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.

Sony’s warped perception of global standards

While Sony of America confirmed to the Washington Street Journal that they have installed a standard policy on censorship for games that are allowed on Sony’s platforms, Sony of Japan has stepped and made a statement themselves that this isn’t the case. According to a source on Game*Spark (the asterisk is important), they evaluate games by case by case basis rather than a new overall policy. However, their source does state that how Sony now handles titles internally is independent of any rating system that exists, be it CERO or ESRB (or PEGI for the matter.) The source refers to a nebulous global standard they wish to adhere to.

I’ve discussed this topic far too much for this particular blog (maybe branching off to a new one that covers video game censorship solely might be worthy project), but Sony’s stances really tell two thing. First is that they’ve lost touch to their consumers, that they don’t seem to understand their own fame and status in the market. Theirs is a console that was free of regulations that marred Nintendo as the console for kids for years. Theirs is a console that could be picked up and have games that would be completely across the board all the while pushing the envelope to whatever direction the developers and publishers wanted. Not so much anymore. Secondly, there is no global standard. It’s rather clear that Sony and numerous other publishers and developers live in a social bubble, that they only listen and read certain publications. It’s like thinking Twitter reflects real life to any extent. US allows more violence than sexual content, while France and certain other European nations are the opposite. UK lacks balls on both violence and sex, and even for horror, especially if you remember the Video Nasties censorship. Hell, even outside that the British Board of Film Classification continued to cut and censor movies, e.g. requiring movies to cut certain moments like the moment of bullet impacts, twisting of necks and almost always lessening the sound effects added to punches and kicks. There’s a whole Youtube channel that concentrates on film censorship in US and UK. Russia has its own policies of course that are widely different from Western world. While the US and Japan might be comfortable in showing lesbians kissing in their games, Russia’s not exactly fan gay rights. Then again, neither is China, who have absolutely the heaviest demands on games released in their region. Australia’s somewhere down there, and thye’ve got bans left and right, mostly for violence. You couldn’t buy Mortal Kombat in Australia at one point. Sony of Japan seems to think outrage culture has somehow changed the global standards, or rather created them, and try to adhere to something that does not exist.

This gives birth to the warped perception that PlayStation will be the best playground to all consumers if they limit the amount of sex, sexual content or sexually suggestive themes. This would, of course, not be true. You can’t create a product for everyone. I’m a broken clock with this, always saying that you can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t. A platform like a game console can only wish to have everything across the board, from the most violent mess to most sexualised ecstasy to the most child friendly content possible. If you cut one part off from this triangle, you’ve effectively cutting off both developers’ interests in developing titles more freely and consumers possibility to purchase whatever violent smut they want. Violence, of course, seems not to be a problem. It’s the eternal discussion, especially in the US, how you can show someone getting shot and skull bashed in, but a sight of a breast raises an uproar. We could take this discussion even further and wonder why violence seems to be accepted when targeted one of the sexes, but not for the other. There is a very strong double standard going in the industry, but that’s nothing out of usual really.

You know the British term Nanny state? The term coined describes governmental policies that are overprotective or interfering in personal choice of freedom. This can be directly adopted for Sony as nanny corporation. Their paternalism has affected the market already. Developers and publishers have lost money because of Sony’s relatively newfound (and highly questionable) moral standards, money they won’t be making back. Omega Labyrinth Z will never see an English release because of Sony’s practices, despite the game was ready to hit the shelves. We could roughly estimate that these policies were installed later in 2017, as the game got a normal Japanese release in 2017, and then was blocked by Sony in 2018. PQube lost money in this venture. Localising game isn’t exactly cheap, and they have no way of making that money back with the game. It’s a dead product.

Whether or not Sony has a blanket standard or they go by case-by-case basis makes little difference. They’ve abandoned the actual global standards that are the local rating systems like PEGI and CERO, and are effectively self-censoring their platforms content even before anything gets to the rating boards. This is almost a repeat of Comics Code Authority, except this for PlayStation titles only. However, question how many developer will be willing to make changes in their multiplatform title, when it’d take more money to make a more censored version for Sony than with others. Just slapping some sort of beam of lights isn’t a solution to all games like Senran Kagura, where losing a game mode effectively removes ten, fifteen percent of the game’s content.

Can we just blame parents for not keeping an eye on the rating labels on games, or does the blame belong on outrage the Internet outrage culture? Probably both, with slight emphasize on outrage culture and media bubble Sony’s execs live in. We’re going through a moment in video game history, where a corporation known for freedom in content adopted censorious practices of their own outside pre-established rating systems, limiting both their library in content and options the consumer in the end has. The sad thing is, all this will be ridiculed and laughed at, pointing that it’s only for tits and ass with no value, while never considering that games like Omega Labyrinth Z are rather hardcore dungeon crawling games that give no quarter to the player, that Senran Kagura at its best requires the player to skillfully control their movement and attacks combined with the limited special resources they have. You could make these games without any of the fan service or titillation for sure, killing the unique natures of the titles. It’d be like removing all SF and fantasy stuff from Star Wars because they’re unrealistic, or setting The Lord of the Rings in a realistic middle-ages with no magic or hairy legged midgets in lead. Games are an audiovisual medium with rules to play with, not just core mechanics. A fighting game character is not just a set of moves and mechanics bolted to a visual frame, but a whole personality of its own.

