Heads in the clouds

Cloud gaming making some waves again, with Sony and Microsoft announcing collaboration with each other to explore solutions with their own streaming solutions. At least according to official statement from Microsoft. Despite being rivals within gaming market. We should always remind ourselves that out of the Big Three, only Nintendo deals exclusively with games. Both Microsoft and Sony have their fingers spread elsewhere, with Sony having movie and music studios, Microsoft with Windows and whatnot and so on. While Sony does rely heavily on the profits their gaming department is making (to the point of relying most of their profits coming from there seeing everything else has been going downhill for them), Microsoft doesn’t as much. I’m not even sure if Microsoft is still making any profit on their Xbox brand and products, considering neither the original box or the 360 saw any real profit throughout their lifespans. It’s like a prestige project for them, they gotta have their fingers in the biggest industry out there. The more competition, the better though. This does mean that neither Amazon or Google can partner with Sony for similar venture, but perhaps this was more or less a calculated move on both of their parts.

It does make sense that the two would collaborate to support each other in cloud and streaming venture though. Sony already has an infrastructure for streaming gaming content with their PlayStation Now while Microsoft has the whole Azure cloud centre set up. The MS Azure contains lots of features, from computing  virtual machines and high density hosting of websites, to general and scalable data management all the way to media streaming and global content delivery. Safest bet would be that both MS and Sony are intending to share their know-how of content streaming, but it is doubtful if the two will actually share any content. Perhaps Sony’s music and films will be seen on Microsoft’s services, but don’t count on the games. However, I can’t help but guess if multiplatform games between the two could be specifically designed and developed for their combined streaming efforts. That’s a bit out there, as the collaboration is to find new solutions rather than build a common service the two would use. This is, like Satya Nadella said, about bringing MS Azure to further power Sony’s streaming services, and that’s completely different part of market from games at its core.

This does seem like Enemy-of-enemy like situation. Google’s Stadia is touted to be the next big hitter on the game market. It’s not unexpected for the two giants pull something that would weaken Stadia’s standing. This, despite Stadia already having boatloads of obstacles already, ranging from control latency to the quality of the streaming itself (end-user Internet connection still matters, especially if you live in the middle of nowhere surrounded by dense forests) to the very content itself probably being less than unique. Let’s not kid ourselves, cloud gaming is not for everyone despite what Google’s PR department wants you to think. Not everyone has the money or infrastructure to have a proper connection for cloud gaming. Anecdotes be damned, but there are lots of people living around here who have to rely on wireless Internet for everything, especially up North, because the population is so spread apart that putting data cables into the ground would not be worth it. Early 2000’s modem speeds are not unexpected, they’re a standard. If early reports on Stadia are to be believed, there’s some serious lag and latency on standard Internet connections. It’s not going to play well with someone who doesn’t put a whole lot money into their Internet connection, or just can’t. If we’re going to be completely open about this, only a fraction of the world can handle cloud gaming. 10.7 teraflop computing power and 4K resolutions for Stadia? A pipe dream at best.

Steaming interactive content like video and computer games is not easy. Music and video, that’s comparatively easy, just send that data to the consumer and you’re pretty much done. Gaming requires two-way communication at all times, and on top of that the service has to keep tabs on what’s going on at both ends within the game. No matter how robust the data centres are, no matter what sort of AI solutions are implemented, it all comes down to the whole thing about latency between the data centre and the end-user. Perhaps the best solution would be split the difference in a similar manner how mobile games have partial data on the phone whole syncing with the server side all the time. That, of course, would be pretty much against the whole core idea of cloud gaming, where the end-user would just hold an input device and a screen.

Cloud gaming has been tried for about a decade now. It’s still ways off, but it’s very understandable from the corporations’ perspective why they’d like it to become mainstream and successful. For one, it would remove one of the biggest hurdles from the consumer side; getting the hardware. You could just use your existing computer or smartypants phone to run things and you’re set. Maybe have a controller, but you can get those for twenty bucks. No need to pay several hundreds for a separate device just to run separate media software. Cloud gaming would be the next step in digital-only distribution, which would also offer better protection from piracy. Control is the major aspect of cloud gaming, where the end-user would have effectively none. You would have no saying in what games you have access to. One of the well marketed modern myths about streaming services is that everything is available 24/7, when in reality everything is determined by licenses. Star Trek vanished from Netflix for a time being, because the license ended, for example. This happens all the time. I’m sure there’s some list of lost media listing somewhere about digital-only films and shows that were lost due to publishing rights and licenses expiring. Lots of games having vanished from both Steam and GOG because of this, and if there are no physical copies floating around, pirating is your only option. For something like the Deadpool game, you can only get second-hand or newold stock, as the developer’s and publisher’s license expired few years back.

Will cloud gaming be the future? Probably at some point, but the infrastructure is way off still for it to become any sort of standard. It is, in the end, another take on the decentralised gaming Nintendo has going on with the Switch, moving away from the home media centre that the smartphones brought to us. Cloud gaming will take take firmer hold once they beat systems with local storage in value and performance. For now, enjoy the screen in your pocket.

Sakura Wars’ uphill battle

If you’re familiar with some of Sega’s (and Red Entertainment’s) prestige IPs, Sakura Taisen, or as known under its official English moniker, Sakura Wars, is a franchise that people sometimes bring up when discussing game IPs that never got a real chance in the West. When it did however, it bombed for whatever reasons. Only the fifth installment was released in the West, and you can imagine how well that went. To make matters worse, if reports are to be believed, even Japan gave a colder shoulder to that entry than the rest of the series. So not the greatest start for this series outside of Japan.

First game hit the shelves in 1996 and was touted as Sega’s most ambitious title for the Sega Saturn. Since then, this particular title saw ports to Dreamcast, PSP and Windows. The game got an expanded remake for the PS2 with the subtitle In Hot Blood. Original release was also a massive success, selling out from stores and selling over half of stock available in a week. It was the fastest selling Sega at the time

Something like Yakuza had to build its fanbase for a decade before it broke through its barriers toward the larger markets. Initially, it was marketed and touted as the spiritual sequel to Shuenmue but since then it has been allowed to flourish on its own. As a concept, it is more approachable game than Sakura Wars. After all, realistic modern day Japan is more approachable as a concept than fantasy version of Taishō period Japan. While it would be easy to simply Sakura Wars as a strategic RPG with classical oriental motif, the fact that it heavily marries its gameplay to visual novel styled story telling and certain level of emphasize on dating simulation, it is extremely clear why Sega would have worries whether or not any of the series’ games would a success enough in the West.

Despite what the sub-culture would like you to tell, Japanese media cartoons and comics are still a relatively small niche in the West, especially in the US. Sure, they’re probably the most stable mainstream than what it has ever been. Everything from dubbing to free streaming has been made to open the access points for people with interest, but even in Europe certain other forms of media are consumed more despite the how much e.g. France and Italy experienced Japanese classics in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. That was the time when the origin of these shows wasn’t made a huge deal, that their source wasn’t something that used to market. The best example of this is still with the US marketing of the NES and its games, where some have come to argue that Nintendo of America intentionally made people think the NES and its games were American products. Perhaps it was because how well Japan’s aggressive business practices did against US businesses, or maybe just to keep things as a cohesive whole. The source didn’t really matter, only that Nintendo’s branding was there and visible.

Kousuke Fujishima was instrumental in realising the characters and designs, balancing the era’s mix of Japanese and Western flavours with the magical steampunk world. Fujishima is know for such works as Oh My Goddess!, You’re Under Arrest and working on characters in the Tales of series. At the time, he was a household name and further drove the franchise’s initial success

Sakura Wars is inherently Japanese to the point of its detriment in the Western market.

