Shifting Perceptions: Trophies & Achievements

I’ve recently earned my first ever platinum trophy in a Playstation game. Bearing in mind that I’ve been playing trophy-compatible Playstation games since the PS3 days, you might be wondering just why has it taken me so long. The short answer is that I simply didn’t care about trophies, no matter how much bragging I read about trophies (or Xbox Gamerscore) on the gaming forums I was once heavily into. I was finished with a game once I’d completed the story or gotten bored of messing about in a post-credits open world. My trophy count didn’t even factor into it. They were simply annoying little “ping!” sound effects that disturbed the game.

But it seems that I’ve finally succumbed to the pull of trophies…sort-of. I lost my platinum V-plates thanks to Spyro: Reignited Trilogy but it should be noted that the three games included in this remake package are EASY to plat’. Many of the requirements for unlocking trophies are insultingly easy and involve menial, non-skillful tasks. I achieved most of them by pure chance for example, including 97% trophy completion for Year of the Dragon, on my first run-through, without even looking at the trophy list. What I’m saying is that I don’t really class this very first platinum trophy as an “achievement”. Yes, there were a few fiddly trophies that took several attempts to snag but, overall, the difficulty level was nothing to write home about.

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I completed the Reignited Trilogy last year but, on a whim, I decided that I fancied another run of the game before I got into another story-driven or open-world game. Knowing that I’d almost accidentally platinum-ed the game(s) the first time around, I thought it would do no harm to have something extra to do on my second visit. So it was that I decided to fill in those blanks and collect that first platinum trophy.

More importantly, this made me think about how my attitude toward trophies and achievements has mellowed over the years. Hence why this topic is going to be first in an ongoing “Shifting Perception” series; a series that aims to examine how many of my gaming opinions have altered over the years.

How I used to think

At the start of this post, I implied that I had traditionally been indifferent towards trophies and achievements but, while that is certainly true, I also used to be strongly against the concept. Y’see, I’m not a show-off or a braggart, and I’ve certainly never been interested in trying to beat other gamers when it comes to high scores or – in this case – an achievement tally. I’ve always been more interested in simply enjoying a game myself. I never understood why some people were so hardcore when it came to their virtual trophy cabinet or the size of their Gamerscore.

So, while others were embracing the concept, I was actively trying to avoid it. After all, it added nothing of value to my gaming experiences. I was more annoyed at how some PS3 games used to briefly stutter when a trophy notification was popping up!

It also didn’t help that I became aware of a particular breed of gamer during the PS3/Xbox 360 era: the species of gamer that put their achievements before the pure enjoyment of the hobby. These were the gamers who would intentionally buy crap games, childrens titles or movie tie-ins that came with easy trophy/achievement lists. A few hours “work” and they could max these games, boosting their platinum trophy collection or Gamerscore with little effort. I even frequently saw articles in gaming magazines and websites that promoted this sort of thing by listing off ten or twenty games that you could buy cheaply on the used market and quickly max out.

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Terminator Salvation (PS3) – a notoriously easy Plat to achieve.

In my mind, it invalidated the entire trophy/achievement thing and made a mockery of it. Some games were incredibly difficult to achieve the platinum trophies or full achievement score on, requiring multiple play-throughs or genuine skill and persistence to get. With these games, maxing them out MEANT something. But what did those hard-earnt platinum trophies count for when Dave down the road had three, four or five times as many for beating a big stack of bargain-bin games designed for kids below the age of ten? At a surface level, you can only see the number of trophies attached to another gamer’s profile so, unless you dug deeper, you wouldn’t see that Dave’s trophy collection was just a superficial front.

I just didn’t get it, and this dark practice did nothing to make me want to join in.

How I’ve changed

Over the years, however, my attitude has changed somewhat. I have less gaming time on my hands these days so I tend to want to play less and get more out of what I do play. It’s why I’d rather play a handful of games and invest in the DLC, if it’s any good, rather than trying to rush through as many new releases as possible.

I suppose this is the main reason why I’m not so against the trophy and achievement systems anymore. After all, it’s something that helps you get more out of games before putting them on the shelf or trading them in. As long as I can maintain a nice balance and not end up becoming one of those sorts of gamers that I’ve just criticised, then it could be fun going forward.

It also takes me back to the days when I didn’t really have a disposable income and therefore had no choice but to replay games and squeeze every last drop of value from them. It’s a more humble and balanced approach in my opinion and beats the alternative of having shelves upon shelves loaded with more games than I’ll ever have the time in my life to play, let alone complete. Been there, done that.

Sometimes, we wonder how gamers in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s had the patience or skills to complete some of the most unforgiving, balls-hard games ever coded. The answer is that they weren’t spoilt or drowning in cash. They had a game and it had to last them so they had to get good at it. If trophies or achievements had existed back then, you can be sure that gamers would have wrung even more out of those old cartridges/tapes/floppy discs and maxed out those brutal games.

 

 

Capcom planning to revive dormant IPs

A lot of gaming news and announcements completely fail to enter my sphere of interest these days but, sometimes, I see/hear something that I can’t help but be excited for. It’s these little moments that remind me that, as much as I have cooled-off on the hobby in recent years, I still love gaming. Such was the case when I saw the news that Capcom is planning to “revive dormant IPs”

In fact, I was so pumped, that I decided to make a quick post about this news. First thing’s first though: I read this on The Fighters Generation, a website dedicated to fighting game news, reviews and artwork that any fan of the genre really should have saved in their bookmarks/favourites.

And HERE is a direct link the story.

Apparently, Capcom’s confidence in their classic franchises has been bolstered by the success of Devil May Cry 5, Resident Evil 2 Remake, Monster Hunter World and the collective sales of 18.5 million units.

Naturally, the potential here is incredible. Capcom’s back catalogue is enormously impressive and I believe most gamers could think of a franchise or standalone game that had the Capcom logo on the box, and that they would like to see revived going into 2020 and beyond. Obviously, it’s far too early to get any hopes up yet but I’m going to throw caution to the wind and list off the top five games (in no order) that I would like to see announced…

Darkstalkers

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[Image Source]
It should come as no surprise – given the name of this blog – that I have always been a huge fan of Darkstalkers. It’s basically Street Fighter with vampires and mummies but Darkstalkers is so much more than that. The beautiful 2D art style lent a colourful and playful comic-book style to characters and themes rooted in horror. It was also an incredibly creative series with crazy moves and nutty supers that were a gazillion times more interesting to behold than Street Fighter‘s equivalents. And that’s saying something when much of Ryu and co.’s pyrotechnics, gravity-defying punches and outrageous super moves weren’t exactly grounded in reality in the first place.

In theory, a new Darkstalkers should be a success. After all, you only need to look at how popular and enduring the characters still are. However, Capcom have a recent history of trolling the fanbase with various hints and rumours that haven’t led anywhere unless you count Darkstalkers Resurrection for PS3/360 which was just a duo of tarted-up ports.

