Review; Columbus Circle’s Gley Lancer re-release

Few years back I decided to pick up and review Battle Mania‘s Chinese knock-off/reproduction cart from eBay for cheap. Time hasn’t been all that kind to my views on the reproduction, and in hindsight it is just atrociously bad. Fast forward to 2019 and I’m sitting here with another new Mega Drive game cart in my hand. This time, a licensed re-realease of Advanced Busterhawk Gley Lancer. extreme has their hands on all of Masaya’s IPs, and apparently Columbus Circle saw it fit to license Gley Lancer and give it a quality rerun. This is review of the package and quality of the production, not a review of the game. The game’s 9/10 shooting game, go buy it. I would recommend reading the previously linked Battle Mania review for some comparison.

Completely new boxart

First impressions are important, and the packaging doesn’t falter. The box has the same feel as the original Mega Drive game boxes, that sort of somewhat cheap feel of plastic that could break anytime, but can still take a beating. The surface texture on the transparent plastic wrap is there and it gives the perfect kind of feel under your fingers. It looks and feels the part; a genuine Mega Drive game. The cover sleeve is thin matte paper, again just like the original MD games. The print quality is perfect without losing any details. Furthermore, if you don’t want to see two girls on a box of this game, you can always reverse the sleeve for the original boxart image.

 

This adds value, and collectors can have the original cover just fine. However, Columbus Circle did make certain that people would not be tricked, as they slapped their logo on the spine and contact information on the back. I should also point out the additional text at the bottom of the cover mentioning that this isn’t Sega Games endorsed product. This is sort of unofficialy official Mega Drive game, produced with the proper license from the IP holder, but without Sega’s involvement.

These first impressions on the outside of a product like this take a long way. Collectors who showcase their games want the appearance to be right. However, the insides need to be satisfying as well for those who will keep playing the game as normal, like yours truly.

Everything is, of course, new. While pretty much every and all MD carts out there are black, Columbus Circle used a semi-transparent smoke coloured one for Gley Lancer. While a personal preference says it looks like, it might’ve been better to go with the same solid black as standard MD cartridge. However, the texture around the label gives a nice grip. Again, this sort of tactile feedback takes a product a long way forward. Some Japanese cartridges did feel a bit cheap back in the day for whatever reason, Western carts just had better build overall. This one is somewhere in-between, having better plastic than the Japanese releases, but not as good as European or American. The mould used however has been excellent, as the shell halves fit together rather perfectly. The label print is top notch, nothing to bitch about here. It just has been applied too close to the bottom, meaning there’s a lot of empty space at the back, and that the on the lower left corner is taken some very minor damage. Not that this was all that rare back in the day, but whoever put these on probably didn’t really care.

At the back you see the main reason why this review won’t have PCB pictures; the screws are covered by a label. You can see the spot on the left where I’ve pressed the label is somewhat to expose the rims of the screw holes. Columbus Circle branded these carts with their own logo, which again makes it stand apart from original cartridges. Your mileage may vary whether or not you like this, but it nevertheless does give the whole deal a different feel. You won’t forget that this was produced in 2019. By that extension, you might not feel that this is “real” despite having licensed and all under its belt. Notice that the label is slightly peeled on the right there. This either means that the label is robust enough to start coming off by itself, or the applier just screwed this up as well. Heating the adhesive a bit and reapplying should remedy this well enough. In addition to this, there are some problems with the cartridge.

While original cartridges had the injection tabs in the same place, the quality assurance never left large, broken surfaces. This isn’t the case with this particular copy, and I don’t really think the manufacturer cared too much about the rest either. Rather than taking the time and effort to file or sand down the tabs completely, they’re largely left in their original state. The tabs rise some two millimeters off the inside surface, and while they don’t interfere with the game’s insertion into the console, they do look rather tacky. Taking a knife and cutting them even or otherwise leveling them isn’t a problem or a major task, but something that just degrades from the overall quality of the product. This probably is the largest gripe, which says a lot otherwise about the quality.

While I won’t be opening the cart for now, we can use the transparent plastic to our advantage. Here you can see how clean everything is, though just ignore the dust bit at the top. The PCB seems to be standard MD size, and there doesn’t seem to be anything extra, unlike 8Bit Music Power. Columbus Circle did improve their PCB design right after all the negative feedback after this. I’m betting they’re using flash memory to store the ROM, but unlike with the Chinese Battle Mania knock-off, this seems to utilise a full-sized PCB, similar to 8Bit Music Power FINAL. Columbus Circle has released a music title on the Mega Drive previously, one which I’ll probably pick up at a later date for comparison how this release compares to it. That smoke colour really comes to through nicely against light though.

The manual, however, does let you down a bit. Not much, but enough.

The manual’s printed on a good matte paper. This is seems to be clear cut difference between people who haven’t done project like this and those who have; experienced people use matte paper most of the time. If glossy paper is present, its used for an effect and even then the nature of the paper is selected carefully. Saying glossy and matte don’t really tell anything on themselves, but opening the can between paper qualities would take a whole blog in itself. That matter aside, the manual uses the new boxart slightly cropped, which is a good choice. You can reverse the cover sleeve to the original boxart while still keeping the new style look at hand. The rest though?

This one page really should tell it all. On one hand, the print quality is pretty good, nothing short of original Mega Drive runs. However, the characters on the left seem too dark. It is very likely that Columbus Circle had to resort to scanning the original manual rather than gain access to the original materials. This either means the original manual was this dark as well, the printing colours were off, or that something happened between scanning and printing. This seeming darker-than-intended issue of course is on every page, colours saturated and all. However, because most lines and text are sharp, I can’t help but this is was the original result. You can also see that the grid is not exactly straight, but if we’re completely honest, the grid like this is never completely straight. Neverthless, the manual feels off to drop a point off from the whole package.

Nevertheless, compared to the original Mega Drive games and packaging, this run of Gley Lancer is up to relative standards. There are some spots that should be improved, especially when an official license is in play, but this is far above any Chinese knock-off. Chinese can produce good stuff, as long as you put the money and skill in the production. Practically all repros and releases like this are made in China anyway, its just a question of picking the proper subcontractor to work with and all that. I would still recommend this release of Gley Lancer if you want to play games on your Mega Drive, as it is a complete, official package.

However, I would raise a question whether or not this should supersede the original release, if you had the possibility to choose one or the either. Perhaps it is because there is no license from Sega, or just to differentiate this release from the original, it is 2019 run of Gley Lancer and this will rub some people the wrong way.

Differences include the MD logo, genre classification icons, different Mega Drive text at the top, different cartridge materials and label. We can understand the lack of any Sega related logos and materials, but why change the cartridge label? Perhaps to unify the look of the packaging, to make the overall package look the same across the board. It an be argued that Columbus Circle should’ve stuck replicating the original release as much as possible, but at the same time this could’ve lead some people trying to sell the re-release as original release. An issue these releases always will have is the compatibility with original hardware. While I am a proponent of using modern PCBs and methods to deliver older games in more efficient manner, we’ve seen how haphazard it come become, like it did with 8bit Music Power. However, as said, these issues have been seemingly fixed, and the current method of making reproduction cartridges seems to be solid and without any real hitches. The game also lacks any reference to Sega when it boots up and has the updated Masaya logo alongside Columbus Circle’s own right after. Of course, because Nippon Computer System wasn’t involved in this release, extreme has replaced them in the credits. However, the game code and how it plays is still the same. Here’s a full playthrough of the game with a Mega Drive with sound modified for your enjoyment.

The image quality is much sharper than Columbus Circle’s own trailer, as Framemeister is still the best option to run old systems on modern televisions

Because of all the changes to the packaging and changes in credits, some will consider this as a good knock-off or a repro. Some will consider this release weaker for the same reason and the lower level of quality control. However, when put into context, a small independent circle re-releasing a cult-classic under official license from extreme and Masaya. While it is regrettable that few issues keep this from being an absolutely stellar release, the fact that this wasn’t their first MD release, and Columbus Circle is intending to publish more, they need to tighten up on quality control once more to achieve the same level of quality as original game releases. Neverthless, if you’d like to own a copy of Gley Lancer and can’t spot an original copy or don’t want to spend the money, I would recommend this re-release warmly despite its shortcomings.

 

Complexity and difficulty do not deter sales

Continuing from last week’s ex tempore Guilty Gear post, the concept of making something more accessible in video games should be looked at a bit closer. The myth is very clear cut; make a game’s play less demanding in order to attract consumers. For long running franchises, there already exists an installed consumer base, changing a series’ latest entry to be less whole than its predecessor usually isn’t met with the most positive reception. Fighting games are interesting in this regard, because they exhibit series-within-series mentality. All five mainline Street Fighter games series have their own unique approach to the core mechanics introduced in Street Fighter. Street Fighter II expanded on the cast and introduced combos by accident. Later Street Fighter II games would introduce speed modification, new input methods and the industry standard Super moves. Street Fighter III revamped the whole pace of the game and made Parrying an essential part of the game. Third Strike landed Ex Moves into the series, which have become more or less franchise standard. Street Fighter IV modified Super concept a bit more with Revenge Gauge as well as introducing Focus Attacks and Red Focus Attack would be introduced later. Street Fighter V is a platform for each and every update for the game. This sort of tweaking applies to Guilty Gear as well, where most of the sub-titled game outside the first game have iterative versions. X has X+, XX has its fair share of update to the point of some arguing Accent Core should be considered a sub-series on its own rights. Xrd of course had Sign first before Revelator, and then Rev.2 came around. With New Guilty Gear, we should expect them to take a step back toward the original game, as that’s the standard procedure with both Capcom and ArcSys, and build up from there. However, every time a developer announced they want their game to attract new customers, or that they want certain customer crowd, red flags are raised. However, not for the reason you’d think.