I admit that it personally depresses me that any sort of censorship has been implemented. Games as entertainment, especially on consoles, had been making good progress towards freedom in content for such a long time, but now that’s been cut down and things won’t heal easily. It’s always easier to break something down, to hold something back or break rather than allow something to move onward, especially if your personal view or preferences are against it.

Who you gonna call when audience wants a proper sequel?

I talked a lot about 2016’s Ghostbusters when it was relevant, so why break the streak?

News and trailer for Ghostbusters 3 dropped this week. It wasn’t a day late before the usual circus started around it. Forbes already had an opinion piece up from Scott Mendelson mostly concerning the supposed identity politics. The piece is really a piece of garbage, but there’s one bit that I need to pick up from there and why this post got made;

…we have only ourselves to blame. Studios aren’t charities and they tend to want movies that attract moviegoers and make money.

What he has to blame for himself over? The 2016 Ghostbusters was a financial and PR mistake. We can ignore all the political pushing, all the behind the scenes troubles that effectively doomed the piece even before it got off the ground thanks to executive meddling wanting to push certain ideologies and take the movie as is, it’s really a piece of trash. Market is not something where you can survive with an ideology driving your product. If you hire people based on whatever characteristic you want them to have on the surface, it’s going to pay you back in negatives when the time comes to make use what’s inside. You have to have people who are skilled in their field, whatever it might be. Acting, composing, writing, directing, craftsmanship…

Mendelson’s piece echoes the people who don’t care about the end quality of the product or how it might succeed. I’m sure he knows that nobody wanted to see a Ghostbusters reboot, especially not a one that was not done in good spirit. Being mad about the 2016 film’s failure can only be put on the people who didn’t go to watch it despite supporting it. The trailer still might be Youtube’s most disliked, while Ghostbuster 3‘s and its many mirrors have seen a positive reaction. Of course, this alone doesn’t tell anything if the movie’s going to be good or not, and the teaser trailer is very little to go by. Sidestepping the question about nepotism considering Jason Reitman, the trailer does have its mood more akin to the original. If this movie is argued to play on nostalgia, so tried the 2016 one with all the referential quips, locations and so on. Sequels and remakes always play on nostalgia and argument for or against them are largely moot. Except if you’re trying to make something completely new, then nostalgia shouldn’t come into play much if at all. If we believe 2016’s director Paul Feig, he was making something new in his own take, he failed and sank to the bottom like a rock. Entertainment Weekly has an exclusive interview with Reitman, and he has the usual complementary bullshit about the 2016 movie. I can’t blame them, corporate speech dictates you must have a positive view even on your failures and PR disasters in order to keep shit in line. In reality, the faster and harder we forget the 2016  movie exists, the better.

To get back to the original point after that tangent, nothing would’ve kept them from doing Ghostbusters 3 for 2016 outside executives effectively fucking it over. As mentioned so many times already, the 2009 Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Christ, it’s already been ten years?) was effectively considered to be officially unofficial Ghostbusters 3. It had the original cast returning to voice the characters, the writing was done by the same people and it was incredibly faithful to the original core of the movies, especially to the initial idea of Ghostbusters being dimension traveling ghost busting wizards. It was relatively popular game, especially with the fans who knew that this was probably the last time we’d see the group together or get a legit third installment that wasn’t a spin-off of some sort, like the Extreme Ghostbusters, though that series is underrated as hell. However, as said, we don’t really know anything about the movie at this point, so saying anything definitive about is far too early.

We Got This Covered has some possible outlines on the movie. Seeing we won’t be getting the Extreme way of passing the torch to a new team, the movie seemingly has a young boy and a girl as central characters. The boy sounds like what could be a young Raymond Stanz with a hint of 90’s conspiracy zeitgeist, while the girl is effectively described slightly more juvenile and socially retarded Egon Spengler. Then again, some other sources have said that the main characters are group of teenagers, so I guess they could become the new team and be related to the old cast. That would be a bit too convenient, and maybe having them be separate from the old cast. However, seeing it might  be concentrating on a small town, families and their connections to past and present, it doe sound like there are familial relations to go about. Then again, Ghostbusters could use a more grass root level story that doesn’t try to be grand in most ways. The first one was world-saving for sure, but the second one was not. It was more about saving one baby and keeping an insane monarch from returning to life and terrorizing the civilisation once more. A more concentrated story would do Ghostbusters some good now, to get back to the basics after all these years.

