Rundown (12/06-12/12) Cyber Dump

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Wherein I discuss the aesthetic failures of the hottest game of the moment, Nintendo being Nintendo, the return of the Metatron, and Mr. Keighley’s latest trailer festival.

This week was home to the release of one of the hottest titles of 2020, Cyberpunk 2077, which was subjected to a myriad of hype, controversy, and general hoopla over the game. I have not been following it closely since that staged 48 minute gameplay demo a few years back, and that’s mostly because I could tell the game was not really for me, and nothing has convinced me otherwise since then. 

This is not due to any singular reason, but rather an assortment of things I don’t like or disagree with. Such as how the culture and tone seen throughout this game feels more inspired by decades-old interpretations of the future than it does to anything more contemporary. How the title is limited in its approach to role-playing, forcing the player to occupy a role and only giving them some cosmetic wiggle room within this role. And how the title has a very limited imagination when it comes to creating a story and world where technology has enabled people to escape the limitations imposed on them by their own human limits.

To me, and within my boundless imagination, this means two main avenues of exploration: Mechanical augmentation, blurring the line between what is and isn’t human or acceptable as people kit themselves out with superior prosthetics, microchips, and nanomachines to make themselves more machine than man. Along with biological alteration, allowing people to change themselves physically through the use of advanced technology, altering their skin color, complexion, and even bone structure in ways not currently possible. Unfortunately, Cyberpunk 2077 is almost exclusively interested in the mechanical end of things, which I think is a mistake. 

As a narrative concept, I always found it hard to believe that a society would widely accept and encourage the use of mechanical augmentations done in anything other than a practical way. I think that most societies would want them to be subtle things like internal organs, microchips, or augmented limbs that are coated with a layer of repurposed or synthetic flesh a la Terminator. And I also think that biological augmentations would, by comparison, not be considered very controversial at all, as they are basically more advanced forms of plastic surgery, and would not have one ‘sacrifice their humanity.’

I mean, if somebody did go around walking with kitted out metal arms and glowing eyes, they would be seen as a freak next to normal humans. And even with decades worth of societal encouragement, I still struggle to see how full-on cyborgs would be more socially acceptable than, say, individuals who augment their bodies with animal parts. Which is also something egregiously absent from the world of Cyberpunk 2077. What the hell guys? Where my sci-fi furries at? Where my femme fox boys with cyber-dongs?

I know I am missing the ‘point’ of Cyberpunk as I go along this trail of thought, but the more I dwell on what the game is, the more I wish the game were something different. Namely a narrative-driven adventure game that follows a group of characters as they undergo routine bodily augmentation and alterations to handle tasks for their employer, from impersonating people down to their very DNA to being turned into war machines with a human brain and spinal cord hidden somewhere beneath a dense mass of circuitry, motors, and processors.

It could be a title that explored the merits of identity, of how loose and vague the concept of a physical self can become in a world where one can look like a completely different person following an hours-long procedure. And where one’s life and identity can be stolen by malicious interlopers who rob one of everything they owned in this world before wiping their mind, killing somebody without leaving a body.

I would also want it to be absurdly, ridiculously, and censorship-worthy levels of screwed up. I’m talking about abducting children for their supple pure organs, kidnapping and altering people before selling them into slavery, and usurping political figures in order to enact a legalized genocide to expand the influence of our corporate overlords. You know, stuff that is actually dark, edgy, and has some grit to it. 

And of course, there would be soft drinks that cause biologically female human-types to sprout thick veiny penises. Which, for the record, is what that Mix It Up poster in Cyberpunk 2077 should have been used to advertise in-universe. Recreational genital-transforming beverages that allow female-presenting persons to “mix it up” for a night by railing somebody with a girthy and pungent dong that smells like bananas! Because bananas are the penises of fruit, and all should associate their scent with that of human sexual fluids!

But CDProjekt Red didn’t commit to this S-tier concept splayed out before them. Because they are a bunch of dirty, uncreative, poop-sniffing cowards who don’t want to weird out the masses. 

