The “true fan” is a blind customer

With Monster Hunter Rise getting a demo on the Switch recently, I decided to visit their recent stream about the game. ‘lo and behold, I saw the usual people throwing stuff like As a community we… and Only true fans… among other stuff to counter criticism or whatnot. This kind of fan behaviour has been as old as I can recall. It is effectively a way to push down someone who might voice an opposing opinion that might devalue a product in some manner or raise issues that might impact negatively. For example, people noting that the somewhat recent Capcom leaks showcased how Monster Hunter Rise has already been slated for Steam release a year after the initial Switch version got told down that only true fans would buy it on the release and then purchase the Steam version later to support the game. There are quite many people who purchase games twice just to show their support, which largely screws up the actual user numbers and twists the true popularity of a product.

It’s not a toxic behaviour as much as it is pathetic. This sort of blind consumer behaviour can be seen everywhere, especially on forums and closed circles where new ideas or opposing ideas are actively purged. If there’s a live-action adaptation of a book series or something like that coming up, e.g. The Wheel of Time, I’d almost recommend checking some forums just to see large the difference between proper criticism and fellation. Corporations of course love people who feel deeply connected to their brands and go out to defend whatever decision is made and whatever product is put out. There’s a whole industry behind creating a positive image as forums and other platforms like Youtube are filled with people getting paid to give a positive view. It’s a livelihood for sure, and a way to market directly to the customers without directly associating with the corporation and the brand itself. With electronic gaming, it is very common for streamers to make contracts with companies to play their games for a certain time while giving only borderline criticism as dictated by the company. Once the contract expires, the game changes. NDA, of course, keeps these streamers quiet of their real thoughts and what they think of the games they play. Nothing wrong in this as long as the whole thing is being disclosed, but stealth marketers don’t come at you telling they’re marketing something to you.

A blind consumer doesn’t think about the product’s value or anything else related to it really that doesn’t directly concern his own emotional attachment. There’s a large amount of justifying your own purchases and decisions that comes with the saying A true fan… as they have to make sure their decision to invest into something fully is met not only on a personal level but also on a peer level. Perhaps there is some feeling of superiority in there to boot. Hence, when they’re met with no real peer rewards for them being a fan, their world gets shaken a bit. It’s not too rare to find someone who has invested most of their time and resources on something they think will be met with high praise only to find out that they’re more ridiculed than anything else. Perhaps criticising their loved brand itself is enough to shake their views and make them feel threatened.

Customer blindness is often a composite of choosing to be blind and unable to see through emotional attachment. Because how people think isn’t binary and we can accept contradictory statements as true and valid, we can often find ourselves rallying for the brand we love while ignoring its faults, yet do the exact opposite for another brand that shares the same faults. A true fan disregards all the bad things a product and a brand has. Even the positives sometimes seem to be lacking in a discussion, as everything stems from the emotional attachment. While it’s nice that people have something they truly love and are enthusiastic about, corporations are entities that mostly use this exact thing to make more sales and squeeze out that little bit more money out.

Of course, the whole stealth marketing wants you specifically to think in a certain manner that makes a purchase. Direct marketing does only so much. Corporations have embraced the idea of positive word-of-mouth being the best advertisement anyone could have, and they want to make sure your friend or a person you follow on the Internet gives a good word for them. There’s a kind of state of the cold war between customers and corporations, where the customer doesn’t have any other avenue of influence outside voting by their wallet, as corporations have everything in their hands, including your fellow customers that promote the corporate brand for free.

The idea of community giving voice behind one person is equally laughable. There is no one community for anything, there are multiple ones of different sizes and kinds, with some being as small as two. If someone claims that they are voicing the community, the best thing really is to disregard them and/or ask for reference where the community has voiced their opinion as a whole. Surely nobody would be bold enough to claim that they know what the community, or multiple communities, think without first taking proper steps to have everyone heard. However, if someone analyses a certain community, or follows their actions and thinking from an outside perspective and makes deductions based on collected data would be in a position to say what a community of people think. That’s what marketers do, and that’s why marketing has become rather effective on the Internet. Sneak in some people in these communities to slowly but surely change the opinions and views to cater certain point of view that benefits the corporations, and presto you have another set of people willing to market the brand for free.

The best thing to do would be not to be a true fan then. Each consumer is ultimately an individual despite whether or not they belong to a community. Each of us has to make our own decisions based on our own, whatever we base them on. Ignoring peer pressure or validation for our own opinions is not easy. In these matters, your own opinions trump all, as it only concerns you in the end. I doesn’t matter what a reviewer or a friend says or thinks, because ultimately you’re the one who has to evaluate the product for yourself. In other words, the best way to combat stealth marketing remove yourself from the negative influence that goats you to validate someone else is to take responsibility of your own decisions and actions they lead into.

Japan is a brand; Outside regulation would diminish the value of products of Japanese culture

One of Japan’s most important export product is its culture. For numerous years, their ministry has taken serious notice of their cultural goods making large-scale sales abroad. Cartoons, comics, novels, electronic games and even pornography has seen a constant rise in popularity since the Second World War. Even before that, there were people who were fascinated by this culture that is that much different than the Western hemisphere can offer.

Mitsurugi and his replacement for regions with censorship regarding Japanese imagery

However, this is a rather new event. Japanese culture was not exported by the government itself, but rather by foreigners who entered the country and brought it with them as they returned to their home counties. Whether or not it was because of the infamy of the Japanese actions during the war, or because the culture in itself was not seen as a profitable good to be imported. To this day, import of Japanese culture is seen as a taboo in some parts of the Asian world. For example, South Korea discourages and often outright censors depiction of Japanese culture in their media, which has lead companies to provide modified versions of their games for Korean markets. For example, the samurai Mitsurugi was replaced with Arthur, a European character that just happens to don Japanese armour and sword. Other fields of censorship South Korea frequently employs is regarding Shinto symbols, which get scrubbed from both television programmes and comics. Thailand has a long history with self-censorship, which has extended in policies against media displaying .e.g. Buddhist imagery. Sri Lanka also issues with certain religious concepts being showcased on air.

South Korea nevertheless has imported numerous Japanese products via copyright infringement and piracy among the official releases and has presented numerous Japanese-original products as their own. One of the more famous examples of this might be the design of Robot Taekwon V, which is a modified Mazinger-type design. The later designs in the series incorporate elements from Mobile Suit Gundam and especially from Combat Mecha Xabungle. Numerous bargain bin cartoons, like Space Thunderkids, exhibit numerous types of plagiarism Koreans practised at the time, ranging from music to character designs.

Original Taekwon V and Great Mazinger. Taekwon’s creator, Kim Cheong-gi, has been very open of his plagiarism as he wanted to create Korean-original robot in wake of Mazinger’s popularity

Koreans taking after a Japanese product should not be a surprise though. Japan improved its relation with their fellow Asian countries during the 1970s and 1980s, which in turn allowed their industry to grow even more by exporting their products. It was during this period when Japanese technology gained its fame, with cars making their way across the world and names like Sony were associated with high-quality products par none. A little company called Nintendo also effectively saved the American video game industry while struggling to compete against Sega in European markets.

An iconic pairing on both sides of the sea

Even earlier than that, the world had already begun to see the sort of creativity Japanese media was enjoying. It is thanks to Gigantor and Jonny Sokko and His Flying Robot (Tetsujin #28 and Giant Robot, respectively) that America associated Japan with giant robots, which was only enforced by the upcoming slow but sure burn of animation. Speedracer and other Japanimation paved the way of current trends for Western acceptance of anime. While current mainstream might discourage anyone from visiting these localized products, where characters, stories and sometimes even music were replaced via Americanization, they nevertheless helped these shows to gain a larger audience. They may not have been accurate, or even faithful to the original Japanese product, but that was not how you made business at the time. There was no market for original-language products in the same manner, in many ways, there still are not as many countries across the world still heavily localize and dub for the local market’s consumption.

Whether or not something is localized, unless completely redone from the ground up, you cannot divorce localized material from its original counterpart. The language may change, the story might change or maybe even the whole point of the product might change, yet the core idea will still stay and shine through. All the discussed examples, whether localized or plagiarized, are inherently Japanese on idea level and in concept.

All these shows were imported by individual entities and corporations, so they were mostly to make money. Some products, like the original Godzilla, did see a subtitles release before its localized version, which is an example of a foreign product made to fit the home market in a proper way. Without that, we would not have Godzilla in the global pop-culture landscape. It wasn’t until the late 1980s when Japan’s Takeshita government took the first true initiative to market Japanese culture abroad via exporting Japanese television programmes to other Asian countries. The Japan Media Communication Center, JAMCO for short, was established in 1991 by joint efforts of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Post and Telecommunication. This led to the translation of Japanese television programmes into English as well as developing shows specifically for export markets. Most of these shows were aired in other Asian countries, but many of them also found their way into the Western world. It’s easy to see a show like Iron Chef being promoted for foreign markets thanks to its local popularity, and it could be easily trimmed down from its hour-long episodes into shorter episodes.

Chairman Kaga and his Iron Chefs

All these efforts were furthered in 2001, when Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s (METI) Media and Contents Industry Division established a think-tank examine what challenges and prospects there were in promoting Japanese culture, especially its media contents, to overseas market. In fact, even before that METI had recognized the growing trend of Japanese culture-products to have a rising trend in export, and estimated that multimedia industries, that of electronic entertainment, music, films, software, broadcasting and such would generate over 55 trillion yen, a boost that post-Bubblegum Bubble Japan could’ve used. It would be an understatement that the Japanese government was becoming well aware of the potential of their cultural export.

The combination of Japanese products’ quality and the further steps of having Japanese media presented as Japanese has created its own brand image. Made in Japan is still seen as a certain brand of quality, but nowadays just Japan delivers a certain kind of image of the cultural landscape and the type of products it offers. The constant export of Japanese media goods has furthered the expansion of their culture, with electronic entertainment and multimedia products being in the lead. This might be due to Japan having a much longer history in multimedia productions, something that did not hit the Western world until the 1980s.

Outside electronic games, Japanese comics and cartoons have experienced almost a thirty years rise in popularity in the Western markets, with the late 1990s early 2000s experiencing a breakthrough boom when a new generation found anime. The blooming Internet culture at the exchange of the millennium continued the older VHS fan subtitle culture in digital form, and freely shared shows with added subtitles spread Japanese popular culture even wider. In many ways, the current state of affairs, where almost every new animated programme gains official subtitled release of some sort, is a direct result of this fansub culture and the piracy it promoted. It was, in effect, years of the best kind of promotion and advertisement, which lead these people taking steps to be involved in the industry and make sure that the market would get what it yearned.

I agree, Hank did whine too much. There’s a small story behind all this

Without a doubt, METI’s think-tank is partially responsible for the rise of Japanese media in the Western hemisphere during the previous two decades. When you combine both the existing yet largely untapped market’s yearn with government-driven agenda to promote these products, it is easier to understand how Japanese media products became for more common that what they already were. Japanese cartoons and comics went from an underground culture to mainstream, with anime and manga became terms much more recognized. They became a brand of their own, which effectively state A product of Japan.

