Two-One Punch of Mega Man Million

Capcom recently updated their sales data in their Game Series Sales section, and with that we saw Mega Man gaining one more million units sold from 34 million to 35 million units since February 2019. That’s three million more units since June 2018. Their Annual report from the end of last, year, which I have a post about, stated that Mega Man 11 performed well. We could read between the lines that they were expecting it to perform worse, but the Blue Bomber still has some pulling power. With the cartoon series running, though not exactly making the biggest splash out there, the franchise has resurfaced again, much like how Devil May Cry made the news once more. Devil May Cry 5 performed a lot better, and if we’re completely honest, is the better game of the two. It was ambitious project that was true to the core gameplay but also pushed the 3D Action games just a little bit further once more. Mega Man 11, as much as the game is loved, did end up somewhat a shelf warmer. Compared to DMC5, MM11 is a lacklustre title. It was too safe a title.

It is because of Mega Man X Legacy Collection that the series gained one more million sales. Mega Man  11 sold some 870 000 units, so previous digital titles and X Legacy Collection must cover the rest. This is how Mega Man ultimately worked ever since the X-series was released. The Classic-series may have solidified the series’ status as an icon. Good games, to which Capcom would churn up sequel after sequel year by year, until they put the franchise in ice.

Neither Mega Man 11 or Mega Man X Legacy Collection sold one million units, as they don’t appear on Capcom’s Platinum million titles sold list. I don’t know Mega Man Battle Network 4 has sold so many units, it’s the very bottom feeder of the franchise itself. However, outside the NES era of games, most of Mega Man had one more or more sub-series running side by side. At best, Capcom offered 2D Action, 3D Action and RPG under Mega Man brand name during the busiest days of the franchise, and even more if you were in Japan.

If you were wondering, Mega Man 2 is the best selling title in the franchise

I would argue that outside the NES days of Classic series, when it showcased quality game design and tight controls in comparison to some of the schlock the NES and (especially) Famicom had, Mega Man‘s strength later on relied on its multiple approaches and titles on the market at the same time. Capcom did manage to avoid brand confusion by clearly having different kind of visual flavour across the board. The core mistake between Mega Man and Mega Man X is, really, that the two look too similar. X simply looks an older, edgier take on Mega Man. Which he arguably is, but that was the 1990’s. That was par for the course and I love it. Each subsequent Mega Man was different enough to tell the difference, even at their games, but recognisable enough to say that they were, indeed, a kind of super fighting robot.

Mega Man is a multimedia franchise, make no mistake about it. Despite the games are its main product and lot of the side pieces like comics and toys were there to support the sales of the games themselves, Mega Man saw its most success when you had a little bit of everything out there. Mostly in Japan, sure, but that really reflects the nature of the franchise world wide; the little bits of that everything that West ever got was cherished by the fans like nuggets of gold. When Hitoshi Ariga’s Mega Man Megamix got its English release, the fandom celebrated like no other. This wasn’t the first bit of comics Western world got from Mega Man, but it sure was one of the most wanted.

How did Mega Man gain all those millions of sales since the last update without neither of the two big releases hitting platinum sales point? I told you that already; combined sales of multiple products. Whether it is because 2D action games just don’t have the same market pull they used to, or because Mega Man had become such a standard for the genre that despite their high quality they’re seen as run-of-the-mill titles or just because the franchise’s envelope can’t be pushed all that easily like DMC’s, one Mega Man title hitting that platinum point in the current era of video game market must have something significant behind it.

On the other hand, Capcom could go the true and tested route, put together a standard Mega Man title like MM11 and comp it with something that’s a bit different. If they were brave, which they might actually become with these increased sales, they might even try to make a new sub-series that would break the mould. Love it or hate it, Battle Network was a smash hit. Legends, not so much. Still has a stupidly dedicated cult following, who still keep hope for Capcom reviving Mega Man Legends 3. 

Maybe that would be a decent pull, start the project from scratch and make it play better than what Gaist Crusher did. If you didn’t know, Legends 3‘s engine and very basic gameplay was more or less directly lifted and heavily adapted for two-part game series, which never really went anywhere despite having a cartoon and toys that interacted with the games. I’ve got few posts from 2013 (Christ that’s old and they’re terrible) about Gaist Crusher but never got around getting the second game and reviewing it. I guess I lost my interest in seeing how the series did, just like the Japanese kids it was aimed at.

Capcom could just go full stupid and release Mega Man titles like usual, throwing compilations left and right all the while not really considering how to grow and further the franchise. You know what? Give Mega Man Legends the REmake2 treatment. Take the base elements of the game, expand on the whole connected underground tunnels concept, polish and fully upgrade the gameplay, add more optional parts and possible modifications, explore further the concept of Rock being able to turn black rather than just have it a an interesting joke element (I’m pretty sure this ultimately evolved into the whole Black Mega Man and Synchro concept in Battle Network) and make the game look like a real Saturday morning cartoon it was clearly mimicking.

I can always dream.

Still, with these sales, Capcom probably will be making few Mega Man titles in the future, that much we wager to be certain. If they want to revive Mega Man properly rather than just with one game and collections, Mega Man X9 is probably high on their to-do list.

Heads in the clouds

Cloud gaming making some waves again, with Sony and Microsoft announcing collaboration with each other to explore solutions with their own streaming solutions. At least according to official statement from Microsoft. Despite being rivals within gaming market. We should always remind ourselves that out of the Big Three, only Nintendo deals exclusively with games. Both Microsoft and Sony have their fingers spread elsewhere, with Sony having movie and music studios, Microsoft with Windows and whatnot and so on. While Sony does rely heavily on the profits their gaming department is making (to the point of relying most of their profits coming from there seeing everything else has been going downhill for them), Microsoft doesn’t as much. I’m not even sure if Microsoft is still making any profit on their Xbox brand and products, considering neither the original box or the 360 saw any real profit throughout their lifespans. It’s like a prestige project for them, they gotta have their fingers in the biggest industry out there. The more competition, the better though. This does mean that neither Amazon or Google can partner with Sony for similar venture, but perhaps this was more or less a calculated move on both of their parts.

It does make sense that the two would collaborate to support each other in cloud and streaming venture though. Sony already has an infrastructure for streaming gaming content with their PlayStation Now while Microsoft has the whole Azure cloud centre set up. The MS Azure contains lots of features, from computing  virtual machines and high density hosting of websites, to general and scalable data management all the way to media streaming and global content delivery. Safest bet would be that both MS and Sony are intending to share their know-how of content streaming, but it is doubtful if the two will actually share any content. Perhaps Sony’s music and films will be seen on Microsoft’s services, but don’t count on the games. However, I can’t help but guess if multiplatform games between the two could be specifically designed and developed for their combined streaming efforts. That’s a bit out there, as the collaboration is to find new solutions rather than build a common service the two would use. This is, like Satya Nadella said, about bringing MS Azure to further power Sony’s streaming services, and that’s completely different part of market from games at its core.

