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.

Music of the Month; The Hidden One

Funnily enough, for a guy who doesn’t really like fantasy or RPGs all that much, something about  7th Dragon 2020 games hits the spot. It’s probably because it’s what I’ve started to call as urban fantasy. Something that has your usual magic stuff, but at the same time isn’t about elves and orcs, but more about relatively normal world in somewhat modern settings with heavy emphasize on other traditional fantasy elements. I simply have no stomach for Tolkien-esque fantasy or its relatives. That’s why going through The Wheel of Time books has been such a slog. I can appreciate them just fine, but the points of emphasize are completely whack. Yeah let’s talk about someone riding a horse three pages and describe a world altering event in half. That’s a hyperbole, but still fitting.

If you’re a new reader, you might be wondering what the hell is this post. Well, every month starts with a no-topic post about random things that might have to do something that I have planned for the month, or just random babbling about something that wouldn’t make a post unto itself. In other words, a way to let me loose some steam from the kettle that’s been brewing a bit too hard.

I’m rather tired of both Star Trek and Star Wars discussions, that much I said in last post. That’s still true, but Trek has become a topic of interest against thanks to Star Trek Picard or STP hitting the online services. Seeing the first two episodes, I’m less interested to see any of the show past these two episodes as it kills any spirit of the previous shows it had, ignoring Discovery. For Star Trek there always was a hopeful future, that mankind and our allied species could coexist not because out of convenience or superior genetical evolution, but because we’ve decided to be better. A social evolution where we were allowed to stretch towards the best we can become and aim even further. Nothing but ourselves could stop it. The Next Generation took the idea a bit too far, one could argue, with the rule that there should be no conflicts among the crew. The Roddenberry box, as they call the set of rules that govern the future. However, those rules did make it seem more like a future where no difference of thought was allowed, and if you deviated from the government sanction ideal, you were hammered down in other manners. Never the less, outside these few stumbles in the rules, that were ignored when there was a better story to be told, the Federation of Planets and the Starfleet were representations of a better future. In STP, and in Abrams’ movies, this has not been the case, and this sort of view of future governments being, to put it straight, evil has become more and more common. Especially for franchises that used to have the opposite governing system. It’s like future can’t hold hope for us any longer, that everything has to look dark and people betray each other all the time. It’s not exactly a new phenomena either, but things are just being turned darker and darker for no reason. You can argue that the modern Star Trek is telling stories about current events and situations like the writers, actors and producers are saying, but the whole continuing storyline format doesn’t allow that properly. You don’t have the contrast how things should be against the handled subject. You don’t have the light and shadow dancing between twilight and dawn. All you’re having is darkness. Perpetual darkness that depresses you, and all you hope it would snow that the night would seem that much brighter. The more I look at modern takes on older media, the less I see hope were there should be. Not only that, but there is no significance with most of the stories, there’s no payback. Like with modern Star Wars movies, the payback is miserable for all the misery you have to watch through. In the end, you’re left with a character with least meat to her and none of the ones that ultimately mattered. I’m babbling at this point, but it might be the whisky I finally managed to get a glass for.

The past month has been a bit rough, if I’m completely honest with you. This has come through the quality and language of the posts bit too much. More often than not I’ve had pleasant and relaxing time when writing, but last month was more or less me banging my head against a concrete slate. Not because of lack of topics, but due to me not exactly feeling like adding any more load on my back. You shouldn’t bring your work home, but it’s kinda hard when your boss calls you when you’re at home. Working from home, if I’m completely honest, is probably one of the worst ways to go. Unless you have a specified space or room for your office. Your normal life and work life should be mostly apart.

February is a short month, and I’ve given up on planning anything for the future. I’ve got a too large a list of shit to finish, like that TSF-plane comparison charts (at least two or three yet on the workbench) and continuing with the Guilty Gear design comparisons, though now adding Strive‘s designs would probably hit the spot. Comic Lemon People history has been sitting on the back burner for years now, but maybe I could get my hands on some magazines I’m missing to make it some kind of History as seen on the pages of the magazine kind of thing. Less about the history of the magazine and more about its contents and how that got spread around. Mentioning stuff like Zeorymer OVA would be necessary, and I guess that would lead into discussion about Cream Lemon and Lemon Angel as well. Not exactly a topic I’m eager to tackle, if I’m honest, due to the whole amount of work outside writing. Probably a post worth all the effort, but not now. Not the way things are now. There’s also that one device review coming on, that hand-held track ball, but there are few kinks I want to learn about in usage that I want to experiment before giving an end-users opinion.

