Life simulation in Japanese games

One of the main goals of video and computer games since their inception has been the realisation of virtualised world. In other words, the simulation of the real world. The most common examples that people across the world can recognize would be the multitude of driving simulators (with varying levels of realism across the board) and The Sims, a life simulation game series that has been acting as a huge time sink to many players since its inception in 2000. Seriously, all the people I’ve known who played The Sims had a mania towards it to the point of one girl wrecking her four-year relationship.

The thing is, certain type of simulation games aren’t really common in the West. The main reason I chose driving and life simulation above as examples is because of their widespread nature. Sports overall can be counted as sort of simulation, depending how the level of realism they have, but without a proper controller such games always fall tad flat. Sure you can do realistic dribbles in Fifa, but that’s all in the controller. You’re not standing up and actually dribbling the ball in a virtual environment. That’s currently impossible, the technology isn’t at the level of Star Trek‘s holodeck yet.

 


Alpine Racer had a control rig of two sticks and slots that emulated skis. The game require complete physical movement to be controlled, and was fun

The main difference between American, European and Japanese cultures when it comes to simulation games, which also reflects our approaches to games in general, is that there is a level of separation. Sure, driving games and such are fun thing to play, but ultimately a Westerner could just go and try these things himself for real. In Japan, however, this is not the case due to geographic and overall cultural influence. The reason Japan has so many golf games is that it’s a status symbol. To have a membership in a golf club is a sign of financial success and socially high status. These golf clubs are much more than just tracks to play golf, as they offer a complete spa and vacation resort experience. It’s a prestige, and simulation of that prestige is invaluable.

Similarly, due to the limited space Japan has, the experience of e.g. owning a dog can be a challenge. It’s also a financial risk that some people can’t simply do. Hence games like Nintendogs became a success, though Nintendogs wasn’t the first dog simulation game. There has been a few in the past, with one of the more notable ones being Sega’s Inu no Sanpo, or Walk the Dog. The game works on a treadmill and on force feedback leash. You are given instructions when to walk normally, run or dash, while the screen would have a realistic Japanese scenery going on while your dog just stumbles along events that can happen. Like a runaway cat taking your dog’s attention or car almost hitting it. All the while you can feel the force feedback through the leash in your hand.

Walk the Dog may be a curiosity for a Youtuber to rant on, it’s a case study how Japanese simulation games do allow people to do things they couldn’t otherwise. Of course, there is one specific simulation game that doesn’t only hit the cultural nerve but also has a mania following with train otakus. Densha de Go! or Go by Train! is another example of simulation games allowing something desirable in the culture, as trains are nearly revered in Japan.

 


Armed with a special controller replicating a train’s control panel, Densha de Go! was a massive phenomena in the late 1990’s and gained a legendary status as far as train simulators go

Densha de Go! isn’t just about achieving something that’s beyond most people. It’s also a sort of taking control event, where the player can move from being a simple passenger to the role of the train driver. The game also benefits from having realistic environments for the tracks, which has been argued to relieve stress in many ways, e.g. allowing a salaryman to travel and see new sights without moving away from his home, or bringing back childhood memories through seeing familiar train routes from back home.

Of course, one of the most Japanese simulation game genres out there is the raising genre, or ikusei games. Or sodate-ge, if you want to be informal bastard. Without a doubt the most well-known title in the genre is Gainax’s Princess Maker, in which the player character takes control of raising a girl from childhood to adulthood. The game’s a contrast to The Sims‘ controls, where the player doesn’t exactly control much of the character in the end. In Princess Maker, the player is responsible is one individual’s growth into the ideal women, and the game offers 74 possible endings, ranging from your daughter ending up being a solider, bishop or a whore.

Princes Maker can be seen as another way for Japanese men to ogle at young girls of different ages in a perverted way, but the more likely reason why Princess Maker became popular is that it allowed lonely men to experience some resemblance to family happiness. Which is one is the sadder option is up to you.

The most popular and well-known raising game however isn’t Princess Maker when it comes to global population. That would be Tamagotchi, which experienced its explosive boom in the late 1990’s. These eggfriends was a bane of many school’s existence, with the fuckers beeping in the kids’ bags every so often requiring to be fed or their shit be cleaned out. The basic idea is that you have an egg that hatches into a creature that must be taken care of and raised well in order it to flourish, until it dies. Early in the game the creature gets sick easily and there has to be rather large amount of effort to keep it alive in the first place. Balancing with its diet and mood was important as well, as sweets tended to get it sick while normal food kept it alive in the first place. The reason why the game became a bane was that the device beeped every time the creature needed attention, and you can imagine how teacher’s felt when thirty Tamagotchis went off during every hour, demanding their shit be cleaned.

