Towards the digital-only future you’ve chosen

If you’re one to go around video and computer games media, you’ve probably already a few things that are happening with digital media. First is that Sony’s announced that after the 31st of August, users will be unable to access Studio Canal properties in Germany and Austria, 314 and 137 titles respectively. Sony cites evolving license agreements as the reason, which means altogether nothing. It can mean Sony doesn’t want to pay for Studio Canal’s license fees, or that their license agreement just came to an end and nobody in Sony was eager to continue. Hard to say, but license issues are like this; the consumer will get shafted. According to Sony themselves, they’ll be removing these items from the user’s libraries. A Variety article points out that Sony was to allow access to these titles via on-demand, but the whole removing them from the libraries seems to be the overriding thing now. As for refunds or anything of that nature, of course, there won’t be any. As anti-consumer groups want to tote, you don’t buy to own when it comes to digital; you purchase a license to lease that item and the provider can take that license away from you any time for any reason they wish to.

The second thing is how Ubisoft managed to piss people off again by announcing Decommissioning of online services. This means killing off a number of titles’ online functionalities, ranging from patches, multiplayer, and DLC. This has happened before and will keep happening as long as the games-as-service model exists and functions are tied to being online. They also managed to stumble harshly with Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD on Steam, where they had the game -75% discount, and announced they’d be pulling it off after they made the sales. The language on the Steam store page makes it appear as if the game would be completely unavailable for the platform, but Ubisoft called their PR people to convince the people who had already “purchased” the game would still be able to access the title, but not its online components. The whole shebang comes from Ubisoft wanting to close down uPlay on certain platforms. It was a massive PR failure on Ubisoft’s part, but things were as expected.

The third bit is how last year’s news about Apple being sued for terminating his Apple ID has made some rounds as a result of the two previous bits. The plaintiff Matthew Price had spent almost 25k dollars on content attached to his Apple ID. Of course, when Apple closed his account, citing violations of terms and conditions, he lost access to all of it. Price says his account was terminated without notice, explanation, policy, or process, nor does the claim itself state what were the alleged violations. He wasn’t the only one who found themselves losing access to content he paid for. David Andino is the leading plaintiff in a class-action suit against Apple over the deceptive use of “rent” and “buy.” ArsTechnica had an article on it, and it covers all the basic bases just as well. Be it Valve, Sony, Apple or Netflix, they have the same unvoiced thing when you sign in and give them your money. The only difference here is that Apple voiced it as an argument in this case; “no reasonable consumer would believe” that content purchased through iTunes would be available on the platform indefinitely. US District Court Judge John Mendez rejected this, and Apple’s motion to dismiss the case. Amazon’s in the same pickle jar, having to defend themselves from consumers who have lost their digital libraries.

Back in 2019, the French court ruled that Valve should allow users to sell the goods they’ve bought on Steam. Valva argued that they were a subscription-based service, but the court disagreed, as the games were sold in perpetuity. This led Valve to change its terms and services as well as revise the language used across Steam. Steam still geoblocks titles and has differences in pricing, as well as preventing resales of games you’ve “bought.”

The whole issue stems from the languages these companies use. The terms buy and purchase give the idea of gaining ownership over an item. Digitally, ownership has been drastically eradicated from the equation. Without reading the Terms of Service, you wouldn’t probably know that you’re more or less buying a license for an item, which the corporation has any and all power over. If they wish to take away that license from you for any reason they wish to, they will. Physical media may be going the way of the dodo slowly (though it was first supposed to be dead in 2006, then 2012, then by 2020…), but ownership should not. Not only Valve’s practices with Steam have eradicated almost a generation’s worth of idea of what owning something and carrying the responsibility for it means, but we’re also taught that owning nothing means we’re going to be happier. Leasing and renting are being pushed as the future, yet that kind of future is looking grimmer and darker with every new iteration. Ownership means responsibility, which is being taken away from you, willing or not. If you carry no true responsibility for your actions and items you have, there is no reason to care or put effort. However, you’ll also be prevented from modifying, working, or doing anything to the same items, as they are not yours. It will lead your life being led into a box, where these companies are able to fully dictate how you act and what you consume. All because you’re dependent on their products, and even a small violation can lead to contract termination, effectively losing your way of living.

This may sound like a dystopia. Mostly because it’s all the little things that are piling on top of each other, but also because there are worldly political and economical factions that are gunning for it at your expense. Losing ownership is going backward in the overall progression of western civilization. One of the reasons companies like John Deere have had a hard time striking through the African heartland is that outside the major farmers, the land is owned by community leaders, not farmers themselves. At any moment, their land can be seized from them and given to anyone else. There is no incentive to put the effort into nurturing the farmland, which Africa has about nine of every ten farmable acres in the world, because the moment you make it work, it all can just vanish. All the modern and big equipment you might need to run a successful farm, alongside the workfoce, just isn’t worth investing in. Not to mention sabotaging these people putting the effort in isn’t uncommon, be it via damaging crops or just outright breaking the equipment. So, it becomes easier just to go with the minimum effort so you could keep the small bits that you don’t even own. This sort of lack of ownership isn’t uncommon in world history, and every time people get to own their land and their equipment, they start to care and put the effort into it. The exact same applies to the ownership of common good items and digital entertainment media. When the customer is given the responsibility of the product, be it what they produce or buy, there is care given. When it comes to working, things like giving the worker more responsibility and ways to properly do their work are highly important. For example, putting effort to develop new methods to make the work more effective and easier is rewarding in itself, and employers should take note of this. Sadly, the modern work environment is very stuck to certain ways and methods, and any sort of development that doesn’t come from the middle management tends to be shot down.

Funny that, ownership is very much individual freedom, something that you can express yourself through. That too is part of personal responsibility, something that is being slowly but surely eroded away from you.

So, the future of digital property will be the lack of it at this pace. You’ll put your money into subscription services and never consider it a loss, although, in the long run, you’re the losing party. All this can be changed if the customers will it. Everything runs on money, and you yourself know the best whether or not corporations and their products are worth it. When it comes to digital goods, be it on Steam or a sub to Netflix, take a few moments to consider whether it’s really worth it. You probably already have tons of games and movies around in one way or another. Don’t follow the new dangled shiny things in front of you, but put more time into the things you still have unfinished. It’s never going to go away; it’s digital after all. It’ll never truly vanish, not even when licensing agreements are to expire.

Unless it is a games-as-service model. Then you can just ignore it all and wish some hacker manages to make the online work via custom servers and hacks. Even better if you take up the mantle and become that hero yourself.

The CAPCOM Test Collection

The Capcom Test is an old term dating back to the 1990s, though the practice probably dates well into the 1980s when Capcom was becoming an arcade powerhouse. Capcom used to rent yellow arcade boards to arcade operators for a time to test the game among consumers and to encourage the operator to make a full purchase of the arcade title. With consoles, this had to change, especially with the death of rental stores. Now the method is to put out a collection or a limited-budget production title, like the numerous Darkstalkers collections, to see if sales would be generated to ensure a new, higher-budget title. Often the sales number and the revenue these Test games have to make is unrealistically high, as Capcom moved towards a high budget, high-revenue model with their mainline games since the early 2000s. Personally, I would put the shift starting from the original Resident Evil to Devil May Cry 2. DMC2 was developed by an ex-arcade development team that was out of their depth in making a console game of this calibre. It is a lynchpin game, where Capcom would slowly, but surely, move their focus further on bigger-than-life titles with grandiose visuals. By all means, titles like Monster Hunter were part of this, as the franchise had grown bigger and bigger in terms of how grandiose it is despite the play part subdued. Hell, certain elements have been completely excised from Monster Hunter World. There has also been a further focus on the framing story sequences, which have slowed Capcom games down quite a lot. Mega Man is a good indicator of how Capcom sways. Aside from Mega Man 11, things have been very quiet, baiting with nostalgia via licensing.

The very recently announced Capcom Fighting Collection is, by all means, a Capcom Test. Social Media has people asking others to buy the game as it is seen as a Test for Darkstalkers series, a series that has already had more Tests than most other franchises. While yours truly is a fan of the series and would love to see a new entry, I also highly doubt this collection will yield any positive results for the fans. Capcom often has unreasonably high expectations of their titles, as any title is more or less expected to make Resident Evil or Monster Hunter tier revenue. That is not going to happen, as there is a finite amount of money the consumers can shell out and Capcom’s competition is harsh. Street Fighter 6, which got a teaser, too, did not exactly lit the audience. Simply displaying a fujoshi’s wet dream Ryu in RE Engine is not enough to make out what the game will be like. Sure, most people who have been in the arcades or given a glance at the fighting game scene know how a Street Fighter generally functions, but as usual, the core audience wants and needs to see and know more.

