Rundown (4/10-4/16) Taxing Times

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Wherein I discuss tax time woes, acquisition woes, the Post-Dark Seeker Saga, a beauteous remaster, Activision taking their abuse to the justice system, and a weird yet DOPE TSF comic.

Something that always frustrates me about tax season is how crunch is accepted as something that ‘just happens’. According to my boss, as a tax accountant, you are supposed to wrap things up hours before the April 15th (or April 18th) deadline. Otherwise, you are leaving money on the table. Which is business jargon for committing a social felony!

As someone who never finished a major school assignment the day before it was due, and who has this image mantled in her mind, you can imagine how this does not really jive with my work philosophy. I seriously feel like an idiot when I need to work 10 hour days and fill myself with so much inefficiency-induced stress that I can barely enjoy anything during the interim. And I somehow feel even worse when my boss tells me that “we’re in a good place” when the two of us have 30 returns/extensions to go out in the next 3 days.

Honestly, this rigmarole makes me eager for the day when the practice is sold to a larger and more regimented organization, and I am given the stability I crave. Because I constantly feel inefficient when working. The discount tax software we use is slow and laggy. Things need to be updated in multiple places because we do not have or know of a truly efficient software suite. And because most information comes through my boss’s inbox or cell phone, I am constantly blindsided by information that was not shared with me. 

I have told myself that things would be better if I worked for a more traditional accounting firm that invests more into organization. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that might just be wishful thinking. I have this habit of overestimating the ability of others, as I have witnessed so many people create so many amazing things throughout the duration of my life. But I have never been in a workplace where I felt that things were sufficiently organized. Where I felt like things were controlled

Even back when I was working at a major Chicagoland realtor, I saw what the messes the executives made and threw to their staff with reckless disregard. I saw that the company-wide servers had a ventilation system literally kept together with cardboard and duct tape. And witnessed just how dirty and dysfunctional the remote offices could be. …I mostly worked in the corporate office, but I was also part of the two-person IT team that replaced all the Windows XP computers with Windows 7 PCs back in 2014. So I saw basically every other office.

…I just wish I worked in a work environment where I felt like things weren’t constantly teetering on the brink of falling apart. Unfortunately, that’s apparently most work environments. 

Stuffing that ish back in the can, where it belongs, let’s talk about acquisitions. At the top of the week, The Embracer Group declared that they intend to acquire even more studios, after having invested 8 billion into acquisitions over the past 2.25 years. A move that begs the question of who/what Embracer is going to go after next, given how, as seen with the Dark Horse acquisition, they are not limiting their efforts to the realm of video games.

As if on cue, two literal days after this story ran, Aspyr Media, a subsidiary of Saber Interactive of The Embracer Group, announced their acquisition of Beamdog. A studio founded by former Bioware staff that spent most of its life creating enhanced editions of games like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape Torment, but shifted into original IP with Axis & Allies 1942 Online and the upcoming MythForce

I never afforded the studio much attention, but the more I think about it, the more Beamdog seems like a studio that ‘fulfilled its purpose.’ From their inception in 2009 to 2018, they only ever worked on remasters of other titles. Once the well of potential titles dried up, they began working on their original IP and doing something completely different. Which begs the question as to why Aspyr Media wants to take them under their wings, and I would hazard a guess that it might have to do with Aspyr‘s upcoming Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic remake. The original is a direct successor to the Bioware games that Beamdog remastered, so they would probably have a good grip on the original. At least more than modern Bioware. …The problem with this theory is that the KOTOR remake is probably a year and change in development already. But I guess Beamdog could still help, maybe?

I don’t know why they were really acquired, but it is sad to see a studio like them, an independent developer and publisher, become another cog in an increasingly foreboding machine.

While not an acquisition, both KIRKBI, the owners of the LEGO Group, and Sony each invested a billion dollars into Epic Games. Which means that Epic will have a nice influx of cash for them to continue their acquisition spree, and we will likely see more PlayStation and LEGO games using Unreal 5. 

Or, in lieu of an acquisition, Epic can always use these funds to keep their publishing business afloat. As they are still seeking out third-party developers whose projects they can fund in exchange for their generous 50/50 revenue split model. Or at least I assume that is the standard Epic is still operating under. Point is, Epic entered into a multi-game publishing agreement with Brazilian developer Aquiris. A mobile developer whose catalog includes a licensed Cartoon Network football game, that Looney Tunes gacha game that canonized Big Chungus, and a magic-themed diorama platformer by the name of Wonderbox.

