Remakes and remixes

The one question that was thrown at me few weeks back was whether or not Resident Evil 2 warranted a remake. Ultimately, it did not. The original Resident Evil 2 is one of those timeless classics that still play well to this day, even though the PlayStation era 3D graphics are rather outdated. The game itself is still solid, but that goes for all games that are solid for their era; they’re solid for the future as well. However, not all games can stand the test of time, or even their timely competitors, but some games just tend to have a possibility of being great and for whatever reasons just didn’t measure up. Be it budgetary, lack of experience, skill or whatever, there are numerous fan favourite games that are more or less terrible, yet we love ’em. Chances are that those games would never get a remake.

The argument goes as follows; games that have good design and yet were terribly made should get remade because they would benefit from it. Effectively, realising the original concept properly. While that’s a nice sentiment, the business side of things doesn’t really support the notion. Why remake a game that didn’t make sales, has a very little or not following or has some sort of infamy around it when you could tap something better? Resident Evil 2 remake cost a lot of money to make and advertise. It’s part of Capcom’s current big three titles, Monster Hunter World and Devil May Cry 5 that are effectively the titles the Big C is banking on as seen in their last year’s annual report I have a post about. It’s no coincidence that all these three titles are part of their respective franchises. After all, creating a new IP has its own risks that your company probably doesn’t want to undertake when you’ve just put millions into some restructuring and R&D in order to make a new engine all the while demanding high-end graphics that pushes the visuals as much as possible. Square-Enix follows the same line of thinking with Final Fantasy VII‘s remake, even though they’re taking their sweet time to actually finishing it. However, there’s also one snag that applies to both RE2 remake and FFVII remake; they’re effectively completely new games.

Let’s question if remaking a game by completely changing it from ground up like these two did is actually remaking anything. The remake of original Resident Evil will be used as the point of comparison, a golden example of a remake. What makes it different from the two aforementioned remakes is that it still uses the same systems and designs from the original game, just improved in every way. You can still see where the roots are and side-by-side comparison is completely possible. For RE2 and FFVII, that’s largely impossible due to their nature of completely remodeling and changing the groundwork of the games’ designs. RE2 remake is effectively nothing like the original game and are separate products altogether, whereas with RE‘s remake uses the same base work. FFVII doesn’t even belong to the same genre as the original, opting to go for full-out action. It’s almost like Square Enix is wanting to move away from the time tested Wizardry+Ultima model they’ve made their bed with all the variations we’ve seen in most of the mainline Final Fantasy titles.

Remake is a nice word, because its semantics it usually is associated with in the game industry offers a lot of leeway. Sometimes upgraded ports are marketed as remakes, because it’s easy and has a nice ring to it. The positive association a remake tends to have nowadays would imply that it’s a whole new upgrade to push things further. An example of this would be the HD remakes of few last generations we’ve had, which offer nothing more than higher resolution graphics, sometimes wide screen support and nothing else. Questioning whether or not this is a proper remake or just an upgraded port shouldn’t be an issue. Reading the marketing slang shouldn’t be hard.

Then again, this line of thinking may be completely wrong. Should we consider remakes as something that takes the core essence of a product, like RE2‘s concept of surviving inside a zombie infested city and completely remodeling its game play and concepts, as proper remake instead? After all RE‘s remake can be called exactly that as well, but seeing that is effectively the original game with prettier graphics and updated stuff, shouldn’t that be more or less a remix instead? Sure, all the assets have been recreated from the ground up for the game and so on, but ultimately it is more or less a remix recreation of the original Resident Evil. Compared to remixes like this, a remake should push the game’s concepts to further extents and stand as its own standalone title. This would fit the idea of remaking FFVII as an action game as well, despite the whole genre change it has going on for it. Our golden example of a remake doesn’t really stand against how RE2 was remade. It would be possible to remake the first Resident Evil and change everything about it without losing the core concept of a resident filled with evil. Then again, Resident Evil itself is a sort of remake of Famicom’s Sweet Home, genre changes and all to go with it.

As said, marketing’s have their hand in this quite a lot. Using a dictionary or the like to determine the true meaning of a remake is largely useless, when it’s a nice term you can drop around to whatever re-release it fits even remotely. After all, marketing department have their hands full already trying to push whatever latest editions they have at their hands now. It’s like how Super Robot Wars titles tend to be affected largely by what Bandai-Namco wants to promote currently or if some series has an anniversary, in which case they can push few more units by having it include in a game. Let’s not forget that sometimes games that are completely new are sometimes dropped into the remake category just because it uses its franchise in some ways. The recent contest oriented Pac-man games at one point were marketed as remake of the original Pac-Man game, despite this being not the case to any real extent. That’s like saying Mega Man 2 is a remake of Mega Man just with new stages, music, bosses and weapons. That would apply to any kind of sequel, though there’s an argument there how Hideo Kojima remade the original Metal Gear three times around.

The original question remains; Did RE2 warrant a remake? Apparently the sales data showcased that it did. In a perfect world, there would be no need for remakes. In a less perfect world, the money to make remakes like this would go for games that mechanically would require one. The one we got is still driven by sales and demand, and by the fact that Capcom recognizes the position Resident Evil 2 has in the franchise, among the fans and as an overall game. No other title in the series warrants anything similar. RE4 is still modern enough to run as it is, and perhaps that’s the best justification for remakes nowadays; to modernise games that have a ready audience. You don’t see remakes that don’t already have an audience, or games that the devs themselves don’t dare to touch. There’s a goddamn good reason Nintendo doesn’t do remakes like most other companies.

