Digimon Design Evolution

What’s this? No Aaltomies? No! A guest post by some random internet dweeb. The name is A9 and I sometimes work behind the shadows to read some posts over from Aaltomies before they are published. A while ago he asked me to write my own thing, and after postponing it for a long time (sorry Aalt!) I finally wrote this down. I have probably forgotten a few elements, so please bear with me.

So, how did the design of Digimon evolve over the years? For that, let’s look at the very first one created, the famous Agumon (and also a little at the often overshadowed Tryannomon).

As is often the case with any project: it changes over time. Kenji Watanabe, the longtime designer of the Digimon franchise revealed a lot about the series roots in a recent interview. Just like how Pokémon was more a dinosaur catching game called Capsule Monsters, the Digimon franchise started as a dinosaur themed tamagotchi aimed at younger boys (first named Otokotchi and then Capsule Zaurus). However, since these names would infringe on other companies’ products the name was changed to Digital Monster, which was then shortened to Digimon. This also marked the shift from just dinosaurs to the literal digital monsters, a real genre shift. There was a bit of a hurdle to overcome though: Pokémon had really kicked off and they would really have to differentiate themselves. A lot of designs, mainly of cute creatures with elemental colourings had to go due to this and this caused to have Watanabe free reign over the new designs. His inspiration: American comics such as Spawn.

Since these were the first designs, they were fully drawn, converted to pixel art, and then the drawings were tweaked again. In the future releases, the pixel art would come first.

As an example, let’s start with Agumon, since he’s undoubtedly one of the most famous of our Digital Pets. In essence, it’s a tiny dinosaur with oversized claws.

Quite the different look than we’re used to and very close to the pixel art look. This makes sense as the sprites were used on a very small screen, so making it too detailed would give you a pix elated mess. Something that was important though, was that even if some Digimon were cute, they had to have an element of fearsomeness to it. Otherwise it would just be cute critters beating each other up, which felt a bit sad to the development team.

The Virtual Pet proved to be quite successful, as they made five series of these between 1997 and 1998. Because of this, it sprouted two mangas and eventually an anime.

The series first had a one-shot in the 1997 summer issue of Akamaru Jump as C’mon Digimon: The capering monster BUN, featuring the still-popular Greymon, but also two Digimon who made their debuts. Now, even though these two haven’t been seen again since, they were both important building blocks for other Digimon.

Comparison Digimon
Design elements from Deathmon can be found in Evilmon and Gran Kuwagamon.

Let’s start with Deathmon, looking kind of different than the Agumon we’ve seen before. Deathmon, well, his design just screams ‘super evil’. In all honesty, it reminds me of a Super Sentai villain.  Deathmon can be seen back in Evilmon when you compare their mouths and general head structure, plus some nice spiky hair. The body, but mostly the arms and claws can be found back in Gran Kuwagamon. Obviously, it’s possible that this is a coincidence (since there are many, many different Digimon) but even if that is the case, it shows that some designs stick with the series.

Bun
Bun the special baby.

The other new Digimon is Bun, a small character with baby features (huge eyes and head), weird antennae and a weird dinosaur shaped torso with tail. According to its designer it was supposed to look a little bit like a very weird dog. But where does his design return? The serialisation of a manga.

That manga being Digimon Adventure V-Tamer 01, a creation by the aforementioned Watanabe and the artist Tenya Yabuno. Although a lot of Digimon were already made for the Virtual Pet series, this manga introduced new Digimon as well through the joint effort of Watanabe and Yabuno. For example, the V-dramon line which stemmed from Bun.

Zeromaru
Zeromaru the V-dramon. The cutest fat fuck in the whole universe.

Now, I can’t lie, this manga made me appreciate V-dramon to such an extent it’s my personal favourite at this point. As its designer, Yabuno explains:

I did design [V-dramon] using C’mon Digimon as a base, so the keyword ‘pet dog’ still stuck with me. […] The Digimon Kenji-san (Watanabe) designs usually sport solid-looking legs, but I designed V-dramon with the image of a small, carnivorous dinosaur in mind. I had initially wanted to design it like a fluffy dog as well.

At the time, most Digimon could digivolve to quite different forms regardless of initial form (Agumon to Devimon for example). During the run of the manga, many more Digimon were created such as Angemon and HolyAngemon. This kind of changed how some forms would really resemble the Digimon from it’s previous level.

While the manga was being serialized, the anime got the OK sign (Digimon Adventure) and was starting preproduction, just like its first video game for the PlayStation 1 (Digimon World). These media really needed references, final designs to base itself on.

Three pretty different forms. Two new versions with their own sets of restrictions. Digimon World was a PlayStation 1 game, so the amount of polygons was severely limited. It’s still quite close to the official art, except for the colour which I’ve always found very strange. Now, for the anime there is obviously a lot less detail as is usually the case. This did cause this version to have less muscle and veins, so it appears a lot cuter than the original design: much smoother and more flat.

So when the game released on January 28 1999 and the anime started airing on March 7 of the same year, merch started to be pumped out. Figures, plushes, a trading card game, you name it.

The TCG and most of the toys are based on the official Bandai art. As a kid this always surprised me, as I got interested into the franchise thanks to the anime. Nevertheless, I have always thought that the cards especially were very striking.

