That one franchise Sony hasn’t screwed up at any point

Everybody’s Golf is not exactly the most exciting game franchise out there. It’s not the most entertaining golf game series either and it doesn’t actually simulate the golf experience all that well. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 is considered the cornerstone of modern video golf simulators, while something like Sid Meier’s SimGolf hits that golf course manager’s wet dream. There’s the good ol’ Mario Golf titles that are surprising hard core when you get to them, and of course the Wii could’ve outshone all of its competition with golf simulation, but you know what happened with that in the end. Still, Wii Sports’ golf is still extremely fun to boot up and play.

For a game series that has seven main entries, two spin-offs and two Tennis entries, there’s very little fuss about the games. The franchise gets decent scores, overall speaking, hit the Sony-fans’ weak spot by adding some iconic characters on PlayStation systems in different times, e.g. Ratchet from Ratchet and Clank as a playable avatar and a Pipo Monkey of Ape Escape as a caddie in Everybody’s Golf 4. The latest game in the series has seen collaboration celebration with Level-5 with addition of character from titles like Dark Cloud and White Knight Chronicles. The games are, without a doubt, entertaining and well made. Golf overall doesn’t appeal to everyone, and the way Everybody’s Golf flies under most consumers’ radars is understandable, especially in the Western markets. On the surface, it seems like a weird franchise for Sony to be constantly publishing and changing developers for now and then. It’s not Metal Gear or any other massive PlayStation associated franchise, Everybody’s Golf titles are often found warming the store shelves on the long run and being dropped into the sales bin. Yet they sell well enough to warrant constant development and publishing, and if we’re completely honest, also one of the most consistent and relaxing games out there.

Golf is a prestige sport and hobby in Japan. Having a membership and participating in golfing is considered to state a higher status in society, and solely considered an adult’s pastime. In Japanese media and popular culture, golf is an easy way emphasize a character or situation by showing them playing golf either on the field, or more probably, in their office room. For example, after its title screen scene, OVA Wicked City dives straight into showing an older, rounded Japanese man playing minigolf in his office, then proceed to discuss clubs in few lines. The clubs continue to be a strong element in that scene, emphasizing that the topic is serious and something that only people in high circles have a handle and knowledge of. Golf is something very expensive, increasingly so in Japan due to very limited area clubs and greens can be constructed on. Video golf is, at best, a cheap alternative to the real thing, even to put set-up in your office. It at least gives a glimpse of what the truly successful and wealthy do in their off hours, or when closing deals on the green.

Sony having their own golf franchise, one that’s doing pretty well all things considered, should by a forgone conclusion. While Sony is no longer a prestige brand, a maker with no faults in their productions or forerunner in quality and R&D, they still are a million dollar company worthy of golf. The first Everybody’s Golf, after all, was on the original PlayStation. The series may put an emphasis on cartoony and unrealistic characters, but the gameplay and the fields themselves are well thought out and extremely compelling, the few points that really matter. The rest is veneer, just there to deliver something to stand out from the crowd, though in years Everybody’s Golf has become the white noise of golf games in terms of visuals. EA’s Rory McIlroy: PGA Tour offers the most realistic approach with some name recognition while The Golf Club 2 is probably the most well-rounded. They’re not Everybody’s Golf though, and the catch is in the name.

Most golf games and simulators can be, and surprisingly often are, absolutely brutal. Even Pangya! or Super Swing Golf series ended up being stupidly difficult despite its cutesy graphics. Golf games are the kind of sports titles that on the surface look easy, and end up being hair tearing. Everybody’s Golf, however, is not. Perhaps because the series is easy to pick up, easy to get into and easy to play with surprisingly challenging content despite veering off from being a simulation, has made Everybody’s Golf a mainstay PlayStation franchise. It certainly doesn’t get the respect and street cred from RPG lovers and deep red ocean customers, though it doesn’t need to. Everybody’s Golf exists in a nice spot in the niches, where it seems to make good sales by offering everyone something special the other games don’t. Again, the franchise won’t explode the audience in cheers and clapping, people won’t mull over it or defend its development staff against supposedly tyrannical corporate overlords nor does it have a recognisable face. Hell, I’m not even sure if there is any kind of fandom that’s properly organised, the wiki has only eleven pages. There is demand enough to warrant the series’ future, even if it’s a bit off to the side. It shouldn’t be a surprise on its own how Sony has handled Everybody’s Golf throughout the years. An entry here, and entry there, on every platform they’ve released since the original PlayStation. The developers have concentrated on the core and strengths of the series, updating mechanics throughout the years and pushed some elements away while adding new ones, changing unlocking better characters to unlocking better clubs and becoming more open ended. Y’know the usual stuff games do to match contemporaries.

Perhaps because Everybody’s Golf does its job fine without any fuss, despite being rather bland, Sony has never had any reason to start messing with it, no reason to delay or change its platforms to serve some nebulous plans that ultimately doom themselves. Those who have run the franchise seem to be on the button what’s good for the series and how to make best use of it, and understand the niche they are occupying. Nothing better for a long-running game series than not trying to blow the lid, and think the series’ long-term goals.

Digital takeover?

With nations going to lockdown modes, travelling being restricted and products unable to move from place A to place B, the world faces changes. Some of the changes will be long lasting, while others will be temporary at best. In a way, we’re faced with a moment in time, where only the essentials should matter. If you’re not directly in relation of producing foods or essential services, or are able to work from home, chances are you’re going to miss some work. Entertainment is, to be brutally honest, is probably the least important part of life. While the modern society is mostly used to have content provided via whatever screen we choose, numerous places that offer entertainment outside your home environment. For example, the movie theatres are effectively closed for the time being, hurting their income and their workers’ pay. With the theatres closed, some of the studios have opted to stream their movies in much faster order than usual.

The discussion of digital superseding over physical is often only about the media, how games, music and movies are going to vanish from the store shelves in the future and be replaced with digital-only counterparts. While this is extremely rosy view of the future, this discussion should also include automatisation as an essential part of it. Some types of work will be replaced with their digital and automated, and on the long run, most work from medical care to translation can be automated. It’ll just take long time to get there, improvements in special kind of AI and automatisation, but nothing’s really out of question. At some point we are going to have discussions whether or not we are going to allow digitalisation of work to replace human workers in some particular fields. Futurism.com has an article about Artificial Intelligence that is able to make more accurate diagnoses as a doctor than a human one. In time, digitalisation will take things to the point that consumers will be taking goods and be served by automatons. Digitalisation promises offers of superior experience every which way. It is already spilling out from factories and whatnot to digital environment, where 3D models are already used to entice viewers to enjoy video contents more.

