A local question

Astro Boy, Gigantor and Eight Man are classic shows that have a place in American pop culture, even thou Eight Man is probably the most forgotten piece of the bunch. This was the 60’s, and a cartoon with robots flying in the sky, high-speed androids and robot boys fit the era fine. From what I’ve gathered from what people who grew up with these shows, nobody questioned their origin. They were entertaining shows on the telly and that’s all that mattered. I’d throw Speed Racer into the mix as well, thou it arrived just a tad later to the mix, but met with the same treatment.

Video and computer games have a similar history, all things considered. Nobody really cared where from arcade games came from, they just rocked the place. Not even the name Nintendo raised some eyebrows, it was just some exotic name cocked up in a meeting. Pretty much what Herb Powell did in The Simpsons.

Games had a shorter gestation period than robot cartoons when it comes to finding the source to some extent. US saw the mid-1970’s Shogun Warriors, a toyline that used wide variety of toys based on Toei’s show with some changed names to fit better the American market. The NES era is relatively infamous of its localised games, and much like how American reception of these Japanese cartoons ultimately was felt back in Japan, so was the localisations and changed made to games. Perhaps the best example of this would how Salamander became Life Force in its arcade re-release and effectively became its own spin-off from the base game.

This, of course, has been largely in America. Europe is a bit of a different thing, with France, Italy and Spain having their own imported animation culture to the point of Spain having a statue for Mazinger Z. I remember reading about a tennis comic that a French publisher continued after its end in Japan. This was done by hiring an illustrator who could replicate the original style and saw healthy sales for a time. Something that like probably could never happen in modern world, unless the original author has died and has made it clear that continuing his work is allowed. Somehow I can see titles like Mazinger  and Dragon Ball still gaining new entries to the franchise long after Go Nagai and Akira Toriyama have left for Mangahalla.

Sadly, I am not as well versed in pan-European phenomena when it comes to Japanese animation in the Old World, but there are numerous resources in both online and book format, often in native tongue. Perhaps worth investing time into for future entries.

While things like Robotech and Voltron made their names around the American landscape, the 1980’s saw a growing appreciation for the original, unaltered footage. This was the era of Laserdisc, and people were mail ordering cartoons solely based on the covers. Can’t blame them, LDs tend to have absolutely awesome covers. Whenever these shows were shown in a convention, a leaflet explaining the overall premise and the story would be spread among the visitors or a separate person would enter the stage and give a synopsis of the events on the screen. There were those who felt, and still feel, that localisation demeans the original work.

Similarly, game importing became a thing in the latter part of the 1980’s and in the early 1990’s with NES’ success, though it should be mentioned that Europe saw PC game importing across regions far more. The Nordic countries began importing NES games anywhere they could and specialised mail service stores popped up just to service this part of the population. It wasn’t uncommon to see Genesis and Mega Drive titles sold side by side in-game stores. Appreciation for the original game saw a rise, either because of it was simply cool to have shit in Japanese or from America, or because some level of censorship was present. However, more often it was because Europe was largely ignored when it came to releasing certain games. Importing unavailable games to a region is still relevant, perhaps even more so than previously now that companies are investing in English releases in Asian versions and region free consoles are becoming an industry standard.

The question I’ve been asking myself for a long time now, longer than I’ve been writing this blog, is that whether or not wholesome localisation like Space Battleship Yamato and Starblazers was a necessary evil of the time that we can be do without now, that we are grown culturally to accept the original work as a whole, or whether it’s just hubris of the people who are too close to their sub-culture and co-fans. A person who is tightly knit with music’s sub-culture doesn’t exactly understand the sub-culture of pinball or golf.

By that I mean that pop-culture in general doesn’t give jackshit whether or not panties are censored in a video game, it’s irrelevant in macro-scale. Even in a localised form a product can impact pop-culture in ways that the original couldn’t, the aforementioned Speed Racer and Robotech being highly impacting examples in American pop-culture. I guarantee that these shows would not have their impact without the localisation effort.

