This Week’s Topics:
- Why the digital age makes Natalie hate books
- Analyzing a AAA game budget using BOOTLEG MATH!
- Why The Last of Us (2013) is bad, actually
- Translation purists (the worst kind of anime fan)
- Forspoken‘s awful first 20 minutes
- A remaster of the greatest friendship killer
- The end of Halo as the world knows it
I was originally going to go on a different preamble ramble for this week, but I realized I would be unable to finish the introduction or header by Saturday morning, when I normally schedule Rundowns. So I bumped up a side tangent to main content this week. Normally, such cuts would be undignified, but this Rundown is over 7,000 words long, and also I wrote a 27 word draft for the first 60% of TSF Series #016: Darling Lust. That’s 35,000 words in a single week, or 5,000 words a day! If that ain’t good enough for you… block Natalie.TF from your browser and don’t come back!
Rundown Preamble Ramble:
(Natalie Rambles About Buying eBooks)
This past week, I decided to buy Jason Schrier’s second book, Press Reset, which offers an in-depth look into the volatile nature of the games industry and untold stories of the people who work in the AAA industry. It was only $2.99, so I decided to just buy it using Google Books and download the eBook, thinking I could just read it using Calibre or load it into my phone to read it while in bed. Instead, I was met with a proprietary DRM-infested file that I could only read using an online reader or a limited, and frankly ugly, Adobe eBook reader.
This is not the first time I ran into this issue when buying a book, and this is precisely the reason why I have an expansive image library and music library, but not a ‘writing’ library. Because DRM has ruined books’ transformation into an electronic good.
When I buy music from Apple Music, I do need to download iTunes— which runs shockingly poorly on Windows— but I can still download the MP3s and M4A files, neither of which have a byte of DRM. When I buy stuff from DLSite, I just need to go to my library, and press the handy download button. Hell, when I buy freaking hentai comics from bootleg-looking-ass sites, I can just download some PNGs, JPGs, or a PDF. Sometimes I even get to choose between all three.
But if I want to buy a freaking book from a major company, something that should be simple and reproducible, then I am given something encrypted that requires the use of proprietary software in order to read it.
Downloading an ‘eBook’ only to be given a file that is locked behind DRM does not make me think I made a good purchase. It makes me feel like an idiot. It pisses me off, and more often than not, I just wind up pirating the product I just purchased so I can have it in a better format. What I am doing is supporting the official release… and then not engaging with the official release, because the pirated version is objectively better.
…Or that is how I interpret things at least. The unfortunate truth is that I tend to treat files and purchases in an ‘archaic’ manner. I like to download and retain my digital purchases, and only make exceptions for items that require a large amount of storage space, such as video games. But for many people… this approach is just cumbersome. Millions upon millions of people have switched away from ‘file hoarding’ to streaming files using proprietary platforms. Nowadays, people use a Kindle app to organize and read their books. They use an Audible app for all their audiobook needs. And music? They don’t buy albums, they just pay for streaming services. Why do they do this? Well because, to them, these platforms, these approaches, are just easier.
I am a product of my generation, I do certain things in an ‘old’ or ‘clunky’ way, and as I grow older, my antiquated ways will only grow more ‘extreme’ and ‘fringe.’
I try to be aware of this… but I also cannot help but look at this ‘new’ way of doing things and see it as being… a load of shit. When DRM becomes accepted and common, I view that as people giving up their rights and handing them over to corporations. I view that as people accepting that they own nothing and allowing corporations to treat them as criminals, when they are just trying to support creators.
All I want is an internet where I can buy virtually any digital good for a reasonable (cheap) price, and receive a file I can maintain on my various drives for the remainder of my life. However, corporations do not want people to have that level of control. Which is why they have been steadily shifting to delivering files that are useless without proprietary (or cracking) software, and streaming services, where people own nothing.
It is a truly ripe and shitty element about the current digital age. I just wish that the legal systems of the world would actually police this and help people retain their consumer rights. But I know that corporations will fight tooth and nail to retain the current status quo, because it benefits them more than the pro-consumer alternative.
Also, for the record, I publish all of my novels as ePubs, do not include any invasive DRM, and make them free to read. You can find the links on the novels page of Natalie.TF, or just follow the links down here!
