Where are the video game movies?

Some years back, just before the Warcraft movie was announced, there was some slight buzz about how video game based movies would find a new place in the market now that comics have finally been successfully adapted for silver screen. That era never really came about. Both Assassin’s Creed and Warcraft movies were ultimately lumped with the Marvel and DC ones. While they’re not comic book movies, the terms has changed to encompass movies with extreme amount of CG, emphasize on action and essentially being a full genre movie.

This isn’t exactly the best science out there, but there is a certain kind approach thematically with comic book movies. To some extent, “comic book movie” is a degrading term and has been used as such. It’s the usual you used to hear from film snobs for them not being real films, just movies or flicks. Entertainment for the masses and such.

Despite video games having more money moving inside its industry nowadays that Hollywood, Hollywood has always had the position that they know the best when it comes to stories. After all, they’re the ones that realise dreams on the big screen, teller of stories and such nonsense. The stance Hollywood seems to take is that passive following of a story and being immersed in it is the higher route to take, it’s more classy or whatever you want to call. Story through play, i.e. player’s own actions, are seen lesser because of the connected connotations of “play” and “game”. Somehow it’s more childish to be an active part of a story rather than sitting still and have a story told to you.

Every time Hollywood has taken charge of a game and wish to bring their wealth of knowledge to this lesser field of entertainment, the results have been less than impressive. For example, Jurassic Park: Trespassers was supposedly co-developed with Spielberg and parts of Hollywood crew, but all they ended up bringing in was story elements. Trespasser, while a big budget title, ended up pretty damn terrible game with some interesting elements to it. I recommend checking out Research Indicates’ Let’s Play on the game, its full of information on development and history of this sad title.

Considering Hollywood doesn’t care about how a game could tell a story in its own media, something most game developers don’t seem to care either, it’s not surprising that they’d concentrate on the FMV sequences and pre-scripted scenes first and foremost. To them, this is where the artistry is. Hollywood’s takes on video game movies have been rather lacklustre overall, with Super Mario Bros. probably being the most blatant example of not giving a fuck about the source material. That said, the SMB movie is also one of the last great children’s adventure movies made, similar to The Goonies. Alternatively, House of the Dead movie or Alone in the Dark. Overall speaking, video game based movies haven’t been all that well-received or well produced, similar to comic book movies initially. Certainly there has been numerous good titles here and there, like Mortal Kombat (which is a great MK movie but lacklustre otherwise) and we can make an argument for Prince of Persia.

However, unlike with comic book movies, no company has really managed to make a game based movie work to the same extent. Whether or not it is because there’s a lack of respect for the source material, the source material being rather terrible, or simply because games’ stories don’t fit the silver screen without considerable changes for the adaptation, the end results speak for themselves. Something like a fighting game as in the aforementioned Mortal Kombat is relatively easy to adapt as a martial arts action movie, but something like Super Mario Bros., an abstract action game about a character jumping on platforms to defeat a big turtle doesn’t exactly turn itself into a movie easily. Well, Sony’s certainly aiming to do so.

How do you turn, for example, a mission of Warcraft into a scene in a movie? By having a massive fight scene, of course. While the scenes in the  movie are of pure fanservice and pretty nice to watch, nothing in the movie is impressive or new. Much like how the original game stood on the shoulders of fantasy giants before it, so does the movie. Lord of the Rings movies affected both aesthetics and directions how similar fantasy movies would be directed down the line, and Warcraft followed its lead in a very expected manner. I doubt there was ever a possibility for anyone in the project to aim change the paradigm fantasy movies are in at the moment, and that possibly lead to the movie’s lack of success outside China.

Perhaps its because games don’t have a need for a Hollywood-like “good” plot. Video and computer games require a reason to play, the end-goal that may change, and the story itself is the player’s actions. The overarching narrative in a game is more about the player than the readily set story. A comparable example of this would be in any tabletop RPG, like Dungeons and Dragons, where players play a readily made scenario. This narrative can be extremely hard to translate into a passive story. However, considering there are numerous franchises based on the author’s DnD games, like Slayers.

It would seem that the first thing that an adaptation from a video game to a movie needs first-hand experience, a play worth telling. All the story sequences, FMVs and such are meaningless as the meat is in the gameplay. All players have a story to tell when it comes to their greatest moments in a game and that moment is always within a game’s play. Hollywood is missing this and concentrating on the wrong parts of the games and consider playing as acts for children. While you can visually replicate some of the moments in a game visually, a film can never replicate the action of it. Why even try when the special effects heavy smashbin market is essentially controlled by Marvel?

