New consoles, same old shit

With the PS5 and the new Xboxes coming shortly, it’s a good time to remind ourselves the reality of console launches; they’re always terrible and early adopters are effectively used as testbeds to see what’s being fucked up on hardware and firmware level. Very few consoles have seen a decent launch line-up either, with the American NES launch arguably being the top simply because it was tailored to suit the American tastes based on the few years of Famicom releases. Console iterations have often fixed terminal faults, like the 360’s heating issue causing Red Ring of Death. Even with the NES, the Top Loader model eliminated the shit design of NES’ contact, which would loosen with time due to designer wanting to replicate that VCR insertion.

The power of a console mascot, or a single driving and defining franchise, becomes more apparent when you check you PS5’s and Xboxes list of launch titles. Both systems share most of the same games with only a few differences here and there. Lot of names that we already know, a lot of names we already have played, not really any new things to grab the attention. Neither Microsoft nor Sony has the same kind of company defining line-up of games that customers could associate with, which has in some manners contributed to the whole idea of all games should be available on all platforms. Nintendo manages to make good dough because they have games that customers overall want to play, not just their fans. Super Mario as an IP alongside The Legend of Zelda are this kind of company defining names. For Sony and Microsoft, they don’t have this nearly to the same extent. Microsoft has Gears of War and Halo, yet both of these IPs haven’t been able to lend themselves into the same kind of massive expansion. Sony’s current bid is to ride on Spider-Man and have effectively killed all of their own IPs. I still remind people that if Sony had managed to promote and roll out more Gravity Rush rather than dilly dally around, then kill whatever was left of Vita’s mangled corpse by porting it to the home consoles and further screwing up the second game, they’d be in a better position. Sony had a long line of unofficial mascots with Crash Bandicoot, whatever characters were at the forefront in Tekken at any given time and Solid Snake’s latest movie always being fitted to this slot. Reliance on third-party to define your console’s nature and perceived nature is a crapshoot, as they can fuck up at any moment. Metal Gear as a franchise is more or less tarnished thanks to the Kojima/Konami infighting, Crash Bandicoot stopped being relevant after the third game for whatever reasons and Tekken is about as much associated with any other platform the games are on as their competition is. Street Fighter is still associated with the arcades it originated from, to make a comparative example. Mortal Kombat has no true home anymore either. Things are spread about and there is little to no association with a specific kind console or place of play anymore.

Every time I’ve talked about console releases I’ve made a point about it needing to have unique and stand-out games that take advantage of the console’s own special capabilities. That’s almost impossible nowadays, as both MS and Sony consoles are effectively the same deal. In terms of overall function, their main difference is branding and the controller. Nothing truly separates the two. This was the same with the 360 and PS3 too, though you can make an argument about DVD VS Blu-ray if you’d like to. That’s not with Nintendo consoles, as they always had something that makes them stand out. I’m not talking about gimmicks per se, but simply how the systems were designed, to begin with. Take the DS and the PSP as examples. Both had completely different design philosophy how they intended games to be played, how the games would be presented and what the systems excelled at. This is similar to the whole Mega Drive VS Super NES situation, where the systems were completely different. There were valid reasons to pick either one or both systems because they were offering different kinds of games and ways to play. The Switch is the only console in our current generation of consoles that offers anything different as a hybrid console. It’s a one-two punch; you can still play the same old shit that’s on the other systems to an extent, but you gain the access to all these Switch-only titles. Hell, seeing how many titles that are on Xboxes and PlayStations get ported to Steam, the argument of Nintendo + Steam covers most of the ground is, sadly, rather valid.

However, the whole thing what the console can do pales in comparison in terms of relevancy when it comes to its library. Customers hate buying new systems. It’s expensive and it’s somewhat a gamble. There are no guarantees that the company providing it will keep their support high and strong. Again, look at the Vita; promising start and all that, and effectively abandoned in about a year. The mantra Exclusive titles are the lifeline of a game console rings still true, though the main three could manage just with fan support. Though not anymore, with the economy being what it is. People are losing their jobs and money is kept tight to the chest everywhere. The Xboxes and PlayStation 5 were designed to a whole different era of economy, with Sony repeating their mistake they did with the PS3. The Switch has been out longer than its generational cousins that are coming out soon. Whether or not the rumours about Nintendo intending to release Switch 2.0 to upgrade the hardware for 4K and whatnot are true doesn’t really matter, and questioning if the Switch even needs a 4K upgrade. Sure it’s nice if the games look nice and all that, but graphical fidelity will always play second fiddle to play. A game that looks nice and plays bad will always be a terrible game, while a game that looks bad but plays great will always be a terrific game. Want an example? Most NES games, if not all, were comparatively weak in terms of graphics compared to the possibilities and visuals 16-bit computers of the time could do or what the arcades would show. Yet so many of the most popular and venerated games make the best use of the limited hardware and have absolutely master-level of game design and ageless play.

The whole Xbox Series X naming scheme is absolutely stupid. Whoever decided it was a good idea to mimic the smartphone market and repeat the Wii/Wii U marketing fiasco should find another day-job. The common consumer won’t find anything but jumbled mess on the storefronts and many kids who wanted that new Xbox will be disappointed when their parents gift them Xbox One. Microsoft’s marketing and name department dropped the ball hard on the branding to the point I’m not even trying to make any quips about it. It’s The Xboxes for me. For all the jokes Sony and Nintendo see for their console namings, they’re straightforward, easy to understand and make a statement about them being individuals enough. Outside the whole Wii U thing. Nintendo Switch can not be mistaken for anything else, PlayStation 5 is not the PS4. I applaud Sony for sticking numerics. It might be dead simple, but it just works. It keeps the branding clear and doesn’t mess with it.

What’s the point? Don’t buy a console at launch. Wait a year or two when they’ve iterated inside the shell and some proper new games have hit the shelves and bargain bins. Play the games, not the consoles.

The Big N Creation Myth

One of the best marketing tactics a corporation in the creative industries can employ is to represent their product as something completely unique and new, or as something that has evolved the formula beyond the competition. The whole This game/genre has evolved! schtick is especially common with sequels, and was rather common in the Japanese ad media during the first decade of the 2000’s. You don’t see Japanese developers mentioning their sources of inspirations much outside few notable exceptions like Hideki Kamiya, who has been vocal about his love towards arcade games. Western developers often do the opposite, citing examples what their game is like. The difference between cultures here is rather contrasting to the point of American audiences preferring to refer their games ‘as like something’ even in genres, like Doomclone, Soulslike, Metroidvania and such.

Japanese like to invent new genres for specific games though, though this is in order to endorse the whole idea of these games being something completely unique. Shenmue‘s FREE, Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment and Mega Man Legends‘ Free-Running RPG are the ones I cite the most as examples, mostly because both of them are full of bullshit. Sometimes you can find these redefining genre names as a game’s subtitle as well, with Metal Gear Solid‘s Stealth Espionage Action being a prime example. By introducing something as new and wholly created by oneself or one’s own team, prestige, reputation and face can be gained. A culture most of the credit, if not even all of it, can be credited to one person alone while putting all the faults and mistakes unto lower staff members, it becomes understandable why Nintendo wants their customers to believe that they have created their games in a bubble of creativity, free of whatever is around them.

Staff at Nintendo have always been aware what’s around them. They have always been as much trendchasers as they have been trendsetters. With their pre-Famicom era Pong clones to the very early era of making Hanafuda cards, they’ve always taken something that exist and given it a whirl of their own. What I mean by this is that Nintendo, especially with their video games, have always taken a game and looked at it how it could be given a different spin. This sometimes improves the formula, sometimes it doesn’t. Devil World is a great example of a failed attempt at improving the Pac-Man formula.