This being one of my absolute favourite series’ of all-time, I do have some reservations, however. Firstly, the game really needs a sumptuous 2D style to do the originals justice. I know that hand-animating genuine 2D sprites and backgrounds is no longer a viable thing in the industry but I’d happily settle for a convincing imitation. The King of Fighters XIII and Blazblue spring to mind, for example. But knowing Capcom, they will likely fall back on the tried-and-tested 2.5D style that has powered recent Street Fighters and MvC games.

Secondly, I will be underwhelmed (to say the least) if a new Darkstalkers becomes the next Street Fighter V and adopts the same rushed launch, DLC/F2P approach and focus on online play. And please, no petty stuff like censoring Morrigan’s cleavage or putting Felicia in a nun’s outfit (and yes, I know that that actually happened in one of her endings).

Capcom Vs SNK 3

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The timing for a third installment in the CvSNK series has never been better. SNK are riding high at the moment with the successes of KOF XIV and Samurai Shodown (both great games) and they have been setting the fighting game world alight with mini crossovers. Mai Shiranui slotted neatly into Dead or Alive, Geese Howard brought his counter-attacks to Tekken 7 and Terry Bogard has starred in TWO non-SNK games – Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Fighting EX Layer.

So why not blow the minds of fighting game fans and bring back the crossover series that gamers have been clamouring for for so long? The potential is immense. So many new characters have established themselves on both sides of the Capcom/SNK divide in the last twenty years so there’s ample room to spice up the roster. They could even expand it some more so that it doesn’t feel like just Street Fighter vs King of Fighters. Tatsunoko Vs Capcom and the last two Marvel Vs Capcom installments have shown that the developer isn’t averse to some left-field thinking and sending out tournament invites to characters not traditionally associated with their fighting games.

As with Darkstalkers, my main reservations would be the visual style and whether a CvSNK3 would become DLC: The Game. I have to be honest though: neither would put me off playing it.

Haunting Ground

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[Image Source]
A bit of a different survival horror game that didn’t do brilliantly at retail first time around, but now commands a fair price on the second-hand market due to gamers eager to play what they missed out on. Away from commercial success (or lack of), Haunting Ground was a interesting game from the same publisher that brought us Resident Evil. Unlike that series, however, the protagonist – Fiona Belli – didn’t fight back against the sinister enemies stalking her. The twist was that you really were just a frightened teenage girl, trapped in a massive castle, and being hunted by the owner’s servants.

Fiona had to avoid her enemies and hide in closets or underneath beds and it was very tense, knowing that you may or may not be discovered. She also had her faithful canine companion, Hewie – a German Shepard that could be instructed to attack enemies or retrieve out-of-reach items. You had to look after Hewie though, and keep him healthy so it almost felt as if you were building a genuine relationship with this dog, Fiona’s only friend and – in many cases – chance of survival.

Haunting Ground had such a fantastic, chilling atmosphere. There were only three enemies in the game but the threat of being found, and knowing that you could only flee in terror, ramped the tension up to often unbearable levels. Fiona could also fall into a state of panic if she was exposed to too much. Visibility worsened, she could start running about of her accord and could even fall over. Staving off exhaustion played a key part in keeping Fiona’s sanity at healthy levels and preventing a dehibilitating state of panic from setting in, so you had to be careful not to run too much or abuse the backstep and tackle abilities.

It was such a creative and original survival horror game. It also looked superb by PS2 standards. Additionally, there aren’t many enemies in the survival horror genre that can hold a candle to the robotic creepiness of the maid, Daniella.

Dino Crisis

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[Image Source]
In period, Dino Crisis was often described as “Resident Evil with dinosaurs” and that’s pretty much what it was. The controls and camera angles were very familiar to Resi players and the game was even developed by the same team. The original Dino Crisis was a big success and cemented itself as a firm favourite that most 90’s gamers will have played or at least heard of.

Unfortunately, the series never achieved the same longevity as it’s zombie-infested sibling. Dino Crisis 2 traded survival horror for a greater focus on all-out arcade action but was still a success for Capcom. The same couldn’t be said for 2003’s Dino Crisis 3, however; a sequel that took the series into space with new characters, mutant creatures engineered from dino DNA and one of the worst in-game cameras ever implemented. The fact that it was exclusive to the original Xbox – when Dino Crisis was traditionally a Playstation-first series – probably didn’t help sales either.

So it would be awesome to see a brand-new Dino Crisis that perhaps uses the Resident Evil 2 Remake engine. Come on, Capcom: bring things full circle again.

Final Fight

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Thanks to digital platforms, side-scrolling beat ’em ups have seen somewhat of a resurgence in recent years with many enjoyable, original examples finding their way onto PSN and XBLA in amongst welcome ports of classic arcade brawlers. Even Streets of Rage is finally getting a true fourth installment so wouldn’t it be great to see a Final Fight 4 as well?

Obviously, there have been other Final Fight sequels post-Final Fight 3 but it’s difficult to count those as ‘proper’ sequels. Final Fight Revenge was a pretty poor attempt to simultaneously take the series into the third dimension AND the one-on-one fighting game format. Final Fight Streetwise returned to the beat ’em up format but barely had anything in common. I didn’t entirely dislike Streetwise (it’s so bad that it’s fun) but the miserable urban ghetto setting, swearing, a storyline based on substance abuse and even mutated abominations towards the end of the game, all marked the game out as the blackest of black sheep in the Final Fight series.

What we need is a REAL Final Fight follow-up that reintroduces some colour as well as the traditional side-scrolling format. It would be great fun. The recent inclusion of Final Fight 3‘s Lucia in Street Fighter V proves that even the lesser-known sequels to the original arcade hit are still in the front of Capcom’s mind so maybe and brand-new installment isn’t such a wild wish…

So those are my personal top five choices for Capcom revivals. What do you think of this news? What would be on your wishlist?

Nintendo Switch Lite thoughts

Nintendo have surprised everybody nobody at all by releasing a ‘Lite’ version of their Switch console. The Switch Lite is billed as a “compact, lightweight addition to the Nintendo Switch family, with integrated controls.” They also say that it is “dedicated to handheld play.”

In normal speak, this means a portable-only version of the Switch with joycons that can’t be removed and no TV output. So why would you even want to give a shit? Surely going backwards is a bad idea? Well, that’s what many said about the 2DS and look at how successful that was for Nintendo. In fairness however, the USP for the 3DS (it’s 3D effect) was increasingly under-utilised by developers and had always been divisive given how it gave some gamers negative side effects while others felt that 3D didn’t add much to the games so left it switched off anyway. In short, the 2DS had less to lose.

The Switch Lite however, loses some of the major selling points of the standard Switch (which will still be available to buy). You won’t be able to hook it up to a television for example so no more switching (hur, hur…get it? I’ll get my coat…) between the big and small screens. You also won’t be able to detach the controls for multiplayer. As far as I’m aware, both of these features have been a success with the Switch, unlike the 3DS’ 3D effect which wasn’t such a major loss when the 2DS hit stores. What’s more, an updated model of the standard Switch has apparently been released that improves battery life by upwards of 50% (depending on how you use the thing). This is a bit of a kick in the teeth for the Switch Lite before it has even been released.