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On electronic games’ history and culture

This post is a collection of related subject, combined into easier access

A game is an interaction between at least two individuals under certain rules to achieve some sort of goal or achievement. These rules can be shared between the parties and can contradict one side. This idea has not changed with electronic games, and they are not the first ones to have a non-living party. Just like card games have a card deck as the opposing party alongside other human players, electronic games use their device as the party to oppose the human player. In the end, modern video and computer games use the same rules and point calculation methods used past games and plays, be it sports or card games. After all, Super Mario Bros. is just a continuation of our play culture.

Steve Russel’s famous By gosh, it’s a Pinball! is a good contrast how not even the first computer game was, in the end, nothing new. After the Second World War, game parlors had become the cradle of youth culture, and pinball game parlors (or game arcades) became the place where young men and their girlfriends could escape to from the world, essentially becoming their own little separate worlds from the oppressing reality. This world was from the reach of mainstream culture and its moral guardsmen, allowing the youths to let their suppressed side to blow out.

Originally released 1969, this song is iconic representation of the time

Pinball Wizard is an anti-hero, an abused young man who is shunned by the larger world. However, in the game parlors he is able to convey himself to his peers, becoming one with the machine.

As such, it should be no surprise that parents would be worried about these parlors. After all, penny arcades before had been seen as place of vagabonds and men with beaten past. A place where people with less fortune could come together and entertain themselves with cheap coin operated machines, while possibly making connections to the criminal world. Different leagues and mafias controlled these penny arcades at during the 1930’s America, and as such it’s understandable to see people shunning arcades well up to the 1980’s. That shadow never left these places where men could get together and play games. It could be argued that even the games we have nowadays are suffering from similar complains, where moral guardians blame games for ruining whatever they deem valuable. In this light it is interesting to note that it is more than probable that many parents bought computers and game consoles to keep their children out of the arcades later down the line to keep them away from entering the wayside paths of life.

While my text is largely based on American culture, it’s not to say that the rest of the world saw these parlors in any better light. In France, Jean-Claude Baudot banned all coin operated machines in 1937 to prevent the disease penny arcades were seen as. According to Baudot, this law was still in effect up to the early 1980’s, though the law had been eased and circumvented in all ways and manners. In 1981 Ferdinand Marcos, the president of Philippines,  banned all arcade video games. To enforce his rule he smashed arcade machines in public. This is the same man who banned Voltes V  and other similarly themed cartoons just before the series’ final episode. Both of these men echo events that had taken place during world history time and time again, and events like these would be repeated after them, like how Pokémon was seen as the tool of the Devil by some religious forces. In Colorado Springs, 1999, pastor Mark Juvera took a 30-inch sword to a Pikachu toy in front of 85 children and calling Pokémon poison, not to mention the claims of video and computer games causing players to be more violent. Neither of these points are anything special, they’re just continuing  the same backlash games and other media forms have experienced throughout the ages.

It is somewhat ironic to note that television was seen as one of the remedies to keep these rebelling young people at home, as the 1950’s saw it entering mass markets despite not many having the money to buy one. Television didn’t give solution to the problems parents saw game parlors to be, as the problem was social and parlors were not the originator. Turned out that these young people watched television and took themselves to play pinball with their mates. Basically everything that was seen a solution to a problem would later be deemed a problem in itself as well, as seen with books, movies, amateur radio and maybe some day with games too. The problems were real to an extent, they are always more about the stereotypical view the mass culture takes at them. Books, amateur radio, television and games share the same blame that they keep people, children and adults alike, inside rather than “allowing” them to go outside and play, or do something more worthwhile.

Arcades, as we now remember them, didn’t come from nowhere during the 1970’s. They are just those game parlors with a new name and new machines, just like penny arcades before them. We can trace these places back to the game events held before mechanical games existed. In Herrad von Landsberg’s manuscript from the 1100’s we can see a pair of knights fighting each other through controlled marionettes. While it would be easy to compare this to modern era Vs. fighting  game, that would be far too direct. We do not know whether this was a common event or not, nor whether or not this is a real depiction as intended.

Artikel_45890_bilder_value_1_augsburger_puppenkiste1[1]Street Fighter with dolls?

Nevertheless, the core idea of contest and games are still present, even in the physical games. In the same extension, cock-fighting has been compared to Pokémon and other similar games. This is not rare in any way, as all games have their roots in some form of other plays and games. Majority of first person shooters are based on war games, strategy games are war board games, platformers are adventures children have in forest and elsewhere and imitates jumping form rock to rock, fighting games are rooted in physical combat and so on. Plays and games the adults play do stem from the childhood games, and to certain extent adulthood work and politics are just grander, more serious form of these games. It should be noted that video games especially have stemmed from boy’s play culture (and still reside there due to the competitive nature of it), thou arcade games like Pac-Man and Breakout are more or less neutral in their approach.

