An Intended View

I’m blaming television and monitor marketers for the current obsession for screen sharpness. Partial blame goes for people marketing every-advancing home video media formats. Sharper image! Better colour! Higher resolution! HDMI connectivity! It’s understandable that consumers would end up wanting the best picture and sound from their home media, be it whatever. This makes sense in regards to film and music, as the original recordings usually were in a better format than what you could have at home. 35mm film is, by any measure, superior to VHS or DVD, and if we’re completely honest, any digital format we currently have. We can’t really apply the digital age measurements to what is an analogue format, much like how we really can’t apply digital screens’ resolution to CRT screens. The technology and measuring system are not compatible with each other.

In which we end up with the current era of digital technology, and how easily we disregard the technological divide. The way we see old media nowadays is probably completely wrong. The strife for ever-better visual and sound has effectively beaten down the intended method of seeing something over what has been possible, and in many ways, this has been a marketing slogan at times.

Star Wars was, much like most other movies, was intended to be seen on the big screen. If you haven’t seen the movie in a theatre, “you haven’t seen it all”. Then, the inverse should be true as well. If something was meant to be seen on the small screen, in our case a 4:3 television screen, then we really haven’t truly seen it as intended. For example, nowadays we enjoy Star Trek at least on what we could call DVD-quality, and that probably is not the way it was ever intended to be viewed, digitally remastered or not. The show may have been recorded on film, everything from set designs to costumes, and their colours, was designed and made to be shown on 1960s television. Most often the television set was black and white with the picture quality probably being deteriorated due to the received signal. The farther away you were from the city, the worse the signal would get. If you had a rotator antenna, you had the best quality. Interface from planes and trucks would be a factor. The screen quality would vary widely depending on what sort of TV set people had, and also how well people fine-tuned the channel. That’s how Star Trek was expected to be seen, and that’s how people watched it.

With the advancing technology, we would end up seeing more of what was on the film, which in many places lead to an unintended result of seeing the (literal) seams of the sets and costumes. It becomes easier to ridicule these as cheap sets and costumes, but in cases of shows like Star Trek, that’s part of the low-budget television. With home releases on VHS, Laserdisc and later on digital media, we saw the show in resolution and manner like never before. What used to be hidden technology decades older was now in plain sight, and people would laugh at it. However, put the same media in its proper timeframe and technology, and things look a whole lot different.

An issue that has to be taken with the DVDs and digital remasters is that they still showcase the “original” in much higher fidelity than originally aired

We should not forget the change in culture as well. Television was new at the time, and image quality didn’t mean nearly as much as it does now. There was no prior generation of people who had grown with worse picture quality or the like. When television was new, the picture didn’t really matter. It was what it was and you worked with it. What mattered was the content and the novelty of it. Shows like Star Trek was something new and exciting, and seeing this more cerebral television show about humanity in the stars in a hopeful manner captivated people in the long run. Nowadays, with the proliferation of science fiction shows and dozens upon dozens of derivates, it’s very easy to put the original series down both in terms of its content and delivery.

Television has the benefit of having a pure analogue format in film. The images and sounds are recorded on pieces of film and tape; they are not set in stone and are relatively easily remastered according to modern digital standards. It’s work-intensive for sure, and probably requires tons of extra work if you wish to clean every single thing, but it can be done. Sometimes you have to use multiple different sections of film from different prints of the same movie to achieve this, but it can be done.

I recommend watching, or listening, to the whole three hours video. It covers pretty much everything this particular fan’s own restoration. It covers pretty much everything from how certain elements were layered in the original movie to how he uses multiple sources to restore parts of a individual frame to gain the best possible version of a shot

This is not possible for video games or any other purely digital media format. The moment a game developer, or any other creator of digital content, defines the way their work is seen or heard, it will be stuck to that moment. While they can future-proof their work and save everything in much higher fidelity than it would be currently possible to output, e.g. a digital movie was recorded in 4k in an era where 1080p was the standard, at some point the technology will catch up to them. 35mm film movies are being progressively ruined by noise removal algorithms and smoothening nowadays, in a manner, the same has been done to video games. The difference is, video games and their consumers have a completely different paradigm that, in effect, has skewed the idea of how raster graphics should be seen.

Composite – RGB – Emulator screenshot
The emulator screencap has also cut away the overscan area, which would not be seen in a real CRT screen, but would be visible on a flatscreen. See more in this video, where the two first were nabbed from.

The above three screenshots, while usable when comparing different signal qualities coming from the machine itself and how things look in emulation, isn’t how Sonic the Hedgehog was intended to look. As we are now, sitting in front of our computers or using some palm device to read and see these shots, we are not seeing the sort of middle-hand output. The end result of a console, or any other device for the matter that was using a CRT screen, is lost to us. The image we get from emulators, digital re-releases of games and whatnot to our modern screens is inaccurate how the game was developed and meant to be seen.

However, we can surmise some things from the above three screenshots. For example, Sonic is much bluer in the composite shot, with shading and the greens melding into each other in a natural manner. The further we go to the right, the sharper the image gets, but at the same time, we lose smooth surfaces and these melding of colours. We can also see a slight shift in the aspect ratio. It wasn’t uncommon for games to have oval circles that got stretched into proper circles due to how the console was outputting the signal or how a monitor might naturally stretch it, but props for the emulator shot for correcting the aspect ratio.

Dithering is often discussed topic when it comes to the Mega Drive visuals, as many Mega Drive games use dithering to smooth out colours. You would use two colours in dithering, which would meld together on a CRT and produce a third colour, melding them all in a nice gradient. However, this isn’t apparent in higher-end cables, which would show the dithering in a much distinct and crisp way, destroying the carefully laid graphics. Retro-Sanctuary has a short write-up on dithering I would warmly recommend giving a look.

Yuji Naka uploaded a short clip from 1990 showcasing the room where games were being developed, where we see a young Naka working on Sonic the Hedgehog‘s collision. You also get a shot at Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker being developed, particularly Michael’s walking cycle. These games were developed on and for CRT screens. It wasn’t until the seventh generation of consoles when games began to be fully developed for digital screens. Most, if not all sixth-generation games that used sprite graphics, were developed with CRT monitors and non-digital cables in mind. Now, what if we took a photo of that same Sonic title screen on an actual high-end CRT monitor and compared it to an emulated screen?

Sonic the Hedgehog (1991, Sega) – Genesis

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CRT Pixels is an account that posts these comparison shots between emulators and CRT screens. There are tons of images comparisons that showcase how dot graphics, sprites or pixel graphics, whatever you want to call them, were designed and drawn with CRT monitors in mind. When an already existing artwork has been digitised, the person in charge of digitization had to take into account how the image would be represented on screen. It could never have been a 1:1 transfer of data from a painting to pixels due to the sheer nature of the technology of the era. Considering how a machine could output an image that was intended to be stretched naturally on a CRT, sometimes the graphics had to be squished in a direction so that it’d look proper when outputted. This happens a lot with Super Nintendo games, which had led to some heated discussions about whether or not its games have to be stretched to a proper aspect ratio, or whether or not the console’s internal aspect ratio and resolution is the real one. The real answer, however, is that it varies game by game, as some titles relied on SNES’ internal resolution while other developers created their graphics the output devices in mind.

Of course, arcade game developers and manufacturers had the freedom to decide on these things on their own. Capcom’s CP System uses 4:3 aspect ratio across the board, but you probably see loads of emulator screenshots in 12:7 aspect ratio. This is because, before digital screens, we had non-square pixels. This is also is one of the reasons why we can’t apply modern screen resolution standards, which counts pixels per heigh and width, when we had no pixels per see, and even then they were non-square. Displaced Gamer has a good video on the topic in a much better package than what I could do. Though I might add that it didn’t help that we had some widescreen format CRTs as well, and people always wanting to fill the screens never helped in the matter. Something that persists to this day, as so many emulation enthusiasts force their old games’ ROMs into the widescreen format.

We are fast losing the way games, and many other forms of media were intended to be consumed. Emulation and game preservation has made immense strides in preserving video and computer games’ data, and have begun to replicate consoles’ and computers’ internal workings in 1:1 emulation manners, something that probably will be impossible to fully emulate with the PlayStation 2, this scene has largely ignored the intended way these games were meant to be seen. No, that’s not exactly correct. For years we’ve got dozens of different ways to mess with emulators’ output. We’ve had tons of different filters that add fake scanlines or smooth the emulated pixels for an effect, often trying to mimic how a game would’ve looked like on a CRT screen. Different renderers are trying to replicate the originally intended form, some a better effect, some mangling them to a horrible degree. However, consoles like the Game Boy Advance, don’t really need these sort of post-processing effects, when the display itself already had square pixels. Hell, sometimes watching sharp pixels can mangle a sprite to the point of you not knowing what the hell you’re supposed to see there, but with that softer quality via post-processor filters or proper CRT screen, the sprite’s shapes and colours make a whole new shape and shades you can’t see otherwise.

A paper describing a method to depixilize pixel art is probably slightly off the intended path. This post-processing method doesn’t take into notion how the graphics were meant to be seen, but rather it ends up re-creating an interpretation of pixel graphics in a smoother form. The end result is less than desirable, but in a manner could also consider this kind of approach to aim to recreate the original underlying artwork that was then used to make the sprites. This is not, however, how the games’ graphics were meant to be seen.

Post-processing probably will end up being a way to solve the issue of how old games are being represented in the future. Perhaps we simply need high resolution enough screens to properly portray non-square pixels and colours a CRT can shows. In essence, rather than emulating just the hardware, emulators would have to take into account the cable quality and how CRTs output the picture. Granted, tons of emulators already do this, but not as default. Most often you still get a modern interpretation of square pixel, internal resolutions when you open an emulator, necessitating individuals to go into the settings menu. Menu, where they have tons of options they might not know what to do with. While we are getting copy systems that emulate hardware to a tee, they are also machines that are made to have HDMI output only. Clone consoles like RetroN and all the Analogue consoles, like the NT Mini, only output in modern HD via HDMI. Sure, you have in-system post-processing to make the games look like they’re played on a CRT. That’s the breaking part really.