- Verde’s Doohickey
- The Malice of Abigale Quinlan
- Psycho Bullet Festival: The Odyssey of Abigale Quinlan
- The Saga of Vincent Dawn
- Psycho Shatter 1985: Black Vice Re;Birth
- Psycho Bullet Festival 2222
- The Dominance of Abigale Quinlan
…And if you are so inclined, you could also buy all of these books on Amazon. …I have made $10.32 since I put them on Amazon!
DESTROYING The Callisto Protocol With MATHS and LOGIC
(The Callisto Protocol Fails To Meet Sales Expectations)
Something that will forever baffle me is the budgets of a lot of AAA games. I remember back when $50 million was the ‘standard’ AAA game budget price around the 7th generation. But at some point, that figure doubled and now AAA games are so expensive to produce that it’s a wonder any publisher even invests in them. I mean, sure, they can make a lot of money, but a deluge of diverse smaller investments seems like a generally better way to do things. I mean, one of the first rules of investing is that you should diversify your investments, but the AAA games industry thinks the exact opposite approach is better.
I bring this up because a Korean news site, K Odyssey, reported some interesting information about The Calisto Protocol. A horror shooter that released this past December and was met with a mixed critical reception, and a poor cultural reception, with many players finding the game to be… bad, quite simply. Background established, K Odyssey stated that The Calisto Protocol had a budget of about 200 billion South Korean won, which translates roughly to 162 million dollars. Sales expectations of 5 million units. And sold less than 2 million copies within 2022.
Let’s start with that budget. $162 million. I do not understand how an 8-10 hour long single player horror game could possibly warrant a budget of that size. As such, I am going to assume that half of the game’s budget went into marketing, which is not too outlandish, that still gives the game a development budget of $81 million. This… sounds semi-reasonable, but I want to do more math on this.
The game started development with the founding of Striking Distance Studios in June 2019, and the game shipped December 2, 2022. So a 3 years and 5 months dev cycle. However, it takes a while to staff a studio like this, so let’s assume that the total development time was about 3 years.
Next, how many people worked on the game? That is a bit hard to say, because some devs were omitted from the games’ credits. As for the credits themselves… I don’t think they are of much help. Because not only does it list the staff from Striking Distance, but it includes a lot of contract work from voice actors and support studios. And when I say a lot, I mean this game was co-developed by the following studios:
- Free Range Games
- PlayStation Studios (yes, really)
- Puny Human
- Skywalker Sound
- Formosa Interactive
- Skewsound, LLC
- Mercenary Technology, Inc.
- Hypnos Entertainment, Inc.
- Snappers Systems
- 1518 Studios, Inc.
- Airship Interactive
- Keywords Studios (who is credited on most AAA games)
- Lakshya Digital Pvt. Ltd.
- Xloc, Inc
…So, um, this presents WAY too many variables for me to unpack. Instead, I am going to rely on a number provided by Rocket Reach, which says that Striking Distance has 226 employees. That might be wrong, but it makes for simpler math!
Assuming an $81 million development budget, 3 years, and 226 people, we can allocate $119,469 of ‘expenses’ to each employee. This would include salary, benefits, corporate payroll taxes, allocated rent, utilities, equipment, supplies, licenses, contractor expenses, and more. Okay, so a budget of $81 million for a game with a 3 year development time, 226 full-time employees, and a bunch of contractors… actually makes sense.
…But that ‘5 million units’ sales expectation sure doesn’t.
I remember a ‘general rule’ I heard back in 2010 that ‘breaking a million units’ within the first few months meant a new IP was a success, and that a sequel would be warranted. Now, that was a very different time, but I find it horrifying that we went from that… to this 5 million unit crap. …For a new horror IP that cost $70 on consoles and $60 on PC. Hell, I find it getting near 2 million units to be plenty impressive considering the game’s reception. But… why was 5 million units the expectation? Is that the breakeven point? Well, not quite.
Using the $162 million figure, a $5 million breakeven point only makes sense when considering profits of $32.40 per unit. Now, regional pricing is a thing and many residents of less wealthy countries pay less for games, so the math here gets extra squirrelly. But let’s simplify this to only USD sales.
So, how much does a publisher get from a physical game sale? That depends on a variety of factors, but the most conservative estimate is that the profit margin of a new release is about 50%. So $35 per unit in the case of Callisto. Digitally, it is a clean 70% profit margin on all platforms, except Epic Games Store, which is 88%. PlayStation and Xbox cost $70 digitally, while Steam and Epic both cost $60. This gives us $42 per unit for Steam, $52.80 for EGS, and $49 for consoles.
