Rundown (8/01-8/07) Schedule Deliberations

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Wherein I discuss another Nigma Box schedule overhaul, an ongoing Blizzard of profound vileness, and an assault of mostly bad acquisitions.

As of publishing this Rundown, it has been nearly three weeks since I released my last usual Wednesday post, which was an anime review of all things, and I sadly have nothing in the writing pipeline at the moment. 

NEO: The World Ends With You is currently slated as my next game review, but that game is super long, and I am taking my time with it, as it might be one of my favorite games of all time. My next Ramble (which will be about Dragalia Lost again) is scheduled for sometime in October. And TSF Series is still on its prolonged hiatus, as I sidelined it to work on Psycho Bullet Festival 2222.

As such, I cannot firmly say when new content is going to hit Nigma Box, and I find that frustrating, because I know I can produce content with a short turnaround, but I just can’t seem to establish a routine weekly schedule, when that is something I have dearly wanted to get back since this year began, and I went on an impromptu hiatus in February, where I was working 10 hour days.

Because of this, I have been deliberating on ways that I could rearrange my Nigma Box schedule to put out more content regularly, and I think I found a solution.

Student Transfer is easily the most popular topic on Nigma Box, and my Student Transfer Scenario Reviews keep the community coming every quarter or so. However, when I review Student Transfer Scenarios, I always have done so in “parts” where I go through and review a collection of multiple ST Scenarios. 

My original justification for doing this was that I was producing weekly content, and I did not want to flood Nigma Box with brief reviews that only lasted for one to three paragraphs. However, since I began reviewing ST Scenarios back in 2019, my reviews for ST Scenarios have gotten longer and longer. To the point where many recent reviews are long enough to warrant their own posts.

In short, I have reached the decision that, instead of releasing one big, wet, sloppy compilation of ST Scenario reviews every quarter, I instead plan on giving each Scenario its own dedicated review, and putting out ST Scenario reviews regularly. How regularly? I am not entirely sure. But I imagine my monthly schedule eventually growing into something like this: 

  • 2 Student Transfer Scenario reviews a month, which will be a minimum of 500 words, because I think it is silly to put out something less than that.
  • 1 installment of TSF Series, which I really want to revive and continue that series of short stories, as my mind is chock full of ideas.
  • 1 traditional game review, as my backlog is massive, and I still view Nigma Box as a predominately gaming site, despite how much it, and I, have changed since 2012.

To me, this sounds like a fairly reliable schedule where I will have something to put out every Wednesday, while still having time to work on my novels. I will almost certainly cannot meet these goals during tax seasons (which typically last from March 1st to April 15th and September 1st to October 15th), but for the rest of the year… I think I can handle something like this.

That being said, however, it is literally a month before tax season begins, so don’t expect me to adopt this schedule soon. But I do hope to begin reviewing ST Scenarios again before the end of the month, so look forward to that. In fact, I prepared a TENTATIVE and PLACEHOLDER schedule as part of this week’s header image.

The first story that hopped into my soup this week— which is an odd expression even by my standards— is more news about the tumultuous happenings at Activision Blizzard. After a lawsuit was filed against the company for the disgusting mistreatment of female and minority staff, which got so bad that an employee killed herself during a business trip, Activision Blizzard has been doing their darndest to weasel out of this situation as the disdain for the company only intensified.

Both the president of Blizzard Entertainment, J. Allen Brack, and the global head of HR, Jesse Meschuk, stepped down from their positions on August 3rd. Likely in an attempt for both parties to minimize the responsibility they have in allowing a toxic culture to perpetuate within Blizzard and avoid more severe repercussions.

Activision Blizzard CCO, Fran Townsend, is a torture apologist who worked with the Bush administration to raise the national terror level in the United States, and has a history of attempting to convince people it was a-okay that American soldiers tortured people with waterboarding, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, and all that good stuff. Based on her terrible track record, it should have been no surprise when she tweeted an article about the “dangers of whistleblowers” when Activision Blizzard was under fire. 

After placing a target on her head, instead of staying low, she started rampantly blocking people criticizing her, including Activision Blizzard employees. Once people started writing articles about what she was doing, and reminding people of how reprehensible she is, Townsend deleted her Twitter account. Because that’s something you do when you know you’re in the right… 

Various sponsors of Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League, including Coca-Cola, Kellogg, State Farm and T-Mobile, are all in the process of ‘reassessing ’their advertising partnerships with the esports organization. Presumably because they do not want to be associated with a toxic and abusive corporation… Despite probably being toxic and abusive themselves, at least on some level.

Last but not least, the Washington Post put out an article with firsthand accounts from various former and current Blizzard Entertainment staff, which corroborates and expands upon the terrible details shown in the lawsuit filed back in July. Based on my reading of the article, a lot of the behavior seen at the company persisted because it was gradually normalized throughout the company’s history. And because this behavior was normalized, those with power within the company were resistant to so much as acknowledging there was a problem, let alone change it.

The abused felt they could not report abuse, as HR would ruthlessly defend abusers because of how valuable they were to the company. Because of this, the abused only had each other to rely on, as they were the only group at the company who would believe these stories and offer comfort. Sadly, due to their lack of power within the company, that was all they could offer, as they lacked the means to change the culture or punish their abusers, letting their transgressions go unpunished.