Personally, I’m not too eager to see where this movie goes to even by these leaks, or overall when the cultural situation is at. It has to hit home well with the market, and I’m not sure if Sony is up to it at this moment. However, the brand is still on the surface after the 2016 fiasco, so maybe hitting the iron after few new patches have been welded in would work. However, after Harold Ramis’ death, this film won’t be the same. Hopefully it handles his passing with class, probably might even incorporate it somehow into the film’s premise how and why Ecto-1’s in a barn. Hopefully a small town in somewhat rural setting would also keep the modern tech devices at minimum, because I’m more than sick of battery running out on our characters, despite nowadays that actually being a possibility. While it shouldn’t matter who makes the movie, at this point I have to pretty much say that Jason Reitman may not be the best possible choice due to his track record, and him being the first fan of the films can work both ways. Being a fan of something and getting to work on your loved franchise in official capacity can just screw things like no other. You might end up elongating things because of perfectionism, your view of the franchise might be coloured by strong personal feelings and taking it off from its core and you might just start introducing new characters that effectively make the old cast unnecessary.

We’ll probably see a lot of new both for and against the movie, but it might be best to ignore all of them outside what can be verified to some extent about the movie’s production itself. Despite political ideology forces some sections of the media to take a piss on consumers, these are ultimately empty posts that mostly to attract reactions. Getting people worked up and mad is easy and profitable as long you manage to balance it right, but only so far. Especially if you take only one point of view with an ideology attached to it, which might just end up burning your through very badly. The same applies to films, and if the 2016 Ghostbusters was to go anything by, it’s not very successful idea.

On the Golden Age of Gaming

This blog has touched a lot on the cultural and historical phenomena regarding video games and their design throughout the years. For some these have been posts of interest, while others seem to regard the late 1990’s as the pinnacle of video games, despite the same has already been said about the mid-2000’s and early 2010’s. Arguments fly about and you, my dear reader, probably have a take on the subject that might support one but not the other. Maybe you even consider the late 1980’s the pinnacle of electronic games, but that’s how it is. We all deep down know that the Golden Age of video games was in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, when computer, video and arcade games begun taking their modern shape.

The Golden Age of Arcades is established to be around the years 1978 and 1979, based on the release years of Space Invaders and Asteroids, which works just fine for them. The overall Golden Age of Games can be expanded from the the mid-1970’s to the 1983’s video game crash, as this was the period of rapid expansion consumer bases, genres, technology and popular cultural phenomena. This is contrasting the electronic gaming history to that of comic books’, where the Golden Age of Comic books, where most, if not all, classical archetypes and heroes were created, and the medium became a significant power in publishing.

The reason this contrast is made is due to the cultural phenomena usually work. These periods are of making the media into something that is able to stand on its own, establishing itself through various creators and enjoyed wide public attention, which naturally leads into impacting the culture in major ways. The very reason you still hear certain kind of sound effects in films and television when it comes to video games being depicted is because those bleeps and bloops are culturally associated with gaming as established by the Golden of Electronic Games. Be it the sound Atari games or the PC speakers made, certain sound is still associated with gaming by being handed down by the surrounding pop-culture. This era would fit the first two Console generations just fine, and majority of the early PC gaming as well, when people were turning their Dungeons and Dragons sessions into text adventures for their universities mainframes.

As a side note, you can pin point certain era of Famicom just by listening to the sound effects, as vast majority, if not all, developers used the same effects library in the early years.

But that side note throws a wrench into the whole Age discussion, as we must remember that all events weren’t global at that point in time. The 1983 crash had little to no effect outside the United States, as Europe was tightly grasping local micros at the time, and it wouldn’t be until the very late 1980’s and early 1990’s when console gaming had its breakthrough in Europe. This and IBM standard effectively killed multiple computer platforms, and Windows 95 cleaned the slate. Now we effectively have only three standards, four if we count Android, instead of each manufacturer having their own. The story’s completely different in Japan for many reasons, as Japanese computer history is a different beast altogether from its European and American cousins. If you’ve ever wondered why European developed games for the third and fourth generations felt so different and bit off, it’s because they were developed under a cultural paradigm that favoured platforms like the Commodore 64, Atari ST and Amiga 1000. These games look and play in a particular fashion, something we might get to few years down the line.

How can we say that this specific era is this or that when it only touches certain parts of the globe? The answer is; because of history.

We can’t say what era we are living in currently. World War I was originally named as The Great War, the war to end all wars, but then Germany decided to slap Poland around a bit. As such, we have to look at what sort of massive expansion gaming overall had during that time in the US and Japan with arcades and how little they impacted Europe at the same time. It wouldn’t take but few years until European arcades would see the same titles, but the impact rarely was in the same ballpark. Culturally speaking, Europe didn’t produce much content that would impact the global gaming sub-culture, but if you lived during that in France and UK, you probably remember few regional names that pop into your head right away. Now, how many of those are as well remembered in the cultural background as Pac-Man and Space Invaders?

To follow the Ages of Comic Books, we naturally are lead into the Silver Age of Electronic Games that encompasses the fourth and fifth generations. The reason again is comparative to comics, where old heroes were rekindled into new forms. Best example of this would be Mario, where we go from single-screen titles like Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. into fully-scrolling Super Mario Bros., re-imagining the games’ world as Mushroom Kingdom with kidnapped princesses and turtle kings.

