younger you are, the less you are concerned about things like this. Dad’s the one having to fix that rocking chair and he’s the one wishing he had a good screwdriver. With time and with more concerns in life, the products that do give such comfort, that are needed sometime later and products that feel you don’t need at first, things like wool socks just find the right spot. This kind of product might end up as a shelf-warmer, but these are also evergreen products. There will always be a demand for them and they’ll always sell. Slowly maybe, but that’s long term. Corporations that find themselves wanting quick and high revenues don’t produce wool socks, as it’s a slow product to sell. It sell all the time, but like a small stream that travels towards a larger lake.

Much like movies, gaming makes it biggest bucks at the front. Everything from marketing to special editions and pre-orders are front loaded. That first month sales is important, like how movies make the bucks in the theatres. However, some games have the potential to become wool socks, games that are always in demand. Sometimes its a game that makes big sales originally and continues to make sales every time its made available again, like Super Mario Bros. 3, and sometimes the game is found to be a cult classic but still finds itself into mainstream culture and sees a steady flow of sales. In individual cases, maybe games that you consider to be outside of your genre preferences become wool socks. You may be into fast paced action games incredibly hard, but found yourself putting hundred hours into a slow paced hunting simulator. Conversely, you might love slow-ass RPGs with text-heavy play, but find solace in a no-frills fighting game by an accident. Wool socks surprise how much you’ll end up loving and needing them despite your initial dislike. After that, you just appreciate their existence and wish to have just the right kind pair.

Automated dream

Automation is a fun topic, especially when you’re working with people who run an automated cell in production. It’s a dream to manufacturers, a machine that can do a job that takes a guy half a day in an hour. You just feed the machine necessary parts and it spews out a ready product, or a product that’s ready to move forwards on the manufacturing process. You see these ideal videos and photos from car manufacturing plants, where robots are moving back and forth putting parts together. Everything seems to move like buttered lightning, and probably smelling like that too. The reality is a bit different though. Discussing these automated cells often brings up that there are few problems with the current mode of automation nobody really talks about, first being that it’s automated to a point. It’s always pointed out that there needs to be someone to oversee the robots working, telling them what to do. This is probably the best example of tool artificial intelligence we have, where these robots know to do one job they’re told to do and they do it well. At least as well as the parts allow. Because of manufacturing tolerances, the pieces these robots put together are often misaligned, have cut corners, warped pieces, arcing issues and all that. A human can work with these parts, because we’re sentient and aware of what the hell’s happening, but a robot’s intelligence carries only as far as its programming and tools. If there’s a gap because of a warped piece and its laser eye sees it, it’ll alarm the operator to either try again or skip the step.

Automation makes more efficient production, when applicable. Automation often also results in better results cheaper, but with much higher up-front costs. Setting up automation, be it a manufacturing robot or to build a 3D model to be used in live streams, the front costs is high. For the robot it’s the whole shebang from buying the robot, remodelling the place where the robot needs to be, setting up proper power grid for it, building the spot, installing the robot, then realise you need more than one, get a guy who knows how to program the robots, proceed to do test runs and continue to improve the programs and methods in the production line to get satisfactory results. In short term, the price of an automated cell in a plant is high, but the long-term drop of costs is high. One of the few places companies often think about proper, sustaining long-term profit instead of destructive short-term. Similar thing can be applied to the 3D model, where a person has to acquire hardware and programs to start modelling, and probably learn how to model at some point. All that asks time and money. To use the model in a live stream, some kind of motion tracking hardware and software has to be utilised, and probably some other buzzing equipment. All that is high up-front cost before you are able to make profit from them, but after all that’s set up, it’s much easier and economic to change the programs or the 3D model. They’re also permanent. A robot doesn’t need to take a rest like a person needs to, and a 3D model doesn’t need to exercise or put on makeup to change its body or face. There’s an element removed from the equation that requires certain kind of physical work.

Just like how keyboards have automated writing. You no longer need to hold a pen and write something on paper. You don’t need to concern yourself with writing the letters properly. Writing the letters has been automated for you. Even spellchecking has been automated to a large degree, and it is only a matter of time, proper coding and programming before we have a tool AI that is able to properly write, say, a translation.

Automation is replacing some work people are doing, but the more automation is being refined, new robots are designed and implemented, the more coding and programs are refined, the more work will be replaced. One of the more currently relevant topic might be artificial intelligence doctors. I talked about this a bit previously, but the benefits seem to be up there with doctors and nurses that don’t get sick or get tired. IEEE Spectrum has tallied up AI vs human doctor accuracy, and while live doctors are winning in general diagnosis and photoshopped images, the rest is more up in the air. Even if the presentation is rather simple, perhaps too much, it does seem to point out that in general terms live doctors may be able to make better overall judgement calls, but when it comes to accurate, on-point diagnosis the AI has the leverage. Probably could’ve saved me from scarred lungs if these are anything to go by.

