On the Golden Age of Gaming

This blog has touched a lot on the cultural and historical phenomena regarding video games and their design throughout the years. For some these have been posts of interest, while others seem to regard the late 1990’s as the pinnacle of video games, despite the same has already been said about the mid-2000’s and early 2010’s. Arguments fly about and you, my dear reader, probably have a take on the subject that might support one but not the other. Maybe you even consider the late 1980’s the pinnacle of electronic games, but that’s how it is. We all deep down know that the Golden Age of video games was in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, when computer, video and arcade games begun taking their modern shape.

The Golden Age of Arcades is established to be around the years 1978 and 1979, based on the release years of Space Invaders and Asteroids, which works just fine for them. The overall Golden Age of Games can be expanded from the the mid-1970’s to the 1983’s video game crash, as this was the period of rapid expansion consumer bases, genres, technology and popular cultural phenomena. This is contrasting the electronic gaming history to that of comic books’, where the Golden Age of Comic books, where most, if not all, classical archetypes and heroes were created, and the medium became a significant power in publishing.

The reason this contrast is made is due to the cultural phenomena usually work. These periods are of making the media into something that is able to stand on its own, establishing itself through various creators and enjoyed wide public attention, which naturally leads into impacting the culture in major ways. The very reason you still hear certain kind of sound effects in films and television when it comes to video games being depicted is because those bleeps and bloops are culturally associated with gaming as established by the Golden of Electronic Games. Be it the sound Atari games or the PC speakers made, certain sound is still associated with gaming by being handed down by the surrounding pop-culture. This era would fit the first two Console generations just fine, and majority of the early PC gaming as well, when people were turning their Dungeons and Dragons sessions into text adventures for their universities mainframes.

As a side note, you can pin point certain era of Famicom just by listening to the sound effects, as vast majority, if not all, developers used the same effects library in the early years.

But that side note throws a wrench into the whole Age discussion, as we must remember that all events weren’t global at that point in time. The 1983 crash had little to no effect outside the United States, as Europe was tightly grasping local micros at the time, and it wouldn’t be until the very late 1980’s and early 1990’s when console gaming had its breakthrough in Europe. This and IBM standard effectively killed multiple computer platforms, and Windows 95 cleaned the slate. Now we effectively have only three standards, four if we count Android, instead of each manufacturer having their own. The story’s completely different in Japan for many reasons, as Japanese computer history is a different beast altogether from its European and American cousins. If you’ve ever wondered why European developed games for the third and fourth generations felt so different and bit off, it’s because they were developed under a cultural paradigm that favoured platforms like the Commodore 64, Atari ST and Amiga 1000. These games look and play in a particular fashion, something we might get to few years down the line.

How can we say that this specific era is this or that when it only touches certain parts of the globe? The answer is; because of history.

We can’t say what era we are living in currently. World War I was originally named as The Great War, the war to end all wars, but then Germany decided to slap Poland around a bit. As such, we have to look at what sort of massive expansion gaming overall had during that time in the US and Japan with arcades and how little they impacted Europe at the same time. It wouldn’t take but few years until European arcades would see the same titles, but the impact rarely was in the same ballpark. Culturally speaking, Europe didn’t produce much content that would impact the global gaming sub-culture, but if you lived during that in France and UK, you probably remember few regional names that pop into your head right away. Now, how many of those are as well remembered in the cultural background as Pac-Man and Space Invaders?

To follow the Ages of Comic Books, we naturally are lead into the Silver Age of Electronic Games that encompasses the fourth and fifth generations. The reason again is comparative to comics, where old heroes were rekindled into new forms. Best example of this would be Mario, where we go from single-screen titles like Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. into fully-scrolling Super Mario Bros., re-imagining the games’ world as Mushroom Kingdom with kidnapped princesses and turtle kings.

While Famicom was released in 1983 in Japan, the starting point of the Silver Age must be set to 1985 with the American release. This is also a turning point in Japanese software development, where the quality of the titles began to ramp up. New competitors would establish themselves on the console market across the world, some spinning themselves off from the arcades like Sega (who already had a presence in Japan with their 1984 SG-1000) and Hudson hitting the market with NEC backing them up with the original PC-Engine in 1987. Atari still tried with the 7800, but couldn’t find a niche against the juggernaut that was the NES.

