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.

 

 

A terrible post about gaming media and the nature of play

The recent Game Awards show was not better than it had been in previous years. There’s nothing much I can add to the shitshow I haven’t already mentioned a year earlier. The event was, in all essence, an industry patting its own back with the support of video and computer game media massaging its shoulders while whispering sweet nothings in its ear. Much like how the Oscars are given to movies that are of a certain style that which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (it’s not really an academy), game award shows all are entwined with the industry itself. There is a major problem in objectivity here, or rather, the lack of it. Even you gathered a group of journalists and ex-game developers to determine the best games of the year, the sheer number of produced games would make some of these titles vanish from the radar, and the whole issue of the media being completely mixed the producing industry will create blind spots. Numerous games that had release dates close to awards seem to always miss a spot, or get unnaturally good spots despite nobody really having time to play them enough to assess their merits. Smaller games that are nothing short of fantastic like Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin don’t even exist on the lists despite doing something new, while the game industry’s big Triple-A titles are there to control the list. Despite gaming touted as one of the elements of counter-culture back in the day, all these award events and Top lists on gaming media sites show how nepotistic and outright corrupt they are. Then again, these events aren’t really meant to show what are the best titles of the year. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have advertisements and trailers thrown about and would showcase these titles around the latter first quarter of the next year. That’d allow all the titles of the previous year to come and ample time to play through them and assess them. That is if these were actually about the merit.

Mind you, if you were to point out this nepotism and how badly the whole scenario has been screwed, the media will defend itself and attack its customers. No other media is as rabid when it comes to insulting the people they’re depending their livelihood on, though all these media influences and journalists probably could make a living by getting paid by the companies and selling gift game merch they constantly get. If you check eBay for promotional materials directed at reviewers, a lot of them are making a small bank on them.

There is now academic listing what makes “a good” video or computer game. In the past, I’ve argued that we’d need an objective listing on what would define a high-quality electronic game, but on further inspection that might be a moot point. Mostly because games themselves are an absolutely boring topic to research and categorise in order of their merits and most people are only interested in the surface of these games. Again, we’ve yet to see a category in technical achievements as that would require actually inspecting the game’s code and how well it runs, or how well the play rules have been designed and realised. Films are rather transparent compared to electronic games as we can see their building blocks on the screen. Even traditional games don’t have anything under the hood as you have the rules set out in the manuals, but electronic games have stuff running behind the curtain all the time and all we’re seeing is the reflection of it. Even if companies would allow a reviewer to see their coding, it wouldn’t tell much unless the person was properly educated on what to look for.

There is a need to separate the journalistic media from the game industry, especially now that people have become strained politically to each direction. Currently, all the media is concentrating on what it should be seen as correct and choosing sides to push a view. You can blame me doing so too if you want, as I’m effectively promoting the idea of an apolitical, separated approach to the electronic gaming industry that doesn’t concern itself with the views of the titles or their creators. In the current state, the media is that is all but impossible. Outside individual reviewers and sites, game reviews are advertisement sold to the highest bidder and service rendered to friends. This isn’t anything new, I hear the echo saying, and that is sadly the case. Reviews of any form of entertainment media has always been used to advertise its product and buying reviews is about as old a thing as reviews themselves. Giving a good word for a friend is about as old a thing as lying is. This is especially transparent in films, where you often see someone else who has nothing to do with a movie’s production but has a reputation, comes in and says only good things about said movie. James Cameron did this to many of the Terminator films he had nothing to do with but did it just so his friends in the industry could get paid. Lying to the audience in order to get sales is not uncommon, it’s a daily practice and many pay for the privilege of getting lied to on a standard basis. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done outside a total paradigm shift within the media or among consumers against the current practices, and that’s not going to happen as that’d mean losing money in favour of gaining integrity. People are blind to their own faults, especially when they’re being reinforced all the time.

