An Intended View

I’m blaming television and monitor marketers for the current obsession for screen sharpness. Partial blame goes for people marketing every-advancing home video media formats. Sharper image! Better colour! Higher resolution! HDMI connectivity! It’s understandable that consumers would end up wanting the best picture and sound from their home media, be it whatever. This makes sense in regards to film and music, as the original recordings usually were in a better format than what you could have at home. 35mm film is, by any measure, superior to VHS or DVD, and if we’re completely honest, any digital format we currently have. We can’t really apply the digital age measurements to what is an analogue format, much like how we really can’t apply digital screens’ resolution to CRT screens. The technology and measuring system are not compatible with each other.

In which we end up with the current era of digital technology, and how easily we disregard the technological divide. The way we see old media nowadays is probably completely wrong. The strife for ever-better visual and sound has effectively beaten down the intended method of seeing something over what has been possible, and in many ways, this has been a marketing slogan at times.

Star Wars was, much like most other movies, was intended to be seen on the big screen. If you haven’t seen the movie in a theatre, “you haven’t seen it all”. Then, the inverse should be true as well. If something was meant to be seen on the small screen, in our case a 4:3 television screen, then we really haven’t truly seen it as intended. For example, nowadays we enjoy Star Trek at least on what we could call DVD-quality, and that probably is not the way it was ever intended to be viewed, digitally remastered or not. The show may have been recorded on film, everything from set designs to costumes, and their colours, was designed and made to be shown on 1960s television. Most often the television set was black and white with the picture quality probably being deteriorated due to the received signal. The farther away you were from the city, the worse the signal would get. If you had a rotator antenna, you had the best quality. Interface from planes and trucks would be a factor. The screen quality would vary widely depending on what sort of TV set people had, and also how well people fine-tuned the channel. That’s how Star Trek was expected to be seen, and that’s how people watched it.

With the advancing technology, we would end up seeing more of what was on the film, which in many places lead to an unintended result of seeing the (literal) seams of the sets and costumes. It becomes easier to ridicule these as cheap sets and costumes, but in cases of shows like Star Trek, that’s part of the low-budget television. With home releases on VHS, Laserdisc and later on digital media, we saw the show in resolution and manner like never before. What used to be hidden technology decades older was now in plain sight, and people would laugh at it. However, put the same media in its proper timeframe and technology, and things look a whole lot different.

An issue that has to be taken with the DVDs and digital remasters is that they still showcase the “original” in much higher fidelity than originally aired

We should not forget the change in culture as well. Television was new at the time, and image quality didn’t mean nearly as much as it does now. There was no prior generation of people who had grown with worse picture quality or the like. When television was new, the picture didn’t really matter. It was what it was and you worked with it. What mattered was the content and the novelty of it. Shows like Star Trek was something new and exciting, and seeing this more cerebral television show about humanity in the stars in a hopeful manner captivated people in the long run. Nowadays, with the proliferation of science fiction shows and dozens upon dozens of derivates, it’s very easy to put the original series down both in terms of its content and delivery.

Television has the benefit of having a pure analogue format in film. The images and sounds are recorded on pieces of film and tape; they are not set in stone and are relatively easily remastered according to modern digital standards. It’s work-intensive for sure, and probably requires tons of extra work if you wish to clean every single thing, but it can be done. Sometimes you have to use multiple different sections of film from different prints of the same movie to achieve this, but it can be done.

I recommend watching, or listening, to the whole three hours video. It covers pretty much everything this particular fan’s own restoration. It covers pretty much everything from how certain elements were layered in the original movie to how he uses multiple sources to restore parts of a individual frame to gain the best possible version of a shot

This is not possible for video games or any other purely digital media format. The moment a game developer, or any other creator of digital content, defines the way their work is seen or heard, it will be stuck to that moment. While they can future-proof their work and save everything in much higher fidelity than it would be currently possible to output, e.g. a digital movie was recorded in 4k in an era where 1080p was the standard, at some point the technology will catch up to them. 35mm film movies are being progressively ruined by noise removal algorithms and smoothening nowadays, in a manner, the same has been done to video games. The difference is, video games and their consumers have a completely different paradigm that, in effect, has skewed the idea of how raster graphics should be seen.

Composite – RGB – Emulator screenshot
The emulator screencap has also cut away the overscan area, which would not be seen in a real CRT screen, but would be visible on a flatscreen. See more in this video, where the two first were nabbed from.

The above three screenshots, while usable when comparing different signal qualities coming from the machine itself and how things look in emulation, isn’t how Sonic the Hedgehog was intended to look. As we are now, sitting in front of our computers or using some palm device to read and see these shots, we are not seeing the sort of middle-hand output. The end result of a console, or any other device for the matter that was using a CRT screen, is lost to us. The image we get from emulators, digital re-releases of games and whatnot to our modern screens is inaccurate how the game was developed and meant to be seen.

However, we can surmise some things from the above three screenshots. For example, Sonic is much bluer in the composite shot, with shading and the greens melding into each other in a natural manner. The further we go to the right, the sharper the image gets, but at the same time, we lose smooth surfaces and these melding of colours. We can also see a slight shift in the aspect ratio. It wasn’t uncommon for games to have oval circles that got stretched into proper circles due to how the console was outputting the signal or how a monitor might naturally stretch it, but props for the emulator shot for correcting the aspect ratio.

Dithering is often discussed topic when it comes to the Mega Drive visuals, as many Mega Drive games use dithering to smooth out colours. You would use two colours in dithering, which would meld together on a CRT and produce a third colour, melding them all in a nice gradient. However, this isn’t apparent in higher-end cables, which would show the dithering in a much distinct and crisp way, destroying the carefully laid graphics. Retro-Sanctuary has a short write-up on dithering I would warmly recommend giving a look.

Yuji Naka uploaded a short clip from 1990 showcasing the room where games were being developed, where we see a young Naka working on Sonic the Hedgehog‘s collision. You also get a shot at Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker being developed, particularly Michael’s walking cycle. These games were developed on and for CRT screens. It wasn’t until the seventh generation of consoles when games began to be fully developed for digital screens. Most, if not all sixth-generation games that used sprite graphics, were developed with CRT monitors and non-digital cables in mind. Now, what if we took a photo of that same Sonic title screen on an actual high-end CRT monitor and compared it to an emulated screen?

Sonic the Hedgehog (1991, Sega) – Genesis

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

CRT Pixels is an account that posts these comparison shots between emulators and CRT screens. There are tons of images comparisons that showcase how dot graphics, sprites or pixel graphics, whatever you want to call them, were designed and drawn with CRT monitors in mind. When an already existing artwork has been digitised, the person in charge of digitization had to take into account how the image would be represented on screen. It could never have been a 1:1 transfer of data from a painting to pixels due to the sheer nature of the technology of the era. Considering how a machine could output an image that was intended to be stretched naturally on a CRT, sometimes the graphics had to be squished in a direction so that it’d look proper when outputted. This happens a lot with Super Nintendo games, which had led to some heated discussions about whether or not its games have to be stretched to a proper aspect ratio, or whether or not the console’s internal aspect ratio and resolution is the real one. The real answer, however, is that it varies game by game, as some titles relied on SNES’ internal resolution while other developers created their graphics the output devices in mind.

Of course, arcade game developers and manufacturers had the freedom to decide on these things on their own. Capcom’s CP System uses 4:3 aspect ratio across the board, but you probably see loads of emulator screenshots in 12:7 aspect ratio. This is because, before digital screens, we had non-square pixels. This is also is one of the reasons why we can’t apply modern screen resolution standards, which counts pixels per heigh and width, when we had no pixels per see, and even then they were non-square. Displaced Gamer has a good video on the topic in a much better package than what I could do. Though I might add that it didn’t help that we had some widescreen format CRTs as well, and people always wanting to fill the screens never helped in the matter. Something that persists to this day, as so many emulation enthusiasts force their old games’ ROMs into the widescreen format.

We are fast losing the way games, and many other forms of media were intended to be consumed. Emulation and game preservation has made immense strides in preserving video and computer games’ data, and have begun to replicate consoles’ and computers’ internal workings in 1:1 emulation manners, something that probably will be impossible to fully emulate with the PlayStation 2, this scene has largely ignored the intended way these games were meant to be seen. No, that’s not exactly correct. For years we’ve got dozens of different ways to mess with emulators’ output. We’ve had tons of different filters that add fake scanlines or smooth the emulated pixels for an effect, often trying to mimic how a game would’ve looked like on a CRT screen. Different renderers are trying to replicate the originally intended form, some a better effect, some mangling them to a horrible degree. However, consoles like the Game Boy Advance, don’t really need these sort of post-processing effects, when the display itself already had square pixels. Hell, sometimes watching sharp pixels can mangle a sprite to the point of you not knowing what the hell you’re supposed to see there, but with that softer quality via post-processor filters or proper CRT screen, the sprite’s shapes and colours make a whole new shape and shades you can’t see otherwise.