This does seem like Enemy-of-enemy like situation. Google’s Stadia is touted to be the next big hitter on the game market. It’s not unexpected for the two giants pull something that would weaken Stadia’s standing. This, despite Stadia already having boatloads of obstacles already, ranging from control latency to the quality of the streaming itself (end-user Internet connection still matters, especially if you live in the middle of nowhere surrounded by dense forests) to the very content itself probably being less than unique. Let’s not kid ourselves, cloud gaming is not for everyone despite what Google’s PR department wants you to think. Not everyone has the money or infrastructure to have a proper connection for cloud gaming. Anecdotes be damned, but there are lots of people living around here who have to rely on wireless Internet for everything, especially up North, because the population is so spread apart that putting data cables into the ground would not be worth it. Early 2000’s modem speeds are not unexpected, they’re a standard. If early reports on Stadia are to be believed, there’s some serious lag and latency on standard Internet connections. It’s not going to play well with someone who doesn’t put a whole lot money into their Internet connection, or just can’t. If we’re going to be completely open about this, only a fraction of the world can handle cloud gaming. 10.7 teraflop computing power and 4K resolutions for Stadia? A pipe dream at best.

Steaming interactive content like video and computer games is not easy. Music and video, that’s comparatively easy, just send that data to the consumer and you’re pretty much done. Gaming requires two-way communication at all times, and on top of that the service has to keep tabs on what’s going on at both ends within the game. No matter how robust the data centres are, no matter what sort of AI solutions are implemented, it all comes down to the whole thing about latency between the data centre and the end-user. Perhaps the best solution would be split the difference in a similar manner how mobile games have partial data on the phone whole syncing with the server side all the time. That, of course, would be pretty much against the whole core idea of cloud gaming, where the end-user would just hold an input device and a screen.

Cloud gaming has been tried for about a decade now. It’s still ways off, but it’s very understandable from the corporations’ perspective why they’d like it to become mainstream and successful. For one, it would remove one of the biggest hurdles from the consumer side; getting the hardware. You could just use your existing computer or smartypants phone to run things and you’re set. Maybe have a controller, but you can get those for twenty bucks. No need to pay several hundreds for a separate device just to run separate media software. Cloud gaming would be the next step in digital-only distribution, which would also offer better protection from piracy. Control is the major aspect of cloud gaming, where the end-user would have effectively none. You would have no saying in what games you have access to. One of the well marketed modern myths about streaming services is that everything is available 24/7, when in reality everything is determined by licenses. Star Trek vanished from Netflix for a time being, because the license ended, for example. This happens all the time. I’m sure there’s some list of lost media listing somewhere about digital-only films and shows that were lost due to publishing rights and licenses expiring. Lots of games having vanished from both Steam and GOG because of this, and if there are no physical copies floating around, pirating is your only option. For something like the Deadpool game, you can only get second-hand or newold stock, as the developer’s and publisher’s license expired few years back.

Will cloud gaming be the future? Probably at some point, but the infrastructure is way off still for it to become any sort of standard. It is, in the end, another take on the decentralised gaming Nintendo has going on with the Switch, moving away from the home media centre that the smartphones brought to us. Cloud gaming will take take firmer hold once they beat systems with local storage in value and performance. For now, enjoy the screen in your pocket.

Consumer agency W

I’ve talked about this topic to death on the blog, so this entry will be short. Omega Labyrinth got blocked by Sony in the Western market, and probably was one of the last Japanese games that didn’t have to go through the censorship police. Marvelous has been getting the shaft thanks to Senran Kagura to the point the series creator left them, and now they’re rather stuck with Rune Factory 5 and are telling to the public that they shouldn’t expect the game until April 2020. At this point, the Switch or Xbox One should be considered the best possible option for freedom of work, and leave hyper violence for Sony. I assume Sony would like keep things in check in a way that doesn’t pop like a sore thumb and slap you in the face.

Ah, I see Sony has fucked even the game’s logo

Omega Labyrinth Life just got announced, and ‘lo and behold what in the fuck. There’s no reason for the game to have two different logos across platforms, that’s never been a thing in of itself outside versions. There is no other reason for this than Sony practicing their now overt becoming censorship. Omega Labyrinth‘s logo has been pretty great in that it has always played with the whole playish aspect with the sexuality, having a comedic and cute approach to the whole thing and not taking it too seriously. Here, have some bouncy boobs and enjoy it the show. Nothing harmful, nobody has gotten PTSD from seeing joyful tits. Unlike certain 3D modeller at Netherrealms, who can’t sleep due to the horrifying shit he had to watch and use as a reference when making latest Mortal Kombat 11’s visceral violence. Without the whole Omega bit, the PS4 version is just Labyrinth Life. Not even kidding, the PS4 version was cut short.

Best thing of all, the Switch version is basically advertised as This is the real version while the PS4 versions is hit with a slogan You can play this in front of your family! You thought I was kidding when I titled my last post about Sony’s censorship about them being family friendly, but this is really the way things are going with them. I’d laugh at the whole damn ordeal if it was just some bad parody, but it’s almost like some one at Sony took a joke seriously and ran with it. Gematsu has tl’d section what the further differences are between PS4 and Switch versions.

With two versions of the same game on two different platforms, the consumer has some freedom to choose, some agency has been given to them. While politic no little place in video games (one of the missteps Sony’s doing with their whole shtick here) deciding where to buy, what to buy and even how to buy a game can be used as a leverage to make a statement. While the money will ultimately end up with the developer and whoever’s in the middle, the choice given here can also be stated as follows; do you support a company for practicing censorship, or do you support the company that support creative freedom?

Aalt, you’re being facetious here. Of course I am, this is a hyperbolic statement, but no less valid when you consider how hard companies, especially Japanese companies, value raw data. This is probably D3 Publisher testing waters which direction to go in the future to some extent, but also probably just serving both sides of the console chasm all the while leaving something core goodness for the series’s fans. You’ve got some agency in your hands, if you’re interested in making a statement with your wallet here. I doubt many people reading this post has any interest in buying the game proper, but consider the following; would this have happened if the economy would be different, if there wasn’t room to pick and choose what’s on your platform for the sake of maximising profits?

Funny that, this is more solid stuff for Sony using almost racist depiction of American censorship standards; it’s A-OK to show someone, especially a man, being gutted, shot in the head, ripped apart, face smashed in and spine being ripped. R-18, s’all good, maybe even good for teen. A pair of boobs? X-rated and ban it.

Sakura Wars’ uphill battle

If you’re familiar with some of Sega’s (and Red Entertainment’s) prestige IPs, Sakura Taisen, or as known under its official English moniker, Sakura Wars, is a franchise that people sometimes bring up when discussing game IPs that never got a real chance in the West. When it did however, it bombed for whatever reasons. Only the fifth installment was released in the West, and you can imagine how well that went. To make matters worse, if reports are to be believed, even Japan gave a colder shoulder to that entry than the rest of the series. So not the greatest start for this series outside of Japan.

First game hit the shelves in 1996 and was touted as Sega’s most ambitious title for the Sega Saturn. Since then, this particular title saw ports to Dreamcast, PSP and Windows. The game got an expanded remake for the PS2 with the subtitle In Hot Blood. Original release was also a massive success, selling out from stores and selling over half of stock available in a week. It was the fastest selling Sega at the time

Something like Yakuza had to build its fanbase for a decade before it broke through its barriers toward the larger markets. Initially, it was marketed and touted as the spiritual sequel to Shuenmue but since then it has been allowed to flourish on its own. As a concept, it is more approachable game than Sakura Wars. After all, realistic modern day Japan is more approachable as a concept than fantasy version of Taishō period Japan. While it would be easy to simply Sakura Wars as a strategic RPG with classical oriental motif, the fact that it heavily marries its gameplay to visual novel styled story telling and certain level of emphasize on dating simulation, it is extremely clear why Sega would have worries whether or not any of the series’ games would a success enough in the West.