Games have always been complex and stupidly hard. Dark Souls is not any exception to the rule, but it the series is perhaps the best example of a game that mainstream has taken under its wing despite it being brutally difficult, requiring relatively high execution due to its relatively complex mechanics. Dark Souls is just modern equivalent of the NES era Castlevania anyhow. Both are based on Western horror and both are deemed brutally hard games. Both are very successful franchises. The NES era is very good example of games becoming more complex and the same time gaining more popularity and seeing increase sales. Castlevania is of course example of this, but so would Super Mario Bros. By modern standards the first game is archaic, extremely basic. When it first rolled out, it was one of the most technologically advanced game on consoles, the game to define cartridge games before Nintendo rolled out Disk System. We know how that went down. Super Mario Bros. 2 made more characters available with different properties, much longer stages with numerous tricks to them, and more demanding game overall. It may not be Lost Levels, but Lost Levels is just an update for the first game with new enemies and no mechanical changes. Super Mario Bros. 3 on the other hand wiped the slate clean with more demanding stages, more complexity with flying, more mechanics to play with new suits and options, stage gimmicks and so on. If complexity and difficulty would deter the customer, none of these aforementioned series would’ve been successful.

Modern video and computer game developers should look at the arcades’ success to learn a thing or two. Arcade games were often butt puckeringly difficult in order to make their earnings, but with that they also were required to deliver excellent burst of gameplay. Cabinets that didn’t were quickly empty, with customers slotting their quarters into something more worthwhile. The games needed to attract the customers first, and that’s why the cabinet design had to be excellent, eye-catching and sometimes extremely wild. The attract mode was integral to this, which either was pretty damn good or rather terrible. There was no real in-between. The standard was to start with some sort of video sequence that sets up the setting for the game, showcasing some of the characters before the title screen hits, often with a bang. After that it would move to gameplay, which would be either AI playing the game either via game’s own instructions or prerecorded inputs, or just have the player character being dumb and taking hits before dying. Show some scores from other players, maybe splash the title screen once more than then loop the whole thing, until a player throws a coin in. Later in the 1990’s, these attract modes would find themselves very sophisticated, like how Choukou Senki Kikaioh presented itself as an opening animation for a Saturday morning cartoon.

I’d also recommend checking out Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade gamesattract modes.

Presentation is all-important with games still. That is the first thing the consumer will see, from advertisement to in-game graphics. Graphical fidelity in itself is not as important as how those graphics are represented. ArcSys has always been able to pull this off, devising visual flavour that pulls in the audience. The main reason original Guilty Gear is a footnote in the series, and in fighting game history overall, is that it was just another game among others in a time when 2D fighting games were pushed away in favour of 3D. It didn’t make its mark because of being difficult or too complex, Tekken had more on it than Guilty Gear. Third Strike: Street Fighter III hit the scene years later, and you can guess which one of the two are is more complex and more played nowadays. Of course, SFIII wasn’t exactly a mass hit during that time either, but that was the era when arcades were dying. That, and SFIII a totally new cast that rubbed SFII fans the wrong way. Very few companies would be willing to completely replace their game’s cast nowadays, though SFIII‘s unique cast has been accepted retroactively as worthy successors and the initial reaction is seen rather overly drastic. Visuals is what the player will be looking at all the time, and if they’re up to par in terms of design and sheer quality of ’em, the game has to pull double duty on making the entry worthwhile.

That is only the start though, an ever-important one. Once you’ve gotten the customer’s attention, the best way is to engage the him to full possible extent with well designed and coded play. The answer to rope in new players is not in making game easier to play, that is the wrong way to make a game more accessible. Easy to learn, hard to master is the mantra of every great game out there, not just electronic. The best card games are easy to understand and learn, but stupidly hard to master due to other elements. Poker, for example, is simple enough to teach to a three-years old, but everything else calculating odds to reading other players takes time and effort. This isn’t an argument for people to get good at a game, but rather that by allowing the player to naturally learn what does what should be the priority rather than automate things. Automation and cutscenes take away control from the player, and though it helps early on and may give a cinematic effect, it should always be an option to remove automation once the player has learned enough. Autocombos as an element try to alleviate the execution barrier in fighting games, and while they do work as a first step helper, it should always be optional and the game should make an effort to encourage the player to abandon it rather than give them a safe tool they can roll with all the time. Its not a rare mindset to use the tool that’s the easiest and safest because it just works. Repeat it again and again until desired result is gained. The incentive of more damage with better combos doesn’t really sound appealing to general player if such tool exists.

Give a controller to a complete newcomer to fighting games and tell them what the buttons do, and then do things. They’ll be in complete awe what’s going on. There has been much discussion on mechanic complexity, but less so about inputs. Sure, methods of inputs is a big topic, pad vs stick and so on, but less so if there are too many single inputs. What I mean by this that, for example, Street Fighter has six buttons. Three for punches, three for kicks. King of Fighters has four, two punches and two kicks. Tekken has four, one for each limb. Melty Blood runs four as well, but with three attacks and a special. Virtua Fighter has three; punch, kick, guard. Which one of these would you say would make a newcomer most confident? Then consider which of these franchises has seen most revenue. Number of inputs is related to complex execution. More ways to input stuff, the more motor skills are required. Add the mechanics to this, and it becomes easy to see why some would argue lessening complexity is the way to go. Nothing keeps you from using all the buttons on the controller, but at the same time nothing says you should. All that said, the core fighting game design with the system starts with how many buttons there are. It might look intimidating to a complete novice who has never played a game, but this is something no game can really deal with. A player must start somewhere to work over the complex controllers, but a well designed game wins the player over with good design.

Not even kidding. Back when I was studying psychology and used games to run experiments, few of them were so completely bewildered by a SNES controller they might as well have used this

However, this design is hard to implement into a fighting game. The reason for this is that fighting games are pure one-screen games. There are no stages that the developer could design around for the player to intuitively learn controls and mechanics, like they can with Super Mario Bros. There are no attract modes anymore to show how the game flows. All you really can do is hit the Training mode and hope for the best. With the Internet, this shouldn’t be the case anymore. People learned how to play Street Fighter II by being there in the arcades, playing games with others and tradings tips and tricks. That wholesome interaction may be gone now, but online play could help. Have people play few matches against the CPU to measure how good they are and then throw them into online matches with equally ranked opponents. This doesn’t seem to be happening though. Often what seems to happen is that you just keep losing to people online and have to learn about things before you can match others.

The thing is that this happens with everything. You don’t get good at reading before you learn the alphabets and how language works. You don’t learn to drive right away. You don’t learn to draw a straight line until you’ve done it thousands of times. Playing soccer takes ages to get good. Building and painting model kits takes years to learn. Even something like Pokémon Go demands you to drag your ass out there to spin those stops and join the raids for the best Legendaries out there. This is not an issue of getting good at a game, though it does bloody sound like it. The issue is of genre. Fighting games, despite being one of the most readily accessible genre out there, is all about having that crazy shit happen on screen, but as always it should be the crazy shit the player is doing, not the game. Games are about user action, and the less user action there is, the less play a game has. While this post largely equates play with mechanics, the two are inseparable aspects. Fighting games are interesting in that everything is laid out right away in terms of mechanics and they’re easy to do. Making use of them, that’s something that can only come from repeated play. Call it a detriment of the genre or whatever else, but you can only really prepare for a match in a fighting game is to play the game. With RPGs you can get your noggin jogging and consider things in terms of elemental weaknesses and the like. While you can use this in fighting games with rock-paper-scissors elements, timing them right still takes some experience. With a game like Final Fantasy, the issue of getting good at the game is in understanding the mechanics, not really being able to execute them with some motor skill fidelity. Lowering the mechanics skill ceiling might sound attractive, yet it will lead with into more experienced players dominating over newcomers that much more. While Darkstalkers 3 is technically and mechanically very demanding game, it is an example of a game where you medium skill players are very rare. You’ll either be in less skilled floor, or someone who has spend years with the game and have broken through the ceiling. There really is no middle ground, and that probably will be the end result if a fighting game series decides to downgrade its play mechanics.

