Rundown (11/15-11/21) The Christmas Cake Birthday!

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Wherein I discuss my inevitable demise, the woeful hunts for the new games machine, a better revenue split, the trails to a completely localized saga, an unexpected licensing arrangement, and the dirty fruits born from a ransomware attack.

As somebody who dislikes celebrations and festivities to the extent that she considers them an unwanted nuisance that breaks away from the established routine of one’s life, it should come as no surprise that I don’t particularly care for my own birthday. I do not like celebrating myself, being the center of attention, receiving gifts, or being reminded that I am steadily losing grasp on my youth and will eventually begin to physically decay. With my hands scheduled to be devastated by arthritis and my brain forecasted to become more of a miasma of incoherent garbage than it currently is.

But there are certain birthdays that do represent significant turning points and do warrant a form of celebration. In the United States, turning 18 marks one as a legal adult and a major who can do whatever sex stuff they want so long as it doesn’t involve a minor. Becoming 21 allows one to purchase liquors and certain other recreational drugs. Once a person reaches their 59 and a half birthday, they can withdraw money from their retirement account without incurring stupidly high penalties. And after turning 65, you get government-sponsored health insurance. Y’know, that thing that most civilized countries offer for all their citizens.

I turned 26 this week, which has no greater meaning from a legal perspective, or even a local cultural perspective, but being the deplorable and inglorious weeb that I am, I couldn’t help but rejoice at my new age number, as it means I have officially become a Christmas Cake. Which, for those unaware, is a Japanese term for unmarried women above the age of 25, comparing them to an unsold good that is typically put on clearance or taken off the shelf after the 25th.

It’s definitely a derogatory and deeply sexist term… but it’s also one that I love the sound of. Being called a Christmas Cake sounds like an epithet or title more than something meant to shame somebody, as you are calling them sweet, delicious, and festive. You are comparing them to a treat you share with a loved one. Also, you have to be a dummy if you think that clearance desserts are even a remotely bad thing. They’re sweet treats you get for cheap! It’s like how the best day to buy candy is November 1st, because Halloween is over and stores need to make room for the Christmas sweets!

Something I did not fully grasp last week when I discussed the debut of next generation consoles was just how many people were clamoring for a Playstation 5 and how genuinely hard it was for people, even those who make a living doing video game stuff, to get a hold of them. From what I have been able to glance, this seems to be a very real shortage, partially caused by scalpers trying to stockpile them and make major profits, and partially caused by Sony not manufacturing enough units to meet the actual demand for these systems. Which some have assumed to be a deliberate marketing strategy to make people work and advertise their hunt for the system, but it’s more likely that Sony just under-produced the system since we are still in a global pandemic, and they weren’t sure how well the system would sell.

It is all very unfortunate for those who want to wait out the upcoming harsh, cold, and virus-riddled winter by staying home and playing some brand new video games. And while I want to highlight how now is not the best time to buy expensive entertainment devices as we are heading into an economic depression, I cannot fault people for trying to pursue happiness. The world is not doing too hot at the moment, people are stressed, they’re cooped up inside, and things are so gosh darn uncertain that I couldn’t fault somebody for deciding to not nest their money away when they are bordering their own internal depression.

Video games make people happy, and it sucks that those who want and possibly need happiness the most right now are instead fraught with stress and unrest as they cannot buy the things they want. I mean, scalpers were bad enough, but now we have delivery personnel taking the systems for themselves, and that… that is just awful. If you cannot trust your essential workers to give you your goods, then who can you trust?

Speaking of horrible stuff, I fairly regularly catch wind of game developers criticizing how just about every platform charges a 30% commission for the sale of digital goods. This is true for Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, Google, Valve, and Apple, who all take some of every sale made on their platform in order to keep the store, servers, and related services running. The commonly cited problem with this is that most of these storefronts do little to push or market titles, or at least not enough to warrant a 30% cut. It is a big deal for a lot of companies such as Epic Games, who are still fighting with Apple in order to get a better commission rate, but as the litigation is still ongoing Apple announced a change to their commission policy.

Starting January 1st, 2021 Apple will introduce the App Store Small Business Program, allowing any app store developer who makes less than $1 million a 15% commission over the usual 30%. Thereby significantly increasing the revenues of millions of developers while costing Apple relatively little. Partially because the majority of their revenue comes from a select few developers, and partially because this program only affects developers who opt-in and prove that they made less than $1 million in previous years or retroactively apply for a commission refund after making less than $1 million.

This all strikes me as a bit… messy and confusing when they could have taken a page from the IRS’s book and introduced a rudimentary bracket system, where the first $1 million in revenue for all developers sees a 15% commission and everything exceeding that is subjected to a 30% rate. But that would ultimately cost them far more money, and allow everyone to receive benefits, rather than those who opt-in to the program. Which is just far too large of a sacrifice for a company like Apple.

It is not ideal, but it is a step away from the dated flat 30% fee, so I’m putting this in the good news bucket, as it may lead to better rates for developers from now on. I mean, I doubt it, because we’re veering into a corporate dystopia, but it might happen.

