Experience and digital space

Short answer; No. Long answer; It’s a bit more complicated than that. With digital media, the ontology is often concentrated on viewing the relationship between the consumer, the media and the culture of the media. The digital part is significant. While there are now few generations that have grown up in a world that never lacked the digital component, it is still relatively new introduction in historical scale. Nevertheless, it is present everywhere nowadays and digital elements in out life most likely will keep growing as the time goes by.

Timothy Druckery, a theorist of contemporary media, even went so far to argue that it would not be possible to describe or experience the world without technologically digital devices. He argues further that the evolution from mechanical to technological computer  culture has been more than just a series of new techniques and technological advances, that it is more about the evolution between dynamics of culture, interpretation and experience. Much like Druckery’s collegues, he argues that representative works are based on experience, and it would be hard to argue against that.

Video and computer games are based on experiences people have. First computer RPGs had their roots in Dungeons & Dragons campaigns people had, and this applies to origins of Ultima as well.  Miyamoto has stated that The Legend of Zelda his goal with the game was to have the game feel the same way as if you were exploring a city you have never been in before. You can almost see the overworld map as a city layout in this sense, where certain paths are alleys, larger open areas are parks and numerous dead-ends permiate the game. Or maybe that’s just me. Satoshi Tajiri, the name behind the Pokémon franchise, based the game on his own experience with bug catching. Japan has a history with kids having bug catching as a hobby, and the latest big craze was during the 1990’s. When you consider how a kid has to cover creeks, run over rivers and search the forests for new bugs to catch, you begin to see the adventure and the excitement that Tajiri wanted to convey in Pokémon. You also begin to see where modern Pokémon has started to veer off, emphasizing plot over adventure. There was a good article how Yu Suzuki put Virtua Fighter’s developer through martial arts training each morning in order for his men to animate a punch or a kick right.

That is not to say a game can be created without any experience in subject itself. Hideo Kojima has never been a spy or a soldier on a battlefield, but he nevertheless put his experience from Western movies into use in Metal Gear. You can see the change in certain visual in Metal Gear Solid 2  when they got an actual military advisor on the team. For example, Snake no longer pointed his gun upwards and overall how characters began to handle weapons changed. Small, but rather significant change when you consider how much Metal Gear games depend on the whole experienced soldier schtick.

Nevertheless, all the above mentioned games are representative of some sort of experience and allow the player to experience a sort of simulation of it. With any new sort of media there has been the fear of losing something important to humanity, if you will. With digital media the question of the consumer’s identity has become a question through the fears of how any new media might (or rather will) change our way of thinking and the way we live.

Without a doubt we have both real and virtual spaces as well as the identities that go with them. We have a wear a different persona when we are with our parents or friends, and the same applies to the virtual space. Since the 1990’s virtual space has become more and more daily thing to the point of Facebook and other social media becoming almost essential. However, even in these spaces we have a persona on us that is different from others. Much like how when writing this blog I have a persona on you don’t see in other virtual spaces, though it is overlapping harshly with everything nowadays. While there is no physical aspect to virtual spaces (they are digital and non-physical by definition) they nevertheless are real and can carry to the “real” world. However, we can always the space we choose to interact with, though this has led to the birth of extreme comfort zones where one must feel safe all the time rather than challenging oneself and broaden horizons. After all, nobody wants to get stuck in place for all eternity. Unless they get hit by a car and fall into three years of coma.

Whether or not digital media and virtual identities change our selves in physical form is a topic for a different post (it does, but the extent in which way is expansive), but I can’t but mention that experiences the consumers gain from digital media affects us just as any other similar source. After all, electronic games are an active medium instead of passive like movies or music and require the consumer to learn in order to advance. This has led some to argue that games promote violence through teaching violent methods.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are the two names responsible of the Columbine Shooting in 1999, and two years later Linda Sanders, whom lost his husband in the shooting, sued 25 different companies, like Id Software, Apogee Software and Interplay Productions, claiming that the event would not have happened if games with extreme violence like this wouldn’t exist. It was argued that certain games allowed the two assailants to train their shooting skills with precision and affected the two in a negative way. However, as we’ve seen multiple times over, games do not cause kids to go violent, and it would seem to be far more about the individual and their mental health than the media they consume.

However, it must be said that even when games are escapism from real world, they still are a product of real experiences. Playing may be just a game much like any other, but the more real world expands into virtual spaces thematically and ideologically, the less there is separation between the two. Ultimately, playing a game will affect the real world persona of the player, thought he question how much is very much up to the individual consumer. Games have been discussing censorship, violence and current topics for more than thirty years now, and for a medium that is about escapism to a large extent, that does not bode well. How much value we can put on a digital world that does not make use of its non-real capabilities and ties itself to the real?

Perhaps the digital personae we use has become less important as the melding of two worlds continues, and the identity we assume is an amalgamation.

A delicate piece of hardware

Much like with other modern technology, we’ve managed to squeeze more into smaller space. The laptops or pads we have nowadays are engineered to a point that barely anyone can open up their cases and fix them without further studying on the subject. Game consoles aren’t any different, though the PlayStation 4 is almost as big as the original Xbox. It wasn’t until we began to have consoles that began to show easily damaged sections in the mainline consoles. While the PlayStation could take some hefty damage (personal experience tells me it can survive a trip in a lake), the PlayStation 2 could be damaged by having enough weight at the wrong spot. This was the time when PCBs started to become thinner and more packed up with components downsizing with almost each year. You could lob a NES or SNES outside a window have it working with a cracked case, and the same really for the PlayStation as well. Personal experience, don’t ask. PlayStation 2 however was the first truly delicate piece of hardware that in the end begun to have issues with reading the discs. Sometimes from the very beginning.


Goddamn, this video came out sometime early 2000’s. Takes me back

Nintendo’s consoles usually have been durable, especially their handheld consoles. There has even been discussion how Iwata drove the DS’ tech team mad by demanding the console to be able to withstand multiple drops from a standard height.

However, the more we pack delicate technology in a smaller place, the more easy it is to break it. While most people fellate companies over the hardware, it’s uncommon to see anyone appreciate the design and intentions of the design. The PSP was applauded for its higher raw power over the DS, and while it was snazzy to have in your hands, it was a delicate piece of hardware that could break down very easily. The console wasn’t meant for everybody, and much like how SEGA used to sell Mega Drive for more mature gamers, SONY’s western branches clearly had the more adult audience in mind. The PSP really couldn’t take much damage, I’ve had to fix a few. The same applies to the Vita to some extent, thought the Vita seems to be able to take a beating or two more than its elder sibling.

The Switch has been out only for a while, but it’s already showcasing very erratic behaviour. Some have it going completely mad in sound department, some consoles refuse to launch games, connection issues with the controllers, and the screen’s been scratched by the dock itself. I saw the dock scratching issue the very moment the whole thing was revealed (it had no guiding rails to keep the screen clear), but having a plastic screen is a necessity. Why wouldn’t you want to have a glass screen? They’re so much better! The reason for this is safety and durability design. See, when you have a plastic screen, the console can dissipate a fall impact by wobbling around rather move the energy directly into rigid parts, destroying them. The very reason your phone’s screen shatters so easily is because it can’t bent, and the energy from the is released by shattering. It’s a design decision between durability and looks.

To sidetrack a bit, this really applies to Muv-Luv‘s BETA as well. The Destoyer-Class has a shield hardness of Mohs-15, but because that’s hardness topping that of a diamond, their shields should shatter when shot at. They don’t flex when hit due to their hardness. Mohs scale is for mineral hardness after all and should never be applied outside jewellery.