Lot of times automation has been said to replace low-skill jobs. Some of these probably are, but it appears that the word is used to describe work skills that are not attained in higher education. A welder, for example, may not have a university degree, but his knowledge and skill set has to do with material studies, mechanics, physics, little bit of chemistry with work that needs constant attention and loads of craftsmanship. Anyone can be a shit welder, just like anyone can be a shit journalist. To be a competent welder takes time and effort, and acquisition of skills most of the population don’t even know make up most of their surroundings. While I’m being on this tangent, most of our modern world is build on welding. From the buildings we live in to the chairs we sit on, from the cars we drive to phones we talk on, there are bits and bobs welded together everywhere.

It’s mostly a matter of time until automation creeps itself up the the ladder to high-skill jobs. Technology may not be there yet to replace doctors, but it’s getting there slowly. Information has already been automated with the Internet, where most news sites and journalists working there have been obsoleted by individuals reporting on their own and taking footage that usually wasn’t available to all. Some time back slew of journalists were left jobless when the sites they were working for went bankrupt. The kind of service and content they were producing was replaced by the automation of information via the Internet and the people using it. That’s automation at its core; something that makes it easier to put out much cheaper and more efficiently. All the video hosting sites like Youtube, and all the blog platforms like WordPress, are part of automation of information, where we have seen the loss of extra hands in the middle. Even with the most of the platforms and publishers do control information to some extent, it is mostly possible to get unfiltered, uncontrolled information if you’re willing to do some digging. For example, footage on how different parts of the world are dealing with SARS-CoV-19 and COVID-19 often paint a different kind of picture from what news sources may be giving you. Being able to read media properly plays a large role in this, as individuals have about as much agendas as any news source would. Sometimes it’s to push a political view, sometimes an individual just wants that particular moment out there. Automation of information has also given individuals the possibility to work to the same extent as any professional journalist, and this has clearly caused friction. What constitutes as legitimate news and does a source need to be confirmed by an outside agency, like a government, have all been raised to the table.

The more automation proceeds, the more questions are raised and the more it is being questioned. People who didn’t expect automation to enter their work field have hard time to adjust to the reality that they may need to acquire new set of skills in a world where their skills have less demand. Learning to code is one thing, another would be the person who oversees the automation.

No automation is truly independent of human interaction. Automation is nice and all as long as it doesn’t break down. All the errors manufacturing robots face and can’t be solved needs that human operator to step in and fix it. At least at this point in time, who knows what the future holds for automation and robotics. At some point, we might have robots building robots that build robots that fix the stuff the first robot can’t solve. It all ends with the nature of the work changing. We’ll always need people who know how to weld, because automation can’t be taken to the field and can’t be fit into each and every pocket. That one guy with a rod of metal fixing your car’s busted door has to work with whatever the hell you did to the car and no robot can really fix it due to the sheer amount of variables. Even when automation is taking more hold, there are niches in its wake that people will fill. They may be small niches, but at the same time, automation opens other doors of possibilities. It’s up the people to grab them. Automation won’t stop as long as consumers want their stuff fast and cheap.

Music of the Month; Barrelfire Desperado

After I hit that nine years of blogging anniversary few weeks back, I went back and looked back at the stuff I’ve written. Jesus Christ what drivel. I can’t deny that there aren’t any stuff I’d say I have a good feeling about. Proud is too strong a word, but maybe saying there’s worth in there works better. That’s probably something I need to work over for myself, that I try to be worth something to someone, but considerations what people consider worthwhile don’t match up with me (or with each other) all that often. Who would give a damn about archiving a random comic book from the 80’s nobody has never heard about? Well, that’s the point really, maybe archivists get it. Maybe they don’t, there’s so much data on the Internet and on physical archives already, and we just keep producing this stuff more and more every single damn day.