A paper describing a method to depixilize pixel art is probably slightly off the intended path. This post-processing method doesn’t take into notion how the graphics were meant to be seen, but rather it ends up re-creating an interpretation of pixel graphics in a smoother form. The end result is less than desirable, but in a manner could also consider this kind of approach to aim to recreate the original underlying artwork that was then used to make the sprites. This is not, however, how the games’ graphics were meant to be seen.

Post-processing probably will end up being a way to solve the issue of how old games are being represented in the future. Perhaps we simply need high resolution enough screens to properly portray non-square pixels and colours a CRT can shows. In essence, rather than emulating just the hardware, emulators would have to take into account the cable quality and how CRTs output the picture. Granted, tons of emulators already do this, but not as default. Most often you still get a modern interpretation of square pixel, internal resolutions when you open an emulator, necessitating individuals to go into the settings menu. Menu, where they have tons of options they might not know what to do with. While we are getting copy systems that emulate hardware to a tee, they are also machines that are made to have HDMI output only. Clone consoles like RetroN and all the Analogue consoles, like the NT Mini, only output in modern HD via HDMI. Sure, you have in-system post-processing to make the games look like they’re played on a CRT. That’s the breaking part really.

A Hi-DEF NES kit modification kit

Console modifications have been around since consoles have been a thing, with RGB output and mods to circumvent region-locking have been the most popular things. Nowadays, we have these custom made boards that you solder to your older console and have it output via HDMI cable. They’re often directly connected to the CPU and video unit, so it interprets whatever the console wants output and tweaks it so the image is compatible with modern screens. Much like their copy-console brethren, they have built-on filters. Nevertheless, both of them utterly destroy the intended manner of how to view games on these older systems. They might be crisper, sharper, have the perfect colour from the palette. That may be preferable to some people, and certainly makes these old consoles compatible with modern screens, but they nevertheless destroy the intended way these games were meant to be seen.

The issue may end up being about authenticity. Modders and certain parts of the electronics consumers don’t really want to let go of these old machines and will do everything to update them for modern standards. That is a losing battle in many ways, and perhaps the approach is wrong too. While we can change some of the inner components, like the leaking caps and that, we can’t really restore old technology per se. Perhaps rather than trying to find a way to emulate the CRT screen, we should find a way how to replicate that particular screen technology. However, considering how dead CRT technology is, I doubt anyone will go their way out and try to find a way to revive it. I’m sure if CRT tech would’ve kept advancing, the shape and weight would’ve dropped, but the flatscreen tech we have now is in most aspects superior. It may still be struggling with replicating the same range of colours and true blacks as even cheap CRT could do, but their utility really beats CRTs in every other aspect.

I guess we can’t return to the intended way games were assumed to be played and seen. Much like how we didn’t have any other options to play the games “back in the day,” the same kind of applies to what we have now. The difference is, from all the options we have nowadays, from line doublers, upscalers and such, that crude reality is your older consoles were not meant to be played on modern monitors let alone be emulated in a crisp, in-hardware pixel-perfect output. These older games were played on a piece of shit telly, and that’s how they were build to be.

Of course, some Australian cunts probably would tell you there’s only one way to properly play the game, e.g. using SNES’ internal resolution and not give one flying fuck about intentions. Consumers have created options for themselves, and only relatively recently game companies have awoken to what emulator filters have been doing for a longer time. Filters themselves need to be completely re-evaluated, as there used to be rather heated discussions between people who wanted those raw pixels and the people who used all sorts of filters. Of course, neither party were absolutely correct, though if you managed to attach your PC to a CRT screen via S-Video cable or something, then there was no need to use filters.

In the future, we will lose the intended method of viewing games, and the rest of the media, which were created in analogue means as intended as the world proceeds with digitalization. With time, we’ll either lose them altogether to time, or most probably, they will be replaced with the closest possible approximation. No amount of remaking, remastering or modding can save old media. All we can really do is preserve and repair them in order to keep things in their original form as much as possible. At least in gaming, emulation will always be the second-best option to the original thing, and to some, emulation is already superior to the original hardware. That of course is not playing or seeing games as intended, but that has not been a factor to many at any point. What matters to many is the sharper image with higher resolution, even if that would effectively destroy the carefully balanced image the developers put all their effort in creating.

A dreadful return

Parts of the Internet loves Metroid, but to an ill degree. Outside a few hot takes about sidescrolling games shouldn’t cost as much as games with three dimensions of movement, Metroid Dread has seemingly gained quite the amount of positive attention. Not that I’m here to piss into your cereal, but the developers of Dread have misunderstood Metroid to a degree. At its core, Metroid has been about powering up as you adventure through the game world in a balanced manner. There are obstacles that are required to beat, though not necessarily only in one manner. At its core, Metroid games are sidescrolling open-world games, or as we used to call them, adventure games. What does this have to do with Dread, and by that extension, that Metroid 2 remake on the 3DS? That modern Metroid is broken, and it was Fusion that shattered it.

For better or worse, Metroid missed the cereal train back in the day. Super Mario Bros. and Zelda were always the bigger franchises anyway

If you play any Metroid game prior to the modern era, there are few things you should notice. One of them is that Samus is strong by default. She may not have a long-range shot, but she has great mobility nevertheless and her rate of fire is not diminished like it is in Samus Returns remake and Dread. All the areas in the Classic era are filled with all sorts of little crawly animals you’re supposed to take down, which require Samus to be strong. It makes it much easier to kill enemies that fly in front of you as you power up, yet not all that necessary if you don’t want to item hunt. While Fusion manages to replicate this to a point, Samus Returns is a hollow game with large areas of one or two crawlies around, and this design change was made to compensate for the new melee and aiming mechanics. Much like how Other M had awkward as hell controls between third and first-person modes, Samus Returns suffers from awkward shooting and melee mechanics that necessitated changing the core play, and through that, how Metroid plays out. Perhaps you can argue that it offers a more relaxed pace for the game and the player is now required to time his actions better. However, the player already could dictate the pace they wanted, and weapons always took a degree of skill.

There is a concept of adding unnecessary mechanics for the sake of differentiating from the flock. Samus Returns reeks of this with everything it changed during the remake period to accommodate the melee mechanic. As weird it is to say aloud, Metroid is a shooting game much like Mega Man or Contra. Leave the melee for the Belmonts. Some fighting games, like Guilty Gear Accent Core, are faulty of this same thing, where there are additions of new mechanics for the sake of new mechanics that do not add any real value. In Metroid‘s case, this has caused a core change in how the game now must be played and approached while still being represented as being the same game. Metroid has become its own imitator. The surefire way to make a better Metroid title than Metroid 2 or Super Metroid (do you remember when people were arguing which one is better? I sure do) is to take the core element and expand upon them and see how far you can take them. The only reason people seem to prefer the melee mechanic is that Samus’ firepower was otherwise gimped and kicked down. If Samus Returns would have kept her firepower the same, there would be no reason for melee counters.

I don’t mind Samus’ new look though. It’s fine, but they should’ve stayed away from using white in the standard armour

An element that Dread is lifting from Fusion is the unkillable enemy chasing you. While SA-X is often cited as one of the more memorable things from the game, in Dread this seems to be a game-wide threat. This is turning Metroid into a stealth game, as now there seems to be a mechanic where you can turn Samus into a statue so one of these coloured robots (which look like iPhone store guards) can’t scan her. I’m sure we’re going to get story reasons why they can’t be destroyed and the game’s story will allow them to be destroyed by the end. That’s so goddamn tiresome. Metroid being an adventure game, an open-world title, fights this kind of written-in-stone story-driven progression fights against its nature. The same criticism was laid down on Fusion as well, though there it even broke the game’s core mechanic of non-linearity as you could only get items in a certain order as programmed into the game’s code. There was no sequence-breaking or creative choices done from the player’s part. Just like Samus Returns and Dread have minimised the player’s part in the exact same manner.