The game is actually pretty bad. It has one nice tune, but overall you just wish you were playing real Pac-Man

The Legend of Zelda and the Action Role Playing Game myth is probably the biggest one out there. As touted by Nintendo Power during the game’s release, it was the first game of its kind. In reality, it of course wasn’t. Even Link’s Adventure, a game which is considered to be an outlier, adheres to pre-existing games to a large degree, trying to improve on mechanics and ideas that already established. However, it must be said that The Legend of Zelda was the first true mainstream success of its genre in the United States, as the closest relative the game had at the time was Ultima games. There are links missing between Ultima and The Legend of Zelda, though not many.

First of the links is Falcom’s 1984 Dragon Slayer, which more or less takes the Ultima formula and simplifies it down to one massive dungeon.

Zelda would adopt this same top view perspective. All the base building blocks are here that would be seen in The Legend of Zelda down the line, though battling is still done with statistics. You can expect a hard defeat if you don’t have proper stats or magic. Dragon Slayer wasn’t the only game in town to get inspired by Western RPG or use an early version of bump combat that year.

Hydlide has become a sort of punching bag on the Internet for being terrible, but in reality it’s no worse than other RPGs of the time. Visually there are similarities that we’d see in later games like Dragon Quest, which in itself is a combination of Ultima’s top-down view and Wizardry‘s in-window battles. The way both these games hit the scene in 1984 is telling how much impact early Ultima and Wizardry had on the Japanese PC gaming. Falcom’s influence on Nintendo wouldn’t stop with Dragon Slayer, as 1985’s Xanadu‘s battle mode very much like Zelda‘s overall play.

The difference of course being that all of the games still use statistics and experience as a play basis, not removing them from Ultima too much. The Legend of Zelda changes the formula by removing experience and the need to grind for experience points to item statistics. While Link doesn’t gain any visible statistics during the game, the player progression and curbing is done by gaining stat growth via weapons. This makes the game easier to approach and opens all of the game map to the player from the start, and encourages the player to wander around to adventure even more. Falcom’s influence on the series can also be seen in Link’s Adventure, which more or less uses Xanadu‘s changing battle-mode to shake things up, but keeps things viewed from the side. While not exactly new at the time. While Link’s Adventure is seen as a kind of black sheep of the series, despite historically it outselling its stock and being an excellent title on its own rights, Falcom released their own game using the same side-view concept Link’s Adventure had in Sorcerian.

The two games were developed about the same time, though Sorcerian sticks to the side-view throughout its whole game without changing perspectives. The play itself is dramatically different, structuring the game on particular quests and scenarios. Combat itself is surprisingly downplayed, though player has to directly attack enemies in similar fashion to Link’s Adventure. Having four party members means you can have mages shooting fireballs while melee characters hack with their swords. Sorcerian can be traced as one of the ancestors of Wanderers from Ys rather than be coined as a Link’s Adventure clone. Influenced without a doubt, just like Falcom’s and other companies games influenced Zelda overall.

Zelda just happens to be one of the better examples, where most of the influences never arrived to US. European micro-computers had their own games depending on the countries, with Sabrewulf being the most popular example. Another would be F-Zero, in which Nintendo can’t really deny influences of other racing games. The game was developed as a tech-demo for SNES’ Mode 7, which largely explains why the series has been left on the side. F-Zero X showed how fast and furious games can be on the N64 and improved the concept leaps and bounds, but Nintendo never really knew what to do after that. For them, the lower revenues and lack of ideas how to introduce a new kind of gimmick to the game has left the series dormant. AM2’s F-Zero GX is effectively just an improved version of F-Zero X, but the genre doesn’t exactly offer the best chances of installing new gimmicks without breaking the purity of play. Mario Kart on the other hand does, and gets all the attention instead.

In the absence of new futuristic racing games, Wipeout hit the scene of fill the empty niche. Games like Redshift have continued this sort of tradition, but more games in the genre are being inspired by Wipeout rather than F-Zero, similarly how Nintendo’s games inspire other titles rather the original sources

Not all influences are in the open or traceable. Argonaut Software’s Croc: Legend of the Gobbos was stated to be a primary inspiration for Super Mario 64 according to the studio’s founder Jez San. In an interview with Eurogamer, San goes over how they had a completed Star Fox 2 and had made a pitch for a 3D Yoshi game to Nintendo, but appropriated much of their Star Fox 2 code into Star Fox 64, and have people would never see royalties from Star Fox 2‘s release on the Super Nintendo Mini or through Switch’s online service. Super Mario 64 is very similar to what their pitched prototype was. Despite Croc released year later than Super Mario 64, these similarities they carried from their original pitch are evident, even having similar movesets. It’s easy to see Croc as an alternative skin to Yoshi, changed enough not to infringe copyrights. Shigeru Miyamoto has effectively admitted lifting the 3D game idea from Argonauts to San despite their close relationship.

“Miyamoto-san came up to me at a show afterwards and apologised for not doing the Yoshi game with us and thanked us for the idea to do a 3D platform game. He also said that we would make enough royalties from our existing deal to make up for it. That felt hollow to me, as I’m of the opinion that Nintendo ended our agreement without fully realising it. They canned Star Fox 2 even though it was finished and used much of our code in Star Fox 64 without paying us a penny.

Super Mario 64 would go cited as the first ‘true’ 3D game, which in itself is patently untrue. Despite the hype around Mario 64, 1980’s already saw games like Star Wars and Battlezone, which used wireframe models to create a 3D environment. We can cite Ultima Underworld as one of the earliest examples of 3D game that didn’t use wireframe models. Alone in the Dark can be cited as an example as well. The distinction of course becomes whether or not all the environment is modelled in polygonal 3D or not, in which case we need to give the first ‘true’ 3D distinction to Quake. We shouldn’t forget Sega’s Virtual-On series either, which offered full 360-degrees of free range of controls via its twin stick control scheme. Ultimately, the pretty much everything Super Mario 64 did, from its 3D nature to having game designed to be controlled via a stick, can be traced to numerous other titles and sources.

 I fully admit, I never liked Quake

However, cultivating the idea Nintendo, and every other company out there, is some kind of single creative force makes good money. It’s a PR dream to have a product that stands apart from the rest of the shelf, but is familiar enough for the consumer to understand at first sight. One you manage to gain a position as the one who defined a type of product, yours is the standard that is compared against. The Legend of Zelda doesn’t have much direct competition any more, though games like Nier: Automata are effectively in the same Action RPG genre, but a distinction is made between the two to make a separation for marketing reasons. It’s all about the money and position at the end of the day, and if you can claim to be at the top, you’ll get the most fame and money.

Unmade money with old games and consoles

Masayuki Uemura was interviewed by Nintendolife recently. He was the main engineer of the Nintendo Family Computer, as well as the guy who lead Super Famicom development. Naturally, he also was behind the workings of their American and Western equivalents. The interview covers decent ground and has some interesting factoids spread around. For example, all the innards of the FC was to cost give thousand yen and then sold for fifteen. Taking inflation into count, that five thousand is about six and half thousand yen, or about fifty five euro. The FC wasn’t exactly cutting edge for its time either, and the initial FC games are a whole another world from what the Western world came to know with the NES. You could even say that the split between the games, sort of, is pre and post Super Mario Bros., as that game was build to be the ultimate cartridge game before the disk system hit the corner. After SMB‘s success, the quality of the games on the system skyrocketed in number and begun yielding classic titles after another. I still maintain that the NES’ US launch line-up was one of the best a console has seen, as Nintendo of America had the chance to hand pick all the most fitting titles from the Japanese releases to fit the American taste. The Wii also had a relatively low-cost innards, which didn’t hamper its success. Nintendo’s lack of support after few years though, and Wii’s sales were still top notch.The Wii’s Virtual Console on the other hand, that sold the system to so many people.

