Top 5 games of 2021

The usual rules apply; the game must have been on a physical media to count (unless there’s significant merit for it), 2021 must have been the year I’ve first time have had a copy of the said game, and the year of production doesn’t matter. As usual, these are not in any sorted order; the first listed game doesn’t mean it is better than the four after it. With all that laid out, I’ve noticed that I haven’t really played many new games this year, and have concentrated on older titles instead. theHunter: Call of the Wild ends up being my to-go stress reliever still from the last year, while certain other titles serve other roles on the side.

I admit that once again, I’ve found my resources being invested in other matters. A new home has taken a significant toll on me in many ways as has human relations. A broken PC Engine has limited my choice of games for it quite a lot. I’ve also found a certain lack of time to play games due to work and other necessities. It’s less than I’ve suddenly had more responsibilities and more that I’ve decided to not fuck around with things that will have longer-lasting consequences. Adversely, this has also affected my want to write more, but have lacked time for it. Ah well, there’s always the next year. Unto the list of games;

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together 2011, PlayStation Portable

There’s not much to be said about Tactics Ogre or Ogre Battle that hasn’t been said already. It’s one of the best tactical role-playing game series that has been produced to date, which also spun off the best Final Fantasy title to date in Tactics. I decided to jump into the series this year after wanting to play something tactical and enjoyable for some time, and the Ogre series turned out to be a pretty good target. Now collecting those games into my shelf is another thing, so starting where the bar was lowest with the PSP remake of Let Us Cling Together was an easy choice. While a lot can be and has been said about the game’s historical inspiration in its narrative, with the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the end of enforced peace between Croatians, Bosnians and Serbians, the play really is its driving force in the end.

Building your own team and fine-tuning the synergy between your units and their skills is extremely enjoyable, albeit also very time-consuming. This is due to the need to grind as usual, but the end result often gives a strong, well-balanced team. Sure, the game can be somewhat easily broken even without the use World Tarot system, after which the Japanese subtitle Wheel of Destiny was given. In this, after beating the game you are able to skip back to story points in the game with your current units and make different path decisions.

Additional tweaks make the PSP remake somewhat easier game than the Super NES original, like being able to rewind back to max 50-turns, class rebalances that make their end-forms more breaking while being more crippled at the start, experience points are given as classes rather than individually, permanent death on the field has a 3-turn count with 3-lives backup and such. However, players can choose to handicap themselves and ignore most of the tweaks from the original if they so choose to. One of the best additions to the game is an overhead map, which hardcore fans like to equate to chess. Sadly, all this reminds us that the game got tweaked quite a lot, but visually it’s still the same title. Higher-resolution character artwork looks nice, but some sprite assets don’t really look all that good in comparison to the new higher resolutions portraits and even text boxes. It creates a mish-mashed look. Remaking the game from the grounds up with modern low-polygonal 3D assets for the playfields and perhaps even replacing the character sprites with proper 3D models would’ve made things less jarring. The overhead map becomes essential, as with the current sprite maps, you can’t rotate them, something that would’ve made the game that much more.

Nevertheless, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is a damn fine game independent of whatever version you are playing it in. The PSP version is still rather easy to find and not terribly expensive, while the English PlayStation version can break a wallet. Of course, Japanese versions are readily more available, but you’ll be faced with a language barrier.

Last Gladiators 1995, Sega Saturn

I can’t say no to a video pinball title when I see one. If we’re honest, making a good video pinball title is hard, and you’ve essentially got two choices to go with; either make it a simulation or embrace the video game format and go nuts what it could be. While the NAXAT Crush series of pinball games are more of the nature of video games, Last Gladiators embrace the simulation aspect. Surprisingly, where video pinball will always lack in terms of kinetic controls and that simple feel of real buttons on the sides of the pinball cabinet, the atmosphere and design have been nailed like no other.

Just by looking at the game’s footage, you can tell a few things it got so damn right. The field design is limited to one screen, but everything has been laid out as if it was a real table. No scrolling back and forth, no gimmicks that wouldn’t be possible on a real table, text and colours are appropriate for an actual table’s screen. The sound is spot on, with one of the best rock soundtracks from the era and the constant barrage of pinball sounds you can expect. Even when text is flashing on the screen above the playfield, it is short enough not to mess with your concentration. Different guides are positioned to the sides with arrows in a manner that’s not to obscure the field itself.

