Rundown (7/24-7/30) Dragalia is Done

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Wherein I discuss the end of Dragalia Lost, a potential PlayStation Purchase, a rocky remake, a boy’s club becoming a real company, and a hoax by a bunch of wasteful modders.

Welp. After being foretold four months ago, it finally happened. Dragalia Lost received its final content update, its 26 chapter campaign finally came to a close, and the game is, for most intents and purposes, completed. However, that does not necessarily mean that the game is dead

Thanks to the diligent work of dataminers, the community knows that the game will continue to run until November 29th. During these preceding four months, the game will continue to recycle existing events going forward, entering ‘maintenance mode.’ Where the only ‘new’ content will take the form of summoning banners that offer existing units at different rates and new weapon skins unlocked via the Alberian Battle Royale mode.

This means that players, new and old, will have the opportunity to enjoy Dragalia Lost for a little while longer. After that, it is uncertain what will become of the game, but it most likely will be shut down, and nobody will ever be able to play it ever again. Instead, it will live on in the memories of those who experienced it, their archival efforts, along with the preserved discourse across Reddit, Discord, and YouTube.

I have, and will, go on tirades about how this process is destructive. How it goes against the entire idea of media preservation. And how it is emblematic of a terrible design trend that should not be permitted in its current shape or form. But I shall relegate such a rant for Natalie Rambles About Dragalia Lost – THE FINAL. An article that will serve a multitude of purposes.

It will be an in memoriam for Dragalia Lost, a final review of the title, and an insanely ambitious deep dive that examines how the game could, hypothetically, be reworked into a superior single player experience, and more. I do not want to make any preemptive promises, but I want this to be utterly MASSIVE in its scope. I am currently planning on releasing this article on December 1, 2022, with each part release an hour after each other, but that is subject to change.

For now though, I just want to say thank you to the developers of Dragalia Lost. The work they invested into this title has been tremendous, they did so much to improve and build upon the game’s foundation over the past 3.5 years. And even though they could have phoned in the ending, they went way, WAY harder than they needed to, and delivered a bombastic finale. Admittedly, I’m pretty sure that a boss rush got cut, probably for technical reasons, but the final boss was DOPE. Very JRPG, but JRPGs are DOPE for a good reason!

Also, it was a disgrace that none of the game developers were listed in the credits. Voice actors and the people who created the game’s excellent soundtrack were included, but nobody else. No directors, modelers, artists, writers, animators, translators, producers, programmers— no one! And that really, really irked me, because I would feel like I was being taken advantage of if I worked on this game for years, or even months, and they left my name off of the credits.

For… maybe two years, there have been discussions about Sony acquiring Square Enix. Partially because the companies have always had a close relationship. Partially because Sony has historically tried to associate themselves with the Final Fantasy series, and continues to do so with paid exclusivity on games like Final Fantasy VII Rebirth and Final Fantasy XVI. Partially because Sony more or less gutted their own Japanese studio. A studio that, for the record, not only created a deluge of creative and iconic gaming properties, but served as a support studio to many Japanese developers. And partially because Square Enix has a lot of international brand appeal, but their properties are especially popular in Japan.

I bring this up because Eidos Montreal founder and former CEO of Eidos Montreal, Stephane D’Astous, was recently interviewed by Where he reflected on the shortcomings of Square Enix’s western studios and the ongoing sale of said studios to The Embracer Group. During these reflections, D’Astous commented that he heard rumors about Sony being interested in acquiring “Square Enix Tokyo” but not their western divisions. This serves as a plausible explanation for why Square Enix was so eager to sell their western IP and studios for The Embracer Group for a measly $300 million back in May. An act that D’Astous compared to a “garage sale.”

To me, this is a plausible theory that makes sense given Square Enix’s long history of poor long-term planning and mildly reckless financial moves. Though, I am a bit… confused how someone like Square Enix could be acquired unless they behave as an autonomous entity within Sony. I ask this mostly because I don’t know what would happen to their arcade, manga, and merch divisions if an acquisition were to happen, or if they would be spun off into their own companies. And that’s before getting into the western publishing arms, who I’d assume would be consolidated into Sony, but I’m not sure.

