Rundown (12/11/2022) Hormonal Hiatus

  • Post category:Rundowns
  • Reading time:52 mins read
  • Post comments:2 Comments

This Week’s Topics:

  • The acquisition of the originator of visual novels
  • Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard
  • Yuji Naka’s return to jail
  • Nancai Banco’s trademark oopsies
  • The Game Awards’ announcements (a 3,000 word ramble)

Rundown Preamble Ramble:
Natalie’s Off Her Meds!

This past week, as part of preparation for my surgery on the 19th, I went off of my hormones and stopped taking my usual regimen of vitamins. No more estradiol, iron, calcium, DHA, or multivitamins. But for some reason spironolactone is okay. Leading up to this, I anticipated feeling exhausted, unable to focus, and emotionally unstable. But so far, I have held up pretty well. I mean, I have been tired this past week, but that has more to do with playing Pokémon Violet until 1 AM. 

…That game is a mess by the way, and the fact that people got so fixated on discussing performance issues speaks ill of the gaming community at large. There is so much to talk about that is good and bad about this game, but everybody just wants to talk about bad frame rates and visual glitches. I’ll be working on my review during surgery, but I doubt I will be able to post anything while recovering at the nursing home.

Speaking of which, I really should get back to work on TSF Series #005-2. While I do that, here’s an almost 7,000 word Rundown. We’ve got a little bit of everything this time around, including demon rape! Enjoy!

Natalie Rambles About Leaf For A Bit
(CREST Acquires Aquaplus)

Oh cripes… So, this story is about how CREST acquired Aquaplus, but it is not that simple. Because Aquaplus is the current incarnation of a developer who all fans of the visual novel genre should know, Leaf. Who is Leaf? Well, they are the company who coined the term visual novel, and who produced some of the earliest and most influential examples of the genre as we know it today. 

Leaf’s marquee title was 1997’s To Heart, one of the first romance visual novels, and the progenitor for every visual novel with heroines the protagonist can pursue. When people say ‘dating sim’ this is what they usually mean. A game with preset routes where the player makes simple list-based choices to earn the favor of various girls, and be ‘rewarded’ with sex scenes. Unless you played the console remake, like most people did.

This put them on the map, and they continued to produce highly acclaimed visual novels for years, such as White Album and Comic Party. However, the Japanese PC market went through some major changes during the early 2000s, leading the company to shift focus to consoles with 2004’s To Heart 2, and pushing aside the Leaf name, instead going by Aquaplus. They continued making visual novels with a console focus afterwards, such as White Album 2, which is supposed to be one of the ‘best visual novels ever.’ 

However, the series that has really defined Aquaplus, more than ports, remakes, and spin-offs of Leaf’s back catalog, is Utawarerumono. A visual novel strategy game hybrid series that saw great success after the first game was ported to PS2 in 2006, and experienced a second boom after a two-part revival in 2015 and 2016. Since then, Aquaplus has been almost exclusively focusing on this title. 

They had Tamsoft make two button basher spin-offs. They remade the first game as Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen in 2018. And in November 2022, they released a turn-based RPG prequel, Monochrome Mobius: Rights and Wrongs Forgotten. Which is such a dramatic step forward for the series visually I’m surprised it came from the same developer.

There are a lot of accomplishments that can be attributed to Leaf/Aquaplus, but anything else I could say would just be paraphrasing this excellent documentary on Leaf by Bowl of Lentils. Who produces some of the most informative videos on old niche Japanese game developers I have ever seen. Check him out, and if you want more Japanese PC dev goodness, watch Amelie Doree.

Okay, so who is CREST? Honestly, I have not heard of them before, but they seem to be a pretty standard Japanese media company, with subsidiaries who develop games, animation, and more. Their games are smaller download only titles, such as the isometric action roguelite Metallic Child. As such, I don’t really know if this is a good fit for Aquaplus… but Aquaplus probably needs a parent company. Monochrome Mobius sold just over 14,000 units in its launch week in Japan, and that is not enough to recoup the development costs of a modern AA HD game. I’m not too excited to see the OG visual novel queen be in the hands of another company, but it’s better than bankruptcy….