The game offers four fields, all of which have their own theming and concentrated gimmick. This might make an individual table somewhat short in gimmicks, but they’re rather concentrating on doing those few things right. Some modern pinball games like to throw tons of different kinds of gimmicks on one table without much balance, so going back to something that offers multiple tables with their own strong designs with less content per table is a nice breeze of fresh air. Designing a pinball table is stupidly hard and becomes geometrically harder with each introduced goal and gimmick. However, there is a slight over-reliance on ramps, so on a longer session that might become a dulling effect when jumping between the tables.

The most important bit in any video pinball game is in ball physics, and much like how I’ve sung NAXAT Crush series praises, Last Gladiator nails it. The visuals add an impressive heft to the ball, the sounds add to it even more and controlling the ball feels heavy and accurate. All this of course adds to the need for instant action and reaction, something that modern flat-screen televisions and screens still have an issue with. Playing with a good ol’ CRT is your best option, with a nice surround system to go with. Trying to run the game on an emulator didn’t really help. The latency of modern hardware just didn’t cut it.

The game is nothing short of a burst of pure energy. The way it is distilled fun and game in a package that we don’t get nowadays all that much throws it at the top of my list. I wish we had real pinball tables still around here.

Cotton Reboot 2021, Steam, Switch, PlayStation 4

The Cotton series of games is again one of those 1990’s Japanese exclusives that saw very little attention in the West. Mind you, even in Japan the series was more a cult classic than anything else after its arcade-original game. Yet it was kept afloat by fans and people who remember all these old games, and just like we’ve seen resurgence with Umihara Kawase (for the better or worse) Cotton and her lust for candy has graced us with one of the better remakes in some time. It’s one of the best kinds of remakes, don’t do too much for it, make it more what it already was, and give it a banging soundtrack. Cotton Reboot has without a doubt a year-defining soundtrack, with the first stage’s theme ringing in my head from time to time spontaneously.

Cotton Reboot is a rather standard horizontal shooting game, though its stage designs and Bomb mechanics are rather unique. Some stage layouts take advantage of Cotton’s magical broom having an afterburner-like flame and able to damage enemies right behind her all the while having loads of verticality. While the first stage is a sort of forward-push kind of deal, the rest of the stages mix and match the scrolling direction. Enemy patterns across the board shine, with some clever use of ground-only mooks with chasing Deaths. You get stronger and stronger Bombs, or rather Magical Spells as you level them up with experience points. An initial Fire Dragon may be anaemic, but level it up for multiple Fire Dragons or one massive, screen-filling monstrosity. Alternatively, just drop tons of rocks across the whole screen.

There’s so much you can say about a remake that nails the original’s tone and style, something that can turn people off. The game has that 1990s Japanese whack-humour, similar to Slayers or Battle Mania at their zaniest. Visually, the designs, shading and everything that’s presented to you is top-notch in production quality. The usage of modern tools to reproduce older styles has come a long way in the last decade or so and all of it looks glorious.

While the game is easier than its original versions and offers infinite continues, it does come with its X68000 version with no bells or whistles added. While not necessary, these sorts of things always add something special to the mix and preserve old games for new generations. Too bad we can’t reproduce the dancing keyboard the X68k version had. While some bad blood was born between BEEP and importers when they removed English support after Western localisation was confirmed, the game stands out as damn fine and worth the purchase.

Mega Man: The Wily Wars 1994, 2021, Sega Mega Drive

Retro-Bit re-published the somewhat rare compilation game Mega Man: The Wily Wars this year. After sitting down with it and mulling over whether or not it gets a spot here, or with the close-call-five, it gets a top-five spot just barely. The game was at one point much maligned as inferior to the NES original games (the first three Mega Man titles) but this has seemingly been due to most people playing the PAL ROM file, which runs at 50Hz. This does make the game run significantly slower and the music becomes droning. These aren’t really issues in themselves, but rather than the issues with development are visible across the board. Some of the sprites, while upgrades from the 8-bit originals, are of weird design at places. Proto Man’s sprite wasn’t redrawn either in Mega Man 3, which just looks weird with him being smaller and all. Numerous small sound effects are missing, but at places this is a blessing, as the first Mega Man has tons of ear-ripping sounds. Some mechanics are slightly different, like how there’s a slight delay in movement, Mega Man’s centre gravity centre is smaller than NES counterpart’s and glitches have been fixed. No more Player-2 pad debug features for Mega Man 3.

