Virtual-On Retrospective: Twin Stick Controls

Previous: A Certain Magical Virtual-On

A thing that made Virtual-On in the arcades eye-catching was its setup of two sticks. This setup, named Twin Stick, is what defined Virtual-On‘s uniqueness even among arcade games. On the home front, you’ve most often had the option of using whatever standard control pad you had, or buying a Twin Stick controller. The difference between the two can not be overstated. A gamepad, even with the two thumbsticks, is not comparable to the intuitive and direct control the Twin Stick gives you. It’s extremely intuitive and easy on the surface how you control your Virtuaroid, as using Twin Stick resembles your standard tank controls. However, the moment the controls’ depth clicks and how much direct control you have, the tank-ness of things vanishes and you find yourself with one of the fastest and most furious of games in your hands. The skill ceiling is staggeringly high, as Virtual-On games have tons of techniques a beginner can only grasp. From how to approach your opponent to all the weapons firing differently depending on how you are moving and what position the sticks are in, the games offer nearly endless depth. Oratorio Tangram, the second game in the series, is still the most played and most popular, as it also happens to be the fastest game in the series.

The controls require some explanation, despite the basics being easy to grasp after a minute or two. Talking about the Twin Sticks themselves makes little sense if you don’t know why they are so integral.

The basic controls are as follows;

  • Pushing either lever in a direction while the other lever is at neutral, your Virtuaroid will walk in that direction
  • Pushing both levers in a direction, your Virtuaroid will run in that direction
  • Pushing the levers in opposite forwards/backward, your Virtuaroid will turn clockwise or counter-clockwise
  • Pushing the levers at opposite left/right outwards, your Virtuaroid will jump
  • Pushing the levers towards each other will make your Virtuaroid Guard

Attacking and Dashing are done by the buttons on the sticks;

  • Right Weapon is fired with the Right lever’s trigger. By standard, it is a kind of projectile
  • Left Weapon is by the Right lever’s trigger. By standard, it is some kind of explosive or a bomb
  • The Center weapon is fired when the triggers are pressed together. It is usually a strong, but a slow weapon.
  • When at a close range, Long-range weapons are changed to close-combat weapons
  • The Thumb button with a Lever direction will make your Virtuaroid dash in that direction.
  • In the original game, both Thumb buttons are required to be pressed down for the dash. Oratorio Tangram requires only one. FORCE requires the other thumb stick to be used in changing targets, as the game is 2 versus 2

Here’s an edited version of Oratorio Tangram‘s attract mode, with only the How To Play segments present

As mentioned, each of the three weapons has multiple modes of fire depending on what action you are in and in what direction. This changes the weapons’ properties and strengths. For example, one direction makes your Virtuaroid shoot out five smaller shots, while the opposite shoots three larger, more powerful shots. Furthermore, some Virtuaroids have secret attacks they can enact and require special input. Numerous attacks can be canceled or half-canceled into other actions, while Dashing attacks can’t. Movement options are also far more abundant than they first appear. For example, you can increase your Virtuaroid’s falling speed by making them Guard. Quickstep is another useful move, which includes releasing the Dash the very moment you input a direction. The Dash is canceled and your Virtuaroid has taken a fast step instead.

There are numerous systems that aren’t clear at first and most players won’t notice. These include things like how movement speed is relative to the distance between the Virtuaroids, and speed decreases the closer they are together. This can be tracked as the game has a distance counter in the lock-on reticle. Certain attacks gain more power as they travel across the stage, while others effectively lose all of their hitting power. The damage dealt over time also increases and carries over to subsequent rounds. The damage maxes out at +10% at one minute mark.

There is no traditional lock-in in Virtual-On, which throws numerous people off. Virtual-On has an unorthodox automatic lock-on when Jumping or Dashing, which rotates the screen and the Virtuaroid towards the opponent as well. Advanced players tend to use Air Dash Cancel and Quickstep instead, as both of these require Jump and Dashing respectively, but are much faster. This system is cumbersome at first, but at the same time, it promotes the discovery and learning of tons of techniques and methods when and how to cancel movements and options. Being aware of your surroundings becomes important as well for the sake of your own positioning in the stage geometry. Mizuumi Wiki has a page with a rather complete breakdown of the controls for Oratorio Tangram, and I would recommend giving it a look if you find yourself interested. It’s not completely applicable to the other games in the series, but the core basics are the same. There is an exhaustive Japanese wiki for Oratorio Tangram, Cyber Troopers Virtual-On Unofficial Anniversary Site, if that scratches your interest.