Also, they’re Polish, so it’s 100% possible that one or most of the higher-ups are anti-LGBT and don’t want to put any ‘gay stuff’ in their game. Which, considering the sort of transphobic comments their social media accounts have made over the past few years, might be the case. Which is another good reason to not poke at this game with a ten-foot-pole. Besides, the games this will inspire in 5 years will probably be way better.

Crickey, that was a long preamble… and this is a long news week to boot, so I’ll get right to the good stuff.

Over this past weekend, there was a notable uproar raised about Nintendo’s recent treatment of its fan community, as demonstrated by a three-hit combo of feel-bad stories that happened around the same time. Strike number one happened when Nintendo issued a cease and desist to a Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament that made use of the Dolphin emulator and unofficial Slippi mod to enable online play. Because Nintendo has a diehard hatred of unauthorized emulation of their titles while being vehemently opposed to preserving their own history.

This caused the community to begin spamming #FreeMelee across the internet, including those entered into the official Splatoon 2 North America Open tournament, who incorporated this message in their display name. Because Nintendo does not want these issues archived in official tournament footage, they canceled the stream in a vain attempt at minimizing damage, but they wound up doing more damage and giving fans another thing to get mad about.

And as if the competitive Nintendo community didn’t already have enough to be chuffed over, Nintendo slyly offered another cease and desist towards a small business that was selling custom Joy-Con shells. Which memorialized popular video game influencer Etika, who took his own life in 2019 following growing issues with his own mental health. Nintendo seemingly issued this C&D because said shells used the Joy-Con branding on the products, despite not being officially authorized by Nintendo. Which I guess is a no-no?

Now, I don’t really want to defend Nintendo here, but I cannot help but look at these three stories and the ensuing outrage, shake my head, and ask, “What did you think would happen?” 

The Smash community is something that was tainted this past year after it was revealed that many prominent members of it were sex abusers, groomers, and pedophiles. So obviously Nintendo, who has never fully supported the Smash community, would not want to support them now. Especially if they are playing and promoting a product no longer sold, promoting emulation (or as Nintendo views it, piracy), and promoting modding (or as Nintendo views it, piracy).

So then, upset and desiring to have their voices heard, some fools decided to ruin a tournament from Nintendo’s perspective by effectively trash talking them using their usernames. Again, what did you expect? That Nintendo would promote people who are effectively bad-mouthing them? I don’t think so. If anything, this shows that Nintendo should not allow player usernames to be used in tournaments.

As for the Etika Joy-Con thing… I think this was just an instance of an overly eager legal staff member of Nintendo scrounging the internet for things that used the term Joy-Con so they could say they issued a cease and desist. It was not a vicious attack on Etika or anything, it was just yet another foolish move by a Japanese company that is too cagey about protecting the sanctity of their IP and oftentimes goes after the worst targets. This is more of a greater systemic issue with how the law around the world has not been updated for the internet-era, and how nobody wants to actually rewrite the law, as laws like this are typically made in courts, and nobody wants to bring a matter like this to court. Because either it would depower IP holders or it would make fan art considered copyright infringement.

Now, am I saying that people shouldn’t be upset at Nintendo for this? No. But I am saying that this is not surprising. Nintendo isn’t your friend, they are an old foreign company that happens to house some great creative talent within its walls and were monumental in making video games what they are today. And of all the things you could get angry at them over… this just seems petty. 

Maybe it’s because I actively dislike staged or recreational competition as a concept, let alone competitive gaming, but I would not have cared about this if not for the fact that my Twitter feed went crazy over this. What they’re doing isn’t cool… but this is just on-brand Nintendo. And I would much rather dunk on them for pooping on their legacy by shutting down their classic game distribution services and re-releasing classic titles as a promotional effort with a timestamp attached.

