Valve’s hard candy

Here we go again, talking about games being banned.

Despite Valve openly advertising their take on allowing any game that doesn’t break laws on Steam, this clearly has not been the case thus far. Few days ago, HuniePop 2 was announced to release in censored form on Steam. This shouldn’t be necessary, seeing how the game’s contents wouldn’t break any laws and Valve themselves shouldn’t have anything against it.

That is not the case, however. It is somewhat evident that Valve is practicing behind-the-scenes ruling based on whatever they wish rather than sticking to their guns. Visual Novels are included in these banned and removed games, whilst some are self-playing games like MaoMao Discovery Team. It would seem Valve is mostly covering their asses in case of someone might come down on them whether or not they’re selling titles with child pornography. The aforementioned MaoMao Discovery Team most likely falls directly into this category, seeing Maomao herself has a petite look, though this is more a stylistics choice in design. After all, the design does harken back to the 1980’s character designs, where a lot of adult characters were still portrayed as petite. It can go the other way around, with Pokémon being a good example how all the main characters are about ten years old but look older. Valve did confirm this one by telling the developer that the game exploited children, and thus they deemed to be illegal.

Outside the apparent visual design of the characters, a common element with some of the banned titles is the school setting. Usually this was circumvented by either removing any references to the characters’ ages, like they did in one of the Senran Kagura titles, or just up them to 18 and be done with it. However, Valve’s having none of that at this moment. An All-Ages VN named Hello, Good-bye got the banhammer brought down on it as well.

This raises a question I’ve hard tried to avoid; do games exploit children if they have characters that are younger 18 and in risque situations? Look at me trying to be all politically correct and not mention about games showing teens fucking.

There’s no one answer, there never is. Cultural differences are vastly different across the board, and what goes in Japan doesn’t fly in the US. Most of the titles that have been banned from Steam are Japanese made, and especially the Visual Novels tend to hit that tender ever-seventeen range with its characters. Arguably Muv-Luv should see some scrutiny as well due to Tamase Miki being an effective lolicon bait. In the US, some states legislation state any kind of depiction of children, be it real or fictional, in risque or sexual, or even just overall nudity situations counts as child exploitation. The same applies to numerous European countries, which do no make a difference between reality and fictional. Valve can’t juggle across the board, and most likely has a dedicated person who has been given the command to remove content that might offend any of the laws around. It is effectively a business necessity to cover their assess as one of the larger digital games platform. I discussed how Valve seems to follow the Washington state laws inaccurately, so read on that.

However, there are platforms who would rather fight this mentality. Some of the titles, like the aforementioned Maomao Discovery Team, has been re-released on JAST USA alongside Cross Love and Imolicious. You also have English language DLSite, which effectively gives you free pass to any and all titles that would be banned on Steam the moment they were submitted. This is stupidly evident by itself, but nothing else matters; if it looks wrong, it gets the banhammer.

There are no nuances in the issue as far as Valve or numerous groups and national laws are concerned. To use an example where law was read by its letter, let’s take a look at a case in North Carolina from 2015. In this case, a couple was charged with making and distributing child pornography by sending nude photos of themselves to each other. The couple was sixteen at the time. To many this was a case of dysfunctional law, and was not put into force according to the spirit of the law. To some this was an example of law being exercised as it was written. This case did bring up the question whether or not babyhood and childhood pictures where people can happen to be nude would count as child exploitation as well, and if we go by this example, any and all such pictures would. The same would apply to many television commercials that have nude babies advertising diapers or such, despite having no depiction of genitals. A sensible person probably would dismiss most, if not all of these, as unnecessary noise about nothing and over reaction.

So why are we acting like fictional depictions of nudity count as any worse?

There really isn’t an answer. It might be how humans are creatures that constantly contrast themselves to everything around them in trying to recognise a pattern, like seeing a face on a power outlet, and seeing an immoral depiction of a character having sex or simply nude hits that center hard, forcing us to empathise with non-living entities and attributing them with human characteristics. We anthropomorphise everything by nature, and thus everything that has a human shape or depicts humanity fictionally automatically is given a human status. A drawing of an underage character is not seen just as a drawing or depiction, but as some sort of mirror to reality. This is doubled when it comes to realistic 3D models, especially if details are modeled in with care.

It’s almost as of we automatically install moral ideas and practices to what isn’t there. A drawing having sex is not real, but its depiction of possible reality as true. The more offensive and hard the fiction is, the more we think how wrong it is. That’s the point where we have to remind ourselves that vast majority of fictional characters are not real, nobody could ever exploit them to any extent.

That of course is mostly lost to us. Humans are strange creatures.

If you’d like to hear my own view on this, it’s as follows; you draw and publish anything you like. You should have no limits, as long nobody has been hurt in the making. Nowadays you can do wonders with 3D models anyway, no need for human models to be present.

There’s no real end for this post. While I’d like to directly argue how fictional characters and their situations do not count as exploitation unto themselves, that’s a rabbit hole very few can get out.

Valve continues to ban titles despite guidelines

Hoo boy.