Uemura mentions costs to be one of the driving elements in the design, and this is something the common consumer doesn’t tend to think. Certainly you know that better materials cost more money, but that’s only part of the equation. Shapes and colour add to the cost as well. For example, pink plastic has a higher melting point than blue plastic, requiring more time and energy to melt the plastic into the moulds. The colours themselves are also a factor, as mixing and making different colours cost different sums. Of course, you also have consider what that colour can do to plastic on the long run and if it’s worth it. For example, Beast Wars era Transformers toys have Gold Plastic Syndrome, where the colour and flakes added to the plastic have chemically interacted with each other and brittled the plastic, making it prone to break very easily. Some examples were found on the store shelves during the 1990’s already, and the issues has only become more pressing with time. Let’s not forget the shape. The more complex the shape, the more time and money it takes to develop needed production methods and finding the proper material to work with those shapes. Machining and maintenance are the key factors, and sometimes shapes need to be simplified due to either needing excess amount of parts or corners and loops that simply wouldn’t fill. Uemura mentioning that they went through numerous different variations for the controller is nothing surprising, but something that hasn’t been recorded and archived anywhere. If NES would’ve had the same kind of joystick as the Atari 2600, it would not have been the same success. The choice to try out Game & Watch Directional Pad appears to have been a somewhat desperate attempt to cull costs and prevent breakage if a child steps on the controller, and it worked.

The most interesting, and perhaps even most important section in the interview, is Uemura talking about the Famicom Mini;

Why make it mini? I think they could still develop a regular Famicom and people would still buy it.

Uemura’s hitting the nail with this, and it’s not just Nintendo that this applies to. Unlike what the industry wants to tell you, a console has no true life cycle or end of it. A system lives as long as the parent company decides to support it. However, the practice currently is to support one home console and one handheld at a time, thought the Switch really does both. All these reproduction consoles that are going about are an example how there is a market that’s untapped by the original companies. If Nintendo decided to develop and official GameBoy with a backlit screen, it would sell not only to the collectors, but to all interested parties. Reproducing cartridges nowadays is much simpler and cost effective. I’ve discussed this topic previously in a review. While it would increase the cost of the mini-consoles to add a port where consumers could use their own old cartridges, it is something these companies should have strongly considered. The games and their players have not gone anywhere. These same games are being published time and time again either as individual games or as parts of compilations. The game industry is almost schizophrenic in this. Something is supposed to have a limited lifetime, and yet people pirate ROMs to play these games and purchase compilations. Developers try to push for the new titles and games with high budgets and production values, and it’s the small side-game that’s more true to the older games that sells like hotcakes. We are still playing the same board and card games from hundreds if not thousands of years ago, and the could apply to electronic gaming if the industry wouldn’t treat them as one-time consumables. Yes, old cartridges and consoles will yield to time, to wear and tear, but the question really is why isn’t any of these companies willing to address this? There is a market that Sega, Konami, Sony, Nintendo etc. could go and tap.

Of course, developing a new console that would be planned to run old games would be time off from the more modern and current projects. Where’s the prestige in that? It would take some time and effort to see what made the original systems tick, if we’re to avoid emulation, and then expand what they can do. Using HDMI would be the first step, though if fans have created modifications to add HDMI output to old systems, so can the parent companies themselves. That is, if there is know-how and skill to do yet. Just like in the film industry, where colour and digitalisation effectively killed old skills (nobody knows how to make a true black and white movie anymore or how to properly run a reel, everything’s just a guess) the video game industry is in the process of forgetting how to develop for analogue platforms. Only the enthusiasts and retro-game programmers are keeping these skills alive. Hell, most big developers don’t even develop their engines any more, opting to use pre-existing engines. Capcom is one of the few developers that do their own in-house R&D, and it shows. Perhaps the kind of sameness games nowadays exhibit is partially because of this, and partially because games don’t develop as fast any more. In the 1980’s and early-to-mid 1990’s the industry kept developing fast and weren’t defined to the point of being set to stone. You had separation what kind of game was on what kind of system (PC, console or arcade) yet now more games are more the same. I’m ranting again about this, aren’t I?

There is money to be made with games and consoles, even if the industry perception is that they wouldn’t be much worth. The NES Mini outsold itself twice, the SNES Mini sold itself out about as fast, the Mega Drive Mini has been hailed from left to right as the best Mini system to date with excellent choice in games and the PlayStation Mini is still sitting on the shelves for being shit. There needs to be quality of course, as not even the hardest of the core customers will stand for lack of proper effort and lacklustre products. This market isn’t just for the small percentage of people stuck in the past. Old games, as long as they are available, will sell. A game is an ever-green product you can press again and again and sell it over and over again. They don’t grow old, playing games is an ageless pastime. They are mass consumer entertainment, and if you were to present them in their proper, original form with somewhat updated hardware for the new times, you’d have a new pillar to support your business with. Then again, we’ll always be an impasse, as that’d be looking back into the past and not trying to push the latest newfangled stuff.

The Virtual Console still lingers in Nintendo’s memory

Let’s not beat around the bush, the Virtual Console was one of the best decisions Nintendo made with the Wii and its subsequent iterations. The amount of sales they made across all the three platforms the VC was on was pretty impressive, and the Wii itself even sold with the VC itself. I’ve said it before and I will say it in the future; if I were a game developer and/or publisher that had to put their game on a console where Super Mario Bros 3. was available, I’d be scared of the quality of the competition. We can’t deny its quality and impact. It would appear that VC made Nintendo, especially Shigeru Miyamoto, realise that people were still interested in thirty years old games. This isn’t exactly rare with game industry, but a well made game does not age. Well technically it does, but it ages like a fine whisky. Wine be damned.

In a recent Investors’ Q&A, Shigsy mentions how their old software are active even after thirty years, and that they have no choice but to port these titles to new platforms. Funnily enough, there are tons of games that never got ported to modern platforms nor did Nintendo see fit to port these games to some other platforms. Nevertheless, he began to think if Nintendo could combine their evergreen library with video and use that in a similar, years-on fashion. Hence why the new Super Mario Bros. movie is being produced. What’s interesting, and perhaps even comedic about this, is Shigsy claiming that he didn’t exactly want to make a Mario movie, but that it would be a great vehicle to have more people exposed to the brand.

Effectively, what Shigsy is talking about is repeating already tested method of Nintendo IPs spreading across the media.

This has been an age old topic for the blog. During the Third and Fourth Generation of consoles, Nintendo’s intellectual property and branding was everywhere. Television, breakfast cereals, waffles, comics, clothing, music, they were everywhere. Especially in the US, European markets weren’t assaulted as much due to completely different market dynamics. Japan experienced its own multimedia of Nintendo products, and it never really stopped. However, maybe they didn’t have the cartoons, those were very much an American product to the American audience. The Super Mario Super Show was spread rather wide elsewhere, but quick lookup gives up little sources in Japanese, videos or otherwise.

Italians always outdid others with their songs, for better or worse

It has been the standard for Nintendo spread their IPs across the media table as an advertisement for their game and console line-up. While it is possible that Nintendo of Japan has forgotten about all the media that got branded with Nintendo’s labels, I doubt that is the case. Even if it were, the success of Virtual Console’s success clearly left a serious impact on Shigsy. It must be hard to realise the big budget games you love to make were beaten by thirty years old titles. Is he thinking that they don’t have a large customer base to go by, that their titles are not selling to new, younger audiences because the lack of multimedia exposure? This should be business as usual for everyone involved, but for whatever reason Shigsy treats it as some kind judgment on him, that he just realised how a movie can market their main merchandise and that he has to see it done. That doesn’t sounds like the Shigsy we’ve seen throughout the years. We’re talking about the man who would rather have his game development seem like a fun school project and doesn’t want to work on 2D Mario games because directing and designing them takes so much effort. As disingenuous as it may sound, this sounds load of bullshit and a way to bed a path to save face if needed. Despite it being an investors’ Q&A, the corporate way of putting things is still the standard.