At this point, there are already a ton of Digimon – but Bandai won’t stop, oh no. Even with its quite low budget, the anime was a good hit, and a sequel was made. I’m thankful I don’t have to discuss Digimon Adventure 02.

Let’s start with Veemon, the first critter above. He is in many ways a redesign of Bun from the one-shot manga and designed by working back from V-dramon and creating a more cute version. Heresy I say, V-dramon is cute enough.

One of the main themes of Digimon Adventure 02 was that Rookie Digimon could not digivolve thanks to the evil Digimon Emperor. Enter armor-digivolving, which give the Digimon.. armor. Usually very literally. Let’s not call it mecha, lets call it ‘tacking on random pieces on lengthened Digimon’. Wait, that’s the usual digivolve process now, isn’t it? Take a few pieces of the Rookie, put them on the adult, put it into the blender and presto.

All joking aside (mostly) the armor-digivolve process gave a different feel to the show, even if the show itself wasn’t all that great. Later in the show, everyone can normal digivovle again and Veemon can turn into.. oh, it’s XV-mon. No, no, that’s fine. Sure. Take away the stumpy legs and the big belly. Another redesign of sorts, more cool, more muscle. More importantly, more slim, no fatso’s allowed.

Moving over to the movies with unique visuals, the originally named Digimon Adventure (1999) and Digimon Adventure: Our War Game! (2000).

Both deviate from the main anime in their own way. As can be seen in these screenshots, the first Agumon is a bit bigger than in the anime (and for reference, that’s a baby so he’s not huge) and generally has a more scary, feral look by using more linework for detail in his arms, chest and neck. This is the case for all Rookie level or above Digimon in this movie. Our War Game takes a different approach, as they go for a lighter colour palette with an orange outline.

Now, a rather famous (or infamous) aspect of Digimon is born, the waifumon. Some would argue it would start with Renamon, but they’re a bunch of furries and I don’t want to talk about no damn furries.

Shutumon

Remember how Angemon and Angewoman were humanoids in Digimon Adventure? Yeah, now almost everyone is a pseudo-human. Thanks Digimon Frontier (2002)! Humans changing into Digimon! Bi-pedal, two arms, two legs, some very mild animal features and some element worked through in their design. Oh, and if its a woman, they have big tits. This trend will sadly continue for a while. I’m sure someone made a neat list of them, sorted by breast size.

Omegamon 3D

Another unique look, here is Digital Monster X-evolution released in 2005. Fully 3D, keeping true to designs but very, very far away from the American influence from where they were born. Not that I can blame them, it is more difficult to keep that style in a 3D environment. Also, I doubt that most people at Toei even like that style.

Talking about X-evolution also means talking about redesigns. In the extensive lore of the Digimon world, at one point there were too many Digimon so God decided to kill 99% of them with a virus. Certain Digimon managed to resist though, through the X-antibody, causing them to change appearance and power up significantly.

Take a look at these Metal Garurumon. The original design stems from 1999 and the redesign was made in 2003. And what a difference! It was important to really set the X-antibody line apart from the originals and give them a more unique look. In my opinion, they really succeeded with this one causing it to feel a bit more gritty. Overall, dinosaurs look more like dinosaurs, robots look more like robots, beasts look more like beasts. I don’t want to call it more realistic, but they are definitely set apart from the rest.

Shoutmon X3

Honest acknowledgement: I never watched this series, I just really didn’t feel like it looked like Digimon. Did someone mentioned Gundam yet? No? Good, cause Xros Wars (2010) looks like Gundam. Whole lotta robots, man-shaped machines, bug-shaped machines, but Digimon. Look, I like me some Gundam as much as the next guy, but I’ve lost the Digimon aspect here.

Agumon had many forms, in many games. Usually they look like.. well, a normal Agumon. Either more styled towards the anime, or the Bandai design. But sometimes.. sometimes it just goes wrong. Enter the PSP title Digimon Re:Digitised (2012).

Agumon (Re:Digitize)
“Please kill me.”

I like the shading and it looks like the original design. But why, do tell me, WHY is he slouching like this? Bad posture! Bad! Dragging his claws across the floor. He poses no danger at all, he’s a slouch. A sloth. Sloth Agumon to the rescue. Good thing the game is pretty decent.

Agumon Tri

Did someone say another redesign? Because Digimon Tri (2015) brought us another redesign and a very welcome one I have to say. More faded colours than the original Adventure, more scrawny arms but bigger claws. Not quite as bulky as the original Bandai design, but closer than before. A faithful remake, but I wouldn’t mind him looking a bit less friendly. Still, I cannot deny that I just love that cute little dinosaur.

Updated on 20-01-2018 to add the Gran Kuwagamon similarity to Deathmon (thanks Casp) and a small bit about the X-antibody Digimon that I forgot.

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“Should any actions be disallowed within the seemingly consequence-free context of a video game? “

The question in the title of this post was pitched by Simon Parkin in his Gamasutra post Where next for the video game power fantasy? The answer to this, from the point of view of this blog, is Yes.

Video games are not reality. While it does affect us, like any other form of entertainment (or anything, if we get down to it), games are not art. Well, as much as mountain climbing racing, playing blackjack or children’s play is. Parkin starts with an assertion that games are art first and foremost, which is where his questions tumble around. Yes, no subject should be off-limits to art, if we are to keep art as a form of free expression. If we are to consider video games as art, the same rules apply. Then if we don’t, then there are subject off-limits from games? No, free market is to decide on that. Just like with the role-playing games you have in the bed, certain games are meant for adults only, and should have the freedom to touch on any subject the creator/s wish. They just need to present in a marketable form and offer good gameplay.