The thing is, Castlevania can do close-combat in non-linear games with some projectiles is because the overall design lends to it. It feels and looks like Castlevania, and more importantly, plays like Castlevania. It has balanced the game systems with the AI and game world to a fine point. Neither of these modern 2D Metroid Nintendo is making, and yes I am putting this on Nintendo as Sakamoto is still spearheading this franchise to hell, play like Metroid should. We have tons and tons of Metroid clones on the market with superior design in every aspect, and yet whatever the hell Samus Returns tried to be is shoddy lower-midtier garbage. Metroid doesn’t need to have melee attacks or counters. All of the play mechanics got gimped because of the want of this one extra mechanic that the game’s design can’t handle without breaking down. You can shave Samus Returns play to counter everything. All other mechanics are secondary and borderline useless. Unlike Castlevania, Samus Returns and Dread have screwed up whatever design the best of Metroid had to offer. Samus isn’t a goddamn ninja; she’s a fucking space Terminator. She’s not supposed to be a bac knock-off copy of her Smash Bros. version in her own games.

I won’t find any spot to talk about this otherwise, but holy shit doesn’t Samus Return have a terrible soundtrack. Most of the time you’re listening to this trash ambient soundtrack, and only in areas where you’re supposed to have a nostalgic rush you hear what is essentially re-used tracks from Prime. If you back and listen to Classic Metroid game soundtracks, the scary ambient things were saved for very specific areas and moments, but otherwise, you always had a rocking tune in the main areas. Maybe that’s for the better. Every time modern Metroid tries to do something new it flounders and fails like a fish on the Sun’s surface.

Speaking of white, these iPod dogs look less threatening and more… boring. Why would Samus shoot its face though? It looks like its most armored spot, while its lanky joints look like they would snap off from the ball sockets

Metroid is never going to escape Other M and Sakamoto. Hell, you might as well drop all hopes for Metroid Prime 4 at this point, as Metroid has long gone to be a story-driven adventure rather than the player’s adventure. Metroid was about the player facing a world and the sort of adventure that would be. Now, unlike its current contemporaries, it is about the player having to play out the outlined story. Best examples of this in the series? Metroid Fusion as a whole, and gimped world and adventuring in Metroid‘s GBA remake. Metroid has become about Samus despite Samus herself was never important. How the player had his adventure was, and we’ve lost it.

We can pinpoint the day when Metroid was lost. It’s the day when Gunpei Yokoi was killed in that car crash. I’m sure some people remember that there was an era where Yokoi’s name was attached to Metroid like Sakamoto’s is nowadays. I don’t like blaming one person for a failure of the whole team, but when you have a person who is put into a leadership position and publically proclaims his role in making and spearheading Samus’s story and knows her secrets, we can put his head unto the guillotine bed just fine. Just like with Link and other silent player characters, they’re supposed to be there for the player to play as. Take that away, and you’re forced to create a proper characterisation and framing for them, and seeing how video game writing is dumpster fire tier, and people like Sakamoto have zero talent or experience with actual story writing, you’re going to get stuff like repeating THE BABY the nth time.

Metroid Dread looks, sounds and probably will play cheap. This is sock-filling, a stopgap game. I’m sure it has a competent budget and all that, yet its lacklustre nature compared to independently made adventure games are laughing it out from the park despite their shoestring budget. Hell, just ignore what Nintendo is making and go play AM2R again.

Mega Man Legends Series Homepage image gallery

Capcom Japan used to run their website like they were fans of their own games. Contrast this to whatever modern corporate website you have now that is largely impersonal and doesn’t give you anything but the minimum. Certainly, you can still find businesses running websites that want to approach you as a person and as a fan, like Falcom’s in most cases, but more often than not they’ve become cold. Capcom’s http://www.capcom.co.jp/newproducts/consumer/dash, or Mega Man Legends Series’ Homepage, used to be a website that I visited numerous times during the first tens after stumbling upon it, but nowadays that link goes directly to a 404 error site. Luckily, someone managed to use the Waybackmachine to archive the site multiple times, but as with usual, a number of the images have their hyperlinks dead.

Seeing as I started my hobby of saving a lot of images from the Internet in case sites or users would vanish, this Mega Man Legends page was probably my first attempt at archiving images. Needless to say, a lot of images without their proper content are jarring, but gladly text is easier to archive than images. This post contains all the most relevant images regarding illustrations and similar stuff, with marketing material and such still being mostly available at Waybackmachine.

Continue reading “Mega Man Legends Series Homepage image gallery”

Digital death can be saved with piracy

As much as Sony, and the other video game corporations, have their right when it comes to their games and consoles, the incoming death of PlayStation 3’s, PSP’s and PS Vita’s digital store paints a very dark visage of digital death; all those games that are about will vanish and be rendered unobtainable as the servers are shut down. Each and every game that is exclusive to a digital platform and is dependent on servers’ being online to any capacity will be lost. Piracy is there to catalog them and save them when you can not obtain them anymore in any legitimate fashion. Companies will complain and file lawsuits, like how Nintendo keeps harping on ROM sites, but if these companies want to curb piracy of their older systems’ titles there is very little they can do. In fact, that very little is very influential; offer all the library on your modern systems as well. 

That is easier said than done, as multiple games are very much tied to a system and licensing, meaning that publishers would have to re-submit their titles to console companies for them to be admitted again. Of course, with the hardware being different, it’s no easy task as they’d need to port the games. The question of whether or not that’s worth it for them becomes a pressing matter. Common sense would argue that if a company isn’t selling a game and there are no legitimate ways to obtain it, you might as well get it via piracy. We are not in any grey zone when it comes to digital games as you can’t claim that it is legitimate as long as you own the actual game as there is no physical equivalent in this case.

Yet these games are not abandonware either, as some of these titles have been ported to other systems in the same digital form, or are part of a long-running franchise. You can find loads of old games that have no owner on abandonware sites, even numerous game series and IPs that have owners, yet don’t act on them. It’s part ignorance of how widely their titles are shared and partly that they’re willingly allowing them to be shared. After all, you’re hardly going to make much money on obscure PC88 and DOS titles. You could make some bucks if these companies would repackage the titles for GOG or the like, but that’d take time and money. Would that be worth the effort? To some, yes. To most, no.

Whatever the thinking is within the companies, it won’t change the fact that with this digital destruction we’re losing the original source for these titles permanently. Once the servers go down, that’s it. There’s no crying over games you didn’t buy, there’s no wallowing over missed DLC. All the patches you missed are forever lost to the ether. Publishers and developers won’t offer them via their own services, even if that would be possible. What is the consumer to do if he wants to get a game but can’t, quite literally, buy it anywhere? Companies can’t argue for a loss of sale, as there are no methods a sale could be done in the first place. If they have an alternative venue to offer that title, then great! Problem solved. If not, well, the is always behind the IP owner. For a good reason too, but we should investigate whether or not an unexploited title, whatever it might be from music to film to book, should stay in the hands of the IP owner rather than be opened for common usage. It’d promote exploiting these unused titles, and in gaming would further promote the availability of otherwise unobtainable games. 

That’s never going to happen and we all know it. Sony could do everyone a massive deed and request each and every publisher with any content on their servers to be donated for archival at a museum or something for future research and patrons to play on-site. It would, at least, save these titles for historical purposes, but that is the last thing game companies have in mind. The first month is where the majority of the sales are done with games, and whatever comes after is extra. Once it’s a done deal, they can remove that title from competing with their future titles. Torta på torta repeat; I shudder to have a game on the same platform Super Mario Bros. 3 is. 

I don’t find any joy in Sony closing their old servers. It’s a tragedy that will become more common as time passes and content becomes more digital-only. With this closedown, we’re not only losing all those PS3, PSP, and Vita digital-only exclusives, but also all the PlayStation classic titles that were made to work on these systems. Sony’s going to make a bank when people will rush to buy the games they haven’t picked up yet. I recommend getting the Mega Man Legends titles, including The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, the Sega  Ages Virtual-On , and pretty much every PC Engine title you can get your hands on. If you’re a mecha fan and/or into Super Robot Wars series, there’s also SRW OGs; Dark Prison, a side game with no physical version out there. 

You did get a download code with that Super Robot Wars action game, that turned out to be really, really lousy, but not a game-on-disc in any fashion

Any arguments that follow the lines of You had all the time to get the games or It’s time to move forwards can and should be dismissed. For the sake of the consumers, if we’re going to go digital, the customer should have the right of access to these titles for purchase as there can be no second-hand market. Screw licensing issues or companies maintaining these servers at a loss. As far as the customers’ rights are concerned, the moment there is no viable route for legitimate purchase, the titles are free game. Pun not intended. At this point, I’m beyond arguing legal or moral points. I know and understand all the sides of the coin in the matter, but that matters jack shit when we are losing a generation’s worth of digital titles. That should not be acceptable in any fashion.