That is a long and infodump way to say that Virtual-On‘s Twin Sticks are very much the heart and soul of how the game plays out. The series is often counted as a Fighting game due to similarities in generic strategies of pressuring the opponent with neutral and low commitment attacks while closing in and punishing mistakes the opponent may make. The only games that are similar in direct comparison are Senko no Ronde and Acceleration of Suguri, which are best described as Virtual-On in 2D plane. Nevertheless, because the controls require much skill and dedication to be fully taken advantage of, the standard control pads don’t cut it. There is certain immediacy that Twin Stick offers and there are no extra buttons or even shapes to deal with. The game has been purpose-built with these two levers, and anything else comes short. When A Certain Magical Virtual-On changes its controls to fully accommodate the gamepad, large amounts of intricacies and techniques were lost. It is the best Virtual-On for a gamepad, but after spending some with a Twin Stick with other entries in the series, it becomes a much hollower game. You could always dish out money for a limited-run Twin Stick, but that option is out of reach for many.

Let’s take a look at what kind of Twin Sticks the series has been using throughout the years. While we will touch on some of the arcade controls, this is in no fashion and exhaustive look due to all the manufacturing and repair variations there are.

From left to right; Japanese cabinet, US P1 and US P2

There are a few types of cabinets the Twin Sticks first appeared in. The original Japanese cabinet from 1995 has more visual flavour to it and could be found as a twin unit. The European and American releases had the same, less flourished designed to them, but were often a set. A divider would be between the player’s views, with the American having a different design to the Japanese cabinet. There was also a Versus City cabinet, which was two Astro City units merged into back-to-back. Versus City cabinets were extensively used by Capcom as well and were used in fighting game tournaments. Each cabinet could be revised with a new game and hardware, and some titles would support game-specific messages at the top digital display too. Marvel VS Capcom was one of the games that used a Versus City cabinet, and from personal experience, I can attest Street Fighter IV did too. The two cabinet styles had different sticks, probably because a lot of used Virtual-On control panels that are found in the wild are sold as broken. Sega would revise these sticks. While images for the Virtual-On Versus City cabinets are rare, we do have images of the control panels for the first game and Oratorio Tangram. Sega made sure the cabinets were universal by designing a modular control panel, where operators could quickly switch the top out if a new game needed different controls.

There are some control panels sold on eBay, from which we can see that these are either European or American controls. The left one, Master Site, was often colored blue and was effectively Player One. Player Two was pink and got the name Slave Site. They are, however, more or less the same. There are only a few visual key differences, like the panel to the right, but otherwise even the control explanations are the same. The Operation decal is extremely to the point and showcases how deceptively easy the controls seem a first. These sticks were also very robustly built, partially why the Versus City cabinets probably used Sanwa parts rather than what we see below.

On the left, we have what was found in the Japanese Virtual-On cabinet, and on the right, we have what’s in a European cabinet. The difference is that the Japanese use Sanwa parts and have a square gate, while the European sticks have much more heft to them and have a round gate. There’s really no reason to assume the American market didn’t share the same build as the European stick.

These robust sticks were made to withstand thousands of clicks, though the switches themselves are more or less the same stock as you’d find in any contemporary arcade stick. The arcade cabinet is using a square gate form here, meaning you’d feel a round shape when twirling the levers around. These sticks would have stickers on the black steel housing, with some being labeled as Model 2B. This is a reference to the hardware revision used, as Virtual-On ran on Sega 2B CRX. These sticks would get tons of abuse, from people hitting them in anger, and food and drink being spilled on top of them. Looking at used sticks sold at auction sites, you often find them rusty.

Image courtesy of VOTwinstick

The joystick itself is probably the least interesting in the whole build, as it is a two-halve plastic housing with a standard trigger and a thumb push button. The parts of the course are of “arcade quality,” meaning the components used are standard for the industry and should withstand tens of thousands of activations. In principle, making your very own Twin Stick is stupidly easy nowadays, as long as you don’t cinch on the components. It might look a bit like an old Quickshot joystick, but far sturdier and it has a better feel to it. Note that while all the Thumb buttons shown in this post are round, the original Virtual-On cabinet in the US used square buttons, often seen in Happ-styled flight sticks. Also note that before Sega unified the sticks themselves, the original sticks were far thicker. If these hardware differences interest you, you might want to check out what Oratorio Tangram‘s arcade Twin Sticks look like when disassembled.

The original Virtual-On could be converted to function like an Oratorio Tangram cabinet, and there have been Oratorio Tangram cabinets that were converted to play FORCE. The levers have changed slightly throughout the years, with Sega at some point apparently abandoning this original hefty built in favor of the lighter models used in Versus City cabinets. Arcade.Tokyo has a short post about his experience with one of these slimmer candy cabinets, where the aesthetics are very much on the lighter side.