Newly borked devices is nothing new, either. The 360 had firmware issues since day one, and the infamous Red Ring of Death haunted machines every which way. Hell, the 360 may be a good example overall how to fuck your console from time to time, as some of my friends have told me their 360 crapped out because of an update. For better or worse, my 360 hasn’t crapped out yet.

No modern console is truly finished at launch. Firmware and software issues are relevant and will be patched out at a later date. This is largely due to modern technology. A Mega Drive never needed firmware patches, because it was less a computer than the modern machines. Whatever problems with the firmware Switch has now will be patched at a later date. However, the hardware and design problems are harder to fix, and if Nintendo is anything to go by, they may revise some of the designs in later production versions.

Though there really isn’t any good excuses to use paint coating that peels off with stickers. That’s just terrible. Who puts stickers on their consoles any more? You’d be surprised.

The first wave of adopters will always have to go through the same pains with modern technology. New smart phones and tablets suffer from firmware issues to the point of most common consumers willingly buying last year’s model in order to get a properly functioning device. The price has already dropped at that point too. Apple has been infamous with some of their smart devices’ firmware problems, and sometimes they were removing basic utilities from the hardware alone. Nobody really expected iPhone 7 not to have a headphone jack.

The question some have asked whether or not it’s worth buying a game console, or any modern smart device or computer component for the matter, if they require multiple updates months later down the line? We can’t see into the future, and it’s hard to say what device will go through a harsh update cycle. Essentially, you’ll need to look into history of a company and make a decision based on that. Just trusting that a company will update broken parts is strongly not recommended.

I guess releasing things partially unfinished and patching them up is an industry standard practice. Games get patched to hell and back, and while this isn’t much new for PC side of business, it’s one of those things that show how little of classic console business is in modern consoles. Not all games get patched though, even when they have console destroying bugs in them. NIS America’s track record with localised games that supposedly lock permanently and prevent you from finishing the game, break your console or generally have terrible translation would a perfect chance to use these patches to fix these issues. However, unlike with consoles and other devices, game developers can ignore these problems as the purchase has already been made and they probably are banking on hardcore fans.

Not that any product is final when it’s released. All products are good enough when released, but that good enough has seen a serious inflation with time.

Hard mode is now DLC

So I was intending to leave this Friday’s post on a somewhat positive note on Switch’s possible future after reading Shigsy’s interview with Time. The largest positive thing here is that Miyamoto slightly hints that the Switch in few ways seems to be Iwata’s final piece, giving feedback on portability and ideas in networking and communicating. How much of the current networking elements are from Iwata and how much is made disregarding his feedback is an open question. Iwata spearheaded the Wii and the DS, and if the Switch is anywhere near them in terms of idea and approach, then the Switch will definitely do better than the Wii U. Not that doing that should be all that challenging.

However, Miyamoto also speaks of virtual reality again. In essence, Nintendo is looking into VR at the moment, which ties itself to the obsession of 3D Nintendo still has. If you look how long Nintendo has been pushing the idea 3D with games, you can trace it back at least to Rad Racer if not further. You could almost make an argument that the more Nintendo tries to push 3D and VR as the main element of their machine, the worse it does.

VR currently has gone nowhere. After the initial boom of Virtual Reality, nothing has come out of it. No software has changed the industry or has set new standards. We’ve been told that VR will be at its peak in few years for few years now, and this repeats every time a VR product comes out. It’s not about lack of marketing or failing to market the product right. It’s about the common consumer not really giving a damn about t he VR in actuality, and most VR headsets we currently have are far too expensive for their own good. None of them work independently, which only adds to the costs. They’re a high-end luxury product at best with no content to back them up.

That said, Miyamoto cites Iwata talking about blue ocean and red ocean marketing, two points that his own actions seem to dismiss most of the time, but does commend Iwata for bringing this ideology to the front within the company. To quote what Shigsy said;

This is something that Mr. Iwata did, to really link the philosophy of Nintendo to some of the business and corporate jargon, while also being able to convey that to all of the employees at Nintendo.

Iwata had a presence both with the company and consumers. While Nintendo had few faces after Yamauchi, Iwata stood out. He was the company’s corporate face that managed to juggle between worlds. If you’re a fan of his, you’ll probably find elements in the Switch that underline Iwata’s approach as the head of the company.

Nintendo has many faces now that Iwata has passed. It’s not just not Miyamoto and Iwata any longer, but numerous of their developers have come to front even further. It’s like almost each game or franchise is now attached to a face. Like you have The Legend of Zelda tied to Aonuma.

The recent BotW announcement video killed pretty much all my personal hopes for the game being something special, mainly because it confirms that even when Aonuma is wearing something that resembles a suit, he still comes off sloppy. Still, the video does right by having subtitles instead of him trying to speak English.

The fact that Hard Mode is now DLC signifies that Breath of the Wild won’t be Zelda returning to its glory days as an action title that requires skill, but it’ll continue being a dungeon puzzler. Whether or not these DLC packs are an afterthought or not, it strikes very worrying. The Legend of Zelda had a completely new quest after the first round. Aonuma saying that they’d like to give seasoned veterans something new and fun is outright bullshit. New Items and skins don’t add to the game but in miniscule ways. A Challenge Mode was in previous Zeldas from the get-go. Additional map features do jack shit, unless the base map is terrible in the game. New original story and a dungeon with further challenges are nothing new or exciting. These are basic run-of-the-mill post-game stuff Zelda used to have. Modern Zelda tends to have a terrible replay value, but this DLC announcement hints BotW has worse replay value than normal.

I guess this shows how Nintendo is going to deal with the Switch overall, at least after the launch. The Switch requires extra purchases to be complete, like to purchase the Charging Power Grip because the bundled ones don’t charge. The game industry has been blamed for cutting their games into pieces to sell as DLC, and it really does feel like that at times. DLC is often developed with the main game and nowadays DLC is planned from the very beginning. Taken this into account, with the announcement video with Aonuma Nintendo effectively showed that they took parts that used to be standard parts of modern Zelda to some extent and made them DLC. The veterans they refer to are core Zelda modern fans.

Nintendo can’t have two dud of a console in their hands now. Twenty years ago they could have N64 under-perform when it came out much later than it was supposed to, and GameCube couldn’t stand against the rampaging truck that the PlayStation 2 was. The economy was completely different now than what it was in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The Wii U was pretty much a disaster, but perhaps even more so that the Virtual Boy as it was Nintendo’s main home console with full backing of the company in the vain of two of the most successful consoles in game history. Granted, not all machines can see the success of Game Boy. They could, if developed properly and the software library would see proper maintenance from the first and second party developers.

I’m still going to stick with Switch being more a success than the Wii U. However, if Zelda BotW is any indication for the future, there is a fly in the ointment.

It’s been long time since SEGA got positive financial results

Sega never really recovered after Nintendo beat them with Super Nintendo. No matter how much we want to discuss how good 2D machine the Saturn was or how accurate ports the Dreamcast got, the truth is both consoles were mismanaged to hell and back. Sega’s consoles weren’t the only thing they mismanaged, but their Western front as a whole saw a dump. Franchises that went strong and could’ve continued strongly were dropped dead as Sega of Japan wanted to concentrate their side of the business. As with Xbox, the hardcore Japanese media doesn’t really find all that great success here in the West outside the niche audience. Streets of Rage, for example, is inherently Western in its styling as was Eternal Champions. Neither survived the paradigm shift Sega went through in the mid-1990’s.

