Collections, collections, collections

So there’s a new Mega Man collection coming out, this time adding the Mega Man ZX games into the Mega Man Zero collection. I’m not sure how many remember, but the Zero games got a collection on the Nintendo DS, for better or worse, and they contained a mode that made the game easier across the board in order for the player to have an easier time so he’d see the story from start to finish. The original games were more or less intact, except with the connectivity thing with later Mega Man Battle Network games. Throw ZX games and you have a set of games people have been asking for some time.

What’s to write about this? Capcom has been collecting Mega Man games into bundles for a solid decade now, excluding the few earlier Anniversary collections that we got for PS2, GameCube and Xbawks. No, scrap that, let’s count them in. Ever since those collections, Capcom has been releasing old Mega Man games collected in each generation, except the Battle Network and Legends series. Legends is stuck with copyright hell thanks to Capcom using licensed drinks and labels in it, and due to Sony’s asinine Classics line rule, they can’t just remove these from the games and release as-in; they need to be as they were when they were first released on the PlayStation. Sure, we got the DASH games for the PSP, but only in Japan, hence the use of DASH instead of Legends. Without the two extra shoulder buttons, there’s some wonky controls about. We’ve never seen DASH since in a compilation, just as digital downloads, and Battle Network hasn’t been around at all. Maybe that series is stuck with license hell as well, considering the TV show and shitloads of other stuff regarding it were tightly wound together those (glorious) years. A compilation of sorts with online play would surely make many fans happy enough to blow their loads.

I bet your ass there are people who want that Zero bust just to hotglue it

Capcom Test is a term used when people assume Capcom is throwing something cheap out to test waters. While this has some credibility, the fact is that Mega Man doesn’t need its waters tested. They already know that there is demand, at least towards collections. Mega Man 11 showed that a game with relatively low budget compared to their hard, big hitters can and will make its money back as longs as it is competently made. Capcom hasn’t come out with any news whether or not they’re even considering developing Mega Man X9 despite teasing it in that one remix soundtrack CD (that was a letdown.) While some would argue that Evil May Cry 4‘s re-release was to test waters, we know from the director that he had made an ultimatum; he was given DMC5 or he’d walk out. At that point there were no waters to test, but perhaps what Capcom was testing was if there was enough demand for a higher budget. Game itself would’ve been made anyway. RE:make2  on the other hand needed to testing, after all Resident Evil is pretty much second only to Monster Hunter and even that is debatable after World, which in itself was carefully testing waters by dropping numeric from the title and opted for a subtitle instead, just in case if the game would crash and burn, meaning they could do a “real” Monster Hunter 5.

Let’s pose the question; if Capcom Test is a real thing, what are they testing with Mega Man Zero/ ZX Collection? The first answer might be that they testing whether or not there is enough demand for a new ZX game, as some would argue that the story needs to be concluded somehow in order to tie it properly to Legends. That really doesn’t hold much water, as Legends itself was left unfinished, and Capcom never greenlit Legends 3 despite all the public shit that was going on about it a decade ago. Theoretical ZX3 or whatever bullshit they add to the end (ZXA is ZX2 by all means) and would let the developers almost complete free reign to take the whole non-linear format to new directions. After all, these Montezuma’s Revenge-clones are still very popular. This collection won’t test how much demand there is for the Zero series, I doubt any of the fans would like to see Zero revived again for a fifth entry.

No, if they’re testing anything it is how much fans are willing to dish out, testing out how much pain carrying that loaded wallet causes. For this particular release Capcom Japan online store is going all out and releasing the previous Collections again in a box that has a separate space for Z/ZX collection. Y’know, get all the games (except Legends, spin-offs and Battle Network) in one major box.

Classics Collection, those X Collections, MM11 and free slot for Z/ZX. PS4 has its own as well, but Japan only, as usual with these

Capcom hasn’t really overstayed its welcome with these constant Collections yet, but they’re at the utmost limit now. If they were to publish a Legends Collections, they really should make it a complete package with all the missing titles, like Mega Man’s Soccer, Mega Man and Bass and its WonderSwan sequel, translated Rockboard and why the hell not throw that Chinese-only Rockman Strategy. I’m sure you can already tell that I’m not exactly looking for this particular release, but it does support the notion that Capcom is still riding on nostalgia wave instead of putting their goal to produce a new, high caliber Mega Man for whatever real reason. Inafune’s shadow can’t be that long, that there is nobody willing take the position and say We have a classic, long franchise with a ready install base we can easily expand by hitting some of the current trends all the while pushing the envelope on the franchise.

Mega Man innovated themselves from time to time. X, Legends, Battle Network, Z and ZX are all significantly different from the Classic series, and even then each sub-series changes the formats game-by-game basis. While I fully expect some kind of Mega Man game to be made based on the current cartoon, it seems Capcom is treating it like they treated Street Fighter The Movie in that it works as a promotional vessel rather than an adaptation. I would like to say that Capcom can’t coast on collections much longer, but the reality is that fans and consumers interested in the franchise will buy these collections every time a console generation shift hits around the corner, and if a special version like the above or the one with all the trinkets, there will be customers buying it. Fans find themselves in a vicious cycle of thinking that if they don’t show support, no more future entries in Mega Man will be made, but at the same time, you’ve already bought and played these games two or three times over and Capcom still isn’t putting out anything new. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The customer loyalty is still there and that probably is ultimately what will keep all these afloat for now. Special edition packages with craploads of stuff in them have always been a thing, slowly I have to question if that is becoming the only reason Mega Man collections are selling? Despite the franchise now lacking a face, the emotional contact is still there. Zero series has especially fanatic cult following, claiming it being the height of the franchise’s 2D game play design. They’ve been asking for ports of the series ever since the last collection on the DS came out, but apparently the originals and that port aren’t enough. Then again, maybe that goes to the other collections as well. Perhaps people really are just abandoning their old machines every single generation. Maybe Capcom should just start releasing collections every generation and never make a new game, as they seem to make a decent buck with each of them.

