Something new and the countering culture

For some time now, I’ve criticised companies for rehashing the same old IP and the same old stories for a new product. Ever since we got The Force Awakens‘ first trailer really, when I had a post how they’re effectively recycling concepts from the cutting floor. 2016’s Ghostbusters is an extreme example of this in many ways, where it was beat for beat remake of the original. Well, so was Force Awakens and that’s the problem really. At some point all these big franchises that we’re now getting remakes and sequels of and to were something new, something ground breaking even.

Star Wars was born from New Hollywood. It was counter culture, much like how American Graffiti was before it. It something new, something that wasn’t done at the time. The 1970’s America was rather drab places, marred with controversies about war and politics. New Hollywood wanted to move away from what the establishment was doing, and as it tends to be with counter culture, it won and became the new establishment down the line. Goerge Lucas might’ve hated Hollywood and wanted to do this own thing, but during the production of Empire Strikes Back, he became a Hollywood producer himself in practice, and ultimately Return of the Jedi was more of the same, just like The Force Awakens. You have the Vietnam War parallels even stronger, you have the Wookies in form of Ewoks in the movie Lucas wanted in the first movie, but couldn’t have, you have another Death Star and a daring run into it to blow it up. The Force Awakens might “rhyme” with A New Hope, but it’s the second movie to do so in the franchise. It might be what people expected more, at first, but it’s also the deathknell of a franchise. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again. Franchises that keep revisiting and recycling are stale, and the revenues will diminish as more of their audience will turn away.

Star Wars as a franchise is the primary example of this, because it has revisited its stories so many times already. Rogue One was about getting the plans for the Death Star, something people who read the comics, books and played the games already had seen three times already, and it is something that had bled into the popular culture through osmosis. There is a trilogy of books of Han Solo’s childhood and backstory, a series of books that’s superior in every respect what the Solo movie was, despite it lifting elements from said books. In principle Disney made the right decision to purge the old Expanded Universe, as much as that made people disappointed, but what they proceeded to do was nothing new. They began to re-introduce old characters into the new canon, like Thrawn, rather than taking this chance and completely recreate something new. Disney, in effect, took the most popular pieces and simply made marketable works out of them. The short term revenues will be there, but will damage the brand and the franchise on the long run, just like The Force Awakens and the movies following it have done to Star Wars overall. You either have to be new to popular culture to consider The Force Awakens something new, or be a child who has no experience with culture at large yet.

That is an argument with some, that recycling stories for children is nothing new and older people should already grow up or move along. That’s a weak argument. Children more often than not will be entertained by something their parents are heavily invested in, that’s normal generational behaviour. New children’s franchises are successful and popular because they’re new a tailor made for that generation, be it either through tools or paradigms governing a given era. Repeated creation of the same ol’ thing without adding anything new to it will not create new content. It might be good business, especially if you have lots of IPs under your belt that you can reuse and recycle years on end, yet you will come to a point where that’s all the business will be. A competitor that innovates and puts out something new, creating paradigm shifts and shaking the industry standards, that’s where the money is in the long run.

The game business is not exactly analogous with Hollwyood. In Hollywood, things like Ghostbusters 2016 might fly in theory, and in practice fail simply because Hollywood can’t think anything new by itself. Hollwyood has a problem of thinking one-way and nothing else can enter its sphere. Hollwyood as a problem in diversity of thought, if we’re completely honest. You often see big movies like The Last Jedi including something about how capitalism is bad and evil, despite being the most capitalist engines on the planet with lots of gravy of nepotism. Woes is the world and its poor nations when big titles have larger budgets than some nation’s GDP. Hollywood has no touch with the general public or the world at large, it’s an insulated bubble that’s sold on one thing at a time and it shows in the movies. It’s no wonder China has become the main stage, when they’re making movies the general audiences don’t really care for. Certainly one-time event movies will make big bucks, like Avengers: End Game and The Force Awakens, but that works only once or twice. After that you have to introduce something new, something of high quality, something that shows We can do better, we can deliver superior produce. All big movie franchises have failed in this. More often than not, when things fail, the fans are called to be at fault, that their expectations and voices ruin movies and TV-shows, despite these people only hearing everything after the fact.

Look at Star Trek for another example. The nuTrek, the branch-off J.J. Abrams put out, are not Star Trek in its core element. However, because they effectively failed to captivate the audience and the fourth movie is on the chopping block, seeing nobody wants to fund the fourth movie, you got Discovery. If Star Trek Discovery had been affected by the fan reactions and backlash from the Abrams’ movies, it would have been very different show, more akin to The Next Generation if nothing else. Rather, the powers that be decided to make whatever the hell they wanted, and only after the reactions from the audience you began getting all those news pieces how toxic a fandom is and the like. Hollywood doesn’t care whether or not they make films and shows that are faithful to the franchise, or even well written. There are only few people who want to make movies for the sake of making movies, and people who want to produce something of actual worth. These people are going against the Hollywood grain.