There is an approach many consumers practise in reviews, which is to follow people who share similar interests and taste in entertainment. That way they find ways to find titles they might otherwise miss. I do agree that this is a sensible approach, it does end up creating a bubble of certain kind of titles being introduced alone and subjectivity getting the best of things. It’s the whole previous dilemma on a personal level again, but at least there’s no pretending. In this, the merits a piece of entertainment has gets skewed and the parts that reinforce the bubble get hyper-charged. Using the blog as an example, the argument of what a distilled video game ends up being is the rules of play and the framework its set in. This leaves no room for a written plot, as the play drives and is the story in a dynamic manner dependent on the play. This is against the grain with the gaming media, where the story is treated similar to films, where they’re the readily built scenes and events rather than as the framing structure the playing is done in. To make a comparison with tabletop roleplaying, the framing device of video games is the scenario written by the Dungeon Master. The background and reasoning why the characters are here are readily set up, and the players’ actions and decisions are what build the true story. Video games, however, are less plastic and have to railroad the player. In Super Mario Bros., you can’t ally with Bowser no matter how much you want. In a tabletop RPG you can do that as long as you can justify this. Here the rules of play step in, and how gaming, any genre, share more in common with card games and sports as they have strictly defined rules that allow no deviation.

The gaming media, and to large extent, the gaming industry have their own twisted mind what games are and make no connection of them being part of the whole culture of play. You may not have noticed it before or thought about it, but your brain did. It has made the connection well enough to understand that, in all essence, a play of cops and robbers is the same thing as Grand Theft Auto. Perhaps the media wants to, or rather has a need to, portray video games as a higher form of art and entertainment in order to justify their line of work. Film critics have some prestige as films are generally accepted as a form of art while video game critics and journalists are considered to reside at the bottom of the barrel. It’s not about their lack of integrity or vehement hatred towards their own audience, but again with that whole thing of selling video games as something completely separate from actual play. Toy manufacturers and toy collectors understand that collector’s toys are just more expensive toys for kids, but the same isn’t with the gaming media, or parts of the industry. They’re not making films or literature, or even toys, but something that is, in effect, a hyper-advanced method to enforce rules of a play. It’s as if the media is afraid to admit that their lives and work they’ve done have been all about talking about and making games for people to play. They may be afraid of the ridicule such thing often produces as the general association with playing is towards children. That’s something most thirty-something people are afraid of, but when you hit your latter forties, most people are grown enough to realise that play never changes. The children’s culture of play simply gains more expensive dimensions and more refined elements to it. At some point, playing becomes a hobby, and to some it becomes work. For some cultural reasons, playing is for children, and thus people game.

Aren’t you too old to be playing games? When will you grow up?

 

Super Robot Wars is not the best gateway to mecha

The misunderstanding of what kind of genre mecha belongs to is slowly starting to ebb away. While North America still sustains people who consider it as nothing more as a toy commercial for children, that’s just one section of the overall genre. Transformers has very much seeped into the American culture as a defining example of what mecha is, even when it kind of bastardises the rest of the genre. The same can’t be said for Italian, French or Spain where shows like UFO Robot Grendizer and Space Warrior Baldios got localised and were relatively popular. Grendizer still gets seen as Goldorak is a pop-culture icon there, similarly how the Middle-East will gush over it. Then again, both of these shows are about space invaders coming to Earth with a special hero fighting a new monster on a weekly basis. By the 1990s, mecha was somewhat infamous of using stock footage over and over. If you’ve seen, say, New Mobile Report Gundam W, you’ve seen a certain Gundam Heavyarms shooting scene over and over to the point of it becoming somewhat ridiculous. In shows where you had relatively less budget and episodes’ animation quality might’ve wondered every which way, stock footage would stick out with its overall better animation quality. You might as well drop more money into the clip that gets used almost every episode.

