Rundown (1/31-2/06) 95% Plague Immunity

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Wherein I discuss the encroaching demise of Stadia, the revengeance of Judgment, a beloved remaster, even more acquisitions, capital alliances, and a decade-old remaster revived!

This past week, I received my second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and as just about anybody who took the second dose will tell you, it wasn’t a good time. While I had no immediate side-effects, about half a day after my shot, I experienced fogginess, soreness, fatigue, and had a terrible night’s sleep after I went to bed without taking pain medicine. However, I am glad that I was able to get the vaccine sooner than later, as I’ve minimized my chances of contracting or spreading the virus. Now I just need to wait until more people get the vaccine, the infection rates go down, and then quarantine can be lifted. But I’m not counting on that happening anytime soon. Hell, even saying it will happen this year is a touch too optimistic for my betting book.

When it was announced and later debuted in 2019, Google Stadia had a lot of promise to shake up the games industry, for better or for worse. Google was obviously looking at how popular music and video streaming had become over the past decade and began developing the technology to allow people to play just about any game on any device. In theory, it is a way to allow people to run games without the most powerful hardware. But there were a LOT of catches with this proposition. 

The performance of Stadia has run the gamut from what I heard and largely depends on where and when people choose to play their games. If internet use in your area is high, the game’s streaming performance will suffer, and if your area is far from the nearest data center, it will also suffer, making it difficult to secure an ideal play session, especially over Wi-Fi. This is not a massive issue for music, video, or general web browsing, but games require precise inputs from players, and latency is always important. 

When combined with the fact that users have to pay on a per-game basis to license the ability to stream a title for a set amount of time, and how the Stadia library was tiny and consisted mostly of multi-platform titles, there was little reason for most people to engage with Stadia. Because if they liked games, they could just download something onto their PC, console, or phone and likely have a far better experience.

Anyway, I bring this up because, after failing to take off in a year where internet traffic was high and video conferencing has become the norm, Google has offered a statement on the future of Stadia, and it is not a particularly good one. Their internal Stadia Games and Entertainment team will no longer be producing exclusive content for the platform. Not that they ever released anything to begin with. This is a clear indication that Google is cutting their losses and will no longer be investing as much into Stadia, and that they may be considering ways to sunset this project without burning bridges and incurring lawsuits from people who can no longer play the games they purchased licenses for.

Most of the gaming enthusiast community, myself included, saw this coming for a good year, if no longer, and I think the ultimate takeaway from this situation is twofold. One, you cannot really sell the gaming audience on the idea of streaming above all else. At least not when games streaming is still a developing technology. Now, streaming does indeed have a place in the industry, but it is a niche one that, between services like PlayStation Now, xCloud, and GeForce Now, is already plenty full. And two, it is incredibly hard to enter an industry like the games industry as a platform holder. People are used to their current ecosystems and unless you offer customers something new or better, then they are most likely going to engage with the ecosystems they are most familiar with.

Despite this, games are indeed releasing on Google’s Stadia platform, and they are likely funding more ports from developers. Or at least that’s the justification I’m giving for the next story. As the 2019-released Yakuza spin-off, Judgment, is coming to PS5, Xbox Series X|S and Stadia on April 23, 2021. This is not surprising, as Sega has not been shy about porting the Yakuza games to other platforms. And considering the shaky release history of this game, due to one of the main actors being arrested and blacklisted due to cocaine charges, I understand why the title is seeing a re-release upgrade for PlayStation systems. Though the lack of a PC version is just weird. Because Stadia games are Linux-based, and the very idea of releasing a Linux version of a game and not a Windows version is… beyond confusing.

Speaking of re-releases, EA and Bioware finally offered some details on the upcoming Mass Effect Legendary Edition, and… it appears to be exactly what I hoped it would be. Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3, all significant DLC for these titles, no multiplayer component, and a plethora of visual upgrades including better textures, models, and lighting. ME2 and ME3 seem to be more straightforward upgrades, but they put more work into modernizing and refining ME1. They say they made the shooting less janky and temperamental, made the controls and physics of the Mako better, and based on the screenshots, put a lot of work into making the environments less sterile. I’d wait and see how significant these changes are, but any improvements to ME1 are more than welcome.