A Hi-DEF NES kit modification kit

Console modifications have been around since consoles have been a thing, with RGB output and mods to circumvent region-locking have been the most popular things. Nowadays, we have these custom made boards that you solder to your older console and have it output via HDMI cable. They’re often directly connected to the CPU and video unit, so it interprets whatever the console wants output and tweaks it so the image is compatible with modern screens. Much like their copy-console brethren, they have built-on filters. Nevertheless, both of them utterly destroy the intended manner of how to view games on these older systems. They might be crisper, sharper, have the perfect colour from the palette. That may be preferable to some people, and certainly makes these old consoles compatible with modern screens, but they nevertheless destroy the intended way these games were meant to be seen.

The issue may end up being about authenticity. Modders and certain parts of the electronics consumers don’t really want to let go of these old machines and will do everything to update them for modern standards. That is a losing battle in many ways, and perhaps the approach is wrong too. While we can change some of the inner components, like the leaking caps and that, we can’t really restore old technology per se. Perhaps rather than trying to find a way to emulate the CRT screen, we should find a way how to replicate that particular screen technology. However, considering how dead CRT technology is, I doubt anyone will go their way out and try to find a way to revive it. I’m sure if CRT tech would’ve kept advancing, the shape and weight would’ve dropped, but the flatscreen tech we have now is in most aspects superior. It may still be struggling with replicating the same range of colours and true blacks as even cheap CRT could do, but their utility really beats CRTs in every other aspect.

I guess we can’t return to the intended way games were assumed to be played and seen. Much like how we didn’t have any other options to play the games “back in the day,” the same kind of applies to what we have now. The difference is, from all the options we have nowadays, from line doublers, upscalers and such, that crude reality is your older consoles were not meant to be played on modern monitors let alone be emulated in a crisp, in-hardware pixel-perfect output. These older games were played on a piece of shit telly, and that’s how they were build to be.

Of course, some Australian cunts probably would tell you there’s only one way to properly play the game, e.g. using SNES’ internal resolution and not give one flying fuck about intentions. Consumers have created options for themselves, and only relatively recently game companies have awoken to what emulator filters have been doing for a longer time. Filters themselves need to be completely re-evaluated, as there used to be rather heated discussions between people who wanted those raw pixels and the people who used all sorts of filters. Of course, neither party were absolutely correct, though if you managed to attach your PC to a CRT screen via S-Video cable or something, then there was no need to use filters.

In the future, we will lose the intended method of viewing games, and the rest of the media, which were created in analogue means as intended as the world proceeds with digitalization. With time, we’ll either lose them altogether to time, or most probably, they will be replaced with the closest possible approximation. No amount of remaking, remastering or modding can save old media. All we can really do is preserve and repair them in order to keep things in their original form as much as possible. At least in gaming, emulation will always be the second-best option to the original thing, and to some, emulation is already superior to the original hardware. That of course is not playing or seeing games as intended, but that has not been a factor to many at any point. What matters to many is the sharper image with higher resolution, even if that would effectively destroy the carefully balanced image the developers put all their effort in creating.

A dreadful return

Parts of the Internet loves Metroid, but to an ill degree. Outside a few hot takes about sidescrolling games shouldn’t cost as much as games with three dimensions of movement, Metroid Dread has seemingly gained quite the amount of positive attention. Not that I’m here to piss into your cereal, but the developers of Dread have misunderstood Metroid to a degree. At its core, Metroid has been about powering up as you adventure through the game world in a balanced manner. There are obstacles that are required to beat, though not necessarily only in one manner. At its core, Metroid games are sidescrolling open-world games, or as we used to call them, adventure games. What does this have to do with Dread, and by that extension, that Metroid 2 remake on the 3DS? That modern Metroid is broken, and it was Fusion that shattered it.

For better or worse, Metroid missed the cereal train back in the day. Super Mario Bros. and Zelda were always the bigger franchises anyway

If you play any Metroid game prior to the modern era, there are few things you should notice. One of them is that Samus is strong by default. She may not have a long-range shot, but she has great mobility nevertheless and her rate of fire is not diminished like it is in Samus Returns remake and Dread. All the areas in the Classic era are filled with all sorts of little crawly animals you’re supposed to take down, which require Samus to be strong. It makes it much easier to kill enemies that fly in front of you as you power up, yet not all that necessary if you don’t want to item hunt. While Fusion manages to replicate this to a point, Samus Returns is a hollow game with large areas of one or two crawlies around, and this design change was made to compensate for the new melee and aiming mechanics. Much like how Other M had awkward as hell controls between third and first-person modes, Samus Returns suffers from awkward shooting and melee mechanics that necessitated changing the core play, and through that, how Metroid plays out. Perhaps you can argue that it offers a more relaxed pace for the game and the player is now required to time his actions better. However, the player already could dictate the pace they wanted, and weapons always took a degree of skill.

There is a concept of adding unnecessary mechanics for the sake of differentiating from the flock. Samus Returns reeks of this with everything it changed during the remake period to accommodate the melee mechanic. As weird it is to say aloud, Metroid is a shooting game much like Mega Man or Contra. Leave the melee for the Belmonts. Some fighting games, like Guilty Gear Accent Core, are faulty of this same thing, where there are additions of new mechanics for the sake of new mechanics that do not add any real value. In Metroid‘s case, this has caused a core change in how the game now must be played and approached while still being represented as being the same game. Metroid has become its own imitator. The surefire way to make a better Metroid title than Metroid 2 or Super Metroid (do you remember when people were arguing which one is better? I sure do) is to take the core element and expand upon them and see how far you can take them. The only reason people seem to prefer the melee mechanic is that Samus’ firepower was otherwise gimped and kicked down. If Samus Returns would have kept her firepower the same, there would be no reason for melee counters.

I don’t mind Samus’ new look though. It’s fine, but they should’ve stayed away from using white in the standard armour

An element that Dread is lifting from Fusion is the unkillable enemy chasing you. While SA-X is often cited as one of the more memorable things from the game, in Dread this seems to be a game-wide threat. This is turning Metroid into a stealth game, as now there seems to be a mechanic where you can turn Samus into a statue so one of these coloured robots (which look like iPhone store guards) can’t scan her. I’m sure we’re going to get story reasons why they can’t be destroyed and the game’s story will allow them to be destroyed by the end. That’s so goddamn tiresome. Metroid being an adventure game, an open-world title, fights this kind of written-in-stone story-driven progression fights against its nature. The same criticism was laid down on Fusion as well, though there it even broke the game’s core mechanic of non-linearity as you could only get items in a certain order as programmed into the game’s code. There was no sequence-breaking or creative choices done from the player’s part. Just like Samus Returns and Dread have minimised the player’s part in the exact same manner.

The thing is, Castlevania can do close-combat in non-linear games with some projectiles is because the overall design lends to it. It feels and looks like Castlevania, and more importantly, plays like Castlevania. It has balanced the game systems with the AI and game world to a fine point. Neither of these modern 2D Metroid Nintendo is making, and yes I am putting this on Nintendo as Sakamoto is still spearheading this franchise to hell, play like Metroid should. We have tons and tons of Metroid clones on the market with superior design in every aspect, and yet whatever the hell Samus Returns tried to be is shoddy lower-midtier garbage. Metroid doesn’t need to have melee attacks or counters. All of the play mechanics got gimped because of the want of this one extra mechanic that the game’s design can’t handle without breaking down. You can shave Samus Returns play to counter everything. All other mechanics are secondary and borderline useless. Unlike Castlevania, Samus Returns and Dread have screwed up whatever design the best of Metroid had to offer. Samus isn’t a goddamn ninja; she’s a fucking space Terminator. She’s not supposed to be a bac knock-off copy of her Smash Bros. version in her own games.

I won’t find any spot to talk about this otherwise, but holy shit doesn’t Samus Return have a terrible soundtrack. Most of the time you’re listening to this trash ambient soundtrack, and only in areas where you’re supposed to have a nostalgic rush you hear what is essentially re-used tracks from Prime. If you back and listen to Classic Metroid game soundtracks, the scary ambient things were saved for very specific areas and moments, but otherwise, you always had a rocking tune in the main areas. Maybe that’s for the better. Every time modern Metroid tries to do something new it flounders and fails like a fish on the Sun’s surface.

Speaking of white, these iPod dogs look less threatening and more… boring. Why would Samus shoot its face though? It looks like its most armored spot, while its lanky joints look like they would snap off from the ball sockets

Metroid is never going to escape Other M and Sakamoto. Hell, you might as well drop all hopes for Metroid Prime 4 at this point, as Metroid has long gone to be a story-driven adventure rather than the player’s adventure. Metroid was about the player facing a world and the sort of adventure that would be. Now, unlike its current contemporaries, it is about the player having to play out the outlined story. Best examples of this in the series? Metroid Fusion as a whole, and gimped world and adventuring in Metroid‘s GBA remake. Metroid has become about Samus despite Samus herself was never important. How the player had his adventure was, and we’ve lost it.

We can pinpoint the day when Metroid was lost. It’s the day when Gunpei Yokoi was killed in that car crash. I’m sure some people remember that there was an era where Yokoi’s name was attached to Metroid like Sakamoto’s is nowadays. I don’t like blaming one person for a failure of the whole team, but when you have a person who is put into a leadership position and publically proclaims his role in making and spearheading Samus’s story and knows her secrets, we can put his head unto the guillotine bed just fine. Just like with Link and other silent player characters, they’re supposed to be there for the player to play as. Take that away, and you’re forced to create a proper characterisation and framing for them, and seeing how video game writing is dumpster fire tier, and people like Sakamoto have zero talent or experience with actual story writing, you’re going to get stuff like repeating THE BABY the nth time.

Metroid Dread looks, sounds and probably will play cheap. This is sock-filling, a stopgap game. I’m sure it has a competent budget and all that, yet its lacklustre nature compared to independently made adventure games are laughing it out from the park despite their shoestring budget. Hell, just ignore what Nintendo is making and go play AM2R again.

Consoles need to be stupid

Few days ago, news about the PlayStation 4 being a gimped console broke through. No, not in the fashion of it having ballgag. Down the pipe, when Sony decides to kill off their online services for the PS4, your console will end up as a brick. Lance McD explained further that the Trophies require the internal clock to be correct, and seeing people can’t change their internal clocks, when the servers and battery die out, so does your ability to play games. Your only way to sync the PS4’s internal clock is through connecting to PSN.