Despite having these concerns, I can definitely see a future where Sony acquires Square Enix. And… I actually would kind of prefer it if someone were policing Square Enix around some more. Because they are such a messed up developer/publisher, with some amazing highs and dizzying lows.

The Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic remake was announced nearly a year ago via a CG trailer, with few details about the project or its true form. Now, about when people would expect to see a second trailer, a Bloomberg report came out, revealing that the KotOR remake has been indefinitely delayed and providing some inside details why that might be.

The story goes that, after working on this remake for nearly three years, the folks at Aspyr Media prepared a vertical slice of the game to show the rights holders at Lucasfilm and publisher Sony. This happened on June 30th, and the dev team felt they were on track with this remake. Only for the design director Brad Prince and art director Jason Minor to be fired in July.

Aspyr’s management then arranged a meeting where they claimed that the game “wasn’t where they wanted it to be.” And that the demo took a “disproportionate amount of time and money.” Furthermore, people knowledgeable about the project claimed that the development timeline, originally targeting a 2022 release, was not sustainable, with a 2025 release being a more realistic target. This all makes for an exceptionally messy situation, and has led to speculation that Saber Interactive, the parent company of Aspyr, will move from a support role in order to become the lead developer on the project. Which… would actually make a lot of sense. 

Something that always struck me as odd about this remake is that Aspyr has historically been more of a porting studio than a AAA developer. Saber, meanwhile, has a lot of experience doing support work on AAA titles, and has developed their own. Including the 2019 World War Z game, Evil Dead: The Game (2022), and the upcoming Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine 2. They likely have the infrastructure and experience needed to do a full remake of KotOR, and with the Evil Dead game having its 1.0 release back in May, now would seemingly be a good time to inherit a remake like this.

However, projects of this magnitude take a lot of time and resources to reassign, so I’d guess that this indefinite delay will last for a few months while the team is redistributed and the game’s goals are shuffled around. I think that is a far more realistic outcome than what immediately pops into mind when the term ‘indefinitely delayed’ is used: cancellation. Nobody involved in this project wants it to be canceled, and after three years of development, I highly doubt any party would pull the plug right now.

You know those stories about how AAA game developers can be utterly horrible places to work at? Well, one of the bigger and earlier examples was Rockstar Games. In 2018, both a New York Times article and a Kotaku article dug into the messy nature of the game’s development. The inconsistent crunch standards for employees, management heralding 100-hour-weeks as something respectable, and the toll that working these hours has had on the development team’s wellbeing.

In a 2019 follow-up from Kotaku, it was reported that Rockstar made their QA staff, the staff that crunched the most, into full-time employees with 1.5X overtime. In a 2020 follow-up from Kotaku, it was reported that Rockstar had done a lot to transform its workplace culture into something better. More flexibility for employees, a more understanding managerial staff, and a focus on working smarter through developing a reliable technological pipeline instead of mandating last-minute crunch.

This was pretty much the best outcome that could have come from such discussions of crunch, and I found this transformation to be rather surprising at the time. But now, an extra two years later, a Bloomberg report came out revealing both updates on Rockstar’s cultural shift and the status of Grand Theft Auto VI

Since the 2018 controversy, they have really cleaned up their act, turning it into “a real company” and a more compassionate workplace overall. The approach to humor in GTA 6 is set to include a lot less punching down and outright American satire, because America is too farcical to be satirized. And instead of being a sprawling multi-city adventure at launch, the game will instead only feature a city based on Miami (presumably Vice City), with more cities added as time goes on. Which I think is the best approach for a game that will almost certainly have a decade of post-release support.

The article also reveals more miscellaneous tidbits. Such as how a “Cops ‘n’ Crooks” mode for GTA Online was cut from the game after the murder of George Floyd spurred a nationwide distrust of the American police. And how the game will feature dual protagonists, one of them being a Latina woman, inspired by Bonnie and Clyde.

All in all, it seems like there will be a very… interesting reaction to GTA 6 both leading up to and after its release. GTA has kind of served as a ;safe space; for a lot of ‘old era’ toxicity and such over the years, simply because there has not been a new entry since 2013. So I anticipate a fierce backlash when people realize that the series wants to, you know, grow up.