I’ll probably be skipping next week’s Wednesday post, and save that writing time to device a new About section to replace the old one. In hindsight, just removing that particular page probably would leave people confused the mixed and contradictory views on the blog. After all, I don’t underline everything I write, but rather try to view issues more than just one view, unless provocation is intended.

What a way to waste a post for 2020.02.02.

Fascination with the (new) old (classics)

Somebody once asked me how I find all the (somewhat) old and obscure stuff I sometimes write on the blog and talk in person. Like with Gekisatsu! Uchuuken, to mention a specific example this question was propped up against. My answer is rarely anything poetic and really ended up being This is the kind of stuff I’m interested in, and often simply look into what’s there. By this I mean I have a tendency, or a very bad habit, to look up mentions of sources of inspirations, quoted series names, game titles listed on old magazines or sites, or simply because looking for something else I ran into something that seems interesting and begin to look up what’s it all about. The last bit is, unfortunately, far too common and nine out of ten times leads me to research something old, something that doesn’t seem to have decent resources on the ‘web, and all I can really do is purchase the damn thing only to realise it’s a part of larger piece and things begin to spiral out from there. This is why I’m going to have to talk about Monster Maker in few months.

I still need to return to talk about Gekisatsu! Uchuuken now that I have vastly more info on it, like about its original proto-iteration that was written during high-school days, the LP with the intended music for the never-realised TV series and managed to obtain the comics twice over with some more juicy extra info

Just as often as I saw people getting into something they just found out and were passionate about I could see someone scoffing them off either because it wasn’t interesting to others, or they had been interested in the same subject before and had either moved on or disregarded the subject. Then you have combination of both, and raising their noses to the plebeian who just now found something that they probably thought should be common base knowledge for everyone. That’d be like if I’d assume you dear reader could tell me what happens in episodes of Cream Lemon just because it was a massive influence on Japanese popular culture still felt to this day, and you most likely have some level of fascination regarding Japanese games and cartoons if you’re reading this blog.

People find different things at different rate, or sometimes never. Our fields of interests are wide and individually very specific. There is no one person who shares all the same interests with someone else, which also leads us to build our views and opinions very differently. It’s both nature and nurture. We might have a disposition for certain kind of interests, be it about what kind of job we want or what we find interesting in entertainment. We aren’t as tabula rasa even after birth as some might suggest, but neither are we slave to our genes. This is stupidly convoluted way of saying we got different interest and we want different things from life. This doesn’t lead into conveniently split demographics though.

Nevertheless, the old fascinates us. Be it to understand history itself, or where certain elements have spun from in culture and media. For example, how video games didn’t simply wink into existence when the first video and/or computer game was devised, but rather how modern electronic gaming was a slow process that included inventing new tools to build new methods of play old games and ideas with. While the distinction between video games and tabletop games is handy, the only true separation between the two is the medium. In the most basic form, both are about the play. Which also explains why some prefer the electronic method of playing, while other prefer the more traditional method via physical instruments. The two overlap constantly, seeing variations of the same core idea of play in both forms.

Even Tetris, a video game that is practically impossible to be converted into a board game without electronics or some form of change in play rules, has multiple board game iterations. This one’s from Ashen’s play review

 

Old becomes new when you find about it the first time around. There are no limitations on age on anything when it’s found for the first time. Children find classics all the time via new media just as we used to stumble upon new books and comics in the stores and libraries. There is no limitation or expiration on what constitutes as old when it’s found for the first time, and there is no set time someone “needs” to find something. It’s a treasure of a moment when you find something special to you, old or new, that you simply end up enjoying like no other. Doesn’t matter if it’s passé or something else as long as you end up enjoying it. Share the love while you’re at it, maybe you’ll be able to give the same moment about the same thing with someone else.