Perhaps its generational. Most of the faces we know from the industry tend to tell that they don’t really want to work on sequels or keep a series going once they’ve finished it in their own minds. Sakurai was pretty much done with Smash Bros with Melee, yet here we are. Kojima meant Metal Gear to end with pretty much every major entry in the series. Shigsy didn’t touch 2D Mario in almost twenty years due to how much work they are compared to the 3D games. However, with new blood coming into these companies, it might become more viable to remake old titles that still have a place and possibility to strike true. The same applies to the consumer side, perhaps even mores so than towards the devs. The generation that grew up with the 360 and PS3 would have a hard time going back to earlier consoles, some have even remarked how not even the Third Generation of consoles look like, and I quote a younger friend, real games. Updating PlayStation era games to modern visual (and game play) standards would open new avenues without really losing anything due to the build-in fandom. On one hand, you serve the fans with an arguably better version of the game and attract customer who missed the original, or didn’t or couldn’t touch it because it was on PlayStation, PSN not withstanding. As much as even the industry likes to think otherwise, very few games are timeless in the proper meaning of the term. They may take the test of time within the context of the era, but putting them face to face with their modern counterparts, they lose in almost every area of design. Direct comparison without taking context and capabilities of each of the era would be rather unfair, but for a timeless classic that should not be a problem. After all, if Super Mario Bros. 3 can stand toe to toe with modern 2D action games in terms of designs and gameplay, the rest of timeless classics should be capable of this. For the early 3D games, that’s not exactly the case, just like how first games can’t really stack up against most other modern 2D games of similar nature.

REmake2‘s success probably makes Capcom wonder what other titles they have they could give a similar treatment. With their interest to resurrect some of their sleeping IPs thanks to Mega Man 11, IP which saw a raise in sold units from 32 million units to 34 million since June 2018, it’s not entirely impossible that Capcom would wake one or two of their classic series with a remake. Chances are that they’ll be testing the waters with some releases and bundles before green lighting anything, but you never know. Then again, they should finally remake the original Street Fighter.

Valve shouldn’t be barking at the wrong tree

Valve isn’t exactly used to competition when it comes to digital platforms. Most games that are on GOG can be found on Steam in some form, so the competition for exclusive content isn’t exactly that high. However, Epic Games store has been making some waves recently by having a deal with Ubisoft to be the seller for their Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, and now nabbed Metro Exodus. Sure, people who already pre-ordered them via Steam will get ’em from there, but Valve’s slightly salty about the whole business, claiming that this is unfair towards customers who are using Steam.

This, of course, is rather bullshit.

Valve does have their priorities just as any other company does, but thus far this is the first time a large company like this is commenting on losing an exclusivity with a title. Hell, they’re not even having that, seeing the game did have a long pre-sales period. Nothing prevents the consumer to jump into Epic Games store and throw their money at the title there. That’s something Valve doesn’t want, as it distorts their own economy. Valve might be used to the idea that they are the ranking king on the PC, a platforms that gets all the big name titles while the rest straggle along to deal with their own in-house titles. Almost any and all big titles that are being released outside of consoles is released on Steam, like Monster Hunter World or the Yakuza series. (Then again, why would the glorious PC master race stoop down and play dirty ports of console games?) This makes Steam such a massive platform, and a platform it is despite some arguing that it is simply a store. No store would have a need to be analogous to digital version of physical DRM that are video game consoles, but Steam is exactly that. Both DL Site and GOG are more stores than Steam, especially considering you are forced to use their software for their service at their terms to play someone else’s games.

This is business, and Valve recognises that when few notable titles move to away from their platform in favour of another, it can lead further titles to move away from them and that could lead them losing their competitive edge. Unfair to Steam customers my ass. Valve knows why their platform is so popular, so much used and that’s because all the titles they effectively have exclusivity on. Steam as a platforms isn’t particularly great in overall terms, their customer service sucks, they take 30% cut on all sales initially, Valve decides what titles go to sale and when, and they don’t stick to their own rulings when it comes to controlling why titles are banned from their store. Just like any platform of their kind, the reason why they’re used so much is due to exclusive games. Now, there’s a slight threat to their sales by losing titles. Valve’s not losing any sleep when the shoe is in the other foot.

Exclusivity is of course a thing this blog endorses. The argument that it is against consumer interests because the consumer can’t choose whatever platform they like to consume entertainment is, at its core, petty. At its extreme, you would only have one platform to play games one, and that would always end up being the PC. Not even via Steam, just the raw, undiluted PC. (Might actually be the best possible endpoint in many ways.) Nothing should be keeping you from picking up the title and platform if you really want to play a certain game. It often comes down to argument of money too, where the argument claims that with a title on multiple platforms would end up raking in more money. This has more merit to it, as it is a pure business argument. Hayes Madsen on Twinfinity has a post how Square Enix must hate money because they’re not releasing Kingdom Hearts titles on the Switch and Xbox One. As it always is, there are deals behind the door that is to benefit one platform.

Incidentally, this blog both supports and is against in Valve’s position as mentioned above. Not in that losing the titles from Steam is against customer interests, but the underlying reasons. Exclusive content should push competition for value and quality. The Classic Era of console gaming saw Sega and Nintendo competing for numerous titles with each other, most notably so-called mascot wars where Mario and Sonic were neck to neck to beat each other in similar games. The situation would be similar of Battlefield and Call of Duty were exclusive for PS4 and Xbox One; similar titles but with significant differences at their core. In current state of console gaming with titles existing across the board almost everywhere, there is no need for another company to make somewhat similar product in their own way and image in order to compete. When you have one title everywhere, it fills the niche and competition struggles. Have more similar titles on one console, and its a red ocean of competition, companies fighting over the same scraps of consumers. Thus, exclusivity helps the situation to some extent, raising that one platform a bit higher on the sale what it can offer and thus draw in more customers, which most likely will put more money in consuming further titles on the same platform. If the company has concentrated their titles to exist solely on this platform, they’ll most likely also rack loyal customers that will buy most of their other product. When it comes to console exclusive, the fact that a game can be optimised to for that hardware is also important, though arguably not as important as it used to be, outside the Switch. As for Kingdom Hearts, you can bet there’s a deal that benefits both corporations. Who knows, perhaps its not even about the money, but some romantic reasons why a title should only exist on one platforms because that’s where it truly belongs to due to history and success.  The extreme end of this would be that each console and platform would have totally and widely different libraries. (Which would too be the best possible endpoint for other reasons.)

Nintendo of course is always a different beast in this. They are both console and game manufacturer. They design their own devices and games to play on them. Exclusivity is their bread and butter, their model of service and business. Theirs is a unique console each time one is released due to this very nature. It is something the competition should go for, aim to have just as many exclusive titles with the same level of quality to compete. Instead, more often than not, there’s a divide where two consoles share majority of their libraries while Nintendo kinda just stands there doing its own thing. At least currently, things weren’t like that in the Classic Era. Valve is effectively in a Nintendo-ish position when it comes to the PC ecosystem, but it has no real competition outside GOG. Perhaps what we need is more titles moving away from Valve’s juggernaut for everywhere else like Epic Games store just to spread about a little more and encourage some healthy competition, something Valve’s not really used to.