Despite all the above, what if I argued that the Golden Age would be from late 1970’s and up until the release of PlayStation in 1994? Despite the Crash of ’83, the third and fourth generations saw further expansion and cultural impact. The Super Mario Bros. and Sonic cartoons, comics, food stuff, everything that went into making electronic gaming into a global force didn’t happen just on few years. Modern electronic games are still a young medium, despite some having lived with them throughout their lives, they’re still younger than television, cinema, theater or literature. Maybe in a hundred years or so people will have enough perspective to view the changes in the game culture properly. Currently we are too close to these events with heavy bias to go by properly, and so much of it extremely well recorded. It would be extremely easy to dissect history into extremely small blocks, because we can do so. Those in the know would understand and acknowledge all those minute changes that had a ripple effect down the line.

Instead, maybe we should call the era from mid-1970’s to mid-1990’s the Classic Age of Gaming, where expansion was largely constant, new companies and hardware would pop up and die during the contest all the while others would grow strong and established. From there, we are now living through the Modern Age of Gaming, where we have seen the cross-pollination taking hold over the industry and the establishment of the Big Three with no real competition offered in the console market. Further mixing of genres and new impacting titles have been introduced, like Halo and Devil May Cry.

Even this might be somewhat arbitrary, but as mentioned, we’re too close in time to take back and see events as they are. How culture and industries move in the grander scale is hard if not almost impossible to surmise at they are going on, and perhaps the first mistake a young medium as comparing itself too much to other media and let those dictate too much what it should be.

Valve continues to ban titles despite guidelines

Hoo boy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to break consumer trust in 47 DMCAs

Consumer trust is something that should be worth more than gold to a goods provider, be it a company or an individual level. They’re the ultimate lifeblood of the market, while your workers are its veins. Losing that trust is like halting the flow of that blood, or cutting yourself open to bleed trust out for whatever reason. Stop babbling and get to the point.

Battlestate Games decided to abuse the DMCA system to take down 47 videos of the Youtuber and Streamer Eroktic. The reason wasn’t copyright issues, but that Battlestate Games does not want to associate themselves with the Youtuber. One has to wonder why they didn’t file a Defamation claim or something of that nature if they regard themselves being defamed, rather than claim the ‘tuber used their content in their videos against copyright law.

I’m not going to discuss the event much itself, SidAlpha has a video up on how things started and how it went down, and One Angry Gamer has an article up on the whole thing. Battlestate Games’ own Facebook page has a statement on the why they DMCA’d Eroktic, but considering their statements are contradicting and offer no reason for why DMCA was abused outside that they didn’t like his content.

However, there is one bit in their statement that they should’ve considered more than once in the statement;

The relations between developer and players are always based on mutual trust and respect. We want to state our position once again – we will always have zero tolerance to lie, provocations, hacking, destructive behavior, etc.
We want to ask you not to give in to provocative actions of various persons, not to trust everything that they write unsubstantially.

The relationship between a developer and the players can’t be mutual trust and respect. This is a nice thing to think and have PR firm to establish, but the consumer can only trust a corporation so far, as your main intention is to drive profits and positive PR. Otherwise Battlestate Games would not have abused the DMCA system. The sheer lack of respect towards a consumer’s content, regardless whether or not the content was to their liking, tells more about the company’s drive to suppress content that could impact them negatively. Battlestate Games is not the authority to decide who has the freedom to criticise or express their views and opinions on their products. No, EULA doesn’t work the way they seem to think.

Their zero tolerance on lying, provocation and destructive behaviour is in direct opposition to what they’ve themselves are doing. This isn’t unusual, companies do tend to allow themselves to practice things that they don’t want the consumer to do. Not sure if they’d hack their own game, but that’s more or less how they want to come across; cheating is bad. God I miss using an Action Replay.

As much as their statement pleads not to trust various persons, in the same breath you should never trust a corporation. This isn’t a plead, this is just common sense. A corporation has to look after its own interests over the interests of the consumer, as the two rarely meet in the middle. No amount of PR speech should cloud the consumer judgement, and a corporation has to tread the fine line between trying to keep their own interest at the top all the while still serving the consumer demands.