Cannon’s American Ninja was just one of the many movies tapping the ninja craze

While this post is focusing on media, it should be noted that Japanese cultural exports also include martial arts. The martial arts and ninja boom of the 1970s and 80s were largely thanks to Japanese influences and Hong Kong cinema. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of the properties that is, in effect, a result of Japanese cultural exports and their prevalence in the United States (even though that’s still media). It should be emphasized, that almost every city has at least one form of martial arts school that ties itself to Japan. Be it karate, judo or other forms of budo, the Japanese martial arts have a high status and is one of the more important cultural exports Japan has ever had, but they themselves don’t make much revenue. Nevertheless, Judo was considered significant martial art to the point of being accepted as an Olympic sport at the 1964 games.

Furthermore, Japanese innovation such as Just-in-Time manufacturing Toyota pioneered alongside lean manufacturing have left a worldwide impact. Companies like Motorola and John Deere have employed these in their manufacturing decisions. I would amiss if I would not mention the 5S method, which lays out how to organize workspace for efficiency, which also affects standardization.

If I am to believe the Japanese people that I have conversed with throughout the years, as well as the occasional cultural report I have read, the Japanese enjoy how foreigners take interest in their culture and its products. It is something they take pride in. Works like Super Dimensional Fortress Macross effectively celebrate the culture by weaponising it against the alien species Zentraedi, as they lack their own. To be specific, Macross weaponises the early 1980’s idol culture and makes songs an effective counterattack to disharmonize enemy actions and show that war is not the only option in life. Macross has continued to use songs, idols and robots as a means to celebrate each decade in its own ways, which shows how long-lasting the property is and how much faith Japan has in its culture.

Incidentally, Macross II would aim to undermine the superiority of the idol culture, as its staff considered the idol culture outdated and that it’d become obsolete by the end of the decade. They bet on the wrong racehorse

If you look further into their media products, you will see a pattern forming, where their own country and its people are in focus almost exclusively. Even in works that take place outside Japanese borders (or in fictional worlds) they have heavily implemented their own cultural landscape. Final Fantasy VII may be one of the most globally celebrated roleplaying games, but everything from its design language, storytelling, character designs, music and play is stereotypically Japanese. You have thin heroes with comically large weapons, a mix of science fiction and fantasy in a manner where there is no distinction between the two, cheap drama that is executed in a most exquisite manner and numerous other elements that can be described as Japanisms.

Yasuda Kosuke’s Sakurako Himegasaki is still pitiably cute today (姫ヶ崎櫻子は今日も不憫可愛い) is an example of Japanism about childhood friend taken to the meta-level, as the comic plays tropes straight all the while turning the expected end-results, e.g. the main lead is in love in another character and the friend loses, on their head in a comedic fashion

Japanisms are what could be described as storytelling stereotypes or tropes that exist and are specifically used in Japanese media. It also includes cultural concepts and behaviour that is very much their own thing. To use an example from modern stories, in romance stories the childhood friend of the main character often is in a losing position, thus creating a unique character trope. Japanisms can be silly in their own right, and can often detract the story they are in, they are largely embraced as expected, almost essential, parts of certain genres. These Japanisms also constantly evolve when it comes to the media, with the whole other-world genre taking more and more cues after Japanese roleplaying games instead of general fantasy to the point of actual play mechanics and RPG status screens becoming one of the tropes. The whole genre has become so common, that even foreign publishers have adopted the Japanese name for its, isekai, to further illustrate the contents to customers in-the-know.

These Japanisms are one of the reasons why their cultural exports are of interest and make sales. Be it transforming robot toys or whatnot, certain concepts simply take form in a different culture in a completely different manner. Just as you find stereotypically American ideas in their caped hero comics or novels, French stereotypes in their cartoons and British mangy grossness in their media, Japan has the things you can only find in their products and that interests people. The Britons were the only people who could have come up with 2000 AD’s Judge Dredd due to their culture much like how Superman was the ultimate realization of an immigrant to the Americas in the early 20th century.

La parisienne japonaise by Belgian painter Alfred Stevens is an example of French Japonisme, the effect of Japanese aesthetics, design and art influencing western Europe in the 19th century after Japan was forced to reopen their trade in 1858

With the global information exchange constantly growing and ideas exchanging hands, consumers have become more and more aware of exclusive goods. Importing cultural goods, like pots, books and such, has always been a thing, yet towards the new millennium, this has become more and more a mundane thing. While we might have bought a car that was made locally on in the neighbouring country, we have found ourselves in a word where we can get anything from anywhere, if we just want to go through the trouble. Appreciating cultural differences has become more common at the same time, though the United States has stereotypically been the top dog of having others appreciate their cultural differences rather than the other way around. The current global trend of having one, overwhelming global culture to overrun all others is a direct legacy of American export of culture.

As the Japanese government has a history of investing themselves in the exportation of their cultural goods, they have also been concerned about its nature. In June of 2020, Ken Akamatsu of Love Hina fame explained in his Twitter account that he was invited to the House of Councilors questioning sessions, where the government asked What measures are needed for Japanese manga to survive in the world? Akamatsu’s reply was that freedom of expression must come first, as he sees this as Japan’s strength over overseas competition. His fear is to see foreign platforms, which already have larger global influence and market shares, dictating rules and regulations on Japanese originated comics. According to him, the members of the parliament agreed with his sentimentality.

The above in Akamatsu’s own Tweet stating the above and a link

His view is opposed by D.J. Kirkland from Viz Media, who has been vocal for changing and producing manga for Western markets. According to Kirkland, there is going to be a conversation between stakeholders in Japan and Western publishers when it comes to creating content that appeals more to the Western audience. His view that anime is a business is a correct one, yet his intentions largely leave the original creators and their intents out of the equation. Kirkland also ignores that anime and manga have been specifically made for the Japanese market alone and its success as an export product leans heavily on this. Kirkland’s word at its face value, he also considers that US and Western market to be one and the same when this isn’t the case. France, for example, doesn’t exactly rely on English language releases of Japanese works nearly to the same extent as some other countries. English language releases from the US certainly make themselves around the world and do skew the numbers, but the point still stands.

Akamatsu’s worry regarding governmental or industrial over-regulation is relevant. He was the key person in stopping Japanese corporations taking actions against the Japanese homemade comic scene, the doujinshi scene, which sees people making their own created comics they do not own and publishing them at events. This is infringing copyright, something all the companies would have all the power to stop, but due to the nature of doujinshi being a major part of the Japanese popular culture, they are allowed to continue with this half-decade long tradition without much trouble. In fact, majority of the Japanese comic creators have some roots in the doujinshi scene, such as ever-popular CLAMP, and it is not uncommon to find a popular creator having drawn adult material before moving to mainstream comics.

Sony has also showcased how its internal censorship has affected the PlayStation as a platform, as a brand and its library. With numerous games being rejected from the platform, forcing the removal of content and content having to change to meet their Californian HQ’s standards, we have already seen a shift in how Japanese creators’ content has been dictated by an outside force. As Sony has concentrated to cater to Western, or rather, American taste, they’ve lost sales and position in Japan to Nintendo. Furthermore, Switch sales have increased as their more lax policies still allow creators and developers to continue in their usual fashion. This has increased overseas importation of Switch games, as numerous titles get Asian-English releases nowadays. I’ve covered Sony’s censorship before in this blog. You can find the posts on the topic here, here and here. I probably missed one or two.

Original comic design on the left, tweaked design on the right

Some Japanese corporations like Square-Enix have taken precautions to quell possible conflicts by changing pre-existing designs. Final Fantasy VII Remake Tifa’s design got criticized for unnecessary changes, while others still criticized the design for unrealistic body proportions. Character Maam from a 1991 Dragon Quest comic, Dai’s Great Adventure, also saw a redesign from her original Martial Artist class design when revealing mobile iteration of Dai’s Great Adventure.

Censorship on Japanese products isn’t anything new in itself. Ever since Japanese comics and cartoons have arrived to the Western front, be it the US, South America, or parts of Europe, they have seen some degree of censorship. Sometimes its removal of religious imagery as in older Nintendo games, sometimes its removal of blood from comics and cartoons, covering up bare skin or making sure characters say they saw a parachute after blowing up an enemy robot. Viz themselves have a long history in censoring comics they localise, removing whatever they find objectionable at a given time, sometimes making panels look weird even out of their proper context.

Viz’s run for Pokémon Adventures may be infamous for all the female figures they redrew, but scenes like this also got toned down and ended up looking silly

The main difference is that all these have been external changes. Whatever Viz Media has done to censor the versions they publish is their and their customers’ business. The original creator was not limited by anything else but what he had discussed with his editor and staff. What Kirkland, and some of the Japanese government may be proposing, is to control the output of the creators at the source, practising self-censorship and limiting what they can and cannot to create. It would be imposing outsiders’ values and views in order to make Japanese cultural products more palatable for them.

What Sony is imposing on their worldwide developers, and what Ken Akamatsu is fearing, is cultural colonialism.

Homogenizing Japanese products according to outside rules would mean losing all the edge they have held over the competition. Cultural colonialism ultimately destroys the uniqueness of culture and replaces it whatever it currently acceptable by the people who enforced it in the first place. The American censorship is flippant at best, and as they show themselves as the face of the Western world, they would be in the lead of spreading their view of correct and proper culture. The US might not act as the world police as much as it used to in terms of military power, but that’s because war has changed. Now, the war is about information, controlling it and impacting how people behave. By trying to make everyone think and act the same, it becomes easier to exert power over people, even if they’re in a whole different country. Controlling what can be produced, or in what tone, is one step in controlling the way the culture begins to think despite what reality is.

The Japanese culture is a result of their long isolation until they were forced to open trade connections. While many Western nations have their identity moulded through constant interaction with neighbouring countries, Japan has always had the luxury in many ways unique from most of the world. This does bring its own baggage, which has resulted in less than favourable view of Japan around Asia. Outside a few tribe cultures that have had no contact with the rest of the world, the Japanese culture is in many ways closest to an alien culture a Westerner can easily access. Throughout the years this has caused certain fetishization of the culture, which has created the occasional Exotic Orient boom, in which various items and people have been exhibited to the public at large like some circus freaks. Racism has played some part in this, as numerous times these booms haven’t really cared whether or not depictions have been correct, and Asians were seen largely interchangeable with each other. This lead to things like kung fu being a Japanese martial art or Korean language cited as Chinese. These have become less common place nowadays, but the idea of Exotic Orient still raises its head sometimes, but in a more positive light nowadays thanks to the efforts of Asian nations themselves making themselves known brands.

The Japanese government’s worry over Japanese comics losing place in the overseas market is baseless. Currently, Shonen Jump comics are outselling Marvel and DC in the US. Various European countries have a steady flow of Japanese titles on their publishing lists. France especially has an impressive library of Japanese comics, perhaps the most in the European sphere that does not speak English as their first language.