As an end note, Epic Games store is one of the few stores that I’ve seen to have a clearly marked section for Fan art policy.

On the Golden Age of Gaming

This blog has touched a lot on the cultural and historical phenomena regarding video games and their design throughout the years. For some these have been posts of interest, while others seem to regard the late 1990’s as the pinnacle of video games, despite the same has already been said about the mid-2000’s and early 2010’s. Arguments fly about and you, my dear reader, probably have a take on the subject that might support one but not the other. Maybe you even consider the late 1980’s the pinnacle of electronic games, but that’s how it is. We all deep down know that the Golden Age of video games was in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, when computer, video and arcade games begun taking their modern shape.

The Golden Age of Arcades is established to be around the years 1978 and 1979, based on the release years of Space Invaders and Asteroids, which works just fine for them. The overall Golden Age of Games can be expanded from the the mid-1970’s to the 1983’s video game crash, as this was the period of rapid expansion consumer bases, genres, technology and popular cultural phenomena. This is contrasting the electronic gaming history to that of comic books’, where the Golden Age of Comic books, where most, if not all, classical archetypes and heroes were created, and the medium became a significant power in publishing.

The reason this contrast is made is due to the cultural phenomena usually work. These periods are of making the media into something that is able to stand on its own, establishing itself through various creators and enjoyed wide public attention, which naturally leads into impacting the culture in major ways. The very reason you still hear certain kind of sound effects in films and television when it comes to video games being depicted is because those bleeps and bloops are culturally associated with gaming as established by the Golden of Electronic Games. Be it the sound Atari games or the PC speakers made, certain sound is still associated with gaming by being handed down by the surrounding pop-culture. This era would fit the first two Console generations just fine, and majority of the early PC gaming as well, when people were turning their Dungeons and Dragons sessions into text adventures for their universities mainframes.

As a side note, you can pin point certain era of Famicom just by listening to the sound effects, as vast majority, if not all, developers used the same effects library in the early years.

But that side note throws a wrench into the whole Age discussion, as we must remember that all events weren’t global at that point in time. The 1983 crash had little to no effect outside the United States, as Europe was tightly grasping local micros at the time, and it wouldn’t be until the very late 1980’s and early 1990’s when console gaming had its breakthrough in Europe. This and IBM standard effectively killed multiple computer platforms, and Windows 95 cleaned the slate. Now we effectively have only three standards, four if we count Android, instead of each manufacturer having their own. The story’s completely different in Japan for many reasons, as Japanese computer history is a different beast altogether from its European and American cousins. If you’ve ever wondered why European developed games for the third and fourth generations felt so different and bit off, it’s because they were developed under a cultural paradigm that favoured platforms like the Commodore 64, Atari ST and Amiga 1000. These games look and play in a particular fashion, something we might get to few years down the line.

How can we say that this specific era is this or that when it only touches certain parts of the globe? The answer is; because of history.

We can’t say what era we are living in currently. World War I was originally named as The Great War, the war to end all wars, but then Germany decided to slap Poland around a bit. As such, we have to look at what sort of massive expansion gaming overall had during that time in the US and Japan with arcades and how little they impacted Europe at the same time. It wouldn’t take but few years until European arcades would see the same titles, but the impact rarely was in the same ballpark. Culturally speaking, Europe didn’t produce much content that would impact the global gaming sub-culture, but if you lived during that in France and UK, you probably remember few regional names that pop into your head right away. Now, how many of those are as well remembered in the cultural background as Pac-Man and Space Invaders?

To follow the Ages of Comic Books, we naturally are lead into the Silver Age of Electronic Games that encompasses the fourth and fifth generations. The reason again is comparative to comics, where old heroes were rekindled into new forms. Best example of this would be Mario, where we go from single-screen titles like Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. into fully-scrolling Super Mario Bros., re-imagining the games’ world as Mushroom Kingdom with kidnapped princesses and turtle kings.

While Famicom was released in 1983 in Japan, the starting point of the Silver Age must be set to 1985 with the American release. This is also a turning point in Japanese software development, where the quality of the titles began to ramp up. New competitors would establish themselves on the console market across the world, some spinning themselves off from the arcades like Sega (who already had a presence in Japan with their 1984 SG-1000) and Hudson hitting the market with NEC backing them up with the original PC-Engine in 1987. Atari still tried with the 7800, but couldn’t find a niche against the juggernaut that was the NES.

Despite all the above, what if I argued that the Golden Age would be from late 1970’s and up until the release of PlayStation in 1994? Despite the Crash of ’83, the third and fourth generations saw further expansion and cultural impact. The Super Mario Bros. and Sonic cartoons, comics, food stuff, everything that went into making electronic gaming into a global force didn’t happen just on few years. Modern electronic games are still a young medium, despite some having lived with them throughout their lives, they’re still younger than television, cinema, theater or literature. Maybe in a hundred years or so people will have enough perspective to view the changes in the game culture properly. Currently we are too close to these events with heavy bias to go by properly, and so much of it extremely well recorded. It would be extremely easy to dissect history into extremely small blocks, because we can do so. Those in the know would understand and acknowledge all those minute changes that had a ripple effect down the line.

Instead, maybe we should call the era from mid-1970’s to mid-1990’s the Classic Age of Gaming, where expansion was largely constant, new companies and hardware would pop up and die during the contest all the while others would grow strong and established. From there, we are now living through the Modern Age of Gaming, where we have seen the cross-pollination taking hold over the industry and the establishment of the Big Three with no real competition offered in the console market. Further mixing of genres and new impacting titles have been introduced, like Halo and Devil May Cry.

Even this might be somewhat arbitrary, but as mentioned, we’re too close in time to take back and see events as they are. How culture and industries move in the grander scale is hard if not almost impossible to surmise at they are going on, and perhaps the first mistake a young medium as comparing itself too much to other media and let those dictate too much what it should be.

Tournament without sportsmanship

While coughing blood and phlegm, I missed EVO completely. Nothing unusual about that, the EVO tournament doesn’t interest yours truly. However, EVO is of interest in regards of this blog and how its seen, and this year had a peculiar event with Super Smash Bros. tournament that as a case study shows two things; video games are not a sport, and not even the participants truly see it as a sport.