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[Source]
So, er…why would you bother with the Lite? Well, it’s cheaper for starters. About $100 cheaper in North America. It’s also looking to be bang on £100 cheaper here in the UK too. That makes no sense when you consider exchange rates and values of currency but we’ll just ignore that. Obviously, you could pick up a used Switch unit bundled with games and accessories for the same price (or cheaper) than a brand-new equivalent so there is that to consider but not everybody wants to go for used hardware that other people’s kids have had their grubby mitts all over. Also, the Lite is meant to be more comfortable to hold and there is that added assurance of durability with integrated controllers that can’t be worn out or damaged by constantly removing/replacing them.

All of that said, I would buy a Switch Lite. “Why?” I don’t hear you asking. Because:

  1. I’ve never owned a regular Switch so this wouldn’t be a downgrade
  2. I have no room beneath/next to my TV for more consoles or docks. When you’ve been gaming for many years and like to keep older machines and games, you tend to run short on space pretty quickly. I have no more connections TO the TV left anyway…
  3. I’m not likely to bother with local multi-player as I’m more or less a solo gamer these days
  4. £200 for a brand-new example of a current-gen system appeals to me.

Now that that’s out in the open, I feel that I have to address my previous posts on the Switch because when the console was much younger, I made a series of posts about why I – as a Wii-U owner – wasn’t interested in upgrading to the (then) new Nintendo hardware. If you missed these three posts then here are some quick links to them:

One of my major gripes was to do with feeling shafted as a Wii-U adopter/supporter. After all, I’d bought into the weird console which turned out to be a massive flop that could have tanked Nintendo. I’d put money into buying the top-spec variant of the machine and multiple games. Then it was killed off fairly quickly for reasons that I completely understand and agree with. What I was more aggrieved by was the arrival of the ports – specifically upgraded ports of Wii-U games. These were games that I had already purchased and spent money buying the DLC for and now they were being re-released as “new” titles for a new audience who possibly didn’t realise that, for gamers like me, they were a “been there, done that” deal.

The second sting in the tail was that it reduced my desire to buy into the Switch when the best games were just rehashes. Again, I can understand why Nintendo did this because games like Mario Kart 8 and Pokken Tournament were fantastic games that deserved to sell more copies but their success had been restricted by the Wii-U’s limited appeal and tiny ownership. But the Switch also played host to a bunch of third-party ports of games that were available at a budget price on the likes of the PS4 and Xbox One, but were selling for £40 on the Switch. More old games that were of no interest to a cross-platform gamer such as myself.

Thankfully, we are now out of that period and the Switch has since come into it’s own as a worthy platform in its own right. I can now honestly say that there is enough exclusive or original stuff available to make the Switch a viable purchase for me. Obviously, I haven’t kept up fully with the releases so there will be things that I have yet to discover but off the top of my head, these are a few games that sell the system to me. Note: I’m not including the obvious Marios and Zeldas etc. because those go without saying!

SNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy

Switch-1Yes, the game was widely received as fanservice rather than a “serious” fighting game but even so, I still want to play this since I am a big SNK fan. Also, the game wasn’t granted a physical release on the PS4 and since I am loathe to download full games from PSN (due to HDD space, uncompetitive pricing and my crappy internet speed), the Switch retail copy is something I’d like to pick up.

 

 

 

Blade Strangers

Switch-2Another fighting game that didn’t get a physical release on the PS4 and one that I was looking forward to for a long time. It has all the elements that appeal to me: 2D-style presentation, Kinu Nishimura art and characters from the 3DS’ Code of Princess. Again, I would prefer to have this on the Switch for the same reasons as SNK Heroines. Previously, it frustrated me deeply that games like this were denied disc releases on the PS4 (because I didn’t own a Switch!) but the cheaper entry point of the Lite changes all that up (or should I say ‘Switches’ it all up? No? Oh…).

 

Smash Bros. Ultimate

Switch-3I’ve been ploughing hours into the Smash Bros. series ever since Melee on the Gamecube and I’ve yet to be disappointed by any of the entries in the series. The Wii-U game was one of the best things on the console and so the Ultimate follow-up for the Switch looked mighty appealing, especially given that it really does live up to its title with all of those characters. I can’t say I’ve ever really been into the online or super-competitive sides of the game but I’m confident that I would be able to extract more than enough single-player entertainment from the game to make the purchase worthwhile.

 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Switch-4I’ve fell out with Fire Emblem in the not-too-distant past. Awakening on the 3DS was a fantastic game that finally achieved the unthinkable and dragged the series into a more mainstream light. However, I did not enjoy Fates (a.k.a Camilla’s Breasts: The Game) at all. From how impossible the special edition (with the all-in-one cartridge) was to get here in the UK, to how I felt like I was playing a waifu simulator with an inferior visual design to what had gone before, I sacked the game off pretty early on. Three Houses is getting a good reception however and so it would the perfect chance to give FE another shot.

 

Dead or Alive Xtreme 3

Switch-5I’ve always enjoyed these games, regardless of what the critics say. I already have the Asian-English variants on the PS4 and Vita but this is an updated edition that I could take advantage of with the Switch’s region-free nature. Nintendo not region-locking the Switch was a shocker in itself but even more shocking is their relaxed policy towards censorship compared to Sony who have decided to clamp down on it. This means that the Switch is the best place to play Xtreme 3 and that’s not something I ever imagined me saying when the console first launched.

 

Ultra Street Fighter II

Switch-6Granted, I wasn’t kind to this game when I wrote those original Switch articles. I said that it was an old game that Capcom had simply tarted up and added two new characters to before releasing it at full-price. I don’t support that kind of thing and never will. But I really enjoyed the original HD Remix (which Ultra is an upgraded version of) and if I could buy a used copy of this on the cheap then I certainly would. To be honest, it would be worth it just to play it on a handheld, wherever I am sitting because the OG HD Remix is sat on my PS3’s HDD.

 

So there you have it…I’ve more or less been converted to the idea of buying a Switch. I agree with all of the criticism that the Lite has received but at the end of the day, I think decisions like this have to be made on an individual basis. If, for example, I needed that TV Output or was looking to play a lot of local multiplayer then the Lite wouldn’t even be on my radar. However, it ticks a lot of my boxes and I think that £199.99 price point is quite attractive, especially now that I know I’d have more than enough games to get stuck into and make the purchase worthwhile.

Watch this space.

(Not so) Special Edition

One of E3 2019’s biggest stories was the new footage of Final Fantasy VII Remake. Expo-goers seemed to love what they saw and much frenzied fanboy whooping and cheering ensued. Hitting the videogame news outlets a little more quietly was the information on several special/collector’s editions that will be available when the game releases in 2020. The most premium of these editions will include a statue of Cloud astride his Hardy-Daytona motorcycle and be available exclusively available at Square’s online store. It’s also going to be very expensive. If you want the details then I suggest you check out Strange Girl Gaming’s blog since that’s where I learnt about it.

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But I’m not here to talk about this particular special edition specifically. This pricey collector’s piece is simply the inspiration that I’ve needed so that I might collate my thoughts on special editions in general and put my opinion out there. You see, in the past, I would have been all over a product like the FFVII 1st Class Edition and making sure that I slapped that pre-order down before it was too late. Times have changed however because the 2019 version of me doesn’t lust after collector’s editions anymore.