Is it a necessary evil then? Perhaps this is the subjective part with no answer. Those who value original, unaltered product without a doubt will always prefer the “purest” form of the product, whereas someone who doesn’t have the same priorities will most likely enjoy the localised version just as fine. It would be infantile to assume that people who don’t know better can’t appreciate the original piece or lack in intelligence somehow. It is merely a matter preference, and like assholes, everyone has one.

If it matters, I personally vouch for unaltered products whenever applicable for the sake of keeping the integrity of the product and the intentions of the creators intact. However, also see complete localisations having their valid place in e.g. children’s cartoons. While it would be nice to have two or more versions of everything for the sake of options, that’s not always an option for budgetary, marketing or some other reasons.

Perhaps that’s what could be argued; when it comes to Western culture, we are more acceptable to unlocalised products more than previously, but total localisations still have their place. Even without knowing much about the source, we can appreciate the intentions and look past the cultural difference.

Or at least we should be able to, and appreciate the differences and intentions without resorting to raising a hell for nothing.

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Switch the talk from hardware

I really do sound like a broken record at this point. With the leaks about Switch being less powerful than the PlayStation 4, things have gotten on the overdrive again with calling it a failure on the launch. None of Nintendo’s more powerful consoles have been a success. As Yamauchi said, a game console is just a box to play games on.

Take a look at Nintendo’s history with consoles. NES was underpowered compared to its competitors, yet it came on the top. Well, except in Europe, where Nintendo fucked their marketing and Europeans had their computer games. SNES was ultimately weaker than the Mega Drive thanks to the addons and despite them still came to the top, not to mention the other competitors of the time. N64 failed despite having more powerful hardware than the PlayStation or Saturn. GameCube too was ultimately a failure despite topping the PS2. The Wii was a massive hit despite being weaker. The Wii U on the other hand had jack shit when it came to software (just like the N64) and had that huge controller nobody wanted. The same can be seen in the handheld market. The Game Boy slaughtered all of its competition as did the DS. The Vita could have trumped the 3DS if it had any software worth shit, but SONY repeated the exact same travesty they did with the PSP.

The common consumer doesn’t give jack shit about how strong a console is. Why? Because they know hardware does not mean better games. People absolutely hate paying for new hardware, because it’s the games that matter. The hardware race has always been part of the PC culture, not console. Consoles have been about software race. Tech fans no need to apply for console gaming, if we’re being brutally blunt here.

Because Super Mario Bros. was such a success, you saw a lieu of games trying to replicate its success, most notably Sonic the Hedgehog. The developers just need to do their job and optimise the games, and even better, design games from the ground up for the Switch and all is golden. Of course, because everything just runs on the same engine as everything else and nobody bothers doing any extensive optimisation to ensure the smoothest possible experience (or even know how to do that at worst case) we’ll just get sad and hastily put together ports.

Consumers never bought Nintendo consoles for them being Nintendo consoles. Not outside fanboys. People bought them for the software, for Mario and Zelda. People bought PlayStation for the same reason; it had games they wanted to play, not because the hardware. Nintendo is not a niche as some would assume because of their approach. No, on the contrary. Their consoles tended to be cheaper and smaller than the competitors’ because of matured technology. This is again one of those things we’ve gone over so many times, but seems like people are still ignoring the fact when Nintendo uses Gunpei Yokoi’s philosophy alongside Yamauchi’s, they strike gold. Nintendo, when they are at their best (NES, Game Boy, Wii) Nintendo is far from being a niche. Electronic games isn’t just a hobby of selected group of people, but something all can enjoy, and striking that Blue Ocean should be expected and even wanted, not the opposite. Losing hope over lack of hardware prowess is useless. Your life doesn’t depend on a game console, go outside camping sometimes.

Switch has few points going for it that most seem to ignore. One is the cartridges. This needs more fanfare, as it means the games themselves will be far more longlasting than the optical media. The lack of long loading times helps too. Oh now you care about hardware? Oh you. Secondly, the fact that the Switch is a hybrid also means the games are not required to be connected to the Internet all the damn time.