This also begs the question of when the game is slated to be released, and while its current deadline is Q1 2024, that might not be realistic under these more ethical managerial practices. And to exacerbate matters, the increased quantity of managers on the project has caused some communication issues, as different managers have different ideas for things. Such as the combat system, which should have been finalized at this point in development.

I would like to take this moment to remind my readers that management is one of the hardest and most important roles for any game developer. They need to guide those beneath them, report to those above them, and communicate to those besides them. All of which is in addition to the many social, logistical, conceptual, and technical challenges that come with AAA game development. It is a super hard job, but it is arguably the most important, because if management is out to lunch, then you’re gonna crunch, crunch, crunch.

One of the biggest stories that have circulated this past week centered around 2017’s Nier Automata. An action RPG that I reviewed back in 2018, and still holds a spot in my top 20 games of all time. Early in the week, a user posted a video on the Nier Subreddit that featured a playable character, A2, walking through a featureless door in a wall, down a long ladder, through a spiraling hallway, and into a church. A church that was made of and contained assets that were not found in the game’s files. Furthermore, as A2 entered this church, a small cutscene played, zooming over what appeared to be an homage to a scene from Nier Replicant

This thoroughly stumped the Nier community for about a week, as people began clamoring over how this was possible. Especially when the poster of these videos claimed they were playing the 1.0 version of the game on PS4. The most obvious answer was that this was all part of a mod, but the mod tools available for Nier Automata were nowhere near this advanced, so people doubted this theory. Then, on Friday July 29th, it was revealed that… yeah, this was all just a bit of viral marketing for a new set of mod tools.

Now, some have gotten a good laugh over this. Commending the modders for their dedication to the community and getting it so engaged in what otherwise might have been an announcement only heard by super fans. But my read on this situation is a lot more… cynical. 

This story was big, probably far bigger than the modders behind this project ever thought it would be. To the point where I don’t think it would be a stretch to insinuate that lifetimes were lost as people investigated and discussed this hoax. You guys sacrificed lifetimes just to announce your darn mod tools and presented a mystery where the answer was ‘a wizard did it.’ …I mean, what you did here is incredibly impressive and will probably lead to a vibrant modding scene, but… don’t do that

Before I sign off for this week, I want to clarify that I have not made any progress on my Dragalia post-mortem in about 6 weeks, thanks to other obligations. First OPPAI 3, then Palladium, then AI: The Somnium Files 2, then Satanica Intervention, and now The Dominance of Abigale Quinlan

By the way, I finished the first 88k word draft of TDAQ, so I will be able to release something on August 15th. However, I still need to edit it and produce all art assets. 

Currently, I think the novel is… not very good. The core problem I had while writing it is that I wanted TDAQ to both be a follow up and send off to Verde’s Doohickey and The Malice of Abigale Quinlan. This meant that there were four things I needed to do with this story:

  • Reintroduce the world and cast established in Verde’s Doohickey.
  • Further develop the supporting cast introduced in Verde’s Doohickey.
  • Expand upon the trauma Jad Novus underwent after The Malice of Abigale Quinlan.
  • Conclude the story of Jad Novus and friends on an uplifting note and a visit from Verde Dusk, who improves the lives of Jad and friends.

To me, the story I wanted to tell here was obvious, and an outline quickly fell into place. But with a finished draft before me, I worry if it is as engaging as it needs to be, or if the story truly functions on a structural level. It is a long story where not a whole lot happens until 50k words in. A story whose beginning is filled with conversations to build and establish characters, detailed descriptions of classes, and internal musings from the protagonist.

There are definitely things that could, in a sense, be cut down, but to do so would be to rob this story of a particular element I want it to have. I want to establish these characters, give them a chance to shine, and emphasize that Jad is truly struggling to get by in their life.

The ending is also something I am iffy about, because it is an almost literal deus ex machina. Unfortunately, given what I have established about the universe and protagonist, I feel that anything else would be the introduction of undue conflict. There simply is no reason for things to not end on a bright and uplifting note

I will try to improve TDAQ in the edit, but I think I might have a turd on my hands. …Oh well. The important thing is that I tried and I wrote a conclusion. Even if it took me 6.5 freaking years to do so.

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