Nintendo, especially Shigsy and his team, has a habit of not doing what seems sensible to most, like developing a new F-Zero game for motion controls. That was saved for Mario Kart. Things are only done if they find a new way to doing things, innovating on some significant aspects or otherwise “surprise” the player somehow. That’s why you have 3D Marios trying to reinvent the wheel with FLUDD, planets and throwing hats around. Nintendo doesn’t exactly push forwards their IPs as much as they want to give it tricks and polish. If we’re being uncharitably here, it could be said that Shigsy wants to do a new Mario movie now, because there’s something he wants to do with it. Though it probably is more that Nintendo is coming around about spreading their IP again, through they’ve been relatively slow with the progress. There’s a clear and tight control when it comes to games on mobile platforms and series, though toys seem to be no issue for them. Japan still has running Mario comics and all that, but nothing that would appear on Western markets to the same extent.

Super Mario-kun is 25 years old by this point and only few countries have translated any of it.

The 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie probably soured Nintendo’s wishes to make movies based on their IPs, especially based on Mario (though they already had animated OVAs at that point.) It’s not that the upcoming movie is treading any new ground in any fashion, but that for whatever reason VC made Nintendo realise that almost all of their old games still hold value. Especially the big names ones. Hell, even with The Legend of Zelda we saw how much success Nintendo had by bringing Breath of the Wild closer to the original Zelda model and play. Did it really take the VC for Shigsy to realise how much the history of their media matters? It would appear so, but at the same time, what a way to screw of the VC with the subscription service. I guess that was part of renewing the way these games were brought to the customers, or maybe the whole issue of licenses was too much a bother. Whether or not keeping the VC as it were around would have been more beneficial than whatever the current form Nintendo has for its subscription service, but the memory of VC and all those thirty plus years of products still loom over them. Nintendo shares a lot with Sega in this, with both of them having to chase past glory all the while needing to push the envelope. Obsoleting evergreen classics is incredibly hard.

 

Hell hath no fury like a fan scorned

I have to admit I enjoy following a good shitstorm now and then. Especially on Tuesdays. The latest Pokémon games may be the third most selling Switch titles at the moment, but I’m constantly seeing news about modders injecting better models and textures, as well as importing monster models from the Go games into Sword and Shield. The fans haven’t taken the limited amount of monsters lightly either, alongside numerous other glitches, like the Auto Save glitch that can destroy all your save game data on the SD card, and quality control errors, like mislabeling items or having a mouse cursor moving in the end credits over the scene. All little things pile up very quickly, and even the smallest things, like vanishing Trainers during battles, end up being extremely irksome and simply showcases how badly this game was developed. Then add to the top that this is a series that hasn’t revised its core mechanics at all to the point of having giant ass bears walking in ankle high grass while their forest is one or two trees near, you get the idea that despite the new lick of paint, Pokémon at its core is out of date. At its core, Game Freak is still making that tile based sprite game in their heads rather than building proper worlds with modern tools, mechanics and visages. Then again, why should they bother, when the games still sell so well?

Pokémon Sword sits at 82 points from industry reviewers and 4.1 from general audience on Metacritic at the time of this writing. Eyeing through the reviews, most of the user reviews end up being more or less sensible, if not short. Some recognise that the series has been in decline for years now, while others note how the title Pokémon keeps it afloat to a large extent. Some are spiteful for sure, but that’s what you get for every game. On the contrast, the “professional” review side shows why having 100 points is useless. They really should have to choose between three stars and nothing more or less. All this is largely just academical, however. It’ll take at least six months for proper consumer reaction to show itself and how well sales have been made. It might be the third most sold Switch title at this moment, but will it be keeping its position for long? Considering the Switch doesn’t have exactly the rosiest future regarding additions to its library, it just might.

There are rumours of Game Freak setting up at least some of the missing monsters as event obtainables or the like, pose them as some kind of service, that they listened to their fans and are fulfilling their wishes. Whether or not this is true will be seen in the future, but this isn’t the first time Game Freak has got their fans mad at them, and this won’t be the last time they mostly, if not outright, ignore the consumer feedback. Pokémon has a fanbase dedicated enough to gloss over everything, but that’s emotional attachment to a brand for you.

That said, at least Game Freak and Pokémon at least can do something like this and not lose a whole lot. Well, Sword and Shield have already been financial success, so there’s that. The same can’t be said of Arc System and Guilty Gear, which is now intended to alienate the core fanbase by cutting the series’ play mechanics and drastically alter how the upcoming game is played. While movement options are still there, some series-defining mechanics are lost. For example, Gatling Combos are gone. This is just GG‘s fancy way of saying chain combo, where you can press attack buttons in ascending order for a combo. Roman Cancels, ability to cancel an action at any time, is now a physical hit effect and slows down the opponent rather than functioning as a reset too. The end goal is still the same, but the way you get there is different. Other differences in defence mechanisms and such are many, like how in blocking an aerial attack will change the blocker’s momentum backwards rather than down. The game has become heavy on resetting the player positions rather than encouraging constant forward thrust of offense. I have to admit that my personal preference for Guilty Gear stems from this. There isn’t really another fighting game where offence has all the tools available and is even encouraged.

With Guilty Gear Strive, ArcSys appears wanting to expand their consumer base, which in turn will alienate part of their existing one. It is an incredible balancing act, catering to both new and old. Thus far, every attempt at ArcSys trying to gain new audience with an old IP has been a failure to a large extent, but also that some of their attempts at new IPs have failed harshly. Nobody remembers Battle Fantasia, despite that being the game that Capcom feared due to its 3D prowess when developing Street Fighter IV. Some long-terms GG fans have already stated that they won’t move forwards from Xrd, which also was heavily criticised for dumping mechanics and elements from the previous games as well as slowing down the play. Xrd also allowed larger windows for inputs, but it should also be noted that the game before Xrd, Accent Core Plus R or whatever the latest revision was, was also marred with criticism on how balance and new mechanics threw a monkey wrench into the play. There are certain limitations all around, and unsurprisingly ArcSys has made clear they want new users. Ishiwatari stating how old GG fans are too old to play games and such. They did find success with BlazBlue, though there is overlap between the two series’ player base.

It is four times harder to gain new audience over keeping your old. While Dragon Ball FighterZ may have made loads of cash, it was largely driven by the IP rather than ArcSys themselves. Much like with Pokémon, the fandom often twists the hard data, but the same data also can’t be ignored. If there’s money to be made here in a certain manner, then better make the best of it. Guilty Gear doesn’t have the same backing, all it can support itself with is by its existing fans and the legacy of its past games. Legacy that Ishiwatari wanted to remove at some point, mostly due to licensing and trademark issues. It would appear that all the Guilty Gear games with Sega Sammy attached to them are, or at least were, in some sort of licensing or trademark hell, where ArcSys can’t really do much with them. Guilty Gear 2 was intended to be some sort of soft-reboot of the series, removing all the X-titled games from the canon and memory, but in the end Ishiwatari and co. gave up on that. Now X and XX games are side-stories, but we’ve covered all this in the past. The issue of GG Strive is whether or not can be a hit among new consumers with its more simplified play over the previous entries, and the series’ history tends to say no. While it will find people to play it, and probably enters tournaments just fine, it most likely will gain the same cold and lethargic reception and acceptance and Street Fighter V did. In many ways, fighting games have been aiming to expand their user bases by removing options and making the play more predictable, intended and more about formulaic pacing. SFV actively removed elements from characters that made them wild compared to the rest of the cast, something that could’ve been cool to use and make work. Instead, such things were culled. No-fun rule seems to be in place in modern fighting games, where everything has to be like Finnish autumn; grey with no colours in the nature, wet to the point of nothing ever drying, stupidly dark and enjoyed only by few. You can’t go outside in frolic in a T-shirt and boxers, else you get a pneumonia. That’s what playing SFV is like. While we can’t really tell if Strive will be that too, it’s very much going to that direction.