The game has some glitches due to the difficult nature of development that never got ironed out. These include the ability to re-spawn the final boss of Mega Man 3 by walking out of the room, which causes the ending to screw up too, using Ice Slasher in the first Mega Man to prevent spawning of certain flying enemies, DokuRobot’s Atomic Fire doing no damage under certain situations and stuff like that. However, outside very few glitches, a player most likely won’t be faced with these under normal playthrough. Speedrunners have used these for some benefit.

Nevertheless, this is your familiar Mega Man, Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3. While I’ll still argue how MM1 is a rather bad game, the whole package really is still a great way to play these games. There’s a fair bit of challenge, as the games use a Save system over Passwords, and if you’re intending to get to the whole-new Wily Tower segments, beating the three games first isn’t the fastest thing in the world. Mega Man 2 is still a series-making game and once you get used to slightly different controls, 2 and 3 become somewhat a breeze for experienced players. Wily Tower might be the only new content, but it’s a nice challenge overall for series veterans, and something to look for during your first playthrough.

Even when contrasted against other games we’ve seen this year, The Wily Wars stacks well against them. While it is an unrefined gem, an uncut diamond of sorts, it still pulled me back to the early days of Mega Man when we didn’t have tons upon tons of cutscenes messing with the play and slew of bolted-on gimmicks that didn’t do the series service. Do note that the game was also included in the Mega Drive mini, and that’s the thing I would recommend you to pick up if you have interest to play this outside your usual emulation needs.

Undercover Cops 1995, 2021, Super Nintendo

While old arcade-to-console ports always lack something, they often retain that certain charm and pull that the arcade original had. Mind you, there are plenty of examples of failed home ports, but Undercover Cops isn’t one despite the lack of two-player mode. Sure, the home port doesn’t match the arcade original in sound or graphical fidelity, it sure as hell retains the charm and fun play. While it is your run-of-the-mill beat-em-up on the surface, the addition of hidden special moves alongside your usual desperation attack, clever use of the environment here and there (e.g. you can beat the first stage’s boss quickly by using a giant press rather than just beat it up) and superb controls make this a gem. I just wish they had managed to squeeze that two-player mode in.

Honestly, that’s all I should need to say, but the charm is strong with this one. Despite being one of the less colourful games out there, with loads of greys and browns with subdued colours in everything else, the character designs, animations and how they feel and act is just so damn nice. Backgrounds also pop-up like no other, but what would you expect from the same people that were in charge of Metal Slug? The converted spritework is superb and the large sprites sell themselves just fine. The designs are very much core 1990s, but in a manner that makes them nearly ageless; there are tons of cues taken from the sixties onwards in a blend that makes it hard to pinpoint any given era for the game’s world. The game does tumble with this by stating the year is 2043, which will sadly not look as rad as this.  It was great to have the re-released, as the American localisation never happened despite advertisement being pushed out. Retro-Bit made sure there were both US and PAL compatible releases to boot.

It’s short, sweet and fun to come back from time to time, but perhaps not up there with the absolute best in the genre. At a time, it was an underrated title, but with the Internet making everything available for everyone, even somewhat obscure games gain a strong following. Personally, I’d probably pop this in over Final Fight or Streets of Rage 4 any day, but then again, I do love swinging a concrete pylon every other Sunday.

Do note that I would still recommend gunning for the arcade version, but not the World version mind you. Go for the Japanese or Alpha Renewal version, as they retain all the background details and moves. We really need something like an Irem Arcade Collection one of these days, which would collect as much of their original titles into one package as possible.

Honourable Mentions for those who didn’t make the cut

R-Type Final 2 2021, Switch, Steam, PlaySation 4 , Xbox One

It’s an unfinished product, by all means. R-Type Final on the PS2 was the last curtain call for the series as a shooting staple. Final 2 was supposed to be a glorious return, but instead, it is more retreading the same waters. It was delivered in a lacking stage, with only a third of those 101 ships found in Final. Extra Stages ended up being purchasable DLC rather than on-disc, which more or less means the game isn’t the advertised ultimate shooting game experience, but again ends up being a DLC hell cashing-in for nostalgia.