You’ve probably followed the advent of SARS-CoV-19 virus’ makings its ways in China, and then steadily spreading across the globe. I’ve found some kind of macabre interest in following the events through the eyes of leakers and individuals who get their message out through the Chinese Communist Party blocked Internet. It’s not exactly the most uplifting hobby, especially when it went from following how well everything was screwed up in the early phases, where travellers were allowed to move willy nilly around, to what we have now. Ever increasing amount of spreading across the world with mortality rate piling up. The sickness it causes, COVID-19, isn’t exactly a laughing matter, especially considering how long the sickness festers before symptoms pop up. I would wish all of my readers to take care of your basic hygiene and avoid travelling to areas with confirmed cases, as well as limiting your Internet purchases from foreign regions for now. I’d also recommend getting full eight hours of sleep as often as possible, as sleep is the best natural resistance against viral diseases. I don’t intend to make any posts about the virus or the disease it spreads, unless something highly significant comes into play. Spreading of this virus can only be curbed if people are willing not to travel.

That said, global recession is a reality companies and corporations have to consider. If worst case hits China, their economy will tank and cheap produce from them will trickle down. Global market probably will follow in suit and tank, meaning we’re going to be in a place where consumers won’t have as much cash at hand just to throw at something expensive they don’t need. The Wii was perfectly priced console for its period, something the 360 and PS3 had to fight against. People still joke about $599 price. Especially considering if China’s production will tank much further, production of electronics and whatnot will grind slowly to a halt. This is where digital distribution should start to shine like no other, but they still need to sway with significantly cheaper price tags than their physical counterparts. Think of how the Wii found the perfect spot with cheaper hardware, good enough visual presentation and games people wanted to play. At least during Wii’s first half of life.

That’s a thing I’ve been told for some twenty years now, that digital will take over physical. Every five years, physical will be completely phased out with digital taking over. We’re fifteen years later after the first given deadline, and physical media is still around. While its sales have been diminished for sure, it isn’t languishing and has found its own niche.

As for something lighter things, and more related to the blog proper, I’ve cued up a Monster Maker franchise as the next short introduction. This is a perfect example how you pick up something completely harmless, think it’s just a series of five games across different systems and don’t think any of it. Then you start reading more about, look more into what items there has been for sale, what sort of deals and promotions have been tied to the name and finally you have in your hands a well loved staple of Japanese fantasy genre that started as a 1988 card game with five different entries with own unique sets of rules and cards, Rance Quest Edition via a deal with Alice Soft, few Revised editions and a 2018 Remake edition with revised rules, dozens of spin-off tabletop board and other games, additional video and computer games that range from simulating the actual game itself to fully-fledged console RPGs alá Dragon Quest, different pen and paper RPG iterations, strategy boardgames, few model kit lines that not only featured the characters, but dioramas and enemies in more of the expensive boxes, comics of all kind, light novels and God know what I’ve missed. I could spend a whole year cataloguing all this and I wouldn’t be finished because tracking down even the most common of the games can get rather expensive. Not to mention all the fan produced stuff, which of course ranges from crude homebrew simulations to erotic adventures of the characters in the world. By 1991, the game already had seven mainline entries.

Be sure to check Kugatsuhime’s Twitter. We’ll talk about the author/s whenever I get to the series introduction post proper. Which probably will be a series of posts at this point.

Even getting started is a chore (a gross understatement), because in order to properly describe the base game, or the 2018 Remake and Rance Quest Edition for now, the rules had to be translated because only the original game has dubious rules translations around the net. Well, whenever we get to the post proper, it will be supplemented with a PDF file for the rules for you to use alongside proper description for the 2018 Remake. I would love to use the original for this and make a direct comparison between the two, but we are talking about thirty years old card game that’s not exactly the easiest to find, and needing to purchase it. I’ve seen it go for 1000yen at one time, and another time over 10 000yen. There’s also a Revised edition that was published in the mid-00’s, with option to create your own cards for the deck (they sold blank cards for that specific purpose) but the cheapest I’ve seen it go in public trading has been around 18 000yen. Hell, just writing this itself made me check few more sites and I found yet another set of five entries I’ve missed prior. This is how you dig yourself in a deep ass hole, finding something that seems interesting, getting few stuff just to get you started and you find out you got thirty odd years of expansive franchise very few in the English speaking world even knows exists and you’re adamant to make it known more. I can honestly say that if you want to hear more about the franchise with scans and stuff around, those Ko-Fi tips would come in handy. Otherwise I’ll be drudging through as usual, and just pick the more prominent examples that are around.

On the meantime, remember to sharpen and oil your kitchen knives. A sharper knife makes safer and more pleasant cooking.

