Breakout, Arkanoid and Cyber Block Metal Orange: Evolution in simplicity

Few years back when I was looking at old game footage with some of my friends, one of them could not get his head around how games like Breakout and River Raid could be called games, they didn’t even look the part. I never understood what he meant, but I’m guessing it has everything to do with him growing up with PC games of mid-90’s. Granted, I didn’t specifically live grew up with Atari 2600 either, if anything it was the Atari computers and C64.

It’s been few years since that, but it never left my mind for whatever reason. It doesn’t even look like a game, was his exact words. To him, it looked too simple to be enjoyed. Is the current cultural mentality expecting games to look complex and reflect reality whenever possible?

Breakout is a 1976 game headed by Nolan Bushnell. One of Atari’s biggest hits, Bushnell conceptualised Breakout as a single player Pong, and prototyped by none other than Steve Wozniak. Single player Pong in itself sounds dull, but what Bushnell and Steve Bristow made a significant change; the tiles.

If Pong is an example of pure core game design without any extra elements hampering the competition between two players, Breakout is similarly an example of pure single player game design. There is nothing unnecessary in Breakout, there is nothing in-between the player and the game. There is, quite simply to put it, only the game and the player.

Breakout is a game I played a lot during the mid-90’s and early 00’s on computers in my local library and whenever I had the chance at schools. It was, at a time, very popular game to code for aspiring game designers and coders, as Breakout‘s apparent simplicity hides relatively complex nature. For example, the paddle that bounces the ball is often split into five sections, each sending the ball to a different angle trajectory. In the Atari 2600 version, each 12th bounce would increase the speed of the ball. Things like that you wouldn’t consider consciously, unless you found yourself obsessed with the game and wanting to rip it apart. Breakout, as Atari designed it, has no random elements to it either, and there is nothing to keep the player from having a perfect, calculated game.

Breakout, compared to modern games, tends to look rather bare bones. That is, of course, due to technological limitations of the era, but on the other hand anything else thrown in there would be unnecessary to an extent. The classic Atari sound effects also have a function rather than just filling in silence. I’ve read reports from years back how some players were able to complete a game just by the sound alone. That’s a key to one of the most mesmerising elements of Breakout; it hooks you.

Breakout‘s apparent simplicity is easy to understand. Send the ball flying off, hit a tile, calculate where the ball will land and bounce it back up. Rinse and repeat. However, the actual game is challenging and involves more skill and eye-hand coordination than it appears. It’s a game that’s easy to get into, but ultimately hard to master. Once you get into the game, it doesn’t let you go easily. Watching the ball rhythmically hit the walls and tiles with each blip from the speakers announcing a contact is something only other similar games can ultimately replicate. Some people talk about getting into the zone with games, and Breakout is a game where you can find yourself in very easily. This has happened to be with Breakout’s few descendants, Arkanoid and Cyber Block Metal Orange. To some extent, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach volleyball can induce similar effect once you get into how the ball goes over the net, how it’s returned and in what way. DoAX really is just Pong with prettier graphics and more physics thrown in.

There is nothing in your way to blame the game for in Breakout either. Modern games have animation management, random element management and God only knows how many more elements thrown in there just to drop a monkey wrench in your gears. Technology has allowed games to represent motion and reality to a larger extent than what they could in 1976, and with that certain design elements in game development have been lost. Certain instantaneous elements in gameplay has become a rarer element as natural animation has taken its place. Link swings his sword more realistically in 3D, but there is a lack of satisfaction that you got from a well placed near instant stab from the original game.

Breakout’s design has been copied few times over. By few times I mean more than anyone can count. However, across all the Breakout-clones out there, the core gameplay is very much the same. Whether or not it has been realised well is a whole another thing. A lot of times I’ve heard people first experiencing Breakout on computer, either as a some sort of unofficial clone or browser version. Most browser versions out there are shit, without a doubt, and to find a well coded version that would improve from the original are essentially non-existent. I had the chance the play the Atari 2600 version once with the a paddle. There is nothing quite like finding yourself having an absolute control over the paddle’s movements on the screen, something that no controller has managed to replicate. Even with mouse controls it feels just inaccurate enough, even when it’s competently done. Google launched a version of Breakout you can still play today, but it’s slower than the original and mouse controlled. Ultimately, Breakout’s clones have a very hard time to beat the original paddle nub, because it simply works the best. Mouse control is the closest you can get to it, but it still can’t top the original intended controller. There are Breakout clones that do work with other control methods, but this is because the functions and speeds have been altered to accommodate these controls, which is just a good thing.