While Famicom was released in 1983 in Japan, the starting point of the Silver Age must be set to 1985 with the American release. This is also a turning point in Japanese software development, where the quality of the titles began to ramp up. New competitors would establish themselves on the console market across the world, some spinning themselves off from the arcades like Sega (who already had a presence in Japan with their 1984 SG-1000) and Hudson hitting the market with NEC backing them up with the original PC-Engine in 1987. Atari still tried with the 7800, but couldn’t find a niche against the juggernaut that was the NES.

Despite all the above, what if I argued that the Golden Age would be from late 1970’s and up until the release of PlayStation in 1994? Despite the Crash of ’83, the third and fourth generations saw further expansion and cultural impact. The Super Mario Bros. and Sonic cartoons, comics, food stuff, everything that went into making electronic gaming into a global force didn’t happen just on few years. Modern electronic games are still a young medium, despite some having lived with them throughout their lives, they’re still younger than television, cinema, theater or literature. Maybe in a hundred years or so people will have enough perspective to view the changes in the game culture properly. Currently we are too close to these events with heavy bias to go by properly, and so much of it extremely well recorded. It would be extremely easy to dissect history into extremely small blocks, because we can do so. Those in the know would understand and acknowledge all those minute changes that had a ripple effect down the line.

Instead, maybe we should call the era from mid-1970’s to mid-1990’s the Classic Age of Gaming, where expansion was largely constant, new companies and hardware would pop up and die during the contest all the while others would grow strong and established. From there, we are now living through the Modern Age of Gaming, where we have seen the cross-pollination taking hold over the industry and the establishment of the Big Three with no real competition offered in the console market. Further mixing of genres and new impacting titles have been introduced, like Halo and Devil May Cry.

Even this might be somewhat arbitrary, but as mentioned, we’re too close in time to take back and see events as they are. How culture and industries move in the grander scale is hard if not almost impossible to surmise at they are going on, and perhaps the first mistake a young medium as comparing itself too much to other media and let those dictate too much what it should be.

An era of hamfisted franchises

Using very sources or examples is never really a proper thing to do, but recently I can’t help but to feel that as of late more and more companies have been trying to expand their franchises at the cost of the core audience. I don’t mean the usual memetic way, but at the expense of the franchise themselves.

Take both Star Trek and Star Wars as an example. Hell, throw in Ghostbusters in there for good measure. I’m not wondering what the hell happened, because we know what happened in both cases. With Star Trek, we first had the Abrams’ reboot films, which weren’t great to any degree. He didn’t care about the franchise, he didn’t get it. Whatever he did wasn’t in the spirit of Trek and it showed on-screen. The same applies to the second movie, revisiting the same beats for characters like Spock being essentially reset to his original form in the first movie. The PR team directly lying to the audiences about the villain disn’t do any favours. After all, trying to remake what is considered the best of Star Trek movies is a tall task, something the writers and directors weren’t up to. Into Darkness is considered the worst in the series for a good reason, even if it hamfists the usual Trek message in like a truck. Third film may be a fan favourite from the reboot timeline, bu that’s little worth when the movie itself made the least amount of revenues.

All this is really ramps up with Star Trek Discovery, the least viewed Trek if we go by what Midnight’s Edge’s latest Trek video. The overall reaction to it has been less than favourable, but this is not surprising. Les Moonves micromanaged the show to the point of failure. He didn’t care for the franchise, but saw the potential in it to make money. What he or the rest of CBS’ staff didn’t seem to realise that failure would mean further losses on the long run. Any person running a franchise with fifty years of history and a cultural position will tell you that you don’t play the game for short-term gains. The Next Generation‘s later seasons, and the subsequent series didn’t dabble in current politics too much. Instead, good storytelling was at the front with the occasional thematic comment, much like how the Original Series had gone. Deep Space 9 had few episodes that were about racism and culture, yet these were woven into the story in a significant way. The same can’t be said about Discovery, which sadly pushes the politics over the story to the point of the main character Michael Burnham being unable to do anything wrong and comes out the most unpleasant main spot character across the franchise. Pretty much everything was driven by political ideology, with Klingons being turned into representation of political views.

Star Wars suffers from this same approach. Rather than tell a good story, a fitting story for the franchise, Episode VII gave us a terrible story that only got worse in the next mainline movie. The current Expanded Universe has seen vehicles for further one-sided agenda both in books and comics in a similar manner, and it all shows in the falling revenues.

There is no respect towards the franchises or the stories in either camp.

The best stories in either Trek or Wars have been fantastical character pieces. The comparisons of current politics have always been present, but largely in an allegorical method or as motif that is woven in to the overall fabric. You may not notice them, but your brain sure does. This is where so many modern stories fail. For example, the struggle between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire is an allegory to certain war with small and technologically weak group fighting a large and overpowering enemy, the Viet Cong against the United States. However, that isn’t emphasized to any degree within the Sequel Trilogy outside the setup.

The First Order from the new movies abandon this altogether and simply makes them sci-fi Nazi Germany, both in action and visuals. This lack of any sort of subtle approach undermines whatever the writer wanted to say to the point of making the First Order seem like Saturday morning cartoon villains, especially in Episode VIII.