In fact, I think the majority of them are just garbage. There; I’ve said it.

The market for special editions wasn’t always this way of course but you have to cast your mind back to a time when special editions were the exception rather than the rule. Younger readers amongst you might not remember but most games prior to the PS3/360 generation only shipped as standard copies. Special editions were unusual and the ‘special’ in the designation actually meant something. They were actually limited (today’s “limited” editions have pretty big print runs in comparison), difficult to find and came with bonus items that actually had some thought and money put into them.

There were two examples that immediately sprang to mind when I first started thinking about the evolution of special editions and how the older examples were simply much better. The first was The Last Ninja 2 on the Commodore 64. Here, the special set came with a real shuriken (imagine that being permitted now!) and a wearable ninja mask/hood. The other was the Ecco the Dolphin boxset for Sega’s Mega Drive. Manufactured in tiny quantities, proceeds from the sale went towards a real dolphin in the London Aquarium that had been named ‘Ecco’ as part of the tie-up.

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[Source: ebay]
But somewhere along the line, publishers realised that they could charge a small premium on top of the standard RRP of a game by placing the regular game case within a flimsy card outer sleeve and including a non-comprehensive artbook and sometimes a soundtrack CD (again, non-comprehensive and usually more of a sampler CD). JRPG’s were the first genre to frequently receive this treatment in the PS2 era and while nobody can deny the appeal of some nice extras, the problem for me was that if you enjoyed the art of the game THAT much, then there would usually be a ‘complete’ artbook available to buy from Japan which included ALL of the concept art. Likewise, a complete version of the soundtrack would be available in a standalone CD set.

The trend wasn’t so bad when confined solely to JRPG’s though. After all, JRPG players are more likely to be collectors in general so a pretty boxset that offered a little more than the usual retail release was a welcome option. But then the concept spread to pretty much every other genre and by the time of the PS3/360 era, seemingly every game had a special/collector’s/limited edition. Steelbook editions became a widespread trend as did packing games into oversized boxes with massive figurines or statues. Some games had multiple special edition variants exclusive to different retailers and then came the ‘Day One’ editions of games which usually included a voucher with some free DLC on it (did you feel ‘special’ buying those ones?). I seem to remember one of the Call of Duty games going a step further and shipping with a ‘Day Zero’ special edition.

Ar Tonelico 2 SE
The JRPG side of the PS2’s library regularly featured boxsets like this Ar Tonelico II special edition of mine that I recently sold.

The reasoning for all of this was actually quite simple. Videogame publishers were losing money thanks to the a) the pre-owned market b) retailers slashing prices within a week or two of a game’s release in order to be ultra-competitive with their rivals and c) the ignorant, entitled consumer expectation that they should receive incredible gaming experiences and pay nothing for them. Eliminating manuals, reaping extra revenue through DLC and selling season passes were methods employed to recoup some of the profits they were losing. Exploiting the materialistic magpie in us was another.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, the contents of the special editions would cost more to produce in the first place so the publishers wouldn’t make that much money on them.” It’s a fair point until you consider that a great chunk of these collector’s editions were packed with cheap tat that really wouldn’t have cost that much to manufacture. Outer boxes were flimsy for example. Many steelbooks were produced from cheap tin, as evidenced by how many older ones are rusty or corroded at this point in time. And the bundled statues were cheap, low quality efforts that paled in comparison to dedicated releases from specialised figurine/toy outfits, trading on their eye-catching size rather than finish.

And as I touched on earlier, the vast majority of these so-called premium variants were not as limited as many believed. Some were still readily available from major retailers months after release with heavily discounted price tags to encourage buyers to take these hunks of plasticky shit off the hands of stores. The Duke Nukem Forever ‘Balls of Steel’ edition for example was far cheaper than the RRP of the standard game in no time at all. I too got burnt when I bought the special set for Driver San Francisco, only to discover that the bundled Dodge Challenger model was nowhere near as good as I’d expected. Worse still, it launched for around £60 before tanking to the £20 territory.

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Looked impressive but rapidly lost all value. [Source: Youtube]
Whichever way you choose to analyse the market for special editions, there is only one truth as far as I am concerned. That truth is that publishers saturated the market with this crap and forged a paradox where something ‘special’ isn’t actually ‘special’ anymore. Take billionaires for example: we see them as extraordinary people with masses of cash that lead the kind of lives we can only fantasise about (unless you, valued reader, are a billionaire too in which case I feel a little honoured by your presence on my blog!) but if everybody was suddenly to become a billionaire then none of us would be extraordinary. In fact, we all be extremely average and ordinary. Boring, even. It’s a similar thing that has happened to special editions.

To put it another way, you EXPECT there to be a some form of limited/special/collector’s/ultimate/Day One/Day Zero/steelbook/exclusive (delete as applicable…) variant of any new release these days. There’s no surprise anymore; no value. We all could have safely bet next month’s paycheck on Square unveiling a lavish special edition for the Final Fantasy VII Remake but the odds on such a bet would have been incredibly low because we’d all win that wager.

I very rarely show interest in special editions anymore. Partly because of what I’ve discussed so far in this post but there are other reasons too. Storage space is one. These big boxsets take up a lot of room and when you are buying a lot of special editions, that space is eaten up rather quickly. They also cost a lot of money and investing both space and money into piles of cardboard and plastic that is often never used or displayed (just stored in boxes, cupboards or attics for the sake of ‘having’ it) is not something I see much logic in doing. For me it is just straight-up materialism and I am personally attempting to move away from materialistic personal values. I want a more minimalist, rooted approach to life where I own a few things but not excessive amounts of products that don’t enhance my life.

You might be wondering if there was a specific tipping point or collector’s edition that broke the camel’s back and you’d be correct in asking that question. For me, it was the Soulcalibur VI collector’s edition on the PS4. I was hyped for this game and pleased to say that the end product surpassed all expectations I had – SCVI is fantastic. Unfortunately, that hype led to me pre-ordering the collector’s edition which I consider to be one of my biggest wastes of money.

The big draw was the large Sophitia figure that takes up most of the box. Sophie is my favourite character in the series and so I was enticed by the prospect of owning a decent model of the Greek warrioress. Unfortunately, the actual figure felt cheap and unimpressive once I had her in my hands (I’m sure the real thing – if Sophitia wasn’t just polygons and code – would be less disappointing!). If I’m being generous, it was extremely average and not something I was happy with.

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Looks good from a distance and in pictures but up close, I wasn’t impressed. [Source]
To add salt to the wound, I then discovered that we’d been utterly shafted here in Europe by Bandai Namco. Our soundtrack was a download voucher rather than physical as in the North American version of the collector’s edition. Also, we didn’t receive the artbook or steel case. The Euro version of the SCVI CE felt like a cheap, watered-down imitation of the American counterpart. Worse still, the pre-order price for this (incomplete) edition was £130. At the time of writing this article, that translates to $163.41 which is an utter joke when you consider that the US equivalent launched for $149.99…for MORE extras.