This is stupidly lousy engineering on Sony’s department, but I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m not putting blame on Trophies as well. Gaming consoles have become smarter and smarter without any true benefits to the customer. All they need to do is to play the game. Trophies, movie playback, sharing to Social Media and all that is gibble. It’s the same ol’ thing again; consoles are just dumbed down PCs. This one of the many negative results of it. PC like machine brings PC like problems. Concentrating on essential necessities for playing a game and excising the excess should be an industry standard. We don’t need access to Twitter or the like via linked accounts. A generic browser should be all you need for that, but everything needs to be its own program nowadays.

PS4 clock battery problem is for the long-term. At this moment in time, you are able to drop in a new battery and reconnect with the servers. In the future, this won’t be applicable. Gee, who the hell would be playing PS4 games ten years from now? Dunno, who the hell would be playing SNES games twenty five years after the console?

This’ll pose some interesting challenges down the line when it comes to archiving and keeping records on PS4’s games. Future historians that want to see the games running on their native hardware will have to find a way to get around the limitations Sony put on the system clock. Oh but of course, the Trophies must be protected that people don’t have bragging rights. What a shit decision to put any protection on the whole thing.  

The most permanent solution will end up being modding the console to access all levels of functions. This game reading error will not be a major issue for Sony, and it getting fixed will be a very low priority. Especially now that the Japanese aren’t running the show. Few individual commentators have mentioned how this will ultimately be a positive thing, as this’ll force people to move to new machines and recycle their old games and consoles, or how this is beneficial for the competition between players, or how this somehow is a great anti-piracy measure if people can’t play games on a timed-out system. Fellating corporations always goes against the needs of the consumer. None of the points have any legs to stand on; the longer a machine functions and is playable is most economic and green option; Trophies amount to jack shit in eSports or other forms of digital competition outside dick measuring contests; this will have the opposite effect.

PS5 and X… I don’t even have a real shorthand for Xbox Series S and X. I’ll have to go with XboXSX just for the gringe factor. Anyway, both PS5 and XboXSX were launched at a terrible time. We’re going into an economic slump. We’re already short of chips and whatnot to build these machines. Both of these consoles were designed for a much better economic time they ultimately ended up in, much like how X360 and PS3 were. Part of the Wii’s success was in how concentrated it was in its function; it plays games. It doesn’t need to do anything else. By cutting away all the excess fat from the system Nintendo managed to find a low price point people could justify during an economic slump. After that, we experienced a nice rise in economics. We wouldn’t have seen the rise of Kickstarter and similar services in the same manner. People could pledge hundreds of dollars for people through Patreon and such. There was money to go around. That’s not going to be as the economy keeps balling down the road. Sure, big companies will make a big buck. It’s the smaller and local businesses that’ll go under. No better time to put more control on the media and devices you should have ownership over.

Sure, nobody in the Big Three saw the slump coming, though even without the Shangai Shivers some economists had been foretelling we’d go to an economic downward slope around 2019 or so. Having a to-the-core machine, and just one version of it, would’ve served the customer better. I agree that it’s nice to have all these bells and whistles most people barely use, some none at all, yet this whole PS4 battery bullshit is a symptom of putting the emphasize in the wrong court.

No, the battery isn’t the thing people should get concerned over, or the engineering, but the priorities that go into deciding to even put these things into the console; it’s all needless extra. A console’s basic core function is to play games. Everything else should be cut off from that. If all else fails in a console, be it network connection, internal battery, user account or whatever, the user should be able to put the game in and have it played, physical or not. Reality isn’t all that nice or consumer friendly, sadly. Just imagine; Turn the console on, see boot screen, put game in, and you’re playing. Nothing else going in the background or connecting to anywhere else. Just you, the game and the ability to play without seeing a dashboard, needing to connect to the servers, seeing news or being asked to install new updates that take half an hour.

If you’re reading that as me advocating of removal of capabilities modern consoles have when it comes to services and such, you’d be correct. All a console truly needs in addition of playing games is to be able to connect to the Internet for patches and multi-player. Everything else can be trashed. All the other resources can be put on making the controller better, or perhaps not used at all, minimizing the limit when a console goes to black. That’s not going to happen with Sony as long as they want to pretend still to be a prestige brand with the best home media center to offer. Sony’s quality assurance hasn’t been up to that level for good thirty years now, and things like this PS4 internal battery situation is one of those signs. 

The best fix would be Sony to remove this whole shebang and let consumers to set the clock by themselves without a need to connect to the servers at any point. Fat chance, but I can always dream of having more freedom.

Banning sales of violent video games won’t fix Chicago’s carjackings

Marcus Evans Jr. is an idiot. As Chicago is experiencing increasing numbers of carjackings, his solution is to ban violent video games. Junior’s bill is exactly what you’d expect from a politician wanting to bandaid the result of underlying problems. This bill wants to amend 2012 law to ban sales of violent video games to all, not just minors. This bill also seeks to expand the meaning of violent video games, making specific examples. I guess Junior is sexist, as the bill makes a separate mention about violence against women despite there already being a mention of human-on-human violence. Dunno about you, but I count women to be human.

Last year, APA reaffirmed that there is no sufficient evidence that video games cause violent behaviour. Few years back, researchers at Oxford found no associated links between games and adolescent aggression. Turns out puberty and hormones still make you go bonkers in the Third Millennium.  Whatever Junior thinks video games cause is not relevant and inside of his own head. His approach to the problem of increasing criminal activity among minors is pathetic and inane. It would not fix anything, and it would most likely increase piracy if ever passed in any form. To quote Junior from Chicago Sun Times, The bill would prohibit the sale of some of these video games that promote the activities that we’re suffering from in our communities. You’re not suffering from these activities because of video games. These criminal activities are happening because of the environmental and social issues you’re having. People being in bad places, kids being neglected and parents effectively abandoning their kids.

When you compare the two, you see harsh similarities as it relates to these carjackings. This is an incredible bit of stupidity. Video games don’t teach you how to jack cars in real life. Sure, you can see an example yet everyone with half a brain cells realises there’s a difference in stopping a car, pointing a gun at someone, then taking it from them, and pressing a button on a controller. You’d actually learn more about how to do it properly from television and films, especially when they’re aiming for realism. Hell, Youtube probably has step-by-step guides nowadays. Other unmentionable services do. Just like when Doom and other first-person shooting games were blamed on teaching kids how to shoot guns, the skills do not transfer. The skills you learn in a video game are manually different. I can’t deny you can’t get the idea and some imagination practice from playing a game, but you still don’t learn how to do it. Carjacking is rather easy, after all, as long as you get the driver to stop and scare him enough to comply. Of course, Grand Theft Auto is used as the main example, as that’s the easiest title to go after. Even Hillary Clinton went after the series in the middle of the first decade. Even the name of the game is tantalising politicians, but I guess we’re living in an era where all interesting and slightly offensive has to be stamped down.

Close to four decades now we’ve been seeing and hearing about the evils of video games. Longer if we count penny arcades, which we can round up to a nice century. Claims have gone from promoting illegal activities to games causing violent behaviour. While penny arcades and such did see their fair share of organised crime and hoodlum hangers, we’ve never seen solid evidence of games causing violent behaviour. At most, games can be a triggering factor. This means that video games aren’t the reason, that something is already there that doesn’t have anywhere else to go. You might think that’s enough reason to ban violent video games, but at the same time, you should then consider banning all violent and offensive media. A bullied kid might explode at his bullies for any reason, be it after watching some wrestling or because he saw John Wick. Games are more a way to get that pent up stress out from his system, unless the person can’t distinguish between reality and fiction. To reiterate, the issue isn’t violent video games. The question I don’t see Junior asking Why are these minors carjacking? Nobody seems to care about these people, only what they’ve done.

Junior should get this bill off the table and put his efforts into finding out why these young people are carjacking. Hint; the answer isn’t They saw it on telly/ in games. If there were a simple answer to be given, there wouldn’t be any issues. However, Chicago has an inherited culture of crime. Ever since violent crime saw its major rise in the latter part of the 1960s, Chicago’s being second to Detroit in being called a hell hole. Chicago has over a hundred thousand active gang members across sixty factions. Gang warfare is a daily thing. Let’s not ignore Chicago’s long history of public corruption; there’s a reason why the University of Illinois named Chicago the Corruption Capital of America in 2015.

It’s a sheer delusion to blame video games for the rise in youngsters’ criminal activities. Bandaiding the skin while the heart is still ruptured does nothing. Junior has cited no basis for his reasoning, just that there is a harsh similarity between criminal actions in real life and games. Well, I have to say that criminal activity in real life and criminal activity in real life have much more in common, especially when it is easy to get into a gang and get taught by your seniors. Banning the sales of violent video games to all will only hurt the industry, probably will have to face questioning whether or not it will infringe the freedom of speech and expression, and will only make these titles more exotic. Banning media will never solve individual and society-level issues. To this day I am disgusted whenever I see someone coming after the media of any sort for a quick fix rather than raising issues that cause violent behaviour and criminal activity, ranging from child abuse and neglect to society failing those who are in need of help. Mental health issues are still rising, and the whole lockdown thing hasn’t helped many who suffer from loneliness.

Music of the Month; Wizardry

Don’t take this as me introducing Wizardry into the blog. The theme should be taken as something nostalgic, but as something that wasn’t originally there.

 

It has become increasingly more difficult to spent any significant portion of my day working on a post of quality. This has been a trend for some time now, and it’s something everyone has noticed. Planning posts in advance have become a chore of sorts, because most of the time an idea just doesn’t have enough lift under its wings, or it would overlap with something I’ve already discussed prior. Sometimes to extensive lengths, and I’d rather tone down on beating the dead horse. I’ve still got three projects under my belt unfinished, so after a certain date, I’ll have to make some modifications on how and why I still keep this blog up. You’ll have to wait a bit for that though. I do have an intention do writ up few device reviews once I’ve gotten my hands on Meanwhile, I’ll use this entry to cover some small topics that are about around now.