How do you break this down? Well… let’s assume 40% of sales were physical and 60% were digital. That is generally the standard rate for console physical/digital console sales nowadays. Most studies say otherwise, but that’s because of microtransactions and mobile, which are always digital.
Of the digital sales, let’s throw out some wild numbers and say 50% of sales were Steam, 10% were EGS, and 40% of sales were consoles. Which gives us an ‘average digital figure’ of $45.88.
This gives us… $35*40% for physical plus $45.88*60% for digital equals to… $41.528, or let’s just say $41.50.
$162 million dollars with a per unit profit of $41.50 gives us a break-even point of 3,903,615. Or 4 million units, to keep the numbers simple.
…If 4 million units is your break-even point, why the hell would anyone expect to sell an extra million units and make roughly $40 million in profits? …And why the hell would anyone expect anything less than a major title in a globally renowned franchise to sell 4 million units to break-even? I do not know. …I just think someone at Krafton is just really bad at math…
Also, despite all the math I just did I am going to start using some of this math as conservative estimated ‘per unit’ profit margins for games:
- $36 for $60 games
- $40 for $70 console games that cost $60 on PC
- $43 for games that cost $70 on all platforms.
They’re guestimate rule of thumb figures based on kinda sloppy information, but should be ‘good enough’ for armchair analysis like this.
The Last of Us And A Message of Selfishness
(Why Natalie Dislikes The Story of The Last of Us)
With the ongoing release of the HBO adaptation of The Last of Us (2013), there has been a lot of discourse about the story of the original game. People have been uttering exaggerated comments about how it is the ‘best story in gaming,’ ‘greatest story ever told,‘ and other guff that people may or may not mean sincerely when they say it.
Personally, I have always been of the mind that TLoU is a story told well, performed well, and paced well, and as a structured narrative, I have no notes. Or at least, no notes that I can remember since I played it a decade ago. …Except for the ending. Because every time I think back to the ending of The Last of Us… I hate it even more.
The entire game is about the journey of two characters, an old man named Joel, and a young girl named Ellie, and seeing these two strangers learn to care for and depend on each other, developing a familial relationship. Joel acts as the father Ellie never had, while Ellie acts as the daughter Joel lost long ago.
However, after ending their year-long journey, it is revealed that a portion of Ellie’s brain will need to be removed to produce a vaccine to a virus that has crippled humanity, killing her in the process. This vaccine has the power to save the lives of millions, if not billions, of people, and is humanity’s best hope for a rebirth after the apocalyptic events of 20 years ago.
As one character tells this to Joel, she explains “this isn’t about me. Or even [Ellie]. There is no other choice here.” And she is correct. For as much as humans should have the right to autonomy, there is a limit to that right. At a large enough scale, it is fundamentally wrong to put one life over others. If the death of one person could save millions of others, that is no longer a moral debate. If one person could sacrifice themselves to develop a cure for HIV and/or AIDS, or all forms of cancer, it would be incorrect for them to value their autonomy and freedom over the lives of millions affected. Some might take umbrage with the idea that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, but in an extreme case like this? It stops being debatable.
Joel says that what this woman is saying is “bullshit” but has no logical argument to defend an alternative. Then, after he is forcibly escorted away, Joel decides that he will not only refuse to have Ellie die for the greater good of millions of people, but he will brutally murder all who stand in his way. Including doctors, non-combatants, who wish only to save lives.
It is an utterly disgusting display of selfishness and entitlement. It reframed the protagonist as someone with so little humanity, so little care for the lives of others, that I find him to be beyond sympathy. He is not a ‘hero,’ like he was originally positioned given the noble intentions of his quest. And to call him a villain is a disservice. Joel is a character so wrong that I view him as utterly incomprehensible. Someone so unwilling to acknowledge the true nature of his intentions, that I cannot understand how he thinks, and how someone wrote him.
I hate how the game is designed for the player to sympathize with someone like Joel. How they are supposed to carry out his heinous actions. And how, for those without sufficient media literacy, i.e. the broader gaming community, might not get what the story is trying to do, because of how the ending is framed. Joel is not presented as a villain, because the story is from his perspective. Because he chooses not to question his actions, for any critical analysis of his behavior would, and should, destroy him.
I do not consider the ‘story’ of The Last of Us to be ‘good’ because of this. Because its message is that ‘one should protect their loved ones at the expense of the greater good.’ It is a message compatible with any belief system that positions in-groups and out-groups, that encourages alienation of the other, and that believes that things cannot and/or should not get better.