Holding on to your current consumer base is easier than making a new one. While as a creator it may seem dreadful to tweak an existing formula again and again, that is partially expected from a sequel. Street Fighter does break this mentality, but only if you go by number-by-number rather than iteration-by-iteration. Consumers expect a new numbered Street Fighter to mix things to some extend outside its core basics, but this is not the case with Guilty Gear. XX and Xrd set the expectation that while system tweaks and additions are to be expected, no major or drastic approach would be done in of themselves. The brand expectation for Guilty Gear is what it is, a high-speed fighting game with expansive and complex mechanics that support offensive play the most. Things like Burst, Instant Kills, Gatling Combos, Dust Attacks and the sheer way the games have played have become more or less as part of the core expectations because ArcSys has never given the series a significant system change after GGX. New Guilty Gear will most likely aim to cater with these ideas, but it as a game will have brand confusion. There have been different Guilty Gear experiences before, as Ishiwatari put it, with all the spin-off titles. It would serve the franchise better if the core fighting game line would continue as per standard, catering to both Red Ocean and shallow Blue Ocean customers, all the while the franchise would see a new spin-off that would give it a completely new spin. There is more room for Guilty Gear titles that do something different with the same core basics. From business perspective, you’d keep the interest of your current consumers with a new sub-title to the series all the while still catering to them with the core series, but also attracting newcomers with something they could get into.

Guilty Gear 2 is still a thing, and it changed the genre. ArcSys could do more things like this

It still bogs down to the content, not mechanics’ complexity. You have to have something to nab to consumer in with presentation, you have to have good play to keep the player interested and entertained so he is willing to spend more time, and what he spends his time on is content. When the player consumes a game’s content, he naturally learns the ropes. However, if the content is lacking doesn’t keep interest high. This is why Street Fighter V is a weird case study, as it discarded the idea of iteration in favour of constant content updates. Content for a fighting game would be characters and the various modes, though the main mean would always be the fighting itself. Xrd‘s movie story mode is an excellent example of utterly trash content for a game, whereas previous entries’ multiple paths storymode based on matches and player decisions in those matches is a great example. It keeps the player more engaged, and it gives him motivation to keep playing in order to see all the characters’ story paths. For 25 characters that would mean 50 different endings to unlock. Good online keeps all players along the ride too for some time, but there needs to be content. Marvel VS Capcom: Infinite failed at presentation the very moment trailers hit the scene. The mechanics were great and gameplay had autocombos too, but there was no content people were looking for. On the opposite, Marvel VS Capcom 3 had more complex controls than its predecessor, Tatsunoko Vs Capcom, but obviously had more content that interested general audiences more outside Japan. It should not surprise that it saw more play by all and higher sales.

Video games are stupidly large entertainment industry now, but the true and tested way to expand to the Blue Ocean market still applies; disrupt the market with a new quality product that hits the current paradigm. A revamped Guilty Gear might be this product for sure, but only if it truly is able to pull off everything right. In other words, it would need to be the same kind of title as Street Fighter II was to previous fighting games. Its branding alone drags it down. It would serve ArcSys better if they’d launch a new, high-caliber series with the same energy, with the same effort and the same enthusiasm. They are playing with a marketing grenade in their hands at the moment. ArcSys could pull it off, but chances are consumer expectations are against them harder than Ishiwatari thinks.

New Guilty Gear and the expanded audience

Remember last year when I wrote a post about how complex mechanics were the appeal of Guilty Gear? Can’t really blame you, neither did the co-author on this site. With the that teaser trailer making some big hits and getting an overall positive reception, the fact is that it shows jack shit worth anything. We don’t really see anything outside few interesting tidbits like stage hazard transition. The teaser trailer, in itself, is nothing but proof of concept teaser, showcasing new designs, probable system additions and tweaks and such. As always, these things never represent the final product and getting your ass hyped doesn’t serve anyone. But hey, if you did get hyped and felt pumped, even a little bit, that’s the emotional connection with the brand working for you.

However, now we do have some information going on, and combining that information with the presentation of the teaser, we can pretty much say that Ishiwatari continues with his long lasting intentions to expand audience. In 2011 Ishiwatari, the man running the franchise, mentioned that Guilty Gear has become too hardcore for some people. Some people meaning to people who weren’t playing it. The people who weren’t the core audience or into fighting games overall. That the fans of the series are too old to pay games anymore. Ishiwatari has a history is misunderstanding his own franchise and its consumer base, with almost every iteration since Accent Core Plus getting first bad rap from the fans. Xrd was heavily criticised for dumbing down things. Timing became looser, Blitz Shield was added, something I’ve honestly never seen people use outside accidents and very few special cases and so forth. 3D seems to have the effect that the game plays slower, the same thing happened with King of Fighters XIV getting the same rap despite having the same game and movement speed. There’s something about 3D that just makes things look a bit dumb. 2D sprites snapping into animation looks natural, but 3D is expected to be smooth. I guess Ishiwatari agreed with New Guilty Gear and opted to use terrible motion smoothening effects to accentuate the action.

Also note in that 2011 article how Toshimichi Mori, the designer of BlazBlue, criticises Street Fighter IV 3DS Edition for implementing touch-screen special moves, and now autocombos and easy moves have genre standard for the worse.

I want to quote Ishiwatari from 2018 regarding his intentions on the next Guilty Gear right after Dragon Ball FighterZ was thrown out; “One thing that we have to do in the next installment is to reduce the number of systems [mechanics]; it’s too complicated for everyone. You can expect that in the next game.” New Guilty Gear won’t be just a new Guilty Gear entry. If ArcSys and Ishiwatari had the intentions of keeping Guilty Gear rolling like it previously has, we’d know the full title of the game now. Back when GGXrd -SIGN- was announced in 2013, the trailer didn’t back off from showing the full title. Now, what we get is subpar quality and no full title. We know that this game has been in development for some time in different stages, and what we were shown is more or less the first results of ArcSys tweaking the formula. However, with Ishiwatari saying that New Guilty Gear will be about breaking the series’ into its core elements, to the pieces that make the franchise unique. Complexity, timing, high execution with equally high risk-and-reward with forced focus on offensive gameplay even with characters designed with defensive move sets. Fun fact; ArcSys already had a brand new Guilty Gear experience with Guilty Gear 2 and that pachislot game, both of which were rather mediocre. Isuka counts too, I’d say.

All that said, New Guilty Gear is probably going to be what Xrd already moved towards, what Dragon Ball FighterZ ended up being, and what Ishiwatari has been talking about almost a decade now; a nerfed fighting game, or as some people like to call it, a spectacle fighter. A fighting game that is more concerned about the cool look and effects outside the game’s core play. Stage transitions are these in effect. Sure, its nice to see things like that, but the question is at what cost. Ky’s hair falling open and music changing to Holy Orders III, that’s attention to detail, that’s flavour and flash. A spectacle is what modern games do all the time with Super moves, with long stop-time, zoom in, effects, move, then reset and with time it has gotten worse and worse. A spectacle is when the game’s core design is intended to show cool shit from the get go and hype you up, but is all about doing that rather than giving you tools to reach do those yourself. Street Fighter V gave Ryu an easy parry that everyone could do Daigo Parry themselves stupidly easily for the sake to replicate that moment. Dragon Ball FighterZ is all about the spectacle, and the game suffers from every single way. A spectacle fighter demands the game’s systems to be nerfed in order to favour all the showy bits.

Fighting game accessibility is a modern myth. You can not expand audience by taking two decades worth of game genre evolution to the trash. Modern fighting games have taken direction of lessening mechanics and taking player options out. You have to think and worry about things less and less. This does not work and has never worked. No fighting game in the genre’s history has managed to expand its audience through nerfing it down. All it leads to is the long-time players having easier time against new players, which causes the exact opposite effect, and the old players will end up calling the company out for intentionally failing to deliver a high-caliber game. For years now Ishiwatari has been saying negative things about Guilty Gear the long-time fans have loved. The complex mechanics are not, have never been, a problem with new players. Funny enough, mechanics are not a seller either. Look at the latest Smash Bros. and how it changed its mechanics toward more competitive nature. What made it sell like hotcakes was that it had every single character in the game and the most stages in a fighting game ever. Want a reverse example? Marvel VS Capcom: Infinite had excellent mechanics in the end, probably one of the best entries in the series, but its presentation was absolutely dogshit and its roster was woefully lacking. Its content was against consumer expectations and wants.

Was I wrong then to claim that complex mechanics are the appeal of Guilty Gear and that its the spectacle that sells? Consider the above, Guilty Gear is extremely appealing to people who have been playing fighting games for a long time, people who understand what the hell is going on and how to understand the play. Guilty Gear made its mark during an era when Capcom ceased producing fighting games, SNK was in the rut and there was effectively no competitors. It was a niche franchise still, because nobody knew who Sol Badguy or why there was a nun fighting with a yo-yo. Xrd’s main impact came from its legacy and core fans, but also because its presentation, music and the whole presentation won general audience over. When you play a Guilty Gear title, those complex mechanics come together in a very satisfying manner. It feels good to pull off a simple Gatling Combo, it feels great to run and dash, it feels good to Burst your opponent properly, it feel good to Dust somebody in the air and do a combo, it feels good to Roman Cancel to reset a combo and its absolutely great to use all the mechanics and options you have there. Content, presentation and complex mechanics that make the game feel great are ingredients for a great fighting game. The new Samurai Showdown is a great example of this; a game with absolutely pristine presentation, a great cast of characters and yet the mechanics are hardcore 1990’s high-octane adrenaline pumping complex that extremely satisfying. You just have to let the player to do all that themselves, the end goal that the mechanics serve. Not give automated options, not nerf how the game plays. Xbox One may not have many games to attract consumers per se, but Killer Instinct absolutely nailed how to make the initial entry easy and fun, and everything after was all about having absolute blast, the hype the game’s play causes. You won’t win audience over if the mechanics don’t allow all that, if it is just the same thing over and over, like with Street Fighter V. SFV is an eSport title, and how it looks, the spectacle it gives, ultimately drove it more than making it a great fighting game.

