This Week’s Topics:
- The most intense reaction I’ve had to a piece of media
- The EXP vs XP debate
- A brief dismissal of Tears of the Kingdom
- The death of another gacha
- Activision Blizzard’s lie to pivot to F2P
- The announcement of Mortal Kombat 1
Rundown Preamble Ramble:
My re:Dreamer Panic Attack
This past week, I have been making my way through the latest version of re:Dreamer in preparation for my fourth annual review. As to be expected, it’s better than ever, CaptainCaption added a good chunk of new content and polish over the past year, and the game is closer to being the dream game it was always meant to be. I have mostly good things to say about it, but I’ll save the details for my review on June 3rd. For now, I’m bringing the game up because I have a little tangent that wouldn’t quite fit in a review. Because re:Dreamer sent me into a goldarn panic attack.
It made me cry three times throughout a single evening, before just utterly breaking me. It was hard for me to keep track of time, but I wound up crying for the better part of an hour before becoming overcome with such unrest, such dread, that I fell into a full-on anxiety attack. The only way I could calm myself down was to lie in bed, wrapped in my blanket, hyperventilating and crying while my mind raced through things at a mile a minute. This lasted for about an hour before I finally fell asleep.
It was the most intense reaction I’ve ever had to a piece of media, and I was just thankful I overcame this crisis by the time I woke up the following morning.
What caused this emotional outburst? Well, it was not any one thing, but rather a bunch of things.
Part of it was caused by the existential dread and fragmentation of identity seen in the alone route. A route where the protagonist, Zach, comes to terms with their identity by embracing a repressed element of their identity, and bidding it farewell as it wears what Zach would have once considered their ideal form.
Part of it was caused by the downright tragic relationship between Zach and their mother, Samantha, as detailed in the Mom route and the related world information entries. Entries that illustrate how, despite the animosity they share, the two truly love each other, want to help them, but their personalities prevent them from ever connecting on a level they truly want to.
Part of it was triggered by the scene where Zach’s mother tells them she always wanted a daughter and, when she was pregnant with Zach, the doctors said she would have a daughter. This secret causes Zach’s ironclad eggshell to immediately shatter, for them to realize that… she’s a woman. A fact that she comes to terms with by conversing with the first stuffed animal her late grandfather gave her. A stuffed animal who was her earliest friend, earliest memory, and even carried the same name and crass demeanor of her late grandfather. It is a frantic and emotionally vibrant scene where Zach goes through a revelation a minute, overcome with excitement and fear, but also comfort because so many things finally make sense.
But the part that just killed me was when I read the world entry information on Zach’s late grandfather, Kevin. Learning how much Zach loved Kevin, how important he was to Zach throughout their childhood, how Zach cherished the stuffed animals he gave them, and how devastated Zach was when he passed away. It was a tangible and realistic tragedy that added so much to Zach’s character and persona, and made them feel like such a more tragic figure. Someone who lost their most vital male role model, and learned of the harsh nature of mortality from a young age. They lost a friend. A father figure. Their male role model. Someone who accepted them unconditionally.
Because of how much I connect to Zach as a character, this wound up unearthing a long forgotten part of myself, and made me examine my childhood in a way that… I don’t think I ever have before.
Growing up, I didn’t have very good male role models. My father was nocturnal due to his job, meaning I barely saw him for a large chunk of my childhood, and I was genuinely afraid of him as a child. He was big, grumpy, and if I were to wake him up by playing around, I knew someone would shout at me. Aside from a single summer, we never really connected, bonded, or spent much time together. Even to this day, I still avoid him as much as I can, and he wants nothing to do with me.
As for every other man in my family, they fell into two camps. Supposedly good men who died before I could know them. And men who were… just shitty in some variety. Men who took the women in their life for granted and were often deserted by them. Men who smoked and drank around me even when I was a toddler with extreme sensitivities. And men who lacked any aspirations in their lives and refused to take care of themselves. None of them were worth looking up too, none of them wished to get close to me, and with their bodies tainted by the scent of narcotics and colognes, I didn’t even want to be in the same room as them.
These were my earliest experiences around men, and it shaped the way I viewed gender as a child. Because of them, I felt less comfortable around men compared to women, whether they be doctors, teachers, therapists, or other children’s parents. Especially the ones with more masculine features, facial hair, or larger bodies. Though, this did not apply to other children my age as I viewed boys and men as two separate things.
The first time when I had to really engage with men on a regular basis was when I started working her office job in downtown Chicago in summer 2014, when I was 19. At least 70% of the office was staffed by men, most of them middle-aged, and being around these people, seeing them more up close than ever before, I was disgusted. Disgusted with the idea of looking like them, of acting like them, of becoming one of them.