Video games are a bit different as they are not just something you consume passively. You can drop an hour or two into a movie or a TV-show, watch something part of your streaming service or once in a whole buy a ticket or a disc from the store. There’s not much investment into a movie, it doesn’t take much of your attention or time. A game does, and a game requires something from the player in regards of skill and participation. Sequels and remakes to games are expected to expand on the play of the game more than on the story. Games that don’t do this languish and die out. Look at the New Super Mario Bros. series of games as an example. Massive first success with the DS title, the first 2D Mario game in years, and after that the series does nothing with it. Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario Bros. 3 are great examples of game sequels that expanded everything about the predecessors. The Japanese SMB2 didn’t and it’s best left as Lost Levels, as it really is a great example of a lacking sequel.

Games like Resident Evil 2 Remake and Final Fantasy VII Remake are hitting the nostalgia boner people have. Nostalgia is extremely easy way to make money, especially with IP and franchises that are still running and popular. They’re safe for busainess due existing fanbase, there’s not much PR that company has to do to be a hit. At least that first few times. REmake2 and 3 only work this one time, and Capcom can’t go on remaking titles like this down the line. At a point customers, even new ones, will ask if this is all.

Popular culture, and culture overall, thrives when something of new worth is added to it. Star Wars originally was an amalgamation of ideas that Lucas had met before that point. Star Wars wasn’t a ripoff or copy of something, but an amalgamation of multiple aspects into one new whole. We haven’t seen this happening for some time now. Rather than having something new on the table, existing concepts are reused and recycled. Marvel movies, Disney Star Wars, 2016 Ghostbusters, that new Charlie’s Angels, New Super Mario Bros., Resident Evil remakes, Final Fantasy VIII Remake, four last Terminator films and so on are all creatively and conceptually bankrupt. None of them have added to the cultural scape what their predecessors did. They are hollow cases, filled with content that will taste sweet for a moment and rot away fast.

Something like original Resident Evil or Star Wars doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It needs someone to say I want to create something of my own and do it. Creativity doesn’t just happen, you have to work for it. You make your own environ and the sources of inspirations. You can’t make a great Star Wars movie if you only grew up with the media and culture surrounding it. You have to read into the world mythos and philosophy, watch old movie serials and films from different cultures, understand core concepts of human psychology if you are to make something that would be like the first Star Wars. If you only understand a story, be it a film, a game, a visual novel, comic or anything else, on its own, you don’t truly understand it all.

Capcom’ next year’s plans is to continue on the same path

Capcom’s yearly integrated report was out at the end of the quarterly year, so nab yourself a .pdf copy if you’d rather read it yourself. Otherwise, let’s see what this year’s report says and how the year has come to pass. Grab some snacks and a drink, this’ll be a doozy.

Right off the bat, the report states two thing; Monster Hunter World has been Capcom’s most successful game to date, though the state the number of shipped units rather than sold units. Shipped units just sounds better, as it always is a larger number. The claim for the game’s success is twofold; Globalisation and Digitalisation. The aim for Iceborne, the Ultimate or G expansion to the game, to push further sales. It should be noted that the two games are treated as two separate entities, as this sort of updated version of the base game has been the standard for Monster Hunter since the first game.

MHW made the series a global success. Despite 4U selling well on the 3DS, the truly wall-breaking moment was MHW. The game’s overseas sales ratio increased to 60% of total sales compared to previous 25%. Bulk of Iceborne’s sales are expected to be digital, and whatever data they gather from that will determine Capcom’s future plans. Considering how well the game has been doing on Steam alone, it’s probable that Capcom will push more of their games on digital frontier and cut down production of physical goods. This has been a trend for a while now, but this most likely will only matter for the Overseas markets, as Japanese markets still prefer physical goods over digital. If MHW was offered as a physical product for PCs without any ties to Steam, it’d sell just as well there.

The report starts properly after this, listing Capcom’s Capcom’s method of business and ideology. Capcom shows itself as Creator of entertainment culture that stimulate your senses. Bits like this should remind you that company indeed is Japanese. Their net sales for the end of the year, that is March 31st, was 82.9 billion yen. This is their main bread and butter, counting home video games, PC online, mobile titles and DLC. Their multimedia net sales, that is all the merch in books, toys etc, movies, their arcade games and Capcom’s own arcade centres, events and eSports, netted then 17.0 billion.

Here’s the kicker though; Capcom lists four of their major franchises next, the ones you should consider to be the essence of Capcom at this moment; Street Fighter, Resident Evil, Monster Hunter and Mega Man’s sales are listed, tho after the report Mega Man reached another million units sold. The sales numbers in respective order is, 42 million, 91 million, 54 million and 35 million, now 36. Fiscal year 2019’s biggest hits were, unsurprisingly, Devil May Cry 5 at 2.1 million units sold, REmake2 at 4.2 million and MHW at 4.5 .MHW is noted to be a catalog title, meaning it is a game that was published earlier and not during the fiscal year, showcasing that a game can continue to sell for a long damn time as long as it is available.

The core idea of Capcom’s Single Content, Multiple Usage is effectively effective franchising. It all starts with digital content and with a popular video game. The core of this digital content can be expanded to PC online gaming, via multiplayer modes or similar as well as create spinoff titles or additional tools, wallpapers or whatever other applications for mobile devices. The base concept of something like Resident Evil can be put into use in arcades by using the same world and characters in different pachislot games or similar arcade games. Other business section is major, as that mostly includes third and second parties using that core game to expand the amount of uses. Books, comics, character toys, events, tournaments, eSports, television shows and movies are all part of this extremely expansive Other Business section Capcom is not directly involved with in most cases. All this leads into creation of a new game, that will be used multiple times over. The importance is in having strong IPs that can be used multiple times, that the titles have global popularity to ensure that these franchised elements will sell (though if we’re completely honest, most of the franchised stuff Capcom puts out stays in Japan) and then you have the movies. It is probable that Capcom has the most games made movies out of. We can question their quality in many ways, but they still make money. Every time Street Fighter the Movie is shown on telly, Capcom gets about a million yen.