The difference between the two isn’t just that Nazi Germany, or Nazis overall, aren’t just largely irrelevant nowadays as a political power, but also shows the fundamental misunderstanding of the franchise and its visuals. This applied to the older Expanded Universe as well, which explain clearly how the Third Reich marched into the cinemas. Abrams can tell us he is a fan of Star Wars how many times he wants, but the end result shows that he isn’t up to the task to write a good Star Wars movie like so many other before him. The same applies to largely almost every piece of SW fiction produced under Disney rule. It is understandable that Disney didn’t want to start making movies based off the Thrawn Trilogy or the like, as that would have meant they’d need to pone up some money for the original writers. The less they have to tie themselves to pre-existing stories and can make whatever the hell they can all the while milking fans’ affection towards characters like Thrawn, it’s all good to them.

Except when their movies are bombing and toys are barely selling. Disney is now trying to course correct the franchise with their next mainline movie, despite being adamant that nothing has been going wrong. Hollywood PR mandates a studio to keep their shit straight and tell nothing’s wrong, until sometime later they can just admit everything being gone to hell and silently try to fix stuff. It’d be better PR to admit they’ve gone wrong and are looking into ways to correct the matter. You’ll never see a studio do this though.

Trek is also taking a new direction, trying to capitalise on the success of The Orville of all things. ST Discovery‘s second season trailer already shows that they have a new direction, with emphasize on more adventure and fun, with Lower Decks being a straight out comedy from the writer of Rick and Morty. While we shouldn’t pass a judgement on series that haven’t even aired an episode yet, but an educated guess about their intentions isn’t hard to make. Discovery, by all means, has been a failure. Rather than looking at what makes a good Trek show and how to go on about it, CBS has opted to see what the direct competitor was doing and wants The Orville audience. Doing comedic Star Trek isn’t the way, doing proper Star Trek and not whatever Discovery ended up being should have been their first course of action, but that’s not how business is done when blind data is looked at without any consideration to the franchise.

Maybe all of these companies should look into making new IPs rather than bastardise existing ones to function as their vehicles. The Orville did it, against all the odds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

The continuing fall of Jurassic Park’s world

Might as well go full movie themed this week and discuss Jurassic Park. It’s a franchise that, much like so many other movie series out there, should have ended with the first movie. The follow-ups have not added much worth to the setting and story, as the first movie pretty much put everything into one nice package.

The demand for more is not exactly the problem here, but how the movies themselves are ultimately formed up. The lack of scientific accuracy is a non-issue with these particular dinosaurs, as they’re cloned hybrid monsters to begin with, modeled after how the perception of the dinosaurs were. For some, it still gets weird to think that dinosaurs had feathers. What is the problem with these movies is that they’re not terribly interesting or well written. Lost World is the most interesting one of the four sequels, despite putting a new island in. The setting makes it interesting if for nothing else, a good juxtaposition to mirror against the first movie.

However, there’s an element in Jurassic Park that has loomed behind its story for years now, and with the World that’s being realised; genetics. One of the first Jurassic Park III script suggestions were about some kind of SWAT team using modified Velociraptors that would behave like dogs and had been trained for operations. This didn’t come to pass with with the third movie, which honestly was for the better. As much hate as JPIII gets, it’s more or less a side-story as Trespasser was. Which in itself is pretty telling, concerning both JPIII and Trespasser had similar story premise. You can’t tell the story of people being stranded on a dinosaur island too many times over.

Then again, Lost World told the same story as some of the comics and sequel games were going for, where dinosaurs were being lifted off the island and being taken elsewhere. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom uses this same premise, and is as much a remake of Lost World as World was of Park. It’s like they aren’t really keen on trying think of new ways of utilising the islands themselves properly, but concentrate on the same themes and topics that most Jurassic Park has already explored. Even the hybrids dinosaurs from the World movies was already an old concept, as the Jurassic Park: Chaos Effect toyline had nothing but hybrid dinosaurs. It’s rather clear that someone at Universal loves the idea of spreading the dinosaurs across the world and using in warfware in a time where a drone strike is one of single most effective method currently used next to information warfare.

As discussed with previous entry about Star Wars, there is no room for phenomena movies any more. Jurassic Park was most definitely one of them, with TV specials, hardcover making-of books, comics, toys, candies, games on multiple systems and God only knows what else. All of this was possible only because it’s a great movie and everybody wanted to cash on in its wake. Special effects are by the numbers with nothing special to tell about, and when special effects have become not only mundane, but expected, the story and actors need to be exceptional. Something neither World movies, and arguably none of the sequels overall, have managed to do.

The reasons why Jurassic Park as a franchise has been in constant decline are many, mostly the same ones as with Star Wars. Maybe Jurassic Park doesn’t lend itself to wider variety of stories to be told, and despite the original was partially a monster movie, that was its least of roles. However, we’ve seen people being dumb and chased by dinosaurs multiple times over now, do we really need another movies of people yelling and screaming as a Raptor runs and claws them? Well, clearly the movie directors of the past two movies wanted to throw in lots and lots of visual references to the past movies to the point of Fallen Kingdom replicating scenes one-to-one for the sake of nostalgia. Having a dinosaur winking at the crowd that it was faking its tranqed state was pathetic at best. We can always go for nostalgia when trying to have a consistent new brand, right?