Not everyone saw the device as a terrible bane. Some teachers and adults saw Tamagotchis as a device to teach responsibility to the child playing it due to the whole death of the creature if its neglected thing going on. What Bandai didn’t see with its raising pet simulator dangle thing was the psychological effects it had on the player. The Tamagotchi Effect describes the development emotional attachment towards non-living objects, like robots or software agents. It’s not necessarily a negative effect, as it can be used as a form of therapy, as is the case with the PARO Therapeutic Robot. The choice of the creature dying in Tamagotchi has caused some trauma with the player, but this sort of permanent deaths in a massively popular game was something new. It brought a level of realism to a game that was expected to be cute lil’ thing. Instead, it brought adult responsibility and death.

To be honest, I never got into Tamagotchi, but it’s a subject that really necessitates its own post with an analysis of its effects.

Whether or not we can count a software like Summer Lesson a game on its own rights is for another time, but it can’t be ignored that it is essentially an evolution of life simulation, where the player takes control, or rather becomes, a tuition teacher to a schoolgirl during summer. While its raising elements are a more limited than Princess Maker‘s, the player is expected to set up a schedule for Miyamoto Hikari, the student character. Much like Princess Maker, it has been criticised for being a game for perverts, where in reality its intentions are anything but. After all, Japanese culture has always added a small hint of sexuality to its cute things in a positive fashion, which Western culture often misunderstands.

In the end, Summer Lesson emulates real life much like any other in its genre. It just managed to get unnecessary flak way too much, whereas the game’s main content really isn’t anything far off from other manager/raising simulators that have been around on Japanese PCs and consoles since the 1980’s. Summer Lesson also allows the player to take part in a valued job, much like in Densha de Go!. Perhaps it too is a way for the player relive their youthful years or experience some sort of life they couldn’t otherwise achieve, much like what other simulation titles offer as well.

Maybe I should skip buying Switch this year and get PS VR for Summer Lesson after all.

Social unsocial gaming

In the 1980’s and 1990’s electronic games were usually blamed to remove children from each other, that games separated players from their normal friends. However, much like on many of claims like this, that’s only partially true.

Let’s consider arcades at first. They were nothing short of social event. While I’ve gone over how arcades were part of continuing cultural phenomena, including criminal activities and rebelling teenagers, I’d like to reiterate that arcades have always gathered people of all walks of life to a common place. Penny arcades first, then video arcades. While the image of arcades as masculine place of triumphant to-be adults has long since died and replaced with kids’ place of play, only to be taken over by free-to-play arcades for young adults with barcades, they nevertheless have always served as a place to escape to in some extent. A round of Street Fighter II might have had a group significance, it also served a way for those who simply wanted to vent something out and be alone.

PC gaming has always been a bit more a hobby for the hermit kind, that much I’m willing to give in. However, even then most children who played computer games played them with either a friend or a family member. Furthermore, computer games would bring people together in groups to discuss the games themselves and ways to upgrade or fix computers. Geek squad is most likely derived from these kind of groups of people with specific computer know-how most people seem to lack. Nowadays Internet connection is making playing with other people very easy, and the old way of thinking of a person playing alone doesn’t apply. A person may be playing a computer game alone in a room, but connected to dozens of different players across the world. Modern social gaming at its finest.

Console gaming has been about multi-player since Pong hit the markets. David Sudnow goes over in his book Pilgrim in the Microworld how adults, not children, played an Atari console at a party and it was a big hit. This should be noted, as while the perception used to be that gaming is only for children, everybody regardless of their age is open for a game or two. Electronic games may be largely based on boy’s play culture, but the truth is that both boys and girls, men and women, have always played games.Compared to PC games’ hot-seat switching (it’s still cumbersome to shove people next to the same keyboard) console gaming has allowed real-time interaction. Now you may scoff at me and say You can attack USB controllers and whatnot to a PC and just play emulators, but you’re console gaming then.