Although the old has a hold on the cultural mind, Old is not the best choice of word there. What has preceded before would be more proper, as many works are effectively timeless. Some of them haven’t aged all that well, some have been made obsolete and surpassed by another works in certain genres, styles or even series, while others still hold their candle to even the newest and shiniest of works you can grab. Star Wars and Star Trek could be cited as examples of this, but I’m sure you’re about as tired about that subject as I am. However, they are both good examples of franchises that simply don’t seem to die or be eclipsed by something. Modern Star Wars seems love to lean on nostalgia far too much and hasn’t exactly broken new ground in any manner since Lucas’ last movies (for all the Prequels were, they did push film technology and ways to film forward to the point modern film making around the world owes the man.) As for Star Trek, well, better cut this one short before the discussion about canon becomes relevant. Personally I’m grown tired of canon as that seems to govern all discussions about franchises and stories as of late, where everything needs to be part of some particular canon, while I’m all happy to take each individual story as it is without needing to consider too much the surrounding fiction. Didn’t save me from wanting to bash ST Discovery’s head in though.

Because we have these comparison points with the past works, we can build a better and more cohesive understanding on how both media and culture landscapes have formed themselves. Perhaps this is why some people are high and mighty assholes as they supposedly have more information and perspective over others, but it’s more likely they’re just assholes. It’s weird to consider, but many of modern entertainment staples have a long-running history and have worked their asses off to be there. This level of investment of course means they’re a safe bet, something that will produce money just by name alone. A new franchise has to battle directly against these established giants, which isn’t a fair battle, at least not in most cases. The Orville is an interesting beast in that it was more popular than Star Trek Discovery, its approach as a loving homage and some level of parody left it a bit behind the curve, and that it’s one of the few SF shows now that enjoyed at least some level of success. 2014’s Almost Human was terrific series, which never launched off and was cut short only for one season partially because lack of views, no established IP to support it and FOX having the tendency to kill off genre shows. The show might have done better if it had been realised during the 1990’s, but 2014 didn’t really serve it well.

All this is to say that all that old may give us perspective, but at the same time there is a hard tendency to get stuck with it. It’s something familiar, it’s something we’re accustomed to. Despite how much we might argue otherwise, people are very much accustomed to certain kind of things. We feel safe and comfortable how things are. Despite something new may get our attention and pull us in, more often than not it ends up being similar to what we already know about. Old habits die hard. At the same time, we might get so stuck into certain kind of gear and believe what was and how things are that we completely ignore reality. That’s partially because of our media and relationship bubbles we live in and partially because of our own nature of interest. That’s to put it overtly simply. It’s not rarity for people to get stuck to history and what we suppose we know that we’re ignoring what’s in front of us right now. While history tends to rhyme, we move forwards all the time and things change gradually but constantly. There’s no stopping this train.

The more reason for someone like me to read fantasy books and try playing board games rather than mar myself further into SF and play video games exclusively. It might still be old, but expanding to classics and seeing how its web of culture was woven helps to understand the works of now.

American localisation is global

With the recent hubbub NISA’s staff making statements about localisation in a stream and then giving respond statement, maybe it’d be time to open an issue about translation again. NISA doesn’t have a clean track record with their game releases, not by far. From game breaking bugs because of newly inserted text to removed audio all the way to completely inaccurate translations and renaming characters for the sake of memes and jokes, NISA’s translations are pretty much the Funimation of game world. Despite the translators mentioning that they need to localise the jokes to make sense in the culture they are translating them into, they seem to miss the point that NISA’s published games have very much targeted audience and a certain niche that isn’t culturally ignorant. These people don’t consider one bit that the English translation they’re doing will be used globally, not just in the US.

Of course they don’t consider this an issue. No English translator I’ve seen to date outside some small independent fan-translators do. NISA’s staff thinking that they need to localise the work they’re given to translate to be along the lines of the culture the game is being published in is laughable not only because that means they’re taking the original work and modifying its meaning and intention, but also that this culturalisation in the end means end-users have to think the games’ text from the point of view of American culture as these people see it. What passes fitting in the US or has cultural significance most often makes jack shit sense in the rest of the world. The British may speak the same language, but the culture is very much a different beast, and it only grows the more different a language goes. It’s distrusting the audience and considering them low-intelligence if you think you have to take special measures to make game’s localisation culturally fitting. If you’re going to that length, you might as well start calling rice balls jelly doughnuts.

Pokémon cartoon is an example where things were taken the whole way through and not half-assing it. Localising everything about a cartoon isn’t exactly uncommon, especially considering the target audience is children. Further down the line, other countries used the English translation as the basis for their translation, some opting to change English names to local ones. The 4KIDS version of the show was censored for sure, removing instances of violence, profanities removed, Japanese text removed and replaced (something the Japanese show runners became aware down the line and begun using in-world script) as well as banned episodes. 4KIDS localisations can be understood as their shows were for children, and children get special treatment in what they should consume. Certainly this went overboard in some cases, but again, children. Unlike with the games NISA is localising, which are aimed towards a more adult audience, despite some titles having lower age rating.