All this means that after Sega decided to use these shorter build sticks for Versus City, the Twin Sticks would be built based on Sanwa arcade stick parts over the original unbranded ones. As Oratorio Tangram could be converted into FORCE cabinets, there weren’t any changes to the sticks themselves. As per Sega’s standardization, these control panels could be switched in and out from their generic cabinets. This would also mean that outside the original Virtual-On cabinet, the controls would make a square shape when moved around, not a circle, as that’s the standard restrictor plate found in generic arcade machines. It is the most commonly used restrictor plate to this day.

All in all, the hardware for the Twin Stick is not exactly groundbreaking. It’s very much in line with existing parts and products that were put to good use. Much like how arcade games always had to be downsized for the home market, so were numerous control methods and even controllers themselves. It took some time for common accessories like steering wheels and pedals to step up their game and match the quality of their arcade counterparts. That is not to say that all these are uniform. For whatever reason, there are tons of variations in how the arcade Twin Stick controls were built. Very few of these appear on the surface, but things like some controls have fewer structural support parts, and some sticks inside are squared off instead of being round rods. Without a doubt, some of these variations are results of operators fixing the controls, while some probably are just manufacturing changes for numerous reasons, like easier assembly with fewer components or finding cost-friendlier parts. This is why it would be effectively impossible to do an exhaustive and complete view on all the variations on Twin Stick controls in the arcades, hence this overall glance at them and their insides has to suffice.

The first home release of Cyber Trooper Virtual-On also delivered us the first Twin Stick controller for the Sega Saturn. This was slated to be released in the US at some point but never did. In the end, no Twin Stick controller would ever be released in the US or Europe, leaving arcades the only place where you could play the game with Twin Stick, or import one from Japan.

Released Dec. 03rd, 1996

The HSS-0154 SEGA SATURN TWIN-STICK controller promises to recreate the excitement of the arcade experience, but in reality, it really doesn’t. The Saturn Twin Stick uses the same overall housing as the Saturn HSS-0136 Virtua Stick, an Astro City arcade cabinet-themed arcade stick. The only difference is the top plate, which houses the graphics and the levers themselves, and the lack of multiple switches at the top front. While the Virtua Stick has two versions, one with ASCII switches and one with Seimitsu’s parts. The difference between these two is that Seimitsu is of higher quality and should last longer. With the Twin Stick being a later controller model, all variants seem to use the same ASCII parts as the levers’ actuators. However, the weak spot of the Saturn Twin Stick comes with its use of ASCII’s parts. While ASCII did manufacture decent controllers and parts in the mid-1990s, they are very much of lower quality compared to Sanwa or Seimitsu’s parts. Its sticks also have a tendency to rotate slightly, something that’s up to opinion whether or not that’s a good thing. Some find the twisting more comfortable, as the hands then to find a more natural position and angle, while others want stiff sticks like in the arcades.

Released in 1999 (9th of Dec.), the DC Twin Stick is still a popular version of the controller

While ASCII parts may not be arcade-quality per se, they are nevertheless acceptable for home use and do rank well into the medium-consumer grade. Arcade-quality is a more or less commonly used marketing tactic, something loads of enthusiasts like to mimic. While you will find some of these sticks in a bad overall shape, even mediocre condition sticks work remarkably well. A stock purchase from eBay can yield a controller that plays almost as well when it was new. ASCII parts may be maligned when it comes to the Saturn Virtua Stick, which has a healthy modding community behind it due to its aesthetics, the Saturn Twin Stick doesn’t suffer the same bad rep. In fact, between this and the more desired Dreamcast Twin Stick, the Saturn version has been reported to withstand more abuse and longer sessions than the Dreamcast version. Oratan.com offers a view on a modified Dreamcast Twin Stick, but sadly it does not list who manufactured what. Sega has recycled the sticks themselves from the Saturn version of the controller, so the overall feeling might be similar, and the orange/greys aesthetics might fit some better, but longevity is not the Dreamcast’s side.

The issue with Dreamcast Twin Stick lies in the initial run use of a worse quality spring, which returns a lever to its neutral position. This yellow-colored spring would apparently simply break. The later production run of the controller would change this to a sturdier green spring. While there are no true indicators of what parts were used to make the sticks, they are very close to Seimitsu’s LS-56-01 stick, though the stock spring from Seimitsu is a few millimeters shorter than what Sega put inside the Dreamcast Twin Stick. It’s a crapshoot what parts you get in the secondhand market if the seller is not willing to open their controller.