As I said before, I am incredibly happy to see this series wrapped up and given the polish of a true remaster, and I will almost certainly grab this title when I can get it for $20. However, I don’t see myself going back to this series anytime soon after I revisited it in 2016. Where I reached the conclusion that Mass Effect 2 is one of my favorite games of all time, and despite its misgivings, Mass Effect 3 retained a similar level of quality, and neatly wrapped up the trilogy, and the universe, through its subsequent content updates. Seriously, The Citadel DLC was the best part of the entire series. Mass Effect Legendary Edition will launch for PS4, Xbox One, and PC on May 14th.

Now, I could do a transition here where I triumph Mass Effect’s story and poop on the subject of the next story, Quantic Dream, but that would be a bit gauche and rude. It is true that the story for pretty much every Quantic Dream game is a confusing mess that has grand ambitions created in a vacuum where not enough people questioned the creative decisions of the auteur company president, David Cage. However, the titles do at least try to push the narrative angle of video games, they all feature miraculously crafted worlds, and every game has moments or concepts that make them worth looking into or examining. As such, I actually appreciate their presence and am glad that they continue to be a prominent force in the industry. 

Anyhow, this past week Quantic Dream announced that they are expanding their operations by opening up a Montreal office. This is not too much of a surprise as, after receiving an investment from NetEase in January 2019 in exchange for a minority stake in the company, Quantic Dream vowed to self-publish their own titles going forward, largely ending their relationship with Sony. And if you want to sustain yourself as an independent developer, you need to put out titles regularly and not, as was the case with Detroit: Become Human, spend 5 years developing one title. If you want to make games faster, you need more staff, and if you are going to open up a support studio, you probably want to do it in Montreal. Because not only is it the game development capital of the western world, but the local government offers generous tax breaks to any studio within its borders. Plus, they’re both French, so you have that linguistic synergy, even though Quebec French and France French have some notable differences from what I’ve heard.

It’s definitely nice to see a studio organically expanding like this, rather than simply acquiring a preexisting company, which is precisely what THQ Nordic has been doing for years. Within a single day, the parent company of THQ Nordic, The Embracer Group, announced three acquisitions. 

This includes Gearbox Entertainment, a company best known for developing Borderlands, shipping Aliens: Colonial Marines and Duke Nukem Forever, and the continued mismanagement of its CEO, Randy Pitchford, who will sadly continue to run operations at the studio itself. Aspyr Media, a studio that has handled ports to consoles, Mac, and Linux since their inception, which… actually makes them ideal for a company that loves re-releases as much as THQ Nordic. And Easybrain, a mobile puzzle game developer who doesn’t seem to fit in with THQ Nordic’s PC and console game focused library, but I’m guessing they were just in the right place at the right time.

I’ve talked about this sort of thing a lot so far this year, and there’s not much I can do other than echo the same sentiment. Time marches on, the industry keeps getting smaller, and as smaller companies develop concerns about their future operations while the pandemic continues, larger companies are eyeing them as consumable morsels to help expand their operations and allow them to continue to thrive in the industry. 

Okay, Natalie Abigail Neumann, you degenerate Trans-Bitch, if you don’t like corporate acquisitions, then how would you like to see companies interact with each other and share resources going forward? Why, through strategic alliances, of course! Agreements between two or more companies who share resources in order to achieve mutual benefit. 

You see this a lot with companies entering new markets or industries, where they pair up with somebody experienced in the field to help them get a foothold and they either retain this relationship or use it as a jumping-off point for their own operations. Or to give a more direct example in gaming, any sort of timed exclusivity or marketing deal is a sort of strategic alliance. And that agreement between Microsoft and GameStop that would upgrade GameStop’s technology in exchange for greater in-store marketing towards Xbox systems, that was also a strategic alliance.

The definition of this term is quite broad, and even the name itself varies quite a bit. For example, I just learned it’s sometimes called a “Capital Alliance,” as is the case with the next story on the list. In their Q3 financial results presentation, Kadokawa Corporation has announced that they are forming a capital alliance with CyberAgent and Sony. This alliance is being done to allow Kadokawa to strengthen their hold on existing IPs they have a stake in, acquire new IPs, and spread their IPs to a global audience across multimedia projects including games and animation. 