 

The power of the Customer

The customer chooses whether or not you succeed or if you fail. This can’t be overstated, but what has been understated that not all customers are one group. Take a sample of any consumer group, be it fans of a franchise, soda drinkers, candy eaters or whisky juggers, you’ll always find that they have something in common and something very much uncommon with each other. Within your target audience, you can’t appease everyone. You can hit different parts of your target audience with multiple products that appease different varieties of tastes, even if those tastes might clash harshly against each other. There’s a reason one of my random banners at the top is quote from Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, stating the there’s only one boss, the customer. Money moves almost everything in our daily lives, from the power you’re getting from your wall outlet to the clothes you’re probably wearing. Simple change in spending habits, like going to another chain’s store than your usual one, can affect things rather strongly. While the Internet has made campaigning against and for something so much easier, compared to letter campaigning or phone calling, the best form of stance taking is still hitting where it hurts the most; the wallet. However, wallet voting has taken hit on how effectively it is. The Internet has allowed movements to become louder and more obtuse, especially with the advent of social media. This has obfuscated the real amount of consumers doing anything, as majority of consumers are still silent. That is to say, most companies hear the voice of the minority of their customers, which leads only small sects sometimes impacting production, sales and whatnot of products that would otherwise have normal sales. Reasons vary, from mother’s campaigning to pull out GTA V from Target’s store shelves in Australia or some animal awareness group pointing out how Pokémon is animal abuse, you can take your pick from whatever ideological and political spectrum and you’ll find a group that’s making noise.

The creative industries have a hard time dealing with consumer wants and demands from time to time. Individual entrepreneurs have probably the hardest time finding and keeping a customer base. Individuals have to do everything on their own, and very few realise early on that having sensible finances and being able to keep your own book is highly important. Nowadays it is easier to find your own niche, though competition is even fiercer. Despite the rosy image of an artist giving his heart and soul to the piece and sees the world celebrating it, the reality is that artists still work in a service industry and their work needs to reflect the consumers. While art is culture, it is also a consumable. Only a fraction of a fraction of works that get cited as art will enter the cultural lexicon, something that’s becoming ever increasingly difficult as out 24/7 cycle of everything sees everything getting old within a matter of days. Fifteen minutes of fame has been reduced to closer to five.

The net’s full of comparisons like this

This has lead some to question if fans, a.k.a. consumers, have too much power over the products they consume. Or to put it like BBC Culture did, are fans too entitled? To touch the opinion piece a little bit, it mostly covers history of fans able to change and influence creators, citing examples like Sir Conan Doyle resurrecting Sherlock Holmes ten years after killing him off due to an intense reaction from the readers. For 1893, maybe ten years was long enough time for the books to spread. That, or in reality the considerable large sums of money ultimately changed his mind. After all, that made him one of the most well paid writers of his time. Stephen Kelly, the aforementioned piece’s writer, considers the change of Sonic’s model change in Sonic the Hedgehog unprecedented in modern relationship between artist and fan, something that is false. Video game characters have seen redesigns from time to time for numerous reasons after fans backlash, or have the perceived atmosphere has directly impacted the designs. This most notably has affected female characters, while the male characters have been left mostly alone. From Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s Tifa being more toned down compared to her original design (despite still getting riled by some) to something minor like a win pose being changed in Overwatch. While changing how Sonic looks in his movie resulted in tons of good PR, and the staff have been saying the fan feedback was invaluable. Whether or not this is a positive example is really up to you. Whether or not you prefer the original movie Sonic design compared to the current one.

The point of the piece is whether or not fans have entitlement over the things they buy. One example she cites where a minority of fans hammered down a movie despite critics and other fans liking it is The Last Jedi, though now that we’re two years after the fact looking at the results of the film, and how it affected the franchise as a whole, it wasn’t exactly a minority that rejected the movie. Sure it has its core fans, but the culture and general consumers at large simply for numerous reasons, which all can ultimately be bogged down as They didn’t like it. The franchise is feeling and reeling from the after shakes still, and will be for the foreseeable future. Kelly tying identity politics with Star Wars and the 2016 Ghostbusters is false, as the 2016 Ghostbusters is simply a terrible movie that failed to launch a new franchise for Sony to bank on. Then again, #GG is used as a boogyman in the piece and represented highly inaccurately, and really has nothing to do with anything aforementioned. There is no true conclusion to Kelly’s writing outside Fans are the problem, but fans are also the solution, which really means jack shit.

Let’s take a recent case about fans being split about a character redesign. A Japanese illustrator and character designer named Ban was employed by Flame Toys to redesign a Transformers character named Windblade for their Furai Model line of model kits. Flame Toys is known to redesign characters while working under Hasbro’s license, and these redesigns can be drastically different from the original works. If you check Ban’s Pixiv, you will notice at least two things; clean and smooth style, and that a lot of his works are Adult Only. His works are hard to represent in plastic due to him employing some shading and linework that works only in 2D. After Flame Toys revealed Windblade’s physical prototype in New York Toys Fare, there was a backlash against the design, forcing them to take down their posts on social media. The designer, Ban, still retained the prototype images on his Twitter.