Though who needs mp3 players or whatnot when you can have a non-digital automaton playing tunes for you

The whole Virtual Youtuber thing is digitalisation at its best. Sure, you have someone acting behind the character, but the 3D model removes all the needs for the actors to change their body structures or put make up. Chaturbate users experienced what it means to compete with automated content, when Projekt Melody shot to the top and displaced most of the top models and was raking in money like no other. Projekt Melody is effectively a VTuber for porn and offers the exact same benefits that other automation offers; Better results in less time, and end result that will entice more customers. It’s more efficient and with the provider being able to deliver whatever visual designs and flavours the customers want, Projekt Melody is able deliver harder and faster the same experience live model have to work hard for. This lead many of the models on the site rioting, of course, resorting to name calling Projekt Melody’s viewers and fans (despite these exact same people are their potential customers) as well as claiming this was unfair competition. In reality, they are now facing the first steps in having digitalisation and automatisation entering their field of profession.

Digitalisation doesn’t straight up mean that robots and automatisation replaces someone’s work. Well, in practice it does, as rarely the same person is trained to maintain the automation. At least one human has to be behind automated work to keep it in check, to ensure that it runs well. A welder would do good by aiming to move from manual welding to become a robot operator, if possible, as in time welding in factory conditions will slowly but surely replace the human worker. The companies themselves might be against this, be it trusting human worker more or due to sociopolitical issues, but robots will always end up being more efficient than the humans, be it in the factory, in the doctor’s office or something you want to jerk off to. We are already happily using platforms that are supplanting physical environs. Netflix may be new television, but it has been said to be the reason why movie theatres are dying, online shopping has been replacing physical stores (which is a terrific example of its implementation as the customer feels like their doing something significant and non-automated), especially now that you can order your foodstuff to be delivered to your door. I wouldn’t put it past the post offices around the world to aim replacing their postmen with drones, like how Amazon is testing their drones. It all might have a high up-front cost, yet on the long run it’ll be that much cheaper. This is one of those things where companies may not want to prioritise short-term gains over permanent long-term gains and begin automation. Current structures may not support automated environments straight up, but all that is easy to change.

While digital media has not phased physical media out, there is a possibility that the infrastructure for that is being implemented at this moment in time. After that, there really isn’t a need to go back. Digitalisation and automatisation go hand in hand, and while customers are now inconvenienced by the epidemic, the most inconvenient and easier way to consume and explore entertainment is digitally. The discussions about consumer rights and ownership is not even thought about, something this blog has been discussing to a major extent in the past. Consumer behaviour has been drastically altered now and it is possible we are seeing a strong paradigm shift. Not only customers are going for the digital option, either because of fears or convenience, the companies have to make due with whatever production methods they have at hand. China’s factories being closed means everything has to be postponed or other forms of delivery (i.e. digital) have to take priority. Local production may be emphasised and thoughts about becoming more independent from foreign produce. Of course, some nations can’t really match up the sheer volume in production others can achieve, which will lead into local produce being costlier than imported. Whether or not this would be a chance to increase local production, or if people will simply change their habits of consumption, is open in the air. It’ll be interesting to look back few years from now to see how both customers and industries have changed.

Sony has no strong IP of their own

There’s a rumour going on that Sony would like to purchase Castlevania, Silent Hill and Metal Gear franchises from Konami. I’m sure you already heard about this, but the news sites have been making rounds. These being PlayStation 5 exclusive titles would make sense, as at one point Solid Snake, alongside Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the dragon, were considered Sony-only, unofficial mascots of sorts. The thing is, Sony has a terrible track record at maintaining and running their game franchises. Hell, Sony been butchering their movie franchises just the same, with Spider-Man only becoming success after failed reboot when Marvel stepped in to help. They’ve always been too reliant on third party titles and have taken exclusivity as a kind of self-evident point and understanding that the PC and console game markets are not in direct competition with each other.

Sony has recognised that both Metal Gear and Silent Hill franchises are often associated with the PlayStation. Both of them have their best titles on Sony platforms and made their impact and name on a PlayStation. They are games series that are both nostalgic to fans of Sony’s systems as well as franchises that have significantly driven the sales of PlayStation brand as a whole. If they can get Hideo Kojima involved as much as possible, to replicate the golden days of the Metal Gear franchise (despite Kojima historically saying he’s done with the franchise after the first game and after each subsequent sequel), then Sony would have whatever one-two punch they want to replicate from past. The thing is, as mentioned, Sony really can’t manage their own franchises worth shit and there’s no indication they would do any better with any of these. Kojima’s Death Stranding, despite all the hype, has strongly mixed reception and hasn’t made the impact or sales such hype train should deliver. I’m sure some guy sold his mattress to play Death Stranding, and fanboys will hype it, but data isn’t supporting Death Stranding all that much. Sony has tried to make amends between Konami and Kojima as well as tried to fund development of new titles, but no avail.

Nevertheless, Sony is feeling the absence of their strongest third-party lineup, and Konami not exactly wanting to make these games due to the bad blood associated with them, so buying the rights outright would seem to be the most sensible option. After all, reboots of other classic Sony associated franchises have seen strong sales. Final Fantasy VII Remake is almost guaranteed to sell platinum on its first quarter. Konami not making new entries is hurting Sony’s bottom line and Konami has no reason to sell or develop new titles at this moment. Selling their IPs to Sony is highly unlikely, as they still make money as franchises, be it as pachislot machines, animation, via collections or digital re-releases, toys etc. Konami isn’t just a game developer, their business heavily involves in producing other media content like animation, production of goods like toys and are heavily involved in other kinds of activity centres that are not involved in gaming directly. To them, there’d be no reason to sell IPs that trickle in money from things that aren’t video games despite them originating from there, like with the Castlevania cartoon.