Capcom is coming out with Rockman X DiVE that’s making its rounds, but goddamn if people aren’t sick of beloved franchises getting a mobile game rather than a full-blown, big budget title. A proper entry, if you will. Just look at how happy Breath of Fire fans were about BoF6. While mobile titles can be massive successes, thus far none of them have been considered as “true” installments into a franchise. Then again, we did get that social mobile game Rockman Xover, which was less than ideal entry in the series, and was largely lambasted people who didn’t end up sucking on Capcom’s dick. Only so many companies have managed to strike true with their mobile games, and the Big C is not one of them. X DiVE has budget behind it, it has good assets and lots of work put to make it the best kind of mobile Mega Man X game it could be, which kinda says to us that the hinted new entry in the series rather than X9.

Capcom really lost the ball by not announcing a new Classic or X series game. They didn’t even need to have it released yet, just have the info out, some concept art and nothing else. Keep the heat going on, but often fans will just take anything they can grab and roll with those, but only for so long.

Complexity and difficulty do not deter sales

Continuing from last week’s ex tempore Guilty Gear post, the concept of making something more accessible in video games should be looked at a bit closer. The myth is very clear cut; make a game’s play less demanding in order to attract consumers. For long running franchises, there already exists an installed consumer base, changing a series’ latest entry to be less whole than its predecessor usually isn’t met with the most positive reception. Fighting games are interesting in this regard, because they exhibit series-within-series mentality. All five mainline Street Fighter games series have their own unique approach to the core mechanics introduced in Street Fighter. Street Fighter II expanded on the cast and introduced combos by accident. Later Street Fighter II games would introduce speed modification, new input methods and the industry standard Super moves. Street Fighter III revamped the whole pace of the game and made Parrying an essential part of the game. Third Strike landed Ex Moves into the series, which have become more or less franchise standard. Street Fighter IV modified Super concept a bit more with Revenge Gauge as well as introducing Focus Attacks and Red Focus Attack would be introduced later. Street Fighter V is a platform for each and every update for the game. This sort of tweaking applies to Guilty Gear as well, where most of the sub-titled game outside the first game have iterative versions. X has X+, XX has its fair share of update to the point of some arguing Accent Core should be considered a sub-series on its own rights. Xrd of course had Sign first before Revelator, and then Rev.2 came around. With New Guilty Gear, we should expect them to take a step back toward the original game, as that’s the standard procedure with both Capcom and ArcSys, and build up from there. However, every time a developer announced they want their game to attract new customers, or that they want certain customer crowd, red flags are raised. However, not for the reason you’d think.

Games have always been complex and stupidly hard. Dark Souls is not any exception to the rule, but it the series is perhaps the best example of a game that mainstream has taken under its wing despite it being brutally difficult, requiring relatively high execution due to its relatively complex mechanics. Dark Souls is just modern equivalent of the NES era Castlevania anyhow. Both are based on Western horror and both are deemed brutally hard games. Both are very successful franchises. The NES era is very good example of games becoming more complex and the same time gaining more popularity and seeing increase sales. Castlevania is of course example of this, but so would Super Mario Bros. By modern standards the first game is archaic, extremely basic. When it first rolled out, it was one of the most technologically advanced game on consoles, the game to define cartridge games before Nintendo rolled out Disk System. We know how that went down. Super Mario Bros. 2 made more characters available with different properties, much longer stages with numerous tricks to them, and more demanding game overall. It may not be Lost Levels, but Lost Levels is just an update for the first game with new enemies and no mechanical changes. Super Mario Bros. 3 on the other hand wiped the slate clean with more demanding stages, more complexity with flying, more mechanics to play with new suits and options, stage gimmicks and so on. If complexity and difficulty would deter the customer, none of these aforementioned series would’ve been successful.

Modern video and computer game developers should look at the arcades’ success to learn a thing or two. Arcade games were often butt puckeringly difficult in order to make their earnings, but with that they also were required to deliver excellent burst of gameplay. Cabinets that didn’t were quickly empty, with customers slotting their quarters into something more worthwhile. The games needed to attract the customers first, and that’s why the cabinet design had to be excellent, eye-catching and sometimes extremely wild. The attract mode was integral to this, which either was pretty damn good or rather terrible. There was no real in-between. The standard was to start with some sort of video sequence that sets up the setting for the game, showcasing some of the characters before the title screen hits, often with a bang. After that it would move to gameplay, which would be either AI playing the game either via game’s own instructions or prerecorded inputs, or just have the player character being dumb and taking hits before dying. Show some scores from other players, maybe splash the title screen once more than then loop the whole thing, until a player throws a coin in. Later in the 1990’s, these attract modes would find themselves very sophisticated, like how Choukou Senki Kikaioh presented itself as an opening animation for a Saturday morning cartoon.

I’d also recommend checking out Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade gamesattract modes.