I’d argue that the change in overall attitudes overall in the Western fandom that wasn’t into mecha in the mid-2000s. While Mobile Suit Gundam Seed was the first of many for a new generation of consumers due to the starting anime boom, to many its emphasis on interpersonal relationships juxtaposed with giant robots was something new. Within the genre itself, this has been done since the 1970s, with the original Mobile Suit Gundam itself garnering a significant female fanbase due to the aforementioned relationships. People love Char’s story, which sort of has undermined the rest of the Universal Century timeline. People can’t seem to give up Char and his character while ignoring other major characters and leaving their significance largely underdeveloped at best, almost completely ignored at worst. Code Geass‘ popularity could be argued to be a kind of breaking point, where I had multiple discussions in person, and read multiple arguments over whether or not the show counts as mecha, or whether or not it was drama. It has all hallmarks to be counted as mecha, from being future military drama to all the aforementioned bits, and foremost, it had giant humanoid war machines. While mecha doesn’t need to have war or conflict to be counted as one, them being sort of modern stories about knights or samurai is fitting due to their role as an external armour of the characters.

However, as a genre, it is hard to penetrate. Unless you already have a preference for the style of storytelling the genre often employs, visuals or interest in mechanical stuff overall, you might find mecha somewhat boring, jarring, stupid and all the stuff you don’t want from a show. All you end up with are a bunch of stupid robots fighting and not caring about anything else. You need some kind of line thrown to you that would fish out your interest and to separate that from the big robot battles. Code Geass did this to many through the characters. Though nothing special on the large scale, Code Geass managed to tap certain aesthetics with studio Clamp’s character designs and a very specifically made story surrounding royalty, loyalty and betrayal. This, accompanied with larger than life characters with special powers who are given a chance to change their rotten fate. It pulled in people who were fans of Gundam and Clamp together, and while these two did have overlap, Code Geass managed to intertwine them even more. The fact that it was a new IP made it much easier to access as well. There was no need to watch hundreds of hours of shows to get into something or try to withstand older animation that some people have a hard time to deal with.

Now we finally get to the actual subject matter of this post. Super Robot Wars is a game series that embodies this impenetrable wall all the while throwing as many lines out there to hook someone in.

Super Robot Wars, henceforth SRW, is a long-running game series clocking at thirty-plus years now and hasn’t exactly changed in big meaningful ways during that time. Outside of spin-off titles, the mainline games have not meddled with the formula. Only tweaks, additions and modifications to the core strategy playing element have been made, or how the whole story progression could be done. Sometimes you’re locked to one route with multiple characters, sometimes multiple characters have their own route that crosses over, sometimes you have only one route and character. While the modern games in the series are largely easy games to play through on their Normal difficulty, earlier titles in the series are still notoriously difficult to the point of needing to use certain specific units because of how strong they were in stats and attacks. Often you’d find junk units that would always sit on the bench. It didn’t help that at its core SRW titles have very lax pacing, with older titles forcing the player to spend more time with the game simply because you couldn’t skip Battle Animations. That didn’t become a thing until SRW Alpha, and speeding up those animations of you wanted to watch them didn’t hit the curb until SRW Z. We’re talking games almost ten years apart from each other (well, closer to seven, but still). Sometimes the improvements come from necessity, with The 2nd SRW Alpha (or SRW Alpha 2 as it’s more commonly known) introducing a squad-based system due to the larger cast of characters. The third Alpha game would one of the biggest cast in the series’ history and is lovingly called a massive clusterfuck of tedium in terms of unit management, especially after an Event stage when the game resets all the squads and the player has to reassemble them from the scratch. Just before the GameBoy Advance SRW Original Generation games cold localised into English by Atlus, many people who couldn’t afford to import the games (or had ways to play imported games) spent lots of time watching other people’s captured footage of the attack animations. The attack animations are one of the things that pull people in, as they’re one of the last big 2D assets still done today, but also that the fans of the shows can easily recognise from where in the shows they’re taken from, with some attacks being behind special conditions.