But what are the original electronic or mechanic games that can be called as the firs physical grandfathers of modern computer and video games? Perhaps the first ancestral machines are the automata, with machines offering entertainment and awe to the audience. However, games require interactivity, and one of the first proto-interactive machines that allowed the user to dictate some elements of the entertainment was the mutoscope from the late 1800’s. It was deemed to cause moral decay and was blamed to corrupt the youths for the pennies they cost. Pornography was a thing, and mutoscope is most remembered for those kinds of movies. We shouldn’t forget shooting galleries and the like as one of the proto-interactive game machines, as Nintendo’s Zapper and the games it used are pretty much a straight continuation.

Perhaps the mutoscope’s history is closer to films overall. However, it’s slightly more interactive nature does make it a relative of playing

1900’s saw all these machines to become everyday objects, and despite the bad rap they got, they spread like wildfire throughout the world. UK created their own machines alongside Americans (a lot of mutoscope’s UK had were either destroyed or exported to the Denmark during coin change in 1971), France and Germany had their own similar history with coin operated machines and Japan had adult-only pachinko parlors in 1930’s Nagoya. It’s not a large step from these mechanical devices towards electronic games, and through that, into computer and video games.


While many of the fears from the late 1800’s and early-to-mid 1900’s still persist when it comes to electronic games, those who play games and are most enthralled by them has not changed too much since then. Things changed with the advent of Golden Era of games, especially with Pac-Man, a game that attracted both men and women to play. Pac-Man as a character was largely a non-descriptive blob despite the game’s and character’s name.

I’ve talked about Industrial revolution being the main dividing point between arts, crafts and design, but when it comes to games it also created a cultural point with boys’ and girls’ cultures. According to E. Anthony Rotundo (1994), the industrial revolution separated boys from their father’s work environment, leaving them for their mothers’ to take care of. Boys moved outside from there, as motherly care usually emphasised good morals, pampering and kindness. Boys’ games and plays often were almost the opposite of this with physical contact with surprising aggressive attitudes. Going against mother’s command was a way to show that you weren’t a momma’s boy, and building from that onwards is a sort of step towards independent manhood. Regardless of how wild these games were, boys would return home to their mothers. One could say that unlike the Freudian Oedipus complex, boys’ fight against their mothers’ culture.

Rotundo contrasts this against girls’ culture, which is tied to their mothers, which have lived in a sort of symbiosis with each other. While he boys’ “adventure island” had a confrontational setting, girls’ had their own place within the “secret gardens.” While girls tend to favour for more socially interactive game with less or not emphasize on competition and physical contact, the concept of secret garden, a secret place reserved only for them and their fantasies. It should be noted that a lot of books for girls are the opposite of this thinking, where their normal lives are broken by a fantastic individual of sorts and their lives see a change, often at the cost of that secluded place. The differences between classic boys’ and girls’ literature is that boys had the heroes travel far away, while the girls’ literature tended to emphasize on staying home. Through that the stakes were different; for boys the adventures were physical like their games, whereas girls’ adventures were more about the psychology and emotions.

It’s not hard to see why electronic games would end up seen as a boys’ hobby. It is far easier to create a game that’s based on competition and rules rather than a game that requires methodical interaction between characters. A game is easy to program to offer a direct challenge the player needs to achieve, like destroying alien invaders than it is to program to reply to inquiries in a naturalistic and sophisticated way to counter the player’s emotional state.

The question whether or not there is a difference between boys’ and girls’ is cultural at its core. American game developer Purple Moon was known for developing games aimed at girls of age 8-14, and their Secret Paths series could be used as an archetypical example of what is generally seen as a girls’ game.

Secret Path games showcases some traditional symbols and images associated with girls. The cursor in the example above is a heart or a ladybug, there is no physical conflict in itself, and whatever action there is leans on metaphysical than physical. Interestingly, despite Purple Moon’s games tend to be simplified in how things are presented, they still manage to make better use of progressive values than most games we have nowadays.

While Purple Moon’s games were designed to be more about places of relaxation, where girls could pour out their stress and observe things with their hearts, so to speak. Each character has their own secret, and it is up to the player to find the secret paths that are laden with gemstones and other artefacts that give social, emotional and psychological strength. These visuals and pathways are representative of the characters’ plight, and the stories these physical environments contain encourage the player to try things out in their own social life. It’s not hard to see why the founder Brenda Laurel called their games as friendship adventures.

