An untouched library

There is an excess of video and computer games nowadays. Games are a luxury items from the get go and have always cost a high sum, especially computer and NES games in Europe. The amount of games released per system seems to to grow with each generation with the ease of digital publishing. However, there are fewer games that carry impact on the industry or the consumer crowd, partially due to how large the marketing push for Tripple A titles are getting and partially due to sheer amount of them. Despite the overwhelming amount of games released, some with extremely questionable quality, there won’t be next Video Game Crash. The core gamers will see to it.

A classic gamer seeks to build a library. Not just digital titles in your Steam subscription. That’s what mostly separates a modern gamer from an old-school one. The use of money also applies here. A Steam user builds a backlog so much faster and easier than an old-school gamer who picks what games he purchases and why. Valuing a single game in its entirety, if you will. There is a significant difference between purchasing a game from a store and… whatever the correct term is for getting a license to use game software in Valve’s digital console. The same really applies to GOG to lesser extent. The simple physicality of it all is a significant separation enough, though there is more to it, like owning a copy of a game rather than just having a right to use it.

It is harder and more expensive to collect a proper library than one in digital form. It’s not uncommon to see Steam users that have thousands of games in their Steam library, most of which are barely ever launched. Most of these games come from sales and bundles. It is a common practice to sit idly and wait for games to drop in price, and Steam’s sales have become rather expected even within the user community. These games that just sit in the library really have no value to the player, thus the overall perceived value is low and fetches low amounts of money. This sort of attitude really seeps into other titles easily, where the expectations of low prices has become a standard across the board.

This is a problem of sorts. It twists the market results quite a bit, and when everything is eventually available at a bargain price. The Tripple A titles saw a decline in sales from 2015 to 2016, and the trend seems to be continuing. This directly reflects to the fact that these high budget, highly hyped titles simply do not meet with the consumer demands. This really should tell something to the developers and publishers about their products and about their approach for them.

For these reasons, about 38% of game consumers have stated intending to purchase fewer games than previous year. With an increasingly number of titles in one’s software availability, putting more resources into something you won’t be able to consume and enjoy really seems stupid as hell. We’re getting to a point where people have more games than they can play in their lifetime, even if they were to become full-time gamers.

It doesn’t help that with emulators and such we have the access for most of the games produced. There is an excess of games, but that’s market for you.

Perhaps because of the excess itself one should practice a more moderate approach in their purchasing habits. Considering digital games are pretty much always online, unless if it’s a licensed game, there really is no reason to purchase a game at launch or at sale. While library collecting is a part of the whole high-end game consumer culture, this should not displace the act of playing these games. With digital games it can’t be argued that someone is buying them for value either, as digital games can’t be sold onwards as such, especially not on Steam (which is why Valve had to change the description of their service.)

The fact is, the fewer games you have, the more you’ll be ending up playing those individual games, and thus your library will be end up being far better curated. Switch’s current library isn’t anything to call home about, especially so if we’re only counting the physical titles, but the more reason to practice this self-limiting, selective purchasing. All this really maximises the amount of time a consumer should be spending with an individual game. There is something in common with the idea of practising one motion a thousand times rather than practising a thousand motions once.

It is also easier to appreciate a game when you’ve spent enough time with it. If you’ve ever experienced lower-income households where money is tight, each luxury item is valued. This applies to each and every game purchased, despite their quality. Thank God rental videos and games was a thing, so people could test games before committing to a purchase before widespread use of the World Wide Web.

Collecting a library of games does not necessarily mean the consumer doesn’t have appreciation for the games he has, though without a doubt less than a person who has gone through nook and crannies of his own library.

This excess and the possibility to even collect a large library of games is taken as self-evident. While I did mention that another video game market crash is not likely to take place, an implosion is not. Steam’s Greenlight and Kickstarter have been full of titles that never went anywhere or have questionable quality at best. Anyone can become a game developer if they so choose to, but very few indeed can become good game developers or even successful ones.

I’ve said this before, but this is the first time in gaming short history where we live in an era where you can purchase most major titles from past consoles on your modern one. Not only a new game is competing with its contemporaries, it’s also competing with highly venerated classics. There are very few games that even intends to stand up to the challenge, and sadly there are those who are in for the simple quick-cash and nothing of worth or intending to push an agenda for the sake of it. Eventually, all this will reflect in sales and direction the consumer goes. When one-third of the consumers seem to go back to their untouched game library and rather than investing in new titles, that’s time for some alarm bells.

Games cost money to make and buy, and it would seem that it would be the right time for both consumers, developers and publishers to take a good look how they are spending their money.

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Experience and digital space

Short answer; No. Long answer; It’s a bit more complicated than that. With digital media, the ontology is often concentrated on viewing the relationship between the consumer, the media and the culture of the media. The digital part is significant. While there are now few generations that have grown up in a world that never lacked the digital component, it is still relatively new introduction in historical scale. Nevertheless, it is present everywhere nowadays and digital elements in out life most likely will keep growing as the time goes by.

