The Family Friendly Sony

Sony came out to The Wall Street Journal about them cracking down sexual content on their platform.  That’s a direct WSJ’s quote too. Supposedly, this reflects the concerns in the U.S. about how women are depicted in games, but in overall terms that’s rather weak excuse, especially when the spokeswoman (shouldn’t that be spokesperson if we want to be all neutral with these?) states that these new guildelines allow the creators can offer well-balanced content on the Sony’s platforms. This is largely bullshit though, as this would likely hint that they want all single elements of content they offer to be balanced rather than the content, as in the whole library of games, to a balance from left to right. Imagine having a selection of ice cream, but all of them are different kinds of vanilla. Because the store doesn’t like chocolate, you won’t see any of that. That’s a well-balanced offering in the store shelves and that’s what Sony’s doing. Excuse the hyperbole for now.

We know from the event hold Dies irae that Sony’s been practising these rules for some time now to the point of ready to be released games being completely shelved. Statement the spokesperson makes about the executives being worried about Sony’s brand being tarnished by titles with sexual content is weird at best, as the way the whole moderation is done happens to happen in English. It seems that this is mostly a big deal for the American side of Sony, and Japanese heads are just letting things slide.  But all this is what I’ve covered already in previous posts, the Wall Street Journal is just an official confirmation for all this.

Sony’s image for numerous years in gaming has been all about the hard-hitting titles for mature and adults all the while offering a healthy selection for the kids. PlayStation 2’s library is a prime example of why a console needs any and all sorts of games, as this provides that well-balanced content that spokesperson speaks of. By all means, this image of Sony was well-deserved due to all the realistic games Sony’s systems have offered. However, thus far Sony has touched on their games only to a limited extent, and left most of them stuff to local rating systems like PEGI. On the other hand, Sony’s limitation has always been more about the games’ mechanics. A lot of Japanese titles didn’t get pass to the Overseas market, as Sony of America was pushing the 3D more, the same thing Sega of America did with Saturn. Only very few overtly sexually explicit content was censored or removed, in the West. That was twenty years ago, and now the age is different. Whatever you do, you insult someone, and rage sells. Companies being afraid and aware of the outrage culture is making them bend in unnatural ways in order to showcase themselves as pure and progressive.These actions are directed at a small, outraged part of the population, and it is sadly affecting the whole world. Whoever at Sony pushed these through probably wanted to showcased their tribal colours and how true they were.

This is rather American of Sony though. The view of the United State’s censorship that has been in the rest of the world is that Violence is OK, sexual content is not. No matter who or what are behind the rules, be it the puritan church or politically active movement, this always seems to be the end result. Personally, I find dark comedy in here, where two opposing sides often end up in the same result through different means. It’s not very often a corporation like Sony enacts censorious practices just in afraid of getting pissed at by a sect, but image is what companies need to be concerned. Playing the whole family friendly side of things is their best cover, and that’s what the spokesperson also alluded to. Apparently, having titles with sexual content on your platform would have an adverse effect on children’s growth. One platform can do only so much. As always, the Internet offers more than enough of content to twist a child’s growth, and even then that’s somewhat dubious.

What Sony is using as a cover is really simple and traditional; Think of the children. We can discuss modern parenting however much we want, its pros and cons, but in the end a company shouldn’t take this sort of load unto their shoulders. Part of parenting, perhaps an extremely large part in the modern era, is to look over what sort of media is your child consuming. However, this also requires to know your child and how mature he is at any point and whether or not he is ready to consume the product. This isn’t as clear cut as its usually made out to be. A sheltered child in a good family probably can’t hold much violence or sexual content, but consider a child who comes from a family with alcoholic parentage and violence. We assume that all parents are good and children live a pure life, but the reality often is harsher, sometimes even gruesome. Children can take reality, and even if it seems harsh, reality have to be explicit and explained to them. Simply covering them from hard matters will twist them more. As an anecdote, the time I worked with children, I saw some cases that clearly couldn’t handle anything sexual related when they hit puberty, as I know first hand their parents were, to put it mildly, extremely with the subject to an unhealthy degree. This person is now a bee attracted to a lamp-post rather to flowers.