Concessions to Consumption
(Microsoft’s Concessions to Acquire Activision Blizzard)

Something I have not talked about much this year is the ongoing approval process that has been following Microsoft’s announced acquisition of Activision Blizzard. I never had any doubt that this acquisition wouldn’t go through, given the amount of money and volume of resources at stake here. However, various concessions have been made for the acquisition to be approved by international entities, such as the European Union. There are a lot that I could go through, but here are the three biggest ones in my book.

The first is that Microsoft will be entering into a 10 year-long agreement with Sony to keep Call of Duty on their platforms. A concession offered due to how important Call of Duty was and still is to the gaming industry at large. Prior to the acquisition, there was a contract between Sony and Activision already in place, but Microsoft said they would extend it, and this is just a formalized and public version of this agreement.

While I am not fond of the series, largely because it is a bunch of military propaganda, I do agree that it is an important series that drives millions of console sales. As such, I think it would be somewhat harmful to the PlayStation ecosystem if the series were to become an Xbox and PC exclusive. Now, per this agreement, that could still happen after a decade of new releases, but depending on where the series is at that point, it may no longer be as significant or influential. Plus, Microsoft could keep on bringing the games to PlayStation without a contract with Sony. After all, selling an extra couple million units is a good way to make money.

The second concession is a bit odder, as Microsoft also agreed to bring Call of Duty to Nintendo systems over the next 10 years. Despite the immense success of the Switch, Activision has not brought a single Call of Duty title to the platform, which is rather strange. While the Switch cannot run the modern console entries without significant retooling, Activision could have brought the various mobile ports and remasters to the Switch.

I know that some people would have loved to have Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered on that thing, but Activision has not been good at supporting Nintendo systems for about a decade. As for what form this support will bring… it likely will just be mobile ports and remasters. It would be the easiest way to honor their agreement.

The third concession is the big one though, as over 300 quality assurance workers at ZeniMax are forming a union. This will result in the largest union in the United States and Microsoft has chosen to remain neutral of this action, allowing the workers to unionize if they want to.

In the current capitalistic climate of the modern games industry, unions like these are sorely needed, and I hope that this burgeoning wave of unionization continues. Because the crunch, abuse, and terrible working conditions across this industry are utterly shameful, and workers have been exploited for far too long. Here’s hoping this expands beyond just QA staff. Those folks are a vital component of the game development process, but I want everyone to be supported. Programmers, designers, artists, writers, everybody!

If it takes massive acquisitions like this to get the industry to unionize then maybe, just maybe, these acquisitions aren’t as bad as I’ve been making them out to be… Though, probably not.

Federal Turnabout Chaos
(FTC Blocks Microsoft’s Acquisition of Activision Blizzard)

Actually, it seems like these concessions might not even be enough, as the FTC filed a legal challenge to block Microsoft’s acquisition. And I agree with the points FTC is making here. Ultimately, Microsoft is trying to “[gain] control over a leading independent game studio and [use] it to harm competition in multiple dynamic and fast-growing gaming markets.” This whole thing is a bid for greater power in the industry, and it should not be allowed to happen.

However, Microsoft is so adamant about going through with this plan that I doubt the American government is going to deny them the ability to complete this acquisition. They might add additional concessions, but they will not give a hard no to Microsoft, because this is just how things work. If the American government truly cared about companies being this big, then Microsoft, Apple, and every major tech company would have been broken up a long time ago. The same thing would be true for every media company.

Antitrust laws have gotten far too lax over the past few decades, and the larger companies like Microsoft get, the more I think that things need to change. The FTC should not only stop this acquisition from happening, but they should also go in and forcibly break up Microsoft into a dozen smaller companies. Sadly, such things are a mere fantasy, and go against the desires of the powerful…

Hellish Bond-Crunching Blizzard
(Diablo IV Devs Have Been Crunching To Appease Cruel Taskmasters)

Despite all the bad things with this acquisition, part of me still lowkey wants Microsoft to own Activision. Because Activision is a shitty company who abuses their workers, and the sooner old management can be excised, the better. I could go back to the lawsuit between California and Activision Blizzard. …But we have some fresh details about what is going on regarding the development of Diablo IV, courtesy of The Washington Post

In short, Activision management wants to ship this title before the deal with Microsoft closes, because they want money. To accomplish this goal, they have been encouraging a state of perpetual crunch. How are they doing this? Well, it is not mandated per se, but there are a lot of factors urging them to crunch. An unmoving June 6, 2023 release date. A game developer’s natural desire to make a good game. Peer pressure to work later and longer hours. And two extra perks.