My point of Yakuza taking a decade to make a solid fanbase comes is important, as it initially had, and still has, the same kind of wall on its way. However, the constant positive word of mouth and Sega sticking to their guns and releasing all the mainline games, and that one zombie sidegame, and ultimately growing positive press gave the series a pretty good reputation. It also helped that it was called Japanese Grand Theft Auto at some point during the two latest GTA games, which made more people curious about it. more than few fans were made through that.

Sakura Wars has none of this backing it up. While it has a small and dedicated cult following in the West, that’s all it has. Japan on the other hand treats the IP with silk gloves, though later games in the series simply didn’t have the selling power the earlier titles had. Sakura Wars is an expensive franchise to make with all the animated cutscenes, all the voices that need to be paid, the illustrated works and whole multimedia thing it has going on with cartoons, comics, figures and whatnot. It was designed from grounds up for Japanese markets only. It’s cultural ties are its most prominent element after all, specifically designed to invoke certain emotional response from the Japanese consumers. This is similar how Ciel Nosurge uses Shōwa era to directly invoke nostalgia from its older players. The Western audience has no links to this age in any form outside historical oddities. It becomes a double-edged sword in the Western markets.

Imagine if some US developer would make a fantasy RPG set in a romanticised version of the American Civil War with romance partner elements akin to Dragon Age. Whatever its success would be in the US, both European and Asian markets would not have any connections to the era and treat it as some kind of self-centered, bolstering product. Similarly, a British developer could make a similar product of their great colonial days, and it would have the same reception. This would be similar how Sakura Wars presents its idealised fantasy version of the Imperial Japan that no longer exists.

This carries even to the music of the series, with its main theme is a mix of Super Sentai opening song and 1949’s Aoi Sanmyaku‘s theme. Most of the character songs later in the franchise has been intentionally designed and composed to be nostalgic period pieces with characteristic twists. However, the main, ‘Geki! Teitoku Kagekidan’, or ‘Attack! Imperial Floral Assault Troop,’ has been the most repeated song in the franchise and is the most iconic representation whenever the series represents itself. Project Sakura Wars, the upcoming game, even uses a new variation on the song, further emphasising the fact that this is a new game.

Compare the two song here;

The main difference is in the lyrics while keeping the base composition the same. Perhaps I should also emphasise that the Japanese title of Project Sakura Wars is translated as New Sakura Wars. Again, culturally the song hits the times, as it was used to introduce melodic composition back to Japanese mainstream, and was Kohei Tanaka’s first major video game work, and helped him to further his career. I must admit I have an enormous soft spot for Kohei Tanaka’s works, and probably should count as one of his fans. I even have GaoGaiGar DVD box with his signature on it. (He was surprised and asked if I had seen the whole series, and was rather touched to hear that it made me a fan of his other works as well.) Sakura Wars music is one of the more important works for him, and has been used to describe his body of works in Western conventions. But I digress.

Of course, one thing this series is known for in certain circles the most are its steampunk mechas, the Koubu, which the fair maidens use to war against demons

With only one low-selling game in the West, Sega’s best bet to market this game in the West is to tie itself to Sakura Wars’ popularity and status as a prestige franchise within their home market.  The series has always shown strong national and historical pride despite its fantastic nature, which probably will rub some small groups the wrong way. Unless this time the rule is that North Americans and Europeans can’t show national pride, but others can. The gameplay elements, with its strong emphasize what Sega has coined as ‘dramatic adventure,’ naturally will get the dating sim label, which still carries the whole ‘dating sim=porn game’ stigma that’s been around since the early 1990’s. To the same extent, no matter what the hardcore VN fans tells you, the general perception is still ‘VN=porn game’.

Still, as a certain Youtuber told me in a chat why he didn’t get into the series was because, and I quote; “Does that actually have gameplay? I sat down once for an hour and they just wouldn’t shut the fuck up.” Oh gee, another PS2 RPG!” This isn’t all too rare a reaction to the series from the two decades I’ve followed the series from the sidelines. Sony made a similar notion, as an yet unnamed company tried to localise the ports of the two first Sakura Wars, but were rejected by Sony when they categorised the series as text novels due to sheer amount of text compared to the game play.

Yakuza is the game franchise that showed Sega that inherently Japanese products can succeed in the West. With their newfound courage and willingness to serve a niche audience is always welcome, and perhaps there’s some hopes that they’ll keep expanding if the series becomes a cult hit. Then again, Yakuza visually doesn’t look cartoony and sticks its legs into more realistic graphics and setting over girls with magical powers controlling robots to defeat demons. One more thing that makes it easier to sell. Nevertheless, there is a niche for the series. If Fire Emblem can find its niche despite its low acceptance first, all Sakura Wars needs to do is to be present and have a new entry available.

While Sakura Wars had massive initial success, the fourth game was a rushed job and gained rather negative reception, while the fifth pretty much ended the series with completely new set of characters and new setting. In few ways, Sakura Wars is like Virtual-On in that you can follow the last truly glorious days of Sega end in misery

This isn’t enough as is though, it also has to stay true to its nature to keep that niche. Capitulating to trends, removing game play elements, censoring anything either during development or in overseas version or removing any cultural motifs among numerous others will impact how that niche will view the game, thus affecting how the word of mouth will treat the title. They also need to do translation and localisation in-house and follow Yakuza‘s later steps, as Sakura Wars; So Long My Love has the usual NISA quality of translation and buggy coding. The PS2 version came with two discs in the West, one with faithful translation with Japanese voices, and one that had NISA’s less-than-accurate translations with extremely subpar English voice acting. The Wii version is based on the second NISA-fied disc, so you might burn it. Sadly, the Wii version was the only version released in Europe, making Sakura Wars initial entry in the PAL region doubly worse. Then again, starting with fifth game in the franchise might not be a good idea. A soft reboot on the franchise probably was the best move outside complete modern remake of the first game.

There is hope for Project Sakura Wars to be best it can, seeing the development team is using lessons learned from Yakuza how to present the game, but it was also mentioned that battles would be easier to go through in order for new players to have a better time. This interview with Famitsu is rather good representation how carefully the new entry is approached, but perhaps it also the text between the lines is telling how they’re putting more effort on story segments over gameplay, which will only raise the wall for the mass audiences. People who play games for stories, games like Persona 5, probably would like their direction.

Sega will have to deal with Sakura Wars being inherently anime and Japanese, which are probably its biggest obstacles in the larger markets while being one of major selling points to sub-culture niches. The best way to build toward an expanding market is up start with a  cult-hit. I wish this series would see some decent success in order to ensure further longevity of the franchise and more localised entries, despite its niche status in the West. It’s an expensive endeavour for Sega, but perhaps the market niche is large enough now for this new Sakura Wars to bloom in spring 2020.

In the meanwhile, you can visit Japan and play that Pachislot machine.

Iterations vs innovations

The two things in the title do not exclude each other, but for the sake of argument let’s consider them as two things that don’t exactly mesh. Why? Because when we consider video and computer game sequels, we often see both practiced quite a lot, and there’s no real cohesion which one the consumer prefers, but at the same time we can see both criticised for different reasons. That should already tell is that this is kind of tomato sauce case, where people are split in preference. As usual, there’s no real one way to go with things.

If we were to use examples of iterative games, perhaps the best example would be Super Mario Bros. and the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 that was got the Lost Levels name in the West. This Japanese SMB2 is an iterative sequel, intended to effectively be more of the same, a pro-player’s version with the stage design and difficulty kicked up a notch for those who found the first game to be lacking. Western Super Mario Bros. 2, which got the USA label in Japan later on, is innovative sequel in contrast, as it expanded the playable roster, the world, characters and mechanics that would be seen later on in the series. Yes, we are going to ignore Doki Doki Panic, and if we didn’t I could use the same points of arguments for Super Mario Bros. 3, which we could use as a third example of innovative evolution of the Super Mario Bros. trilogy of games on the NES. If we extent the lineage to Mario Bros. the innovations become clearer, as the sheer point of having well scrolling action game at that time was something of a marvel, something past consoles didn’t really do or do well. Even Pitfall, the game some would argue to be the best action game on an Atari platform, moved in screens rather than with scrolling. Computers at the time had a hard time to do scrolling well, which is very apparent how the games were structured as per-screen basis or had a chunky scrolling, like what Konami did with their MSX shooting games like Nemesis.