Google announced recently that they’re killing off their first-party developer for Stadia. It lasted only one and a half years, and I’m having a hard time remembering the studio’s name. This follows Google’s standard practices of the killing of products and projects in about two years of their existence. Not much love is lost between Stadia and its users, as it never delivered on its promises. Stadia, by all means, has largely been a failure. I’ve followed few of the early adopters on the sideline, and most of these people have ended up disappointed in the product.

Problem with Stadia, of course, is streaming games, its supposed bread and butter. While Virtual Reality is becoming a mature technology now that we have small enough components and robust enough hardware to make it happen, streaming games is woefully in baby shoes simply because of the existing infrastructure doesn’t support it, not to mention the bottlenecks Google’s servers themselves had. Unlike VR, Stadia could take advantage of existing games, though Stadia had little to no titles that excited the customers or made it a must-have device. Stadia didn’t have a leg against consoles hardware or software-wise, and as a computer peripheral or a smartphone addition, it was pathetically awkward and underpowered. Think it this way; would you lug around a PlayStation with a screen attached to it when you could have a GameBoy? Some would, while others might choose to play a laptop and whatever it offered.

Playing games anywhere, anytime, isn’t a new paradigm. People have been carrying decks of cards with them for hundreds of years and still do. Portable electronic games have been a thing since the late 1970s, at least. Stadia was never creating a new paradigm or a way to play games, nor did it expand the market. Google tried to portray Stadia as something for people who didn’t play video games, yet they failed to offer any games that would expand the market. Look at the NES, GameBoy, NDS and the Wii for example of a library that had something for everyone. Even when taking streaming games out of the equation, this was Stadia’s most important failure and it keeps repeating with every failed gaming device thus far; you can’t succeed without an appealing library, the hardware doesn’t matter. What’d I say about beating a dead horse?

Though Stadia’s hardware was effectively just the controller and whatever junk it has inside. Supposedly, there’s a wild variation whether or not the controllers break down easily or if they’re robust. Seems like this is dependent on whether or not the parts were good or if the assembler had a bad day. Nevertheless, what Google failed to realise is that expanded markets don’t really like game controllers, especially the much older generation. There are too many buttons, they have no intuitive way of learning them. The Wiimote, while often laughed at, was a brilliant design that opened an intuitive way to learn the controller not just because of its familiar shape but also limited buttons and placements. The reason a more traditional controllers Nintendo puts out are called Pro controllers is because they’re meant for people who don’t need to learn how to use a controller. It might be hard to imagine for people who have been playing electronic games most, if not all of their lives, but gaming controllers are still rather complex devices despite standardization and are far from intuitive to use. If Google truly wanted to have an open doors experience for everyone who wasn’t a self-appointed gamer, they would’ve made sure Stadia’s library would’ve appealed to these people and designed the controller to lower the entry challenge. Failing at both of these, Stadia ended up as a third wheel, a system that had no appeal whatsoever.

There’s a Mass Effect: Legendary Edition in the horizon, and unlike the guy who I get occasionally writing stuff when I need a break, wrote his view on the whole shebang. Give it a read. However, it must be questioned whether or not this remake should be. All these games run just fine on modern OS and console versions run just as dandy as they ever did. The time, money and all the other resources spent on this compilation of games could have been used to make a new game, or remaster something that would have been in a dire need to be properly updated for modern systems, or remade into a much better game. Pick your choice game of mediocre or outright terrible game that you think could be worked into a gem and you’re already there. Games that already are great, supposedly, don’t need to be remade into a new form. Mass Effect‘s problems as a game can’t be corrected with a remastering and technical update, it’d need to be taken back to the design board and make a whole new draft to make it a game with interesting and engaging play rather than a generic shootyshit with forced talkie bits. It’ll sell nevertheless. The gaming media has been hyping this one for some time now, and loud fans will invade anyone’s feed in any social media at some point.

In other news, all three companies involved in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, that is Activision, Infinity Ward and Major League Gaming Corp have been sued for copyright infringement. Clayton Haugen, a photographer with two books under his belt, accuses these companies of directly copying his character from a work he was promoting. The way these companies did it that they hired the same model/actor and supposedly asked her to obtain similar, if not the same gear as in Haugen’s photos. While a tacticool waifu isn’t anything special in itself, using the same model with almost the same outfit, posing, hairstyle and aiming to get the same kind of photo smells something rotten. Whether or not the accusations Haugen has levelled against the three are true per se, the similarities across the board are much closer to plagiarism and infringement than coincidental. It’s far too easy to fall in love with a design or character, and then just replicate and copy it with slight modifications, resulting in some cheap Chinese knock-off. It’s like those Transformers KO toys you see every so often. You know what they are and where they are from. These Call of Duty promotional shots are close enough to warrant slap strong enough to discourage corporations from doing something like this. They sure as hell will bring the banhammer if joe generic does something remotely IP infringing, yet corporations often get out of jail card for free, especially when it comes to using photos and such.

Battle Network’s near perfect combat

Mega Man Battle Network is known for its unique battle system that hasn’t been replicated outside its sequel series, the Lego Ninjago: Spinjitzu Smash Flash games, with one of them outright ripping sprites for testing purposes, and to a lesser extent in One Step From Eden. All these mentioned titles don’t really replicate the polish Battle Network had, mostly because the team went through numerous iterations during the first game’s development and managed to polish it up in the second and third game. The three last games in the main series sadly don’t do justice to the combat system, and it’s all because Battle Network‘s combat system maintains a very delicate balance that’s very easy to break in terms how well it works. Think of the many versions of Tetris that change the shapes and number of tiles per shape, and you get the gist of it.

A standard field layout, with red being the player side and blue the enemy side

At the base of the Battle Network combat experience lays two elements; movement and resources. As every game’s battlefield is a grid of 3×6 panels, most often initially split as 3×3 for player and opponents, movement becomes impossibly crucial. The 3×3 area is a combination of multiple factors, one being that it is both claustrophobic and roomy enough to allow swift motion from one panel to another. Motion between panels is animated through a zip, where the characters sort of teleport between the panels. While you could have a character jumping or running, or just doing away with the animation, the zipping has a small frame of animation that deactivates and actives the hitboxes on each panel.

Timing becomes incredibly important, as in some games successfully avoiding enemy attacks might require high-level of movement management, though rarely frame accurate. Because of this the play often gets hectic as the player is required to navigate panels, or whole lines and rows of panels, to which opponents’ attacks land all the while trying to land your own hits. The 3×3 panel layout is perfect for this, as it keeps the area wide enough that going from one corner to another requires moving four panel’s distance, as there is no moving in angles. It allows wide enough variety in enemy attack patterns as well as options to escape to enforce quick movements without necessitating for the player to move too far. Perhaps it’d be better to showcase a video, and then go deeper why the system works the best in its most famous form.

A very simple, very easy battle, where the player still has to mind the Mettaur and Ghost’s movements. Instead of using Battle Chips, he chooses to delete the Mettaur by Buster. While doing this, he blocks the Ghost’s attack, in which it moves in front of the player and licks him, By positioning in front of the Mettaur, the Ghost has to retreat. Longplays are a nice way to grab a small segment and just embed from a certain timecode onwards.

4×4, the layout One Step From Eden uses is one panel line and row too big, as traversing the area becomes too large for fast-paced action. Even if movement speed was raised, it’d still be an extra panel to traverse Not only that but the balance breaks as there is no longer a central panel. All attack patterns can become far too widespread. 2×2 would be too small on the other hand and too limiting in every sense, which is the case with Mega Man Star Force, as it effectively butchered the play by limiting the player to one row of movement while enemies have 5×3 area to cover. Moving only left and right is not nearly as engaging as full-range of movement. One of the main issues that end up popping up also from a larger grid stems from the player’s need to scan a much wider area for enemy action. With 3×6 you have large enough space to keep an eye on everything that’s happening, yet with larger fields require splitting attention due to wider spread space, enemy patterns and landing attacks. The issue is inverse in smaller grids, where you end up having less space to keep an eye, which also has to simplify the patterns.

While One Step From Eden flows well, it’s hampered by its expanded field

The full range of movement there is with the caveat that the player can only move in X or Y axis in Battle Network. Allowing the player to move diagonally would break the balance, though in larger fields it might become a necessary addition. The 3×3 layout and up-down, left-right movement offers a balance between the player being able to effectively navigate all those safe zones while leaving the chances of player cornering himself by mistake or making bad judgement calls. 4×4 or larger does contain the same thing, but again that extra low and line build that safety margin too much, making balancing the attack patterns and movements that much more difficult.

The 3×3 panel is perfectly balanced to offer tile-based movement that isn’t too widespread or too tight. It’s an optimal solution.

All this of course can only be supported by the resources, which are aplenty. First is, of course, the selection of weaponry in form of Battle Chips, which go from single-row attacks to multi-panel X-shape shots. A standard Virus opponent often has only one form of attack and defence, though sometimes this defence is just moving. The Viruses are thus paired with other types that either compensate each other weaknesses or pose a challenge for the player in terms of panel navigation. Some Viruses have passive defences that must be circumvented in an indirect manner, some have none. For example, there is a Virus that has a shield in front of it that prevents direct damage from ahead and moves towards the player area. Once it reaches its area limit, it puts the shield on the player side and causes gradual damage via Poison. Early on the best method for the player to deal with this Virus is to use a Wide Sword, a close-range attack that does 1×3 area of damage in front of the player, the player being in the centre. Other times the player finds himself against a tree Virus that recovers HP faster than the player might be able to dish out due to the panels having a beneficial element. Thus, either cracking or literally burning the grass off from the panel the tree is standing of negates this effect.

Bosses often had extra shielding or similar gimmicks. Here, the player probably tries to limit the Boss’ movement through cracking the panels

Resources like these change how the player must meet the battles, at least until the player unlocks game-breaking combos and other fun post-game content. Combining action games’ fast movement, albeit in a more limited sense, to an RPG standard rock-paper-scissors Elemental system makes the resources an essential part of the play, and managing to design and develop these resources makes or breaks the whole system. Not only does the player have to have access to a wide variety of solutions to a single combat problem through the selection of Battle Chips, but also have them balanced so that these strategies must be changed from time to time.