Without a doubt the paper Parkin refers to in the article, where Madary and Metsinger suggest a code for ethical conduct, has some relevance to how VR is handled. The human mind, and brain overall, are rather plastic and can be moulded in surprising ways. The nurture of environment is significant, though nature affects as well. Both sides play a significant part in who we become and how we change throughout our lifetime. Playing a game sure does affect us, be it enhancing out eye-hand coordination or something else. VR, as both Madary and Metzinger suggest with an assertion from Parkin, is not physical. While VR users “experience” the Virtual World, the fact it’s just a headset on your head doesn’t go away. Whatever level of graphics and whatnot you have, only certain kind of people who lose themselves into these software and mix them with reality.

Virtual Reality, as it is now, does not introduce any sort of emotions that could not be introduced outside other means of entertainment. Certainly, putting the user in the first-person experience of a horrible murder or becoming the murderer in a game has its effect, yet it still be audiovisual stimulation. VR is not at the level where it would be able to give full-body feedback or be used without the goggles.

The whole discussion about VR possibly having content that is not suited for everyone. Your standard information what a sofware or game includes and what is its target audience is enough. A consumer must be informed of the content type, and of his own condition. In case of parents, they should be able to follow their child’s growth and estimate what sort of material they should be able to consume at what age. Certain children may be to handle harder and more serious materials earlier on, while with others it may take a while longer.

This form of discussion whether or not VR software particular should have limitations for their content is the same discussion we’ve had about tabletop games causing kids to become devil worshipers or certain kind of music being bad for the youth, be it Rock or Heavy Metal. The terms and words have been changed around to sound more convincing and suitable, but in the end the discussion still ends up being This thing may be harmful for some, it must be banned for all.

Parkin quotes Scott Stephen about how VR users are careful not to collide with other scale models of humans, and this somehow shows the gaps being closer with brain, body and motor-skill. While I don’t want to stick with this point, it really sounds more like the players are have the same level of immersion than with First-person games overall. Any FPS has some sort of model of self, which has a hurtbox that interacts with the environment. Of course people who play VR game would be aware of their virtual avatar and try to avoid collision with others, just like they would do otherwise in a game. Collision with other characters usually slows you down, or in case of some games, hurt the character (or you, the player.)

I’m just going to slide Parkin’s comment on virtual crimes, because there is no such thing, because any crime committed would be a real crime.

I contest his assertion, and by that extend, Robo Recall‘s designer Shawn Patton’s definition, of power fantasy of something people wouldn’t have no means or ability to do in real life. If that would be the case, each and every daydream we have or similar would be counted as a power fantasy, making it far too broad and lacking in definition. In reality, what he describes is escapism, or people being able to do whatever they want without putting the everyday’s hard work into it. By Patton’s definition, Harvest Moon would be power fantasy, because so many people do not have the power or means to farm in real life. Hell, even Tetris can be fitted to this mould by saying it gives the players god-like control over falling blocks and sweep them into non-existence.

Parkin suggesting that developers should begin to implement punishment to people who would act in an unapproved ways is inane. If games, and VR software in particular, affect us in such major ways as Parkin suggested earlier, and now is suggesting developers would use that power to essentially influence the consumers’ behaviour to some, socially more acceptable direction shows that there is an agenda underneath here. To boil it down, games should steer away from the icky and serious stuff and slap your hand if you oogle a character’s ass too long. Give me a goddamn break.

And the coup de grâce of for Parkin’s post him comparing reading a book to a video game. He finds it weird that people talk about beating games, but not about beating Moby Dick. This comparison is like saying it’s weird how people always speak about watching a movie rather than reading it, or watching music rather then beating it. Games are meant to be defeated, ie. completed (or in case of earlier arcade games, to gain as high Score as possible) and it does not limit the medium. Parkin’s approach in this is that games are akin to literary works, not literal games. A video game, any  video game, has closer ties to soccer than Moby Dick. Here is why his take games as art fails, because he does not understand that games are not related to literary works or art as a whole. His inability to see that a fail state in a game is loss on the player’s part, and if you really want to get down to the whole story thing in games, there are buttloads of games that touch on failure, death, loss and pain. Hell, just look at how Metal Gear Solid 3 through V and Nier Automata handle serious topics. If we want to get on the meta-commentary train, failing in a game and gaining a Game Over screen or the like is real-time commentary on the failure of the player’s skills and inabilities to overcome a challenge.

The whole disempowerment fantasy is laugahble at best. Games where the system is gimped against you are not uncommon, and if realised unsuccessfully, just drag the experience and often seem to put the message and literary narrative over the gameplay and the narrative the player creates through action. Hell, the way Ian Bogost describes them sounds like they’re taking the game out of video games. They’re nothing new, but the way Parkin emphasizes their special place looks almost masochistic. I’ll leave it up to you if it tells about certain people’s want to lift helplessness and inability to take control of things to a high status.