However, modifying these two controllers is rather easy, as all you really need to do is change actuators and use the longer shaft. You might not want to lose the decal that’s on the Saturn stick, as the screws holding the sticks in place are under it, but using denatured alcohol to loosen the adhesive’s bond is an easy to way to remove it. Alternatively, simply remove the decal and buy a new one from the Internet by using some printing service.

Certainly, the Saturn Twin Stick is a budget release in many ways. Objectively speaking, it has the lowest cost parts out of all the Twin Sticks and was designed for children’s hands. For example, the distance between the sticks is shorter in the Saturn Twin Stick than in any other. That’s probably partially because of budget and partially because it is using the same plastic housing as the Virtua Stick. Realistically speaking, the Saturn would be the last console children would play Virtual-On on.

With the slow death of the arcades, Virtual-On moved to the PlayStation 2 with MARS. For this fourth game, Sega did not manufacture a Twin Stick for the game. Instead, the player could choose between a standard controller-specific setup, or using the two thumb sticks to emulate Twin Stick controls. Using the thumb sticks takes time to learn, as you’re expected to use the shoulder buttons for the rest of the controls. The Trigger and thumb buttons are relegated to the Dualshock’s shoulder buttons, which get rather awkward, but will ultimately offer superior controls.

With the Xbox 360 getting Virtual-On MARS and Oratorio Tangram, and PlayStation 3 seeing a direct port of the first game to the PlayStation 3, HORI would step up and manufacture extremely limited amounts of Twin Sticks for the consoles for 2010. The two controllers are exactly the same, just with console-specific bells and whistles attached. There was even a version specifically made for FORCE, which amounts to having an extra decal on the controller.

The issue with either of these controllers for the customers has been their price. HORI fetched a premium sum for these controllers, about 30 000 yen, and aftermarket sellers often ask for even higher prices. Aesthetically they are the most mature, but the least fitting for the franchise. These replicate the original arcade setup with the Start button in the middle, but for the first time, all the face action buttons on the standard controller have been added at the top front. Previously console Twin Sticks have managed to achieve the controls by using combinations of buttons to initiate an action, but with these HORI controllers, the levers are effectively the thumb sticks with shoulder buttons on them. These Twin Sticks had a small surge in demand after it was confirmed they’d work with the Masterpiece collection on the PlayStation 4. These controllers have been reported to be solid, and if HORI’s track record with their controllers since the 1980s is anything to go by, they probably are worth the money. It’s probable they were built on HORI’s expertise from their arcade stick side of the business and decided to use the more high-end consumer range parts.

A Twitter user, apply named VOTwinstick, posted a fully disassembled view of the lever assembly, which should be more or less the same as what the games have been using ever since Versus City cabinets adopted the Sanwa parts. The photo may be lacking the main PCB itself with the switches, but the parts that make up the rest of the stick are easily visible. Japanese blog Haphazard Blog (the author uses a temporary name of Alan Smithee) also contains a post about modifying HORI’s EX Twin Stick with Semitsu LSX-57 lever. The photos are tiny, but the overall setup hasn’t changed since the first consumer Twin Stick for the Saturn.

The Masterpiece collection hitting the PlayStation 4 was a piece of massive news for the fans. A Certain Magical Virtual-On had resorted to completely redesigning the controls for the DualShock, and with that tons of intricacies and tactics were lost. This is due to the revised controls themselves being a modern interpretation of the Twin Stick controls and everything that comes with assisted controlling. Tons of tactics and methods were simply locked out. Hori didn’t produce Twin Sticks for this round, but a lesser-known gaming peripheral company named Tanita did. They’ve promoted themselves as a company for healthier gaming, and their first big project was the Tanita Twin Stick.

Rather than track the original home controllers’ designs, Tanita chose to invoke the wider design of the arcade panels

The VDC-18-c 18 Type Control Device “Twin Stick” was first revealed at CES 2019 in Las Vegas. The prototype controller wasn’t all that attractive and its levers were of lower stock quality. However, the finalized limited production controller rolled out in 2020 (that you could order through Sanwadenshi official shop for 60 500 yen) ditches the previous iterations’ aesthetics and conventions. Now much wider and wholly made out of metal, the Tanita Twin Stick has made waves among the fans on how good the controller has been. It’s a Sanwa product at heart, using Sanwa sticks and buttons. Tanita could afford to manufacture two editions of this stick. The first was a crowdfunded version, which was sent to initial backers first. The second edition was a limited mass-production version, in which Tanita had managed to streamline some of the processes. However, it still ended up costing more than the crowdfunded version, hence the 60k yen price tag. This stick is currently the only way to play A Certain Magical Virtual-On under a Twin Stick setup, unless you want to use the thumb sticks as the Twin Sticks. This 440€ controller is currently the most expensive Twin Stick, and most likely one of the last iterations Twin Stick will see commercially.