Would probably do good to showcase what’s been talked about

This Collection probably is not testing just Darkstalkers in a vacuum. While there is an obligatory Street Fighter II thrown in there, the rest of the titles are peculiar. Warzard/Red Earth is a CPS-3 system game that has not seen a homeport until now. Should’ve included all three Street Fighter III games while they were at it. Cyberbots is a cult game with little to no audience or live scene. Pocket Fighters is mostly a throwaway, it is not going to make any ends or means. What is peculiar about this collection is that it only has 2D fighting games. There is no Rival Schools, Star Gladiator, Power Stone or Tech Romancer. Not even a word is being whispered about Street Fighter EX titles in a collection, and I am sure Arika, as the developer of the games and owner of the series original originals, would be willing to cooperate. The reality probably is that this is a reasonable budget title for Capcom to test waters whether or not there is an audience for a new fighting game to go alongside Street Fighter but yet is distinctly different in visual and style. Darkstalkers still retains a very unique look, with the whole Western cartoon animation thing going on with its Universal Horror monster closet, while Cyberbots is strong mechanical mayhem to a tee. Red Earth is deeply rooted to its character growth system and will offer only a limited interest due to its low number of four playable characters. However, I believe this is the only way we would have ever got Red Earth ported; as a port of a collection.

Nevertheless, the styling is clear; a standard and safe Street Fighter II fair, a horror fighter, an SF mecha fighter, and a fantasy-themed fighter. All titles are going to use rollback netcode, so at least online play should be nice and nippy. If I were somebody at Capcom looking whether or not to greenlight a new project based on one of these games, I would have a line of code that would record how many hours each of the games are played to see what series, and what iteration in case of Darkstalkers, is the most popular and go with that. For better or worse, statistics still rule.

Maybe we’ll get at least a Capcom 3D Fighting Game Collection if this one sells reasonably to justify porting their 3D fighting games to modern platforms. I

The other side of the coin is that we are on Mega Man‘s 35th anniversary year as well. We have yet to see any kind of title being announced. Sure, it’s late February and there is a lot of year left, but there is not much Capcom can do in regards of collections. The latest Collections are not very old and are still in circulation, so putting out a new one wouldn’t be the best move to pull. Sure, something like Mega Man Legends collection would be nifty, but that’d also put the lens on the cancelled Mega Man Legends 3, and that’s something that probably salted the ground with Mega Man quite a lot. Mega Man is the other side of the coin due to how it depicts Capcom’s priorities. The best we can expect is a game during the Blue Bomber’s 40th anniversary. I honestly don’t expect a full-fledged Mega Man game on our shelves in the next five years.

There is no definitive way to say whether or not past Capcom Tests have been successful. When it comes to arcade games, we definitely can see how certain games floated to the top and became the cream of Capcom history. We can mostly point to Darkstalkers as a prime example of how the Capcom Test has flunked a series. I would say that the same can be appointed to the Mega Man series, which is now in the mobile game hell with Mega Man X DiVE. However, looking at a certain lack of titles that have come from Capcom’s collections as of late, chances are that even if the Fighting Game Collection sells, the hopes for new Darkstalkers should not be raised. Vote with your wallet and showcase the game, if you want to make your voice heard.

Though there’s always the question if modern Capcom can actually produce a new fighting game that isn’t a hyper-realistic million-dollar piece. All this sounds nice, but seeing how Capcom is doubling down on making the most Hollywood-like top-tier graphics experience with their RE Engine, the question that has to be asked is whether or not there is anyone who could head a cartoony horror fighter. Darkstalkers is very much a cartoony fighter with bright colours despite its motif. While Darkstalkers themselves are serious things. While the story hardly comes through the games themselves, their background is rich and gives all of the more than just that one shade of blood red. There’s whole mythology you can only see in sourcebooks. While the story and the result of these matches were equally as serious, the animations were always tightly knit to the Tom and Jerry kind of gag animation. You could cut your opponent open mid-fight, but he’d just flip back together and get up. It’s tons of fun, and in my older days, I’ve slowly come to appreciate the craftsmanship the series has in terms of animation over titles like Street Fighter III and King of Fighters XIII. If Capcom would be making a new entry, I hope it’ll be colourful fun, filled with cartoony gore. I hope my fears are crushed and Capcom can actually rip themselves off from sticking to either anime or hyper-realism.

The second bit is that Darkstalkers is known to be a hard as hell game to get into. While the first and the second game are relatively easy and simple, that’s only by comparison to modern mechanics in fighting games. Then you have Darkstalkers 3, or Vampire Saviour, a game that has people who want to get into it, and people who have played it for good two decades or so. There’s very little middle-ground when it comes to skill ceilings. The game’s speed is still unmatched, and the mostly polished mechanics make a game that’s very hard to get into. Sure, there are a few bullshit regulations and rules on how some of the mechanics work and Dark Force is utterly useless with some characters, but those mostly add to the meta-skills the player has to learn. It’s easy to say that Guilty Gear is a poster boy for having a gimmick with each character, but Darkstalkers did that first by having the first character to airdash. One character in the original game’s cast could airdash as we think it nowadays, the others couldn’t. Sure, Morrigan’s forward dash would actually lift her off from the ground, but that’s not the same in function. Other characters have long hops that force them into an aerial state. All this is to say that while the very core basic walking might’ve been shared with all characters, characters would also have different ways to do more advanced movements, like dashing forwards or hopping or just disappearing for a moment while sliding forwards. I take that back, actually. Guilty Gear is still the poster boy for gimmick characters, Darkstalkers has characters that are built around certain unique options only accessible to a single or limited number of characters.

In the modern environment, where eSports is a thing and has to drive sales, I can’t see Capcom putting an effort into making a game that has a high learning curve which is also further affected by each character in a heavier manner than in Street Fighter or King of Fighters. Guilty Gear mostly has bullshit single-character mechanics that might as well be a whole different genre. I can still hear Jack-O playing tower defense in my head. Heavily in-depth and complex fighting games don’t seem to make good sales or nice eSports titles, especially if the game’s emphasis is blitz-speed with no pause of any sort for Super Moves. The cartoony animation has to carry that wow factor. Perhaps it’d be better if Capcom would make a new Cyberbots instead. Their realistic approach could work very well for that game, and there has been a serious lack of quality robot fighting games as of late. Alternatively, a new Red Earth title could emphasize player-build characters through an easy interface with expanded RPG-like growth mechanics and elements thrown in, but that’d be effectively Soul Calibur. 

I’ll most likely be picking up this collection on launch day just to be able to play a legitimate copy of Red Earth without resorting to emulation. That’s a sticking point with some, seeing this collection moot because all the titles innit can be played through Fightcade. While an option, emulation doesn’t really showcase Capcom what the customers would like to have as it doesn’t show up in their revenue tape. In a sorted twisted sense, it can also show that people are completely fine playing the old games over and over again. All Capcom needs to do is to release a new collection every decade or so to test the waters. We’ve been through this a few times already. That’s kinda sad innit. Here we are, getting a collection of games we’ve played tons already throughout the years, just to test waters with if Capcom might want to make more money in making a new entry. 

Capcom fans are weird beings. On one hand, the fans want new entries for their old games. On another, there’s always a want for something new. It’s just Capcom wants to test first if there are enough existing fans to justify making a new entry. God only knows how the hell Capcom ever manages to produce new IPs, but they really need to get on that boat too in the near future.

Microsoft is not gaining a monopoly in gaming

That’s an answer I’ve given few times when people have asked me about the whole shebang about MS buying Activision Blizzard. Sure, they gained applauded and popular IPs with and now can become the ultimate Western military shooting console with Bethesda’s RPGs and whatnot giving a countering balance. On the surface, it looks good for the Xbox in the future and most likely it’ll be a better platform for numerous games over both of Sony’s PlayStations in this regard. The Switch and whatever Nintendo’s cooking up next will be in its own ballpark again.

However, The Windows Company doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to company acquisitions. On the contrary, much like EA, Microsoft has more or less run their companies to the ground in one way or another. Rare is a perfect example. Banjo Nuts and Bolts is a mess and whatever the company did before is mostly remembered as a game Rare made rather than for their own merits. Battletoads looked exemplary in Killer Instinct and they allowed that modern, franchise-undermining soft-reboot to happen. Lionhead Studios had a strong start with Black and White and Fable, but thanks to The Movies failing Microsoft nabbed ‘em up just to produce more Fable with falling quality. We can discuss the merits FASA Studio had with their MechWarrior games, but MS ultimately decided to kill off the studio and license the studio’s games back to one of its original founders. Mojang is just a Minecraft studio, but the franchise’s growth has stalled significantly.

Bungie and Halo was a godsend gift to Microsoft and Xbox and is the sole reason why Microsoft is still kicking the brand around. However, Halo and perhaps a few other titles, everything Microsoft has done is just copying and following trends. Microsoft has not one creative decision under its belt that could be described as original. Nintendo at least has always been a follower as much as they have been a trendsetter. Sony is sort of falling between following and setting trends, but the trends they set have been more on accident rather than intentional. It’s more that Sony has tried to repeat business and technological successes rather gaming innovations. PlayStation 3 tried to create a new marketplace in a flash, similarly, how PlayStation 2 accidentally created a marketplace for DVDs in Japan the night it was released on. Both Microsoft and Sony catered their consoles as the media centers of your living room. In reality, they both kind suck at it.

If I have criticized that Sony lacks their own strong IPs that they could run with pride and prestige, Microsoft is, in all honesty, best known for Flight Simulator and Halo, and even here Bungie had been developing their game for a long time. Microsoft might have a want, or more likely a pressing need, to have their own IPs to contest Sony and Nintendo, but they have effectively failed in this core process. This shows a major weakness in Microsoft’s gaming business model and the lack of understanding of markets outside the US. It is out of weakness Microsoft has purchased Bethesda and Activision Blizzard, and we have yet to see anything solid from the Bethesda deal.