The audience that consumers games that NISA localises and publishes wants as close and accurate translations as possible without losing well scripted and idiomatic English. The same applies of Visual Novel fans, where the translation is even more important. Some video game fans seemingly take low-tier translations willy nilly, like how Bandai Namco’s Asian English translations begun with absolutely terrible quality, and how most translated Japanese mobile games use terminology that makes no sense.  Games as a standard have always had terrible translations, and NISA isn’t helping any with their takes.

However, understanding English doesn’t mean you understand the culture or its stances. In some cases, Americanisation, ends up being offensive to other cultures that end up having that same translation. Are these countries expected to understand this because the translators decided the Japanese original wasn’t fitting their culture? Should these countries then take the translation and make a new one to fit their own nation’s culture? That happens rather often, if we’re completely fair, but it doesn’t fix the underlying issue with the English translation still. This is surprisingly evident in Quiz games or games with quiz minigames that don’t get re-localised from their US translation. Too many times you come across quizzes that are very America-centric and pick up cultural motifs from there, disregarding most of the world. Mega Man Legends 2‘s quiz minigame is surprisingly good example of properly localised minigame, as it recognised the global release and has more questions about global history than anything specific to the Americas.

The Pokte Village Quiz is fun to do without any cheats because it isn’t stuck to cultural notions. Some questions may be a bit genre specific (like the ones about music), but overall it is surprisingly timeless. Also, the girl on the left was used for Yai(to) in the Battle Network series

This might not be a major issue in the end, but something I can’t see any American translator thinking about. When talking about localising text culturally, nobody has raised this global issue. We don’t have global culture. Even on the Internet, despite the unspoken etiquette there tends to be, it’s site-by-site what sort of culture of action there is. Other websites allow whatever to go free, while others require strict rules of behaviour and action. Even such small things as discussion groups via Skype or Discord have their own cultures, but none of these have one, all-encompassing culture.

With this, it could be argued that leaving the text to be more culturally related to Japan in tone, be it more sexualised for example, would be optimal way to go. It would sidestep most of criticism NISA and other similarly translating companies get, but also would trust that the main audience, which in NISA’s case are people who are already relatively well acquainted with Japanese culture via other forms of media, but also would offer cultural enrichment for the rest of the mainstream consumers who might end up buying their games by happenstance. There should be nothing wrong in being exposed to other cultures and how they function and what their values are. Text might offend, but it doesn’t hurt. It makes business sense to localise and lessen any chances of people being offended, that makes more sales. It rarely hoes hand-in-hand with whatever artistic merit one might want to coin to translations. It’s not like translations should be treated as objective texts to translate rather than a platform to rewrite and insert translator’s own thoughts and ideas over the original author, but that’s exactly what localisation ends up doing. Translators often stand next to a slippery slope, looking down and wonder how small step it takes to become Funimation.

Modern displays can’t represent the reality of old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music of the Year; Jubei

When I sat down to write this post during the last few days 2019 with the intention of pushing it out on the second, I had a moment to pause and think. Despite writing an entry only two times a week now, that’s still more often than with some other blogs. Some barely update twice a month. I’m aware that the quality and topics have been slipping for some time now, and I’ve pointed that out few times already. Old news, why am I repeating myself like this? Because that’s what the blog has become; an endless repetition of points I’ve made in the past, sometimes rectifying something, sometimes expanding. Other times it’s just the same point in a new guise. It’s about as subtle as using a sledgehammer to crush an ant. For the first time, properly, I’m asking myself What’s the point? The whole page about what this page is about is no longer relevant, and by the time you’re reading this post that section in the menu at the top has been removed.

The music wasn’t just chosen because I’ve been familiar with it for some twenty years. It’s hammy, but this particular theme was used during the opening and transformations scenes in Jubei-Chan; Secret of the Lovely Eye-Patch. I’ve rarely hummed the song, but it never left some seedy patch in my memory. The hammy part comes in that I’m throwing it as the year’s theme, as I see a need for the blog to change while keeping it true what it was to be about. Two contradictory things like this rarely can meet in harmony, but that end amalgamation should be something worth striving for.