On the surface Sony’s movements might seem sensible, but on the long run it’ll do more damage than good. The fact that they didn’t come out with their new practice for solid two years since the initial waves of censorship (and let’s be completely honest; this is censorship rather than just moderation) tells a lot. If Sony had made a public statement about this to the developers and to the public, it would’ve cause harsh negative PR. Companies demanding to parent children is nothing new, and sometimes companies just do that for numerous reasons, most often for PR points. Television is a classic example, where channels still are told to lessen the violence and sexual content they showcase, despite programmes containing what is considered harmful content for children are relegated to late-night slots or after midnight. Yet, these shows get lambasted, instead of questioning why are these parents allowing their kids to stay up so late to watch these shows. As usual, it is very easy to put the blame on someone else.

Sony’ gone family friendly (outside violence and other sexual tendencies that are not female nudity) but the common consumer in the West won’t probably notice it too much. Japanese titles of course have already been impacted, and it has already caused some titles to have more visible content on the Switch, with Steam versions being more open than any. Maybe this would be a chance for sites like DMM and DL Site to push their lack of censorship towards Western users as well and diversify their libraries. If you’re a Muv-Luv fan, you probably already have a DMM account for all the stuff they have on the site. This is also why we should have more than just three consoles in the race; there needs to be more competition and platforms that offer choices that are not available on others. If one platform decides to go censorious, another should do the opposite.

I hope you all have a good, peaceful Easter.

Perhaps we take electronic games as self-evident

The whole thing Sekiro and discussion about difficulty and accessibility still seems to be a thing, and this post is not about that. Rather, it’s how we perceive electronic games in our daily lives. This blog has numerous posts about electronic gaming’s history and culture, some of which cover stuff from the late 1800’s to modern day between the time when kinetoscope was the hottest thing to see people box or lady showcasing her knees (a type of erotica is always relevant and present with any form of entertainment and will always stay as long as human is a sexual being) to the pinball scare in the middle of the 1900’s and how people rebelled by simply becoming pinball wizards all the way to the modern era of video and computer games. Looking back at the history we have, electronic games have become part of our cultural landscape in rather record time, spreading across the globe in matter of few centuries, covering all continents and places. Even the poorest places on Earth have seen their electronic games in a form of another, sometimes first with piracy, then maybe even build something on it. Playing overall is such a significant part of our anyone’s past time and cultural original, it’s not hard to see that a new way of playing would seep right in, especially when it is playing that broke the previously established barriers what play can convey and showcase. The closest we can get to what electronic games give is, specifically computer and video (and arcade) games, comes from the tabletop games, be it pen & paper like Dungeons and Dragons or your childhood favourite board games, and the playing we did when were as kids. Cops and Robbers, knights in shining armour, forest adventuring, playing house/family, playing you were a racer and so on. Electronic gaming is a true extension of these elements given, for the lack of a better word, reality and a way to accomplish those plays in actuality. No longer you’re moving down leaves that represent the enemy hordes of the evil wizard Red Eye, when you have a controller in your hand and playing your given action title. At the core, the play is the same, but the means have changed widely. It’s also become more acceptable for an adult to realise these sort of plays at their adult age.

The technology isn’t there to allow us a completely unique and dynamic kind of play. We probably will always be tied to the core tenant of games instead of playing; the existence of rules. Perhaps this is why gamer has become the term for people who play electronic games as a hobby and passion. It makes a difference between a play and a game. A play doesn’t necessarily need rules, but a game does. It’s perhaps a bit arbitrary and the term doesn’t really come off in all that positive manner. None other hobby has the kind of lead off towards its hobbyists, at least it wasn’t the case before gamer as a term solidifed itself. Readers are readers, film watchers are film buffs or viewers, runners run and so on. A gamer is not the same thing as a player. Maybe because a sport like soccer has players, not soccerers. The electronic game culture had to find its own term to describe its most enthusiast consumers. Outside some journalist trying to shake things up few years back by attacking their consumers, there really hasn’t been any significant attempts to change the term in itself, and has effectively stuck. For better or worse.

The above argues that electronic games have two sources, which don’t exclude each other and perhaps are even needed for playing games. If we take for granted that playing is a natural state for animals on Earth, anything from an insect to a lion cub seems to play in some kind of way, then playing seems to be stuck to our genes. No wonder electronic gaming was taken in as a natural evolution. It met the usual resistance that all new media and hobbies go through, and one could even make a comparison to movies with the current scare towards sexual content electronic games have, even to the point of Sony applying their censorship world wide. It might affect us now, but this shall pass in time. How or to which direction I couldn’t wager a guess. Even then, corporations often follow the money. Though they only have the luxury of practicing something like Sony’s standards now is because we are enjoying good macro-economics and everything seems to sell, people have money to burn.