Presentation is all-important with games still. That is the first thing the consumer will see, from advertisement to in-game graphics. Graphical fidelity in itself is not as important as how those graphics are represented. ArcSys has always been able to pull this off, devising visual flavour that pulls in the audience. The main reason original Guilty Gear is a footnote in the series, and in fighting game history overall, is that it was just another game among others in a time when 2D fighting games were pushed away in favour of 3D. It didn’t make its mark because of being difficult or too complex, Tekken had more on it than Guilty Gear. Third Strike: Street Fighter III hit the scene years later, and you can guess which one of the two are is more complex and more played nowadays. Of course, SFIII wasn’t exactly a mass hit during that time either, but that was the era when arcades were dying. That, and SFIII a totally new cast that rubbed SFII fans the wrong way. Very few companies would be willing to completely replace their game’s cast nowadays, though SFIII‘s unique cast has been accepted retroactively as worthy successors and the initial reaction is seen rather overly drastic. Visuals is what the player will be looking at all the time, and if they’re up to par in terms of design and sheer quality of ’em, the game has to pull double duty on making the entry worthwhile.

That is only the start though, an ever-important one. Once you’ve gotten the customer’s attention, the best way is to engage the him to full possible extent with well designed and coded play. The answer to rope in new players is not in making game easier to play, that is the wrong way to make a game more accessible. Easy to learn, hard to master is the mantra of every great game out there, not just electronic. The best card games are easy to understand and learn, but stupidly hard to master due to other elements. Poker, for example, is simple enough to teach to a three-years old, but everything else calculating odds to reading other players takes time and effort. This isn’t an argument for people to get good at a game, but rather that by allowing the player to naturally learn what does what should be the priority rather than automate things. Automation and cutscenes take away control from the player, and though it helps early on and may give a cinematic effect, it should always be an option to remove automation once the player has learned enough. Autocombos as an element try to alleviate the execution barrier in fighting games, and while they do work as a first step helper, it should always be optional and the game should make an effort to encourage the player to abandon it rather than give them a safe tool they can roll with all the time. Its not a rare mindset to use the tool that’s the easiest and safest because it just works. Repeat it again and again until desired result is gained. The incentive of more damage with better combos doesn’t really sound appealing to general player if such tool exists.

Give a controller to a complete newcomer to fighting games and tell them what the buttons do, and then do things. They’ll be in complete awe what’s going on. There has been much discussion on mechanic complexity, but less so about inputs. Sure, methods of inputs is a big topic, pad vs stick and so on, but less so if there are too many single inputs. What I mean by this that, for example, Street Fighter has six buttons. Three for punches, three for kicks. King of Fighters has four, two punches and two kicks. Tekken has four, one for each limb. Melty Blood runs four as well, but with three attacks and a special. Virtua Fighter has three; punch, kick, guard. Which one of these would you say would make a newcomer most confident? Then consider which of these franchises has seen most revenue. Number of inputs is related to complex execution. More ways to input stuff, the more motor skills are required. Add the mechanics to this, and it becomes easy to see why some would argue lessening complexity is the way to go. Nothing keeps you from using all the buttons on the controller, but at the same time nothing says you should. All that said, the core fighting game design with the system starts with how many buttons there are. It might look intimidating to a complete novice who has never played a game, but this is something no game can really deal with. A player must start somewhere to work over the complex controllers, but a well designed game wins the player over with good design.

Not even kidding. Back when I was studying psychology and used games to run experiments, few of them were so completely bewildered by a SNES controller they might as well have used this

However, this design is hard to implement into a fighting game. The reason for this is that fighting games are pure one-screen games. There are no stages that the developer could design around for the player to intuitively learn controls and mechanics, like they can with Super Mario Bros. There are no attract modes anymore to show how the game flows. All you really can do is hit the Training mode and hope for the best. With the Internet, this shouldn’t be the case anymore. People learned how to play Street Fighter II by being there in the arcades, playing games with others and tradings tips and tricks. That wholesome interaction may be gone now, but online play could help. Have people play few matches against the CPU to measure how good they are and then throw them into online matches with equally ranked opponents. This doesn’t seem to be happening though. Often what seems to happen is that you just keep losing to people online and have to learn about things before you can match others.

The thing is that this happens with everything. You don’t get good at reading before you learn the alphabets and how language works. You don’t learn to drive right away. You don’t learn to draw a straight line until you’ve done it thousands of times. Playing soccer takes ages to get good. Building and painting model kits takes years to learn. Even something like Pokémon Go demands you to drag your ass out there to spin those stops and join the raids for the best Legendaries out there. This is not an issue of getting good at a game, though it does bloody sound like it. The issue is of genre. Fighting games, despite being one of the most readily accessible genre out there, is all about having that crazy shit happen on screen, but as always it should be the crazy shit the player is doing, not the game. Games are about user action, and the less user action there is, the less play a game has. While this post largely equates play with mechanics, the two are inseparable aspects. Fighting games are interesting in that everything is laid out right away in terms of mechanics and they’re easy to do. Making use of them, that’s something that can only come from repeated play. Call it a detriment of the genre or whatever else, but you can only really prepare for a match in a fighting game is to play the game. With RPGs you can get your noggin jogging and consider things in terms of elemental weaknesses and the like. While you can use this in fighting games with rock-paper-scissors elements, timing them right still takes some experience. With a game like Final Fantasy, the issue of getting good at the game is in understanding the mechanics, not really being able to execute them with some motor skill fidelity. Lowering the mechanics skill ceiling might sound attractive, yet it will lead with into more experienced players dominating over newcomers that much more. While Darkstalkers 3 is technically and mechanically very demanding game, it is an example of a game where you medium skill players are very rare. You’ll either be in less skilled floor, or someone who has spend years with the game and have broken through the ceiling. There really is no middle ground, and that probably will be the end result if a fighting game series decides to downgrade its play mechanics.

