The Current Format War

The last physical format war was HD-DVD versus Blu-Ray. HD-DVD met a rather quick defeat compared to the previous format wars, where you had more than one format existing side-by-side for different reasons. VHS vs. Betamax VS. Laserdisc was and interesting and long era, where only VHS and LD really had any place due to their nature of media. Way back in 2012 I had a post about what sort of role OVA had on the format war overall, and looking back at this post I should revise it a lot. Interestingly, history tends to rhyme and we’re seeing some of the same stuff taking place with the current format war, which isn’t between physical media, but between streaming services.

Unlike with physical media, digital streaming services are relatively easy to make. The standard for it is already there, embedded video that’s streamed to a device. Looking at the amount of streaming service there are, pretty much any larger company has one, from A&E to YouTube Red. Of course, Netflix is the most successful and well known of the bunch, and is expected to corner to market on the long run due to its overwhelming global popularity.

However, we are talking about a delivery method that does not require the purchase of a separate player and dedication to a form of media. The paradigm shift from television and prerecorded material to decentralised television and all-access services has transformed television as a concept altogether to something most traditional channels probably can’t handle without large shift in their business plans and structure. While physical media will not be phased out as fast as commentators and industry insiders have thought (we’ve been told the last fifteen years that in few years nobody will purchase physical media anymore), it has gone down progressively alongside abandoning the living room centric television. This has affected video games as well, as we’ve discussed, and is one of the major factors why the Switch is a successful console on its own right.  Everybody has a screen in their pocket, everyone has a television in their pocket.

Format wars have been won by having the most stuff on your format as well as capabilities that are not offered by your competition. Laserdisc was a great format for film enthusiast who wanted quality, but the sheer size of the discs and the costs over Beta and VHS later down the line were higher. BETA may have been better than VHS in quality, but it was more expensive and had Sony’s proprietary tech that cost more to license than VHS. VHS ultimately became cheapest option as mass manufacturing took root and home recording became accessible for the general audience like never before. The old tale of porn winning the format war for VHS is not exactly wrong, as it allowed so many small-sized studios and independents to release their products. YouTube and other similar sites that allow and partner with user-driven content creation would be the modern equivalent. However, this is a paradigm shift in itself, and user-created content, be it home mobvies, indies or recording stuff off the TV, ultimately has less to do with winning the format war this time around. It’s all about what professional content you have.

Shows like Star Trek Discovery, Devilman Crybaby, and Cobra Kai are all shows that were made to drive views and sales of a streaming service. CBS did not go and aim to make a great Star Trek show for CBS All-Access, they aimed to make a show that would drive subscriptions, and considering they’ve greenlight the second season and have boldly announced best results ever, it seems to have worked. World wide, Netflix was the one with STD under their belt, but unlike most other streaming services, they’ve been bringing original animation to the forefront more.

While a site like Crunchyroll streams and simulcasts cartoons from the far orient, Netflix has put more money into original creations, most of which have been largely popular. The aforementioned Devilman Crybaby raised quite a bit of buzz and gained some subs for Netflix, and the same thing can be said of their Castlevania adaptation. Netflix and Crunchyroll have a niche cornered. The only thing that can really affect the amount of money made is how much ads get blocked on free streaming sites and how well the consumer is treated. It’s not exactly rare to hear Crunchyroll shitting on their costumers or dropping the streaming quality for all users, including the paying subscribers, without earning. A site like them should know to keep the front and back of the counter completely separate, but with the advent of social media era, it’s seems to have become really hard not to try and piss people off of Twitter or Facebook.

While new and original content is the main tool in this war, nostalgia is also a grand factor. Something and something old usually work hand in hand. All examples here are really just nostalgia driven somehow. Star Trek is an entertainment institution on its won right, Devilman is one of the most important comic books created on the world wide scale, Castlevania pulls the NES kid out from you and Cobra Kai is YouTube Red’s weapon in this. Cobra Kai‘s a show that people would enjoy and Sony has been criticised for putting it to a platform with smaller consumer base rather than on something like Netflix, where the show could get its proper amount of views.