This method of using single content is nothing special in of itself, yet the whole movie business makes it a bit special. Konami, for example, has a very similar multimedia approach to their business, though they are rather separate in most cases. Konami can have a successful toy franchise going on, but no real game or other media of it. Capcom recognises their main point is the games, and they aim to make a mass-appealing game they can franchise further. This ideology probably permeates the game design at its core level, where designers at Capcom have to ask themselves How can this be used multiple times down the line? This also explains why certain IPs, despite being strong previously, have not appeared in any modern form outside ports, as they can’t be used multiple times nearly as easily.

This method of franchising is dependent on the core quality of the game, however. Capcom’s quality in games was all over the map during 00’s and early 10’s, but after some financial problems they’ve managed to level out with increasing sales. Their Operating Incopme is up 13.1% from last year, Margin is 1.1 point up, a slow but steady rise from 2016. Their net sales are 5.8% up, continuing the trend from 2015, where their sales dipped. It should be possible for Capcom to reach their 2014 level of sales during this next fiscal year. After the slump of net income from 2013, Capcom has been doing much better with 14.8% rise from last year, about triple the amount since 2014. Research and Development costs have gone down a bit, mostly thanks to establishing their new engines and streamlining development, but it is expected to rise next year. The balance of work in progress for games went down major 34%. This was gained by closing down overseas studios and release of games that requires lots of works, i.e. REmake2 and DMC5. This is interesting though; Capcom split its stocks 1:2 last fiscal year, meaning the payout was decreased, but dividends increased. They’ve been managing to pay out dividends 29 times in a row. More people may have access to stocks, but payout per stock is smaller. Might’ve been a good chance to jump into the bandwagon at that point. Return of Equity, a.k.a. the  measure of how effectively management is using a company’s assets to create profits, is up one point. Should be noted that it barely beat 2009, meaning ever since 2010 Capcom was in a rut and had to fight hard to get back up.

With WHO recognising gaming disorder, something I’ve covered few times already (it has no basis), Capcom has Sustainable Development Goals, effectively meaning Capcom wants to showcase themselves as a company that balances their own economic growth with the sustainability of the society. In short, Capcom is supposedly trying to showcase themselves as a company that would not take advantage of people with gaming disorder. EGS, Environmental, Social and Governance form EGS material issues that come in four sections; Securing and Training human resources, Promoting diversity, Development of Solid Relationship with Society, and Enhancement of Corporate Governance. This needs a bit breaking down, as EGD and the four spots mingle slightly. All this is according to UN’s goals, which Capcom wants to go by. Furthermore, Capcom is to continue their 2011 program of supporting educational themes whenever a classroom requests such, meaning that Capcom has a program that would educate students about video games and career opportunities. However, this is largely Japan-only, though with Capcom wanting to globalise themselves further, they might want to tackle most major schools around the world in some manner, and maybe even send e-mails to smaller schools around the globe, offering some assistance in game studies.

Capcom is tackling Environmental issues with the usual fashion, like changing old light bulbs to LEDs to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and reducing paper resources by digitalisation. This has reduced costs, but also means that Capcom can showcase their push for further digital sales as part of ESG. Energy conservation will be their future goal.

For Social, Capcom is aiming to hire more non-Japanese employees and increase the number of women in management position, but an approach like this won’t serve well in of itself. All these people need to be competent in their work, as companies that will hire or kick up people into the higher up’s board for the sake of diversity does no good for the company itself. Whether or not this goal will be healthy on the long run will be seen. Forced diversity is not a solution, but that is the wind of the era. Capcom has been increasing the amount of women workers in their ranks, though in reality it shouldn’t matter what junk the employee has between their legs, just the quality of their work. It should be noted though that Capcom’s Relationship with Customers has a spot mentioning how they’ve monetised DLC without high-pressure microtransactions, something that a company like EA can’t say with all the lootboxes and whatnot. According to Capcom, games should be enjoyed for the entertainment value they provide with gameplay, not fir the thrills associated winning a lottery. Capcom intends to deliver core content for free for their games, with DLC being its own thing at a low cost. With their mobile games, they supposedly intent to continue have small as possible gacha elements. Localisation and culturalisation gets mentioned as well, and rather than talk about translation or localisation, Capcom wants to culturalise games so they’d be enjoyed in whatever locale. This sounds highly suspicious, but it also explain why mention of dragons got removed from Monster Hunter World in China.

Capcom is surprisingly effective when it comes to Relationship with the Regional Community, as they Capcom is involved with number of events in Japan, offering possibilities for cities and municipalities to make profit off of their own from these events and whatnot. This also doubles as an effect of Capcom getting their name out there to people who wouldn’t recognise it otherwise.