I can only assume that this is going to result in Epic expanding their mobile efforts across more titles, instead of lumping all their money into the Fortnite basket.

The first thing I saw this week, reaching across my desk with a stubby claw-like appendage, was a 20th anniversary trailer for upcoming Kingdom Hearts projects. Now, I have discussed how… indifferent I am toward Kingdom Hearts in the past. While I enjoy the more original stuff the series offers— as it is pretty much everything a 13-year-old in 2008 would consider ‘cool’— the Disney stuff just ruins it for me.

Kingdom Hearts was originally sold as being a Disney crossover adventure, but as time went on, the creators got increasingly indifferent about this angle of the narrative and focused more on the original characters and lore. Which is bizarre because Kingdom Hearts is a Disney property, and the exploration of Disney worlds was the point of the series from their perspective. Also, there are zero Disney properties that I am particularly fond of. Including Marvel, Star Wars, and The Simpsons.

Anyway, the actual story pertained to three key announcements. The first of which centered around Kingdom Hearts Dark Road, which… confused me. From what I can gather, Kingdom Hearts χ was a 2013 online game that went offline back in May 2021, where it received an update that positioned the game as an offline-only avatar creator and cutscene viewer. Which is better than nothing, I suppose. However, KHχ was actually two games in one. The KHχ that was preserved via an offline app, and a separate storyline known as Kingdom Hearts Dark Road, which was not finished and is currently unavailable in any form. However, that will change in August 2022, when this offline and free mobile story is set to release.

The lack of an online version of Kingdom Hearts χ means that there is currently no mobile offering for Kingdom Hearts fans. However, Square Enix is aiming to fix that with Kingdom Hearts: The Missing Link. A 3D arena-based action game that aims to adapt the gameplay of Kingdom Hearts to a mobile platform, and introduce spells or other attacks powered by trophies. Trophies that the player presumably obtains via a gacha system. I would make a joke about how this game will inevitably die, which it will. But if Square Enix’s approach with the aforementioned Kingdom Hearts χ, then the game will be partially preserved, which is good enough for me. At least it’s better than a game outright dying…

Then there was a trailer for Kingdom Hearts IV, which does away with the more rounded and cartoonish look of its human characters and offers something more realistic, turning series protagonist Sora into someone who looks straight out of Final Fantasy XV. Only a brief snippet was shown, depicting Sora in a contemporary urban setting, battling against a kaiju-sized demon (or whatever you fight in Kingdom Hearts) and performing acrobatic feats with choreography more reminiscent of a cutscene than a typical action game.

It reminded me a lot of early incarnations of Final Fantasy Versus XIII and the Venum Rex world from Kingdom Hearts III. Which, for the record, is something I have wanted to see actualized as a full game for the literal majority of my life. Unfortunately, this is likely only going to be a single world on a brand-based adventure that I otherwise do not particularly care for.

Next up, publisher Nippon Ichi Software and developer Vanillaware have announced a remaster of the 2007 cult classic side-scrolling fantasy RTS, GrimGrimoire, dubbed GrimGrimoire OnceMore. A rendition that bumps up the PS2 original to modern HD resolutions, gives the game a wider aspect ratio, and features gameplay tweaks with the addition of a skill tree, a new super move system, and some quality of life features. Namely mid-battle saves and a fast-forward function. Based on the trailer and related coverage, it seems to be a quality enhancement of the original, and one that will be made available to Japanese players on July 28th, when the title launches for PS4 and Switch… but not PC.

Now, I was planning on going on a bit of a rant about how, back in 2015, Vanillaware claimed they wanted to bring their games to PC a few years ago. But then I realized that, circa 2019, Vanillaware only had 29 people on staff, and that their primary publisher these past few years has been Atlus, who has been pretty bad about bringing their titles to PC.

With GrimGrimoire OnceMore, however, the international publisher is almost certainly going to be NIS America, who has a far better track record of bringing titles to PC. I hope they can find someone with the expertise and knowledge needed to bring this game to PC, because I truly do believe that PC is the best platform for beautiful illustrated 2D games like this. 