Thus, piracy becomes a justifiable action when there is no other recourse. Piracy will archive, it will keep records. It’ll become the way how to access all these titles on their original platform, if not form. The Internet will keep an archive of what Sony and publishers will not. Nevertheless, before we hit that deadline, the best thing we can do, and should do, is to burn that credit card to obtain all the titles we wish to play on our systems. After that… it’s your machine. Why not to mod it to take more out of it?

Consoles need to be stupid

Few days ago, news about the PlayStation 4 being a gimped console broke through. No, not in the fashion of it having ballgag. Down the pipe, when Sony decides to kill off their online services for the PS4, your console will end up as a brick. Lance McD explained further that the Trophies require the internal clock to be correct, and seeing people can’t change their internal clocks, when the servers and battery die out, so does your ability to play games. Your only way to sync the PS4’s internal clock is through connecting to PSN.

This is stupidly lousy engineering on Sony’s department, but I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m not putting blame on Trophies as well. Gaming consoles have become smarter and smarter without any true benefits to the customer. All they need to do is to play the game. Trophies, movie playback, sharing to Social Media and all that is gibble. It’s the same ol’ thing again; consoles are just dumbed down PCs. This one of the many negative results of it. PC like machine brings PC like problems. Concentrating on essential necessities for playing a game and excising the excess should be an industry standard. We don’t need access to Twitter or the like via linked accounts. A generic browser should be all you need for that, but everything needs to be its own program nowadays.

PS4 clock battery problem is for the long-term. At this moment in time, you are able to drop in a new battery and reconnect with the servers. In the future, this won’t be applicable. Gee, who the hell would be playing PS4 games ten years from now? Dunno, who the hell would be playing SNES games twenty five years after the console?

This’ll pose some interesting challenges down the line when it comes to archiving and keeping records on PS4’s games. Future historians that want to see the games running on their native hardware will have to find a way to get around the limitations Sony put on the system clock. Oh but of course, the Trophies must be protected that people don’t have bragging rights. What a shit decision to put any protection on the whole thing.  

The most permanent solution will end up being modding the console to access all levels of functions. This game reading error will not be a major issue for Sony, and it getting fixed will be a very low priority. Especially now that the Japanese aren’t running the show. Few individual commentators have mentioned how this will ultimately be a positive thing, as this’ll force people to move to new machines and recycle their old games and consoles, or how this is beneficial for the competition between players, or how this somehow is a great anti-piracy measure if people can’t play games on a timed-out system. Fellating corporations always goes against the needs of the consumer. None of the points have any legs to stand on; the longer a machine functions and is playable is most economic and green option; Trophies amount to jack shit in eSports or other forms of digital competition outside dick measuring contests; this will have the opposite effect.

PS5 and X… I don’t even have a real shorthand for Xbox Series S and X. I’ll have to go with XboXSX just for the gringe factor. Anyway, both PS5 and XboXSX were launched at a terrible time. We’re going into an economic slump. We’re already short of chips and whatnot to build these machines. Both of these consoles were designed for a much better economic time they ultimately ended up in, much like how X360 and PS3 were. Part of the Wii’s success was in how concentrated it was in its function; it plays games. It doesn’t need to do anything else. By cutting away all the excess fat from the system Nintendo managed to find a low price point people could justify during an economic slump. After that, we experienced a nice rise in economics. We wouldn’t have seen the rise of Kickstarter and similar services in the same manner. People could pledge hundreds of dollars for people through Patreon and such. There was money to go around. That’s not going to be as the economy keeps balling down the road. Sure, big companies will make a big buck. It’s the smaller and local businesses that’ll go under. No better time to put more control on the media and devices you should have ownership over.

Sure, nobody in the Big Three saw the slump coming, though even without the Shangai Shivers some economists had been foretelling we’d go to an economic downward slope around 2019 or so. Having a to-the-core machine, and just one version of it, would’ve served the customer better. I agree that it’s nice to have all these bells and whistles most people barely use, some none at all, yet this whole PS4 battery bullshit is a symptom of putting the emphasize in the wrong court.

No, the battery isn’t the thing people should get concerned over, or the engineering, but the priorities that go into deciding to even put these things into the console; it’s all needless extra. A console’s basic core function is to play games. Everything else should be cut off from that. If all else fails in a console, be it network connection, internal battery, user account or whatever, the user should be able to put the game in and have it played, physical or not. Reality isn’t all that nice or consumer friendly, sadly. Just imagine; Turn the console on, see boot screen, put game in, and you’re playing. Nothing else going in the background or connecting to anywhere else. Just you, the game and the ability to play without seeing a dashboard, needing to connect to the servers, seeing news or being asked to install new updates that take half an hour.

If you’re reading that as me advocating of removal of capabilities modern consoles have when it comes to services and such, you’d be correct. All a console truly needs in addition of playing games is to be able to connect to the Internet for patches and multi-player. Everything else can be trashed. All the other resources can be put on making the controller better, or perhaps not used at all, minimizing the limit when a console goes to black. That’s not going to happen with Sony as long as they want to pretend still to be a prestige brand with the best home media center to offer. Sony’s quality assurance hasn’t been up to that level for good thirty years now, and things like this PS4 internal battery situation is one of those signs. 

The best fix would be Sony to remove this whole shebang and let consumers to set the clock by themselves without a need to connect to the servers at any point. Fat chance, but I can always dream of having more freedom.

Banning sales of violent video games won’t fix Chicago’s carjackings

Marcus Evans Jr. is an idiot. As Chicago is experiencing increasing numbers of carjackings, his solution is to ban violent video games. Junior’s bill is exactly what you’d expect from a politician wanting to bandaid the result of underlying problems. This bill wants to amend 2012 law to ban sales of violent video games to all, not just minors. This bill also seeks to expand the meaning of violent video games, making specific examples. I guess Junior is sexist, as the bill makes a separate mention about violence against women despite there already being a mention of human-on-human violence. Dunno about you, but I count women to be human.

Last year, APA reaffirmed that there is no sufficient evidence that video games cause violent behaviour. Few years back, researchers at Oxford found no associated links between games and adolescent aggression. Turns out puberty and hormones still make you go bonkers in the Third Millennium.  Whatever Junior thinks video games cause is not relevant and inside of his own head. His approach to the problem of increasing criminal activity among minors is pathetic and inane. It would not fix anything, and it would most likely increase piracy if ever passed in any form. To quote Junior from Chicago Sun Times, The bill would prohibit the sale of some of these video games that promote the activities that we’re suffering from in our communities. You’re not suffering from these activities because of video games. These criminal activities are happening because of the environmental and social issues you’re having. People being in bad places, kids being neglected and parents effectively abandoning their kids.

When you compare the two, you see harsh similarities as it relates to these carjackings. This is an incredible bit of stupidity. Video games don’t teach you how to jack cars in real life. Sure, you can see an example yet everyone with half a brain cells realises there’s a difference in stopping a car, pointing a gun at someone, then taking it from them, and pressing a button on a controller. You’d actually learn more about how to do it properly from television and films, especially when they’re aiming for realism. Hell, Youtube probably has step-by-step guides nowadays. Other unmentionable services do. Just like when Doom and other first-person shooting games were blamed on teaching kids how to shoot guns, the skills do not transfer. The skills you learn in a video game are manually different. I can’t deny you can’t get the idea and some imagination practice from playing a game, but you still don’t learn how to do it. Carjacking is rather easy, after all, as long as you get the driver to stop and scare him enough to comply. Of course, Grand Theft Auto is used as the main example, as that’s the easiest title to go after. Even Hillary Clinton went after the series in the middle of the first decade. Even the name of the game is tantalising politicians, but I guess we’re living in an era where all interesting and slightly offensive has to be stamped down.

Close to four decades now we’ve been seeing and hearing about the evils of video games. Longer if we count penny arcades, which we can round up to a nice century. Claims have gone from promoting illegal activities to games causing violent behaviour. While penny arcades and such did see their fair share of organised crime and hoodlum hangers, we’ve never seen solid evidence of games causing violent behaviour. At most, games can be a triggering factor. This means that video games aren’t the reason, that something is already there that doesn’t have anywhere else to go. You might think that’s enough reason to ban violent video games, but at the same time, you should then consider banning all violent and offensive media. A bullied kid might explode at his bullies for any reason, be it after watching some wrestling or because he saw John Wick. Games are more a way to get that pent up stress out from his system, unless the person can’t distinguish between reality and fiction. To reiterate, the issue isn’t violent video games. The question I don’t see Junior asking Why are these minors carjacking? Nobody seems to care about these people, only what they’ve done.