Much like the previous posts’ Battletoads, you can lose your customers relatively fast by going against the consumer grain. Battletoads had no modern legs to stand on while both Pokémon and Guilty Gear have full titles in recent memory. While Game Freak has to do a lot more damage to Pokémon before they need to put their A-game back into the ring, or reheat some old fan favourite again, ArcSys doesn’t have that luxury. While they could make a new franchise or revive Battle Fantasia for whatever style they want, something that they’d think would appeal to the wider audience, that probably isn’t possible. Recognition also plays a big part in this, but as said, all that can be pissed away if consumers deem your work worthless of the time and effort you put in. Nothing sucks more than having your work judged utter shit, but video games is a service industry. If you expect your customers to pay for your games, these games need to cater to their wants.

Whether or not the audience would like to a properly modernised Pokémon with high quality control and fighting games that are less crazy is up your decision really. You’re the customer, you make the decision where you put your money into.

Nintendo going for global standards

You probably heard already that the Switch port of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is using the assets from the Western Wii U release. A what now? A cross over game between Nintendo and Atlus, initially planned to use Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei, but ended up more like Fire Emblem characters in a modern setting with Atlus’ usual shtick throw in there with plot and game play. The Japanese original had your normal idol clothing, whereas the Western versions put more clothes on just to cover more skin. Sometimes it’s just coloring character’s skin in the colour, sometimes slightly editing the clothing to take more area, sometimes just not bothering at all. At least in one sequence they just throw some black fire to cover tits and call it a day.

Censored Gaming has more of these comparisons, this just happens to have the flaming bosom. It looks terrible, tacky and very clear

Let’s not forget that there’s a scene where the character has been completely redesigned to have more clothing, because bikinis are too much for some. That’s not exactly the main point for this post, though I guess collectors will probably ask higher price for the Wii U original’s Japanese version as the true, uncensored, as-intended version of the game, but rather what act this has lead Nintendo into. Fans aren’t exactly pleased about this. Why would Nintendo use the Western censored version as the basis for Switch port? Probably because it happens to be the latest code version, and you don’t need to make any further changes again. Nintendo of Japan is offering refunds to the customers who want it. It might be that Nintendo wants to avoid any misunderstandings, as they used Wii U screenshots showing the Japanese original instead from the Switch port. That’s all good and nice, but what shines through from this post of theirs is the spot where global standards gets mentioned.

Nintendo is not under any threat of being forced to work under global standards. If there’s something people should learn from the whole Blizzard-China fiasco is that no company has global standards per se. Each market has its own standard, there’s just that overall company umbrella they work under. Nintendo saying that they want to hit global standards with this particular version of Tokyo Mirage Sessions#FE probably means less than intended, yet we always have to remember things like this, or the linked article in the previous post, are meant to cater the consumer. Things are always presented with an angle, and here the whole censorship angle is presented as using global standards Nintendo wants to move towards. At worst, it means Nintendo takes after Sony in how they’ll implement character design limitations and what kind of content is acceptable. Considering Nintendo picked up Bayonetta to be their ‘adults’ franchise, despite being produced and owned by Platinum, with some other pushes as being the more adult and sensible platform with all the freedoms it offers to the developers and consumers, there is reason to worry.

When a company cites global standards like this, it usually means they will install self-censorship. Sometimes it comes from outside, that an outside force nudges them into a direction either because they argue a case for their favour or outright lobby it. Other times it’s just activists saying Thing X is evil and despite being a minority are heard, because companies somehow have stopped looking at the data and listen to the loudest voice, even if it comes from an ant in a beehive. Considering the gaming media is writing for the developers nowadays rather to their actual market, the consumers, pushing an angle has become relatively easy. I can’t even say if concentrating on data would be the best option in regards of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, seeing it has very little appeal outside Japan, people who are very much into bog-standard generic anime style and some Fire Emblem fans. Some still disagree that anime look isn’t a high selling point in the West, but a look at Dark Souls should tell a different story. It would not have sold as much as it did, or become a pop-cultural phenomena, if it didn’t look like European dark fantasy. While PC gaming might put emphasize on technical quality of graphics, the console and arcade side of things have always put emphasize on the design of the visuals. A game that looks graphically worse, but has great visual design, lasts much longer. That is also culturally tied, as the US markets might consider something like 3D GTA games top notch in terms of visuals, but in Japan they’d be considered drab.

Whether or not Nintendo will enforce their global standards to their second and third party developers will remain to be seen. Thus far there has been no real signs of this, and Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is the first, and so far the only title, to have been clearly hit by these global standards. Then again, Super Smash Bros. For Console X and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate both saw some censorship similar to the aforementioned. Again, Censored Gaming got you covered for the changes made. These changes made for Smash Ultimate tells us that if the game needed changing in Japan to get the lowest CERO age rating, then censorship has been tightening its noose around the globe ever so slightly. If Nintendo starts playing it safe and employs the strictest rules ratings have, then they don’t need to go the extra length to drop money into changing the models and updating them in. It’s money and time wasted, and all resources could be used to make more products, or less paid time for the employer. It’s a hassle all developers would like to avoid, and this is probably why Nintendo opted on using the Western version of TMS#FE as the basis; it’s the latest version of the game with all the changes already made. They don’t really need to go back and change any of the changes per se.

As a side note on this, developers often don’t want to port changes made to another version of a game, if they can help it. 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog had a demo on Xbox 360 that is smoother and overall better playing game than its final release, because the main development platform was on PS3, and the small staff never ported the improvements back to the main code. Sonic Retro has an article on the differences compared to the released game. For Nintendo, having a readily made version of the game with all the necessary bits and bops for censorship is a no-brainer. No need to work two versions, or a version that would use different models depending on the region.

There’s the whole issue about the creator/s original intent being sidestepped here, but as you’ve probably well put a notion on things already, the art that games supposedly are is at best a marketing term and something that can be completely ignored when it comes to censorship and making money.

For whom is the Switch Lite for?

While the Switch is a mobile device just fine, it is rather bulky in certain aspects. It has to be. After all, it must serve as both home console and as a takeaway handheld console. Some play it solely in handheld mode, some just keep it attached to a screen for larger resolution play. Both are valid options. The preference just seems to change according depending on the nation. With some little digging, it would seem that the West likes to have the Switch docked most of the time and then just separate it whenever someone’s on the go. This seems to be a bit different from Japan, where handheld consoles have always been the top dogs. Be it space or because its just so much easier to nab a small console out for a quick play, there’s something in the nation’s cultural schema that supports small portable devices like this. Flip phones are still a culturally iconic devices, despite them being completely overshadowed by iPhones in the current day. Its one of the many reasons Monster Hunter found its breakthrough on the PSP was because people could just whip it out, check if there were other players in the area and a have quick hunt or two. This does not really work most of Western world nations. You’ll most likely get ridiculed if you are seen playing a handheld in public if you’re over fifteen. It took long time for Monster Hunter to become popular in the West, and despite the success on the 3DS (Nintendo really, really wanted that PSP Monster Hunter money on the 3DS) the real Western market breakthrough wasn’t until Monster Hunter World. Just don’t play with the French.