If I’m right in assessing the history of ArcSys’ developments and Ishiwatari’s statements and attitudes, New Guilty Gear will be more like Dragon Ball FighterZ and Granblue Fantasy: Versus rather than Guilty Gear XX. Rein the hype, wait and see what happens.To tell you my honest to God thoughts, Guilty Gear never came back with Xrd. What we have been playing since 2013 has been a facsimile of Guilty Gear. God this post probably reads like an incoherent ramble.

Another Epic PR disaster

When the Epic Game Store came around the first time, I considered it an addition to the whole economy of digital games stores. There’s always more room to challenge Valve, GOG and the rest as long as the service is right, the price it tight and products stand out. The last bit Epic has been working on overtime, but not the way most consumers would want. Its not that Epic has put studios to work for unique games, but they’ve been doshing dough around like no other, picking up games off from developers from Patreon, Kickstarted products and such. Kickstarted products is the sore point, as many were promised either physical PC release or a Steam key, but with Epic bringing its bang to the table, these promises turn empty and they’re given Epic codes instead. While Kickstarter is not a store and changes are always going to happen, keeping tight on your delivered products. When things are like this, you need some good PR management skills to handle the situation. Ok, let’s be realistic; you need someone with excellent PR skill and background to manage the consumers and dampen all the possible damage. You never go in head first yourself, because you don’t have the skills or knowhow. You’d be an idiot to assume that consumers of any sort are a kind bunch. Outside already promised products e.g. via Kickstarter changing their form and direction, in principle there’s nothing wrong in Epic’s way of making exclusives. Personal opinion doesn’t exactly matter, when the majority has made their negative view on the platform rather vocal.

Consider why each and every successful corporation, company or individual businessman has a front while everything happens behind the curtains. That is to keep the consumer at an arm’s length away to keep some details behind the curtain while having proper discourse with the customer.

You probably already know ins and outs how Ben and his wife Rebecca have been working on a game titled Ooblets and how it became a timed-exclusive for Epic Store. I didn’t know about them two days ago, and apparently not many others had either. Still, Ben doesn’t mention his last name or sign with full title, so I’m going to call him just Ben, uncharacteristically. Sorry Benjamin, don’t mean to mix you with this Ben. After Ben announced the situation, he and his wife got some heavy backlash, which should have been completely expected considering how negative reception Epic has. Of course, being Ben he went on to Medium and wrote a long response. Archived version for your pleasure. We’re mostly going to concentrate on this, but you can jump on their Discord if you want to read how easily Ben is willing to take a shot at people for whatever reason. OneAngryGamer has some of them archived, just like his article is.

It really is largely trite to read through, as anyone who have followed any standard events regarding production of games from the start within the indie scene should know, especially the title has been Kickstarted. Most interaction with fans is positive, until you fuck up somehow. When you fuck up, that brings in the rest of your silent backers and other potential customers in like a lightning rod. Ben describes how their style has been jolly and non-serious all this time, which is the first error most of these independent creators do, because that means nobody can never really trust their info without analysing through the bullshit you’re spouting. Having a joke here or there to break the ice is great, but being tongue-in-cheek as your standard style of interaction is about as welcome as a rash on your ass. Sure its colourful and gives you attention, but in the end you want that clear and fresh feeling instead.

The Internet is nothing new when it comes to mad people. It is a misconception that the Internet brought us some sort of new era of hate messages or the like. No, hate mail has always existed. Before direct messaging and emails, people used letters published in news papers or sent directly to the provider, or simply calling by phone. The Internet just has democratised who and how they are able to voice their opinion. Ben listing some examples of people going over the board does show that there are people either genuinely mad, or that there are just people wanting to pitch in for good time’s sake. Neither really is constructive, but emotions tend to take over people very easily.

Ben makes clear that he doesn’t consider anyone a customer. He or his wife hasn’t sold anything to anyone, so there isn’t a provider-consumer relationship. He’d be wrong. The relationship that exists between the two and their audience is potential consumer base, which has effectively become their fanbase that they were nurturing. In the face of law this is the case, he can argue that. However, considering he team has a Patreon that is directly about funding the game. Still, they don’t offer any of the game there, just some merch when they begin to produce it. Maybe.

However, when you have a fanbase and interact with and constantly update them on your progress, you have a group of people you have cultivated as your main consumer base. There is a certain silent agreement between you and this group of people about a transaction and this has been going on for three years. If Ben thought for a moment that there wasn’t meta-transaction on an emotional level going on, he has been sorely mistaken. He can call people entitled all he wants or whatnot, but do remember that when you are promising a product to fans, and have given your word (despite this not being a binding contract), you’ve already made emotional connections and managed to tie the future consumer of your future product to your brand. That tongue-in-cheek nature nature of messages and updates is an element that backfires twice as worse in situation like these, as that tone is often seen as facetious and deceptive. At best it’ll be regarded as condescending, though often that’s the underlying tone. There has been implied promises going on for three years. Morally speaking, Ben and his wife do owe to these people. Furthermore, they owe their very current monetary situation and success to their fans and especially to their patrons.

Ben admits he has a PR disaster in his hands. Yet he blames this on a portion of gaming community rather than acknowledging  his own fuck-up. His business sense overrode the work he had done with his PR, where Epic’s offer for a timed-exclusive seemed a better option over long-term positive feedback. Even my sorry ass has heard enough tales of consumers and fans getting riled up over developers and publishers being swayed by Epic’s bucks. Any and all devs at this very moment should ask themselves Is my fame more worth than the money I’m currently offered? Hell, I’ll even argue that if a dev now would make a bold announcement that they have rejected Epic’s offer for exclusivity in favour if fans’ and consumers’ preference in a proper way, they’d be hailed, in words of an Australian, as fucking heroes.

If you screw your PR like this and make widely unpopular move all the while taking a good shit on people who could have been customers, then still proceed to take numerous dumps on people, belittling people, don’t go cry over a massive backlash. While regrettable, it is also the harsh truth of business and maintaining your image. Ben’s and Rebecca’s first ride on the PR train and it getting off the tracks was, ultimately, their own doing. A reaction always requires something to start it going. Just to make sure, I didn’t say they deserve getting the worst of the rap that’s raining on them, but they are the source of this reaction, which could have been mostly avoided. Not the way Ben and his folks were maintaining their interactions though.

This whole deal shows basic lack of consumer research and expectations evaluation. Both PC and console consumers have been vocal about Epic’s misgivings and even more about how the developers and publishers seem to have lost all contact with the people who buy their stuff. I shouldn’t underline the bottom line with this repetition, but as a provider, albeit as one who has not yet delivered one product, everything hangs on the people who are willing give you money. Now, with their decision to handle things like this, not practicing good sense and proper manners when interacting with audience and not clowning around, they’ll probably see less success and a very tarnished reputation. That’ll take some polishing to fix.

Providers aren’t your friend. They’re in the field to get paid. Directly interacting with them won’t change this, no matter what sort of relationship and emotional connection you have with them.

Compete with two similar products, not with one same

Some time ago I read an article about why video streaming platforms like Netflix will go by the way of the Dodo soon some time ago. The main argument was IP and copyrights and how they strangle the system. Not in the way you’d think, but because they allow companies to have a monopoly over a single show and not allow it to spread around to other streaming services. This supposedly leads into a position the monopoly over a show leads into an unfair competition as other platforms don’t have the tool to compete, the same show. I wish I could remember where I read this, because its so goddamn dumb. I have to wonder at what point we dipped over that consumers think two different platforms can’t compete with each other unless they have the same product in the lineup. That is nothing less than misunderstanding how two competing companies compete with their products. This to stay relevant to the blog, we’re of course going to use games as an example.

Super Nintendo and the Mega Drive competed each other just fine without largely sharing the same library. While the SNES dedicated itself to be a role playing machine alongside other games with slower pace, MD was more about the arcade action, all the while PC Engine had loads of shooters and B-Tier action games. Despite their preference in genres being rather clear, especially in the US, where MD had a sort of infamy for sports games among certain circles, the three consoles did compete directly with different entries in the same genres. Sega had Alexx Kidd to counter Super Mario Bros. before Sonic the Hedgehog was around the corner, and PC Engine had titles like Shubibinman and Valis, though Valis is more known for its Mega Drive entry in the Overseas market. Nevertheless, the series’ halcyon days were on the PCE. All these offer a different kind of platforming experience with their own flavour of style and approach, with varying degrees of success.