First is that I’ll stick what I planned last year; I won’t be forcing myself to write a post if there’s no point and the quality would suffer from that. Instead, I’ll mull over topics before putting them on paper, so to speak. For example, I noticed how I neglected an element of AI in my Muv-Luv and artificial intelligence posts, but rather than hack one in hastily, I decided to sit back and consider the topic further. Hopefully this also means the effort will go into making something worthwhile. Additionally, I hope this will give me time to return to certain scanning projects that have been sitting in the ice for two to three years now, one of the being a retrospective on Tamiya’s model kit mascot, Moko-chan. Moko’s Plastic model building guides were a sort of sub-cultural phenomena that represent that rare kind of mindset of making stuff yourself, learning how to model and build and enjoying what you’re doing. Effectively, appreciating one’s own craftsmanship, something that has become more common nowadays, but in digital form. Huh, I guess there’s a topic for me to discuss at a later date.

I won’t lie; this 1980’s style is top notch, prime meat quality to my weathered soul

All the above should prevent me from burning out like I felt I was last year. While blogging technically doesn’t (shouldn’t) take too much time, if there’s something else I’d rather dropped that few hours in, like another hobby or seeing friends, those take priority. A mind that is only consumed and worried about one thing is a tired and slack mind. It has to be renewed with other perspectives and other sources of inspiration rather than the same old again. (Is this accidental irony that I’m repeating the same old for the Nth time now?) Some of the results won’t be visible here, but some might, depending how different projects and plans go.

I’ve also decided to drastically change my stance on monetary support. While options like Patreon etc are not exactly for me, either because I’m not a fan of the platform or generally how they function, Ko-Fi seems to be a middle ground what sort of service I was looking for. You can check my page either via a new Widget on the right, at the top, or via this link. I sincerely expect zero support, zero amount of cash. This page is not that popular that anyone would be willing to drop any money, but certain British Youtuber talked me over last about this. You never know if you don’t have one set up, he said. I would almost bet he’d donate just to show he’s right. While I don’t have goals up on the page, I do have some in the back of my head. Depending if anything ever comes this way, the first thing would be to get a domain, so that the page could stand without WordPress at the top. Second aim would be to get a better visual theme; the current one is not exactly optimal and getting something that would serve both galleries and text better. The better themes cost around hundred bucks last time I checked, so there’s that. All the Ko-Fi donations would build towards this, and none of them would be used for personal profit or gain. If there’s something left after the initial goals, well maybe I’ll buy a pack of tea and think of something better. It’s nice to have pipe dreams like this.

Speaking of personal, the third change will be that there will be a another blog, independent of this one. Whether or not it’ll be linked at any point or somewhere else is still up in the air, but it won’t be about news or commentary. Rather, I’ve wanted to write prose for some time now, and I’m giving it a shot by writing short stories. This, of course, would take time away from writing the blog, but as said, other hobbies to renew the mind. I hope tackling two different sides of text gives me more reasons to explore multiple perspectives more than previously, but you never know. Much like with the blog, I doubt many would be interested in reading those stories, but again, you never know before you try it out. All I really want is them to be out of my head, maybe compile them into a book down the line if I get enough stories out. Aahh, pipe dreams.

I’ll also try add more pictures on the blog, just like previously. Just a dump of text doesn’t do much good. Let’s leave that for prose.

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention the death of one Syd Mead, 1933-2019. I do not want to try gain views or cash on his death, as Mead was, and still is, one of the inspirations for me. His works both in television, film, animation and everywhere were nothing short of master pieces. His design tongue and style were easily recognisable and stood out from the generic mass of the media landscape. Mead was a designer who didn’t just draw items, but settings, vistas and visages, the concepts of future and life. He considered science-fiction to be realism ahead of his time, and it shows in his works. He wasn’t just an artist, he was a master craftsman with only few matching his peer.

This blog was set up back in 2011. We’re closing in on our ninth anniversary soon. Funny to think that this blog started at the beginning of this decade, and will end just after a new one has kicked off. Even funnier, when you realise a decade is years spanning from 1 to 10, and most people celebrated the New Millennium a year early.