Right now, the Euro version of the CE is still available from Amazon for just under £80. So…it’s still in stock and cheaper than it was when idiots like me pre-ordered the fucking thing. Thus proving my earlier observations that CE’s are over-priced, undesirable and nowhere near as exclusive as made out.

All I had to show for my purchase in the end was the game and bundled season pass (which has proved to be great in fairness). I struggled to sell the figure, soundtrack voucher and box on ebay for more than £25 so had to take a massive loss on the chin and learn a valuable lesson. I won’t be buying any more special editions in a hurry, that’s for sure.

What is your opinion on special editions? I’d love to read your comments/thoughts on the subject.

Why Dead or Alive 5 was great

It seems like a long time ago now that Dead or Alive 6 was first announced but guess what? It’s finally here. At the time of writing this however, I still haven’t picked the game up nor had the time to watch any footage of it in action so I’m still sceptical about Tecmo’s promise to tone down the titillation and how this will affect the series. That and Sony’s recent shift towards tighter censorship for games appearing on Playstation platforms. Don’t misunderstand me though: I have no doubt that DOA6 is a superb fighting game (and one that I WILL eventually buy) but for me, the silly sexualisation and appealing female characters are a traditional part of the series.

And I enjoy it so shoot me if you disagree.

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Obviously there are pros AND cons to adjusting Dead or Alive‘s DNA. Tecmo clearly want DOA to be taken as seriously as the likes of Tekken and Street Fighter at a competitive, e-sport/tournament level, an ambition that can only go so far when many of the characters’ outfits in the outgoing DOA5 are banned from being selected. Also, as much as I personally approve of skimpy alternate outfits and being able to play around with breast physics in the options menu, these aspects no doubt restrict DOA‘s audience to the faithful core of loyalists, doing nothing to change the outside opinion that DOA is “just a game for pervs” (a real-life quote from somebody I know).

With all of this in mind, I thought it would be timely to take a quick look back at Dead or Alive 5 and why it was so good. After all, if 6 does decide to be a bit too serious then it’s comforting to know that we can always break out our copies of DOA5: Last Round.

The Guest Characters

These days, guest fighters from rival games (or even completely unrelated genres) are a standard feature in fighting games but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they always fit right in and compliment the roster (Noctis and Negan in Tekken 7 for example). DOA5 quietly got it so right though. The four Virtua Fighter guests feel right at home and retain their familiar moves whilst also seamlessly slotting into DOA‘s fighting system. It has proven to be one of my favourite fighting game crossovers of all-time, even if CPU Jacky and Sarah sometimes seem suspiciously difficult to beat.

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Even better was the signing of SNK’s Mai Shiranui. After all, who fits a Dead or Alive game better than a loosely-garbed female ninja with huge boobs? The best thing about this specific guest appearance however was that it seemed like the kind of thing that fans of fighting games would have been asking for in their dream scenarios. Mai looks fantastic in DOA5 and comes with her signature special moves from KOF while learning some new combos to help her ‘work’ in her new, 3D environment (KOF Maximum Impact doesn’t count as prior experience…). Happily, she was recently confirmed as part of DOA6‘s roster.

The New Characters

New characters in long-running fighting game franchises are always a tricky one. The developers must:

  1. Come up with a distinctive and unique fighting style that hasn’t been done before in the series.
  2. Design a visually-appealing character that isn’t too similar to existing characters

Get it wrong and you end up with clones or characters that are simply uninteresting to play as. With DOA5 I feel that they mostly succeeded with the new characters as far as the overall fanbase and reception was concerned. I wasn’t personally a fan of all of the new challengers but I’ll get to that in a second.

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I really liked Mila for being a more rough ‘n ready fighter with an MMA-inspired style of fighting and slightly more realistic look that wasn’t all about the supermodel looks and massive boobs (although Tecmo ensured that she put up an ample fight with the latter). Then there was Rig who looked really bad-ass and brought Taekwondo to the series. The last of the new characters that I liked was Nyotengu who I just think has a really cool design and interesting fighting style.

The other new characters have all been successful for Team Ninja but aren’t personal favourites of mine. Phase 4 was a Kasumi clone that I couldn’t really get that excited about and Honoka was a typical archetypal schoolgirl with mountainous breasts and a fighting style that I didn’t really think that much of. Finally, there was Marie Rose who – despite being classed as 18 years-old – always struck me as uncomfortably young in appearance given the game’s inclusion of swimsuits and sexy attire. More importantly, I don’t care for her fighting style either.

On a commercial level however, all of these characters were a big success for Tecmo and Team Ninja. Honoka and Marie Rose for instance became immediate fan favourites and the cover stars of Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 as a result.

The Cinematic Look

Before I played the OG version of DOA5, I have to admit that I was pretty apprehensive about the game’s big action movie approach with cinematic set pieces and dynamic, multi-layered stages. After all, being able to deal extra damage by booting an opponent over the edge of a rooftop or launching them into a piece of interactive stage scenery seemed to break the rules of fighting games to me. True, we have seen this sort of thing before but it looked like it was going to be more heavily-promoted this time and moved front-and-centre.

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Truth be told though, I actually ended up really enjoying it all. It gave DOA something unique and a little more interesting and definitely contributed to the excitement of the fights. A particular favourite of mine was one of the city stages where you can kick an opponent off a collapsing rooftop just as a fuel tanker crashes and triggers a massive explosion. Thankfully, you can turn this stuff off if you prefer to be a bit more traditional but on the whole, I don’t think it interferes too much at all anyway and it’s worth remembering that while you can suffer “cheap” damage, you can also win rounds yourself by taking advantage of a stage’s hazards.

Also, the additional battle damage detail such as the dirt, realistic perspiration and the water-related wet effect were nice touches that made a battle seem just a touch more realistic after it was over and your character struck their win pose.

The DLC

Now this one is a double-edged sword. DOA5‘s DLC was certainly too expensive and far too vast, prompting many of us to reach the not-unreasonable conclusion that Tecmo were simply abusing the fans and the marketing force that is “sex sells” by releasing an endless stream of outfits that grew progressively more outrageous as time went on. The online store was (and still is) an utter mess with outfits difficult to find, certain packs not working unless you downloaded compatibility “catalogues” and DLC from previous versions of the game not working with the updated releases. Other outfits simply state that they are not available to purchase for no apparent reason and making people pay for DLC characters that were later included on the disc in Last Round felt a bit shitty.

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On the flipside, the constant stream of DLC did at least mean that there was always something to keep the playerbase playing. Very little of it was conceived prior to release so it was a good example of a developer constantly providing for owners of the game as the years passed. Obviously, the cynical motives behind the overall DLC strategy will be impossible for many to ignore and there’s no denying that the pricing and organisation are unforgiveable BUT if you can look past all of this, then DOA5 is a game that endured. You also need to remember that just because a DLC strategy rubs you up the wrong way, doesn’t mean that you are being forced to purchase any of it. I personally enjoyed the DLC and was only really aggrieved by my downloads from the base version’s collector’s edition not working with Last Round, causing me to piss about for ages downloading compatibility packs etc. Ultimately, I’m still playing the game today and a small part of that is because there are still a great many bits and bobs that I can still buy from the store.