Sometimes I have to wonder what the hell Valve is thinking as a company. Back in September Valve opened up their rules and restriction regarding the games and allowed anything legal on the platform, that that was great. That was a large step forwards when it comes to the market. However, recently there has been multiple takedowns and bans regarding visual novels and few adventure games and there seems to be one unifying theme across the board; children, be it in a school or fantasy setting .

It would seem that Valve is using Washington state legislature  in order to cover their bases regarding obscene content, but as One Angry Gamer points out, Valve is technically already complying with the state law by usage of adult filter, preventing the general public from viewing the material. However, that’s not really the issue, is it?

Visual Novels and most products based on Japanese culture tend to follow the culture of cute. It’s not uncommon for some of the materials to, especially material directed at an adult audience, porn or not, to throw some sexiness into the mix. The whole concept of sexy and cute isn’t anything new, but we can see that Japan has the whole thing on another level. I’ve discussed Comic Lemon People (planning on a historical on that for next year), Iczer-1 and numerous other series and products that have their roots in lolicon culture to some extent, and that sub-culture does seem to be partially responsible to these bans and removals.

This clashes harshly with American mentality when it comes to character designs and settings. The aforementioned sub-culture does have sexually suggestive themes regardless of its settings or characters and also in terms of visual design. To most Westerners, the lolicon culture seem to depict child characters, which would be somewhat inaccurate. It is not just a genre and way to depict something, but a sub-culture movement that began in the mid-70’s and came together in the 80’s. However, all that is lost in the discussion about the topic with pretty much anyone.

So you’re saying cultural differences are the reason why Valve is banning titles with minor-looking characters in a school setting? Partially. Whether or not we follow Washington state laws or not, the overall consensus about characters is that they’re depicting people or reality to some extent. We naturally refer characters as she or he, rather than it; we anthropomorphise characters naturally and give them humanity by sheer nature of our brain. Characters seem real, and in some cases, we regard them as real. Nevertheless, your favourite fiction is just that, fiction. It’s all make believe, and no real people are hurt. We know that, of course, but at the same time we can’t disassociate with the fact that an action made in fictional setting towards a character seems real.

The question I am asking of myself while reading these news stories and finally writing about the subject is whether or not it’s lolicon content as understood in modern Western terms, rather than in its popular culture context, should be allowed freely on Steam? Within the writer personae the answer is yes. In principle, the market should be voting with their wallets. But in person, I understand and see all the troubles and arguments that can be made left and right. Even if there was no sexual depiction, the issue is muddy. Japanese design, in and out of lolicon culture, often clash with the Western designs overall. There’s no winning against design choices that seem to sexualise schoolgirls, especially if the style makes them extremely cute. At the same time, I do feel Valve, and Western values overall in this subject, are taken to an extreme rather than concentrating at the core of the matter.

The problem here is the following: the core is different based on who views it.

Fictional depiction is regarded on the same level as photography (or real things as a whole) in certain parts of the world, and that’s the angle we most often see. The rest doesn’t even count as far as most modern Western legal systems are counted. How far are things going with this? Dead or Alive Dimensions on the Nintendo 3Ds and comic named Love Hina was pulled from sales as they were deemed to sexually depict minors. That might be ‘just Sweden’, but this is the exact same mindset Valve is employing, though not across the board. There are numerous titles on Steam that would fulfill the criteria they’re using behind the curtains with titles like Nipleheim’s Hunter and The Key to Home. However, to what extent Valve’s staff are extending their rules is unknown, as it seems to be based on the personal views and issues of the person who makes the decision. Those, ultimately, can’t be swayed.

Is this censorship under the guise of law? Most likely, but at the same time I understand Valve not wanting to be blamed for supporting child abuse through fictional characters. After all, Vale is ultimately responsible what’s on Steam, for better or worse. None of us need to like it, but at the same time, we can’t really achieve that utopian goal with things being still banned. Or is the problem the characters and settings? Some would say there wouldn’t be any bans if people weren’t creating hurtful and mentally sick content like this. The core of the matter is always different with different views.

You know what? No, I have a habit of making clear statements with the blogger’s angle, so let’s wrap this post up with a little bow; Valve has set up its rules. If the developer follows them and their title directly does not break law to any extent, it should not be banned. Screw personal views, screw cultural contexts or whether or not people like seeing things that make them uncomfortable. If it’s not breaking the law, Valve’s employees should hold their fingers off from the ban button.

Consumer control over titles coming to Steam?

In hindsight, this was to come. Developer named Love in Space has stated that Valve has halted their title’s submission in order to overhaul Steam to give more control to the consumer on what they see. This isn’t the standard Family friendly control centre Steam currently has, but something more robust.

This seems to indicate two things. First, Valve is taking their hands off as they’ve mentioned previously and accept pretty much anything legal on Steam. This would mean the end developers have to indicate elements in their software whilst submitting to Valve. This would tie directly into the second element, which is the user driven control.

How do you implement it? is the  question.The best, quickest way would probably be to use the pre-existing tags Steam already uses for its titles, but whether or not these would be fitting is an open question. Sometimes, how a tag works for a title is rather obscure, referring to some element that’s not a major part in the title. Then you have the occasional tag that has nothing to do with the title. There would be a need for a far more stricter set of rules in order have a properly functioning control device. While possible that they’ll just use these tags, it’s also probable that something completely new will be used, as the aforementioned developer mentions that there is going to be completely new features that their title requires before Valve accepts it for Steam.