Gaming has not changed, though that is what numerous talking heads have voiced. This is normal business. Microsoft has obtained companies for their IPs so that their platforms would have a competitive edge against their two main rivals. All these IPs will most likely be fed to Microsoft’s game streaming service, of which I have yet to hear or read one positive thing about. I do not think a gaming streaming service will ever become truly mainstream unless games become shorter and more to the point. People do not have enough time to slog through tens or hundreds of hours of games. It works for music and movies just fine; they are something you do not actively engage in. Playing a game requires time and effort with concentration. Perhaps that is why game journalists are trying to push for the Skip-Game button. It is not that they could not learn the game well enough to beat, but they just do not have the time for them. People should not expect gaming to deliver similar passive media experiments. That would be just silly.  

Still, Microsoft is intending to make their Cloud services to be worthwhile, and it is highly possible that they intend to include numerous Activision Blizzard titles into their services. As much as Google was touted to become the Netflix of gaming, chances are that Microsoft is aiming for that role. Even then, people really would like to have community ran servers, as it seems most of Microsoft’s online games still suffer from servers being down and preventing online multiplayer. I really wish companies would include local multiplayer functions more these days.

Microsoft’s GamePass will, of course, be the main thing to benefit in terms of IPs, but on a grander scale, this is Microsoft wanting to include more content in their whole digital ecosystem. Honestly, MS picking up Activision Blizzard seems to be a pre-emptying move to keep some other tech giant, be it Amazon or Meta, from acquiring them first and including these IPs in their particular ecosystems. If Microsoft had their own strong IPs to back to, they never would have found the need to make this purchase. The whole metaverse can be ignored, for now, it has no real relevancy outside being the moment’s hot discussion topic.

Of course, the question of whether or not these IPs were worth it. Blizzard has managed to effectively screw up their ‘craft games and their remasters to the point of fans taking things into their own hands. Word of Warcraft is losing people to that latest Final Fantasy MMORPG. Diablo III is still a disappointment. The whole company and every aspect of their IPs have been falling in the eyes of the consumer for the potshots they have taken at ‘em too. Blizzcon fiascos, capitulating to the Chinese Communist Party by banning players voicing for independent Hong Kong outside their games all the while displaying an innocent plastic face while having harassment issues at their company. Looking at all the big hitters there, Blizzard has mismanaged all of them to the point of stopping at a wall.

As for Activision, they never really had a good reputation. They’ve effectively been a smaller EA in that they buy smaller studios and effectively fuck them over. Raven Software developed some great games by using Id’s engines, some better than Id’s own games. Neversoft will always be connected to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Spider-Man alongside Treyarch. Infinity Ward birthed the Call of Duty franchise, which Activision has been riding on ever since their acquisition while cutting down companies like Raven Software from their high position and relegated them as nothing more than CoD support team. Gray matter Interactive developed one of the best sequels in Return to Castle Wolfenstein but got thrown into Treyarch to work in the CoD support teams. RedOctane did Guitar Hero and Activision effectively killed the franchise.

Activision has a lot of good studios under them, but nobody really likes what Activision has done with them. There are so many former studios that it isn’t even funny. So many unused IPs that are completely dead in the water. Even CoD, while printing money, is far less popular now than it used to be. Much like so many of these IPs, it’s run to the ground. As a whole Activision Blizzard has made some seriously stupid and regressive decisions and has backpedaled many opportunities to push their IPs forward. Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon revivals were well received and sold well, all things considered. Despite this, the dev teams were thrown back to the Call of Duty mines to work in a supporting developer role.

Funny that Microsoft now owns numerous family-friendly franchises that originated from Nintendo and Sony platforms.

Now, Microsoft’s Phil Spencer, the big dick running the Xbox brand, has stated that reviving old franchises, like Hexen and Guitar Hero, is on the table. While the consumers might see this as a great thing, a return to (their personal) glory days of gaming, stockholders don’t see it that way. These old IPs don’t really make the same amount of money. Thus, it could be possible that Microsoft might want to franchise or lease these newly gained IPs for other developers or whatnot to make a good buck on the side.

Another reason why Microsoft would have wanted Blizzard is to have a foothold in the Asian market. Xbox is still the rag dog that gets kicked around in the Orient, but with Blizzard, the Chinese market opens up that much more, especially with all the mobile phone games the Chinese and Koreans consume. The Japanese on the other hand most likely will still stay as an unsalvageable mess, unless Spencer really wants to change their methods. Spencer should follow what the Japanese have been doing but in reverse. Effectively, copy what Sucker Punch did with Ghost of Tsushima; take something Japanese, and make a somewhat Westernizer version of it to sell to the Japanese. The Japanese have been doing this as their main method of exportation, from cars to video games. Ghost of Tsushima showed that it works the other way too, as the Japanese audience loves the game. Credit where credit is due, Sony publishing the game was a good stroke and netted them some seriously needed credit amidst all the issues with their internal censorship that extends to the developers’ as well.

Microsoft has to respect existing contracts between Activision Blizzard and Sony. There will not be much exclusivity to be seen in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, I do wish Microsoft would simply cease putting any of their owned IPs on Sony’s consoles whenever they can just so Sony would be forced to think about their revenue streams first and foremost. However, Microsoft has to think through their growth and revenues now too, and expanding to Sony’s platform and making money on a PlayStation is win in their books. In the short term, we will not be seeing any sort of massive shift in gaming or change in content. If anything, it will take at least a few years until we see anything definitive coming from this deal, and even then, it might be extremely clashing due to the currently incompatible corporate structures and cultures between Microsoft and Activision Blizzard. Sorting that shit, and the whole lawsuit Activision Blizzard has to deal with, takes time.

Sony might be seen as Microsoft’s main rival (Microsoft has really just followed Sony’s path of grabbing up studios and probably will be making extensive limited-time exclusives in the future) but really, we could also see this as a move to counter how much power Tencent has. Tencent has its fingers in so many Western and Asian studios that it is not funny, and most likely few of your games carry their name somewhere on the label too. Honor of Kings or Arena of Valor as known under its international title is the most profitable electronic game in history. It alone has contributed over 13 billion dollars to Tencent’s revenues since 2015 and continues to contribute with its 80 million daily active users. With Activision Blizzard under their belt and the revenue stream possibilities they now have open, Microsoft is in a much better place to contest with Tencent. On the side, all the money Tencent is making is also money the Chinese government is making.

Gaming hasn’t changed suddenly with this purchase nor has Microsoft gained a monopoly. Like most things, the game market is constantly moving and shifting. Making sense out of it is just as hard as any business is. Consolidation of developers under a bigger banner has been happening constantly, but that doesn’t exclude people from putting up their own development studios and publishers. Even if Microsoft and Sony would prevent developers from having games on their platforms, there are tons of alternatives, including Nintendo’s. It might not have the exact same popularity or consumer base, but you have to start from somewhere. The best first step in becoming popular and mainstream is to first become a cult classic. Not every game can be Super Mario Bros. or Street Fighter II.

The whole issue on the mainstream Internet media is far too US-centric. The IPs that are cited are most popular in the US, while European and Asian markets fluctuate how popular Microsoft’s games can be. Xbox itself may be more popular in the US, but it still has to fight tooth and nail in the European markets. We’ve covered Asian markets, so there’s that too. Looking at the global situation, this purchase seems to only benefit in the American and select European markets, with only droplets of Asian markets making a dent. Though even then I remember the news about Blizzard making quite the revenues in Asian mobile phone game markets, so that’s a bonus. There are no other home game console companies in the US, and the market is global. It’s not about an issue of Microsoft hogging all these companies and IPs to themselves when it comes to competition. The issue is what the competition is going to do in order to present their device as the superior option. The answer is as it has always been; have content that is able to compete with the opposition.

Personal opinion? I don’t really care for any of the IPs Microsoft acquired, but I do hope the purchase will go through fully and Microsoft will begin to consolidate all the IPs solely into their ecosystem to the point that its competitors have to find their own titles to counter. I wish to see the day when console libraries are vastly different and would be truly unique.

You are not the media you consume

Whatever your opinion or view on the Rittenhouse trial, it’s been a doozy to follow on the side. While this blog doesn’t really care about it, as it has no real relevance here, one point the prosecution raised does raise eyebrows. Naturally, that point is when the prosecution asked whether or not the Rittenhouse plays Call of Duty with his friends. The prosecution then continued to ask if the aim of the game was, to quote Isn’t the one thing people do in these video games, [is] trying to kill everyone else with your guns? Rittenhouse’s respond to this inquiry was lacking, but that’s probably the point. Prosecution wants to sell the debunked idea of violent video games having relation to violent acts. Rittenhouse, however, did make a point how a video game and reality are separate, thus the prosecution’s point is invalid. Only people who cannot differentiate between reality and fantasy act in reality as if they were in fantasy. I guess I’m beating a dead horse with this post, but this issue has been raised once again on the media, and I can’t help myself. 