How much trust can consumer give a corporation now that they’ve shown to be untrustworthy and abusing systems? It’s an uphill battle for Battlestate Games now. They’ve lost consumers, with some demanding a refund at this time, and this has given them more publicity, for better or worse. They have their fans who will regard their action a justified one, but even there we see lots of people being dissatisfied with DMCA being used.

Reading around the subject on Battlestate Games’ own Facebook, on videos in Youtube and some forums, it would seem that this isn’t the first time the company has been practicing curbing down negative press and criticism. One has to wonder how much trust can be put on Battlestate Games overall, considering they have been found to infringe arms manufacturer’s copyrights, like Spikes Tactical noted. Apparently Glock is being used without licensing as well alongside numerous other equipment. These are companies who are relatively draconian on protecting their trademarks and intellectual properties.

You could say they shot themselves in the leg. If trust is mutual, Battlestate Games are surprisingly untrustworthy behind their bells and whistles words.

VPN is digital importing

I’ve been importing games since the NES days. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project was supposed to get a full-blown PAL region release and was even advertised to get one, but the looming SNES probably was the reason they cancelled it. Too bad, TMNTIII is best of the bunch, even better than Turtles in Time. It’s been an easy time overall for importers. Region circumvention has been a thing since day-one and relatively easy. Sometimes you just need two pieces of wire, sometimes you need an extra in-between cart, and sometimes all you need is a boot disc that does the job. However, with the further digitalisation of machines, importing became somewhat an issue with the Xbox 360 and 3DS. The 360 was a semi-region free machine and it was up to the developer/publisher if their game was to work on different region machine. 360’s online store was also region bound to the console’s region, meaning you couldn’t access out-of-region stores and their exclusive titles and content. Sometimes a release of a game would work in two regions, sometimes in all three, but it’s really a toss of a coin without some resources on the ‘net, and not all of them are complete listings.

Importing machines is an adventure and a half unto themselves. With older hardware you’ll come across with stuff like having to get a separate power converter if the power leads are physically connected, or buying a new power cable at easiest. The hardest thing I’ve seen people doing is modding the power components or modding the cables to feed the proper volts and ampere. It would of course solve all the problems with the game compatibility, considering mixing NTSC and PAL software and hardware always produces mixed results, especially if your television doesn’t support both standards (though I know a Russian method to introduce colour to NTSC signal via extra lead on a PAL telly that can’t understand it) , importing consoles really solves a lot of problems in regards of the games and their online stores. The question just is if you’re willing to dish out several hundreds of your local squirrel skins to get one. Chances are that you’re not, and will resort to modding your machine and just use other ways to obtain the games for play.

Why am I talking about importing like this? Importing has been in a breaking point for some time, at least from a personal perspective. Yes, this post is a bit out of character, as you guessed. With the constant and further digitalisation of titles, you’d think unifying the regional availability would not be much of an issue. That’s ultimately hubris, considering everything from regional currency and legislation will step in to block this. You can’t appease everybody, and if you are adamant to attempt to do so, you’ll find yourself offering the same titles in different forms in different regions, which is already what they’ve been doing, or you’ll have to use the tightest and most draconian rules as a whole. I’ve discussed China’s policies to some extent and the whole thing with Sony now practicing global censorship is one of the end results you can get in the end. I would still consider censorship a service failure like this. Hell, it’s a brand failure, as it directly fights against PlayStation’s image as the console of choice for more adult and refined console. Censoring your games just shows how easily the brand is swayed by politics and ideologues outside the market’s wishes and demands, especially when kicking the developers nuts.  What’s the point in importing, if all the titles are the same across regions? One of the many reasons to import titles in the first place was to get uncensored version of the games, or games with extra content that were cut out or added in for whatever reason. The proverbial drive to find the purest version of the game out there usually takes some research, but with older titles you can bet religious and sexual themes, and gore, usually got cut on Nintendo consoles. Things change with time, for better or worse.