Switch Lite probably has a two-fold aim, First is to provide the Japanese market a smaller, more portable device that functions as a dedicated handheld, especially now that the Vita’s dead long dead and finally buried, which has left Nintendo with no competition in the handheld market. While Nintendo always had largest sect of the handheld market to themselves, they flourished whenever they had competition. Hopefully there will come some competition from whatever company might want to tackle the market, so Nintendo’s monopoly won’t make them lazy. Despite Nintendo claiming that they don’t follow what their competition is doing, this is of course PR bullshit. No company would willingly stay ignorant how their competition is doing and why. The second reason is that the Switch is not exactly a child friendly device. The simple fact that the Joycons are removable device raises the system’s cost and kids can misplace them rather easily. I’ve heard few friends having to buy new Joycons because lil’ Jimmy misplaced one in the backyard. This sort of hybrid nature doesn’t really work, unless the machine is dedicated to stay in docked mode, but that’s wasting the Switch’s potential. The same can, and must, be said of Switch Lite, where now you can’t switch modes, but now kids have something that can have their mittens properly on. It is far from a perfect solution, but you won’t have perfect solution for a hybrid console like this at this moment. Perhaps if Switch Lite still supported the docking it would have some leverage, but as it stands now, for average adult, the Switch Lite is a weird choice to go for.

If we use the past portable consoles Nintendo has manufactured before, their modus operandi should be roughly as follows; produce original version, create a smaller version with some improvements here and there, then create an upgraded version that seems a standalone from the previous iterations. For original Game Boy, we have its Pocket version as the “lite” iteration and Color as its final upgrade. The GB Advance is the deviation, with SP being the lite model with backlit screen, but nobody really seems to think GB Micro as the end-all version of the system. The NDS follows this line just fine though, with Lite being a thing and DSi followed soon after. We also got the larger screen versions to go by. 3DS is pretty much the same, followed by lite and the New 3DS version.

We can also tell that the Switch has been a success from this line. The only consoles Nintendo has not done upgraded versions of are machines that weren’t a success enough. The N64 never had a clear visible new edition to it, despite the Famicom/NES gaining top loader model, and SNES having SNES Jr model. GameCube stuck to its cubic form, and we don’t count Panasonic Q as a proper variation due to it never being aimed at mass markets. The Wii had Mini, which apparently sold rather well if I’m top believe a friend who worked at retail at the time. The Wii U was a disaster and never saw similar treatment. Here we are, with the Switch. Nintendo can afford to treat it as both handheld and home console, and seeing upgraded hardware per generation has become a standard again rather than new case design, we should probably wait for the announcement for whatever souped up Switch Nintendo has been cooking for some time now. After that, Nintendo’s attention will move towards their next console generation, though it would be in their best interest to give the Switch as long lifespan as the original Game Boy had. There is no reason to cut their hardware short just because they or their third party developers would like to play with some new hardware and not be limited with almost decade old set. The hardware oriented mindset does not do favours in the console business, whereas software centric is very lifeline these machine run on. I will use the old mantra that system with weakest hardware in the end has sold the most each generation. Deep Red Ocean market can hate the Wii however much they want, but the sheer joy of Nintendo Sports was in pretty much every home possible at the time.

At least the Switch Lite doesn’t have brand confusion as the Wii U had. They’ve learned something from that shitshow.

A Rude (re)Awakening

Just as I have a say about remakes and remixes, and manage to say that Nintendo doesn’t usually do traditional remakes, they come out from the woodwork and announced the Link’s Awakening is getting a full-blown remake, for whatever reason. The thing is, this is one of those cases where we can justify a remake. The Game Boy has stupid amount of great games that could use a full-blown remake, as the GB in itself was rather sorry little device. Not to fault it, according to history the machine with less power has come at the top in success and game library. However, why this game? Why not build on the world that Breath of the Wild gave to the player with its more direct-to-the-matter approach and stripped off some of the unnecessary baggage the series has seen since, well to be frank, since Eiji Aonuma got in. After all, he is the man driving the franchise and IP, has been since Majora’s Mask essentially.

To find an answer to this question we need to go back to an Iwata askswhere Aonuma directly states that Zelda titles didn’t have a plot before Link’s Awakening. This of course is horse shit and shows how Aonuma mistakes how games tell their stories naturally through the game’s play. A story of a game is more of the player’s action, the FMV sequences and such are just a framing device for the player to make up how they advance, even if it were in a strict manner. Furthermore, The Legend of Zelda and Link’s Adventure both excel in indirect world building, which is one of the best ways games can tell a story, by including settings and character the player has to interact with to a level. LoZ didn’t only make the player collect the pieces of the Triforce, but also introduced the setting, the main players and some of the most important settings of the world. Link’s Adventure went even further and expanded the map, named numerous towns and characters that would later appear in the series in various forms as well as introduced the third piece of the Triforce. Most of this in many ways were introduced in manner that didn’t require the player to stop and look at a story sequence for five minutes, as all of it was weaved into the fabric of the game. Aonuma’s direction for Zelda has always been away from this, as he has claimed to like the adventure games on PC more than action games on a console. Knowing Japanese PCs at the time, it’s somewhat safe bet he was “playing” one of those VNs on a NEC PC-98 with no pants on. Wouldn’t blame him, the dot graphic work in those is glorious.

However, Aonuma doesn’t care about those two, he barely even recognizes A Link to the Past. In 2004, he called Link’s Awakening a quintessential isometric Zelda game, two claims that can be argued very harshly. One would be if Zelda games are actually isometric, as oblique projection would be more accurate, and the second would of course be if Link’s Awakening is as quintessential as Aonuma claims. Of course, seeing Aonuma has a very heavy bias towards the game he himself has worked on and has been very dismissive on two first games in the series, something that has harshly rubbed off to the fandom to a point of revisionism, we can’t take his word for granted. Yes, Link’s Awakening is a popular title in the series and saw a colour remake in 1998, but as a whole it’s influence is relatively minor. Most it did was tweaked what A Link to the Past had done with some hefty points taken from The Frog Whom the Bells Toll, which shared an earlier engine with Link’s Awakening. In a game series like Zelda, with most of the entries celebrated in a way or another, almost all entries can be claimed to be important in a manner or another, be it by setting up the lore, setting up the story, setting up the structure and so on. It’s effectively empty air to throw at journalists for some positive PR points. However, we do know how Aonuma views the game, and considering he made an absolutely terrible Zelda game with trains just because his kid liked ’em, it’s not exactly a far-fetched view to see how Aonuma just wanted to bring this all-important classic back to the masses, so a new generation can appreciate what an important game it is.

So yes, Link’s Awakening is getting remade because it has a story, and apparently it’s something that drives Aonuma more than advancing Zelda as a game series.