The Battle Chips selection changes as the series grows, and many of the staples get dropped in favour of new Chips. This has caused numerous balance issues, as many high utility Chips are dropped in subsequent games and their replacements are not nearly as useful. While this forces the player to adopt new tactics for each game, the truth is that the selection of weaponry does determine how well the battles are fought, and how enjoyable the play ends up being. While there are a couple of hundred of listed Chips and their combined Program Advances, the majority of these Chips end up being copies of each other in different strength. This is of course to give the player chance to use the same family of Chips in stronger form as enemies become tougher and acquire more HP fat. This is another standard RPG mechanic though, much like how Final Fantasy has Fire, Fire 2 and Fire 3, so does Battle Network have Cannon, HiCannon and M(ega)Cannon.

The selection of these battle resources allows the players to express themselves and their favourite ways of battle. While others prefer the straightforward Cannons, others might aim for more damage with combinations of Chips. One method would be to use Area Steal, which takes one 1×3 area from the enemy side and turns it into area player can enter. This temporary steal deprives the opponent panels to move in and greatly expands the player’s movement options. This disrupts the opponent’s movement options while greatly increasing the player’s. Either side can, in effect, steal all of the opponent’s side bar the one they are standing on, causing what’s called an Area Lock. This is extremely useful in games where Battle Chips randomly hit enemy panels for damage multiple times. Area Locking an enemy to a single panel forces all the hits to concentrate on one panel, causing e.g. a hit worth of 80 repeating on one panel five times, causing total damage of 400. Add Chips that increase damage per hit, and the damage increases significantly.

Battle Network needs to limit access to these resources so that the player can’t have the perfect build all the time. This is realised first in making a Folder with a set limit of 30 Battle Chips. You can’t have less or more. By doing this, the player is forced to insert multiple different strategies into the Folder, often in a way where combinations of Chips can also work on their own, if necessary.

An example of similar Chips and Codes in a Folder

Secondly, all Chips have a letter code that limits what the player can choose in one go. Unless multiples of the same Chip is selected, no Code can be mixed and matched, outside the *-Code. For example, the player could have Cannon A and Cannon B or Cannon B and Bomb B, but not Cannon A and Bomb B. This locks the player from having all the strategies at his and at the same time but also introduces the chance of having only one Chip they could choose of they build their Folder without much thought. The amount of same Chips per Folder varies between games, with the first game allowing ten of the same, second game dropping this to four, third game rising it to five, and the sixth game introducing the idea of each Chip having a megabyte size, with larger Chips only be allowed a lower amount. Higher ranking Chips are more limited, with Giga Chips only allowed one entry per Folder.

Thirdly, the player can only access five Chips from his library via Custom screen at the start of a battle by the standard. The importance of having a Folder with large amounts of the same Chips, or same Code letter, becomes pressing depending on the player strategies. The player has to live with the selection the random number generator has given him until about ten seconds pass as dictated by Custom Gauge. At this point, the player can access the selection screen again, where he can choose another set of Chips, with the used one replaced with Chips from his Folder. The cycle between Custom screens is called a turn, though by standard a turn can last as long as the player wants. Under certain conditions, the Gauge can be fastened up or slowed down. In certain games, it becomes a puzzle element, where specific battles must be done under a turn limit and the Custom screen is opened automatically when the Gauge has filled up.

Custom Screen open at the beginning of a battle, with BN3’s Boss visible

The player can affect the number of Chips in their selection during the Custom screen by using the Add command rather than selecting any Chips. In the first game, it adds five more Chips to the Custom screen, with another use adding another five. This wasn’t the best system, as you’d lose all the additional Chips the turn you chose to use something. It wasn’t much fun. The second game introduced a change to the Add system, where the player had to sacrifice up to five Chips in the Custom screen to gain access to additional Chips. This Add system totalled to a maximum of ten, but the addition was permanent for the rest of the battle. This made the risk and reward already presented by the random choices as you might find it necessary to sacrifice stronger weaponry for a wider selection. It also expanded turn-by-turn options dramatically. The number of Chips available could be affected with outside effects, like Styles that changed the player’s element and weapons, but also via Customisation blocks that would become available in the third game. These ended up as the only options for the player to expand the selection, as the Add function was removed. However, this also removed the added risk and reward option, and further limited the maximum amount of chips from 10 to 8, drastically changing the nature and the balance of the battles themselves.

The balance in a combat system that heavily relies both on certain kind of spatial movement and a large variety of resources and conditions. The first game doesn’t exactly use the system the best, with everything being more or less unpolished. By the third game, the balance between damage output, method variety, hit patterns, additional conditions, panel elements and more extensive character customisation that affects all these directly made the balance stand on its tiptoes, but perhaps ultimately also showcased how well the developers understood it all.

The Navi Customizer from BN3 further expanded how the players could play and with what strategies

All these things have to tick in proper sync to work, something that the staff of the later games didn’t understand as well as the previous team. For example, removing the Add option might not seem an important decision, but it nevertheless favoured few types of approach more in character customisation and Folder building over others. Chip selection, or rather designing how the Chips would work is nothing short of do-or-die, and sadly from the fourth game onwards, the Battle Chips were never quite balanced, often teetering on practically useless to game-breaking on their own. Of course, the enemy selection had to be on par with this, which again became an object of inquiry as the games went on, with some enemy patterns being simply not fun. The system lends itself for challenge battles well enough, though it became questionable when Battle Network 5 introduced Liberation Mission, a combination of turn-based strategy with turn-limited battles. While others enjoyed the challenge they posed, its attempts to shake the combat experience by putting the player in the middle of the field, sandwiched by two enemy sides, didn’t work out all that well. These combat scenarios became janky and even more dependent on proper Chip selection that forced players to farm certain kinds of resources, putting far too high emphasize on the Chips themselves rather than having a combination of player’s action parts and collecting.

Some of the higher level player-VS-player battles showcase strategies that aren’t used all that much in single-player campaign, and they can end up being relatively boring to watch and slower-paced than in-game matches. Balancing the Chips selection between single and multiplayer play is rather hard, as some Chips ended up useful only in one area or the other

The system itself is nearly perfect. At its core, it’s something that only a video game can do, similar to Tetris. However, because it is reliant on how the resources are designed and managed, it is very easy to screw up. Despite the first and the last three games managing to screw up this balance nicely, the wide variety of Battle Chips and their combinations despite other system changes also means the players can and will find ways to cheese the system. As such, the best way to expand the system is not to change the absolute core of the system, that is the movement and the 3×6 grid, but to expand on resources and the ways all the combatants can make use of them.

This is probably one those things where Battle Network truly failed in its play. While most of the enemies were Viruses, majority of the standard Bosses didn’t utilise Battle Chips until later on. Instead, they all have their own gimmick and are designed around them. However, if the Bosses would’ve had similar access to at least a proper Folder of their own in addition to their specialised field, the games could’ve been a step more challenging as well as throwing a wrench to the player’s gears at times. This might’ve taken away from the uniqueness of each of the bosses, though evidently, developers agreed the Bosses should use Battle Chips at least to a limited amount.

Secondly is that most storyline End Bosses simply don’t conform to the established rules. They are largely inanimate and despite their hype, end up being lacklustre due them becoming an issue of hitting their weak point, which is often covered until certain phases. Incidentally, post-game Bosses end up being far more entertaining in their difficulty and methods, as they break the rules just enough to be unique all the while having all the same benefits most other characters, including the player’s, have on the field. Bass is probably the best example of this, as his level of strength is relative to the game he is in. Initially being covered by Dream Aura that requires 100HP worth of damage, Bass gains new patterns and strikes in each subsequent title relative to the overall balance and content of the game.

While BN3’s Bass BS isn’t the most difficult version of him, in many ways it is one of the more iconic ones. This Japanese voice-over here describes its attacks and a method to beat him. The battle here showcases some creative use of Battle Chips, as well as FolderBack, a Giga Chip that restores all used Battle Chips back to usable state. It happens to be the most broken Chip across the series

The system doesn’t lend itself to be modified and replicated in large fashion without a complete overhaul. Any change to the core requires a total change to effectively every part of the system to achieve a similar balance. This is one of the reasons why Battle Network didn’t spawn copycat series despite its popularity, as any game that might use a system derived from it would instantly be called out. Star Force tried to adapt some of the core mechanics, but it didn’t pan out all that well. Player movement is one of the most fun aspect of the system, and reducing it to one dimension made everything else having to compensate for this, which they can’t. The system was already robust in the first game, though unpolished. Be it by design or happy accident, this prevents similar iterations and alterations that something like Dragon Quest would lead to.

For better or worse, Mega Man Battle Network combat is still unique since nothing quite like it has turned up. Perhaps it’s better that way, as the system was already explored and almost broken under Capcom, and variations of it have not succeeded to the same level. This, combined with the whole thing not being to everyone’s taste, probably means we’ll never see it outside few oddities once in a decade until Capcom decides to re-release or remaster the Battle Network games. Here’s hoping for that Phantom of Network remake.

The “true fan” is a blind customer

With Monster Hunter Rise getting a demo on the Switch recently, I decided to visit their recent stream about the game. ‘lo and behold, I saw the usual people throwing stuff like As a community we… and Only true fans… among other stuff to counter criticism or whatnot. This kind of fan behaviour has been as old as I can recall. It is effectively a way to push down someone who might voice an opposing opinion that might devalue a product in some manner or raise issues that might impact negatively. For example, people noting that the somewhat recent Capcom leaks showcased how Monster Hunter Rise has already been slated for Steam release a year after the initial Switch version got told down that only true fans would buy it on the release and then purchase the Steam version later to support the game. There are quite many people who purchase games twice just to show their support, which largely screws up the actual user numbers and twists the true popularity of a product.