Timothy Druckery, a theorist of contemporary media, even went so far to argue that it would not be possible to describe or experience the world without technologically digital devices. He argues further that the evolution from mechanical to technological computer  culture has been more than just a series of new techniques and technological advances, that it is more about the evolution between dynamics of culture, interpretation and experience. Much like Druckery’s collegues, he argues that representative works are based on experience, and it would be hard to argue against that.

Video and computer games are based on experiences people have. First computer RPGs had their roots in Dungeons & Dragons campaigns people had, and this applies to origins of Ultima as well.  Miyamoto has stated that The Legend of Zelda his goal with the game was to have the game feel the same way as if you were exploring a city you have never been in before. You can almost see the overworld map as a city layout in this sense, where certain paths are alleys, larger open areas are parks and numerous dead-ends permiate the game. Or maybe that’s just me. Satoshi Tajiri, the name behind the Pokémon franchise, based the game on his own experience with bug catching. Japan has a history with kids having bug catching as a hobby, and the latest big craze was during the 1990’s. When you consider how a kid has to cover creeks, run over rivers and search the forests for new bugs to catch, you begin to see the adventure and the excitement that Tajiri wanted to convey in Pokémon. You also begin to see where modern Pokémon has started to veer off, emphasizing plot over adventure. There was a good article how Yu Suzuki put Virtua Fighter’s developer through martial arts training each morning in order for his men to animate a punch or a kick right.

That is not to say a game can be created without any experience in subject itself. Hideo Kojima has never been a spy or a soldier on a battlefield, but he nevertheless put his experience from Western movies into use in Metal Gear. You can see the change in certain visual in Metal Gear Solid 2  when they got an actual military advisor on the team. For example, Snake no longer pointed his gun upwards and overall how characters began to handle weapons changed. Small, but rather significant change when you consider how much Metal Gear games depend on the whole experienced soldier schtick.

Nevertheless, all the above mentioned games are representative of some sort of experience and allow the player to experience a sort of simulation of it. With any new sort of media there has been the fear of losing something important to humanity, if you will. With digital media the question of the consumer’s identity has become a question through the fears of how any new media might (or rather will) change our way of thinking and the way we live.

Without a doubt we have both real and virtual spaces as well as the identities that go with them. We have a wear a different persona when we are with our parents or friends, and the same applies to the virtual space. Since the 1990’s virtual space has become more and more daily thing to the point of Facebook and other social media becoming almost essential. However, even in these spaces we have a persona on us that is different from others. Much like how when writing this blog I have a persona on you don’t see in other virtual spaces, though it is overlapping harshly with everything nowadays. While there is no physical aspect to virtual spaces (they are digital and non-physical by definition) they nevertheless are real and can carry to the “real” world. However, we can always the space we choose to interact with, though this has led to the birth of extreme comfort zones where one must feel safe all the time rather than challenging oneself and broaden horizons. After all, nobody wants to get stuck in place for all eternity. Unless they get hit by a car and fall into three years of coma.

Whether or not digital media and virtual identities change our selves in physical form is a topic for a different post (it does, but the extent in which way is expansive), but I can’t but mention that experiences the consumers gain from digital media affects us just as any other similar source. After all, electronic games are an active medium instead of passive like movies or music and require the consumer to learn in order to advance. This has led some to argue that games promote violence through teaching violent methods.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are the two names responsible of the Columbine Shooting in 1999, and two years later Linda Sanders, whom lost his husband in the shooting, sued 25 different companies, like Id Software, Apogee Software and Interplay Productions, claiming that the event would not have happened if games with extreme violence like this wouldn’t exist. It was argued that certain games allowed the two assailants to train their shooting skills with precision and affected the two in a negative way. However, as we’ve seen multiple times over, games do not cause kids to go violent, and it would seem to be far more about the individual and their mental health than the media they consume.

However, it must be said that even when games are escapism from real world, they still are a product of real experiences. Playing may be just a game much like any other, but the more real world expands into virtual spaces thematically and ideologically, the less there is separation between the two. Ultimately, playing a game will affect the real world persona of the player, thought he question how much is very much up to the individual consumer. Games have been discussing censorship, violence and current topics for more than thirty years now, and for a medium that is about escapism to a large extent, that does not bode well. How much value we can put on a digital world that does not make use of its non-real capabilities and ties itself to the real?

Perhaps the digital personae we use has become less important as the melding of two worlds continues, and the identity we assume is an amalgamation.

Review of the Month; Battle Mania Chinese reproduction

What is a man to do if you want physical copies of games, but games are incredibly, stupidly high in price? Find cheaper alternatives or better deals. One consists of digital copies and reproductions, whereas the other takes time and impeccable timing when it comes to auctions and spotting those deals. Sometimes, reproductions can be a way to go, especially for titles that have no physical release or homebrew. Or when you can get one for a laughable price compared to what the real deal goes for.