Despite what the sub-culture would like you to tell, Japanese media cartoons and comics are still a relatively small niche in the West, especially in the US. Sure, they’re probably the most stable mainstream than what it has ever been. Everything from dubbing to free streaming has been made to open the access points for people with interest, but even in Europe certain other forms of media are consumed more despite the how much e.g. France and Italy experienced Japanese classics in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. That was the time when the origin of these shows wasn’t made a huge deal, that their source wasn’t something that used to market. The best example of this is still with the US marketing of the NES and its games, where some have come to argue that Nintendo of America intentionally made people think the NES and its games were American products. Perhaps it was because how well Japan’s aggressive business practices did against US businesses, or maybe just to keep things as a cohesive whole. The source didn’t really matter, only that Nintendo’s branding was there and visible.

Kousuke Fujishima was instrumental in realising the characters and designs, balancing the era’s mix of Japanese and Western flavours with the magical steampunk world. Fujishima is know for such works as Oh My Goddess!, You’re Under Arrest and working on characters in the Tales of series. At the time, he was a household name and further drove the franchise’s initial success

Sakura Wars is inherently Japanese to the point of its detriment in the Western market.

My point of Yakuza taking a decade to make a solid fanbase comes is important, as it initially had, and still has, the same kind of wall on its way. However, the constant positive word of mouth and Sega sticking to their guns and releasing all the mainline games, and that one zombie sidegame, and ultimately growing positive press gave the series a pretty good reputation. It also helped that it was called Japanese Grand Theft Auto at some point during the two latest GTA games, which made more people curious about it. more than few fans were made through that.

Sakura Wars has none of this backing it up. While it has a small and dedicated cult following in the West, that’s all it has. Japan on the other hand treats the IP with silk gloves, though later games in the series simply didn’t have the selling power the earlier titles had. Sakura Wars is an expensive franchise to make with all the animated cutscenes, all the voices that need to be paid, the illustrated works and whole multimedia thing it has going on with cartoons, comics, figures and whatnot. It was designed from grounds up for Japanese markets only. It’s cultural ties are its most prominent element after all, specifically designed to invoke certain emotional response from the Japanese consumers. This is similar how Ciel Nosurge uses Shōwa era to directly invoke nostalgia from its older players. The Western audience has no links to this age in any form outside historical oddities. It becomes a double-edged sword in the Western markets.

Imagine if some US developer would make a fantasy RPG set in a romanticised version of the American Civil War with romance partner elements akin to Dragon Age. Whatever its success would be in the US, both European and Asian markets would not have any connections to the era and treat it as some kind of self-centered, bolstering product. Similarly, a British developer could make a similar product of their great colonial days, and it would have the same reception. This would be similar how Sakura Wars presents its idealised fantasy version of the Imperial Japan that no longer exists.

This carries even to the music of the series, with its main theme is a mix of Super Sentai opening song and 1949’s Aoi Sanmyaku‘s theme. Most of the character songs later in the franchise has been intentionally designed and composed to be nostalgic period pieces with characteristic twists. However, the main, ‘Geki! Teitoku Kagekidan’, or ‘Attack! Imperial Floral Assault Troop,’ has been the most repeated song in the franchise and is the most iconic representation whenever the series represents itself. Project Sakura Wars, the upcoming game, even uses a new variation on the song, further emphasising the fact that this is a new game.

Compare the two song here;

The main difference is in the lyrics while keeping the base composition the same. Perhaps I should also emphasise that the Japanese title of Project Sakura Wars is translated as New Sakura Wars. Again, culturally the song hits the times, as it was used to introduce melodic composition back to Japanese mainstream, and was Kohei Tanaka’s first major video game work, and helped him to further his career. I must admit I have an enormous soft spot for Kohei Tanaka’s works, and probably should count as one of his fans. I even have GaoGaiGar DVD box with his signature on it. (He was surprised and asked if I had seen the whole series, and was rather touched to hear that it made me a fan of his other works as well.) Sakura Wars music is one of the more important works for him, and has been used to describe his body of works in Western conventions. But I digress.

Of course, one thing this series is known for in certain circles the most are its steampunk mechas, the Koubu, which the fair maidens use to war against demons

With only one low-selling game in the West, Sega’s best bet to market this game in the West is to tie itself to Sakura Wars’ popularity and status as a prestige franchise within their home market.  The series has always shown strong national and historical pride despite its fantastic nature, which probably will rub some small groups the wrong way. Unless this time the rule is that North Americans and Europeans can’t show national pride, but others can. The gameplay elements, with its strong emphasize what Sega has coined as ‘dramatic adventure,’ naturally will get the dating sim label, which still carries the whole ‘dating sim=porn game’ stigma that’s been around since the early 1990’s. To the same extent, no matter what the hardcore VN fans tells you, the general perception is still ‘VN=porn game’.

Still, as a certain Youtuber told me in a chat why he didn’t get into the series was because, and I quote; “Does that actually have gameplay? I sat down once for an hour and they just wouldn’t shut the fuck up.” Oh gee, another PS2 RPG!” This isn’t all too rare a reaction to the series from the two decades I’ve followed the series from the sidelines. Sony made a similar notion, as an yet unnamed company tried to localise the ports of the two first Sakura Wars, but were rejected by Sony when they categorised the series as text novels due to sheer amount of text compared to the game play.

Yakuza is the game franchise that showed Sega that inherently Japanese products can succeed in the West. With their newfound courage and willingness to serve a niche audience is always welcome, and perhaps there’s some hopes that they’ll keep expanding if the series becomes a cult hit. Then again, Yakuza visually doesn’t look cartoony and sticks its legs into more realistic graphics and setting over girls with magical powers controlling robots to defeat demons. One more thing that makes it easier to sell. Nevertheless, there is a niche for the series. If Fire Emblem can find its niche despite its low acceptance first, all Sakura Wars needs to do is to be present and have a new entry available.

While Sakura Wars had massive initial success, the fourth game was a rushed job and gained rather negative reception, while the fifth pretty much ended the series with completely new set of characters and new setting. In few ways, Sakura Wars is like Virtual-On in that you can follow the last truly glorious days of Sega end in misery

This isn’t enough as is though, it also has to stay true to its nature to keep that niche. Capitulating to trends, removing game play elements, censoring anything either during development or in overseas version or removing any cultural motifs among numerous others will impact how that niche will view the game, thus affecting how the word of mouth will treat the title. They also need to do translation and localisation in-house and follow Yakuza‘s later steps, as Sakura Wars; So Long My Love has the usual NISA quality of translation and buggy coding. The PS2 version came with two discs in the West, one with faithful translation with Japanese voices, and one that had NISA’s less-than-accurate translations with extremely subpar English voice acting. The Wii version is based on the second NISA-fied disc, so you might burn it. Sadly, the Wii version was the only version released in Europe, making Sakura Wars initial entry in the PAL region doubly worse. Then again, starting with fifth game in the franchise might not be a good idea. A soft reboot on the franchise probably was the best move outside complete modern remake of the first game.

There is hope for Project Sakura Wars to be best it can, seeing the development team is using lessons learned from Yakuza how to present the game, but it was also mentioned that battles would be easier to go through in order for new players to have a better time. This interview with Famitsu is rather good representation how carefully the new entry is approached, but perhaps it also the text between the lines is telling how they’re putting more effort on story segments over gameplay, which will only raise the wall for the mass audiences. People who play games for stories, games like Persona 5, probably would like their direction.