On that note, Nintendo’s approach to preserving their own history (and to a lesser extent Sony’s willingness to just forget about the PS1 and PS2 classic libraries) is part of the reason why I no longer trust game platform holders to preserve their legacy, and will openly encourage anybody to emulate whatever they want to play if it is not readily available to them. NES to Wii U. GameBoy to 3DS. PS1, PS2, and PSP. And, well, Xbox emulation hasn’t really taken off, despite basically being a PC. 

The awkward cut-off period in all this is the Xbox 360 and PS3, which were released around the time when PC ports became a mainstay for certain companies, but not others, and emulation for these systems is still a work in progress. Meaning that in order for most players to experience large sections of these libraries, they only have three choices: Play them on the original hardware, hope they are backwards compatible on a modern Xbox console, or wait and hope that the titles miraculously find their way onto the evergreen platform, the PC.

There are only a few titles from these consoles that I am vying to see on the PC, such as Fable II, Tokyo Jungle, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom, or to name the game relevant to today’s story, El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. El Shaddai was this cryptic, weirdly religious, beautiful, and almost frustratingly janky action game that I did not like when I first played it, like, at all. But I always wanted to re-experience it with a fresh pair of eyes to better address its finer points and shortcomings than I did back in 2012. And the game’s director, Sawaki Takeyasu, recently made a curious tweet where he announced that his new company, Crim, is working on bringing the title to Steam. I am naturally giddy to hear all of this, but I also need to pause and ask just how this is all logistically possible. 

You see, El Shaddai published by Ignition Games, who were this weird middle-shelf British games publisher and developer that started operations in 2002 and was later acquired by the Indian media conglomerate UTV Software Communications in 2007. The newly renamed UTV Ignition Games decided to bet big by opening up two major development studios. One based in Florida and one based in Tokyo. The Tokyo Studio was staffed by former members of Clover Studios who didn’t jump ship to Platinum, who began working on El Shaddai in 2007 before releasing the title in 2011, where it was met with a mostly positive critical reception and low sales.

Meanwhile, the Florida studio was shut down in 2010 after mismanagement and abuse caused their title, a sci-fi first-person-shooter named Reich, to languish in development before Ignition moved the staff over to a new Texas location. However, before the game could be completed, and before the Tokyo office could make headway on their next project, UTV Ignition Games was liquidated when UTV Software Communications was acquired by The Walt Disney Company India back in early 2012. 

This resulted in all of Ignition’s digital titles being delisted in 2018, and I honestly assumed that everything the company had done was locked up in a Disney vault of some sort. But no. Instead, the original director has acquired the rights to re-release El Shaddai, and I hope… well, here is where I would mention the games Ignition worked on that I would like to see come back, but their catalog is pretty sparse all things considered. As a developer, their only other games worth noting were the Mercury Meltdown titles, which I heard were pretty neat. And as a publisher or localizer, well, they are the ones responsible for Arc Rise Fantasia and its infamously bad English dub. 

Now, this would have all made for a plenty interesting week on its own, but Thursday also brought us The Game Awards. Yes, the annual winter E3-like press conference where people pretend it is an award show half the time, and the announcements are typically only a fraction as exciting. But it is a place for game developers of all sorts and sizes to drop reveals before a lot of eyes who will hopefully rave, holler, and hype up the games on social media in order to broaden the title’s awareness across the greater gaming enthusiast landscape. 

The big announcements began with a reveal for the next DLC fighter for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, something that is always contentious due to a perceived notion that certain things deserve to be in this game. And I can only imagine the disdain in some when it was revealed that the next character in the line-up was yet another anime sword boy. However, it was probably the best one they could have chosen, as Sephiroth is joining the fray. Yes, after Cloud’s surprise inclusion in the last iteration, his paralleled antagonist from Final Fantasy VII is coming to the game.