For Governance, Capcom has been increasing ratio of external directors and increased dialogue with the shareholders. Basically, Capcom wants to have more openness with their shareholders as well as be more transparent all around. Capcom even lists reasons why external directors have been selected, e.g. Masao Sato is expected to be able to contribute to the auditing and supervision of the Board of Directors via his experience and knowledge from serving the police administration. This is part of the whole “visible” governance, and we’re even given a third-party assessment of Capcom’s corporate governance. Capcom’s strength lies in capital efficiency and information disclosure, with Effectiveness being the lowest. This is pretty much as expected, as per the business culture Capcom resides in.

Rather surprisingly, Capcom has an increasing number of annual discussions regarding the market opinion. Whether or not these discussions with take true market opinion into count, or just what the gaming press wants the opinion to be, is wholly another question.

Regarding Capcom’s achievements for the year, there’s nothing much to cover. Their catalog titles i.e. older titles continued to sell decently, with MHW being still a top seller. Their two new releases, DMC5 and REmake2 sold extremely well, and apparently Capcom is satisfied with the sales of ports and such. As for arcades, Capcom apparently started an online crane game, and have been aiming to expand their target market towards middle-aged and the elderly. Plaza Capcom was opened in Hiroshima, which probably explain why they closed down one arcade and opened two new ones at different locations. Despite their five different Pachinko and Pachislot models sold reasonably, the changes they made in testing their equipment meant lower overall sales; 3,422 billion compared to last year’s 7,803 billion. Numerous events were held to maximise sales of games, as well as further use of eSports like Capcom Street FIghter League powered by Rage. Net sales increased and operating margin was 31.5%.

Capcom’s intention to build a strong business portfolio hasn’t changed any. Their aim, after all, is to make games they can make multiple uses out of. For the next year, Capcom seems to intent promoting their mobile games more and explore possibilities more, which is why we’re getting Rockman X DiVE rather than a home game release. Standard consumer releases are abound from major IPs. We already know REmake3 has been in the works for some time and will be out somewhat soon. Whether or not something else like DMC5 will be out is another question, tho Capcom would count MHW Iceborne on Steam a new title, and the base game a catalog title. Capcom also has to restructure their development to handle the new regulations Japan has made regarding gambling, as it impacts their pachinko and pachislot business. Business as usual, and in hindsight, REmake2 and DMC5 last year was Capcom reviving old IPs for new generation. Much less than what was expected, but the reception and sales of both titles speak for themselves.

Kenzo Tsujimoto’s section is up next, which is more or less a view on Capcom’s CEO’s commitment and look at the company’s history. Without much going in too deep, Capcom has six points in their philosophy, something we’ve already seen; Aim to become the best in the world, Compete with strong IPs, Stable long-term growth, Managing their IPs and companies properly to ensure the two aforementioned, enforce and encourage relationship with societies locally and globally as well as with stakeholders; and avoiding management risks with transparency. We’ve effectively covered most of these spots, but I’d like to give some spotlight on the third bit about stable long-term growth.

Capcom struggled most of the new Millennium to find their spot in the gaming market after the crash of the arcades, but their long-term growth has been better than most of their competitors. Their Operating Margins have been overall better than their main competitors’ with +66% operating income and margin being +7.9 points. While Konami may have +90% income, their margin is just below Capcom’s at +7.5 points. Contrast this to Square-Enix, who has -8% income and -3.3 points in margin. This of course could change during next fiscal year, when Final Fantasy VII Remake hits the store shelves. Neither Sega Sammy or Bandai-Namco can really compete with Capcom or Namco, as their respective numbers are -53% and +41% in Operating Income, with +1.8 and +1.1 points in margins. Effectively, Capcom has been making most of their last financial year’s success with just three titles, one of which was a catalog title. If they manage to keep both REmake2 and DMC5 selling well as catalog titles all the while rolling new titles as part of their main growth driver as per their management strategy, they should see further increases in profits and margins during 2020. Nevertheless, it seems that their most stable source of profit is still in arcade and amusement equipment with no real changes how well they’re selling.

Capcom will aim to increase profits with three-angled long-term plan. This plan consists of increasing digital sales on the global marketplace, preparing for the next generation of standards that will be rolling around during the next few years as well as focusing on eSports and aiming to popularise a new culture for content. First part is easy, overall speaking. All Capcom needs to do is release their new games via Steam alongside the usual home console market. That’s effectively what it amounts to. Capcom’s overseas games sales have increased drastically since 2015, while homeland sales have not really changed any. You could say that Capcom’s secret of being successful is to have IPs that are globally attractive. After all, Japan in itself is a very small market compared to the Americas, Europe and Australia, and the rest. China is of course a place they’d like to gain a strong foothold, but that’s going to be difficult still. Make digital the first option, and you’ll save in manufacturing costs. Capcom is also taking note of both Cloud gaming and Subscription services and are exploring ways to enter both of these. Cloud gaming, however, is still a pipe dream, while subscription services should be nothing new to them, technically speaking.