There are stories that you can find within Jurassic Park, but these stories would be less about the monster horror these movies tend to go now. Jurassic World should have been a movie about building the new park, how the idea came together, how exactly Masrani came into buying Hammon’s legacy and InGen, how the dinosaurs were re-captured and penned up, what were the setbacks, how were they able to build it and so on. Have the movie end with Jurassic World a park opening up, with promises of greater futures. You can have those chases and moments of terror just as fine without taking anything from it all the while having something new. Then again, re-opening the park on the original island was explored in the Topps Comics, so maybe just remaking everything from scratch or making a new park somewhere else in the world would have been the better option.

Unlike with Star Wars, the only real reason why new Jurassic Park entries are made is because its still reasonably lucrative. At least Star Wars had a whole galaxy to explore and stories to set in there that would allow a worldy series be set in. Jurassic Park has become a fascimile of itself in franchising. Ian Malcom’s speech about stamping and selling things for profit without first considering what people have in their hands resonates throughout the every merch based on these movies, even the first one. This isn’t to say that merchandising is bad in itself, just that are these movies anything else at this point but cash cows for extended materials to be sold?

I can’t but to live in hope that the next movie in the franchise will aim to have a script that’s not stupid and about dinosaur horror. Long shot hopes, I know, but the franchise has run its course. If we’re going to have dinosaurs roaming the Earth and used as bioweapons, we’re finally in Saturday morning cartoon area and there’s no return from that. I always wanted a Jurassic Park cartoon, so maybe there’s something in there. Have Owen lead a group of Dinosaur Savers to oppose the evil terrorists who use dinosaurs for evil. Go balls deep into it all and disregard everything else. Cut the last thin line the series has been teetering on.

Where are the video game movies?

Some years back, just before the Warcraft movie was announced, there was some slight buzz about how video game based movies would find a new place in the market now that comics have finally been successfully adapted for silver screen. That era never really came about. Both Assassin’s Creed and Warcraft movies were ultimately lumped with the Marvel and DC ones. While they’re not comic book movies, the terms has changed to encompass movies with extreme amount of CG, emphasize on action and essentially being a full genre movie.

This isn’t exactly the best science out there, but there is a certain kind approach thematically with comic book movies. To some extent, “comic book movie” is a degrading term and has been used as such. It’s the usual you used to hear from film snobs for them not being real films, just movies or flicks. Entertainment for the masses and such.

Despite video games having more money moving inside its industry nowadays that Hollywood, Hollywood has always had the position that they know the best when it comes to stories. After all, they’re the ones that realise dreams on the big screen, teller of stories and such nonsense. The stance Hollywood seems to take is that passive following of a story and being immersed in it is the higher route to take, it’s more classy or whatever you want to call. Story through play, i.e. player’s own actions, are seen lesser because of the connected connotations of “play” and “game”. Somehow it’s more childish to be an active part of a story rather than sitting still and have a story told to you.

Every time Hollywood has taken charge of a game and wish to bring their wealth of knowledge to this lesser field of entertainment, the results have been less than impressive. For example, Jurassic Park: Trespassers was supposedly co-developed with Spielberg and parts of Hollywood crew, but all they ended up bringing in was story elements. Trespasser, while a big budget title, ended up pretty damn terrible game with some interesting elements to it. I recommend checking out Research Indicates’ Let’s Play on the game, its full of information on development and history of this sad title.

Considering Hollywood doesn’t care about how a game could tell a story in its own media, something most game developers don’t seem to care either, it’s not surprising that they’d concentrate on the FMV sequences and pre-scripted scenes first and foremost. To them, this is where the artistry is. Hollywood’s takes on video game movies have been rather lacklustre overall, with Super Mario Bros. probably being the most blatant example of not giving a fuck about the source material. That said, the SMB movie is also one of the last great children’s adventure movies made, similar to The Goonies. Alternatively, House of the Dead movie or Alone in the Dark. Overall speaking, video game based movies haven’t been all that well-received or well produced, similar to comic book movies initially. Certainly there has been numerous good titles here and there, like Mortal Kombat (which is a great MK movie but lacklustre otherwise) and we can make an argument for Prince of Persia.

However, unlike with comic book movies, no company has really managed to make a game based movie work to the same extent. Whether or not it is because there’s a lack of respect for the source material, the source material being rather terrible, or simply because games’ stories don’t fit the silver screen without considerable changes for the adaptation, the end results speak for themselves. Something like a fighting game as in the aforementioned Mortal Kombat is relatively easy to adapt as a martial arts action movie, but something like Super Mario Bros., an abstract action game about a character jumping on platforms to defeat a big turtle doesn’t exactly turn itself into a movie easily. Well, Sony’s certainly aiming to do so.