Now, from a certain perspective, this is a character slot that could have gone to represent another IP that ‘deserves’ to be in Smash or represent another Final Fantasy game other than the one that everybody knows. Both of which are at least somewhat valid criticisms. However, I would argue that the meaning and importance people place on Smash is simply that. A perceived sense of importance that might not reflect the goals of the people actually making the game. And if one just views Sephiroth as a new character… I think he’s pretty cool. His Japanese sword gives him an absurdly large range, he is kitted out with a bunch of unique spells, and offers a clearly antagonistic flair to his fighting style, as emphasized by how he was presented in this reveal trailer. Besides, complaining about this won’t change squat, and you should try to just enjoy this new character for what he is and what he represents.

Following a… complicated relationship between Rare and Microsoft during much of the Xbox 360 era, many titles that were seen as Rare’s IPs were picked up by their parent company and distributed to other developers, resulting in titles like 2013’s Killer Instinct, 2020’s Battletoads, and almost resulting in Young Conker, a Hololens title that was thankfully shelved, as it looked utterly horrible. This has largely disassociated the modern rendition of Rare from what people have considered Rare series, and as Microsoft is routinely rummaging through their back catalog for valuable IP, it should come as no surprise that they announced a new Perfect Dark title.

Developed by The Initiative, Microsoft’s Santa Monica studio that was announced during E3 2018, this title was revealed via a pre-rendered CG trailer that presented its world as a burgeoning corporate dystopia where rampant natural disasters and avarice have left the world in a dire place. All before ending with a reveal of series protagonist, Joanna Dark, who appears to be doing something or other in order to uncover a conspiracy while exploring near-future Egypt. All of which is at least conceptually interesting, albeit a bit… confusing based on what little I know about the series. But I suppose CG trailers are meant as video analysis fodder and hype mongering, so perhaps I ought not to dwell on it too much.  

Black Desert is a game I tried a while back out of sheer curiosity in what MMORPGs, or rather AAA live services, had to offer. And while I found the game to be this obtuse, grindy, and mechanically overwhelming title, it did have something to it. There was a clear talent among its development staff for world creation, combat design, and overall visual spectacle that could be better served if the title had different priorities. So imagine my surprise when I saw the gameplay reveal trailer for Crimson Desert, a companion/successor title to Black Desert that takes the form of an “open world action-adventure” title boasting both a robust MMO mode and a fixed single-player mode with its own gritty and realistic fantasy story and fixed protagonist.

It is an interesting concept, trying to appeal to both a single-player audience and those who wish to engage in a community and persistent world while using the same core assets and worlds for each. And based on this 5 minute gameplay trailer, the game is shaping up quite nicely. Graphically, it is one of the most ‘next gen’ looking games I have seen. With its garish yet beautiful lighting effects, the abundance of leaves that go fluttering in what looks to be even a mild breeze, and the thick attention-demanding sparks of combat. And while said combat was not broken down in detail, the minimalistic UI present in parts of the trailer at least implies the combat will be a bit more involved and active, giving the player a lot of ways to interact with and dispatch enemies, making the combat more involved than what I typically think of when recalling my brief time with MMOs.  

Overall, the game looks like a real showpiece title. One that is taking full advantage of the lower development costs of most mainland Asia countries, and a title positively packed with… stuff. From this trailer alone, there’s dragon-riding, destructible enemy bases, and an excessive amount of scripted animations, and I can only imagine what the full game would offer. Which is supposedly slated to come out in 2021 for PC and consoles… which probably means PS5 and Xbox Series X|S.

Next on my list is Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection, a title previously mentioned via a codename in the Capcom Ransomware leak last month, and, to nobody’s surprise, the title is a relatively straightforward revival of the legendarily difficult action platformer series. Levels, bosses, and enemies are new, but the game still operates on the core mechanics of harsh difficulty, aggressive enemy placement, and a spooky aesthetic, albeit one realized through a new art style. As Resurrection is using hand-drawn backdrops and 2D models, but something about the animation of it all strikes me as a bit… off-putting. 