With the further digitalisation, using a VPN will end up being a modern way to import things. That is, to gain an access to region specific variety of goods that would not be available to you otherwise. This doesn’t work on consoles that have the region hardcoded into them, but increasing amount of machines allow cross-region stores to be accessed based on the account information. It’s not too uncommon to find a Switch or a PS4 with multiple accounts simply because they serve as a way to access multiple regions. Nevertheless, things like Amazon Prime, Netflix and even Steam can be access out-of-region with a VPN, and get that access protection while you’re at it. VPN, as much as I’d dislike to say it, is more or less a modern way to import in the digital environment that is the Internet. Not as much in ways of how it works, but in the principle of what’s the goal; access to materials that are not available in your region. Is there an echo in here?

This will become more and more relevant as companies want to downsize their physical output. Preaching the inevitable death of physical media has been around for good decade now, but the death has been extremely slow if it is going to happen, and the chances are it will never truly go away. There are too many collectors out there, and Japan still loves their physical media. This will also go in cycles, I bet your ass, where a new generation will begin to appreciate then obsolete way of having a physical copy you yourself own rather than have an access of bits and bytes on a server somewhere via your subscription to a service.

To be completely honest with you, I’m tired of importing, or considering to use a VPN in order to access sites and goods that I can’t otherwise. Some of these breaking legal boundaries without a doubt, especially when it comes to console modifications, and even after importing physical machines to access games sometimes isn’t enough. There are so many hoops and loops to get across, that straight up piracy is simply the best option. The provider won’t lose a sale anyway, because there is no way I could even make a purchase to begin with. You’d think that someone who’s game collection is 41% of imports and 60% with DVD/BD media, all this would be easy and nothing to worry about. I don’t have time for that anymore. Life has become so hectic that I’m late on every project I set up two years ago, not to mention the time I spend socialising with friends has dropped. Readers probably have noticed how my posts have gotten later and later due to this, and I might have to cut blogging to once per week, something I don’t want to do.

If physical goods has one edge over digital, it’s they’re available in online stores to purchase across the globe. As long as the seller is willing to ship outside their own nation, and there are always options, you can procure yourself an item without any hassles. Sometimes you might need a proxy service, but that’s a whole other post I probably will never type out.

Modifying Panzer Dragoon to attract modern players, they say

So Sega and Forever Entertainment are doing Panzer Dragoon: Remake. No, I haven’t heard of this Polish developer either, but apparently they’ve made some Teddy Floppy Ear games and that’s pretty great. Teddy’s pretty good children’s franchise. As usual, doesn’t really matter who makes what as long as the end result is fine and dandy, but reading the official announcement for the remake, I’m not entirely convinced. Their claim that The entire Panzer Dragoon series has been repeatedly remade and released on many platforms is dubious at best and completely incorrect at worst. The original Panzer Dragoon has been released and remade few times around, mostly based on its PC port, because Sega has lost all Saturn source codes. No, not just theirs, all of them. They wanted to house all of them and then lost them all when their company was moving offices, meaning no Saturn game can ever get a port without reverse engineering the machine and getting the data out from the published discs. This means all Saturn games’ ports that are around, like Princess Crown‘s PSP port, is running on emulation, and considering emulating the Saturn accurately is one helluva task that’s still a far cry form the original, they’re pretty bad ports. Xbox One being backwards compatible with Panzer Dragoon Orta is not it being re-released or should be considered as a franchise relaunch either. When your initial announcement for a remake is incorrect about the nature of the series like this, it makes you question whether or not they’re familiar with the series, or whether or not they have their priorities right. I asked Forever Entertainment about that lil’ detail just to see what they’d respond, but seeing I’m just a gnatshit small blogger among an ocean of others, I doubt I’ll get a response. [edit] They did respond, replying that they meant the series overall is available on multiple platforms with remakes because the first game has ports and that Sega Ages version. I always forget that single entry in a series makes the whole series available on a platform when it comes to things like this, rather than a single entry.