Was there a reason for a system like this? As Steam functions as a sales platform as much as it is a digital console, there is a need to split adult-only material from the more kid-friendly content. The split is similar how kids’ magazines are in one section in store, while all the rest are moved on the side or above the their stand. Another example would be how family movies and adult movies had different sections on a VHS rental store. Wasn’t the Family View already like this? Apparently not, as it seems to only limit what games are shown in the Library section rather in Store.

Seeing how the Internet really likes to rile people up and enjoy the outrage culture for better or worse, these last few years (or rather, last decade or so) has seen movements to accuse games, game developers and consumers for pretty much anything from sexism and racism to political agendas and lack of them. Valve has seen a lot of shit flung at them concerning their new policy, to the point of Kotaku labeling Valve irresponsible for allowing free market to decide on products.

This new feature that is being worked on is a solution that allows the user to censor their own Store page. This all fine and dandy, as this means people should be able to see what they want, ignoring the rest of the marketplace they might deem less of worth or somehow damaging for them or their family. As long as system does not force limitation to anyone else, or even suggest that certain content might be considered inappropriate, it should be passable.

However, it would seem this is a solution coming along way down, as Sekai Project mentioned some of their titles need to be re-submitted, and that they need to fill-in additional information for already passed software once the system has been implemented. Considering Valve has stopped accepting some titles like this for the time being, I’d guess they’re in a bit of a hurry with the system before publishers like Sekai find new avenues to move into. Valve wanting to put accepting software on hold for the time being until they’ve finished the system may be understandable, but it’s not the best approach concerning the publishers and developers who have their titles in this limbo state.

You will hear that this won’t solve any problems. Games that sites like Kotaku considers problematic won’t go away and will be developed and published. However, this is as good as any mediating solution, as the upcoming feature should allow these people can ignore their hated titles as much as they wish.

Open the Valves, full Steam ahead

Sometimes, Valve manages to surprise the cynic in me. Just as I mentioned that they should open the doors for free market, it seems that’s exactly what Valve did. Of course, it was received with both positive and negative press, with negative pretty much calling out Valve for allowing games that could have offensive content. Kotaku, for example, takes their usual stance all about wanting to keep games with gross content, as they put it, out of Steam. Furthermore, Kotaku’s beef with Valve being a reactionary corporation when it comes to controversies is old song by this point. Most corporations may go their way to appease sections of the consumers, but in this day and age where practically everything can cause an uproar and everything is offensive to someone in some myriad way, corporations can’t exactly be but reactionary.

This whole deal is interesting and dumbfounding, to say the least. For number of years, gaming snobs have wanted the electronic games industry to grow and mature. No medium is free of the growing pains of vast, endless multiple points of views and political leanings. For a rough comparison, banned games equate to banned books. This is especially important if we are to take games as an art, as simply banning or removing art because the subject is something you dislike or disagree with infringes the free expression of the artist.

Of course, the opposition of Valve’s new policies take the business view on things whenever it pleases them. Steam having games with content other developers don’t like shouldn’t matter to them. If their product is superior, they should be at ease of mind. The free market will tell what’s more demanded. Of course, it could always turn out that doing politically or otherwise controversial topically charged games might not sell well in overall terms. If the developer and/or publisher wishes to move their games off the platform because Valve has allowed games with offensive content in their mind, they can always move away to GOG.

After all, censorship and limited freedom of speech is something that can be easily expanded to serve only one master.

This is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Brands, such as Steam, should not partake in politics of any sorts. Valve’s stance of keeping trolling titles (how in the fuck would you even define that properly in hard-down legal form) and illegal content off their service is enough. The market will handle the rest. Simply because content exist for consumption does not mean one has to go their way and consume it.

Is it immoral to allow content that might be considered offensive on Steam, politically or otherwise? The question is No, considering Steam already has games with content that does offense someone. Valve’s Weik Johnson has the right stance; they’re not the one to decide what developers make. If we are to promote equal treatment of all, it is required to mean equal treatment in all terms, including games that have offensive content of any kind. It is up to you as the consumer to decide whether or not it is consumed, not by a committee, a busybody soccer mom or another developer.

Another criticism Valve has got is that this means they do not stand up to values, or more accurately, the values of the critics have set up. Just as morals, values are up to each person. Cultural values and morals set up by the society are ultimately what matter the most, not the ones sections of the Internet want to be upheld. In effect, it is equally morally reprehensible to allow one offensive content but not the other. Valve’s ultimate morals lay in what makes the most profit, and free market is the best way to make a buck.

Whether or not Valve is finished with underestimating their consumers with this is an open question. It can be expected them to flip flop on the matter in the future, especially when take into notion how vague their new stance is. What is illegal changes country by country, and there is always the remote possibility they’ll simplify things and use all of them. Somewhat unlikely, seeing Valve has always tried to stick with the US legislation and have a history of arguing against foreign laws to an extent. What is acceptable varies wildly, especially in places like China.