Activision offers a $25 DoorDash credit to employees who work 10 hours a day. Not only is this a free meal, but a $25 meal credit, combined with complimentary snacks, can cover an employee’s daily food expenses, and help them save money. It is a deal that is so good that you would be stupid to not work at least 5 10-hour-days. Hell, make it seven, rack up that overtime, and you don’t need to worry about groceries.

Profit sharing and stock options are given to developers who stick with the project until release. The structure is that they will double employee’s stock holdings, valued at $5,000 to $50,000, but not all at once. Instead, there is a complicated four-part vesting period tied to both time and performance. 25% in December 2022, 25% in March 2024, 25% after working at Activision for an additional 6 months, and 25% after working at Activision for an additional year. Oh, and if the game is rushed and causes the value of the stock to go down, then you ultimately receive less compensation for your labor.

Profit sharing in a company that the employees do not control is a psychological trick, as it makes employees think they have power. When they don’t. They have a dependency. They have no say over how management operates, and instead are offered stock when pretty much every employee would rather receive a cash bonus based on the game’s performance.

Management has also made the common mistake of thinking that throwing more people at a project will get it done faster by throwing Blizzard Albany, formerly Vicarious Visions, onto Diablo IV. When, after a point, more staff members just means the dev team as a whole is less efficient, more confused, and less focused. It is like inviting a bunch of friends over to help you finish a group project. You spent more time explaining the project to them than they can spend helping you.

In addition to all of this, there are two especially damned things that I took note of in this article. One, a senior lead used the expression “you’re not getting shot at right now,” when someone was stressing out over the game’s development. Which is one of the worst ways to justify something being bad: ‘At least this isn’t the worst case scenario.’ This is coward shit muttered by ignorant dilweeds who are too scared or stupid to imagine anything better, and a general abuse tactic.

Second, they brought on a CD Projekt Red writer, Sebastian Stępień, to handle the script, and he is evidently not the most adept at writing female characters. To the point where he included one referred to as ‘raped woman.’ Developers claimed the topic of rape had no place in the Mature-rated Diablo series, the hamfisted writing became a meme around the office, and the script was then revised. But it is still telling that Activision would trust someone who would write something like this.

The subject of rape is a touchy one that most would say needs to be handled with grace. Personally though, I would say that it needs to be handled with… passion instead. If you are going to write a story set in a universe like Diablo where rape happens, you should not just say “and then she was raped, brutally.” That’s coward shit. Lemme show you how it’s really done. Here’s something I whooped up with the two word premise of ‘raped woman’ and the topic of Diablo:

Here’s How You Write Diablo Rape!
(Natalie Spent 30 Minutes Writing Diablo ‘Erotica’)

Try as she might, she could not free herself of these shackles of mutilated flesh, leaving her vulnerable as her captor loomed over her. She shrieked out in fury, calling for aid that could, and would, never come, as he used her body as he pleased. He would ravage her from dusk until dawn every day and never once would he show her even a modicum of care. If anything, her suffering was a source of erotic bliss for him. A sign of his power and dominance. It brought him greater joy than any other woman he had had his way with, but as the days grew to week and to months, the thrill became lost.

Time and continued abuse caused whatever hope that remained within the woman crumbled into dust. The erotic resistance she offered grew flaccid. Her body became feeble. And no matter how much the demon used her body, it would never bring him more than a paltry sum of joy. A more noble creature would simply burden another with such a possession, or discard it outright. Yet the demon had other ideas in mind. 

The demon desired naught but dominance and pleasure. For his body and mind to be affirmed as he expressed himself as what he is. And he was determined to make the woman do just that. No matter what. He called upon the darkest of dark arts, the most devious things of which his ilk had ever created, and cackled with furor as he found the solution to his self-described woes.