The new version of the game will be characterized by a completely new graphics compatible with today’s standards and several modifications of the game, making it more attractive to modern players, while remaining faithful to the original in terms of story. This is more than expected. As said, the original Saturn sourcecode are lost, so the PlayStation 2 Sega Ages release is most likely based on the PC version, with Orta having the PC version as one of its unlockables. Any sensible company would just do a straight up remake rather than try to being reverse engineering the original games, but this is where we hit the snag with that sentence, making it more attractive to modern players, while remaining faithful to the original in terms of story. Forever aren’t elaborating what modifications they’re making to the core gameplay. Considering Panzer Dragoon as a series stands on its own in regards of gameplay, the only true modification needed to make would be polishing the first game’s mechanics to match that of Zwei’s and Orta‘s. Panzer Dragoon games have an arcade heart at their core, which is a major factor in their charm and success. Certainly, Panzer Dragoon Saga is a role playing game, but it was devised as one from the get go rather than modifying an existing title. It’s useless to try and guess what this means at this point, but seeing most remakes of this kind and with this sentencing don’t have the best track record out there, it does raise some worries.

Especially when their main concern seems to be staying true to the story. Sure, Panzer Dragoon‘s post-apocalyptic setting with dragons as biological weapons and lost-world technology is pretty neat in all, but saying you want to stay true to the story is is like buying chocolate for wrapper rather than for the taste. Just like Virtual-On, the story’s incidental at best, an overall framing device for the great gameplay which still stands today. Staying true to the story is easy, but staying true to the gameplay and mechanics, especially considering the first one is sparser compared to Zwei and Orta, is far more challenging. With the lack of sourcecode the results can become very much a different beast, as we saw with the Crash Bandicoot remake collection, where applying the third game’s physics across the board made the first two games very different kind of games to play thanks to the stage geometry still being accurate to the originals. Jumps you used to be able to make easily now are now more challenging due to this, and can lead into easy deaths. Not that making extra lives in the game is hard or anything, but shows how little concern the developers ultimately had this these little things that majorly affect the games’ play.

All fans of the series, and long time players alike, are  probably asking the same thing in their heads; please stay true to the game’s play. The concern of remakes mangling and dumbing down the games’ play for modern players is relevant. It shows the lack of trust towards the customers, especially towards their ‘modern’ audience. Consumer born in this millennium were born and raised during a retro game boom and are far more than capable at handling games of their nature. Hell, despite so many of us who have been playing games for three decades or more, we’re still part of that modern player group. What is even the division between a modern and older player? Age certainly does not define it. This is a start of poor customer service experience I tell you.

Maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic. The announcement naturally can’t expand on anything because they’ve got jackshit to showcase. The announcement is standard PR speech aiming to appease different sections, but it seems wholly amateurish. These are the same concerns everyone has towards every remake that has been coming out, and truth to be told, remakes overall don’t tend to have all that great track record, especially when there are explicit changes to the game’s play. Granted, we don’t know what modifications there are going to be in Panzer Dragoon: Remake, but all we can hope is that they amount polishing the originals further without much additions or removals. A better name for the remake compilation would be nice as well, but I’m sure the current one is just a placeholder and they’ll come up something far more impressive that suits the series’ nature.

All we really can do is sit tight and wait for proper information to come forth. No use to speculate too much on nothing.

To be a fan

Fallout 76 has split opinions, some really wanting to defend the game while others trash it to hell and back. Then you have the whole bag controversy, with Bethesda throwing a sixty five cent nylon bag instead of proper canvas bag as advertised, but to be fair, they did drop canvas versions to people with influence. That in itself should really tell a lot about the company, their priorities and how little they ultimately care about the common end-user, or about the core fans who aren’t million sub Youtubers or writers. In relation to this, I glimpsed a Youtube comment I can’t find anymore, telling a true fan wouldn’t leave a corporation or a series just because there are bad times, that being a fan means you’re there through the good days and bad days. Effectively describing a one-sided marriage where the other partner can abuse the other whatever way they want.

In a way, this comment is correct, as fanatical behaviour rarely follows common sense. There is some form of obsession in there, that keeps the fan tied to the product, person or corporation. In case of computer and video games, it’s a combination of all three. Companies want their consumers to be emotionally attached to them in order to secure stable profits. The product itself serves as the end-goal for the provider, which makes them money. In modern gaming, it helps if the consumer is attached enough to the franchise and characters to drop few hundred bucks to buy some DLC left and right, or microtransaction. That Fate smartphone game is making insane bank just by being a Fate product and having stupidloads of characters that serve as great wank material. The gameplay’s supposedly pretty good too, taking cues from Super Robot Wars if a developer interview I read long time ago when the game was released is to be believed. Similarly, you can accuse me of being âge’s fanboy for supporting shows relating to Muv-Luv and Kimi ga Nozomu Eien, but even then I recognize how the quality has dropped alongise the sales with the franchise, and have argued that Muv-Luv is in need of franchise relaunch, especially now that we’ve got aNCHOR and Avex holding the reins in the end. We all are emotionally connected to something we for whatever reason, be it the people around it or just because you’ve grown up with it.