It is one of the most vile messages I have ever seen, and I will proudly say that I went through this final section without killing anyone, and what I did was the correct thing to do. I did not kill or interact with any of the guards. I refused to shoot the doctor, to the point where the game killed the doctor for me. And everything that happened after that sequence? It’s all a bad end. None of it actually happened. Because it should not have happened. Joel fought to get Ellie back, and he died doing so. That’s how the story ended to me, and I do not care what anyone else has to say. Because in my interpretation, the message is transformed. ‘Those who protect their loved ones at the expense of the greater good should die.’ Because there is no good greater than the greater good.
Translators Are The True Terrorists
(Translation Puritans Get Peeved By Fire Emblem Engage Localization)
Being a well-documented fan of Japanese media, namely comics, music, general pop culture, and video games, it should come as no surprise that I have certain gripes with the community who surround these things. From the white supremacists who find refuge in these communities and use them to spread their ideals, as most anime characters can be interpreted as ‘sufficiently White.’ To people with big mouths, big opinions, and virtually no media literacy, yet think they are able to make definitive objective statements based on… their feelings. However, I think my most disliked subset of the community are the ‘translation puritans.’
I would unkindly describe these people as ‘paranoid freaks who believe professional translators to be deceptive manipulators who exist to bastardize an original work by censoring anything that does not conform to their bias.’ These people tend to misunderstand the process, logistics, and overall purpose of translation. Tend to view the original Japanese version of the work as something sacred that should not be altered for any reason (so long as they prefer the original). And tend to be deeply attached to the idea that underaged children should be sexualized… if that is what the original creator wants.
Now, I will say that some official translations are bad and retranslations can be warranted for any number of reasons. But this isn’t because translators are hacks, lazy, or have an ‘agenda.’ It’s because the translation industry kind of sucks.
Translation is a difficult task, especially when moving between two wildly different languages with virtually no common ground, like in J-to-E translations. The tools for the job are often poor and unsophisticated (a lot of 300,000 word scripts have been translated in Excel). Translation projects are often understaffed or given tight development constraints, because they are niche projects with slim profit margins. And in addition to dealing with linguistic, cultural, and terminology differences, translators need to adhere with what the English publisher wants.
However, despite probably knowing this, none of these ‘translation puritans’ want to acknowledge these realities, or if they do, they insist that ‘there is a better way, actually.’ They’re a bunch of Libertarian crybabies who want to complain about how ‘western values,’ ‘social justice,’ and ‘political correctness’ are destroying something precious. …And then you look at what they are actually defending, and it’s almost always something involving a child being sexualized or a child/adult relationship being romanticized.
The latest victim to this tired ‘debate’ is Fire Emblem Engage. In short, the original Japanese version had scenes where 16 or 17-year-old characters made flirtatious comments to the protagonist or other characters. The more romantic tone of these comments have been altered in the English localization, which instead emphasizes bonds, friendship, and comradery.
…If anything, it’s more surprising that these connotations were in the Japanese version, as most Nintendo games are made with an international audience in mind. Of course they would remove this element in the English script, because most English speakers think it’s creepy when minors start flirting with adults. Because it is creepy, as minors should not start romantic relationships with adults, no matter how ‘fertile’ their ‘loins’ may be.
Honestly, I wish that all the people who get angry at translations would divert their energy into actually learning Japanese so they don’t bother anybody. But, knowing them, after getting the understanding of a 7-year-old, they will start pointing out how ‘this localization is bad, and I’m smart.’ Which only spills more oil onto the fire…
Also, no embedded media for this segment, because screw giving these creeps any attention.
(Natalie Discusses Leaked Footage of Forespoken)
Forspoken is the latest AAA title from Square Enix, and the debut release from Luminous Studios, an offshoot of the Final Fantasy XV team. Following the reveal of its story details, some meme-able dialogue, some iffy comments from the developers, and a subpar demo, the game developed a not so good reputation, and it is almost doomed to underperform. And not just because it is a single player action RPG with a Black female protagonist.
With the title due out next week, it naturally leaked, and I decided to judge the title based on its first hour of footage and it was… something. When I engage with a big, fancy, AAA project like this, I try to ask myself what the creative process was, what the team was trying to do, and how the project reached its final state. And with Forspoken… I wound up asking why a lot.
Now, I would like to embed a video of this gameplay here, but I would rather not risk a DMCA by Square Enix. So I’ll just provide screenshots instead!