While multi-player games are part co-operation and part contest, playing a single-player game socially is a different kind of shared experience. Streamers nowadays seem to get the same kind of kick from socialising with their viewers as they did when they were children, interacting and discussing the game. What’s lacking from here is sharing the game and taking turns at beating a stage. Peer learning is the key here. By sharing the physical space with someone and exchanging ideas and turns, players learn from their peers that they can then put into use later when they are playing alone. However, it would seem that the significance of peer learning diminishes with age and older game hobbyists tend to prefer their own, single experiences to challenge themselves. Nevertheless, the significance of socially playing a game has not vanished, and streaming indeed has given it a new form. Perhaps streaming is the next step in this chain, where the streamer first has learned from his peers, then challenged himself¬† before stepping unto a stage to both entertain viewers and to showcase his learned skills.

In late 1990’s and early 2000’s, video games were still mostly an option to do when you were bored. This applied specifically to girls, who saw more merit in more traditional hobbies. Boys on the other hand regarded games a better option over reading a book, listening to music or watching television. For computer gaming at the time, this could mean boys had a somewhat powerful gaming machine and an Internet connection to play either a strategy game or a first person shooter together. Console gaming, outside the Dreamcast, didn’t offer much online functions. The amount of games boys and girls played games is significantly different due how different the play culture is between boys and girls. While we could argue that gender roles have something to do with this, it would be extremely interesting to see how much genetics have a role in how a child takes part in their gender’s play culture.

There are those who have been separated from their friends and peers because of games. However, the same applies to any hobby. Books, radio, television, movies, etc. It is more about the person himself than the hobby they choose. Gaming can be extremely social event with its own set of rules depending on the people and the game being played. Just like how one can’t expect to enter a foreign culture and find it acceptable from the get-go, so does modern social gaming expect new players to get accustomed to the modern Internet-driven multi-player landscape.

It would be foolish to assume there would be just one form of game culture when it comes to online gaming. Each region and even game has their own set of sub-cultural rules and behaviours that can even vary between server rooms within the same game, in the same region. The much laughed Call of Duty kid who calls others by names and acts like a brat may be a black and white stereotype, but as much as it is true just a much there are those who act completely the opposite with courtesy and encouragement towards their fellow players.

Electronic games, as much some people hate to think about it, connects more people than it separates. We can choose what games we play and whom with we play them, and we shouldn’t expect to be able to share a game with everybody, either because of cultural or preferential differences. We can be social in the circles we choose in, and while it is healthy to venture outside and see what others are doing to broaden out horizons, we should just concentrate on enjoying this social hobby instead of tearing it down.

Why Capcom killed off Mega Man

Yoshinori Ono was the man behind resurrecting Street Fighter and bringing it back to the masses. However, his physical health was the cost of it all. His interview doesn’t only shed light on why Street Fighter X Tekken was such a massive failure, or why we most likely won’t ever see Street Fighter V, but also why CAPCOM won’t make another proper Mega Man game for the next ten years to come.

“So from the company’s point of view, if the team is stating that it cannot do any better combined with a lack of sales, it’s a complete story and it’s time to move on.”

All the most recent Mega Man games from Maverick Hunter X to Mega Man 10 sold decently, but not well enough to warrant sequels. Mega Man Legends 3 was fate of the same treatment.

“Until the day of release, Street Fighter 4 was an unwanted child,” Ono says, his tone at once sad and defiant. “Everyone in the company kept telling me: ‘Ono-san, seriously why are you persisting with this? You are using so much money, budget and resources. Why don’t we use it on something else, something that will make money?’ No-one had the intention of selling it, so I had virtually no help from other departments – they were all reluctant, right up to the day of release.”

I have no doubts CAPCOM felt the same way about Mega Man X8 and anything that came after it. The Battle Network series sold like hotcakes with its balance of real-time fights and collecting, as did Mega Man Zero with the high difficulty level and modern take on the series. Both of these had sequels and failed miserably.

Creating a Mega Man game should not be expensive, and yet developing the for the current consoles is expensive. Mega Man 9 was costly because the old games had to be reverse engineered and go against the current state of technology. Mega Man 10 was quickly thrown together after that, but only after the sales numbers came in. Developing for the GBA was cheap in comparison, whereas the DS fetched higher price, and the lack of sales that ZX series had doomed it. Same with the Starforce series, which shared the same weaknesses; they were lite versions of their predecessor series.

Mega Man Legends never had proper sales. People bought the first game because it was Mega Man in 3D, but even these people knew what they were getting into; completely different thing that main series were about. Legends 2 sold very little, and at this point CAPCOM had already started becoming the entity we have today.