If Sony were to purchase the IPs, and to bring in the big name hotshots that were running the franchises almost two decades ago, what’d that yield? The rumour says the first thing would be a remake of Metal Gear, which is currently probably the most obvious choice to many. Silent Hill would see a soft-reboot, again. Castlevania would see a hard reboot to model itself after the Dark Souls and Bloodborne (which would personally throw me into a fit as that’d be retarded. Castlevania was, and should always be, Hammer Horror Action Games.) All these probably would get an entry, and then nothing for some time. Just look how well Sony handled Gravity Rush, their most high profile new franchise that was expected to hit big and hard. It was the game the Vita was sold on, and then nothing until it got ported to PS4, effectively being the moment when Sony killed their handheld. The second game had lacklustre development cycle, had a timid release in the West and there is no word if spin-offs or third title in the series. Gravity Rush is a bust. It has a cult following and has a favourable opinion overall. It’s a franchise Sony could have worked with to improve it and make it a larger hit and build on that to make new IPs to balance the scales further. This isn’t what Sony does, this is what Nintendo would do.

Sony, much like Microsoft, really suck as handling their own, original IPs and pretty much every high quality title that’s mainly associated with has been bought from somewhere else or a third-party product. Sony, to this day, has not created a strong, long-standing franchise of their own that they could proudly stand-by. Their systems’ sales are dependant on these franchises, especially during periods of economic downward spirals, where convincing the customer to put their money into non-essentials like games is stupidly difficult. Sony wants to get all this under their belt to ensure the future of their own platform by name recognition, both in terms of IPs and with the faces of the developers, but that’d be throwing pearls to the pigs. What we’re looking at here is Sony effectively wanting to ‘Disney’ Konami’s franchises, especially Castlevania.

Sony wants to make money and Konami owning these franchises is preventing them from doing so. Their aim wouldn’t be treating these franchises right, or how art would demand, all that matters that is the customers see familiar names and faces alongside somewhat expected games. Sony needs this, and it wouldn’t be too far fetched to say they want to hammer nostalgia with remakes and reboots, especially now that they’ve got nothing of their own to makes those sales.

Lingo limbo

How many places you have where you use different language with different people, and how many terms and words you can muster that all have, ultimately, a different meaning? Then count all the specific terms you use just with certain people, words that outside that circle would have no idea what you’re talking about. Sure, you can surmise the overall meaning if you’re familiar on the topic, but even then you require knowledge of the sub-culture. To use a full sentence as an example, Dianne’s 6D+2 was no help against the Dragon when I had the Queen, but at least I had the Cleric can tell you something. Dianne is probably a character’s name, D6+2 means either six dice or six sided die with plus two to the gained value from the dice toss, the Dragon was the opponent being battled against and the battle was lost due to Queen’s having a some sort of negative effect in the game, but how Cleric could help isn’t clear. This is basic language for sure, and the dice bit is the only special bit of lingo used, but with the lack of context and further information the meaning is lacking. In this case, you’d need to be in the know about one specific game, where the Dragon is the strongest monster, the Queen kills player’s attack value by 2, and the Cleric has the ability to resurrect a downed character. But you wouldn’t know that if you haven’t spent any time playing table top role playing games or similar to get the dice lingo down, and then played this particular game to understand further meaning behind the character names, their position in the game’s structure and how they effect the game. This isn’t even a harsh example, unlike metroidvania.

I’ve been harsh on Metroidvania as a genre term in the past, and that hasn’t changed. It’s one of those terms that whenever used absolutely requires extended explanation for people who are not in the know what it means. For example, take a look at Record of Lodoss War -Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth‘s description on Steam.

Check the highlighted bit

Despite the term supposedly being universal in usage, an explanation had to be given. The reason is as simple as that as a descriptive word, metroidvania is a terrible one. People within the industry, within the core users know what it is through exposure to the industry magazines and their peers using it. However, step outside this deep red ocean market, and the word has no meaning. Hence, action-exploration is used here as a supplementary description, though the age-old action-adventure would have sufficed. This isn’t exactly uncommon though, only music nerds know what the hell acid jazz or nu metal actually are in terms of genres, but at least even the most casual music listener can surmise something from those two; one is some kind of jazz, one is some kind of Norwegian death screeching. Though if you’re more invested into music, you can deduce that acid is taken from the mid-1980’s sub-genre of house music, which is often described as somewhat psychedelic. Nu metal, well is new metal that mixes lot of then-current other popular genres like hip hop and grunge into one, something old death metal heads didn’t exactly appreciate.

Metroidvania doesn’t have these benefits of deduction, and that has something to do with the games used in the term, Metroid and Castlevania, having vastly different kind of games in their franchise. Depending when you got into these franchises, and if you ever did, you either got the action-exploration for Metroid and and Action for Castlevania, action-exploration for both, or First Person Adventure for Metroid, or 3D Action for both. As much as some of the classic Metroid fans wouldn’t want it to be, Metroid Prime was to many their first step into the franchise and defined lot of the world for them. Recalling back when Metroid Prime was released and FPA was used as its genre, a lot of magazines and people on the Internet were claiming that the genre name was bullshit and nobody should come up with such made-up names for genres. Times sure have changed.

Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth has a necessity to explain its genre for the larger audience that might come across it. This game already has a limited audience in people who are into 2D action-exploration and people who are fans of Record of Lodoss War franchise, and as such having some resemblance of explanation what it actually is all about is only sensible marketing solution. Though dropping metroidvania from the description would’ve saved them some space. No, using just metroidvania wouldn’t have been enough, as the whole post is about why.

It’s an issue that has no real solution. On one hand, using metroidvania for the red ocean market is fine and dandy, they’re catered with that. On the other hand, it’s a nonsense word that means nothing despite how much attempts people are trying to justify it. Sure, new words are invented and used in langauge, their widespread usage will make people understand them and so on, but it’s again a case where there is no need for such term, and there never was. Perhaps this is, alongside Doomclone, where the game industry and its core market are trying too hard to make themselves stand different unconsciously and spread their language and lingo. Using your own language and lingo is perhaps the best way to make a statement, and to divide people in Us and Them. Metroidvania in this regard is very much an innocent term, just a genre name for electronic games, unlike in political discussions, where people are categorised with the most unfavouring names even if they’re not applicable, but it is somewhat similar case; people see something familiar to them, even if inaccurate, and then proceed to use that naming even if it was inaccurate, didn’t make sense or outright wrong. Fling it long enough and it’ll stick, everything else be damned.

Though I have to say, the demo of Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth was a nice fresh air. The developer’s Toho action-adventure game was a massive letdown, but this seems to be hitting the stage design and character functions spot on. I just hope won’t become too gimmicky towards the end.