An old post of mine how there is no evidence for the Gaming Disorder still persists as true, including that electronic games have no negative impact on the player’s psyche. Something already has to be there. In Rittenhouse’s case, there was no case made for such a thing. Yet the old perception that violent video games lead into bad behaviour sticks to the cultural perception, and while it seemed that electronic games as a whole were getting rid of that stigma, cases like this show that people are willingly intending to mislead that a form of media, once again, would explain something about a person other than what their tastes are. Raising Call of Duty as a point of any kind was a weak attempt at illustrating a point and using video games as some sort tell-tale sign. 

Media is less influential than we give it credit for. If we allow media to influence us in a stereotypic ways, e.g. not questioning its content or message and taking it as valid truth, of course that’s going to influence our behaviour and thinking patterns. That goes for everything else as well. However, with fiction we are aware of its status as make-belief fantasy, we don’t tend to allow be influenced by it. Only works like documentaries and such which people can and often take as word of authority on a given subject, we are influenced to some extent. However, no documentarist would like to be accused of enticing people to commit violent acts. Of course, you have peer-pressure from social media, which might make you want to act in a way or another, or changes your perception because you want to belong to the inside circle of things, but that’s a different form of media influence. 

We all have consumed violent media in a form or other. Horror films with visceral gore was, and perhaps still is, accused of corrupting the youth and yet we don’t see news of horror movie buffs going about killing people in gruesome manners. Such things are often done by people with serious mental issues. Pretty much every form of media and genre has been accused for corrupting people in a way or another. The history of electronic gaming just happens to be very much tied to the old pinball and arcade parlors even before the previous century. It’s understandable that something which has been deemed as immoral and corrupting since almost their inception hasn’t got rid of their infamy. It’s just that the form of games has changed from kinetoscopes to mechanical pinballs to arcade games, and lastly to home electronic games. Even if the place where games are being played has become our homes, the content of these games is still being contested. Children are no longer in dark pinball parlors among the seedier members of the society finding alcohol, sex, drugs and criminal activity; now they’re finding such things in the comfort of their homes.

Joking aside, one of the more pressing issues with modern electronic gaming is the other people. Parents who do not follow what their children are playing or with who they are discussing things are letting things slide too easily. One of the more pressing issues parents have with online multiplayer games is how their child might be talking to a child predator. Violent content is always another, though the question why children have access to all this content without adult supervision is rarely the issue. Funnily enough, the twelve years old kid who plays Grand Theft Auto probably got the game as a present from his mom.

Normal people don’t go out and chop people with sword or riddle pedestrians with bullets because of video games. A video game might be an outlet, where a person might be letting out some steam and live out a fantasy, but the game is a third party tool; it’s not the instigator of such action. Neither are movies of books, which may contain glorified violence for the sake of storytelling effects. You don’t learn how to shoot a gun within a video game. You might learn how to operate one, if the game is accurately simulating the functions of a real firearm. Yet, the first time you shoot a gun, you will not hit your target dead-on. You won’t be ready for that kickback or the loudness of the gun. Then again, you can learn all the necessary things of weapon operation from manuals and some such. 

Games also don’t teach kids to act like they are in the military, as very few game even attempts to portray a realistic situation or methods of training. For example, any military wants soldiers that are professionals who are able to think and solve problems rationally, not vigilantes. At best, video games like Call of Duty teaches moment-to-moment reaction with your eye-hand coordination. The framing of a video game is far too narrow to allow realistic decisions and reactions to take place. The adaptability of a soldier cannot be found within the restrictive frames of a video game. While militaries across the world have begun to use virtual learning tools, which can utilize video games as their core, they do not teach violence or desensitize to it. These tools are teach decision making when the shit hits the fan and working with your team. 

What influences people more are real factors. Family violence, depression, alcoholic family members, peer influence, mental disorders, bad parenting and such. None of these issues are easily solved, and at worst, may be things we can never truly remove as factors. Rather than work on these difficult issues, scapegoats like the media gets propped up. If you want to prevent violent behaviour in children, it has to start with the parents and the family surrounding. If there are mental issues, they must be met with proper care. 

What does cause people to have violent behviour, be it through words or whatnot, is more often than not the competitive nature of a game and frustrations that come with it. If we were to ban violent games because losing may rile people up, we really might as well take a hard look at sports as well, where people riot when their football team loses and other similar cases. Clearly, the game and its competitive nature must be equally at fault for peoples’ reactions rather than the people themselves. 

To round back to Rittenhouse’s case, all the above play a role in the prosecution bringing Call of Duty to the table. The prosecution wants the jury to make their own mental connections with the negative effects of video games and Rittenhouse, as it is easy and cheap. While many think its ineffective method, sadly the news media is still full of parents who blame their kids’ misbehaviour on games. Then you have Jack Thompson and his ilk, who championed on the total ban of violent video games while citing misinformation out of belief. 

I highly doubt electronic games, or overall media for the matter, will ever get rid of the argument that media makes us act in some way. Bad behaviour has always been associated with media, though it changes with time and culture. Someone, somewhere, will find use of blaming the media for a tragedy or negative actions in order to further their own agenda. Let not a good crisis go to waste. 

An Intended View

I’m blaming television and monitor marketers for the current obsession for screen sharpness. Partial blame goes for people marketing every-advancing home video media formats. Sharper image! Better colour! Higher resolution! HDMI connectivity! It’s understandable that consumers would end up wanting the best picture and sound from their home media, be it whatever. This makes sense in regards to film and music, as the original recordings usually were in a better format than what you could have at home. 35mm film is, by any measure, superior to VHS or DVD, and if we’re completely honest, any digital format we currently have. We can’t really apply the digital age measurements to what is an analogue format, much like how we really can’t apply digital screens’ resolution to CRT screens. The technology and measuring system are not compatible with each other.

In which we end up with the current era of digital technology, and how easily we disregard the technological divide. The way we see old media nowadays is probably completely wrong. The strife for ever-better visual and sound has effectively beaten down the intended method of seeing something over what has been possible, and in many ways, this has been a marketing slogan at times.

Star Wars was, much like most other movies, was intended to be seen on the big screen. If you haven’t seen the movie in a theatre, “you haven’t seen it all”. Then, the inverse should be true as well. If something was meant to be seen on the small screen, in our case a 4:3 television screen, then we really haven’t truly seen it as intended. For example, nowadays we enjoy Star Trek at least on what we could call DVD-quality, and that probably is not the way it was ever intended to be viewed, digitally remastered or not. The show may have been recorded on film, everything from set designs to costumes, and their colours, was designed and made to be shown on 1960s television. Most often the television set was black and white with the picture quality probably being deteriorated due to the received signal. The farther away you were from the city, the worse the signal would get. If you had a rotator antenna, you had the best quality. Interface from planes and trucks would be a factor. The screen quality would vary widely depending on what sort of TV set people had, and also how well people fine-tuned the channel. That’s how Star Trek was expected to be seen, and that’s how people watched it.

With the advancing technology, we would end up seeing more of what was on the film, which in many places lead to an unintended result of seeing the (literal) seams of the sets and costumes. It becomes easier to ridicule these as cheap sets and costumes, but in cases of shows like Star Trek, that’s part of the low-budget television. With home releases on VHS, Laserdisc and later on digital media, we saw the show in resolution and manner like never before. What used to be hidden technology decades older was now in plain sight, and people would laugh at it. However, put the same media in its proper timeframe and technology, and things look a whole lot different.

An issue that has to be taken with the DVDs and digital remasters is that they still showcase the “original” in much higher fidelity than originally aired

We should not forget the change in culture as well. Television was new at the time, and image quality didn’t mean nearly as much as it does now. There was no prior generation of people who had grown with worse picture quality or the like. When television was new, the picture didn’t really matter. It was what it was and you worked with it. What mattered was the content and the novelty of it. Shows like Star Trek was something new and exciting, and seeing this more cerebral television show about humanity in the stars in a hopeful manner captivated people in the long run. Nowadays, with the proliferation of science fiction shows and dozens upon dozens of derivates, it’s very easy to put the original series down both in terms of its content and delivery.

Television has the benefit of having a pure analogue format in film. The images and sounds are recorded on pieces of film and tape; they are not set in stone and are relatively easily remastered according to modern digital standards. It’s work-intensive for sure, and probably requires tons of extra work if you wish to clean every single thing, but it can be done. Sometimes you have to use multiple different sections of film from different prints of the same movie to achieve this, but it can be done.

I recommend watching, or listening, to the whole three hours video. It covers pretty much everything this particular fan’s own restoration. It covers pretty much everything from how certain elements were layered in the original movie to how he uses multiple sources to restore parts of a individual frame to gain the best possible version of a shot

This is not possible for video games or any other purely digital media format. The moment a game developer, or any other creator of digital content, defines the way their work is seen or heard, it will be stuck to that moment. While they can future-proof their work and save everything in much higher fidelity than it would be currently possible to output, e.g. a digital movie was recorded in 4k in an era where 1080p was the standard, at some point the technology will catch up to them. 35mm film movies are being progressively ruined by noise removal algorithms and smoothening nowadays, in a manner, the same has been done to video games. The difference is, video games and their consumers have a completely different paradigm that, in effect, has skewed the idea of how raster graphics should be seen.

Composite – RGB – Emulator screenshot
The emulator screencap has also cut away the overscan area, which would not be seen in a real CRT screen, but would be visible on a flatscreen. See more in this video, where the two first were nabbed from.