Jump comics last circulation numbers. These are figures to salivate after

The government would have to worry if the industry itself or the government would begin to regulate the creative industries for Western markets. For the last thirty years, the Japanese government has done a lot to promote Japanese culture and its products, thus have seen a steady rise in overseas exports in every media field. While some programming has been specifically made to fit overseas market tastes, only a few individuals have taken straight actions to produce overseas market-specific products, like Mazinger. However, more and more mixed media projects concern themselves with the overseas market, resulting in shows that end up on Netflix and built to fit the global streaming service. In itself, there is nothing negative in trying to make products appeal to more than one market. That is just business. However, that approach does not take anime and manga’s primary target consumers to be the Japanese. The true uniqueness of what manga and anime as brands would offer would be removed, and the brand of Japan would be exchangeable with whatever other countries. In other words, under cultural colonialism, that uniqueness would vanish.

First Comics published Go Nagai’s Mazinger specifically for the US market in 1998. A single issue A Treville Book would retain the same moniker, but the book was rebranded as Mazinger U.S.A. Version for the Japanese markets in 1999.

Nevertheless, if the Japanese media would be regulated to suit foreign markets, they would undermine all the efforts the government has seen thus far as it would lead to current market objecting. It would be the opposite what the market has loudly wanted for decades now; uncensored, uninhibited works that are presented in the same forms as they originally were in Japan. Of course, by installing regulations at the source, the customers wants and wishes could be underhandedly circumvented. Outsider regulation at the source could, of course, cut costs when the localizing company publishes it, as there might not find any need to edit the content as it was already made for their liking. While the occasional overseas market-specific piece isn’t all that rare, they are also transparently pandering and lower in quality. Numerous properties have been turned into international brands later in their life, which has given away their visible deterioration of quality and loss of that original spark.

If it was just a few companies pushing for this level of censorship, they could be stepped around by using other companies or forming new ones. However, if these regulations would come from the government, it would damage the Japanese media industries deeply and heavily. A market suicide of this scale would be unpresented. Not only the government think-tanks would have to device new ways to market now-censored products that supposedly should sell better to the Westerners, but the companies that enjoyed large customer bases would have to spend insurmountable amount of money for marketing in order to keep now-damaged market while trying to expand it with these new pieces.

Furthermore, the generation that initiated the new millennium anime boom in the West will be replaced with a new one in the upcoming decade or two, and chances are Japanese media will see less consumption naturally at a global scale. This is due to the new generation always wanting to replace what their parents thing. This is the natural relation between parents and children. The best way Japanese government and the industries can combat this is to have their new generation of creators to take reins after the old masters, something that seems to be natural for the Japanese culture.

The question that lies under all this is What has made Japanese cultural products so appealing? The answer can be shortly be given as They’re Japanese. A product of another culture always offers a whole new alternative that can’t be found anywhere else. Perhaps it is the aesthetics that hit the right spot with some, perhaps it is the story beats. Maybe it’s all those Japanisms that inhabit each and every work to the brim. It still has to be admitted that Japan might need to cater to the overseas market in any case in the future. This is due to their constantly ageing population, which drops the buying power the nation overall has. The inverted age-pyramid keeps growing as the childbirth rates keep falling. This will ultimately require a shift in the Japanese culture when it comes to foreign markets and to foreigners themselves, but what kind of shift it’ll be we’ll have to wait and see. In a connected world as ours, it might be hard to imagine Japan closing itself once again, but that isn’t completely out of the question if physical connections are lost and we become connected only digitally. Nevertheless, at some point, there will be a need for people who would rather make comics and cartoons to work in other fields due to social changes, but that too will result in cultural works that reflect their times.

Japanese media, and their culture, is unique. The Japanese people know this and they celebrate it, more so than some other countries out there. They don’t hate themselves. They’re not afraid of showing it either, and they wish to share it with the world, if possible, with certain limitations. Their nation and the identity it has is strong and cohesive with a large number of regional differences to give vivid accents to any work. To break Japan’s export of culture with cultural colonialism would be heavily damaging, if not outright erasing the identity cultural products voice. Cultural exchange should not be this sort of one-sided corporate exchange, but where both sides agree and celebrate each other’s differences while agreeing to disagree with the incompatible ones. These are individuals and private companies who have a set target audience, and they should not be forced to cater other audiences or their whims if they choose not to.

Star Trek Enterprise – What it should have been (Part 4)

Guest Post Time! Your editor A9 is back to rant more about Star Trek Enterprise. If you haven’t read earlier parts, it’s not a requirement, but you could read part one, two and three on this blog. This time with a small change in format – no more long and winded episode summaries as they are not relevant. There’s gonna be more focus on what it did for the series as a whole. Now buckle up.

Malcolm Reed

As the armory officer on Enterprise, he was a military man through and through and the guy you called when you wanted to blow some shit up. At the same time, he was a very reserved man in his private life and quite shy at times. When you have a character like that, it’s clear that you’re really have to go and think about how to get a character like this out of his shell. While the writers did come up with one or two episodes, that was also kind of the end of it. Reed was never really expanded upon, proven by the fact that he only really has one friend on his ship, namely Charles Tucker. Ironically this friendship began with a rivalry which is a nice start for a friendship.

The first character highlight episode of his deals with a very simple question: what is Reed’s favourite food? In the process of getting an answer to that question, it’s only underlined how distant Malcolm is from the rest of the ship, but also his family. The way the answer is revealed is by an extensive background check, and finally a medial background check. In other words a big breach of privacy, just to underline the fact that he’s a very private man. While the answer is revealed (pineapple), does this actually progress his character at all? He doesn’t get featured in his own B-plot, as he’s busy with arming Enterprise in the A-plot. It does get him just a little bit closer to the rest of the crew, but that’s it outside of confirming what the audience already knew: that he’s a private, military guy.

The very definition of a soldier.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s where you go from there and we don’t get much more until later in the first season, in one of my favourite episodes called Shuttlepod One. It’s a bottle episode, which means that it’s an episode without any real budget for new sets or guest characters. Make do with what you have, and try not to make it too boring. The episode revolves around Reed and Tucker being stranded in a shuttlepod, thinking Enterprise has been destroyed. In the face of death (since they will never make it back to Earth in that shuttlepod), Reed starts writing letters to his friends and family, even all of his exes back home (much to the annoyance of Tucker). What this episode brought to the table for me, was that much of Reed was just hidden, and not that it was lacking. He does care about friends and family, and even admitted he started to feel at home on Enterprise (which was what he more or less tried to avoid by staying professional as much as he could). At the end of the episode, they shares a nice bottle of bourbon and are laughing in the face of death before finally getting rescued by Enterprise. It also changes the dynamic between Reed and Tucker from rivals to friends – for better or worse. Reed would continue to star on the show and would have small moments of more fleshed out backstory such as his new rivalry with the captain of the MACOs (Military Assault Command Operations, part of the United Earth Military) and finally his involvement with the beginnings of the secretive Section 31.

This was the first time since Deep Space Nine that S31 was mentioned, and unlike the newer series that can’t stop namedropping it every other episode, it was very much a hidden part of the United Earth that was already getting involved in interplanetary affairs.

One thing I was hesitant to write about, but will add in the end, is regarding his sexuality. While on-screen, Reed has always been written as a heterosexual character (with how he likes T’pol’s bum, his many female exes or how he gets affected by Orion slave girls), the actor Dominic Keating has mentioned once jokingly, once more serious (page 5) that he has always played him as gay. In the script bio for Reed, it was stated that Reed was ‘shy around women’, and this is certainly one way to interpret that. Let me be very clear, I have no issues whatsoever about what someones or a characters sexuality is, just do it normally. Subtly. If someone’s gay, will that person always scream it off the rooftops? Does the series need fifteen episodes revolving about gayness? No. If we take those earlier examples away (or just consider him bi), does that change anything about him? No. In my opinion, if Reed was actually gay on the show, it would’ve been the absolute best portrayal of a gay man in Star Trek who was just doing his job. This isn’t just a critique about current Star Trek alone, it’s also Hollywood as a whole who frequently go so over the top with the the portrayal of gay characters that it gets annoying. They are shouting off rooftops that a character is gay. Nevertheless, if it ain’t on screen, it ain’t canon.

Deadalus

As promised, this time we’re going into the three ‘loose’ episodes of the season that aren’t part of a larger arc. The first one is Deadalus, which revolves around Emory Erickson, the inventor of the transporter, that wants to borrow Enterprise for an experiment: sub-quantum teleportation. An improvement to the regular transporter, which would’ve been able to beam an object or person from planet-to-planet with an unlimited range. But the real reason Emory wanted to this experiment is to save his son who was lost during the initial tests of this technology many years ago.

This episode isn’t terrible by any means, but it’s not a great one either. It can be quite slow or even dull at times, and the episode comes across as a semi-horror / mystery story. It does give more story about how the molecular transporter was invented, but it doesn’t really add anything in the grand scheme of things, except for inspiring the transwarp beaming technology in Star Trek ‘09.

In the end, it’s necessary for the show to limit the transporter. After all, why travel somewhere in a ship if you could get there immediately by beaming there? Whilst there has been a lot of different kinds of transporters in Trek, the rules always seem to change as the plot demands. Take the Dominion for example, who can transport people over three light years away.

Frankly, the show should have done away with the teleporter as a whole, or severely limit what it can do. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if it only was featured for non-organic stuff? That way the use of shuttles could be explained more and it would reinforce the ‘low-tech’ angle they were going with.

Observer effect

Time for a bit of a love letter to The Original Series, here come the Organians! Famous for their future Treaty of Organia between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, here they are in a different light. After they found a deadly silicon-based virus on a planet, they kept their eyes on it to see how other lifeforms would react to it. When finally humanity visits with the NX-01, they take over the bodies of Reed and Mayweather and start observing the crew while still maintaining the personalities of the crewmembers. As Hoshi and Tucker get infected and quarantined, they inhabit different people to ask more and more questions. Tragically, Hoshi and Tucker die to the virus, but the Organians inhabit them again regardless, arousing a ton of suspicion because they were, well, dead. They eventually reveal that they were monitoring different species here to see if they would begin an official first contact. In this case, one of them broke a 10000 year old protocol by telling them this, since their refusal to kill or eject their infected crewmembers really shows compassion. They heal all the infected crewmen, erase their memory of this incident, and leave.

Watching any modern Star Trek..

Another ENT prequel to a classic TOS episode. The viewpoint of this episode is mainly the Organians, the observers, as they question what the crew does at certain stages of the illness. As they have been here for over ten thousand years, they have seen it all happen to other species. What would the humans do differently?

The answer that the episode gives, compassion, is not the strongest in my book – but the road leading up to it is. The Alpha quadrant species in Star Trek are historically often a little one-dimensional: Klingons kill people, Vulcans think about shit, Andorians get angry at you, etcetera. That weakens the humans’ solution (as it were) since it’s just.. telling the other to keep it up. With how Andorians are portrayed in Enterprise with their loyalty to one another, one could say the Andorians could’ve solved this in a similar manner. Humans are still the jack of all trades, and from our perspective nothing really straight up defines them. Combine that with Archer giving a speech, and you’re left with not much. Frankly, this episode almost screams for Jean-Luc Picard to give a speech.

The Organians frequently change host bodies and keep conversations going regardless, and it’s a fun way of displaying their powers and really holds your interest, unlike the previous episode. Even without the knowledge of who the Oganians are (which was my case when I first saw this episode many years ago), it still works. The world of Star Trek is filled with many, many strange creatures after all. Talking about strange creatures..

