Rundown (8/15-8/21) Natalie Needs to Be Careful With Food!

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Wherein I discuss an unpleasant meal, the consumption of support studios, a pleasant Pokémon presentation, and a two pronged punch of anniversary remasters.

This past week, it occurred to me just how routine and limited my dietary habits are. I’m somebody who seldom ever goes out to eat, sticks to a routine of home-cooked meals, and generally avoids trying new foods. However, since I started working in an office part-time, my boss has regularly offered to get me something for lunch, and I have been trying a few new things that seemed to work with my palate. But this past week he recommended I try out a mango shrimp salad (goi xoai tom thit) from a Vietnamese place. I followed his recommendation, ordered the dish, and it was one of the most alienating things I have ever eaten. It was not necessarily because of the shrimp or mango, but because the dish did not taste like what I expected it to, and I could not figure out why it tasted the way it did.

When compounded with how spicy the dish is (I have zero tolerance for spicy stuff), I found the act of eating that meal genuinely sickening. When something doesn’t taste right to me, and I cannot identify what I am eating, my first thought is to assume that it is rotten or has gone bad. Eating the meal in front of another person was so uncomfortable that I wound up bringing it home, where I shoveled it into my mouth, tears in my eyes.

Now, you might be asking why I continued to eat and finish something that I did not like, and that is a perfectly good question. It’s because I do not want to live up to a stereotype as a food wasting American, and because it was something my boss gave me. So I considered eating the food ‘the right thing to do.’ Even though I would never ask someone else to eat something they do not like.

Starting this week on a spicy and sour note, The Embracer Group, parent company of THQ Nordic and Deep Silver, went on yet another shopping trip this past week and walked away with another three studios in their basket. None of these acquisitions were big or notable names, as they are all support studios, but they do represent more companies that have been absorbed as part of this growing gaming monolith.

  • Demiurge Studios is an American developer that has had a storied history as a support studio before shifting from the console scene after working on Aliens: Colonial Marines in 2013. Since then, they have found their niche in the world of mobile puzzle games… all of which have been delisted aside from Marvel Puzzle Quest (2013)
  • Fractured Byte is an Estonian and Ukrainian studio who is absolutely terrible about marketing themselves with their minimalistic website and lack of game credits. Apparently, they handle a lot of game porting, which is always a valuable skill for any company to have in this industry.
  • Smartphone Labs, LLC is a Russian studio who offers consulting, testing, and general development assistance while boasting an expansive list of titles they worked on in varying capacities.

Now, you might be asking why Embracer bought these studios, and the reason is pretty simple. So they can continue to do what they have been doing and support other bigger developers under the Embracer umbrella. If Embracer is constantly commissioning support studios, then it makes business sense just to buy a few outright, even if it means they need to eat more risk or overhead costs.

After nearly six months of basically no news beyond release dates, The Pokémon Company held yet another Pokémon Presents, where they went over their upcoming lineup of games, starting with Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. I was quite upset with them and their lackluster presentation when the games were revealed. They looked considerably worse than Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee and Let’s Go Pikachu, and they were positioned as direct remakes instead of enhancements. That being said, six months is a lot of time when developing a game, and the folks at ILIC were able to make these games look a touch less… primitive.

Character models in general look better, both in their chibi-sized overworld forms and their real-people-sized battle forms. The game is now making use of far more visual effects, with reflections on floors, variable lighting depending on the time of day, and more pleasing colors overall. That said, it still very much looks like a tile-based game recreated in 3D, because it is, and certain things still look … bad. 

Such as certain trees or cliffs that are just plastered down onto the environments, which is a notable downgrade compared to the original. Or the terrible blur effect plastered over the top of the screen when in the overworld. It looks like somebody rubbed their hands over the screen after eating something greasy. 

They changed contests to Super Contests, which take the boring and robotic structure of contests but try to spruce them up with videos of Pokemon going through their limited animation cycles and a rudimentary one button rhythm game

The Sinnoh Underground returns as the Grand Underground, which still allows players to mine for ores and fossils and decorate their own secret base. However, it also adds in new areas known as Pokémon Hideaways, where players can battle Wandering Pokémon who appear based on how players decorate their secret base. Which totally sounds like a mechanic that will encourage creativity and not take the fun out of making your own little special room.