Holding on to your current consumer base is easier than making a new one. While as a creator it may seem dreadful to tweak an existing formula again and again, that is partially expected from a sequel. Street Fighter does break this mentality, but only if you go by number-by-number rather than iteration-by-iteration. Consumers expect a new numbered Street Fighter to mix things to some extend outside its core basics, but this is not the case with Guilty Gear. XX and Xrd set the expectation that while system tweaks and additions are to be expected, no major or drastic approach would be done in of themselves. The brand expectation for Guilty Gear is what it is, a high-speed fighting game with expansive and complex mechanics that support offensive play the most. Things like Burst, Instant Kills, Gatling Combos, Dust Attacks and the sheer way the games have played have become more or less as part of the core expectations because ArcSys has never given the series a significant system change after GGX. New Guilty Gear will most likely aim to cater with these ideas, but it as a game will have brand confusion. There have been different Guilty Gear experiences before, as Ishiwatari put it, with all the spin-off titles. It would serve the franchise better if the core fighting game line would continue as per standard, catering to both Red Ocean and shallow Blue Ocean customers, all the while the franchise would see a new spin-off that would give it a completely new spin. There is more room for Guilty Gear titles that do something different with the same core basics. From business perspective, you’d keep the interest of your current consumers with a new sub-title to the series all the while still catering to them with the core series, but also attracting newcomers with something they could get into.

Guilty Gear 2 is still a thing, and it changed the genre. ArcSys could do more things like this

It still bogs down to the content, not mechanics’ complexity. You have to have something to nab to consumer in with presentation, you have to have good play to keep the player interested and entertained so he is willing to spend more time, and what he spends his time on is content. When the player consumes a game’s content, he naturally learns the ropes. However, if the content is lacking doesn’t keep interest high. This is why Street Fighter V is a weird case study, as it discarded the idea of iteration in favour of constant content updates. Content for a fighting game would be characters and the various modes, though the main mean would always be the fighting itself. Xrd‘s movie story mode is an excellent example of utterly trash content for a game, whereas previous entries’ multiple paths storymode based on matches and player decisions in those matches is a great example. It keeps the player more engaged, and it gives him motivation to keep playing in order to see all the characters’ story paths. For 25 characters that would mean 50 different endings to unlock. Good online keeps all players along the ride too for some time, but there needs to be content. Marvel VS Capcom: Infinite failed at presentation the very moment trailers hit the scene. The mechanics were great and gameplay had autocombos too, but there was no content people were looking for. On the opposite, Marvel VS Capcom 3 had more complex controls than its predecessor, Tatsunoko Vs Capcom, but obviously had more content that interested general audiences more outside Japan. It should not surprise that it saw more play by all and higher sales.

Video games are stupidly large entertainment industry now, but the true and tested way to expand to the Blue Ocean market still applies; disrupt the market with a new quality product that hits the current paradigm. A revamped Guilty Gear might be this product for sure, but only if it truly is able to pull off everything right. In other words, it would need to be the same kind of title as Street Fighter II was to previous fighting games. Its branding alone drags it down. It would serve ArcSys better if they’d launch a new, high-caliber series with the same energy, with the same effort and the same enthusiasm. They are playing with a marketing grenade in their hands at the moment. ArcSys could pull it off, but chances are consumer expectations are against them harder than Ishiwatari thinks.

Claims of censorship do not always apply

Here’s a curious case for you to ponder; is it censorship, when you are contracted to fulfill a character design to an employer, and the employer changes after it is from your hands? If you answered Don’t be daft Aalt, if you’re employed and the contract says that the design needs to fill certain criteria, of course it isn’t then you don’t agree with Olivia Hill. Hill recently gave a small jab toward people who argue and are against censorship, in games and otherwise. She claimed that her vision of a character called Astrid was a bold anti-hero character, which was then changed into a generic fantasy anime lady. He calls the executives, who made the final decisions and changes to the character, douchebags and other unsavory names all the while claiming that they cut people out from the studio who didn’t want to work under their rule.

That’s given; if you don’t do your work, you get fired.

Hill’s claims are dubious at best, seeing there are only screenshots and ads given for Evertale, a game I’ve never heard of, but it seems to be your standard gacha mobage. Considering the game’s developing company, ZigZaGame, is a Japanese corporation and I can’t find any connections between Hill and her supposed past studio that worked on Evetale. Instead, it would appear that she did not exactly have to do anything with the game, and as a reply to her post points out, an artist named furuya. English provided jack shit information, as per usual in cases like this, but you can check Kazto Furuya’s Twitter for a post, where he mentions how he finalised and tweaked Astrid’s character a bit. He also has a promotional render on Pixiv. Considering how Furuya acts like most Japanese illustrators and designers working on a game like this, it is far more likely that Hill was blowing some air, taking credit for someone else’s work all the while accusing of Furuya, and by that extension people of ZigZaGame, of being pedophiles due to Astrid’s design, on or out of bikini. Astrid however does not look like your twelve years old warrior woman as Hill claims, might I add. She looks like any other generic teens-to-thirties Japanese cartoon character.