The next day, as the woman woke up from her exhausted slumber, she found herself transformed. She was a creature neither human nor demon. She was both, yet she was also lesser. A being deprived of limbs to call its own, unable to move itself in any meaningful way. A being that, if not for its ability to breathe, squirm, and moan, would be more similar to a piece of furniture than an animal. A being with two eyes, a cylindrical form, and an exterior bereft of skin, leaving her pinkish flesh on display for all. A being whose most prominent feature was an orifice that lurked at the core of her being, one wide and expansive, incapable of ever being closed. As the demon looked upon this hole, moistened by the reforged woman’s natural fluids, he proceeded to claim it as his own.

The woman, or what little remained of her, was aghast at the sensations she felt. Pain and pleasure had mingled together into one sensation, and its intensity had increased tenfold. Every thrust of the demon felt like the entirety of her body was being penetrated by a spear, yet she could not refrain herself from howling with bliss. By the end of the first session, and upon desecrating her with his smoldering fluid, she felt yet another part of her die.

This demon had robbed her of her spirit through his relentless assaults. Yet, after this latest attack, she was struggling to remember… much of anything. The weight of her axe as she slew beasts aplenty. The strength of her arms as she pushed herself to fend off greater and greater foes. And the way the wind flowed through her hair during the brief moments of tranquility she had afforded to herself. All these memories seemed distant and fictitious based on the reality before her. The reality where she was naught but a demon’s sexual aid. If this was her reality, if her hope of escape was truly gone then… Why resist? Why fight when one physically can no longer move, let alone fight? 

And so, the woman died there and then, her mind erasing herself as she chose to embrace this horrific transformation as reality. As it discarded the despair of loss and moaned not in disgust or resistance, but from a desire for more. For more pain, for more pleasure, for more sensation to affirm this reality before it. For it to forget what it had lost.

Yeah, that’s pretty much bargain bin mind break hentai, but with some body horror stuff. …What do you expect from me? I write what I know.

Yuji Naka Ain’t Alright! That Boy Is Going to Jail! – FOR REAL!
(Yuji Naka Arrested For Insider Trading Related to Final Fantasy VII: The First Soldier)

3 Weeks ago, I recited a story that Yuji Naka was arrested for alleged insider trading involving the Dragon Quest Tact mobile game. Now, after one charge, Naka has been re-arrested for insider trading involving another Square Enix title, Final Fantasy VII: The First Soldier. A free-to-play battle royale game that launched in November 2021 and will end service in January 2023. Because Square Enix loves to support their titles.

So, what is the source of these allegations? Well, First Soldier was developed by Ateam, a Japanese game and app developer. Prior to the game’s announcement, Naka purchased 120,000 shares of stock for 144.7 million yen. The current value of this is just over 1 million USD dollars, but it would not be inaccurate to say that Naka invested about 1.4 million dollars into Ateam. Because the investment was made before February 2021, and the value of the yen has fallen considerably. People simply do not make an investment like that unless they know something confidential …Or if they are trying to form a business relationship with a company. And Naka clearly was not doing that.

Glancing at some Tokyo Stock Exchange data, the stock rose to about 1,750 yen per share around the time of this announcement. So it would have been possible for Naka to sell his shares for 210 million yen, netting a profit of 66 million yen, or roughly $480,000 USD in today’s money. I would say that is a pretty damn good rate of return… and assuming he sold, that is pretty damning evidence that Naka used his position at Square Enix to conduct insider trading.

When we were talking about $20,000 with Aiming, there was some reasonable doubt, as that is not an unheard of investment for a wealthy business person. But this? There is no real defense for this, I doubt Yuji Naka will ever be allowed to work in the games industry again, and I super doubt that anything related to Balan Wonderworld will ever appear again.

Bandai Namco’s Trademark Oopsie
(Bandai Namco Trademarks Two Unannounced Titles)

I typically do not talk about trademark filings, as they are rarely descriptive and there is a limit to what one can gather from them. But Bandai Namco just pushed out two that are pretty dang clear. 

The first one is Tales of Arise: Beyond the Dawn, which is clearly a companion piece or sequel to 2021’s Tales of Arise. A landmark entry in the Tales series that amassed high scores, high sales, and did away with the aging PS3-compatible engine the series had been using all the way up to 2016’s Tales of Berseria. Considering the success, it would make sense for a sequel or standalone expansion to be produced. Plus, it would be a good way to recycle assets while the next ‘main’ Tales title is in development. 