Character customization returns, as players can equip various outfits, but it does not seem like players can change their character skin or hair color, which is pretty lame. Following Pokémon return, which is good to see if only for how bizarre Pokémon models look next to the chibi sub-humans. Stickers are back… even though they were a fairly pointless bit of flair. Random encounters also return… and I have absolutely no idea why, as Pokémon Let’s Go introduced Wandering Pokémon and proved that the old maps could accommodate Wandering Pokémon with minimal modifications.

As a whole, I am more confident in Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl as products, but I still expect them to drive me slightly mad when I play them after they release on November 19th. Because I still cannot look at them and view them as worthy recreations of titles that sold 18 million units. ILIC is clearly trying to make the games more than just direct remakes, and I have no doubt that the people working on these titles are skilled at what they do.

However, it is hard to not view the toyetic art style as an economical choice above a creative one. And I am fairly confident that these remakes will not feature the content introduced in Platinum, the game that was dramatically better than Diamond and Pearl in nearly every way. 

Next up was Pokémon Legends: Arceus, a title that was originally shown in February, and I think everyone can agree that revealing the game so early in the year was a major mistake. The frame rate was abysmal. The lack of UI made it hard to tell what the player was doing. And it could have done a better job at showing its unique features, instead focusing on how vast the supposedly world was. This time around, they went into far greater detail with what they showed, actually explained what the game would be like, and detailed how they are evolving the series in a new direction.

As previously revealed, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is set in the distant past, before the concept of a Pokémon trainer has been established, and follows the protagonist as they go about making their region’s first Pokédex. Which involves them traversing across the vast wilderness of the Hisui region to catch Pokémon.

All Pokémon appear in this open world, but rather than simply wandering, they have a few personality types. Some flee on sight and require the player to use the environment to their advantage to catch them by surprise. Some are friendly and will presumably be easy to catch. While a third category are aggressive to the point where they will actively attack the protagonist. The protagonist cannot fight back themselves, but they can interact with the world more than ever before. They can dodge, hide, throw Pokeballs at wild Pokémon, and throw Pokeballs containing their own Pokémon in order to initiate a battle within the open environment.

This alone is a massive step forward for the series, though it is not the only one. While not fully reinvented, combat now features a turn-order meter that determines which Pokémon attacks next. This is influenced both by the speed stat of the Pokémon and by a new spin on combat, where players can choose to use a strong or agile version of every move. Thus giving the player a greater amount of decision making and player agency during combat encounters.

Outside of combat encounters, the game brings back the idea of Ride Pokémon and expands them quite a fair bit, allowing players to swim freely through water, soar the skies, or travel across the vast open plains. It is a massive improvement over the Ride Pokémon in Pokémon Sun and Moon, as the Pokémon themselves appear to be leagues more versatile and less like solutions to environmental puzzles.

While this is all fine and good, one might ask the question of, if there is no Pokémon League or gym leaders to battle, then what is the goal of the game? Well, the folks at Game Freak have thought about this in great detail, and their conclusions were to take a page out of Monster Hunter’s book, and add in a fair bit of endeavor-based grinding.

As far as I can tell, the game loop is driven by three things. Dealing with aggressive Pokémon with reddened eyes, who are causing problems and are associated with a greater conflict. Fulfilling myriad miscellaneous requests issued at the hub area, known as Jubilife Village. And filling out the Pokédex by catching, defeating, evolving, and observing other Pokémon… Which sounds like it will be a massive slog for any poor soul who dares to 100% this game.

It was also while reviewing footage of the in-game Pokédex I noticed the Pokédex is broken up into five segments. And by looking over the gameplay footage again, I’m pretty confident in saying that the game will not be a true seamless open world game and will instead be divided into the hub and five large open environments. I personally think this approach, from a game design perspective, is rather smart, as it forces the player to focus and appreciate each biome and get to know them better than they would if the world had no walls. 

Plus, the game’s design is clearly based around these open environments, as whenever the player leaves the hub to visit these locales, they are taken to a centralized base camp. Where players can craft goodies using tat they find on the ground, heal up their party between bouts of combat, and report information that’s added to the Pokédex. All of which keeps the player in these areas for a prolonged period of time, and I think that’s a good call, as it’s never fun to leave a place just to heal or turn things in. 