While the Japanese SMB2 is a good example of an iterative game, we’ll use something like Doom and Doom II as an example most people should know. We can extend to this to numerous WADS that simply add stages or weapons, and perhaps even to some total conversion and such, but at the core there will be the good ol’ Doom experience; Shooting demons and trying to save your bunny from being staked. Doom II is by all means a large expansion with new weapons and levels, which was the team exactly did. The levels in Doom II are far more expansive and intricate compared to the first game thanks to the advanced in basic hardware. The enemy type number was effectively doubled. For an original Doom experience, the second game and its later iterations are effectively a sort of Best Of version, though some hardcore purists would argue that the pure classic experience still lays in the first game. Pokémon falls into this category as well, effectively being unchanged since the first game. The series has no renewed itself at any point, which has been more or less why its spin-offs have played with some of the concepts a bit more.

Adding new stages, some new mechanics and weapons don’t really innovate anything; they’re adding things on top of the base that’s already there. Innovation requires that a game is thought again from the grounds up, where the basic premise of the core design is effectively blown apart and the best parts are picked up while discarding everything that didn’t all the while building something new. Innovation is to take a house and renovate it from bottom floor all the while you’re considering all the room framing and how the yard is. Iterative is effectively building a new garage. Sometimes all you need is a new garage and some good lick of paint, because not all innovation hits the spot.

There is safety in iterative games, as they don’t fix something that was already broken, though sometimes they don’t fix what was broken. To use Pokémon as an example again, its iterations are interesting in that each new entry creates a new side mechanic only to be forgotten and abandoned in the next. Seasons of the year still hasn’t made a return from Diamond and Pearl. To contrast this, Digimon games have been widely different from each other from time to time and how they play, both to its benefit and detriment, as the franchise doesn’t have a cohesive core. Super Mario Bros. is a franchise that has a cohesive evolution with its games that innovate, as they don’t simply change the games’ genre on the fly. Side games certainly do, and New SMB series has effectively been nothing but iteration after iteration instead of innovating how the series could play in 2D, despite 2D Mario still making the biggest bank out of the series.

Maybe there are franchises that don’t exactly require innovation as such without effectively breaking the game’s core design. Umihara Kawase is a platforming game that has always been about the rubber band physics action; how to get from point A to point B, or C or D. If you’re not familiar with this niche classic, check this longplay for few minutes to get the idea. The point of the game is to use physics and mechanics tied to the physics in order to clear a stage, and these elements were further polished with its PlayStation sequel, Umihara Kawase Shun. Except in its PSP release, which broke the physics completely. Sayonara Umihara Kawase added new playable characters, a time stopping stopping mechanic for one of them and few new things, but ultimately where this series’ concentration on the sequels has been in the level design. If the physics change even a bit, or of new mechanics are introduced, the stage designs can and must reflect this either with new geometry or with additional hazards and interactive stage elements. Changing the core gameplay has to be taken seriously with heavy consideration in order not to break the basic design. Umihara Kawase Fresh changes the series’ core structure significantly from stage-per-stage progression to open world exploration with story elements, quests and health management. Effectively, the development team has taken the same route as so many other 2D action game team, and made it action-adventure in fashion of Montezuma’s Revenge and Metroid. While on surface and as an idea this sounds like changing the genre altogether would be in lieu with SMB’s innovation path, we have to seriously question whether or not the series benefits from these changes and additions.

Innovation in itself does not necessarily mean change for the positive. You can innovate something, completely overhaul and change the core of things and be left with something that is broken and doesn’t work. Umihara Kawase Fresh may now be broken due to its additional mechanics and heavy emphasize on story compared to its previous iterations (in which Shun is still the best entry in the series) though at the same time we have to grant the game the benefit of the doubt that the developers are able to keep the core design and mechanics at the forefront and not overshadowed or hindered by the new additions. I’ll probably end up buying the game for a review rather than out of joy to get a new Umihara Kawase.

Innovating a game’s core gameplay to the point of changing a genre can also impact the consumer reception rather harshly, as was feared with Metroid Prime. While taken against the larger FPS crowd, Metroid Prime isn’t stellar material, but against the 2D Metroid titles it made the transfer to three dimensions all the while making stuff work as intended was nothing short of on point. We can argue whether or not Prime actually innovated anything or if it simply moved dimensions, but the rest of the series’ entries have been iterative. Nevertheless, the genre change the game had to carry with it was received relatively well. This might not go so well with niche franchises with a cult following. Shububinman as a series might’ve been changing with each entry, and despite being semi-popular in Japan, the series effectively died with the end of the 16-bit machines. Personally, I’m afraid the management mechanics and story emphasize in Umihara Kawase Fresh will effectively kill the game, though it might as well bring it to a larger audience that can’t handle a straight-up platformer nowadays. Perhaps this is one of those cases, where the developer thinks their game is “just” a platform game, that it needs to be more and slaps everything on top of it. I doubt many would choose a well made meal over haphazardly made five course dinner with raw bits everywhere.

The danger of innovating a product in a way that it backfires is rather common. Ultimately, very few corporation do straight up innovation without having multiple product iterations under their belt already, though some new companies make their breakthrough with something newfangled innovation that hits the consumers’ wants and wishes just right. Games are like any other product though when it comes to sentimental values and emotional attachment, and this extents to the gameplay, mechanics and even visuals. You can innovate something to be something completely new and you might even test well, but if you make an error in what the consumers value in your games and change those elements, you’ll end up like New Coca-Cola. Not every game franchise can innovate itself step-by-step and so many of them are expected to have only incremental changes in their iterations. If you play the first Super Robot Wars now, and then move to the latest one, you’ll see that almost thirty years of iteration upon iteration has transformed the game to something rather different, but still has that familiar game play. While companies have a large amount of research in how people attach themselves to names and faces, brands and such, I’ve yet to see any research on preference on game play mechanics and how they’re presented. Perhaps this is significant part enough for the game developers and publishers to put more attention into, and would possibly explain why Call of Duty and Battlefield titles alongside EA’s sports titles sell year after year despite their most common criticism being in not changing anything. The consumer just has that preference for it, and even positive innovation is met with a cold shoulder.

A Rude (re)Awakening

Just as I have a say about remakes and remixes, and manage to say that Nintendo doesn’t usually do traditional remakes, they come out from the woodwork and announced the Link’s Awakening is getting a full-blown remake, for whatever reason. The thing is, this is one of those cases where we can justify a remake. The Game Boy has stupid amount of great games that could use a full-blown remake, as the GB in itself was rather sorry little device. Not to fault it, according to history the machine with less power has come at the top in success and game library. However, why this game? Why not build on the world that Breath of the Wild gave to the player with its more direct-to-the-matter approach and stripped off some of the unnecessary baggage the series has seen since, well to be frank, since Eiji Aonuma got in. After all, he is the man driving the franchise and IP, has been since Majora’s Mask essentially.

To find an answer to this question we need to go back to an Iwata askswhere Aonuma directly states that Zelda titles didn’t have a plot before Link’s Awakening. This of course is horse shit and shows how Aonuma mistakes how games tell their stories naturally through the game’s play. A story of a game is more of the player’s action, the FMV sequences and such are just a framing device for the player to make up how they advance, even if it were in a strict manner. Furthermore, The Legend of Zelda and Link’s Adventure both excel in indirect world building, which is one of the best ways games can tell a story, by including settings and character the player has to interact with to a level. LoZ didn’t only make the player collect the pieces of the Triforce, but also introduced the setting, the main players and some of the most important settings of the world. Link’s Adventure went even further and expanded the map, named numerous towns and characters that would later appear in the series in various forms as well as introduced the third piece of the Triforce. Most of this in many ways were introduced in manner that didn’t require the player to stop and look at a story sequence for five minutes, as all of it was weaved into the fabric of the game. Aonuma’s direction for Zelda has always been away from this, as he has claimed to like the adventure games on PC more than action games on a console. Knowing Japanese PCs at the time, it’s somewhat safe bet he was “playing” one of those VNs on a NEC PC-98 with no pants on. Wouldn’t blame him, the dot graphic work in those is glorious.

