Statement design is art

Back in 2016 a Royal College of Art graduate Micaella Pedros showcased a method to use plastic (polyethylene terephthalate or PET) bottles as a joining material to create furniture. This is done by collecting empty bottles and cutting their top and bottom off to create a ring, which then is heat-treated with a heat gun or similar source to make them shrink around the two objects. This method of wrapping two objects together creates sustainable furniture, she claims. This is nothing short of bullshit. The idea of collecting trash and repurposing it for sustainable use is a dream come true to many designers and artists out there, but it’s not this easy. We can clearly see that the furniture Pedros has created look like trash and do not hold up together alone. In numerous examples we see her using screws to keep parts in place, which in itself already is creating a stronger joint than the bottle rings. This design also necessitates using grooves and cut-outs between the two objects to create a proper holding wrap, as there is no adherence between the wrapping agent or between the two objects. It’s just melting plastic over the material, which means the material itself has to have something that keeps itself from moving around. Without the grooves, you could just pop bits off. In actuality, how RCA’s website describes the method is bullshit, as they describe the method as …used a heat-shrinking process to transform the plastic into malleable rings, which could then be placed around pieces of wood. You can’t heat-treat them first and then place them around the piece, you have to do it the other way around; place them around the objects and then heat gun them. There are chances someone will burn their fingers with this.

The material itself is a bad choice as well. PET bottles don’t last long. UV radiation degrades the material and considering Pedros was collecting these from outdoors trash, the material she was using had already started its degradation. When you add the heat-treatment to shrink them, it loses more of its strength and brittler. Might as well mention that every time Pedros heated one of these plastic bottles up she was releasing toxins and carcinogens to the air. Not by much, yet should be noted as all this goes against her theme here about recycling and sustainability, as this has neither. Pedros saying this method satisfying and magical, how anyone can do it, embraces the democratic value of DIY culture, is nothing short of short-sighted bullshit. Anyone can learn how to screw things together, anyone can learn how to use glue. There isn’t anything magical about this in DIY sense, and everything is worse on multiple levels. This isn’t about creating a sustainable piece of product that would last in use, or about even recycling in itself. This is what I’ve called statement design, a form of art that doesn’t try to improve life or otherwise push any envelopes forwards. It’s there for the artist’s self-satisfaction and wankery disguised as high-art and innovate design. It’s faux-activism that is taking time and materials away from actual recycling. You don’t start a sustainable and recyclable design from the back end. It has be to be begun at the drawing board before anything else, where you can choose materials and production methods that don’t promote further creation of unsustainable plastics and such. A designer who wants to create something lasting doesn’t go to the trash pile and see what they can do with the trash itself, that doesn’t stop the creation of more trash. The whole green design movement is misunderstanding the difference between sustainable design and recycling, and while we can use recycled materials in sustainable design, this isn’t it. All this kind of approach is creating statement pieces that don’t last long, are outright dangerous to use and will never see large scale production or adoption as the end-result first showcase look like what they truly are; trash.

 

While Micaella Pedro’s plastic wrapping method is largely harmless, the same can’t be said about Laila Laurel’s ‘Manspreading’ chair. This chair, designed to stop from spreading their legs apart, was as Reminiscent of medieval torture devices translated through mid-century style and that’s what it is. It’s not every day you hear a torture device winning an award. Disregarding how you feel about manspreading, whether or not it is an issue, this is the exact opposite of what design should be. This is statement art at its finest/worst, where the whole idea is to make a social shout to the creator’s peers, not create a product of worth. In terms of design, there is an incredible lack of anything to grasp on, with the seats being simple slabs of wood and the backrest is effectively unusable. Note that the chair meant for men, the one on the right, doesn’t have the backrests pylons straight, with the third one from the left being visibly grooved. The craftsmanship looks something like an eighth-grader would do during crafts lessons. At least the joints look like something that would last more than a year, meaning this chair already has sustainability and longevity over Pedros’ PET bottle project.

Because these chairs are meant to make a statement, they’re not there be used. They fight against the human physiology itself. The little notch added to the women’s chair makes little sense. It’s there to prevent the sitter from closing her legs, but also to notch into a seater’s balls if it’s a man. The way the men’s chair grooves inwards could cause irritation and damage. The way the pelvis is structured between the sexes is different and how the legs flange out is easily seen what is the more comfortable way to sit. Sure you have the balls between there as well, as you don’t really want to crush them. Surely the 45-degree angles at the sides are meant to direct the man into a proper sitting position for the chair, yet it’d be easy to see people just sitting back property and lifting their legs over the sides, spreading even wider. The sharpness of those edges really doesn’t do anything in a short interval to prevent a more comfortable position.

However, this isn’t about design. This is about art making a statement and that’s why it won the award. This is a non-issue that can be dealt with through good manners. Let’s not forget that manspreading is actually beneficial on the dating market, as it’s part of human body language when it comes to finding a partner. While this might not be beneficial in a cramped subway, telling people to scoot over is a far more sensible option than intentionally discomforting them. Maybe next we need seats that auto-launch handbags that are left on vacant seats.

The whole point of statement design is to create something that wouldn’t be used but is intended to bring a topic to the forefront. The craftsmanship is often lousy and the end-product only there to be exhibited and discarded. In practice, these kinds of works have little to no value in themselves, only in the topics they intended to give a form to. It’s creating trash for the sake of the message. It’s useless waste of time and money for the sake making little noise that goes nowhere often about nonsense topics with little value. These are far from comparable to the classical arts, where events and topics were painstakingly painted on a canvas or chiselled into stone. Compare either of these to any venerated work, like Picasso’s Guernica, and you can see the difference. If a painting is too different a comparison, then use the Wassily Chair as a contrast of design that makes a statement about production and innovation. Marcel Breuer’s chair will stay a forever classic, ignoring pettiness of the world all the while innovating in material use and production. That in itself is a statement to be admired.

Taking an axe to a dead horse

Let me start this post by not just kicking that one dead horse, but again mince its meat and turn its hooves into glue; the story of a game is in its play, the rest of framing. The thing that makes electronic gaming so interesting is that the framing is considered equal, if not more important in some cases, than the content it is framing.

A game’s framing narrative will always be second to the play of the game, that’s part of the medium. The framing can never escape the play part, and ultimately has to be break itself apart and into segments to satisfy the needs of play. This could be, for example,  the need for the player to move a character from locale A to locale B in order to continue the narrative segment. Or in case of Xenosaga, walk from a room to another to continue from a fifteen-minute FMV. The narrative also has the option to cover game mechanics as part of the world, but that is not specifically necessary.

The game can cover rules of the play by other means as well, but for the sake of game’s own narrative consistency, more often than not the rules are implemented as part of the framing narrative. Sometimes it makes sense, like how Trails in the Sky has the whole orbs-in-slots system, something concrete that the player sees and collects, and other times it’s rather abstract like Junctioning Magic to Guardian Forces in Final Fantasy XIII. Nevertheless, the framing itself matters less than the function and rules of the play the provide.

