Wherein I discuss the dev costs of Nigma Box 2.0, Tencent’s Tequila, the struggles of modern game development, a ghastly song of yore, and an unfortunate fall.
As any regular visitor of Nigma Box would have noticed, Nigma Box has been overhauled with a newer more modern theme, big thick fonts, and a slick mobile-friendly UI. Now, I am still getting used to things, and still tweaking things as I see fit, but I am not 100% committed to just about anything. So if you have any suggestions about the design of Nigma Box, PLEASE SEND ME YOUR CRITICISMS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!!!
I previously announced that this was happening in the March 1st update post, meaning I have one of my four annual goals completed, but this was easily the most expensive. Back in February, I did some browsing for potential themes and quickly settled on OceanWP. The demos they had looked quality, matched the general look I wanted for Nigma Box, and I was able to purchase a lifetime bundle of themes and extensions for $177.59, which I consider to be pretty cheap.
However, the big cost comes in the form of the WordPress fees. As a platform, WordPress has been satisfactory over the decade, and they do offer a lot of customization to their users, leading many real-ass websites to use WordPress. However, this comes at a price and in order to get access to many of the premium features, I had to upgrade from a $96/yr Premium plan to a $300/yr Business plan. This is despite the fact that Nigma Box is not a business, does not run ads, and does not generate revenue. I might eventually make a Nigma Box LLC, but I will not run ads on my site unless I need to.
The monetary aspect of things is why I put off this upgrade for so long, as this is another $204 I need to pay every year for the rest of my life. Which is not a huge deal, but I was raised to be a bit of a Meiser.
Anyway, was it worth it? Well… I invest hundreds of hours into Nigma Box every year, and I want it to be a nice and pleasant place that looks better than the GOAT Anime TG Caption site Divine Intervention. So, yeah, it was worth it. Then again, I also found the process of designing this website, finding the CSS codes needed to overwrite some defaults, and making everything look nice to be a fun process. So perhaps I have poor judgment when it comes to things in general.
Another week, another acquisition, and this time, once again, the acquirer was the growing Chinese megacorp known as Tencent. This past week, the company made a majority investment in Spanish developer Tequila Works. A studio who made varying degrees of waves over the years with releases like RiME, The Sexy Brutale, and the Stadia exclusive Gylt. This might seem fairly random, but it all clicked when I read that Tequila is currently developing Song of Nunu: A League of Legends Story. A game published by Tencent subsidiary Riot Forge, using one of Tencent’s biggest IPs, and set to be one of the bigger budget titles that Tequila has worked on.
An existing publishing relationship routinely opens the door for an acquisition and, with Song of Nunu set to release later this year, it should not be too surprising that Tencent chose to buy Tequila. If anything, I expect this to become a common tactic for Tencent as their publishing operations continue to grow, until the number of independent developers trickle down to a small few.
Now, with the Tequila Works and Tencent story, and with a lot of other acquisition stories, I tend to bemoan how fewer and fewer independent developers are active in the industry. Due to the costs associated with running an independent studio and the limited number of publishing partners. However, that is not strictly true, as the video games industry, and many other entertainment/tech industries, have a distinct acquisition and growth cycle.
When companies grow to a certain scale, leads leave to form their own companies, going independent before growing in scale and, almost inevitably, getting acquired by a large corporation. And as this second generation company grows, leads will inevitably leave it behind to start a third generation company. Thus continuing a cycle that will perpetuate… basically forever. Because there are always wealthy investors and venture capital funds that are looking for promising projects to inject capital into in exchange for equity.
While I do worry about the games industry losing a lot of small and mid-scale studios who cropped up over the past 15 to 20 years, I know that they will be replaced. And I expect a lot of smaller studios to be established over the next few years
Thanks to COVID, the games industry has been put into a weird place. Video games have become dramatically more popular over the course of the pandemic, but they have also gotten significantly harder to develop due to the limitations of working from home. Video games are a deeply collaborative medium where casual conversations between members of different departments can eliminate days of work, all because the right people are communicating. This is less of an issue with smaller team sizes, where everybody knows each other and never needs to cold call a stranger in order to fix an issue. But in AAA development with hundreds of staff? It’s a gosh darn nightmare.
This is especially true if you are trying to build a studio from the ground up with a new IP and no established technology, as is the case with The Initiative. Funded in 2018 as a new Xbox first-party studio, The Initiative was tasked to work on a reboot of Perfect Dark, as announced in 2020. But according to an investigation by Video Games Chronicle, the studio has been bleeding senior staff since then. Largely due to a lack of creative consensus on what the game should be and how it should be developed.