Legends 3 was cancelled for one reason; it would not have sold well enough. This is the reason CAPCOM “killed” Mega Man; there was no money in it. CAPCOM’s obsession on HD gaming is what killed Mega Man.

Back in the 80’s and 90’s CAPCOM was all about making great games, as evident on Ono’s statement. Arcades was where CAPCOM ruled and made their money. When the arcades died, CAPCOM had to change. However, we all remember how Nintendo’s sales always plummet when they abandon their arcade roots. The same goes with CAPCOM. However, CAPCOM has nothing to make a comeback, as they’ve stopped producing their own arcade machines (the glorious CPS series) and barely produce worthwhile game there any more.

Would it be possible to reproduce the arcade feeling at home? If we take another look at Nintendo, the answer is Yes. Capcom has done it many times over, and the Disney license games they did back in the 80’s and early 90’s is a proof of this; these games were arcade games adopted for home consoles. These games have a hidden property as well, which is that they are generally rather cheap to produce as they do not need to be in HD at any point, but they do need a proper developer team who simply wish to make a good game. This team also needs to have limitations and a clear goal what they’re doing, and keep it simple. Very few arcade games were complex to begin with, and the most complex arcade games happen to be fighting games like Street Fighter III.

Why ZX series died out wasn’t just it’s watered down content, but because it wasn’t a Mega Man game. Zero series gave a proper way to roam free, but within strict limitations. If I wanted to play a 2D-exploration, I’d play Metroid. The Starforce series wasn’t just watered down, but also complicated certain matters that were supposed to be simple but abundant. The decision to make Starforce 3D was most likely an executive decision, or at least what the market department decided. Any good businessman could’ve seen that both ZX and Starforce would flop.

Does Mega Man have an audience out there? Yes, but the customer base has diminished in great numbers. People who got into Mega Man were at age five to fifteen when Mega Man 2 hit the scene. It was my first Nintendo game I ever remember playing and beating. It was the game that made me jump from Atari 520ST, from computers, to consoles. Now we’re all well over our twenties and thirties. People who played Street Fighter II have enjoyed Street Fighter IV, but I’ve seen that they will always regard II as the better game, for good reasons.

Up until Mega Man’s twentieth birthday we all could enjoy great amounts if insanely well made games, as well as bunch of mediocre and bad ones. When somebody like Ono does the same thing to Mega Man as he did to Street Fighter, we can expect Mega Man 11, or perhaps X9. If done correctly, they will use that era’s technology and not rely on nostalgia. They will put their heart’s tears and blood into it, crafting the same fun game have had since the first one.

CAPCOM isn’t toying with their customers. They’re not pissing them into their eyes or anything like that. To them it’s a cold truth that Mega Man does not sell any more. The golden days of their unofficial mascot has been long over and there’s nobody taking the lead. To us customers, to us fans who still wish to see a new Mega Man these times are sad. We can play over and over the past games only so many times. CAPCOM has not been loyal to anyone in the past ten years. The CAPCOM which developed Street Fighter II, Final Fight, Mega Man X, Captain Commando, Kikaioh and all other classics is no more. The CAPCOM we have nowadays is in financial trouble. It tries to survive in these times when macroeconomics are bad, but quite worse yet.

It’s wrong to say that Mega Man was killed off. Mega Man was not killed, but simply… stopped. It’s a dead franchise. Capcom didn’t kill off Mega Man, but in their eyes everything that Mega Man had is no longer alive. Perhaps they’re following the small sales the comics and books are making, but a new game seems to be out of question. CAPCOM’s not willing to invest into releasing the DASH games on PSN, as they would need to pay some money on the licensing issues in the game, like the songs, and they aren’t interested in removing them from the games… which only shows that they’ve lost the source codes.

It’s been a good run guys. The only thing we can really do is to keep asking CAPCOM for a new Mega Man game, and hope that they have someone who is willing to take the same burden Ono did with Street Fighter. Without a person like him inside, I’m afraid it all will be in vain otherwise.

Mega Man’s story is far from over; We never got to know what happens after Mega Man 10, how would Lumine’s rebellion affect X’s world, how the world became one of race of Carbons, and how the hell did Trigger get off Elysium. As far as CAPCOM stands, these are questions that are left open, never to be answered. And perhaps it is for the better….


…everliving life in memories…

…until someone awakes the hero anew.