It is not a surprise that electronic games have eclipsed Hollywood in terms of money then.

The nature of electronic games is not simply a video game or a computer game. While computer and video game have become effectively synonymous with each other, the distinction between an adventure game on a console and an adventure game on a PC is still made, despite the whole cross-pollination that exists between the platforms to an extremely large degree. An adventure game on a console is something akin to Metroid and that’s what it is; direct action is always representative. An action game on a PC might get that additional moniker of point-and-click at some point, or expanded into point-and-click-adventure, and is nevertheless nothing less than a certain structure intended for certain kind of input device intended for certain kind of type of game. Genres are perhaps best representation how we take things as self-evident, and often mix and match whatever together without much rhyme or reason. Metrdoidvania is still the best example of a nonsense word that doesn’t describe anything, but we just assume anyone knows what it means. On the other hand, perhaps that’s a mark of a completely formed sub-culture, when it is bringing forth new terms that are not applicable outside its own circles. Nobody who is into any other form of entertainment but has no knowledge of video game history and genre changes would have an inkling that metroidvania means action-adventure game, often non-linear to boot. Is it approachable? No, but very few sub-culture and its infinite branches are.

Which really brings this to the point. We recognise the historical and cultural aspects of so many of our other forms of media and entertainment, because they’ve been with us far longer. Modern electronic games are less than a century old. The perception that has been driven through is that it is a form of entertainment that is for all, which is widely inaccurate. It’s not exactly the first form of entertainment that requires the consumer to act on their own behalf, but at the same time you hear people complaining about some aspect of the game they bought. We take for granted that whatever we buy we can consume willy nilly straight up, but that has never been take case for any game. You have a set of rules, but in their electronic form, you can’t break those rules. Even mechanical games like pinball allowed nudging the machine, which has been implemented as a separate element and skill in some video pinball titles, but the rules are far more strict. You can not cheat an electronic game, unless it allows you to, or you force upon it. You can’t create your own rules within the game’s own set. Modding certainly exists and could be argued to showcase this, but it’s far from being something completely open, and largely restricted to PC gaming culture as a niche. Just like plays and games we play outside electronic games, there are those we don’t want to take part in, individually depending. This hasn’t changed. We may lack the skill, the enthusiasm, the physical fitness even for some of these activities, but all electronic games in the end require two things; time and effort on the game itself. Your physical fitness doesn’t really matter, as long as you have a functioning input device. Your team mates don’t really matter, unless you play online in a team. Many aspects that kept or keeps you from enjoying a game or a play are absent from electronic gaming, and the rest is really up to the consumer himself. It is, as an acquaintance said about reading, about priorities.

I doubt we culturally are aware what electronic games are to us. We can come up a thing or two about them and tell they’re nice way to spend an afternoon or release some pent up stress by beating a Dutch guy in King of Fighters, but do we actually recognise that video games are, first and foremost, a play. We’re homo ludens, culturally bend to play. Perhaps the whole holabaloo of games needing to be more accessible and the like stems from play being about freedom and control, whereas games like Sekiro are all about strict rules and demanding you to have and approach in a controlled manner. The illusion of freedom is shattered, but that’s not clearly accurate. Tetris is after all a game which allows no freedom of approach and is a game that simply can not exist without its digital medium. However, it is a game of strict yet simple rules. Would that then signify that when an electronic game is clearly a game we approach and consider it as such, and when it introduces larger elements of play in form of role play? Not RPG elements, but playing a role like kids play a role of a knight or an adventurer in the forest with their friends. This clearly isn’t universal, human mind has too many variables how each of us approaches this. Perhaps the core of accessibility doesn’t lie in Easy mode or such, but in allowing the player to ‘play’ more freely. Maybe these games weren’t the first form of ‘interactive entertainment.’ That’s the stick in your hand as a sword, and that tree is the form of a massive, large behemoth you to defeat.

Perhaps this is all backwards. Perhaps he subconsciously recnognise the whole shebang of electronic games being continuation of our past play and game culture, but fail to notice that they have been, since the beginning, something new altogether and have yet to change our cultural mind on them, taking cues from other media and forcing pre-set conditions from unfitting cultural standards. Have video games themselves been too stuck on our play and game culture to the point of them being unable to truly spin off to be their unique kind of set of entertainment and games, with very few examples of truly unique electronic game being present in these fifty odd years? Best not take the next game I buy at its face value, or there might be something odd about this tea.