The second, more exciting, trademark is for We Love Katamari REROLL+ Royal Reverie. A remaster of the second, and arguably best, Katamari title. As someone who loved Katamari Damacy REROLL, I am pretty stoked on the idea of this game being brought to modern platforms, and my only real qualm is… what the hell is that title? The “+” is completely needless, and the “Royal Reverie” bit sounds like an alternate title. If a messy title is the goal, then I can respect this, but Katamari is a classy series that deserves punchy titles. Like Touch My Katamari. And this one is just too complex.

Or in other words, the writer of Terrance & Urabe’s Alien Assassination Adventure, Return of Mighty Terra: 2052 – The DNApocalypse, and Psycho Shatter 1985: Black Vice Re;Birth thinks your title is too busy. …That’s saying something.

Typical Garbage & Adverts
(Natalie Rambles About The Game Awards 2021)

Welp, it is December, so it is prime time for people to hold their best of the year celebrations, because people want to get these out well before New Year’s. This is something I have never been fond of. It transforms December into a nothing month, where releases and accomplishments are not really acknowledged when it comes to most awards. Sure, they say they are eligible, but when people read about the best X of 2022, they don’t want to hear about something from December 2021, because that does not really count

However, more specifically, it means the winter advertisement showcase, The Game Awards, happened yet again. This is a show that I have never thought too highly of, but people have the impression that it is a ‘big deal.’ Why do people impose so much importance on this show? Because it is the most ‘prestigious seeming’ gaming award shows that most game-likers know about, and they want to rally against something they can impose importance onto. Especially when it seems ‘definitive.’

This is related to the reason why so many people highlight Metacritic scores, Metacritic user scores, and cumulative Steam user review scores. Because people want an objective way to measure how good things are, when that just ain’t how art works. But despite all of this, the level of importance given to The Game Awards always struck me as deeply artificial. 

The show is a direct descendent of the Spike TV Video Game Awards, a crass and male-centric showcase that was ‘primo cringe fodder.’ When The Game Awards began in 2014, it was seen as an extension of just that. However, as the show began amassing over 10 million views in 2017, people began treating it like the closest thing the games industry has to the Oscars. Which… is not the most unheard of comparison. The Oscars were just a marketing ploy that, through decades of televised broadcasts and marketing, became important over time, and people act like it has always been this way. They are only ‘prestigious’ because people say they are.

Importance is not earned, it is assigned. All it takes for something to become important is a vocal claim that it is. 

Anyway, I did not actually watch The Game Awards this year. Instead, I was playing Pokémon checked the news after the fact. As such, here are the highlights I picked up on.

The Resurrection of Count Dracula’s Dead Soul
(Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania Announced)

I reviewed Dead Cells back in 2019 and thought pretty darn highly of it. It was one of the best examples of a modern Metroidvania title that I had played, and my only major criticism with the difficulty balancing. Despite this, I still had a great time going on my own roguelike adventures, and would happily invest another twenty hours in the title if I had twenty hours to spare.

On that note, I might need to make time for another few runs through the title, as the developers at Motion Twin and Evil Empire announced Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania. The title was revealed via a 2D animated trailer that offers a thematic representation of what the game will be. …But looking at the Steam page, yep, that’s Castlevania! It’s got skeletons, bats, gothic ruins, and a bunch of familiar humanoid critters.

I have not played nearly enough Castlevania games this past decade, and this is one of the many things I wanted to cover over the past few years. The entire Metroidvania line of games, from Symphony of the Night to the 2000’s handheld Castlevania hexology, as those were some of my favorite games growing up. I would like to say that is going to change in the near future, but I sadly cannot say when or even if I will return to pumping out regular game reviews. However, I am still extremely glad that, in a roundabout way, a decade after Mirror of Fate, we are sorta getting a new Castlevania Metroidvania title in Q1 2023.

Baby Bayo’s Big Adventure
(Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon Announced)

The Bayonetta series is one that I have tried to get into multiple times, but never could. Character action games bring out the most anal retentive behaviors in me, because I cannot really view them as games as much as assessments. To me, the fundamental goal and purpose of this game is performance— Doing actions and inputs correctly and generating the correct result. It is not about the glamor, the aesthetic, the fun, the mechanics, the coolness factor, or the sense of dommy mommy angel murder power thrill. It is about the grades. Which is also why the only PlatinumGames I intend to play are Nier Automata and Astral Chain. Games about experience over performance.