The emotional attachment the consumer makes and has with the product is of course enforced by the corporation’s own PR department. More often than not, you’re going to have someone to function as the face the consumer can relate to. Keiji Inafune, Shigeru Miyamoto, Todd Howard, Masahiro Sakurai and Satoru Iwata are all faces that people are or were connected with. Inafune might have fallen out of favour after Mighty No.9, but people where throwing boatloads of cash at his Kickstarter just because he had a face associated with Mega Man. Iwata might be dead, but his mannerism and enthusiasm sold Nintendo products to fans even outside fan circles. However, they’re all corporate men. The face is quite literally a mask that’s put on sell you the product you have an attachment for, and by that extension, an attachment to the corporation. Coca-Cola’s Santa ads have a strong nostalgia for some, and that’s a powerful emotional connection in itself. Hell, nostalgia has always been used as a strong tool to make profit. Just look at the 80’s nostalgia with colours and design we went through, and slowly moving towards 90’s. In twenty years, we’re going to have 00’as nostalgia and return of Apple’s terrible and plain black/white designs.

I’ve prattled enough on the side. Should a fan really stick to a company or product through everything? Well, that’s up to the individual, isn’t it? If they feel like they’re doing right by pitching money for everything a company puts out, good for them. You’re keeping that company afloat, but not giving any real feedback with your purchasing habits outside that you’re willing to buy anything they make. That’s how you get shit in a can, but I guess fanatics don’t really care about what they ultimately get, as longs as their emotional attachment is fulfilled. Some goes for politics in here, simply wanting to purchase products in order to showcase support towards a company, which again is like buying a pig in a sack. I’m looking at myself with this, being guilty of this kind of bad consumerism.

However, I would argue that a fan should also be critical of goods their favourite company pushes out into their favourite line. What use it is to buy sub-par products only to gain sub-par or worse on the long-term? I’d imagine a fan would care about the quality of the product as well, and would vote with their wallets or make their voice heard in a strong, clear way of their dissatisfaction, but seeing how Battlefield V‘s dev didn’t respond kindly to criticism and told people not to buy if they don’t like it, this doesn’t seem viable in all cases. It’s like some corporations, despite growing off from cult following, don’t exactly want to listen to their core audience. A million dollar corporation ultimately cares more about the profits than the fan feedback, mostly because they do have fans out there who keep them afloat. Imagine that.

I’m throwing this as a guess based on stuff I’ve read decade ago, but nobody becomes a fan through logic. It’s always a positive emotional connection consumers make with a product that drives them. The personality of the brand, the faces that sells you the product, the personal emotions towards the product, all these make a fan. Emotions, more often than not, tend to blind us.

Sony’s (possible) China connection

I’ve talked about Sony censoring games recently more than I’ve intended to, in addition with how DoA6 has been more or less a PR disaster (though they’ve turned that a bit around), but that has never been my intention. Talking about censorship in this manner has not been in spirit of the blog, but the latest twists and turns with Sony’s censorship lead me back into this rabbit hole. That said, this won’t be a usual post, and I’ll drop the author persona and try to gobble together something cohesive I’ve been reading around lately.

In an event held for Dies irae some time ago, the developers discuss how Sony has been moving towards disallowing ports and titles that would be R-18 or up, as it would be in case of certain nation’s rating systems. They go further into how these titles are being inspected with a magnifying glass with scrutiny. The developers are then presented with a questionnaire about their product’s content and are required to reply in English. This of course raises a language barrier between any developer who do not have staff with English skills, like most Japanese studios. Dies irae at the time of the event was completely finished and ready to go, but had been sitting on the waiting shelf, waiting for Sony’s approval on the content. Similarly, Nekopara Vol.1 sat on the approval list for the longest time to t he point of my previous post on the subject already thinking it was stealthily cancelled. However, turns out the developers had to spend extra time censoring the title. Interestingly enough, the Switch version has become home for Japanese console titles that have less censorship across the board than the PS4. I talked about the English-only bit previously, but it begs to be repeated as it was just edited in afterwards.