However, with the Mega Drive Sega pushed the idea of them being the more mature console over its contemporaries. It worked for a time, and things like allowing blood in Mortal Kombat showed that they’ll be willing to give more exploitative products room to breathe. It really worked, giving the Mega Drive (or Genesis in Ameriland) that games-for-adults fame. Sports games helped by the boatloads, never underestimate sports games even if you don’t like them. PlayStation would inherit Mega Drive’s status. Not Sony themselves, but the brand itself. Sony’s fame has gone poof in the last few decades, and nobody really knows what the hell they’re up to now. Their movies suck and don’t make money, their electronics aren’t top-notch any more and the only thing that they seem to make a buck on is games.

The Sega we used to know is long gone. Not just because I should be talking about Sega Sammy all this time, but because of the changes the company went through. They went from one of the top arcade game manufacturers to top-notch console and game corporation, and then just failed miserably only to step down and become a rather lousy third-party publisher. I’m willing to argue that Japan didn’t really get why they were popular in the West. After they went third-party, it’s like they don’t care any more.

This is reflected in their Flash report.  This consolidated financial statement from the last nine months of 2016 show a rather nice result for Sega, putting them squarely in the black and getting some extra while they were at it.

The games that special mentions come in set of three; Football Manager 2017, Ryu Ga Gotoku 6 and Phantasy Star Online 2. Outside Football Manager 2017, the two other titles are inherently related to how Sega sees their model; Japan first, the rest of the world later. Neither Ryu ga Gotoku 6 or PSO2 are available in the west, and while the western release of Ryu ga Gotoku 6 will be out under its Western title Yakuza 6 next year, PSO2 is still officially Japanese-only despite being released originally in 2012. Whether or not PSO2 would be a success in the West is an open question, but it would be a venture worth considering for Sega. Phantasy Star name is one of the few franchises that Sega kept alive ever since the Master System days, and still calls up some positive reactions from the high-end gaming consumers.

Yakuza has always had a limited audience in the West, and probably will continue to have. However, it’s perhaps a core example of Sega willing to go all out to put the money down into a game development they truly believe in. Another is that Yakuza series is outright maybe the most mature franchise in under their belt, and it’s easy to see why they would like tone down some of the elements in these. Luckily, they’ve manned up and begun listening to their core consumers on the matter. However, it is highly understandable why they never localised the two samurai spin-offs. Not because of themes like child prostitution, but because samurai games don’t sell in the West.

Soccer manager games will keep selling, there’s a good market place for them that seems to be relatively healthy and not too saturated with low-end releases to jumble the market up.

But as said, Sega doesn’t really care how things go in the West. Their Kantai Collection arcade game seems to rake in the dough just fine, something a similar product wouldn’t make its localisation money back. Yes, I’m talking shit about your waifu battle ship. Similarly, their smart device sales indicate a thing that most consumers don’t seem to realize; in order for a smart phone game to keep you with it, it requires constant content updates and events, at least in Japan. Once you miss something or start game later than others, you’ve already missed a chunk of its contents. This works Japan rather well, as their keitai culture grew to this in many ways (there’s a post up about Japan’s keitai somewhere on this blog, look it up) but for a Westerner who wants more wholesome package in one go it doesn’t really do the trick. A niche audience would keep it up for sure.

Their non-game related products seem to have done rather well and their plans for future releases seem to be solid and revolve around Japan mainly. Valkyrie: Azure Revolution most likely will hit Western shores at some point, whereas Initial D Arcade Stage most likely won’t due to the series being pretty much forgotten outside its meme status.

Talking about Sega is really dry and boring, because the company is like that. There’s no sazz or sparkle with them any more. It’s business as usual and that’s all there really is to them nowadays, but that’s not exactly a bad thing either. Them making some dough does warm up my shattered heart a big, because it also means once-loved company could possibly try to up itself at some point. (No they won’t.) The difference between Nintendo and Sega was always very pronounced, but how they work nowadays is like night and day. Still, I’m happy I managed to shove in a positive entry about Sega for once.

Monthly Three; The Game Boy march

While reading on materials on the history of the Game Boy, there was always two things that popped up; people saying it outsold like no other despite having technological disadvantage and the fans of the its competitors calling each others’ favourites a piece of overpriced garbage. Unlike the NES, the Game Boy was a much larger success in all three main regions, despite it still seeing shortages in Europe overall. However, going into GB’s market success is not the point here. The design philosophy is, and how pretty much all ‘victorious’ consoles reflect this.

While I tend to give Gunpei Yokoi loads of credits about his philosophy about mature technology, he was no different from any other Japanese business executive. The corporate culture is that the man upstairs gets the glory over the hard-working underling, and this can go well up to the main chairman if it benefits them. Such was the fate of Satoru Okada in Nintendo’s R&D1 under Yokoi. In an interview with Retro Gamer (shortened here) he goes over the main design points that the Game & Watch, the Game Boy and the Nintendo DS had. Even in this small bit you see that Yokoi’s Game & Watch series was a good starting point for what was to come, as the Yokoi’s group first wanted to downsize it and make more pocket fitting. Indeed, while Game & Watch was led by Yokoi, and the D-pad design is credit to him, Satoru Okada deserves the same amount of credit for creating said device when he handled the technicality of things. A designer is only part of the solution, unless he is a jack of all trades, master of none.

The point of this group wanting to do technologically better game system is nothing new, and while on surface is all about the cutting edge technology, nothing in the Game & Watch games was new when it came to hardware. This is where the design sets in with the D-Pad and the overall shape of the unit. These are the hardware design choices that matter more than how powerful the CPU is or the architecture of the machine in terms of what makes things tick right. It’s not exactly about bringing in something new. I hate to use this term, but innovating based on existing facts. The D-Pad was, and is still a great solution to a control problem. Single buttons don’t really give the most intuitive feeling out there, unless they’re in a cross shape like on the PlayStation controller. The wrong kind of design can make it feel terrible, like on the Dreamcast and Xbox 360. In the end, the D-pad really is a very downscaled, flattened joystick in its core form.

As for the Game Boy, what is a surprise that Yokoi’s initial pitch is essentially a continuation of the Game & Watch, which Tiger Electronics’ games essentially were in many ways. Indeed, the Game Boy as it came out is the child of Satoru Okada’s ambition to push the envelope further. If Yokoi had not given in to Okada’s persistence to develop a far more robust and ambitious handheld gaming machine, we might be calling any other handheld game console a Game Gear.

This is one of the elements of the silver bullets in creation a successful console. It’s not enough it to use existing, mature technology and innovate with it, but it also is required to innovate. The Game Boy’s legacy for future handheld consoles is in its careful design to be cheaply produced and sold, while offering a lasting housing that can be carried easily and take serious damage before being decommissioned (or even survive a missile strike in Gulf War), but also offered games that last more than few minute at a time. The hardware was not cutting edge for these reasons precisely, but was good enough. Good enough is a magical term that is more successful than cutting edge. Game Boy didn’t succeed because it was like the Game & Watch, it succeeded because it used the same ambitious model the FC and NES had… at least in Japan and US. We know how well Nintendo handled Europe.

There is nothing special or magical in Game Boy’s victory march over Atari Lynx, Sega Game Gear or PC Engine GT/TurboExpress. It sold for $99 at launch and was packed with Tetris, the only game that could be called perfect in design. Atari’s Lynx was out at $179.99 two months later, with lesser titles in its launch library. Game Gear launched at slightly lower price of $149 with the usual marketing campaign of it being the cooler option for mature gamers who liked hardcore titles. Like the PSP. While Game Gear was essentially a Sega Master System in a smaller box, the PC Engine GT really was a portable PC-Engine and able to play the same card based games as the home version. Its $249.99 price point was stupidly high, and this is 1990 money we’re talking about. Taking account devaluation of the dollar, the price equals around to $453.00 modern day money.