Secondly, trolling, as mentioned above, doesn’t exactly hold water. It is extremely subjective and sounds like a scapegoat wording that they can enact on a title whenever they find it applicable. Titles like Hatred may get hated out of the platform due to its content, as it was removed from Steam Greenlight. It took Gabe to get it back. The title’s developer certainly did use trolling as part of the marketing campaign, yet the title is nothing short of fully fledged isometric shooter.

For better or worse, Valve’s announcement on the subject does touch upon this. To quote the post; we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling. While this could be viewed as slightly concerning, this sort of extension of corporation’s own decision making is expected. This allows Valve to cover their asses whenever its applicable while supporting the freedom of game development and publishing, as weird as it sounds, considering anyone could do that outside Steam on PC already.

In the end, all of Valve’s announcement ends up being PR speech. It’s not exactly virtue signaling either as much as itch.io’s Leaf’s tweet on the matter. How things will go down in practice will probably be a very different story, though only time will tell. Claiming that Valve has dropped any responsibility or the like is childish bitching, as the responsibility has always been with the developers and publishers, and even then to the extent of the law.

The consumers within the market will make their voice heard on the matter, and that is ultimately what matters, despite what different sociopolitical factions like to think. Let capitalism function as intended.

Then there’s the point that none of that matter jack shit if the gameplay is not up to the level. That is what matters the most after all.

Valve’s wake-up call for visual novel enthusiast and others

With Valve taking steps to remove numerous titles from Steam due to T&A, Mangagamer has decided to bring their titles to GOG. The last sentence in their post also mentions how Sekai Project, the infamous VN publisher, is joining them in this move.

Mangagamer questions Steam a retail platform for visual novels, and that has been an extremely good question from the start. Steam as a digital console has the exact same limitations as vast majority of other game consoles have had throughout the years when it has come to sexually mature content. The last console that allowed some sort of clothes-off action was the Sega Saturn with its R-18 rated gambling titles, though even then the titles were cleaned up from their arcade and PC counterparts. Whether or not it really is better to have violence than sex in media has always been brought to question, but that’s slightly outside the scope here.

The PR director for Mangagamer, John Picket, knows how to word this opening salvo towards GOG. There has been some friction why these titles have not appeared on GOG, mostly due to GOG having different set of guidelines than Valve, but calling this an opportunity rather than an option forced on them is standard marketing speech. Considering Steam has always been an unreliable publishing platform due to how Valve exercises their control over titles, developers, publishers and users, this movement should not have come out as a surprise to anyone. Valve’s customer support is legendarily terrible, and their ~30% cut of all sales, which yields less and less revenue to publishers down the line, especially when most users simply purchase everything from sales. In previous post about VN bans on Steam I mentioned how their policies went against EU legislation when it came to purchasing, resale and refunding titles, but what I didn’t mention was that Valve put in bit in their EULA before purchase where the consumer would waver their freedom for 14-day return period. Similarly, when Valve was in court in Australia over similar matter between 2014 and 2016, they stopped providing their financial information, which ended the judge giving them a middle finger in legalise form. All legal cases that they knew they couldn’t sensibly win has been elongated for PR reasons and to create proper backup whenever the inevitable end result comes to.

While EA is considered to be the Satan of game corporations, credit must be given where credit is due, and their did have refunding program as according to EU legislation two years prior to Valve, and even then Valve’s refunding program was in Steam credits, meaning they still keep your money. Valve’s policies get changed from time to time to reflect the pressure they’re under from outside forces, all to cover their own assets and revenues. That is ultimately the end goal of all corporations, after all.

Valve has the control over the PC side of game market like no other to the point of publishers and developers considering any other route a detriment to their product. After a company has partnered with Valve to get their titles to Steam, everything else gets so muddled down. Why would you want to publish games on other platforms when Steam has essentially become the Windows in terms of digital games publishing? We’re at a point where an anti-trust case about their monopoly could be made, but that won’t happen. Too many consumers and companies are tied to Steam both in terms of money and emotions. Only something that would break the glass would make them consider twice on Steam. Something like taking down titles for them having bare chests.

But Aalt, aren’t you the one always championing game exclusivity? Yes, with consoles. The PC is a different market than consoles and is based on user-end freedom, something that has been constantly eroding through the use programs like Steam, taking Operating System control away from the user and evermore increasing activity tracking to the point of end-user having no privacy. If consoles are tightly controlled platforms for single purpose only, the PC was its free counterpart, where everything from your hardware choice to how you modified your software was completely up to you. Now, if you modify software linked with Steam to any extent unsavory for them, you’re going to be banned.

Valve has no competition. GOG is a good second, but far behind Steam in terms of dedicated users, despite GOG always being the objectively better option for software. Japan has DLSite and DMM for both pornographic materials and normal titles, something that Nutaku reflects in the West. There are numerous smaller publishing platforms that do not tie the user to themselves, but due to lack of publishers on these platforms they’ve never reached the surface awareness.

