Wherein I discuss: My lack of participation in yet another gaming event. A pleasant acquisition. My age going +1. The revenge of Cooking Mama: Cookstar. And how Mr. Yuji Naka is not “alright.”
Rundown Preamble Ramble:
Natalie Will Not Be Playing Pokémon Violet Until December
This past week, millions of eager players picked up a copy of Pokémon Scarlet or Violet and began plowing away at them. Me though? I am unable to enjoy such merriment at the moment, as I am still trying to get my Natalie Rambles About Dragalia Lost piece done, and am on standby for the release of Student Transfer Version 7.
This, combined with how I had to delay a component of my Natalie Rambles About Dragalia Lost article, means that I’m probably not going to get around to Pokémon Violet for a while. Specifically, not until I am recovering from my surgery after December 19th, and… ugh. This entire situation sucks.
I have come to base much of my winter around the release of new Pokémon games. I adore the hype cycle, but not only am I incapable of participating in it due to prior obligations, but I also don’t really want to. Going through the Shield expansion pass in July 2021, Brilliant Diamond in November 2021, and Arceus in February 2022 did a lot to satiate my desire for a new Pokémon game.
I played the games, had my fill, and ended on a game that did so much so differently that I do not want to go back to ‘the old ways.’
I don’t want to meet and learn about a series of new monsters and push them aside because they have bad movesets, typings, or stats. I don’t want to think like a eugenicist, constantly worrying about natures, EVs, and IVs, to the point where I stop being able to see the game beyond these stupid numbers. And after catching hundreds of Pokémon just by throwing Pokéballs at them in PLA, I do not want to battle, weaken, and catch every Pokémon. Because that is slow and boring in comparison.
PLA did away with so much garbage that I honestly don’t know if I will be able to enjoy another Pokémon game as much. PLA game was flawed, there was plenty of room for improvement, but so many of its finer features came from how it had the freedom needed to make dramatic changes. But the marquee games like Scarlet and Violet are incapable of truly getting rid of this mechanical bullcrap. They need to maintain these bad and not-fun systems for the sake of tradition, balance, and to support the competitive scene.
It is so frustrating to me, because I feel as if I am the only one who really voices these issues. When other people talk about modern Pokémon and the games’ problems, they tend to trot out the same tired criticisms. Criticisms… that I feel like going through, yet again.
The first criticism tends to be the graphical presentation of the games, and how they look remarkably worse compared to other Switch games. This is true… but the reason why should be pretty obvious. Game Freak did not fully shift to HD game development until 2017. This, combined with the scale and sharp deadlines of these projects, explains why these games can look visually underwhelming. Because they lack the time, internal tools, and experience to make these games look as good as titles like Xenoblade 3. Though, there is no excuse for Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. Those games were made in Unity and were designed to look bad. Just like how they were designed to be bad.
Second criticism is the stories, and here, I think that people have a habit of exaggerating the quality of older plots, and dismissing newer ones. The truth is that stories of Pokémon games have pretty much always been simple, as they are made for small children of all ages and cultures to understand. More could always be done, and with most modern games, I do feel as if plot points were cut to meet deadlines. However, I consider that to be more of an issue with harsh deadlines, large teams, and the difficulties of incorporating everything into a single title.
Similarly, a lot of people seem to think that Pokémon should have voice acting, but I rarely feel as if people who say this think about what that actually means. They cannot just ship the game with English and Japanese voice acting, like most Japanese games. They would need to get voice acting in eight different languages, and the logistics behind that would result in even harsher deadlines for the writers and localizers. It is possible, just look at a lot of western AAA game developers, but it would require an extreme amount of work to establish a system for something like this.
The ‘handholding’ and ‘linearity’ arguments are complicated design issues that could be home to a wide range of discussions. As I said earlier, Pokémon games are designed for children, and every Pokémon game is thousands of people’s first video game. How does one design for both that audience, but also an audience of adults with decades of gaming experience, and experience with the mechanics of this game series? Well, I don’t have an answer to that beyond ‘it’s hard.’