Of course, depending on the game, the framing device can be extremely important, or matter very little. Modern audiences are used to having everything in FMVs and pre-scripted sequences that take control out of the players’ hands, but in the arcades this context was delivered via cabinet marquees and attraction screens. In the best cases, games were laid out and designed to deliver the framing without much words or time wasted. For example, the subtitle of the first Street Fighter II was The World Warrior, referring to the world stage the player’s chosen character would be in. The selection screen itself presented this concept with the world map and plane flying here and there. Much like any other visual medium, games excel in the visual side of things. Certainly, many arcade games slapped a text to give you the base framing and that was that, which is effectively an equivalent of any modern FMV. More abstract games didn’t need any. Pac-Man eats pills and tries to avoid the Ghosts. That’s the minimum amount of framing a game needs to fully justify its play. Funnily enough, that is also the description of the play, getting two birds with one stone.

The framing fights the player agency because it’s not the content, the play is. Nowadays we take for granted how large the overall framing is to give a whole world for the play to be justified, which is overreaching it rather hard, but it is one of the easier and most accessible aspects to analyse regarding games. This is because we are taught to read from a young age and how to analyse media overall. Film criticism comes a bit later, but often we build our own preferences based on certain aspects of films, which makes the whole analysing this framing device very easy.

It’s not as easy with other media, where specialised knowledge is more or less necessary to understand how the content is being framed. To drag the remains of the horse’s corpse here for a moment, not many people concentrate on the frames of a painting or on the pedestal of a statue despite the possibility that they too could have seen masterful works themselves. A painting is being elevated further when an unique frame has been designed and carved for it, accenting its strokes and colours properly. Often they just get overlooked and whatever readily made models are there on the table gets picked up, because the frame isn’t the main point. Not many know wood-crafting well enough to begin to appreciate the necessary skill and knowledge master framers have built up throughout the years to pair a painting perfectly to a frame, and proceed to frame it in an equally skilful manner. Everything from material selection to the attaching itself must be taken into account. Or, y’know, just nab that proper sized black frame from Ikea and go with that. Sure, same thing. I’m overstating this point because handiwork and craftsmanship isn’t something we all learn too deeply. We dabble in it and may learn base skills, but we aren’t taught them to any deeper extent. Craft lessons at school mostly just play rather than building up any true skill, unlike your native tongue lessons.

Games that rely heavily on the framing narrative also tend to decrease the agency of the player, the freedom of play. This doesn’t matter too much in games that are laid out as fields of challenge, like almost every action and racing game out there, but raises its ugly head when it comes to RPGs. More often than not, RPGs do not offer a whole lot of ways for the player to realise their own play. Some RPGs allow completely free character creation and follow in suit, but even then framing device is ready and sometimes can’t even be affected. When the developer concentrates on emphasizing their framing as a single narrative, the player agency is effectively nil. Very few times the framing allows the player to have a large agency on its course and in cases like YIIK the narrative is overwhelmingly more important than the play to the point of it having been designed to hate the player. The greater the narrative design, the more it has to rely on the techniques from other media, but marrying it to the play also requires an equal amount of design decisions regarding the play. For example, Kojima may have made his titles long-ass movies at times, but simply allowing the player to turn on the first person camera and look around for clues and easter eggs add to the player agency. While the player can’t continue the scene on their own terms, they are given control over an aspect nevertheless. A small thing that adds value to otherwise lengthy scenes of doing nothing.

While the framing narrative sees ever-rising budgets and effort to have the most well-scripted stories to be delivered, there is an immense lack of any effort to meld this narrative within the content. This, of course, would necessitate far larger scale of stories and pathways the player can take, making it necessary to consider completely opposite directions of their current framing narrative than intended. For example, imagine if during a Call of Duty campaign the player could at certain points make a decision to change sides. Perhaps this could be a multi-campaign element, where the player could choose to effectively change one campaign to another, but at the same time changing the way the framing of the campaign works from thereon. The rules of the game don’t change, but rather than being one of the Allied, he might end up playing a soldier who now fights for the Axis. This would offer the developers ways depict a more complex narrative as well as offer the player more options to explore. Perhaps even allow a third option of abandoning the war altogether and be chased throughout the fields by both sides. These aren’t RPG elements or the like, these would simply be options to be presented to the player in a similar manner that optional routes are. All this of course goes in the face of the current paradigm, where the narrative must one whole that the player must experience. The Last of Us 2 aimed to make the player uncomfortable by making enemies lament on their friends’ deaths while the narrative didn’t offer any other options but what the developers intended. It didn’t work out.

This isn’t exactly railroading the player as much as the paradigm for video and computer games haven’t shifted to consider these a valid option. Not that they necessarily should, as these spreading games are more or less considered gimmicks. Surprisingly, the Drakengard series, including Nier, has taken strides in this. Their multiple endings can be unlocked by player actions to different degrees, though usually, the first round is always the same. Nier: Automata has one of my favourite examples of this, where you can turn around as 9S when you first get control of him in New Game + and just fuck off from starting point, you achieve an end to the game. Another example would be when the player reaches the peaceful robot village, and despite their pacifism, the player proceeds to murder every robot there, gaining another ending. Again, these are minor things and yet they show how the developers considered possible player actions or at least their want of certain kind of action, and realised it as a solution or a path as part of the framing narrative. None of this, of course, would function if the frame wouldn’t have designed to house these deviating rules of play.

The thing is, with games making the framing is easier than making the content. The content isn’t as freeform or artsy, it requires intensive labour hours and demands a lot of skill even if you use a ready engine. The designs of play and choices made have to function, each and every programming error and design mistake compound on top of each other faster than it does in the framing narrative. Creating the framing for a game is the fun part, but creating the game itself is where the true difficulties lie. It’s no wonder that a multi-branching game that would allow the frames to change at the player’s decisions are still rather rare, and even then some franchises make clear-cut marketing that this is an element of their play, that routes are a franchise gimmick. That’s not even what I’m truly trying to convey with this post.

Let me try to rephrase the whole thing in short; Computer and video games still rely on methods of film and literature in their framing narrative and have not been able to truly marry it to the play. This some times comes through as route selections, sometimes as exposition being spouted during a boss battle. The main split is whether or not the player is in control. The marriage of the frame and the content would need to be as with painting that has specifically made frames for; a player should have large agency, perhaps even control, to move the framing narrative. This way the story, that is the player actions during play, would be part of the narrative. This is just a solution. Furthermore, the more the framing device aims to be the main point of the game, the more the game will suffer as it still has to accommodate the play. This is why video game adaptation on the silver screen can’t work as intended because they are written and planned around the game. Point of a game is to be played, to be the active participant.