The Twin Stick makes and breaks Virtual-On. However, due to all the variations in how Twin Sticks have been built throughout the years, be it in the arcades or at home, there is no one true setup. Some of these have been built light and moving the levers happens quickly and responds well to twitchy movements. At the opposite end, you have the European/American arcade controls, which are built like tank controls. To many whatever the arcades provide is the best, the only option. For others, they can make do with whatever they find more preferable for a variety of reasons, and we can always build better than what has been in the arcades. There still is a healthy albeit small scene of people enthusiastically building their own Twin Stick controllers by using whatever applicable flight yokes they might find to their liking and hacking the controller together from various cheap gamepads and whatnot. Nowadays, it’s become ever easier to make yourself one with little to no knowledge of things like soldering or electronics in general, and thus having yourself a relatively cheap but equally functional Twin Stick, with some caveats, is well within your grasp.

Next; A guide to making a PS4 and PC compatible Twin Stick

Virtual-On Retrospective: A Certain Magical Virtual-On

Previous: MARZ

Kamachi Kazuma, a novelist for Dengeki Bunko most known for his A Certain Magical Index series was approached by Sega to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Virtual-On series with a novel. Their approach for Kamachi was to do a new sort of Virtual-On instead of just doing what had been done in the past, resulting in a cross-over novel. This was a sort of dream project for Kamachi, and at this point, it’s not longer just a dream, with A Certain Magical Virtual-On game released in early 2018.

A Certain Magical Index‘s first novel was released in April 2004, debuting Kazuma Kamachi as mainstream light novel writer, which also gained a popular animated series in 2008, and gets its third season in 2018. The series mainly takes place in a fictional city called Academy City, west from Tokyo, where science has advanced more than in the outside world. This city is of scientific marvels, making leaps and bounds to every which way. This means the city has constant testing of new technology and designs, including testing such things as weird soda drink flavours. The city is walled all around, protecting the valued assets and data, but also keeps other people out.

The most important project that’s running in Academy City is its espers. The city has around 2.3 million espers, all students who partake in Power Curriculum Program, which aims to attain one’s own Personal Reality in order to awaken esper powers. Personal Reality is essentially one’s own secular view on reality, able to affect the objective reality’s state through their own “power” to the system in microscale. Essentially an esper believes, if you will, that she can control electricity, and so she does. However, the Curriculum requires quite literal rewiring of the person’s brains through use of various drugs in all forms, various forms of hypnosis and suggestions, slight surgical manipulation of the brain, and different sensory deprivation methods. This rewiring effectively separates the students from reality, after which they may develop powers depending on their own reality. All these powers of course are not as potent as others, with some never manifesting any.

However, this is the science side of things, and the main story takes place in the magic side. Sorcerers mostly belong to different sects and religions of the world, and their magical power does not stem from being separated from the world, but rather from idol worship, where a system of rituals are prepared in order to invoke higher powers to grant supernatural effects on reality. This can range from creating golems to controlling wind with a tool. These are fundamentally different kind of power from that of an esper, and due to the sheer difference how the users’ are wired thanks to the Curriculum, an esper can’t use magic without physical trauma. Similarly, a sorcerer does not have access to espers’ powers, as they lack a Personal Reality.

Enter Kamijou Touma, the series’ main protagonist, who has the power to break down supernatural powers with his right hand. He has a rotten luck, which drops him into fights, causes him to lose money, or in one case, meet up with an English nun named Index, who is being chased. Due to circumstances, Touma is made Index’s companion, with the English church allowing him to accompany her despite the clear threat his right hand poses to them. Index is important asset to the world of magicians, as she holds Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a library of 103 000 forbidden books, in her head due to photographic memory and can recollect information from those pages. This places them both in a crossroad of events and situations, where both the world of science and magic collide with each other, often despite of them, sometimes because of their direct actions.

This is, of course, very short and spartan introduction to the A Certain Magical Index series’ world, as we need some context for A Certain Magical Virtual-On.