The biggest problem the Switch currently has is the fact that Nintendo isn’t showcasing any of that software. This is the sole reason why people are talking about Switch’s hardware to the extent they currently are and each and every bit of information is torn apart. There’s nothing else to talk about the Switch, and I haven’t seen anyone else to discuss its design either. The latest The Legend of Zelda got pushed back too, so the media can’t discuss that either. So, hardware it is for them to keep the clicks up. I guess I’m no better, commenting on the fact. Unless Nintendo rolls something significant on the software side with the Switch, there’s no valid reason for me to discuss it any further.

One of my New Year’s promises should be to throw this broken record to trash and just re-blog the sentence Software matters more than hardware whenever applicable.

More Steam consoles coming your way

Recently Valve Corp. put out news concerning a portable Steam machine. No, not a laptop, but a handheld console.

What a console is has been through a change as of late, and Steam isn’t the only one that’s to be credited with this. All the account systems we have now have effectively become the consoles themselves. While this is a change from physical to digital, the core function hasn’t changed.

To recount, a console is essentially physical DRM. Unlike some PC DRM that are highly invasive and might even destroy the users’ HDD. Consoles have pretty much always been about plug-n-play, thou we can argue about Pong consoles. That simple function of having the game in, either built-in or as a cartridge, and have it there the moment you turn the machine on. That is the core difference between a console and a PC. This dynamic has changed, for better or worse.

With the upcoming Nintendo NX, we have seen signs that there could be a unified account system across Nintendo platforms, akin to how PSN is shared between Vita, PSP, PS3 and PS4, or how Microsoft accounts can be shared across all MS machines. With the constant increase in digital nature of the games, the physical machine has lost most of its meaning, especially now that PS4 and XBone are very similar in design and build.

Valve’s Steam was a bit ahead of this all, providing this sort of digital game console before stepping in with the hardware business. It’s very strange to see Valve Corp. to push out multiple versions of their Steam machines. At the moment, their most expensive machine variant goes for $4 999,99 while the lowest goes for $449. That’s strange, very strange. If Valve wanted to hit the same consumer group that the Big Three are competing for, this sort of multiple machine approach feels very strange indeed. It’s understandable why to offer a digital game console on PCs, as it streamlines the usability but doesn’t magically make it PC gaming. The machine, with it being slowly but surely being turned into a mere notion, is irrelevant now. It wouldn’t be for PC gamers, who would want to modify and tweak their games to the absolute maximum possibilities and beyond, but with Steam even these so-called PC games have gone with the console route and made everything simple. It’s the plug-n-play mentality, and calling that PC gaming would be demeaning what it is.

Steam OS is another example of this change, as it quite literally turns your PC into a game console. You’ll be losing all the benefits PC gaming used to have with Steam, and with an OS the last remnants of PC gaming are almost completely lost. The only things that Steam allows the consumer to do that resembles PC gaming are options that are not found on consoles, eg. higher resolution and additional effects. These games are still tied down to the system, just like console games are.

PC gaming isn’t getting the same games as consoles and having them on better specs. Hardware race used to be a big part of PC gaming, but not anymore. There’s still those who masturbate over getting that extra frame per second over someone else, but that’s practically meaningless in comparison to actual PC gaming, where the hardware race was to actually get the game run properly. PC gaming wasn’t plug-n-play, it wasn’t necessarily easy. That’s an atmosphere that PC game is in the end. Whereas arcades were all about the reflexes and split second decisions, the PC was a thinking man’s realm. The main reason why UItima always sucked on consoles was because it’s a PC game series. It wasn’t just developed for PCs, it was designed and its core lays with the PC way of thinking. You find all the best Western RPGs on PCs, because they’re text heavy, adventures, designed to blazed through in a relatively slow pace. With consoles being in the middle between arcade and PC, they could’ve been a healthy balance between the two. The Legend of Zelda, the first properly popular Action RPG got that genre coined because it functioned like an RPG with its relatively slow overall pace but with the need to be able to manoeuvre properly in arcade like action. While most people think PC RPGs in terms of levels and numbers, these levels and numbers have been streamlined in Zelda to be simply represented with hearts, pieces of the Triforce and equipment.

In Japan this was represented in Visual Novels and their own adventure games and simulators, where the text and menu heavy games ran rampart. The occasional action game you saw was either clunky or horribly choppy to the point of almost impossible to play properly.

