Rundown (4/23/2023) Spreadsheets Infinitum

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This Week’s Topics: 

  • The continued development of the V3 Re;Works
  • A whopping FOUR acquisitions!
  • A brief history lesson on the developers of Solatorobo 

Rundown Preamble Ramble:
Hyper-Fix The Problems!

With tax season behind me, I spent the bulk of this week in spreadsheet land, working on stuff from my Dragalia Lost V3 Re;Works project. Currently, I am kind of in a slog-like spot with the revision, as I have moved past updating all adventurers, dragons, wyrmprints, weapons, and skills, and am now doing EVEN MORE insane things. Such as creating a series of generic drops for nearly 2,000 quests and structuring endeavors so that players can more quickly amass materials by participating in ‘events’. All of which is just preparing the raw data, and does not even TOUCH upon the fact that I am going to want to reformat this information into a PDF.

Not because I WANT people to actually read this PDF, but rather, because this is the logical conclusion of a hyperfixation that I have flirted with since I was eight. Ever since I got the Sandwich Island Pokémon Trainer’s Guide. As a child, I used to be very obsessive when it came to amassing certain information. I used video game guides to make lists and charts on paper, doing math in my head to figure out how a playthrough would work out in my head. 

I would go through Pokémon guides and figure out what parties three characters would amass if they were to, as a group, complete a Pokédex during their journey. I measured out the length and duration of events and sequences, using a guide as a reference tool, to determine how many episodes a story would take to complete if it were condensed into an anime. I manually created printable checklists to help me find all missable items while playing… I don’t even know how many games. I even created ‘superior’ roster layouts for Super Smash Bros. titles, because most of the layouts are hot garbage. 

However, when it came to most of these projects (except for my myriad flowcharts), I NEVER actually finished them. Or I finished a part of them and did nothing with the idea or detailed spreadsheet. I have been doing this crap for 20+ years… and I want to take this idea of organizing and revising information to the next level. I want to actually finish one of these projects… and I just so happened to decide that it should be my most ambitious project of this variety, ever

I want to go ALL IN on this concept, I want to DO IT RIGHT. And even if it winds up being a shitty half-brained lump of masturbatory garbage that I spent 250+ hours working on, I DO NOT CARE. This is something that I WANT to do, so I will get it done, or die trying.

Also, in case anyone is curious, here is a copy of my spreadsheet circa Friday evening. Lots still needs to be done. It is not in a particularly accessible format. And the editorialized notes for adventurers need to be revised. But if you are curious as to what Natalie has been up to these past few days… it’s this.

…Well, that and also Vampire Survivors.

Yeah, despite having gone on a spiel last week about how I stopped playing video games because I could derive a comparable pleasure from writing stuff and doing more ‘mechanical’ projects, that’s not actually true. I realized that while it is similar, there are sometimes when I actually just want to play video games. When dealing with the residual stress of tax season, and after spreading so much time around spreadsheets, I really wanted a low investment game to sink my teeth into. 

That game was the 2022 hit sensation Vampire Survivors, which I put a whopping… 16 hours into this past week. Despite this, I don’t intend on reviewing this game, because I simply lack much of anything to really say about it. It is a good game that manages to take a relatively simple idea and transform what should just be a basic flash game into something truly captivating. …But there are a lot of elements that I don’t quite understand.

After the first few hours and upgrading the power-ups section as much as I could, I was at a loss as to what I was supposed to do next. How I am supposed to amass more power, or if the cast is supposed to be balanced. There is not an obvious end state as far as I can tell, and with the DLC additions, I’m confused if I am ‘under-upgraded’ or some such thing.

I would criticize this, but that’s just an element of modern game design. Either you try to make a system dirt simple so anyone can understand it, or you make something so obtuse that it requires a communal effort to comprehend everything.