Continue reading “Virtual-On Retrospective: A Certain Magical Virtual-On”

Virtual-On Retrospective: MARZ

Previous: FORCE

In the early 2000’s, Sega’s plan was to deliver cheaper and more effective arcade hardware for the Japanese market, which of few would see worldwide releases. NAOMI 2 was given the emphasize over the Hikaru, which was phased out in 2002. NAOMI 2 would last to 2008, with Atomiswave, a Sammy developed NAOMI derivative, running by its side. Around the same time in 2001 Sega developed the Triforce with Nintendo and Namco, based on Nintendo’s GameCube. Two years later, Sega would release Chihiro to the arcades, based on Microsoft’s Xbox. All these arcade machines ran different games that Sega was directly involved and developed, like NAOMI 2’s Virtua Fighter 4 series, Triforce running AM2 developed F-Zero AX, Atomiswave running many fishing and fighting games Sega was part developer and publisher, and Chihiro most known for OutRun 2 and House of the Dead III due to their Xbox ports. Later in the 2000’s, Sega’s arcade hardware would be more or less completely home media derivative, based on normal PC architecture, making some of the modern games running on a modified Windows. However, there was no Virtual-On, on any of these systems.

With Virtual-On FORCE generally receiving lukewarm acceptance from the overall audience, regarding Oratorio Tangram the superior game, Hitmaker would develop a console-only sequel for the PlayStation 2; Virtual-On MARZ.

Continue reading “Virtual-On Retrospective: MARZ”

Virtual-On Retrospective; FORCE

Previous: Oratorio Tangram

Sega often had multiple arcade boards running at the same time and never really dedicated their library and efforts on just one board. For example, while the Model 3 board was developed to replace Model 2 and was introduced in 1995, Model still kept going until 1998 and was phased out only after NAOMI hit the scene. Furthermore, Sega had their System 21 running from 1987 to 1996, while their H1 system was barely a blip on the scene in 1995, with it being their last Super Scaler board and had only two games. Other companies, like SNK with Neo-Geo, emphasized the amount of games on a board for a more economic approach. However, Sega had made good business in the arcades with excellent selection of timeless classics, but as we saw with the Dreamcast’s end, all things must come to an end.

Sega Hikaru hit the scene in 1999, before Model 3 was phased out and after NAOMI was put into public use, the Hikaru is almost a high budget, envelope pushing hardware to NAOMI’s ties to more budget conscious approach. Despite being derivative of NAOMI technology, it was expensive to produce due to its chipset, and it was hard to code for due to its intricacies. It featured a custom build Sega GPU with advanced graphical capabilities, almost a standard for Sega’s flagpole systems, with additional CPU, sound and other custom processors that utilised the expanded bandwidth and memory. All this was partially to enable the Hikaru to do Phong shading, which was the most advanced shading technique of the time, which essentially calculated the needed colour per pixel, making triangles on a model seamless and allowed better specular highlights.

The Hikaru was developed almost exclusively for Brave Firefighters, a 1999 arcade game.

Continue reading “Virtual-On Retrospective; FORCE”

Music of the Month: 8-Bit Brave

Ah, what a month has it been. If you’ve noticed that the writing has been all over the place for during January, that’s because I’ve had much less time to given any emphasize toward quality (or whatever quality goes into making this blog) and just getting something out. Let’s stretch a bit, as usual for these posts.

We basically skipped the usual robot related design and a review post. The Virtual-On historicals have taken their slot, as they require comparatively a bit more research than what I have time now, especially considering I still need to play the games to give them a proper assessment rather than just going with the flow. I’m also planning an additional post about where VO has appeared outside of its own games, mostly mentioning Valgern-On and MARZ‘s Super Robot Wars entries. There’s quite a lot of to do with these upcoming three, and I can’t even begin to write properly about A Certain Magical Virtual-On as of now. I’ve also added the VO entries into Robot Related Materials you can access in the menu on the top of this page.

With VO posts doing relatively well for a niche topic, I’m considering of doing more of post of their sort. Not necessarily historical entries per se, but more series or franchise comprehensive series. Still, Muv-Luv and Guilty Gear related stuff still reign at the top of most hits, with few mecha and that NES region free post in the mix.

With my new work contract that I’ve gained via career change, I’ll be working a full day-job in five shifts. Whether or not I have time, or simple energy, to write something of worth nothing twice a week may become rather challenging. I’ve decided not to push myself with this, and will allow myself to pass on one of the posts, if deemed necessary. I’ll try to drag A9Doc, who did the neat Digimon post recently to cover my sorry ass, if he manages to come up with a neat topic. You may see more Digimon related posts than usual because of this, but all of them should touch on character designs or the like first and foremost to keep it according to the blog’s theme.

This also means I’ll be breaking the thousand word limit I’ve had for years now. This is to ensure that I can include all the things I’ve wanted to mention rather than splitting some topics. In some cases, I’ll forgive myself if I got well under that golden standard I’ve been living up to. If somebody is wondering why I had such a limit, it was because early on I got some feedback that I tended to write posts that were too long to read. Thus, cutting back and making them more palatable was the goal back then, but that was then.