While I adore games that use 2D art assets like this, they lack the timeless nature of sprite work, and the adaptability of 3D games, which can be enhanced with both anti-aliasing and texture filtering/unfiltering. With straight-up 2D games though, the assets were ultimately designed around a set resolution, and the only way to enhance them is via upscaling and enhancing every art asset or via post-processing filters and shaders. These both work, and when they work, they are wonderful, but they are more intensive processes that do not always have the best results, given how different art styles require different upscaling processes. You cannot really expect something designed to enhance 2D illustrations to also upscale pre-rendered 3D backdrops.

…Anyway, I want Vanillaware and NIS America to release GrimGrimoire OnceMore on PC, because then we could (possibly) get a Vanillaware game in 4K. Which would be rather nice.

It would also be nice if Activision Blizzard just accepted that they were abusive, toxic, and an overall bad company that allowed abuse to perpetuate without intervention, before acting like Microsoft is going to fix things. Unfortunately, based on a recent Bloomberg article, things have not been going so good with the whole California lawsuit that launched this sorrowful saga. 

In short, the chief counsel of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing was recently fired. In response, the assistant chief counsel resigned, claiming that the chief counsel was fired unfairly by California Governor Gavin Newsom, who is allegedly operating in the interests of Activision Blizzard. All of this can be read as: the California governor is trying to, in some way, disrupt the investigation into Activision Blizzard’s toxic work environment… And I would not put this past the executive body of Activision Blizzard. They are a bunch of rich bastards who probably want to get things swept under the rug before they grab their millions and skedaddle.

Good job, straw person executives. You keep finding a way to make your company look worse and worse, even as it is set to become a subsidiary in a few months. That takes some dedication.

Moving onto better news, it has become clear that Nintendo’s third-party publishing deals this generation include a clause that keeps games locked to the Switch for roughly six months before releasing on other platforms. This was seen with Daemon X Machina, Octopath Traveler, Bravely Default II, and has predictably happened again with No More Heroes III. Originally released on August 27, 2021, publisher XSEED announced that the title is coming to PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC this fall. No footage was shown, but it sounds like a pretty standard enhanced port, with better resolution, framerate, and load times, taking advantage of more powerful hardware.

As always, I’m glad to see exclusives not remain exclusives for very long, hope that these ports are all quality, and am overall incredibly happy that what was once an exclusive series like No More Heroes is now available on more platforms… Although, the decision to bring NMH3 to PlayStation and Xbox consoles is a bit odd, as No More Heroes and No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle were only re-released for Switch, PC, and… Amazon Luna? 

I seriously almost forgot that Amazon Luna was even a thing, but it’s apparently still going and… adding maybe one new game to the service a month. Huh.

Header image comes from Despair by Ooi Hanimaru. Now, this is a TSF comic that definitely warrants some detailed analysis, as it is clearly trying to do something ambitious and creative with its premise. But I lack the time to launch TSF Showcase, so I’ll just give you the DL (down low) instead.

The story kicks off shortly after the male protagonist somehow creates a clone of himself and, after wagering who has to go to work today via a fighting game, one of these copies transforms into a woman. As you can imagine, the male and female alter egos then begin to have sex. But as they do so, the female half starts undergoing her own ‘sex-powered gender transformation’, leading her to develop both her own identity separate from the male half, and developing a genuine affection for her male half. 

Starting out, it is a sweet story about a transsexual transformation that sees a character question their identity and euphorically embrace the changes they experienced, both mentally and physically. …But then the story goes on for at least two more chapters and introduces an affair subplot, which only goes to further the relationship between the two, and it throws in an additional transformation that spins the dynamic on its head through the power of ASTRAL WOMEN. Even though I think the ending of chapter 4, which I think is the last chapter, is a bit too open for my liking, it’s still certifiably dope in my book, and that’s just based on the story. 

Artistically, the series has a style that is more reminiscent of the sort of thing you would see during the early 2000’s in doujin works, but Ooi Hanimaru is clearly an experienced artist. His anatomy is solid, his work has a lot of endearing subtle details, and his expressions are top-notch. In particular, the crying expressions worn by the female protagonist during both sex scenes and times of stress are just magnificent. They capture this marvelous blend of eager anticipation and uncertainty, and add so much character to the female protagonist. In Despair, you don’t need detailed narration. You can just look into their eyes and see what they are thinking. Which, for the record, is the definitive top sign that you are dealing with a quality hentai artist.

Also, I love these T-shirts that look like shitposts. This is the exact kind of drip I want to see when I delve into the TSF gulags.

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