Paying $99 for a console that came with a game, earphones and a link cable to play with your friend was an option that couldn’t be beaten. Better, more robust hardware with backlit and coloured screens lost to a console designed to be enjoyed en masse by everyone, everywhere. Batteries ain’t cheap, and the fact that you got a whole lot more bang for you buck with the Game Boy than with any of its competition. The successive sales encourages more third party developers to develop games of the Game Boy over less popular options, and the rest is history. Nintendo would replicate the grey brick’s success with the DS… after they stopped treating it like portable N64 and tackled it as it were a portable SNES.

Yokoi left Nintendo at a point in the mid-1990’s and developed the WonderSwan, a terribly Game Boy-like console, for Bandai. Other than its extremely slim form and monstrous battery life of over 24h on a single AA-battery, it was also completely out of date and had no driving ambition behind it. Even its buttons were inferior in design, especially the loose D-pad that had no feeling to it. For a handheld console that came out in 1999, it had no legs to stand against Game Boy Color that was released a year prior. SwanCrystal, the best version of the console with colour LCD, saw a release in 2002, but with little support and mostly Bandai’s own games on the system, it was a relative niche product overall. Sure, it saw one of the best versions of Final Fantasy I, II and IV before modern era remakes, and even that is debated sometimes. WonderSwan is something what Game Boy could’ve been if Yokoi’s original idea had been implemented instead of Satoru Okada’s; a system standing on old ideas, re-using concepts rather than innovating based on them and creating something new.

To return to the opening to the start of the post, the very reason why people are astonished by the fact the Game Boy was so successful is because it was good enough, but still better than its predecessors. You don’t need to be cutting edge, just ambitious to have the good stuff available for everyone, and keep the quality high while delivering all sorts of games across the spectrum.

With this, I’m officially putting Monthly Three’s on hold. Whenever I get a subject that requires more than one post, it’ll return.

Monthly Three; The time Nintendo lost Europe

When we speak of NES’ success, it really is more about the success Nintendo saw in the United States and Japan. Europe, on the other hand, Nintendo lost in the 8-bit era due to their own direct actions and inactions, saw increased success with the SNES, but in overall terms their home consoles. While the PC market and console market are largely separate business regions when you get down to it, despite modern game consoles being dumbed down PCs and all that, they do exist in parallel and can influence one another. The European home computer market of the 1980’s and early 1990’s before the IBM revolution had set in permanently did compete with the home consoles almost directly, but there is a good damn reason for that.

When Nintendo brought the NES to the European region, it had to fight a different fight than in the US. The US console market was dead at the time, but in many ways such thing didn’t exist in Europe. European home computers, like ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC had firm footing in European game markets. One could even go as far to say that console market didn’t exist in the same form in Europe as it did in the US and Japan, and Nintendo’s entry to into European markets would be difficult at best. Let’s be fair, the second time North American video game market crashed in the 1983 affected European market worth jack shit. Atari was more known for their computers than for their consoles across the Old World.

Markets is the keyword here that needs to be remembered, as Europe is not one nation like the United States. While I’m sure everybody is aware that each nation in Europe has their own distinguished culture, people and legislation, I do feel a need to emphasize that you are largely required to deal with each nation independently. The European Union has made some things easier when it comes to business trading, but the less I talk about the EU here the better.

One of the weirdest pull Nintendo did for Europe was to split the PAL territory into two sub-territories when it came to locking, with Mattel handling distribution in the  so-called A-territory, while numerous other companies handled the B-territory. The Mattel branded territory also had Mattel produced NES variant, that looks exactly the same on the outside, except where it reads Mattel version and has that locking mechanism, keeping games from working on it. It doesn’t make much sense that you’d had to keep an eye on regional lockout within your own region, but that’s how Nintendo rolled, until in 1990 they established Nintendo of Europe to handle continent-wide dealings, kicking the Mattel version to the curb. One of the reasons was this that the NES was relatively rare console, especially in the UK, where the console was sold in specifically selected stores, mainly chemists and such, for whatever odd reason. You’d think selling NES at Woolworths would’ve been the best idea, but no. This applied to games too, but the rest of the Europe saw both games and consoles being more widespread. However, they were still relatively rarer sight in the late 1980’s compared to the computer software.

Some of the companies that handled NES outside UK fared better, some worse. Spain was handled by Spaco, who were lazy with their game distribution, and at some point tried to emphasize their own titles over others. In all European countries games came out few years later than their US versions, thou it should be mentioned that Sweden was one of the countries that got the NES as early as 1986, whereas some saw the console released few years later. Bergsala handles Fennoscandia overall nowadays, but before they only handled Sweden, Norway was Unsaco’s region, whereas Funente originally dealt with Finland. Importing games from other countries was a common practice in Fennoscandia, though the NES still had to fight against computers like the C64. Digging up all the history European NES has would fill a whole book, thus the scope of this entry will be kept limited.

The second reason why Nintendo failed the region was in the pricing of their games. While the US had always seen relatively high-priced games, the European market was almost the exact opposite. A standard NES release cost about £70 at the time, which turns into about 82€ or $86. Even now that price seems over the top. In comparison, Sega’s Master System had games going for some £25, or  about 34€ and $36. Even the Master System had lower sales than home computer software, that could see as low pricing as £10, or about 12€ / $12. Regional variants of course applied across the board, but the level of pricing didn’t change at any point. You just got less bang for you buck on the NES.

To add to this, the Sega MegaDrive saw PAL region release at a time when home computers were having a slight breakage point, and offered new games to play still at a lower price, making Super Nintendo’s market entry that much harder. Both Sega and Nintendo had American emphasizes titles as well, with Startropics being one of the best examples, and Sega’s overall strategy how to sell the Genesis in the US, but Europe had no saw no such emphasize. Even Sega tasked third-party companies to handle the PAL territory, such as Mastertronic in the UK, who marketed the Master System aggressively, selling the console an undercut price of £100. Sanura Suomi handled Master System in Finland, while the Belenux countries were Atoll handled Sega’s licenses between 1987 and 1993. Only a handful of European exclusive titles exist compared to the US and Japan, and they’re not remembered all that fondly in the annals of gaming history, mostly because the historians rarely give a damn about European gaming.

Furthermore, game enthusiasts quickly noticed that the NES games ran slower than intended with black bars on the screen. This was due to different standards, where PAL region ran at 50hz and the NTSC ran at 60hz. Companies across the board didn’t give a flying fuck porting their games properly, instead doing a quick job and making their games run around 17% slower. Interestingly, the only game that properly optimised for the PAL region is Top Gun 2. A more interesting oddball of the bunch is Kirby’s Adventure, which was patched to have proper pitch and tempo in music while having the engine running at PAL’s 50hz. Except for Kirby itself, who moves at normal speed, so everything around him moves at 17% slower speed than intended. This kind of screwfuckery didn’t really install confidence towards Nintendo among European consumers. In the end, the NES didn’t penetrate the market, sold games at far higher price than any of its competitor and had less titles distributed that were worse than their NTSC counterparts in terms of

Because of these reasons, many third-party titles that American and Japanese audiences enjoyed on the NES were enjoyed in different forms on various home computers at much lower prices, and sometimes in superior versions too. This was the era, where ports of one arcade title was drastically different from one another. The current differences between ports are laughable at best in comparison.