To help with things overall, I will take last year’s Monthly Threes and combine them into one larger post per topic. Is this cheating, I hear someone ask. It partially is, but these posts have some of the best stuff I’ve done. With some encouragement from a certain Casp O’saurus, I’ll be picking some of my better posts and try to spread them around a bit more.

As for the ixtl/âge stuff, there hasn’t been much I’ve wanted to comment on. I never made any posts about Avex picture’s acquisition, because I never got a good picture what sort of company they are, in the end. There are less good sources to go through, and things being more or less standard Japanese corporate politics says things can go either ways. Either ixtl will stay as they are and be milked to the end, until they’re absorbed fully into avex as a whole, or they’ll manage to do some seriously impressive stuff that will make money. Knowing ixtl’s track record, despite the Kickstarter, things can go either way. At least the translation team has now moved to ixtl’s stables. We’ll just have to sit back and see when everything has been cleared out, as they’ll have to relaunch Muv-Luv on Steam under a new publisher now that Degica is no longer involved.

TSF comparison entries are still planned, but just as with the Guilty Gear comparisons, time is a commodity  that I don’t have too much. I’ll plan one of each for March, as February is still Virtual-On country.

I once said that I’d follow Yo-kai Watch‘s success in the West, but seeing its success was less than expected, it really did drop from my radar. I picked up the first game from sales recently, and I have to admit that I’m liking its semi-automatic battle system. I’ll have to play it a bit more to get a proper feeling, but all things all, I can understand well why the series got such a loud applaud in Japan. Maybe a review is coming out on it at some point, but not anytime soon. I’ll be giving some of the sequels a look too, and how they’re managed to change the formula.

And oh, the reason why Yuusha Oh Tanjou! got the spot this time around is that The King of Braves GaoGaiGar‘s final episode’s 20th anniversary was on the 31st of January.

 

Virtual-On Retrospective: Oratorio Tangram

Previous: Operation Moongate

Virtual-On was a relative success for its time. It saw most of its popularity in Japan due to larger availability of arcades and the Saturn doing better there than anywhere else. For America however, the success was much more limited. Less arcade machines to go around and Saturn’s lukewarm success were the main reasons. The PC version, much like other Sega’s PC releases, was less emphasized over their own console’s port. This lesser success seemed to convince Sega’s European section not to release the Twin Stick controller in the region. Despite how the game is considered a sort of landmark for Sega and mecha games overall among fans, that’s all mostly in retrospect. Its impact didn’t exactly topple any towers, and ultimately met similar niche status as Sega’s other Saturn seller title, Panzer Dragoon.

The decline of arcades, and Sega’s mismanagement of their hardware side (especially during Mega Drive’s later years and Saturn overall) limited Sega’s business success overall, with Sony taking their place as Nintendo’s main rival with the PlayStation. That is not to say that Virtual-On ended up being some sort of sales catastrophe, as Japanese arcade goers took the series close to their hearts. This being Sega, they gave more emphasis on this fact rather than considering the franchise’s world wide success.

Despite Sega Model 2 being a success on its own rights, Sega was always pushing their arcade hardware further. If Nintendo has an obsession to introduce 3D to home hardware, then Sega had an obsession to push the 3D hardware at arcades. Hang-On, OutRun and Space Harrier are all examples of 80’s Sega finding ways around to introduce 3D-like effect to their games, and you could even argue that Sega’s teams became master of sprite scaling in this fashion.

Sega didn’t cut much corners with their arcade hardware, and Sega Model 3 supports this approach, as it was the most powerful arcade system board of its era. As Sega’s last piece produced by their partnership with Lockheed Martin, it contained graphical hardware designed by Real3D and Mitsubishi, which was a spin-off company from Lockheed Martin. However, Real3D only saw success with Sega, and their partnership with Intel and SGI ended up as market failure, and in the end was sold completely to Intel in 1999 due to changed arcade markets.

The reason why Mitsubishi was brought into the partnership was Real3D had a series of delays with their GPU. Originally, the Model 3 was supposed to be released in 1995, but had to be pushed back to 1996, with Yu Suzuki claiming it would deliver the best 3D graphics thus far.


Model 3, of course, ran the latest Virtua Fighter

Continue reading “Virtual-On Retrospective: Oratorio Tangram”

Virtual-On Retrospective: Operation Moongate

This post is first in a series of five. You can access all posts in Robot Related Section linked above, or move between sequential post at their beginning and end

Virtual-On is one of Sega’s hallmark game franchises, developed by Sega’s AM3 department. It had everything the arcades required in 1996; 3D graphics that you wouldn’t see at home, unique controls, flashy graphics and fast paced gameplay. When most of the 3D mecha combat games on the market aimed for slow and emphasized on realistic simulation, like Shattered Metal or Mech Warrior 2, Virtual-On hit the arcades with sharp, colourful 3D models in fast paced third-person action with (relatively) easy controls. This is perhaps the best example of East VS. West mentality when it comes to giant robots. Even in arcades, among other blooming 3D games, Virtual-On stood apart with its excellent presentation and unrelenting game play.