Junior should get this bill off the table and put his efforts into finding out why these young people are carjacking. Hint; the answer isn’t They saw it on telly/ in games. If there were a simple answer to be given, there wouldn’t be any issues. However, Chicago has an inherited culture of crime. Ever since violent crime saw its major rise in the latter part of the 1960s, Chicago’s being second to Detroit in being called a hell hole. Chicago has over a hundred thousand active gang members across sixty factions. Gang warfare is a daily thing. Let’s not ignore Chicago’s long history of public corruption; there’s a reason why the University of Illinois named Chicago the Corruption Capital of America in 2015.

It’s a sheer delusion to blame video games for the rise in youngsters’ criminal activities. Bandaiding the skin while the heart is still ruptured does nothing. Junior has cited no basis for his reasoning, just that there is a harsh similarity between criminal actions in real life and games. Well, I have to say that criminal activity in real life and criminal activity in real life have much more in common, especially when it is easy to get into a gang and get taught by your seniors. Banning the sales of violent video games to all will only hurt the industry, probably will have to face questioning whether or not it will infringe the freedom of speech and expression, and will only make these titles more exotic. Banning media will never solve individual and society-level issues. To this day I am disgusted whenever I see someone coming after the media of any sort for a quick fix rather than raising issues that cause violent behaviour and criminal activity, ranging from child abuse and neglect to society failing those who are in need of help. Mental health issues are still rising, and the whole lockdown thing hasn’t helped many who suffer from loneliness.

There are no black bars

There is a misunderstanding with screen aspect ratios that states that using an image of different aspect ratio from your screen will leave black bars. This is of course completely incorrect but is so widely used that nobody questions it. Everybody just assumed people know what’s been said, which turns into the whole It’s common knowledge thing. This’ll be the last aspect ratio rant for the blog.

The above image shows a white 4:3 image in a wide-screen area format. Those aren’t black bars; that is the area where there is no image information. Open some random image in your computer that isn’t taken in your screen’s aspect ratio. You wouldn’t expect it to fill the screen, as it’s clearly not meant for that size. Yet some of you willingly crop or stretch video footage to fill that area. I’m sure your image viewer has some options to stretch stuff. If not, put it as your desktop wallpaper and choose that stretching option. Suddenly, it looks much less appealing.

This applies to any picture that is out there, video or not. For whatever reason, people fear the void of having nothing on their screen as if its wasted, as if they weren’t getting their money’s worth. This is absurd, though possibly understandable. Nevertheless, the image size and dimensions you view are chosen specifically for the reasons that portray the image the best or were industry standards. If you put something like Jurassic Park on, you should notice that it has more vertical height than your standard modern TV-show, or most movies in widescreen format, because Spielberg chose that aspect ratio because it allowed to show more of the dinosaurs’ height. Compared to Jurassic World movies, which lack this extra height, you get much wider shot and lose that effect of massive size. You have too much room on the sides.

Whatever made filling this empty space with bloomed version of the video at this empty space is a neat response to fill that void, but that’s again needless and useless. I’d like to say Surely people understand that there are videos of different aspect ratios that don’t fill your screen? but that would be stepping in the whole trap of assuming it was common knowledge. It probably is, people just don’t think it though. Another thing people are doing is adding black areas to the top and bottom of the screen to simulate the film experience. This is just from ignorance as people who keep doing this don’t understand that films filmed in 21:9 aspect ratio has more width than height, which is why you have no information to fill all of your modern 16:9 aspect ratio screen.

Seems like Counter Strike players are somewhat split between widescreen and fullscreen formats. Some people talk about how glorious it is to have the game in full, widescreen format while some argue that having 4:3 “black bars” is better because of the focus it offers. Other games seem to have their own aspect ratio they run in, as Youtube’s also full of guides on how to stretch Valorant‘s footage, which again destroys the footage itself. Maybe it’s the new generation problem that older technology has with video footage. As I mentioned in my previous aspect ratio rant, companies used to cut and pan footage to fit 4:3 aspect ratio televisions, yet we have the same problem nowadays in slight reverse. People are stretching the image for 16:9 format and it looks even worse. I’d rather live with Pan and Scan over stretched image just because everything would still maintain their proper proportions.

With Counter Strike people are mislabelling the whole stretching thing. While looking for reasons why people stretch their picture, many consider changing the aspect ratio itself as stretching. The thing with some games is that they can function just fine under different aspect ratios without the need for mangling the image. Look a the following.

 

This image hasn’t been stretched or shrunk. This is two different aspect ratio images superimposed on top of each other, with the red coloured image being in 4:3. No assets are being stretched, the only thing that changes slightly is the field of view. However, the terminology often used between these two, removing black bars, stretching etc are just outright bonkers. The discussion should be about aspect ratio in cases like this and nothing else. It feels, and is stupid to point out that it’s no stretching if there is no stretching. If you’re interested why some Counter Strike players discuss the benefits of having 4:3 aspect ratio in the game, here’s a link to the Medium article where the pic was nabbed from.

Let’s take a step back a bit from that and take a very simple and rather small, random image from my folders and see how it scales.

This’ll do fine

It’s a very normal picture with a random aspect ratio and size. When you put in full screen, as in it would full whatever it can on the screen without stretching, it’d look like this.

As a lot of old digital footage is in crappy resolution with terrible compression, expanding the image well beyond its intended size will result in edges showcasing their low resolution and artifacting. It’ll be even worse if you want it to fill the screen so that it’s filled with the image’s information, even if doesn’t have anything to offer in that regard.

The stretching is visible, with the face becoming even pudgier and the hat suddenly gaining few kilos more. Now, what if someone were to do this in ultra-widescreen? You may think this sounds stupid, but it happens all the time. People love to stretch things for whatever reason.

If you’re ok with the third image, then you should have no problems with the fourth one either. The extreme might be wider, but the effect is still the same. You have now filled your screen with information and thus ended up distorting the image. To hammer this useless point in even further, I’ve superimposed the second and third images together, putting the proper aspect ratio’d picture to the left so the lines have the same starting point.

This hurts my eyes. Thanks astigmatism

Stretching is something that should not be tolerated and the above shows why. When put on top of each other like this, you can clearly see how much stretching displaces and distorts the depicted information.

I did mention I was looking around why people stretch their footage even when knowing it’ll make the picture look bad. The main reason seems to be the good ol’ feeling cheated if they don’t get everything filled from edge to edge in their screens. Televisions and monitors cost a pretty penny and not having that whole area used all the time seem to make people feel like they were cheated, that they could’ve gone with a smaller screen if they have to leave some areas unused due to the footage being in a different resolution or aspect ratio. It’s not rare for people to say It looks fine when justifying why they stretch or crop their picture, which can’t be helped. Just as often you hear the same people saying something about the image not exactly looking like it should. Sports especially tend to look weird in a wrong aspect ratio, because all the players and equipment are stretched sideways.

The second reason is buying into something they don’t have knowledge of. Often a screen is bought, set up, never calibrated or properly tested. If a station is sending the image in a different aspect ratio and the screen is set to automatically stretch, the end result will be a mangled image. Effectively, ignorance.

The third reason is by choice, whatever it might be. While there are intended ways to view something in its proper aspect ratio, we have to accept that people have the freedom to watch whatever they want in whatever size and shape they wish. I assume we’ll have to revisit everything how we approach image sizes and aspect ratios in the future as the image viewing technology takes its next major paradigm shift, or if another aspect ratio other than this widescreen format is implemented as a standard. Whoever writes about these things then will have one helluva time trying to explain to people how few hundred years ago the image was in two dimensions and didn’t contain holographic third dimension to fit their tru-3DVR glasses.

Why are there no black bars though? Because that’s just areas that are off, just like how your screen isn’t “black” when you switch it off. Thes sayings just kept going and had to be dumbed down, which lead misconceptions and further problems down the line. I guess this would count as an example of how we should punch up and educate people rather than punch everything else down. Lift people, so to say, rather than take things down across to the board.

 

 

 

 

Music of the Month; Wizardry

Don’t take this as me introducing Wizardry into the blog. The theme should be taken as something nostalgic, but as something that wasn’t originally there.