Unmade money with old games and consoles

Masayuki Uemura was interviewed by Nintendolife recently. He was the main engineer of the Nintendo Family Computer, as well as the guy who lead Super Famicom development. Naturally, he also was behind the workings of their American and Western equivalents. The interview covers decent ground and has some interesting factoids spread around. For example, all the innards of the FC was to cost give thousand yen and then sold for fifteen. Taking inflation into count, that five thousand is about six and half thousand yen, or about fifty five euro. The FC wasn’t exactly cutting edge for its time either, and the initial FC games are a whole another world from what the Western world came to know with the NES. You could even say that the split between the games, sort of, is pre and post Super Mario Bros., as that game was build to be the ultimate cartridge game before the disk system hit the corner. After SMB‘s success, the quality of the games on the system skyrocketed in number and begun yielding classic titles after another. I still maintain that the NES’ US launch line-up was one of the best a console has seen, as Nintendo of America had the chance to hand pick all the most fitting titles from the Japanese releases to fit the American taste. The Wii also had a relatively low-cost innards, which didn’t hamper its success. Nintendo’s lack of support after few years though, and Wii’s sales were still top notch.The Wii’s Virtual Console on the other hand, that sold the system to so many people.

Uemura mentions costs to be one of the driving elements in the design, and this is something the common consumer doesn’t tend to think. Certainly you know that better materials cost more money, but that’s only part of the equation. Shapes and colour add to the cost as well. For example, pink plastic has a higher melting point than blue plastic, requiring more time and energy to melt the plastic into the moulds. The colours themselves are also a factor, as mixing and making different colours cost different sums. Of course, you also have consider what that colour can do to plastic on the long run and if it’s worth it. For example, Beast Wars era Transformers toys have Gold Plastic Syndrome, where the colour and flakes added to the plastic have chemically interacted with each other and brittled the plastic, making it prone to break very easily. Some examples were found on the store shelves during the 1990’s already, and the issues has only become more pressing with time. Let’s not forget the shape. The more complex the shape, the more time and money it takes to develop needed production methods and finding the proper material to work with those shapes. Machining and maintenance are the key factors, and sometimes shapes need to be simplified due to either needing excess amount of parts or corners and loops that simply wouldn’t fill. Uemura mentioning that they went through numerous different variations for the controller is nothing surprising, but something that hasn’t been recorded and archived anywhere. If NES would’ve had the same kind of joystick as the Atari 2600, it would not have been the same success. The choice to try out Game & Watch Directional Pad appears to have been a somewhat desperate attempt to cull costs and prevent breakage if a child steps on the controller, and it worked.

The most interesting, and perhaps even most important section in the interview, is Uemura talking about the Famicom Mini;

Why make it mini? I think they could still develop a regular Famicom and people would still buy it.

Uemura’s hitting the nail with this, and it’s not just Nintendo that this applies to. Unlike what the industry wants to tell you, a console has no true life cycle or end of it. A system lives as long as the parent company decides to support it. However, the practice currently is to support one home console and one handheld at a time, thought the Switch really does both. All these reproduction consoles that are going about are an example how there is a market that’s untapped by the original companies. If Nintendo decided to develop and official GameBoy with a backlit screen, it would sell not only to the collectors, but to all interested parties. Reproducing cartridges nowadays is much simpler and cost effective. I’ve discussed this topic previously in a review. While it would increase the cost of the mini-consoles to add a port where consumers could use their own old cartridges, it is something these companies should have strongly considered. The games and their players have not gone anywhere. These same games are being published time and time again either as individual games or as parts of compilations. The game industry is almost schizophrenic in this. Something is supposed to have a limited lifetime, and yet people pirate ROMs to play these games and purchase compilations. Developers try to push for the new titles and games with high budgets and production values, and it’s the small side-game that’s more true to the older games that sells like hotcakes. We are still playing the same board and card games from hundreds if not thousands of years ago, and the could apply to electronic gaming if the industry wouldn’t treat them as one-time consumables. Yes, old cartridges and consoles will yield to time, to wear and tear, but the question really is why isn’t any of these companies willing to address this? There is a market that Sega, Konami, Sony, Nintendo etc. could go and tap.

Of course, developing a new console that would be planned to run old games would be time off from the more modern and current projects. Where’s the prestige in that? It would take some time and effort to see what made the original systems tick, if we’re to avoid emulation, and then expand what they can do. Using HDMI would be the first step, though if fans have created modifications to add HDMI output to old systems, so can the parent companies themselves. That is, if there is know-how and skill to do yet. Just like in the film industry, where colour and digitalisation effectively killed old skills (nobody knows how to make a true black and white movie anymore or how to properly run a reel, everything’s just a guess) the video game industry is in the process of forgetting how to develop for analogue platforms. Only the enthusiasts and retro-game programmers are keeping these skills alive. Hell, most big developers don’t even develop their engines any more, opting to use pre-existing engines. Capcom is one of the few developers that do their own in-house R&D, and it shows. Perhaps the kind of sameness games nowadays exhibit is partially because of this, and partially because games don’t develop as fast any more. In the 1980’s and early-to-mid 1990’s the industry kept developing fast and weren’t defined to the point of being set to stone. You had separation what kind of game was on what kind of system (PC, console or arcade) yet now more games are more the same. I’m ranting again about this, aren’t I?

There is money to be made with games and consoles, even if the industry perception is that they wouldn’t be much worth. The NES Mini outsold itself twice, the SNES Mini sold itself out about as fast, the Mega Drive Mini has been hailed from left to right as the best Mini system to date with excellent choice in games and the PlayStation Mini is still sitting on the shelves for being shit. There needs to be quality of course, as not even the hardest of the core customers will stand for lack of proper effort and lacklustre products. This market isn’t just for the small percentage of people stuck in the past. Old games, as long as they are available, will sell. A game is an ever-green product you can press again and again and sell it over and over again. They don’t grow old, playing games is an ageless pastime. They are mass consumer entertainment, and if you were to present them in their proper, original form with somewhat updated hardware for the new times, you’d have a new pillar to support your business with. Then again, we’ll always be an impasse, as that’d be looking back into the past and not trying to push the latest newfangled stuff.

What drives hardware if the same software is available everywhere?