On that note, two months after the release of Bayonetta 3 and the controversy where it turns out the former voice actress for Bayonetta was a dirty LIAR, a new game has been announced. Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is a spin-off and prequel to the series that features a very different aesthetic and gameplay style than what fans and onlookers have come to expect. 

The game features a vibrant, almost watercolor, aesthetic. The world itself is naturalistic and magical, evoking a fairy tale vibe. And the gameplay appears vastly different, as it mostly centers around Cereza controlling her demon, Cheshire, to fight enemies in her stead and help solve puzzles. 

If you removed the familiar effects and changed the design of the protagonist, this could pass off as a wholly original title, but I think that makes this title more interesting. If only because I want to know how anything can go from this to… this

Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon will be released on March 17, 2023 as a Switch exclusive. Where it will, surprisingly, cost $60, when I expected this to be a brief $20 downloadable title. It’s probably just the independent vibe the game gives off.

Melinoë’s Big Quest To Kill Her Grandad!
(Hades II Announced)

Hades is one of those culturally significant games that I never could muster much interest in, even though I should have. It is an isometric roguelike action title with slick animation, from a proven developer, and is considered the roguelike for people who typically do not mesh with the genre. AKA a roguelike that many games industry writers liked. 

Why doesn’t that captivate my interest? Well, I find its color balancing to be a bit too busy for my liking, and in a game with combat this fast pace, I can see myself dying a lot because I cannot decipher what was attacking me. I do not like the trend of taking an existing mythology and reworking it, when you could just create your own darn universe. And… something about its general art direction does not sit well with me.

However, I still respect the title, and recognize the significance of a sequel, Hades II, being announced. Much of the lore is lost upon me, but based on the gameplay snippets on display, the title looks like… another Hades game. New maps, new enemies, new protagonist, but everything is ultimately reprising the same general vibe of the original. 

Here’s hoping that it garners a lot of good attention when it launches for PC in 2023 in early access. Which I think is going to give people a slightly skewed perception of the title. Many did not play Hades until it left Epic’s storefront. When it did, the game was full of content. Yet, upon launch, Hades II will not be. This is the problem with early access sequels, but Supergiant is beloved, so perhaps people will be patient and judge the game when it is fully done.

Horny Goat Girl and Her Dirty Sword
(Earthblade Got a Reveal Trailer)

Speaking of follow-ups to culturally significant games I never played, we have the latest title from Extremely OK Games, developers of Celeste. Why did I never play Celeste? Because it seemed like a performance-based platformer. A game designed around jumping correctly in order to progress, and a title with some incredibly difficult side challenges and tricky to find secrets. That never sounded fun to me, so I never checked it out. However, I know that the game touched a lot of people with its theming and narrative and, as a trans woman, I am expected to have some level of reverence for it, because the protagonist is trans.

Anyway, their next game is Earthblade. Another 2D platformer, but one with a greater focus on action and exploration, following a little horned girl as she goes through various catacombs and caverns. Presumably to uncover something about the world and herself in the process. I would like to say more about the title, but it looks fairly unremarkable, and if I did not know the pedigree behind the title, I would barely pay attention to it.

The past 15 years have seen a flurry of quality sprite-based 2D action platformers— possibly more than there were from 1985 to 2000— so it is very difficult for a game in this category to stand out. And here, Earthblade has good animation and general sprite work, but I do not see the factor that is supposed to make this game special. However, with the game not releasing until 2024, I suppose that such traits it will become evident in a matter of time.

The Closest Thing To A System Shock 3 We Are Going To Get
(Ken Levine’s Judas Announced)

The story of the development of Bioshock Infinite is a far more interesting story than Bioshock Infinite itself. It is a tale of hubris, of a man being conditioned to think that he is a rockstar genius game developer, and a project with grand ambitions yet little structure. Development was harsh, delays were plentiful, and once the DLC was out and the game sold around 6 million units, most of the developers were laid off. 

The developer, Irrational Games, was then succeeded by Ghost Story Games, which served as the playground for Bioshock Infinite director Ken Levine over the past 8 years. Things have allegedly NOT gone well, but after eight years and lord knows how many project resets, Ghost Story Games unveiled their first title, Judas.