I had been fascinated in TSF for years at that point, and had done a fair bit of research into trans people. Including writing a goldarn research paper on them. (Yes, I was really that dense.) But after several months of this, I finally cracked. I realized I was definitely trans. And that I would rather die than become a man.
I have known all of these things for years… but I never put these facts together this way. And when I did… I just completely collapsed into a gender identity crisis.
If I had a good male role model, if the men in my early childhood weren’t all pieces of shit, then would I have developed this same sense of self? Would I still have borne this disgust and discomfort with the idea of becoming a man? Would I have turned out this way if I was different? Was my very sense of identity formed by a sense of phobia, hatred, or denial? Would I still be Natalie? Or would I be a completely different person? …And should I have been someone else?
Did I make a mistake? Is my sense of identity wrong? Did I steal my identity from someone else? If my gender identity is from a sense of hatred of men, then… is it right? Is a fundamental part of my identity wrong? And if I pursue this, will I cease to exist as my very identity has been proven wrong and will another take its place by the time I wake up and… Oh god. Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod—
I was not in a good place mentally. But, like with everything life has thrown my way, I got through it. I managed to deflect these thoughts as they poured upon me and by the time I woke up, this crisis was nothing more than a memory.
To some, this might seem like a gross, unpleasant, and overall bad experience, but… I don’t view it that way. By the time I was through this movie-length episode of intense emotion, I felt like I understood myself, as a person, a little bit better.
re:Dreamer affected me on a deep and personal level in a way that I didn’t know a piece of media could. I desperately wanted to love the game in 2020, started straight up loving it in 2021, and kept loving it in 2022. But now, in 2023, the game has made an emotional impact unlike any piece of media I have ever experienced. And for that, I award it with not only a placement among my top ten favorite games of all time, but also the first Natalie.TF Certified DOPE Award.
Congratulations CaptainCaption! You might have not cracked my egg, but you sure as heck broke something!
Natalie Complains About Fickle Things Nobody Should Care About
(EXP Is A Superior Term to XP)
It’s time for this week’s installment of ‘Natalie complains about something petty and insignificant because it has been annoying her for X years.’ This week, it’s the terms used to describe experience points as either EXP or XP. A debate within gaming circles that has been going on… for a good 15 years, I’d say.
The concept of experience points has been common in RPGs since the early 1980s, where the term was often shortened to EXP for readability and character limitation purposes. For the record, EXP does not stand for EXperience Points. It stands for EXPerience. The term ‘points’ is unnecessary, as there are few other things that ‘experience’ could refer to in a video game when represented as a number.
I’m not sure when the term XP first started being widely used, but the most influential propagator of the term was probably the Call of Duty series with its online multiplayer progression system. This version ditches a letter, syllable, but is an acronym that stands for eXperience Points, rather than an abbreviation.
For all intents and purposes, these are the same thing, and are just different ways to refer to the idea of a resource that allows players to level up things. The distinction does not really matter, but it has been getting on my nerves periodically. Why is that the case? Well… because I don’t really like XP as a term.
In concept, it is an abbreviation that continues the pattern of Health Points (HP), Magic Points (MP), Skill Points (SP), and so forth. And if you put all of them together, HP, MP, SP, and XP, it looks nice and uniform. However, experience does not work the same way as HP, MP, or SP. Those are replenishable resources with a maximum capacity that are expended as characters use magic, skills, or take damage. While experience is something that the character/player/thing accumulates before gaining a level. Aside from certain games where levels can be lost and experience can be stolen, there are few instances where experience can be lost or expended.
Instead, I view experience more as a stat, such as strength, dexterity, defense, intelligence et cetera, that the player develops and grows over time. Most of which are typically represented either with the full name, or a 3 letter acronym. Such as STR, DEX, DEF, or INT. Next to these, experience (EXP) looks like it belongs, as it follows the same three letter naming conventions.
Based on that information, I think EXP makes more sense than XP… but I will be open and say that a lot of my reasons for preferring EXP are pure preference. I grew up using the term EXP, and it was actually one of the first game concepts that I understood. EXP was, and still is, commonly used in Japanese games and Japanese styled games, and I have always gravitated more toward Japanese games over western ones. I don’t like abbreviations that abbreviate words beginning with the ‘ex’ prefix as ‘X,’ as I find it to be confusing at worst and edgy at best.
Also, in going through this debate in my head, I realized that… EXP and XP can be pronounced the same way. They can both be pronounced as ‘ecks-pee.’ EXP stands for experience, ‘ecks-peer-ee-ence’ so it does not need to be ‘ee-ecks-pee’. It could just be the first syllable and a half of ‘experience,’ or ‘ecks-pee’. It is how people say terms like DEX (dexterity) as ‘dex’ instead of ‘dee-ee-ecks’ or INT (intelligence) as ‘int’ instead of ‘eye-en-tee’.
