Rundown (5/08-5/14) Return of the Trash

  • Post category:Rundowns
  • Reading time:13 mins read
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Wherein I discuss the Nigma Box Revival project, a tale of leakers doing what corporations don’t, and how the service model is destroying games that should be all-time favorites.

Something that has been bothering me about the whole Nigma Box 10th anniversary schtick I’m getting prepped is that there really is no post on Nigma Box prior to January 2014. All because I decided to cull away my older and worse content back in 2015 or 2016. But it’s 2022 now, and… I do not give a single crap about what I said about something back in 2012 or 2013. Accordingly, as part of the tenth anniversary celebration, I figured that I should bring back the bullshit, and try to recover (almost) EVERYTHING.

All my garbage anime reviews, all my crappy game reviews, Intertoids, Nari’s Log, The Body of Raiyne, The Transformation, Ascension, and Degeneration of Terra, Maple Loves Senpai, and everything that I did not previously delete from Nigma Box will be restored by May 25, 2022.

However— HOWEVER— there is an issue with this approach. I originally was careless with my older work and instead of privating it, I deleted the posts from WordPress, and there is no way to recover the originals. This includes all posts made in May and June 2012, most posts from July and August 2012, and various posts throughout 2012. Including the predecessor to Rambles, Fairly Messy Rants. The original WordPress data for these posts is GONE! 

Fortunately, I do have access to ALL the original Google Docs from this time and access to ALL the original publication dates. As such, I should be able to recreate most of what Nigma Box was.

That being said, I will choose NOT to include Shameless Plug Wednesday, as it was mostly just me, from June to September 2012, talking about the things I liked back then. Such as GameGrumps, Game Theory, Extra Credits, The Jimquisition, Zero Punctuation, JonTron, Rather Vocalized Illusions, and more. Yeah, I still like The Jimquisition, but I do not want to engage with any of the other ones, so… not bringing that back. Intertoids, meanwhile, will have all names of real people replaced to protect the innocents.

I will also not be including certain pages that were originally meant to merely compile information, and everything except for game reviews and Rundowns will be added to a new category known as “Archived” which will be a sort of ‘secret’ category for people to find, because I don’t want to promote it.

Now, why on Earth would I do this? To show how much I, as a writer, have grown over the past decade. To demonstrate just how BAD my earlier works were. To how I have gotten incrementally smarter and more articulate. …And to show that I write (basically) the same way I’ve always written. Straight from the heart and straight off the dome.

By the by, the tenth anniversary post is done. It took me nearly three weeks, it wound up being 27,000 words, and features 76 images, but it’s done. And it will ALSO go live on May 25, 2022. One part at 6:00 AM CST, another at 6:30 AM CST. Which is the time things usually go live on Nigma Box.

In 2018, Frederik Schreiber, the VP of 3D Realms, revealed that he was in possession of a 90% completed build of Duke Nukem Forever’s 2001 Unreal Engine incarnation. The game that was shown at E3 2001 in an incredibly promising trailer. I mean, the graphics were a bit dated in the PS2 era, but the snippets gave the impression that the game was shaping up to be something decent at the very least. This discovery would have represented a great opportunity to release this game, but that never happened. In 2017 Schreiber reached out to former Gearbox president, Randy Pitchford, to see if it was possible for 3D Realms to borrow the Duke Nukem license so they could finish and release this game, and Pitchford clearly said no.

Gearbox is weirdly protective of the Duke Nukem license, as seen with how they screwed over Slipgate Ironworks twice with the cancellation of Duke Nukem 3D: Reloaded and Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction. Also, fun fact, but Slipgate is now part of Saber Interactive, who is part of Embracer, who also owns Gearbox, meaning they could conceivably work on a new Duke Nukem game, or finally release Duke Nukem 3D: Reloaded.

Now, why am I going on this impromptu history lesson? Well, partially because I have a terrible habit of remembering details like this (though I do need a Wikipedia refresh to get the minutia straight). But mostly because, this past week, an October 2001 build of Duke Nukem Forever was leaked, allowing people to finally play this incarnation of the game for themselves.

Unfortunately, this build is very much an alpha, with a lot of unfinished elements and missing polish. Some weapons don’t work, levels are missing detail or polish, and a lot of things that would go into finishing a game are absent. However, this is still a massive boon to fans of the game and, with the source code also leaked, it is possible for a group of dedicated fans to create the ‘Duke Nukem Forever they were promised.’ And to think, Gearbox could have just paid people to do this and then rake in a modest profit. But noooooo. They had to say no and now the game is available, for free, and cannot go back into the vault. Also, this might result in a better product, as the community makes this game their own over the ensuing years. As is typically what happens when hyper-skilled fans get their mitts on source code.