On the RPG side, Sega had its Phantasy Star and Shining series of games, with Koei bringing its Uncharted Waters series to the table. PC Engine had Cosmic Fantasy, Cadash, Vasteel and such, though Far East of Eden was first largely a PC Engine game before it jumped the ship when PC Engine effectively died. SNES had its fair share of RPG most already know, ranging from Dragon Quest to Final Fantasy.

The point I’m trying to make with all that is that streaming services aren’t dying because one service has a monopoly over a show. While it is true that people don’t really want to subscribe to a service just because it has one or two shows they’d like to watch, and seemingly have gotten used to the idea of everything being one place, these companies compete with each other with their unique libraries and takes on the same base concepts. Any station or streaming service could have tackled Game of Thrones with their own high-budget, semi-realistic adult fantasy epic if they had chosen to do so. None of them even seemingly attempted this. The same can be said for Star Trek Discovery, though The Orville was its direct competitor, and by all means, did get far better reception and is the show with superior writing. Star Trek Discovery currently stands as the show with the stupidest writing among all shows we have now, which doesn’t exactly spell promising future for the upcoming Picard series, especially now that Amazon picked it up after Netflix supposedly doesn’t want anything to do with modern Star Trek. I can’t blame them.

Back when The Addams Family debuted in 1964 on ABC, it was followed by The Munsters six days later on a rivaling network CBS. It is often mentioned that Bewitched first aired at the same time as well, though on ABC. While this sort of pace of production probably will never be matched nowadays, shows also have longer pre-production and hype period before they ever come out should make it easy for different channels and streaming service to put up their competing shows. While The Munsters enjoyed better ratings, it has been criticised for relying more on elaborate make-up and special effects over creative writing and show content. Perhaps that why The Addams family has stuck harder to the global pop-cultural schema while The Munsters hasn’t seen as much growth or appreciation, despite that relaunch attempt with Mockingbird Lane, a serious horror take on the series, which got less than appreciative reception.

Two different providers rarely compete with each other with the same product; they compete with two products that offer the same baseline consumer experience. This is why console business has become more twisted, as both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 offer largely the exact same baseline experience with all the multiplatform games, which means most of the third party companies don’t really care which one might succeed more over the other. Well, unless the first party games manage to install a large userbase, then the third parties will follow in-suit. All the generation winning consoles had the largest library of games exclusive to them.

While television (streaming is just modern television) and gaming are two different kinds of medium and forms of entertainment, the comparison is still apt. A monopoly over a single product is not a problem in itself, as long as the product is not one single, all-encompassing product that allows no other to enter the market. That’d be true monopoly then. We can make jokes about Microsoft and Windows all we want now, but that’s effectively what people who wish there would be only one console, one streaming service or one provider for anything really. No company will be altruistic if they have the whole market in their hands, they will take as much control as possible and squeeze. Much like how Disney is doing by amassing larger and larger amount of media property and companies under their belt. Disney is already the largest media empire we have, and if things continue to move to this direction, we are going to end up with few extremely large corporations controlling the media landscape.

However, Disney still has competition with Warner-Brothers. Perhaps the most relevant competition is their Looney Tunes against Disney’s Merry Melodies, or in modern era, DC vs Marvel. Two isn’t exactly a healthy market and there are more comic labels out there, like Dynamite, but the Big Two are most well known across the world. It is far from a healthy market still, and the competition is questionable at best at times. On silver screen however, Disney has taken the lead in the Superhero movie department with better quality scripts, though the future can be questioned.

While these corporations have ownership over whatever they are legally owned, nothing can keep from other companies or individuals using these materials as a source of inspiration and create something to compete. However, fans will always be willing to make fan games or fiction instead of creating something new and original. One of the many reasons why original homebrew and indie scenes can be very fresh places to visit occasionally due to new ideas propping often up, independent of the major providers. DL Site isn’t good just for porn, but for for wholesome new games and other content as well. Sometimes both.

No, streaming services aren’t going bust anytime soon because they can’t compete with the same show. However, if they are not able to provide a quality alternative, like how The Orville is to Star Trek Discovery, then that’s problem either in the creative lead department, mismanagement, or simply because that section of the consumers is not their target audience.

For whom is the Switch Lite for?

While the Switch is a mobile device just fine, it is rather bulky in certain aspects. It has to be. After all, it must serve as both home console and as a takeaway handheld console. Some play it solely in handheld mode, some just keep it attached to a screen for larger resolution play. Both are valid options. The preference just seems to change according depending on the nation. With some little digging, it would seem that the West likes to have the Switch docked most of the time and then just separate it whenever someone’s on the go. This seems to be a bit different from Japan, where handheld consoles have always been the top dogs. Be it space or because its just so much easier to nab a small console out for a quick play, there’s something in the nation’s cultural schema that supports small portable devices like this. Flip phones are still a culturally iconic devices, despite them being completely overshadowed by iPhones in the current day. Its one of the many reasons Monster Hunter found its breakthrough on the PSP was because people could just whip it out, check if there were other players in the area and a have quick hunt or two. This does not really work most of Western world nations. You’ll most likely get ridiculed if you are seen playing a handheld in public if you’re over fifteen. It took long time for Monster Hunter to become popular in the West, and despite the success on the 3DS (Nintendo really, really wanted that PSP Monster Hunter money on the 3DS) the real Western market breakthrough wasn’t until Monster Hunter World. Just don’t play with the French.

Switch Lite probably has a two-fold aim, First is to provide the Japanese market a smaller, more portable device that functions as a dedicated handheld, especially now that the Vita’s dead long dead and finally buried, which has left Nintendo with no competition in the handheld market. While Nintendo always had largest sect of the handheld market to themselves, they flourished whenever they had competition. Hopefully there will come some competition from whatever company might want to tackle the market, so Nintendo’s monopoly won’t make them lazy. Despite Nintendo claiming that they don’t follow what their competition is doing, this is of course PR bullshit. No company would willingly stay ignorant how their competition is doing and why. The second reason is that the Switch is not exactly a child friendly device. The simple fact that the Joycons are removable device raises the system’s cost and kids can misplace them rather easily. I’ve heard few friends having to buy new Joycons because lil’ Jimmy misplaced one in the backyard. This sort of hybrid nature doesn’t really work, unless the machine is dedicated to stay in docked mode, but that’s wasting the Switch’s potential. The same can, and must, be said of Switch Lite, where now you can’t switch modes, but now kids have something that can have their mittens properly on. It is far from a perfect solution, but you won’t have perfect solution for a hybrid console like this at this moment. Perhaps if Switch Lite still supported the docking it would have some leverage, but as it stands now, for average adult, the Switch Lite is a weird choice to go for.

If we use the past portable consoles Nintendo has manufactured before, their modus operandi should be roughly as follows; produce original version, create a smaller version with some improvements here and there, then create an upgraded version that seems a standalone from the previous iterations. For original Game Boy, we have its Pocket version as the “lite” iteration and Color as its final upgrade. The GB Advance is the deviation, with SP being the lite model with backlit screen, but nobody really seems to think GB Micro as the end-all version of the system. The NDS follows this line just fine though, with Lite being a thing and DSi followed soon after. We also got the larger screen versions to go by. 3DS is pretty much the same, followed by lite and the New 3DS version.

We can also tell that the Switch has been a success from this line. The only consoles Nintendo has not done upgraded versions of are machines that weren’t a success enough. The N64 never had a clear visible new edition to it, despite the Famicom/NES gaining top loader model, and SNES having SNES Jr model. GameCube stuck to its cubic form, and we don’t count Panasonic Q as a proper variation due to it never being aimed at mass markets. The Wii had Mini, which apparently sold rather well if I’m top believe a friend who worked at retail at the time. The Wii U was a disaster and never saw similar treatment. Here we are, with the Switch. Nintendo can afford to treat it as both handheld and home console, and seeing upgraded hardware per generation has become a standard again rather than new case design, we should probably wait for the announcement for whatever souped up Switch Nintendo has been cooking for some time now. After that, Nintendo’s attention will move towards their next console generation, though it would be in their best interest to give the Switch as long lifespan as the original Game Boy had. There is no reason to cut their hardware short just because they or their third party developers would like to play with some new hardware and not be limited with almost decade old set. The hardware oriented mindset does not do favours in the console business, whereas software centric is very lifeline these machine run on. I will use the old mantra that system with weakest hardware in the end has sold the most each generation. Deep Red Ocean market can hate the Wii however much they want, but the sheer joy of Nintendo Sports was in pretty much every home possible at the time.

At least the Switch Lite doesn’t have brand confusion as the Wii U had. They’ve learned something from that shitshow.