The event of course is the already infamous grand finals for Super Smash Bros for Console X. At 15:00 minute mark, both players simply stop playing the game for nearly two minutes. Thus far you can argue that there was competitive play for the top spot, but at that point everything becomes a joke.

This is not sportsmanship behaviour, this is what you’d see in show wrestling. That’s what eSports is, and thus it is far from being worth entering to Olympics in any fashion.

Some have argued that the two players can dictate whatever method of playing they wish, that is their choice as top finalist. This is not true, as every sports has to have strict rules the participants have to adhere to and will be promptly punished if these rules are broken; the finalist do not get to choose who they play. No other seriously competitive field, from pool to golf, from karate to card games, from F-1 to Nascar, everyone participating are required to make their best effort to win according to laid rules and there is no room to wiggle about.

Despite the two players here were warned of stalling, they did not gain any sort of penalty outside booing. Instead, both of them should have been disqualified not just on base of stalling, but also for interrupting a match for an interview, breaking sportsmanship and unfair competition.

Why unfair competition? Many athletes are friends, but yet they don’t go easy on each other out of respect towards each other and towards the sport. These two yahoos are friends who didn’t go their extra mile for maximum effort in competition and instead chose for showmanship. Whether or not you want to call this collusion is up to you.

Of course, we also have take notice that making the competitors sit next to each other rather than apart allows this sort of interactions between the competitors. EVO should have embraced the arcade approach years back and have the players fight opposing each other, or at least with good few meters apart. Does this remove a psych element from the game? Yes, and it should, as then the players’ actual skill in the game can be concentrated more than on any theatrics. Having these two jokers separated from each other would’ve alleviated some of their antics, but somehow the two buffoons would’ve made a joke out of it anyway.

The competitors’ age does not matter, be it teenagers like with these two Smash Bros. players or forty something who has played Street Fighter their whole life. People of their age can and are competing in real sports with the right mindset and compete with others like them for the top spot.

This isn’t the first time EVO has seen these “moments” where players show off some reason. Some years back, two E. Honda players in Street Fighter IV allowed the first round of their match to time out in order to have a one-round match in order to see which one of them was better. The same should have applied in this case as with this year’s Smash Bros.; no competition means getting the boot. You can argue stalling or running away is a legit tactic that can be applied, but that has to be in proper context. Just standing and waiting for whatever reason in a battling competition should get you the boot. After all, fighting game tournaments mirror the real world martial arts competitions in spirit, and simply fucking around goes directly against that spirit.

Then again, as a profession (used here extremely loosely) being a top Street Fighter player or whatnot doesn’t bring in much in terms of finances. It’s not secret that the tournament winners often share their price money with other top players in order to keep them from living on the streets. It is an extremely stressful field and losing sponsorship is extremely easy.

Does this encompass all players and games played competitively? Of course not, yet EVO as a whole is a great example of how competitive video gaming is just a play akin to show wrestling, as mentioned. EVO needs to get back to its Battle by the Bay roots and have one rule above all; find out who is the best in a given game. This alone sets certain principle rules and required mindset. We can make jokes about Smash Bros. and their rule sets all day long, but this is universal; a fighting game tournament only exists to find out who is the best. Any actions to detriment this should be treated with extreme prejudice and cut down like a tumor.

Video games are not sports. They’re anything but sports. They certainly require large amount of skill and dedication to get good at, yet there are constantly examples how juvenile the medium is across the board. Video and computer games are a young industry, and this shows itself hard with competitive situations like EVO. There is an extreme lack maturity and class. Unlike Olympics and other real sports events, EVO has quite honestly zero respect outside its own bubble. Furthermore, this year the TV licenses were far less important and we saw no outfit censorship, because last year’s viewership was less than expected.

Video games might be the most popular form of entertainment, but sure hell ain’t the most respected. The only way you can get respect for you wannabe sports and hobby is to act like your age, stop screaming bloody hell every time you see boobies and take competitive shit seriously, no matter what sort of party game gets mixed with serious fighting titles.

Consumer control over titles coming to Steam?

In hindsight, this was to come. Developer named Love in Space has stated that Valve has halted their title’s submission in order to overhaul Steam to give more control to the consumer on what they see. This isn’t the standard Family friendly control centre Steam currently has, but something more robust.

This seems to indicate two things. First, Valve is taking their hands off as they’ve mentioned previously and accept pretty much anything legal on Steam. This would mean the end developers have to indicate elements in their software whilst submitting to Valve. This would tie directly into the second element, which is the user driven control.

How do you implement it? is the  question.The best, quickest way would probably be to use the pre-existing tags Steam already uses for its titles, but whether or not these would be fitting is an open question. Sometimes, how a tag works for a title is rather obscure, referring to some element that’s not a major part in the title. Then you have the occasional tag that has nothing to do with the title. There would be a need for a far more stricter set of rules in order have a properly functioning control device. While possible that they’ll just use these tags, it’s also probable that something completely new will be used, as the aforementioned developer mentions that there is going to be completely new features that their title requires before Valve accepts it for Steam.

Was there a reason for a system like this? As Steam functions as a sales platform as much as it is a digital console, there is a need to split adult-only material from the more kid-friendly content. The split is similar how kids’ magazines are in one section in store, while all the rest are moved on the side or above the their stand. Another example would be how family movies and adult movies had different sections on a VHS rental store. Wasn’t the Family View already like this? Apparently not, as it seems to only limit what games are shown in the Library section rather in Store.

Seeing how the Internet really likes to rile people up and enjoy the outrage culture for better or worse, these last few years (or rather, last decade or so) has seen movements to accuse games, game developers and consumers for pretty much anything from sexism and racism to political agendas and lack of them. Valve has seen a lot of shit flung at them concerning their new policy, to the point of Kotaku labeling Valve irresponsible for allowing free market to decide on products.

This new feature that is being worked on is a solution that allows the user to censor their own Store page. This all fine and dandy, as this means people should be able to see what they want, ignoring the rest of the marketplace they might deem less of worth or somehow damaging for them or their family. As long as system does not force limitation to anyone else, or even suggest that certain content might be considered inappropriate, it should be passable.