Not really sure if he realises how shit the game looks. I know, I shouldn’t take sides and just analyse stuff as is within the persona angle, but in this case I just won’t even try. If you look at how Capcom remade both Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2, they took everything they could to make the game work and look better than the original. The little we’ve seen about Link’s Awakening, it’s mostly a face lift, and it doesn’t look exactly great. You can argue all day long that the simplistic designs work and how its faithful to the original game, but at this point I’d rather enjoy the original game rather than play a remake with its edges bloomed with soft focus to hell. I’d rather not ruin my eyes. I’ve got a proper backlit GBA after all. Arguing over plants looking plastic and being glossy to convey how unnatural things are in a dream is loads of bullshit. This design world is that of toys. Certainly when asked about it, someone at Nintendo probably has a readily made answer that expands the whole thematic content like no other, but in reality probably had nothing to do with it. This remake looks like a LEGO set. A LEGO set that seems to replicate the original game to a tee rather than trying be its own thing or improve on the original. Aonuma didn’t have to stick with a super deformed look, but that’s what the original game was and you can’t steer away from pre-established things. The RE remakes are faithful to their original counterparts, RE:make perhaps to a fault, but they didn’t limit themselves to a similar look. They improved. This Link’s Awakening remake already fails as a remake because it doesn’t improve on the original visual, but instead opts to recreate them in 3D. That’s not enough. If your remake is effectively interchangeable with the original source material, it’s failed miserably. Remakes should always aim to obsolete the original, as should sequels, and thus adhering to the visual like this will hurt the game. There’s going to be people having nostalgia rush for it and argue that Zelda always used super deformed characters, which is true, but doesn’t really take into account that this game doesn’t need to. It could make better use of the hardware, create something new and interesting and still be visually familiar.

That’s the crux, isn’t it? This isn’t anything new. Nintendo doesn’t revisit old games like this too often, but every time they do, it’s not because there’s a consumer demand. It’s because the developer wants to, in this case Aonuma. He doesn’t want to recreate A Link’s Awakening the game, but A Link’s Awakening the story. Truth to be told, so very few game developer concentrates on making a game anymore, it’s all about the story. This remake probably doesn’t have the same budget as Breath of the Wild, but it is still largely a waste of resources. The recycle machine never stops. 2D Zelda still sells, there’s no question about that, so why didn’t they put their heads together and craft a completely new 2D Zelda that didn’t adhere itself to a past game? This is a pattern though, as A Link Between Worlds was effectively A Link to the Past 2. Seeing that was relatively popular and sold some decent units, might as well strike another familiar title while you’re at it, right? Half of the work’s done already, just grab the old design documents and go town.

If another company would make an action-RPG like The Legend of Zelda and use Terada Katsuya’s Zelda illustrations as a source of inspiration, they’d make bank.

The core of a Zelda is not in cutesy grass-hacker, but in the atmosphere of being on an adventure, exploring caves and forests, with all the dangers and perils it brings. Zelda is not about the story, that’s irrelevant. It’s about the adventure and the world

Sony has (almost) no classics

Is that a hyperbole enough? Should be, as by now it’s more or less clear that Sony has no idea why Nintendo’s Classic consoles have sold out like hot cakes and occasionally still vanish off the shelves. Well, mostly because they’re not Nintendo and the Sony has no classics. PlayStation as a console as definitive classics, but Sony as a company really has jack shit.

Let’s put aside the fact that the PlayStation Classic’s hardware is rather terrible and emulation is spotty at best, but people can put those things aside for a long time. Just look at the people who are still using ZSNES. Sony has no Mario or Sonic. You’d think the whole thing with mascots is so 1990’s, but outside the era slowly coming into fashion (can’t wait to see shit in colour again) the whole mascot wars did at least one or two things right. First, companies had a face other than a human. You couldn’t separate a game console from its mascot. Now, you have such cute mascots as Sakurai attached to Nintendo instead. Nobody cared who or what made our games back then to the same extent, video game developers were not rock stars, which was only a good thing. Secondly, in order to beat the other furry mascots and whatnot you had back then, you had to have quality. Tells you how much quality you ended up having when the only ones that are still relevant today are effectively Mario and Sonic. Sony never had a mascot, not an official one. No, Polygon Man doesn’t count as they dropped its ass faster than your ice cream melts in the sun and it never had any games around it. Sony had all these unofficial mascots that the company liked to tote around like and Sony wanted to keep close to their heart. That was a problem, because that changed from time to time. Both Spyro and Crash were the faces for the kiddies, while Solid Snake and stuff from Twisted Metal served for the adulties. Hell, Kojima even favoured PlayStation for Metal Gear titles and probably would’ve loved to see it stay Sony exclusive to the end of time, which we all agree would’ve been bad because Ghost Babel really is the best Metal Gear game. At times you saw Cloud’s potato LEGO face when talking about RPGs, though Phantasy Star did the whole killing-a-waifu thing first. No, Sony and PlayStation never had anything of their own, and they were largely dependent on whatever shit the platform saw.

The hell are you getting at? I hear Charlie asking in the third row. Well, if we’re completely honest, PlayStation games that were most requested and wanted on the Classic couldn’t be included. Spyro and Crash had their remakes just on the side, so including those would’ve fought against sales. Metal Gear Solid has been re-released digitally to death at this point and anyone who wanted the game already probably had it. Original GTA is pretty shit. But it’s not about the game library, not really. It’s about the sales. It’s always about the sales. And the game library.

Nintendo’s Classics didn’t only sell to people who wanted to play the games and scalpers, they sold to people who wanted their kids to play these older games that had no modern equivalents. There is a certain code standard to NES and SNES titles, a sort-of must play coda that was shared between the Western nations. Not so much in Japan, they had their own groove. Better to think the Famicom library as a whole another thing altogether. PlayStation is a modern console with most of its games having some sort of modern equivalent. It’s not that people wouldn’t love to play PlayStation games now, because they are. It’s not just via PSN, but with through remakes, sequels and remasters. Tekken 3 might be the last good Tekken or the first bad Tekken, depending who you ask, but do you really expect people to jump unto a game that is eclipsed by its own sequel everybody plays, especially when its running on a terrible hardware and Toshinden next to it? I too have a strange nostalgia boner for Toshinden thanks to the PC version I used to play like no other, but holy shit it’s not a classic title in any regard that deserves this spot. Then again, what should take its spot? Street Fighter II is a tied to the 16-bit consoles more, Sega had Virtua Fighter. Legitimately does the PlayStation have another game series outside Tekken that can be argued to be a stone engraved classic to end of times? No, it doesn’t. Guilty Gear got its status only with GGXStreet Fighter Alpha 3 had superior ports on the Saturn and Dreamcast, Dead or Alive was all over the place and didn’t get the attention until tits hit Dreamcast and PlayStation 2.

Wouldn’t that mean it was about bad game choices and thus about the library? What are the core PlayStation games people most remember, and how many of those still exist? The PlayStation nostalgia is not the like nostalgia for the NES and SNES. The PlayStation was, for all intentions, the first console that was cool to own. Mega Drive aimed for the adult audience and the NES had lots of adult players for the sports games, but the PlayStation had incredible success with the whole cool factor. Hell, WipeOut alone was like a drug gold mine with the European trance club culture of the time. Would you buy a Classic console to play WipeOut when there are so many sequels out there on other Sony consoles and a remake that make this version obsolete?

Nostalgia for the PlayStation is a large part of the console’s successors in various forms that do not exist on the Nintendo platforms from the get-go when it comes to the Classic Era of consoles. If Nintendo is to make N64 Classic, it’ll have the same problem and will face the fact that N64 classics are counted with one hand. It’ll be consisting of titles that either have been ground to halt or are just terrible choices. At least Nintendo doesn’t need to rely on third-party support and have licensing problems, which without a doubt was a major problem with some of the developers and publishers. The consumer population doesn’t have the same affection for the PlayStation as it does for the NES and the SNES. That is not to say there isn’t one or that’s some kind of negative. It’s just different by a different generation.

Sony has often followed what Nintendo does without really realising why Nintendo does things or why they’ve been successful with some of their things. The PlayStation Classic was going to war with trumpets lambasting, but with no weapons carried. Hardware and software are an issue where Sony failed like a dead fish in bed, and the game version choices were weak at best, but those honestly are rather small compared to the problem that Sony completely mistook what made the original PlayStation a hit and didn’t understand the system’s nostalgia. PlayStation nostalgia is hard to capture, because it’s like Xbox nostalgia in that it never really went away, just like 3D Mario. 