There’s very little that adds to the experience since R-Type Delta, and in the end the game feels a letdown in every respect. The new stages for the game don’t provide as much a challenge as previous games, no interesting mechanics have been introduced to make the game stand out in the marketplace and even the music has no real pull. The series stagnated right after Delta, and nothing has really managed to pull the series out from the rut. The Tactics games were interesting, but the overt masturbation on how difficult they supposedly are and how much a slow slog both titles ended up being, it would’ve been better to forget the series and forge for something new.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 2020, Steam, PlayStation 4. Xbox One, 2021, PlayStation 5, Switch

If you haven’t played the original games, or don’t have access to them any longer, do yourself a favour and pick this collection up. 1+2 updates both titles to the series’ latest mechanics and standards, and that’s also the fault here. The stages and challenges weren’t exactly designed to work under post-THPS3 mechanics and you notice that rather quick. However, you can rever the controls back to their original settings, and that’s who you should play the game; no reverts, spine transfers or wall plants. Nevertheless, it’s a faithful recreation of those two games, with some very minor changes to physics and mechanics. Most people won’t notice how it feels slightly different from the originals, but just like the Crash remakes from earlier, seasoned veterans will notice and will have to take some time to adjust themselves.

However, that’s all there is. It doesn’t exactly expand anything further, but it doesn’t really need to. It plays in the same ballpark as the 2001’s THPS2x, which was an enhanced re-released of the same games for the Xbox. It’s more of the same, but not really adding anything to the mix. It’s a damn good title nevertheless that I’d recommend, but not a Top 5 candidate.

Super Robot Wars 30 2021 Steam, PlayStation 4, Switch

The first mainline Super Robot Wars to be released in the Western frontiers, and plays like a sequel to a game we never got. DLC characters have nothing to do with the main game and are there to take up space in a game with plenty of units to choose from already. Because the game introduced a non-linear progression system inspired by the Compact series scenario system, which was also seen in Impact, stages have less a flowing feel and more something you’d play episodically. Honestly, the game wastes the Ultraman debut in SRW as DLC-only and based on the Netflix CGI show, and that rubs the wrong way. Loads of the sprites have a plastic sheen to them, which makes them more at home on your mobile phone than on a console or PC. Ever since SRW games have been getting closer to getting rid of the Super-Deformed designs, the further away we’ve been getting from well-animated sprites. SRW Alpha 3 has tons of SD sprites that have terrific animations, exaggerated and full of life, and in contrast, we’ve been getting animations that are stiffer by the year with more reliance on cut-ins. At this point, SRW might as well abandon scaled SD sprites altogether and present everything in so-called 1:1 design and have people wondering why the hell is Mazinger Z so big compared to a battleship. The series is going in the wrong direction.

Cotton Guardian Force Saturn Tribute 2021, Switch, PlayStation 4

This could’ve been a good collection, but after Cotton Reboot, this is just a lacklustre attempt to cash in. While the best way to get your hands on Cotton 2, Cotton Boomerang and Guardian Force, it falls in the same category as many other collections that they do nothing else or special with them. In addition, the initial version of the game has notable input lag, which has been rectified to some degree via patch, but really, Beep’s just riding on Cotton Reboot‘s success with this.

Blaster Master Zero 2017, Nintendo 3DS, Switch, 2019 Steam, 2020, PlayStation 4, 2021, Xbox One

I don’t know who wanted or asked for this game. Take a popular NES game, don’t give a modern face-lift but instead remake the game in overly used retro-sprites style and try to incorporate tons of story elements. Sadly, the graphics aren’t all that special and have issues with collision detection at places and plot’s forced down your throat while being poorly written. Serving both as a remake and a reboot of the original Blaster Master, you probably would end up having a better time with the original NES game due to how much the game holds your hand and halts the game with plot sequences. You’d think nailing a NES game revival’s controls would be easy, but yet they made them lacking. The revised designs are also pretty terrible, playing the most tired anime-esque tropes you can find out there. It’s IntiCreates went overboard where they could to compensate for the otherwise lacking design and detail in the game. In the end, the game ends up being a chore to play, but I admit, it at least is colourful.

Create New Properties

When looking at the media landscape throughout the last hundred years or so we see different media fields repurposing and remaking works from each other. Books would be turned into movies, movies into books, songs into plays, plays into books, you get the idea. Revisiting old stories under a new light was nothing particularly uncommon. Sometimes for the better, often for the worse. While remaking or reimagining works has always existed in some form, the modern media has been mostly concentrated on remaking films and television shows. This could be mostly attributed to the sensibilities that are driving franchises, which end up making the most money. A single film might be marketable for a while, but when something new comes along, customers’ attention can be easily stolen away. What better way to keep that brand on the surface by constantly pumping content based on that popular thing? Franchises have survived catastrophic failures, like Highlander II: The Quickening, though similar bombs have effectively killed any viability of an Intellectual Property for decades.