Business Insider recently published an article in which they interviewed a number of game developers for the Google Stadia. They went without their names attached to their words, and perhaps better for that. Without a criticism they’re offering about Stadia and its misgivings, the very same I went on about, wouldn’t reflect too well in their business relations. The main contest is incentives from Google, the benefits that the developer and publisher would gain for putting their title on Stadia. Or rather, the lack of them. Usually the audience would be an incentive on itself, the ones the Big Three currently hold, and Switch as the one with relatively unique and mixed amounts of users, while Stadia effectively has none to contest with. Google can’t compete with the amount of users they have compared to any other gaming platform out there, and they probably know just as well.

There is no reason for any outsider to put their meat on Google’s platter. They’ve done the exact same error so many other companies have before them when it comes to running a gaming platform, console or otherwise; you need to do the initial legwork yourself. To use Nintendo as an example, consumers purchase Nintendo’s consoles not because of gimmicks or whatnot, but because of the software Nintendo themselves are providing. That already offers a default installed consumers base, which can be easily expanded if new and proper software is presented on their platform. Without saying this also means the consoles with the most sales always had the most software on the system. Shovelware is rather important for the ecosystem to balance things out, but it can only balance if there are enough games on a platform. Otherwise it’ll just gather handful of games and they’re all junk. Not even shovelware, but just collection of ports and few exclusive titles worth jack shit. Atari Jaguar or CDi should be an example in of themselves enough.

If Google can’t offer that initial batch of games that would incentivise the customers to pick up their handy dandy controller, what are they using? Software sells hardware, and Google doesn’t have anything that would wake a customer interest. It’s as if they were expecting to come into the play on the backs of other developers and publishers without putting much of their own in there themselves. The few exclusive titles Stadia has seen have been less than stellar, and the whole of idea not having the baggage of prior culture of video games was absurd to begin with. Whether or not Google wants it to, Stadia is relying on pre-existing software that’s heavily ported from other platforms, and that brings the culture of those games and platforms with it. Not that there is a huge dividing lines between different consoles, though PC mindset is very much a different thing. Stadia, however, is very far from PC as a platform. Then again, so is Steam in its nature as a digital console, so maybe modern PC user’s mindset is far too eager to appease closed environments rather than open to controlling their system by themselves.

While other platforms can offer stability, especially the Big Three, Google can’t. You’d think that if Google is putting all this show, razzle and dazzle up to grab customers’ attention, surely they have a long-term plan for Stadia and see it through at least for the next six years. That probably isn’t the case. Google has a tendency to nix products and services that don’t succeed as well as expected, and Stadia is no different to them in terms of business. If it doesn’t rake in the expected revenue, it’ll be written off and they’ll move on. They don’t have the history of putting their best efforts to make a product or a service like Stadia succeed. Stadia, as it stands now, would need a soft-relaunch in terms of service and what products it has. This is similar how Nintendo had to relaunch the Nintendo DS through software and how to market the device. Rather than sell it as a portable N64, a pocket version of a system that was never a success to begin with and has a lousy software library, Nintendo turned the boat around and started to deliver its library closer as a portable Super Nintendo. From there the NDS went to success. Inversely, the Wii was marketed and sold very much like the NES was, but the moment they abandoned that mindset, which was directly reflected in the software library and how Nintendo moved to develop both the 3DS and the Wii U, its sales dropped. Still outsold the other Big Three consoles, but what also failed to carry over the new install base they had from both NDS and Wii.

Google is against all this and they haven’t really done anything to deal with it. Whatever fame Google has at the moment, it isn’t helping them with their gaming department. If all the reports of their customer service practically failing on the first day, some being completely in the dark Stadia was even a thing to begin with, and Day One delivers were multiple weeks late, it could almost be assumed Google was self-aware how things would end up going and had already given up internally. This wouldn’t be a surprise in itself, as at times corporations do put out big projects that might not go anywhere. Often it’s a project that’s been languishing in development hell for years on end and time has already passed it, like with CED, and other times a project is perceived as groundbreaking or making disturbing ways in the industry, but the technology turns out to be half-baked and barely functional. As much as VR has made its strives, in recent years, it has a thirty years history of numerous failed attempts and products. Well, VR will be a true hit when the headset becomes cordless and light enough to shove into basic goggles without the massive plastic housing.

Whether or not Google was unprepared or didn’t have their realities in check with Stadia is academic at best now. Stadia has been around few months now and the wakes it was supposed to make have been rather anemic. Still, let’s wait the first two quarters until we can say whether or not the direction Google has chosen is worth it, but if developers and publishers are willing to coin in and effectively show their distrust not only towards the system itself, but also towards the parent company, something very much askew. Google, as it stands now, really has nothing to compete with in Stadia, and whatever promises and statements they made about fast play anywhere you want without any baggage has turned out to be less fulfilling. If this really was Google trying to offer a way to play games to those who didn’t want to play games because of they hobby has its smears, they bet on the wrong horse.

Play as movie

The recent success of the Sonic the Hedgehog movie has given a raise to the discussion why and how adapting video games as films is supposedly difficult. This haughty attitude usually comes from Hollywood, and when Hollywood wants to make games or show the ropes how to make great entertainment, the games themselves turn out to be less than desirable and low in success. On the other hand, a movie turned video game is usually about as successful, and the more it veers off the course and does its own thing, the better success it tends to garner. Take the NES Batman as an example, a game that is less than spectacular adaptation of the Tim Burton movie, but as a game it has aged like fine wine.

Perhaps one of the best early examples of using a movie as the basis rather than directly adapting it. There’s also that top-tier Sunsoft soundtrack

The issue is rather old topic for the blog, but perhaps it needs to be stated again; games’ stories are player acting them out. The FMVs, story sequence and all that, those are the framing device for player’s action, not the other way around. Describing someone playing is boring, but when you’re the one doing the playing, be it with dolls, wooden swords, card games or whatever, it’s interesting: entertaining. Hence games are about personal action within given rules, and real story is build by player actions. Take the TAS above; the framing is Batman must defeat Joker and his minions but the way to defeat the Joker and his minions is far more interesting when it’s a game. How do you approach an enemy, how do you avoid this trap, what’s the best route to take in a given situation? These moment to moment actions are what builds the game’s experience, the story the player is weaving with the game. The less player actions there are in a game, the less there is a play to be had. This play can’t be turned into a movie, a book or anything passive. You, the viewer, can’t be the actor.