There is a distinct lack of diverse competition on the PC currently and it is not because of exclusives. This has been case for a good decade now, with even vast majority of the small amount of physical titles needing to be connected to a service as a form of DRM. This had lead Valve to had an effective control over PC software when it comes to gaming and their like titles, like visual novels. It should come to no surprise to anyone when Valve decides to exert their control on anything that might be seen as unsavory for their own benefits.

Banning Adult Oriented material, again

Lewgamer has a nice article with sources and citations on Valve threading to take down on adult games on Steam, give it a look before we go further.

The whole issue really is all about having erotica CG within the titles. Doesn’t matter if its just left in the code, if its junk data somehow and completely inaccessible by normal means. If it is there, it counts. Sounds extremely pathetic and funny, but that is the reality. The case this is most compared to, going as far Steam’s own representative doing it as well, is the Hot Coffee case. In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas exists a disabled minigame where the player character can bang their chosen girlfriend character. The reason why it was left in the game’s code is because the assets were used elsewhere as well.

This basically set the tone that if a software has any sort of pornographic content inside the code or assets, it’s automatically Adult Only, which further means certain shops will not carry it and places like Australia most likely will instantly ban it.

I also recall something about Valve considering on banning titles that have censorship removing patches from other sites, be it via addition of the content or unlocking. However, I found no solid sources on this, so take this as a rumour at best.

With most visual novels having some level of erotica in them at least, Valve’s probably going to gun them down if this keeps going. This also means that even Muv-Luv‘s Steam releases are under threat in the worst case scenario. Considering Manga-Gamer had their title with “earnest and tasteful exploration of sexuality” is about to get the boot, pretty much anything goes.

This is one man’s crusade, though what Valve is doing here is covering their own asses for the worst case scenario for them. They don’t give a damn about the consumer or developer end due to their monopoly. Games with pornographic content is mere blip on the radar for them, the revenue Valve gains from them is microscopic for them. Worse, they’re a public corporation, and having erotica or pornography on their service in any form is often seen as a sort of stain. This probably also leads to some problems, just like how Steam’s terms of service had to be revised from “purchasing games” to “subscriptions” circa 2012, when Court of Justice of European Union decreed that it publishers can’t oppose of resale of used licenses. EULA ties you to nothing. However, publisher have more leverage if you don’t purchase anything from them, just subscribe to their product.

Valve, of course, never had clear rulings on the issue. They’ve been jumping back and forth regarding adult oriented material on their service in order not to even recognize the topic properly due to the stigma pornographic content still carries with it despite the fact that it’s all virtual.

The discussion about what constitutes as porn and what doesn’t should be made, but it doesn’t matter to Valve. Their view is pretty clear on the issue, even if they aren’t. If it has any kind of sexually explicit content under any kind of depiction, it is counted as porn. There is no room for nuances on the topic, which only tells how puritanical this issue is.

It is unfortunate that things have done this way, as this will probably cause further issues down the line for anyone willing to entertain the idea of having a more sexual title on Steam. It’s a slippery slope we’re in for here. There are numerous solutions, like moving these titles to Nutaku, but that also means raving Steam fans wouldn’t follow in suit.

Mature sexual content, be it pornography, erotica or whatever else similar will always limit your audience to adults and people who aren’t living in a medieval level culture. The approach of simply trying to clean it away is not the right step by any means and it will be met with opposition. However, what Valve could do here is to open a specific section for Adult Only audience, both expanding their market and guaranteeing that places competitors like GOG wouldn’t be tempted to open this sort of targeted service. Then again, this would encourage further competition, so perhaps it would be a chance for them. Muv-Luv on GOG would remove any of my reasons to use Steam.

What is the consumer to do here, if they oppose booting titles off Steam if they contain adult material? Wallet voting by purchasing these products, making your voice hard on social media and elsewhere at their representatives and showcasing support to devs who are inclining towards censoring their products.

I guess this is as good time as any to remind my readers that corporations are there to make money and keep their investors happy. That’s their main goal, and sometimes it is more favourable to enforce certain image and lack of products that could be harmful somehow to the younger audiences.

Funny that, this is pretty in-line with how the US is seen by most Europeans; a place where over-the-top and accurate depictions of hyper violence is awright, but a bare breast will make everyone flip their shit.

Cross pollution evolution

With the amount of cross pollution between console and computer gaming we’ve seen during these last ten years plus, it’s not wonder it sometimes seems that things have almost flipped around. With the further advent of Steam and its competitors like GOG, combined with the ever-furthering PC gamification of the consoles, consumers do move towards the PC and its digital consoles.

The cross-pollination has also become increasingly more and more evident with the Japanese developers porting their titles to Steam due to having to deal less bullshit from Valve’s end to certain extent, and not having to care about other licensing issues or having to give a second thought about physical media. This is essentially the cheap option, when you don’t have money to release a full physical release. The recent Kickastarter for Arcana Heart 3 Love Max Six Stars!!!!!! (yes, with six goddamn exclamations) basically had no chance of seeing further ports if it hadn’t been for Steam. Depending how the title will see success after it’s been launched at whatever date in the far-flung future, the possibility of convincing execs to further port the game for other platforms is possible.