Something that has become an increasing frustration for me is how the business end of video games is routinely making them… worse. While there is some value to a low-key live service game that you can play every day, the entire service model for video games is a net negative to the industry as a whole. It means people are spending more money on fewer games and playing them for longer, out of obligation and due to a persistent sense of FOMO.

From a business perspective, it’s brilliant, but from an artistic, preservationist, and moral perspective, it’s pretty damn terrible. It makes it hard for me to have much hope in the industry going forward. And this is something that has hit me extra hard as I am currently experiencing the twilight of the only live service I have been deeply invested in (Dragalia Lost).

Now, why am I bringing this up? Well, it has to do with MiHoYo, developers of Genshin Impact, a $3 billion game that could be an all-time great if not for its egregious monetization, habitual demands, and intense greed. This past week, they announced an urban fantasy action RPG by the name of Zenless Zone Zero, which… encompasses my preferred aesthetic so well that I cannot help but be peeved at the fact that it exists.

First, we have the name Zenless Zone Zero. I have a bizarre affection for three Zs in a row. Because it is used to convey sleeping (which I think is a cute linguistic oddity). Because I use it a lot in file organization, and because Z is probably the second coolest letter after X. But the actual title is this wonderful blend of nonsensical English appropriating weirdness and something that actually makes sense. Zenless means without peace, and Zone Zero can be read as another term for ground zero: An origin point for a conflict. So the title is really just referencing an area where conflict both began and continues— a battleground— but it is describing that in the coolest and chuunibyou-est way possible.

Second, we have the drip. While I personally don’t give a crap about fashion IRL and dress as plainly as possible, I have a special fondness for characters with cool and distinctive outfits. And my favorite aesthetic of dress was largely informed by the likes of Jet Set Radio and The World Ends With You. AKA modern Asian streetwear. And ZZZ manages to capture the appeal of this aesthetic wonderfully, with nearly every character looking like ‘the cool one’ and with many designs having what it needs to become iconic.

Third, the game looks really good for a mobile game. Everything looks clean and crisp, characters have this endearing squishiness to them, and the world looks like one I want to spend a long time looking at up close. Partially because I think these worlds are inherently toyetic, and partially because I am always captivated by how game designers map out urban settings like this.

Now, I know that this game would disappoint me. I can tell it will not have a GOAT electronica and/or hip hop soundtrack. I know that game design would make the game something that’s more fun to think about, and it is to actually play (like most live services). And I know that I fundamentally would dislike something about its combat system. 

Now, these latter points should give me a sense of relief, as I can see the flaws before they emerge, but no. I’m just pissed off that this game is not a packaged title that I can buy when I feel like and play whenever I want. Instead, it is a game that will demand daily engagement and one that will, eventually, die, for no good reason.

Ugh! With every passing day, I lose a bit more tolerance for the live service model. It is a business model that could work fine if end of life plans were the norm. But instead, they are products that launch with this… curse of nihility. A ticking clock that will expire once they stop being profitable. And this creeping corrosion applied to their design, where they are meant to whittle down players through repetition until they develop a strong attachment to these games by repeating the same tasks over, and over, and over again.

I identified this as a problem in the mobile games industry years ago, but I brushed it off, saying that it was a problem ‘over there’ while things will remain good ‘here’ in the PC/console space. I tried to be optimistic, but now… I honestly find myself wishing that I cared less about the medium, that I did not base so much of my sense of self around the concepts, terminology, history, and minutiae of video games. Because the more of this shit I see, the harder it is for me to want to actually play video games, when I could focus on something more limited, like writing my novels and stories.

Except that would not even work, because how in the hell am I going to write Psycho Shatter 2000: Black Vice Mania without getting super nerdy about video games? Because that shit is supposed to be to quality body swap erotica is what late 2000s nerdcore is to 90s rap music.

Okay, Aunty Nat-Nat is all fussy-fuss, so she’s going to put the video games out in the yard for a spell and FINALLY get started on The Dominance of Abigale Quinlan. The outline has been done for 45 days for crying out loud…

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  1. qwerty

    I recommend Accursed Farm’s video titled “Games as a service is fraud” on youtube. It’s about an hour long but is a rather thorough discussing of why live service is BS and how to counter some of the arguments for it. It’s probably not new to you, but I find it cathartic when someone puts a voice to things I struggle to formulate words on myself and figured it might achieve a similar effect. And if you do learn something new, all the better.

    1. Natalie Neumann

      I have watched that video… probably three times over the years. I agree with pretty much everything Ross said there, but that was focusing more on a legal angle, which is something that Ross has been trying to pursue to some extent. My little rant here was more on the moral dubiousness of live services and how they, from a design level, discourage players from enjoying other titles by sucking up all their free time.