 

Continue reading “Virtual-On Retrospective: Operation Moongate”

Music of the Month; Radio Allergy

Welcome to 2018. I hope you’ll have fun. All things considered, last year wasn’t all that bad.

Looking down the year, and how I failed miserably to keep up a theme during last twelve months, I won’t be doing a monthly themed posts for now. Partially because single posts seem to do so much better when they’re not tied to anything. However, the usual stuff will return in more or less the same shape; Muv-Luv‘s TSF comparisons I’ve yet to cover (there are still few of them on the table), Guilty Gear character design comparisons (those always seem to do rather well) and the occasional mecha design thing, which will have no running theme or the like. Unless someone just pops in and gives me twelve points per theme to talk about. These aren’t New Year’s resolutions, I made none this year, but these are something you can look forwards.

However, looking at the reviews I’ve done, with some feedback from a poll I did a month back or so, it would seem that there is some demand for game reviews. However, these won’t be taking any precedence over other stuff (I still aim to do weird peripheral or other reviews if I can),  but I will review the more esoteric titles that may not see Western releases, like the upcoming A Certain Magical Virtual On. I actually got into the A Certain Magical Index/ Scientific Railgun series because of this upcoming Virtual On crossover, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised on its quality. I had a chance to try and observe how I went from not giving a single damn about the license to actively looking forward how things get combined. That’s a post on its own.

You may have noticed that the Top 5 of 2017 was filled with modern games as opposed to NES or SNES games, and I kinda expect this sort of trend to continue, at least for the first half of the year. There are numerous games coming out this year that I am interested in, and that new VO title really is the one I’m looking for the most. It should give me some material to discuss the differences in the series overall, as I aim to gain the PS2 SEGA Ages release of the first game as well as Virtual On Force. I guess that’s a series of posts on itself, and now that I think about it, I should start writing this series this month, so I can write about A Certain Magical Virtual On right after Oratorio Tangram, as that seems to be the most popular and well-known title in the series. Marz is pretty terrible, but just how terrible? Well, we’ll see.

Which leads to something I’ve been considering doing for a while now; moving slightly away from the writer persona while doing these posts and aiming to do few more personal things… like what I just said about the A Certain X series. That is not to say it’s being abandoned, but long time readers know how I’ve lamented the fact that me and the writer persona have become more or less the same thing. I probably will add a new tag to denote which post has been written from which point of view, but they should be clear. For example, if I were to write how hardback books are superior to paperbacks, that’s a completely subjective view and lacks the writer persona’s view. Whether or not this will cause the quality of the blog drop is another thing entirely, but it’s not like this blog has high standards to begin with, right? Not that these would become the main thing on the blog. Knowing me, I won’t even go through with this at all, but at least its out there.

As for the Digimon design evolution post that was supposed to come up last year, A9Doc hasn’t gotten around finishing it yet, probably due to sheer amount of examples and other stuff that he needs to go over and double-check. I should do one of these as well at some point, the subject is what I should decide on. The Metal Gear  posts are a great example of this sort of thing, so something similar that has a single running object being updated would be great. Something like the design evolution of Pikachu, if it wasn’t something bigger fans have already covered.

As for Muv-Luv, well, there really isn’t anything to go by. With ixtl taking charge of the Kickstarter, backers and fans can only cross their fingers and hope that nothing gets screwed up. I haven’t found enough good sources to comment on whether or not avex pictures acquiring ixtl/âge will be a good thing on the long run, but I’d argue we’ve already seen large shifts within ixtl, with things being rather silent, Kickstarter being taken over (I keep using taken over, because I guarantee you a company like Degica didn’t want to see others meddling in their affairs, even when ixtl is the rights owner) and the lacking news and such. Not that I can blame anyone in charge of these, Japanese corporate politics are such horseshit at times.

As for personal things that might matter for the blog, in some two to three months I’ll be finalising my career change, if all things go as they should. Due to me and my personal life not actually mattering jack shit, all I’ll be saying that depending on the workload and hours I’ll be putting into it, posts may decrease or increase. I keep saying variations of this, because things haven’t been exactly stable for me for number of years now, but maybe this year I’ll be able to have a job that doesn’t require me to screw with the timetables

All that said, have a good one and enjoy your day.