Rundown (10/04-10/10) Schedule Kerfuffles!

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Wherein I discuss how my content buffer is getting wrecked, a trinity of Sony-based blunders, GameStop’s gasp for life, and Xbox’s continued evolution from a product into a service.

So, this month I have been trying to kick myself in the butt and get a buffer of content re-established after I spent the better part of a month working on a 6-part Ramble, and then put out another Student Transfer Scenario review session. As of this post’s publication, I have just finished work on my post set to release on Wednesday, October 14th, and have done nothing for anything past October 16th. On one hand, I do kind of enjoy having a fire put under my ass and trying to get something done ASAP, but unless I can work on two weekly posts in a single week and re-establish my buffer, things are going to remain this way going forward.

This is the problem with having regular content distribution schedules. While it is nice for the receiving end, on the creative end, there really is no break, and taking a day off to address personal things means you need to hustle your ass to get on top of your schedule. And seeing as how I have been working some 10 hour days at my various jobs (it’s tax season), there have definitely been days where I have done practically nothing for Nigma Box.

With all of this in mind, I am considering putting an end to my weekly schedule come 2021. Because while I have done a generally good job of maintaining my content distribution schedule from 2016 onwards, Nigma Box does not have a very large following, will never have a large following, and only exists as a creative hobbyist outlet for me. And if I want to focus on larger projects and articles, then I might need to adopt a more fluid or ad hoc schedule.

For the remainder of 2020, I’m gonna keep pushing myself, but come 2021, I think I will continue to release stories, essays, and reviews regularly, but on a less rigid basis, so I can focus on quality over quantity. However, I will make a more formal schedule announcement when the time comes. For now, this was just a pre-Rundown musing by yours truly.

Something that was an issue for a while but was gradually accepted as just the way things are is the fact that, when bringing the Playstation 1 over to North America and Europe in 1995, Sony opted to change the standard functions of the X and circle buttons due to perceived cultural differences. In Japan, a red circle means to confirm something, while a blue X, or cross, means that something is incorrect. However, Sony thought this idea would not fly with westerners, that they would view red as negative and that they would view an X as a check mark, an affirmation.

I always thought this was a foolish decision, that Sony should have never settled on this controller layout if it lacked global appeal, and that this entire situation could have been averted just by going against what Japan considered normal and chasing a global appeal from the beginning. Which could have been achieved by simply switching the colors of the circle and X buttons. As far as I am aware, there is not a circle culture on the planet Earth where a red X isn’t symbol for a negative or something bad, and while a blue circle is more ambiguous, blue is a calming color, and people tend to view smooth shapes more positively than shapes with jagged edges or a lot of corners. It’s why people like baby animals.

Actually, now that I think about it, the entire Playstation button layout is… just kind of stupid. I get the shapes, as they are neutral and transcend cultures, but the colors and placement don’t add up in my mind. They had four colors, but they decided on red, blue, green, and… pink, which is basically the same color as red. They could have made it purple, orange, or preferably yellow, but no, they went with pink, and they made both a pink square button and a red circle button, which look like the same damn thing at a glance. Red, blue, green, and yellow are the most widely distinguished colors aside from black and white, but instead of going with the same color scheme as the Super Famicom or Microsoft Windows, Sony just had to do something different with the Playstation, and for no good reason.

…Wait, why did I go on this tangent in the first place? Oh, right! Sony Interactive Entertainment has announced that the Playstation 5 controller buttons will have the same basic functions in all markets around the world, with the western model of blue X being the accept button and red circle meaning the cancel button. This is a perplexing decision that will assuredly require many Japanese game-likers to go through a prolonged adjustment period as, for the past 25 years, and possibly their entire tenure of playing video games, these functions have meant opposite things. Which makes Sony’s sudden decision to change this, or at least not retain an option for players to switch the confirm and cancel buttons, all the more perplexing, as this helps no one aside from developers who have already gotten used to this, and will inconvenience… pretty much everybody who uses a Playstation in Japan.

The article where this was revealed claims the justification for this is to maintain parity with the button functions in menus and in-game… but your system should be able to synchronize these functions, and should give players the option to choose what they want the confirm button to be. I mean, I’m not a programmer by any stretch, but this sounds like a fairly basic concept to implement on a system-wide level. Instead, they are just dropping this feature… just for the hell of it.

However, Sony is not dropping support for PS4 games— there would be bloody riots if they were going to— and after some confusion about how many games would be backwards compatible on the PS5 at launch, Sony released an official statement on the matter. At launch, all but a select 10 PS4 games will be playable on the PS5, and for the most part… I have no idea what makes them special compared to other titles. For VR games like DWVR and Robinson: The Journey, I can understand there being technical issues, but for titles like Shadow Complex Remastered and Hitman Go: Definitive Edition, I have no freaking clue.