The above three screenshots, while usable when comparing different signal qualities coming from the machine itself and how things look in emulation, isn’t how Sonic the Hedgehog was intended to look. As we are now, sitting in front of our computers or using some palm device to read and see these shots, we are not seeing the sort of middle-hand output. The end result of a console, or any other device for the matter that was using a CRT screen, is lost to us. The image we get from emulators, digital re-releases of games and whatnot to our modern screens is inaccurate how the game was developed and meant to be seen.

However, we can surmise some things from the above three screenshots. For example, Sonic is much bluer in the composite shot, with shading and the greens melding into each other in a natural manner. The further we go to the right, the sharper the image gets, but at the same time, we lose smooth surfaces and these melding of colours. We can also see a slight shift in the aspect ratio. It wasn’t uncommon for games to have oval circles that got stretched into proper circles due to how the console was outputting the signal or how a monitor might naturally stretch it, but props for the emulator shot for correcting the aspect ratio.

Dithering is often discussed topic when it comes to the Mega Drive visuals, as many Mega Drive games use dithering to smooth out colours. You would use two colours in dithering, which would meld together on a CRT and produce a third colour, melding them all in a nice gradient. However, this isn’t apparent in higher-end cables, which would show the dithering in a much distinct and crisp way, destroying the carefully laid graphics. Retro-Sanctuary has a short write-up on dithering I would warmly recommend giving a look.

Yuji Naka uploaded a short clip from 1990 showcasing the room where games were being developed, where we see a young Naka working on Sonic the Hedgehog‘s collision. You also get a shot at Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker being developed, particularly Michael’s walking cycle. These games were developed on and for CRT screens. It wasn’t until the seventh generation of consoles when games began to be fully developed for digital screens. Most, if not all sixth-generation games that used sprite graphics, were developed with CRT monitors and non-digital cables in mind. Now, what if we took a photo of that same Sonic title screen on an actual high-end CRT monitor and compared it to an emulated screen?

Sonic the Hedgehog (1991, Sega) – Genesis

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CRT Pixels is an account that posts these comparison shots between emulators and CRT screens. There are tons of images comparisons that showcase how dot graphics, sprites or pixel graphics, whatever you want to call them, were designed and drawn with CRT monitors in mind. When an already existing artwork has been digitised, the person in charge of digitization had to take into account how the image would be represented on screen. It could never have been a 1:1 transfer of data from a painting to pixels due to the sheer nature of the technology of the era. Considering how a machine could output an image that was intended to be stretched naturally on a CRT, sometimes the graphics had to be squished in a direction so that it’d look proper when outputted. This happens a lot with Super Nintendo games, which had led to some heated discussions about whether or not its games have to be stretched to a proper aspect ratio, or whether or not the console’s internal aspect ratio and resolution is the real one. The real answer, however, is that it varies game by game, as some titles relied on SNES’ internal resolution while other developers created their graphics the output devices in mind.

Of course, arcade game developers and manufacturers had the freedom to decide on these things on their own. Capcom’s CP System uses 4:3 aspect ratio across the board, but you probably see loads of emulator screenshots in 12:7 aspect ratio. This is because, before digital screens, we had non-square pixels. This is also is one of the reasons why we can’t apply modern screen resolution standards, which counts pixels per heigh and width, when we had no pixels per see, and even then they were non-square. Displaced Gamer has a good video on the topic in a much better package than what I could do. Though I might add that it didn’t help that we had some widescreen format CRTs as well, and people always wanting to fill the screens never helped in the matter. Something that persists to this day, as so many emulation enthusiasts force their old games’ ROMs into the widescreen format.

We are fast losing the way games, and many other forms of media were intended to be consumed. Emulation and game preservation has made immense strides in preserving video and computer games’ data, and have begun to replicate consoles’ and computers’ internal workings in 1:1 emulation manners, something that probably will be impossible to fully emulate with the PlayStation 2, this scene has largely ignored the intended way these games were meant to be seen. No, that’s not exactly correct. For years we’ve got dozens of different ways to mess with emulators’ output. We’ve had tons of different filters that add fake scanlines or smooth the emulated pixels for an effect, often trying to mimic how a game would’ve looked like on a CRT screen. Different renderers are trying to replicate the originally intended form, some a better effect, some mangling them to a horrible degree. However, consoles like the Game Boy Advance, don’t really need these sort of post-processing effects, when the display itself already had square pixels. Hell, sometimes watching sharp pixels can mangle a sprite to the point of you not knowing what the hell you’re supposed to see there, but with that softer quality via post-processor filters or proper CRT screen, the sprite’s shapes and colours make a whole new shape and shades you can’t see otherwise.

A paper describing a method to depixilize pixel art is probably slightly off the intended path. This post-processing method doesn’t take into notion how the graphics were meant to be seen, but rather it ends up re-creating an interpretation of pixel graphics in a smoother form. The end result is less than desirable, but in a manner could also consider this kind of approach to aim to recreate the original underlying artwork that was then used to make the sprites. This is not, however, how the games’ graphics were meant to be seen.

Post-processing probably will end up being a way to solve the issue of how old games are being represented in the future. Perhaps we simply need high resolution enough screens to properly portray non-square pixels and colours a CRT can shows. In essence, rather than emulating just the hardware, emulators would have to take into account the cable quality and how CRTs output the picture. Granted, tons of emulators already do this, but not as default. Most often you still get a modern interpretation of square pixel, internal resolutions when you open an emulator, necessitating individuals to go into the settings menu. Menu, where they have tons of options they might not know what to do with. While we are getting copy systems that emulate hardware to a tee, they are also machines that are made to have HDMI output only. Clone consoles like RetroN and all the Analogue consoles, like the NT Mini, only output in modern HD via HDMI. Sure, you have in-system post-processing to make the games look like they’re played on a CRT. That’s the breaking part really.

A Hi-DEF NES kit modification kit

Console modifications have been around since consoles have been a thing, with RGB output and mods to circumvent region-locking have been the most popular things. Nowadays, we have these custom made boards that you solder to your older console and have it output via HDMI cable. They’re often directly connected to the CPU and video unit, so it interprets whatever the console wants output and tweaks it so the image is compatible with modern screens. Much like their copy-console brethren, they have built-on filters. Nevertheless, both of them utterly destroy the intended manner of how to view games on these older systems. They might be crisper, sharper, have the perfect colour from the palette. That may be preferable to some people, and certainly makes these old consoles compatible with modern screens, but they nevertheless destroy the intended way these games were meant to be seen.

The issue may end up being about authenticity. Modders and certain parts of the electronics consumers don’t really want to let go of these old machines and will do everything to update them for modern standards. That is a losing battle in many ways, and perhaps the approach is wrong too. While we can change some of the inner components, like the leaking caps and that, we can’t really restore old technology per se. Perhaps rather than trying to find a way to emulate the CRT screen, we should find a way how to replicate that particular screen technology. However, considering how dead CRT technology is, I doubt anyone will go their way out and try to find a way to revive it. I’m sure if CRT tech would’ve kept advancing, the shape and weight would’ve dropped, but the flatscreen tech we have now is in most aspects superior. It may still be struggling with replicating the same range of colours and true blacks as even cheap CRT could do, but their utility really beats CRTs in every other aspect.

I guess we can’t return to the intended way games were assumed to be played and seen. Much like how we didn’t have any other options to play the games “back in the day,” the same kind of applies to what we have now. The difference is, from all the options we have nowadays, from line doublers, upscalers and such, that crude reality is your older consoles were not meant to be played on modern monitors let alone be emulated in a crisp, in-hardware pixel-perfect output. These older games were played on a piece of shit telly, and that’s how they were build to be.

Of course, some Australian cunts probably would tell you there’s only one way to properly play the game, e.g. using SNES’ internal resolution and not give one flying fuck about intentions. Consumers have created options for themselves, and only relatively recently game companies have awoken to what emulator filters have been doing for a longer time. Filters themselves need to be completely re-evaluated, as there used to be rather heated discussions between people who wanted those raw pixels and the people who used all sorts of filters. Of course, neither party were absolutely correct, though if you managed to attach your PC to a CRT screen via S-Video cable or something, then there was no need to use filters.

In the future, we will lose the intended method of viewing games, and the rest of the media, which were created in analogue means as intended as the world proceeds with digitalization. With time, we’ll either lose them altogether to time, or most probably, they will be replaced with the closest possible approximation. No amount of remaking, remastering or modding can save old media. All we can really do is preserve and repair them in order to keep things in their original form as much as possible. At least in gaming, emulation will always be the second-best option to the original thing, and to some, emulation is already superior to the original hardware. That of course is not playing or seeing games as intended, but that has not been a factor to many at any point. What matters to many is the sharper image with higher resolution, even if that would effectively destroy the carefully balanced image the developers put all their effort in creating.

A dreadful return

Parts of the Internet loves Metroid, but to an ill degree. Outside a few hot takes about sidescrolling games shouldn’t cost as much as games with three dimensions of movement, Metroid Dread has seemingly gained quite the amount of positive attention. Not that I’m here to piss into your cereal, but the developers of Dread have misunderstood Metroid to a degree. At its core, Metroid has been about powering up as you adventure through the game world in a balanced manner. There are obstacles that are required to beat, though not necessarily only in one manner. At its core, Metroid games are sidescrolling open-world games, or as we used to call them, adventure games. What does this have to do with Dread, and by that extension, that Metroid 2 remake on the 3DS? That modern Metroid is broken, and it was Fusion that shattered it.