Bound

Time for more Orions! A well spoken male Orion offers the Federation a joint mining agreement. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, he’s just giving Archer some Orion slave girls, that’s fine, right? Oh, whoops, they start causing trouble! They are using pheromones to ‘brainwash’ all the males on the ship to do their bidding! They are about to be sold to the Orion Syndicate when Trip, Phlox and T’pol save the day by stunning the slave girls and disabling the Orion ship.

Bound is the most TOS-like episode in of all of Enterprise. I’m pretty sure I’ve used the term ‘love letter’ a couple of times already, but this episode is the quintessential love letter to Star Trek in so much that you could see this episode working as a TOS one. Sure, the Orion slave girls are one thing, but the sets and costumes also really bring back those feelings. Last but not least, the ending scene features a group ensemble that is a clear nod to ending of many TOS episodes where the whole cast is on the bridge, reflecting on what happened in that episode.

I have mixed feelings about the episode itself however. While it features my favourite portrayal of a Orion male, Harrad-Sar, I felt a bit wanting about how the Orion females are so attractive. While before this episode, it was just that they were incredibly attractive and almost exotic, this episode changes that to a biological reason why (most) men cannot resist them. It also makes you wonder if you would be fine if you held your nose shut when being near one.

The twist in the end is a really interesting take on the Orion slave girl trope. After all, if the Orion females are always secreting these pheromones, wouldn’t the men be affected too? And exactly, that is the case. One cannot help but wonder what the plan as a whole is with the slave trade then: sell all the women, brainwash them, take their assets?

In the end, this episode revolves around the slave girls seducing the male crewmates. There’s not much that happens otherwise, and the female crewmen are just sitting idly by and are observing. It takes too long for the other characters to do something about the situation, in order for their ploy to work. Again, this is television, it’s fiction, it’s fine. But if I could magically add something to this episode, it would be more meat to the middle. But all in all, it already almost feels like a nostalgic episode.

And there you have it, part four is done. I hope the lack of synopsis’ made it more fun to read this time, but at the very least it was more fun to write for me. Next time we’ll visit the best arc of the season, the Babel arc.

Music of the Month; Flash

Flash is dead, long live Flash. You might not remember the time when websites were blinky hells filled with animated .gifs and midis put on automatic blast. That’s not Flash, Flash hells were similar, but worse, with multiple elements of a site built from different pieces of flash and stuck together. Stopping all those scripts and different Flash elements became one of the many reasons why you wanted to block scripts on a site. Not only did it make the site loading faster, but also safer. Plus, much fewer ads to go around. Flash became less and less relevant in the teens, and now with the change of the decade, it’s support has been ended. HTML5 and whatnot have taken its place as the annoying fuck on the Internet that makes the otherwise pleasurable browsing such a bitch and a chore. Nevertheless, in the late 1990s and early in the New Millennium we had a golden era of Flash Animation, something that brought marvellous spectacles from every corner of the modern world to the trash tier TV-shows. Experimentation lead into some shows down the line being fully animated in Flash, and its janky and terrible looking animations became somewhat a standard. Even before Flash, we had Shockwave, but I guess only some people remember the Shockwave game sites, which were pretty much the same thing in Flash game sites. Just different platforms. Flash archives will keep all these products of the early century’s Internet culture at anyone’s hand, and people interested to see how… interesting it all was at the time. Play it once more, Jack.

By this point I assume most of Muv-Luv fans out there have already geeked out when it comes to Project MIKHAIL’s Pre-Alpha footage. While it only shows very early footage, it’s showcasing symptoms of doujinshi jank, a topic few posts back. There are some visual cues that have been taken from games like Guilty Gear Xrd with how hits pause the action for an effect. There are loads of effects on the screen as well, obfuscating the action to a large degree. Perhaps the screen is zoomed in for whatever reason, but that’s whole other issue. There’s also lots of glow and bloom in the glowy bits, which plays into the whole overt amounts of effects in play. Sure, TSFs have sources of light on them, but this is more an issue of modern design of having armour bits and shapes include nonsensical glowing parts, lines and bits that make no sense. Even if they make sense, they’re far too bright or constantly on. Granted, this is pre-alpha, so maybe all that stopping-effects is just the engine struggling, though I have some doubts on that. Then again, if this is going to be a mobile game, I’ll clock out early on.

The ultimate TSF action-game is still far away, as it would be a modified version of Virtual-On for massive arenas, freedom of combos and weaponry combined with thousands upon thousands of enemies coming at you at once. After all, TSF and Valgern-On controls are an expy of VO. I must admit that if I were to have a word in this development, I’d make a clear difference between standard TSF OS and XM3 upgraded ones. The main difference between the two were that XM3 allowed motions to be buffered and ignored certain safety regulations with the TSF, whereas the standard OS only accepted inputs after it had finished the previous action and had returned to a safe position. Meaning that an old TSF ace knew how to string and time his actions never to have the TSF stop moving, whereas XM3’s input buffering allows the pilot to bypass the restriction. The learning computer TSF OS has as a part of it comes into play here, as its AI was taught how the pilot would act and would anticipate the motions done in what circumstance, further taking down the movement lag between inputs. While this would be somewhat difficult to implement in-game, perhaps introducing some sort of smoothness of function to the action would be representable. After all, TSFs require their pilots to train in the sims in order to function as smoothly as possible, while a raw TSF would control like a frozen truck under a load of cement. Probably never going to happen, but it’d introduce an RPG-like mechanics to the player avatar growth as well as require periodical visits to the simulators, especially when gaining a new unit.

I won’t be discussing this year’s plans, as we’re hitting a 10-year anniversary relatively soon. We’ll discuss what comes after we’ve crossed the rubicon. For now, remember to sharpen your knives. After Christmas, they’re probably in even worse condition. A sharp knife is much more safer tool in the kitchen than a dull one.

Top 5 Games of 2020

This year has been rather poor when it comes to games to put on this list. Partially because I’ve been concentrating on other stuff outside games overall, partially because not many titles have ultimately caught my eye that I’d like to get, and then that one last sin I seem to repeat every single damn year; I forget to list the games I played the first time this year. We should have a full list anyway, but before that let’s revise the rules. Firstly, a game produced in any year qualifies. Secondly, it has to be a physical release, so no digital-only stuff on this list, unless the game has some merit to warrant this, e.g. it’s a mobile phone game. There is a precedent for this. However, if it’s just a game released on Steam or DLsite, it doesn’t qualify. Thirdly, there is no order or a top slot. It should probably be mentioned that it doesn’t in what language the game is. Unlike the industry awards, I don’t discriminate against games for their language.

 

Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin 2020, Switch, PlayStation 4, Steam

Sakuna is a hard game to recommend without caveats, but it’s a game that makes you want to play one more in-game day. A combination of 2D action and rice farming sim, there’s quite nothing like it on the market. It’s not Harvest Moon when it comes to farming, but at the same time, it’s a level more hardcore with pretty much everything that affects real rice farming affects in the game as well, from water’s height and temperature to everything you use in the compost. About a week later the Japanese release, I read some news around that the Japanese agricultural ministry had seen multiple spikes in the number of users as Japanese players went to check pointers on growing rice. The farming is intentionally made somewhat longwinded at first without any skills, as there are no real shortcuts. From picking up the stones from the field to manually hack the ground with a hove is all done manually. You could leave it for someone else, but that affects the rice’s quality and level. Similarly, there is no quick way to cut the rise. Get in there and start scything. Little things get piled up with each passing in-game year, which really creates a weird fixation on making the best rice you can all the while appreciating the stuff even more.

The action part comes in when you gotta get rid of demons inhabiting the island where Sakuna and company are exiled, as well as when collecting materials for your new tools, weapons, and clothing… and compost. The battle system is less refined than the farming part, which really shows which part got more attention. The action suffers from the usual 2D-action using 3D models, where you’re not exactly sure where the hitboxes are, and the ground being all roundish in most places sometimes causes you to misjudge a jump. Despite the game’s action being rather fast-paced, the controls themselves don’t really support this. The best example of this is what I discussed in the previous post about the jank in doujinshi games. Here it’s the inability to turn around if you’re using the attack button and in the middle of an animation. Rather than automatically changing the side you’re facing to with the next attack’s animation, the game will keep you faced to that direction as long as you keep tapping the Attack button regardless of the direction pressed. It is an overtly strict system that forces the player to be aware of the animation priorities and the way the game handles them rather than allowing the player to swish in an effective manner. This alone makes the action janky, as well as Heavy attacks being mostly useless. Well, if there are any enemies on the screen, it’s just better to play bowling with them, as you can rack up better damage by throwing small-fry enemies across the screen with the godly raiments Sakuna has, which also work as a Umihara Kawase-lite kind of tool when navigating stages.

Despite being butt-puckeringly frustrated in the action mechanics and how jank they are, Sakuna has an incredible amount of charm in every aspect. From worldbuilding to philosophical discussion among the characters to the best soundtrack of the year, in every point Sakuna fails it succeeds in two. It’s also one of those games that you play only a few rounds, but then say One more day, I gotta finish the rice before it gets cold and you find the clock hitting four in the morning. I truly hope that Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin will gain a sequel in the long run. Not perhaps with the same characters or the same theme, but still a combination of farming and action. Much like how Senran Kagura went from utter shit to one of the enjoyable fast-action games out there, Sakuna‘s sequel wouldn’t need to do much but to expand on farming and polish the action to silky smooth combat. As it is, Sakuna is a rough diamond that’s been cut but in a masterful way. Still, even a diamond with a failed brilliant-cut can yield surprisingly satisfactory results.

Also, play it with the Japanese voice acting. Nothing against the English cast, but holy shit Naomi Ōzora as Sakuna makes this game 15/10 will buy another copy.

 

Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid 2019, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam, Stadia

Outright the best fighting game that’s come in a while. The early builds were rather lackluster in pretty much every term, but the play was solid. It was called shit by most people who only looked at the skin and saw low-budget graphics and simple looking play. Even some long-term fans disparaged the game without giving it a chance. Now with more development time and many, many patches and updates later the roster has been expanded alongside everything else. While its controls seem limited and simple, all that is there just to accommodate the ability to do almost whatever the player wants to do with their characters thanks to the freedom of action and movement, something that’s seriously lacking in most modern fighting games. In all seriousness, Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid has become of the top tier fighting games because its system is stupidly fun and challenging in all its beginner friendliness.

If you’ve ever played Capcom’s VS series of fighting games, especially the Marvel games with tag-teams, you should know what to expect as that exact same blood is in here. While the buttons are simpler, similar to what the Smash Bros. series uses, the complexity comes from the proper usage of the different tiers of attacks and their timings. Team synergy is also stupidly important and experimenting with what you can do with your teammates is about as important as learning to use your main fighter. While I was initially afraid of the auto-combo system in the game, as that has been the death knell of so many fighting games in the past, the system isn’t what I expected. It’s more akin to having standard weak, medium, and strong combos in one button. While you can move from one tier to another, it must be done well before you’re in a certain spot of that tier’s autocombo. Which isn’t even an autocombo. It’s a new kind of system that doesn’t have any other fitting description. It forced my Guilty Gear ridden, Darkstalksers taught chaincombo brain to stop tapping forwards for hit per each button and become far more considerate of timings and positions in strange ways, something that was a must when learning to play Lord Zedd.