However, it would seem this is a solution coming along way down, as Sekai Project mentioned some of their titles need to be re-submitted, and that they need to fill-in additional information for already passed software once the system has been implemented. Considering Valve has stopped accepting some titles like this for the time being, I’d guess they’re in a bit of a hurry with the system before publishers like Sekai find new avenues to move into. Valve wanting to put accepting software on hold for the time being until they’ve finished the system may be understandable, but it’s not the best approach concerning the publishers and developers who have their titles in this limbo state.

You will hear that this won’t solve any problems. Games that sites like Kotaku considers problematic won’t go away and will be developed and published. However, this is as good as any mediating solution, as the upcoming feature should allow these people can ignore their hated titles as much as they wish.

Open the Valves, full Steam ahead

Sometimes, Valve manages to surprise the cynic in me. Just as I mentioned that they should open the doors for free market, it seems that’s exactly what Valve did. Of course, it was received with both positive and negative press, with negative pretty much calling out Valve for allowing games that could have offensive content. Kotaku, for example, takes their usual stance all about wanting to keep games with gross content, as they put it, out of Steam. Furthermore, Kotaku’s beef with Valve being a reactionary corporation when it comes to controversies is old song by this point. Most corporations may go their way to appease sections of the consumers, but in this day and age where practically everything can cause an uproar and everything is offensive to someone in some myriad way, corporations can’t exactly be but reactionary.

This whole deal is interesting and dumbfounding, to say the least. For number of years, gaming snobs have wanted the electronic games industry to grow and mature. No medium is free of the growing pains of vast, endless multiple points of views and political leanings. For a rough comparison, banned games equate to banned books. This is especially important if we are to take games as an art, as simply banning or removing art because the subject is something you dislike or disagree with infringes the free expression of the artist.

Of course, the opposition of Valve’s new policies take the business view on things whenever it pleases them. Steam having games with content other developers don’t like shouldn’t matter to them. If their product is superior, they should be at ease of mind. The free market will tell what’s more demanded. Of course, it could always turn out that doing politically or otherwise controversial topically charged games might not sell well in overall terms. If the developer and/or publisher wishes to move their games off the platform because Valve has allowed games with offensive content in their mind, they can always move away to GOG.

After all, censorship and limited freedom of speech is something that can be easily expanded to serve only one master.

This is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Brands, such as Steam, should not partake in politics of any sorts. Valve’s stance of keeping trolling titles (how in the fuck would you even define that properly in hard-down legal form) and illegal content off their service is enough. The market will handle the rest. Simply because content exist for consumption does not mean one has to go their way and consume it.

Is it immoral to allow content that might be considered offensive on Steam, politically or otherwise? The question is No, considering Steam already has games with content that does offense someone. Valve’s Weik Johnson has the right stance; they’re not the one to decide what developers make. If we are to promote equal treatment of all, it is required to mean equal treatment in all terms, including games that have offensive content of any kind. It is up to you as the consumer to decide whether or not it is consumed, not by a committee, a busybody soccer mom or another developer.

Another criticism Valve has got is that this means they do not stand up to values, or more accurately, the values of the critics have set up. Just as morals, values are up to each person. Cultural values and morals set up by the society are ultimately what matter the most, not the ones sections of the Internet want to be upheld. In effect, it is equally morally reprehensible to allow one offensive content but not the other. Valve’s ultimate morals lay in what makes the most profit, and free market is the best way to make a buck.

Whether or not Valve is finished with underestimating their consumers with this is an open question. It can be expected them to flip flop on the matter in the future, especially when take into notion how vague their new stance is. What is illegal changes country by country, and there is always the remote possibility they’ll simplify things and use all of them. Somewhat unlikely, seeing Valve has always tried to stick with the US legislation and have a history of arguing against foreign laws to an extent. What is acceptable varies wildly, especially in places like China.

Secondly, trolling, as mentioned above, doesn’t exactly hold water. It is extremely subjective and sounds like a scapegoat wording that they can enact on a title whenever they find it applicable. Titles like Hatred may get hated out of the platform due to its content, as it was removed from Steam Greenlight. It took Gabe to get it back. The title’s developer certainly did use trolling as part of the marketing campaign, yet the title is nothing short of fully fledged isometric shooter.

For better or worse, Valve’s announcement on the subject does touch upon this. To quote the post; we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling. While this could be viewed as slightly concerning, this sort of extension of corporation’s own decision making is expected. This allows Valve to cover their asses whenever its applicable while supporting the freedom of game development and publishing, as weird as it sounds, considering anyone could do that outside Steam on PC already.

In the end, all of Valve’s announcement ends up being PR speech. It’s not exactly virtue signaling either as much as itch.io’s Leaf’s tweet on the matter. How things will go down in practice will probably be a very different story, though only time will tell. Claiming that Valve has dropped any responsibility or the like is childish bitching, as the responsibility has always been with the developers and publishers, and even then to the extent of the law.

The consumers within the market will make their voice heard on the matter, and that is ultimately what matters, despite what different sociopolitical factions like to think. Let capitalism function as intended.

Then there’s the point that none of that matter jack shit if the gameplay is not up to the level. That is what matters the most after all.

Banning Adult Oriented material, again

Lewgamer has a nice article with sources and citations on Valve threading to take down on adult games on Steam, give it a look before we go further.

The whole issue really is all about having erotica CG within the titles. Doesn’t matter if its just left in the code, if its junk data somehow and completely inaccessible by normal means. If it is there, it counts. Sounds extremely pathetic and funny, but that is the reality. The case this is most compared to, going as far Steam’s own representative doing it as well, is the Hot Coffee case. In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas exists a disabled minigame where the player character can bang their chosen girlfriend character. The reason why it was left in the game’s code is because the assets were used elsewhere as well.

This basically set the tone that if a software has any sort of pornographic content inside the code or assets, it’s automatically Adult Only, which further means certain shops will not carry it and places like Australia most likely will instantly ban it.

I also recall something about Valve considering on banning titles that have censorship removing patches from other sites, be it via addition of the content or unlocking. However, I found no solid sources on this, so take this as a rumour at best.

With most visual novels having some level of erotica in them at least, Valve’s probably going to gun them down if this keeps going. This also means that even Muv-Luv‘s Steam releases are under threat in the worst case scenario. Considering Manga-Gamer had their title with “earnest and tasteful exploration of sexuality” is about to get the boot, pretty much anything goes.