Similarly, Theresa Duncan’s Zero Zero is another example of a game that ties to girls’ culture.

While Secret Paths can be regarded as a continuation to the secret garden idea, Louise Fitzhugh’s 1964 novel Harriet the Spy, is about another sort of play space for girls; the city. Within the book, Harriet observes her city’s, her microworld’s she creates, citizens and their complex interactions and how she changed them as she sees fit. This idea of creating a world and having total control over it is similar to SimCity. The difference between the two is how SimCity is more about playing god and micro-manage everything. To Harriet, creating this world is just the first step, and moves towards spying on the individuals to the point of breaking in real world buildings to understand adult interactions. The same contrast repeats here; there is no physical confrontation like there would be in boys’ novel, all the challenge comes from the human interactions and gaining information on the interactions.

It wouldn’t be too hard to see Harriet the Spy as a stealth game that has no combat. Zero Zero is essentially a computer adventure game version of the novel, where the player goes through the city and similarly seeks people’s’ stories. Despite this innocent sounding setting, Zero Zero and other games from Theresa Duncan do not try to be sleek and pat down the reality. On the contrary, Zero Zero‘s French are bored and tend to insult the player in a stereotypical fashion, as do the flowers. Women with strong make-up smoke freely and tend to flash themselves, promising an event in the Red Lights district.  The Sims has a considerable female fanbase, and in a way can be seen as a modern example of a game that allows the player not only play dollhouse, but also play god and decide the interactions.

Secret Path games and Zero Zero are good examples of two strong sides of traditional girls’ games. Secret Path games are very balanced and encourages the player to feel, so to speak. Zero Zero is an example of a game that shows the misshapen world in a very caricature fashion and encourages the player to seek knowledge and information that is hidden from them. Both are about exploring a physical space, but in the end both are about the players’ inner worlds.

Games like Pac-Man and Nights into Dreams are in neither space as such. Pac-Man‘s design as a character and game had no points to either direction, and as such I personally consider Ms. Pac-Man a needles exercise in hindsight despite it becoming extremely popular. Nights into Dreams on the other hand was designed to be androgynous from the get go, both in gameplay and character designs. It even has a boy and a girl character, Elliot and Claris, who have very different dreams for their life.

As games have evolved, contact between the two cultures have become more frequent. One could argue that open world games that contain as much non-physical social confrontation as they do physical are mixing these cultures. MMORPG’s and other games that offer larger interaction with real life people also supports the idea of supportive interaction between girls while offering brotherly confrontation and rivalry boys’ culture has. This sort of neutral space in gaming requires both sides giving something in, and in real life this can cause some argumentation and fighting between children.

Stereotypical girls’ games tend not to be remembered. Purple Moon folded in 1999 and merged with Mattel, and their games were not without criticism. Their games were called to be called sexist, stereotyping the characters and themes, a thing that can be extended to a lot of other girls’ games, especially Barbie games. The space where these games were set in was another major factor.

Space is a keyword here. The pinball culture if the mid-1900’s was very masculine and based on long-standing tradition of penny arcades. When these games began to appear outside their initially designated areas, e.g. pinballs in restaurants and shopping centres, it was seen as a positive progress as anyone, women included, could now access these machines. As games moved away from spaces that were largely seen as dominated by men like universities’ IT-departments and penny arcades, the view on them changed. Pinball is not associated with violent rebels any more, but as a classic game everybody can play. Similarly, the advent of Japanese games in arcades and the renaissance of electronic gaming after the second Video game Crash introduced further colourful and fantastic creatures to the electronic game culture. Pac-Man, Mario Bros., and their like, despite being competitive, offered visuals that weren’t all about blowing shit up, but also attractive colours and challenges that weren’t just about the abstract.

It should be noted that games like Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog and Abe’s Odyssey garnered players from both sexes, and both games shows that in the end, the player character doesn’t really matter as people don’t tend to see themselves in the character. If there is a character creation, sometimes people make themselves, but often it’s an admired, a fantasy version of themselves. They create a fantasy persona, and similarly each player character out there is a fantasy persona that the player doesn’t exactly identify with. After all, the player character is largely unimportant, the game world is what matters.

Perhaps the only truly neutral game between the spaces and cultures is Tetris. Tetris wasn’t just a game that can be described a perfect game and neutral, but a game that was everywhere. It was on home computer where anyone could play it and it was on the Game Boy where everyone could carry it with them. There is no true confrontation in the game, and despite the having a competitive goal in form of scoring, the gameplay is from neither side particularly.