Ideally, every PS4 game should be backwards compatible on PS5, but I view these 10 titles as acceptable omissions and largely immaterial next to the 4,000+ PS4 games that are compatible, even though I downright adore Shadow Complex. However, I am not especially fond of how Sony is treating backwards compatibility, only truly concerning themselves with getting PS4 games on their new system, and not bringing over PS1, PS2, PS3, PSP, or PS Vita games to their new system.

As a platform holder who has persisted for so long, Sony has a responsibility to preserve their history, and they simply are not doing that. They went to so much trouble getting the bulk of the greatest PS1 games available on the PS3, made select classic PS2 titles available on the PS4, and even created a PSP emulator for PS4 that was used in Parappa the Rapper Remastered. But now, they are putting their history, and hundreds of amazing games, by the wayside, forcing enthusiasts, pirates, and emulator developers to preserve this history on their own.

To keep the Sony-beatdown-train rolling, let’s talk about Uppers. For those who forgot or simply never knew, Uppers is an over-the-top brawler created by Honey Parade Games and Marvelous Entertainment that originally launched for the PS Vita in 2016 in Japan. It was announced for a western localization in 2018 by publisher XSEED, where it was set to release on PS4 and Steam later that year. Time passed, no updates were made, and after over two years, XSEED finally announced that Uppers is coming out exclusively for PC on October 21st and that the PS4 release had been canceled.

No official statement was given as to why this was the case, but this likely due to Sony of America taking issue with the game’s content. Uppers is a very crass, raunchy, and sexually charged game where player characters are thrust into the breasts and crotches of teenage girls lining the sidelines of the battlefield. And Sony of America, despite publishing and heavily marketing games about committing simulated grizzly murder against photorealistic humans, has a policy against certifying games with underaged-looking anime girls being placed in absurd sexually suggestive situations.

I talked about this policy before, and my thoughts remain pretty much the same: Sony has every right to restrict the type of content they want on their platform, so long as it is clearly explained and consistent. Sony has historically done a poor job of explaining what their exact policy is to developers and the gaming community at large. And there is something… just a little bit pathetic about a multibillion-dollar company taking a hard stance about sexually absurd content involving cartoon ladies who might be under 18.

For about the past few years, I’ve been quietly expecting a news story about GameStop closing down shop and going the way of most specialty retail stores in this era of eCommerce, and shutting down entirely, robbing the western games industry of an invaluable asset in the process. I say they are invaluable because, while GameStop is rather crap and actively put its workers in danger when COVID-19 was first emerging in the US, they are the largest chain retailer that buys and sells used games, and offers the most accessible and robust collection of physical games. So while they are a crappy version of a good thing… I’d rather have them stick around than bite the dust because nobody is gonna take their place.

Anyways, they popped up in the news again this past week when GameStop announced a strategic partnership with Microsoft. Microsoft will be providing GameStop with additional software suites and tablets, theoretically improving their backend and giving employees access to more versatile POS machines. While GameStop will begin offering more Xbox related services, namely in the form of Xbox All Access, the program where customers can receive an Xbox console and 24 months of Game Pass Ultimate as part of a two-year monthly installment plan.

This is all clearly an attempt for Microsoft to spread their brand across the industry far and wide in order to recover the ground they lost to Playstation after the poor performance of the Xbox One during the first phase of its life. And while you could spin this story in a negative way because this is a story about two corporations doing a corporation-thing… I actually think this is a win-win.

By establishing a partnership with a company like Microsoft, GameStop should be able to better tread water during these turbulent times for retailers across North America. This is a good way for Microsoft to market its systems and services in a video-game-centric environment. And even though I have misgivings about the Xbox Series and its approach to storage, I do think the Xbox All Access program is a good deal. Partially because it is technically cheaper than buying the console and subscription outright, and partially because everybody loves Game Pass.

On that note, when Game Pass was first unveiled to the world, many tried conflating the service to a Netflix for video games. But a common criticism with this comparison was how games needed to be downloaded, which represented a time, storage, and bandwidth commitment not seen when streaming something.

However, that is very much changing, as ever since Microsoft began looking into their own streaming service in the form of xCloud, which is still in a prolonged public beta, but is shaping up to be a service where Xbox Game Pass titles can be streamed to any number of devices. Currently, they are only available for streaming on Android devices, but after happening across a Business Insider article describing how Phil Spencer plans on bringing Game Pass to iOS devices through the use of a “direct browser-based solution,” it finally clicked with me that Game Pass truly could run on anything, would not only be available to Xbox and PC players but to everybody with a good internet connection.

If Game Pass truly is browser-based streaming, then it could work on everything from phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, smart TVs, or even tiny streaming devices, and if that is the case… then the only thing stopping Microsoft from winning these developing “game streaming wars” is the performance of their service. Google’s Stadia has more or less crashed and burned by not being a true subscription service, and while Amazon’s Luna looks promising, Amazon has universally failed in the world of video games beyond their acquisition of Twitch back in 2014.

Also, even if the streaming is wonky for Game Pass, the simple fact that games can be installed locally already puts it leagues over any other service, as they are only for streaming.

…Okay, that is enough for the video games this week! Until Wednesday, cya!

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