The way the European markets preferred Sega and home computer products over the NES are directly due to how different the market was, and badly Nintendo handled themselves. The sheer amount of game software the home computers, and even the SMS, had at the time essentially made the rarer NES and its library a niche. Certainly, the NES saw a small renaissance in the very early 1990’s prior to the introduction of the SNES, but at this point it was already a lost battle. There were companies offering decently priced low-end and high-quality titles for other machines than the NES.

As such, it would do good to remember that while the disruption strategy works, each region requires equal amount of care in the manner that fits that said region. If a company were to push highly Japanese titles to America, it would fail. If a company would be pushing highly American titles to Japan, it would fail. Europe on the other hand is different, with each country having a different uptake on things. Countries like France and Italy at one point were the biggest European otakulands without them even noticing it, while others shunned both Japanese and American products, concentrating on their own titles. In order to succeed in European game markets further, companies had to learn some new tricks and utilise each nation’s or region’s specific nature to their advantage. European game markets have changed drastically since late 1980’s, and perhaps that’s for the better. However, the face of European game markets, and industry itself, left a mark that is still seen and felt how companies approach European consumers. Sometimes, they just don’t.

Monthly Three: Death of the casual industry

The title may be click bait-y, but it’s really the best title for this topic. This will kick off a loose Monthly Three for the time being, as it seemed most people deemed themed posts worthless. But first I’d like to note that I am talking about the casual game industry, not about the casual gamer.

What the term casual gamer entices in the end is muddy at best. Its meaning has changed significantly at the core to the point of it being mostly a throwaway marketing term to push certain kinds of products over the other, and largely to condemn consumers with certain tastes and habits.

The first console in the 2000’s to be named as casual to any extent was the DS due to it having low-end games in mass quantity. Low-end game does not mean a game that is bad, technically or in design, but a game that is extremely easy to get into and play. A low-end game is not necessarily lacking in content or anything that most people would associate with so-called casual games, as New Super Mario Bros. on the system would show. To go further back in time, many modern industry workers who played the NES would not consider Super Mario Bros. 3 in the same league as Wii Sports, but both titles are high-quality low-end games. In comparison, the DS had high-end games like Solatorobo and Umihara Kawase Shun Second Edition Kanzenban, which in comparison weren’t massive hits. Mostly because the aforementioned Umihara Kawase title was Japanese only, but you get the picture.

The Wii is often regarded as the pinnacle of a console, where quantity was over quality, thou history would disagree. There are consoles out there that may have smaller library of games, but in reality only one or two games are even decent. Virtual Boy being an example of this. The other end would the Game Boy and the DS itself. Nevertheless, the Wii was regarded as the most desirable console out of the three of its generation and sold higher number of consoles than its competitors. Not because of wagglan, like most suggest, but because the Wii disrupted the game industry.

The industry had abandoned low-end games almost completely before the DS and the Wii, producing mostly high-end games. These games were not of highest quality either, so for every few good title you got loads of titles with pretty design and technical aspects. The PS2 library is like this in large extent. The consumer base was not being expanded and companies continued to cater to the niche, red ocean consumers. Most people who bought a PlayStation seemingly moved to the PlayStation 2, with those who didn’t have faith in the Dreamcast and whatever Nintendo would be pushing out after the N64 were doing the same. Much like how most American comics only sell to comics comic nerds without any regards, and even in that there has been changes to cater a more niche audience.

The Wii however started much like other Nintendo’s successful consoles; low-end, but high-quality titles. This disrupted the industry, as there was very little production of low-end games going on at the time in comparison to the 1980’s or even the early-to-mid 1990’s. This goes hand in hand with the rising costs of game development, where higher-end game requires higher bucks to be finalised, but it will also lose big if it’s a bomb. Wii Sports is a perfect example of a low-end game hitting what the general consumers were looking for. Without a doubt it’s a game with a very simple surface that anyone can access, but the underlying layer of complexity, the physics, offered a challenge. There were multiple modes too. It’s execution left people to yearn more of content in similar philosophy, but after a booming start, not even Nintendo kept up with this. It’s much easier to realise your own dream of a game than take consumers’ voice into account.

However, making a good low-end game is hard. Not anyone can replicate Super Mario Bros.‘s quality, and even the Big N themselves shot themselves in the leg by giving their later 2D Mario titles less attention and resources during development, thou Miyamoto himself has admitted that 2D Marios take more work to make right. No wonder they released Mario Maker to take off that load from themselves.

The game industry doesn’t like being disrupted, especially when disruption ends up making a company huge amounts of money. Looking at the coverage the Wii was getting from both industry insiders and gaming press, the news are pretty raw. Outside the usual Nintendo’s finished we see every time they release a new console, the consumers were pretty much called idiots and considered almost like subhumans who couldn’t appreciate the marvels that HD gaming and cutting edge hardware could produce. This attitude is very apparent in the third-party games on the Wii across its years, as there is no passion in the titles. These people who bought the Wii, they weren’t the people who bought the PS2, these weren’t the people who played games. They were casual gamers.  Who has a passion to make games for people they consider as idiots, unworthy of appreciating true pieces of works?

The game industry created an industry just to cater the consumers they thought they were seeing with Wiimotes in their hands, but in reality no such area existed. This was apparent in the sales as well. When the third-party games turned out to be less than satisfactory, the Virtual Console titles became the main point of the console, outselling even Nintendo’s own new titles. Super Mario All-Starts 25th Anniversary Edition was a surprise to Nintendo, as people still wanted to play those games. Low-end and high-quality combination has always been highly desired combination when it comes to gaming, and largely is the silver bullet in plans to make a successful game. The rest comes with world and game design.

The death of the casual game industry essentially came to an end when the industry stopped making games for idiots. It wasn’t because of the hardware’s power, but the design and utility of it. It’s surprising how little people consider a console’s design anywhere else but in outer appearance and technical hardware, except when something negative had to be mentioned. The Wii could use traditional controllers, it had the Motion controls, which also served as a more traditional NES style controller, and it had the possibility for multiple other input methods (at least on the outer appearance.) However, all this largely fell apart, the potential of the Wii was kicked in the curb when Nintendo moved onwards to concentrate with their next console. If I were to say my view on the matter, the killing blow Nintendo dealt to the Wii was Wii Music, a title that nobody ever wanted and a title that showed that Nintendo too believed their consumers were idiots, unwilling to purchase their masterpieces… like Metroid Other M. Indeed, Metroid Other M is like anti-thesis to Wii Sports, filled with the intentions of making the best story-driven high-end Metroid that would wow the opposite audience of these idiots, ensuring that Nintendo and the Wii that they were the shit. What happened is common in cases like this, and the less said about it the better, except that it is a title that showcases how Nintendo once again left their larger audience, the audience that had made them a recognized name in the overall popular culture.

Nobody makes a bad game intentionally is something I hear people saying when it comes to terrible titles. However, not everybody aims to make the best title either, lacking either in passion or will to go all out on a game they themselves have little faith or value in. The casual game industry died when the industry largely stopped producing those games, to some extent. The Wii U is filled with middle-end games with no quality whatsoever, despite Nintendo making it the anti-Wii. The 3DS had such an awful start with ports and carry-over titles that it wasn’t desired until the library had grown and saw more low-end titles with less emphasize on the 3D. The less Nintendo listens to the industry, the more they find success. It just takes loads of work.