Here’s a point where this is apparent. During TGS 2020, Square-Enix released a trailer of the new Final Fantasy because overseas customers wanted to see a trailer that shows the game’s play footage. What SquEnix did first was to offer the game’s frame, as that has always been their forté. However, what the customer always wants to see is the content and that applies to every field. You can jingle shiny keys in front of the customer however much you want, but at the end of the day, they want to go for a drive too.

I have no title and I want to talk about TMNT III The Manhattan Project in relation to Streets of Rage 4

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project is one of the best, if not the best example, of a well-made beat ’em up, or belt scrolling action game. Dare I say, and even argue, that it is superior to the game that got more money and more attention that was in development at the same time, Turtles in Time. This is an opinion against the grain though, as the fourth game (or third if you’re Japanese) is considered to be at the top. Why then would I argue for TMNTIII to be the superior title? Mostly because the game offers more.

Absolutely terrific cover that barely represents the game, as the artist had given no clue of the contents outside floating Manhattan

TMNTIII was built for the NES from the grounds up, it had no arcade original counterpart to be compared to. This is the opposite of TMNTII: The Arcade Game and Turtles in Time. It’s a title that takes what was in the previous game and goes to

town with it all, expanding and exploring all the little intricacies the previous had and how to improve upon them. Most things play wise were left untouched but polished up, and each Turtle gained their own unique Special move. On top of that, something simple as throwing an enemy was added and surprisingly makes approaching enemies in certain situations a whole lot different. Turtles in Time would have the horsepower under it to make things more cinematic for sure, but its throwing mechanism, despite being full of flurry and flash, is not as satisfying. TMNTIII uses it in a very tactical manner, and though the end result is something that is common with most other games in the genre, the fact that it is instantly in your command like normal attacking makes it a far more viable option rather than needing to first grab the enemy and then throw. The reason I make such a big thing about straightforward throwing is that all the other things are like that; there is an honest directness to TMNTIII that is somehow lacking in the other games in the series.

The game is also stupidly long. While officially TMNTIII has eight levels, there are sub-sections that in some games could be their own levels. These levels also get longer at points, making the game a challenge and then some to beat in one proper sitting. You have a variety of Konami codes under your belt to change the difficulty and amount of Lives the players have, as well as the usual Stage Select and such. Even on Normal difficulty, the game provides a tough nut to crack, but this shows the last thing the game holds over to this day; its abrilliant design. All the stages feel their own entity with their own stage hazards. From falling advertising panels in the Miami Beach to the broken sections of the Brooklyn Bridge, none of the stages turn into muck. There’s only one gimmick stage, or half a stage, where the Turtles have to surf to a submarine. All these are supported by an equally well-designed cadre of enemies that, at their base, don’t have anything special over the player. There are few enemies that can chuck spears and the like, yet these weapon using Foot soldiers are well balanced for the player to approach. Beat-em-ups sometimes introduce enemies that aim to keep distance from the player only to execute an attack that can cover most of the screen, if not all of it. With no real long-range weaponry, the player can’t really do much to counter outside stepping to the side. TMNTIII has balanced this perfectly by allowing players to counter most of these longer-range attacks in a manner or another. Best of all, the game has no gimmicks to rely on, no one kind of play mechanic that defines its existence and separates from the rest of its kind. All this makes an extremely balanced experience that gets overshadowed for being the third (second) game in the series at a time when Turtles in Time was already in the horizon, and never saw release in the PAL region. It’s just such a damn fine piece of gaming. Not only that, as one of the late NES/Famicom games, everything it does is at full blast, from the terrific soundtrack to impressive visuals. I have to admit that when I think of NES, this is one of the games that come to mind and what the system is. Oh, woe is me whenever I venture into the earlier days of the Famicom library.

For a B-Team of developers, named Kuu Neru Asobu (Eat Sleep Play), with less budget to turn out a massive game with high polish and quality like this, only to be pushed aside in favour of the original classic, The Arcade Game, and supplanted by its flashier younger brother when the 16-bit consoles were taking to the market, TMNTIII fell between the cracks. Sadly, the team wasn’t utilised much more outside this one title and The Lone Ranger, with the team unofficially still being around to make other licensed games like Batman and Zen: The Intergalactic Ninja. That’s a goddamn travesty, as TMNTIII went largely untested before going out due to shorter development time, which really shows the skill and talent the team had.

Why the hell am I singing high praises for TMNTIII here like it just gave me a blowjob and served me ice cream? Because I have been playing Streets of Rage 4 and I am being eclectic about the game. While playing the game I expect to be able to do something and then I remember that this is Streets of Rage, it doesn’t allow me to do so. It’s been twenty years since the pinnacle of the beat-em-up games, and yet I’m feeling like I’m playing a throwback game that hasn’t even tried to evolve outside graphics and cutscenes. The game feels like I’m playing the old SoR titles all over again without any improvements and not in a good way. As things are, I can take any entry in SoR and change between them. We can argue that’s not the case with the first game, but let’s not quibble too much about. Being able to pick up three out of four games and have the exact same overall game being played in front of you with mostly graphical differences could be called consistent game series design, but I’d call it not even trying to go outside the box and push things forward. The people who worked on Streets of Rage 4 understand how methodical the series play is, what the series is all about, what are its 50s and 80s rock fantasy influences while trying to update things a bit here and there, but ultimately they don’t try to push things forwards. Then again, they never intended to so. They wanted a bonafide a Streets of Rage experience and they replicated it perfectly and now their game has no personality of its own. Streets of Rage 2 is still the best entry in the series with the most iconic music. This isn’t the review of the game (that’s for Sunday) but rather me venting out personal frustrations so I can get back to the game and not allow my expectations of a better Streets of Rage game influence what the game is.

The whole rant how food TMNTIII is should reflect my personal philosophy about game sequels; they don’t need to try to do anything wildly different per se but aim to perfect everything possible all the while introducing all these little things that can be grown out into something new and special later own. Look at Final Fantasy and how its evolution has gone from a mere Dragon Quest clone to whatever fuck it wants to be, spinning off to the SaGa series and whatnot. Then look at how the Golden Days of Super Mario Bros. changed the games’ play from entry to entry, making classics after classics, then began to slouch around and produce bottom mud with the New SMB sub-series. You can’t just stay put and do nothing new. You’re going to be replaced with the competition that takes the same base idea and improves on it. You can only coaster on name recognition and nostalgia only so many times, and if others have done the same already, you’re out of luck. Customers get burned out from being introduced the same shit over and over again. I guess what I’m saying is that the game industry needs to find ways to evolve their games’ design and play at a constant pace to ultimately make all the older games obsolete.

Hovering hands are the devil’s workshop

There’s a thing I personally have grown hate more and more with science fiction; Holographic displays and controls. Long story short, they’re hammy way to make stuff look futuristic and cool while being absolutely retarded.