 

It has become increasingly more difficult to spent any significant portion of my day working on a post of quality. This has been a trend for some time now, and it’s something everyone has noticed. Planning posts in advance have become a chore of sorts, because most of the time an idea just doesn’t have enough lift under its wings, or it would overlap with something I’ve already discussed prior. Sometimes to extensive lengths, and I’d rather tone down on beating the dead horse. I’ve still got three projects under my belt unfinished, so after a certain date, I’ll have to make some modifications on how and why I still keep this blog up. You’ll have to wait a bit for that though. I do have an intention do writ up few device reviews once I’ve gotten my hands on Meanwhile, I’ll use this entry to cover some small topics that are about around now.

Google announced recently that they’re killing off their first-party developer for Stadia. It lasted only one and a half years, and I’m having a hard time remembering the studio’s name. This follows Google’s standard practices of the killing of products and projects in about two years of their existence. Not much love is lost between Stadia and its users, as it never delivered on its promises. Stadia, by all means, has largely been a failure. I’ve followed few of the early adopters on the sideline, and most of these people have ended up disappointed in the product.

Problem with Stadia, of course, is streaming games, its supposed bread and butter. While Virtual Reality is becoming a mature technology now that we have small enough components and robust enough hardware to make it happen, streaming games is woefully in baby shoes simply because of the existing infrastructure doesn’t support it, not to mention the bottlenecks Google’s servers themselves had. Unlike VR, Stadia could take advantage of existing games, though Stadia had little to no titles that excited the customers or made it a must-have device. Stadia didn’t have a leg against consoles hardware or software-wise, and as a computer peripheral or a smartphone addition, it was pathetically awkward and underpowered. Think it this way; would you lug around a PlayStation with a screen attached to it when you could have a GameBoy? Some would, while others might choose to play a laptop and whatever it offered.

Playing games anywhere, anytime, isn’t a new paradigm. People have been carrying decks of cards with them for hundreds of years and still do. Portable electronic games have been a thing since the late 1970s, at least. Stadia was never creating a new paradigm or a way to play games, nor did it expand the market. Google tried to portray Stadia as something for people who didn’t play video games, yet they failed to offer any games that would expand the market. Look at the NES, GameBoy, NDS and the Wii for example of a library that had something for everyone. Even when taking streaming games out of the equation, this was Stadia’s most important failure and it keeps repeating with every failed gaming device thus far; you can’t succeed without an appealing library, the hardware doesn’t matter. What’d I say about beating a dead horse?

Though Stadia’s hardware was effectively just the controller and whatever junk it has inside. Supposedly, there’s a wild variation whether or not the controllers break down easily or if they’re robust. Seems like this is dependent on whether or not the parts were good or if the assembler had a bad day. Nevertheless, what Google failed to realise is that expanded markets don’t really like game controllers, especially the much older generation. There are too many buttons, they have no intuitive way of learning them. The Wiimote, while often laughed at, was a brilliant design that opened an intuitive way to learn the controller not just because of its familiar shape but also limited buttons and placements. The reason a more traditional controllers Nintendo puts out are called Pro controllers is because they’re meant for people who don’t need to learn how to use a controller. It might be hard to imagine for people who have been playing electronic games most, if not all of their lives, but gaming controllers are still rather complex devices despite standardization and are far from intuitive to use. If Google truly wanted to have an open doors experience for everyone who wasn’t a self-appointed gamer, they would’ve made sure Stadia’s library would’ve appealed to these people and designed the controller to lower the entry challenge. Failing at both of these, Stadia ended up as a third wheel, a system that had no appeal whatsoever.

There’s a Mass Effect: Legendary Edition in the horizon, and unlike the guy who I get occasionally writing stuff when I need a break, wrote his view on the whole shebang. Give it a read. However, it must be questioned whether or not this remake should be. All these games run just fine on modern OS and console versions run just as dandy as they ever did. The time, money and all the other resources spent on this compilation of games could have been used to make a new game, or remaster something that would have been in a dire need to be properly updated for modern systems, or remade into a much better game. Pick your choice game of mediocre or outright terrible game that you think could be worked into a gem and you’re already there. Games that already are great, supposedly, don’t need to be remade into a new form. Mass Effect‘s problems as a game can’t be corrected with a remastering and technical update, it’d need to be taken back to the design board and make a whole new draft to make it a game with interesting and engaging play rather than a generic shootyshit with forced talkie bits. It’ll sell nevertheless. The gaming media has been hyping this one for some time now, and loud fans will invade anyone’s feed in any social media at some point.

In other news, all three companies involved in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, that is Activision, Infinity Ward and Major League Gaming Corp have been sued for copyright infringement. Clayton Haugen, a photographer with two books under his belt, accuses these companies of directly copying his character from a work he was promoting. The way these companies did it that they hired the same model/actor and supposedly asked her to obtain similar, if not the same gear as in Haugen’s photos. While a tacticool waifu isn’t anything special in itself, using the same model with almost the same outfit, posing, hairstyle and aiming to get the same kind of photo smells something rotten. Whether or not the accusations Haugen has levelled against the three are true per se, the similarities across the board are much closer to plagiarism and infringement than coincidental. It’s far too easy to fall in love with a design or character, and then just replicate and copy it with slight modifications, resulting in some cheap Chinese knock-off. It’s like those Transformers KO toys you see every so often. You know what they are and where they are from. These Call of Duty promotional shots are close enough to warrant slap strong enough to discourage corporations from doing something like this. They sure as hell will bring the banhammer if joe generic does something remotely IP infringing, yet corporations often get out of jail card for free, especially when it comes to using photos and such.

Good bye Cross-Omega, don’t let the door hit you on your way out

I assume you know something about Super Robot Wars game series. If you don’t, it’s a series of turn-based strategy games that mixes multiple giant robot IPs together with a game original character and its plot as overall tying glue. The series is incredibly plastic, allowing multiple takes on the concept, sometimes dropping the whole strategy bit from in exchange for action or something else. The series started on the humble Game Boy in 1991, it itself was a spin-off from Bandai’s Compati Hero series.

Despite its age, the SRW series has never significantly changed its play mechanics. You can look at the footage from the first game in the series and recognise that modern games use almost the exact same kind of base system; player and AI have their own turns they move on a grid, and if an enemy is in the vicinity, an attack can be made, which leads into an animated encounter with the attacker’s theme playing in the background. This system has been iterated slowly but surely to take out jank from it. It is an archaic system by all means, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. The way the series tries to innovate itself is with flavour differences and additional systems, like Squad based play, where multiple units exist in a squad to move in a field. This became pretty much a necessary addition with 2nd SRW Alpha game due to the size of the roster. The roster, in fact, is the main pulling power of the series, as it brings back classic shows to be combined with new ones, making it an effective way for Bandai and Sunrise to market their favourite shows and for the staff to expose younger generations with older titles. For example, Steel Jeeg‘s entry in the aforementioned Alpha 2 game lead into Dynamic Pro producing a rewarmed remake for the original shows, Steel God Jeeg in 2007, while Bandai’s executives forced Alpha 3 to have Gundam SEED as one of the entries in the series to drive plastic model sales. This didn’t really work all that well for the game, as it made the deep-space scenario of the game bound to Earth.

With thirty years under its belt Super Robot Wars itself has spin-offs up the wazoo, with one of the most notable one being Original Generation sub-series, which crosses over the main game series’ original characters and robots with each other. A personal favourite with these spin-offs would be Another Century’s Episode, mostly because the first three games are some of the best games Fromsoftware has ever made. Most SRW spin-offs are not exactly high-quality titles. For example, SRW: Scramble Commander tried to take its usual strategy based-play and push it into 3D with some semi-realtime mechanics, but it is incredibly janky, sluggish, boring and looks like a bargain bin PlayStation 2 game. Most footage you’ll find for the game on Youtube also has been stretched sideways, because for whatever reason a lot of people think PS2 games were in widescreen.

Nevertheless, SRW as a series is extremely valuable as a marketing tool. The series’ popularity in Japan means you can’t really drop any series in and have it work. Crossing with other IPs is its bread and butter, and it makes money. The mobile game spin-off SRW X-Ω, or Cross-Omega, was devised as a way to bring SRW spin-off experience to the mobile phones while having a new series cross over almost every month. The number of new franchises Cross-Omega introduced to the SRW label include Muv-Luv Alternative, for example, while the mainline series has always steered away from adapting Visual Novel franchises. I can hear somebody mention SRW UX and Demonbane, and I’ll have to remind this person that they adapted Demonbane‘s animation, not the original work. Similarly, you can expect Muv-Luv Alternative to enter SRW through its animation adaptation, not through its original VN work.