The argument that you need third-party products to succeed nowadays is partially correct. You need high-quality products on your system across the spectrum, not just from one end of the spectrum no matter who makes it. A game library is like a food circle, with high-end games being the meat and low-end games being the greens. Breads, rise, pasta etc being lower-mid end, milks, meat and fish being higher-mid end and high fat foods being the high-end foods. Roughly speaking, that is.

Ports of games people are already playing on a different systems does not allow it to rise above from the sea of grey, and seemingly ports are treated as the fries of a console library; they’re there to supplement the main burger. Third party burgers aren’t rare either, seeing both Microsoft and Sony have largely relied on third-party to make their systems big hits. Except for Halo in many ways.

Will Nintendo Switch have a casual game industry? Only if the developers start treating their consumers like retards again and unwilling to produce quality products for the system. They’ll feel that in their pockets then. Whatever the Switch ends up being is completely tied to its software library.

The 4K generation

During the last generation Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were dubbed the HD Twins. Not necessarily by the industry itself, but at least a small amount of people. While the current generation, that will be usurped by the Switch next year, started with HD as well. However, seeing we’re again at a point where companies do mid-generation upgrades instead of just mid-generation re-design, I’ll be dubbing PlayStation 4 Pro and Project Scorpio, whatever its finalised name will be, the 4K Twins. Technically, Xbox One S should be added there too, but the games are upscaled to 4K rather being native. Call me nitpicky.

The 4K is a bit of a problem, because most people don’t have 4K screens yet. Just like HD became a thing in the last generation, it’ll take some time before 4K becomes a standard. Scratch that, technically 4K is a standard already, but the standard is not widespread within the general population in the Western world like. It takes time for people to adopt the latest cutting edge technology, and that’s good. Why is that good, people are holding technology back! I’ve heard someone ask. The reason is that despite some technology not being able to sell well at first, the reasons can be many. The high price, the unnecessary complex nature and usage, quality and sometimes not being wanted often are the more pressing elements. LCD television technology itself is a good example of this as both LCD, Plasma and CRT television existed, and to some extent still exist, beside each other.

It would seem that the general population prefers to have mature technology in their hands instead of cutting edge.

The 4K and HD will exist beside each other at least to the end of the century, if not more. This is a guess on my part, but seeing how 8K is already making its first initial rounds, investing into a 4K screen might feel a bit off. Then again, that is the evolution of technology. Something new will always be waiting just around the corner. That’s why we always come to a point where we can pick something new up, or wait until things are ironed out and becomes more affordable.

That doesn’t really work with the 4K twins.

If these were redesigns of the existing consoles like what we’ve seen in the past, there would be no real contest which one to pick up. Usually. The last version of PS3 is just ugly. The issues with PS4 Pro and the upcoming Scorpio will have whole slew of new problems that have not yet been fixed. Mainly because we have don’t have an idea what those problems are, but most likely both companies are well aware of the issues with their machines prior to launch. The Red Ring of Death is still something that looms over Microsoft’s machines. I haven’t heard any major malfunctions from this generation, outside some people seemingly having a bricked Wii U thanks to Mighty Number 9, but at least one person has reported a molten PS4Pro. Take that as a grain of salt and do some research on the whole thing. Every thing’s possible, I guess. I’m no plastics expert. However, ever a single case like this usually rings the alarm bells in people’s heads.

The whole possibly molten PS4P aside, the issue that we should be more aware is the performance issues. Perhaps the hardware found in the PS4P is of higher calibre than the base PS4’s, but that should also mean that the games should run at a higher quality. Yet, if we take Digital Foundry‘s reports true, some games run worse on PS4P for whatever reason. Be it because of the new hardware or lack of optimisation (or the lack of experience in optimisation on PS4P) this is something I wouldn’t accept. But Aalt, aren’t you the one who says graphics and hardware doesn’t matter? Yes, yes I am and I’m getting to that.

The whole deal with mid-generation updates is, by all means, to allow the developers to put better looking stuff out there and have their games run better. In reality, this thought goes only halfway through. Devs most likely will push for better looking stuff, but will continue to ignore optimisation and 60fps lock if the game needs to be out. Some titles will sell with their name alone, damned be the quality of the title. The design quality of a game should not be dependent on the hardware. The controller a game is played with affects more the design than the hardware, thou we all can agree that simple number crunching power can allow some neat things overall. In the end, it’s the design that counts. What design, well, that’s another post.

Now, the question I have about the PS4P, and Scorpio by that extent, if we should be an early adopter or sit back and wait the kinks being ironed out. Honestly, that’s up to you. Some places recommend getting the base version for normal 1080 screens and some say go for Pro anyway. I’d recommend just checking the facts out and making a decision on those.

But, there’s another quick thing; should we all just jump in with the latest tech and keep things rolling around at the speed of sound? No, because that’s impossible. As said, most prefer mature technology and even tech that’s half a decade old can feel the most wondrous when properly designed and put into use. Those who didn’t experience Laserdisc’s abilities to have multiple languages on the disc were in awe by  DVD’s ability to house such things. There’s also the point that not all people simply have the money to keep up with the pace. As such, expecting companies to have things living beside each other is to be expected and that is exactly why  SONY has not yet moved the base PS4 from the market. People will simply pick it up for its price alone and might have rationale reasons not to go for the more expensive piece.

You can future proof your technological choices only so far. At some point, all your equipment will be old and replaced with new standards. Old does not mean obsoleted, and old can be of service years more than the newfangled piece of tech with all the problems still laying in the shadows.

I admit that this post was, to some extent, me putting my own struggle with the current generation down and to try make sense how to proceed in purchasing a console, or if I should even make a purchase overall.

Enter Nintendo Switch

20-nintendo-switch-1200x923

The rumours were mostly true, the NX, named properly as Switch, is a hybrid.

If you haven’t watched the trailer yet, here it is.

This is first impression by large. You should also check Nvidia’s post about the console.

White and black are passé, the colour we’ve shown is grey all around. It has very little sharp corners and overall looks smooth. It’s what the leaks told it was, and the overall impression is very subdued, but rather attractive. I hope multiple colour options are available, and at least one is in NES colours.

The controller design, or Joy-Con as they call it, lacks a good D-Pad on the go. I understand that it’s a sacrifice that had to be made because of the nature of the machine, but it still sucks. I hope third party Joy-Cons will remedy this, and that third party Joy-Cons can add features that are not in the standard ones. The name Joy-Con is awful tho, it should be anything but just ‘con.’ The Switch is following Wii’s example by showcasing the controller itself first, not any of the launch titles. Could we expect something like Wii Sports? I hope the controllers can function as or with a Wiimote.

Not only that, but the buttons overall worry me. The plus and minus are shaped as they are, which work well with the blind or otherwise visually impaired, but the rest of the console isn’t designed them in mind. There’s no reason they couldn’t be normal buttons.

The idea of having the controllers separate is neat, but the obvious question is how much wear and tear the controllers can take before they don’t click in anymore. Is the lock mechanism exchangeable, or moulded? A lot of little questions like that pop up to me. They are mighty small when playing with a friend, but at least it’s a neat feature. I just hope games will be able to make use of it well. Sports titles at least should be able to. 2D multiplayers could make a triumphant return, even when you’d have to use a stick to control the character on-screen. D-pad or an arcade stick will always be better for the likes of Mario and Mega Man than a thumbstick.

The Pro-Controller is business as usual. I just hope the D-Pad won’t suck.