How do you turn, for example, a mission of Warcraft into a scene in a movie? By having a massive fight scene, of course. While the scenes in the  movie are of pure fanservice and pretty nice to watch, nothing in the movie is impressive or new. Much like how the original game stood on the shoulders of fantasy giants before it, so does the movie. Lord of the Rings movies affected both aesthetics and directions how similar fantasy movies would be directed down the line, and Warcraft followed its lead in a very expected manner. I doubt there was ever a possibility for anyone in the project to aim change the paradigm fantasy movies are in at the moment, and that possibly lead to the movie’s lack of success outside China.

Perhaps its because games don’t have a need for a Hollywood-like “good” plot. Video and computer games require a reason to play, the end-goal that may change, and the story itself is the player’s actions. The overarching narrative in a game is more about the player than the readily set story. A comparable example of this would be in any tabletop RPG, like Dungeons and Dragons, where players play a readily made scenario. This narrative can be extremely hard to translate into a passive story. However, considering there are numerous franchises based on the author’s DnD games, like Slayers.

It would seem that the first thing that an adaptation from a video game to a movie needs first-hand experience, a play worth telling. All the story sequences, FMVs and such are meaningless as the meat is in the gameplay. All players have a story to tell when it comes to their greatest moments in a game and that moment is always within a game’s play. Hollywood is missing this and concentrating on the wrong parts of the games and consider playing as acts for children. While you can visually replicate some of the moments in a game visually, a film can never replicate the action of it. Why even try when the special effects heavy smashbin market is essentially controlled by Marvel?

On modern Star Wars

To choose one song from Star Wars movies that would encompass the motion that is Star Wars, would surprisingly the one you can hear above. It would not be the main theme, not Duel of Fates, not Imperial March, but this one. The reason for this selection is that depending on the context, this particular song can sound hopeful and romantic, all the while offering doors to mystic scapes, with a tinge of desperation in there.

That, and I used to spend an unhealthy amount of time reading through Star Wars: Behind the Magic discs to the point of my disc drive of the time breaking. The first section was used extensively early on in the discs. Needless to say, that interim time between 1998 and Phantom Menace‘s release was something special.

Thanks to circumstances, I’ve had to spend these few days doing pretty much nothing else but to indulge myself in nostalgia few times over, and due to a friend I fell into the pit of rewatching some Star Wars. Not just a movie, but going through radio drama bits, playing games and then some. Nothing major, but when you have a moment to relax thanks to Easter, take the chance.

Except when things came to The Last Jedi. To follow the idea of relaxation, I’ll spent this month’s opening to finally let loose some of the steam. Mostly because it’s modern Hollywood drivel and you can truly feel that it is a Disney movie through and through. It’s a sterile, by-the-books flick that doesn’t carry any of the spirit Star Wars, or the piece above, is supposed to have.

This is perhaps the best seen in the first ten minutes of the movie, where a character that died in the last movie (yet came back alive without any explanations) stalls time for the Resistance’s evacuation by making a prank call. Prank call to Last Order officer, who either has constipation troubles or the actor can’t pull the role. Either one of the two, or the director really asked him to act badly intentionally, which I wouldn’t put past him.

The thing about why The Last Jedi fails where The Empire Strikes Back succeeds is that it doesn’t treat the characters like pieces of shit. Each character that is in the movie gets treated like a meat to be tossed around and unmade. In Ray’s case, she’s just a lump of meat going whatever the plot demands of her, she has no agency. Empire doesn’t force humour into every scene. It has moments of levity, which stem naturally from the characters and scenes, whereas The Last Jedi‘s is incredibly intrusive and forced. Worst of all, attempted humour is tied to how the movie treats its characters. One of the best examples of this is when Luke is given his father’s lightsabre, and after at the dramatic music cue, we’re robbed the response. Luke tosses it over his shoulder. While you’d think this movie is build on letting your expectations down, it’s more about unmaking Star Wars as a phenomena through directly removing everything associated with these stories and character. Luke is no longer the most hopeful person in the galaxy despite the darkest hours he’s been through, traditions are trashed to hell to make room for the new and supposedly improved. Continuity is not held from previous movie for the sake of aesthetics.

All this to essentially destroy the old in the way of the new, just like how Disney unmade the old Expanded Universe in order to sell their new one.

While letting viewers’ expectations is something that can be done well, it is extremely hard to do well. You have to have a core reason, a strong narrative to do so. Not even Neon Genesis Evangelion, a series applauded for doing so, did it cleanly or even competently. A weak script like The Last Jedi‘s can’t possibly gain enough favours from the audience after it fails them in almost each scene. Hell, at this point I’m not sure if wast majority of the characters’ lines are intentionally made and delivered unfitting for a Star Wars movie, or if it was just incompetence. A scene with Snoke and Kylo Ren plays out like from a comedy, where Snoke asks how are Ren’s wound, to which he replies with extremely mundane tone “It’s nothing.” We’re then offered full scene of cartoony villain monologue that would find a better place in Star Wars parody.

I could go through the movie scene by scene and tear it a new one, but it’d be useless.