Arguments about this design were conflicted. While a portion disliked it, a larger portion seems to like it. Difference is, most of the detractors on social media were English speaking customers, while the customers with positive feedback shared both English and Japanese. Unsurprisingly, few different posts explaining the backlash to the Japanese fans popped up, to which some Japanese laughed at and some thought the situation was unfortunate. Criticism ranged from it not being aligned with the original design of the character, which should have been a given seeing this is a Flame Toys product and that The Transformers toyline is full of redesigns of all sorts, to all the way how Ban’s design gave the character bikini, despite Wingblade’s bust and crotch always had red accents, as seen on the right. The wings where a sticking point to some, as they seem to be clipped in Ban’s redesign. This is of course natural, as Ban emphasized their nature as the bow in obi, the sash Japanese use with kimonos. I didn’t hear anything about the head crest’s size, but some issues with the second proto photo’s pose, and some were asking why the other, masculine models weren’t put in the same position. This is an example of false equivalency though, as what attracts men and women, and what shows their best sides, is different between the two sexes. The two sexes also value each other in different ways, emphasizing regions of body in altogether different manner, which is very much apparent in most more designed Transformers toys, where masculine emphasizes can be seen on broad shoulders, well defined chest and flat, sixpack stomach regions. Let’s not forget strong chins.

If I’m honest, I never liked Windblade’s design. The head crest is silly, the wings looked dull and generic, turbines everywhere, they manage to make the face look terrible, not much unique body definition after seeing what sort of design Animated series had. Personally, I don’t think Transformers as a whole needed sex, the species is mechanical in nature and could’ve been treated as one-sex or sexless

The fans were split, and not evenly even. This is an example where smaller sections of the target consumer group was split on a character design. You had a section that disliked it, you had a section that was as vocal about liking it, and then you have those who don’t really care. This is a gross simplification, as the reality is that there are thousands of small fractured groups working under similar umbrellas. Some have echo chambers, some don’t even interact with the rest of the fandom, and some simply had no interest on the topic as it was about a model and not about a transforming toy. Considering Furai Model kits are targeted at adult collectors, the niche audience this model was targeting most likely already excluded a lot of voices on both sides. A French Youtuber put many peoples’ thoughts rather well; There is a store package version for children, and this model kit is clearly not for them, but one of the many adult collector’s figurines. It’s pretty funny to use the term “objective” about a machine… Last bit of course refers to the complaint that Ban’s design is sexist and makes women sex objects. It considering this is a robot toy, objectification of a fictional robot is expected, as that’s what making a toy is. The design is sexy without a doubt, with expected curves, but as a friend so elegantly put it, You’re telling me Ban draws something else than boys with dicks? the design is rather held back from what it could have been.

If we are to consider the creative industries, or just arts, as something untouchable by external forces, why shouldn’t Flame Toys celebrate Ban’s redesign of Windblade and sell it to the customers? Or should they listen to the part of their broader possible customers and cancel it, losing whatever money they’ve had thus far in the production? If we were to stick with the idea that art should be independent and ignore both positive and negative feedback, Sonic’s designs wouldn’t have changed and Flame Toys would still have their New York Toys Fare posts up just fine. Some might see this as false equivalency due to supposed ideologies and whatnot, but stripping all the excess fat off and getting to the point, it’s all about customers voicing their opinion on a revealed character design.

Every kind of design and form of media has its customers. One thing has more than other, I doubt anyone really contests that in a serious discussion. However, not all products require to sell high numbers. Prestige and deluxe products are intended to be produced in relatively low quantities but in high quality. Their price tag represents this, often tacking more than few zeros at the end. The main difference between the two main examples in this post, Sonic the Hedgehog is intended for all audiences at an open marketplace. Furai Model Windblade on the other hand is (maybe was at this point) targeted at a niche of a niche market, an adult collector who builds robot models. The two markets are at rather opposite ends in popular culture media landspace, but not quite.

There’s no real stance here regarding the blog. While one of the stances this blog has is pro-consumer, it also supports the idea of companies looking at the cold data over customer response. The reason for this is that the customer doesn’t know what they want. We as customer think what we want, but when we’re given options to choose from, we often find ourselves picking something completely new, something we didn’t expect we’d want further down the line. Despite customers voicing their disagreement at times, offering variety of products is as important to hit all the niches in your targeted customers. This of course leads into juggling with the PR, both positive and negative such move creates, but that’s business as usual, as this is a chance to use both positive and negative attention for net positive gain.