That is, of course, entirely the point.

Having just one provider for any service will easily lead into situation where the consumer has no other options to choose from and has to be satisfied to whatever products and services in whatever quality the provider gives in. The current format war won’t have one winning side, because there is no need for the consumer to dedicate himself to just one medium. What these providers now have to fight with is content, and the more content you have people want to watch and can’t be seen on other services, the more leverage you have. Disney of course will be an absolute juggernaut whenever they start their own services due to sheer size of their library, but we shouldn’t ignore the likes of Amazon Prime and their constant licensing of niche shows that aren’t available elsewhere in the West. While at face value it would seem beneficial for the consumer to have everything in one place, competition is always a driving force.

Of course, then there are digital luddites like me who just sit and wait for shows to come out on physical media.

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Netflix style gaming

Some time ago I was asked what do I think will be the next big thing in gaming. Usually I tend to argue that digital will not replace physical release for some time now (digital distribution has been said to obsolete physical media for some fifteen years for now) but I do recognize that cross pollination between the media is common. The future of gaming can once more found in the past, and that probably will be streamed games.

Streaming games isn’t anything new and few companies have already tried it few times over. Nintendo’s Satellaview service is perhaps the most prominent example next to OnLive’s cloud gaming. These two functioned rather differently, with Satellaview requiring a specific cartridge that would download and save the game on the cartridge itself, whereas OnLive’s MicroConsole TV Adapter (that’s what their console was called) would access a title on OnLive’s servers and stream it directly to the console.

Netflix’s and other streaming services’ success is something modern game industry is probably highly envious of. Games and movies don’t only affect each other visually speaking, but also how the industries sort of work. Modern mainstream game industry is just as corrupt and full of itself as Hollywood is, and both are envious of each other of their successes and products they put out. The consumer really loses in this little battle with each other.

It could be argued that modern technology isn’t up to perfect game streaming yet. Satellaview was more or less a similar service to Steam in how the game required a specific setup in order to be played, and OnLive’s service stated that the user needed to live thousand miles of within their server in order to get quality service. The Internet speeds are the bottle cap of the system overall, and as games require more and more oomph from the machine, the machines need to reflect this in their hardware. However, hardware still doesn’t reflect the quality of the games, as that’s still up to the developers how their games are designed and optimised, two things that seem to be missing from current mainstream industry.

One of the main reasons why companies would want to aim for game streaming is that they can claim it to be fighting against piracy through that. Claim is the choice of word here, because game companies don’t like people trading their games with each other. It’s better for them if everyone bought their games new from the stores. A streaming service would keep their the control of the market in their hands. Purchasing of games wouldn’t be a thing as the consumer would subscribe to a service. Except for the DLC, that would always be a separate thing. Of course, the user wouldn’t need to use any of his HDD space for the games due to cloud based service. In regards of history archiving, stream-only games would be hard to archive for future generations. Satellaview games suffer from this, especially with the radio broadcasts that went with them. Even now, a game that has its license expiring will be removed from stores and online services whenever applicable, and the same will apply to any streaming service.

Of course, the ownership question always pops up. With a streaming service, you would only own the console you would use for streaming, and for computers you wouldn’t probably own the software. You’d need to subscribe to the service itself and would have no control over anything in the end. Without a doubt, regional variants would continue to exists, just like with Netflix and other streaming services that limit what can be streamed in which country. This sort of regional locking is something that isn’t an issue with modern consoles any more, but with stream-only services a user wouldn’t be able to access games from another region without a VPN.