Admittedly, Blizzard did do something to address this issue, by letting go of several senior leaders with a history of abuse. However, merely cutting out the leadership does not change the culture they cultivated, which spread to those under them and, after being left untreated for so long, it spread throughout the entire company like a ravenous cancer.

I would say that this fiery outcry and strong disdain would inspire change and improvement, but I continue to be doubtful of such fortuitous things. The executives do not want to change, that they do not actually care about this issue. They just want to brush this issue aside as quickly as possible so things can get back to normal, so that tradition can be re-established, and so they can get back to making money. Because no matter what the mouthpieces say, the corporate higher ups do not have any morals, in their minds, they are beyond such trite.

Keeping the focus centered around the corporate end of the games industry, this past week there was more acquisition news, as The Embracer Group, who are better known as their subsidiary THQ Nordic, went on yet another acquisition spree. Wherein they gobbled up various smaller European game studios who wouldn’t shake their heads when offered a large multi-year cash and stock settlement in exchange for their freedom, back catalog, and IP. 

This time around, they went hog wild and acquired a whopping 6 studios: 3D Realms, CrazyLabs, DigixArt, Easy Trigger, Force Field, Ghost Ship Games, and Slipgate Ironworks. A quirky gaggle of studios, most of whom I’ve never heard of, so let’s correct that with the fruits of 30 minutes of research.

3D Realms is one of those complicated studios that were more or less broken apart and rebuilt over the years. Originally Apogee Software, they were a major player in side-scrolling PC games throughout the late 80s and early 90s, but shifted into first-person-shooters after Doom rocked the world. Namely Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior (1997). Following those games, however, 3D Realms struggled to get games out in a timely manner and were constantly playing catch up with new technologies. As demonstrated by the 11 year development timeline of Prey (2006) and the 14 year development timeline of Duke Nukem Forever

After being beaten and bleeding staff over a decade, 3D Realms was acquired by a Danish holding company who moved the developer to Denmark, where they began shifting to the role of a publisher, rather than developing their own titles. 

CrazyLabs is a ‘hyper-casual’ mobile game developer who appears to be responsible for many profitable titles, so acquiring them is just good business sense.

DigixArt is a developer that focuses on creating more narrative driven games with strong auditory accompaniment. This is demonstrated by their current library of titles, which includes Lost in Harmony, 11-11 Memories Retold, and the upcoming Road 96.

Easy Trigger previously worked with Embracer subsidiary Coffee Stain Publishing to release Huntdown, a retro-styled 2D action shooter that released to a positive reception a few months ago. 

Force Field is a VR game developer who has produced many titles since their inception, none of which I ever heard of, given my disinterest in VR.

Ghost Ship Games worked with Embracer subsidiary Coffee Stain Publishing on Deep Rock Galactic, a co-op FPS about space dwarves that is constantly being supported and has seen with a warm reception.

Slipgate Ironworks is a studio closely associated with modern 3D Realms, who has been putting out various FPS and overhead shooters since 2013. They are currently working on the Deus Ex and System Shock inspired sci-fi shooter Core Decay and the dark fantasy FPS Graven.

Once again, this is an odd assortment of developers to pick from, but hopefully the owners of these companies enjoy the payouts for these acquisitions, and hopefully the employees are treated well under their various interconnected subsidiaries. However, I once again must admit that while this might be good for developers, in acquiring a bigger and bigger stake in the games industry, Embracer is truly just making it a smaller industry overall. Buying up whatever B-tier studios they can and making it even more difficult for new studios to gain a foothold in the industry, without aiming to be acquired themselves.

However, Embracer was not the only one announcing acquisitions. Focus Home Interactive is a AA publisher who came into prominence this past generation after publishing titles like A Plague Tale: Innocence, The Surge, Vampyr, and more. They are a solid publisher as far as I can tell, and this past week Focus Home Interactive acquired Dotemu

Yes, Dotemu, a developer/publisher that first came into prominence for re-releasing NeoGeo ROMs, but quickly gained a reputation for reviving retro game series, having published Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap and Streets of Rage 4. Which is not a lot, but they are also currently working on Windjammers 2, Metal Slug Tactics, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge

I like and appreciate them, as they put out titles that otherwise would not exist. And while I would be miffed about their acquisition, the reasoning outlined in the press release makes a lot of sense. Dotemu has seen great success with their projects, but they are still a rather small company with a limited pool of resources. This means that they might not be able to manage or find the developers needed to create future projects. And given their track record, I’m sure they have a lot of projects lined up. 

Focus, meanwhile, is a larger company with a more developed corporate overhead, allowing them to better market, promote, and monitor projects. Through publishing various titles over the years, they have connections to numerous AA developers who could be trusted to handle more demanding and ambitious projects based on the IPs that Dotemu obtains a license for. Also, both Focus and Dotemu are based in Paris, so it makes sense that they would pair up.

While I am not a fan of acquisitions in general, this one is done for what I consider a good reason, as it allows for classic games series to be revived or remade going forward. Which I consider both good for game-likers and game-makers. Game-likers enjoy seeing games of yore come back in a fresh new style. While game-makers like being able to revive something old and cherished. If you love video games enough to work in this toxic and competitive industry, you’ll probably be happy to be working on a classic IP, even if you personally aren’t super stoked about.

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