It’s all intentional, without a doubt. The end-goal doesn’t exactly matter, when that intention is to break. Cute things made to sell toys are turned into food. Even Tatooine, which used to be end of nowhere in the galaxy, has been replaced with Jakku. Hell, all the superweapons the franchise’s Expanded Universe had thus far has been made inept in the face of simple hyper drive. See, even in the movies hyper drive slid the ship into a pocket dimension of sorts, the hyperspace. It couldn’t physically interact with real-space objects, unless stellar objects with enough mass would pull them out, hence why Han mentions colliding with a star. Here, we see one ship tearing through an armada with its hyper drive, which makes the whole war in this setting stupid. By using a computer controlled ships, or even droid ships, you could use a hyper drive equipped ship to tear through anything, including the Death Stars and Starkiller. Incidentally, any company that produces hyper drive engines are now also the manufacturers of the most powerful weapons in the whole setting, aside the Force.

You’d think that after gaining one of the most important pop-culture franchises under your belt, you’d take care not to let it bloat. Disney and Abrams did not have planned anything beforehand, and it shows.

Star Wars is now effectively rebooted. Disney and whoever are charge of the franchise will ride on its thirty years of fame without any problems, all the while largely ignoring it. It might as well be a completely new franchise, which it effectively is. This is how Hollywood and so many other companies have treated their long-standing phenomena for two years now, taking the name recognition and making it something else entirely. It happened with Star Trek a well, twice over now.

This post ended up sounding It’s different so its bad, but that’s not what I’m saying. I tend to applaud things that try new things, however it’s extremely important to treat your property with respect and apply proper new things to it. As a story, and sequel to Lucas’ Star Wars, The Last Jedi is a boring, unintelligent and outright disrespectful story. Any merit it might rack is marred with Hollywood’s own disrespect towards the audience and unwillingness to step outside the usual plot writing formula, the same that Marvel movies suffer from.

Much like with other things, I don’t feel sympathy or willing to spend money on things that actively hate my.

Behind the scenes theatre

After a long time, I had a moment to spare to watch some movies. Whilst my collection is nothing special and does not contain many flicks film buffs would tell you to watch, I noticed an interesting trend with then. Behind the Scene stuff changed across the ages. For example, with Star Trek‘s behind the scenes footage was quite honestly just someone on the set doing home videos, with the occasional Roddenberry-owned goof tape he used to sell at conventions without any approval of the studio or the actors. I think you can still find pirate versions of these tapes floating around the Internet. These are honest showcases of what was happening, all the flips and flops of the actors.

Television didn’t exactly have the same amount of documentaries about making of television or movies, all these were relegated to magazine articles and newspaper interviews. Something that the studios themselves didn’t do at all. The value wasn’t in there for them. Genre magazines shone with their exclusive contents, behind the scenes photos and such.

Things changed, albeit slowly. By the late 1970’s you began seeing more and more material on the television about movies being made, as studios began to recognize the PR value. Outside the usual interviews, footage was more often than not honest to the reality.

A paradigm shift began to take hold in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, where  some studios began to intentionally build a library of making of documentaries for documentary and PR use. While only Laserdiscs could really contain large amount of extras, television saw more of these Behind the Scenes stuff to a larger extent. These documentaries have a more professional feel and look to them, as they’re shot as intended for a purpose.

However, it wasn’t until the 2000’s when Behind the Scene documentaries lost pretty much all plausability. Star Wars Episode I; The Phantom Menace‘s footage is one of the last Making Of documentaries, where you see the director and his staff being completely honest. That footage is interesting, because it has no veil on it, and you can see all the little bits that would build up the movie, for better or worse. There are multiple moments of Lucas himself telling directly in a natural environment what he is doing and how. Him watching old silent comedy for Jar Jar Binks, using a marker to draw on storyboards or reviewing readied models, it’s all there.

Then jump to Star Wars Episode VII. By 2010’s, Hollywood has fully recognised the power Behind the Scenes and Making Of features have. DVD brought us an era, where discs were chock-full of specials features, something we’re starting to lack with BDs. While a lot of the special features were simply transfers from the LD versions, at some point you could find yourself watching a Making Of, where the actors, director and everyone else who is involved being interviewed against a backdrop, over a footage they act in or make models.

In effect, these features have become less about the reality of the situation and fully about the public relations aspect, and how the studio and its staff can promote each other to the fullest. These studios, Disney especially, exerts large control over what material gets out and how it should be presented. A book called Making of the Force Awakens supposedly would’ve revealed lot of the background while making the movie, including some of the details about the deal Disney and Lucas made. The only reason a book like this would get cancelled is because it had something negative, something that could’ve damaged reputation of Disney or Star Wars as a franchise. There would have been no questions about its potential sales, as Star Wars was at its hottest since Episode I at the time.

The design of these things have never truly been about what’s happening behind the scenes. However, with time these features have become effectively fraudulent, showcasing a reality that doesn’t exist. Well, perhaps this was to be expected, a documentary is one’s subjective view of the events after all, not the objective reality.