However, Aonuma doesn’t care about those two, he barely even recognizes A Link to the Past. In 2004, he called Link’s Awakening a quintessential isometric Zelda game, two claims that can be argued very harshly. One would be if Zelda games are actually isometric, as oblique projection would be more accurate, and the second would of course be if Link’s Awakening is as quintessential as Aonuma claims. Of course, seeing Aonuma has a very heavy bias towards the game he himself has worked on and has been very dismissive on two first games in the series, something that has harshly rubbed off to the fandom to a point of revisionism, we can’t take his word for granted. Yes, Link’s Awakening is a popular title in the series and saw a colour remake in 1998, but as a whole it’s influence is relatively minor. Most it did was tweaked what A Link to the Past had done with some hefty points taken from The Frog Whom the Bells Toll, which shared an earlier engine with Link’s Awakening. In a game series like Zelda, with most of the entries celebrated in a way or another, almost all entries can be claimed to be important in a manner or another, be it by setting up the lore, setting up the story, setting up the structure and so on. It’s effectively empty air to throw at journalists for some positive PR points. However, we do know how Aonuma views the game, and considering he made an absolutely terrible Zelda game with trains just because his kid liked ’em, it’s not exactly a far-fetched view to see how Aonuma just wanted to bring this all-important classic back to the masses, so a new generation can appreciate what an important game it is.

So yes, Link’s Awakening is getting remade because it has a story, and apparently it’s something that drives Aonuma more than advancing Zelda as a game series.

Not really sure if he realises how shit the game looks. I know, I shouldn’t take sides and just analyse stuff as is within the persona angle, but in this case I just won’t even try. If you look at how Capcom remade both Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2, they took everything they could to make the game work and look better than the original. The little we’ve seen about Link’s Awakening, it’s mostly a face lift, and it doesn’t look exactly great. You can argue all day long that the simplistic designs work and how its faithful to the original game, but at this point I’d rather enjoy the original game rather than play a remake with its edges bloomed with soft focus to hell. I’d rather not ruin my eyes. I’ve got a proper backlit GBA after all. Arguing over plants looking plastic and being glossy to convey how unnatural things are in a dream is loads of bullshit. This design world is that of toys. Certainly when asked about it, someone at Nintendo probably has a readily made answer that expands the whole thematic content like no other, but in reality probably had nothing to do with it. This remake looks like a LEGO set. A LEGO set that seems to replicate the original game to a tee rather than trying be its own thing or improve on the original. Aonuma didn’t have to stick with a super deformed look, but that’s what the original game was and you can’t steer away from pre-established things. The RE remakes are faithful to their original counterparts, RE:make perhaps to a fault, but they didn’t limit themselves to a similar look. They improved. This Link’s Awakening remake already fails as a remake because it doesn’t improve on the original visual, but instead opts to recreate them in 3D. That’s not enough. If your remake is effectively interchangeable with the original source material, it’s failed miserably. Remakes should always aim to obsolete the original, as should sequels, and thus adhering to the visual like this will hurt the game. There’s going to be people having nostalgia rush for it and argue that Zelda always used super deformed characters, which is true, but doesn’t really take into account that this game doesn’t need to. It could make better use of the hardware, create something new and interesting and still be visually familiar.

That’s the crux, isn’t it? This isn’t anything new. Nintendo doesn’t revisit old games like this too often, but every time they do, it’s not because there’s a consumer demand. It’s because the developer wants to, in this case Aonuma. He doesn’t want to recreate A Link’s Awakening the game, but A Link’s Awakening the story. Truth to be told, so very few game developer concentrates on making a game anymore, it’s all about the story. This remake probably doesn’t have the same budget as Breath of the Wild, but it is still largely a waste of resources. The recycle machine never stops. 2D Zelda still sells, there’s no question about that, so why didn’t they put their heads together and craft a completely new 2D Zelda that didn’t adhere itself to a past game? This is a pattern though, as A Link Between Worlds was effectively A Link to the Past 2. Seeing that was relatively popular and sold some decent units, might as well strike another familiar title while you’re at it, right? Half of the work’s done already, just grab the old design documents and go town.

If another company would make an action-RPG like The Legend of Zelda and use Terada Katsuya’s Zelda illustrations as a source of inspiration, they’d make bank.

The core of a Zelda is not in cutesy grass-hacker, but in the atmosphere of being on an adventure, exploring caves and forests, with all the dangers and perils it brings. Zelda is not about the story, that’s irrelevant. It’s about the adventure and the world

It’s all in the wrist

So for some time I’ve been looking into knives again. Not because I have a need for knives as such, but because it’s always nice to see what sort of bullshit the stores have in for the consumer from time to time. Sometimes you pick something that looks neat, sometimes you just have to wonder what batshit bonkers they were thinking when they began putting paint on the blades. It’s not really paint, but might as well be. It’s so fashionable to cut stuff when you’re blade is pink, right?

Enter Vitility and their wrong-way knives. Before I go further, I will say that these knives have their place. People with arthritis and extremely limited movement in the wrist might find there more useful, but that’s not exactly the whole truth. That’s because most people hold their kitchen knives the wrong way. Vitility know this and their marketing department will take advantage of this, even on the box of the product.

Are they using fillet knife to showcase the smallness of the competition?

 

As you can see there, right on the box of their veggie knife, they’re showcasing the wrong way to hold a knife. It’s true that holding a knife like that and doing the work with your wrist will wear it on the long run, but that’s only you hold your knife the wrong way. There are multiple resources when it comes to holding a knife, like Serious Eats, Not a Cook, The Manual or Eat Your Beets for kids. Most sources fail to mention that the motion that should be doing the work for cutting comes from the elbow and shoulder, and the wrist should stay relatively motionless. Only in fine cutting the wrist should be used relatively extensively. The main reason for wrist action in general cutting is because the knife’s blade has not been taken care of and has dulled. You’ll end up with more resistance than necessary, and you’ll end up trying to cut with the wrist.

Ergonomics is a thing that’s relatively easy to market this way. Most consumers don’t think about it, because great ergonomics is something you don’t notice or appreciate. It becomes relevant only when something is uncomfortable to use. Thus, marketing has a really easy time to make use of this, and claim that their wrong-way around knives are more ergonomic than all the normal ones, despite this not being the case. If you look at Vitility’s knife’s grip, it’s rather oval. Very basic, probably some sort of rubber on it. However, it’s not ergonomic as ergonomic as it could be, as it lacks any and all grooves or shapes to support the hand further. It’s about as ergonomic as your dollar binge knife, because I bet the person using this knife will end up using it wrong anyway.

It comes back to the sharpness again. When Vitility knife gets dull, you’ll end up exerting more force to it. As you do it, your wrist will bend upwards, similarly when you’re using a standard knife. It’s a bit different position overall, but the end is the same. These knives will get dull about as fast as any other too, as they’re mentioned to be stainless steel, which tells us exactly jack shit. Usually cheap stainless steel knives like this are basic steel that has a stainless steel chrome coating on top, but whether or not this is the case with Vitility is an open question. This is also why more expensive knives need to be taken care of, as their build is not just generic stainless steel. These knives can stain faster, but their edge retention can be superior or can be bend into insane curves. Knife Planet has a basic but still decent overview on some of the most common steels used in knives. A personal favourite is mentioned on the list, which is 1095 High Carbon. My guess would be that Vitility uses something that’s similar to 420J, which is on the aforementioned list as one of the lower quality stainless steels out there. It also mentions ceramic knives, and unlike what the PR says, you actually do need to sharpen a ceramic knife. It just happens very so rarely and in situations where the blade has been chipped or hit a hard spot like a bone. You’ll probably snap one half before needing to sharpen it, however. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend ceramic blades.