While I can’t disapprove Hill’s claims about her previous studio (unnamed) or what sort of work she ultimately did there and to whom it went to, Hill doesn’t offer any proof either. However, I’m going to trust what Japanese sources and especially what Kazto Furuya himself says with traceable sources and call her out on bullshit. However, she does claim to live and work in Japan and places herself in Tokyo, so maybe she was part of writing house that wrote the initial treatment for Astrid. Still, that alone doesn’t confirm anything really over Furuya’s case.

That out of the way, let’s reconsider her claim; if executives changes your character design to fit the marketing better, is that censorship? No, that’s just business.

To use a comparison, the censorship Sony is currently practicing is different. It is not one and the same company putting pressure on its own hired workers to finish on an agreed product. This is an outside company, from whom a developer and/or publisher has bought a license to publish a product on their platform. While some may justify Sony’s censorious practices by the fact that PlayStation is their platform and they have the full control over it, other may not agree with that notion fully. The guidelines are muddled at best, demanding developers to send their products to be vetted in English, damaging the relationship between Sony and third party developers. It should also be noted that some products, that already were on release schedule and ready, were veto’d afterward. Simply because Sony can does not mean they should, but their arbitrary rulings are always an outside force, not something that comes from inside the developers’ houses.

Let’s assume Astrid was an experienced warrior woman clad in black first. That’s the first bit I have problems with, as black is such a goddamn dull choice of armour colour in a fantasy setting. If Astrid was changed from this simple description to her much younger looking form, which still would appear to be a high-ranking warrior in a red armour on her own rights, there has been no censorship. It is no surprise to anyone that a work changes as it goes forwards. It didn’t meet up with the standards, it wasn’t what was needed or demanded of you, it does not fit the overall plan or the groundwork and so on. The reasons are numerous. A writer or an illustrator, artist even, are not hired for a company just because they can create something, but that they could create something for the corporation to market and make profit of. If you are employed in any way to produce content like a character design and background, you are expected to deliver by the books. Unless your contract has a miracle clause that says the corporation has to release whatever you do without them touching it, you are there to work for them and they are the ultimate beginning and end for your work.

It always seems like artists’ visions get trampled when someone changes it within a company. The fact is, often these visions are costly and/or not marketable. If an artist has that much faith in his given work, he can tweak it enough not to infringe on the corporation’s rights and publish something with that would be more along the lines of that original vision. Majority of the time, whatever character design work you do, that work is owned by the employer  by default. In very few cases, the creator retains rights to the character or whatnot they have created. American comic’s industry is well known for this, and it has been a long time discussion who should own the rights to created characters; the writer/artist, or the company? As I’ve mentioned, if you’re happy to give your work to a corporation as per contract, there’s no reason to dilly dally and doubt.

It is not uncommon knowledge that games change according to what investors and executives want. Video and computer games are a business after all, their main goal and drive is to make money. Unless you’re a big dick on a company or its head, your vision means jack shit if it is in the way of making some dough. That’s why people who consider their vision utmost importance either work their way into this position or put up their own companies to realise their goals to the best extend they can. No one’s work is untouchable when they’re working for someone else. With ZigZaGames, they seem to put fun first and foremost. To quote their website, If a game ultimately fails to be entertaining, we will never release it, no matter the funds or the effort we have put into it. Taking everything at face value, it would seem that Hill’s initial treatment wasn’t fun enough, and more resources were expended to tweak the character to fit the game director’s and main illustrator’s vision. Again, that’s not censorship. That’s polishing aspects of a product before release.

Heads in the clouds

Cloud gaming making some waves again, with Sony and Microsoft announcing collaboration with each other to explore solutions with their own streaming solutions. At least according to official statement from Microsoft. Despite being rivals within gaming market. We should always remind ourselves that out of the Big Three, only Nintendo deals exclusively with games. Both Microsoft and Sony have their fingers spread elsewhere, with Sony having movie and music studios, Microsoft with Windows and whatnot and so on. While Sony does rely heavily on the profits their gaming department is making (to the point of relying most of their profits coming from there seeing everything else has been going downhill for them), Microsoft doesn’t as much. I’m not even sure if Microsoft is still making any profit on their Xbox brand and products, considering neither the original box or the 360 saw any real profit throughout their lifespans. It’s like a prestige project for them, they gotta have their fingers in the biggest industry out there. The more competition, the better though. This does mean that neither Amazon or Google can partner with Sony for similar venture, but perhaps this was more or less a calculated move on both of their parts.

It does make sense that the two would collaborate to support each other in cloud and streaming venture though. Sony already has an infrastructure for streaming gaming content with their PlayStation Now while Microsoft has the whole Azure cloud centre set up. The MS Azure contains lots of features, from computing  virtual machines and high density hosting of websites, to general and scalable data management all the way to media streaming and global content delivery. Safest bet would be that both MS and Sony are intending to share their know-how of content streaming, but it is doubtful if the two will actually share any content. Perhaps Sony’s music and films will be seen on Microsoft’s services, but don’t count on the games. However, I can’t help but guess if multiplatform games between the two could be specifically designed and developed for their combined streaming efforts. That’s a bit out there, as the collaboration is to find new solutions rather than build a common service the two would use. This is, like Satya Nadella said, about bringing MS Azure to further power Sony’s streaming services, and that’s completely different part of market from games at its core.