The game begins with the protagonist, who goes by Frey, being escorted into a courtroom, where she meets with a Black female judge who presents her with three pieces of evidence the player can examine via a menu. These include her high school diploma, a picture of her as a baby, along with a newspaper clip indicating she was abandoned by her parents, and her criminal record. Based on this record, she has several instances of ‘petit larceny’ (theft of goods less than $1,000) and one instance of ‘burglary in the third degree’ (intention to commit a crime in a building unlawfully entered). Meanwhile, the hearing today concerns a charge of ‘grand larceny’ (theft of goods $1,000 or more), specifically for trying to steal a car.
Now, what I find interesting about this is that none of these are violent crimes. Crimes of theft are done due to a lack of means and, as an orphan in New York City, it makes a lot of sense why someone like Frey would have a lack of means. She explicitly says she did this because she needed money. Despite this, the judge says that Frey has ‘so much anger and resentment in you, I’m not sure you’ll ever amount to anything at all.’ Which… is not supported by anything we have seen of Frey, nor anything seen within this first hour. After which, the judge takes pity on her, because it’s the holidays, and slaps Frey with community service instead of sending her to jail.
…What does this courtroom scene do? What does it establish? Well, it establishes that the protagonist is a ‘criminal’ which is an odd first impression to give players to endear them to the protagonist. It can also establish that Frey is desperate, destitute, or lacks a place in the world, but there are far more effective ways to establish this. So, why does the story really start here?
Because the protagonist is Black, and a lot of Black people wind up in court at various points in their life. …Which is because that’s how the law works. It wants to keep Black people in court, load up their rap sheet with repeated crimes, and then lock them away to fuel the prison industrial complex.
…But the game is not trying to make any biting statement toward the criminal justice system. So I think the— exclusively White— writers just thought that this Black person’s story should start in a courtroom.
After a minute of walking to the first waypoint, the game sees Frey thrown into an alley, where she is ruffled up by some gang members. They are clearly extorting her and trying to get her to do dirty work of some kind, thereby immediately answering the question of why Frey did the ‘crimes’ she did. Because a gang is extorting her and threatening her unless she does their dirty work. She is clearly not a member of this gang, and while I don’t know why, she is involved with them, that doesn’t really matter.
What matters is that, immediately after presenting Frey as a ‘criminal’ the game presents her as a ‘victim.’ Why do this? Well, following the logical conclusion I reached with the courtroom, I think the reason is to ‘prove that she is one of the good ones.’ …And also establish that she has some experience fighting people and practicing parkour.
After Frey escapes the gang, she arrives at her apartment. A home in disarray that she is clearly squating in, rather than paying NYC’s obscene rent prices. However, this home is almost comically sad and ‘impoverished,’ to the point where I think this scene just exists to establish that Frey is poor and has very little. With her only worthwhile possessions being her phone, her cat, her proudly displayed shoes, and her duffle bag with thousands of dollars of cash inside it.
…Here, I want to highlight three things.
One, Frey’s cat is only in this game for about ten minutes in total, and I highly doubt she will be important in a later section, so why even bother including her? I’m guessing the writers just thought it would make Frey seem more ‘compassionate,’ ‘motherly,’ and ‘considerate’ if she cares for an animal. In execution… it really doesn’t.
Two, Frey has three pairs of expensive looking, and colorful, shoes proudly displayed on a shelf. This is just a bit of set dressing, but I’m going out on a limb and saying the reason why she has so many shoes when she has so little is because she’s Black. And having a shoe collection like this is a ‘Black thing.’
Three… the duffel bag of money. So, this item immediately sent my mind back to Natalie Rambles About Metamorphosis, where I defended the protagonist’s use of a duffel bag full of money. It makes sense why a character would use a duffel bag in many situations… just not here. Frey is an adult. She should have a checking or general bank account, and should be able to deposit money into it. So long as her deposits were regular, and she has a job she can inform her bank of, there should be little problem with depositing at least some of it. This is pretty basic stuff… and Frey has what looks to be $50,000 to $100,000 assuming the bag is full of $100 bills.
Immediately, I have to ask how she got this money, to which the game offers no answer. Instead, it shows that Frey has the ‘brilliant’ plan of making money, telling the gang to piss off, get a cat carrier, and fly out of NYC to start a new life. …Which she posted on her wall on a piece of duct taped cardboard. Because someone didn’t know what environmental storytelling meant.