Cross-play allowed me to play people who had the game on Steam and other platforms, so that was a nice plus. It shows that this game is wanted to be a success, and with each update, the game has become more and more robust. In terms of visuals and content the game was hampered severely by its budget game status, and in few ways still is, but the core play is absolutely solid. Hopefully, this won’t be a one-off time as we haven’t had a properly well-made Power Rangers game in a long ass time.

 

 

Aleste Collection 2020, Switch, PlayStation 4

While it may be a bit underhanded to put a collection to this spot, Aleste Collection gets on the list for two reasons; bringing a semi-affordable way to play otherwise expensive as hell shooting games for all, and making the GG Aleste a trilogy by introducing a completely new Aleste for the game Game Gear, which you can only play via the collection on modern consoles, or if you got the version with Game Gear Micro, on the tiniest screen gaming has seen. GG Aleste 3 is very much worth the admission with the caveat that you’re a fan of shooting games. It’s not the most difficult game out there, but in every respect, the game is polished and shows how well M2, the game’s developer, understands the genre and the series itself. As the game runs on M2 developed Game Gear emulator, it’s nothing short of accurate with optional slowdown and waits to fully emulate GG experience, which shows in quite the many paces how much a shooting game can demand from a console.

As a GG Aleste game, this third entry shows how something than peak even thirty years after the last game was out. It also puts a lot of expectations on Aleste Branch, which probably will make the devs sweat a bit. They put a high bar for themselves to beat with this single entry alone. As for the rest of the games in the collection, the original Aleste hasn’t aged all that well, all things considered. There’s just something about it as a series started that doesn’t play well, while Compile’s previous game, Zanac, outclasses it in few aspects. The same can’t be said for the other games. Power Strike II is a rare and well-regarded shooting game for good reasons. Its stage designs, enemy placements, and play balance it top-notch, offering good tunes to boot. The GG Aleste games may be the easier one of the collection, and overall when it comes to shooting games, though that can be seen as them being started friendly. Nothing prevents the player to drop the Life count and kick up the Difficulty, something that does have a significant effect on how you can approach the stages and encourages to properly learn the weapon usages. This is a blessing in disguise in some games, where stages consist of multiple static mini-bosses, which turn these momentary sections into a slight slog in the long run. Nevertheless, all these games are the kinds you’d find yourself coming back to challenge that one more round until you finally frustrate in the lack of skills.

 

 

Umihara Kawase Shun PlayStation, 1997, 2000

By my own technicality, I can drop this here. Haven’t I played this game before? Many times on Umihara Kawase Shun Second Edition Kanzenban and digitally, but for the first time I got my paws on the actual first edition disc. The game is still the best in the series and shows how far it has dropped in quality since the first two games. The series has had a wild run over the last two decades since it became a cult classic in the West via emulation. It has never gotten popular per se, but with the release of Sayonara Umihara Kawase and all the ports it saw, Umihara Kawase finally got the recognition it deserved. With that came all the negative side effects that changed completely how the series would be structured and how the game’s play would advance. Long gone are the days of straight-up level-design to tackle, replaced by non-linear action with a heavy emphasis on story. All that still doesn’t stain what is a crowning achievement in rubber band physics coding and level design of Shun.

It’s not just the physics though, despite the game being all about them. The music is just the right kind of soothing you need when you’re sweating over a jump you’re trying to desperately make to happen and Umihara is swinging wildly, almost out of control. Graphics are spot on with nothing excess or minimalistic about them. They serve the need of the game perfectly and their visual style is still bizarre. It’s one of those things that never needed expanding upon, we never truly needed to know why or how. The world of Umihara Kawase was a strange mystery where tadpoles give birth to frogs and fish have legs to walk on.

I’d like to say that Umihara Kawase Shun is a rare perfect game, but they already did that with the first game, so this is the second hit in a row with the series. It’s a game of pure skill and play, with a skill ceiling not even the fastest speedrunners have managed to reach. Just don’t play the PSP port, it’s a buggy mess.

 

 

theHunter: Call of the Wild 2017, Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Another one by a technicality, I owned and played a physical copy for a few days before gifting this one away. I didn’t expect to like this game one bit. I expected to play to for few hours with friends who got me into it and drop it as one of the misfortunate purchases everybody makes. Maybe because the game promises a lot would let me down, wouldn’t fulfill any of my low expectations and I’d mull over the twenty euro I spend on it until I forget it exists until I get a message of new patches. Well, I ended up spending far more time than it was healthy. The Hunter: Call of the Wild is my new The Legend of Zelda; you’re dropped in the middle of nowhere with the very basic equipment and the whole world to explore and get around. It’s an adventure of the best kind and everything it does is game. While sure there are story missions in each map, the real meat is when you gather your equipment and simply explore the map and find an animal you want to take down. Tracking an animal based on its prints and marks left on the vegetation is something I expected to see in Monster Hunter World, and the same goes for the map sizes. They’re humongous and full of varied detail as well as hidden collectibles.

Of course, when you want to hunt, you want the right weapon for it. There’s a rather wide variety of rifles to choose from, less so in bows and handguns. Lures, scopes, and so on need to be purchased and most equipments require some leveling up in order to be unlocked. This applies to skills that help you, for example, keeping your arms leveled so that the scope won’t wander off all the damn time. That is honestly the game’s biggest fault; it starts slow and hard. It is most enjoyable when you get the kind of build you want and then go after the prey. Each prey is ranked by their size, and using the wrong rank weapon gets you penalties. Shooting a rabbit with a 7mm Regent would yield minced meat rather fast while using buckshot against a bear prolly would get your ass whooped.

This sort of simple idea, yet hard to realize, makes Call of the Wild a game that keeps pulling me back. I might get mauled by a bear and ragequit, yet after a day or so I come back with better equipment and take cover in a hunting hut, calling it in for some time. Then see it walking towards a lake just beyond the vegetation so you barely see it, and then make pin-point accurate shot straight through its neck. The game is full of these moments that you make through each and every decision, and they end up being hunting stories with other players. This is storytelling through play at its finest, where the framework allows player to realize their own stories within the game.

Something about this game is breathtaking. The graphics may not be top-notch, but often I end up simply wandering through the unknown forests and see vegetation I’ve never seen before, listen to one of the best sound design I’ve heard in a game, and just suck the atmosphere in. There’s little music, which only serves the notion of being there in the wild. You may hear crunches in the snow in the distance, and the hunt begins anew.

 

Honourable Mentions for those who didn’t make the cut

 

Metal Wolf Chaos XD 2004, Xbox, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam

A game everyone wanted localised, and then everybody seemingly forgot about. Metal Wolf Chaos XD is a fun short romp full of memorable one-liners and moments to take from, but ultimately the game suffers from being an Xbox game ported to modern machines. It’s not bad by any means, but something about its controls makes the game unsatisfying to play despite everything else being pretty damn spot on. It’s a recommended game for sure, but hype and joking can carry it only so far.

Shubibinman 2 1991, PC Engine

PC Engine games are full of jank. You can see what they want to with many of the games and somehow fail with them. Subibinman may not be a Mega Man clone, but if it was, it would be for the better. The game is charming, but it also exhibits what was the mediocre play design of the time. However, the game feels almost unfinished, something that could use a few rounds of polish to tweak jumping arcs, weapons, hitboxes, physics, and pretty much everything outside graphics and charm. It’s a game I really want to love and like, but ultimately ends up being a middle-of-the-road game that tried really hard to be a nice 2D action game, but just can’t hold the candle against the big boys in the genre.

The Wing of Madoola 1986, Famicom

Before Sunsoft hit gold with their games, they had numerous games that just fell short. The Wing of Madoola might be a cult classic, but it’s janky controls and combat makes it a curiosity at best. A significant curiosity though, as its place in the popular culture scheme of the time fits like a glove. Magical girls with bikini armours were all the rage at the time, after all. While its stages are linear, it also plays with non-linearity with some of the stages, though often this ends up with the player having to make a separate detour to a dungeon for items. It’s one of those games where you should never stop either, as enemies spawn constantly and swarm to your current location. This is severely hampered by Madoola being significantly underpowered early in the game, but at least you can defeat enemies fast with a Turbo Controller. While the Famicom had started to see quality games by 1986, The Wing of Madoola sadly can’t cut it no matter how much I’d like it to throw it up there.

Panel de Pon 1995, Super Nintendo, Satellaview, Game Boy

No, I don’t have a copy of Tetris Attack. I have the Japanese original with cute girls innit. Panel de Pon has been remade and remastered few times over, with Pokémon Puzzle League on the N64 being one of the more famous examples of its reskins. The format of the competitive puzzles was already perfected in this entry. It’s the best puzzle game I’ve played this year in a physical form, but it doesn’t ask me to return to it at any point. I don’t feel a need to throw it in at any point and give that five-minute whirl or so. While it is a fun game, it is kind of meh. Works better on the DS though.

Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo 1993, PC Engine, PSP

Also known as Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, the game was one of the additions to PC Engine that was a must. A very generic decision I know, but also one that was done very deliberately. While it’s often played out as the best of Castlevania next to Symphony of the Night, that’s overstating it. Both of them don’t hold the candle of the top spot, but that’s neither here nor there. Rondo of Blood is still a top list game because of its branching paths and stages, stellar music, and spot-on controls. The voice acting, anime scenes, and story are garbage, but that matters none. However, it got dropped to this latter list simply because it’s not Castlevania III and ultimately it’s not as enjoyable as Super Castlevania IV. It stays in a spot where it wants to be that best classical Castlevania but at the same time falls short for small reasons. Things like small irritations in the stage designs, how the enemies work or simply how there’s sheer lack of evolution in how a Castlevania plays out. It’s still an enjoyable game to play, but I’d rather pop in some other game in the series, like Lords of Shadow.

 

Happy new year to you all, see you on the other side.

Doujinshi Jank

There is an interesting thing with Japanese homebrew, indie or doujinshi games that I’ve slowly realised throughout these years; they tend to be weird, lacking in polish in areas where they matter the most but at the same time numerous titles overshadow big company games like no other to the point of becoming hallmark games. Cave Story and La-Mulana both are massively popular examples of successful Japanese indie games, yet they’re largely an exception to the rule of Jank. Jank in context of doujinshi games doesn’t signify bad coding or controls, but a certain kind of lack of logical polish. For example, you’d expect for a shooting game that uses WASD movement and mouse aiming to include changing weapons with the scroll wheel, but instead, it must be done with the numbers. It’s logical and completely functional, but really throws you off and takes off some of the smoothness of the action in controls. This isn’t a quality of life issue, as scroll wheel weapon changing has been a thing even in Japanese games for almost two decades now. For whatever design decision, the controls’ jank was implemented. When a game is supposed to be fast-paced shooting action, you sort of end up prioritising one weapon in a situation over all others when quick-changing isn’t an option. Or aiming while running, for the matter. Or smooth transition between movement options, creating jank movement options from otherwise smoothly animated action.