To get back to knife ergonomics, there is no magical solution. The best knife handles are great to hold simply because the guide the hand right. You instinctively grasp it the right way. This requires shapes on the handle, and this will of course mean the knife will not fit all. Humans are different, hand sizes vary and so on. The oval-tube shaped knife handle Vitility uses is probably the most generic shape you can have that’s still nice to grasp. Round is a terrible shape for a blade’s handle, you don’t know where the edge is directed to and you wouldn’t be able to put much proper pressure on it. There are some exceptions, there always are. Still, Vitility’s claim that their knife is ergonomic stands, just as any. The showcase on the packaging just likes to puts things into rather different light from reality, but that’s the usual PR for you.

Honestly, holding a knife properly is something that needs to be learned, it doesn’t come naturally. Even then, the most ergonomic knife won’t do you any good if the blade’s not been taken care of. As such, the consumer really should remember to not only learn how to use the knife, but also how to sharpen, hone and oil it. Takes about ten to twenty minutes of your time per month, and will make cooking so much faster and safer. Ergonomic or not, a dull knife is dangerous as hell.

Thoughts on designing a Switch dock

There really wasn’t any good title for this post, and I’m most likely going to make this an incoherent ramble. In my previous post, the review about three Switch stances, I mentioned that that making designs for a game console is damn difficult. Regarding a console itself, the reign’s free as long as the hardware sits in, everything else has to be build for purpose like the controllers, but at the same time they need to be unique pieces that stand out from the competition, adhere to the overall branding and still offer what now are considered as universal necessities from e.g. a controller.  The stuff like four face buttons, two sticks, a D-Pad, and four shoulder buttons are industry standards generally regarded started by the SNES controller and set in stone by PlayStation’s controllers. Pretty much every controller afterwards have included some variation of these, with the Wii probably being the best example of breaking the mould with its standard Wiimote. Of course, there was the Pro Controller that still keeps itself around as a brand, meaning Nintendo continues to use some variation of it still. This is gonna end up as a companion to the review, isn’t it?

With the Switch docks reviewed, each and every one of them had lacked something while beating another in something. The stock official was an absolute waste of space but had HDMI. The DIY one, one of the many that share the exact same design, doesn’t offer the best support for the console on favour of smallness. Pretty much the exact opposite for the stock one, but at least it doesn’t scratch the screen. The HORI one excelled and beats the two other in every respect, except it lacks the HDMI connection. The faults of the designs are intentional, as the designs are driven by their primary idea, the rest be damned. If a design does one thing right and keeps doing it as intended without breaking down in use, its done its job. If it can’t do what it is not designed to do, that’s not exactly a problem.

If this is the case, wouldn’t it be wrong of me to detract points from each of the docks for what is essentially core of their design? The stock dock is intended to be that big in order to accompany the system overall and provide the best stability possible while keeping the glare from the Switch’s screen behind a layer. The DIY stand is meant to be as small as possible, so few sacrifices had to be made to minimise the form and usage. The HORI stand lacked HDMI because it is intended solely for table mode gaming, and had to find a sweet spot between the two sizes to do so in a sensible manner. Who am I to say that thing X in these designs are not wanted or is a terrible direction? As a customer I do have certain expectation and wants from the products. It is unreasonable to expect a car to fly in the sky, but it would not be unreasonable to expect one of these three docks to support the Switch standing in a vertical position. HORI’s table mode stand should have taken this into account, especially considering it is a dedicated for doing just that. It is understandable that the USB-C connector can make this a challenge, as it might have force directed at it from 90-degree angle that could lead to some damage, but that’s where the dock’s design must accommodate this. Such stand could utilise parts that extend or has to be unfolded, like HORI’s stand. This of course would raise the price of the product, as the design time would extend, more tooling would be required to produce the moulds and assembly time would increase. Additions that probably would add to a significant increase in price, at least towards the end-consumer. Hiking the price from thirty bucks to forty or more usually does make or break a purchase decision.

I omitted a fourth stand from the review altogether, mostly because it’s a generic two dollar Chinese stand for everything under the sun, from phones to handheld consoles. It’s flip-flop design is pretty excellent, able to collapse to a flat state and supports Switch every which way you throw it at it. It may not be powered, but its rubber pads keeps it extremely stable and keeps the Switch in place just fine. No wobbling here. It has no power or USB port support, but allows the USB-C power to be attached if wanted. As stupid as it sounds, this cheap hunk of plastic is indeed one of the better overall stands for the Switch and beats even Hori’s stand in overall usability. I’m sure you could just chuck some sort of USB-C hub at it for additional controllers. With some slight modding, you’d probably be able the Nintendo stock dock’s PCB with it after some generous additions to the bottom case, something I should probably look into.

What’s the deal with the vertical mode?, I was asked in the wake of the review. The Switch isn’t he first portable games console to naturally lend itself to a vertical mode. The first handheld specifically designed for it was the Wonder Swan. Namco Wonder Classic is an excellent example of this, as the game benefits everything by being vertical. Vertical shooting games benefit of this as well, like the ported Psikyo games Gunbird and Sengoku Ace. Screen space is better used and there is no need for separate bars at the sides to fill in the space with artwork or other useless junk. However, due to whatever reason, Nintendo opted not to consider system’s vertical nature at all, as the standard leg does not support Switch sideways, and none of their games thus far have even hinted any sort of vertical usage. This is strange, considering Nintendo usually wants to utilise their system’s peculiarities to some stupid extent. Yet, this self-evident mode has been just dismissed thus far. For all the talk of innovation and moving forwards, they’re missing a dimension of their console that would have opened new possibilities for game design. Holding the Switch vertical in your hands may be a bit awkward, but you can find at least three positions for you hands on the system; hold it from left side only, accessing the stick and C-buttons; hold it high with left and low with right, accessing the left Joy-Con’s action and shoulder buttons, and C-buttons; and holding having your left hand on the left Joy-Con while accessing right’s stick. Of course, the system has not been designed for these, but they’re less awkward that you’d imagine and more comfortable than e.g. clawing the PSP. Of course, the table top mode comes in play in this. Sadly, the Switch has no legs or rubber pads to keep it from sliding to its back, so a stand is more or less required, and only a two-dollar stand seems to be offering a solution for this. This is  simply waste of potential.

Ultimately, the question I want to ask about Switch docks and stands in general is “What are they for?”. Naturally the answer is to provide a standing support for the Nintendo Switch itself in a stationary form and possibly offer support for docked mode. Just like when designing a chair, the end results from this starting point vary just as much as there are people tackling it, but as a simple eBay search shows, it’s just easy to take an existing design and toy with it a bit. Just like a chair example I wrote years back on just how stupidly varied and difficult a single simple design can be in the end, designing a stand for a console has its own harsh limitations. At least with a chair you can trust it being usable for the most part in the far future, excluding the obesity problem this modern world has been facing, but with something like this you’re going to get few years worth of existence before being phased out by the next product down the line. Who wants to put the effort to make the definitive product for anything that’s essentially a flashby, when you could try to immortalise yourself elsewhere?

Guess that’s the same effort that goes into this blog.

Consumers letting to make best of themselves

Electronics is one of the better places to look for when trying to find consumer actions that are based solely on PR and brand loyalty. This is a topic I’ve talked few times around before, but with our 900th post, it’s time to take a different take on the consumer.