For better or worse, Metroid missed the cereal train back in the day. Super Mario Bros. and Zelda were always the bigger franchises anyway

If you play any Metroid game prior to the modern era, there are few things you should notice. One of them is that Samus is strong by default. She may not have a long-range shot, but she has great mobility nevertheless and her rate of fire is not diminished like it is in Samus Returns remake and Dread. All the areas in the Classic era are filled with all sorts of little crawly animals you’re supposed to take down, which require Samus to be strong. It makes it much easier to kill enemies that fly in front of you as you power up, yet not all that necessary if you don’t want to item hunt. While Fusion manages to replicate this to a point, Samus Returns is a hollow game with large areas of one or two crawlies around, and this design change was made to compensate for the new melee and aiming mechanics. Much like how Other M had awkward as hell controls between third and first-person modes, Samus Returns suffers from awkward shooting and melee mechanics that necessitated changing the core play, and through that, how Metroid plays out. Perhaps you can argue that it offers a more relaxed pace for the game and the player is now required to time his actions better. However, the player already could dictate the pace they wanted, and weapons always took a degree of skill.

There is a concept of adding unnecessary mechanics for the sake of differentiating from the flock. Samus Returns reeks of this with everything it changed during the remake period to accommodate the melee mechanic. As weird it is to say aloud, Metroid is a shooting game much like Mega Man or Contra. Leave the melee for the Belmonts. Some fighting games, like Guilty Gear Accent Core, are faulty of this same thing, where there are additions of new mechanics for the sake of new mechanics that do not add any real value. In Metroid‘s case, this has caused a core change in how the game now must be played and approached while still being represented as being the same game. Metroid has become its own imitator. The surefire way to make a better Metroid title than Metroid 2 or Super Metroid (do you remember when people were arguing which one is better? I sure do) is to take the core element and expand upon them and see how far you can take them. The only reason people seem to prefer the melee mechanic is that Samus’ firepower was otherwise gimped and kicked down. If Samus Returns would have kept her firepower the same, there would be no reason for melee counters.

I don’t mind Samus’ new look though. It’s fine, but they should’ve stayed away from using white in the standard armour

An element that Dread is lifting from Fusion is the unkillable enemy chasing you. While SA-X is often cited as one of the more memorable things from the game, in Dread this seems to be a game-wide threat. This is turning Metroid into a stealth game, as now there seems to be a mechanic where you can turn Samus into a statue so one of these coloured robots (which look like iPhone store guards) can’t scan her. I’m sure we’re going to get story reasons why they can’t be destroyed and the game’s story will allow them to be destroyed by the end. That’s so goddamn tiresome. Metroid being an adventure game, an open-world title, fights this kind of written-in-stone story-driven progression fights against its nature. The same criticism was laid down on Fusion as well, though there it even broke the game’s core mechanic of non-linearity as you could only get items in a certain order as programmed into the game’s code. There was no sequence-breaking or creative choices done from the player’s part. Just like Samus Returns and Dread have minimised the player’s part in the exact same manner.

The thing is, Castlevania can do close-combat in non-linear games with some projectiles is because the overall design lends to it. It feels and looks like Castlevania, and more importantly, plays like Castlevania. It has balanced the game systems with the AI and game world to a fine point. Neither of these modern 2D Metroid Nintendo is making, and yes I am putting this on Nintendo as Sakamoto is still spearheading this franchise to hell, play like Metroid should. We have tons and tons of Metroid clones on the market with superior design in every aspect, and yet whatever the hell Samus Returns tried to be is shoddy lower-midtier garbage. Metroid doesn’t need to have melee attacks or counters. All of the play mechanics got gimped because of the want of this one extra mechanic that the game’s design can’t handle without breaking down. You can shave Samus Returns play to counter everything. All other mechanics are secondary and borderline useless. Unlike Castlevania, Samus Returns and Dread have screwed up whatever design the best of Metroid had to offer. Samus isn’t a goddamn ninja; she’s a fucking space Terminator. She’s not supposed to be a bac knock-off copy of her Smash Bros. version in her own games.

I won’t find any spot to talk about this otherwise, but holy shit doesn’t Samus Return have a terrible soundtrack. Most of the time you’re listening to this trash ambient soundtrack, and only in areas where you’re supposed to have a nostalgic rush you hear what is essentially re-used tracks from Prime. If you back and listen to Classic Metroid game soundtracks, the scary ambient things were saved for very specific areas and moments, but otherwise, you always had a rocking tune in the main areas. Maybe that’s for the better. Every time modern Metroid tries to do something new it flounders and fails like a fish on the Sun’s surface.

Speaking of white, these iPod dogs look less threatening and more… boring. Why would Samus shoot its face though? It looks like its most armored spot, while its lanky joints look like they would snap off from the ball sockets

Metroid is never going to escape Other M and Sakamoto. Hell, you might as well drop all hopes for Metroid Prime 4 at this point, as Metroid has long gone to be a story-driven adventure rather than the player’s adventure. Metroid was about the player facing a world and the sort of adventure that would be. Now, unlike its current contemporaries, it is about the player having to play out the outlined story. Best examples of this in the series? Metroid Fusion as a whole, and gimped world and adventuring in Metroid‘s GBA remake. Metroid has become about Samus despite Samus herself was never important. How the player had his adventure was, and we’ve lost it.

We can pinpoint the day when Metroid was lost. It’s the day when Gunpei Yokoi was killed in that car crash. I’m sure some people remember that there was an era where Yokoi’s name was attached to Metroid like Sakamoto’s is nowadays. I don’t like blaming one person for a failure of the whole team, but when you have a person who is put into a leadership position and publically proclaims his role in making and spearheading Samus’s story and knows her secrets, we can put his head unto the guillotine bed just fine. Just like with Link and other silent player characters, they’re supposed to be there for the player to play as. Take that away, and you’re forced to create a proper characterisation and framing for them, and seeing how video game writing is dumpster fire tier, and people like Sakamoto have zero talent or experience with actual story writing, you’re going to get stuff like repeating THE BABY the nth time.

Metroid Dread looks, sounds and probably will play cheap. This is sock-filling, a stopgap game. I’m sure it has a competent budget and all that, yet its lacklustre nature compared to independently made adventure games are laughing it out from the park despite their shoestring budget. Hell, just ignore what Nintendo is making and go play AM2R again.

Digital death can be saved with piracy

As much as Sony, and the other video game corporations, have their right when it comes to their games and consoles, the incoming death of PlayStation 3’s, PSP’s and PS Vita’s digital store paints a very dark visage of digital death; all those games that are about will vanish and be rendered unobtainable as the servers are shut down. Each and every game that is exclusive to a digital platform and is dependent on servers’ being online to any capacity will be lost. Piracy is there to catalog them and save them when you can not obtain them anymore in any legitimate fashion. Companies will complain and file lawsuits, like how Nintendo keeps harping on ROM sites, but if these companies want to curb piracy of their older systems’ titles there is very little they can do. In fact, that very little is very influential; offer all the library on your modern systems as well. 

That is easier said than done, as multiple games are very much tied to a system and licensing, meaning that publishers would have to re-submit their titles to console companies for them to be admitted again. Of course, with the hardware being different, it’s no easy task as they’d need to port the games. The question of whether or not that’s worth it for them becomes a pressing matter. Common sense would argue that if a company isn’t selling a game and there are no legitimate ways to obtain it, you might as well get it via piracy. We are not in any grey zone when it comes to digital games as you can’t claim that it is legitimate as long as you own the actual game as there is no physical equivalent in this case.

Yet these games are not abandonware either, as some of these titles have been ported to other systems in the same digital form, or are part of a long-running franchise. You can find loads of old games that have no owner on abandonware sites, even numerous game series and IPs that have owners, yet don’t act on them. It’s part ignorance of how widely their titles are shared and partly that they’re willingly allowing them to be shared. After all, you’re hardly going to make much money on obscure PC88 and DOS titles. You could make some bucks if these companies would repackage the titles for GOG or the like, but that’d take time and money. Would that be worth the effort? To some, yes. To most, no.

Whatever the thinking is within the companies, it won’t change the fact that with this digital destruction we’re losing the original source for these titles permanently. Once the servers go down, that’s it. There’s no crying over games you didn’t buy, there’s no wallowing over missed DLC. All the patches you missed are forever lost to the ether. Publishers and developers won’t offer them via their own services, even if that would be possible. What is the consumer to do if he wants to get a game but can’t, quite literally, buy it anywhere? Companies can’t argue for a loss of sale, as there are no methods a sale could be done in the first place. If they have an alternative venue to offer that title, then great! Problem solved. If not, well, the is always behind the IP owner. For a good reason too, but we should investigate whether or not an unexploited title, whatever it might be from music to film to book, should stay in the hands of the IP owner rather than be opened for common usage. It’d promote exploiting these unused titles, and in gaming would further promote the availability of otherwise unobtainable games. 

That’s never going to happen and we all know it. Sony could do everyone a massive deed and request each and every publisher with any content on their servers to be donated for archival at a museum or something for future research and patrons to play on-site. It would, at least, save these titles for historical purposes, but that is the last thing game companies have in mind. The first month is where the majority of the sales are done with games, and whatever comes after is extra. Once it’s a done deal, they can remove that title from competing with their future titles. Torta på torta repeat; I shudder to have a game on the same platform Super Mario Bros. 3 is. 