Creating tutorials for games is difficult, due to the knowledge difference between developers and players. If you make a game that is open and nonlinear, you risk players getting lost, frustrated, or giving up on the game in general, in addition to introducing a whole host of balance issues. And while it is easy to say ‘this tutorial should be optional,’ actually implementing these changes is far more challenging when you stop and think about it in detail.
Now, in saying all of this, I am not saying that Pokémon games should not improve in these areas. I would love to see them improve on every possible aspect of these games. However, I tend to view these criticisms as ones with obvious explanations. And if the explanation is obvious, then what is the point of the criticism? These factors should be acknowledged or mentioned, but not much more than that. Especially after going through the same bloody criticisms for 4 bloody years and four bloody games…
…Also, I should probably mention that Scarlet and Violet are buggy! This is due to the scale of these games— the fact that true open world games need to be designed differently. The quirks that come with the new graphics technology being rolled out in SV. And the fact that these games were… mostly made during a global pandemic. I will say that the level of jank is fairly surprising, after PLA was mostly bug-free in my experience. However… I actually find this sort of thing to be super charming.
This is probably because I was a big 3D Sonic fan as a kid, but I love games with a certain level of jankiness to them. Where character AI and pathfinding bugs out, where the game renders things wrong, and where the player can just so happen to fall out of bounds. Hell, I love the idea of characters going out of bounds that I wrote a short story where a video game character falls between the seams of world geometry!
Some people are extremely bitter about games ‘performing’ well, and I think a generation of detailed technical analysis has made performance synonymous with quality to these folks. While it is nice to have a game that does not break constantly and run at a nice stable frame rate, there is a certain appeal of playing a game barely holding itself together. Glitches and technical shortcomings give a game a personality and vibe unlike something deliberate and polished, and are often hilarious to witness.
Besides, given the state of the gaming industry, I would figure that people were used to games launching with major performance problems. Just give it a few months and the more severe problems will probably be fixed. I mean, it’s not like games have expiration dates… except the ones that do.
Jump Ship to the S.S. Thunderful!
(Thunderful Group Acquires Jumpship)
Acquisition news this week centers around Thunderful Group. A holding company formed by Nintendo’s Scandinavian distributor, Bergsala, that has been routinely amassing small-scale developers and publishers since they were established in 2019.
To me, Thunderful is pretty much a textbook example of the type of acquisitions I like to see in the games industry. A group of smaller developers using their connections and resources to expand operations, develop a corporate framework, attract additional funding, and make small, ‘friendly,’ acquisitions. They are rapidly shaping up into being a ‘middle-shelf’ developer/publisher, and that is something the industry has been in dire need of since the 2008 recession.
Background aside, Thunderful’s latest addition was Jumpship, developer of Somerville. A story driven platformer with a dreary aesthetic that came out on the same day as this acquisition. I remember seeing it on an Xbox showcase last year, where it really did nothing for me, as its visual identity doubled down on the, in my opinion, muddy and lifeless aesthetic of 2016’s Inside. A game that made me realize that I simply do not have the patience for environmental storytelling, as I will wind up making my own story instead.
To me, Inside is the story about an autistic child who experiences immense satisfaction when thrusting his supple young body against things and creatures. Pigs, chickens, the undead, objects, whatever. The entire game is built around his deliberate quest to become… actually, let me just pull this bit from my review.
“[His quest to become] both the hype of the party and the physical manifestation of a high level fetish. But then the game had to give me a bitter non-ending as the hype died and the journey came to a flaccid end that was probably meant to have some form of artistic statement. Yet I was just upset that the monster died. The monster should never die when all it wants is to be hugged and covered in pig blood.”
…I should make a TSF Series inspired by Inside. There could be body swap pig rape, a rapping chicken, vore, GTS, and all them fixins!
…Tangent aside, I am glad that Jumpship has security for their next project, as it can be hard to make it as an independent developer in an industry as clustered and volatile as gaming.
Oh Snap! It’s Natalie’s Birthday!