Cross-Omega‘s cross-overs, however, were completely out there. Because it was a mobile game that lived in cross-over content in order to make sales, pretty much everything crossed over with everything else. For example, you had a crossover with a crossover when A Certain Magical Virtual-On made its entry Cross-Omega. If that sounds familiar, I have a review on the game. This lead into situations, like with this player, where you had an SRW original Granzon on the field with the Mega Zord from Power Rangers, Godzilla stomping around, supported by Bass from Mega Man and Accelerator piloting Specineff from the aforementioned A Certain Magical Virtual-On. However, from the linked footage you should already tell something about the game; it’s not very good. While it’s something special to see Muv-Luv Alternative‘s cast discuss and interact with the cast from King of Braves GaoGaiGar and Shin Getter Robo, it never saved the game from being an utter bore. You can claim that you’re there for the plot, but most western fans won’t understand a word because it’s all in Japanese.

I haven’t talked what sort of play Cross-Omega had, because it’s a simple tower-defence game. You have few lanes the enemies keep coming in, and your robots defend a base ship. Most of the play comes from managing the team and making nice combinations of your favourite shows, but not only the battles themselves are short, but they are also boring to watch. I should keep saying things in the past tense, as Cross-Omega is being shut down on March 30th. I won’t even try to put up the writer persona for this one, I’m glad this series-leeching piece of shit will be removed. It wasn’t fun to play and it was a pain to see so many series making their first official entry to Super Robot Wars in such a pathetic and neutered manner. The game was full of predatory gacha practices, like the vast majority of mobile phone games out there, and even then what you got was mostly utter shit due to the game’s design being pulled from the laziest of meetings. All these shows, and Super Robot Wars overall, deserved the far better game. Instead, we got generic garbage that could’ve been any other IP out there.

Not that adapting Super Robot Wars play for mobile phones was difficult. SRW DD is still in action and a normal SRW play with a mobile twist to it. This is similar to how Langrisser and Fire Emblem took their basic play, modified the surrounding systems a little bit, and dropped them unto phones for gacha whales to make some profit for them. In practice, there was no reason why SRW‘s classic play could not have been adapted for Cross-Omega, but we can only surmise they wanted to push the entry down and try to appeal to the most common, to the lowest denominator for whatever audience out there. It was only after Fire Emblem Heroes and other outright tactical games made their mark and showcased that people aren’t dumb fucks that can’t understand how a thirty years olds mechanics work until DD became a synaptic spark in someone’s sorry ass. Not that SRW DD is any better, as its still a dumbed-down random chance gacha bullshit like any other mobile game, but at least you have something proper to play. While it most likely keeps some people employed, its existence is still that of a tumour, sapping away resources and ideas that could be put into the production of proper SRW games. Now all of this is going to be wasted, with only Youtube videos and some asset rips reminding that there were people putting their best effort into it.

 

Battle Network’s near perfect combat

Mega Man Battle Network is known for its unique battle system that hasn’t been replicated outside its sequel series, the Lego Ninjago: Spinjitzu Smash Flash games, with one of them outright ripping sprites for testing purposes, and to a lesser extent in One Step From Eden. All these mentioned titles don’t really replicate the polish Battle Network had, mostly because the team went through numerous iterations during the first game’s development and managed to polish it up in the second and third game. The three last games in the main series sadly don’t do justice to the combat system, and it’s all because Battle Network‘s combat system maintains a very delicate balance that’s very easy to break in terms how well it works. Think of the many versions of Tetris that change the shapes and number of tiles per shape, and you get the gist of it.

A standard field layout, with red being the player side and blue the enemy side

At the base of the Battle Network combat experience lays two elements; movement and resources. As every game’s battlefield is a grid of 3×6 panels, most often initially split as 3×3 for player and opponents, movement becomes impossibly crucial. The 3×3 area is a combination of multiple factors, one being that it is both claustrophobic and roomy enough to allow swift motion from one panel to another. Motion between panels is animated through a zip, where the characters sort of teleport between the panels. While you could have a character jumping or running, or just doing away with the animation, the zipping has a small frame of animation that deactivates and actives the hitboxes on each panel.

Timing becomes incredibly important, as in some games successfully avoiding enemy attacks might require high-level of movement management, though rarely frame accurate. Because of this the play often gets hectic as the player is required to navigate panels, or whole lines and rows of panels, to which opponents’ attacks land all the while trying to land your own hits. The 3×3 panel layout is perfect for this, as it keeps the area wide enough that going from one corner to another requires moving four panel’s distance, as there is no moving in angles. It allows wide enough variety in enemy attack patterns as well as options to escape to enforce quick movements without necessitating for the player to move too far. Perhaps it’d be better to showcase a video, and then go deeper why the system works the best in its most famous form.

A very simple, very easy battle, where the player still has to mind the Mettaur and Ghost’s movements. Instead of using Battle Chips, he chooses to delete the Mettaur by Buster. While doing this, he blocks the Ghost’s attack, in which it moves in front of the player and licks him, By positioning in front of the Mettaur, the Ghost has to retreat. Longplays are a nice way to grab a small segment and just embed from a certain timecode onwards.

4×4, the layout One Step From Eden uses is one panel line and row too big, as traversing the area becomes too large for fast-paced action. Even if movement speed was raised, it’d still be an extra panel to traverse Not only that but the balance breaks as there is no longer a central panel. All attack patterns can become far too widespread. 2×2 would be too small on the other hand and too limiting in every sense, which is the case with Mega Man Star Force, as it effectively butchered the play by limiting the player to one row of movement while enemies have 5×3 area to cover. Moving only left and right is not nearly as engaging as full-range of movement. One of the main issues that end up popping up also from a larger grid stems from the player’s need to scan a much wider area for enemy action. With 3×6 you have large enough space to keep an eye on everything that’s happening, yet with larger fields require splitting attention due to wider spread space, enemy patterns and landing attacks. The issue is inverse in smaller grids, where you end up having less space to keep an eye, which also has to simplify the patterns.

While One Step From Eden flows well, it’s hampered by its expanded field

The full range of movement there is with the caveat that the player can only move in X or Y axis in Battle Network. Allowing the player to move diagonally would break the balance, though in larger fields it might become a necessary addition. The 3×3 layout and up-down, left-right movement offers a balance between the player being able to effectively navigate all those safe zones while leaving the chances of player cornering himself by mistake or making bad judgement calls. 4×4 or larger does contain the same thing, but again that extra low and line build that safety margin too much, making balancing the attack patterns and movements that much more difficult.

The 3×3 panel is perfectly balanced to offer tile-based movement that isn’t too widespread or too tight. It’s an optimal solution.

All this of course can only be supported by the resources, which are aplenty. First is, of course, the selection of weaponry in form of Battle Chips, which go from single-row attacks to multi-panel X-shape shots. A standard Virus opponent often has only one form of attack and defence, though sometimes this defence is just moving. The Viruses are thus paired with other types that either compensate each other weaknesses or pose a challenge for the player in terms of panel navigation. Some Viruses have passive defences that must be circumvented in an indirect manner, some have none. For example, there is a Virus that has a shield in front of it that prevents direct damage from ahead and moves towards the player area. Once it reaches its area limit, it puts the shield on the player side and causes gradual damage via Poison. Early on the best method for the player to deal with this Virus is to use a Wide Sword, a close-range attack that does 1×3 area of damage in front of the player, the player being in the centre. Other times the player finds himself against a tree Virus that recovers HP faster than the player might be able to dish out due to the panels having a beneficial element. Thus, either cracking or literally burning the grass off from the panel the tree is standing of negates this effect.

Bosses often had extra shielding or similar gimmicks. Here, the player probably tries to limit the Boss’ movement through cracking the panels

Resources like these change how the player must meet the battles, at least until the player unlocks game-breaking combos and other fun post-game content. Combining action games’ fast movement, albeit in a more limited sense, to an RPG standard rock-paper-scissors Elemental system makes the resources an essential part of the play, and managing to design and develop these resources makes or breaks the whole system. Not only does the player have to have access to a wide variety of solutions to a single combat problem through the selection of Battle Chips, but also have them balanced so that these strategies must be changed from time to time.

The Battle Chips selection changes as the series grows, and many of the staples get dropped in favour of new Chips. This has caused numerous balance issues, as many high utility Chips are dropped in subsequent games and their replacements are not nearly as useful. While this forces the player to adopt new tactics for each game, the truth is that the selection of weaponry does determine how well the battles are fought, and how enjoyable the play ends up being. While there are a couple of hundred of listed Chips and their combined Program Advances, the majority of these Chips end up being copies of each other in different strength. This is of course to give the player chance to use the same family of Chips in stronger form as enemies become tougher and acquire more HP fat. This is another standard RPG mechanic though, much like how Final Fantasy has Fire, Fire 2 and Fire 3, so does Battle Network have Cannon, HiCannon and M(ega)Cannon.