The stand/rack where the screen unit will sit in looks a bit bland, but nothing that decals can’t fix. The best thing about the Switch at this point is not on the go part, but that it uses game cards. That’s great, I’ve always disliked the disc medium for whatever reason. However, the itty bitty stand that makes the screen unit stand (seen in 1:04 in the video) will break easily. These sort of legs are just awful, and it should’ve been full console width.

This being a hybrid console, Nintendo most likely will not create a DS for the time being. This will be the first 9th Generation console, and it’ll last somewhere 2022. Because of the leaks, the surprise is very low. You will see a lot of previous gen games ported to this, as it is per fashion when a console has no defining feature to it. For example, the NES and GBA saw a lot ports from home consoles, but the DS forced companies to think outside the box and make new games. However, the more software the Switch gets, the better. I’m just hoping most of it will be something new. You can expect Nintendo to release their old games on the Switch.

However, the best thing about the Switch’s video is that it shows people playing together, as a group. It follows the same idea of playing together. However, a lot of the people in there were from certain age range, and I hope this won’t mean Nintendo is going to ignore the rest. Make this a NES 3.0.

Price can make or break the console. This one could be on the expensive side, and that could damage the console’s image. The Switch needs to be cheap and easily available, not a high-end market product. However, what’s more important are the games. This console won’t sell on its hardware, but on the games that will make use of the hardware. Nintendo has shown none as of yet, and the moment we see the games we can make further assumptions about what their goals are.

Top 5 games of 2015

Much like last few years, here’s personal Top 5 games of 2015. Like last time, all these games were first played in their actual physical form this year. As the release year doesn’t matter to any reviewer out there either, I’m simply picking from the games I played this year. This post is going out about week before intended, but seeing how I’ll be a bit busy for the rest of the year, I don’t see myself picking up any new games that could affect this post.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3DS)

MonHun4U is a peculiarity on this list. The sole reason I bought a Flanders (N3DS) was to play with my friends who live elsewhere. After the initial whomp of daily playing, things died down a bit, but I kept going mostly by myself with some random players well into the final G-Rank quests.

I have about five hundred hours sunk into the game. I can’t argue against the time I’ve spent on it, MonHun4U is definitely the game I’ve played the most this year and deserves the top spot, even if there is no order with these.

The reason why the game gets the spot, and got all the hours from me, is that it’s challenging and fun. There really isn’t anything like Monster Hunter, and even if the series is not all that popular in the West, it does have a healthy player base. That’s part of the reason I enjoyed this game to the extent I have, most players I’ve met online have been very supportive. Not only that, but it’s a very rewarding game with grinding taking a small eternity, but when you get the equipment set you’ve planned, you’re able to put it into use right away and start messing with harder and stronger monsters.

I started with MonHun Portable on PSP, and the series has come a long way from having stupidly difficult start and controls to a game that’s nicely balanced. Fixed hitboxes help a lot in actually knowing where the monster is going to hit and where you need to hit it back. While I still dislike the fact MonHun is all about animation management than anything else when it comes to the controls, it’s still relatively tight. I would prefer to have more options via cancelling or comboing differently, but that would change the gameplay rather drastically. Monster Hunter X sort of did this, where all the Styles have different kind of gameplay. Aerial Style is damn fun, and I can see myself using it whenever I decide to get it. Most likely I’ll wait and see if CAPCOM decides to bring it to the West, it’s gotten pretty good respond from the fans overall.

Gravity Rush (PSVita)

Gravity Rush was the game you got the Vita for. Now you don’t need to, it’s being remade for the PS4. It’s a very short and very sweet game, which kinda makes me wonder why the hell didn’t they bundle it and its sequel together, because it also feels very incomplete towards the end.

The thing Gravity Rush does the best is flying. You can spend hours end just flying around and collecting things. Sometimes after finishing with a session I could feel my eyes and physical feeling still pulling me towards the skies. It’s absolutely fantastic. Sadly, the rest of the game isn’t really as stellar. The battle system is very basic, more a chore than an enjoyment. Side quests, like with most games, are a chore a well. At least they give you more reasons just to fly around. Nevertheless, once you get inside the game and begin to fly around like its your second nature, using Gravity Kicks to beat your enemies becomes fast and easy. It’s still a chore sure, but at least you know what you’re doing and are good at it.

Gravity Rush could’ve been SONY’s first proper great in-house game franchise, but they fucked that up by waiting far too long with the sequel, and now killing Vita by porting what can be described as its only truly unique game. It’s one of those games that are flawed, but those flaws don’t really stand out too much, mostly because the exact same flaws have become more or less a standard in the industry. It does few things well, and one of them really damn good. Flying and freefalling haven’t been this fun since last night’s dream.

Gravity Rush 2 most likely will be one of the reasons I will end up getting a PS4

Nier (X360)

Nier is a game that I got more or less because I have respect towards Drakengard as a franchise, and because I am having stupidly high expectations for Nier Automata for no good reason. It’s also one of those games where I didn’t go skipping story sequences. Nier and Drakengard games have stupidly expansive story that are both as entertaining and interesting to read about as they are heart crushing.

I never finished the original Drakengard, it is effectively a shit game. Kusoge, if you want to use the Japanese term. I’ve heard the second game improves the gameplay a lot, which is why I’ll be giving it a look at some point next year. Nier is a far better game than Drakengard in ever respect, yet it carries the same generic flaws as Gravity Rush; side questing to the extreme and dumb as hell combat. What makes Nier stand out from the crowd isn’t just because of the story, but how much it shows it was made with love. Effectively, the gameplay is what you’d expect from a 3D action game, in lieu of 3D Zelda. It has a very similar overworld-dungeon structure to boot. The music absolutely gorgeous, definitely one of the best soundtracks from previous generation.

The boss fights require a special mentioning, as they change the rules of the gameplay pretty drastically. I don’t know what good stuff the developing team was smoking at the time, but I want me some. The bosses, and some the minor enemies, have ability to turn the game into a large scaled version of bullet hells, which really makes the game’s bosses to stand out from the generic fodder you kill on the fields and dungeons, for better or worse.

Nier is also one of the few games that actually use video game’s own methods to tell a story. This is slightly spoilerific, so just skip to next bit if you don’t want to know. The main enemies in the game are Shades, and in the tutorial you are taught how to kill these by the dozens. Nevertheless, the fist Shades you meet in the game proper do not attack you, ever.  They are not aggressive, and items these smaller Shades drop are things like used colouring books or other stuff children tend to carry. It’s a very minor, but also very telling way to show to the player a foreshadowing element, where the Shades are not monsters, but human souls separated from their bodies, and you were just slaughtered bunch of innocent children without any provocation. It’s great stuff, and Nier ups the ante to the very end, even having an ending where you can choose to erase your existence, or in real world terms, all the saved and system data from your HDD. The DLC still stays, you don’t need to redownload that.

The reason why Nier also got on the list is that this year there were very little games that did actually tell me I’m on the list dammit! Nier’s not a kind of game I would otherwise put it on the list, as a game it’s pretty generic and even dumb, but as an overall piece of entertainment, including all the sidematerials and the insane shit they have in them, it got a spot. This kind of tells me very few games caught my eye this year, even less had the balls to be extremely good.


There’s something in this opening that I just like

Pitman (GameBoy)

Tetris is the ultimate puzzle game, Umihara Kawase games are the best puzzle-platformers and Pitman falls just under that. It’s Western name is Catrap.

The main goal in the Pitman is to beat all the monsters in a room. You got falling rocks to place, grass to cut and monsters to bump. Rather than trying to explain the gameplay mechanics incoherently in my whisky fumes, just give this video a look.