The rest of the post really is going the points again with some paint slabbed on to it. I can’t help but admire how actions taken in a video game are compared to trafficking women or child slaves (apparently, trafficking men and adult salves is A-OK.) VR alone doesn’t have the question of psychological impact. Any form of media has to ask this, but in the end, it is the user who determines what he is willing to consume. Making a general sweep like this, assuming that an intended emotional reaction will affect people as expected, is outright stupidity. I’m sure Parkin intended something else than comedy with his Moby Dick comparison earlier on. Claiming that VR somehow is the first thing to put people in the middle of something as themselves echoes empty. VR tricks us to believe something is real as much as any movie or non-real entertainment. It’s called immersion. To reiterate what I said earlier; only people with mental problems would not be able to differentiate reality from fiction. VR boom has already passed, and we’re setting at its low-tide. Just like how 3D screens went.

The whole blockbuster comparison though is pretty spot on. The market decides what’s successful and what is not, and though in the more recent history of video games we’ve seen far less copying game elements from other successful titles and more sequels based on long-running franchises. And no, it’s not problematic to “flatter players through power fantasies.” If anything is the problem here, it’s the fact that people are trying to limit designers and developers from doing what they want all the while wanting to push their own influence through the same channels they criticise.

Death of an element in the game industry

How stupidly vague title. That is because for as long as game industry has existed in its modern form, there have been predictions and expectations for certain things to happen. Trip Hawkins is somewhat infamous for expecting Nintendo to die out in the 80’s, something long time gamers probably remember hearing each generation. Yet, it’s consistently been The Big N that seems to push video game innovation forwards in the grand scheme of things. In reality, everything they launch or new things they introduce already exists on the market in some form, Nintendo just manages to make use of old technology and represents it in a new manner. I’ve discussed the fact that I’ve been hearing that physical games will vanish in the next five years or so since 2005, which still hasn’t taken place. Certainly digital downloads and distribution has taken hold and has allowed far more smaller developers to pitch in, though they have not replaced physical games, especially on the video game market. The computer game market on the other hand has been consolised by Steam to the point of being unrecognisable from its former, free self.

The claim that single-player games are dying out at some speed is, to be completely frank, laughable. The Switch may have been Zelda the Console for some time now, with some other good titles sprinkled here and there, though that just shows how much people appreciate single-player games. With Super Mario Odyssey hitting two million units sold in three days, and the amount of single-player games mobile devices offer, not to mention the odd Facebook browser game and Cuphead going platinum in few weeks, it seems the idea of single-player games being a dying breed is hot air.

The classic electronic games trinity was the arcade machine, home video game console and personal computer. With the death of the arcades, this trinity has become more or less obsolete. However, it was never replaced with anything, as consoles have become increasingly dumbed-down computers all the while consolification of PC has been taking place. The trinity was supported by duality of both single-player and multi.player games, and the mix of the two.

To make it a bit more clear, the game industry has always stood on the idea of games you can play with or against the computer, and games that allow you to play with your friends. The two do not exclude each other in any way, as many single-player games also offer multiplayer mode. While I’ve seen some forums claim that single-player games are relics of old time, when you couldn’t have people playing together, this is bullshit. Both Tennis for Two from 1958 and Spacewar! from 1962 required two players to properly function.

If we were to go further back in game culture, we would find that there has always been a healthy split between games and game-like devices that were designed around single person to use. The phénakisticope is an example of a game-like device that was reserved for only one to use. Pinball machines and their predecessors like the bagatelle or Billard japonais, while able to support sequential multi-player, ultimately were one person devices. Hell, even in card games you have single-player variants, and some card games can only be played by one person properly. Solitaire is most famous for its single-player variant, with the multi-player one being relegated to curiosity.

Where I’m getting at here is that throughout the history, games and plays have always had a need for specific games that allow action done with a group, or action done alone.

If I were to turn this completely around for a moment, in many ways true single-player games have already died. Most, if not all, modern games already require something to run the game’s script and AI, meaning the player is actively playing with a non-human being, as limited as it may be. The fact that most modern games could not function without some level AI, like Nier Automata, means that every time we are playing such a game, we are playing against and with something. The only games that still are truly single-player are games like Breakout, which have no AI element to them.

That’s not what people mean by single-player game though.

The fact that there are cultural and historical reasons why games for one exist is nothing anyone should overlook. The fact that most modern games have a multi-player element to them is simply due to the fact that modern information technology allows it. We are in an era where we can mix the single-player experience with interactions with others without it being its completely own mode does not mean single-player games are dead. The traditional way of thinking the split between single- and multi-player games has to be reexamined with the advent of new technology. The godforsaken fact we’re connected to each other 24/7 also allows means to enhance these single-player experiences. The aforementioned Nier Automata does this by introducing other players’ dead characters on the field you can either pilfer or revive. Similarly, Gravity Rush 2 used player taken pictures as hints for others in treasure hunts. These methods do not change a game to become single-player, it uses the connectivity to enhance and give it more flavour, much like how base infiltration did in Metal Gear Solid V.

Lastly, there is still an immense market for single-player games. Despite online connectivity being what it is nowadays, multi-player games require specific sort of marketing, design on the cooperation or competitive side and expansion to keep the user base happy. The emphasize is laid differently for single-player games, where the challenge comes largely from the designers setting things up for the player, rather than expecting other players to make use of existing tools.