Sega will have to deal with Sakura Wars being inherently anime and Japanese, which are probably its biggest obstacles in the larger markets while being one of major selling points to sub-culture niches. The best way to build toward an expanding market is up start with a  cult-hit. I wish this series would see some decent success in order to ensure further longevity of the franchise and more localised entries, despite its niche status in the West. It’s an expensive endeavour for Sega, but perhaps the market niche is large enough now for this new Sakura Wars to bloom in spring 2020.

In the meanwhile, you can visit Japan and play that Pachislot machine.

Reviving for new ages is a challenge

Earthworm Jim is one of those franchises that had a momentary impact. After two good games, a decent TV-show and mediocre three-isue comic series by Marvel, it all went to the shitter. It’s a weird IP, tied to a weird era of television and culture in terms of design and visuals. Everything from the slightly scratchy and clearly hand drawn visuals to the slightly gross-out and weird designs that was hallmark of shows like Cow and Chicken and even Rugrats. You would think that making a heroic earthworm in intergalactic quest for peace with comedic overtones would be relatively easy to work out, but the sheer nonsense humour and how the games presented themselves didn’t really leave much room for the TV-show or the comics to flourish. Earthworm Jim 2 is even more nonsensical than its predecessor. Both of them are quality titles for the system they were released for, but adapting something like Earthworm Jim is just stupidly hard due to the lack of any cohesive world, and that’s kinda the point too. Sit back and enjoy the chaos and whatever ensues. EWJ is a like an acid trip that kept pushing envelope of What the Fuck.

Earthworm Jim, much like many other franchises and IPs, needs updating from time to time. Especially now EWJ is effectively being resurrected both in comic form and as a game for the upcoming Intellivision Amico. I agree, resurrecting Intellivision is a nifty move, but keeping the controllers like they were in original Intellivision won’t bode well. Hopefully optional controls will be a thing. One point that Intellivision should update itself to modern era. To use examples of IPs that kept renewing itself for new generations  are numerous, from The Transformers to Super Mario, most long running franchises have managed to find new ways to expand their consumers or find a new niche. Sometimes both. There are numerous examples of franchises getting screwed by badly handled renewals, like how Star Trek Discovery is less Star Trek than The Orville. Star Wars can be used as an example for an IP that war warmed up again and then revamped for the 1990’s with comics, books, games and whatnot. Let’s not talk about 2000’s and 2010’s Star Wars for now.

Very few IP can stay the same without any change throughout its existence if the owners want to milk it years on end. Something like EWJ was mishandled extremely badly after the second game was released. Some of the later Mega Man games were terribly handled as well, ranging  from utter garbage like Mega Man X 7 to series ending games like Star Force. EWJ revival is in good hands, seeing his original creators Doug TenNapel, David Perry and the rest of the motley crew are working on it. Doug’s handicraft especially is what has always given Jim his iconic look. While there are some who would rather not have Doug on-board, and that this blog holds the stance that original creators are not necessary in order to create great, if not even better, new installments to an IP, the history of EWJ games has been lacklustre without the original Shiny Entertainment team. Something like Metal Gear is relatively easy to approach, as the series’ core is easy to follow and has set tropes to the extent first few Solid games are just remakes of Metal Gear 2 in many ways. The weird humour EWJ employes is harder to trace down properly and replicate by someone else without it looking like a botched copy. It can be done, but it without a doubt would require people who are willing to let loose. Maybe be willing to have few magic brownies too. As weird as it may sound to people who didn’t see EWJ’s momentary popularity, it was on a straight road to stars, only to crash and burn.

EWJ can’t become a similar hit it used to be at this time with the current zeitgeist in popular culture and video games. Even with revising it’ll have the baggage of past games on it. It will be compared to the best of the franchise and expected to at least be on the same level. Beating Earthworm Jim 3D isn’t hard, or that GBC game, but it’s extremely easy to lapse how this new game is being handled. It’s just as easy to follow the first two game’s example and make a third entry that’s just an extension of one or the other, which would really would probably meet a positive reception, albeit lukewarm in reviews and be called a derivative work. It’d be just as easy just to do something completely different and unrelated, failing to understand why the first two EWJ games were so well loved. Nevertheless, it is easier to do a proper EWJ title nowadays than what it was twenty years ago. The IP is inherently 2D action. With 2D being again accepted as a valid, completely and perfectly normal view and gameplay angle, Earthworm Jim has a chance of becoming popular again. Anywhere between late-1990’s to mid 2000’s that’d been almost an impossible task, though even now 2D games often get the shaft.

However, the era of anthropomorphic mascots has been long over, with Sonic effectively being the only one left. Jim was immediate result of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle‘s explosive popularity, much like Battletoads was. What we have now related to anything of the sort simply doesn’t exist. Cartoons solely for kids in similar manner to the 1990’s are rather rare and cross-media franchising has changed. It’s not kids that are the main target of these cartoons and toys anymore. It’s still the same people who live with their parents and still buy the Spider-Man toys from the local store. You can’t dismiss these lifelong fans, but at the same time considering expanding the market, especially towards kids if the IP is originally a children’s franchise, is important. It’s a mess of a juggling act, trying to appease the long time fans that demand and rave multitude of things, trying to keep true with the origin and serve new possible customers while you’re at it all the while trying to make something new.

Sometimes it’d be the best to ignore everyone and everything and see what makes a worm tick, and follow those lines to perfection. Sometimes.

Sony’s warped perception of global standards

While Sony of America confirmed to the Washington Street Journal that they have installed a standard policy on censorship for games that are allowed on Sony’s platforms, Sony of Japan has stepped and made a statement themselves that this isn’t the case. According to a source on Game*Spark (the asterisk is important), they evaluate games by case by case basis rather than a new overall policy. However, their source does state that how Sony now handles titles internally is independent of any rating system that exists, be it CERO or ESRB (or PEGI for the matter.) The source refers to a nebulous global standard they wish to adhere to.

I’ve discussed this topic far too much for this particular blog (maybe branching off to a new one that covers video game censorship solely might be worthy project), but Sony’s stances really tell two thing. First is that they’ve lost touch to their consumers, that they don’t seem to understand their own fame and status in the market. Theirs is a console that was free of regulations that marred Nintendo as the console for kids for years. Theirs is a console that could be picked up and have games that would be completely across the board all the while pushing the envelope to whatever direction the developers and publishers wanted. Not so much anymore. Secondly, there is no global standard. It’s rather clear that Sony and numerous other publishers and developers live in a social bubble, that they only listen and read certain publications. It’s like thinking Twitter reflects real life to any extent. US allows more violence than sexual content, while France and certain other European nations are the opposite. UK lacks balls on both violence and sex, and even for horror, especially if you remember the Video Nasties censorship. Hell, even outside that the British Board of Film Classification continued to cut and censor movies, e.g. requiring movies to cut certain moments like the moment of bullet impacts, twisting of necks and almost always lessening the sound effects added to punches and kicks. There’s a whole Youtube channel that concentrates on film censorship in US and UK. Russia has its own policies of course that are widely different from Western world. While the US and Japan might be comfortable in showing lesbians kissing in their games, Russia’s not exactly fan gay rights. Then again, neither is China, who have absolutely the heaviest demands on games released in their region. Australia’s somewhere down there, and thye’ve got bans left and right, mostly for violence. You couldn’t buy Mortal Kombat in Australia at one point. Sony of Japan seems to think outrage culture has somehow changed the global standards, or rather created them, and try to adhere to something that does not exist.