With PC gaming almost completely lost due to consoles becoming dumbed down PCs and the games getting mixed, it’s not surprising to see a generation or two thinking that PC gaming is just playing games on PC, which is dumbing and tamping it down to lowest common extreme.

In a recent report we saw that the most played games on Steam are Valve based. This is very similar in where those who own Xbone mostly favour games close to Microsoft’s own brand, and similar fashion follows with Nintendo and SONY as well. As much as people would hate the idea, there’s four big console companies out there, Valve being included with the Big Three.

The Portable Steam machine is… a machine to play Valve games on the go without having to resort lugging your laptop with you, essentially. I’m not a fan of the preliminary design we’ve seen, but then again the whole idea of having to use a dual-stick controls is a turn off. That’s actually a good example of a way how PC was adapted to consoles. It’s an inferior method of control despite consoles allowing whatever type controller you wanted to buy and use. The NES was a bastion of controller selections and there’s a very good reason MadCatz has a negative rap to its name, despite producing high-end arcade sticks as of late

The change from having consoles gone to digital realm is something that consumers need to get used to. That is one reason PC gaming barely exists, and you can thank Valve’s Steam for that.

Technology, consoles and computers

One way to determine a difference between a console and computer gamer is how they approach their respective platforms. For console gamer, he approaches the games first and foremost, giving them a platform and concentrating on those themselves. A computer gamer however concentrates on the specs, citing everything from the RAM of their gaming rig to the maximum resolution their monitor can output. Essentially, the software versus the hardware.

Because of the mixing of computer and console games, the approach between the two has become just as mudded. More often than not computer games used to drive the users stupidly insane, as they had to continue updating their rigs to play the latest Ultima or Privateer. Not only it demanded money, but dedication most of all. For console gamers life was easier, as all they had to worry about were the release dates and whether or not they had money to purchase the game, or in case of games like Zelda II, if they managed to nab a copy for themselves.

Console games are tailor made to run on a console, using the best possible capabilities it offers from controllers to whatever the hardware could do. It is far more easier to produce a computer game, as it has very little limitations what you can do with it, outside the whole keyboard and mouse controls. Whether or not you prefer those over a controller is up to opinion, even thou one can make a proper argument about the tactility of controllers and their form fitting.

Recently SONY admitted that the PlayStation 4 was not up to the technological higher end it was meant to be, but this is an oxymoron. Consoles have never been at the technological high end. Because of the technological development and the solid nature of the consoles, the moment any game console is released it holds outdated technology that can’t be upgraded. However, SONY is absolutely right in that PlayStation 4 not being at the top of the line has little do with game quality. Over and over again we have seen the consoles with lesser specs beating their more powerful competitors. No, Super Nintendo is not an exception in this. Mega Drive has 32X and Sega CD in the end, putting it on the higher end than Nintendo’s reverb filled console.

Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot of roaring from the computer gamers about the 4k displays. Your normal user doesn’t care about that at this point, nor has the 4k displayed the other HD displays at this point in time. Display technology advances at such a high rate, that buying a high end television once every twenty or thirty years should suffice you just fine, unless you’re a huge tech fanatic.

For the computer side, the 4k is another hardware issue the love to discuss how they would be able to make use of them the best possible way. For a console gamer, the issue is not relevant, at least not yet. This is because the 4k sets are not common in households. The companies have released numerous versions of their sets offering 4k support, but as with others things, there’s very little reason to put money now into 4k television when there’s very little that supports it. Much like with almost every console launch, the first years of any new technology sees little adoption before the gradual shift either makes a household standard or something new comes along and beats it. The change from VHS to DVD is an example of rather rapid change in both industry and household standards. SONY wished to replicate that success with the Blu-Ray format, but the jump from DVD to Blu-Ray has been far more slower. Even with DVD, the early players were rather low in quality and some early players simply can’t play the latest discs because of the technology differences, and then you had the fact most DVDs were low quality VHS transfers. There are instances where the Laserdisc edition was superior before a proper digital remaster came along, or in few rare cases, a Blu-Ray release.