This does seem like Enemy-of-enemy like situation. Google’s Stadia is touted to be the next big hitter on the game market. It’s not unexpected for the two giants pull something that would weaken Stadia’s standing. This, despite Stadia already having boatloads of obstacles already, ranging from control latency to the quality of the streaming itself (end-user Internet connection still matters, especially if you live in the middle of nowhere surrounded by dense forests) to the very content itself probably being less than unique. Let’s not kid ourselves, cloud gaming is not for everyone despite what Google’s PR department wants you to think. Not everyone has the money or infrastructure to have a proper connection for cloud gaming. Anecdotes be damned, but there are lots of people living around here who have to rely on wireless Internet for everything, especially up North, because the population is so spread apart that putting data cables into the ground would not be worth it. Early 2000’s modem speeds are not unexpected, they’re a standard. If early reports on Stadia are to be believed, there’s some serious lag and latency on standard Internet connections. It’s not going to play well with someone who doesn’t put a whole lot money into their Internet connection, or just can’t. If we’re going to be completely open about this, only a fraction of the world can handle cloud gaming. 10.7 teraflop computing power and 4K resolutions for Stadia? A pipe dream at best.

Steaming interactive content like video and computer games is not easy. Music and video, that’s comparatively easy, just send that data to the consumer and you’re pretty much done. Gaming requires two-way communication at all times, and on top of that the service has to keep tabs on what’s going on at both ends within the game. No matter how robust the data centres are, no matter what sort of AI solutions are implemented, it all comes down to the whole thing about latency between the data centre and the end-user. Perhaps the best solution would be split the difference in a similar manner how mobile games have partial data on the phone whole syncing with the server side all the time. That, of course, would be pretty much against the whole core idea of cloud gaming, where the end-user would just hold an input device and a screen.

Cloud gaming has been tried for about a decade now. It’s still ways off, but it’s very understandable from the corporations’ perspective why they’d like it to become mainstream and successful. For one, it would remove one of the biggest hurdles from the consumer side; getting the hardware. You could just use your existing computer or smartypants phone to run things and you’re set. Maybe have a controller, but you can get those for twenty bucks. No need to pay several hundreds for a separate device just to run separate media software. Cloud gaming would be the next step in digital-only distribution, which would also offer better protection from piracy. Control is the major aspect of cloud gaming, where the end-user would have effectively none. You would have no saying in what games you have access to. One of the well marketed modern myths about streaming services is that everything is available 24/7, when in reality everything is determined by licenses. Star Trek vanished from Netflix for a time being, because the license ended, for example. This happens all the time. I’m sure there’s some list of lost media listing somewhere about digital-only films and shows that were lost due to publishing rights and licenses expiring. Lots of games having vanished from both Steam and GOG because of this, and if there are no physical copies floating around, pirating is your only option. For something like the Deadpool game, you can only get second-hand or newold stock, as the developer’s and publisher’s license expired few years back.

Will cloud gaming be the future? Probably at some point, but the infrastructure is way off still for it to become any sort of standard. It is, in the end, another take on the decentralised gaming Nintendo has going on with the Switch, moving away from the home media centre that the smartphones brought to us. Cloud gaming will take take firmer hold once they beat systems with local storage in value and performance. For now, enjoy the screen in your pocket.

Consumer agency W

I’ve talked about this topic to death on the blog, so this entry will be short. Omega Labyrinth got blocked by Sony in the Western market, and probably was one of the last Japanese games that didn’t have to go through the censorship police. Marvelous has been getting the shaft thanks to Senran Kagura to the point the series creator left them, and now they’re rather stuck with Rune Factory 5 and are telling to the public that they shouldn’t expect the game until April 2020. At this point, the Switch or Xbox One should be considered the best possible option for freedom of work, and leave hyper violence for Sony. I assume Sony would like keep things in check in a way that doesn’t pop like a sore thumb and slap you in the face.

Ah, I see Sony has fucked even the game’s logo

Omega Labyrinth Life just got announced, and ‘lo and behold what in the fuck. There’s no reason for the game to have two different logos across platforms, that’s never been a thing in of itself outside versions. There is no other reason for this than Sony practicing their now overt becoming censorship. Omega Labyrinth‘s logo has been pretty great in that it has always played with the whole playish aspect with the sexuality, having a comedic and cute approach to the whole thing and not taking it too seriously. Here, have some bouncy boobs and enjoy it the show. Nothing harmful, nobody has gotten PTSD from seeing joyful tits. Unlike certain 3D modeller at Netherrealms, who can’t sleep due to the horrifying shit he had to watch and use as a reference when making latest Mortal Kombat 11’s visceral violence. Without the whole Omega bit, the PS4 version is just Labyrinth Life. Not even kidding, the PS4 version was cut short.

Best thing of all, the Switch version is basically advertised as This is the real version while the PS4 versions is hit with a slogan You can play this in front of your family! You thought I was kidding when I titled my last post about Sony’s censorship about them being family friendly, but this is really the way things are going with them. I’d laugh at the whole damn ordeal if it was just some bad parody, but it’s almost like some one at Sony took a joke seriously and ran with it. Gematsu has tl’d section what the further differences are between PS4 and Switch versions.