Much like Tetris, Breakout is a perfect game in its simplicity. While many mistakenly label it and Tetris as puzzle games, neither are that. Both of them are more or less unique entities of their own, something that could only be realised through a video game. The only way to continue from either from these games would be break that perfect, balanced simplicity by either changing the core rules, or with additional things. Super Breakout was the first sequel released few years after the original, but perhaps the most famous Breakout clone is Arkanoid.

I recommend everyone to read a book called Pilgrim in the Microworld by David Sudnow. The book is his autobiography, detailing his obsession with Breakout and how he manically spent his time to understand the game. He went to the extent of visiting Silicon Valley and interview the programmers to gain insights about the game. He understood how a game could become addictive, an obsession without being a gamer. Sudnow was a pianist. He came from outside the gamer culture of the era, someone who didn’t really saw their appeal until he stopped to learn about them, first by sight, then by trying his hands on them. It’s not only a fascinating glimpse into one’s mind how they saw a game, but also how Breakout’s design, simple as it is compared to the modern games’ overblown layers of complexity, can capture a person’s fascination.

Complexity fascinates people. Things and people themselves are not complex, but we make them to be. There is beauty in simplicity, but by our nature we want to mess with that simplicity. Breakout was a perfectly simple single-player game and effectively created a sub-genre to Pong games through its innovation. You can’t really add more depth to Breakout without changing its gameplay and design, which changes how it ultimately plays out. Super Breakout was the first official sequel to Breakout, adding new game modes and such. Still, it didn’t touch on the design itself.

Ten years later, in 1986, Arkanoid was released. Either it or Breakout are used as an example for the genre, and as such Breakout or Arkanoid clone is not too uncommon to see around. Nevertheless, Taito’s Arkanoid stands apart from Breakout due to its expansion to the formula. Arkanoid did not add any depth to Breakout, and by its extension, to Pong, but it expanded how the game is played and approached.

Arkanoid wasn’t the first Breakout clone, but it sure was the one that stroke true. Its expansions are basically power-ups that adds on top of the existing gameplay rather than changes it. There are some Space Invaders influences in there with a power-up capsule that adds a shot option, and thus another way to break the tiles. Other power ups affect the length of the paddle, adds a multi-ball mode and add a ball capturing ability.

These of course change how you approach the game. Do you pick up certain power-ups over the other, or will you stick the current ones you have? What will serve you best in what situation, and are you able to utilise them all equally well? As the game has become arguably safer to play with these additions, Taito added falling planet debris that spawns at the top of the screen. If the player’s paddle hits one of these debris, it affects how the paddle controls. Another addition is unbreakable tiles and tiles that require multiple hits, adding a way to prevent player from hitting certain spots with ease.

Breakout’s stage design follows the same simple idea as the rest of the game, whereas Arkanoid’s one of the best things are the stage layouts. Arkanoid abandons the idea of breaking out and increased difficulty and adopts progressive stage-by-stage transition. Progressing through the game is done by entering a door that opens up with a certain capsule or automatic progression when the screen is cleared.

Arkanoid got a slew of sequels pretty soon and was ported to pretty much all popular systems at the time. Out of them, Arkanoid DS is the most divisive entry due to how it changed dynamics of the core gameplay. It narrowed and lengthened the play field, making it far higher than in previous entries, and changed the tiles into squares. This changes the dynamics of the game, especially now that there is a loss of information. Breakout is a 100% information game; everything you see is what you get. Arkanoid’s slight variation in the planets debris’ motion adds a random element to the mix, but with Arkanoid DS you have a dead zone where there is no visual information for the player to latch unto. With DS, if the developer wants to use both screens in gameplay, they can either simulate the space between the two screens or ignore the space. Taito decided to include this screenless space, which does add unknown factor to the gameplay. The paddle doesn’t seem to have any changes to it and feels larger due to the narrower field.