This gives birth to the warped perception that PlayStation will be the best playground to all consumers if they limit the amount of sex, sexual content or sexually suggestive themes. This would, of course, not be true. You can’t create a product for everyone. I’m a broken clock with this, always saying that you can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t. A platform like a game console can only wish to have everything across the board, from the most violent mess to most sexualised ecstasy to the most child friendly content possible. If you cut one part off from this triangle, you’ve effectively cutting off both developers’ interests in developing titles more freely and consumers possibility to purchase whatever violent smut they want. Violence, of course, seems not to be a problem. It’s the eternal discussion, especially in the US, how you can show someone getting shot and skull bashed in, but a sight of a breast raises an uproar. We could take this discussion even further and wonder why violence seems to be accepted when targeted one of the sexes, but not for the other. There is a very strong double standard going in the industry, but that’s nothing out of usual really.

You know the British term Nanny state? The term coined describes governmental policies that are overprotective or interfering in personal choice of freedom. This can be directly adopted for Sony as nanny corporation. Their paternalism has affected the market already. Developers and publishers have lost money because of Sony’s relatively newfound (and highly questionable) moral standards, money they won’t be making back. Omega Labyrinth Z will never see an English release because of Sony’s practices, despite the game was ready to hit the shelves. We could roughly estimate that these policies were installed later in 2017, as the game got a normal Japanese release in 2017, and then was blocked by Sony in 2018. PQube lost money in this venture. Localising game isn’t exactly cheap, and they have no way of making that money back with the game. It’s a dead product.

Whether or not Sony has a blanket standard or they go by case-by-case basis makes little difference. They’ve abandoned the actual global standards that are the local rating systems like PEGI and CERO, and are effectively self-censoring their platforms content even before anything gets to the rating boards. This is almost a repeat of Comics Code Authority, except this for PlayStation titles only. However, question how many developer will be willing to make changes in their multiplatform title, when it’d take more money to make a more censored version for Sony than with others. Just slapping some sort of beam of lights isn’t a solution to all games like Senran Kagura, where losing a game mode effectively removes ten, fifteen percent of the game’s content.

Can we just blame parents for not keeping an eye on the rating labels on games, or does the blame belong on outrage the Internet outrage culture? Probably both, with slight emphasize on outrage culture and media bubble Sony’s execs live in. We’re going through a moment in video game history, where a corporation known for freedom in content adopted censorious practices of their own outside pre-established rating systems, limiting both their library in content and options the consumer in the end has. The sad thing is, all this will be ridiculed and laughed at, pointing that it’s only for tits and ass with no value, while never considering that games like Omega Labyrinth Z are rather hardcore dungeon crawling games that give no quarter to the player, that Senran Kagura at its best requires the player to skillfully control their movement and attacks combined with the limited special resources they have. You could make these games without any of the fan service or titillation for sure, killing the unique natures of the titles. It’d be like removing all SF and fantasy stuff from Star Wars because they’re unrealistic, or setting The Lord of the Rings in a realistic middle-ages with no magic or hairy legged midgets in lead. Games are an audiovisual medium with rules to play with, not just core mechanics. A fighting game character is not just a set of moves and mechanics bolted to a visual frame, but a whole personality of its own.

I admit that it personally depresses me that any sort of censorship has been implemented. Games as entertainment, especially on consoles, had been making good progress towards freedom in content for such a long time, but now that’s been cut down and things won’t heal easily. It’s always easier to break something down, to hold something back or break rather than allow something to move onward, especially if your personal view or preferences are against it.

The Family Friendly Sony

Sony came out to The Wall Street Journal about them cracking down sexual content on their platform.  That’s a direct WSJ’s quote too. Supposedly, this reflects the concerns in the U.S. about how women are depicted in games, but in overall terms that’s rather weak excuse, especially when the spokeswoman (shouldn’t that be spokesperson if we want to be all neutral with these?) states that these new guildelines allow the creators can offer well-balanced content on the Sony’s platforms. This is largely bullshit though, as this would likely hint that they want all single elements of content they offer to be balanced rather than the content, as in the whole library of games, to a balance from left to right. Imagine having a selection of ice cream, but all of them are different kinds of vanilla. Because the store doesn’t like chocolate, you won’t see any of that. That’s a well-balanced offering in the store shelves and that’s what Sony’s doing. Excuse the hyperbole for now.

We know from the event hold Dies irae that Sony’s been practising these rules for some time now to the point of ready to be released games being completely shelved. Statement the spokesperson makes about the executives being worried about Sony’s brand being tarnished by titles with sexual content is weird at best, as the way the whole moderation is done happens to happen in English. It seems that this is mostly a big deal for the American side of Sony, and Japanese heads are just letting things slide.  But all this is what I’ve covered already in previous posts, the Wall Street Journal is just an official confirmation for all this.

Sony’s image for numerous years in gaming has been all about the hard-hitting titles for mature and adults all the while offering a healthy selection for the kids. PlayStation 2’s library is a prime example of why a console needs any and all sorts of games, as this provides that well-balanced content that spokesperson speaks of. By all means, this image of Sony was well-deserved due to all the realistic games Sony’s systems have offered. However, thus far Sony has touched on their games only to a limited extent, and left most of them stuff to local rating systems like PEGI. On the other hand, Sony’s limitation has always been more about the games’ mechanics. A lot of Japanese titles didn’t get pass to the Overseas market, as Sony of America was pushing the 3D more, the same thing Sega of America did with Saturn. Only very few overtly sexually explicit content was censored or removed, in the West. That was twenty years ago, and now the age is different. Whatever you do, you insult someone, and rage sells. Companies being afraid and aware of the outrage culture is making them bend in unnatural ways in order to showcase themselves as pure and progressive.These actions are directed at a small, outraged part of the population, and it is sadly affecting the whole world. Whoever at Sony pushed these through probably wanted to showcased their tribal colours and how true they were.

This is rather American of Sony though. The view of the United State’s censorship that has been in the rest of the world is that Violence is OK, sexual content is not. No matter who or what are behind the rules, be it the puritan church or politically active movement, this always seems to be the end result. Personally, I find dark comedy in here, where two opposing sides often end up in the same result through different means. It’s not very often a corporation like Sony enacts censorious practices just in afraid of getting pissed at by a sect, but image is what companies need to be concerned. Playing the whole family friendly side of things is their best cover, and that’s what the spokesperson also alluded to. Apparently, having titles with sexual content on your platform would have an adverse effect on children’s growth. One platform can do only so much. As always, the Internet offers more than enough of content to twist a child’s growth, and even then that’s somewhat dubious.

What Sony is using as a cover is really simple and traditional; Think of the children. We can discuss modern parenting however much we want, its pros and cons, but in the end a company shouldn’t take this sort of load unto their shoulders. Part of parenting, perhaps an extremely large part in the modern era, is to look over what sort of media is your child consuming. However, this also requires to know your child and how mature he is at any point and whether or not he is ready to consume the product. This isn’t as clear cut as its usually made out to be. A sheltered child in a good family probably can’t hold much violence or sexual content, but consider a child who comes from a family with alcoholic parentage and violence. We assume that all parents are good and children live a pure life, but the reality often is harsher, sometimes even gruesome. Children can take reality, and even if it seems harsh, reality have to be explicit and explained to them. Simply covering them from hard matters will twist them more. As an anecdote, the time I worked with children, I saw some cases that clearly couldn’t handle anything sexual related when they hit puberty, as I know first hand their parents were, to put it mildly, extremely with the subject to an unhealthy degree. This person is now a bee attracted to a lamp-post rather to flowers.