There is also an issue of worldwide markets. The cultural values regarding technology varies massively and not all areas simply accept the new technology as the best. That said, the opposite applies as well. All we can really do is to individually wager whether or not it is worth purchasing potential rather than proved practicality. Early adopters always purchase for potential, and there are times when they simply bet on the wrong horse, much like with the BetaMAX or HD-DVD.

4k displays may be latest of the tech, and we all know that in a year or two we may be hearing about something that makes the 4k a moot point. Actually, there already exists numerous higher resolution standards than the 4k, like DCI Standard and the 8k FUHD. New ones will come along. Skipping a technological step isn’t anything new, and majority of consumers simply skip the things they don’t consider as worthwhile purchases. I can assure you that while 4k displays, objectively speaking, seem to offer better visual experience, there are those who simply don’t care and are fully content on using their current sets due to variety of reasons.

All that said, when would we see actual use for 4k display sets outside video games? NHK has announced Super Hi-Vision broadcasts for Japan in 2016. Eutelsat is Ultra HD dedicated channel that is already operating. 2013 and 2014 have been the years when Ultra HD has made its impact mainly within the industries. The end-consumer hasn’t really seen anything worth purchasing outside the potential. Then again, we had people announcing that 3D would be the future, and the boom ended up being a simple whimper.

First adopters purchase for the possibilities products offers, whereas most other consumers base their purchase on what already is offered. The compute gamer most likely would put his money into a 4k display in order to keep himself atop the hardware race, whereas a console gamer wouldn’t need a 4k set before something worthwhile would come into play. Even then, when something has a 4k support, there’s always the question whether or not the content in itself is worth the investment.

PC games and the hardcore story

I decided to attend a game design course not too long ago just for the kicks in our local university to see what kind people there were and what things the lecturer would go through. What came out of it was more or less the things I already had known, and a new understanding how ignorant PC gamers can be with the term “hardcore gamer.”

A hardcore gamer is a myth created on message boards and chats. There is none. When discussing the matter with the students there about the subject they concluded that a hardcore gamer is somebody who plays a lot of game, collects them and has a lot of knowledge behind them. Skyrim was brought up as an example for a hardcore game. However, somebody who plays the Wii, console games or arcade titles in general was a casual gamer. Inquiring them whether or not I was a casual or hard lead to no answers. This was because they had no basis in their arguments, only an idea that has been floating around.

What seems to bind these hardcore gamers and hardcore games together is the story elements and options the player has within the stories. Skyrim and Mass Effect were given as prime examples. The phrase “this game has no deep plot, it isn’t a hardcore game or anything” was the most rephrased sentence in bulk of the presentations given by the students. The selections and choices given the player also seemed to be a big part in the game. According to these people, who also seemed to represent the majority of the online student’s opinion, was that arcade games do not allow players to choose.

Let’s stop here for a moment and wonder what is choosing inside a game. According to these students, a game does not a any choices if the story in the game doesn’t allow them. However, they went silent when asked if any action done in a game is a choice or not. I gave Final Fight as an easy example. The game does not give choices to the player outright in form of text, but gives the player to choose from their own preferred way of fighting the goons the way they wanted. They disregarded these as choices and options, and called them as puzzles. How the hell selecting between two guys to punch is a puzzle? The only way these students could understand what a choice is was through multiple choice questions like in Mass Effect. In games a choice is something that player chooses to do. It has nothing to do whether or not it’s a story selection or not. Simply the decision of jumping unto someone in Super Mario Bros. is a choice given to the player.

Vast majority of the attendants were clearly had their roots in computer games and only in computer games. Their route to console games was most likely in the early 90’s and then later on with the current generation of consoles. Their point of view was fixed to one way only, and nothing could budge them. They had no appreciation outside their own beloved computer games that were clearly superior to measly arcade and console games. Their games were more cerebral and had more story into them, more realistic and rewarding.