This really is the crux of the issue. When a game is being adapted into a series, movie or whatnot, the first thing that is being looked is at the framing device. In Mega Man, the main character fights evil robots lead by a mad scientist. Easy to adapt, the games have sold millions so a story as simple as this should be a piece of cake. The issue of course is that Mega Man games don’t exactly celebrate how well their framing stories have been constructed. After all, all of them are just there to facilitate player going through stages and beating enemies. You always have to write something extra, create new content that might make a good story. You can make Mega Man running through a stage into an action scene for sure, but eight times in a row? A movie doesn’t have for such things, and even in comics action chapter after action chapter without a breather makes you feel stupid. A TV-series, surprisingly, is the best place for a video game adaptation in overall terms, as it not only gives time to explore expanded characters, but also gives leeway for action. Even one cours series, that is about twelve episodes, would be enough to adapt any game.

The Mega Man OVAs are interesting beasts in that they didn’t adapt the games at all, unlike the Ruby-Spears TV-series. Instead, they were vehicles to introduce children to cultural heritage, hence the it was Presented by Japan Center for Interculultual Communications. It should be cultural, but typos tend to sneak in even.

A game becomes easier to adapt to the silver screen, or elsewhere really, the more there is framing for the play. That is, the less there is chaotic elements, the less player actions there are. The frame never changes. This applies to role playing games as well, and the difficulty bar gets set higher the more options the player has. For example, RPGs that allows completely customisable characters and party creation determines how the characters advance forwards. With each change to the party characters, and how the player wants to approach any given opponent, the story has already changed. Perhaps in one playthrough the player goes with an axe wielding warrior to save the day, and in another opts for a mage build. The connotations, suggestions and approaches are all different and while the base framing is the same, the core story has been drastically altered. Perhaps the player character opts to use a fork as his only weapon. I heard you can make a fork as one of the most broken weapons possible in Skyrim.

It is largely evident that most game adaptions on television and the silver screen have people working on the product that don’t understand games. Sure the framing is easy to get. Expanding that to a full film-length story is what’s usually done. You can’t turn play into passive entertainment, unless that play has been executed extremely well. The reason why I linked Batman TAS is because of this. A mundane playthrough of the game might look boring, but a TAS, in principle the most effective and best way the game could be beat, becomes almost cinematic. Issue of course is that you need to know how the play is acted out, and that’s different from genre to genre. On the reverse, it’s also hard to make a movie into a game, as movies don’t tend to have content that can be easily turned into an active play. They might offer one or two set pieces, but games require far more freedom than what a strictly structured story can offer. A game of course can fill in missing spots in an action sequence or the like, but the more game adheres to its adapted source material, the less room for play there is.

Then again, the easier and less chaotic the game’s play is, like a tournament fighter akin to Mortal Kombat, the more clear how to adapt and how becomes. Nevertheless what kind of source material you have in your hands, the adapted material can always trump over the source, and adapting always asks for something more than directly lifting elements from one medium to another. Individual decisions and actions are just far more difficult to adapt to the silverscreen than, e.g. a comic panel. You could, of course, take one well played game and turn that into a film, considering that would be that particular player’s story and all the emotions and excitement it brought with it. Perhaps that should be considered more rather than just the framing.

This is why something like Game Center CX is entertaining. It’s not just about the game or the play, but about the how the games are played and what happens during the play. That’s the core of a game’s story

As an end note, this blog’s 9th anniversary was yesterday.

Sakura Wars for the World

When I wrote how the Sakura Wars had hard time landing in the Western world, I wasn’t sure if the series would still hit the Western shores with its soft reboot title. Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love didn’t exactly perform well and had the usual NISA quality bug filtering. Wii version lacked the original language option altogether. Outside SEGA fans and importers, the series was mostly known for its animated entries. Interestingly, for a long time American and European Sakura Wars fans were overtaken by the people who were familiar with the franchise from these animations, not from their source material. I recommend reading how much an uphill battle Cherry Blossom Wars has in the West from the post linked earlier, I’d rather not repeat myself too much.

Well, at least it is hitting America on April 28th at a first glance. Despite this being cited as a world wide release date, none of my usual European sellers, not even local ones, are even listing it. At least the official SEGA of Europe is listing it for 28.04.2020 release. Though nothing can be pre-ordered yet, and the pre-order edition is very lacklustre; reversible box sleeve and a sticker set. For a high calibre game, one of SEGA’s most prestige titles, this seems rather lacklustre try. Where’s the music CD and other bells and whistles something like Yakuza gets? SEGA knows the game has an uphill battle. Old-school mecha fans will probably pick this up for it being a Sakura Wars game, franchise’s fans probably already imported the title from Japan and are buying it just to support the title, and the rest of the audience has to be convinced by the game’s play and visuals. It’s a tough battle for the PR department.

SEGA’s websites somehow never look all that exciting.

Sakura Wars has high production values, that much can be said. The models look decent enough, though they don’t exactly convey Tite Kubo’s character designs as well as they could, but there’s spirit in there. They’re as animated as you could expect from team that said they’ve taken lessons from the Yakuza games. From what we could see from the demo and numerous game play videos, many elements are very similar in execution, from how camera moves and characters interact. There are lots of interactive elements and small mini-game events that play out throughout the game. The game’s, the franchise’s, main delivery however is in its Dramatic storytelling. That’s where all the interactive mini-games are spread around, as the player is expected to decide via the LIPS system how to talk or act. Sometimes it’s to choose a simple answer, sometimes you have to limit how much you you want to peak on someone. The Yakuza series is very contemporary and managed to break some cultural walls, but in all earnest, it is an easier series to approach just from visual point of view.

Usual LIPS scene. You could think options as Right, Wrong and Joke, all resulting in a different reaction. Which option is which is never in the same place for different interactions. You could let let the timer run out too.

The demo’s emphasize is on the adventure and interaction portion of the game. You’re expected to be invested into the story and the characters enough for multiple playthroughs in order to see all the different outcomes. This is is effectively the dating simulation aspect of the game, but rather than the game waiting for you to give an answer, waiting around is an answer in itself. Whether or not this is to your liking, it is essentially the main course of the game. Sakura Wars’ action stages look nice, but sadly have the same floaty and weightless feeling to them as the Sonic games the engine was lifted from. Attacks carry no real impact and camera positioning is not exactly user-friendly. A game like this, especially from an experienced team and big name franchise, should have far more polish and engaging action. The American and European audiences have been less enthusiastic about relationship simulation games than the Japanese, and while they’ve gained more audience as the time has gone by, the action would still be the more attractive element for the general audiences.