That’s probably the main reason why Japanese companies have begun to see Steam as a valid option; costs. Much like with Muv-Luv‘s Kickstarter, Japanese game developing execs have to be convinced with data and analysis. And tradition, can’t forget that. It’s the corporate culture. To keep using the aforementioned Arcana Heart as an example, the cost of developing a port of an arcade game that never saw major success on consoles and never would stand out from obscurity is just tad too high. The main problems with this isn’t just paying the workers to port the game, but the ad campaigning and licensing costs to console companies too. Pressing the physical media isn’t as expensive as people would think, but the logistics and rising material costs do add up pretty fast, especially if you’re intending to do region specific releases, which nowadays is absolutely stupid thing to do. Just throw in a language selection in the menu and be done with it.

Steam publishing removes quite a lot of logistic headaches in this regard, and in Arcana Heart‘s case may not require too much porting depending on the arcade hardware it’s running on. Which seems to be Taito Type X2 Hardware, which means it’s Windows XP driven. Easy as shit to port to Steam and other similar hardware to be honest and shouldn’t cost much anything. Hell, I think there’s a version out there on the Internet that’s essentially just the arcade executable, that runs just fine on Win7, but I remember that could ruin Window’s core folder structure or something else. Anyway, due to the lack of sales with Arcana Heart means that whatever way to save money and have it out there at the lowest expense possible means that it might make some money.

It’s no wonder Japanese companies have begun to aim to release games on Steam as well. Steam may not have the installation base in Japan that it has in Europe and US of A, but if they want to tap that digital sales market they better rip their preconceptions out and strike when the iron is still hot. This is evident with all the digital services Japan has for its own indie scene with the likes of DMM and DLsite, which work more as online shops for digital content than dedicated clients. These have been popular for number of years before Japanese developers begun to move their software to Steam. Once the ice was broken, even the smaller success software would bring in data to show that Westerners indeed would purchase their titles in digital form. Make no mistake, all Japanese titles that have seen success on Steam is all thanks to Western consumers.

The old argument for cross-pollination is that it offers the consumer choices, that the consumer can play a game on whichever platform they choose to. This is only a good argument on the surface. If you had all the titles on all platforms, the concept of having different platforms makes no more sense. The PC would always come out on the top. Not because it’s superior, but because everyone needs a goddamn computer of some sort nowadays. People hate buying new console hardware, but if it’s on PC, might as well skip purchasing that new Sony console. Steam’s model as a digital console steps in just fine, thought their UI has a terrible design, it functions quick and easy. It might seem awkward, but having multiple different systems with different games would further encourage software and hardware developers to hit different niches and expand the market. Nintendo’s consoles won’t disappear as long as Nintendo keeps making exclusive games that people want to play. Uniqueness in library content after all is the lifeline of a console. The more unique a library is, the more contest the console can tackle. Take that uniqueness away, and you’ll effectively get Steam, a system everybody wants to pick up because it’s the cheapest option.

Not even joking about that. One of Steam’s main point is that it’s cheap both to the consumer and developer. Most games don’t even require a high-end PC anymore because consoles have become dumbed down PCs to the point that Steam is getting ports from consoles and they’re for all intents and purposes identical. Hell, cross-play between console and PC versions has become a completely viable option. It’s no wonder console gamers who are sick and tired of seeing developers screwing them over and seeing support being dropped in favour for the upcoming systems and moving to PC, where they have no real need to concern themselves over that.

All platforms shouldn’t offer the same experience. The cross-pollination however will go to the point where consumers will have a choice to just select one and have everything on it, damn the quality and competition. Valve and Steam will keep themselves relevant while both Sony and Microsoft will cannibalise each other. Nintendo will most likely keep themselves relevant by hitting the market consensus by innovating and expanding the market. All this is really a change we just have to live with.

Demo the Trailer

There’s a rather lengthy writing on how there is no such a thing as a cinematic video game. It’s a good read, arguing largely on the same issues as this blog when it comes to storytelling in video games. If you can’t be arsed to read it, it essentially goes a long way to say that a game’s story ultimately is best when told through the medium itself; the game’s own play, not cutscenes or the like.

The question asked in the writing whether or not games need to be movies at all should be an outright No. Indeed, a player plays the game for the active play, and whenever he loses that active part e.g. in a pre-scripted sequence, the player’s interest wavers. Movies are different beasts altogether and have their own ways of doing things. Video game industry has relied too much on text and video in its storytelling, and the best thing coming from certain old school games is that they lacked both text and video to some extend and gameplay did tell the story. The game industry masturbates at their masterful storytelling never to realise most people seem to use Skip button more than anything else in these games. I’ve still yet to find a modern game that did storytelling better than The Legend of Zelda. Every step of that game is an adventure worth telling on its own.

PlayStation Expo was last weekend, and we saw a lot of trailers and some gameplay footage. There is an interesting disparity here, where the consumers get all hyped up because of pre-rendered footage that is aimed to make the game look as good as possible and often lacking in any sort of gameplay footage in itself. Game trailers, as much we might hate to admit it, are largely just about the cinematic flavour in the same sense as movie trailers are. Best bits picked into the trailer to show something nice to possibly track an interest. However, whereas with a movie trailer you may get the genuine idea what’s it all about, a trailer about a game lacks that punch as it has no interactive elements. It’s just footage of a game, or even worse, just footage of the videos inside the video.