Escalation of moral maturity from game to game

One aspect that’s been part of boys’ play culture for as long as we can go back in written history with records of children’s play is the moral play between good and evil. One of the modern classics that display an everyday battle between these two extremes would be Cops versus Robbers. As we grow up, the stark contrast between good and evil usually begins to dim to the point where we can accept that good and evil are subjective, at least on philosophical level. The contest between the perceived sides still persist into our adulthood, more often than not shaded to the point of the perceived evil being more justified than the opposing side.

The traditional pen and paper role playing games stem from the myths of antique and the knight plays. I don’t think there’s one child in the world who has no played a role of a knight in some play. The knight I’m referring here is more akin the idea of local protector, hence why black knights are the opposing, equal power. Perhaps an allegory for the fallen angel of sorts on some level. Nevertheless, the early computer RPGs were largely digitised forms of Dungeons & Dragons games these people used to have, with Ultima being an example of such. If you look in late 80’s and 1990’s Japanese fantasy light novels and series branched from them, like Slayers, they’re largely based on the author’s own D&D games. With the D&D crowd, at some point they stopped playing knights outside in the nature, and moved indoors. Of course, Live action role playing, or LARPing has become somewhat popular, and is effectively just people playing like kids with far more serious intent and costlier props.

The aforementioned paragraph may sound rather negative, though it’s more an argument of natural change. Whether or not theatrical plays predated children play acting is unknown, but the two have a linear connection between maturity and playing. Play acting became a profession, something done so good that it could be made money with. The adult life is strongly reflected in children’s plays, as playing is often the best form of education and learning for the future. Kids trading stones and sticks on the playfield essentially prepares for commerce. Pokémon TCG was largely panned by parents in its initial release years, but one thing they learned about it was how it taught children the value of goods and trading. Modern world simply allows certain aspects of immature play to be present more than with previous generations. The concept of something being childish and for children only has seen a silent paradigm shift.

Perhaps the example of this is electronic games. While computer games were seen somewhat more mature compared to console and arcade games in the 1970’s and 80’s, they’ve been accepted as a media for all ages since the late 1990’s, with some grudges here and there. It’s still not all that uncommon to see some parents from previous generations to describe game consoles and computers as toys, which often yields a rather negative response due to associated immature mental image it carries with it. While understandable, toys are means to play. Describing a game machine a toy in this sense isn’t wholly inaccurate, as all it exists for is to play.

However, electronic games and machines they run on prevent any creative forms of plays. They offer a statistic, controlled and extremely limited form of play, which is more akin to adult overseeing a children’s play. This is currently a technological issue, as we’ve yet to see completely dynamic world that allows the player to enact whatever possible they want. One can’t build a hut and live in there for the rest of the character’s natural life in a Final Fantasy game, because the game is not prepared for that. It’s limited to the story the game wants to tell. Playing often requires the player to follow the rules, after all. Not all toys allow all forms of play either, after all. While calling video and computer games as toys might sting your ear, the association with play is completely natural and such naming shouldn’t be deflected from the get go. After all, we have adult’s toys as well, which children shouldn’t have access to before they are mentally and physically mature enough.

The same applies to video games. Grand Theft Auto and Skyrim are both games we constantly see people of all ages playing, despite the age recommendations being there. Being a direct descendant of Cops VS Robbers and knight plays, both game simply take the basic core and expand on it. GTA may have you play as the Robber, but the moral hues you’re given are numerous. The same applies to Skyrim, where the player character is a figurative knight on his route to slay a dragon. The means and toys have just changed from a stick representing the baton or sword to a plastic controller and readily set digital world.

The question how much industrially prepared playing via toys has affected modern world’s play culture as a whole is a topic I’m not ready to touch on. However, some examples how things simply change drastically with a toy would be Barbie. The toy is not a doll for girls who play with it, it’s a Barbie. Singling out a toy like this outside all others has grown to the point of almost all toys have been made their own rather than for overall playing in general. Perhaps the largest reason for this change is the successful franchising, where the association with a toy and a character is made so much stronger. A child is not just buying a transforming robot toy, he’s buying Optimus Prime and all the mental images associated with the character.

While the contest between moral sides in boys’ games has escalated since the 1950’s, similar escalation has been lacing in electronic games. This is due to all the aforementioned; electronic games are just part of it. The age-old discussion about boys’ and girls’ games is valid, and while I’d argue that a well made game does cater to both sexes, the truth is that one has more interest towards certain kinds of games over the other. That is the nature of things. However, nothing exists in a vacuum, and games experience as much mixing of these two play cultures as real life does. The Sims is still the best example of girls’ play culture being completely accepted by both sexes (the game’s essentially playing Home), as is Super Mario. Super Mario just happens to be perceived more immature due to the design choices and lack moral greys over something like Halo, which is perceived a a “big boys game.”