(The Original Preamble Ramble For This Week)
This past week was my birthday, meaning I’m a resounding 28 years old! An age that, like most, has little if any true meaning, and there are only a few of those left for me. At 30, I’ll become a witch. At 35, I’ll be ‘out of the demo.’ At 40 I will enter ‘the third generation of life.’ At 55, I will start getting some senior benefits. And at 60… I’ll probably be dead or something.
However, I couldn’t help but look at this luxurious number, 28, one with a prideful position on the multiplication table of my mind, and view it as 18 + 10. Or rather, this is the birthday that marks that I have been a major— a legal adult— for a decade. Despite this however… I still don’t particularly feel as if I am an adult.
I’ve brought this up before but, as a small child, I believed myself to be fundamentally and intrinsically incapable of living a ‘normal life.’ I was constantly told that I did not have the skills I would need later in life, and when they tried teaching me these skills, I would often fail the lessons. When I was 8, I genuinely believed that I would never be able to develop the skills needed to be in high school, and that I would instead die. Likely by my own hand.
This lack of confidence in my own skills and belief that I would die in only a few years has been a specter that has followed me for what feels like the majority of my life. And while I have no intention of dying yet, I do believe I was correct in my original assessment that I lacked the skills needed to live a normal life.
I still live at home with my parents, and rely heavily on my mother, as she handles meal prep and laundry. Even though I could handle both of those personally, she is generous enough to take care of me, and it helps that we mostly eat the same food and do our clothes in the same load.
She also helps me with just about anything medical or legal. I relied on her to get me to and from my recent pre-surgical physical to talk to doctors about my post-surgery care, and to take me to the proper facility to update my ID.
While I like to think that I could do these things if need be, there are other very simple things that I struggle to do. Such as the simple act of going to a store and buying something. A task I have not done in over 2.5 years (thanks to COVID), and when I did, I very much relied on scripts and processes, never feeling as if I belonged in an environment like that. I still remember 12 years ago when I was terrified about meeting someone at a restaurant, because I had never gone into a restaurant on my own. And… I still haven’t.
I have not done a lot of things that one typically should once they become an adult. I have never traveled on my own, even for a day of leisure. I have never visited an entertainment venue on my own. I have never gone on a date or had a romantic partner. I have never lived with someone other than family members. I have never paid rent aside from a small fee to my mother every month. I have never owned a car, let alone driven one in the past decade. And I have never left my home country.
Now, I do not want any of these things, but these are societal expectations that have been projected onto me throughout my life. Things that I feel I should be doing, but simply don’t. Things that make me feel like I am not a true adult, because of how little my life has meaningfully changed over the past decade.
…Wait, why do I care about conforming to society? Society sucks and it is founded on the blood, sweat, and tears of the disenfranchised and minority groups. Most ideals propagated by any society would inevitably be tainted by the ideals of the ruling class and be designed around conferring their worldview. So screw being a ‘real adult.’ Because all that really matters is that I make $40 an hour, bitch!
The Cookstar Saga Continues
(Cooking Mana Cookstar Has Been Delisted)
Oh cripes, I need to talk about this story again? Okay, I’ll just give you a summary and link to the write up I did in 2020.
In short, Office Creates is the owner of the Cooking Mama IP and, in 2018, they licensed out the property to Planet Entertainment to create a new entry in the series for Nintendo Switch, Cooking Mama: Cookstar. This new entry quietly appeared on the Nintendo Switch eShop on March 31, 2020, but was delisted hours later, and copies began fluttering into retailers the following few days.
Over the ensuing weeks, Office Create and Planet began putting out contradictory statements regarding the legitimacy of this release. Planet insisted they were acting within their rights per their agreement, while Office Creates stated they did not approve the product for release. Despite this, Planet continued producing physical copies of the game, and even released it on the PlayStation 4, physically and digitally, in April 2021. A platform that Office Create never approved of.
Afterwards things went quiet and finally, after 2.5 years, we have a conclusion.