Most modern uploads of older SRW titles is forced into widescreen, something that breaks the quality as the aspect ratio is now wrong

That fan bit is another key though. What aspects would SRW have to engage people who aren’t into mecha as a genre, or want to spend several hours in a strategy game that is either stupidly hard or nearly a walk in the park? The concoction of different robot shows crossing over in an official fanfic, often compensating for each other weaknesses while reinforcing the strong bits even more and having all these different characters and motifs meeting in a unified manner isn’t something that would interest most people outside the already established fandom, but modern times has proven how SRW can have something for anyone in these terms, if given a chance. While the series has been considered somewhat a significant staple in Japan to the point of influencing the animation media and series themselves, like how Mazinkaiser’s introduction in SRW F ultimately led into the creation of the retro robot OVA boom, the inclusion of Koutetsu Jeeg in SRW Alpha 2 raised newfound interest it to gain a retroactive sequel in Koutetsushin Jeeg and numerous similar shows directed at the adult market bloomed up now and then. This coincided with the drop in children’s robot shows, as the new generation of Japanese children and young people considered giant robots and mecha overall to be a thing of their parents. While shows like Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann were massive successes across the board, it’s one of the few examples from the modern time when a mecha show shot through every genre fandoms and pulled people in, and that was 2007, thirteen years ago. Kill la Kill would replicate similar success, though it wasn’t mecha. SSSS.Gridman didn’t manage to gather the same audience, but that might’ve been because it was special effects live-action show, or tokusatsu, turned into a cartoon. Nevertheless, successful enough to get a sequel in SSSS.Dynazenon.

For the Western world, outside those GBA titles, SRW has been a series some people played because they were cool without understanding the context, as SRW games are stupid easy to learn with zero knowledge of Japanese. Because the systems, mechanics and hell even the menus haven’t changed much since the second game, you can skip from one game to another without prior knowledge what does what. It takes about a quarter of an hour to learn what does what. Some people enjoyed the text, sure. the GBA Original Generation titles had no licensed shows, just so-called Banpresto Original characters that are used as a glue to tie all the other shows together SRW, so in that manner, they provide a bastardization of SRW overall all the while showcasing how these games themselves kicked up a whole new level of fandom, equal to its humble cross-over origin. While you got the best gist what the games were like, that cross-over really is the salt of SRW.

These games later got a full-blown remake on the PS2 as Original Generations, retconning many things the GBA games set-up in the story, but never got localised in English. Later OGS titles would get an Asian English release, but this itself poses problems when you have non-canon versions in English and missing a few titles between those and the translated ones, not to mention the whole Lord of Elemental side games lacking any translations (outside the original Super Famicom game, but that’s canon to the Classic SRW timeline, not the modern OGS one)

With SRW being part of Bandai-Namco’s growing pains Southern Asia Ocean English releases, with the initial titles having terrifyingly bad English and translations that made little sense nor had any character to them, the three last Super Robot Wars titles, VX and T, have been very successful games in terms of imports. I’ve heard rumours of those imports making more profits to BaNco than the Japanese releases, which tells you a lot about the import market. Because of the stupid amount of licenses and trademarks involved in each game (sans OG) it’s no wonder no company even attempted to properly localise the series before. Outside Japan, the licenses and trademarks are spread wide and trying to get some kind deal where everyone would get some profit just won’t happen. With importing being a completely viable and easy way to obtain games nowadays, Japan’s awakening to the import market like this has done only good for their sales. Dropping Steam versions of some of the newer titles has also allowed Steam users to enjoy the series if they got into it.

That’s the last point that has held SRW back. If you’re sitting down and playing it, you’re getting mechas from shows you probably don’t give a damn as a general consumer, characters and concepts that are unfamiliar and make no sense with the games themselves not even trying to open them up in-game, bombing you with more and more ludicrous stuff that only hard-core fans would understand and play that’s arguably two decades out of date. While Muv-Luv was called the ultimate otaku game by some contemporary reviewer, that title belongs to Super Robot Wars without any doubt. It’s not just mecha that SRW contains, but the whole Japanese otaku culture at large in a form that is presentable to the general consumers. There are numerous little things that reference or throw shade at in the Japanese popular culture, with one of the more known example being a thing between Neon Genesis Evangelion’s Misato Katsuragi and Mobile Suit Gundam‘s Amuro Ray. The two characters share voice actors in Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask respectively. In SRW Alpha, the two have certain specific scenes showcasing a slight romantic interest with each other which is played out as a direct reference to the voice actors’ roles. That one Tactics Ogre reference in Muv-Luv Alternative is baby tier fanaticism compared what SRW does due to the sheer amount of franchises and games being involved in this whole shebang.