This is a point, as not all games, electronic or not, are for all ages. It is up to the parents to decide whether or not Little Jimmy is ready to handle mature concepts like interrupted penetration, self-mutilation in the name of love, the absurdity of how pointless life is or the sheer sexual tension between a man and a machine. Something truly is for “big boys.” The core play doesn’t change with maturity, but the concepts and themes that frame the act do.

A Sequel of its own

With the upcoming Toaru Majutsu no Virtual On and whatever writeups I’ll end up doing on the VO series, I had to stop for a moment and consider how I should approach this whole deal. This is because of the major preconception about Marz and Force that are about, especially in the core fandom that refuse to play the games without a Twin Stick. I haven’t had a chance to ever play Force, something that should change relatively soon, but the memories what I have of Marz have been coloured by time and other sources. That isn’t good, and would keep me form properly viewing the series as a whole while still trying to view the games as individuals.

That led me to the question What is a good game sequel?  There are probably as many answers to this as there are people, and I recall making a post about this very subject years back. I tried to look it up (in terror) but found nothing. Either my search-fu is too weak, or I’m remembering things wrong.

I can pick up the usual example I use about a good sequel and a bad sequel for the same game; Super Mario Bros. The Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 is known as The Lost Levels in the West, and for a good reason; it’s a terrible sequel. It doesn’t change the formula one bit or makes additional tweaks to make the game play smoother. It simply is more stages, just loads harder for those who found the first the game too easy. Titles like this would become expansions down the line, additional bits bolted to make further use of the core game while keeping from expanding in any significant way.

The good example, as you might’ve already guessed it, is Super Mario Bros 2, or USA if you’re a moonlander. Sure, it’s a graphics swap of Doki Doki Panic, and whatever fake outrage the Internet may have about it, it really shows how Nintendo made good use of the game. As said, the Japanese SMB2 isn’t anything special, and didn’t push the envelope. The Western SMB2 on the other hand did, upgrading the engine, additional playable characters with different properties,  new usable skills, vast large new world with all new enemies to jump on. It’s a terrific sequel, albeit a bit too long at times. Its music is still memorable, with remixes of it still appearing in modern titles alongside Birdo.

The emphasize for the world up there is important, because SMB3 further expanded on everything, and we got to see the world outside Mushroom Kingdom. No Mario game has felt this grand, not even Galaxy.

The NES Mario Trilogy has three games, all of which stand alone as fine examples of 2D action games, while as a whole they showcase the evolution of the NES games throughout the system’s age. I tend to gravitate towards this example, because it would seem the best way for a sequel to strike through is to follow this example. A sequel needs to keep the core game play idea intact without compromising in expanding them as well as expanding the rest of the game. This doesn’t necessarily translate into larger game per se, or into bigger story, but rather into a game that doesn’t just stick new content unto old base directly.

How would this thinking fit something like Virtual On? Super Mario Bros. 2 can’t be directly used as a comparison point, but Street Fighter series can be, and they’ve stuck to these principles pretty much all the way through, for better or worse. With pretty much the whole series at our hands, with video footage, reviews and most of the games easily available in a way or another, we should be able to make proper heads and tails how the series has progressed, what has gone wrong and what are sort of value each game in the series has. Value in this context would mean both perceived value and proper value, which often gets mucked down by the fact that we’re subjective. As said, we can always aim for the ideal objectivity.

And this is why I won’t hold my breath doing this short series, an entry per game. Without a doubt these entries will become reviews on their own, because that’s the kind of thing that just naturally happens when you’re trying to make a relatively complete overview on a series of games. However, they need to be reviews from two angles; a review from the angle of the game being a standalone, and one from a series perspective. This is essentially long form to say that I’m giving the benefit of the doubt and straying away from preconceptions. Though I can’t really deny my intuition (which is why I’m not paying 50€ for a used copy of VO Force when I can grab it for a thousand yen.)

Virtual On‘s gameplay and design doesn’t really allow too much leeway to muck with its formula, so it’s not surprise that the game play would be polished and tweaked to high levels relatively soon. Then again, a straight-up arcade game rarely survives this day and age on home systems, especially if its a full-fledged entry with high production values rather than another pixel-based indie throwback.