Anything has its hardcore fans that are willing to sit tight and spend money on the brand whatever it is. Be it emotional connection, great PR, lifelong ties to, whatever. The most important bit is that the consumer is hooked in and stays hooked. Apple is great in this. Their products themselves are not the best quality, don’t have the best designs and overall wouldn’t fare all that well in direct comparisons on the same level with other manufacturers. Apple’s marketing has managed to turn their PR and ad campaigns into a great social engineering project, where sale an alternative lifestyle rather than product itself. Apple’s marketing slogan between 1997 and 2002 Think different embodies this to a tee as an alternative style. You can argue however you want on the pros and cons of Apple’s PCs and phones, but when you start comparing Apple’s products to e.g. Microsoft’s, the way they sell the lifestyle to the consumer leaves no question which one has consumers worshiping them.

Just like in any field of life, no consumer is an expert in all. While some people may know ins and outs of cars and how to pick up the best value car, the same consumers probably wouldn’t know the best value clothes. Value in itself is a great marketing motif that any and all companies utilise. I’m sure you’ve seen Best Value being slapped around somewhere, but never found out how the value is counted. Consumers know that the advertisement is false to a degree, but accept that it most likely means more bang for the buck. At least it should. In case of most low-tier products, it can mean higher quantity of goods over quality, meaning the 700g chicken sauce you bought that cost as much as the 400g one tastes terrible and has been diluted with water.

As such, each and every corporation knows what sort of consumer they have and how to strike true with them. If you consider yourself immune to marketing, consider how you get your news and what your political views are. Politics and moral stances have always been one of the best ways to sell your stuff to someone, especially when it comes to information sources. We naturally hover towards information sites that either deliver news we care most about, or just give the best kind of news we want to hear. Even this blog is fault in this, seeing I tend to use sites like Nichegamer as sources. However, I do try to find the originator, if possible, in order to combat this personal bias. It is easy and even natural to lose yourself in this bubble and consider people outside as some sort of dumb opposition. This sort of Them mentality is rather often snidely encouraged for the sake of trying to tie the consumer further to the source.

Am I slowly painting a picture of consumer being gullible bastards? Yes, everyone in their own unique ways. It’s a science how to affect any demographic in the most favourable way and marketing has been taken to the next degree to the point of consumers nowadays not even realising when they are being advertised at. While legislation often limits how we are advertised at, the fact that your favourite character drinks Coca-Cola does affect you at some level. Repeat that a number of times and your association with the brand will become softer.

Internet ads are one thing. Another is are the companies’ own PR sections and dedicated corporations that specialise in long-term advertisement and social consumer engineering. One or two members of these groups can simply begin to use an image board, a discussion server or the like and begin to argue for the product they advertise for. This sort of invasive and subverting strategy works much better than direct ads partly because it is unexpected and partly because discussions tend to be trusted more. With direct marketing you know what to trust and what to expect. On a forum, you’re on a far less sure ground who is there to discuss and who is to sell you stuff. This should be expected on forums and sites ran and maintained by companies themselves. After all, you’re there mostly to be promoted at, as far as the staff is concerned.

Then again, we leak so much information of ourselves in daily Internet use, that corporations have no trouble deciding what to advertise to us. Consumer behaviour has become extremely easy to gather and predict.

It’s not all that hard to keep the consumer hooked to you, once you’ve got them in. You just don’t need to make any stupid decisions that would damage the image of the product overall, and you’re golden. The recent brouhaha about Battlefield V is a good example how a company can try to change the product in a way that should in theory appeal to another audience through changes that made the base audience unhappy. Don’t go around saying that if your customers don’t like it, they shouldn’t buy it, Unsurprisingly, wallet voting has worked and now the game’s been delayed in order to add more authenticity to it.

The most important thing after you’ve hooked the customer is to keep feeding their more goods to spend on. The whole thing DLC really is to keep raking in the profits after the initial launch of the game, or just give the core title free and milk the money out from everything else. After all, the consumer will pay for what they value, even if in reality the value is not there.

For the customer, it is a bliss and blessing to be able to buy something they crave for. For the seller it is nothing short of normal and standard business, and they can always cook up more stuff for you to buy and them to market you at in equally many ways and forms.

Consumers, after all, are easily lead. All of us.

Subscription service as the future of video games?

Screw the blog personality for this post. We’re doing this in-person. Shigsy had an interview with Bloomberg, where he warns other video game developers about greed. This is rich, coming from a dev who can do whatever the hell he wants rather than doing titles that the market has yearned for some time. It’s no secret 2D Mario titles sell more than 3D ones, but they’re too much work and bothersome to design. He’d rather have games developed like a school project.

Shigsy doesn’t really say anything especially worthwhile. His criticism on F2P and lootboxes echoes so many others, and you can read between the lines how there is irritation about mobile games with gacha are making tons of money. Fate Grand Order or whatever it was is making millions per day, supposedly. Shigsy saying the fixed-cost model hasn’t been a success is bullshit though. Something that has worked for pretty much everything thus far doesn’t suddenly become unsuccessful just it seems to be under fire now. Sure, Shigsy talks mostly in context of mobile gaming. Nintendo tackling mobile games has been criticised for good reasons, as the market is widely different from console game market. It’s like entering a market selling pizzas with hamburgers. There is a reason why Nintendo’s IPs on computers has always been handled by other companies, like Hudson with Super Mario Bros. Special.

Shigsy clearly likes the idea of subscription based gaming, like how Netflix is for movies and TV shows. To him, how games have been sold thus far seems to have failed despite gaming has become larger than Hollywood through it. F2P games with in-game purchases is greedy way to make profit to him, but this is business. You make money the best way you can. Subbing services on the other hand would still have the consumer pay a front fee to access titles to begin with, but just as with Netflix and other of its competitors, the question about what games would be available. Nintendo’s upcoming service for the Switch is abysmal in this, as the game variety they’re offering is extremely limited. A subbing service requires to have extremely wide variety of titles, and having something else than the same NES titles over and over.

It’s trite for Shigsy to argue for Nintendo wanting to bring their games to widest possible audience via mobile games. If Nintendo truly wanted to do this, they’re start doing third party games for Microsoft and Sony. That’s not going to happen, so what they’re really about with mobile games is cross-platform advertising. Show people who play games on mobile phones how great titles Nintendo has with selected IPs, and maybe some of them will be interested enough to jump the bandwagon with Switch.

This has been Nintendo’s strategy with across media platforms and consumables before as well. All the cartoons, toys, cereals, comics and so on were only to promote Nintendo’s games and consoles. Mobile phone games are the exact same thing, as their primary value is to advertise the brands and IPs instead of raking money on themselves.

I’m almost baffled how Shigsy thinks there isn’t already a culture of paying for valued software. Your normal everyday person doesn’t have thousands or millions to blow money on games. Hell, most people don’t even put hundreds into games. Outside some stupidly obsessed people, consumers have a very strong tendency on purchasing products they deem worthy. Nobody simply blows their cash on whatever kind of products if they can help.

Considering Nintendo of Japan seems to has jack shit understanding about global market, I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t one of Shigsy’s and Nintendo’s brain farts how consumers act. The main reason why Fire Emblem and Famicom Wars never hit the West before GBA was because Nintendo’s staff thought Americans didn’t like strategy games, despite PCs being filled with them. Then again, this probably is partially true due to how most successful strategy games have been on PC, and we’ve seen, Nintendo didn’t deal in the PC market. Nevertheless, Advance Wars became more popular in the West than in Japan. Then you had Nintendo’s official, can’t remember who, proudly mentioning how Japanese children loved to craft and play with cardboard. Honestly, Nintendo’s corporate culture in this sense has their heads deep in their asses. This line really should be read that Shigsy wants a culture where games he values would be purchased. I bet he is still salty about Donkey Kong Country being the breakthrough title for the Super Nintendo.