Now, the big problem with her plan is that airports really don’t like it when you are carrying a lot of cash on a plane. And if Frey did try to get on an airplane with that kind of money, the TSA would pull her away, for sure.
Now, I could ask questions about the money, but it also does not matter. Why? Well, because the gang found out where Frey was living, and set the place on fire. Now, they did not take the duffel bag of cash or kill Frey, because… the writers are bad at their job. I’m sorry, but this is just a bad shortcut, and I cannot justify this decision, at all.
Anyway, the scene ends with Frey losing the duffel bag and leaving only with her phone and her cat. So nothing that was actually in the apartment actually mattered. All that does matter is that Frey had something, then she lost it, and now she is extra sad.
Frey gives her cat to the judge from the very beginning, and then mournfully looks on at the city, having lost everything. Then, 23 minutes into the game, Frey sees something glimmer in a distant window, enters an abandoned building, finds a magical bracelet, and then gets isekei’d to the actual setting of the game. Well, I say isekai, but based on a note from the year 3878, I’m guessing this is actually a post-apocalyptic future. Not another world.
…I have to ask how many drafts, revisions, and editors this concept went through. Because, no matter how much leniency I try to give this opening 25 minutes, it just does not work. There are so many unnecessary elements, so many bizarre racial stereotypes, and so many other better ways this could work.
For example, have this story begin with Frey being fired from her workplace— some crappy retail chain, for some bullcrap reason. Maybe some Black kids robbed the store and the manager blamed her for letting them go. Maybe some employees stole stuff and made her take the fall by only stealing stuff when she was working. Maybe some shopper got pissed at her and complained to her manager, who decided enough was enough. Maybe she works at a bodega and ‘allowed’ people to rob it again. I don’t know. I would ask someone who actually worked a retail job to help with this part.
With no job, she would be depressed, demoralized, and pissed when she arrived home and then, as she arrived, have her find out that someone broke her window and robbed the place. They could’ve taken her valuables, some cash she stashed away, her cat— I’d even say okay to having her kicks stolen. Have her call the cops, have them be assholes to her, say there’s nothing they can do, and have some scuzzy landlord present himself as the victim. Even though this is his property and security should be his job. Oh, and have the landlord still say that rent’s due on the first of the month, and threaten to evict Frey if she doesn’t pay up.
With all of that backstory, have Frey go through what little she has, putting a box together. There, she can pull out her baby picture, the article saying that she was abandoned at such-and-such place, even her high school diploma if that is important for some reasons. After learning of where Frey was ‘born,’ jump to the part where she is mournfully looking over the city.
With that, so much bullcrap can be cut out of these opening minutes, and it makes Frey seem more like a victim. She’s not a ‘criminal,’ she’s not messing around with any gangs, and she didn’t lose $50,000 because she wanted to protect a cat.
I do not know WHAT happened or HOW this got approved, made, and received hundreds of labor hours. But I know this is fairly basic storytelling stuff, and it amazes me that a project with so much money got this so wrong.
I would try to say that at least the environments look nice… but the environmental design is also just awful in this section.
The courtroom is aggressively dark, the layout requires people to take a bizarre route away from the door to navigate around a desk, and there are 6 silent NPCs in the room. Three cops, a court stenographer, some dude on a laptop, and a lawyer who should be representing Frey, but says nothing. These all congeal together to create a genuinely uncanny, almost dream-like, setting, and I don’t understand how this was even planned.
The city of New York is rendered for about three blocks that the player can sorta explore, and at first glance, it looks fine. The game is set in late December, so Christmas decorations are everywhere, and most of them look pretty nice. You have lights placed over trees and fences, some more dangling off walls and awnings. There’s a buildup of slush around the edges of the streets. And there are a bunch of high resolution custom signs created by the art team.
However, something about this environment also feels very… wrong. Its skyline is sparsely populated, making me think the city is actually only about 20 blocks big. There is a giant Christmas tree with giant presents, but it is in the middle of a street, surrounded by people sitting at tables, and also blocked off behind some of those metal gate things. It just looks… wrong.
Frey’s apartment is even worse in a way. She lives in what looks to be an abandoned apartment, one with chipping paint on all surfaces, cardboard boxes everywhere, a mattress on the floor, a… sorta nice dresser, an antenna TV, and lots of beat up books. It all feels… stock and unreal .So underdeveloped and thoughtless for a location that should be informative to the protagonist, but it does none of that. I mean, I was just crapping on the game, but compare Frey’s apartment to the house from the opening of The Last of Us, and you will see a WORLD of difference in environmental storytelling.
