Rundown (4/24-4/30) Re;Brander Ruminations

  • Post category:Rundowns
  • Reading time:12 mins read
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Wherein I repurpose a bit from Natalie Rambles About TSF (coming May 25th), ruminate over how the worst people are buying everything, and muse about half-formed kerfuffles.

Something I have considered throughout the life of Nigma Box is rebranding or transforming the site into something more focused or succinct. I once considered renaming the site to Natalie’s Game Box, but discarded that name because it put me in a narrow position where I had to talk about video games. Which are something I have loved since I was 6, and something I’ve mentally engaged with every day of my life since then. Despite this, I have considered ditching the more typical video game angle, as there are millions of people doing the sort of things I do (86% of whom do a better job of it). If I did that, I could rename the site to Natalie’s TSF Box, focus solely on TSF content, and launch that TSF Showcase section (where I gush about dope TSF content) that I have been wanting to do for years now. 

Instead, I have wallowed and meandered, being non-committal, and distracting myself from these goals. I blame my poor time-management skills and my self-medicating habits of seeking out dopamine from engagement farms. I spend way too much time re-watching video essays, checking various websites for updates, and playing Dragalia Lost, to the point where I’m low-key glad that one of those things is going away in the foreseeable future. Why do I do this? I honestly think it is because I am a fundamentally lazy person. When something needs to be done RIGHT NOW, I do it ASAP, but when I am not in ‘work mode’ I am often drifting about, following whichever thread captures my mind… and slowly eating snacks.

Why am I like this? It’s probably my autism. For some things, I am incredibly rigid and focused in my thinking. But for other things, my mind just wanders. And while I LOVE my ability to focus on certain things… there are too many things on my to-do list as my life becomes increasingly complicated. 

First up, we have acquisition news, but not the kind of games-industry-based acquisition I usually discuss here on Nigma Box. Instead, the story is that Elon Musk acquired Twitter to the tune of $44 billion dollars.

Now, I could go down a list of bad things about Elon Musk. Particularly reasons that would make him a bad owner for such a massive communication platform, and how his definition of free speech would likely lead to even worse moderation and more abuse of LGBT folks and racial minorities. But I kind of don’t need to do that, as there is only one thing that I need to highlight in order to paint him as a bad person. Back in October 2021, Musk offered to end world hunger for 6 billion dollars if the United Nations could prepare a detailed plan describing how that would work. Two weeks later, the United Nations did just that, and Musk… ignored them. He had the opportunity, capital, and intent to end world hunger, but he chose not to for… no reason other than he did not want to. Instead, he spent seven times as much money in order to become the owner of Twitter.

The fact that billionaires do not end things like world hunger is egregious enough when you consider how needless extreme wealth is. But when one goes out and promises to spend that amount on improving the lives of millions, if not billions, and does not commit to that promise? Then that’s some grade-A villainy, chief.

As for video game acquisition news… nothing much cropped up, but there was buzz about further acquisitions. 

According to a Bloomberg report, Ubisoft has entered talks to sell themselves to private equity firms, including Blackstone and KKR. This was spurred by Ubisoft’s declining stock price, light upcoming line-up, and various developmental problems. Just to name two, Skull and Bones has been in development hell for almost a decade, and Beyond Good and Evil 2 hasn’t been shown since E3 2018.

Ubisoft is a valuable company, and would be a valuable asset for anybody with deep enough pockets to acquire them… But I doubt that any acquisition would truly improve the litany of issues at the company, or be truly good for the games industry. 

With Sony currently prepping to roll out their revamped PlayStation Plus  subscription service, details have started rolling in, and one of these juicy nuggets involved the promised game trials for PlayStation Plus Premium. The original story from Game Developer was that all developers creating a game with a retail price above $34 USD would need to prepare time-limited game trials. Kind of like how every Xbox Live Arcade game for Xbox 360 needed to have a demo. This change would not be retroactive, but it would require a trial to be released within 3 months after the title’s debut, and that it be available to Premium subscribers for at least 12 months.

This would represent a massive time commitment to developers releasing on PlayStation, and a potential loss of sales, but this pending  disaster was nipped in the bud a day later. Further reporting revealed that these demos would be handled internally by Sony Interactive Entertainment. Which would be great for the developers… if they actually wanted this. 