It’s not a toxic behaviour as much as it is pathetic. This sort of blind consumer behaviour can be seen everywhere, especially on forums and closed circles where new ideas or opposing ideas are actively purged. If there’s a live-action adaptation of a book series or something like that coming up, e.g. The Wheel of Time, I’d almost recommend checking some forums just to see large the difference between proper criticism and fellation. Corporations of course love people who feel deeply connected to their brands and go out to defend whatever decision is made and whatever product is put out. There’s a whole industry behind creating a positive image as forums and other platforms like Youtube are filled with people getting paid to give a positive view. It’s a livelihood for sure, and a way to market directly to the customers without directly associating with the corporation and the brand itself. With electronic gaming, it is very common for streamers to make contracts with companies to play their games for a certain time while giving only borderline criticism as dictated by the company. Once the contract expires, the game changes. NDA, of course, keeps these streamers quiet of their real thoughts and what they think of the games they play. Nothing wrong in this as long as the whole thing is being disclosed, but stealth marketers don’t come at you telling they’re marketing something to you.

A blind consumer doesn’t think about the product’s value or anything else related to it really that doesn’t directly concern his own emotional attachment. There’s a large amount of justifying your own purchases and decisions that comes with the saying A true fan… as they have to make sure their decision to invest into something fully is met not only on a personal level but also on a peer level. Perhaps there is some feeling of superiority in there to boot. Hence, when they’re met with no real peer rewards for them being a fan, their world gets shaken a bit. It’s not too rare to find someone who has invested most of their time and resources on something they think will be met with high praise only to find out that they’re more ridiculed than anything else. Perhaps criticising their loved brand itself is enough to shake their views and make them feel threatened.

Customer blindness is often a composite of choosing to be blind and unable to see through emotional attachment. Because how people think isn’t binary and we can accept contradictory statements as true and valid, we can often find ourselves rallying for the brand we love while ignoring its faults, yet do the exact opposite for another brand that shares the same faults. A true fan disregards all the bad things a product and a brand has. Even the positives sometimes seem to be lacking in a discussion, as everything stems from the emotional attachment. While it’s nice that people have something they truly love and are enthusiastic about, corporations are entities that mostly use this exact thing to make more sales and squeeze out that little bit more money out.

Of course, the whole stealth marketing wants you specifically to think in a certain manner that makes a purchase. Direct marketing does only so much. Corporations have embraced the idea of positive word-of-mouth being the best advertisement anyone could have, and they want to make sure your friend or a person you follow on the Internet gives a good word for them. There’s a kind of state of the cold war between customers and corporations, where the customer doesn’t have any other avenue of influence outside voting by their wallet, as corporations have everything in their hands, including your fellow customers that promote the corporate brand for free.

The idea of community giving voice behind one person is equally laughable. There is no one community for anything, there are multiple ones of different sizes and kinds, with some being as small as two. If someone claims that they are voicing the community, the best thing really is to disregard them and/or ask for reference where the community has voiced their opinion as a whole. Surely nobody would be bold enough to claim that they know what the community, or multiple communities, think without first taking proper steps to have everyone heard. However, if someone analyses a certain community, or follows their actions and thinking from an outside perspective and makes deductions based on collected data would be in a position to say what a community of people think. That’s what marketers do, and that’s why marketing has become rather effective on the Internet. Sneak in some people in these communities to slowly but surely change the opinions and views to cater certain point of view that benefits the corporations, and presto you have another set of people willing to market the brand for free.

The best thing to do would be not to be a true fan then. Each consumer is ultimately an individual despite whether or not they belong to a community. Each of us has to make our own decisions based on our own, whatever we base them on. Ignoring peer pressure or validation for our own opinions is not easy. In these matters, your own opinions trump all, as it only concerns you in the end. I doesn’t matter what a reviewer or a friend says or thinks, because ultimately you’re the one who has to evaluate the product for yourself. In other words, the best way to combat stealth marketing remove yourself from the negative influence that goats you to validate someone else is to take responsibility of your own decisions and actions they lead into.

Top 5 Games of 2020

This year has been rather poor when it comes to games to put on this list. Partially because I’ve been concentrating on other stuff outside games overall, partially because not many titles have ultimately caught my eye that I’d like to get, and then that one last sin I seem to repeat every single damn year; I forget to list the games I played the first time this year. We should have a full list anyway, but before that let’s revise the rules. Firstly, a game produced in any year qualifies. Secondly, it has to be a physical release, so no digital-only stuff on this list, unless the game has some merit to warrant this, e.g. it’s a mobile phone game. There is a precedent for this. However, if it’s just a game released on Steam or DLsite, it doesn’t qualify. Thirdly, there is no order or a top slot. It should probably be mentioned that it doesn’t in what language the game is. Unlike the industry awards, I don’t discriminate against games for their language.

 

Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin 2020, Switch, PlayStation 4, Steam

Sakuna is a hard game to recommend without caveats, but it’s a game that makes you want to play one more in-game day. A combination of 2D action and rice farming sim, there’s quite nothing like it on the market. It’s not Harvest Moon when it comes to farming, but at the same time, it’s a level more hardcore with pretty much everything that affects real rice farming affects in the game as well, from water’s height and temperature to everything you use in the compost. About a week later the Japanese release, I read some news around that the Japanese agricultural ministry had seen multiple spikes in the number of users as Japanese players went to check pointers on growing rice. The farming is intentionally made somewhat longwinded at first without any skills, as there are no real shortcuts. From picking up the stones from the field to manually hack the ground with a hove is all done manually. You could leave it for someone else, but that affects the rice’s quality and level. Similarly, there is no quick way to cut the rise. Get in there and start scything. Little things get piled up with each passing in-game year, which really creates a weird fixation on making the best rice you can all the while appreciating the stuff even more.

The action part comes in when you gotta get rid of demons inhabiting the island where Sakuna and company are exiled, as well as when collecting materials for your new tools, weapons, and clothing… and compost. The battle system is less refined than the farming part, which really shows which part got more attention. The action suffers from the usual 2D-action using 3D models, where you’re not exactly sure where the hitboxes are, and the ground being all roundish in most places sometimes causes you to misjudge a jump. Despite the game’s action being rather fast-paced, the controls themselves don’t really support this. The best example of this is what I discussed in the previous post about the jank in doujinshi games. Here it’s the inability to turn around if you’re using the attack button and in the middle of an animation. Rather than automatically changing the side you’re facing to with the next attack’s animation, the game will keep you faced to that direction as long as you keep tapping the Attack button regardless of the direction pressed. It is an overtly strict system that forces the player to be aware of the animation priorities and the way the game handles them rather than allowing the player to swish in an effective manner. This alone makes the action janky, as well as Heavy attacks being mostly useless. Well, if there are any enemies on the screen, it’s just better to play bowling with them, as you can rack up better damage by throwing small-fry enemies across the screen with the godly raiments Sakuna has, which also work as a Umihara Kawase-lite kind of tool when navigating stages.

Despite being butt-puckeringly frustrated in the action mechanics and how jank they are, Sakuna has an incredible amount of charm in every aspect. From worldbuilding to philosophical discussion among the characters to the best soundtrack of the year, in every point Sakuna fails it succeeds in two. It’s also one of those games that you play only a few rounds, but then say One more day, I gotta finish the rice before it gets cold and you find the clock hitting four in the morning. I truly hope that Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin will gain a sequel in the long run. Not perhaps with the same characters or the same theme, but still a combination of farming and action. Much like how Senran Kagura went from utter shit to one of the enjoyable fast-action games out there, Sakuna‘s sequel wouldn’t need to do much but to expand on farming and polish the action to silky smooth combat. As it is, Sakuna is a rough diamond that’s been cut but in a masterful way. Still, even a diamond with a failed brilliant-cut can yield surprisingly satisfactory results.

Also, play it with the Japanese voice acting. Nothing against the English cast, but holy shit Naomi Ōzora as Sakuna makes this game 15/10 will buy another copy.

 

Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid 2019, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam, Stadia

Outright the best fighting game that’s come in a while. The early builds were rather lackluster in pretty much every term, but the play was solid. It was called shit by most people who only looked at the skin and saw low-budget graphics and simple looking play. Even some long-term fans disparaged the game without giving it a chance. Now with more development time and many, many patches and updates later the roster has been expanded alongside everything else. While its controls seem limited and simple, all that is there just to accommodate the ability to do almost whatever the player wants to do with their characters thanks to the freedom of action and movement, something that’s seriously lacking in most modern fighting games. In all seriousness, Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid has become of the top tier fighting games because its system is stupidly fun and challenging in all its beginner friendliness.

If you’ve ever played Capcom’s VS series of fighting games, especially the Marvel games with tag-teams, you should know what to expect as that exact same blood is in here. While the buttons are simpler, similar to what the Smash Bros. series uses, the complexity comes from the proper usage of the different tiers of attacks and their timings. Team synergy is also stupidly important and experimenting with what you can do with your teammates is about as important as learning to use your main fighter. While I was initially afraid of the auto-combo system in the game, as that has been the death knell of so many fighting games in the past, the system isn’t what I expected. It’s more akin to having standard weak, medium, and strong combos in one button. While you can move from one tier to another, it must be done well before you’re in a certain spot of that tier’s autocombo. Which isn’t even an autocombo. It’s a new kind of system that doesn’t have any other fitting description. It forced my Guilty Gear ridden, Darkstalksers taught chaincombo brain to stop tapping forwards for hit per each button and become far more considerate of timings and positions in strange ways, something that was a must when learning to play Lord Zedd.

Cross-play allowed me to play people who had the game on Steam and other platforms, so that was a nice plus. It shows that this game is wanted to be a success, and with each update, the game has become more and more robust. In terms of visuals and content the game was hampered severely by its budget game status, and in few ways still is, but the core play is absolutely solid. Hopefully, this won’t be a one-off time as we haven’t had a properly well-made Power Rangers game in a long ass time.

 

 

Aleste Collection 2020, Switch, PlayStation 4

While it may be a bit underhanded to put a collection to this spot, Aleste Collection gets on the list for two reasons; bringing a semi-affordable way to play otherwise expensive as hell shooting games for all, and making the GG Aleste a trilogy by introducing a completely new Aleste for the game Game Gear, which you can only play via the collection on modern consoles, or if you got the version with Game Gear Micro, on the tiniest screen gaming has seen. GG Aleste 3 is very much worth the admission with the caveat that you’re a fan of shooting games. It’s not the most difficult game out there, but in every respect, the game is polished and shows how well M2, the game’s developer, understands the genre and the series itself. As the game runs on M2 developed Game Gear emulator, it’s nothing short of accurate with optional slowdown and waits to fully emulate GG experience, which shows in quite the many paces how much a shooting game can demand from a console.