With new standards like 5G wireless, Capcom can’t help but make use of third-party outsider know-how. This is mostly for mobile market and most likely relevant only in Japan, but the underlying message does touch upon upcoming Microsoft and Sony consoles as well.

eSports was a major thing for Capcom last year, and apparently it netted some 1,096 million USD for them during 2019. That’s nothing to be scoffed at, and it is estimated 2020 eSport scene would net some 1,790 million USD. This is through the usual establishing of new leagues, analysis of trends and then promoting regional developments. As long as Capcom manages to establish a profitable and sustainable ecosystem, they should be able to maintain their practices. I’m sure this is part of the reason why Street Fighter V is the way it is, where the game is stable and easily accessible in various regions. The Marvel VS series, while superbly popular in the US, didn’t exactly have the same position in Europe, for example. Street Fighter V aimed to be very safe game and something they can build further revisions on easily, and it has been that. Certainly a success in financial terms, but not really a loved game in the series. However, in the next five years Capcom will assess if there is any more growth in eSports and whether or not it is profitable to continue promoting sales through it.

All this really amounts to Capcom’s plans to effectively follow 2019’s lead in terms of business. MHW has made them recognise that games can, and in future will have, longer sales periods than before. This is partially because digital marketplaces don’t run out of copies and are constantly available. On the long-term, if Capcom is to keep their current standards in visuals and sounds, the Hollywood look in their games, it will cost them more to research and develop. Something they are well aware. This probably means Capcom will put out only few new games per year, which most likely will be sequels or remakes, that they will bet on as their heavy hitters all the while ports and catalog sales are supporting them and making the risk of these big titles slightly smaller. Digital, however, is the thing that is being pushed further.

Interestingly enough, Capcom seems to aim to have their younger employees work on their popular IPs, meaning legacy IP in Capcom is a living thing. If there are more people like Yoshinori Ono, who want to revive a sleeping but still popular IP, in principle we could see some level of resurgence of some IPs down the line. This might be wishful thinking, but history has shown how legacy IP under younger employees can bloom like no other. Take Mega Man and Street Fighter as examples.

Rather than establishing new IPs, Capcom intents to expand new markets and find new customers. You can expect to see more remakes in the future, as games are considered to be obsolete after some time have passed. This seems to be their long-term plan; remakes and ports. At the same time, they aim to curb sales of used-games somehow as well as address piracy, especially in the Asian markets. Capcom loves to talk about their IPs, but at the same time the they’re not having new blood in their library. In the end, their aim is to expand into new territories they’ve yet to make an impact and raise global earnings. This applies to their arcade business as well, where they aim to attract new customers and enhance their lineup of titles.

Their analysis of game industry and market hasn’t changed, with general consumer and PC market overlapping somewhat and offering the most balanced place to be successful in. Mobile market may have large sums of money moving about, but the competition is extremely intense. Consumer market is 77% of all of Capcom’s net sales, followed up by mobile with 2%. PC online, like the crane catcher, makes double that at 4%. While they are in a good position to expand, Capcom currently has mostly high-risk options in their Value, Rarity, Inimitability and Organisational evaluation. Capcom doesn’t have as high competitive edge as they want to believe, as other companies possess all the same external edges as they do. Capcom being slow at making quick decisions probably have already bitten them in the ass couple of times, but the lack of direct competitors to their main selling IPs should be a concern. In Mobile market, however, Capcom is still at a complete loss. Then you have their directors competitors still rolling their IPs in the media and can easily overcome Capcom.

What is Capcom’s plan for the future then? To use their existing Intellectual Properties to make games and leverage them into further franchising. They are no intending to make new IPs at the moment, but deliver further remakes. REmake3 is the direct result of this. Long-term and steady growth seems to be their aim. Expanding their target market and find some new regions in Asia to make some more money. While all this probably will continue to continue kicking just fine, Capcom is not offering anything that could add to their existing strategies or IPs. Perhaps it could be said that Capcom intents to keep their current core customers happy while offering new generation of players the possibility to play classics in a remade fashion and in modern terms. Their plant to “make use of sleeping IPs” ultimately ended up being a remake and DMC5 with some ports. Maybe they could follow suit with some other of their sleeping IPs, like Commando and turn it into a generic Call of Duty clone or something similar. I don’t expect Capcom to expand IP library anytime soon. Now if they’d begin to remake games that would need them, like the original Street Fighter, rather than games that were already well made.

I mentioned Capcom Hollywood games, because it sounds what Hollywood blockbusters are doing; one or two big budget titles per year by using well established IPs carrying the whole studio. Smaller games are not even a thing really with Capcom anymore. Mega Man 11 seems to have been a sort of fluke, as the franchise was moved to mobile once again. All the small titles Capcom has been pushing out as of late have been ports and re-releases. Currently, it seems Capcom is not intending to launch a new IP anytime soon, but in long-term, that should be one of their priorities as well. After all, all of the IPs they like to talk about has to be established at some point, and it is necessary to have something that’s designed from the ground up to the current generation. However, the global popular culture has been marred with rehashes, remakes, adaptations and reboots for good two decades more than previously. Sadly, it must be admitted that relying on existing franchises and IPs with a built-in fanbase to revitalise business has been successful. However, as of late we’ve seen big franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek faulting during the run with lessening revenues and falling consumer interest. Capcom’s management has to work hard to avoid the same pits Hollywood studios have stumbled upon. Capcom has a history of falling on their face and success with this kind of approach, but there’s only so much they can use as existing material for remakes, unless there’s going to be complete and utter reboots.