La-Mulana is one of those games that many considered impossible to beat without a guide, but all the clues and hints spread around do make sense if you put your mind to it

The Japanese jank could be described as the opposite of polish. It’s not erroneous design per se, as most of the jank is fully intended. Consider how in 2D Castlevania the Belmont’s jump arc is completely set in stone and you are unable to change it after you’ve jumped. Similarly, in Ghost ‘n Goblins you are dedicated to that jump and its arc after you’ve initiated it, though you can control it with the second jump later games added for that specific purpose. These would be jank in any other kind of game, but the whole play world and the system has been designed to follow this same approach. All enemies in the games have purposeful, straight attacks and moves, and the stages provide challenges appropriate to the available movement options. It makes both games stupidly difficult at times, but the game is fair as no enemy or projectile breaks the same jank. The fact that everything is extremely limited yet finely tuned to a sharp point turns these controls, that would in other games be considered outright shit, into a challenge unto themselves. The doujinshi jank is as if everything had this lack of polish. Character movement might be slow and camera wonks off into position unfavourable to the player, but at the same time enemy movement is just as unrefined and how their act with the camera on screen often ends up being just as unfavourable to them. It’s a weird kind of jank you don’t see in western indie games, probably because of the style of approach and gaming culture overall.

Monster Surprised You-ki chan! is in many ways trying to play itself like a version of Ghost ‘n Goblins in its controls. In practice, the game plays nothing like Capcom’s original. You-ki’s controls might be decent, but everything from the graphic style to sprite resolution and enemy behaviour and weapons makes this game jank as hell to play. The stage designs do mix things up quite a lot from a usual GnG-inspired title, yet all the decisions carry so much jank in the design that the game feels underwhelming to play. Even the sounds are off, as numerous special effects are as if they were at a wrong volume or simply don’t work in the intended context. Special effects, like the lens flare in the second stage or the sparklers You-ki jumping leaves is all part of the jank as their framerate and smoothness is very different from the rest of the spritework and animation in the game. Hell, the explosions and blood effects look like they belong to a different game altogether because how they’re designed and animated from there rest of the game’s visuals. Even the way You-ki takes damage is weird and outright frustrating to witness. It’s a mish-mash of everything that should’ve been straightened up and unified in design and polished even further, yet the game deserves some respect. The stages are rather large and there are exploratory elements, the characters have some charm and the game isn’t exactly unfair. Just jank as hell in a similar manner so many other doujinshi games are.

The jank doesn’t make these games unplayable. They’re not broken products in any manner, and often doesn’t even necessarily detract from the fun-factor of the game. The jank is probably the opposite of being immersed, where you are well aware that you are playing a video game and you damn well play according to the game’s rules. The jank of doujinshi games often walls you to a different extend before you manage to overcome it. Sometimes the jank is minimal and doesn’t really affect much, sometimes you might spend few evening with a bottle of beer thinking what the fuck you’re playing and why, but at some point, both will end up you enjoying the game. Sometimes to the degree of witnessing something batshit insane that can only be done in a completely rules-free environment where nothing is held back, sometimes ending you finding a new bottom of underwhelming. Despite me running You-ki Chan! down the mud there above, but sticking with the game netted one of the more exciting final stages in some time. It takes a while to get used to how the game’s play goes, to get around the sheer jank of it all, and the game itself is rather lengthy, but I guess I would have it no other way.

Unlike the vast majority of Western homebrew and indie games that aren’t high-mark high visibility games, loads of doujinshi games of varying quality get released during Comic Market, a decades-old event where people gather to sell and buy their own comics and other goodies. The event is a massive sub- and pop-culture event, which also sees massive amounts of people donating blood. Nowadays, you see a lot of these games released on digital storefronts like DLSite, while some titles will fall between the cracks and into obscurity. Sometimes, they sell only few stages of a game as a demo as they’re intending to do a full release later on, but sometimes these games just end up vanishing. Such was the fate of Es, one of the best fastest pace action-shooter that was in development but never finished.

Developed originally in 2007 by circle 9th Night, Es is a prime example of a doujinshi game that doesn’t have much jank, and whatever jank it had worked for its benefits because everything had been already been sanded down to a nice matte finish. All it needed was more content and stages with some polish, and we could’ve had one of the best games of the later tens, developed by only a handful of people. If you liked anything about Zone of the Enders, this game would’ve been right in your ballpark.

The whole Japanese doujinshi scene is full of titles most people in the West are going to miss, be it either because of the language barrier or simply because their circle of fellow weebs just never notice them. Maybe it’s the jank most of these titles present themselves with. The jank is part of the scene in a weird way, but even then in that mass of jank you’ll find things to love and enjoy, and maybe even a game or two that doesn’t have any jank.

Skies and lands promised

Cyberpunk 2077 is on the news and its reception has been mixed, to put it diplomatically. It’s been compared to No Man’s Sky in various aspects, like how many promised elements seemed to be missing and was ridden with bugs. As NY Times puts it, when a game is supposed to be The Biggest Video Game of the Year, expectations are high, especially when there’s almost a decade’s worth of marketing and hype behind the title. An expansive world that would be endlessly explorable just doesn’t happen without sacrifices or will be sacrificed in favour of other elements that make up a video game. I’d say that’s largely a no-brainer, as some of the more expansive worlds that have intense detail and hidden content often end up having less structure and directed play, which is contrasted to games with a tighter field of play. Take The Legend of Zelda or The Hunter: Call of the Wild as examples; both have massive worlds that can take years to properly venture through, but their main “quest” if effectively letting the player do whatever they want with few main objectives. I admit that this comparison is a bit off to Cyberpunk, but the reality is that open-world games have been an industry standard for about two decades, or more depending on how you want to define open-world.” It’s something that’s hard to realise properly, often ending up empty or played being walled from exploring every nook and cranny, but that’s the spot where both technology and game design puts up a challenge. The whole open-world genre, if it can be called that, has a history of being built on promises and failed expectations and yet the core video and computer game customers seem to expect even more. Clearly, the gaming industry hasn’t broken through how to do fully living 3D world yet, which isn’t just a technological challenge, but also a matter of paradigm. Perhaps putting fewer resources into licenses and hiring real-world actors would lease resources to where they truly matter.

The marketing for Cyberpunk 2077 was a massive success. It sold the game to the consumers and investors like no other. While Cyberpunk 2077 will stay as a cornerstone game in terms of technical achievement and such, all the refunds the customers have been demanding because of the game’s bug-ridden nature has caused a cascade effect, where damage control has brought even more worries. CD Project Red promised refunds for all, and all Sony and Microsoft could do is follow suit. Sony kind of screwed in this, as CD Project Red promised things before proper channels were established, causing Sony to also pull the game from PlayStation Network. Microsoft hasn’t done yet on whatever their consoles. With reviews going left and right, sometimes only to the negative to attack the whole deal and other times going to the complete opposite to defend the title, CD Project Red’s stock value plummeting over 40% since early December and the possibility of physical games getting refunds too, investors do have a reason to worry. They are, after all, considering a class-action lawsuit as they see CD Project Red having mispresented the game in a criminal manner in order to receive financial benefits.

I doubt there is any malice in any of the game’s failures. It’s just how these usually go with games that come with a stupid amount of hype. Game development is stupidly hard, and while some people do it for passion, and others just because it is their job. At the end of the day, any corporation has to cut their losses at the expense of something and push a product out. They have to make a profit No product is truly finished when it leaves the providers’ hands, no game is truly finished. Some are less than others, but at least we’re well past the days when you bought a highly visible licensed game only to find out you couldn’t finish the game because one of the levels was intentionally made unclearable because they never finished the last few levels of the game. There were quite a few of these during the 8-bit computer days. Cyberpunk 2077 just happens to be a victim of circumstances that are rather common when it comes to the electronic gaming industry. We certainly need cornerstone titles that push the technology forwards, yet more often than not these titles have been less successful than the games that have pushed the play part. I presume Cyberpunk 2077 will make a decent amount of money down the line after CD Project Red has managed to put a new spin on their marketing, fixed all the most common and outrageous bugs and the gaming media has placated and absolved them of their gaming sins.

There’s a lot of emotional reaction to the whole deal. We can’t fault consumers from reacting as harshly as they have, as CD Project Red’s PR did their job admirably. Sadly, that just didn’t meet with the expectations, or with reality in some cases.  I’ve discussed the nature emotional of marketing, corporations and customers to some extent in recent years, and with some, we’re seeing core fans feeling like they were betrayed by someone they felt a close emotional attachment to. CD Project Red is closely tied to Good Old Games, or just GOG as they go nowadays, and they have their fair share of diehard fanatics, just like Steam. As the customer feels betrayed by a brand, there’s often a harsh whiplash, but also a need to find justice. Sometimes its refusal to purchase any more products, sometimes it’s venting on social media, sometimes physical harm towards the game itself. Sometimes all three and then some.

To use No Man’s Sky as a point of comparison again, the game did get effectively fixed about a year later. Promised content and play mechanics were added as well as a large amount of bug fixing. While the game still has a bad rap overall, the devs took it upon themselves to make it the game it was supposed to be. While we can debate whether or not the game is what it was promised to be, there are chances that CD Project Red will do the same and spend the next year relentlessly fixing and patching the Cyberpunk. Unless the investors go for the throat and gut the whole company. Investors are often treated as the worst kind of being right after company executives, yet these are the people who have to make the decisions that will either make or break products, and through that, people’s lives. When multiples of millions are in the play, taking chances and risks is a bit scarier task than most would think.

We can’t fault the customers’ reactions, they were taken by the hype created by the marketing. In the same breath, we can’t really fault marketing for doing their job that effectively. Considering the kind of game, development time and hype that was involved, the current state of Cyberpunk 2077 should have been expected as an industry standard, not as some sort of terrible exception. There is no real solution to a situation like this. Rarely we get a piece like Star Wars that has everything together in a perfect way with good timing. Even if the game’s bugs and overall state would have been up to much higher calibre, from what I’ve seen it would still have been found disappointment in how it plays. From all the footage, streams and the odd review I’ve seen, Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t actually push any boundaries when it comes to play mechanics. On the contrary, it seems it’s rather middle of the road and does nothing spectacular. Maybe that’s the sacrifice you have to make when you make a vast world driven by a story rather play. Maybe these games are just getting too big for their own good, and end up feeling smaller than they really are. Though personally I’d love to see customers reining in their expectations and the companies directing their marketing and PR to make the most realistic claims and ads with no embellishments. That won’t ever happen, but a man can dream.

 

 

Star Trek Enterprise – What it should have been (Part 3)

You guessed it, guest post time. We talking more Star Trek, until I run out of things to say, so see ya at part 12. As the title says, this is part 3, so feel free to read up on part one and two. Or just click my username, I don’t know man. Every time I’m forced asked to write one of these it turns into a big mess of words that hold some meaning for me, I just hope it’s mildly entertaining or informative enough for people to read. One of these days I’ll actually tell you what I think it should’ve been.

T’pol and Vulcan depiction

Sex sells, that’s no secret. So why don’t we just cast a model for an acting role where she barely has to do any emoting? Maybe I’m too harsh with that sentence. Look, I like a sexy Vulcan in spandex as much as the next guy (though I prefer T’Pau myself), but she’s really a repeat of Tuvok which was a repeat of Spock. Vulcan science officers are a staple, but it took a long time for her character to bring anything new to the table apart from early ENT Vulcan snobbishness and not liking the smell of humans.