As a GG Aleste game, this third entry shows how something than peak even thirty years after the last game was out. It also puts a lot of expectations on Aleste Branch, which probably will make the devs sweat a bit. They put a high bar for themselves to beat with this single entry alone. As for the rest of the games in the collection, the original Aleste hasn’t aged all that well, all things considered. There’s just something about it as a series started that doesn’t play well, while Compile’s previous game, Zanac, outclasses it in few aspects. The same can’t be said for the other games. Power Strike II is a rare and well-regarded shooting game for good reasons. Its stage designs, enemy placements, and play balance it top-notch, offering good tunes to boot. The GG Aleste games may be the easier one of the collection, and overall when it comes to shooting games, though that can be seen as them being started friendly. Nothing prevents the player to drop the Life count and kick up the Difficulty, something that does have a significant effect on how you can approach the stages and encourages to properly learn the weapon usages. This is a blessing in disguise in some games, where stages consist of multiple static mini-bosses, which turn these momentary sections into a slight slog in the long run. Nevertheless, all these games are the kinds you’d find yourself coming back to challenge that one more round until you finally frustrate in the lack of skills.

 

 

Umihara Kawase Shun PlayStation, 1997, 2000

By my own technicality, I can drop this here. Haven’t I played this game before? Many times on Umihara Kawase Shun Second Edition Kanzenban and digitally, but for the first time I got my paws on the actual first edition disc. The game is still the best in the series and shows how far it has dropped in quality since the first two games. The series has had a wild run over the last two decades since it became a cult classic in the West via emulation. It has never gotten popular per se, but with the release of Sayonara Umihara Kawase and all the ports it saw, Umihara Kawase finally got the recognition it deserved. With that came all the negative side effects that changed completely how the series would be structured and how the game’s play would advance. Long gone are the days of straight-up level-design to tackle, replaced by non-linear action with a heavy emphasis on story. All that still doesn’t stain what is a crowning achievement in rubber band physics coding and level design of Shun.

It’s not just the physics though, despite the game being all about them. The music is just the right kind of soothing you need when you’re sweating over a jump you’re trying to desperately make to happen and Umihara is swinging wildly, almost out of control. Graphics are spot on with nothing excess or minimalistic about them. They serve the need of the game perfectly and their visual style is still bizarre. It’s one of those things that never needed expanding upon, we never truly needed to know why or how. The world of Umihara Kawase was a strange mystery where tadpoles give birth to frogs and fish have legs to walk on.

I’d like to say that Umihara Kawase Shun is a rare perfect game, but they already did that with the first game, so this is the second hit in a row with the series. It’s a game of pure skill and play, with a skill ceiling not even the fastest speedrunners have managed to reach. Just don’t play the PSP port, it’s a buggy mess.

 

 

theHunter: Call of the Wild 2017, Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Another one by a technicality, I owned and played a physical copy for a few days before gifting this one away. I didn’t expect to like this game one bit. I expected to play to for few hours with friends who got me into it and drop it as one of the misfortunate purchases everybody makes. Maybe because the game promises a lot would let me down, wouldn’t fulfill any of my low expectations and I’d mull over the twenty euro I spend on it until I forget it exists until I get a message of new patches. Well, I ended up spending far more time than it was healthy. The Hunter: Call of the Wild is my new The Legend of Zelda; you’re dropped in the middle of nowhere with the very basic equipment and the whole world to explore and get around. It’s an adventure of the best kind and everything it does is game. While sure there are story missions in each map, the real meat is when you gather your equipment and simply explore the map and find an animal you want to take down. Tracking an animal based on its prints and marks left on the vegetation is something I expected to see in Monster Hunter World, and the same goes for the map sizes. They’re humongous and full of varied detail as well as hidden collectibles.

Of course, when you want to hunt, you want the right weapon for it. There’s a rather wide variety of rifles to choose from, less so in bows and handguns. Lures, scopes, and so on need to be purchased and most equipments require some leveling up in order to be unlocked. This applies to skills that help you, for example, keeping your arms leveled so that the scope won’t wander off all the damn time. That is honestly the game’s biggest fault; it starts slow and hard. It is most enjoyable when you get the kind of build you want and then go after the prey. Each prey is ranked by their size, and using the wrong rank weapon gets you penalties. Shooting a rabbit with a 7mm Regent would yield minced meat rather fast while using buckshot against a bear prolly would get your ass whooped.

This sort of simple idea, yet hard to realize, makes Call of the Wild a game that keeps pulling me back. I might get mauled by a bear and ragequit, yet after a day or so I come back with better equipment and take cover in a hunting hut, calling it in for some time. Then see it walking towards a lake just beyond the vegetation so you barely see it, and then make pin-point accurate shot straight through its neck. The game is full of these moments that you make through each and every decision, and they end up being hunting stories with other players. This is storytelling through play at its finest, where the framework allows player to realize their own stories within the game.

Something about this game is breathtaking. The graphics may not be top-notch, but often I end up simply wandering through the unknown forests and see vegetation I’ve never seen before, listen to one of the best sound design I’ve heard in a game, and just suck the atmosphere in. There’s little music, which only serves the notion of being there in the wild. You may hear crunches in the snow in the distance, and the hunt begins anew.

 

Honourable Mentions for those who didn’t make the cut

 

Metal Wolf Chaos XD 2004, Xbox, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam

A game everyone wanted localised, and then everybody seemingly forgot about. Metal Wolf Chaos XD is a fun short romp full of memorable one-liners and moments to take from, but ultimately the game suffers from being an Xbox game ported to modern machines. It’s not bad by any means, but something about its controls makes the game unsatisfying to play despite everything else being pretty damn spot on. It’s a recommended game for sure, but hype and joking can carry it only so far.

Shubibinman 2 1991, PC Engine

PC Engine games are full of jank. You can see what they want to with many of the games and somehow fail with them. Subibinman may not be a Mega Man clone, but if it was, it would be for the better. The game is charming, but it also exhibits what was the mediocre play design of the time. However, the game feels almost unfinished, something that could use a few rounds of polish to tweak jumping arcs, weapons, hitboxes, physics, and pretty much everything outside graphics and charm. It’s a game I really want to love and like, but ultimately ends up being a middle-of-the-road game that tried really hard to be a nice 2D action game, but just can’t hold the candle against the big boys in the genre.

The Wing of Madoola 1986, Famicom

Before Sunsoft hit gold with their games, they had numerous games that just fell short. The Wing of Madoola might be a cult classic, but it’s janky controls and combat makes it a curiosity at best. A significant curiosity though, as its place in the popular culture scheme of the time fits like a glove. Magical girls with bikini armours were all the rage at the time, after all. While its stages are linear, it also plays with non-linearity with some of the stages, though often this ends up with the player having to make a separate detour to a dungeon for items. It’s one of those games where you should never stop either, as enemies spawn constantly and swarm to your current location. This is severely hampered by Madoola being significantly underpowered early in the game, but at least you can defeat enemies fast with a Turbo Controller. While the Famicom had started to see quality games by 1986, The Wing of Madoola sadly can’t cut it no matter how much I’d like it to throw it up there.

Panel de Pon 1995, Super Nintendo, Satellaview, Game Boy

No, I don’t have a copy of Tetris Attack. I have the Japanese original with cute girls innit. Panel de Pon has been remade and remastered few times over, with Pokémon Puzzle League on the N64 being one of the more famous examples of its reskins. The format of the competitive puzzles was already perfected in this entry. It’s the best puzzle game I’ve played this year in a physical form, but it doesn’t ask me to return to it at any point. I don’t feel a need to throw it in at any point and give that five-minute whirl or so. While it is a fun game, it is kind of meh. Works better on the DS though.

Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo 1993, PC Engine, PSP

Also known as Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, the game was one of the additions to PC Engine that was a must. A very generic decision I know, but also one that was done very deliberately. While it’s often played out as the best of Castlevania next to Symphony of the Night, that’s overstating it. Both of them don’t hold the candle of the top spot, but that’s neither here nor there. Rondo of Blood is still a top list game because of its branching paths and stages, stellar music, and spot-on controls. The voice acting, anime scenes, and story are garbage, but that matters none. However, it got dropped to this latter list simply because it’s not Castlevania III and ultimately it’s not as enjoyable as Super Castlevania IV. It stays in a spot where it wants to be that best classical Castlevania but at the same time falls short for small reasons. Things like small irritations in the stage designs, how the enemies work or simply how there’s sheer lack of evolution in how a Castlevania plays out. It’s still an enjoyable game to play, but I’d rather pop in some other game in the series, like Lords of Shadow.

 

Happy new year to you all, see you on the other side.

Doujinshi Jank

There is an interesting thing with Japanese homebrew, indie or doujinshi games that I’ve slowly realised throughout these years; they tend to be weird, lacking in polish in areas where they matter the most but at the same time numerous titles overshadow big company games like no other to the point of becoming hallmark games. Cave Story and La-Mulana both are massively popular examples of successful Japanese indie games, yet they’re largely an exception to the rule of Jank. Jank in context of doujinshi games doesn’t signify bad coding or controls, but a certain kind of lack of logical polish. For example, you’d expect for a shooting game that uses WASD movement and mouse aiming to include changing weapons with the scroll wheel, but instead, it must be done with the numbers. It’s logical and completely functional, but really throws you off and takes off some of the smoothness of the action in controls. This isn’t a quality of life issue, as scroll wheel weapon changing has been a thing even in Japanese games for almost two decades now. For whatever design decision, the controls’ jank was implemented. When a game is supposed to be fast-paced shooting action, you sort of end up prioritising one weapon in a situation over all others when quick-changing isn’t an option. Or aiming while running, for the matter. Or smooth transition between movement options, creating jank movement options from otherwise smoothly animated action.