The price of digital freedom

Just as I put out last post about how Stadia will be pushing game streaming further, Google’s Phil Harrison was interviewed about the price of games at Eurogamer. In addition to a subscription fee, with free model coming out sometime 2020, games would cost your normal game price. He is right in questioning why the games should be cheaper on Stadia compared to any other digital console platform. Streaming games is not the same thing as streaming video. Forcing television or movie model unto games has never been all that successful, and this applies doubly on the whole market side of things. While it is easy to use Netflix as a point of comparison while talking with Stadia, it is also relatively inaccurate. It should be compared to other games streaming services, and seeing only Sony’s has some moderate success with it despite having issues outside PS4, there really isn’t any reason for streamable games to be any less expensive than their other digital counterparts. Google’s PR department just uses this as a point of comparison, because game streaming has not been mainstream consumer product before.

After all, in both scenarios you’re paying for bits and bytes and only. With streaming, you don’y even need to put money into building high-end rig. Just stream it to your Android phone or similar, and you’re good to go. Harrison’s theory isn’t all that applicable about the quality of their games. I have serious doubt any Stadia version of any multiplatform game will be the highest possible quality. Let the PR do its job there though.

Xbox Game Pass and Sony’s PS Now are more like Netflix model, where you pay a monthly free to access slew of games. The consumers who use these two have already gotten used to the idea, as has other markets with Netflix’s style subscription model. However, it is more apparent that Stadia has been modelled after Steam, if anything. After all, with gaming Valve has been the one to push the digital-only model further and further with Steam. Stadia is mostly just the next natural next step in this. First consumer didn’t have to own the physical item, owning the digital data was fine. Then it moved to subscription license, no need to own anything. With Stadia, even needing space for that digital data is unnecessary. While people applaud moving towards digital-only environment, most of them have ignored the loss of ownership in all of its forms. With Stadia, you’re giving all control to Google on the data you’ve purchased, i.e. subscribed to.

Digital-only solution like Steam took nice roots because of its easy availability and unnecessary bells and whistles. Well, there aren’t much compared to it and buying a game from a store, but people are really goddamn lazy at their core when it comes things like this. Having a digital option is just more convenient at the cost of ownership and freedom. That’s where Stadia wants to compete in. Spell doom and gloom for Stadia, but as long as it has ease of use and convenience, people will pay that money for Google’s service. Steam, Bandcamp, GOG, Netflix, and so on and so on. The main reason they’ve become success is because they’re convenient and easy to use.

Of course, some games are going to be free to play and some games will have lower subscription fee. There’s no “buying” as such in digital systems like Steam and Stadia, despite the term used there. Valve could’ve already overtaken this market by making moves towards using streaming for some titles, but as envelope pushing as Steam was, it now has become more or less the tried and tested example to use as a basis rather than anything else. Much like how the NES or Atari could be described for consoles. There is, nevertheless, an overlapping market between Steam and possible Stadia users. Some people who are enthusiastic about the whole streaming thing will jump on the wagon as soon as possible, and the rest of the consumers who find enough value in theoretically fully mobile super computer via Stadia with them all the time. I admit, the idea of throwing a small device to a television on a trip to play a large library of games akin to Steam’s does sound attractive, but the principle of ownership removes me as a possible consumer for Stadia.

Stadia is one of the next steps in digital-only gaming. We’re on full-course to a world where consumers have very little control over their purchased goods withing the digital landscape. Maybe the service model in itself completely acceptable, but the delivery still isn’t. You know my old song at this point already; the ‘net infrastructure to deliver the promised high-end content isn’t there yet, or is available to extremely limited amount of consumers in comparison. High-end Internet connections are still relatively costly outside large population centers, but maybe that’s an issue that doesn’t matter. Perhaps the convenience just beats the slight lag and drop in visual quality will trump the need to have a gaming computer or a console to play these games.

I don’t predict doom and gloom, or success, for Stadia. No system has been great at the start, though NES had Super Mario Bros. in the US and Europe. No, it is far more likely that if Stadia will become success, it will be after a period of hardship and adjusting to the market demands and needs. People want to play the games, those are there. Now the rest just has to find its niche to expand from.

Convenience will either kill the living room, or let it live

There has been some buzz on the Yotube and  with few of the bloggers and news sources I follow about how traditional consoles are going the way of the dodo, and how the PC and console markets are going to merge and die in their traditional form ever since Google’s Playdia… no that was a Bandai console. …Ever since Google Stadia started making rolls in the media. I had to wonder how this has become a thing just recently, when we can pin point the two moments in gaming history where the difference between console and PC became blurred permanently, and when the home consoles, and even the PC itself, began to lose their status and position. Slowly for sure, just as I’ve been told that physical media will be gone and everything will be digital for some fifteen years now. It’ll probably happen, but unlike physical media being replaced, decentralisation of the home’s living room has been working its magic for a long damn time now.

When the DS hit the market, I questioned why do we even need home consoles at this point. It was like a portable home console. When the PSP hit the market, and had the support to play the games on a home telly, I further questioned the need for any home consoles when you could just plug-n-play wherever you wanted. While this wasn’t PSP most advertised element, you could make an argument that PSP did work as a hybrid of sorts as well, though it lacked the whole separate controllers thing. You had to attach the cables to the bottom of the system and be tethered all the time to the television itself. Still, worth noting. We were on a good road to making the first genuine hybrid that would physically function in both standalone and portable forms with the Switch. The Big N just took few steps with the Wii U, which is still one of their major failures despite making pretty sweet DS emulator machine. and Sony effectively not learning jack shit from the PSP and repeated all the mistakes they made with the Vita and then some new ones. The Vita might have a rabid fanbase defending it like the console was their Hive Queen, but the reality is that despite the initial promises and its ergonomics, the system has woefully poor library, especially when majority of its games were ported to other systems. The first, and in many ways the definitive deathblow to the system was when Gravity Rush jumped to PS4, effectively telling everybody who had Vita that its time was over.  The rest of the system’s lifespan was artificial at best with the minimum of support from its own makers. No wonder Nintendo managed to turn 3DS into a small success despite the extremely rough first years. A good showcase how a rubbish library breaks a console, but it can be saved by improving the library.

That’s where the whole mixing PC and console really steps in. While modern gaming media and  through this many of the consumers want to see these two rough ecosystems as the same, they’re two separate markets that are not in direct competitions with each other. PC VS Console fights are very much just a cultural phenomena, and if we’re completely frank, the games were at their core completely different. Were. PC always excelled with slow as hell strategic games that required tons of reading and were more like chess. IN the 80’s and even early 90’s you couldn’t have fast paced games with good scrolling, because computers just couldn’t do it properly. Screen-by-screen games were the thing, like Prince of Persia. No, not Sands of Timei, the very original. That game might have good animation, but everything happens in one screen at a time. It wasn’t really until Super Mario Bros. made it widely achievable. It was developed as the ultimate Famicom cartridge game anyway. Consoles and arcades where the places where you could find smooth scrolling due to the hardware, and PCs just stuttered behind, not really knowing how to achieve the same level of smooth scrolling. Smooth being the keyword, there were many PC action games with atrocious scrolling, and MSX even had a cultural thing surrounding it about its choppy scrolling. It wasn’t really until the 1990’s when PCs could do as smooth scrolling as Super Mario Bros., and that alone limited a lot of the designs. Consoles and arcades were the places where things happened now and instantly, where you had to rely on your senses and guts on how to act in that very moment in game’s play. For PC, you mostly could take it back and just enjoy the slower pace. PC games, the culture around them, is like a methodical board game with time to spare. Arcades on the other hand were the opposite, more like sports events with tight time limits and challenges that required both physical and mental action to be fast and accurate. With consoles, we have and excellent golden middle path. The Legend of Zelda is, by all means, a mix of Ultima with Robotron. A hybrid of RPG and Action.

We don’t have that triumvirate nowadays, and the distinction between console and PC games is long dead. A rough starting point, where we could see no real difference in games between platforms, would have its roots in Europe, where loads of Amiga games got ported to the Sega Mega Drive. The whole European Platformer or Action genre that was a thing at the time was because most, if not all of them, where designed to be played on an Atari or Amiga computer first. Things trickle a bit, and you can argue shit was ported even before that, but before this point it was almost impossible on practical terms due to the sheer difference in controls and hardware. It was easier to port an arcade game to a PC, seeing everything was made from the scratch to fit that platform, but not as easy to backwards. The Mega Drive had enough oomph to it.Of course, the two main points where we further lost the middle ground between PC and consoles are the PlayStation and the Xbox. PlayStation for offering enough storage space for FMV shit and Xbox for effectively being a Direct X PC in a consolified form. Like how a Steam Machine is effectively a physical version of Valve’s digital game console.

The main change between Classic Era of Electronic Games, from 1970’s to mid-1990’s and the Modern Era of Gaming from that Mid-1990’s to current date of whatever date this post goes online, the biggest change is the lack of third in the triumvirate and constant movement to change the video game console into something else and melding PC and console software into one boiling pot. Yet the user cultures have been kept separate to this date by the sheer fact that PC and console gaming are not the same thing. Oh you have your Halos and Call of Duties on pretty much every platform there is, meaning Steam, Xbox and PlayStation, but everyone will tell you that playing a FPS on a controller is retarded. It will never have the same feeling or ease as keyboard and mouse. This is right, of course. You can get skilled with a controller, but its just so much better with KB+M because how the genre was practically designed from the grounds up for them.  Similarly, however, you’re seen as an idiot of you are using KB to play a game of Super Mario Bros. or any other console game. KB+M will never have the same tactile feedback as a good controller does, not even with the most expensive springs and shit under your key. After all, gaming on PC is an afterthought. A keyboard is a device for inputting text first and foremost. This is why you have to concentrate on having all sorts of Gamer peripherals and specific input devices made, because a keyboard really is pretty shitty for gaming that wasn’t designed around it. One of the many reasons why PC gaming culture likes stuff like Civilization and console culture bends more toward Devil May Cry.