Which if the Big Three would launch their own modern game streaming service first? Sony certainly should have the basics for it, as they bought out OnLive. They should have all the documentation and basic framework how to set up a similar cloud gaming service. Perhaps this could be their ace in the hole to compete against Nintendo’s hybrid console. Microsoft on the other probably won’t do anything of the sort for a while now before they see how Project Scorpio turns out, and probably will mimic whatever Nintendo and Sony put out while trying to trump them with something over the top (see; Kinect and WiiMote.) Nintendo on the other hand seems to be already testing some waters with Switch’s paid online, as the current word on the street is that Nintendo’s paid online service has been delayed until 2018 and rather than offering a game for the subscribers to play, they will be able to access a plethora of classic games. Of course Nintendo would only offer classic games and nothing newer, as they don’t give a damn about their classic lineup of games. On the surface it does seem nice, with the cheaper price and all, but this most likely also means Nintendo won’t give two shits about Virtual Console, which was one of the reasons people bought Wii. Perhaps in their eyes a streaming service of these classic games could increase console sales, especially if the service was cheap enough.

I admit that companies hoping to take control over the consumers’ consumption of goods into their hands does sound like conspiracy theory to an extent, but no company would pass such an opportunity, because ultimately it is all about the money. By having all the string in your fingertips, a company could log in all the preferences of a consumer, supplement them, hit the right spots and sell the information forwards while still selling their own  product (i.e. subscription service and DLC in this case) to the consumer. The current consumer trend is to give control of products over the companies, and Steam probably exemplifies this the best alongside with Netflix. Certainly it is cheaper and you don’t amass large amounts of discs on your shelf. Perhaps there is too much trust put into these companies with all the information we give them.

Digging up the past

This post will be a ramble, as it does not have one cohesive topic or a point. I had intended to do a mecha design post, but that got postponed due to headache, local celebration and other things that required most of my attention span. Thus, my concentration is largely bust for anything proper. However, one things does tie things together in a very loose manner; all the things discussed here are about old franchises.

Now that I think of it, I used to write these rants more often, so I guess this is a blast from the past for some.

All this really started few weeks back when a friend tried to convince me to watch Rogue One, a Star Wars Prequel. While I don’t intend to do a review of its design works or the like, I already covered that topic few times over regarding how modern Star Wars is all about recycling old designs and concepts. Granted, sometimes they give them a new whirl, but under this new management it really shows how lacking their department in creating new things are.

Now what pissed you off this time? I hear some of you asking. Kaiburr crystals, or as the new continuity seems to like to put it, kyber. It’s an old concept dating back to the original scripts of Star Wars and served as the item to move plot, but were rightfully dropped. It did return back in the Expanded Universe as the name of the crystal that allows lightsabers to focus energy into a blade. Now, in this new continuity, they’re what powers lightsabers and apparently the Death Star requires tons of it to run, essentially making its world destroying beam a giant version of a lightsabre. Hell, there’s a book about a Hutt taking Death Star idea and making a lightsabre-lookalike battle station named Darksaber. It’s in the book with the same name.

It doesn’t make any sense for a crystal to be powering something. It is now known that we could make hi.-temperature photonic crystals into batteries to power electronics and machinery, at least if we’re to believe MIT. Rogue One does not only rewrite story of Epsiode IV (Vader claims the Rebel blockade runner had received multiple transmissions from the rebels and that they were not on a peaceful mission, while in Rogue One we clearly see there was only one transmission from, which was given to Leia through a disc of sorts, and they were docked with a revel ship Vader himself saw escaping), but it also just throws everything in the face of common sense.

While we can argue whether or not the old Expanded Universe was good or not, it had loads of things that made sense. One of these things that made some sense was that the Death Star was powered up by a SFS-CR27200 hypermatter reactor that was lined up by stellar fuel bottles that powered up the whole station. How do I know this? I got the goddamn Owner’s Workshop Manual in my hand for reference material. But Aalt, the movie says It’s the fuel for the weapon, not for the station. Considering the rebels keep referring to Death Star as the weapon throughout the film, and not station or anything else, they do mean the Death Star itself. Hair splitting, I know. Of course they might retcon this the second time in other materials, but the movie makes it clear what the crystals are for. You’re using secondary material, notice that. Yes, and if we were to ignore all that, powering a space station able to blow up planets with crystals would still be retarded. Not to mention Episode IV mentions a reactor powering the thin, not bunch of crystals.