Consumers already have a habit of paying money for applications and software  they deem worth the money. Trying to act like this is not the case goes against reality. If this is some sort of jab at piracy and how Nintendo has been fighting against ROMs and the like as of late, it further shows how out of loop he and the rest of the company is. Virtual Console was a massive success to the point of titles outselling new games Nintendo was putting out. There is a market for these older titles, hence why people are willing to pirate and play ROMs. This the same reason why the Classic Mini systems are selling like hotcakes. By not offering a way for consumers to purchase and access them is effectively shooting yourself to the leg and not offering software people are willing to pay for. This isn’t any goddamn rocket science. The habit Shigsy wants consumers to have is already there, but they’re not willing to provide the software. On the contrary, they’ve killed all avenues to obtain these titles. Furthermore, piracy has promoted products far more than any other field; it is not an outright negative impact in itself. A pirated title is not a lost sale, as the case often is that there was no intention to purchase that title in the first place. Comparison with music streaming is false equivalency but its the best Shigsy can muster. You can’t play games Youtube either, so into the trash with it.

Does changing things into Netflix-like subbing service change anything in this? Of course not. If the library of games is lacklustre compared to other similar services, or even outright stores, you won’t see customers subbing. The price has to be low enough to warrant subbing to it as well, and lose all rights to the games. Never underestimate customers’ will to have ownership over what they’ve paid.

Review; Switch Joycons

Two reviews, in the same month? That’s what I call Lack of proper topics but mainly because the Joycons themselves are rather interesting piece of hardware once you get around how they’re spun around.

 

Why grey? Because I intend to change the shells on the controllers and the grey one cost me twenty eurobucks less

The JoyCons are essentially Wiimote 2.0. When attached to the main unit/screen, it becomes the second most unwieldiest portable console after the Lynx. It’s general shapes follows Sony’s handhelds and the Wii U pad quote closely, but at this points its more a necessity of ergonomics than lack of ideas. After all, pretty much all controllers follow the same core design nowadays rather than having widely different takes.

Of course, the main gimmick the JoyCons have is the ability to detached them and use them in tandem or individually. This is very neat, but at the same time these controllers are small by necessity. While slightly wider than the Hori Commander Mini I reviewed on the Famicom, everything else is in smaller scale. When used as single controller, you have access to the stick, four face buttons, two “shoulder” buttons L and LZ, and “top” buttons SL and SR. You can see these on the railing. Depending on the controller, you have Home or Capture button, and Plus and Minus (essentially glorified Start buttons.) The button that exist as shoulder buttons when JoyCons are attached to the main unit or grip rest awkwardly near your palm. The ergonomics are also lacking, but that comes with the size.

The most important part with the shoulder button there is that there is no sharp corners or danger for you finger to be pressed between the shell and the button. This is done by giving the button very short travel. Also, notice how the release button is tucked away into a corner

The sticks aren’t exactly the best, and it could use some some of the clickiness NeoGeo Pocket has. They lack any sort of tactile feel, despite the cutouts on the rubber. You simply don’t feel it. It has very short travel distance, which means control with tension becomes a must with certain games that require extensive stick control.

As the controllers have to work both as single entities and in tandem, the placement for the action buttons are sacrificed. They’re very much in the middle of the controller, which works when in tandem, but in single mode they’re just too far from the left edge, though larger hands could probably find this comfortable distance. This is also the reason why there’s no D-Pad on the Switch; everything has to do dual task, and these facebuttons, that use N64 controller’s C-Stick directions, work as D-Pad when used in tandem. It’s awkward and lacks the same smooth use as with normal D-Pad, and sadly its serviceable by a hair. Their dimensions and placement has been worked to its optimum. The buttons themselves are of better Nintendo standard, where the travel is pretty spot on, perfectly raised above the level and have nice tactile feedback.

It must be said that accessing the SL and SR buttons are surprisingly accessible, as index fingers seem to naturally hit their place. On themselves, they’re a bit too flat to use properly, but that’s why Nintendo gave us the wrist attachment people seem to put the wrong way constantly.

Plus and Minus are tucked away in the corner nicely so you don’t hit them, but whatever mode of control you use, they’re awkward to use. Think of Xbox’s Duke’s black and white buttons and you get somewhat similar idea.

 The wrist attachment slide the opposite way you slide the controller into the main unit, corner symbol meeting corner symbol. This adds some heft to a JoyCon and makes it somewhat nicer to hold in your hands, but its main use really is to make the SR and SL buttons more accessible with the larger pass-through buttons.

While you can use JoyCons in tandem separately like with the WiiMote and its nunchuck, Nintendo shipped the console with the grip attachment. It’s not exactly the best however. It’s like they wanted everything to stay straight and have the JoyCons sit like they sit on the main unit. This means whenever you use this, accessing the left face buttons for D-Pad use and the right stick requires either over-extending your thumb downwards or move the whole whole on the handles. Supposedly, the prototype was in an angle to give it more ergonomic shape, but for whatever reason this was dropped. There are many custom attachments on eBay that fix this and make this the most viable option to use the JoyCons in tandem. It would seem that the JoyCons will see rather large amount of optional accessories and attachments down the line. Here’s hoping Hori will do some good ones in the future, like the upcoming D-Padded JoyCon.

So, bottom line? The JoyCons are not the best controllers out there. The whole thing of them working as a single unit or in tandem forces just enough compromises to make all of them feel somewhat awkward. As usual, once you get used to them, muscle memory handles moving your hand up and down as needed. If there had been some concessions for functionality over visual design, these would have been winners as first hybrid console controllers. As they are now, JoyCons do their job, but the alternatives are probably better.

I must admit that the JoyCons have one thing over all other controllers; Switch has the most satisfying feel of clicks and clacks whenever you are attaching them to anything.

Review: Muv-Luv Kickstarter goods

The approach to this review will not be anything different from any other review I’ve done thus far. No special treatment, no kids gloves on; I will approach this as any product reviewed in this blog thus far. It’s only fair towards you, the readers, and the staff behind the Kickstarter. However, I won’t be reviewing all the KS goods. I’ll be concentrating on the main dish most people probably got through their backing; the Kickstarter physical package, the Codex and the Destroyer Class plush. This will strictly discuss the items themselves, not their translation or such.

Let’s start with the physical package.

This is also the image that was used on Alternative‘s original DVD release. It’s honestly the perfect choice for this

At first appearance, the package seems pretty on-par. Despite using thin cardboard, the appearance isn’t half bad. The decision to put the description and all copyright information to the bottom is an interesting take, as now its reversible to every other direction. This breaks how commercial boxes are designed, which some perfectionists might find jarring, as now the box doesn’t flow well with other software boxes.

However, visuals aren’t all. While the box still feel sturdy in hand, the contents inside are loose. The image above is just before I opened the box, and I could hear and feel the items inside rattling back and forth. This isn’t great to any extent. A box like this should have necessary support inside to keep items in their proper places during transit, as now no matter what sort of stuffing is used around it the items can be damaged. So, let’s open this one up and see what’s inside.

You could fit another booklet in there or something

This is exactly what I didn’t want to see; items rattling around in an oversized box. Because the box is made thinner cardboard, the same some DVDs have around them, it loses most of its structural integrity when opened. I can feel the CDs being lose inside their jewel case, let’s open that one up to see if they’re damaged. The case’s cover is nice choice though, but the back cover should have been revised. Maybe drop the song titles here completely and have them inside in an insert.

Oh. Ooooooohhh…

Luckily, only one of the CDs were loose, but the discs’ printing is not up to quality. While the chosen images are good in themselves, for whatever reason the images are lower resolution than the text, which itself is sharp. The typeface and font chosen for the CDs ends making these look like something printed at home. Furthermore, these discs should have been labelled as numbers, e.g. Muv-Luv Alternative Original Soundtrack Disc 1, not Volume 1. The fact that OST is used on the discs like this, and the fact that there is no kind of information who composed the songs, makes all this feel like a homebrew compilation.