It raises the question of how one can make a new AAA games studio from scratch like this, especially with the limitations of COVID and WFH, and makes me question how sustainable this large-scale development is. For years, I have been part of the contingent who would like to see games scale down in terms of fidelity, resources, and budget in order to create more distinct experiences. Unfortunately, the games industry has created a monster in their graphical arms race, and I don’t know if this miasmatic force of destruction can ever be sealed.
Next up… this week was pretty light in regards to news and one tidbit that caught my eye was an announcement that Ghost Song was finally coming out this year. For those who never knew, or just forgot, Ghost Song is a sci-fi metroidvania game that first came into prominence with a 2013 Kickstarter. It was actually the first Kickstarter I ever backed, and one I have been reminded of every few months. While the lead developer, Matt White, was not the most regular with updates, he did semi-regularly show off where the game was, announced that things were being reworked or overhauled, or released betas to higher tier backers.
It, like many Kickstarter games, was delayed to hell and back, having been originally slated to release in May 2014, but it’s taken an extra… 8 years of development. And while the game is not out quite yet, Ghost Song was re-announced by its newly assigned publisher, Humble Games, who gave the title a 2022 release date. While I am glad that this title is finally shaping up into something complete and final, I am also worried that the game might have suffered from its prolonged development period.
Something about the way the characters move, their ragdoll physics, the shading style of the character assets, the exaggerated double jump, and the background layering— It all makes the game feel like something that should have come out about five years ago. It still looks good and like it will do justice to the concept that I, along with thousands of other people, supported 9 years ago. But I also worry about how it will be perceived because of these more dated elements, and that this game won’t get as much attention as it would have if it met its original release date. Instead, it is coming out in an era where metroidvanias are both common and are subjected to higher quality standards.
Something I did not comment on earlier this month was the lacking launch of Babylon’s Fall. A project by PlatinumGames and Square Enix designed to take Platinum’s action game pedigree and use it as the core of a live service title. The title has been known since E3 2018, but when people finally saw it, the title looked okay, then worse, and once people played it, they realized that… the game just was not very good. The playerbase, and presumably sales, have been low, and the game was quickly positioned as a failure for people to point and laugh at. And seeing as how it came out a week after Elden Ring, an action RPG that does not feature predatory monetization tactics, I can certainly see why the backlash was so strong.
There are plenty of reasons for people to just ignore the game for the time being, but that does not change the fact that the game is still being actively developed and updated. It is clear that a lot of work is being put into communicating fixes, future updates, and keeping the small playerbase engaged during this launch period. Which is nothing to say about the actual work being invested into new assets, rebalancing, and content that is gradually being rolled out, such as a Nier Automata event. Also, they announced a demo at the bottom of a livestream summary, which really begs the question why the game just isn’t free-to-play when it has so much F2P blood in its veins.
There is a lot you can say about this game and Square Enix’s terrible decision to pivot to these premium titles with scummy F2P elements. But I’ll just jump ahead to my two conclusions.
The fact that all the work invested into this game will, most likely, die upon end of service, is a damn shame and should be seen as the waste it truly is. Just because games can be limited like this does not mean they should, and every service game should be designed with EOS in mind. Otherwise you are needlessly limiting something that could be limitless and could be playable hundreds of years for now. Well, assuming humanity lasts that long and people are able to back up the necessary files on servers.
And the second conclusion is that… this entire situation is incredibly sad. It is always a shame when you work on something, need to keep working on it, and openly know that it is bad or deeply broken. And what’s worse is that it’s pretty clear why the game is like this. Because the game was designed around corporate mandates. Mandates to make the game into something capable of generating profits, instead of a game that can stand on its own merits.
…Okay, that’s it for this week. I finished Weiss Vice for its 4/1/22 release, so I guess I need to finally finish Max’s Big Bust 2. Which, as I said last week, is not a bad game. However, it is… like eating bread dough filled with delicious seeds and spices. Except the dough is wet, falling apart as you try to eat it, and has dead bees inside it.
Afterward… It’s tax time, and after that… I guess I need to figure out how to format an eBook so I can pay off my WordPress fees. Then, I will write Natalie Rambles About TSF. And then I can write The Dominance of Abigale Quinlan, which I have written a 16,000 word outline for. The outline is not actually done, as I need to come up with more vignette ideas for its second epilogue. Because the novel is gonna have three epilogues. Just like Psycho Bullet Festival 2222.
Why have I decided to give my novels three epilogues? Because I am an insane person… and because I have a decology’s worth of characters to explore here, all of which I am ramming into this third entry! Now, I could make a fourth novel instead, but bonk that ish. Bonk that ish with a rusty nail.