My first impression of the title is that it looks like what you would expect from the guy who directed System Shock 2, Bioshock, and Bioshock Infinite. Because it pretty much takes all of these games and throws them into a blender.

Like System Shock 2, the game marks a return to a sci-fi setting, the setting is a spaceship, enemies are robots, and the title boasts a lot of strange-looking technology. Like Bioshock, the setting is a decadent society in the middle of its own destruction, there are plasmids, and there is a slight retro-futuristic look to everything. And from Infinite, the game makes use of striking, colorful, and political imagery, stunning set pieces, like a giant robot dog who you can ride around inside of, and a voiced protagonist with a dark past.

While somewhat derivative of prior works, I actually think the game looks pretty good. There is a very real appeal to the scroungy and scrappy FPS genre that the game is looking to reprise. The art direction can be striking. And while I am a bit apprehensive of the game given its prolonged development period and high turnover, I hope that it turns out well. Otherwise… a lotta people would have wasted a lotta  time for a lotta  nothing. No release date was given, but the title is set to come out for PS5, Xbox Series, Steam, and the Epic Games Store.

…Also, in reference to the title bit, the official System Shock 3 has been in development limbo since Tencent bought the project in 2020. So this will probably come out first.

And So The Strands Continue
[Death Stranding 2 (Working Title) Announced]

Death Stranding is a title that was burdened by its legendary hype and unconventional gameplay style. It was a game largely about delivering packages through a demolished world, and was steeped in Kojima’s most extreme eccentricities. As such, people were quite divisive toward it after hyping it up for three years, and there was a decent degree of backlash. 

However, after the COVID-19 pandemic, reception of the title changed, as people began to better understand its greater thematic messaging. This, combined with a Director’s Cut re-release, helped give the game a second life and the reception that… the game’s just plain old good. So good that Kojima Productions have chosen to continue exploring the world of Death Stranding with a proper sequel. The tentatively titled Death Stranding 2.

As someone who has not played the first game, I cannot decipher what is going on here. But in typical Kojima fashion, the fact that I cannot understand it is part of the appeal. The wild confusion makes this barrage of striking imagery all the more captivating. Though, people will of course try to decipher it, as that is kind of to be expected with a new Kojima game.

No release date was given, but the title is once more going to be published by Sony and will launch as a PS5 exclusive.

The Wumpa League Saga Comes to a Close
(Crash Team Rumble Announced)

While I do not particularly care about Crash Bandicoot, as I didn’t grow up with a PlayStation and I’m not Colombian, I have been painfully aware of the ‘Wumpa League thing.’ Originally teased with the true ending of 2020’s Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, this has been the subject of rampant speculation over the past two years. Particularly centered around what the game even is. DLC, an expansion, a standalone project, etc. Gaming Historian Liam Robertson has spoken about the title at length, offering insights into the title, sharing concept art for the mode, and even showing prototype gameplay footage. Almost all of which has been rejected by the piss-babies who make up the Crash community.

Robertson painted a less than pleasant picture in his coverage, explaining that Wumpa League was either on hold or canceled after Crash 4 failed to meet sales expectations. Hope for a revival pretty much died after Crash 4 developers, Toys for Bob, was reassigned to working on Call of Duty, like most non-Blizzard Activision studios. However, for some bloody reason, Activision decided to revive this project at Toys for Bob as Crash Team Rumble

Little direct gameplay footage was shown, but the title is a 4v4 team-based online game built off of the foundation of Crash 4 and one that looks completely… fine, I guess. The continued popularity of team-based multiplayer games honestly confuses me due to how short their shelf life tends to be, and how they often rely on other people being online. Without other players, there is a firm limit to how much one can enjoy a game like this. I shudder to imagine how many hours were wasted spending time making multiplayer modes for games like Vampire Rain. Gameplay modes that probably haven’t been played by anyone in a decade and will never be played again…

Sorry, I keep getting distracted— I care more about the industry and history of video games than the games themselves nowadays. Crash Team Rumble is set to release for PS4, Xbox One, PS5, and Xbox Series sometime in 2023. Not Switch or PC though, because why bother releasing a mascot platform game on a Nintendo system or an online multiplayer game on PC?