Minority Report may have popularised holographic displays in cinema and television like no other (it wasn’t the first of its kind but sure made an impact) but that’s what they are; movie magic. In practice a lot of SF tropes don’t really jive well with reality, ranging from giant robots to particle or beam weaponry, at least in our current tech. However, we can already create a simulacrum of holodisplays and controls thanks to VR setups, which can emulate these in a virtual environment. You’re already seeing where the first point is where they fail, it’s the title after all.

The above vid makes a point how the user interface is gesture based, something that’s become an everyday thing for us on mobile devices, and to some on laptops, but the vid completely ignores how stupid this scene is. Just try acting this scene out yourself flail your hands about like that with those large motions sweeping across the scene. It’s very dramatic and works in the movie itself, but of course you don’t see how tiresome it is. Even if you’re a buff guy like Liam there next to you, waggling and waving your arms at your head’s height, or at times higher, it tires you the fuck out. The ergonomics and the stress this sort of work is terrifying to think and nobody should ever have to work in that kind of position to any extended period. It’s a good workout, but as with any workout, you’ll end up taking breaks between sets and won’t do the same stuff day in, day out. There’s a reason most of the shit in your house and everywhere else sets usable levels below your shoulders, because that’s where stuff is comfortable to work with. Actually, you don’t even need to try to act this scene out like a flailing monkey, just glue your phone or tablet to a well at your face’s height and use for an hour there while listening to Rock Shop.

The ergonomic issue is one major issue and it leads directly to the second, which is the layout of holographic controls. They make little sense when in actual use, as they’re almost always spread across the scene. Any and all user interfaces you have in your life are laid out so that they’re easily accessible and make sense. They’re not there for show, they have a reason and intention. SF holocontrols have jack shit this, especially in movies and television where the actor just has to act whatever shit they have to make the scene work. That’s why the holodisplays and controls are at face height, as its much easier to put the effect there rather than underneath hands where they could work. Sure, there are exceptions, yet those are rare and obscure at best.

Then you have the issue of having no feedback. With holographic displays you’re tapping into empty air and you will never had any feedback at the tip of your fingers what the hell you’re doing without some kind of gloves that give some kind of tactile feeling or are necessary to work the displays in the first place, which kinda defeats the point of holographic shit in your face. You could say that it’s really a hardlight construct, but you could have an anti-grav display or floaty display 0-G environment while you’re at it. This is exponentially worse if the holographics control goes around your hand and a wrist to make it look like you’re holding someone’s joystick to wank around. Again, there is no feedback from light, unless there are additional hardware solutions in the middle, and when the software fails, you wish you had that actual stick in your hand to grasp and yank.

There’s also a technological issue the projection, that it is projection. You need multiple spots where the light comes from to form the hologram, and if one fails, you better have more than one spare that can take over the projection. You can actually disable a ship that uses holographic displays and control just by taping or breaking the projectors’ lenses. Weak argument maybe, but consider how stupidly expensive and complex the projectors need to be. Not only they need to have software and hardware that is able to project and recognise “presses” on buttons, basically where your finger breaks the light’s barrier, but also do this in less time than a physical controls. The software has to make extra jumps to get the same end gain, Future tech may be able to do that, just as future tech needs to be self-cleaning and adjusting. All the dust and other particles will start cover the sensors and projectors eventually, and someone needs to clean them. All the displays also need to be adjusted from time to time to show the screens properly and scale on a whim. Such tech will always be less reliable and more expensive than physical controls and screen that, ultimately, do the same stuff in a more effective manner.

Look at the scene here from different Star Treks, mostly the scene from Picard where Daahjz or whatever the hell her name is uses a holodisplay. Not only her hands are high and uncomfortably positioned, but she’s tapping thin air and everything is spread out. Yet her main working area is in front, or in this case, just above her head where she has to bend back to look at the holodisplay. The layout makes no sense and there’s nothing intuitive there. It’s not like LCARS was any less cumbersome to get, but you could see what it was displaying. Holodisplays like in the vid above look terrible for the audience, especially when you realise that they don’t really cast any light on the actors, which leads to the third point; how the hell you’re supposed see them?

Almost all holodisplays have the issue that they’re transparent. Holograms are made of light, and a well lit environment you shouldn’t be able to see them properly without harsh contrast and brightness settings. Holographic displays make the best of themselves in dim environments, and your Chinese cartoon has taught you when you pirated it, you should watch screens from a distance in a well lit room. Not only they’re a bother to see, they’re always showcased with less than ideal edges and full of bloom. The sheer lack of proper sharp shapes that define the layouts and what you see makes holodisplays a lousy experience (imagine reading a book or your screen you’re staring at this very moment with glasses that fog and distort the text and colours.) We’re just starting to get a point where these modern LCD screens and other thinsplays are slowly matching CRT screens in colour and depth but apparently it is the future to throw all that away for eye ruining bloom filled shitfest that makes your shoulders and neck muscles stiff and are extremely uncomfortable to work with. You could make the holodisplays and controls solid and prevent any light passing through either side, but that’d be like having a real screen in front of your face, which in all honesty, would be a better option.

Holodisplays being transparent also lead into security issues. If you’re able to see the screen from both sides, anyone could snap a high resolution image and just flip it to read what it’s saying. In a military environment or otherwise this would be a high-risk matter and no force would ever think including holodisplays outside entertaining guests or showcasing post-post-modern art. Not only the see-through nature of these displays make them unsafe, but because they have low definition and are bloomy, being able to see everything beyond the screen makes them somewhat hard to focus on, which again translate to the whole straining your eyes. Solid displays don’t have any of these problems, because you can’t see through them.

Holodisplays and controls are there for effect in shows and movies. They look fancy and remove the necessity to design and create physical props when you can do the same nonsense cheaper and easier by slapping a camera tracking overlay of something that looks nice. However, even at a closer glance holopgrahic displays make little sense and how they’re portrayed is often more or less completely off or false for effect. In case of Star Trek Picard, it even breaks the logic in-universe, as holographic technology is at a point where you can have whatever object or person look and feel like the real thing. Picard using stereotypical see-through crap is vehemently against the whole replication/holodeck tech they already have. They could have displays and controls that simply come from the air wherever they need, and would look like real paper and feel like you’re pressing something.

It makes no logical sense why would anyone downgrade their holographic projectors to garbage when in Star Trek you can have projections that are, in all effect, sentient and alive. The only reason holodisplays exist like in the videos above is because they’re a science fiction trope to allow more dramatic effect. Rhyme or reason need not apply, only rule of cool. Even that rule can skip the class, seeing nearly all holodisplay designs, and how they’re used, are low-tier cool factor and a moment’s thinking breaks the immersion they aim to create.

Unmade money with old games and consoles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A toad left in the sun dries and dies

You can bet your ass that Microsoft is not all that happy with the reception the upcoming reboot of Battletoads has gotten. Not only Microsoft’s official trailer on Youtube has gained 17 392 Dislikes against 7 888 likes, but also turns out people are actively avoiding the game whenever it is available for testing. From the word I’ve got, Microsoft did a special showcase in their new store in London for the game and about everyone who visited the store during that period actively avoided the game. That shouldn’t be surprising anyone who has looked how Battletoads has fared during developer and press events, where the game has been a flop, bombing in raising any notable interest.