As for the games themselves, the front covers are what you’d expect and look good. Nothing to say about these, but the back covers are another thing. There’s too much text on them. Even when these VNs are long, the descriptions should have been cut in half and with heavier emphasize on images. To use Sweet Home as an example, the flavour text is two whole sentences, being straight to the point. The word homebrew creeps back to my head with this, as things like Minimum Requirements should be on the box. Actually, they’re not seen anywhere on the packaging.

The discs however are rather standard, overall speaking. There’s nothing to mention about them, though I would’ve expected more legal text on all of these. Perhaps printing a monochrome image on the disc similar to âge’s Japanese releases should have been brought on to the table, as its much easier to make them look sharp rather than what might end up looking like a sticker on a disc.

I must mention that the disc I have for Muv-Luv seems to have been damaged somewhere along the way, as it has a strange arc on the underside. Despite this, the disc seems to be readable. There’s also a weird discoloration, as if something had spilled all over it inside. This might be a quality control issue, and I’ll be sure testing this disc further down the line.

The darker wavy line is easy to spot, the lighter arc near not so much., I have no idea what they are and I am slightly worried

The shikishi, a drawn image signed by the author, that came with the box is pretty great. Sumika doing a Drill Milky Punch is nice, even when it’s just a print and not a real thing in itself. The artbook uses similar typeface and font as the CDs, and doesn’t exactly look the greatest. Everything’s printed on a thin, glossy paper that in itself isn’t terrible, but the cover should have been heavier duty. The feeling the book gives is flimsy, plus it creases extremely easily. Corners will get damaged fast in normal use with this paper too. Because of the thinness, the pages are slightly transparent and the images on the other side bleed through. The images and character descriptions are on-point, though the complete lack of illustrator credits anywhere in the codex is a bit disheartening. Seeing the second and last to last pages under the covers are completely blank, these would have been great places to put them on.

Here’s how I solved the rattling the contents: I added two pieces of cardboard on both sides, and a support structure to keep the CD jewel case in place. To be completely honest, the outer box does feel like something you should throw away, as the package overall lacks any sort of premium feel to it. The added cardboard makes it feel more rigid and gives some extra heft. There shouldn’t be any reason for me to do this addition, but as things stand now, I had to. For comparison, here’s how Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal laid its contents. Notice the use of sturdier cardboard, how the items are laid and fit perfectly, and the use of supportive thinner cardboard at the bottom of the PS4 case.

 

Well, let’s move unto the second big thing, the long-time Holy Grail of Muv-Luv Alternative source of information translated and recompiled with Lunatic Dawn content; The Codex.

Like some majestic predatory bird

The first impression of the book is nothing short of impressive. I didn’t expect hardcover version of the book, especially considering the number of pages, but first looks can be deceiving. When you stop and look at the cover, it’s not pretty.

On the right, you see the scanned cover of the Muv-Luv Alternative CODEX. On its left you have the same illustration, scanned from Muv-Luv Alternative Integral Works. I recommend opening them in Full View to fully see how badly the covers have been fucked up. Either someone forgot to pit High Resolution mode on in In-Design, or something seriously went awry during data process. Both covers have been printed in low resolution, while the cover text nice and crisp. While a book shouldn’t be judged by its covers, this piece can never be called high quality or premier product. A way to remedy this situation would be to create a dust jacket for the book with high resolution print on the cover.

However, the meat of the piece is on the pages. With some few hours looking through, there appears to be no real concern how accurately things have transferred during translation. There are also welcome changes, like changing Melee Halberds into Close Quarters Combat Melee Blade. While a mouthful, melee blade in itself is more than enough. Back in 2016 I wrote a post concerning the topic, which was comped with a review of TSF’s close combat weapons. I strongly recommend you to read them both if you haven’t. There is one fib that has leaked through, where BWS-8 Flugelberte is described to resemble a halberd, when in reality it resembles an axe. Or a bardiche.

The information itself is great stuff, but it shows that this is a book that’s glued together from multiple sources. The Lunatic Dawn content that’s in the latter part of the book is just bolted on, rather than taken and included into the book proper. The word on the street originally was that the book would need to be completely revised, but in the end it follows Integral Works‘ looks and design with the occasional change in order accommodate English.

Good ol’ Gekishit. Isn’t ‘Play Back’ one word though?

The paper used is similar glossy paper that’s in the artbook. It’s a level heavier, but creases still extremely easily. Despite being heavier and slightly thicker, it still isn’t near heavy matte paper in terms of preventing transparencies, as seen above. Fingerprints will be abound while reading this book. I’m rather surprised that this wasn’t a softcover book similar to Integral Works or Mega Man & Mega Man X Official Complete Works, to which I compared IW to back in the day as well. Codex‘s paper is nowhere as heavy and hefty as the two aforementioned, but the book is third thinner due to the new paper. It doesn’t allow the book to have any air to it either.

Because of the glossy surface and the sheer amount of text, people with poorer eyesight will have headaches while reading this. The typeface selected is just small enough to cause extra strain on the eye. As everything’s also packed very, very tightly in this small size, people who suffer from either vertical or horizontal dispersion in vision, meaning certain letters will lose lines, making reading a chore at best, extremely headache inducing at worst. This is easily alleviated with the use of different typeface or slightly larger font size.

The use of this sort of glossy paper can also be a double-edged sword. While Yakuza 6‘s artbook had the same paper, some copies were completely glued together, some were completely warped and some had ink smudges all over them. The feel of glossy paper works best for single leaflets and photos. When going for a book like this, its still best to consider heavy matter paper first and foremost, as it offers longer life and cuts down possible ink and paper problems down to mere percents.

All in all, the covers are just a damn travesty, sadly. Well, that and one of the pages, p. 353, get repeated on the following opening. While accidents like this sometimes happen, this does sting of lack of quality control.

Lastly, we have the Destroyer Class plushie, one of the things that was suggested very early on due to its role in the fandom. The plushie is based on a very certain background piece in Joshi Eishi Cryska EX.

While the plushie is clearly different from it CG original, this is due to difference in reality and fiction. The overall quality is damn nice, chosen materials feel sturdy enough to give this to a child to play with. Interestingly, the back end has a sack that’s filled with grains rather than fluff the plushie is filled with otherwise.

The grain section is about one-third from the back, starting from the tag on its arse

It’s just a joy to see and have, maybe even the best part of the package in terms of quality. This thing really should see mass production. Clearly, there is a market for BETA plushies.

I’m sure that at this point it’s rather clear what’s the end verdict is. The Kickstarter original products are largely a disappointment in terms of quality. I’m not going to mull over whys or hows, that doesn’t net anything. They are what they are, now’s too late to do anything about it. Other items, like the ones in Yuuko’s Gift bag, have higher quality. Stickers are hard to screw up as are postcards (though mine are rather warped, requiring me to straighten them down.) It must be also mentioned that Valkylies has been corrected into Valkyries with the patches.

Those patches were produced by Cospa, company that produces cosplay goods, including the jackets and shirts that were on the Kickstarter. The pilot jacket may be 100% polyester, but I can’t expect a cosplay clothes company to manufacture clothes like they were actual military wear. The Drill Milky Punch T-shirt is at 100% cotton and I’m wearing it while typing this review. This extends to the dakimakura, which is of standard Japanese productions for items like it, I expected no less.


The experience with the Kickstarter goods, delays and pretty much everything including the end results of the goods probably affected negatively both backers and staff. It would not be surprising if this was the first and last Kickstarter we see, and the rest are done away with less fanfare, which would also mean no physical products would be produced. However, in cases like this, I would always strongly recommend companies and people looking into Limited Run Games, a company that specialises in doing limited physical run on goods. At the time of Muv-Luv‘s Kickstarter, the company wasn’t relevant, but now it has managed to establish itself just fine. For example, they are delivering Shantae: ½ Genie Hero‘s Kickstarter goods. But all this is academic at best. I can only hope that lessons have been learned, but have not allowed to snuff the staff’s spirit.

I’ve got no good end for this review. Shit happens, we will probably never know what, but the end results are in our hands.