With two versions of the same game on two different platforms, the consumer has some freedom to choose, some agency has been given to them. While politic no little place in video games (one of the missteps Sony’s doing with their whole shtick here) deciding where to buy, what to buy and even how to buy a game can be used as a leverage to make a statement. While the money will ultimately end up with the developer and whoever’s in the middle, the choice given here can also be stated as follows; do you support a company for practicing censorship, or do you support the company that support creative freedom?

Aalt, you’re being facetious here. Of course I am, this is a hyperbolic statement, but no less valid when you consider how hard companies, especially Japanese companies, value raw data. This is probably D3 Publisher testing waters which direction to go in the future to some extent, but also probably just serving both sides of the console chasm all the while leaving something core goodness for the series’s fans. You’ve got some agency in your hands, if you’re interested in making a statement with your wallet here. I doubt many people reading this post has any interest in buying the game proper, but consider the following; would this have happened if the economy would be different, if there wasn’t room to pick and choose what’s on your platform for the sake of maximising profits?

Funny that, this is more solid stuff for Sony using almost racist depiction of American censorship standards; it’s A-OK to show someone, especially a man, being gutted, shot in the head, ripped apart, face smashed in and spine being ripped. R-18, s’all good, maybe even good for teen. A pair of boobs? X-rated and ban it.

Sakura Wars’ uphill battle

If you’re familiar with some of Sega’s (and Red Entertainment’s) prestige IPs, Sakura Taisen, or as known under its official English moniker, Sakura Wars, is a franchise that people sometimes bring up when discussing game IPs that never got a real chance in the West. When it did however, it bombed for whatever reasons. Only the fifth installment was released in the West, and you can imagine how well that went. To make matters worse, if reports are to be believed, even Japan gave a colder shoulder to that entry than the rest of the series. So not the greatest start for this series outside of Japan.

First game hit the shelves in 1996 and was touted as Sega’s most ambitious title for the Sega Saturn. Since then, this particular title saw ports to Dreamcast, PSP and Windows. The game got an expanded remake for the PS2 with the subtitle In Hot Blood. Original release was also a massive success, selling out from stores and selling over half of stock available in a week. It was the fastest selling Sega at the time

Something like Yakuza had to build its fanbase for a decade before it broke through its barriers toward the larger markets. Initially, it was marketed and touted as the spiritual sequel to Shuenmue but since then it has been allowed to flourish on its own. As a concept, it is more approachable game than Sakura Wars. After all, realistic modern day Japan is more approachable as a concept than fantasy version of Taishō period Japan. While it would be easy to simply Sakura Wars as a strategic RPG with classical oriental motif, the fact that it heavily marries its gameplay to visual novel styled story telling and certain level of emphasize on dating simulation, it is extremely clear why Sega would have worries whether or not any of the series’ games would a success enough in the West.

Despite what the sub-culture would like you to tell, Japanese media cartoons and comics are still a relatively small niche in the West, especially in the US. Sure, they’re probably the most stable mainstream than what it has ever been. Everything from dubbing to free streaming has been made to open the access points for people with interest, but even in Europe certain other forms of media are consumed more despite the how much e.g. France and Italy experienced Japanese classics in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. That was the time when the origin of these shows wasn’t made a huge deal, that their source wasn’t something that used to market. The best example of this is still with the US marketing of the NES and its games, where some have come to argue that Nintendo of America intentionally made people think the NES and its games were American products. Perhaps it was because how well Japan’s aggressive business practices did against US businesses, or maybe just to keep things as a cohesive whole. The source didn’t really matter, only that Nintendo’s branding was there and visible.

Kousuke Fujishima was instrumental in realising the characters and designs, balancing the era’s mix of Japanese and Western flavours with the magical steampunk world. Fujishima is know for such works as Oh My Goddess!, You’re Under Arrest and working on characters in the Tales of series. At the time, he was a household name and further drove the franchise’s initial success

Sakura Wars is inherently Japanese to the point of its detriment in the Western market.

My point of Yakuza taking a decade to make a solid fanbase comes is important, as it initially had, and still has, the same kind of wall on its way. However, the constant positive word of mouth and Sega sticking to their guns and releasing all the mainline games, and that one zombie sidegame, and ultimately growing positive press gave the series a pretty good reputation. It also helped that it was called Japanese Grand Theft Auto at some point during the two latest GTA games, which made more people curious about it. more than few fans were made through that.

Sakura Wars has none of this backing it up. While it has a small and dedicated cult following in the West, that’s all it has. Japan on the other hand treats the IP with silk gloves, though later games in the series simply didn’t have the selling power the earlier titles had. Sakura Wars is an expensive franchise to make with all the animated cutscenes, all the voices that need to be paid, the illustrated works and whole multimedia thing it has going on with cartoons, comics, figures and whatnot. It was designed from grounds up for Japanese markets only. It’s cultural ties are its most prominent element after all, specifically designed to invoke certain emotional response from the Japanese consumers. This is similar how Ciel Nosurge uses Shōwa era to directly invoke nostalgia from its older players. The Western audience has no links to this age in any form outside historical oddities. It becomes a double-edged sword in the Western markets.

Imagine if some US developer would make a fantasy RPG set in a romanticised version of the American Civil War with romance partner elements akin to Dragon Age. Whatever its success would be in the US, both European and Asian markets would not have any connections to the era and treat it as some kind of self-centered, bolstering product. Similarly, a British developer could make a similar product of their great colonial days, and it would have the same reception. This would be similar how Sakura Wars presents its idealised fantasy version of the Imperial Japan that no longer exists.