On the surface Sony’s movements might seem sensible, but on the long run it’ll do more damage than good. The fact that they didn’t come out with their new practice for solid two years since the initial waves of censorship (and let’s be completely honest; this is censorship rather than just moderation) tells a lot. If Sony had made a public statement about this to the developers and to the public, it would’ve cause harsh negative PR. Companies demanding to parent children is nothing new, and sometimes companies just do that for numerous reasons, most often for PR points. Television is a classic example, where channels still are told to lessen the violence and sexual content they showcase, despite programmes containing what is considered harmful content for children are relegated to late-night slots or after midnight. Yet, these shows get lambasted, instead of questioning why are these parents allowing their kids to stay up so late to watch these shows. As usual, it is very easy to put the blame on someone else.

Sony’ gone family friendly (outside violence and other sexual tendencies that are not female nudity) but the common consumer in the West won’t probably notice it too much. Japanese titles of course have already been impacted, and it has already caused some titles to have more visible content on the Switch, with Steam versions being more open than any. Maybe this would be a chance for sites like DMM and DL Site to push their lack of censorship towards Western users as well and diversify their libraries. If you’re a Muv-Luv fan, you probably already have a DMM account for all the stuff they have on the site. This is also why we should have more than just three consoles in the race; there needs to be more competition and platforms that offer choices that are not available on others. If one platform decides to go censorious, another should do the opposite.

I hope you all have a good, peaceful Easter.

Perhaps we take electronic games as self-evident

The whole thing Sekiro and discussion about difficulty and accessibility still seems to be a thing, and this post is not about that. Rather, it’s how we perceive electronic games in our daily lives. This blog has numerous posts about electronic gaming’s history and culture, some of which cover stuff from the late 1800’s to modern day between the time when kinetoscope was the hottest thing to see people box or lady showcasing her knees (a type of erotica is always relevant and present with any form of entertainment and will always stay as long as human is a sexual being) to the pinball scare in the middle of the 1900’s and how people rebelled by simply becoming pinball wizards all the way to the modern era of video and computer games. Looking back at the history we have, electronic games have become part of our cultural landscape in rather record time, spreading across the globe in matter of few centuries, covering all continents and places. Even the poorest places on Earth have seen their electronic games in a form of another, sometimes first with piracy, then maybe even build something on it. Playing overall is such a significant part of our anyone’s past time and cultural original, it’s not hard to see that a new way of playing would seep right in, especially when it is playing that broke the previously established barriers what play can convey and showcase. The closest we can get to what electronic games give is, specifically computer and video (and arcade) games, comes from the tabletop games, be it pen & paper like Dungeons and Dragons or your childhood favourite board games, and the playing we did when were as kids. Cops and Robbers, knights in shining armour, forest adventuring, playing house/family, playing you were a racer and so on. Electronic gaming is a true extension of these elements given, for the lack of a better word, reality and a way to accomplish those plays in actuality. No longer you’re moving down leaves that represent the enemy hordes of the evil wizard Red Eye, when you have a controller in your hand and playing your given action title. At the core, the play is the same, but the means have changed widely. It’s also become more acceptable for an adult to realise these sort of plays at their adult age.

The technology isn’t there to allow us a completely unique and dynamic kind of play. We probably will always be tied to the core tenant of games instead of playing; the existence of rules. Perhaps this is why gamer has become the term for people who play electronic games as a hobby and passion. It makes a difference between a play and a game. A play doesn’t necessarily need rules, but a game does. It’s perhaps a bit arbitrary and the term doesn’t really come off in all that positive manner. None other hobby has the kind of lead off towards its hobbyists, at least it wasn’t the case before gamer as a term solidifed itself. Readers are readers, film watchers are film buffs or viewers, runners run and so on. A gamer is not the same thing as a player. Maybe because a sport like soccer has players, not soccerers. The electronic game culture had to find its own term to describe its most enthusiast consumers. Outside some journalist trying to shake things up few years back by attacking their consumers, there really hasn’t been any significant attempts to change the term in itself, and has effectively stuck. For better or worse.

The above argues that electronic games have two sources, which don’t exclude each other and perhaps are even needed for playing games. If we take for granted that playing is a natural state for animals on Earth, anything from an insect to a lion cub seems to play in some kind of way, then playing seems to be stuck to our genes. No wonder electronic gaming was taken in as a natural evolution. It met the usual resistance that all new media and hobbies go through, and one could even make a comparison to movies with the current scare towards sexual content electronic games have, even to the point of Sony applying their censorship world wide. It might affect us now, but this shall pass in time. How or to which direction I couldn’t wager a guess. Even then, corporations often follow the money. Though they only have the luxury of practicing something like Sony’s standards now is because we are enjoying good macro-economics and everything seems to sell, people have money to burn.

It is not a surprise that electronic games have eclipsed Hollywood in terms of money then.

The nature of electronic games is not simply a video game or a computer game. While computer and video game have become effectively synonymous with each other, the distinction between an adventure game on a console and an adventure game on a PC is still made, despite the whole cross-pollination that exists between the platforms to an extremely large degree. An adventure game on a console is something akin to Metroid and that’s what it is; direct action is always representative. An action game on a PC might get that additional moniker of point-and-click at some point, or expanded into point-and-click-adventure, and is nevertheless nothing less than a certain structure intended for certain kind of input device intended for certain kind of type of game. Genres are perhaps best representation how we take things as self-evident, and often mix and match whatever together without much rhyme or reason. Metrdoidvania is still the best example of a nonsense word that doesn’t describe anything, but we just assume anyone knows what it means. On the other hand, perhaps that’s a mark of a completely formed sub-culture, when it is bringing forth new terms that are not applicable outside its own circles. Nobody who is into any other form of entertainment but has no knowledge of video game history and genre changes would have an inkling that metroidvania means action-adventure game, often non-linear to boot. Is it approachable? No, but very few sub-culture and its infinite branches are.

Which really brings this to the point. We recognise the historical and cultural aspects of so many of our other forms of media and entertainment, because they’ve been with us far longer. Modern electronic games are less than a century old. The perception that has been driven through is that it is a form of entertainment that is for all, which is widely inaccurate. It’s not exactly the first form of entertainment that requires the consumer to act on their own behalf, but at the same time you hear people complaining about some aspect of the game they bought. We take for granted that whatever we buy we can consume willy nilly straight up, but that has never been take case for any game. You have a set of rules, but in their electronic form, you can’t break those rules. Even mechanical games like pinball allowed nudging the machine, which has been implemented as a separate element and skill in some video pinball titles, but the rules are far more strict. You can not cheat an electronic game, unless it allows you to, or you force upon it. You can’t create your own rules within the game’s own set. Modding certainly exists and could be argued to showcase this, but it’s far from being something completely open, and largely restricted to PC gaming culture as a niche. Just like plays and games we play outside electronic games, there are those we don’t want to take part in, individually depending. This hasn’t changed. We may lack the skill, the enthusiasm, the physical fitness even for some of these activities, but all electronic games in the end require two things; time and effort on the game itself. Your physical fitness doesn’t really matter, as long as you have a functioning input device. Your team mates don’t really matter, unless you play online in a team. Many aspects that kept or keeps you from enjoying a game or a play are absent from electronic gaming, and the rest is really up to the consumer himself. It is, as an acquaintance said about reading, about priorities.

