Rundown (9/12-9/18) Subpar Settlement Schematics

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Wherein I discuss hackers assaulting a little big community, another subpar showcase, and Tales arising from the ashes of irrelevance.

Recently, I fell down a YouTube rabbit hole where I followed up on whatever the algorithm decided I might be interested in, and started watching videos produced by Not Just Bikes. A channel about urban planning and city design that produces semi-educational, well-edited, and visually stimulating content that highlights good and bad city planning. Largely through comparing the city and suburb designs of places across North America in contrast to European cities, primarily those in the Netherlands.

Their content is good, highlights a lot of things about settlement design I never truly considered, and helped me notice just how bizarre the layout of my suburban hometown is. I never understood why the nearest storefronts are all a few blocks away, why the nearest grocery stores are not within walking distance, and why I never felt completely safe crossing a 5 lane street without a stoplight or walkable island. But now I understand that it is all because some dopes in the 40s thought that car dependency was a good idea, and most North American settlements have stupid zoning restrictions.

As somebody who does not drive, I do wish that I lived in a place where I could more easily access things on-foot or through the use of safe cycling trails. Unfortunately, that is something that will probably not happen in North America, where nobody does infrastructure right. 

The first story on my agenda is a follow-up to a lightly reported news story from earlier this year, where the LittleBigPlanet servers were subjected to a DDOS attack from a group of hackers, which forced Sony to shut down the online services for these games. After months of dealing with these attacks, online services did return, but only partially.

Due to unspecified issues, presumably of the security and technical variety, they could not restore the online services on the PS3 and Vita. Meaning that now the only way for users to access LittleBigPlanet community content is via LittleBigPlanet 3 for PlayStation 4. I’m sure that this is not something the folks at Sony, Media Molecule, or Sumo Digital wanted to do, but hearing this news reminded me of the fact that, unless Sony releases a new LittleBigPlanet title with backwards compatibility for all earlier levels… then they are going to shut down the online services for all LittleBigPlanet games for good.

Now, you might think that conclusion is brash or hyperbolic, but this is something of an inevitability in situations like this. When creating a title with user generated content, there are pretty much two ways to go about it: Either take a standoffish approach and let creators host content for themselves, which is the old school and niche way of doing things. Or take an involved approach and only allow users to share or host content within a company-run ecosystem. 

I prefer the former approach, as it puts the responsibility of preservation of user-content on the creators and the community. Based on my experience, communities are wonderful at preserving their past, and only fail their objectives when they cannot afford hosting fees or server costs. Companies, however… they typically only hold on to something for as long as they think they need to. 

They only shut things down when they think they will face minimal backlash, and they typically do not care about preserving history as much as they care about profiting from history. And Sony is one of the worst examples of this, as they planned on shutting down the PS3 and Vita storefronts this past summer, but stopped when people started giving them crap for their blatant disregard for gaming history.

Or in other words… never trust corporations to preserve your stuff, because they will trash it when they think they can get away with it.

Moving on, THQ Nordic tried their hand at creating and curating an announcement stream for their tenth anniversary, where they revealed multiple titles in succession, hoping to capture the same passion and retention as Nintendo with their Nintendo Directs. Unfortunately, the showing faltered in the way these things usually do. THQ Nordic had a scattering of games to show, but none of the announcements were particularly exciting. There was no real connective tissue between what they showed. And the entire showing lacked the careful curation of your typical Nintendo Direct. 

These are things that need planning, personality, and pageantry… but this just felt like a bunch of trailers with Geoff Keighley interstitials. 

Anyway, there were two key announcements from this showing. The first was for Destroy All Humans! 2: Reprobed, a full remake of the original 2006 mayhem simulator, Destroy All Humans! 2 and a follow-up to the 2020 remake of the original Destroy All Humans! The remake was met with a mixed reception, mostly because of the design of the original, but it sold well, and when games sell well, they typically get sequels as, generally speaking, sequels do not take as much time or as many resources to produce.

While I am not all too interested in this title, I am glad to see more destruction heavy games hit the market, as not enough open-ended 3D titles give players the freedom to break stuff. However, I do worry that this sequel will be met with the same age-based criticisms, which makes me wonder why this approach was taken above making a brand new entry that takes advantage of modern hardware and design trends. Instead, they are remaking another PS2 game, and this time it’s only for PS5, Xbox Series, and PC… which makes no sense to me, as the PS4 and Xbox One still have a sizable audience due to industry-wide chip shortages.

The second noteworthy announcement comes from Purple Lamp Studios, who produced the underwhelming SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated. A title that promised to be a refreshing revision of the beloved licensed 3D platformer, but was criticized for not fixing many of the shortcomings of the original. Which, for the record, should be the number one priority of any note-for-note remake. 

Despite being pulled through the wringer by some outlets, Rehydrated still sold over 2 million copies, which was grounds for a full-on follow-up, dubbed SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake. The title was revealed with a reference-riddled trailer and takes a multiversal approach to things, by having the playable cast of characters traverse through a deluge of different worlds.

Normally I would not talk about this title, as, despite having grown up with western cartoons like SpongeBob, I have very little nostalgia for them. The only reason I brought it up is that I find this game remarkable for being an original console video game based on a popular children’s TV show, which is something you seldom ever see nowadays. To the extent where the only major IP holder doing anything with console games is Nickelodeon, who has taken to license out their catalog of characters with kart racers and Super Smash Bros. clones

I find this curious, as Nickelodeon is far from the only company with a hefty back catalog of IP to invest into titles like this. But I’m sure the actual reason has to do with assumptions and opinions held by certain influential figures within various related companies and potentially archaic licensing policies. The intricacies of these massive rights holders are something I often casually wonder about, as I am never sure if their reasoning is backed by sense and experience, or just bad assumptions.

Okay, anything else this week? Well, it’s something of a relatively minor note, but I noticed how overwhelmingly positive the reception to Tales of Arise was. The game got scores in the high 80s on Metacritic, sold over a million copies in less than a week, and based on what snippets I saw, people seem quite fond of the game. All of which indicates that things are finally turning around for the Tales series after a decade of being relegated to the RPG backburner.

While Tales was never a huge RPG series, due partially to its use of sprites during the early 3D era, it had some remarkable entries during the 2000s with Tales of Symphonia, Tales of Vesperia, and Tales of Rebirth if you could read Japanese. However, over the next decade or so, the series never made a big splash like it did before, and was basically ignored during discussions about how JRPGs were dead, you couldn’t do HD towns, and the Japanese games industry could not make console games. 

The general criticism levied toward the games was that they were generic, blended together, and offered few meaningful innovations between releases. While I cannot attest to the former criticisms, the latter was definitely true. Bandai Namco released 6 console Tales entries within 8 years, all of which made their way onto the PS3. Even 2016’s Tales of Berseria, which inarguably hindered the game’s design and presentation.

While an output like that is admirable, it was clear that something needed to change. And after a 5 year hiatus from main entries and a shift to Unreal 4, Bandai Namco’s efforts clearly paid off, as they have a success on their hands, and now have a base they can use to build the next generation of Tales titles. 

The header image uses the zoning map for the city of Evanston, Illinois. Which is a city next to Chicago. I don’t live there, or in Chicago for that matter, but I live in the same general area, and did not want to reveal the exact town I live in. Because while I am super open about a lot of details about my life, I want to keep some degree of privacy, thank you very much.

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