The Hedgehog Snatched Up An Angry Bird
(Sega Sammy Acquired Rovio for $773.8 Million)

I already teased this last week, so let’s jump right in. Rovio was once positioned as a major mobile innovator due to their insanely successful Angry Birds IP, which was everywhere during the early 2010s. Its characters were on the shirts of Vietnamese kids with bombed out teeth, plushies of the characters were found at every two-bit carnival in the Midwest, and it even snuck its way into rap songs. (It’s been way too long since I’ve referenced Spose on this site.) Unfortunately, Angry Birds had a somewhat short shelf life in regards to ‘mainstream relevance’ and if you ask a grade schooler about it nowadays, they’d have no idea what an Angry Bird is. 

Anyway, the story is that Sega entered into an arrangement to acquire Rovio for a trim $773.8 million. Or a sixth of what Saudi Arabia paid for Scopely earlier this month. Why did they do this? Because Rovio has a lot of skill in making mobile games, and Sega wants to invest more in the mobile market, Which makes sense, as Sega has not really had much in terms of global mobile hits. Sure, stuff like Super Monkey Ball was hugely popular during the start of the iPhone era, but the mobile market then was nothing compared to what it is today. Also, the Angry Birds IP is still valuable, and who knows what harebrained scheme Sega has for the series.

With mobile acquisitions like this, I always feel a bit underwhelmed. Because I think that capitalism has ruined the concept of mobile games with a business model that lures people in with a zero dollar price tag and wastes their time with grind and fluff. I do not view any shifts in the industry as being ‘that bad’ as things are already so dire that I find it hard to have any hope for this part of the industry. Sure, people might have fun with mobile games when they can be played, but… that won’t last forever. While packaged games? Those actually last forever.

Didn’t I Already Talk About This A Year Ago?
(Epic Games Acquires Brazilian Mobile Developer Aquiris)

Next on the acquisition list, we have another instance of an Epic expansion, as Epic Games bought the Brazilian mobile game developer Aquiris and… Wait. Didn’t I already talk about this same darn thing a while ago?

Yes, actually. Almost exactly a year ago, Epic Games entered into a publishing agreement with Aquiris, and I said the following: “I can only assume that this is going to result in Epic expanding their mobile efforts across more titles, instead of lumping all their money into the Fortnite basket.” 

Well, apparently the agreement was going swimmingly because Epic liked Aquiris so darn much, they not only bought them, but rebranded them as Epic Games Brazil. Based on this announcement, the details on this acquisition are slim, and it is not super clear what the Brazilian studio will be working on. However, I’d imagine they will continue pushing out mobile games, handle some support studio tasks for Fortnite, because Brazilian labor is super cheap, while also giving Epic a greater presence in the country. 

As technology becomes more available in countries like Brazil, it is inevitable that more people will start developing video games. And if there is documentation of how Unreal Engine works, along with customer support, in one’s native language, then developers will probably be more inclined to use it. Though, I’m kinda talking outta my keister with that one.

So, do I think this is a good acquisition? Well… foreign branches being established in growing economies are generally seen as a good thing, but foreign monopolies are not. Those are one of the best ways to deprive a developing nation of the benefits of economic growth, and siphon profits away from the local economy. Which is a pretty common story for any nation that found out they had an ample supply of oil within the past… 70 years?

I might be forgetting a prolific instance where this happened, but I don’t think this has ever been an issue with a digital entertaining industry like video games. So a foreign company establishing a greater presence within an industry probably will be good for industry growth, especially one as large and populous as Brazil.

…But this is Epic Games we’re talking about, and while I have accepted that Unreal Engine is an industry standard tool at this point, I still really don’t like seeing them expand like this. One, because monopolies and mega-corps are bad. And two, because they are 40% owned by Tencent, and I don’t trust Tencent one iota. 

The Trains Are Under New Management!
(Focus Entertainment Acquires Dovetail Games)

Next up, we have another acquisition from the rising European AA publisher Focus Entertainment, who bought Who might be better known by their trading name of Dovetail Games, or just as the folks behind the Train Sim World and Fish Sim World series. Which is not too surprising, as Focus used to publish the Farming Simulator series, so they probably understand the niche market for dedicated and serious simulator games. 