I doubt we culturally are aware what electronic games are to us. We can come up a thing or two about them and tell they’re nice way to spend an afternoon or release some pent up stress by beating a Dutch guy in King of Fighters, but do we actually recognise that video games are, first and foremost, a play. We’re homo ludens, culturally bend to play. Perhaps the whole holabaloo of games needing to be more accessible and the like stems from play being about freedom and control, whereas games like Sekiro are all about strict rules and demanding you to have and approach in a controlled manner. The illusion of freedom is shattered, but that’s not clearly accurate. Tetris is after all a game which allows no freedom of approach and is a game that simply can not exist without its digital medium. However, it is a game of strict yet simple rules. Would that then signify that when an electronic game is clearly a game we approach and consider it as such, and when it introduces larger elements of play in form of role play? Not RPG elements, but playing a role like kids play a role of a knight or an adventurer in the forest with their friends. This clearly isn’t universal, human mind has too many variables how each of us approaches this. Perhaps the core of accessibility doesn’t lie in Easy mode or such, but in allowing the player to ‘play’ more freely. Maybe these games weren’t the first form of ‘interactive entertainment.’ That’s the stick in your hand as a sword, and that tree is the form of a massive, large behemoth you to defeat.

Perhaps this is all backwards. Perhaps he subconsciously recnognise the whole shebang of electronic games being continuation of our past play and game culture, but fail to notice that they have been, since the beginning, something new altogether and have yet to change our cultural mind on them, taking cues from other media and forcing pre-set conditions from unfitting cultural standards. Have video games themselves been too stuck on our play and game culture to the point of them being unable to truly spin off to be their unique kind of set of entertainment and games, with very few examples of truly unique electronic game being present in these fifty odd years? Best not take the next game I buy at its face value, or there might be something odd about this tea.

Iterations vs innovations

The two things in the title do not exclude each other, but for the sake of argument let’s consider them as two things that don’t exactly mesh. Why? Because when we consider video and computer game sequels, we often see both practiced quite a lot, and there’s no real cohesion which one the consumer prefers, but at the same time we can see both criticised for different reasons. That should already tell is that this is kind of tomato sauce case, where people are split in preference. As usual, there’s no real one way to go with things.

If we were to use examples of iterative games, perhaps the best example would be Super Mario Bros. and the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 that was got the Lost Levels name in the West. This Japanese SMB2 is an iterative sequel, intended to effectively be more of the same, a pro-player’s version with the stage design and difficulty kicked up a notch for those who found the first game to be lacking. Western Super Mario Bros. 2, which got the USA label in Japan later on, is innovative sequel in contrast, as it expanded the playable roster, the world, characters and mechanics that would be seen later on in the series. Yes, we are going to ignore Doki Doki Panic, and if we didn’t I could use the same points of arguments for Super Mario Bros. 3, which we could use as a third example of innovative evolution of the Super Mario Bros. trilogy of games on the NES. If we extent the lineage to Mario Bros. the innovations become clearer, as the sheer point of having well scrolling action game at that time was something of a marvel, something past consoles didn’t really do or do well. Even Pitfall, the game some would argue to be the best action game on an Atari platform, moved in screens rather than with scrolling. Computers at the time had a hard time to do scrolling well, which is very apparent how the games were structured as per-screen basis or had a chunky scrolling, like what Konami did with their MSX shooting games like Nemesis.

While the Japanese SMB2 is a good example of an iterative game, we’ll use something like Doom and Doom II as an example most people should know. We can extend to this to numerous WADS that simply add stages or weapons, and perhaps even to some total conversion and such, but at the core there will be the good ol’ Doom experience; Shooting demons and trying to save your bunny from being staked. Doom II is by all means a large expansion with new weapons and levels, which was the team exactly did. The levels in Doom II are far more expansive and intricate compared to the first game thanks to the advanced in basic hardware. The enemy type number was effectively doubled. For an original Doom experience, the second game and its later iterations are effectively a sort of Best Of version, though some hardcore purists would argue that the pure classic experience still lays in the first game. Pokémon falls into this category as well, effectively being unchanged since the first game. The series has no renewed itself at any point, which has been more or less why its spin-offs have played with some of the concepts a bit more.

Adding new stages, some new mechanics and weapons don’t really innovate anything; they’re adding things on top of the base that’s already there. Innovation requires that a game is thought again from the grounds up, where the basic premise of the core design is effectively blown apart and the best parts are picked up while discarding everything that didn’t all the while building something new. Innovation is to take a house and renovate it from bottom floor all the while you’re considering all the room framing and how the yard is. Iterative is effectively building a new garage. Sometimes all you need is a new garage and some good lick of paint, because not all innovation hits the spot.

There is safety in iterative games, as they don’t fix something that was already broken, though sometimes they don’t fix what was broken. To use Pokémon as an example again, its iterations are interesting in that each new entry creates a new side mechanic only to be forgotten and abandoned in the next. Seasons of the year still hasn’t made a return from Diamond and Pearl. To contrast this, Digimon games have been widely different from each other from time to time and how they play, both to its benefit and detriment, as the franchise doesn’t have a cohesive core. Super Mario Bros. is a franchise that has a cohesive evolution with its games that innovate, as they don’t simply change the games’ genre on the fly. Side games certainly do, and New SMB series has effectively been nothing but iteration after iteration instead of innovating how the series could play in 2D, despite 2D Mario still making the biggest bank out of the series.

Maybe there are franchises that don’t exactly require innovation as such without effectively breaking the game’s core design. Umihara Kawase is a platforming game that has always been about the rubber band physics action; how to get from point A to point B, or C or D. If you’re not familiar with this niche classic, check this longplay for few minutes to get the idea. The point of the game is to use physics and mechanics tied to the physics in order to clear a stage, and these elements were further polished with its PlayStation sequel, Umihara Kawase Shun. Except in its PSP release, which broke the physics completely. Sayonara Umihara Kawase added new playable characters, a time stopping stopping mechanic for one of them and few new things, but ultimately where this series’ concentration on the sequels has been in the level design. If the physics change even a bit, or of new mechanics are introduced, the stage designs can and must reflect this either with new geometry or with additional hazards and interactive stage elements. Changing the core gameplay has to be taken seriously with heavy consideration in order not to break the basic design. Umihara Kawase Fresh changes the series’ core structure significantly from stage-per-stage progression to open world exploration with story elements, quests and health management. Effectively, the development team has taken the same route as so many other 2D action game team, and made it action-adventure in fashion of Montezuma’s Revenge and Metroid. While on surface and as an idea this sounds like changing the genre altogether would be in lieu with SMB’s innovation path, we have to seriously question whether or not the series benefits from these changes and additions.

Innovation in itself does not necessarily mean change for the positive. You can innovate something, completely overhaul and change the core of things and be left with something that is broken and doesn’t work. Umihara Kawase Fresh may now be broken due to its additional mechanics and heavy emphasize on story compared to its previous iterations (in which Shun is still the best entry in the series) though at the same time we have to grant the game the benefit of the doubt that the developers are able to keep the core design and mechanics at the forefront and not overshadowed or hindered by the new additions. I’ll probably end up buying the game for a review rather than out of joy to get a new Umihara Kawase.