Remakes and remixes

The one question that was thrown at me few weeks back was whether or not Resident Evil 2 warranted a remake. Ultimately, it did not. The original Resident Evil 2 is one of those timeless classics that still play well to this day, even though the PlayStation era 3D graphics are rather outdated. The game itself is still solid, but that goes for all games that are solid for their era; they’re solid for the future as well. However, not all games can stand the test of time, or even their timely competitors, but some games just tend to have a possibility of being great and for whatever reasons just didn’t measure up. Be it budgetary, lack of experience, skill or whatever, there are numerous fan favourite games that are more or less terrible, yet we love ’em. Chances are that those games would never get a remake.

The argument goes as follows; games that have good design and yet were terribly made should get remade because they would benefit from it. Effectively, realising the original concept properly. While that’s a nice sentiment, the business side of things doesn’t really support the notion. Why remake a game that didn’t make sales, has a very little or not following or has some sort of infamy around it when you could tap something better? Resident Evil 2 remake cost a lot of money to make and advertise. It’s part of Capcom’s current big three titles, Monster Hunter World and Devil May Cry 5 that are effectively the titles the Big C is banking on as seen in their last year’s annual report I have a post about. It’s no coincidence that all these three titles are part of their respective franchises. After all, creating a new IP has its own risks that your company probably doesn’t want to undertake when you’ve just put millions into some restructuring and R&D in order to make a new engine all the while demanding high-end graphics that pushes the visuals as much as possible. Square-Enix follows the same line of thinking with Final Fantasy VII‘s remake, even though they’re taking their sweet time to actually finishing it. However, there’s also one snag that applies to both RE2 remake and FFVII remake; they’re effectively completely new games.

Let’s question if remaking a game by completely changing it from ground up like these two did is actually remaking anything. The remake of original Resident Evil will be used as the point of comparison, a golden example of a remake. What makes it different from the two aforementioned remakes is that it still uses the same systems and designs from the original game, just improved in every way. You can still see where the roots are and side-by-side comparison is completely possible. For RE2 and FFVII, that’s largely impossible due to their nature of completely remodeling and changing the groundwork of the games’ designs. RE2 remake is effectively nothing like the original game and are separate products altogether, whereas with RE‘s remake uses the same base work. FFVII doesn’t even belong to the same genre as the original, opting to go for full-out action. It’s almost like Square Enix is wanting to move away from the time tested Wizardry+Ultima model they’ve made their bed with all the variations we’ve seen in most of the mainline Final Fantasy titles.

Remake is a nice word, because its semantics it usually is associated with in the game industry offers a lot of leeway. Sometimes upgraded ports are marketed as remakes, because it’s easy and has a nice ring to it. The positive association a remake tends to have nowadays would imply that it’s a whole new upgrade to push things further. An example of this would be the HD remakes of few last generations we’ve had, which offer nothing more than higher resolution graphics, sometimes wide screen support and nothing else. Questioning whether or not this is a proper remake or just an upgraded port shouldn’t be an issue. Reading the marketing slang shouldn’t be hard.

Then again, this line of thinking may be completely wrong. Should we consider remakes as something that takes the core essence of a product, like RE2‘s concept of surviving inside a zombie infested city and completely remodeling its game play and concepts, as proper remake instead? After all RE‘s remake can be called exactly that as well, but seeing that is effectively the original game with prettier graphics and updated stuff, shouldn’t that be more or less a remix instead? Sure, all the assets have been recreated from the ground up for the game and so on, but ultimately it is more or less a remix recreation of the original Resident Evil. Compared to remixes like this, a remake should push the game’s concepts to further extents and stand as its own standalone title. This would fit the idea of remaking FFVII as an action game as well, despite the whole genre change it has going on for it. Our golden example of a remake doesn’t really stand against how RE2 was remade. It would be possible to remake the first Resident Evil and change everything about it without losing the core concept of a resident filled with evil. Then again, Resident Evil itself is a sort of remake of Famicom’s Sweet Home, genre changes and all to go with it.

As said, marketing’s have their hand in this quite a lot. Using a dictionary or the like to determine the true meaning of a remake is largely useless, when it’s a nice term you can drop around to whatever re-release it fits even remotely. After all, marketing department have their hands full already trying to push whatever latest editions they have at their hands now. It’s like how Super Robot Wars titles tend to be affected largely by what Bandai-Namco wants to promote currently or if some series has an anniversary, in which case they can push few more units by having it include in a game. Let’s not forget that sometimes games that are completely new are sometimes dropped into the remake category just because it uses its franchise in some ways. The recent contest oriented Pac-man games at one point were marketed as remake of the original Pac-Man game, despite this being not the case to any real extent. That’s like saying Mega Man 2 is a remake of Mega Man just with new stages, music, bosses and weapons. That would apply to any kind of sequel, though there’s an argument there how Hideo Kojima remade the original Metal Gear three times around.

The original question remains; Did RE2 warrant a remake? Apparently the sales data showcased that it did. In a perfect world, there would be no need for remakes. In a less perfect world, the money to make remakes like this would go for games that mechanically would require one. The one we got is still driven by sales and demand, and by the fact that Capcom recognizes the position Resident Evil 2 has in the franchise, among the fans and as an overall game. No other title in the series warrants anything similar. RE4 is still modern enough to run as it is, and perhaps that’s the best justification for remakes nowadays; to modernise games that have a ready audience. You don’t see remakes that don’t already have an audience, or games that the devs themselves don’t dare to touch. There’s a goddamn good reason Nintendo doesn’t do remakes like most other companies.

Perhaps its generational. Most of the faces we know from the industry tend to tell that they don’t really want to work on sequels or keep a series going once they’ve finished it in their own minds. Sakurai was pretty much done with Smash Bros with Melee, yet here we are. Kojima meant Metal Gear to end with pretty much every major entry in the series. Shigsy didn’t touch 2D Mario in almost twenty years due to how much work they are compared to the 3D games. However, with new blood coming into these companies, it might become more viable to remake old titles that still have a place and possibility to strike true. The same applies to the consumer side, perhaps even mores so than towards the devs. The generation that grew up with the 360 and PS3 would have a hard time going back to earlier consoles, some have even remarked how not even the Third Generation of consoles look like, and I quote a younger friend, real games. Updating PlayStation era games to modern visual (and game play) standards would open new avenues without really losing anything due to the build-in fandom. On one hand, you serve the fans with an arguably better version of the game and attract customer who missed the original, or didn’t or couldn’t touch it because it was on PlayStation, PSN not withstanding. As much as even the industry likes to think otherwise, very few games are timeless in the proper meaning of the term. They may take the test of time within the context of the era, but putting them face to face with their modern counterparts, they lose in almost every area of design. Direct comparison without taking context and capabilities of each of the era would be rather unfair, but for a timeless classic that should not be a problem. After all, if Super Mario Bros. 3 can stand toe to toe with modern 2D action games in terms of designs and gameplay, the rest of timeless classics should be capable of this. For the early 3D games, that’s not exactly the case, just like how first games can’t really stack up against most other modern 2D games of similar nature.

REmake2‘s success probably makes Capcom wonder what other titles they have they could give a similar treatment. With their interest to resurrect some of their sleeping IPs thanks to Mega Man 11, IP which saw a raise in sold units from 32 million units to 34 million since June 2018, it’s not entirely impossible that Capcom would wake one or two of their classic series with a remake. Chances are that they’ll be testing the waters with some releases and bundles before green lighting anything, but you never know. Then again, they should finally remake the original Street Fighter.