This is one man’s crusade, though what Valve is doing here is covering their own asses for the worst case scenario for them. They don’t give a damn about the consumer or developer end due to their monopoly. Games with pornographic content is mere blip on the radar for them, the revenue Valve gains from them is microscopic for them. Worse, they’re a public corporation, and having erotica or pornography on their service in any form is often seen as a sort of stain. This probably also leads to some problems, just like how Steam’s terms of service had to be revised from “purchasing games” to “subscriptions” circa 2012, when Court of Justice of European Union decreed that it publishers can’t oppose of resale of used licenses. EULA ties you to nothing. However, publisher have more leverage if you don’t purchase anything from them, just subscribe to their product.

Valve, of course, never had clear rulings on the issue. They’ve been jumping back and forth regarding adult oriented material on their service in order not to even recognize the topic properly due to the stigma pornographic content still carries with it despite the fact that it’s all virtual.

The discussion about what constitutes as porn and what doesn’t should be made, but it doesn’t matter to Valve. Their view is pretty clear on the issue, even if they aren’t. If it has any kind of sexually explicit content under any kind of depiction, it is counted as porn. There is no room for nuances on the topic, which only tells how puritanical this issue is.

It is unfortunate that things have done this way, as this will probably cause further issues down the line for anyone willing to entertain the idea of having a more sexual title on Steam. It’s a slippery slope we’re in for here. There are numerous solutions, like moving these titles to Nutaku, but that also means raving Steam fans wouldn’t follow in suit.

Mature sexual content, be it pornography, erotica or whatever else similar will always limit your audience to adults and people who aren’t living in a medieval level culture. The approach of simply trying to clean it away is not the right step by any means and it will be met with opposition. However, what Valve could do here is to open a specific section for Adult Only audience, both expanding their market and guaranteeing that places competitors like GOG wouldn’t be tempted to open this sort of targeted service. Then again, this would encourage further competition, so perhaps it would be a chance for them. Muv-Luv on GOG would remove any of my reasons to use Steam.

What is the consumer to do here, if they oppose booting titles off Steam if they contain adult material? Wallet voting by purchasing these products, making your voice hard on social media and elsewhere at their representatives and showcasing support to devs who are inclining towards censoring their products.

I guess this is as good time as any to remind my readers that corporations are there to make money and keep their investors happy. That’s their main goal, and sometimes it is more favourable to enforce certain image and lack of products that could be harmful somehow to the younger audiences.

Funny that, this is pretty in-line with how the US is seen by most Europeans; a place where over-the-top and accurate depictions of hyper violence is awright, but a bare breast will make everyone flip their shit.

Escalation of moral maturity from game to game

One aspect that’s been part of boys’ play culture for as long as we can go back in written history with records of children’s play is the moral play between good and evil. One of the modern classics that display an everyday battle between these two extremes would be Cops versus Robbers. As we grow up, the stark contrast between good and evil usually begins to dim to the point where we can accept that good and evil are subjective, at least on philosophical level. The contest between the perceived sides still persist into our adulthood, more often than not shaded to the point of the perceived evil being more justified than the opposing side.

The traditional pen and paper role playing games stem from the myths of antique and the knight plays. I don’t think there’s one child in the world who has no played a role of a knight in some play. The knight I’m referring here is more akin the idea of local protector, hence why black knights are the opposing, equal power. Perhaps an allegory for the fallen angel of sorts on some level. Nevertheless, the early computer RPGs were largely digitised forms of Dungeons & Dragons games these people used to have, with Ultima being an example of such. If you look in late 80’s and 1990’s Japanese fantasy light novels and series branched from them, like Slayers, they’re largely based on the author’s own D&D games. With the D&D crowd, at some point they stopped playing knights outside in the nature, and moved indoors. Of course, Live action role playing, or LARPing has become somewhat popular, and is effectively just people playing like kids with far more serious intent and costlier props.

The aforementioned paragraph may sound rather negative, though it’s more an argument of natural change. Whether or not theatrical plays predated children play acting is unknown, but the two have a linear connection between maturity and playing. Play acting became a profession, something done so good that it could be made money with. The adult life is strongly reflected in children’s plays, as playing is often the best form of education and learning for the future. Kids trading stones and sticks on the playfield essentially prepares for commerce. Pokémon TCG was largely panned by parents in its initial release years, but one thing they learned about it was how it taught children the value of goods and trading. Modern world simply allows certain aspects of immature play to be present more than with previous generations. The concept of something being childish and for children only has seen a silent paradigm shift.

Perhaps the example of this is electronic games. While computer games were seen somewhat more mature compared to console and arcade games in the 1970’s and 80’s, they’ve been accepted as a media for all ages since the late 1990’s, with some grudges here and there. It’s still not all that uncommon to see some parents from previous generations to describe game consoles and computers as toys, which often yields a rather negative response due to associated immature mental image it carries with it. While understandable, toys are means to play. Describing a game machine a toy in this sense isn’t wholly inaccurate, as all it exists for is to play.

However, electronic games and machines they run on prevent any creative forms of plays. They offer a statistic, controlled and extremely limited form of play, which is more akin to adult overseeing a children’s play. This is currently a technological issue, as we’ve yet to see completely dynamic world that allows the player to enact whatever possible they want. One can’t build a hut and live in there for the rest of the character’s natural life in a Final Fantasy game, because the game is not prepared for that. It’s limited to the story the game wants to tell. Playing often requires the player to follow the rules, after all. Not all toys allow all forms of play either, after all. While calling video and computer games as toys might sting your ear, the association with play is completely natural and such naming shouldn’t be deflected from the get go. After all, we have adult’s toys as well, which children shouldn’t have access to before they are mentally and physically mature enough.

The same applies to video games. Grand Theft Auto and Skyrim are both games we constantly see people of all ages playing, despite the age recommendations being there. Being a direct descendant of Cops VS Robbers and knight plays, both game simply take the basic core and expand on it. GTA may have you play as the Robber, but the moral hues you’re given are numerous. The same applies to Skyrim, where the player character is a figurative knight on his route to slay a dragon. The means and toys have just changed from a stick representing the baton or sword to a plastic controller and readily set digital world.