Perhaps this approach is a wrong, but I hope to see the forest from the trees and vice versa. Maybe it’s been coloured by personal views a bit too much, but I’d rather try to look a mediating middle ground of things when it comes to games rather than judging stuff outright. You can’t judge a book by its cover (though sometimes, you damn well can), and the same applies to games. Even then, entertainment pieces tend to gain their fame for good reasons. Which is funny, because whenever you hear someone mentioning Virtual On, you mostly hear only about Oratorio Tangram, the second game in the series, and the first one kind of left in its shadow despite having surprisingly hefty underground fanbase within the overall VO fandom.

Just like certain 80’s series still have a small but strong fandom going on.

 

It’s the Mania

I’m sure some of you are already completely tired of hearing people telling you how good Sonic Mania is. Despite all its faults and recycled content from Mega Drive Sonic games, it still ends up being the best game in the franchise. It’s a sort of The Best of Sonic, if you will. It’s essentially a game the fans, and people at large, have been waiting for since Sonic 3 and Knuckles came out.

There have been pretty good 2D Sonic  games since then. Sonic Advance games were overall enjoyable games to play, although their stage design and some of the physics were off. Sonic Rush games on the other hand nothing but the speed, and this was evident in rather lacklustre stage design again with the speed Boost gimmick being the main culprit. Nevertheless, still pretty good time. Just not as good as the Mega Drive games. That’s where we always go back, because those three (or four, depends how you want to count) games were in many ways the pinnacle of the series in the eyes of fans, sales and cultural impact. Sonic made its name on the Mega Drive.

Sadly, the Sonic titles are one of the worst sufferers of creators wanting something new and grand, something that doesn’t meet the expectations of the paying consumer. Sonic Adventure had a heavy emphasize on the story, something that peaked with Sonic ’06. I’ll tell you how to weed out the bad Sonic games from the good ones; the bad ones put the story to the front of things. Sonic‘s gameplay is hard, if not impossible, to transfer to 3D. They’ve been trying to do it for some two decades now, and even Sonic Generations, a game that was hailed as the first good Sonic game in a long time, felt off with everything done in 3D. Sonic 4 was just terrible.

The franchise really is a case study of creators losing sight what made their product wanted and revered. One could even go far enough to say that Sonic Team and Sega as a whole can’t do classic Sonic anymore, and have had no intention of replicating the Mega Drive games in any fashion. Sonic Generations could’ve been one, but physics clearly weren’t replicated accurately.

It’s not much of a surprise to see Sega hiring  fans to create a 25th anniversary game then. Fans, who have showcased themselves as capable in replicated the mould that made the Sonic franchise what it used to be. To say that the fans knew better than Sega would not be exaggeration. However, Sega did screw up the game by not giving it a proper physical release, and even the limited edition package comes with a digital download code only. I’m guessing they’re banking on Sonic Forces, which will probably end up lesser of the two games. The simple fact that its colour palette is dry and consists of black, red and beige is a harsh contrast to Sonic Mania‘s bright blue red and yellow.

Sonic the Hedgehog as a brand suffers from Sega overusing nostalgia mixed with whatever hell they’re trying to do in their latest games. Much like how Super Mario can exist in two different iterations at the same time, modern 3D Sonic could exist with classic 2D games. The biggest misstep of Sonic Mania is that it adhered to old stages, albeit remixing them with new areas and secrets. Sega’s no stranger to this, as their obsession of pushing out the Western teams at the end of Mega Drive’s era.

Nintendo is a stark contrast to this. While Nintendo has given some of their most significant IPs to outside companies to work with, like Retro Studios’ Metroid Prime, their attitude towards them and their fans is cold at best. Metroid Other M supposedly removed the Prime series from the canon, though why that should matter isn’t the point. The point is that Sakamoto himself didn’t deem the Prime series good enough. Other M and the upcoming Metroid II remake are the worst entries in the series and all that is on Sakamoto.

Nintendo is also infamous for their Cease and Desist letters to fans, like with the Another Metroid 2 Remake. Nintendo has had hard time celebrating their fans works or even allowed legally sound fan-products to be made. While they are required to protect their intellectual properties, this has never been good PR for them. Of course, you don’t want to have the same situation Paramount/CBS had with Star Trek Axanar, though it’s no secret Axanar challenged the official Trek stuff, and the team behind Axanar essentially broke the rules by making money off of their piece. There’s always the question why wouldn’t you want to make something original and new if you’re able to design and code a whole new game.