And yet, the title of this post is that it’s not the best gateway, not that it isn’t one. The same reason people might stay with SRW is the same thing they found Code Geass interesting and captivating. SRW has to base itself on all these franchises, and the writing tries its hardest to be on the same level, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding. The series is filled with characters to the point of overflowing and their interactions and relationships are one of the pillars. You might find a character who is batshit insane and charismatic guy, who yells every attack in his rounded robot and want to see where his story goes. Maybe you’ll find a cute girl flying a transforming bike who fights dragons. Hell, maybe you’ll even grow to like this Shinn guy and his Destiny Gundam, the other characters seem to give him some good support and growth. All these little things lead into considering visiting the actual work itself now that you’ve familiarised with the work in an environment that might be more to your liking. The games are all about the robots fighting on the surface and neat as hell sprite work, but if the characters and the plot manage to grab you even a little bit, that’s when the gateway to Robotland opens. It just takes tons to get there, and if none of these elements really nab you, well that’s something that can’t be helped.

Super Robot Wars could be considered an institution in itself in Japanese gaming. Whilst it is not for everyone, it has made itself more and more approachable throughout the years with its play tuning and series selections. With the occasional surprise in there, like Tekkeman Blade in SRW J and the recent Battleship-slot entries, namely The Secret of Blue Water, Space Pirate Captain Harlock and most importantly, Space Battleship Yamato 2199, with the side mention of Linebarrels of Iron original comic version having an entry in SRW UX, many fan-perceived limitations and bans seem to have gone the way of the dodo and all doors are open what could enter next into the mainline games and have that full SRW treatment.

One day…

Music of the Month: Ice Brain

I started this post originally lamenting how tired and utterly exhausted I am how the news has become a tool to radicalise people. Even after all these decades and knowing yellow journalism has been after that headline that would attract coin, these last five to six years have been a special kind of trash fire that has made me lost faith in every single news source that I used to follow. Be it on television, Youtube, on paper or individual journalists on the field, not one is even attempting to showcase a balanced, objective view what’s going on. Instead, I have found myself in a need to weave through dozens of different sources just to find what was really said or what really happened. I’m looking at the States across the pond and wondering how the people allowed themselves to be divided, as to be conquered. The news and social media has done nothing but radicalised all ends of the political spectrum, and the US desperately needs more than two governing parties. It’s a goddamn mess they’re having there.

I wanted to get that one out. I’m tired, worried, stressed and cranky. I am not a good company, and that probably is being reflected in whatever post I’m making in these upcoming months, because this is a thing that I know won’t go away anytime soon due to work and issues with personal life. It would be nice to have breaks and things to enjoy, to get rid of all the things pressing on my neck at the moment, but that’s not going to happen in some twenty years now. Work isn’t really helping with this any, as we just entered Q1 of the financial year and it’s always a terrible, slow and janky time. I would rather keep working and push stuff forwards, yet bureaucracy and other slower workers put breaks on everything despite we had a nice and smooth working schedule and line-up all ready. Yet the Q1 hit and everything was put to a total halt and I’m already so full of being able to do jack shit nothing and yet needing roll to work and be there like I had a rod up my ass. It’s not productive and honesty wastes my time and nerves. You’d think I could sit down and write more posts or perhaps even practice drawing, but that’s a No-No. Company policies. Yet you have motherfuckers taking hour-long breaks and almost two-hour lunch breaks, but doing your job while doing something else on the side gets you reprimanded. So if there’s a post missing, it’s more likely I’m trying to spend that time recovering from something with friends or simply not wanting to put my head out there. I’ve started to take a new hobby in napping.

On other stuff that might be more interest to you, dear reader, is that the Muv-Luv Alternative comic is being digitally published. It’s available on Amazon, but I truly recommend their Gumroad option over Amazon in every single respect. Not only the service is better, but you’d also be supporting proper competition between companies. If you don’t have a Gumroad account, this is the time for it and get cracking with all those other stuff you can find there.