Iterations vs innovations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review; Darius Cozmic Collection Special Edition box

There has been some interesting development in regards of certain video game packaging as of late, if you’re someone who has a thing for package designs. Mainly that there has been a large movement to unify them under a generic design, especially if they’re from Limited Run Games or by a Japanese company. Two could be a coincidence or style chosen by a certain corporation. Three’s a company, but five starts to say there’s a standard going on. Game Paradise Cruisin’ Mix Special, Dariusburst Chronicles Saviours both JP and Limited Run Games release, Senko no Ronde 2, and now Darius Cozmic Collection all use the same kind semi-slim box design that can be used to house multiple types of objects by changing the inlays. With this basic design, the thickness of the box is easy to adjust as well to offer more room. People who like uniform shelves will like this direction quite a lot, as the boxes now are of same height and width, with some changes in thickness. Still, an evolution from the widely and stupidly different kind of collector’s editions boxes that just don’t really fit anywhere. I can’t help but feel that this homogenisation of boxes takes something special from these special editions.

If you read the review on Dariusburst Chronicles Saviours box few years back, you should mostly know already what to expect.

 

As you’d expect from the front, Darius Cozmic Collection Special Edition looks rather spiffy. Sure, the logo’s taking a lot of room from the cover, but all the six main images try to come through in a good balance. The only bit that ruins the Switch logo on the top left, with it being the largest logo on the box. Taito’s and CERO logos at the bottom are perfectly sized in order not to mess with the layout, but the Switch logo just hits your face. It’s a box front, and the back’s as you’d expect it to be. The layout’s nice, uses some of the game graphics and rather than trying to sell the game with overtly just vomiting text, the graphics are there to sell the package. They do that nicely. The usual required legalese at the bottom doesn’t interfere with the rest, as it functions like a some sort  pedestal for the rest of the back.

When you first open the package, you’re greeted with the miniature marquee plaques. This is an absolutely beautiful set, even if its just bunch of transparent plastic with layered printing on the back. The printing is sharp and of high quality. Nothing less would really suffice, if we’re honest here. Most often Japanese companies don’t sacrifice quality when it comes to limited editions, and know that the perceived value gained from putting the effort into stuff like this is enormous benefit. It works, and you could attach these to anything you’d wish. There’s a not much weight to them either, so just throwing some bluetac behind them would keep ’em in place, though they’d truly shine if you had something to light them from behind.

After lifting the plaques and two spacer sheets around out, the main book of the package reveals itself. Darius Odysseys have always been great source material books with some slight change in emphasize, with the previous Dariusburst collections emphasizing on listing enemies. This time we have emphasize on production, both the actual cabinets, prototype artwork to layout the screen scenes, packaging scans, preliminary sketches and all the that good stuff yours truly loves to see. Hell, even the scans for the game packaging are of great quality and highly appreciated in the wholesome box form they’re presented. It’s a nice and thick book with great production value to it. The only thing that could’ve made it better would have been hard covers. This is the kind of material we rarely see, and it’s a marvel to see production material like this.

Lifting the space the book is recessed in reveals the last bit at the bottom of the; the bog standard Switch game case and the soundtrack slot. Funnily enough, this game with two soundtracks, and only one fit inside the box. The other was just laying inside the box, but seeing that was more or less a seller’s special, it should impact on the value of the core box. It would’ve been better to use a different cover for the Limited Edition and standard edition cases, but I guess this sort of unifying look to the whole package has its benefits too.

A package like this really lives through prestige. Most of it is sturdy, can take a hit or two just fine, just like the rest of the boxes like it. Nothing’s flimsy here, not even with the spacers. It’s a bit weird that one of the two CDs, even if it was just a seller exclusive item, had not slot designed inside the box. Now it’s just floating around somewhere on my couch among all the other stuff. Still, a package design like this might be somewhat dull, but it’s extremely well thought out for multiple intended uses. If this has become the standard for limited editions in Japan, guess this is the golden standard we should compare the rest of the gaming packaging we come across in the future.