Action that drives the narrative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Moving American Dream

Why is Disney adapting their animated works into live-action? has been a question asked more time than answered. Money is of course the answer, and plays a large, major part in whatever decision Disney does, but it’s also about the good ol’ attitude of Animation isn’t enough. The film, movie, flick or whatever you want to call them, is still considered to be the top form of art in the American culture, which then has spread across the world to some extent. This of course does not apply globally, we know Japan loves its animation about as much as it loves its live-acted ones, but embraces them completely differently from a cultural point of view. Consider porn, for example. You got relatively large amounts of drawn and cartoon porn in Japan and very few will bat an eye to it, but in America, no such industry exist in the same way. The American culture couldn’t have created something like Lemon People in the 1980’s. Hell, technically the comic I compare it to, Heavy Metal, was originally French comic called Métal Hurlant. But when it comes to live performances caught on film, there’s nothing quite Hollywood.

What Golden Age of Hollywood sold to its public, and through that to the culture at large, was a window. What this window sold was glimpses to glory, to love, to murder, to horror and yearning the human soul is heir to. You can see the people through the window and embrace their stories as they’re shown, not told. When you sit a theater to watch a movie, you see through the window the faux-reality presented and you’re sold on it. It’s wish fulfillment, whatever it is. Perhaps we want to see how badly someone else’s life is through gruesomely realistic depiction of some wretched bastard taking another shot of heroin and beating the shit out of one’s family to have something to contrast to our own lives, or perhaps that one glorious, fabulous story about love between two completely opposite people in stance and personality ultimately break the accepted mould the society has set up, coming at the top and showing nothing can stand in the way of true love. The Hollywood film has sold its viewers thousands upon thousands of stories and emotion to the point of becoming the way to do so. Books are fine, but you can’t see the world, not really. Animation offers all the possibilities, but it’s animation, not real. Movies on the other hand, they show you that it’s (fake) real.

The reality of films is not created by just the actors, though the play the most important part. Even when the sets and costumes might be drab and the everything looks fake, as long as the actor can sell you the role and the emotions their characters are going through, you’re sold. Everything else comes after. The sets, the costumes, the special effects, all that is there to sell the reality of things. Even if it’s science fiction or fantasy, as long as you can see it on screen with people, you can believe what you see through that window. Add in the music, that more often than not is intended to support the scenes, pull your heart strings, make it beat harder, seed fear in to the back of your head or have your stomach hurt from laughter.

The live part is important, as that is the true connection we make through the window. While animation does have all the other elements, it lacks the real person on screen. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? doesn’t count, and neither do the Marvel flicks, despite being 90% of computer generated animation rather than the reality itself. That is strange in itself. The Western attitude towards animation became that it is only for children or child minded some time after the Second World War, and perhaps it’s Disney we should put blame on, because pre-war cartoons and animations were for all ages and adult animations were a thing. The cultural shift wasn’t a done deal overnight, or within a decade even, but a gradual shift as movies as a media matured. Perhaps that choice of word puts it in the right place when it comes to what happened; in the minds of people who grew up, things had to be more mature. Silly cartoons with silly characters doesn’t cut it, and the sentiment seems to have spread from there. Animation, despite allowing impossible depictions, just doesn’t stand up to the window of reality. With most big even blockbuster movies the animation has taken its role as depicting the impossible while you still have some resemblances of that window to reality. Superman told you that you’d believe a man can fly, and that was a massive special effects extravaganza for its time. Now, it’s quint, something anyone and their mothers could do via Windows Movie Maker’s special effects tab, or whatever the modern alternatives are.

Perhaps the example how the media are seen are best embodied with 1980’s films-into-cartoons groove, where movies like Robocop and Rambo saw Saturday morning cartoons made out of them. You could give any film franchise this treatment, like Aliens. Well, it never got made, but you had Conan the Adventurer to take its place. Perhaps it’s the fact that kids tend to watch more cartoons, but is that because cartoons are more made for kids? Or is that there aren’t cartoons that are made for adults in the same manner? Perhaps that’s what the Marvel and other comic book movies are, cartoons for adults. We can still call them live-action because there’s an actor on the screen and some live places, but majority of it is special effects and computer rendered backgrounds.

Whatever we call Hollywood to be, an empty and vapid cesspool of actors and directors living in a bubble, or peddlers of dreams and stories, it sold us the culture of film and they are perceived, for better or worse. The appreciation of film is at the top of the ladder. A comic isn’t enough, a book isn’t enough, a cartoon isn’t enough, a TV-show isn’t enough. It can be made into a movie. A million dollar production with bombastic soundtrack that shows the richness of the story and the depth of the characters with fully realised and believable world. All seen through that one window, the silver screen. The film is the end-all top of American art, where all other forms of art go become one unit. Movies have cultured a near religion around them, a modern myth of its myth and importance above all. No other form of media can compete with them. Well, except computer and video games that have larger markets.