Arkanoid DS seems to play in a lacklustre way without an additional paddle controller. Complains I’ve seen regarding the game range from lacklustre ball physics to amateurish visual designs to irritating elevator music used in the game. I have to agree with most of these points. Because there are far better Arkanoid clones out there, games that play reasonably well even without a paddle controller, I never bothered tracking one down to my library. Its presentation isn’t all too appealing,

Taito’s success with Arkanoid stems from well planned expansions on pre-existing game design. This made Arkanoid stand out from other Breakout clones. The additions were important and no other Breakout or Arkanoid clone has managed to beat them in how these two defined the genre. There are numerous good Arkanoid clones out there, and we’ll be taking a look at one next time.

Within the game industry there really isn’t a comparative example to Breakout-Arkanoid relationship. The closest ones that hit the mark are Doom clones that run on the same engine, but there are not straight up analogies. Perhaps one of the best examples is Star Wars: Dark Forces, as the rumours say that the Jedi engine was made from reversed engineered and largely modified Doom engine. The difference in comparison is difficult to make between Breakout-Arkanoid and Doom-Doom clones is because the technology has become advanced enough that such changes have become more or less meaningless. Well, another one would be Street Fighter II compared to earlier fighting games, of course, but SFII did far more than just expanding from the base gameplay.

Most modern games are essentially derivatives from GTA-3D Zelda style games as simplicity and certain level of abstract worlds have been all but abandoned. What use is technological advancement if we can’t obsolete old games and still recycle the same exact methods of gameplay and progress we’ve had over two decades now? It’s no wonder that the general audience liked the Wii and the DS, it had games that deviated from the standard formula a bit, like Brain Age.

Perhaps rather than designing the expansive and complex game systems each and any game seems to go for, there should be a slight paradigm shift to concentrate on the core gameplay over everything else. Such approach is impossible for the modern Triple A game development mentality, I’m afraid.

After Arkanoid, Breakout styled games become hottest shit again. While people mostly remember that time as the boom of NES era and arcades were in a weird moment in time, when home consoles started usurp them. Not to say that the arcades didn’t have their share of awesome games, but less people remember any arcade games from 1986 than console games. PC had its own fair share of games from the time, and Arkanoid was ported to basically every major PC of the era.

Where do you go from Arkanoid? From Breakout it was a simple task just to expand with options, or vary the gameplay rules by changing the tiles or the ball. Arkanoid DS was less successful in changing everything from the physics to the shape and dimensions of the playfield. Nevertheless, Arkanoid stayed true to the idea of keeping it simple, but not all Arkanoid clones followed this path, at least not in visual design. Of course, it was just a matter of time until a porn version of Arkanoid would surface.

The Japanese PC scene was very different from the western one, until it was basically taken over by the IBM standard, a thing that seems to bother some people a lot. I understand these people very well, there are a lot of things that fascinate me in these old PCs, be it how the visuals or simply the how they work out. Even on emulation there’s some nicks here and there that need to be figured out, but luckily most modern emulators are straight forward. Once the IBM standard began to take foothold in Japan, some games had both PC98 and DOS support.

Japanese computers were not technological marvels when it came to screen scrolling, which is why Super Mario Bros. Special opted for screen-to-screen transitions instead. This is also one of the main reasons Visual Novels became a thing; it was easier to showcase one picture with bunch of text than code gameplay in. By 1990 people had got around how to make scrolling work, the year when Cyber Block Metal Orange was released on NEC’s PC-8801 series of computers.

Metal Orange is not really an expansion on Arkanoid‘s gameplay, but a modification. It takes the same basic gameplay as Breakout and takes the idea from Arkanoid, but mixes things with its own method of power-ups and progression. The gameplay is really tight and stands well throughout comparison, especially its Sharp X68000 port.