…I could keep going, because the introduction to the new world is… frustrating, as Frey is not genre savvy and takes far too long to understand what any IRL American would figure out within a single minute. Hell, she seems amazed that a bracelet can talk to her, when nowadays you can put a speaker, mic, and camera into pretty much anything. Her reaction might make sense if the game was set in 1983 or something, but not for one presumably set in the 2020s.
This all actually has me deeply interested in the inevitable 3 hour long reviews people will make of Forspoken, because while I have every reason to believe that it is bad, it is a fascinating kind of bad. The kind that should be analyzed and studied to determine what not to do when writing a story, while offering suggestions about what could have been done instead.
The Definitive Way to Ruin Friendships!
(Dokapon Kingdom Remaster Announced for Switch)
There are a lot of games that had the potential to be massive hits, but a limited release, lack of publicity, or an incorrect platform prevented them from gaining traction until years after the fact. One of these titles is the 2007/2008 multiplayer digital board game Dokapon Kingdom. A title that was cast aside by critics for being ‘just another’ Wii party game in 2008. But over the years, it has become a very popular party game for streamers, with Game Grumps and TheRunawayGuys producing some pretty popular Let’s Plays of the title… 8 years ago.
Since then, I can only assume the title became a staple for any group of friends willing to set up Dolphin for online play. Which is surprising, as this game is notorious for ruining friendships. It is a party game that deliberately encourages paper alliances, treachery, and screwing over your friends by robbing them! It is the exact kind of drama-creating-nightmare that people want from multiplayer games, and something that is seldom seen beyond titles like Fortune Street and Billion Road.
As such, it is not too surprising that the folks at Sting— who have spent the past decade doing support work for Aquaplus— decided to remaster this game as Dokapon Kingdom: Connect. A title that seems like a direct HD port of the original title, but with some UI revisions and, most importantly, online play!
Now, the success or failure of this title depends, almost entirely, on how good this online works. Because if it is good online, then this game will sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Especially if VTubers start playing it as part of collabs. If the online sucks, then you blew it, Sting! You didn’t rob nobody but yourself!
Anyway, the title is set to release as a Switch exclusive sometime this Spring, where it will retail for the somewhat steep price of $50. I think $30 would have been a sweet spot here, but can you really put a price on a game that will make you lose three friends at once? No, because that is priceless!
More Like Halo Finite…
(Halo Infinite Developer 343 Industries Downsized)
I remember back when people said that Halo had ‘ruined’ the FPS genre with its slower more console focused design, two weapon limit, emphasis on online multiplayer, military setting, and paving the way to a culture of ‘gramers.’ Half my life later, I can’t help but laugh at how wrong this take was. While I never played more than an hour of a Halo game (I played the first chapter of Halo Reach in 2011), I have since come to respect the series. I respect it for what it did for gaming as a whole, the expertise and skill that went into crafting its campaigns, and how good the multiplayer was ‘back in the day.’
However, most people who speak enthusiastically about Halo don’t like talking about any game after 2010’s Halo Reach. This was the last game in the series developed by Bungie, who went on to make Destiny, got into an awful relationship with Activision, and then got bought by Sony. This left Halo without a developer, so Microsoft established 343 Industries to shepherd the series going forward and… that has not gone so well.
Despite getting high critical praise, 2012’s Halo 4, 2015’s Halo 5: Guardians, and 2021’s Halo Infinite were all met with a mixed reception from the Halo community at large. The general vibe I’ve gotten is that the multiplayer remained good, the campaigns were lacking in the eyes of many, and the series has lost its luster. I wish I could point to a comprehensive analysis of 343’s trilogy, but the almighty algorithm has not given me one yet.
Background aside, Microsoft, and a bunch of other tech companies, decided to kick off the new year with a bunch of layoffs. As in, they laid off 10,000 people. Which is a town’s worth of people.
Also, fun observation, but it is curious how ‘layoffs’ like these are just brushed aside as being ‘normal’ while people ‘leaving’ their job of their own accord is seen as ‘abnormal.’ Gee, I wonder why that is? Is it because corporations want to control their workers and dislike seeing workers take control of their own lives? Maaaaaybe!