Now, this is one of those acquisitions I have more mixed feelings on. Focus is still a mid-size publisher, and I believe that publishers like them are necessary to maintain a ‘middle shelf’ for the games industry. Dovetail is still a relatively small developer, so this acquisition gives them access to more resources, expansion opportunities, and the ability to focus more on the long-term, rather than worrying about things like payroll. (Which is a huge deal for most industries.)

However, I’m hesitant to believe any acquisition that sees the developer promise ‘independence’ and ‘autonomy’ going forward. While those can be good things, that also means that the publisher might not give a crap when things are going bad. Which is something that Focus previously saw with Aeon Must Die

A game that was fraught with so much abuse from management that the developers left the company… only for Focus to just release the game anyway. Huh. …Actually, maybe Focus is just a bad publisher? Because, one, they allowed for rampant abuse to happen in the first place, and then they released the game before the controversy was solved and developers could finish the game as they intended.

Walk The Fire With A Fiancé
(Sony Acquires Firewalk Studio) 

Over the past few years, Sony has been trying to expand into the live service industry, which made complete sense in 2021, back when live services were relatively few in numbers. However, the broader view on live services has shifted a lot over the past few months, not helped by multiple largely publicized closures that were announced in a short period of time. Game-likers are gradually realizing how live services are fickle and ethereal things that demand a lot of one’s time, and almost all of them will shut down after a few years. Or perhaps months in the case of some titles. 

Personally, I am pessimistic and bitter about the very idea of a live service ever since Nintendo killed my friend, Dragalia Lost. But that does not mean that future live services will fail. I just want them to be preserved, which goes against the broader entertainment industry’s rush toward turning entertainment into a service for the sake of creating the illusion of growth. Because after you sell a product to tens of millions of people, the only way to make the line go up is to charge them a monthly fee for the next version.

Anyhow, Sony acquired Firewalk Studios. If that name sounds familiar, it’s probably because— not unlike the Epic and Aquiris story above— Sony entered into a partnership with Firewalk two years ago. The goal of the partnership was to create a AAA multiplayer game, which still has not been properly announced. However, development is apparently going well, because why else would they buy Firewalk?

As an independent AAA studio originally formed in 2019, Firewalk pretty much only ever had two possible fates. To become a support studio, or to be bought by a publisher. So… I cannot help but view this as an intended outcome. Firewalk, like many tech companies, was formed with the goal of being bought, and they did just that. An independent publisher wasn’t truly lost in the process, and this wasn’t all too different from Sony just establishing a new studio outright, so… I guess this is one of the good acquisitions? Yeah. Let’s just go with that.

We got two bads, a meh, and a good one. That ain’t too bad for the games industry.

CyberConnect2: A Retrospective For Context
(CyberConnect2 Montreal is Shutting Down in July 2023)

Oh snap! CyberConnect2 Montreal is shutting down? You know what that means? It’s time to go on a thousand word tirade to explain the context behind something only dorky geeks, geeky dorks, and weeaboos care about! But mostly just weeaboos. Like me!

In all seriousness, stories like this are where I think my obsessive fixation on the games industry really pays off. Because I have the ability to basically recite a decade of gaming history just by double checking a few dates and bopping around a few Rundowns of yore. 

CyberConnect2 is a peculiar Japanese developer who spent the 2000s being known for two things: The influential ‘trapped in an MMO’ RPG series .hack, and their long-running line of Naruto Ultimate Ninja titles. Despite seemingly having a niche, they not only put out a lot of games, but they did so rapidly, and also threw in a few experimental oddballs along the way. 

The first oddball that comes to mind is the excellent Nintendo DS swansong Solatorobo: Red the Hunter. An action RPG that has the honor of being one of the best looking games for the system, and a title so jam-packed with contents, it would not be a stretch to say that it is basically a game, and its sequel, wrapped in a single package. There’s even a time skip and everything.