Parting Thoughts

All of these reasons aside, Dead or Alive 5 was simply a great game. Many like to poke fun at the series and call it a “game for pervs” and there’s no denying that there is some truth in that viewpoint – let’s not embarass ouselves by spouting airs and graces. However, DOA has always been a fantastic fighting game in its own right. Fast and fluid with organic combos that are easy to learn for button-mashers and difficult to master for pros, DOA is a unique game. The hold system separates the amateurs from the learned and there are endless ways to link moves together.

Additionally, DOA5 (in any incarnation) looks utterly fantastic. The graphics and character models are impressive and the detail with regards to things like sweat and dirt only help to enhance this.

By the time DOA5 reached it’s Last Round incarnation, it was truly one of the great fighting games of the last generation. The roster was filled out and very comprehensive as far as the series’ legacy goes, the available DLC was enormous and there were some very nice special features available such as being able to customise the soundtrack with tunes from previous DOA entries. Add to that the collaborations with other videogames/anime for interesting DLC and the guest characters that I talked about earlier and it’s not difficult to see how DOA5 lasted for so long. Yes it has its flaws and the titillation will not be for everybody but it was a great game and always will be.

Is there an SJW agenda in videogames?

For this discussion topic (more like a random brain-fart born of the sludge in my mind), I’m going to have to rewind a bit to last year (2018) since this was an idea I had back then but – for one reason or another – didn’t get around to writing about.  First of all, I have to admit that the title for this post might be a bit too sweeping and broad because I’m only really going to be talking about sexual imagery. I just didn’t how else to head it up.

Anyway, Streets of Rage 4 was announced last year much to the uncontained joy of old-school gamers and Sega fans the world over. Opinion was split on the visual style and whether or not the game looked like a worthy successor but I noticed that there was one specific aspect of the reveal trailer that received comments of a consistent theme…

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[gif: benfiquet.com]
That’s right. People seemed more satisfied with the fact that Blaze Fielding had retained her infamous, sexy look. Forget the game itself – fuck that triviality. All that matters is that Blaze is still rocking a highly impractical short skirt + boob tube combo. Let’s not forget those glorious “thicc” thighs and bouncy, poorly-harnessed breasts either. Twenty-four years may have passed since Streets of Rage 3 but Ms. Fielding is still a fox. The comments section on the Youtube video for the trailer was particularly interesting with many praising the retention and enhancing of Blaze’s original design rather than toning her sexuality down to appease the SJW brigade and their perceived attack on videogame design.

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The above is just a tiny snapshot. There were twenty-seven replies alone in just this one stack for example. Disregarding the presumptuous and angry language used in many of the comments, there was a clear indication that there is a division of gamers that feel their hobby is under attack by SJW types and those with political-correctness on their mind(s). These are just the reactions to one game however. Across the internet, I have been reading exasperated comments from fans of all kinds of games who are subscribing to the idea that social do-gooders are working to remove the sexuality from female characters and leave a political imprint on escapist entertainment.

A few other examples that have fanned the flames of dissent in recent years:

  • Nintendo censoring cleavage and blurring out upskirt shots in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (Wii-U)
  • Nintendo (again…) removing unlockable lingerie outfits from Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water (Wii-U)
  • Capcom fiddling camera angles in Street Fighter V to conceal Rainbow Mika’s taunting butt-smack intro
  • Nintendo (not picking on them – honest) de-sexualising Zero Suit Samus for Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch)
  • Sony’s recent decision to start applying stricter censorship to Playstation games in the future.

There are doubtless many more but you get the idea. Personally, I have a mixed opinion on these. Some I certainly don’t agree with, some I’m not bothered about (because there is little impact on the game itself) and others I’d be okay with if the developers didn’t apply ‘censors’ in such a crappy, bodge-job fashion. On the whole however, I am one hundred percent against such petty censorship that goes against the original designs and artwork. Thing is, if you complain about toned-down boobs or being unable to get a clear upskirt shot then you will likely be considered a pervert or sad, basement-dwelling nerd. It’s not about demanding gratuitous, seedy imagery however; it’s about being treated like a child and having somebody hold your hand, deciding what you should or shouldn’t be able to see. It’s about being told that sexuality is evil and immoral. It’s about having the artwork of others meddled with – a crime in itself.

But I’m not here to go too in-depth with my own views on the subject. I’m here to try and look at this rationally and ask the question: is there an SJW agenda in videogames?

I think that the answer isn’t entirely clear. It’s a “yes” and “no” kind of thing. I don’t believe that there is a conscious agenda aimed at sanitising everything but I DO think that wider, more encompassing feminist and moral causes have had a knock-on effect for the videogame industry. Nobody is specifically looking at Rainbow Mika and writing to Capcom in a offended frenzy, demanding that she put her mega bottom away for example. In this particular instance, Capcom USA decided to that it was necessary to tone down Mika’s bawdy behaviour in order to achieve the desired age rating for Street Fighter V and tap into as bigger a consumer base as possible. This is a knock-on effect of increasingly sensitive ratings boards who in turn want to ensure that they align themselves with society’s expectations of what is and isn’t “acceptable”.

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We could dig even further back and investigate the social and political shifts over the past few decades that have encouraged our definitions of acceptability to evolve. We could ask the (perfectly legitimate) question of whether or not social media and biased news outlets have warped the minds of millions during that time and directed people towards certain viewpoints. We could even wonder why harmless titillation must be heavily scrutinised in the USA but the right to own destructive military-grade firepower is deemed to be okay.

The point is, it’s a more complex issue than simply pointing the finger at “them” and raging about not being allowed to see boobies anymore. Yes, the SJW agendas have affected the videogame industry but in an indirect way. The fact is, most of what we feel we have “lost” would probably still be included if it weren’t for the trepidation of the publishers and the amount of money they have invested in a project…money that they may not see a return on should the likes of the ESRB, BBFC and PEGI decide to award a higher certificate and therefore restrict sales. Large companies are very keen to prevent problems from ever becoming problems. Commercially, this makes sense. Unfortunately, it’s not such a great time to be of an artistic mind as a result.

I wouldn’t say that we are being “oppressed” but we are certainly experiencing the fallout of high-profile sexual assault scandals here in the West and these massive stories have dramatically altered the landscape of our society and given more voices to feminists, SJW’s and those who are hunting out misogynistic behaviour. It’s no surprise that the entertainment industry suffers as a result, especially when the likes of Facebook and Twitter offer a platform for people to begin shouting and attracting negative attention for movies and videogames “guilty” of sexualising the female form for the benefit of men. Publishers don’t want their products demonised and their reputations tarnished and so less liberty tends to be allowed on game design.

I am certainly not an apologist but the videogame industry has gotten away with using the “sex sells” theory from the start so there is perhaps an argument to say that we had this coming. Nowhere was it more blatant than the mid-2000’s or PS2/Xbox/Gamecube era as it might be better known. This was a time when so many games and advertising campaigns were sexed-up to the max for the sake of it. These days, the PS4 and Xbox One are owned by a wide range of people but the PS2 was more synomonous with the stereotypical teenage boy and so it seemed that the way to increase sales was to include as many tits as possible, even when there was no logical reason to do so.