So, there is precedent for one to say ‘ecks-pee’ when they are talking about EXP, or when they are talking about XP. …And once I realized this, I accepted that this is something that will not change, and cannot change. Because language sucks. I would say English, but if I were to step out of the anglo sphere, I’m sure I would find people complaining about how their language is also broken. In fact, I know this, despite having no direct facts to back me up!
Natalie Bemoans Tears of the Kingdom
(Natalie Talks About The Latest Hotness – Loz TotK Edition)
This past week, it has been borderline impossible for anyone in the gaming space to avoid the discussion, social media presence, and deluge of impressions of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. The game sold ten million units in a mere three days, and in a year of buggy launches and underwhelming releases, it is a prime game of the year contender.
Now, you might think that this would instill me with a sense of FOMO, or spurred me to join in with the fun, but no. I swore off supporting Nintendo monetarily due to their policies and decisions over the past few years, but especially the past few months. I intend to stick to this promise, and if I desperately want to play a new Nintendo game, there are alternatives. However, even if I didn’t make this promise to myself, everything about TotK just seems to expand upon my issues with the predecessor, Breath of the Wild.
These games thrive off of players being creative, experimenting with systems, and trying things that seem ‘cool.’ While I tend to play games in the most conservative and boring way possible, and if I determine something that works for me, you better believe I will stick to it.
To me, the goal of a game is to accomplish challenges, be rewarded with sights of what comes next, and accumulate stuff. Whether it be resources, stats, numbers, abilities, or player knowledge of in-game systems. The goal should not be to be better than others or to achieve a result greater than satisfactory, and the experience of pursuing this goal should be fun or otherwise mentally/emotionally stimulating.
This is not how many other people view games, but if I tried to view games the way they view games, I would need to give up this fixation, raise my head up high, and blow my brains out. Just like The Bloodhound Gang commanded…
Anyway, TotK is a title that encourages creative solutions to problem solving via an in-depth building and object interaction system that expands upon the systems from BotW. It is a game that wants players to try to solve problems in unconventional ways, and encourages this by making most tools as fragile as can be, but also cheap. Some look at this as a boundless expanse for players to try goofy or unconventional ways to solve problems for the sake of memory conjuring of social media clout. But I look at this and ask how many combat-related challenges could be solved by throwing bombs, and how many travel-related challenges could be solved by walking.
…Wait, they removed the bombs from this game? Figures. They were so powerful that I avoided using regular weapons whenever possible, even if optimal bomb usage was hell on the fingers.
Regardless, this level of creative involvement from players simply does not compel me. If I want to feel creative, I will achieve a task, make a spreadsheet, or write a story. Something that now only provides me with near limitless freedom and immediate access to non-finite tools, while providing me with something inherently more stimulating and substantive.
Or in other words, my take on The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is that I would rather be writing than playing a game like it.
Build A World and Flip It!
(Cygames ‘Slows Down’ Production on World Flipper)
Live service shutdowns are a routine occurrence, and the only times I pay much attention to them is if they have some connection to a thing I like. And due to my fondness of the late Dragalia Lost, I keep a casual eye on Cygames and their titles. Why? Because I think, as a developer/publisher, they have a great aesthetic, a good design ethos, and have produced a number of high quality titles. Sadly, their fixation on mobile live services means that most of their output is simply unplayable, or soon will be.
On that note, World Flipper was Cygames’ pinball RPG gacha that launched in November 2019. I never looked closely at the title, but holy heck does it have a bunch of Dragalia Lost DNA. The menu design and general flashy yet readable UI. The general approach to character design. The fact that you use magical water to help characters break past limits. The use a ‘mana board’ instead of a ‘mana circle’ to unlock abilities. Even beyond these superficial similarities, the game still looked like a good time, and if it weren’t based around pinball— something impenetrable to me— I would have possibly given it a shot.
The reason I am bringing it up today as Cygames announced they are ‘slowing down’ development on the title. There will be no more new events, the main campaign will wrap up in chapter 12, fewer characters will be added per month with fewer voice lines, certain bosses in existing series will be added, and fewer weapons will be added. Oh, and this happened on the game’s 3.5th anniversary.
…Boy, those are a lot of similarities to Dragalia Lost’s EOS announcement. And despite not announcing the end of service… yeah, this game is either going into maintenance mode ASAP, or is going to be shut down pretty soon. This is all bad news, and the situation gets murkier when realizing that the game operates on two schedules. The western version of the game, published by Kakao Games, is about 1.5 years behind the Japanese version. This is an unfortunately common tactic for licensed international live services, but it naturally raises questions about… what is going to happen to their version of the game.
Fortunately, Kakao seems committed to the title, and basically promises that the game will receive all the Japanese content, excluding crossover events. Releases won’t be faster or anything, and I doubt the game will be profitable after this news, but at least it’s not being killed. …Though, that could always change.