Movies are inherently passive, you are sitting there only to watch and listen, never participate. Games have been chasing movies in presentation and how they tell their stories since early on, never really realising that the player is the actor and his actions are the story worth, not the readily set scenes. The mindset we still have from movies and other media is that we are presented a story separate from the consumer, something we must observe. Games inherently break this, unless the game is stopped for that story to take place. There are attempts where these same scenes are set during play, where characters may yell stuff during a boss fight, but that’s still passively listening to a performance. Gaming at its core fights against this, as the core is still from wholly different culture of games, not of theater. Games are active storytelling; the mission to collect five coins is not the story, but the action of collecting of those coins is. In a movie, you’d get a montage or a music scene to skip the boring walking bits, but for a game those walking bits are the main story, and that main story changes with every player. No player plays the same way and films will never be able to have that. Whenever you replay a game, it will be a slightly different story. Perhaps your character is rogue instead of a knight this time around. Movies never change. You can not take a game and make it a movie without breaking it and vice versa. You can take the framing of the game and make that into a movie, but never the game itself. It’s no wonder streaming and eSports are popular nowadays as those could be argued to be the only true representation of games in passive form; they are live theater with no script other than what the game allows.

It’s not surprise lots of film makers want to get into making games, but more often than not, their involvement has produced largely low-quality products. A movie doesn’t make a good game. Framing games in terms of storytelling like movies will end up with a lacklustre game. Viewed as a film it may be a good product, but at that point you might as well make your game into an animated feature, or take the same amount of money and produce a movie. It’d be outright laughable to say any story would be too weird or hard to make a movie out of. Hell, the amount of weird shit out there due to all the indie movies we’ve seen through the years beats games in the weirdness factor by a mile or three. Hideo Kojima probably won’t be making a movie, because Hollywood and film makers overall don’t understand how games truly tell the story, and this seems to apply the same with many developers. There is a deep contradicting element how games tell their story, and how they are made to tell the story. Part of it is because passive storytelling is glorified. Games are, after all, about choice. The passive approach stifles this. Some games manage to weave the story where the player is in-person all the time without any breaks in the way, while others intend to tell one story and one story only. In a game this can only be done by breaking the game itself and make the player passive parts, because traditional storytelling expects you to sit back and watch as the teller tells his tale. Thank God for Skip button.

Companies like Nintendo and Capcom consistently have taken advantage of movies and television as vehicles to promote their main products, the games. Street Fighter the Movies might be a terrible movie on its own rights, but it is an excellent vehicle to make the consumer aware of the brand. It doesn’t need to be accurate to the games as long as its remotely similar and the same names. The movie, when it comes to Capcom, is secondary. It’s not the end-all product. It’s brings in money and consumer awareness, both of which are turned to produce new games and that awareness is taken advantage. More people will be aware of Monster Hunter as a brand whenever that film comes out, despite MH World breaking series records. Yet Capcom’s stance on the movies is that they’re great marketing vehicle, just big budget commercials. Y’know, on the same treatment level as the detergent commercial on telly, just with more in-depth plot and characters with music to go with it. There has been a slow shift how movies are seen with new generations that have grown with computer and video games, and the older generations who value Hollywood and films more don’t seem to understand what makes a game tick.

Nevertheless, movies’ position hasn’t really changed in the last fifty odd years, and probably won’t change until something that could kick it off the pole. In many ways, movies took the place live theater had. Gaming probably won’t dethrone films despite being a bigger industry, as its origin and place in consumer media inhabits a different ecosystem. At some point a new form of entertainment will kick in, but much like how movies are successors to theater, I’ll bet the dethroning will be done by a media that will grow out from films. Same goes for video games. It might not be until technology advances to some unimaginable point in the future we won’t be alive to see, but progress can’t be stopped. Unless we manage to nuke ourselves back to the stone age. Better learn how to make pine cone animals while you still can.

It looks like a movie

For some time now, I’ve been wondering what has been the definitive line splitting the old Star Wars and the Disney ones for yours truly. Outside the whole thing that their quality is questionable at best, outright offensively idiotic at worst, the one thing that ultimately stood out was how things were filmed, and ultimately written. This will be largely personal musings without any writer’s approach I usually employ.

Lucas’ directing and camerawork is not suited for big budget movies, as we saw during the Prequel films. Nevertheless we saw evolution of both during those three movies, where characters gained more meat on them as people who trained the actors in acting and effectively pre-directed them were brought in. The scripts, however, were more questionable in quality, but their tone, intention and motions were almost always on-point the same; as if it were real things happening.

This is largely how Lucas has always worked with his films, from building the sets to how he writes them and directs. Filming too, if he can help it. The world as it would be if these things were real. While the movies have the familiar structures to them and certain beats are made, the documentarian approach Lucas used is largely absent from Disney’s Star Wars movies. This approach was costly to him in terms of budget, as special effects, practical effects, the sets and the actors all had to blend in one shot together seamlessly and naturally. For example, in Episode IV after Death Star blows up Alderaan, we get a wide shot from inside of Millennium Falcon, showing the insides of the ship, Chewbacca playing games with the droids and Luke training with Obi-Wan. This shot could have been done cheaper by tightly focused shots that excludes the background, but the way things were filmed, as if they were real rather than a movie, doesn’t allow such budget conscious choices.