Why would Sony enact these policies relatively suddenly on what seems to be on a global scale? While virtue signalling around probably has something to do with it, seeing practically every company has jumped that ship and have enacted policies across the board to cover their assess just as globally, misaligned intentions from California probably wouldn’t pass at this scale. The reason why I’d argue this is because there is no money in there, and no other company has enacted similar policies. It’s not too often when Sony does something that is not following Nintendo’s example, like with the PlayStation Motion controller, but when they do, it’s always about the money they perceive to be possible.

China, of course, is where a lot of untapped console market might exists.

While China has seen loads of consoles throughout the years, they’ve been mostly pirated copies or heavily modified versions for their market. I’m sure most of my readers are old enough to remember how Chinese products were almost always guaranteed to be complete and utter garbage if they weren’t branded in a certain way or produced in a particular place. That applies nowadays too, but to a lesser extent. Piracy is still a problem, as is rampant IP infringement that the Chinese government themselves mostly ignore, as it brings them revenue. Chinese government is very self-centered and favours in-house competition over any fair and free market, but that is because they are a communist nation. They may not practice pure communism, but Chinese communism nevertheless colours the way business and market works there.

China has argued that video games have harmful effects on their users, and probably were the force that ultimately pushed ICD-11’s video game addiction through, on which I’ve covered in two occasions. ICD-11 regarding video game addiction has weak basis at best, and with official representative admitting Asian governments pushing for its acceptance would jive with how certain Asian nations like China and South Korea. China has become more and more influencing power as their economy has grown, though that bubble might burst sometime in the near future as it has no real basis. Related to their negative view on video games can be found in China’s social credit system, which views video games as harmful and buying too many games within an allotted time will impact a citizen’s credit negatively. None of this has been the first time Chinese government has dabbled in disallowing video games to an extent, as a complete game console ban existed form 2000 to 2014. However, the ban was not lifted because Chinese government deemed game consoles as worthwhile entertainment, but to allow the Shanghai Free Trade Zone to produce these consoles. The government’s attitude towards these consoles and the sheer amount of regulations and censorship they enact on the games require specific modifications to be made just for the market, something that costs resources. Developers of course are less interested in making region specific titles, but rather simply enact the demanded censoring globally. I guess that’s one result of game regions meshing together more and more, and both Sony and Nintendo allowing access to their cross-region stores on any console. That, of course, is one thing the Chinese would not like. For example, when interviewing foreigners they are demanded not to speak of Japan or Taiwan in relation to China. If you follow Western Youtubers like ADVChina or StrangeParts, you can pick certain parts here and there where self-censorship is practiced in order not get in trouble with the local police. The old communist practice of informing another to the government is still in place.

Nintendo did attempt to break into the Chinese game markets in 2003 with a localised variation of N64 named iQue Player with the help of Wei Yen, a Chinese American developer. At the time iQue got some press in the West, but was fast forgotten due to low sales. This Dreamcast controller-lookalike was essentially a plug-n-play console-on-a-chip deal, and was advertised to be beneficial for children’s growth in terms of cognitive thinking and hand-eye coordination skills. What sort of loophole Nintendo and Wei Yen used hasn’t been expanded upon, but some have guessed it being related to the N64 being a console before the ban was put into effect, but it is more probable that the letter of the law banned consoles in a very specific manner, where consoles had separate cartridges. The plug-n-play nature of the system, like that of many Famiclones, circumvented it altogether by not having any separate games, though you could download new games from an iQue Depot or Fugue online. None of the games on the system were exactly offending, with all the text and spoken language were translated into Chinese.