When it comes to video games, have you noticed how the Switch is being excluded from the 9th Generation of video game consoles despite it being the one that started it? For whatever reason people are lumping it with the 8th Generation, but then again these are the people who consider certain pole marks to be the sign of a generation rather than, y’know, the next thing. Certainly, the gaming media population can’t be so dumb to assume that raytracing and whatever newfangled keys are being jingled in front of the customer this year are the only things that determine a generation. It’s like how the Dreamcast wasn’t considered competition for the PlayStation 2 because it had launched earlier. Yet here we are now, counting it as the first of the sixth generation of video game consoles. Nintendo already had a console in the eighth generation, and that was the Wii U. It might’ve been a total failure, a worse bomb than the Virtual Boy, yet it still counts as their mark of failure straight up after the glorious Wii. Oh well, people who think this is a life-or-death matter (or Wikipedia editors) will keep debating how the Switch belongs to the 8th generation because of its lack of hardware power, though that logic would throw all the previous generations to disarray in a rather messy manner.

Sadly, I am finding myself more apathetic as I keep writing this, so instead of trying to force myself to find more cheery subjects and not try to talk about Australia banning Japanese adult magazines and sex toys with cartoon characters, which is a puritanical action that belongs to the 1700-century and has no place in the modern world, I’ll just go make something to eat instead and consider spending few minutes with Episode I Racer instead.

Capcoms leaks aren’t exactly making an impact yet

You probably know that a group named Ragna Locker has been releasing materials that they have gained from Capcom’s servers via ransomware on their website. There’s little question on the legality of these files or actions, this isn’t their first rodeo with this stuff. They have other companies under their thumb, and ultimately the amount of releases kind of spell a story that most companies don’t really seem to care if their security has been breached, or that they’re just unwilling to pay for their data and further patch up security on their servers. For Capcom, it seems the group hit their archive server, as the material that’s on the released files range from source code to Devil May Cry 2, Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles and to Misadventures of Tronne Bonne (there’s a whole thread about that) all the way up to upcoming releases and plans for collections and games in development listed in various files, as well as proper confirmation that Street Fighter VI has been under development for some time, but we’ve heard more or less confirmed rumours of this for some time. The word I’ve seen is that Ono’s version of SFVI was overtly reliant on team mechanics, and was effectively scrapped. Hence him being kicked off from the perch and Street Fighter V got an extended season for one more year. As you can see with the last link, Capcom has also gone after some of the more known examples and DMCA’d the material, but sites like Nichegamer have gone untouched. They’ve covered the leaks to a large extent, (with more stuff about what I’ll describe below), which I’d recommend checking if you find me unusually obnoxious

Other stuff found in the leaks has shown Google paying Capcom about ten million USD to have Resident Evil 7 and 8 on the Stadia, with Sony paying five million USD for a VR demo and timed exclusivity. The upcoming and somewhat hyped Monster Hunter Rise on the Switch was also confirmed to get a Steam release about a year later, making this title also a timed exclusive for the system. Whether or not Nintendo paid for them to do so, or this was Capcom’s internal decision, wasn’t confirmed either way in the leaks. There are also numerous slides about Capcom internally shifting towards a global view more than they already have. A PowerPoint presentation in the leak has made an emphasize for political correct material to be heavily considered in advertising material and in products as well as putting emphasis on language that would be equitable and fair in order to even hint social discrimination of anything. Even to the point of considering dropping items and words that certain groups of people might find objectionable from games themselves, like avoiding the use of alcohol, pork and blood as items or even on-screen because, for example, Muslims might find such things offensive. On the other hand, the same slides also recommend not using any iconography relating to Nazism and war, which would include not showcasing the swastika, which has a version in Buddhist symbology as Manji. Furthermore, it should be taken into account that what is considered non-problematic in Japan may be regulated in other countries. Interestingly, these slides seem to be only a few months old, as they refer to The Last of Us 2 as a positive example, something that’s a slight riot in itself. While this sounds nice and proper, it comes from a place that wishes to dictate all content and take out whatever edge there might be, dulling the creativity these products might otherwise have. It’s taking the customers’ agency away as well, as it doesn’t trust the customer to be sensible enough to make their own decisions on the matters, opting instead to make what is and isn’t sensible for them. God forbid a corporation to make a product for a targeted group. There is constantly growing consumer base who willingly concentrate on Japanese games due to their design philosophies and content, and willingly to water down their products will impact sales negatively for products that mainly follow Japanese trends. Imagine if your favourite Japanese piece was made to specifically cater to Spain or Wisconsin.