Commander T’Pol

The weird portrayal of the Vulcans before season 4 hurt her, and every other Vulcan character in the series. Sure, you can use that as a steppingstone to create character growth, but that was not what was intended, they were created as assholes. In this regard, Soval got the better deal, but we’ll talk about him another time.

Let’s start with mind melds first, another core staple of Star Trek, especially The Original Series. It’s one of those things people who aren’t that much into Star Trek have heard of, along with the Vulcan salute and the Vulcan nerve pinch. It’s classic, and iconic.

So let’s fuck that up (which they’ll do again in Star Trek Discovery) and add an element of rape and HIV into the mix. She was mind melded with against her will, and because of that she got the condition Pa’nar Syndrome (a neural disease that resulted in the degradation of the synaptic pathways). Am I saying it’s wrong to raise awareness for these things in media? No, not at all. But attaching it to a beloved concept just feels tacked on, without any respect for the source material. The Pa’nar Syndrome was even introduced a whole season after the mind meld happened, giving me the impression that the writers were looking for something to attach an HIV storyline onto (as part of a Viacom’s HIV awareness campaign).

But enough of that. What about her character? Vulcans are notoriously to get likable if you play them straight. An actor has to emote, after all (another lesson they forgot in Star Trek Discovery, with the main character) to come across as believable. One can obviously play with this concept a lot – as there can be moments when a Vulcan does emote. Spock is the most obvious example, even if he was half Vulcan and that was what made him so interesting in the first place: the battle between his human side and his Vulcan side. Then you have Sarek, his dad, which actor ages along with the shows he’s in. In The Next Generation, he’s an old man with an illness that hampers his emotional control. He cannot accept that, one could almost say his pride prevents him from doing that. Then we move to Tuvok. He’s Vulcan. And.. yeah. He’s one of the most boring characters on Voyager (not that that’s a feat). There’s just not much going for him.

So with that lesson learned, how was T’Pol different? OK, sexy, check. She comes from the technologically superior Vulcans (in this era), and comes along as an observer of sorts while also filling the Science Officer role. She’s very skeptical. She doesn’t really like humans. She wants to do her job and meditate. Her being Vulcan helped her on numerous occasions because of her different physiology, but nothing really happened to her until episode 17 of the first season: Fusion. This is the episode where a mind meld is forced upon her by a group of Vulcans who, instead of suppressing emotions embrace them. I’ve liked this concept as a whole: it expands the Vulcan culture with this ‘weird’ band of misfits.

As much as I dislike the idea of the whole Pa’nar Syndrome in season 2, it does give T’Pol some development. It isn’t easy to live with serious illnesses and a stigma that surrounds it (as is/was with HIV). But this episode was just too on the nose with it, it could’ve used some subtlety, and it felt out of place for Vulcans to shun an illness. Why would you ban researching an illness? Of course, this is traced back to the changes brought to the Vulcans as a whole, and the governing body of the High Command. First only in charge of space exploration, but transforming into a government over time.

During all this stuff, the writers are really trying to push the T’Pol and Trip shipping. By making her massage Trip to help him sleep, or something. But it’s just to show a scantily clad T’Pol touch a scantily clad Trip. It’s just to make people think about sex. IT’S SEX! BUT NOT SEX!

In the Expanse (Season 3), it was found that a substance called trellium-D could shield the Enterprise against dangers unique to the Expanse. Unfortunately, this was also a neurotoxin for Vulcans. It’s never made clear how it’s a toxin, as you’d normally scan something like this before using it. Or why there’s a toxin in a rock. Would’ve made more sense as radiation. Anyway, the constant exposure to trellium-D lowers her emotional barriers, causing her to have outbursts of (negative) emotions. The more it happens, the more she wants to explore these emotions, as it’s functioning as a release for her. To do this, she injects herself with processed liquid trellium-D. Drug awareness anyone? On it’s own, I like the ideas and the setting, but again feels too on the nose. She eventually has to go through withdrawal and recovers, but she’ll always have a lower emotional barrier. She can finally use some emotions for the writers to make use of. Only took 3 seasons.

And now, we finally arrive at season four. She goes back to Vulcan with Trip, only to be guilt-tripped into an (arranged) marriage with Koss. Due to her actions while on board the Enterprise, her mother got fired from the Vulcan Science Academy, but with Koss’ family’s help and influence she can get it back. Should they get married, of course. Meanwhile she’s still kind of involved with Trip, so this is all a bit awkward.

You’re sorry? You brought me sixteen light years just to watch you get married to someone you barely know.

For me, T’Pol never became much more than eyecandy. She provided technobabble and had some good moments with Trip (especially season four), but we got too little too late.

Syrranite arc

Enterprise has no shortage in reoccurring guest stars. As far as I’m concerned, the three most important ones are Maxwell Forrest (Starfleet vice admiral, Archers’ superior officer), Shran (Andorian captain and ally of Archer) and finally Ambassador Soval (Vulcan ambassador to the United Earth). This arc sadly ends the life of one, and lifts the others up to new heights. This arc is where the Vulcans finally get ‘fixed’. This is the arc where the new showrunner, Manny Coto, takes over the reigns and does fucking amazing work with what he’s handed. Kudos to you, Manny.

The first thing this episode does is to take another look at Vulcan – United Earth relations. We’re on Vulcan for once, with Maxwell Forrest visiting the United Earth embassy along with Ambassador Soval. First, it’s addressed why the Vulcans act the way they do against humans.

“We don’t know what to do about Humans. Of all the species we’ve made contact with, yours is the only one we can’t define. You have the arrogance of Andorians, the stubborn pride of Tellarites. One moment you’re as driven by your emotions as Klingons, and the next you confound us by suddenly embracing logic!”

“I’m sure those qualities are found in every species.”

“Not in such confusing abundance.”

“Ambassador … are Vulcans afraid of Humans?”

“Why?”
“Because there is one species you remind us of.”
“Vulcans.”

Moreover, it’s also set up how much the Vulcan High Command operates on a need-to-know basis and how long Forrest and Soval have been working together, clarifying the working relationship, but also their friendship. After this scene, of what I believe is the best scene in the whole arc, the embassy gets bombed and Soval is pushed out of the way by Forrest at the cost of his own life.

The Enterprise is called to Vulcan to investigate along with the Vulcans since the embassy is technically United Earth soil. The head of state, Administrator V’Las and his entourage boards and explain they have two suspects: the Andorians, or the Syrranites– a fringe group opposed to the current government but not violent. The Andorians are dismissed right away (for good reason, as they are on good relations), so the search for the Syrranites begins with Archer and T’Pol looking for them in The Forge: a hellish desert landscape.

Before this, Soval also has a scene with Archer, where Soval talks about Forrest’s hopes for more cooperation between Earth and Vulcan but also to warn him to not trust everything that the High Command tells them. In the desert they meet Arev, which takes them along on a pilgrimage of the path of Surak. On their journey, they encounter a fierce desert storm filled with lightning, a sandfire. They have to take shelter, but Arev gets mortally wounded by a lighting strike, but before he dies, he performs a mind meld with Archer. Although Archer and T’Pol lost their guide, Archer keeps on going, somehow knowing where to go. They make it to the sanctuary of the Syrrantites and promptly get captured.

Meanwhile, on the ship, the crew analyze some Vulcan DNA they found on one of the bombs that didn’t detonate. While the DNA does belong to a Syrranite, T’Pau, it’s revealed it has been tempered with. They also have one survivor from the explosion, the guard at the entrance. He’s in a coma so they can’t question him, but a mind meld might be able to reach him. Soval reveals that he is a Syrranite, and performs his first meld and sees that the one that planted the bomb is someone from T’Las’ entourage – Stel, the Vulcan chief investigator.

Meanwhile, it’s revealed that Archer carries the Katra of Surak, his spirit or essence. It cannot be removed and so is stuck in Archer, who starts having visions and conversations with him. He insists that Archer has to find the Kir’Shara, his original teachings so that the Vulcan people can find a new path of enlightenment. So, of course Archer goes and finds it, ready to bring it to the capital. But oh no! They are discovered by Administrator V’Las and he just decides to carpet bomb the whole area to be fucking done with these mind melding deviants. Other ministers think this is kind of crazy, but hey, he’s the boss.

T’Pol’s mother (T’Les) is also revealed to be a Syrranite, and she tries to reconnect with T’Pol. She’s rejected, as she just sees this group as a cult. After the area gets bombed, she dies while T’Pol holds her in her arms. In the long term, this means the grounds for her marriage with Koss are void.

Archer, T’Pol and T’Las now need to bring the Kir’Shara to the capital to bring in this new path of enlightenment, but they are constantly under attack by Vulcan commandos. Will they ever reach their destination?!

Quite frankly, I can’t bring myself to keep writing episode synopsis. It was a bad idea in the first place. I hope you kinda get the picture. Sorry.

They do make it to the Vulcan HQ, revealing the true teachings of Surak which had been lost for ages, and revealing that V’Las was not acting very rationally. Especially as he was also orchestrating an attack against the Andorians while the whole Kir’Shara thing was going on. A battle between their fleets was actually ongoing – with Enterprise in the middle. Trip was trying to prevent a war, by ‘betraying’ the alliance with Vulcan to warn the Andorians. The episode ends with V’Las reporting on his failure to someone.. and that was.. a Romulan!

It’s no secret that the portrayal of the Vulcans was vastly different in Enterprise in comparison to the later series and this arc tried to explain why. Although they can never make a scene where a Romulan and a Human see each other (due to canon) – showing the Romulans interfering in Vulcan affairs is fair game, and a good idea too. It gives the hardcore fan a little more background as to what the Romulans were doing before their debut episode Balance of Terror that doesn’t hurt canon by bringing back a classic villain faction (unlike what happened to the pretty bad Ferengi episode). This also was the setup for my favourite arc of the series, the Babel Crisis.

The previous arc with the Augments was more of a love letter to, well, The Original Series. This arc was to fix one of the many faults this series had and bring it more in line with TOS, and I applaud that. Sadly, as good as it is, if the Vulcans hadn’t be fucked in early Enterprise, this episode would’ve been pointless. It’s a great solution to a stupid portrayal.

It also shows us the Romulans for the first time in Enterprise since Minefield, in which only the ships were shown along with some audio-only communication. This time, however, the Romulans have a purpose in the story. We only get a glimpse of the single Romulan and not a silly firefight with Archer or something. Moreover, we also get an idea about what four factions are doing in this arc:

  • The Romulans want to interfere in Vulcan affairs to unify their species once again (under their rule)
  • The Vulcans were being controlled by a Romulan puppet that wanted to wipe out dissidents and wanted another war with the Andorians to weaken both powers
  • The Andorians were preparing for another war with Vulcan, because they were expecting another attack
  • The Humans are trying to prevent war, in all forms. Be it a civil war or space war, they’re trying to prevent everyone from blowing up.