As a whole, this showing of Pokémon Legends: Arceus surprised me. Not only does it look far better than it did before, but it addressed many of the criticisms I laid out in Natalie Rambles About the Pokémon Sword and Shield Expansion Pass back in July. PLA is introducing a better incentive to catch and battle Pokémon, introducing a central healing location in each biome, and it is making the combat system a touch more interesting with the agile and strong styles. I am baselessly confident that the game will screw up things like TMs and moveset customization, this trailer shifted my perspective enough that I am now truly looking forward to seeing how the end product turns out when it debuts on January 28, 2021. 

Moving from new stuff to old stuff, this past week Bethesda Softworks, who I’m surprised hasn’t dissolved into Microsoft yet, announced that they are celebrating the anniversary of two of their biggest successes of all times with a pair of re-releases. The first being a 25th-anniversary edition of Quake, simply entitled… Quake. Well, that’s awfully confusing. 

Anyway, Quake has its spot as a true landmark FPS that marked the point where the genre took a bold step into full 3D. While Doom (1993) was a major player, I would argue that Quake was what treally kicked off the FPS technological arms race that lasted… until the early 2000s. Which was when FPS became more prominent on home consoles, primarily thanks to the release of Halo in 2001.

As such, it is nice to see the game be thrust into the limelight again with a full remaster that contains about what you would expect. The original game, three expansions, a brand new expansion developed by MachineGames, a full multiplayer suite with split-screen and online crossplay, and mod support that gives players on all platforms access to official and fan-made mods. It seems like a full package, and considering this is yet another classic FPS remaster by the talented folks at Nightdive Studios, I’m sure the port does this game’s legacy justice.

Quake was stealth released for PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC this past week, but PS5 and Xbox Series versions will drop sometime soon. I would say that here’s hoping that this will help revive interest in this series, but Bethesda already tried that with the 2017 multiplayer title Quake Champions. A that title never left PC and has been lingering in irrelevance since 2018… 

However, a title that has not been lingering in irrelevance is Skyrim. The title sold 30 million units as of 2016, maintained popularity through re-releases and a robust modding community, and even created a terrifying paid mod economy that died four days after it was born

Like many people, I have my own clouded spectrum of feelings about the title. When I played the title at launch in 2011, I thought it was a rousing and wonderful time with its vast world to explore, dozens of questlines, and ability to evoke a sense of grandeur with its vistas and small musical cues. The month and 187 hours I spent with the original release were a truly lovely time… but the second time around, I kind of hated the game.

Back in 2014, I chronicled my second playthrough of Skyrim across a series of 5 posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), where my thoughts on the game, and AAA open world games as a whole, began to rapidly sour. 40 hours in, I was having a jovial time. But by the time I reached over 120 hours, whatever fondness I had for this game dissipated as I saw its routine, repetition, and overall lack of substance to the experience. St least that’s what I remember. I wrote these posts 7 years ago and they are so horribly written that I’m not even going to attempt to re-read them.

Anyway, the reason why I bring this up is that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Anniversary Edition was announced for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC for a release on 11/11/2021. This release marks the title’s second remaster after 2016’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition, and one that… is basically just a repackaging of the same game.

The only named difference is the inclusion of over 500 pieces of content from the Creation Club implemented into the base package. Now, I would get a bit miffed about the idea of paying for a modded version of an existing game… but they are promising over 500 pieces of content. If all of those pieces of content are substantive and optimized, then you would be buying a better version of the game, and one that can be iterated with more mods without worry of running into quite as many stability issues.

Header image comes from I Don’t Really Get It, but It Looks Like I Was Reincarnated in Another World by Aishi. An isekai manga that falls into the same deluge of problems often seen with isekai fiction. It follows an ‘unremarkable’ protagonist who is reincarnated in a new fantasy world where, due to their modern knowledge and overpowered natural-born skill set, they are able to succeed and triumph in this new (allegedly brutal) fantasy world.

However, despite its not-so-good indulgence in genre tropes, I still enjoyed what I read of this manga. The protagonist is cute in both appearance and personality and there is something appealing to a protagonist who makes things better as they go along on their journey. Whether it be by helping out a village fend off against disease, fight hostile monsters, or… introduce a whole restaurant’s worth of people to the glorious invention known as the sandwich.

I actually should go back and start reading it again (I stopped reading my scattering of TSF manga after the whole MangaDex debacle earlier this year) since the series is still going. And if an isekai goes on for long enough, it either gets really weird, or really bad.

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