The selection of these battle resources allows the players to express themselves and their favourite ways of battle. While others prefer the straightforward Cannons, others might aim for more damage with combinations of Chips. One method would be to use Area Steal, which takes one 1×3 area from the enemy side and turns it into area player can enter. This temporary steal deprives the opponent panels to move in and greatly expands the player’s movement options. This disrupts the opponent’s movement options while greatly increasing the player’s. Either side can, in effect, steal all of the opponent’s side bar the one they are standing on, causing what’s called an Area Lock. This is extremely useful in games where Battle Chips randomly hit enemy panels for damage multiple times. Area Locking an enemy to a single panel forces all the hits to concentrate on one panel, causing e.g. a hit worth of 80 repeating on one panel five times, causing total damage of 400. Add Chips that increase damage per hit, and the damage increases significantly.

Battle Network needs to limit access to these resources so that the player can’t have the perfect build all the time. This is realised first in making a Folder with a set limit of 30 Battle Chips. You can’t have less or more. By doing this, the player is forced to insert multiple different strategies into the Folder, often in a way where combinations of Chips can also work on their own, if necessary.

An example of similar Chips and Codes in a Folder

Secondly, all Chips have a letter code that limits what the player can choose in one go. Unless multiples of the same Chip is selected, no Code can be mixed and matched, outside the *-Code. For example, the player could have Cannon A and Cannon B or Cannon B and Bomb B, but not Cannon A and Bomb B. This locks the player from having all the strategies at his and at the same time but also introduces the chance of having only one Chip they could choose of they build their Folder without much thought. The amount of same Chips per Folder varies between games, with the first game allowing ten of the same, second game dropping this to four, third game rising it to five, and the sixth game introducing the idea of each Chip having a megabyte size, with larger Chips only be allowed a lower amount. Higher ranking Chips are more limited, with Giga Chips only allowed one entry per Folder.

Thirdly, the player can only access five Chips from his library via Custom screen at the start of a battle by the standard. The importance of having a Folder with large amounts of the same Chips, or same Code letter, becomes pressing depending on the player strategies. The player has to live with the selection the random number generator has given him until about ten seconds pass as dictated by Custom Gauge. At this point, the player can access the selection screen again, where he can choose another set of Chips, with the used one replaced with Chips from his Folder. The cycle between Custom screens is called a turn, though by standard a turn can last as long as the player wants. Under certain conditions, the Gauge can be fastened up or slowed down. In certain games, it becomes a puzzle element, where specific battles must be done under a turn limit and the Custom screen is opened automatically when the Gauge has filled up.

Custom Screen open at the beginning of a battle, with BN3’s Boss visible

The player can affect the number of Chips in their selection during the Custom screen by using the Add command rather than selecting any Chips. In the first game, it adds five more Chips to the Custom screen, with another use adding another five. This wasn’t the best system, as you’d lose all the additional Chips the turn you chose to use something. It wasn’t much fun. The second game introduced a change to the Add system, where the player had to sacrifice up to five Chips in the Custom screen to gain access to additional Chips. This Add system totalled to a maximum of ten, but the addition was permanent for the rest of the battle. This made the risk and reward already presented by the random choices as you might find it necessary to sacrifice stronger weaponry for a wider selection. It also expanded turn-by-turn options dramatically. The number of Chips available could be affected with outside effects, like Styles that changed the player’s element and weapons, but also via Customisation blocks that would become available in the third game. These ended up as the only options for the player to expand the selection, as the Add function was removed. However, this also removed the added risk and reward option, and further limited the maximum amount of chips from 10 to 8, drastically changing the nature and the balance of the battles themselves.

The balance in a combat system that heavily relies both on certain kind of spatial movement and a large variety of resources and conditions. The first game doesn’t exactly use the system the best, with everything being more or less unpolished. By the third game, the balance between damage output, method variety, hit patterns, additional conditions, panel elements and more extensive character customisation that affects all these directly made the balance stand on its tiptoes, but perhaps ultimately also showcased how well the developers understood it all.

The Navi Customizer from BN3 further expanded how the players could play and with what strategies

All these things have to tick in proper sync to work, something that the staff of the later games didn’t understand as well as the previous team. For example, removing the Add option might not seem an important decision, but it nevertheless favoured few types of approach more in character customisation and Folder building over others. Chip selection, or rather designing how the Chips would work is nothing short of do-or-die, and sadly from the fourth game onwards, the Battle Chips were never quite balanced, often teetering on practically useless to game-breaking on their own. Of course, the enemy selection had to be on par with this, which again became an object of inquiry as the games went on, with some enemy patterns being simply not fun. The system lends itself for challenge battles well enough, though it became questionable when Battle Network 5 introduced Liberation Mission, a combination of turn-based strategy with turn-limited battles. While others enjoyed the challenge they posed, its attempts to shake the combat experience by putting the player in the middle of the field, sandwiched by two enemy sides, didn’t work out all that well. These combat scenarios became janky and even more dependent on proper Chip selection that forced players to farm certain kinds of resources, putting far too high emphasize on the Chips themselves rather than having a combination of player’s action parts and collecting.

Some of the higher level player-VS-player battles showcase strategies that aren’t used all that much in single-player campaign, and they can end up being relatively boring to watch and slower-paced than in-game matches. Balancing the Chips selection between single and multiplayer play is rather hard, as some Chips ended up useful only in one area or the other

The system itself is nearly perfect. At its core, it’s something that only a video game can do, similar to Tetris. However, because it is reliant on how the resources are designed and managed, it is very easy to screw up. Despite the first and the last three games managing to screw up this balance nicely, the wide variety of Battle Chips and their combinations despite other system changes also means the players can and will find ways to cheese the system. As such, the best way to expand the system is not to change the absolute core of the system, that is the movement and the 3×6 grid, but to expand on resources and the ways all the combatants can make use of them.

This is probably one those things where Battle Network truly failed in its play. While most of the enemies were Viruses, majority of the standard Bosses didn’t utilise Battle Chips until later on. Instead, they all have their own gimmick and are designed around them. However, if the Bosses would’ve had similar access to at least a proper Folder of their own in addition to their specialised field, the games could’ve been a step more challenging as well as throwing a wrench to the player’s gears at times. This might’ve taken away from the uniqueness of each of the bosses, though evidently, developers agreed the Bosses should use Battle Chips at least to a limited amount.

Secondly is that most storyline End Bosses simply don’t conform to the established rules. They are largely inanimate and despite their hype, end up being lacklustre due them becoming an issue of hitting their weak point, which is often covered until certain phases. Incidentally, post-game Bosses end up being far more entertaining in their difficulty and methods, as they break the rules just enough to be unique all the while having all the same benefits most other characters, including the player’s, have on the field. Bass is probably the best example of this, as his level of strength is relative to the game he is in. Initially being covered by Dream Aura that requires 100HP worth of damage, Bass gains new patterns and strikes in each subsequent title relative to the overall balance and content of the game.

While BN3’s Bass BS isn’t the most difficult version of him, in many ways it is one of the more iconic ones. This Japanese voice-over here describes its attacks and a method to beat him. The battle here showcases some creative use of Battle Chips, as well as FolderBack, a Giga Chip that restores all used Battle Chips back to usable state. It happens to be the most broken Chip across the series

The system doesn’t lend itself to be modified and replicated in large fashion without a complete overhaul. Any change to the core requires a total change to effectively every part of the system to achieve a similar balance. This is one of the reasons why Battle Network didn’t spawn copycat series despite its popularity, as any game that might use a system derived from it would instantly be called out. Star Force tried to adapt some of the core mechanics, but it didn’t pan out all that well. Player movement is one of the most fun aspect of the system, and reducing it to one dimension made everything else having to compensate for this, which they can’t. The system was already robust in the first game, though unpolished. Be it by design or happy accident, this prevents similar iterations and alterations that something like Dragon Quest would lead to.

For better or worse, Mega Man Battle Network combat is still unique since nothing quite like it has turned up. Perhaps it’s better that way, as the system was already explored and almost broken under Capcom, and variations of it have not succeeded to the same level. This, combined with the whole thing not being to everyone’s taste, probably means we’ll never see it outside few oddities once in a decade until Capcom decides to re-release or remaster the Battle Network games. Here’s hoping for that Phantom of Network remake.