Nowadays, it seems that IPs are harder to kill than ever before and corporations are banking on them like no other. We have over thirty years old franchises still seeing new entries, and while some aim to produce a new kind of experience, others rely on nostalgia to drive things home. These decades-old things were new at some point, and while they will always be new to someone, all the major ones are deeply carved into our cultural mindset. Darth Vader, the lightsabre, Captain of the starship Enterprise, horrible face-raping aliens, Ring to rule them all, Three Laws of Robotics, the truth is out there, down down-forwards forwards Punch makes a fireball and so much more what we know is through cultural osmosis. We know these things as modern media are the continuation of stories of old. Now we have the best tools humanity has ever had to spread these new ideas and stories out there for everybody to read, see and listen to, but we’re using these tools to revisit the same old stories with a new lick of paint. Even the Marvel movies that get celebrated are largely recreations of what was already told, just with few new twists there. Twists, which ended up making Thanos, one of Marvel’s strongest villains next to Dr Doom, a lacklustre shadow of his comic counterpart with only glimpses of the shades and colours he could’ve shown on the screen.

That is an issue that all long-running franchises have to deal with; new writers. While a chance to create something special, it’s also a massive risk that they’ll just fuck things up.

While the 1990s saw tons of reheats from the 1960s, the last two decades have been constantly called the era of remakes. While not wholly accurate, we can’t really deny a trend of taking dormant past IPs and trying to breathe new life in them. Charlie’s Angels has been revived at least twice during the new millennium, and the last time they did that was a massive failure in every respect. Ghostbusters was also revived twice (with the upcoming movie being the third time) with the Atari game being a success both financially and critically. The same can’t be said for the 2016 film, which almost ended the franchise then and there. The third time’s the charm. I don’t really want to mull over all this, you know what IPs have been successfully implemented to the new millennium and what hasn’t. We never needed a new Terminator or Predator flick, but we got ’em anyway, with each new movie being worse than the last. If you need a franchise ending example from recent years, look no further than The Predator.

Not even Star Wars has been spared from reusing old content for nostalgia. Despite Kathleen Kennedy making loud statements that they will pave a new road for the modern era of Star Wars for the new audience, they’ve resorted to nostalgia upon nostalgia all the while reusing old concepts and characters. Rather than taking the franchise in whole new directions, we’ve been revisiting characters and stories that were already told in a form or another. Pretty much everything Lucasfilm is currently pushing out in regards to Star Wars is revisiting old characters and concepts. Rather than pushing the IP, it has caved in to recycle.

The same can be applied to Star Trek, where each of the new series has somehow tied itself to past characters and concepts rather than trying something new and bold. Yet we had to see characters from Pike and Spock to almost the whole cast of The Next Generation. This sort of reliance on old and comforting characters and stories is largely a safety line; you can’t really fuck up too badly when the built-in audience will slob all over the franchise whatever you do with it. Herein lies the danger; you can burn your audience if you don’t handle the legacy of a property right.

Old marketing wisdom is that keeping your current customers is easier than gaining new ones. Looking at whatever media field you want, it seems like this has been twisted to something along the lines of Creating new IP is more dangerous than banking on an existing property. While the two don’t really exclude each other, we’ve seen the built-in audience being kicked away for a decade now. From games to films and television, we’ve heard the song of Get New Audience. Gamasutra went to the distance of telling us how gamers were over, a statement that has been echoing among the gaming press for a while with no results. Considering how closed and incestuous gaming and film industries (especially in the US), it’s no surprise that the same attitude would find its way to Hollywood. Many of the products that are now being made are not intended for the pre-installed audience. The marketing of course will always try to rope them in nevertheless, but as we’ve seen with pretty much all of these new entries, they’re not really wanted.

Everything was new at some point, and media can’t really be pushed forwards with rallying around the same shit all the time. While we haven’t seen major new entries to some of the oldest modern media icons, like Tarzan, they’re still there waiting for someone to take ’em for a spin. Dare I say that’s a problem to itself. Corporations want to bank on their IPs to the extent of not giving a damn how they are being treated on a larger scale, and damaging a franchise’s reputation and brand recognition has become an ever-increasing problem in the modern era. This is due to everyone being more connected to everyone else, and information is spreading like a running wildfire. It has become far harder to screw customers over. Perhaps that is also why corporations want to bank on old IPs, as they can sell the creators as fans among equals. By this point, I hope you’ve realised that’s an utter bullshit marketing gimmick.