This was your Alpha Quadrant News Bulletin, thank you for reading. Next time, we’re looking at the only three loose episodes in this season, and I’ll pick a random character to feature. Maybe Reed. I’ve always liked him.

Price hikes, brands fighting and other musings about streaming

Back when I was a pupil at a blacksmith’s the one thing I learned the most is that the cheapest thing you produce often makes the best profit. In our case, it was a necklace, a hammered iron cross on a leather strap. In reality, the piece was laser cut from a generic steel sheet that we just heated up and gave some texture. Cost about twenty cents to produce, sold for about twenty to thirty euro. We sold those enough to warrant a new batch on a weekly basis. People might be unwilling to pay fifteen euros for a handmade handle for a door or a forty for a bottle stand you can attach to a wall, but jewelry always sells higher. Jewelry always sells, it’s something people get and understand. Its value is hammered into the people’s minds from a very young age, pun not intended. While this isn’t the razor-razor blade sales model, where you sell something big and expensive at a loss in order to sell something smaller multiple times, like a razor and its edges, selling people stuff they perceive is valuable at a proper price is far more lucrative. Drop that price a little lower, and you can slowly but surely rack that up once you’ve established how the customers see that price and understand the value you intend for it.

Streaming has become largely the new television. While we still talk about “series,” the word has again transformed to mean something else with streaming. It’s barely serialized anymore in its traditional sense, but I guess we can apply it just fine as these twelve-hour long movies are still chopped into twelve episodes. Television might not go anywhere in the foreseeable future, but consumers will find their chosen entertainment from streaming. Perhaps television will be relegated more towards serious matters like news and such, but before I see that happening, I hope I’m buried six feet under. With people being forced to stay inside and their other liberties being culled in order to battle the Shanghai Shivers, all these streaming platforms have been making a bank. They’ve got a whole year under their belt to get new customers in and assure that what they offer is essential and important. In some eyes, theirs is an essential service.

Just like how we could hike up the price of that piece of steel by giving it a perceived value as a piece of jewelry, streaming services want their service to be seen as the most valued. The only true way they can compete is with IPs, with Netflix amassing everything under the sun that Disney hasn’t, turning it into a cartoon and calling it anime. Netflix Originals, which often have nothing original in them, is their best bet alongside numerous other IPs they are able to showcase thanks to overseas licensing deals. Disney+ has that whole Disney library under its belt, and they’re desperately trying to make Star Wars work. Warner-Brothers movies are going to appear on HBO Max, because the theatres are still closed and they have to make money in some way. Amazon is coming out with that The Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time series sometime in the future. Apple TV or whatever their own service was called were was to have The Foundation series, but that looked like a trainwreck from the start and anything but The Foundation. It looked like a generic SF war series. With modern television series, and by extension all the streaming series, looking just as good as the movies in the cinemas, something has to buckle. That something of course is the customers’ wallets.

Disney announced recently that Disney+’s subscription will hike up in price next March, as they are restructuring themselves to market their products directly to the customers through their streaming service. They’re not the only ones either. Hulu and Netflix joined the club and most likely everyone else will follow suit, assuming move high-budget movies and shows will be produced to battle for the consumer’s wallet. Weirdly enough, one service finds itself with too many subscribers, that might end up causing further price hikes thanks to needing more hardware infrastructure behind the scenes to make all things work as intended. In any case, it will be easier for these services to raise the price every now and then once the perception and their place in entertainment consumption have found its true footing, which probably means traditional television dies slowly out and movie theatres become something else. Maybe they become places for prestige showings, where you can finally eat a pizza or a burger in, or maybe they’ll manage to eke out a niche to live in.

This is a format war like we never had before. Prior to streaming wars, even if one format won over others, none of these big companies ended up pocketing most of the money from the consumers directly to their pocket. The information age has now allowed for companies finally to sidestep formats and the limitations they pose for them, i.e. they finally have full control of the media the consumer consumes but can not own at any point, and thus maximize the money they pocket. In that, this isn’t a format war but something new. While some moan how there are more than few streaming services out there, they’re ignoring the sheer danger of streaming monopoly would have. Some argue that Disney and Netflix share the media streaming monopoly and should be broken up. General consumers are quick to trade security and variety for comfort and ease of use. If one or just two services survive, all the eggs are in one basket and the consumer rights are very easily trampled on. However, because streaming is direct-to-customers with nothing in between, like it was with previous formats, there’s nothing holding them back from exercising the utmost bullshit corporate tactics they are able to employ.

Perhaps streaming services should get a similar frontend similar to television, where all services are gathered under one streaming device or program through which the customer can decide what to watch. Perhaps some of these streaming services would be free and be run on advertisements, maybe a few of them are government-run for news and other information bites. The consumer might be able to then pay for special services that they specifically want to watch without losing that comfort of having everything under one roof. You could either label these streaming services with a number or a letter for easier access too, though just listing them in alphabetical order probably would do just fine. Now, why does this idea sound familiar? I wonder…

A terrible post about gaming media and the nature of play

The recent Game Awards show was not better than it had been in previous years. There’s nothing much I can add to the shitshow I haven’t already mentioned a year earlier. The event was, in all essence, an industry patting its own back with the support of video and computer game media massaging its shoulders while whispering sweet nothings in its ear. Much like how the Oscars are given to movies that are of a certain style that which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (it’s not really an academy), game award shows all are entwined with the industry itself. There is a major problem in objectivity here, or rather, the lack of it. Even you gathered a group of journalists and ex-game developers to determine the best games of the year, the sheer number of produced games would make some of these titles vanish from the radar, and the whole issue of the media being completely mixed the producing industry will create blind spots. Numerous games that had release dates close to awards seem to always miss a spot, or get unnaturally good spots despite nobody really having time to play them enough to assess their merits. Smaller games that are nothing short of fantastic like Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin don’t even exist on the lists despite doing something new, while the game industry’s big Triple-A titles are there to control the list. Despite gaming touted as one of the elements of counter-culture back in the day, all these award events and Top lists on gaming media sites show how nepotistic and outright corrupt they are. Then again, these events aren’t really meant to show what are the best titles of the year. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have advertisements and trailers thrown about and would showcase these titles around the latter first quarter of the next year. That’d allow all the titles of the previous year to come and ample time to play through them and assess them. That is if these were actually about the merit.

Mind you, if you were to point out this nepotism and how badly the whole scenario has been screwed, the media will defend itself and attack its customers. No other media is as rabid when it comes to insulting the people they’re depending their livelihood on, though all these media influences and journalists probably could make a living by getting paid by the companies and selling gift game merch they constantly get. If you check eBay for promotional materials directed at reviewers, a lot of them are making a small bank on them.

There is now academic listing what makes “a good” video or computer game. In the past, I’ve argued that we’d need an objective listing on what would define a high-quality electronic game, but on further inspection that might be a moot point. Mostly because games themselves are an absolutely boring topic to research and categorise in order of their merits and most people are only interested in the surface of these games. Again, we’ve yet to see a category in technical achievements as that would require actually inspecting the game’s code and how well it runs, or how well the play rules have been designed and realised. Films are rather transparent compared to electronic games as we can see their building blocks on the screen. Even traditional games don’t have anything under the hood as you have the rules set out in the manuals, but electronic games have stuff running behind the curtain all the time and all we’re seeing is the reflection of it. Even if companies would allow a reviewer to see their coding, it wouldn’t tell much unless the person was properly educated on what to look for.

There is a need to separate the journalistic media from the game industry, especially now that people have become strained politically to each direction. Currently, all the media is concentrating on what it should be seen as correct and choosing sides to push a view. You can blame me doing so too if you want, as I’m effectively promoting the idea of an apolitical, separated approach to the electronic gaming industry that doesn’t concern itself with the views of the titles or their creators. In the current state, the media is that is all but impossible. Outside individual reviewers and sites, game reviews are advertisement sold to the highest bidder and service rendered to friends. This isn’t anything new, I hear the echo saying, and that is sadly the case. Reviews of any form of entertainment media has always been used to advertise its product and buying reviews is about as old a thing as reviews themselves. Giving a good word for a friend is about as old a thing as lying is. This is especially transparent in films, where you often see someone else who has nothing to do with a movie’s production but has a reputation, comes in and says only good things about said movie. James Cameron did this to many of the Terminator films he had nothing to do with but did it just so his friends in the industry could get paid. Lying to the audience in order to get sales is not uncommon, it’s a daily practice and many pay for the privilege of getting lied to on a standard basis. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done outside a total paradigm shift within the media or among consumers against the current practices, and that’s not going to happen as that’d mean losing money in favour of gaining integrity. People are blind to their own faults, especially when they’re being reinforced all the time.

There is an approach many consumers practise in reviews, which is to follow people who share similar interests and taste in entertainment. That way they find ways to find titles they might otherwise miss. I do agree that this is a sensible approach, it does end up creating a bubble of certain kind of titles being introduced alone and subjectivity getting the best of things. It’s the whole previous dilemma on a personal level again, but at least there’s no pretending. In this, the merits a piece of entertainment has gets skewed and the parts that reinforce the bubble get hyper-charged. Using the blog as an example, the argument of what a distilled video game ends up being is the rules of play and the framework its set in. This leaves no room for a written plot, as the play drives and is the story in a dynamic manner dependent on the play. This is against the grain with the gaming media, where the story is treated similar to films, where they’re the readily built scenes and events rather than as the framing structure the playing is done in. To make a comparison with tabletop roleplaying, the framing device of video games is the scenario written by the Dungeon Master. The background and reasoning why the characters are here are readily set up, and the players’ actions and decisions are what build the true story. Video games, however, are less plastic and have to railroad the player. In Super Mario Bros., you can’t ally with Bowser no matter how much you want. In a tabletop RPG you can do that as long as you can justify this. Here the rules of play step in, and how gaming, any genre, share more in common with card games and sports as they have strictly defined rules that allow no deviation.

The gaming media, and to large extent, the gaming industry have their own twisted mind what games are and make no connection of them being part of the whole culture of play. You may not have noticed it before or thought about it, but your brain did. It has made the connection well enough to understand that, in all essence, a play of cops and robbers is the same thing as Grand Theft Auto. Perhaps the media wants to, or rather has a need to, portray video games as a higher form of art and entertainment in order to justify their line of work. Film critics have some prestige as films are generally accepted as a form of art while video game critics and journalists are considered to reside at the bottom of the barrel. It’s not about their lack of integrity or vehement hatred towards their own audience, but again with that whole thing of selling video games as something completely separate from actual play. Toy manufacturers and toy collectors understand that collector’s toys are just more expensive toys for kids, but the same isn’t with the gaming media, or parts of the industry. They’re not making films or literature, or even toys, but something that is, in effect, a hyper-advanced method to enforce rules of a play. It’s as if the media is afraid to admit that their lives and work they’ve done have been all about talking about and making games for people to play. They may be afraid of the ridicule such thing often produces as the general association with playing is towards children. That’s something most thirty-something people are afraid of, but when you hit your latter forties, most people are grown enough to realise that play never changes. The children’s culture of play simply gains more expensive dimensions and more refined elements to it. At some point, playing becomes a hobby, and to some it becomes work. For some cultural reasons, playing is for children, and thus people game.

Aren’t you too old to be playing games? When will you grow up?