This disinterest in Battletoads continued during the X02019 event in London earlier this week, where you could go and test the game itself. What better way to showcase how well the game plays and disinfect it from its visual disease by putting the best effort and light upon it. Well, history tends to rhyme, and the game ended up being the most avoided title on the show floor.

 

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Even Rare’s own Twitter feed regarding the game is rather sad.

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That is very, very disinterested ratio and amount of replies, likes and retweets. It should be very apparent to everyone that the consumers don’t want this game. The game has been delayed three times already and after the initial reveal, Rare’s name has been attached to it in a very visible way. Remember Rare, that one company you used to love because of Banjo Kazooie and Battletoads back in the day? Dlala Studios, the main developer of the game (Rare’s name is just tagged on because they originate the IP) is going to take a lot of heat when the game releases early 2020. The word on the street is that Microsoft wants to dump the game on Gamepass during some other larger release, which makes sense. A “small” digital release overshadowed by some major title often gets pity reviews. You can wholly expect the reviews of the game mention the backlash, call it unfair for the game to gain such negative reception just based on the visuals when it has (supposedly) pretty decent game play. Some will praise it to heavens high, some will push a political agenda, you know the drill how the game press already works. There are already slew of people saying that the game must have a fair shake and people must and should play it before judging the game.

Of course, that’s not how it works with consumers. The customer is your god.

Most of the backlash is very much based on failed consumer expectations. As I mentioned in my previous post about Battletoads, the franchise already had its visual tone established with Killer Instinct. Sure, different developers, different styles, different intentions. You could never expect this game to have 1:1 visual look with the KI iteration, but that was largely what people expected it to be. I don’t want to do a joke about the developers subverting expectations, because that’s not what they did. The design team simply misunderstood what was the core of Battletoad’s visual flavour, and rather than making it a mimicry of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with British flavour, they went with Ren & Stimpy instead. The consumers have made their voice already heard, this visual style is not wanted. You can argue about artistic integrity and intention as much as you want, but at the end of the day, making and selling games is a service job, and it their job to cater to wants of the customer. If you do something unwanted, you can expect diminished returns. It’s like a Pyrrhic victory; congratulations, you did what you wanted at the cost of everything else.

There could have been a chance for Battletoads to be Microsoft’s Devil May Cry, if they had wanted it to be. Three characters with three different kinds of approach to melee combat would’ve easily transitioned the gameplay into the third dimension, but relegating the game to be a 2D-beltscroller should give a hint what they wanted; a nostalgia cashgrab rather than a modern revival. The developer’s may have intended this game to be something special on its own rights, but at the end of the day, Battletoads could be a lot more than whatever we ended up with. Battletoads had a silver bullet how to make it a success among the consumers, but also how to take an oldy time classic and realise it in 3D.

Why 3D? Because there is s stigma of 2D games like this being something lesser than their big, full 3D environment games. Most 2D games are relegated as digital-only downloads. Maybe it’s because they tend to be shorter and smaller titles overall, or that the indie scene absolutely loves to do terrible pixel graphics games. It’s not just pixel graphics either, but also with titles like Mega Man 11, which was structured like a traditional Mega Man game. Completely perfect in every aspect, but somehow the overall feeling from the consumers, and even from some developers, was that this is archaic, somehow left behind and not up to date. Games overall sure have grown in size, but at the same time, most people don’t have the time to spend several tens or hundreds of hours playing one game that takes forever to get in and out. Games like Devil May Cry, however, have been a perfect blend of quick burst of action you can do per stage you can have and leave, then return to it a bit later for another burst session. Something like Yakuza or Red Dead Redemption are not like this, they require you sit on your ass properly and give them time.

Battletoads will see a bit more positive reception on its release. The press will see to it. The reviews will claim them to be more objective, which should be almost an antithesis for them. They will say the game doesn’t look all that bad, instead it looks pretty good, if not great, with terrific animation and solid game play. There will be amends to its faults, of course. However, considering game reviewers that live in the bogs of video and computer game media and press write for the developers and publishers rather than to their intended consumer audience, that’s just part of the game. You can’t get developers and publishers of this caliber mad at you, you’d lose all the perks.

Battletoads is the probably the most prominent of example of customers rejecting a title based on its visual style. This wouldn’t happen to a new IP. With Battletoads, consumers know what what it should look like, they feel its energy and enjoy the visual flavour the series and its appearances have offered to the audiences. It should’ve been easy to hit the sweet spot between a modern style and classical look. If nothing else comes from this game, at least there’s a lesson to be learned how not to ignore consumer expectations.

Action that drives the narrative

The more scholar video video games consumers out there have often argued to my face that the games are at their best when they are driven by a narrative, that games need to grow from their infantile state to something more whole and unique, to more mature a form to take part among other fully formed media like film and literature. Reading through some comments left on numerous Youtube videos on Death Stranding reminded me how little consumers think of video games, especially its main audience. Yes, reading through ‘tube comments is about as recommended task as licking a malaria ridden opossum, but sometimes curiosity takes wins over sense.

In all seriousness, it’s no surprise that consumers use theories and practices used in film and literature theory when discussing video game storytelling. This is understandable to an extent, as they are considered higher in the hierarchy of studies over game and play studies, topics which people who work with children have to be relatively familiar with. When we discuss story driven games with children, we are talking about a directed play, where play is directed and told through a story. The story in itself is important only as a setting, something to facilitate the actual intention and core of the game; the play. The narrative however can not advance if the play is not advanced. It’s not unusual for the story to changed due to how the children may play the parts differently from the intended directed play, but that’s business as usual. This isn’t a theatrical play, but a children’s game.

Video games still don’t have dynamic storytelling implemented in them, not in a way where moment to moment decision could directly affect the whole flow the game to wholly different results. For example, you can’t decide to just walk out on the mission for the water purifying chip, that is your set mission and frame you are intended to play in. You have a limited map you can’t escape and certain set role. This is the exact same as in a game of football (your choice, soccer or handegg) where the player is set to play with certain rules. Both the player of football and Fallout must adhere to the set rules. Both can cheat by breaking the rules, though in both cases other would frown on the action, and in case of the football player, he would get a penalty of sorts.

Both games also work in a similar framework of a story. For the football player, it is all the history him and his team alongside the history of his opponents. That is their lives stories all in all. It is truly dynamic and is told bit by bit, injury by injury. Fallout may have a pre-made framing with its story, but neither story can move forwards if there is inaction; the only way a game’s narrative can progress if there is action on the player’s part. If players don’t play, there is no forward motion in the game. The story stands still. The true narrative that moves game forwards, video game or otherwise, is active narrative.