One of my favourite bits is the recommendation of adding an Autoplay Mode, with Catherine: Full Body being used as an example, where the player would have a mode in which, unsurprisingly, the game would clear a stage by itself. Young American consumers were used as an example of a possible target audience. Underestimating your audience at this best. There are better targets for this kind of mode.

With the files that are most easy to download from Ragna’s site also shows how Capcom isn’t exactly the nicest corporation around with tidbits here and there, with further materials supposedly in the main bulk further showing that, as a company, they’re no better or worse than Konami or SEGA. As one anonymous user said, it has to be given to Capcom how much they have balls to let all this data out and not really give a damn outside their usual announcements. Outside a few incident files easily accessible on Ragna Locker’s site that they showcase, other stuff that’s a bit underhanded is regarding what they call ambassadors, aka streamers, to turn them into believers. This would give Capcom a PR channel similar to other companies and a way to gain a cheap yet effective marketing core. Don’t hit the high-end streamer that’ll drop a game after the contract ends, but hit those who mid-level people who are trying to gather an audience. It makes sense for sure, but more often than not a streamer or a blogger has to cover their agreements to some extent, as being frank about them playing a game as an advertisement doesn’t usually bode well.

That said, just to cover my own ass a bit I won’t post images or links. The main bulk information and images have been spread around the Internet already, including all that I’ve mentioned above and then some. Ranga Locker is slowly publishing new files, which contain more information all around but seeing you need to use Tor Browser to download any of it, which takes few days per file. Even then you’d be better off questioning whether or not you want to have any of these files on your HDD due to the nature of their acquisition. If you do, just be sure to run anything and everything you do in a separate OS designed for security. You never know what the hell’s inside these files.

Nevertheless, nothing much has burned Capcom yet in these leaks thus far. The political correctness training and pushing that to the front has been clear for years, but its ‘confirmation’ of sorts has caused all sorts of voices to come out. People have been more eager, if not even hyped, to read upcoming titles from the listed games, which include titles like Final Fight Remake for July-September 2024 and Dragon’s Dogma 2 for 2022. The showcase of New Ace Attorney games getting a collected release has also made people all sorts of happy. There’s all sort of info in the leak, of which you can either check yourself or hit your favourite discussion groups on forums and imageboards. Who would’ve thought that transparency, even forced one, would only end up making your customers look for the final products more. The thing is, Capcom was very vocal about Mega Man Legends 3′s development despite the game wasn’t fully greenlit, and it effectively blew in their collective faces and was a sort of PR nightmare for who week before non-Mega Man fans moved onwards. You can still see remnants of the game’s play and engine in Gaist Crusher series,

What this leak mostly impacts is the security of their employees’ information being endangered, embarrassing investors and damaging some of their corporate partners in terms of trust and security. At least for now, as Ragna Locker might still have much more material than they haven’t put out. The more people put the materials out, the more chance there are that some darker corporate secret might get out. After all, we’re seeing some glimpses in the current leaks about Capcom, but the reality behind the veil is always twice worse.

As for the hacking and leaking group itself, Ragna Locker seems to be a rather fresh team of people and already hitting notable corporations. Whether or not they have taken their own security into account well enough will remain to be seen, but the pace they are putting material out is concerning. The modern world takes cybersecurity rather more seriously than a decade or two ago, and it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to think Interpol might get interested in them if this rate of intrusions continues. Whether or not they have covered their tracks in each case well enough will remain to be seen. As for now, enjoy whatever stuff you manage to gather up. Despite whatever baggage these leaks carry over them, they are a goldmine for the consumer to see and learn about Capcom themselves and of their plans and nature, much like how Sony email leaks were a few years back. It’s a chance not to be missed.