These layoffs included a significant portion of 343 Industry’s staff, including much of the campaign team, which speaks poorly of what role 343 will be playing in the franchise’s future. There has been a lot of speculation positioned as definitive statements based on research and contacting developers… which was debunked while I was writing this Rundown. However, I’m guessing that 343 will ride out Halo Infinite’s multiplayer for a while, and then Microsoft will assign them to a currently undetermined project. As for the next Halo though? It will probably be a lot smaller, and handled by a studio more capable of achieving the modern miracle that is shipping a critically, commercially, and communally successful AAA game.
Even AAA Games Can Suffer From EoS
(End of Service Announced For Marvel’s Avengers)
Over the past few years, there has been a string of utter failures in the AAA games industry, where publishers pushed developers into making Live Services, and made the game dramatically worse as a result. Of all the examples I could name, I don’t think there is a better one than Crystal Dynamics’ Marvel’s Avengers. The game should have been a smash hit, being an adaptation of one of the most popular intellectual properties in the world, created by a veteran AAA developer with ample experience.
However, the folks at Square Enix and Marvel Games insisted on the game being more than just a game, and wanted it to be a live service. This transformed what should have been a tightly written, structured, and overall fulfilling single player campaign into a game bogged down by complexities. Between a detrimental gear system, numbers-driven combat that emphasized myriad factors over game feel, and ample grinding, there was the essence of a good game here, but it was ruined by design. It was ruined by greed. And it was also ruined by the fact that it was a live service.
Over the years, there have been plenty of missteps: Leaking IP addresses when players tried to stream the game. Failing to deliver upon roadmaps so much that they were outright canceled. Taking two years to deliver a piece of content that was supposed to come out shortly after release. Oh, and they decided to make the XP farming even worse, 9 months after launch.
The game was a mess, it clearly was not making a lot of money, despite having a dedicated fanbase, and last month, there was buzz about the game being sunset in 2023. This was not too surprising, but you know what is? The fact that they announced plans for the final update to the game on January 20, 2023.
Why did this happen? Well, looking at an Exputer article for more information, there were plans to continue updating the game through 2023. But those changed after people investigated lead developer Brian Waggoner and found he made a lot of extremist right wing and racist tweets over the years. Crystal Dynamics responded to this, and decided to strip Waggoner of his role on Marvel’s Avengers, before parting ways with him. With this lead position changed, and the Avengers team already very small, Crystal Dynamics decided to say… screw it, and is ending the project.
So, what does this mean for the game? Well, it means that March’s version 2.8 update is going to be the final update. Version 2.8 will not feature any new content, and will instead be used to sunset the game. All premium credits will be converted to in-game resources. The ability to purchase credits will be removed. All cosmetic content will be available to all players for free. And while official support will end September 30th, the game will continue to be playable, both single player and multiplayer, indefinitely. Meaning that they are NOT KILLING THE GAME!
As someone who does not truly care about this game as a product, from the bottom of my heart, I need to thank Crystal Dynamics here. Far, far too often games like this are rendered completely unplayable when support ends, but the developers here are taking the correct approach and not throwing away over 6 years of hard work. This is a massive boon for preservation, and leaves the gates open for people to not only play this game, but potentially mod it years down the line. Over 90% of live services do not get this luxury, and THIS should be the standard.
Seriously, I cannot articulate how happy I would be if Dragalia Lost had been offered this luxury. Instead, she’s DEAD! AND SHE’S NEVER COMING BACK!!! DAMN YOU NINTENDO!!! YOU RUIN EVERYTHING I LOVE!!!
…Outburst aside, this is not all good news. While this is a sane and reasonable EOS (a traditional EOS), there is a lot of content being left on the cutting room floor here.
This included a free-roaming “Patrol Mode,” drop-in drop-out co-op, a boss battle against Ultron, and five playable characters. She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, Jane Foster, Shuri, and Ironheart. Together, these would have bumped the game’s roster from 12 characters to 17!
Now I’m glad that I don’t know what was on the cutting room floor for Dragalia Lost, because if it was even close to this, I would still be crying…
Aaanywaaay~! It is sad that this game failed to be a success, sad that content is not being finalized for release, and sad that this game never reached its true potential. But at least the game isn’t going to be MURDERED! And you know what, I consider that a win!
Header image features the BookWalker version of Futaba-kun Change! by Hiroshi Aro, the Google Books version of Press Reset by Jason Schrier, and the DLSite version of Two Beauties For Take Out by Hyoui Lover.
I was running from the time cops this week, so I just decided to do a cheap and easy screenshot. Also, for those curious, I am one of those deplorable Windows 11 users, and I use ImageGlass as my image viewer of choice.