This is the unfortunate reality of gacha games like these. They are DESIGNED to siphon money and die. I hate their business model. I loathe how they turn so much art, passion, and design into something disposable. And I just hope that World Flipper is fortunate enough to have someone dedicated enough to try their hand at archiving this title while they still can. I did my part with Dragalia Lost, so I hope that someone in the World Flipper fandom is about as dedicated as me.
Overwatch 2 Was A Work From Day One
(Overwatch 2’s Promised PvE Mode Has Been Scrapped)
Speaking of dead games, Overwatch is dead. Yes, a game that millions played for cumulatively billions of hours over the span of several years, that people paid $60 for, got delisted last year. And unless some wizard created private servers, you can never play it again. I am shocked that the outcry against this was so mellow, but I guess people just hoped that Overwatch 2 would be good enough. But nope!
People hated the battle pass, how the game felt like a minor update over the original, and how the team dynamics were changed. It briefly boosted in popularity, but I doubt it was the moneymaker Activision Blizzard was expecting. Though, this all could have been somewhat forgiven if the game launched with its supposed key new feature, that of a co-operative PvE mode. This was pretty much the first thing shown off for the title, and the fact that it was omitted was just a stint of bafflingly poor planning.
However, that’s not all. Not only was this mode delayed, it’s been completely scrapped, canceled, and unless things change dramatically, it will never see the light of day.
There is a GameSpot interview that tries to get to the answer as to why this mode, as originally imagined, was scrapped. But the more of it I read, the more I was struck with a realization. Either this mode never existed as the developers originally described it, or this mode was scrapped well before the game launched. In order to avoid a PR disaster, Activision Blizzard chose to keep this on the down low and only bring it up now, after it came time for the team to give a substantial update.
I do not say this to disparage the developers or claim that they were liars or deceivers. But I will point at the publisher of Activision Blizzard and put every morsel of blame on them. They knew the state of this project, how intense of a workload it would be, how expensive this would all be, and how… the interviewee talks about skill trees are hard to design around, but they really aren’t. Game dev is hard, but planning a progression system is middle school shit. Though, they had no place in a hero shooter like this, as skill trees are a bad idea in general, and even worse when bolted onto a multiplayer game.
This is a reminder that, unless a company has a proven track record, DO NOT TRUST THEM WITH ANYTHING. Corporations benefit too much from deception to be trusted, and corporations like Activision Blizzard have done nothing to endear any level of trust to anyone. And no, ‘Blizzard’ is not an exception. ‘Blizzard’ does not exist. No company within Activision Blizzard exists or has any say in anything. It’s all powered by people, and people who have been wisely deserting from Activision Blizzard for years.
Also, I’m just gonna say this right now. If you buy Diablo IV, you are part of the problem. That game is online only, depends on a central server, and Activision Blizzard will make it worse somehow. Do not give them any chances, do not ‘support the developers’ who they have abused for decades and see no royalties for their work, and do not buy their games. I don’t care if you loved Diablo II growing up or some shit. Pirate it if you can, and fuck it if you can’t. Find something better or be a go-getter and make your own damn fun.
Mortal Kombat Twelve, Sans the Two
(The Twelfth Mainline Mortal Kombat Title, Mortal Kombat 1, Announced)
Mortal Kombat 12 was a poorly kept secret that was announced via an earnings call with WB Discovery a while back, but its announcement was delayed for marketing purposes until… this past Thursday. Except instead of building on the rebooted continuity began with Mortal Kombat (2011) and iterated on with Mortal Kombat X (2015) and Mortal Kombat 11 (2019), it’s another reboot dubbed Mortal Kombat 1 (2023).
Why is it getting a reboot? Honestly, I have zero idea. Mortal Kombat 11 sold over 15 million copies, making it one of the most successful fighting games of all time. So, to me, choosing to do a reboot and choosing to call the game Mortal Kombat One, when the predecessor was Mortal Kombat One-One, is kind of stupid.
I suppose that this does not really matter if the game is a good fighter, but the announcement only focused on a CG trailer and the idea of what the game could be. Naturally, this will be amended as part of the hype cycle prior to the game’s release on September 19th for PS5, Xbox Series, Switch, and PC via Steam and Epic Games Store.
Why is it hitting Switch and not PS4 or Xbox One? Because the core playerbase has already moved onto PS5 and Xbox Series, and market analytics determined this was the best option. I understand that much. But the choice to do another reboot 12 years after the last one strikes me as something that only a comic book company would do. …I would make some DC Comics joke, but I stopped paying attention to the going-ons of comics around 2015.
I would honestly love to do more stuff like that header image and the awards title, but those took me about three hours to do while on a voice chat with my buddy Cassie. CaptianCaption is proficient at stuff like this, but I’ve still got a ways to go…