First thing that you may notice that the overall design of the screen is more expanded than what it usually is with Breakout titles. One third of the screen is dedicated to a HUD with score display, the operator of your spaceship and power-up indicator. It all looks really lovely, with that Japanese 80’s sci-fi flavour to it.

Nevertheless, there are three major flaws in the design of the visuals. The first one is that the power-up capsules increase a bar that indicates which power-up you have an access to. The capsules don’t straight up grant you a boost this time around, but you need to collect them certain amount get certain level power-up. From one capsule to seven and grant the usual Arkanoid like power-ups. The interesting one Silhouette, that gives you after images. The most expensive one creates a Barrier that bounces balls up. Unless you can keep up how many capsules you’ve collected and in what order the power-ups are on the bar, you’ll be eyeing that bar from the playfield to check what the current status is. While you can play Breakout just with the corner of your eye, most people want to focus on the action. Placing this bar underneath the playfield would’ve made it easier to keep an eye on, as players would still check where the spaceship paddle was located.

The second is the spaceship itself, and this is largely a personal issue I’m sure. The spot that bounces the ball up and down is the top of the craft, and doesn’t go deeper than the front of the ship. Sometimes I try to bounce the ball with the side of the ship, underneath the hitbox, with no avail. It’s a visual cue with no attributes. This is more an issue with the X68k version with more detailed graphics.

Third is a minor, but with the stuff that’s going on the screen, tiles breaking, balls bouncing, enemies falling and whatever power-up you have, the animated background can actually make you mistake one of the stars as the ball. I’ve heard this to happen some people who’ve played this game, so it’s a minor issue, but an issue nevertheless.

Depending on your worldview, you may dislike the porn aspect of the game, but that also gives it its rhythm. Each Stage is divided into smaller sections, first having two stages and then increasing each opened image until the player has to beat four stages in one go. Not that it matters really, there are infinite Continues and a Game Over doesn’t send you back to the first stage of a smaller section. The CGs themselves are decent and look very much in-line with other Custom games, like TEEN.

One last thing that Metal Orange does that Arkanoid didn’t was the music, as in there’s quite a lot of it for a Breakout game. Each Stage has its own theme, each character has its own theme, there’s the opening and ending themes and they’re all pretty damn good.

Nevertheless, Metal Orange’s greatest changes really do lie in the visuals and in the sound department, and these two are really what Breakout games can do without completely revamping the game system. The simplicity that started with Pong has not aged one bit in our modern-day games, but we’re seeing it less. Whenever Nintendo got back to basics with Wii and the DS, they faced great success, similarly how the NES and GameBoy become phenomenal.

After all, hitting the Blue Ocean market with attractive products always seems to yield hits.

This post was originally posted in three sequential parts, now collected for easier reading.


Virtual-On Retrospective: MARZ

Previous: FORCE

In the early 2000’s, Sega’s plan was to deliver cheaper and more effective arcade hardware for the Japanese market, which of few would see worldwide releases. NAOMI 2 was given the emphasize over the Hikaru, which was phased out in 2002. NAOMI 2 would last to 2008, with Atomiswave, a Sammy developed NAOMI derivative, running by its side. Around the same time in 2001 Sega developed the Triforce with Nintendo and Namco, based on Nintendo’s GameCube. Two years later, Sega would release Chihiro to the arcades, based on Microsoft’s Xbox. All these arcade machines ran different games that Sega was directly involved and developed, like NAOMI 2’s Virtua Fighter 4 series, Triforce running AM2 developed F-Zero AX, Atomiswave running many fishing and fighting games Sega was part developer and publisher, and Chihiro most known for OutRun 2 and House of the Dead III due to their Xbox ports. Later in the 2000’s, Sega’s arcade hardware would be more or less completely home media derivative, based on normal PC architecture, making some of the modern games running on a modified Windows. However, there was no Virtual-On, on any of these systems.

With Virtual-On FORCE generally receiving lukewarm acceptance from the overall audience, regarding Oratorio Tangram the superior game, Hitmaker would develop a console-only sequel for the PlayStation 2; Virtual-On MARZ.

Continue reading “Virtual-On Retrospective: MARZ”

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 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 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.


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.

“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.


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.