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Prince of Persia: Warrior Within went all dark, emo and gratuitous, much to the confusion of those who loved Sands of Time [image: gamesradar.com]
I am a man therefore I like boobs and bums. No point in sugar-coating it for the snowflakes out there. I do still retain my brain lobes however and I can recall so many instances of advertisements or actual game content that depicted idealistic, incredibly well-endowed women that didn’t really add anything to the games themselves. Some games were childish to the extreme (Big Mutha Truckers and BMX XXX for example) while others such as Tecmo’s Dead Or Alive Xtreme ditched subtlety altogether and turned their cast of female warriors into little more than sex dolls.

It’s amazing to consider that all of this was a mere decade ago and now here we are with small details being edited out or painted over. On one hand, it’s impossible to defend objectifying women, even if they are digital and fictional.

On the other, it’s important to remember that videogames are entertainment, fantasy and escapism from an increasingly professional, sterilised (and monstrously hypocritical) world and we should be careful how far we take this quest for “justice”. The road to hell is paved with good intentions as they say and I happen to believe that a world without the freedom of expression and artistic liberty is Hell. I am after all a massive believer in letting people get on with what they enjoy and simply opting out if it isn’t to their tastes. I rarely play games that lean towards the glorification of cold-blooded violence for example but I’d be the last one demanding that the industry “wake up” and start censoring everything I disagree with. Slap an appropriate age rating on the box and let us decide for ourselves what we wish to consume. We must take responsibility for our own actions and what we choose to view after all and on that note, responsible parenting also falls to us – not the companies putting out content that WE allow our offspring access to.

In conclusion, I cannot agree that the SJW hardcore are working to keep us down and pick apart our media with laser-precision targeting. What we are experiencing is the simple knock-on effect of what is going on in our society right now. However, I also urge restraint and implore people to have common-sense rather than pushing, pushing, pushing all the time. The snowball effect is a very real risk and genuine, worthy causes may very well end up neutering expression, art and harmless titillation. The next decade is going to be very interesting.

Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t going to live up to expectations

When Square-Enix revealed the long anticipated and much demanded Final Fantasy VII remake in 2015, they finally put their fanbase out of their misery and sent the community into meltdown mode, especially as the same expo saw the announcement of Sega’s Shenmue III. Things have gone decidedly quiet since then however with only the occasional reassuring statement to let fans know that development is still on-track.

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[Image: wccftech.com]
This isn’t a post about how I have concerns for the project’s progress though. This is going to be me exploring why I believe that the FFVII remake – no matter the eventual quality of the finished product – will fail to satisfy expectations. This isn’t just baseless doom-mongering and negativity on my part but a stance inspired by videogame history itself which has shown that remakes and sequels to beloved games/franchises have such a microscopic sweet spot to hit if they want to please everybody.

Change too little and the new game can seem unnecessary and can even come off as a quick, lazy money-spinner for a publisher. Alter too much and the developer risks alienating fans of the original products. With the FFVII remake, it is my belief that Square could run the risk of the latter. I have no doubt whatsoever that the finished product will be a fantastic, polished game of high production value in its own right but in the process of thoroughly modernising everything and going down the episodic route it could lose too much of the original’s charm and ‘feel’. To look at one example, the FFVII community has been slightly split in the years following the original game with many not entirely happy with the realistic, sometimes ’emo’ mood that the spin-offs and – in particular – the Advent Children CG movie adopted. FFVII Remake is certainly going to look a truckload more realistic than the world inhabited by Popeye characters in the Playstation original but it’s important that Square don’t try and get all serious and gritty as with more recent Final Fantasy installments.

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The game is going for a more action-based, realistic look this time around but will it put off stalwarts? [image: polygon.com]
Speaking personally, I can’t criticise the newer games because I haven’t played them but the battle systems and general gameplay have left me doubtful purely based on the footage I have watched over the years. Obviously, this could simply be me refusing to let go of the Active Time Battle system but on the flipside, I am one of millions of gamers who enjoyed the original on the PS1 and so a remake that behaves like many other action games will be off-putting. It looks a bit Kingdom Hearts-like thus far and while I had no issues with the battle system in those games, I also don’t have any overly fond or nostalgic memories of it either. Like it or not, people like me have to be catered for if you choose to remake a game that is as special as FFVII. Newer FF sequels…not really; they can do as they like and lean more towards the younger gaming generation. It’s called progress.

If you want to see some examples of remakes that succeeded in the black art of remaining true to the structure(s) and feel of the originals while also looking like fresh, modern experiences for newcomers then you need to check out the likes of Yakuza Kiwami, Pokemon FireRed & LeafGreen and last year’s Spyro Reignited Trilogy. All of these were brought right up to (the then) modern standards with minimal meddling with the original game design and mechanics.

Final Fantasy VII Remake is going to be an entirely different beast that will not resemble the original game that much at all and while I reiterate that it will be a great product, I also think it will simply be too different for those that adore the Playstation classic and still regularly embark on play-throughs of the game all these years later. This reasoning aside, it has also been too long, With all of the hype and anticipation that has built up over the past fifteen years or so (remakes were first talked about by Square in the PS2 era!), there’s very little chance for the remake to actually meet these sky-high expectations. This isn’t a damning prediction that I am levelling exclusively at the FFVII remake but at any long-awaited remake or sequel such as Shenmue III, Half Life 3 or Streets of Rage 4.

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It doesn’t look like this segment will appear in the remake which is a shame. Direct your thanks to those who would find some way to twist it into an “offense” or social injustice…

You could say then that Square were foolish to even consider greenlighting such an ambitious project that has to be realised in a very precise and specific manner. On the other hand, a lot of the old guard amongst their fanbase have drifted away over the years anyway with hardcore fans who have been there since the early days of FF not gelling with the likes of FFXIII and the the recent MMO style sequels. In this sense, perhaps they don’t fear pissing off the loyalists as much as they might have done ten or fifteen years back. At the end of the day, it will be a great end product and it’s good to see a publisher committing money and manpower to a bring into being something that their fans have pleaded for.

Me personally, I would have opted for a much more mild remake that would have risked less consumer division and taken less time to produce. I would have kept the third-person perspective that they are going with for the town/overworld exploration but ensured that things don’t get too dark by careful use of colours and music. I would have retained the Active Time Battle system (regardless of how outdated it may seem) and given the music a sympathetic mix (i.e. not transforming the OST into the “badass”, techno and rock update that I fear will actually happen) with the option to use the original composition. I would have let the visuals, CG scenes, updated script and a few extra expanded areas here and there do the talking when it comes to the actual updates and new content.

But that’s just my view as a gamer who has a special place in his heart for the original and doesn’t wish to see radical changes that will alter the atmosphere I recall. The remake will be a big event, will be a good game and will likely sell by the bucketload so the opinion of a dusty oldtimer like me doesn’t necessarily mean all that much but there are a lot of us out there and I – sadly – don’t see us all being satisfied come release day. Pleasing everybody is impossible and that’s just a fact.