Discard Your Soul and Return to the Armored Core
(Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon Announced)

If there is one subset of fans who are rightfully upset with the fact that FromSoftware became ‘The Souls Guys’ for the past decade, it’s the Armored Core fans. The Armored Core series was a series of prolific mecha combat games that were pretty much FromSoftware’s main IP. They put out two releases every three years from 1997 to 2013, not counting ports or mobile spin-offs. 

Here’s where I would talk about how they are these intense high octane action games— which they are— but this is a series I know precious little about. Mostly because nobody freaking played them or talked about them… in the west. 

While FromSoftware published these games in Japan, where they garnered a sizable fanbase, in the west, it was more complicated. Sony handled the first title, then ASCII, then budget localizer extraordinaire Agetec took hold of the series through the PS2 generation, doing very little to market it. Come the HD era, rights flickered between Sega, Ubisoft, and Bandai Namco. None of whom did all that much to push these titles. 

To compound factors, none of the titles received glowing receptions, with reviewers being historically mixed on the titles since the beginning. Why was the reception so mixed? Well, that’s because Armored Core is a pretty complex series. The controls alone have a reputation for being so complicated that diehard Japanese players hold the controller backwards to get better access to all buttons.

Despite their more complex nature, I think the Armored Core series could have experienced a resurgence within the past decade if the games were more accessible, given the popularity of Souls. Unfortunately, none of the games were ported to PC, or the Xbox backwards compatibility program, making it hard to play them without using aging hardware or emulation.

This decade-long hiatus could have led many to assume that From was simply done with this series but, as the final major announcement of the show, the series is coming back. With Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon

…That was a CG trailer, so I don’t have much of anything to say about the game other than I hope this game is bolstered into popularity by the developer’s fanbase. Armored Core VI will launch sometime in 2023 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC via Steam.

…And that’s it for all of my thoughts on The Game Awards. Good bye and good night!

Header Source & Underaged Transsexual Crossdressing Pseudo-Erotica

Header image comes from Boku no Joshiryoku wa Ano Ko no Pantsu ni Tsumatte Iru by Yuzuki Ryouta. A 3 volume TSF manga that… I really did not enjoy. 

The comic is largely based around a 15-year-old female protagonist, Akira, who is magically transformed into an androgynous boy. In order to regain her female body, she must accumulate ‘girl energy’ by wearing the panties of other girls. Or in other words, it is an FtM TSF story about a girl who needs to act like a perverted boy to ‘become a girl again.’

This is not a bad idea, but the entire thing has a bizarre erotic undercurrent that is made worse by the fact that everybody is drawn like they’re 12. And while this premise could be used in interesting ways, the story suffers from a problem common to a lot of slice of life manga: It feels like the writer was just making stuff up as they went along. 

The story starts with one-off chapters, begins establishing a regular case, and in volume 3, the storyline becomes more focused and serialized. The cast is needlessly plentiful, and several of them are just forgotten about after their introduction. And the ending is… non-existent, as the story does not end as much as it stops. The comic is fine for what it is, and I’m sure that some people would like it, but I did not think too highly of the work. I might take some inspiration from it, particularly with the character of Ayumi/Ayumu, but I cannot recommend it personally.

This manga was translated by long-time Natalie.TF reader Chari, and she did a great job with the whole translation part. Good translation, good lettering, good stuff from tip to toe. She also gave me permission to share it, so here’s a download link for anyone interested.

For now, ciao~!

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Kelly Miller

    “Antitrust laws have gotten far too lax over the past few decades, and the larger companies like Microsoft get, the more I think that things need to change.” – Nah, US antitrust laws are fine. Issue is that there has been a concerted effort over the last few decades NOT to enforce them.

    Also, my younger brother did a full playthrough of the new Pokemon game, dropping his opinions on how much it sucks (and yeah, it does suck):

    1. Natalie Neumann

      …Okay, yes, it is technically the enforcement that is the issue, not the laws itself. I tend to view law enforcement to be synonymous with the law itself, largely because the enforcement of laws establishes a precedent, and a precedent can change the laws themselves.

      I would not say that Violet outright sucks, as there are some good parts about the game, but my review will be VERY critical when I get around to it in January.