Famitsu’s 33/40 might be a spot on review for the game in Japan, with French Jeuxvideos scoring it at 13/20. If these are anything to go by, with the addition that the game’s sales dropped from second place to fifteenth after one week (latest Pokémon held the top spot), the gut feeling I have is that this game will be relegated to a very niche audience, which is partially already built into the fandom. Minimising costs is sensible, albeit always gives off a feeling that the publishing company doesn’t exactly trust the product. No English voice acting is mostly a cost-cutting method, as recording all the needed voices would add a lot to the end total production costs. However, it would have expanded the possible audience in the English speaking countries. We can carefully assume that the review scores will reflect the the aforementioned all the while giving it a respectful effort marking.

Maybe SEGA hopes to replicate success of Yakuza by slowly introducing this new action oriented Sakura Wars to the rest of the world and polishing it with each entry. However, the franchise’s relaunch in Japan first has to be a success in itself and we’re far from the point where we can safely say anything concrete. The reason I wanted to draw attention to sellers not listing the game, and me even wondering if the game was coming out on the stated date, is because the PR has been lacklustre. My small inquiry to a store stated that they wouldn’t know if they’d stock it, that a new and untested franchise like this probably won’t sell too much at full price. It’s not all doom and gloom. The word on the street is pushing the game forwards and positive word of mouth is the best thing this game could have going for it. I hope that this won’t be one-time game, that SGEA will put effort to expand from the niche by not only introducing new elements to the play, perhaps expanding the action portions by re-introducing series’ tactical aspects back. A niche and cult audience is a great a place to start, especially you already have a basis to stand on, but all those have to made to be worth something. SEGA needs that general audience to make Sakura Wars a success, but whether or not they’ll keep striking the iron while it’s still hot has to be left open. Well, if all else fails, they always could do a series compilation and re-release the previous games that way.

I’m gonna take you for a ride

The EVO 2020, the event for fighting game tournaments, lineup was rather surprising in few ways; Under Night In-Birth stayed in with its latest iterations, Guilty Gear was kicked out in favour of Granblue Fantasu Versus (which also has all the telltale signs how ArcSys really wants their fighting games to be, to put it less diplomatically, more retarded), no Mortal Kombat anywhere to be seen and as a surprise to everyone Marvel VS Capcom 2 is in as a special invitation-only tournament.

MvC2 is in due to its twenty year anniversary, and considering it has been a major part of EVO and its predecessor, Battle by the Bay, there’s not really any other game that might have as much historical hype behind. MvC2 in many ways is a historical cornerstone in video game history overall, being a kind of peak of Capcom fighting game history, where the era of classic era ends. Sure there was Capcom VS SNK 2 and some stragglers afterwards, yet none of them managed to reach the same peak in both popularity and in sheer quality. The Marvel series of games for Capcom is significant part of the company’s history, and still stand out as one of the best, if not outright the best games based on Marvel properties. However, licensing each character must be a mess, and with Disney at the helm and priorities being what they are, games like Marvel vs Capcom Infinite gets made. The VS games have always been about the play, never about the story. MvCI sadly tried to explain and explore what wasn’t needed or required, but due to Disney and Marvel limiting the licenses 20th Century Fox had at the time, the game’s cast was gimped and it seemed like a weak vehicle for the Marvel movie characters.

MvC2 is a kind of game that hasn’t aged. Like said in previous post, well made games don’t age. They may show their age, like how Pong constitutes of two white bars and a square for a ball, but the play and design is still perfect. The same can’t be said for most Pong clone consoles and their games, and the same applies to loads of games even up to this day. I’ve talked about how Breakout evolved with time and with new iterations (I do recommend reading that post, it’s one of the few entries I personally like) but the core play never demanded revisions. Tweaks and additions for sure, but the day it came out, it was about as perfect as it could be. Games well up to the Fourth Generation of consoles, Super Nintendo and such, had to balance between what the systems could do and what the game design was. For each game that had great design and realisation there were dozen that were much less in quality. Super Mario Bros. 3 isn’t just a great NES game, it’s overall a great game with excellent design both in play and how the graphics are depicted. While modern systems allow any level of depiction when it comes to graphics, you still have games that use the most mundane look and design. You can have the most high fidelity models and highest possible 8K+ resolution, but in comparison they’ll beat MSB3 if the design is lacking.

Games like Solaris might look crude and maybe even sound terrible, and for 1986 there were serious competition on the NES already, but put into proper context, Solaris is an absolute marvel on the Atari 2600. It wasn’t an arcade port for one, and second it pushed the system to its absolute limits with fast, colourful graphics, relatively complex play for the system that involved both navigation next to its shooting game elements. You of course had older titles like Pitfall! already had explored and expanded what the Atari 2600 could do. These consoles were limited beasts that didn’t offer lots of options for the developers. Limitations are your friend and push creativity and innovation forwards. The same can’t be said of modern systems, where space is wasted, everyone is recycling the same game engines, and you are effectively able to do whatever you want. Similar technical limitations don’t exist any more, polygons don’t limit you to square shape and systems can show more than four colours on screen at a time. Hell, you can use colour. The original Breakout didn’t have a colour screen, but a black and white monitor that had a celluloid overlay that coloured the white graphics on the screen. I’d like to say such analogue practices would be impractical nowadays, but seeing how people are convincing themselves on VR despite it still lingering at the lower echelons of success, I’m not so sure. Sticking a film on your screen for extra graphics sounds about as easy solution as a VR headset.

While it’d be easy to say that a game looks too old to be played, that age has made its visual fall behind, is not exactly the case. Well designed and applied graphics will always stand out from the dredge. MvC2 might be old compared the rest of the games, it might have a weird mix of sprites, some almost a decade old when the game was released, with 3D backgrounds, yet how colourful it is, how expressive the characters and stages are combined with the sheer explosion of colours combined with the furiously fast and almost uncontrollable play made the game not only popular, but also timeless. Yes, it looks like a game from 2000’s, but in the same manner we can say that we’re happy it doesn’t look like a game from 2007 with all the brown and bloom of the time.