It’s a very fun game, but also very frustrating at times. It’s a great time sink and something I would recommend everybody to get their hands on, if possible. I think it’s available on the 3DS’ eShop, at least in Japan. There’s nothing much to say about it, all great puzzle games shine in their simplicity like that.

Captain Tsubasa II: Super Striker (Famicom)

When I was a wee lad, I ended up playing slew of soccer games as my older brother was part of a team. One of them was Tecmo Cup: Football  Game, which I always had fond memories of. It’s pretty much the only soccer game I remember liking next to Nintendo World Cup, both because they weren’t dull or aimed at realistic simulation, unlike Kick-Off!, which I should revisit after twenty years now that I understand how it work better. Of course, it took some time to find out that Tecmo Cup: Football Game was actually the Western release of Captain Tsubasa. The Cutting Room Floor has a list of differences that happened during localisation.

What makes Captain Tsubasa II an interesting piece that it’s something we could call a cinematic soccer game, derived from the fact that it makes extensive use of Tecmo Theatre, which is essentially a widescreen window on the screen showing actions and story progression. Other Tecmo games used it as well but not to the same extent. Ninja Gaiden may be the most famous example. The biggest difference with how Tecmo Theatre handles cinematics here is that they are completely dependant on the player input during gameplay. Modern games are very much on a lower calibre, where the cinematics play despite the player and only occasionally requiring an input or two. Outside when a cinematic of your action plays out, like Passing to another character or shooting, you’re in control the whole time.

Of course, prior to each match you’re given option to change the layout your team will be in, tactics and so on. If we really want to get into it all, you better be prepared to look closely into how the opposing team is playing and what their weaknesses are. All this becomes important later in the game after you’ve gained new team members and your current ones have levelled up enough. You read that right, Captain Tsubasa II has a level up system which gives a solid feel of progression and encourages you to play evenly rather than just relying on Tsubasa’s Super kicks.

As Captain Tsubasa II is a license game, it is an original sequel to the Captain Tsubasa comic, which had ended at the time. Funny thing is that certain elements appear in late World Youth sequel series. As such, it also carries a lot of elements that appeared in both the TV-series and comics when it comes to how it handles soccer. While it’s not necessarily unrealistic, it is cartoonish and supercharges the most dramatic moments, rivalries and of course, the kicks.

Supercharged would be a good word to describe the game. It feels fast, it doesn’t feel cheap and it simply feels so damn fun. Everything has been laid down so damn well with just the right design. The energetic music adds so much to the game, keeping the tension up and gets you pumped up. There is no one bad track in the whole game as even the damn Password screen theme get you hyped.

This is the key why Captain Tsubasa II is still popular among Japanese; it’s fast and wastes no time to throw you in. The game has got a lot of romhacks that modify teams, events and so on. Even Touhou has a soccer version that is essentially Captain Tsubasa II with a new coat of paint and new scenarios. It captures the gameplay pretty accurately, even if the running animation with the characters is rather awful. However, it adds far too long super moves with main characters, which in the end botches down some of the game’s pace.

Captain Tsubasa II: Super Striker is essentially a sport game for those who don’t like sport games. It’s also superior to its predecessor in every regard, which bums me out that this never got localised. It’s an excellent example how to manage cinematics with a solid and simple core gameplay.

Last games on my list have always gotten special spots. Captain Tsubasa II deserves it this time simply by being a damn good and entertaining game.

I really should read the comic one of these days, it’s basically responsible in making soccer a popular sports in Japan, much like how Slam Dunk did with basketball later on.

Those that didn’t make the cut

Unlike previous years, I’ll include a set of games that didn’t make the cut for whatever reasons. If you’re wondering why Schwarzesmarken didn’t get on either of the lists, it’s because I don’t consider Visual Novels as video games.

Metal Gear Solid V (PS3, 360, PS4, Xbone, PC)

The reason MGSV didn’t get the spot is that it was sort of boring on the long run. It forced a TV-series sort of structure, where every mission had opening and ending credits, which was an utter waste of time. I don’t give two damn who made the game, just let me get on with it already. The game had a large areas to play with, but there’s very little do in those empty spaces.

I know the game was released essentially unfinished, and this is also the reason why it feels very unrefined at times. Yet when looking at the time and money that was spent on MGSV, I understand very well why KONAMI wanted it out. Kojima spent too much time to make this a grand scale game, when one of the best part of the series has been that they all have been very tightly designed. I hope that whatever next Metal Gear game KONAMI puts out next will go back to the basics.

Langrisser RE:INCARNATION (3DS)

This game is also coming to West, and it’s not really worth your money. Well, it kinda is. I also hope they will drop TENSEI from the title.

I really love the Langrisser series, and RE:Langrisser was a disappointment I enjoyed. The most damning thing with it is the battle sequences; they are absolutely retarded. Turning them off actually makes the game very enjoyable, but at the cost of making it very in visuals. The music is tight as hell, and my favourite track Neo Holy War got in. Sure, it’s a Stage Results theme, but it got in dammit!

Speaking outside the fan perspective, unless the game gets a gameplay overhaul and content additions with completely revamping the battle animations, there’s very little reason to buy RE:Langrisser. It feels like a budget game without being one, and I wouldn’t recommend it to many people. Fire Emblem fans may get a kick out of it, as FE belongs to the same genre that Langrisser’s predecessor Elthlead started.

Ninja Gaiden Black (Xbox)

I wanted to like the game, but after hearing so many glorious things, my hopes for a great game were crushed. There are games that are difficult and fun, but Ninja Gaiden Black is just a chore. The difficulty it has isn’t really anything that can’t be overcome, but it’s just a damn tedious game with little to no fun factor in it. There are more fun games in my library, and beating the game about halfway through I just gave up and decided to spend more time on games that gave something back as well.

Transformers Devastation (PS3, 360, PS4, Xbone)

I like most of Platinum’s games. They are often fast paced, very well designed and exceptionally well realised. However, lately their games have become stale in what they do, namely with The Legend of Korra and Transformers Devastation. TFD is a very fun game to play, but ultimately it is also very much of the mould as previous games from Platinum. They have a thing they do, and they do it very well, possibly the best in the whole industry.

Nevertheless TFD feels like they are strongly stagnating and close to repeating themselves in an endless cycle. TFD’s lack of revitalisation in what they do is the reason it didn’t get the spot, it’s too much of the same. This is why my hopes for Nier Automata are stupid, because I know it’ll be the best game in the Nier/Drakengard metaseries, but it will also be your run-of-the-mill Platinum game that doesn’t evolve or refine their core gameplay one bit.

Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus (PSVita)

The first Senran Kagura was an awful game to play. It’s clunky, on the slow side and overall boring. Shinovi Versus was its first sequal, and is a lot better in every respect. The reason it didn’t get into Top 5 is that Senran Kagura 2 Shinku is a better game. It has better gameplay, better stage design, better tracks, and most importantly, faster load times. Shinovi Versus’ stages average around 45s, ranging from 5s to 1min 20s, all depending how well you know how to abuse the system. More often than not you’ll clear stages in about half a minute. This doesn’t even require you to grind for levels. This means the game should be a very fast paced game, but you’d be wrong thinking that. Loading the stage from the menu and loading the “overworld” after the stage takes 1min 50s, longer if there are more than one story sequence. When playing the game, ~51+% of your time is sitting and waiting for the game to load something. That’s infuriating, especially if you’re in the zone and just want to blaze through. The game takes twice as long to beat because of the load times. Without the long load times, this game would’ve been in Top 5. For a system that uses game cartridges, this is unforgivably awful optimisation.