 

Games as products

With Google coming out with their version of cloud gaming with Stadia, they really went all-out with selling multiple concepts as something completely new despite in reality most of them being already existing. For example, they were selling a Share button as something new, despite the PS4 controller already having it. The function and connection might be unique to Google and how it’s tied to Youtube and such, yet at the core it is all about the whole sharing pictures or video with whatever social media or video site you use. Another example of course is the whole concept of gaming on demand itself. Vortex has offered this sort of service for some time now without any separate consoles or devices needed. OnLive officially launched with a tiny receiver console back  in 2010, and closed its doors when Sony acquired its patents in 2015. Sony did the same thing for Gaikai 2014, and PlayStation Now is supposedly a thing. NVIDIA’s GeForce NOW and NVIDIA GRID are both offering cloud gaming to users. Microsoft already told us last year about Project xCloud that it’d be some sort of cloud gaming service. Even EA has its fingers in the model as well with upcoming Project Atlas. France has Shadow by Blade SAS Group, which spread into 19 US states and at least intended to spread further. LOUDPLAY is another gaming on demand model that was showcasing 5G in partnership with Rostelecom and Huawei, and mostly seemed to stay in Eastern Europe.

The only true difference with Stadia and all previous models is that Google has more money to throw at it, probably a better infrastructure to make streaming games a better experience. However, what Google and all these other companies want to sell you is the idea of games as a model of service rather than product. They’re of course mixing the language a bit here, as a product is whatever you sell to the consumer. A product can be goods or a service. Nevertheless, all that money thrown at the infrastructure will probably mean it’ll be the best kind of gaming on demand to date, that’s their ticket to make themselves stand out. Even with this they still need games for people to play, games that they can’t play anywhere else. Well good thing Google announced their own game studio, as it seems to struggle to get other companies on-board. All we know that it’ll have an Assassin’s Creed game and the upcoming Doom Eternal, both of which you can play on other platforms as well. You don’t sell a service without content. What Google is doing is selling you a really nice looking string and nail for you painting, promising that there’s gonna be a really well made frame and picture later on.

As much as the recent debacle of Epic Game Store doing stuff to get exclusives to their platform, exclusives still are lifeline for different platforms. While many think that if you need PC to play a game, then it is a PC game. Of course this isn’t the case, Epic Games Store is as much a digital console as Steam is. Real PC gaming wouldn’t need to be tied to either one of them to any extent. Nevertheless, while there has been a kind of cold war between GOG and Steam, Epic has made it heat up. There are numerous people who don’t use Epic because their game library and friends are on Steam, and they don’t want to begin using a new service. This is brand loyalty at its core though, as if there was no limitations with PC gaming any and all services would already see people logging in. If PC Gamer is to be believed, about 40% of Epic Game Store’s users don’t have a Steam account.

The PC gaming market is a market space of its own, separate from the console space. The differences are not only in methods and software, but in business models and devices as well. GOG, DLSite, Steam and Epic are all in this one space battling each other, with the likes of Vortex doing something different, but I doubt many have even heard of Vortex. Stadia’s entering this space with bold new steps and they’ve got nothing to show for. Technology will take you only so far. Even in console space the device with the least power of the major players has seen the most sales, and often the largest library. While some will argue against this with saying the Mega Drive was weaker than the SNES, they always forget the X32 and Sega CD exist. Then you get to a debate whether or not you only count base consoles only or if add-ons are applicable. For the sake of argument, and reality, all the updates and upgrades should be taken into account for the most whole picture possible.

Nevertheless, what will decide the success of any of the platforms, be it in console or computer space, is the games. Your service will be worth jackshit nothing if it doesn’t have anything to offer. Hyping Stadia because you could be playing games anywhere with Chrome and Google devices? At this point in time, you only have two options. Certainly there will be more in the future, but without a doubt most options will be the same as on other platforms. Stadia, in order to succeed over its competitors in computer space, requires to offer content you can’t find anywhere else.

That’s the rub though. Not the games or the like, but that it requires Chrome or a Google device. Google exclaimed to high how this product is for everyone, putting down all consoles and their games, but not all people use Chrome. Chrome may have the largest market share at 65%, but that’s excluding all the people who still use IE, people who mainly use FireFox or its forks like me, Edge, Safari or Opera. There’s also Brave Browser, which you really should check out if you’re into data safety. Their bold claim for this product to be for everyone rings hollow, as with cloud gaming all the cards and choices are in Google’s hands. I guess people are willing to give complete and total power over the goods and services they buy nowadays to the provider, and have effectively very little in return. You can expect for exclusive games to appear on Stadia in the future, and after their license has expired in a way or another, they’ll vanish altogether, never to be played any more. Digital-only will always meet that fate, and we’ve already lost more than enough games  to this.