A good game will be in demand, be it single-player or not. Unless we experience a very deep shift in how human psyche works, there is a place for games we can play for ourselves. Electronic games, like everything else, evolves. Both single- and multi-player games need to evolve to meet with new demands and probably will end up taking elements from each other further.

Then again, Japan still pushes out fuckloads of single-player games so I don’t know what the hell people are jabbering about. Get off my lawn.

Fish simulation

I’ve mentioned Aquzone from time to time in this blog in few different contexts, but never to a large degree. The title is fascinating in its simplicity and function. Aquazone, in its essence, is a virtual fish tank. It’s subtitle Desktop Life says it all, and the title did find most success on Windows and MAC PCs.

While Aquzone may look like some late 1990’s screensaver, it was a bonafide simulator with caring aspects. You had to keep the fish alive and all that. You could even give the fish names and grow attached to them. You could change the backgrounds, put in statues and whatnot in there and so on. You had to take care of the lights and water purity as well. Pretty much everything you need to do with real fish tank. It’s a lot of fun, sort of.

In the above video is pretty much all you get it up front.

The very reason why Aquazone exists is due to people wanting to have fish, but either can’t pay the amount to own a fish tank, the fish and all the little things they require, or as it is the case in Japan, they simply don’t have any room for such contraptions.

Aquazone wasn’t a haphazardly put together title. The development team spent enormous amount of time observing and recording real life fish behaviour in order to replicate that within the title. This went as far as devs’ growing very attached to the fish they were taking care of, something that’s not exactly uncommon when taking care of pets. The team as far as including digital DNA, which determined the aforementioned behaviour and some of the aspects a fish could have. When two fish would mate (yes, you could watch hot fish-on-fish action in Aquazone), their offspring/s would inherit certain modifiers from the parent fish and would exhibit them to certain extent.

The title came and vanished sometime around 1998, though the original seemed to have hit the Mac sometime in 1993, with only few people mentioning it around. I have the vaguest of recollections of seeing this somewhere locally, but it may as well have been at a friend’s place or something. The game found success on the Saturn, because the Saturn was in a weird place when it came to software titles at the time, and saw all the Option Discs that were released for the PC platforms as well. These discs added more fish to the mix.

Aquzone most likely seems weird to most people nowadays. The few people who have talked about it have called it shovelware. Indeed, as a game Aquazone does seem rather lacklustre and missing what would make a good game. Of course, the gaming landscape has changed since the 1990’s, for the better or worse depending on issues, but it still has sequels to this day. I recommend the DS one, the 360 version is sadly region locked for whatever reason.

The term desktop game has pretty much died out with all the games run from PC desktops rather than via DOS. Well, now you’re more or less required to run a game through Steam, but we’ve gone through that few times already. These titles were small and offered wide variety of short but fun interactive games you could play during workday. Solitaire and Minesweeper fall into this same category. Aquazone is essentially one, something you could set up and take of from time to time when you had a coffee break or similar. The Saturn version was pretty much for enthusiasts who didn’t have access to a MAC or Windows PC, as the 1990’s was a freakish era for Japanese PC gaming and IBM standard steamrolling the living shit out of their own national machines like the PC-9801. There’s a writing subject when it comes to Japanese computer games, but that might be out of my scope without rather extensive research.

As a desktop game, Aquazone is a superb title. We could go a step forwards with this and question whether or not it is a game to begin with. With some flight simulators, like IL-2 Sturmovik, the software allows the user to drop the level of realism down to the point of it being essentially an arcade flyer. Flight sims certainly have elements of gameplay to them through missions and whatnot, but something like Farming Simulator series has none. The underlying assumption in all this is that the aim of a simulation is to offer, well, a simulation rather than game play. Kamov KA-50 Black Shark is a simulator well known for its detailed helichopper modelling and accurate-as-hell functions. Just check the start-up sequence required. It is hardly a game, or a game with a very, very hardcore aim to be photorealistic in both visuals and design.

This is not to say that a simulation couldn’t be an electronic game, but rather that a simulation doesn’t need or is not required to be allocated among games. A game like Final Fantasy Tactics could be described as fantasy war simulation RPG, for example, though something like Command & Conquer would fit the simulation bill better. Both of these titles evolved from strategy games played with tin soldiers. A flight simulator on the other hand evolved from the need to educate new pilots how to fly. First with mechanical rigs, which then evolved into a combination of software and hardware. Of course, with flight and plane enthusiasts wanting to make-belief fly their favourite planes, these companies would see a profitable niche and strike true.

It can’t be denied that early computers didn’t have the power to render realistic graphics or physics, which puts questioning simulators as games into question. That, and there are stupid amount of games that still have the sim title attached to them without aiming for any actual simulation. Then again, hardcore replication of reality rarely makes a good game. Even Grand Theft Auto, with its emphasize on photorealism in both visual s and design, takes freedom when it comes to accommodating gameplay elements, like player character actually dying when riddled with automatic weaponry.

The golden middle pathway might be the best idea to take once more and say that some simulators are games without a doubt, with some of them belonging to simulation software category. The strange obsession of calling any and all software that exists on a game console or similar as game is most evident with titles like Aquazone, but it’s also undeniable that without games like it we wouldn’t have Digimon or other pet raising titles.