Enough of that. Rogue One was terribly boring and mediocre, no better than Episode VII for different reasons. Personally, the franchise is beyond my interests at this point and I’ve got no plans to support what I consider an inferior iteration of Star Wars as a whole.

But just as the kaiburr crystal was dug out from its grave to pander fans, so is Netlix’s upcoming Castlevania. I never had objections about turning Castlevania or any other game into a series, but when Netflix announced they’d be making one based on the classic game franchise, I didn’t expect them to go the anime route. Furthermore, I’ll nitpick that this isn’t Castlevania, this is Dracula’s Curse/Demon Castle Legend. There is a very damn good reason why Lords of Shadow was so popular in the end, and it’s because Castlevania had become anime-fied far too much. The franchise was filled with pretty boys and didn’t even try to hit the classic horror movie notes Universal and especially Hammer had laid down. That’s the atmosphere the original three/four Castlevania games carried on them and despite Lords of Shadow being removed from them as well, the fact is that Castlevania is very much Western fantasy through and through. Making it too anime, too pretty, turns the common consumers away and panders only to the core fans. Nothing bad in itself in that, but when your franchise is essentially one of the golden pillars of the NES library and it ends up as a franchise that keeps repeating the exact same console action-adventure for almost two solid decades, something’s gone horribly wrong.

The show won’t revive Castlevania as a game franchise, but it might open up a small market where there is overlap with anime and Castlevania fans, and there is quite a lot of that nowadays thanks to the aforementioned. It’ll probably be bloody, gory and all the run of the mill stuff anime is nowadays and lacks any punch behind it, because everything’s played safe nowadays. There seems to be genuine love behind the piece, I wouldn’t hold my breath over it, just like I wouldn’t hold my breath over the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery.

The third thing that managed to tick me off is Nintendo’s and UbiSoft’s love child that is Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. The first thing that, and pretty much the only thing I need to say about this, is that it’s terrible. Only very few cared for Rabbids in the first place and saw a detriment on Rayman franchise, and despite the critters getting a game almost annually, the latest ones have been very low-key or on mobile devices. I guess they still sell despite them having zero impact overall, but I guess people like small retarded creatures like the Minions. Perhaps Rabbids are popular in central Europe, as nobody gives a flying fuck about them elsewhere, and somebody paid loads of money to get the Mario franchise in.

However, the one thing that spells that the developers and publishers know that they are having an up-hill battle can be seen on the linked Nintendo World Report’s third picture about the timeline. E3 was supposed to be a surprise announcement that they teased,(people were expecting a new Metroid game) but at least now they can expect people to be disappointed beforehand. In July they would have had the time for convincing the media and gamers, showcasing the lack of trust they have in their own product. The choice of word here is blatantly sad. If your product is good, you don’t really have to convince anyone with anything, you can simply allow the product to do the talking. PR always helps, and this title sure does require some.

Also note how the game’s genre is Crazy combat adventure, further solidifying this blog’s take that most genre names that gets used are utter bullshit. Why is Luigi also in the sniper class with a fucking vacuum cleaner? Yoshi’s clearly the Demoman of the group.

If I was a cynic, I’d almost say all these three above items I’ve ranted about have been made under some sort of committee that aims high sales. While Star Wars is the only one that has universal appeal, anime Castlevania already puts people off by being anime. Should’ve been a high budget live-action show. Mario and Rabbids in the same game, a role-playing game no less, just won’t hit with the audience. Quit wasting people’s time and money Nintendo, and start doing proper high-end 2D Mario games again.