A library of all

Here’s a question I had to ask myself when I loaded games unto TurboEverdrive; Is this all of the value? This needs some opening. What I mean by that is that we all have the direct and straight access to all software of previous generations via the Internet. Let’s ignore the whole issue with piracy and whatnot. A product needs to have a value, and often that value comes in form of the work paid for it as well as the materials put into it. That’s the basic core elements. The rest come afterward; its rarity, its quality (which can drop the overall value), its demand and so on. ROMs move most of these points away, and all you’re left with is the end result, the raw core product that is the game. For an Everdrive, this is largely the same. You got access to everything at once.

As a sidenote, an Everdrive is an unofficial product that allows the usage of ROM files via SD card on real hardware.

This probably is a complete non-issue to someone who has grown up and largely use digital-only solutions. After all, a ROM is effectively just that, a stripped version of a physical game cart (or cassette, if you want to use the Japanese term.) There are numerous people with large Steam libraries filled with games, free or purchased, that they have never played. They’re just there, filling space. It’s collecting digital dust. There is an effect, where when you have a large amount of something available to you without any limitations, be it whatever media, you grow bored of it fast. You got everything there, right now and none of it really attracts attention. You have time to check everything, there’s no reason to hurry and spend time to go through each thing one by one through and through. Well, time’s limited and you’ll probably never be able to finish everything before you die if your personal library is too large, but that’s an existential issue we shouldn’t think about now. When you have so much stuff in your hands, rather only one or two pieces, it tends to become mundane. Something that’s just present there without much value attached to it.

There is a generation that likes to create a game library on their shelves. Hundreds if not thousands of games just sitting there. Does their amount kill their value too to the owner? This might be the case. When you have one or two games for a system, you play those games only. You have no other options. You lack quantity of titles. Quality might be an issue, but you’ll get through that. That’s how you kept playing some terrible games when you were a child, you had no other real options. You learned how to play them, how to get around their weak design and mastered them for good measure. You have more time per title. It could even be argued to some extent that the more time you spend on a title gives more value. It doesn’t matter if its content repetition. You die and lose over and over again, picking up the remains of your character’s equipment, restart the game because you ran out of Lives and Continues, do it all over again before you get skilled enough to get through the hard part. You learn patterns and get pass the spot that held you back that one weekend. Then the next stage comes and puts up a fight again. The cycle repeats until you’ve finished the game. If it’s the only game you have, you go back in and enjoy it further. You try new things, try beating the game better, faster. You’ll find the value and the intentions from the game, and perhaps even become to like that piece of shit software after few months of trying to finish it. With limited game library at your hands, you really don’t have other choices. Of course, you could go outside and play ball with friends and trek through the local forest, but that’d be going outside.

Nothing else prevents this scenario from happening at an adult age. Except we tend to have more stuff available to stuff. Even more so if you happen to be a collector of sorts. Emulators and an Everdrive breaks this. Why spend time on one game that doesn’t attract you, doesn’t hold your interest at first when you can directly jump to another title? The money and the work the consumer has to put into obtaining the product is gone and it is extremely easy, if not preferable, just to play the best of the best. Then you get a bit bored, jump one game to another. Nothing stops you from just flicking between the games. There is no natural drive of sorts to keep one title on, unless it hits the right spot. In this light, perhaps value is the wrong term to use. Appreciation would be more accurate. We appreciate the things we have, and the less we have something, the more we tend to appreciate it. It’s like health, where we don’t really appreciate us being healthy until we’re sick. The amount of health suddenly diminished and is replaced with its absence and sickness. Collecting a library you’ll never really play through is, in all honesty, a rather terrible thing to do. You’re ending up a waste of space, digital or not, and nothing really gets done by them. However, the nature of collecting sidesteps this more often than not and concentrates on other aspects. The thrill of the hunt, the accumulation of goods and completing a set of something. Simply having something in your hands that you can physically touch, read, look and admire are often enough. Of course, there are those who will feel smugness for owning something others don’t.

Incidentally, the library of a game console that is possible to own, as in the amount of games available for a platforms, is completely the opposite. It needs to be large, extremely so. The larger the library, the more games there are to choose from and the wider selection there is. Something for someone. There will be truckloads of shovel games, but if the library ends up being small, limited, then it’ll end up having nothing but shovel games. A gem here or there won’t keep your console afloat. Still, if you got nothing else, a cheaper shovel title may end up becoming the shining beacon of high personal value, and that’s all that matters in the end.

A Rude (re)Awakening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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