Video game sales, while stronger than what they were a decade ago, don’t seem to sate Sony. Much like in gaming, China has become the main audience and revenue area for Hollywood to the point of China being incorporated into the movies in hamfisted manners, .e.g. including Chinese characters and locations in order to cater to the market. Something like Star Wars could not be a success there, as it can’t be directly made to cater to the Chinese audience without intentionally making it fully transparent and degrading the brand itself. Chinese design mentality has also affected video game character and environmental designs, as they are extremely keen on perfect and beautiful characters. Whole King of Fighters XIV was lambasted for its visual style and design, but that was an intentional design choice in order to appeal to the Chinese market. It is a prime example how a franchise can lose certain kind of ruggedness and down-to-earth designs on their characters and be cleaned, polished and waxed for an audience that wants that sort of visual ‘perfection’ from their entertainment. This is the reason why some Japanese actors, AV, porn or other, have found some success in the Chinese market as they have a chance to sell their looks first and foremost while downplaying their nationality, like Sora Aoi.

However, just as I’ve covered, Chinese market is not easy to access. The 2016 Ghostbusters bombed like no other, and Sony lost more money after it turned out it wouldn’t get a Chinese release due to it having a supernatural element. Numerous games have been censored for the same reason, with violence probably being the largest offender in the eyes of the Chinese, with nudity following as the runner up. The Censorship wikia has some examples listed, but it is woefully incomplete. If a company is intending to enter the market, they have to abide to the rules. It should be noted that despite China pushing censorship on loads of foreign titles across the board, but the same does not apply to their own products, at least not to the same extent.

Sony entering the Chinese market is nothing new, this was news in 2014 when the ban was lifted. The PlayStation 4 has been in China about three years now, and according to Sony their largest challenge has been localisation. Not only the high price of the consoles have curbed the sales, but so has the strict regulation. Last year, only 52 titles were approved to be on sale on the system. That’s 52 out of 1 837. That is less than two percent of the library, and its growing constantly, while the approval rating is stagnating in comparison. This means if a Chinese video game consumer wants access to larger library or certain games, they are required to import or use the system’s digital stores to get off-region sales. That is, if the system or their Internet allows that. China is the biggest single market for games, though the vast majority of it is taken by PC and mobile phone titles. Console gaming, however, doesn’t seem to be all that hot. The China Hero project isn’t dead yet and is entering its second stage, all the while Sony’s pushing both Spider-Man and Monster Hunter World as their killer titles. It should be noted that MonHunWorld‘s Steam version got pulled from the store in China, despite Tencent, the game’s publisher there, had already made changes needing those approvals. Tencent is a company we’ll have to talk some other day.

Sony has tried to push through the market with their China Hero project, which aimed to produce games by Chinese developers to the Chinese consumers. However, that seems to have been a bust. Sony has put lots of money into trying to become a success in the Chinese market, both in and out of gaming, but only their movie division has seen some success. Even then, they’re more or less bleeding money and haven’t had a breakthrough. This leads to the natural idea of simply enacting the demanded limitations and regulations to the games even before they are published on the platform, netting Sony credit both in the eyes of the Chinese government and the fringe political left that demand similar censorship across the board. Saving money all the while ensuring more titles will be available in China seems like a sureshot bet, though whether or not China actually wants these games is a matter altogether different.

All this is just conjecture and a conspiracy theory, I hear you and little voice in my head say. It’s true that there is no solid leads to with and all we have is what we’re presented with. China probably is part of the puzzle as is Sony’s North American section demanding the censorship. However, in business things coincide with each other within one company more than you’d think, and running after a region with little direct competition seems appetising. Considering Sony hasn’t exactly been the leading model for market expansion, their attempt in China should be followed with keen eyes. We’re not talking a company like Nintendo tapping a market with specific products designed to expand the market, but a company putting regulations that would turn all products viable within a market into effect, if I’m even close with all this. This is also why no petition will work, like the one on the change.org. This isn’t just ideological, but also because Sony seems to think PlayStation is a strong brand enough with quality titles to make similar big bucks in Chinese game market. I doubt they expect smartphone game level income, but considering what sort of expectations some of these corporations have, I wouldn’t put it past them altogether either.

All that said, this is probably the best argument against games as art. They’re made into a mould to be pressed and sold, damned be the author’s or authors’ original intent. Sony can deliver whatever flowery PR speech about high art, when they’re effectively stabbing the core idea of free expression.