XBonX

I wasn’t intending on commenting this year’s E3 at all. Why? Life’s busy when you’re working your ass off and doing favours for friends. Nevertheless, here I am, repeating the same song I’ve been singing about Microsoft year after year; they need to get their shit together and move away from pushing PC gaming to console platform.

Let’s start with the beginning, the Xbox One X. If there’s something Microsoft and other console companies should learn from Nintendo is that naming your console is important as hell. The 3DS and Wii U both caused confound consumer confusion. Wii U was mixed as an update add-on for the Wii at its first unveiling. 3DS went well in comparison, but there was a period of confusion as well with those who aren’t Red Ocean consumers. The name is absolutely retarded. XBox One was backwards as hell and the title Xbone was well deserved. Xbox One X is a step towards the worse. You know have Xbox One, Xbox One S and Xbox One X on sale and Microsoft is talking about a console family. If there’s one thing that most people seem to agree about consoles is that they’re meant to simplify and straighten the whole business of playing games. This is the same shit that Valve did with Steam Machines and that went so damn well. At least give it a proper name to make it stand apart, like Xbox Scorpio or something. Having multiple systems for one console (family even, if you will) sure worked great for Sega. Certainly, the game market is different, but so is the economy and people are more savvy, generally speaking.

Hell, even the people on stage had to correct themselves first not to say Xbone. That tells quite a lot about how much people are respecting the brand and name of their flagship gaming console. Furthermore, why did they live through There’s no greater power than X? X+1 is greater than X. If they wanted to keep this philosophy going, they should’ve started naming their consoles after powers, like Xbox². Shit would’ve made more sense. Microsoft now also has a console with three Xs in there. Have fun with even more XXX jokes in the future.

The whole hardware centric mentality is computer gaming culture. It’s the same old song. History rhymes with itself, this time with 4k gaming. Remember when HD gaming was the next thing after the Fourth Generation of consoles? People still had their non-HD LCD television sets everywhere in their living rooms, CRT televisions were still a very common thing. Many miss the point that television sets costs loads of money and people are resistant on purchasing new hardware. Consumers will go their way out not to purchase extra hardware until something breaks down, unless they’re the forerunner technophiles that need to have the latest shit right away.

How much Microsoft pushed 4k as the defining trait of their software (and how this represented how XbonX was the most powerful console ever) tells how affairs are in a sad state. 4k is just becoming a standard with consumers (it’ll still take beyond 2020 before they’re widespread enough to be called common) but standard HD is something that’s just set in. The transition period is longer than what either Microsoft or Sony expects. I’ll give them this, future proofing their console is a decent idea, but it doesn’t really help when all your showcase games are either something that people have been playing on PC for some time now, or don’t look any better than what’s out right now. Microsoft is chasing behind Sony, but at least they’ve realised that VR is dead and weren’t pushing that. There were no gimmicks.

However, XbonX is the antithesis of current Ninth Generation that is the Switch. While XBonX emphasizes on living room gaming, the Switch’s hybrid status is where consumers have already gone. 4k means very little when people have a HD screen in their pockets to consume their time with. Microsoft is targeting the very core of Red Ocean consumer with their line of products. Xbox probably will stay successful only in the US, Europe and Asia just don’t give a damn about the aims Microsoft has for it. It doesn’t help that most of its games showcased were either ports of PC games or timed exclusives, meaning that the XbonX basically has no exclusives. Costing at $499 (I can guarantee that it’ll cost more in Europe) and having about fifteen multiplayer games prevously seen on PC and backwards compatibility with the first Xbox’s games, the price is far too high, especially when we can already foresee both Nintendo and Sony dropping their consoles’ prices just to give Microsoft the middle finger. Well, Nintendo doesn’t even need to, they just need to roll out some good software. Sony on the other hand needs distance themselves with the VR.

If there was one thing that further cemented the fact that Microsoft has their priorities mixed. Ten minutes of showcasing a damn car in an electronic entertainment expo is like promoting a new television show during an opera play. The whole Porche showcase was aimed at the hardcore racing and car fans. Sure, it’s always nice to see companies have licenses for real life cars for racing games, but this sort of masturbatory self-congratulations over getting a damn car taking your time away from games nothing short of short sighted. They should’ve just showcased it on-screen, introduce the driver and tell the people to check the car out on the stage floor and have a separate event there with further emphasize on the whole real-fucking-sportcar aspect.

Let’s not forget that most, if not all of the demos shows, were scripted from the get-go and will not represent the finished version. This tendency is unethical, no matter how much develops and publishers want to cover their assess with labels stating Does not represent finalised product or some shit. There was clearly an emphasize on certain titles over other.

Somehow watching all this has made me very weary. From a general perspective, there was nothing new. Those who follow modern PC gaming even a little bit have no need for the console, and Microsoft didn’t introduce anything worthwhile. Their emphasize of supporting the creative people who work in the industry and wanting to create the most powerful console to let these people to realize their dreams doesn’t help jack shit if they’re not going to listen to the consumer wants and wishes and only concentrate on mediocre trophy products. Hardware does not make or guarantee a good game. They’re not missing this point (though this can be doubted), but their market spiel is just overriding everything else.

Nintendo itself is not the brand

Neither are their developers or any of the individuals we see on streams and in interviews. Nintendo’s value as a brand goes up and down according to what they do. While branding is often given to the visual design and flavour of a company or a product, everyone knows branding is a lot more. If not consciously, then through unconscious osmosis of simple consumption of products. Brand goes hand-in-hand with reputation and the perceived value of the product produced by the company. Naturally, the product’s perceived value colours the value of the company.