Something new and the countering culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music of the Month; Snow is falling in the Galaxy

Christmas time is upon us once more, and we all should slowly slow our work and hype down towards the end of the year. Don’t mind if some spend Christmas for religious reasons, don’t mind if some don’t, this end of the year shouldn’t be about bickering. Y’know, the usual platitudes, but they’re worth every word spoken and breath taken. Our modern societies do spend too much time working and worrying, be what gift to get to whom or global issues that ultimately may be outside one person’s reach. While there are issues we all can strive for as one unit, we have to remind ourselves that each individual has their own limitation, their own stamina that will run out at some point. If not for any other reason, slowing down, settling to a calmer mind set and spending some time with the people you care for the most (or in case you don’t have any, spending that well deserved self-time with your favourite pastime) is all worth it. Certainly there are those who may not be able to do this for numerous reasons. Maybe it’s the usual goodness of our heart, morality, or simply because taking care of fellow man should make us feel better, giving something for those who don’t have any would give some chances of people being able to slow and calm down, just like you most likely can.

That sounds like a lot of bullshit, diabetes inducing sweet talk and all that, but in the end, I would love if everyone could settle their bickering and fighting aside for at least for these few days in the year. You’ll have all the time to go bombastic and drunk when the New Year hits around anyway. All I really want is people get along, despite their differences in opinions and characters.

That’s probably the best I can say about the coming month. By the end of the year, I’ll most likely skip writing a post or two. It honestly will depend how much time I want to end up spending in front of the screen and typing something down, when I could be doing something else. That certainly sounds selfish. Maybe because it is, I don’t get paid. I get paid to build shit. That said, there should be a controller review coming up still, the Retrobit Saturn controller. As usual with these third party aftermarket controllers, licensed or not, I’ll be giving it a fair shake review and open it for a good pornographic inside view to the PCB and electrons inside. Not that I’ll be able to say much about it, outside overall construction quality and basic soldering, but there are people who appreciate pictures of PCBs. Maybe we’ll be able to see whether or not the controller would make a decent base for a project. It’d be nice of some company outside Madcatz would finally realise that there are people who want to build their own shit, and giving them some kind of decent base PCB would be a way to go.

The Post was in strike for good two weeks and then some, ending up with the prime minister and his government resigning, so whether or not the controller will actually arrive before the year ends is a big question. We’ll see. Just like we’ll see if those fifteen other packages that are stuck in the mail will arrive.

I’ll have to think what to do with this blog next year though. While topics will be around, I do consider this year to be a travesty in terms of quality. Nothing of worth has come out, outside one or two special cases. I still think the Virtual-On Retrospective in many ways is the best the blog can offer. Maybe I’ll change the working method and stop doing twice-a-week schedule and turn that to once-a-week while working on posts that take more time. Like those Guilty Gear and TSF comparisons. When you do don’t work 8h+ a day, somehow you find yourself having time and energy to put into something else. Maybe I’ll open a Patreon or Ko-Fi for people who want to drop a nickle or two for those “big post,” though I can assure you this blog would get zero monetary support. I know my own word’s worth, and it ain’t much. Though I could have plans for any support, like purchasing my own domain name and use that for the blog. I really would like to do more controller and gadget reviews still, especially on older stuff and optional third party items, because those have the most interesting things in them. The standard controllers usually don’t have much exciting itty bits in ’em, but something like that Mini Hori Commander for the Famicom, where they crammed all that stuff into two layers while arguably making a better controller the official Famicom or NES one, is that kind of jazz I simply adore.

As for anything âge or Muv-Luv related stuff, well, we’ll see. There are numerous topics I want to visit, but I’d have to refer you to the whole “big post” business I mentioned earlier, and I know hitting that audience all the time would make the blog more a success, but that would turn boring rather fast, and in the end it isn’t the main point of the blog. I maybe I should open a new one and do ML related posting there twice a month or so. Maybe after I reach that 10-years anniversary with this blog, which is coming in couple of years. Time will tell what happens and what doesn’t.

For now, just enjoy life and slow down a bit. There are no reasons to hurry, unless you’re badly injured and need medical help. While you’re at it, remember to sharpen and oil your knives. A sharp knife is a safer too in the kitchen, preventing the blade slipping like a dull blade tends to, because it can’t cut into the material. Oiling of course prevents rusting and all that, just be sure to use something like rapeseed oil rather than motor oil.

Old, reheating Capcom

Despite Capcom having big hit titles in the few recent years, mainly Devil May Cry 5, Monster Hunter World and Resident Evil 2 Remake, that’s pretty much it. Street Fighter V has been extremely safe game for them, the SF fandom can be very, very tribal about their loved title, and Capcom fighting games overall are still considered the golden standard. For a good reason too, but that’s not the main topic here, maybe we’ll revisit that a bit later.