While I know little about game animation, I’m getting the impression that the movements seen in this game were made using more of a ragdoll approach, where artists create all the visual assets of an enemy and they are then moved about by an animator, keeping the same pieces, but contorting, stretching, and bending them as the animator sees fit. This approach can work, but when paired with such detailed sprites, such fast animation speeds, and a notable lack of transitory death animations, it all feels like a budget project where somebody wanted to do something well beyond their means, or this was the best the developers could do with the time and resources they were allotted. However, that is just my initial impression, and the reception to the game might be a lot warmer once it releases on February 25th, 2021 as a Switch exclusive.  

Now, this title is merely one component of a partnership between Capcom and Nintendo, as Capcom is developing their own platform for their classic arcade titles that have not received a re-release for years and years, dubbed the Capcom Arcade Stadium. This will serve as a platform for users to buy titles on a per-game basis, allowing them to fill up their own digital-only classic game collection based on what they want… which I actually find to be far worse than a traditional game compilation, as those are more complete, more widely distributed, and encourage players to try out and understand the significance of more games, as they are buying a value pack of sorts.

And to make things worse, the collection will only be available on Nintendo Switch, at least for the time being. Which limits the audience for these titles, and for no real reason beyond a publishing or marketing deal. I guess I don’t really mind this, as these games are already preserved via emulation, but I don’t enjoy seeing would-be collections stripped bare like this unless they are full reconstructions or remasters like the M-2 developed Sega Ages titles… which really should not be Switch exclusives either. Because when Nintendo kills off the Switch eShop, these games will only live on via piracy and emulation. And I do mean when, as console storefronts are going to die.

…But PC storefronts will probably live on forever, which is why I always get so happy when I hear about games being brought to the platform, as was the case with El Shaddai earlier this Rundown. And this event came with two of the PC port announcements I was most looking forward to, as The Yakuza Remastered Collection (containing Yakuza 3, 4, and 5) was announced for a PC and Xbox One release on January 28th, 2021, while Yakuza 6: The Song of Life dropping on March 25th, 2021. Both titles will also double as Game Pass offerings, as Microsoft really wanted this series to become a multi-platform one following its boom in popularity with the release of 2017’s Yakuza 0.

Overall, this came a lot faster than expected, and if there was anything that would serve as a kick in my metaphorical ass for me to get into gear and actually start playing the Yakuza series, it’s probably this. Because I know I will love these games if I ever sat down with them and that it would take me the better half of a decade to get through these colossal titles. So the sooner I start them, the better.

Beyond this, there were a lot of other announcements, but mostly for AAA realistic looking games with a lot of gunplay, a few new showings for previously announced games, some CG trailers for new IPs, or independent games about road trips, which are the new hotness if this showcase was any indication. 

Seriously, between Open Roads, Season, and Route 96, it’s hard not to see the overlap. Maybe it’s because of the global pandemic that has forced people inside, but I kind of doubt that considering how far along these games appear to be. It is more likely that people who make these more ‘artsy’ titles tend to have overlapping interests, including travel, and road trips are all about travel. 

This is something I never particularly enjoyed or found compelling, both in real life and in games. In real life, I am a homebody who enjoys spending days in her room, visits less than 15 unique places a year, and has not left her home county (not country, county) in 15 years. In games, I like being in a place, doing stuff with backtracking, chillin’ with some homies who fly like that, exploring a world, and not being on a path where the scenery is going by and constantly changing. 

Alright, that was a pretty girthy bastion of news that I pumped up about as far as I could take it, so I think I’m going to sign off for this week.

Header image comes from Juurin no Ame by Kizuki Rei. Which is a positively disgusting and deplorable doujin… that is also so gosh darn ambitious on a narrative, artistic, and presentational front, with the story being absolutely bonkers in the best (or worst) way possible. However, I cannot show much of it because it is lousy with sex scenes, and the best image I could scoop out from the series was one where a corporation is breaking into an artificial human, or TB, refugee camp to get their ‘property’ back after ‘it’ ran away. And if that doesn’t sound at least kinda cyberpunk, then… I give up.

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