While game demos are great for customers, when applied broadly, they can have a very negative effect on a game’s sales. Furthermore, the developers would not be compensated for these premium trials, which is bound to ruffle some feathers, as Sony is basically charging for samples of their product. If they were free 2 hour demos, that would be one thing, but these are locked behind a $120/year price tag.

This is an issue where I feel the need to wait and see, as this could be a train wreck, or this could be the result of a communication error between Sony and its developers. Nevertheless, it is concerning that things are this disorganized for a massive revision set to debut (in select markets) on May 23rd. Three weeks from now.

Moving from one miscommunication story to another, let’s revisit the 2021 kusoge candidate Balan Wonderworld. The game’s director, Yuji Naka, recently released a Twitter thread where he described details on the game’s development, and revealed that he filed a lawsuit against the game’s publisher, Square Enix.

According to Naka, he was removed from his directorial duties 6 months before the game shipped, and for two reasons. He objected to the use of a YouTuber’s piano performance of the game’s promotional material (which is an awfully petty thing to get hung up about). But the big reason is that Naka was not happy with developer Arzest’s work and how they continued to submit builds without fixing bugs. Naka continued to elaborate how this approach went against his personal beliefs of how game development should work. That things should be refined and fine-tuned up until the last minute.

What he says sounds reasonable, and it sounds like Square Enix did dismiss him simply because he wanted to make the game better. However, while Yuji Naka was and is an acclaimed figure in the history of video games, his reputation has gotten worse after people learned more about his behavior throughout the 90s. 

The first major example centers around the development of Sonic X-treme, where Naka refused to allow the American staff developing the game to use the engine he developed for Nights into Dreams. This caused massive issues for the development team, whose lack of resources from Sega Japan, dwindling staff, and the personal health issues of many lead staff members, led to the game’s cancellation. 

The second comes from a 2021 interview with former Sega of America producer Mark Subotnick. When visiting the internal development studio to view the tools and engine developed for an intended Dreamcast launch title, a Star Fox clone by the name of Geist Force, Naka was impressed by what the team had done. So impressed that, as paraphrased by Subotnick, Naka suggested that they “fire everyone but one of the engineers who knows their system and roll him onto our team for Sonic.”

The entire team was present when Naka said this, many of them spoke Japanese, and after hearing a prolific and influential Sega employee say such a thing, the entire team of engineers left the company. With no engineers to develop the game, Geist Force was canceled.

Now, this was over 20 years ago, so it is possible that Naka has grown as a person, and regrets his behavior back then. However, this does leave me wondering if Naka is giving the full story, or if he is omitting details to make him, and Balan Wonderworld, seem like the victims, and Square Enix like the villain. 

The fact Naka feels so strongly about this matter that he is suing Square Enix makes me think that he has a proper case against them. However… Square Enix also has their own share of closet skeletons, and I would not be surprised if they fired Naka in order to ship a bare minimum project after the game failed to meet an internal review.

Or in other words, this is a matter where we need more information to determine who is at fault here, but the answer is probably both of them. Square Enix probably did not give the game enough time or money, and Naka probably clashed with Square Enix as development ramped up.

Okay, now to go back to writing Natalie Rambles About TSF, which I’m probably going to need to put 50 hours of work into before it’s done. Which sounds like a lot for a 12,000 word essay because it is. But somebody thought it was a great idea to go over 37 DOPE TSF comics, resubscribe to a bunch of TSF Patreons, and revisit discarded bastions of TSF content…

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. qwerty

    I’m kind of attached to the Nigma Box name, not gonna lie. It’s also unspecific enough to not cause that feeling you mentioned of having to talk about a particular thing or issue but rather just being a soapbox for whatever’s on your mind this week and what projects you have going and are ready to present to the public. You can still talk about video games and TSF stuff to your heart’s content with the name in place. Not that I think it’d be a major issue one way or another for people, what you’re about will become clear to anyone browsing your site sooner rather than later.

    1. Natalie Neumann

      I was probably being a bit too ‘straight off the dome’ when I wrote the preamble for this week’s Rundown. I was just venting something I have been musing since 2019 or so, as it was on my mind for whatever reason. Nigma Box will stay Nigma Box for the foreseeable future, and while I am considering de-emphasizing the video games going forward, I am not ACTUALLY planning on renaming the site.

      Also, I’ve been in a weird headspace when it comes to Nigma Box and TSF. At the end of this post, I said that Natalie Rambles About TSF was only going to be 12,000 words, but the current half-edited draft sitting at over 25,000 words.