I don’t find any joy in Sony closing their old servers. It’s a tragedy that will become more common as time passes and content becomes more digital-only. With this closedown, we’re not only losing all those PS3, PSP, and Vita digital-only exclusives, but also all the PlayStation classic titles that were made to work on these systems. Sony’s going to make a bank when people will rush to buy the games they haven’t picked up yet. I recommend getting the Mega Man Legends titles, including The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, the Sega  Ages Virtual-On , and pretty much every PC Engine title you can get your hands on. If you’re a mecha fan and/or into Super Robot Wars series, there’s also SRW OGs; Dark Prison, a side game with no physical version out there. 

You did get a download code with that Super Robot Wars action game, that turned out to be really, really lousy, but not a game-on-disc in any fashion

Any arguments that follow the lines of You had all the time to get the games or It’s time to move forwards can and should be dismissed. For the sake of the consumers, if we’re going to go digital, the customer should have the right of access to these titles for purchase as there can be no second-hand market. Screw licensing issues or companies maintaining these servers at a loss. As far as the customers’ rights are concerned, the moment there is no viable route for legitimate purchase, the titles are free game. Pun not intended. At this point, I’m beyond arguing legal or moral points. I know and understand all the sides of the coin in the matter, but that matters jack shit when we are losing a generation’s worth of digital titles. That should not be acceptable in any fashion.

Thus, piracy becomes a justifiable action when there is no other recourse. Piracy will archive, it will keep records. It’ll become the way how to access all these titles on their original platform, if not form. The Internet will keep an archive of what Sony and publishers will not. Nevertheless, before we hit that deadline, the best thing we can do, and should do, is to burn that credit card to obtain all the titles we wish to play on our systems. After that… it’s your machine. Why not to mod it to take more out of it?

Consoles need to be stupid

Few days ago, news about the PlayStation 4 being a gimped console broke through. No, not in the fashion of it having ballgag. Down the pipe, when Sony decides to kill off their online services for the PS4, your console will end up as a brick. Lance McD explained further that the Trophies require the internal clock to be correct, and seeing people can’t change their internal clocks, when the servers and battery die out, so does your ability to play games. Your only way to sync the PS4’s internal clock is through connecting to PSN.

This is stupidly lousy engineering on Sony’s department, but I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m not putting blame on Trophies as well. Gaming consoles have become smarter and smarter without any true benefits to the customer. All they need to do is to play the game. Trophies, movie playback, sharing to Social Media and all that is gibble. It’s the same ol’ thing again; consoles are just dumbed down PCs. This one of the many negative results of it. PC like machine brings PC like problems. Concentrating on essential necessities for playing a game and excising the excess should be an industry standard. We don’t need access to Twitter or the like via linked accounts. A generic browser should be all you need for that, but everything needs to be its own program nowadays.

PS4 clock battery problem is for the long-term. At this moment in time, you are able to drop in a new battery and reconnect with the servers. In the future, this won’t be applicable. Gee, who the hell would be playing PS4 games ten years from now? Dunno, who the hell would be playing SNES games twenty five years after the console?

This’ll pose some interesting challenges down the line when it comes to archiving and keeping records on PS4’s games. Future historians that want to see the games running on their native hardware will have to find a way to get around the limitations Sony put on the system clock. Oh but of course, the Trophies must be protected that people don’t have bragging rights. What a shit decision to put any protection on the whole thing.  

The most permanent solution will end up being modding the console to access all levels of functions. This game reading error will not be a major issue for Sony, and it getting fixed will be a very low priority. Especially now that the Japanese aren’t running the show. Few individual commentators have mentioned how this will ultimately be a positive thing, as this’ll force people to move to new machines and recycle their old games and consoles, or how this is beneficial for the competition between players, or how this somehow is a great anti-piracy measure if people can’t play games on a timed-out system. Fellating corporations always goes against the needs of the consumer. None of the points have any legs to stand on; the longer a machine functions and is playable is most economic and green option; Trophies amount to jack shit in eSports or other forms of digital competition outside dick measuring contests; this will have the opposite effect.

PS5 and X… I don’t even have a real shorthand for Xbox Series S and X. I’ll have to go with XboXSX just for the gringe factor. Anyway, both PS5 and XboXSX were launched at a terrible time. We’re going into an economic slump. We’re already short of chips and whatnot to build these machines. Both of these consoles were designed for a much better economic time they ultimately ended up in, much like how X360 and PS3 were. Part of the Wii’s success was in how concentrated it was in its function; it plays games. It doesn’t need to do anything else. By cutting away all the excess fat from the system Nintendo managed to find a low price point people could justify during an economic slump. After that, we experienced a nice rise in economics. We wouldn’t have seen the rise of Kickstarter and similar services in the same manner. People could pledge hundreds of dollars for people through Patreon and such. There was money to go around. That’s not going to be as the economy keeps balling down the road. Sure, big companies will make a big buck. It’s the smaller and local businesses that’ll go under. No better time to put more control on the media and devices you should have ownership over.

Sure, nobody in the Big Three saw the slump coming, though even without the Shangai Shivers some economists had been foretelling we’d go to an economic downward slope around 2019 or so. Having a to-the-core machine, and just one version of it, would’ve served the customer better. I agree that it’s nice to have all these bells and whistles most people barely use, some none at all, yet this whole PS4 battery bullshit is a symptom of putting the emphasize in the wrong court.

No, the battery isn’t the thing people should get concerned over, or the engineering, but the priorities that go into deciding to even put these things into the console; it’s all needless extra. A console’s basic core function is to play games. Everything else should be cut off from that. If all else fails in a console, be it network connection, internal battery, user account or whatever, the user should be able to put the game in and have it played, physical or not. Reality isn’t all that nice or consumer friendly, sadly. Just imagine; Turn the console on, see boot screen, put game in, and you’re playing. Nothing else going in the background or connecting to anywhere else. Just you, the game and the ability to play without seeing a dashboard, needing to connect to the servers, seeing news or being asked to install new updates that take half an hour.

If you’re reading that as me advocating of removal of capabilities modern consoles have when it comes to services and such, you’d be correct. All a console truly needs in addition of playing games is to be able to connect to the Internet for patches and multi-player. Everything else can be trashed. All the other resources can be put on making the controller better, or perhaps not used at all, minimizing the limit when a console goes to black. That’s not going to happen with Sony as long as they want to pretend still to be a prestige brand with the best home media center to offer. Sony’s quality assurance hasn’t been up to that level for good thirty years now, and things like this PS4 internal battery situation is one of those signs. 

The best fix would be Sony to remove this whole shebang and let consumers to set the clock by themselves without a need to connect to the servers at any point. Fat chance, but I can always dream of having more freedom.

Doujinshi Jank

There is an interesting thing with Japanese homebrew, indie or doujinshi games that I’ve slowly realised throughout these years; they tend to be weird, lacking in polish in areas where they matter the most but at the same time numerous titles overshadow big company games like no other to the point of becoming hallmark games. Cave Story and La-Mulana both are massively popular examples of successful Japanese indie games, yet they’re largely an exception to the rule of Jank. Jank in context of doujinshi games doesn’t signify bad coding or controls, but a certain kind of lack of logical polish. For example, you’d expect for a shooting game that uses WASD movement and mouse aiming to include changing weapons with the scroll wheel, but instead, it must be done with the numbers. It’s logical and completely functional, but really throws you off and takes off some of the smoothness of the action in controls. This isn’t a quality of life issue, as scroll wheel weapon changing has been a thing even in Japanese games for almost two decades now. For whatever design decision, the controls’ jank was implemented. When a game is supposed to be fast-paced shooting action, you sort of end up prioritising one weapon in a situation over all others when quick-changing isn’t an option. Or aiming while running, for the matter. Or smooth transition between movement options, creating jank movement options from otherwise smoothly animated action.

La-Mulana is one of those games that many considered impossible to beat without a guide, but all the clues and hints spread around do make sense if you put your mind to it

The Japanese jank could be described as the opposite of polish. It’s not erroneous design per se, as most of the jank is fully intended. Consider how in 2D Castlevania the Belmont’s jump arc is completely set in stone and you are unable to change it after you’ve jumped. Similarly, in Ghost ‘n Goblins you are dedicated to that jump and its arc after you’ve initiated it, though you can control it with the second jump later games added for that specific purpose. These would be jank in any other kind of game, but the whole play world and the system has been designed to follow this same approach. All enemies in the games have purposeful, straight attacks and moves, and the stages provide challenges appropriate to the available movement options. It makes both games stupidly difficult at times, but the game is fair as no enemy or projectile breaks the same jank. The fact that everything is extremely limited yet finely tuned to a sharp point turns these controls, that would in other games be considered outright shit, into a challenge unto themselves. The doujinshi jank is as if everything had this lack of polish. Character movement might be slow and camera wonks off into position unfavourable to the player, but at the same time enemy movement is just as unrefined and how their act with the camera on screen often ends up being just as unfavourable to them. It’s a weird kind of jank you don’t see in western indie games, probably because of the style of approach and gaming culture overall.