If you have a game like Devil May Cry or Nier Automata on a PC, you’re still playing a console game. Then again you need Steam for both, so you’re running a digital console anyway on your PC so there’s that.

So where are we going with this rabbit hole? I’ve said it a thousand words ago; to the death of the living room.

While the Xbox as a console won’t die out, as much as I used to say so, Microsoft is taking the more sensible route and diversifying where Xbox as a brand is going. Halo collection is coming to Steam among other platforms, because why not. The general acceptance seems to be that everything should be available on every platform so the consumer could choose whatever fuck they play with whatever hell hardware they own, and we effectively make the concept of having any consoles or specified hardware moot. Except with Nintendo, because Nintendo sees that they will be able to stay afloat, because they recognise the fact that a unique library is a console’s lifeline. You say its anti-consumer not to have everything on everything, I say that’s bullshit and you know it as well. Competition is the key, and if we lack from the very foundations of consoles, we might as well kill both Xbox and PlayStation. Have everything on Steam and GOG. A PC is enough to be the very core of the living room nowadays, it can only do everything. Except be decentralised.

Hence content streaming.

Streaming games will not be third in the triumvirate. It is mobile console gaming once again. Stadia and pretty much everything else that has been in the mainline advertisements as the definitive game streaming experience have always showcased a gaming controller. I bet you are able to use KB with many of them and so on, but even Google recognises how PC gaming is dead despite its culture and habits still persist and offer that controller. While few people are probably nerdy enough lug a keyboard of sorts with whatever mouse controls you can to play Stadia on the go, most people will be satisfied with a controller. Most, if not all showcased Stadia games, are either arthouse shit or downright designed for a controller first, then adapted to a KB. That’s what modern ports really are, just seeing how you can change controls from KB to a controller or vice versa. Long gone are the days of ports like Section Z. The game industry has become too bloated, has been for two decades now. The chasing of higher fidelity graphics, real world actors modelled in, more and more useless power under the hood to run unoptimised games because the mathematical skills and creative drives have been effectively culled because everything’s too big to fail. Except Nintendo. When they lose, they lose a little. When they win, they tend to win big. Ever since the 1980’s Nintendo has been prophetised to fall and die, especially people like Trips Hawkins who simply don’t understand the console gaming economy. The fact that the Wii and the DS are one of the most selling consoles in the gaming history shows what the consumers value in a console. Yeah bit the Wii has shit games. And that would matter worth jack shit when the console and its library had great value. We don’t have any real rules for the mythical good game but we have everything to determine games of value, and the Wii was a console with shittons of games with value. Cold hard sales numbers trump over subjective opinions.

What does this have to do with the living room dying? If you remove the console and the more powerful computers, you lessen the price the consumer have to pay to access their wanted products. Just have him to buy a subscription account and then a price for the games for him to stream. Most people who are in good area for reception will probably enjoy streaming whatever games they like despite the lag. Buying a new console is an investment after all, and it would not be terribly unpredictable if Sony and Microsoft would allow streaming each others’ content to another’s platform, with Steam and the rest of PC ecosystem being in the play. Nintendo, on the other hand, will be in a position to leverage their own library however they want against their competition.

It is kinda pathetic if MS and Sony would begin to cross-stream their contents. It would only show that their libraries have so little to offer apart from each other that they can’t convince consumers to the other direction, despite we can assume the deepest of the Red Ocean market probably already owns all three consoles. PC gamers of course are on that pathetic high horse due to their cultural background, so they’re excused for this. They spend on upgrading a PC worth few consoles every other year anyway.

We have a screen on our pocket, on a device that can be used to stream those games. If the future is in streaming content, we’ll be playing games everywhere wherever we can access that account, have a controller of any kind and a screen. While I highly doubt consoles will die outright, streaming content might become one more way to play the amalgamised electronic games we have now. PC people with phones will be happy, people who want mobile gaming with their big AAA titles will be happy, people who want a portable console that isn’t the Switch will be happy, and people who don’t lug a laptop with them but still want something else but gacha will be happy. Maybe.

Streaming game content will take its place among mainstream media forms to consume. Google’s push will make that happen, at least for a time being. Only when it has been a success for some years we can make proper and definitive estimations whether or not it will replace dedicated systems, or even PCs, as the main form of game consumption. However, as long as Nintendo is around to sticking their guns in what they know best, there will always be at least one physical manifestation of a console, and if it doesn’t have any competition in the same form factor, it might lead to a very hard split between Microsoft and Sony, and Nintendo. Even larger than what we have now. That’s all speculation and bullshitting really. Time will tell, just like time has now told me I’ve run out of whisky form my glass.

What we do know is that convenience will make the difference. It doesn’t need to be the best or the bleeding edge, it just needs to work well enough at a convenient price point. Whether or not the game streaming technology has matured enough to become mass entertainment is yet to be seen. Will it be more convenient to stream games with some lag than have a physical console? Currently an open question with no real answer. Just like how modern TVs forced a slight game design in how games are designed control-wise, as CRT tellies have effectively instant response time while every modern flat screen lags behind and thus animation management has become a key to many games to get around this, games can be designed to work with the lag from streaming. It just takes a bit of work. Nevertheless, the issue of only sections of the global market being able to play streamed games at any sensible rate will stay an issue, in which the whole point of having a dedicated machine that sits in your desk, console or whatnot, is the best and most convenient solution. It is more probable that streaming games, specifically Google Stadia, will take Sega’s spot in the “hardware” market. They’re not Sega, and whatever unique games Google will have, they won’t be pushing the envelope as much or innovating as Sega’s titles used to be. That’s multiplatform gaming for you.

Quality and Value

Whenever I hear discussion, or discuss about games, the generic term of good game comes out very, very often. It is as if there is some sort of silently agreed myriad qualification that a game has to achieve in order to be considered a good game. Of course, this is rather absurd and ultimately rarely serves its purpose outside circles that have a similar taste in titles. A shut group of RPG fans, especially the Japanese console variant ones, would have a common basis for a similar taste and values in titles they’d label as good games. The opposite would be true with equally shut group of European retro-action enthusiasts, who might consider the aforementioned RPGs as waste of time, money and effort. Yes both sides have good games, in which we can always argue that they’re good for different reasons.

Using the word good to describe something is rather lacklustre, unimaginative and at best, juvenile. In many ways, its the most common denominator in discussion to set any barriers, but even then its obtuse. As a descriptor, its terrible. Yet, because of standards we share across different cultures and are able to understand how some thing’s value is determined, we can attach good as a usual, generic throwaway term as an attachment. When we call a burger good, what we really are saying is something like This hamburger fulfills the minimum requirements of what makes a burger, with the expected greens at certain size and taste with proper meat patty that is not too dry or juicy to complement the overall flavour in minimally expected manner. The term is also the best way to avoid answering any direct questions about quality of any given product, like your wife’s terrible cooking. Better just say its good and eat it.

We have rather clear outlines how to determine whether or not, for example, a film is a good one by standards laid down by academics, popularity, post-perception and such. We can determine whether or not the film’s script is well written depending how well structured it is, how clear it is and how much new content it has compared to past stories. How well the film is filmed, in what lighting, how the angles have been used, are the actors convincing in their roles, are they able to convey the characters’ feelings and presence on the silver screen. How well the music has been composed, how fitting is the music for each scene, has the recording been done properly, have any of the player screwed up during the session. These are matters that are self-evident, something we all can see and hear, assess ourselves. Hell, schools even teach us to be critical readers and consider multiple points of views and approaches when consuming media, be it entertainment or not. If your reaction to that was School never taught me that, I wish you had gone to a better school.

We can apply most of these how to determine what makes a good games. Nice music and pretty pictures only take us so far however, as the whole aspect of game and play is something that is more or less completely ignored in standard education. Sure you have some, but how many of us are taught to consider rules of a game or allowed to change them to fit a better purpose? For example, did your gym teacher ever simply change the rules of the game to make it more interesting, or ask you if you’d like to build a new kind of game to play during gym hours based on existing models? Did you make your own board games and such during native language or arts classes? Surely you made up your own play rules during recess or when you became nerd enough to play Dungeons and Dragons to live through your geek fantasies, but all that’s is worked through yourself. Nothing wrong in that, but it shows that there is very small, if any, academical approach in early teaching regarding play.