La-Mulana is one of those games that many considered impossible to beat without a guide, but all the clues and hints spread around do make sense if you put your mind to it

The Japanese jank could be described as the opposite of polish. It’s not erroneous design per se, as most of the jank is fully intended. Consider how in 2D Castlevania the Belmont’s jump arc is completely set in stone and you are unable to change it after you’ve jumped. Similarly, in Ghost ‘n Goblins you are dedicated to that jump and its arc after you’ve initiated it, though you can control it with the second jump later games added for that specific purpose. These would be jank in any other kind of game, but the whole play world and the system has been designed to follow this same approach. All enemies in the games have purposeful, straight attacks and moves, and the stages provide challenges appropriate to the available movement options. It makes both games stupidly difficult at times, but the game is fair as no enemy or projectile breaks the same jank. The fact that everything is extremely limited yet finely tuned to a sharp point turns these controls, that would in other games be considered outright shit, into a challenge unto themselves. The doujinshi jank is as if everything had this lack of polish. Character movement might be slow and camera wonks off into position unfavourable to the player, but at the same time enemy movement is just as unrefined and how their act with the camera on screen often ends up being just as unfavourable to them. It’s a weird kind of jank you don’t see in western indie games, probably because of the style of approach and gaming culture overall.

Monster Surprised You-ki chan! is in many ways trying to play itself like a version of Ghost ‘n Goblins in its controls. In practice, the game plays nothing like Capcom’s original. You-ki’s controls might be decent, but everything from the graphic style to sprite resolution and enemy behaviour and weapons makes this game jank as hell to play. The stage designs do mix things up quite a lot from a usual GnG-inspired title, yet all the decisions carry so much jank in the design that the game feels underwhelming to play. Even the sounds are off, as numerous special effects are as if they were at a wrong volume or simply don’t work in the intended context. Special effects, like the lens flare in the second stage or the sparklers You-ki jumping leaves is all part of the jank as their framerate and smoothness is very different from the rest of the spritework and animation in the game. Hell, the explosions and blood effects look like they belong to a different game altogether because how they’re designed and animated from there rest of the game’s visuals. Even the way You-ki takes damage is weird and outright frustrating to witness. It’s a mish-mash of everything that should’ve been straightened up and unified in design and polished even further, yet the game deserves some respect. The stages are rather large and there are exploratory elements, the characters have some charm and the game isn’t exactly unfair. Just jank as hell in a similar manner so many other doujinshi games are.

The jank doesn’t make these games unplayable. They’re not broken products in any manner, and often doesn’t even necessarily detract from the fun-factor of the game. The jank is probably the opposite of being immersed, where you are well aware that you are playing a video game and you damn well play according to the game’s rules. The jank of doujinshi games often walls you to a different extend before you manage to overcome it. Sometimes the jank is minimal and doesn’t really affect much, sometimes you might spend few evening with a bottle of beer thinking what the fuck you’re playing and why, but at some point, both will end up you enjoying the game. Sometimes to the degree of witnessing something batshit insane that can only be done in a completely rules-free environment where nothing is held back, sometimes ending you finding a new bottom of underwhelming. Despite me running You-ki Chan! down the mud there above, but sticking with the game netted one of the more exciting final stages in some time. It takes a while to get used to how the game’s play goes, to get around the sheer jank of it all, and the game itself is rather lengthy, but I guess I would have it no other way.

Unlike the vast majority of Western homebrew and indie games that aren’t high-mark high visibility games, loads of doujinshi games of varying quality get released during Comic Market, a decades-old event where people gather to sell and buy their own comics and other goodies. The event is a massive sub- and pop-culture event, which also sees massive amounts of people donating blood. Nowadays, you see a lot of these games released on digital storefronts like DLSite, while some titles will fall between the cracks and into obscurity. Sometimes, they sell only few stages of a game as a demo as they’re intending to do a full release later on, but sometimes these games just end up vanishing. Such was the fate of Es, one of the best fastest pace action-shooter that was in development but never finished.

Developed originally in 2007 by circle 9th Night, Es is a prime example of a doujinshi game that doesn’t have much jank, and whatever jank it had worked for its benefits because everything had been already been sanded down to a nice matte finish. All it needed was more content and stages with some polish, and we could’ve had one of the best games of the later tens, developed by only a handful of people. If you liked anything about Zone of the Enders, this game would’ve been right in your ballpark.

The whole Japanese doujinshi scene is full of titles most people in the West are going to miss, be it either because of the language barrier or simply because their circle of fellow weebs just never notice them. Maybe it’s the jank most of these titles present themselves with. The jank is part of the scene in a weird way, but even then in that mass of jank you’ll find things to love and enjoy, and maybe even a game or two that doesn’t have any jank.

Skies and lands promised

Cyberpunk 2077 is on the news and its reception has been mixed, to put it diplomatically. It’s been compared to No Man’s Sky in various aspects, like how many promised elements seemed to be missing and was ridden with bugs. As NY Times puts it, when a game is supposed to be The Biggest Video Game of the Year, expectations are high, especially when there’s almost a decade’s worth of marketing and hype behind the title. An expansive world that would be endlessly explorable just doesn’t happen without sacrifices or will be sacrificed in favour of other elements that make up a video game. I’d say that’s largely a no-brainer, as some of the more expansive worlds that have intense detail and hidden content often end up having less structure and directed play, which is contrasted to games with a tighter field of play. Take The Legend of Zelda or The Hunter: Call of the Wild as examples; both have massive worlds that can take years to properly venture through, but their main “quest” if effectively letting the player do whatever they want with few main objectives. I admit that this comparison is a bit off to Cyberpunk, but the reality is that open-world games have been an industry standard for about two decades, or more depending on how you want to define open-world.” It’s something that’s hard to realise properly, often ending up empty or played being walled from exploring every nook and cranny, but that’s the spot where both technology and game design puts up a challenge. The whole open-world genre, if it can be called that, has a history of being built on promises and failed expectations and yet the core video and computer game customers seem to expect even more. Clearly, the gaming industry hasn’t broken through how to do fully living 3D world yet, which isn’t just a technological challenge, but also a matter of paradigm. Perhaps putting fewer resources into licenses and hiring real-world actors would lease resources to where they truly matter.

The marketing for Cyberpunk 2077 was a massive success. It sold the game to the consumers and investors like no other. While Cyberpunk 2077 will stay as a cornerstone game in terms of technical achievement and such, all the refunds the customers have been demanding because of the game’s bug-ridden nature has caused a cascade effect, where damage control has brought even more worries. CD Project Red promised refunds for all, and all Sony and Microsoft could do is follow suit. Sony kind of screwed in this, as CD Project Red promised things before proper channels were established, causing Sony to also pull the game from PlayStation Network. Microsoft hasn’t done yet on whatever their consoles. With reviews going left and right, sometimes only to the negative to attack the whole deal and other times going to the complete opposite to defend the title, CD Project Red’s stock value plummeting over 40% since early December and the possibility of physical games getting refunds too, investors do have a reason to worry. They are, after all, considering a class-action lawsuit as they see CD Project Red having mispresented the game in a criminal manner in order to receive financial benefits.

I doubt there is any malice in any of the game’s failures. It’s just how these usually go with games that come with a stupid amount of hype. Game development is stupidly hard, and while some people do it for passion, and others just because it is their job. At the end of the day, any corporation has to cut their losses at the expense of something and push a product out. They have to make a profit No product is truly finished when it leaves the providers’ hands, no game is truly finished. Some are less than others, but at least we’re well past the days when you bought a highly visible licensed game only to find out you couldn’t finish the game because one of the levels was intentionally made unclearable because they never finished the last few levels of the game. There were quite a few of these during the 8-bit computer days. Cyberpunk 2077 just happens to be a victim of circumstances that are rather common when it comes to the electronic gaming industry. We certainly need cornerstone titles that push the technology forwards, yet more often than not these titles have been less successful than the games that have pushed the play part. I presume Cyberpunk 2077 will make a decent amount of money down the line after CD Project Red has managed to put a new spin on their marketing, fixed all the most common and outrageous bugs and the gaming media has placated and absolved them of their gaming sins.

There’s a lot of emotional reaction to the whole deal. We can’t fault consumers from reacting as harshly as they have, as CD Project Red’s PR did their job admirably. Sadly, that just didn’t meet with the expectations, or with reality in some cases.  I’ve discussed the nature emotional of marketing, corporations and customers to some extent in recent years, and with some, we’re seeing core fans feeling like they were betrayed by someone they felt a close emotional attachment to. CD Project Red is closely tied to Good Old Games, or just GOG as they go nowadays, and they have their fair share of diehard fanatics, just like Steam. As the customer feels betrayed by a brand, there’s often a harsh whiplash, but also a need to find justice. Sometimes its refusal to purchase any more products, sometimes it’s venting on social media, sometimes physical harm towards the game itself. Sometimes all three and then some.

To use No Man’s Sky as a point of comparison again, the game did get effectively fixed about a year later. Promised content and play mechanics were added as well as a large amount of bug fixing. While the game still has a bad rap overall, the devs took it upon themselves to make it the game it was supposed to be. While we can debate whether or not the game is what it was promised to be, there are chances that CD Project Red will do the same and spend the next year relentlessly fixing and patching the Cyberpunk. Unless the investors go for the throat and gut the whole company. Investors are often treated as the worst kind of being right after company executives, yet these are the people who have to make the decisions that will either make or break products, and through that, people’s lives. When multiples of millions are in the play, taking chances and risks is a bit scarier task than most would think.

We can’t fault the customers’ reactions, they were taken by the hype created by the marketing. In the same breath, we can’t really fault marketing for doing their job that effectively. Considering the kind of game, development time and hype that was involved, the current state of Cyberpunk 2077 should have been expected as an industry standard, not as some sort of terrible exception. There is no real solution to a situation like this. Rarely we get a piece like Star Wars that has everything together in a perfect way with good timing. Even if the game’s bugs and overall state would have been up to much higher calibre, from what I’ve seen it would still have been found disappointment in how it plays. From all the footage, streams and the odd review I’ve seen, Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t actually push any boundaries when it comes to play mechanics. On the contrary, it seems it’s rather middle of the road and does nothing spectacular. Maybe that’s the sacrifice you have to make when you make a vast world driven by a story rather play. Maybe these games are just getting too big for their own good, and end up feeling smaller than they really are. Though personally I’d love to see customers reining in their expectations and the companies directing their marketing and PR to make the most realistic claims and ads with no embellishments. That won’t ever happen, but a man can dream.