To use The Legend of Zelda as an example again, a recent trailer for Breath of the Wild combines in-game videos with some gameplay footage with specifically selected sceneries. It’s also very boring to look at on every level. The direction isn’t anything to write home about, neither are the actual game content we get to see only a little bit of. All the enemies and NPC we see are boring as well. The music tries to hit your feelings, but only fanboys would falter at that point. Like if Mega Man X would just suddenly pop up as a Marvel VS Capcom character, same thing.

What the trailer does is that it shows you stuff that’s largely incoherent and has no context. The fantasy is represents isn’t classic Zelda, but Zelda games haven’t used their original source of fantasy for a long time now. It’s more like a Chinese knock-off now.

A trailer for a game does not meet the same qualifications as a trailer does for a movie. A game demo is to a game what a trailer is to a movie. However, for some years now a lot of people have been asking what has happened to game demos. All platforms seems to have less and less of them. There is no one concrete reason, thought the most common that gets mentioned is that a demo gives a straight and raw deal what the game is like, and seeing games’ overall quality has been stagnant, people simply aren’t interested in purchasing a game after trying out its demo. Jesse Schell argued in 2013 that games that have no demo sell better according to statistics. I don’t see a reason to argue otherwise three years later, seeing there is still a lack of demos.

If a demo cuts sales of a game, that means the game isn’t worthy in the eyes of the consumer to begin with. The less information the consumer gets, the better for the developer and publisher. Sucks to be the consumer who buys games without checking and double checking sources and Youtube videos how the game plays out, and even then there’s a lack of interactivity.

This is where raw gameplay footage serves a purpose, as do Let’s Plays. If trailers are made to simply sell you the game with the sleekest look possible only to fail you when you pop the game in and see how much everything has been downgraded from that spit spat shiny video, then raw gameplay and Let’s Plays are the opposite. Well, the opposite would be a game demo, but you get the point. The two showcase the game as it is in all of its naked glory and allows more direct and objective assessment on the quality of the product. Of course, no company really would prefer giving this sort of absolutely objective view on their game, unless the circumstances were controlled and hype would take over.

Hype and game trailers tend to go hand-in-hand with certain titles. Just as these trailers are made to hype us to hell and back, the hype keeps us from seeing possible flaws. Then you have ad people rising the fire even further and so on. Look how No Man’s Sky was hyped and how the product ended up being and you’ll see how much we need demos, but as consumer we can’t effect that point one bit. After all, we’re just money pouches to fund whatever personal glory trophy projects these innovative and creative gods of creation want to make.

I picked up Tokyo Xanadu eX+‘s demo recently and made the decision not to purchase the game until I can get it dirt cheap. The game does not stand up to Falcom’s brand overall. The demo’s content are largely boring and feels archaic, like something from a PS2 game. As a consumer I am glad I had the chance to personally assess the quality of the product to an extent before shoving my money into it. This should be a possibility for everyone when it comes to games, as developers couldn’t just dilly dally. The lack of demos is also one of the reasons why Steam allows consumers to return their games if they do not meet the expectations. Demos would have probably prevented this to a large degree.

Let’s talk about Muv-Luv’s changes

By now those of you who’ve got the Steam release of Muv-Luv have most likely noticed changes in there. Most changes have been for the better, some out of necessity.

Before we go on, let’s re-iterate how the companies are related to each other. Degica is the company localising, they are in charge of translation and publishing, while ixtl is the rights holder and makes the final decisions what’s in and what’s out. âge’s the developer, and ixtl was put up to manage their IPs. Both âge and ixtl are under Acid Company Limited.

Degica may be the one in charge of the translation and publishing part, but whatever changes they do ultimately has to go through ixtl. If they decide to veto e.g. a translation title, Degica’s translation staff got nothing to say to it, unless they can provide some hefty evidence, as you may have noticed that both Takimekazuchi and Chizuru are properly romanised instead of using the more archaic forms Takemikaduchi and Chiduru. You can probably expect some bullshit things left in along the line anyway. I’m half expecting something along the lines of not using the official English title of  Sado Island. Hell, it’s even on the island’s own official tourist brochure. I don’t know how the hell Amaterasu missed this one, it’s not even an obscure tourist location. I can even pick up my 1970 World Atlas and take a photo of the page where Japan and its islands are showcased. Give me a moment, and I’ll take it!

DSC_4669
Page 70, Suuri Karttakirja, based on Reader’s Digest Atlas of the World, 1970

To be fair again, Sadogashima too is used (sometimes as Sado-ga-shima to boot), albeit not as common worldwide. Even on modern maps, like the one Google uses, lists it as Sado Island. Other languages seem to mainly use Sado, thou I admit Isla Sado sounds awesome.