What I mean with active narrative is of course the interaction the user must have and the intention through that action. Pressing buttons in itself is no action of playing, but the meaning behind it is. It is vital, perhaps the most important part, as there is no game that is passive. There must always be a participant to take action and follow readily laid out rules. The opposite of this would be passive narrative, something we practice when we read or watch something. We can’t participate in this narrative, it is readily there and can not be shifted. There is no rules to play according to. The narration of text or video moves along without their consumer. The story of Super Mario Bros. is about a plumber from Brooklyn saving the princess, but the narrative never moves on without the player deciding how the plumber saves the princess. Will he avoid most dangers, or will he attack every possible enemy? Will he come out rich from collecting all the coins, or will he ignore them? How fast he will run through the Worlds, or will he take a more careful pace and just walk along? All these decisions are what makes a game’s active narrative, and it is always dynamic simply because rules of play within a game always allow some variation how game is tackled, often coloured by the player itself.

Fighting games are probably the simplest example of this. There is a tournament and a final boss. Who won the tournament and in what order? The order that playthrough time showcased. There might be ‘official’ story set, but more of then than not that sort of detail is an afterthought. Street Fighter used to handle this in a clever fashion, where each game were in continuity, but not necessarily the way each game set themselves. The story, the little most fighting games had in the 1990’s, was there to facilitate the framing. Guilty Gear XX, or rather its later revisions, handled Story mode in a clever fashion, where paths would change depending how player won or which moves he used. This is completely the opposite to Guilty Gear Xrd, all of which tell their story in a form of a movie. Technically speaking, the game portion of Guilty Gear Xrd has no story, but there is a story that gives enough set-up for the play. Like an example I used years ago, only games could make walking vast distances with nothing in-between interesting because it is action that drives the game and its narrative. Death Stranding, from everything we’ve seen thus far, embodies this the best. Well, next to Desert Bus.

A game requires active narrative. Without one, it ends up being something else, either a film or work of literature. Visual Novels are somewhere between these, it is its own form of media. The fact that the framing has grown more important than the actual sections that drive the narrative is rather strange, but that might just be technological limitations we have now, but also the intentions. Games, as they largely are now, are equivalent of directed play, just without the possibility of real dynamic story. That might be limitations in technology, or just that such video game would be incredibly difficult to design and develop. It is much easier to set a framed structure that gives the player a set-up to play in and motivation to drive them with, like Save the princess.  The rest, hopefully the majority, is all about the story the player carves himself. That is the pull games have over films; the player is the driving force, the necessary element in active narrative.

Siding with all the sides of the market

Every international corporation has multiple ‘faces’ of promotion. Rare companies like Coca-Cola has relatively universal marketing across the globe, while entertainment companies like Nintendo and Sony have very much different approach depending on the market region they are in. In Japan, Kirby smiles and is happy-go-lucky, while in the US he wears a determined frown ready to cut shit down. This is extremely simple and straightforward example, yet it extents how corporations act in different markets. When a corporation tells you they act globally and think globally, it’s less about ‘Global’ thinking and more about being in as many probable markets around the globe they can. Why? Money, of course.

The whole deal with Blizzard nuking Hearthstone player blitzchung’s status and winning money has made some people realise this. For example, some of the characters in Overtwatch are gay outside China, while in China this statement has not been made, as Chinese standards on statistically deviating and abnormal sexuality in media is rather harsh. That is, it’s pretty much banned without any exception. Video and computer games themselves are considered to be detriment to the society, and having such examples that don’t align with Chinese standards of what is considered accepted. Then you had Blizzard making a statement that is very much different from their official Weibo account. One makes clear that Blizzard is not tied to Chinese in any way nor they can influence Blizzard’s decision, while the other rather clearly sides with the Chinese government and side with the current Hong Kong situation. Let’s put aside that Blizzard’s Western statement has been questioned anyway, as its language structure appears to be by someone Chinese who speaks English relatively fluently.

This is, of course, completely normal.

Wait Aalt, isn’t this Blizzard having two different opposite stands at the same time? Yes and no. Company can have completely different standards and practices in different market regions. For China, they have to conform to Chinese standards, and have majority of Chinese ownership somehow in order to operate there. This is why many companies would rather work together with a Chinese company, like what Nintendo used to do with the iQue Player. The company named iQue was fully owned by the Chinese while being Nintendo’s subsidiary. This has been the de-facto way of doing business in China, though within the last decade or so the Chinese have taken major parts of shares of some companies, while Chinese companies doing the heavy lifting, especially in the movie industry, All movies that Legendary Pictures have been part of somehow have had relatively heavy Chinese influence in them, and seeing China has become the single largest film market, it’s not unsurprising that studios are making Chinese-only edits of their movies. I recall Iron Man 3 having a China specific cut, where a Chinese doctor was cut in throughout the movie and is set to be person who ultimately removes all the metal shards from Tony Stark’s chest.

The question whether or not this is good or bad is really up to you, dear reader. This is largely just the reality of things. Don’t mistake one second that companies don’t have conflicting interests globally. While claiming to be progressive by being in favour of whatever class of minorities works as a decent way of making money in the West, this of course doesn’t apply everywhere and strategies need to be adjusted. Make no mistake, whatever the surface dwelling issue might be, companies will strike it to make money. Revealing characters to be homosexual seems to be very easy way to get in the good side of some of the customers seems to be a successful plan, at least in the US. Europe is not unified in this nearly to the same extent, and one way of advertising in London wouldn’t really work as well in Germany. Different cultures, different values.

That is the core here really. We expect companies to work under the regulations and values set in a country or region when they come from abroad. They might have damn good products, but they better hit the local consensus. Blizzard might be an American company, but that doesn’t negate that it is more sensible to try to cater the Chinese as well. Of course, most of the Western audience expects stances that cover the global market, but that is largely impossible. You can’t expect Americans to placate to Chinese values and vice versa. In the US, and probably in most regions outside China, banning blitzchung was extremely bad PR move. English speaking users have gone their way of closing their accounts, burning their games and overall voting with their wallets. Not all, some just don’t give a rat’s ass either way.

The question of course is if this is financially all that sensible. The Chinese market bubble isn’t looking too healthy in the future, despite being less than one third of the US economy. This is important, as US can be largely self-sufficient when it comes to international markets, while places like Japan have to import foodstuff and such. China could be too, but it doesn’t have the infrastructure or culture to be so. Chinese economical interests have been in building empty cities and expanding in Africa and Europe. China is dependent on exporting to the US though. According to George Friedman, China sends quarter of its exports to the US. If, perhaps when the US decides to pull off from the world stage, China’s economy is fucked. Around 2010, Friedman also estimated that China’s debt is around 40%, but still won’t enforce economic discipline. Japan had to do this in the 1990’s, which lead many unprofitable companies to be culled, something that continues to this day. Just look at how many Visual Novel companies have gone down in the recent years.