It is extremely easy to make your product to look bland, and once you’ve made that misstep, it’s hard to recovered. Mass Effect Andromeda is extremely bland bland game and thus its perceived value is low. Patches only help so much, and PR is what the publisher must do in order to recover from the failure. It’s even worse if the fans lose their perceived value on the game, and that takes some effort to do. Like making your characters hold guns in reverse and essentially making it inferior to the first title in the series. Much like other AAA video game titles, it’s a very bland, very grey product.

What brings colour into a product is disruption. Nintendo has a history of heating up the Blue Ocean and disrupt the market with coloured products, though they have a history doing very grey products that wallow in the Red Ocean as well. The Switch, as it is currently, is about disruption in the video game industry. Unlike Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo went with what probably is the future of console gaming and created a hybrid system.

To use car industry as an example, Volvo’s brand is security and safety. Their cars are not the most exciting things in the world, but they are very trustworthy overall and suit the best for everyone. Until somewhat recently you couldn’t find a car that would move away from this branding from their main lineup. This is because Volvo has begun to change this somewhat bland yet trustworthy brand image of theirs with premium cars that offer more exciting cars. Their image is not safety, but the content with the car and the options you can have.

Nintendo’s brand has been perceived similarly as kid’s and family’s console to play. A Nintendo console usually has a good variety of games for everyone to play, whereas Xbox is a first-person shooting game wet dream in console form (though that has been severely diminished with the lacklustre recent Halo titles) while Sony is that black console cool kids who like hardcore games go for. The original PlayStation followed Nintendo’s branding as a whole family’s future generation console, but at the same time used Sega’s not-just-for-children approach. While the PlayStation had games that kids enjoyed, it also had titles like WipeOut that hit the cultural club scene if the latter 1990’s. The N64 on the other hand wasn’t everybody’s console due to the sheer shit tier library it had. Saturn was ever successful in Japan and was mostly staying within then-passed arcade port title. As much as it hurts Saturn and Dreamcast fans, arcade ports didn’t cut it any more at that point, and arcades themselves were starting to die out.

People don’t just buy what companies are selling. They buy the perceived product the company is selling. Shit in a can isn’t perceived valuable, but when an artist does it and sells it as art, the perceived value among certain crowd skyrockets.

Nintendo Switch currently has a highly regarded perceived value because of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. No other title is driving its sales as much. 1-2 Switch is a joke, though the new Bomberman seems to have gone through a rise in perceived value after the latest patch. The Switch is currently the prime example how game industry and the Red Ocean consumers don’t get the market worth jack shit. As I’ve mentioned before, the Switch was proclaim dead on arrival and that its weak hardware wouldn’t be able to do anything. Yet, BotW alone is driving Switch’s sales. This is what a Zelda game is capable of when it is allowed to be true to the series rather than just a puzzle-dungeon game. Less Aonuma there is with Zelda, the better it gets.

It doesn’t matter if you personally think that these people who bought Switch and are enjoying its games are normies or have shit taste. They are not the deviation of the form, but the rule. The AAA game industry might shove millions into a game production and barely make even with the Red Ocean consumer, who seems to be easier consumer to please and pull money from as the Red Ocean is filled with competition. Developing and releasing games and consoles is hard work, and while it can be understood why Red Ocean developers want to stick where they’re most comfortable at (of course, with no expanded life experiences outside games, how could you even imagine developing game for the Blue Ocean consumer? Shoving an agenda to the player’s view is the last thing they want) and this is why even 10% drop in sequel game’s sales will put alarms on. Despite millions being in play, even the slightest change will throw the finely tuned balance off.

While video game industry is creative, it is service industry. If you want to use this sort of comparison, video game developer is on the same level as a burger flipper. Developers’ job is to serve the consumer and their needs, it is the consumer who ultimately decides whether or not your product is good enough to be purchased. You can work your burger however well, but if the consumer doesn’t want it, the onus is on you. Not on the consumer.

Nintendo’s last three home consoles show how their disruption coloured their brand. The Wii , as much as the Red Ocean hates it, was a massive success because Nintendo didn’t stay with the comfortable Red Ocean market. The Wii U was made for the Red Ocean, and it succeeded worth jack shit. Hell, it was pulled from the stores to make room for the Switch, which again has disrupted the industry and hopefully will continue to do so with both low- and high-end software aimed for everybody.

Switch inherits Wii’s philosophy

Nintendo Everything has an interview up on regarding the inception and design of the Switch. We’ll take it at face value for now, all this sort of interviews are mix of hard facts and PR after all. It’s a bit on the long side, four pages in total, but a good read nevertheless.

The first thing they quote with big blue font is how the Switch was designed to bring everyone together and play. Remember Wii’s We’d like to play ads? The Switch encompasses the same idea, which incidentally is shared with the NES (which they specifically mention and want to go way back to the hanafuda cards) and to some extent with the SNES. Can’t forget the Game Boy and the DS. It’s sad to see Koizumi saying that playing together is core essence of Nintendo, when they’ve done so much do disregard this. It is also not the full extent of Nintendo’s core, but this is neither here or there. What Koizumi is saying with his little speech about getting strangers into gaming is expansion of the market, something that Nintendo’s successful consoles have done.