During one of mid-night browsing sessions on eBay I noticed that a Chinese seller had Battle Mania in “perfect” condition for some 20€. Fully knowing that it would be a Chinese reproduction I decided to give it a go. While we could raise a discussion whether or not reproduction carts of twenty years old games that are not available anywhere any more counts as piracy, I’ll just slide the question aside for now and mention I already got the US version of the game.

So, does the item do any justice to the real deal? The comparison point I’ll be using is any other Japanese release of Mega Drive games I’ve got, mainly the excellent Devil Crash MD and an interesting SF Golf RPG game Battle Golfer Yui. Let’s get on with the show!

Honestly, I love this cover. It’s a good example of how games used to have low-level work done on them, yet came out great. The use of genre markers on the lower left should’ve crossed the pond, so people would not have invented multiple bullshit genres

The first thing we see here is that the case doesn’t really follow the Japanese style box because it has the rack hanger on the top. Second is that the plastic used on the box is cheap, as expected, but it could be much worse. It’s shiny, sturdy, but also very prone to warping under slig

ht heat. My copy has bulked out a bit, probably during injection phase. While it locks close just fine, it does look a bit strange on the shelf. The wrap is also extremely glossy and lacks the texturing a real Mega Drive case would have. The glossiness throws glares a bit too much and does feel cheaper. However it’s not exactly terrible, just cheap.

The back shows the bulking much better

The cover slip is very thin, good quality paper. It’s a good substitute to the one used on actual Mega Drive games, but the print quality doesn’t stand up to the task. This is understandable, as in order to have these prints, the seller must’ve first scanned the original piece. The only place you can see scan generation deterioration is on the text. The text is slightly blurry and soft, mostly because necessarily sharpening was not applied, thou in cases like this I would’ve re-typed the text in order to ensure that it would come out in better quality. The first impressions on the case is overall good for a Chinese reproduction.

The cartridge, however, is pretty terrible.

The cartridge opens up extremely easily, and even the slightest tug cracked the casing. I didn’t really care about the review at this point, and switches the casing with Art Alive‘s

This sort of generic cheap plastic is common with cheap productions. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see it used, but here we are. The plastic itself has a slight hue of grey to it and the parts don’t fit exactly perfectly to each other. Again, this is due to the material being that much cheaper and living during and after injection moulding. The label on the back you see there had to be peeled off through heat treating and suffers from the same scan degradation as the slip. This is disappointing overall. The cartridge really should’ve been the place where the effort should’ve been put into.

The scan degradation is most apparent on the cover label. While it looks decent on the first sight, the label is tacky and of low quality. The paper used here is thick and glossy photopaper, which doesn’t want to bend right and has really low quality scan on it. The real Mega Drive cartridges have very thin matte label on them with very high print quality on them (most of the time) and this comes off as a terribly lazy way to waste this kind of paper. It doesn’t help that the label’s too damn long.

That’s no good

So, the label was so long that it went far over the usual region where Mega Drive labels reside. Seeing Mega Drive games mostly used a standardised cartridge, this is a weird fault I can’t fathom. I had to cut out the extension out, and you can see both of the labels slowly peeling off. The thing with Mega Drive carts is that they have screw under that back label, and to open a cart you either have to peel off the label or cut holes.

The show doesn’t stop here, a complete package should come with a manual.

Oh for fuck’s sake

This is pretty damn terrible. Both print and scan qualities are low and the paper used is the same glossy photopaper as the label. It doesn’t sit well in the case and the ink hasn’t set on the surface. You can see scuff marks on the bottom, where the case’s tabs took ink out. The manual is overall terrible and not worth the paper its printed on, so I won’t be taking it out for any sort of photos. The contents are there, just in a very low quality.

So, if you took the cartridge apart, what’s in the inside? Good question.

Guess which one is which

A reproduction on a chip and it runs about the same as the real thing. It looks very cost-effective build. It has no weight to it and while it looks cheap, it… it really is. However, this is what I discussed previously about reproductions. It’s much cheaper to put a ROM on a chip rather than replicate the original pieces. Saves time, money and space. Of course, in order for the contacts to have something to stand on, you need to have something to it. This Chinese reproduction opted for a very interesting but sturdy plastic to add area to the PCB. It doesn’t exactly fit into a proper Mega Drive cart, but with some creative knife use it fits in just fine. Interestingly, the chip is so low that it interfered with the real cartridge and a slot had to be cut for it. However, the game sits well in a real console, regardless the cartridge its in.

The reproduction plays Battle Mania just as you’d expect. Outside the casing the ROM sits in, during gameplay there’s nothing that would make it stand out from the real thing. While that’s great, the fact that the thing its wrapped in is bit of a letdown does make me question whether or not I wasted 20€ for a review. It does look decent when it’s sitting on the shelf, and after changing to a proper cartridge it doesn’t feel as cheap. In the end, that’s what you get. The price does seem on the point in the end. With a tenner more the quality could be upped considerably, both in print and plastic, but more work should be on the computer to ensure the scans and their prints would stand up to much more intricate tests.