Sonic Mania is essentially the New Super Mario Bros. of the franchise. Much like with 2D Mario, classic Sonic is something people have been wanting for ages. However, whether or not this is just a one-hit-wonder or if Sega sees some sense and continues on developing and releasing more of these classic games is still open. However, they should learn from the failures of NSMB series and improve upon the concept and allow the games to stand up more and give them full fledged release status. Nostalgia is a delicate thing, and as said, Sega’s been overusing it already. Pushing the stage designs and sprite graphics to Saturn level next while still keeping with the style of Sonic Mania might be a natural step. Sonic Mania, as an anniversary game, does things right and manages to squeeze in twists that you’d never see in an equivalent Nintendo game.

A game of Puyo Po– I mean Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine as a Boss Battle in Chemical Plant Zone? This is the right stuff right there

Sega could do right with the rest of their franchises and seek out the right people to work on them in a similar manner. There are development houses that would love to give, for example, Streets of Rage a similar best-of treatment. The iron is now red hot, it’s time for Sega to hammer it.

Digging up the past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Switch the talk from hardware

I really do sound like a broken record at this point. With the leaks about Switch being less powerful than the PlayStation 4, things have gotten on the overdrive again with calling it a failure on the launch. None of Nintendo’s more powerful consoles have been a success. As Yamauchi said, a game console is just a box to play games on.

Take a look at Nintendo’s history with consoles. NES was underpowered compared to its competitors, yet it came on the top. Well, except in Europe, where Nintendo fucked their marketing and Europeans had their computer games. SNES was ultimately weaker than the Mega Drive thanks to the addons and despite them still came to the top, not to mention the other competitors of the time. N64 failed despite having more powerful hardware than the PlayStation or Saturn. GameCube too was ultimately a failure despite topping the PS2. The Wii was a massive hit despite being weaker. The Wii U on the other hand had jack shit when it came to software (just like the N64) and had that huge controller nobody wanted. The same can be seen in the handheld market. The Game Boy slaughtered all of its competition as did the DS. The Vita could have trumped the 3DS if it had any software worth shit, but SONY repeated the exact same travesty they did with the PSP.

The common consumer doesn’t give jack shit about how strong a console is. Why? Because they know hardware does not mean better games. People absolutely hate paying for new hardware, because it’s the games that matter. The hardware race has always been part of the PC culture, not console. Consoles have been about software race. Tech fans no need to apply for console gaming, if we’re being brutally blunt here.

Because Super Mario Bros. was such a success, you saw a lieu of games trying to replicate its success, most notably Sonic the Hedgehog. The developers just need to do their job and optimise the games, and even better, design games from the ground up for the Switch and all is golden. Of course, because everything just runs on the same engine as everything else and nobody bothers doing any extensive optimisation to ensure the smoothest possible experience (or even know how to do that at worst case) we’ll just get sad and hastily put together ports.

Consumers never bought Nintendo consoles for them being Nintendo consoles. Not outside fanboys. People bought them for the software, for Mario and Zelda. People bought PlayStation for the same reason; it had games they wanted to play, not because the hardware. Nintendo is not a niche as some would assume because of their approach. No, on the contrary. Their consoles tended to be cheaper and smaller than the competitors’ because of matured technology. This is again one of those things we’ve gone over so many times, but seems like people are still ignoring the fact when Nintendo uses Gunpei Yokoi’s philosophy alongside Yamauchi’s, they strike gold. Nintendo, when they are at their best (NES, Game Boy, Wii) Nintendo is far from being a niche. Electronic games isn’t just a hobby of selected group of people, but something all can enjoy, and striking that Blue Ocean should be expected and even wanted, not the opposite. Losing hope over lack of hardware prowess is useless. Your life doesn’t depend on a game console, go outside camping sometimes.

Switch has few points going for it that most seem to ignore. One is the cartridges. This needs more fanfare, as it means the games themselves will be far more longlasting than the optical media. The lack of long loading times helps too. Oh now you care about hardware? Oh you. Secondly, the fact that the Switch is a hybrid also means the games are not required to be connected to the Internet all the damn time.

The biggest problem the Switch currently has is the fact that Nintendo isn’t showcasing any of that software. This is the sole reason why people are talking about Switch’s hardware to the extent they currently are and each and every bit of information is torn apart. There’s nothing else to talk about the Switch, and I haven’t seen anyone else to discuss its design either. The latest The Legend of Zelda got pushed back too, so the media can’t discuss that either. So, hardware it is for them to keep the clicks up. I guess I’m no better, commenting on the fact. Unless Nintendo rolls something significant on the software side with the Switch, there’s no valid reason for me to discuss it any further.

One of my New Year’s promises should be to throw this broken record to trash and just re-blog the sentence Software matters more than hardware whenever applicable.