The localization history of the Trails series— or the Kiseki series if you’re a dork— is something that I have been following for quite a while, and… it honestly interests me far more than any of the games ever could. From XSEED bringing Trails in the Sky to the PSP as a sleeper hit that made moderate waves on PC. The years-long wait for Trails in the Sky SC and the comparably insignificant wait for Trails in the Sky the 3rd. The platform-hopping of Trails of Cold Steel and subsequent publisher shift from XSEED to NIS America. And the fact that throughout all of this there are two games that have yet to receive an official localization in the form of Zero no Kiseki and Ao no Kiseki. Also known as Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure.

Now, Trails from Zero actually received a fan translation not too long ago from a group known as Geofront, and they are currently working on a similar translation for Trails to Azure. But these are not official translations, and there will always be a sect that clamors for a release sanctioned by the games’ original developer Falcom.

Now, I bring this up because I recently happened across the Steam pages for both Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure… Only to immediately realize that they are Chinese and Korean releases of the titles from publisher Clouded Leopard Entertainment based on the recent PS4 remasters released in Japan earlier this year. This would be upsetting or otherwise disheartening… if not for how, when a game is released across multiple platforms and is already being prepared for localization in other languages, it becomes increasingly likely that a western publisher will decide to pick these titles up and offer a localization, allowing them to ship a product to a wide audience. And not only did Zero and Azure receive PS4 releases earlier this year and are set to release on PC in summer 2021, but Switch versions are also slated to release in Asia during spring 2021. Meaning the product could be released on all three of the biggest RPG platforms.

With all of these factors combined, it appears that this is a now-or-never situation for these titles, as there really won’t be a better time to localize them than within the next two or so years. And while I definitely won’t touch these games with a ten-foot pole, I would like to see the entire series brought over to the west. If only because I like it when communities are satiated and satisfied. Hell, if the translation would be too time-consuming, Geofront would probably sell their work for dirt cheap.

I remember being more than a little worried about the future of IO Interactive, developer of the Hitman and Kane and Lynch series, after Square Enix withdrew funding from the company and they went independent back in 2017. This was due to the initial failure of the 2016 reboot of Hitman, which refined and polished the experience more than it ever was before, but was marred by a confusing release schedule, time-limited content, and generally poor publisher decisions by Square Enix’s western division.

Things improved significantly after IO Interactive took hold of the project and rolled their work forward with 2018’s Hitman 2, which appears to have done rather well for them. Now, IO is not only finishing up Hitman 3 for its release on January 20, 2021, but they are taking on another project, as the independent developer picked up the James Bond license and is working on an as-of-yet undetailed title simply dubbed Project 007.

This might seem like an odd choice, as the James Bond license was previously held by the likes of EA and Activision, who used the license to produce good to middling shooters. But when you stop and think about the series, how it is ultimately about espionage over actions, gelling into social situations, and is often set in more extravagant locales… there really isn’t a better developer you could think of over IO Interactive. They excel at creating stealth sandboxes full of emergent gameplay situations that players can approach in dozens of ways. And if need be, the developers do experience making action games before their decade-long run of making nothing but Hitman games.

To close this week off on a note both sad and curious, there has been a story making the rounds about a significant data breach at Capcom that began in early November, but the details and ramifications of which were only revealed at the start of this past week. To summarize, after detecting issues in their internal network, Capcom discovered that a ransomware attack was launched on their internal network by a group known as Ragnar Locker, who took key corporate documents and demanded a ransom be paid for their return. In the ensuing days, Capcom announced what items were taken by the group and, this past week, the company released an official statement clarifying what data was at risk. This included some nasty stuff, such as personal information on current and former employees, shareholder information, and other corporate documents.

This is all incredibly unfortunate for all affected parties, and I particularly sorry for the legal and IT departments that will need to investigate this matter. However, not all of the information that came from this attack and was subsequently leaked onto the internet was personal in nature, as quite a few details revealed about current and upcoming Capcom projects revealed from this breach. Now, it might seem gauche to peer into and revel in these ‘dirty crime-scented leaks’, I couldn’t help myself, took a dive in, and proceeded to marvel at the volume of details revealed through these recovered internal documents.

Business deals between Capcom and Google Stadia were detailed. The source code for titles like Devil May Cry 2 and The Misadventures of Tron Bonne was uncovered. And there were a lot of product details that read like fanboy-ish nonsense. The original Resident Evil 4 is apparently coming to the Oculus Rift in some capacity. Monster Hunter Rise and Monster Hunter Stories 2 are both slated to come out on PC next year, rather than being Switch exclusives. And The Great Ace Attorney (Dai Gyakuten Saiban) 1 and 2 are being localized for a release on Switch, PS4, and PC.

Now, this is all good, and I am excited to see many of these titles come to life, but it doesn’t even stop there, as somebody managed to find Capcom’s intended line-up of core titles through 2024 as of May 2020. Some titles, such as Dragon’s Dogma 2 and Street Fighter 6 are expected, as we basically know for a fact that they are in development. But as the list continues, you start seeing things like Power Stone Remake and Final Fight Remake and a new Captain Commando. I would laugh off a supposed leak that mentioned even one of these titles… but this is real. It’s all real!

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