The idea of Nintendo’s home console being a device that could be turned into a sort of game-presentation/sharing device on its own probably shaped the console all the way through the development. The Switch is chock-full of technological things that aren’t really needed, like the HD Rumble that the upcoming Senran Kagura is probably going to use somehow to imitate the physics of female body. The split wireless controller would’ve been enough to allocate this, but Nintendo does have a history of obsessing with useless WOW!-factors, like the 3D screen on the 3DS or the tablet controller on the Wii U.

While the Wii wouldn’t fit into this console-presenter idea, it had much easier time penetrating the wall that modern controllers put up. The Wiimote is an easy contraption to handle and use, which made the Wii an excellent console to boot up and have people playing games without worrying much how to control a given game. The rest was up to how well the game itself was designed. There certainly was a WOW! factor in Wiimotes without a doubt, but at least they saw use.

I should note at this point that the Switch is mentioned began development about three years ago. This is about the same time Nintendo’s main support on the 3DS and Wii U started lacking in major releases (or on VC for the matter) and fits their modus operandi. Just like with the Wii and previous consoles, about half of the predecessor’s life cycle is dedicated for the development of the successor.

Both Takahashi and Koizumi mention how Iwata helped them with engineering challenges, as both of them have design backgrounds. While they paint designers’ life as a daydreamer, it’s much more closer to constantly trying to solve a puzzle but having jack shit idea how to proceed. You just gotta make things work, and it helps if there are people in your team who can tell you what’s possible and why. Giving a designer total freedom only asks trouble.

I’m also calling bullshit on the fact that single-player games saw a rise on the N64 because only one controller was included. Knowing how Nintendo has gone on the record how they don’t follow their competitors’ actions (which is probably bollocks as well), how can they determine whether or not N64 was the reason for this supposed rise in single-player games? If Nintendo is worried about lack of multiplayer games and support this view, they should’ve dropped the price of their controllers and adding multiplayer elements to games like Super Mario Sunshine rather than bitching how third party is doing the same. It could be also argued that a game that can be played both single- and multiplayer and can stand on its own in single-player mode is superior to a game that requires two or more players at any given time.

Naming your product something that could attract the consumer is no easy deal. Sometimes you find a perfect name that has nothing to do with the actual product, like how Uncle Ben’s has nothing to do with rice, yet it’s a good name due to branding and all that. A PlayStation does give some hint what done with it, as does GameCube. Switch on the other hand doesn’t, but with the marketing and branding Nintendo’s doing, the idea of switching things up on the fly seems be associated with the system. Whatever else they had as candidates would be interesting to see, but at least it’s something simple and memorable. Like GameBoy.

One thing that will make the Switch stand apart from its competitors… actually, I’m not sure if the Switch has any competition per se. Because it’s a hybrid console, it doesn’t compete in traditional game console field. It competes against whatever Sony and Microsoft will dish out next, but they’re on weaker legs due to decentralisation of home entertainment. On handheld markets it has absolutely no competition with Vita being dead in the water elsewhere but in Japan. I hope you like importing for that little bugger. What a load of wasted potential Vita was. Whatever it is the competition will offer probably won’t be a pure bred game console. Consoles as home media centres is a ruling paradigm Nintendo has mostly gone against, and the Switch continues to do so. It’s main thing is to play games and dammit it needs to do it fast.

Takahashi’s argument that they didn’t want to fight smartphones and wanted to make friends with them makes no sense. Nintendo’s games and smartphones are two different markets, but I guess this is where the whole DeNA thing steps in. The whole social media aspect is what they gunned for, and seems to be the reason online chat and numerous other aspects of their online seems to be less than screwed up. Now that their online will actually cost money, I really do hope they’ll up their game in every aspect. I know it’s a futile wish, but it’s good to live with hope.

Nintendo also knows VR is terrible but still claims to be researching in it.

What strikes hopeful in Switch’s development is that it took in young people, to an extent. While it is good to take in new blood in order to rejuvenate your company and get in some new ideas, this is a generation that has lived with game consoles their whole lives. Unlike with the first three or four console generations, there is a preconception with high-end consumers what a game console needs to be like nowadays. It’s like how Zelda fans who jumped unto the ship with Ocarina of Time tend to rewrite Link’s Adventure as some sort of terrible aberration from the form. That’s Majora’s Mask.

Perhaps the last bit that garners a mention in this post is how Takahashi agrees that Switch should have more software than what was on the Wii or Wii U. Wii might be a bit hard to overcome, but Wii U’s statistics aren’t anything to write home about. Bloomberg seems to think that the Switch will sell more than the Wii, which is a tall order. While the initial reaction to Switch was essentially the same as with any other successful Nintendo console, i.e. dead on arrival, its sales show otherwise. Because the Switch sits in the handheld console market, it has the possibility of selling higher numbers than the Wii without a doubt. If it hits both home console and handheld markets with equal force, it’ll outsell the Wii. If the devs have games half-assed, it’ll sell less.

The Switch had a similar launch to the DS. It was big, with big sales left and right. Then came about a year long slumber, after which it was revised as a portable SNES of sorts. The Switch could have a similar cycle, where after this big start it trails off, and when enough and certain kind of software is release, blows up in sales again. Most likely during a holiday.