The question how much industrially prepared playing via toys has affected modern world’s play culture as a whole is a topic I’m not ready to touch on. However, some examples how things simply change drastically with a toy would be Barbie. The toy is not a doll for girls who play with it, it’s a Barbie. Singling out a toy like this outside all others has grown to the point of almost all toys have been made their own rather than for overall playing in general. Perhaps the largest reason for this change is the successful franchising, where the association with a toy and a character is made so much stronger. A child is not just buying a transforming robot toy, he’s buying Optimus Prime and all the mental images associated with the character.

While the contest between moral sides in boys’ games has escalated since the 1950’s, similar escalation has been lacing in electronic games. This is due to all the aforementioned; electronic games are just part of it. The age-old discussion about boys’ and girls’ games is valid, and while I’d argue that a well made game does cater to both sexes, the truth is that one has more interest towards certain kinds of games over the other. That is the nature of things. However, nothing exists in a vacuum, and games experience as much mixing of these two play cultures as real life does. The Sims is still the best example of girls’ play culture being completely accepted by both sexes (the game’s essentially playing Home), as is Super Mario. Super Mario just happens to be perceived more immature due to the design choices and lack moral greys over something like Halo, which is perceived a a “big boys game.”

This is a point, as not all games, electronic or not, are for all ages. It is up to the parents to decide whether or not Little Jimmy is ready to handle mature concepts like interrupted penetration, self-mutilation in the name of love, the absurdity of how pointless life is or the sheer sexual tension between a man and a machine. Something truly is for “big boys.” The core play doesn’t change with maturity, but the concepts and themes that frame the act do.

Changing winds

While this blog has concentrated mostly on the earlier decades of video games and pre-Pong game culture now and then, I’ve intentionally neglected more recent electronic game culture. This hasn’t been by design, but more because there has been a need to showcase that video games overall have always been part of mainstream entertainment in a way or another. The world has changed significantly during the last forty years since games became a cultural phenomena, and like everything else, as you grow older the new stuff seems worse than it used to be.

The main demographic of electronic games we’re talking about follows the same lead the one’s pinball and penny arcades attracted the most; teens and college students. Before the advent and birth of mainstream video games, the 50’s and 60’s rough teenager culture flourished within these arcades, making their games more a showcase of rebellious attitudes. This market wasn’t just the only target group, as these arcades were enjoyed by everyone, it just depended on the arcade what sort of patrons it had. The first step towards the modern gamer and the computer game nerd happened with Pong and when home computers became a thing. The combination of people who played Dungeons & Dragons, science fiction fans like Trekkies and radio hobbyists sort of pack into video and computer games because the medium allows imagination to flourish, both as a developer and as a consumer. The problem largely was that it required mathematics and electronic knowhow, and thus the design and input devices were more or less completely bound to a one-button controller, a very specific controller, or a keyboard. While Pong and other consoles had intuitive controllers, a keyboard used to be rather scary device. To some, it still is.

This meant that people who put their time to either develop or play these games didn’t exactly fit the social norms of the time. Bullying people who play games at home, rather than on the field, in the arcades or in a dank gambling saloon was rather everyday event. However, if an industry doesn’t expand its market and renews itself, it has high chances of dying down. With Atari and arcades becoming an incredible force to be reckoned with, penetrating American culture like no other, driven by Japanese arcade games no less, followed by European micro-computers’ boom in the Old World. Despite the Video game crash of 1983, gaming had made its mark on the mainstream audience and culture, and when the NES hit around, video games became more mainstream than ever. At this time, computer games still managed to roll onward, and while their success is nothing to scoff at (just look at Ultima series!), computer games were for a more limited audience due to the price of the machines themselves and understanding of the technology itself. As said, European markets were rather different, with NES essentially screwed over due to mishandling, Sega Master System offering more and cheaper games, and micro-computers being the thing to have.

A third wave of market expansion (or fourth wave, depending how you’d like to count it) happened in segments during the 1990’s. While the SNES didn’t perhaps have the market expansion as Nintendo would’ve hoped, it did manage continue in the steps of its predecessors. While arcades saw their second golden age with Street Fighter II, PlayStation without a doubt had a significant market penetration and expansion, only comparative to Pong, arcades, Atari and the NES. While Super Mario had cereals and cartoons for younger audience to consumer, the PlayStation struck chord with the older audience, much like how the Mega Drive had previously. Wipeout is a prime example of this, as it became synonymous with the trance and dance club culture.


Have a few quick ones in the club, and then few lines at home while enjoying the the game and its music

Nothing else shows how much penetration PlayStation had as its successor being the most sold home console. However, after this point there games had less penetration with the overall culture. Video and computer games, despite being popular and selling massive amounts to the point of eclipsing Hollywood’s sales, had became mundane. An industry like video and computer games doesn’t change by itself forcefully, but has to grow according to consumer wants and needs. If it turns to be selfish and producing more trophy games, sales will lessen. However, most of these games throughout the ages have been deemed terrible and have seen low sales, despite the gaming media praising them at times.

To a person who grew up with video games in the 1980’s or 1990’s, the changes that took place in the 00’s and 10’s , may seem rather disappointing. For those who have read this blog for a long time already should know what this refers to. Games are not only story driven, but at times completely dependent on them. The cross-pollution of between consoles and computer games markets to the point of PC gaming being dead and replaced with a digital game console Steam. Games had become mainstream to the point of everyone being able to access them pretty much everywhere, and the previously set boundaries to develop or play them had been long since been taken down.

The Financial crisis of 2008 made a mark on the game industry. Both the Xbox 360 and PS3 were rather expensive consoles to own, but the Wii had a balance of being cheaper and more arcade like games. Despite the market expanding and new people being introduced to games, certain style of games still were the most successful. Wii Sports is an example of this sort of game, which of we never really saw any other like on the Wii. Wii also became a Virtual Console machine for those who remembered NES from their childhood, and now had access to more games than ever on systems available on the VC. Much all other industries at the time, making your consumers spend money on products that they didn’t need was a challenge the least. It was at least at this point when the industry overall didn’t aim to expand and further concentrated on the core consumer group that had been there for a long time, with few exceptions about.

