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.

Live and die by the library

While not exactly a Monthly Three, let’s continue from where we left with the previous post about trying to cater to a different audience via Auto Mode. In last console generation, something that has carried to this one, is the notion of casual and hardcore gamers, something that’s more or less a stupid idea when you start looking things into bit deeper.

The market of any product does not have a clear split like that. There exists a gradual level of complexity and price in the market that aims to fulfil desires of different groups. For example, in headphones most people are fine with twenty something bucks pieces that they’ll use for a time until they break down and they need to get a new pair. Sound quality may be all over the place, but it’s cheap and does what the tin says in most cases. Then you go up to hundreds bucks range, where built and sound quality is better, but the consumer who just wants to listen without giving a damn about the higher grades of quality will put their money into something else. Then you have the high-end stuff costing thousands of dollars.

If the high-end headphones are objectively better in-built and sound, why don’t all people put their money in them? That is because the lower tier headphones are satisfactory, not all people care about being an audiophile. Consumer may obtain more knowledge on audio equipment and sound quality, but that does not necessary mean the consumer will value that knowledge. The opposite of an audiophile. Then you have in-betweens, which fall in neither audiophile or general consumer range.

The same applies to games. You have games that strike with the general audience, the simpler and more straightforward games that are easy to get into and take relatively little of your time. When you move towards the upper end of the scale, where simulators, complex game mechanics and numerous other factors in regards of the game design and development begin to stack up, you begin to reach the high-end market. This does not mean a person in high-end market is necessarily hardcore, as games like Super Mario Bros. and Tetris reside in the common consumer end of the spectrum. Games like these are through which consoles live and die by.

The core design of Platinum’s games reside in the opposite niche crowd. It’s visual style and 3D action is something the common consumer doesn’t really care for, and putting in an Auto Mode won’t change this. The game may not be at the extreme end of complex design mechanics like with some tactical RPGs or ultra realistic simulations, and stands in the middle of the scale between consumer scale.

The thing however is, just like with headphones, when the consumer begins to yearn for better sound quality, so does the want to experience more games that expand in what already exists. If a consumer enjoys something like Dragon Quest or some other simple RPG, it can be assumed that they will look into something different and something that could offer a bit more in terms of game content. He may find himself tackling more complex and demanding titles, like Final Fantasy Tactics or even jump to PC and try out Vampire: The Masquerade. It is just as possible that he does not find these titles to his liking, and finds his sweet spots in the more straightforward and undiluted gameplay experience.

However, the current market and developers seem to aim only for games that have rising development and marketing costs combined want to make high-end games, but still open for the general market. This self contradicting dichotomy yields games that may sell well, but ultimately misses both of its intended target audiences.

The Tripple A games’ development is the core problem why console and their games tend to fail nowadays. The Wii U failed because it didn’t have the library the Wii had. So-called shovelware is which keeps a console alive, as it encourages competition at higher levels. On Wii or on any other generation “winning” console you had loads and loads of games that would be called casual nowadays, like the aforementioned Super Mario Bros., yet these games were the things that sold the console. However, modern game developers tend to put their Secondary or Tertiary teams working on these games nowadays, resulting on games that simply do not cut it.

Wii Sports won the generation for Nintendo single-handedly, as it was a game that appealed to the market that had left gaming be since it began to move towards the more complex end of the consumer goods spectrum. Wii Sports was a title that was handled by the First team in Nintendo, making a game that would aim to please and sell. Nowadays, despite the moaning and bitching it caused, the game is considered a definitive classic.

Casual games are not the destruction of gaming. They are its lifeline, and the developers in the industry currently simply can’t do games like Super Mario Bros. They are stuck with one extreme end of the spectrum, desperately trying to replicate success of the other end by producing gimmicky titles and even peripherals while missing the whole point.

Comparison between Flash games and smart phone games isn’t anything new, but it shows how these games, these lower tier market games if you will, have always been around and will always exist on any platform. It was never a new trend.

The higher end of games is arguably  more profitable, which is why publishers and developers push their money and workforce into those titles. However, the high end market in gaming tends to be fickle and the current trend of pushing in-game guides and modes to make the game easier tells us that the high end market is getting smaller.

The high-end market wouldn’t exist without the low-end market. By making yourself a name by releasing great titles in the lower market, you have the possibility to rise towards the other end. Remember the DS? Nintendo started the console by marketing it with N64 ports and other high end games like that. It sold poorly and it was called to be the second coming of the Virtual Boy. However, Nintendo began to release low-end games like Nintendogs. People who got DS for games like it then had the possibility to move to something like Mario Kart DS, and then to Pokémon, Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy remakes. However, Nintendo did not keep the same pace with the Wii U, and it was failure.

The shovelware, as the industry wants to call their bread and butter, is the deciding factor. Hitting all the differences niches and tiers is important, as this casual gaming does not exclude passion. Someone may spend hundreds of hours on a Flash based Tower Defence game, minmaxing his defences and ripping the game a new hole.

A game that is made to be a hit to one tier can be successful with others, but it can’t be forced. A Metal Gear title won’t win any favours from the market that it isn’t aimed at. I guess I’ve made my point.

This is passion at its best, and it’s a lowly arcade game no less

Monthly Three; Boys, girls and electronic 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 world particularly.

Monthly Three; Video Game

What separates a video game from both arcade and computer games is that they’re blend of both. They’re easy to pick up and drop like arcade games, but offer a more complex composition of things similar to computer games. There are no new genres or such with consoles, but there are new amalgamations and ways the consumer interacted with their home television. That was what the first generation was all about, and despite Pong originating from the arcades, it is the quintessential video game, brining people together in front of the television screen. Computer games were for those who owned a computer and usually were for people who played them alone. Arcades required you to go out there and was a social event of sorts. A home console brought both of that together in a cohesive whole.  Let’s start with a game that took the best of both worlds.

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