If you have seen Masters of the Universe: Revelation‘s first five episodes, you’re probably aware of the latest example of this. Creators claim to be big fans, yet the story is another retread of What if Skeletor wins? storyline, the characters are not accurately portrayed and their major character points are missed and even large portions of unique elements are just either misunderstood or outright twisted out of shape. For example, Orko was portrayed as a lousy character that never amounted to anything in his life, either back at his home Trolla or at King Randor’s court. This, despite every iteration making a point that he is a great magician, one of their best, who just happens to have ended up in a dimension where magic works differently, thus him having a hard time making it work. In further expanded material, Orko’s position is that of a spy who was to keep tabs on the Power Sword and whoever wields it. In this light, Orko could be said to have acted for the sake of the cause. Instead, MOTU:R gives us a pathetic creature that tries to explain his tragic situation and backstory in order to artificially squeeze tears from the audience just to be killed. It’s hack writing at its finest and gives no real justification for either Orko’s death or otherwise, as it is so long-winded that any of the characters could’ve made any half-intelligent move and saved the day.

The backlash from MOTU:R has replicated pretty much the same patterns as any of these similar revived IPs with bullshit entry has, like Ghostbusters 2016. Some fans have found it objectionable content, and they have been in turn mocked. Not their points of arguments or anything that could be considered constructive, but rather the customers themselves have been mocked and belittled in the pettiest of ways combined with a healthy dose of slander and name-calling. It’s not a rarity nowadays for creators to talk down to consumers, often even attacking them. While this might win some browny points among their peers, the consumers will associate this negative PR with the creator and the brand. The aforementioned Ghostbusters 2016 is a perfect example of a short-lived shitstorm, after which pretty much everyone outside the Hollywood bubble agreed without many mincing words that it was a rather terrible movie.

A lot, if not all, of this drama and contention, would be easily sidestepped if all these re-used IPs were completely new and original instead. In this scenario, the works would be able to stand on their own legs without the baggage of old franchises. They’d also be able to realize that whole thing of creating a whole new consumer base and choose their own target customers. This would largely prevent any old farts from using decades of content as points of comparison, and thus criticism. It would be a win-win. Except this would mean they’d need to create something new that would be in direct competition with these already established franchises, and that requires a wholly different approach.

Yet we need new content, new ideas and new stories. The media landscape can’t survive on these old franchises for the rest of the executives’ lives. These people might be the most exciting or imaginative, yet they call the shots. Creators on the other hand should learn how to play them. Alternatively, circumvent the system altogether in whatever ways they can. You may ask if making a story like MOTU:R would be possible with a new IP, and the answer is yes. As the show already relies on flashbacks, there’s really nothing that could have prevented the series to be a whole new show with a whole net setting and characters.

Do you know why the Xenomorph is the featured image? Because it is arguably the most influential movie monster that was not based on a mythical being. Its influence is felt to this day in pretty much every single field of entertainment media and you can see it being ripped off, referenced and inspired by on an almost weekly basis. Even the classic Universal Movie Monsters had their inspiration in other stories. The Xenomorph, however, was something different. It strikes a different kind of core in the audience and opened new doors for horrific creatures. Despite the Predator being considered equal in terms of design, it is more human and can be understood to a large degree. While attempts have been made to create something that could be considered to compete on the same level of sheer uniqueness, very few monsters have come even close.

The wall to create something that could be the next Xenomorph, or the next Star Wars, is stupidly high. However, the entertainment industries, especially Hollywood and its bubble, have to get ready when old IPs stop making money. Disney has seen and felt how it feels to mismanage a billion-dollar franchise and lose money more and more with each new movie with Star Wars. It’s a downhill roll, and the only way they can climb up is to put something new to the table. Yet, even now, old and established is being tapped. Be it for the core fans or in chase of a new one, this losing battle should be cut short.

The world needs new stories to be inspired by. Even when it comes to money, it would be best for these corporations to bet on it as a long-term plan. Sadly, the more time passes, the more convinced I am there are no long-term plans with anyone. It’s all immediate action and short-term gains, be it in entertainment, politics or whatever.

An Intended View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sonic the Hedgehog (1991, Sega) – Genesis

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

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

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

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

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

A Hi-DEF NES kit modification kit

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

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

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

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

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

A dreadful return

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mega Man Legends Series Homepage image gallery

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

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

Continue reading “Mega Man Legends Series Homepage image gallery”

Digital death can be saved with piracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consoles need to be stupid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are no black bars

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

This’ll do fine

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

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

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

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

This hurts my eyes. Thanks astigmatism

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

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

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

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

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