While the financial crisis still having slight effect a decade later, the monetary situation with many is very much different. Companies have introduced microtransactions as an industry standard to the point of multiple companies practicing predatory behaviour for higher profits. However, this would not be possible if the market’s actions would not allow that. While the game industry and market itself has been consumerist, it could be argued that microtransactions and lootboxes have taken things to an overdrive. Corporation’s are very effective on capitalising consumer weaknesses, especially now that almost everyone has access to these games. All this, combined how the video gaming media is essentially just a huge engine for hype and advertisement, further solidifies how much the game industry has become an equally massive machine as its market is. With expansion and new generations entering the hobby, and overall tastes changing globally, some older consumers feel a distaste for what modern games are.

Political climate affects games as any, and games have become increasingly agenda driven at places, especially within certain indie scenes. I won’t go any deeper into this here, as I’ve discussed games as form of escapism first and foremost many times previously. However, ultimately it is the sales numbers that decide how the industry will act, as game industry has become completely reactionary just like Hollywood, and on the long term games that de-emphasize gaming will ultimately see less sales. Much like Hollwyood is all about the big cinematic universes and each movie has to be a billion dollar event, so has the game industry moved towards building massive spectacles in eSport (with Street Fighter V suffering this the most) with both having equally bankrupt creativity. Hell, the current state of both industries is the best argument why neither should be considered as art, but entertainment to the masses. That’s not a slight against either industry in a negative way, much like how visual novels aren’t games. A thing being its proper self is nothing to be worried about-

Games haven’t exactly changed in terms of quality of the titles. There has always been a large number lesser games on the market compared to the gems, that hasn’t changed. However, the sheer number of games has changed to the point of keeping up on all released games across all platforms is almost an impossible task without external help. Information technology, technology overall, ease of development and change in developer/publisher scene have changed the industry and the market. Whatever era of gaming you prefer the best, we’ll never be able to return to that form.  The only way to steer the game industry to a desired direction is doing two things I’ve talked often; wallet voting, and being an informed consumer.

The state of gaming as it is now will be a passing trend. In five years down the line, we’ll be able to look at the 10’s and hopefully laugh at all the things we consider important now.

Industrial bloat

EA is the thing everybody likes to kick whenever its relevant. EA deserves it too, as the company has a long history of taking franchises and developer studios and running them to the ground. Very few have any love toward them, except sports gamers who buy the latest NHL and FIFA release each year. We can understand the mindset. They’re a corporation just like any other, and aim to do everything for profit. The methods just don’t seem to sit with some consumers, while others just don’t care.

That said, microtransactions and loot boxes have been talked to death a lot as of late, thanks to them taking more presence in the mainline games. The model can be said to come from mobile games, where it has essentially become the lifeline of many games, where games are offered free, but their larger content has to be paid for, or at least to succeed further requires putting some money in.

From psychological point, microtransaction is a well selling term. It give an idea of a transaction of miniscule size, almost something that doesn’t matter. The effect on the consumer is interesting, and these small transactions often can pile up when you can’t keep track on physical money. It is far easier to spend what you don’t see, and then suffer the consequences later on.

Loot boxes are another can-o-worms, especially when they’re the kind that are tied to promotional events or otherwise to something that forces the consumer to consume their time with the game’s event or related. Considering many games offer loot boxes to be bought with real money, or in-game money you can buy with real money, it is gambling. It is very much comparable to a lottery ticket where each ticket has some sort of win. While some make an arbitrary difference between loot boxes and gachas, the concept is largely the same. Here we could argue that loot boxes are similar to vending machine toys, and these are not counted as a form of gambling. However, the difference is of course that a vending machine does not insist you on a purchase, unlike the constant reinforcement video and mobile games tend to do with seasons, events and the like. The concept of gambling and video games is something I’ve touched before, with the argument that video and computer games themselves are not gambling, but can contain simulation of gambling, but loot boxes and gachas touch upon real world and games are designed to work with them as a core element, then we’re talking about a form of digital gambling.

However, the whole debacle of Star Wars: Battlefront II (2017) is a whole another thing. While it has seemed to be a PR nightmare to EA due to all the negativity its microtransactions and  how long it’ll take to open up new characters within the game, EA has managed to make use all of this and seem like a company that listens to their consumers. Buying whatever in-game money it is they use to unlock characters will be enabled at a later date.

There’s the rub though; Battlefront II (2017) and other games like it that offer purchased random goods already cost money. Essentially, the game companies have become bloated to each direction in how much higher ups get salary to production values and development time that they need to find new ways to make more revenues. In order to make the revenues go up, EA has opted to concentrate all their efforts on a whale of a game that should snag the most players. All this after you’ve payed the full price for the game, of course, and you can’t open things up through sheer effort and skill. The game has cool down periods, where you can’t acquire in-game money. Hell, you can expect only 1-3% of the game’s players to carry these microtransactions. These are the trouble consumers that may need serious help. Gamers, while saying one thing, often seem to do the exact opposite.

This isn’t exactly putting all your eggs into one basket. This is more like putting trying to sap out everything from the consumer through one product. What I mean by this is that EA has opted to get as much revenue out of the game as possible outside the sales of the game. There is no equivalent in other entertainment media due to the nature of games. This isn’t a subscription to digital service or the like.

All this is a symptom. The cause, if we’re to believe companies, is the rising development costs. Unlike what these corporations want to tell the consumer via their PR, consumers at large don’t expect cutting edge graphics or the like. The game design has always been the number one factor. The only game culture that has concerned themselves with highest possible graphical fidelity is the computer game culture. However, with the cross pollination and consoles becoming dumbed down PCs, with Steam serving as a digital game console platform, it’s no wonder this skewed sense has crept into game development. Much like how Hollywood execs are becoming further moved away from the common consumer, the same is happening in game industry. There are too many large houses doing far too large projects, there is only three consoles on the market, with Steam effectively being a fourth addition that play the bit part of everything. Uniqueness has been replaced with ports everywhere, and now that ports seemingly not making enough money, the consumer is expected to dosh out more for the product they purchased.

EA and other developers need to look inside of their own house and cut down on the overtly expensive development cycles.

The argument that games can’t cost over 60€ is also bullshit. Currently, the medium price for a game is lower than what it has been at their highest. Ultima games cost around 120 dollars, with some N64 games costing locally around 120€ when transferred to current currency. If there is a need to raise games’ prices to meet the production costs, so be it. The market will decide if that was the right call. That, or drop the development costs outside salaries. It’s not the consumer’s fault if the products are not meeting with expectations and incredibly over-estimated sales figures.

Tapping people who may have gambling tendencies though is not the way to go.