While catering to Chinese markets is completely standard procedure, something you don’t hear about because you’re not in the market, Chinese economy has higher chances imploding. Gaming is high-risk investment, and the Chinese are putting lots of money into gaming now to ride it. Electronic games market will feel when it hits. Companies with majority Chinese holders and money sources will dry up, projects will be cancelled and lots of people will lose their jobs. The Chinese government will put its citizens and companies before foreign ones. The Chinese market is not the same as Western markets, it is a twisted version of it at best. China is a communist nation after all, though their practices are more akin to fascism. Not Nazi fascism, but the kind that made The New Deal successful, the third road between capitalism and communism, putting the state at the handle of markets and companies. With Western companies, especially the US ones during when US seems to be retracting itself, are investing and putting their focus and effort like Blizzard has, the end result will be weak performance outside Chinese market, at worst straight out losing out if and when the Chinese economical implosion takes place.

I wouldn’t be worried about what happens to a games company in China. I’d be more worried about the incoming macro-economic shitstorm that is about to hit the world. The US can handle themselves just fine, the rest of the world really can’t. The Western world has fatal number of elderly people compared to the younger generation to replace them as workforce. When nations say they need immigrants to do work, they’re not lying. Global recession is imminent and countries have to look after their own asses. Common money like the Euro might end up fucking many nations over, thanks to already existing EMU partner nations who lied about their economical statuses and expected other member nations to bail them out whenever needed. In retrospect, it was a stupid idea for any EU nation to follow EU’s trading ban with Russia when Russia is one of the largest trading partners. In Finland, some of the industries like dairy products had to revamp their sales models and where they imported their products, as Russia was the most important trading partner. The dairy industry never got the same money off from European sales they managed to put up. If you’re not your own boss, you should be worried about your job.

It’s a small miracle that companies don’t practice different branding and advertising more in different regions. Of course, this is part of the whole globally recognised brand thing. I may not appreciate Blizzard having almost opposite stances in China compared to most of the rest of the world, but I can’t really boycott a company I was never a customer of. Game companies hope to hit gold with the Chinese bubble before it bursts, but after treating their PR this badly, they’ll have to work thrice as hard to win back the audience. All of it will be plastic surgery on the surface, while the core won’t change. Blizzard’s PR disaster probably will haunt them for a while among the fandom, but that will last only so long. They’ve lost a lot of good will from their customers, but their interest lies elsewhere. Vote with your wallet. People who say this doesn’t work clearly haven’t kept theirs closed enough. Make the company know your displeasure, hit where it hurts, and demand their focus to be on more solid market, market that houses the consumers who made their company.

A Failed Fetch

While I haven’t followed what’s been happening with Pokémon for numerous years, I can’t really escape some of its news and whatever general stuff is happening due to friend circle having loads of friends who still spend about as much time gushing over the franchise as they did back in 1998. Guess how how many of them still live with their parents. However, I often check out what the new designs are like, because designs sensibilities with Pokémon has changed to the point of being constantly compared how they look like Digimon. There are some Digimon design articles on this blog by a visiting author, so check them out. This post is really how whomever designed and approved Farfecth’d long awaited evolution, Sirfetch’d, and how the design fails.

The original idea of the original Farfecth’d, as it stands now in the games, was largely a simple joke about the Japanese saying how something extremely convenient to the point derogation happens, hence the whole duck carrying its own leek theme. While the plant it carries is clearly a green onion, the games themselves simply called it a stalk or an unknown plant. In original design, Farfetch’d carried the leek in its mouth and was said to do so.

Majority of the time in games you can see this, though as early as Japanese Red you can see it leaning the stick against its wing. It wasn’t until around Dimaond/Pearl when it changed completely to holding the stick in its wing, which now effectively functions as a hand, which is also a breaking point in terms of design aesthetics when it comes Pokémon in general. However, Farfetch’d embodies the basic and the best approach in Pokémon design; animals with something interesting to them. In this case we have a duck with a leek as a sword-like weapon, and it can’t really live without its stick. Good for food, especially when it conveniently comes with its own onions. Just add a dash of salt and pepper and you’re done. Sadly, Game Freaks and Pokémon Company don’t actually utilise any sort of base guidelines and ideas when designing their new pocket monsters. This leads to stupid shit like Dhelmise or Stakataka, not to mention Trubbish or whatever that rubbish Pokémon’s name was, and let’s not forget Klingklang and Vanillite lines, which are metal gears and ice cream respectively. While some would argue that the first generation had its own designs in the same vain, but that doesn’t excuse literal trash bags and living cogs. A mysterious sphere could at least have some considerations behind it. But I digress.

Oh for fuck’s sake…

Isn’t Sirfetch’d more of the same then? I hear Liam asking. No, it isn’t. Much like how modern designs want to push these monsters into direction of adding more shit for the sake of adding more shit, and having them act nothing like animals they originally were supposed to represent, Sirfetch’d seems to be fundamentally flawed despite the outer appearance. Farfetch’d was always a fighter, so naturally it should become a knight in this region based on United Kingdom, with jousting lance and a shield replacing its sword. This evolution is achieved via numerous fights and victories, making Farfetch’d change its typing from its usual Normal/Flying to pure Fighting. What a load of bullshit.

The thing that rubs yours truly here is that this isn’t thematically fitting. Nothing with Farfetch’d has been about fighting per se, but I guess that one Pokédex entry saying the species fights over good sticks was the source for this. Does that justify this design? No, as what we’re getting with this almost the opposite. Farfetch’d was a rarity due to people eating it, a fleeting Pokémon that will defend its stick. Defending does not mean it’ll stick to a fight to the bloody end, that serves no purpose. Farfetch’d evolution should’ve been more akin to a ragged warrior, like a ronin, rather than a white knight. These two clash against each other, but I guess it was more important to get a white knight in. What a missed chance to make an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan take, or a samurai crane.

It doesn’t help that the simple black V-crest on Farfetch’d’s forehead has now become its eyebrows, which of course can now be used to make joke macros and such, especially Golgo-13 kind. So does its weapon, and I’m glad to see someone going all out on the whole design.

If Sirfetch’d was a new design related to Farfetch’d rather than its evolution, it’d serve the purpose just fine. Make it a regional variant or some sort of alternative form tied to the region or an item it carries. Making Sirfetch’d an evolution means Farfetch’d, a duck that’s designed around a Japanese pun and has been seen to be tied to this in various media, now evolves into an English white knight. I just hope the shiny version will be a black knight and not the golden one I’ve seen floating around.

Then you have the point that most Pokémon don’t look like animals anymore, not even cartoon animals. Sirfecth’d might be a thematically missed opportunity, but it also clashes with its pre-evolution stage’s design by being from the new Ducktales.