For 2019, Capcom has released no truly new game. Everything Capcom has released this year has been either a remake, sequel or a port. 2018 was the same deal. Back in the day in the late 1980’s and 1990’s Capcom was blamed to rehash the same game over and over again with new sequels. This isn’t true, despite it feeling like that with a new Mega Man game almost every year or yet another variation of Street Fighter II. The Golden Age of Mega Man was a wild time in many ways, but at the same time Capcom kept pushing out new franchises to expand their library and offering. If there wasn’t something new on a console, the arcades probably had something interesting to check out, like Darkstalkers.

Modern Capcom is satisfied with the status quo they have going on now, at least on the front. Capcom is relying on their big-name, big-business titles. While SNK wants to become Marvel of video games, Capcom used to have this spot. I say used to, because as we are now, Capcom has become the company that does nothing but sequels or rehashes. Even Mega Man, franchise that used to renew itself every few years to some extent, is effectively buried again. Capcom lost all the momentum they gained with Mega Man 11 by not publishing any solid information of a new Mega Man game being developed. Well, there is Rockman X DiVE, but as with every other Capcom franchise, they go to die on mobile. DiVE is far from being a new Mega Man 11 in terms of impact and presence, mostly because the title is competing in a different market from the main bulk of Mega Man games. In the end, it is still a sequel, or rather a spinoff, to a well known franchise.

Has Capcom abandoned making new and strong IPs? In business, especially in Japanese business, sticking to what you know best and what has already established market slot and pull is the way to go. The reason you don’t get new sequels to long-dead franchises all the time or new IPs to bolster the library is because the current corporate culture in Capcom is not there. The young Capcom needed to expand and make new titles all the time. Not because they threw everything a the wall to see what stuck, but because there was that drive. The people who work in Capcom now are not the same people who launched these game IPs originally, and it’ll take someone exceptional, like Yoshinori Ono, to suggest and bear the weight of reviving an IP.

You would think that reviving an old IP with strong history would fit the category just fine. Reviving, however, means that the IP is dormant or dead, often because it has either seen a slouch in sales or the driving force behind the franchise is missing. Resident Evil has consistently seen good amount of sales and is considered Capcom’s modern mainstay franchise next to Monster Hunter. Both of these series are old, but have been reinvented as they’ve come along. They’re also consistent with Capcom’s changing image, with new blood coming in and tasked to make a new game for the series. Capcom shows that you can live off a limited amount of IPs under your belt just fine, as long as you keep quality high and the number of releases constant. A stagnant series that doesn’t have the drive behind or, or the corporate support compared to the other projects that are going on at the same time, doesn’t have much chances. As much as Final Fight plays an important role in Capcom’s history, it is a legacy series they can use to promote themselves and other titles for the old guard that’s out there, but Final Fight has been superseded by Devil May Cry as the action game.

At some point, old IPs become new again after they’ve been dormant long enough. Street Fighter IV is a great example of this, and we can see Toho doing the same thing Godzilla periodically. Capcom still intents to revive some of their old, sleeping IPs (just like they said last year) but what are the chances of that happening? Perhaps what they mean by reviving they mean remaking old games that were big hits for the modern generations that hear the legends of these old games but won’t play because they’re too old. Maybe it means more ports upon ports. Probably both, as rumours say Capcom is already working on Resident Evil 3 remake. Understandable, considering how well REmake2 was did in sales and reception. While Capcom has loads of legacy franchises under its belt, they’re intentionally not making any use of them outside collections and re-releases. All the R&D goes to big name titles, which is closer to putting your eggs into one basket rather than betting on multiples. It seems to be working for Capcom just fine, but as argued last year, Capcom has both the manpower and economic capacity to develop smaller titles with smaller teams. They sort of are doing this with their mobile department, but that’s a different market from home consoles, and arguably different from PC market as well.

There’s no reason for Capcom to change their pattern right now, their big budget titles sell well and they are successful. Their caution is to back these up with re-releases. It’s safe and sure way to make business, and business is their main thing. Capcom wants big titles, big revenues. Small titles with meager sales won’t make that cut, but putting some money on re-releases, that’s a different thing. I wouldn’t expect Capcom to actually revive an old IP that doesn’t have some presence already. Sad to say, but at the moment, Capcom truly is the company they were joked to be, rehashing everything and unwilling to bring anything new to the table.

Forceful franchising

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

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

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

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

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