This carries even to the music of the series, with its main theme is a mix of Super Sentai opening song and 1949’s Aoi Sanmyaku‘s theme. Most of the character songs later in the franchise has been intentionally designed and composed to be nostalgic period pieces with characteristic twists. However, the main, ‘Geki! Teitoku Kagekidan’, or ‘Attack! Imperial Floral Assault Troop,’ has been the most repeated song in the franchise and is the most iconic representation whenever the series represents itself. Project Sakura Wars, the upcoming game, even uses a new variation on the song, further emphasising the fact that this is a new game.

Compare the two song here;

The main difference is in the lyrics while keeping the base composition the same. Perhaps I should also emphasise that the Japanese title of Project Sakura Wars is translated as New Sakura Wars. Again, culturally the song hits the times, as it was used to introduce melodic composition back to Japanese mainstream, and was Kohei Tanaka’s first major video game work, and helped him to further his career. I must admit I have an enormous soft spot for Kohei Tanaka’s works, and probably should count as one of his fans. I even have GaoGaiGar DVD box with his signature on it. (He was surprised and asked if I had seen the whole series, and was rather touched to hear that it made me a fan of his other works as well.) Sakura Wars music is one of the more important works for him, and has been used to describe his body of works in Western conventions. But I digress.

Of course, one thing this series is known for in certain circles the most are its steampunk mechas, the Koubu, which the fair maidens use to war against demons

With only one low-selling game in the West, Sega’s best bet to market this game in the West is to tie itself to Sakura Wars’ popularity and status as a prestige franchise within their home market.  The series has always shown strong national and historical pride despite its fantastic nature, which probably will rub some small groups the wrong way. Unless this time the rule is that North Americans and Europeans can’t show national pride, but others can. The gameplay elements, with its strong emphasize what Sega has coined as ‘dramatic adventure,’ naturally will get the dating sim label, which still carries the whole ‘dating sim=porn game’ stigma that’s been around since the early 1990’s. To the same extent, no matter what the hardcore VN fans tells you, the general perception is still ‘VN=porn game’.

Still, as a certain Youtuber told me in a chat why he didn’t get into the series was because, and I quote; “Does that actually have gameplay? I sat down once for an hour and they just wouldn’t shut the fuck up.” Oh gee, another PS2 RPG!” This isn’t all too rare a reaction to the series from the two decades I’ve followed the series from the sidelines. Sony made a similar notion, as an yet unnamed company tried to localise the ports of the two first Sakura Wars, but were rejected by Sony when they categorised the series as text novels due to sheer amount of text compared to the game play.

Yakuza is the game franchise that showed Sega that inherently Japanese products can succeed in the West. With their newfound courage and willingness to serve a niche audience is always welcome, and perhaps there’s some hopes that they’ll keep expanding if the series becomes a cult hit. Then again, Yakuza visually doesn’t look cartoony and sticks its legs into more realistic graphics and setting over girls with magical powers controlling robots to defeat demons. One more thing that makes it easier to sell. Nevertheless, there is a niche for the series. If Fire Emblem can find its niche despite its low acceptance first, all Sakura Wars needs to do is to be present and have a new entry available.

While Sakura Wars had massive initial success, the fourth game was a rushed job and gained rather negative reception, while the fifth pretty much ended the series with completely new set of characters and new setting. In few ways, Sakura Wars is like Virtual-On in that you can follow the last truly glorious days of Sega end in misery

This isn’t enough as is though, it also has to stay true to its nature to keep that niche. Capitulating to trends, removing game play elements, censoring anything either during development or in overseas version or removing any cultural motifs among numerous others will impact how that niche will view the game, thus affecting how the word of mouth will treat the title. They also need to do translation and localisation in-house and follow Yakuza‘s later steps, as Sakura Wars; So Long My Love has the usual NISA quality of translation and buggy coding. The PS2 version came with two discs in the West, one with faithful translation with Japanese voices, and one that had NISA’s less-than-accurate translations with extremely subpar English voice acting. The Wii version is based on the second NISA-fied disc, so you might burn it. Sadly, the Wii version was the only version released in Europe, making Sakura Wars initial entry in the PAL region doubly worse. Then again, starting with fifth game in the franchise might not be a good idea. A soft reboot on the franchise probably was the best move outside complete modern remake of the first game.

There is hope for Project Sakura Wars to be best it can, seeing the development team is using lessons learned from Yakuza how to present the game, but it was also mentioned that battles would be easier to go through in order for new players to have a better time. This interview with Famitsu is rather good representation how carefully the new entry is approached, but perhaps it also the text between the lines is telling how they’re putting more effort on story segments over gameplay, which will only raise the wall for the mass audiences. People who play games for stories, games like Persona 5, probably would like their direction.

Sega will have to deal with Sakura Wars being inherently anime and Japanese, which are probably its biggest obstacles in the larger markets while being one of major selling points to sub-culture niches. The best way to build toward an expanding market is up start with a  cult-hit. I wish this series would see some decent success in order to ensure further longevity of the franchise and more localised entries, despite its niche status in the West. It’s an expensive endeavour for Sega, but perhaps the market niche is large enough now for this new Sakura Wars to bloom in spring 2020.

In the meanwhile, you can visit Japan and play that Pachislot machine.

Sony’s warped perception of global standards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Family Friendly Sony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you all have a good, peaceful Easter.

Perhaps we take electronic games as self-evident

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iterations vs innovations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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