But ‘lo, they regarded such game as Contra as a true hardcore game! How Contra can be a hardcore game when it’s the epitome of arcade game, a true casual game if we were to use such terms. Pointing this out they said that the difficulty alone makes Contra a hardcore game, but to this I demanded to know what excludes all other arcade and console titles from their list of hardcore games. They basically had none and went back at talking about difficulty levels and stories. To this I noted that aren’t bulk of adventure games difficult only in a manner of knowing what to do rather than skill, making them truly casual games? Adventure games are also extremely easy to anyone to pick and and play, like Myst.
These students had no idea what to talk about simply because they were computer game players.

It’s been a mindset that computers will some day be integrated to the society to the extreme and become something more than a mere tool. They expected Atari to become such entity, then NES, then PlayStation, then the XBox, and now the iPad. Computer games will never be popular on any other platform other than computers. The same can be said of console games with the exception that most arcade ports did succeed on consoles and the largest console franchises originated from arcades.

Hard core gamers and their stories are one of the reasons that the game industry’s in decline. The Wii and the DS has showed what kind of console and arcade titles is what people want. If the industry were to make more and more hard core games, they would lose more and more money and customers. It would take another industry crash them to realize that hardcore gamers do not exist. What they are in their true colours is computer game players directed to consoles. If the industry would return making console games for consoles, arcade game for all platforms and computer games for computers, then we could return to a more balanced industry.

Look at Angry Birds, a computer game on computer devices and its succession. Look at New Super Mario Bros. Wii, a console arcade game on a console and its succession. Or if we want to go back in time, look at how successful such game as Pac-Man was on any platform it was released. The only place where it failed was the computer, and computers do not matter in the long run.

What will it take for players to open their eyes and start enjoying games as games, rather than as experiences?

The arcade quality

Making games has got easier since the 70’s. Very few games that are made today are arcade quality any more. In time when PC got all the homebrew and bunch of horribly coded games, arcades had more often perfection of their time. In the 80’s arcades were the place to play games, meet people and commune in general. An arcade game has to succeed, there’s no losing in arcade market. Those games that do fail will never make their due. Those games aren’t remembered by anyone these days, except hardcore MAME fanatics.
A successful arcade game has to have playability, replay value, easy yet complex controls and unseen depth, but most importantly, it must be easy to pick and play. Everybody has heard of Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and Pong even if they haven’t played the games. Computer games will always lose to arcade games simply because arcade games are for everybody. Let’s make this clear; Arcade games are not computer games. Console games are combination of computer and arcade games. The term for computer, console and arcade games is electronic gaming. It compasses more than just these three, it encompasses everything from digital pinball machines to certain love test machines and to all modern gambling machines. Modern computer players have a good reason to mock modern console games, as both Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 are nothing more than glorified one-use computers. They’re not game consoles, they’re multimedia centres, especially PS3 with its Blu-Ray support. Exactly this is the reason why both of them lost to the Wii and why Wii U will be a disaster compared to its predecessor. In the 80’s and early 90’s we saw a lot of games that were essentially arcade games for the home consoles, like the all Atari consoles, the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Sega Master System and the Sega Mega Drive /Genesis. Nowadays we’re looking at consoles filled with computer games made for consoles, and they’re not selling as much as games sold in the 80’s. People keep looking at sales charts and pointing out that this is false, but they never take into account population growth, how many people own multiple consoles etc.

Arcade games demand perfection from both developer and player. Very few developer these days can make arcade games any more, and now that Nintendo has abandoned their arcade roots, the future of console games is dire. I find it laughable that both 360 and PS3 has add-ons that are basically a keyboard and mouse for “more precise control in your action games.” The fact that developing of console games themselves has shifted into developing computer games for consoles. Development of arcade games does not exist par few exceptions. Capcom has gone all the fighting game craze during these last years, and not the good kind might I add. Because the skill of coding has diminished during the last thirty years, it just might be that the second Video Game Crash isn’t because there’s so many bad games nobody pays for, but because the market is filled with games that have too high price for wrong reasons.
Personally, I am willing to pay 60€ for three new games and that’s that. The first one is being released 19th of this month (next week’s Friday) and the game is Xenoblade.
When people say “they don’t make it like they used to” is painfully true.

I wonder what it takes for companies to notice that their tactics is more damaging that constructing?