The most clear cut changes are the new songs in the soundtrack, and music is almost always the hardest thing to license when it comes to Japanese products, especially TV-shows and movies. This is because a single show can include music from various different rights holders, and some may want their music be licensed episode-by-episode, which is why sometimes opening songs are replaced with instrumental versions in Western releases, like The Skull Man‘s or Mobile Suit Z Gundam. Sometimes music pays homage to other songs, and hits a bit close home. Metal Gear Solids theme is reminiscent to The Winter Road, and âge is known for their musical homages. Just like how Metal Gear Solid’s theme was essentially dropped after it was accused of plagiarism, and ixtl wants to avoid such controversies at all costs. They’ve dealt enough with plagiarism claims as is.

That said, while わるだくみ/Warudakumi had its own fans, Drama Bomb! isn’t really bad by any means. It and the other additional song are most likely leftovers from Schwarzesmarken‘s development, as both of them were composed by Evan Call. They have a distinctly different sound to them from the rest of the soundtrack, but like with most things, it’s really up to taste if you like them. It was probably the best for ixtl to replace the songs rather than risk accusations and possible lawsuit. That’s business for you.

This issue extend to Muv-Luv Alternative. One of its more iconic songs, Assault Landing, is similarly a direct homage to Basil Poledouris’ Kledanthu Drop from Starship Troopers. Then you have that pastiche of Buster Machine March and the other examples. You should be half-expecting their removal for the exact same reason.

Another big change people have noticed is that the script has been completely revised to the point of it essentially having no traces of Amaterasu’s fantranslation. If we’re completely honest here, that translation had issues. At points it was incoherent with issues with language, outright missing cues and throwbacks to âge’s previous works and top it all, had inaccuracies to the point of changing some of the characterisations. One of the reasons I never felt strongly for Ayamine was because the English subtitles didn’t really reflect the Japanese, giving her a slightly but significantly different impression what sort of person she was. The same applies to Class Rep. Ixrec or however his nick is spelt has said that he himself didn’t care for Extra, and it shows in his script.

The new script basically does away all these issues, but it’s natural to complain about these changes. It is a normal psychological reaction to feel negatively towards a new translation you’ve grown with. One example would the the Finnish retranslation of Peter Pan. The original wasn’t exactly accurate and took a lot of liberties, translating the names in a more Disney-esque way than anything else. The new translation is more accurate and representative in what ideas the book holds, but people disliked it anyway because it was new and against what they were used to.

As for the cropped CGs, âge’s been doing that since 2007. This isn’t exactly anything new, and these complains are coming in about a decade too late. The reason again is corporate politics. It’d cost more to add more content to the CGs to fit in the new resolution than to crop them. For purists, it is bullshit, but hardcore purists wouldn’t want to play anything but the original CD release anyway. Gotta read it as originally intended. In addition, depending how the CG is stored in the files, ixtl shouldn’t have much problems showcasing the whole CG in the Gallery mode.

As for the lack of porn, Steam doesn’t allow adult content like that. Secondly, producing a patch on itself is its own thing, separate from the rest of the deal. It may sound bewildering, but as the Muv-Luv Steam Version is based on the All-Ages version, it takes work from ixtl’s side to even create a patch to put in the necessary scenes and their script.  My guess is that patch isn’t high on the task list, not by a long shot. A wild guess would be that we can expect to see some proper news about the patch closer to Alternative‘s release. Then again, most people tend to say erotica scenes don’t matter or add to the story, but as soon as they’re missing, people seem to go ballistic.

There is also the issue of them being porn. ixtl and âge have been trying to clean their image, despite their streams not showing that, and there’s also the issue of age, or rather, the assumed age of the characters. Miki’s not the most legal looking character out there, and such things will cause certain troubles if not handled properly.

Still, I’m willing to bet it’s mostly about the money that goes into developing patch, as it might possibly break game saves and the like. From what I’ve seen, even when âge showcases how powerful their editing software are, they’re barely able to anything complex. Every game they’ve developed, like Faraway Dawn and those minigames in Altered Fable‘s Before the Shimmering Time Ends  have been horrible. Hell, the beach ball minigame in bugged to the point winning and losing really is dependent on said bug. I doubt the current release of Muv-Luv would even be out now if they didn’t have outside help.

Outside these, all the rest are more or less in line with the usual updating that don’t require any special mention. Some don’t like how large the user interface is, but I bet these people forget it’s supposed to work on tablets too, hence the design. Some have complained about yakisoba sandwich not being yakisoba bread, when in all actuality it should be baguette with fried buckwheat noodle. There’s some corporate bullshit in the background as usual for Japanese companies, and if you’ve ever really looked into how ixtl and age handles stuff beside their publicity, there’s some rotten stuff in there. The same applies to all Japanese companies, but it’s sad to see that being a rule in their corporate culture than an exception.

If we’re completely fair, if you have complaints that are about the CGs, music and the like that does not concern the English script or Degica’s English publications and PR, you should throw a message to ixtl instead.

Muv-Luv is out on Steam

I feel like pointing this out, even thou most of my readers already are reading it. Muv-Luv’s out.

The question now is; will I be replacing my old screenshots in the previous posts? The answer is… maybe. Most likely a no, because of archival purposes.

If you’re interested to see what’s new and how it looks, I recommend checking the stream I did with Alternative Projects people under ARG podacst banner with some guests.

It’s a been journey. Now just to sit tight and wait for the physicals and Alternative.