Or in other words, Kadokawa looked at their vast library of IP, which is fragmented across a bountiful number of subsidiaries and hard to name without doing an hour-long deep dive, and decided they want companies with more resources to help expand them. CyberAgent is a big smartphone game developer, best known for their subsidiary Cygames, and Sony is one of the biggest names in anime and global console gaming, so this pairing makes a good deal of sense.

What is in it for CyberAgent and Sony though? Well, aside from being able to use valuable IPs that could draw in an audience, and getting some marketing spill-over from Kadokawa, this Japanese document apparently says that Kadokawa gave both Sony and CyberAgent 1,422,475 shares, or a 1.93% stake in the company, worth approximately 5 billion yen each, which is in the range of $47.4 million USD. I’m not sure if this is meant to fund future projects or as a sign of goodwill to facilitate this partnership. Because I know some Japanese corporations have a habit of buying a stake in their partners. It’s why Nintendo owns shares of DeNa, Cygames, Konami, Bandai Namco, and more.

Now, despite all parties being involved in console gaming, I’m guessing this is more of a mobile and anime based engagement, as Sony is becoming more known for anime and music than games in Japan, and Cygames’ thing is creating multimedia projects led by anime series and a mobile live service. While I’m not interested in either of those things, I find these sorts of corporate deliberations fascinating and like to remind myself how wild and vast the world of Japanese media conglomerates is. I mean, I learned that DeNA owns 24% of Cygames during my Wikipedia hopping. When I learned that, I suddenly understood why Nintendo paired up with both of these companies back when they felt like investing in the mobile market.

Which, for the record, is something Nintendo should absolutely keep doing. They made a billion in revenue from mobile gaming so far, and Fire Emblem Heroes alone generated $656 million. Yeah, a niche series that was on the chopping block back in 2012 managed to make more money as a gacha game than… possibly every console entry combined. If they pushed the gacha RPG genre more and put in some higher value and more marketable IP, such as Smash Bros., they could probably make a billion off of that alone. And you know what? I would argue that Smash Bros. is the perfect video game to become a gacha, because it is all about waifus (desirable characters) and all about crossovers. Those two things are the life, blood, soul, and secondary genitalia of a good gacha game.

Alright, chickadees, Nattie-chan is getting a bit high on booty fumes, so she’s gonna end this week off with a bomba! Since 2008, people have known that there was an HD remaster of the seminal Nintendo 64 shooter, GoldenEye 007, in development. However, that project never came to light and instead Activision had Eurocom make a new, and pretty good, shooter by the same name back in 2010. Footage of this game was released in 2016, but the title was locked away in the licensing vault, never to be released to the public. Why did the project not go through? Well, it’s pretty obvious. The game was a licensing nightmare no matter how you slice it, as EON, Nintendo, and Microsoft had to reach an agreement over how the revenue would be divided up and what content would need to be changed. These sorts of arrangements are typically messy when there are only two mega corporations involved, and once you bring in a third company, then you’re working with a snowball’s chance in hell of getting anything done.

It was a damn shame, but this past week somebody released the unfinished GoldenEye 007 remaster. And is it any good? Well, it gives the original game an impressive facelift, includes the ability to toggle between the classic graphics with the press of a single button, and while it lacks any online multiplayer, the title is basically everything any fan of the game could ask for. The same core game, but in HD, running at a decent frame rate, and with graphics that do not physically hurt to look at. Seriously, the original was one of the worst looking Nintendo 64 games, bar none. 

Just look around your local neighborhood ROM site for a copy, give it a whirl if you are so inclined, and within time, I’m sure some dedicated group will wind up reverse engineering this game to improve the bugs from this build, which was 2 months away from being finished, and possibly add in online multiplayer. If that happens, then I can safely say that this is the best timeline for this game. If the GoldenEye 007 remaster was released as an XBLA title in 2008, the game would have been a blast for a few years and kept a lively online community, but I doubt it would have a lasting legacy to this day. It probably would be forgotten, delisted, or be backwards incompatible on modern Xbox systems. But now that it is on PC, it can live on FOREVER!

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