Innovating a game’s core gameplay to the point of changing a genre can also impact the consumer reception rather harshly, as was feared with Metroid Prime. While taken against the larger FPS crowd, Metroid Prime isn’t stellar material, but against the 2D Metroid titles it made the transfer to three dimensions all the while making stuff work as intended was nothing short of on point. We can argue whether or not Prime actually innovated anything or if it simply moved dimensions, but the rest of the series’ entries have been iterative. Nevertheless, the genre change the game had to carry with it was received relatively well. This might not go so well with niche franchises with a cult following. Shububinman as a series might’ve been changing with each entry, and despite being semi-popular in Japan, the series effectively died with the end of the 16-bit machines. Personally, I’m afraid the management mechanics and story emphasize in Umihara Kawase Fresh will effectively kill the game, though it might as well bring it to a larger audience that can’t handle a straight-up platformer nowadays. Perhaps this is one of those cases, where the developer thinks their game is “just” a platform game, that it needs to be more and slaps everything on top of it. I doubt many would choose a well made meal over haphazardly made five course dinner with raw bits everywhere.

The danger of innovating a product in a way that it backfires is rather common. Ultimately, very few corporation do straight up innovation without having multiple product iterations under their belt already, though some new companies make their breakthrough with something newfangled innovation that hits the consumers’ wants and wishes just right. Games are like any other product though when it comes to sentimental values and emotional attachment, and this extents to the gameplay, mechanics and even visuals. You can innovate something to be something completely new and you might even test well, but if you make an error in what the consumers value in your games and change those elements, you’ll end up like New Coca-Cola. Not every game franchise can innovate itself step-by-step and so many of them are expected to have only incremental changes in their iterations. If you play the first Super Robot Wars now, and then move to the latest one, you’ll see that almost thirty years of iteration upon iteration has transformed the game to something rather different, but still has that familiar game play. While companies have a large amount of research in how people attach themselves to names and faces, brands and such, I’ve yet to see any research on preference on game play mechanics and how they’re presented. Perhaps this is significant part enough for the game developers and publishers to put more attention into, and would possibly explain why Call of Duty and Battlefield titles alongside EA’s sports titles sell year after year despite their most common criticism being in not changing anything. The consumer just has that preference for it, and even positive innovation is met with a cold shoulder.

Got a hand and an eye?

The times I worked with product design for people with limited range of motion, like folding chair chair design for a person with arthritis, there was one thing a person with a serious hearing impairment told me face to face; Treat us like any other people, we’re none different. Since then, whenever I had my spoon in the pot of design for people with some sort of disability or the like, the only thing I cared about was how to serve them in the same manner as any other person. I’ve mentioned the increased weight of the Western population few times over and how that has impacted e.g. bed design and how cremation houses have to have added safety precautions due to possible grease fires, and the approach with those things have been largely the same. You serve the intent and purpose on the same level. However, people with disabilities can’t exactly be dropped into general fields of design, as they are an aberration from the standard. While it is possible to design a product to cater overall certain kinds of problems, like the lack of the other arm or inability to walk properly without the help of a cane. We can’t foresee all the kinds of disabilities that can come out with the human body. There are too many cases that we are required to approach case by case basis and see how we could improve the quality of living.

Of course, standard design doesn’t fit all. There are multiple sizes of clothes, though these sizes often are by standard in their own category. Even then, you most likely will find yourself thinking that you’d like the chest region to be wider or the sleeves bigger. Things like that are within standard deviation, which is why game controllers fit so many hands. Be it bit or small, a game controller fits a normal hand as long as it is not baby hands. Whatever the size is, the user is left to their own devices on the usage, as all it really takes is some time and effort to be able to use a game controller. That’s where all video game playing really starts, as you can’t get good at a game before you get comfortable at using a controller.

The first problem we come across here, which is the most significant, is what if you are not able to use standard controller for whatever reason?

Sekiro has brought the discussion of including Easy Mode or some sort of assist mode back into discussion, which never was really that relevant to begin with. You know how this blog views this sort of thing; if you regard games as a form of art, the original creators have no reason to jeopardise their vision for the game. If we want to view games as a product, adding a mode that would allow more players to get into the game without losing anything in the transition would be beneficial. There is always a golden path in the middle of course, but certain games are simply designed to punishingly difficult from the get go as a core tenant, e.g. Ghost and Goblins. If that game had an additional mode to make it easier or to add some sort of invisibility assist, the game’s design would effectively be ruined. GnG‘s difficulty is legendary, and extremely overstated throughout the years. Much like any other game, it simply requires the player to approach it by its own rhythm rather than allowing the player to just charge in. However, none of that really matters if you can’t handle the input device.

This is doubly pronounced in competitive gaming, where beating the core rules and playing the game bit by bit isn’t enough; your opponents will throw a monkey wrench into the standard gameplay. Street Fighter has few notable players with some sort of disability. Osataro is a wheelchair bound player, who can’t hold a controller. In fact, he has to control his wheelchair with his chin, and this applies to his gaming. Checking some of his videos, his controls mostly compose what looks like an arcade setup, and he’s pretty good overall speaking. He even had a rather even match Daigo in an online match. BrolyLegs, a nickname, is another SF player, but unlike Osataro, he uses a standard X360 controller and moves the stick with his mouth. His is a condition that most people can’t even imagine living with, and yet he’s making the best of it. Killer Instinct has high-tier player as well, Dayton Jones, nicknamed Wheels, who barely can hold a standard controller and yet is a wrecking machine in tournaments. All these three might benefit more if they were given a controller that was specifically designed for their condition. Nevertheless, to see any of these three to work an arcade stick or a pad just as well as any in their own way should remind anyone playing games that all it takes is some effort and patience. They don’t require the game itself to cater to them.

To use a more standard example, Sven is a blind Street Fighter V player, and while he can hold a controller just fine. His handicap in a fight really comes from the fact that games are three-tier medium; audio, visual and touch. Him lacking the ability to see what’s going on puts him in a bad situation, but he nevertheless has become a relatively notably ranked player as he plays the game by hearing. He does have the benefit of arguably having the better source of reaction, as humans react faster to sound than to visuals. While he would like to work with developers to have more games made for the blind, the best way to work with this really would be in a rich sound environment and how to use them. It’d be an enormous task, as simply designing games for the blind is far too easy to use as a starting point and effectively make a boring game overall, like Enemy Zero, an interesting game that was mostly designed around using stereo sound, but turned out to be rather lacklustre in pretty much every regard.

Saying that a person with less physical ability to handle a video game to the same extent as a healthy one is, in majority of the cases, talking down on a matter they know jack shit. All these are largely unique cases. The games overall don’t need to consider them as anything special, but their playing could be made easier and less cumbersome if there was some sort of improvement in how they input controls. Hell, look at the rig RockyNoHands has. All it takes practice and control of your movements, but a swell set-up helps too. Sometimes I don’t think even a rig could help all that much, though even limbless gamers probably put professionals to shame through sheer determination.

If this post comes through as if I had something personal in it, it is because I do. There are people who may find some use for extra help in-game for various reasons, and even then these can be build into the games themselves without separately making it obvious. Ultimately the input method matters more to accessibility than looking down on people and telling they can’t handle “a normal” kind of game, that things need to made easier via modes. Lift people up, don’t dumb down.