Really, Sirfetch’d looks like a cheap Chinese knock-off of a Disney character with its buff chest, smirking face and off white colour. It’s become a cartoon caricature of a duck knight rather than a Pokémon. Gone are the days when wings were wings, now they function as hands just as much Dewey’s do in the cover above. There is a distinct lack of animal in this duck. You can put this on how the style has been changing from game to game as time as gone by, yet this is a hard backlash from old to new. Sirfecth’d is a good example how incoherent design philosophies and lack of proper guidelines can result into clashing motifs between two directly related objects. Imagine designing a chair, but because it has to be different, you end up designing a chair that’s horrible to sit in. Sirfetch’d is far from the most worst examples in this, but it is very timely example. The argument that the new designer shouldn’t fixate themselves to the past can be made and is sound, but at the same time the results will be more and more Digimon like Pokémon, where both rhyme and reason has been abandoned, and there is no division or sense in the designs themselves. The brand as a whole has lost most, if not already all of its visual coherence and design aspects at this point, while its competing monster collecting franchises have still managed hold them together in more proper manner.

 

If a media hurts your feelings, don’t consume it

Recently a Twitter user under the handle insatiablejudge got mad at earrings. Of course it’s a user on Twitter, and I’ll refer her as “the user” for the sake of my own sanity. What it is time? A motif on a character’s earrings supposedly uses Japanese Rising Sun motif, which then the user associates this with Nazis, imperialism and cultural genocide. Naturally she promotes censorship to remove the motif, which isn’t there. We can’t see the original post, because of course she has put her account into protected mode after people called her out on the bullshit she was spouting, but we can always use an archived version. Let’s take a closer look what image she was using to promote her push.

I could be petty about forgetting to use capitalised letters, but why do that when I could be petty about more important things. For example. the Rising Sun flag is still being flown by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force and hasn’t been retired from usage in total. The Japan SDF and Japan Ground Defence-Force use a different design with gold trims around the edges, so that’s one miss. Furthermore, it’s not the same design as the flag itself. The character’s earrings stem from Hanafuda cards’ design. There are no red sun rays from the red core. We can take a closer look at the design in comparison to the flag.

While an honest mistake could be made that the earrings represent the national flag, the design is very much different. As mentioned, it is based on the Hanfuda card design, which is why a set is being used the featured image. It is not a direct take on any of the cards per se, but rather using the visual themes and motifs. This much is confirmed by the series itself to boot. This would make the earrings themselves harmless, but of course if you don’t know the origin, or even properly see what’s drawn there, you might make some honest mistakes.

Whether or not the flag itself is controversial in South and East Asia (I think she mistyped and there), that should have nothing to do with the earrings themselves. The fact that nationalists use Japanese flag doesn’t really impact any arguments, as nationalism in itself is rather healthy in proper doses. It becomes a problem only at its extremes, whichever political ideology is using it. We shouldn’t abandon symbols simply because some unwanted or disliked group might be using a common symbol. For example, we should take the swastika back from its German National Socialist Party’s use and embrace its much older, far more positive and culturally significant meaning instead of leaving it to one sec only. We should also make strides to recognise how a Nazi swastika is a unique piece, standing on a tip at a 45-degree angle and “spinning” to the left, while .e.g. the Manji flat on its side, like this 卍.

An example of swastika used on a Viinikka’s church from 1930 before the German use even came to be.

I should probably mention that while some people might find themselves considering the Japanese flag, any version of it, associated with the World War II atrocities, the Japanese don’t. They associate the Imperial Rule Assistance Association’s symbol with the Nazi regime, as the para-fascist organisation formed in 1940, which aimed to create a totalitarian regime during wartime Japan. Even this is slightly skewed, as the organisation took some ideals and cues after the Nazis, but full-blown Nazism was not embraced or even desirable. It would seem the organisation has been somewhat dug into the ground, as many foreigners seem to either forget it existed, or didn’t know such organisation was a thing in the first place. There’s a whole history behind these guys, and a small post like this isn’t enough or even the place to dwell deeper into the Japanese wartime history in itself. That said, they got a really neatly designed symbol. What’s with these parties and appealing design sensibilities? Hugo boss still makes damn nice clothes too.

Of course, the user represented everyone in equal measure, which netted her loads and loads of South and East Asians coming in and stating that they don’t really give a damn. Y’know, the whole issue of someone stepping in and representing large sections of people without their consent. People like this should really ask consent before doing so, just like you have to have consent before sex.

All that said, the user seems to think that people who would get offended by the more classical Rising Sun flag wouldn’t get offended by the current one. These things run deep with certain people and associate any of a nation’s symbols with the worst. Some simply hate and abhor the sheer thought of Japan or Russia, despite the current state heads and most of the people within the nation having nothing to do with wartime events. Mulling over the past can only do so much good, sometimes the hatred for a nation can be driven by other kind of national pride or simple sheer unrelenting hatred.  Reasons are many and the politics are somewhat complicated, but at some point word just has to move on.

The chances the user suggest made to the earrings would remove the essence of the original design, contrary what she claims. The design consists of three elements; red circle, petal-like extrusions and ‘ground.” Removing any of these three would significantly alter the design’s essence. However, it would still leave the most offending part that most people associate with Japanese flag and its the red circle. The essence of the design would have been kept it the circle had been changed into burning orange or white, but of course it’s the petals that had to go, replaced by nonsensical lines. The red circle probably is the Sun, yet it is not the Rising Sun that it is assumed to be. Instead, it represents the character’s role as a successor to his father’s profession as a Hinokami Kagura, which would be loosely something long the lines of ‘Dancer for the Fire God.’ Then again, some Japanese posters claim it to be a flower, so take that as you will.

Claiming that pushing censorship isn’t controversial is outright bullshit. Whether or not it is easier to draw has nothing to do with her arguments. Whenever someone is pushing for censorship, especially when it comes to general arts, it is automatically controversial. Trying to kill a design, a drawing, a painting a message or whatever because it might be uncomfortable or injure someone’s sensibilities shows that lack of trust in people and how the consumer is treated like an idiot or an animal who can’t make heads or tails about the media he is consuming. Should we take into account people whose families got damaged somehow during World War II and change things for them? Absolutely not. Consumers should be aware what they consume. If you are consuming product created in Japan mainly for the Japanese market with clear Japanese motifs from the get go, you should damn well expect seeing Japanese imagery. Everything offends someone somehow. Hell, I’m offended by the user’s use of that particular grey with that red, green and white. Good job failing at Design 101; don’t fuck with viewer’s eyes if you’re intending to be informative; everything should be clear and easy to see, not feeling like you’re being stabbed in the eyes. If you can’t deal with something that you are not forced consume, you can either deal with it anyway, or consume something else. There is no reason for the creator or anyone else part of the creative process to capitulate and change their intended design and ideas to appease anyone else but themselves, or the targeted consumers.

Staying true to your work should always supersede giving in to censorship. Your main consumers are there for your work in its best, most pure form, not to see its altered, bastardised version no matter how small the changes might be.