Monster Surprised You-ki chan! is in many ways trying to play itself like a version of Ghost ‘n Goblins in its controls. In practice, the game plays nothing like Capcom’s original. You-ki’s controls might be decent, but everything from the graphic style to sprite resolution and enemy behaviour and weapons makes this game jank as hell to play. The stage designs do mix things up quite a lot from a usual GnG-inspired title, yet all the decisions carry so much jank in the design that the game feels underwhelming to play. Even the sounds are off, as numerous special effects are as if they were at a wrong volume or simply don’t work in the intended context. Special effects, like the lens flare in the second stage or the sparklers You-ki jumping leaves is all part of the jank as their framerate and smoothness is very different from the rest of the spritework and animation in the game. Hell, the explosions and blood effects look like they belong to a different game altogether because how they’re designed and animated from there rest of the game’s visuals. Even the way You-ki takes damage is weird and outright frustrating to witness. It’s a mish-mash of everything that should’ve been straightened up and unified in design and polished even further, yet the game deserves some respect. The stages are rather large and there are exploratory elements, the characters have some charm and the game isn’t exactly unfair. Just jank as hell in a similar manner so many other doujinshi games are.

The jank doesn’t make these games unplayable. They’re not broken products in any manner, and often doesn’t even necessarily detract from the fun-factor of the game. The jank is probably the opposite of being immersed, where you are well aware that you are playing a video game and you damn well play according to the game’s rules. The jank of doujinshi games often walls you to a different extend before you manage to overcome it. Sometimes the jank is minimal and doesn’t really affect much, sometimes you might spend few evening with a bottle of beer thinking what the fuck you’re playing and why, but at some point, both will end up you enjoying the game. Sometimes to the degree of witnessing something batshit insane that can only be done in a completely rules-free environment where nothing is held back, sometimes ending you finding a new bottom of underwhelming. Despite me running You-ki Chan! down the mud there above, but sticking with the game netted one of the more exciting final stages in some time. It takes a while to get used to how the game’s play goes, to get around the sheer jank of it all, and the game itself is rather lengthy, but I guess I would have it no other way.

Unlike the vast majority of Western homebrew and indie games that aren’t high-mark high visibility games, loads of doujinshi games of varying quality get released during Comic Market, a decades-old event where people gather to sell and buy their own comics and other goodies. The event is a massive sub- and pop-culture event, which also sees massive amounts of people donating blood. Nowadays, you see a lot of these games released on digital storefronts like DLSite, while some titles will fall between the cracks and into obscurity. Sometimes, they sell only few stages of a game as a demo as they’re intending to do a full release later on, but sometimes these games just end up vanishing. Such was the fate of Es, one of the best fastest pace action-shooter that was in development but never finished.

Developed originally in 2007 by circle 9th Night, Es is a prime example of a doujinshi game that doesn’t have much jank, and whatever jank it had worked for its benefits because everything had been already been sanded down to a nice matte finish. All it needed was more content and stages with some polish, and we could’ve had one of the best games of the later tens, developed by only a handful of people. If you liked anything about Zone of the Enders, this game would’ve been right in your ballpark.

The whole Japanese doujinshi scene is full of titles most people in the West are going to miss, be it either because of the language barrier or simply because their circle of fellow weebs just never notice them. Maybe it’s the jank most of these titles present themselves with. The jank is part of the scene in a weird way, but even then in that mass of jank you’ll find things to love and enjoy, and maybe even a game or two that doesn’t have any jank.

Skies and lands promised

Cyberpunk 2077 is on the news and its reception has been mixed, to put it diplomatically. It’s been compared to No Man’s Sky in various aspects, like how many promised elements seemed to be missing and was ridden with bugs. As NY Times puts it, when a game is supposed to be The Biggest Video Game of the Year, expectations are high, especially when there’s almost a decade’s worth of marketing and hype behind the title. An expansive world that would be endlessly explorable just doesn’t happen without sacrifices or will be sacrificed in favour of other elements that make up a video game. I’d say that’s largely a no-brainer, as some of the more expansive worlds that have intense detail and hidden content often end up having less structure and directed play, which is contrasted to games with a tighter field of play. Take The Legend of Zelda or The Hunter: Call of the Wild as examples; both have massive worlds that can take years to properly venture through, but their main “quest” if effectively letting the player do whatever they want with few main objectives. I admit that this comparison is a bit off to Cyberpunk, but the reality is that open-world games have been an industry standard for about two decades, or more depending on how you want to define open-world.” It’s something that’s hard to realise properly, often ending up empty or played being walled from exploring every nook and cranny, but that’s the spot where both technology and game design puts up a challenge. The whole open-world genre, if it can be called that, has a history of being built on promises and failed expectations and yet the core video and computer game customers seem to expect even more. Clearly, the gaming industry hasn’t broken through how to do fully living 3D world yet, which isn’t just a technological challenge, but also a matter of paradigm. Perhaps putting fewer resources into licenses and hiring real-world actors would lease resources to where they truly matter.

The marketing for Cyberpunk 2077 was a massive success. It sold the game to the consumers and investors like no other. While Cyberpunk 2077 will stay as a cornerstone game in terms of technical achievement and such, all the refunds the customers have been demanding because of the game’s bug-ridden nature has caused a cascade effect, where damage control has brought even more worries. CD Project Red promised refunds for all, and all Sony and Microsoft could do is follow suit. Sony kind of screwed in this, as CD Project Red promised things before proper channels were established, causing Sony to also pull the game from PlayStation Network. Microsoft hasn’t done yet on whatever their consoles. With reviews going left and right, sometimes only to the negative to attack the whole deal and other times going to the complete opposite to defend the title, CD Project Red’s stock value plummeting over 40% since early December and the possibility of physical games getting refunds too, investors do have a reason to worry. They are, after all, considering a class-action lawsuit as they see CD Project Red having mispresented the game in a criminal manner in order to receive financial benefits.

I doubt there is any malice in any of the game’s failures. It’s just how these usually go with games that come with a stupid amount of hype. Game development is stupidly hard, and while some people do it for passion, and others just because it is their job. At the end of the day, any corporation has to cut their losses at the expense of something and push a product out. They have to make a profit No product is truly finished when it leaves the providers’ hands, no game is truly finished. Some are less than others, but at least we’re well past the days when you bought a highly visible licensed game only to find out you couldn’t finish the game because one of the levels was intentionally made unclearable because they never finished the last few levels of the game. There were quite a few of these during the 8-bit computer days. Cyberpunk 2077 just happens to be a victim of circumstances that are rather common when it comes to the electronic gaming industry. We certainly need cornerstone titles that push the technology forwards, yet more often than not these titles have been less successful than the games that have pushed the play part. I presume Cyberpunk 2077 will make a decent amount of money down the line after CD Project Red has managed to put a new spin on their marketing, fixed all the most common and outrageous bugs and the gaming media has placated and absolved them of their gaming sins.

There’s a lot of emotional reaction to the whole deal. We can’t fault consumers from reacting as harshly as they have, as CD Project Red’s PR did their job admirably. Sadly, that just didn’t meet with the expectations, or with reality in some cases.  I’ve discussed the nature emotional of marketing, corporations and customers to some extent in recent years, and with some, we’re seeing core fans feeling like they were betrayed by someone they felt a close emotional attachment to. CD Project Red is closely tied to Good Old Games, or just GOG as they go nowadays, and they have their fair share of diehard fanatics, just like Steam. As the customer feels betrayed by a brand, there’s often a harsh whiplash, but also a need to find justice. Sometimes its refusal to purchase any more products, sometimes it’s venting on social media, sometimes physical harm towards the game itself. Sometimes all three and then some.

To use No Man’s Sky as a point of comparison again, the game did get effectively fixed about a year later. Promised content and play mechanics were added as well as a large amount of bug fixing. While the game still has a bad rap overall, the devs took it upon themselves to make it the game it was supposed to be. While we can debate whether or not the game is what it was promised to be, there are chances that CD Project Red will do the same and spend the next year relentlessly fixing and patching the Cyberpunk. Unless the investors go for the throat and gut the whole company. Investors are often treated as the worst kind of being right after company executives, yet these are the people who have to make the decisions that will either make or break products, and through that, people’s lives. When multiples of millions are in the play, taking chances and risks is a bit scarier task than most would think.

We can’t fault the customers’ reactions, they were taken by the hype created by the marketing. In the same breath, we can’t really fault marketing for doing their job that effectively. Considering the kind of game, development time and hype that was involved, the current state of Cyberpunk 2077 should have been expected as an industry standard, not as some sort of terrible exception. There is no real solution to a situation like this. Rarely we get a piece like Star Wars that has everything together in a perfect way with good timing. Even if the game’s bugs and overall state would have been up to much higher calibre, from what I’ve seen it would still have been found disappointment in how it plays. From all the footage, streams and the odd review I’ve seen, Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t actually push any boundaries when it comes to play mechanics. On the contrary, it seems it’s rather middle of the road and does nothing spectacular. Maybe that’s the sacrifice you have to make when you make a vast world driven by a story rather play. Maybe these games are just getting too big for their own good, and end up feeling smaller than they really are. Though personally I’d love to see customers reining in their expectations and the companies directing their marketing and PR to make the most realistic claims and ads with no embellishments. That won’t ever happen, but a man can dream.