This TAS shows how Jill’s sprite is made, how you can discern each kick and punch clearly from each other. You’d think something like this would be sensible, but so many fighting games flub their characters’ moves and animations for whatever reasons

The game’s also a terrific spectator’s game because all the above. Despite it being absolutely insane on what’s happening on the screen at times, it doesn’t blow its load too early and keeps the screen relatively clean. The easy-to-read sprites and timing for characters’ Super moves and such have just a long enough pause to have an effect on both the players and audience that something big is about hit. Modern fighting games have lost the touch to make impactful moves and effects with the whole cinematic supers, where the whole game has to be paused. Fighting games have, effectively, become slower and have more emphasize on elements that make the games slower, wasting players’ time.

While market and PR are the reasons events like EVO mostly run current games and not any of the old classics, there are no proper reasons why any of these events should have one or two classic entries in their lineup. It’s understandable why some companies wouldn’t want their long line-up available for modern systems outside licensing issues, because a lot of the more celebrated games can beat their latest titles. The relationship with Nintendo and VC titles is probably one of the best examples of this. It’s not uncommon to see and hear developers to do something new and forget what’s already done, but you can’t really ignore history, especially if you’ve made some of the games in short history of electronic gaming. Best you can do is ignore it, or if you dare, tackle it head-on and aim to obsolete it.

The Virtual Console still lingers in Nintendo’s memory

Let’s not beat around the bush, the Virtual Console was one of the best decisions Nintendo made with the Wii and its subsequent iterations. The amount of sales they made across all the three platforms the VC was on was pretty impressive, and the Wii itself even sold with the VC itself. I’ve said it before and I will say it in the future; if I were a game developer and/or publisher that had to put their game on a console where Super Mario Bros 3. was available, I’d be scared of the quality of the competition. We can’t deny its quality and impact. It would appear that VC made Nintendo, especially Shigeru Miyamoto, realise that people were still interested in thirty years old games. This isn’t exactly rare with game industry, but a well made game does not age. Well technically it does, but it ages like a fine whisky. Wine be damned.

In a recent Investors’ Q&A, Shigsy mentions how their old software are active even after thirty years, and that they have no choice but to port these titles to new platforms. Funnily enough, there are tons of games that never got ported to modern platforms nor did Nintendo see fit to port these games to some other platforms. Nevertheless, he began to think if Nintendo could combine their evergreen library with video and use that in a similar, years-on fashion. Hence why the new Super Mario Bros. movie is being produced. What’s interesting, and perhaps even comedic about this, is Shigsy claiming that he didn’t exactly want to make a Mario movie, but that it would be a great vehicle to have more people exposed to the brand.

Effectively, what Shigsy is talking about is repeating already tested method of Nintendo IPs spreading across the media.

This has been an age old topic for the blog. During the Third and Fourth Generation of consoles, Nintendo’s intellectual property and branding was everywhere. Television, breakfast cereals, waffles, comics, clothing, music, they were everywhere. Especially in the US, European markets weren’t assaulted as much due to completely different market dynamics. Japan experienced its own multimedia of Nintendo products, and it never really stopped. However, maybe they didn’t have the cartoons, those were very much an American product to the American audience. The Super Mario Super Show was spread rather wide elsewhere, but quick lookup gives up little sources in Japanese, videos or otherwise.

Italians always outdid others with their songs, for better or worse

It has been the standard for Nintendo spread their IPs across the media table as an advertisement for their game and console line-up. While it is possible that Nintendo of Japan has forgotten about all the media that got branded with Nintendo’s labels, I doubt that is the case. Even if it were, the success of Virtual Console’s success clearly left a serious impact on Shigsy. It must be hard to realise the big budget games you love to make were beaten by thirty years old titles. Is he thinking that they don’t have a large customer base to go by, that their titles are not selling to new, younger audiences because the lack of multimedia exposure? This should be business as usual for everyone involved, but for whatever reason Shigsy treats it as some kind judgment on him, that he just realised how a movie can market their main merchandise and that he has to see it done. That doesn’t sounds like the Shigsy we’ve seen throughout the years. We’re talking about the man who would rather have his game development seem like a fun school project and doesn’t want to work on 2D Mario games because directing and designing them takes so much effort. As disingenuous as it may sound, this sounds load of bullshit and a way to bed a path to save face if needed. Despite it being an investors’ Q&A, the corporate way of putting things is still the standard.

Nintendo, especially Shigsy and his team, has a habit of not doing what seems sensible to most, like developing a new F-Zero game for motion controls. That was saved for Mario Kart. Things are only done if they find a new way to doing things, innovating on some significant aspects or otherwise “surprise” the player somehow. That’s why you have 3D Marios trying to reinvent the wheel with FLUDD, planets and throwing hats around. Nintendo doesn’t exactly push forwards their IPs as much as they want to give it tricks and polish. If we’re being uncharitably here, it could be said that Shigsy wants to do a new Mario movie now, because there’s something he wants to do with it. Though it probably is more that Nintendo is coming around about spreading their IP again, through they’ve been relatively slow with the progress. There’s a clear and tight control when it comes to games on mobile platforms and series, though toys seem to be no issue for them. Japan still has running Mario comics and all that, but nothing that would appear on Western markets to the same extent.

Super Mario-kun is 25 years old by this point and only few countries have translated any of it.

The 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie probably soured Nintendo’s wishes to make movies based on their IPs, especially based on Mario (though they already had animated OVAs at that point.) It’s not that the upcoming movie is treading any new ground in any fashion, but that for whatever reason VC made Nintendo realise that almost all of their old games still hold value. Especially the big names ones. Hell, even with The Legend of Zelda we saw how much success Nintendo had by bringing Breath of the Wild closer to the original Zelda model and play. Did it really take the VC for Shigsy to realise how much the history of their media matters? It would appear so, but at the same time, what a way to screw of the VC with the subscription service. I guess that was part of renewing the way these games were brought to the customers, or maybe the whole issue of licenses was too much a bother. Whether or not keeping the VC as it were around would have been more beneficial than whatever the current form Nintendo has for its subscription service, but the memory of VC and all those thirty plus years of products still loom over them. Nintendo shares a lot with Sega in this, with both of them having to chase past glory all the while needing to push the envelope. Obsoleting evergreen classics is incredibly hard.