Consistency is Key

If there’s one thing we don’t see enough of in gaming, it’s consistency. With which franchises and developers can you safely place your hard-earned money for a day one purchase without waiting for the reviews to come in or the Youtube streamers to show you the truth of the final product? The answer is “not many” and it has always been this way. Games that hit the big time and spawn sequels will inevitably fall into one of several traps:

  • Eventually the series will go for a sequel too far and interest will drop off once consumers have finally had enough of the same formula.
  • On the flipside, a spin-off or radical revamp of a much-loved series will change too much and get universally condemned or – at best – become a “meh” title that purists shun.
  • The publisher milks a good thing and turns it into a yearly series. Originality and consistent high quality become diluted and suffer as a result.
  • A different developer/publisher takes the reigns and fails to capture the magic of the originals. See the likes of Spyro and Crash in the PS2 era for example.
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Unforgiveable glitches and performance issues aside, Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly wasn’t a terrible game…it was simply bland and lacking any of the charm of the Insomniac games.

So what is the secret formula that can produce consistency over a long period of time? I’m not sure that there is a concrete answer and there is perhaps an element of circumstance and dumb luck involved. Additionally, it’s important to remember that quality and consistency are also subject to personal taste/opinion. For example, mainstream gamers may say that the Onechanbara series is consistently a load of weird shit with terrible production values but avid fans of the series will say that as long as the games stay as they are then they are consistent in a positive way.

These things aside, I have decided on three ingredients of videogame development that I believe can contribute to consistent high quality plus a developer and series to help illustrate each point.

“It’s done when it’s done”

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Say what you will about Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series but the developer doesn’t rush the next game out, no matter how loud the fanbase is calling for a remake of Vice City or a game that is even bigger than the last one. A new GTA simply arrives when it arrives and the consistency in the results is staggering. Each new game is bigger than the last, more feature-packed than the last, prettier than the last and all of this without sacrificing quality. Every game has small glitches but GTA games don’t arrive as buggy messes that need enormous day one patches to repair. They also manage to remain relevant and the series has avoided stagnation over the years as a result. The only deal-breaker is personal preference and for some gamers, the violence and outrageous moments are a turn-off but this aside, you cannot deny the quality of the completed product. Truly a safe bet for a pre-order.

Love

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I’m technically cheating here – since I’m not focusing on one single game/franchise but a developer’s entire output – but this is my blog so screw the rules. You may recognise Vanillaware’s Dragon’s Crown up above and that’s because Vanillaware are a developer that clearly pours a lot of love into their games. The art is always beautiful and the team make the games that they want to make based on influences close to their heart. There is also an element of “it’s done when it’s done” with this developer in particular because there is always a long wait between new releases given that the team is relatively small BUT the wait is always worth it. Basically, if you adored the likes of Odin Sphere, Dragon’s Crown and Muramasa: The Demon Blade then you can safely slap your money down on day one, whatever comes next.

This long gestation time allows Vanillaware to put a lot of themselves into the game(s) and ultimately, they are making said games because they want to, not because some marketing bloke in a suit has ordered them to get to work on whatever’s hot right now. Of course, this way of working can also go the opposite way when a superstar developer uses his position to indulge personal fancies and the results are interesting games that suffer with horrible mechanics or dull gameplay, all the originality being confined to plot and wacky characters (see some of Suda51’s less critically acclaimed releases for example). On the whole however, I see love as absolutely essential for a series to remain of a consistent high quality. After all, if a developer truly loves a game then they won’t be satisfied with a shoddy hack job.

Constant Enhancement

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Sega’s Yakuza series is almost a contradiction to the very factors that cause the stagnation of videogame franchises. After all, they have been pumping these games out at a crazy rate for a good while now with the older titles being completely remade at the same time that brand-new sequels are in development. We already have four Yakuza games on the PS4 for example which is noteworthy given how the first five (not including the two Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan spin-offs and Dead Souls) were spread across two hardware generations. How many will we have on the PS4 by the time the platform is obsolete? Who knows.

Additionally, while the games improve technically and visually, you are basically doing the same thing every time: working through a cinematic, Japanese crime saga with many, many sidestories and distractions, beating up thugs and exploring Japanese cities/culture. Yakuza avoids the repetition factor however because each new game remains familiar enough to veterans whilst constantly introducing enough new stuff to surprise. These enhancements range from significant updates to the combat engine to smaller details such as new mini-games. Yakuza 4 introduced multiple characters/storylines for example while Yakuza 5 pumped even more fresh content into the game in the form of in-depth, character specific sidestories such as Kiryu’s taxi racing and Shinada’s baseball missions. Basically you know what you are getting but there are always enough enhancements and additions to keep the series feeling fresh. How Sega consistently maintain the overall quality and production value of the series while their other franchises (Sonic for example) are all over the place is something even I cannot answer properly however.

This constant, gradual enhancement is necessary for a long-running series to endure. Too much too soon and hardcore fans run away. Change too little and consumers will eventually ask “what’s the point” and not rush out day one.

These are just my thoughts on how to achieve consistency. Are there any other major contributors that I’ve overlooked? Let me know in the comments!

R.I.P Stan Lee

I haven’t made any posts relating to comic books here on DS90 Gaming as of yet (though I did have a few mini reviews in mind) but even so, I felt that it was impossible to ignore the passing of a comic book legend. To say that I was surprised to hear that Stan Lee had passed away would be a lie because I’d been expecting the worst for a while given his age but I was still sad to hear the news. Usually I’m not moved by celebrity deaths (as cold as that may sound) but it’s a little different when it’s somebody from “our” community who gave us so much and seemed like a genuinely nice guy.

Comics were a form of escapism for me in my adolescent years and I got into the world of Marvel through Spiderman and The Avengers, religiously buying the UK reprints (that are still sold here) on a monthly basis. It was from there that I first discovered the classic material and then the wealth of original US-published material that we don’t always see on this side of the pond.

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This was my favourite era of Spiderman

My preferred era of Marvel comics was the 1990’s and all that came before. I stopped caring after the onslaught of mega, universe-consuming crossovers that began with House of M, Civil War and Secret Invasion. To me, It felt like Marvel overplayed the shock value card with constant deaths, major shake-ups and the end of self-contained books. Constantly resurrecting dead characters and undoing the emotional impact of their original demise also began to grate on me. I didn’t read very much beyond the aforementioned crossovers (which seem so long ago now) but I have had a look at various storylines from the following years and decided that current Marvel really isn’t for me.

The 90’s and previous were just so much more colourful and the artwork more raw and less computer-enhanced. Plus, the comics could be dark when they wanted to be dark (see the early 90’s Ghost Rider run for example) so there’s no argument to say that the older stuff was more ‘kiddie’ and less serious. I really cannot be bothered with current Marvel and the movie universe(s) which receives such massive hype. I’m not saying that any of this is crap in any way (because it most certainly isn’t) but it just isn’t for me and I’m comfortable with that.

Anyway, all that is a subject of its own for another time. The reason I talked about it at all was because Stan Lee is heavily intertwined with 60’s/70’s/80’s/90’s Marvel – my personal golden era. This was a time when he was creating new characters, penning the scripts or editing for the company. I’d just like to say “thanks” for creating so many fantastic characters and capturing my imagination over the years. You will be missed.

Excelsior!