Furthermore, levity or jokes come from events and situations naturally. For example, C-3PO in Episode V often works as someone who brings some levity to the events and situation without breaking the tone. It comes through his natural being and interaction, unforced by external factors. For example, when 3PO breaks between Han’s and Leia’s tender moment within the Falcon, the audience doesn’t consider this as a forced joke. Rather, it is 3PO’s nature not to consider such things in his excitement. We saw some of this in Episode IV  as well, but how trusty he is with others to large degree when he has not foreknowledge. However, we should also consider him a strong diplomat, which 3PO shows rather well with the Ewoks in Episode VI. Sure, Lucas didn’t direct Episode V, or have much to do it with it creatively, but this just shows that Star Wars can be done right when in right hands. Nevertheless, the core story was still his.

The Disney Star Wars movies feel like they’ve been scripted and filmed like movies. The best example of this really is the start of The Last Jedi, where you have Your momma jokes shoved into a very deadly serious moment, breaking the tone of the scene and the whole sequence, especially when slapstick Force jokes are then put on the show when General Hux gets dragged on the floor in order to humiliate him. It doesn’t look natural, it doesn’t feel like what these characters would do if the movie was shot if it was real.

While we can always argue that the Disney movies are well made, that there is large effort to have the best look there is to them, the same can be said and argued for all the previous movies. It is easier and cheaper to make a movie look absolutely terrific, beautiful even, than what it was during making of Star Wars or Episode I. None of the modern CGI fests wouldn’t exists in their modern form if Lucas had not pushed the envelope in making his movies, something which ILM opened doors to other production to be lifted to new heights visually and technically, like Jurassic Park. The whole of Marvel movies would not just be possible without Lucas’ way to push technical limitations on the side, and at times it mostly seemed like Lucas was making movies to have something to edit or to try new tricks out. Digital filming broke its first grounds properly with the Prequels, for better or worse, but none of that really exists in Disney films. They’re rather safe to the point a fault. They are movies by the numbers, always using whatever trends currently are about, which is especially clear how Disney Star Wars and Marvel movies largely share the similar forced comedic, and the forced messages that are less than subtle.  Outside plastering Yoda’s face on a box of grapes, I can’t really think of any other way Disney has pushed Star Wars or film making onward. Sure, Lucas did franchise Star Wars like no other as well, but his was nothing compared to what Disney did. Well, maybe making Star Wars toys shelfwarmers should be considered some kind of achievement.

Remember when Star Wars somewhat subtle? Somehow I can’t help but think how Jar Jar’s comedy would be extremely fitting for Disney movies, seeing all the characters want to either act like a wall or a clown.

You could say that making Star Wars as by-the-books film should be enough, but it seems all the people who have been in the leading roles during Disney’s unwatchful eye, it’s a thing hard to actually pull off properly. Some would argue Lucas couldn’t with the Prequels, and with the media turning their tails on The Last Jedi, now calling it controversial instead of arguing how subverting it is, Star Wars is something that can be easily fucked up badly. Subverting expectations also have to lead into something of quality, something that would end in a positive net gain, which sorely is lacking with most stories that try to fail consumer expectations with some twist or another. Conventions and cliches exist for a reason. Denying them as sort of trash from the get-go is not only unproductive, but stupid. Not even a master storyteller can make a grand tale if all he does is fail the expectations of the audience. This doesn’t mean that the teller has to capitulate telling the tales and events the audience wants, but that he strikes with something even better, something that works even better than what they imagined. Unlike this blog.

Perhaps all this is really why Disney Star Wars feels so much like fan fiction. Not only are the new, original characters of the writers better than the original, they’re also eclipsing their roles altogether and failing to have any interesting developments and movements without the originals. Hell, I once argued that recasting all the characters with new actors should have been considered to continue their story after Episode VI, but if the rumours of Disney still paying royalties to Lucas due to him being original creator of most of these characters, it’s very easy to understand why they’d choose to opt killing the old cast in favour of their own. Also the reason why they excised the Expanded Universe, no need to pay any of the previous people anything when you can just push your own stuff. Just trickle an old character here and there as fanservice, that’ll keep the nerds happy. Now that Bob Iger’s autobio is out, we can see him throwing Lucas under the bus, as it states that George Lucas hates Star Wars. He isn’t the only one nowadays. Iger going on about how he didn’t appreciate Disney’s hard work on the new films and how Lucas didn’t like how all of his ideas were ignored reads like a hit piece. No matter how much hard work and effort you put into something, it can just a well amount to nothing. Well, in Star Wars case it has effectively become a tainted franchise thanks to Iger and the rest of the people from whoever that new Lucasfilm head was to J.J. You can’t blame Lucas for you own massive failures. They wanted to take the movies in their own direction, and that direction led to dropping revenues title by title. I can completely understand why Lucas would dislike Disney’s Star Wars, it’s really dumb after all. Most of the audiences seem to think the same way.

Well, can’t say I was there to begin with. The aforementioned Yoda branded grapes and the first initial shots and trailers we saw of The Force Awakens put me off a lot. It didn’t look right, the atmosphere was off, there was something in the back of my head saying this won’t end up well. That little voice of experience has saved me loads of money and headache, and I can honestly say that was the point when I bailed the ship. I wasn’t the only one, but lately we’ve seen more and more news about fans “quitting” Star Wars and kids being lost to other franchises. The franchise in itself is not at fault, but the way it has been managed, the way stories have been written, the goods and services that have been put out, are. I guess Star Wars is like a zombie of a long-past friend now, with some still flocking around for whatever reason, but the rest are just veering off due to the reeking, festering dead flesh.

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.