While the second, and possibly better known, oddball is the hot-blooded QTE-filled action game, Asura’s Wrath. A game that could have garnered an audience if it was released on more powerful hardware or a PC release, but its poor monetization model and lacking gameplay prevented that from happening. As such, nowadays… it’s probably best experienced as a movie.

To me, these two games really helped CC2 stand out between other developers. They were passion projects given the time, attention, and budget to feel uncompromised in their vision, and S-tier production values. As such, when it was announced that they were co-developing Final Fantasy VII Remake in 2015, there was cause to be excited. Well, unless you were someone who thought CC2’s Naruto and JoJo licensed games were trying to be ‘fighting games.’ When… they weren’t. They were meant to be spectacles above all else.

Considering the enormous amount of work that would be required to remake FFVII, it made all the sense in the world when CC2 announced a Montreal-based studio in 2016. Montreal was, and still is, often positioned as the best place to open up a game studio in North America. The local government gives generous tax cuts to game developers, and there are thousands upon thousands of skilled developers in that city, so it’s not like it would be hard to recruit talent. …So long as your pay and working conditions are competitive don’t suck ass.

However, this studio opening coincided with the news that CyberConnect2 was being removed from FFVII Remake, and that the game was restarting development. As to what happened and who was in the wrong with the arrangement, I’m not sure if people ever came to a conclusion. The world of the Japanese games industry is mysterious like that, and unless you can find a developer in a bar and schmooze with them, then the secret might be lost forever. However, Final Fantasy VII Remake wound up being well received critically, commercially, and culturally, and those are the most important things.

This was an unfortunate turn of events for CC2, and they responded by refocusing their efforts. They shelved development on Project Venom, a MOBA title that has never been shown publicly. They (most likely) took on a new contract with Bandai Namco to develop 2020’s Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot. And they started on their Trilogy of Vengeance series, which promised three thematically connected games, all of which looked like the best video games CC2 could be working on. 

That was the plan… but most of their releases these past few years have been licensed anime game contract work for Bandai Namco. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Hinokami Chronicles, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle R, and the upcoming Naruto x Boruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections.  

The only original titles released over the past five years has been the first Trilogy of Vengeance title, 2021’s Fuga: Melodies of Steel. A unique tactical RPG that was jam-packed with heart and passion, but it only made back 120 million yen of its 327 million yen budget after three months on the market. Despite this commercial failing however, Fuga not only is getting a sequel, coming out May 11, 2023, but is also set to receive a third entry. Which… sure shows some dedication.

As for the other Trilogy of Vengeance titles, Tokyo Ogre Battle and Cecile? Well… they haven’t been publicly canceled, and that’s all I can say about them. 

Shifting back to CyberConnect2 Montreal, I’m not 100% sure what they worked on, as it is not clear based on the credits of CC2’s recent offerings, but it seems that they led development on both Fuga games. Which certainly adds up, but raises questions. Namely, why would you have a foreign branch make unprofitable games for original IPs, while the original core of the company is working on licensed titles?

It is a very odd situation and, assuming they were responsible for a game that did not perform well, I cannot say I am surprised to hear that CyberConnect2 Montreal is closing its doors in July 2023

The studio was a wise experiment, but it came right before CC2 underwent a major shift in their development schedule. If anything, I’m surprised that CC2 didn’t shudder the studio sooner, shortly after they lost the FFVII Remake contract. However, if I were to guess, they probably entered into an agreement with Montreal when the studio was established. Something where the studio had to operate for X years or ship Y games. Otherwise, CC2 would need to pay some sort of penalty or lose tax credits taken in prior years. Though, that is just an educated guess.

So, in conclusion, is this sad news? Yeah, I suppose so. But it was also inevitable, the studio was never that big (probably less than 50 people) and I doubt this will result in too many developers going without work for too long. Even if CC2 does not offer workers to relocate to Fukuoka, there are always studios hiring in Montreal.

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