In university or college you probably have played enough games to know what makes a good one. After all, you’ve spend more than few nights playing Halo and Minecraft to know how a good game is structured. Maybe even try to make a revolutionary RPG with RPG maker. We can apply some of rules from other fields to determine what makes a game a quality product, yet there are numerous things that are mostly for games only. Some reviewers, especially on the PC game side, put rather large emphasise on things like resolution of textures, fidelity of things and other more graphics heavy aspects of the game. However, all this is mostly appearance. In films and such we do see under the visible layer most of the time as it has to be present at all times on the screen. With games, we can’t really tell if the coding of the game has been competent, or if its completely bonkers. We only get to see and feel the end result, and often here the play design often steps in as well. For example, in some games moving your character is immediate, while in others there is a small pause as the character gets his legs in moving. Other might be more realistic for sure, all the while the other can be more usable and suit play better.

This is of course something I’ve discussed previously in some post from some five years ago. We can and should have academics determinants what makes a game a well made product, and coding is the backbone of it all. Nowadays with almost everyone using ready made engines this might be a bit moot, but even then we can discuss how those have been adapted for a given title. We should discuss not just how well graphics have been realised and what their fidelity is, but also the designs themselves and the well these designs have been realised. That is, after all, the core of the graphics first and foremost. The visual style, if you will, will always trump over how the graphics are. You can have a game with low graphics with great style, and it will always beat a game with great graphics but utterly boring and dull visual style. Brown and Bloom comes to mind from this very easily, doesn’t it?

Controls are another thing that probably will always raise issues. For some, A jumps and B shoots. To some, its the other way around. To some, there are no A or B, just geometrical shapes. The logic of well made controls is one third of button layout and two thirds of coding. A well placed control layout is key for intuitive and direct controls that should not take long time to learn, but long time to master. Coding requires how well the game recognises button presses and delays, and how that is translated as action on the screen. While this seems like dead simple procedure, and often is, I am completely sure you can name multiple games where the design of the game fights the controls. Be it through physics, overt animation or just broken controls themselves, we can determine the quality of controls in an objective manner with relative ease.

All that is of course academical. You know what you like and if someone with a similar taste says a game is good, you can more or less just jump in and be done with it.

However, this is just looking at the game in a sort of vacuum. While we can do this, and dare I say should, we should also consider games in their proper environmental context. For example, is something like Mega Man 11 a good value game? Perhaps not on the HD Twins and PC. The market for similar titles is rather full. However, on the Switch its always with you, portable, and easily started and stopped. The portable nature of the console, and the game itself, adds value. Of course you get value from game being perceived as of high quality production overall, that its a wanted game and so on. The value of the game is not the same as its determinant quality, but in terms of reviews, should that not be a significant part of whether or not the title is good? Not if the port has been well made, not if there are any additional content from platform to another or anything like that. Many mobile games are not seen as good games and berated for their nature. They may not meet unspoken goals of a good game, but very many of them meet the requirements of a game of value. They are, after all, always portable, always available, surprisingly often free or cheap (Muse Dash is like 4€ on the Android app store and contains 40 songs from the get go) with some DLC or in-game purchases or gacha.

It would seem that games that have better value seem to do better than good games themselves. The two are not exclusive, of course, but very rarely you you see any source discussing this topic. Everything is minimising loss and maximising gain after all, so you can trust the game industry knows how to deal with their consumers regarding perceived value of a game over how good it actually is. Otherwise certain big names would’ve already fell out of favour long time ago.

 

Enough time for popularity and fans

Much like Hollywood has been rewarming and remaking old classics, it seems the electronic game industry has been loving to do the same thing for some ten years and then some now. While remakes and remasters have always existed, seeing ports used to be effectively build from the ground up for another platforms using same or similar assets. Mostly during the 1980’s and early 90’s. For example, Capcom’s Section Z on the NES is very different game from its arcade original, just like their Troy. Just compare them for a moment.

Good old CPS-I

Good ol’ FC

I really need to make an entry about the history of character shooting games like this.

The two games are different enough to be called completely different. The NES Section Z could be called to be strongly inspired by and be sourced from the arcade game. There’s no plagiarism in play here. While the two games are counted as separate titles, do remind yourself that every port of a game is counted as a single entry, e.g. Mega Man X4 is as three different titles depending on the platform; PlayStation, Saturn and PC. Anyway, Section Z could be considered a remake of the CPS-I title, as its effectively takes the core of the arcade game and puts it into a form that fits the hardware the best. Capcom used to do this a lot, when it was necessary.

Despite the NES game’s nature as a complete remake to the point of being completely different game, its still called a port. That’s probably change in paradigm how we consider ports. Now we expect every port to be the exact same across the board, while that was, quite literally, impossible with old hardware. I’m repeating things here, aren’t I? The point is, a remake /port like this of a semi-popular arcade title made a great title on its own rights despite it being in all actuality different game altogether. Get on with it!

So I’ve wondered why games that failed due to some lacking qualities don’t get remakes that make them better (there are few posts about that), but at the same time I know its about money and budget. The reality is that something like Final Fantasy VII is able to get a million dollar budget, highly hyped and completely revamped mechanics to the point of game genre being changed to reflect what’s currently more popular (SquEnix has been moving away from traditional RPG format ever since the merger with Final Fantasy now that Dragon Quest is under the same roof) is because the game was so massively popular and impacted gaming culture, especially in the Overseas market. Now I’ll always remind that Phantasy Star II did the whole prominent party waifu death far better way, as did one of the Dragon Quest titles with death of the player character’s father, but all that’s academical at best.

However, that point sort of lose a bit of credibility when something like Grandia, a niche title with no entries in the series bible since 2006 (outside ports), gets remastered ports of its first two games. Grandia has always been a niche title, a cult classic, and these games don’t usually get much in terms of remaster love. Ports and upcsales for sure, PSN is full of some them. However, in Grandia‘s case its more or less a souped up port rather than true remaster. After all, the lack of popularity doesn’t really warrant the money, just like how the Final Fantasy VIII isn’t getting full blown remake like its older sibling, but rather what we used call as HD port. That’s what Grandia’s remaster seems to be at its core too. Sometimes they tweak some things on the way, but ultimately they touch very little.

However, why would Grandia even get this port? It’s not like the series has ever been a massive success. Time is probably the best answer, as mentioned in the title. There are numerous games that are not simply all what they could be, but were made well enough to gather a cult following. Wait a decade or two for the word to get around, Internet hype things up further, look for information how well people regard your title, and you know you already have an installed consumer group you can hit with semi-competent remake. Better take steps easy first, not blow your budget and just give enough for all the old and new fans to play their beloved title on modern platforms, despite everyone and their mother swearing in the name of emulation nowadays.

Imagine if the upcoming Grandia would have been a full-blown remake, with everything made from the scratch with modern day knowhow and tech. No reused assets or such, everything made as good as it could be. While that will never happen, should consumers be satisfied with these remaster-type ports? There are numerous games that could use the same treatment, pretty much every decent game out there, while games with less quality to the originally will be left to be completely alone rather than remade into something better. Even in a case like Grandia, popularity and sales dictate how the series is approached, with time being here the crucial element that has given the series’ first games a golden status that can be exploited. Will it sell well enough to ensure future of the franchise? Probably not, it most likely will make its money back, but history has shown that in cases like this there needs to be far more money coming in to convince the execs to put their minds and effort into developing a new, high-quality entry rather than continue with safe bets. Hey, maybe it’ll sell well enough to warrant a pachislot machine with Konami as the licensee.

The same can be said about Panzer Dragoon. While the situation is a bit different with that game, as the original Sega Saturn source code is lost and the PS2 remake was based on the Windows code, the upcoming remake had to be an actual remake rather than just a remaster. The series has always had a positive reputation, and pretty much everyone who has had the chance to play the games makes a statement for some future entry in the series. Digital Foundry called the game series legendary in their tech analysis even. Though they belittle rail shooters as a genre a bit there, the point stands; even people who value technology and hardware the most value these relatively low-selling titles. Some games simply leave an impact, be it for their quality of game play or otherwise, the word gets around slowly, but surely. This builds both individual fans, separate groups of fans and some fan communities even.

I really hope the poles making this game won’t fuck it up. While the graphics are rather different in style, reminding me a lot of Zelda BoTW, I still ahve hope for it, as stupid as it may be

Still, it’s not exactly a safe bet for SquEnix to make Final Fantasy VII Remake, but safe enough that they know existing fans and cultural osmosis will make it sell well enough. Not so with FFVIII though, and something like Grandia is far behind either of them. Then again, I’m not seeing Sega putting any effort to properly remake any of their older titles, but they are making something new. That’s honestly a lot better. Remaking something like Panzer Dragoon? A close 1:1 remake of the original Panzer Dragoon is not exactly difficult nowadays. Hell, its almost like those ground-up reworked ports, like Section Z. 

There’s more worth in making something like Final Fantasy VII Remake than just a heated up remaster. It may be retreading same steps, but at least it is trying to do something new. We can always go back and play one of the many ports of the original title after all. That is not the case with many other titles, so there’s a golden middle-way we can tread. Hell, I’d take completely new remakes of old games that might be interesting to revisit in a new form, all the while titles with less popularity behind them could always use these souped up ports like the Panzer Dragoon remake or home port of Section Z.