As the statement shown above illustrates, Office Create took Planet to court, and the court found Planet guilty. As a result, the game was removed from the PS4 storefront, and Planet can not sell anything using the Cooking Mama IP. Though, online retailers are still selling physical copies, if you are so inclined to purchase a weird piece of gaming history.
This is pretty much the conclusion that I expected… but this is not the end of the story.
On October 4, 2022, when nobody was looking, Planet released Yum Yum Cookstar. A cooking game that is suspiciously similar to Cooking Mama: Cookstar, and was similarly developed by First Playable Productions. I do not invest the time or energy to do a breakdown of these two titles. However, I suspect that Planet might have had FPP remove all copyrighted content, change around a few things, and re-release the game with minimal changes. It seems like it would be right up Planet’s alley. And if that is what they did… then may their crops be plentiful, because that’s some dedication to the grift, yo!
Yuji Naka Ain’t Alright! That Boy Is Going to Jail!
(Yuji Naka Arrested For Insider Trading Related to Dragon Quest Tact)
Now that we just put one weird story to bed… how about another! Acclaimed game designer Yuji Naka was arrested this past week for insider trading related to Dragon Quest!
Baffling headline aside, the story is actually relatively simple. Yuji Naka was working on Balan Wonderworld with Square Enix from 2018 to 2021. During this time he allegedly heard that developer Aiming was working on an unannounced Dragon Quest mobile game, Dragon Quest Tact. This game was announced in February 2020 and released the following July. Prior to this announcement, Naka purchased 10,000 shares of Aiming, worth approximately 2.8 million yen.
Out of curiosity, I looked up the stock history for Aiming and here’s what I was able to interpolate by looking at a price chart. If Naka sold his stock around July 2020— the month Dragon Quest Tact was released in Japan— then he could have basically tripled his investment and walked away 5 million yen richer. I do not have the full details, but if this is true, this could possibly end Naka’s career in gaming, as I doubt Japanese culture looks upon crime like this with a degree of leniency.
However, this level of insider trading has absolutely nothing on two former Square Enix employees, who, cumulatively, invested 47 million yen into Aiming. Yeah… you don’t put that amount of capital into a company unless you are an investor, millionaire, or have a ‘tip’ from someone. Naka, there is some leniency with the dollar amounts, but these dudes should go to jail! Where they will… probably learn no lessons, because people forgot what the point of jail was a while back.
Ends and Updates:
Natalie Rambles About Dragalia Lost – THE FINAL Is Almost Drafted
I am hoping that, by the end of November 20th, I will finish a draft of Natalie Rambles About Dragalia Lost – THE FINAL. I started this project all the way back in April, but I have finally sat down and formulated my thoughts. In doing so, I have come to the decision to split up this article into three separate posts.
Chapter 1 will be an in memoriam, where I talk about Dragalia Lost’s EOS, why it happened, discuss the nature of live services, and talk about the archival efforts. Chapter 2 will be me going over things Dragalia Lost did in its final year, adding to what I discussed in my previous Rambles. While chapter 3 will not come out until January 2023, as I want to create a meticulously detailed design document breaking down how Dragalia Lost could be preserved as an offline mobile title, and how it could be rebalanced.
…I am also trying to get this done as quickly as possible, as I know Student Transfer Version 7 is coming SOON™. The developers are editing the Master file at the moment, and it could drop any moment now as far as I am aware.
For this week, I was planning on making the header image a photo of Pokémon Violet, thrown in a clear bin with a sticky note reading ‘do not play until December.’ However… I apparently forgot to pre-order the game. Why did I forget? Well, I probably went to the store page to purchase it, but my sister had 20+ things in her Amazon cart, as she often does. I did not want to move them all to ‘save for later,’ as that seemed like a rather rude thing to do, and I just… forgot to visit Amazon again. So I got halfway there, but stopped before finalizing the purchase, and now I’m not getting a copy until next Friday. …Because I did not want to use my sister’s Prime account, or pay for shipping on my personal account.
Instead, I just modified the header for TSF Series #006-3: OPPAI 3 – Let’s Go To Hell. Which is still my favorite thing I have done in 2022.