Rundown (7/02/2023) Thanks Cap, You Made Me Write a Novel of Lore!

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This Week’s Topics:

  • A VD2.0 progress update
  • The ‘magic users as oppressed minority’ trope
  • Complaining about Nintendo and Switch 2 discourse
  • The idea that games should ‘let players be creative’
  •  A remaster that is doomed for disaster

Rundown Preamble Ramble:
Verde’s Doohickey 2.0 – World Information Has Been Drafted

So, this past week I finally finished a draft of the World Information section for Verde’s Doohickey 2.0: Sensational Summer Romp. A novel-length (over 52,000 words) character biography, appendix, glossary, and collection of notes for my overly ambitious upcoming novel. A novel that will probably be over 300,000 words long, because it’s actually a trilogy. Now, why did I do this instead of just working on the story? Well, two reasons.

One, in the first two chapters I wrote for VD2.0 back in April, I was struggling to find the right voice for certain new characters. And in a body swap story with a cast of 25 main characters— not including like 20 cameo characters— it’s important to know EXACTLY who everyone is.

Two, when I was playing re:Dreamer back in May, I was WILDLY impressed by the way CaptainCaption expanded the World Information section of the game. It truly did wonders to make the world feel like a fully realized place, and the details therein were sometimes more compelling than the main story. It was so darn good and so darn smart that it made me realize that just writing a novel-length outline was not enough. I needed to write a novel-length curated summary of characters, alternate history lore, and alternate universe lore!

So I did that. I wrote out a 600 to 2,500 word background for each character. Two to four paragraphs outlining their personality. Three to six paragraphs describing their appearance, wardrobe (it’s an element of character design), and thoughts on their own body. And I recycled/expanded/re-edited 2,000 words of lore I wrote down for myself a year ago. You know how long this took me? 15 days. 15 days for 50,000 words, while doing three Rundowns and two ST scenario reviews. Not too shabby…

…Or so I thought, but then CaptainCaption dropped a 21,500 word outline for the Britney route that she wrote in a single day. …Well, now I feel like a sack of trash. Here I thought I was on a roll for managing to draft out an entire 9,000 word story in a day last year, but this fuckin’ savant moseys on in like she owns the place… ‘cos she does! I couldn’t even type that much in a day if my life depended on it, and she did it with Corticobasal syndrome. 

My own self-flagellation aside (it makes me feel sooooo good), it was important work that should make the story better. And I want to thank CaptainCaption for inspiring me to undergo this creative undertaking. An undertaking that WILL be released as part of Verde’s Doohickey 2.0, likely as a bonus ‘extra chapter.’ I would release it before, but there are major spoilers for new characters, and a new swap mechanic.

Now… does this mean I will finally get started on this story properly? YES. And I REALLY bloody want to, as there is so much good shit that I NEED to make reality, otherwise… Why the hell am I even alive? As my boss likes to tell me, because he’s a Boomer, ‘everybody was put on this Earth for a reason.’ And the reason I was put onto this Earth was obviously to write stories about singing dildos, Tokyo airport body swap terrorism, and girls in guys’ bodies masturbating in public restrooms while thinking about fucking themself! Because that’s the good shit, the hood shit, and the wood shit

…I don’t even know what that means, but I’ve been saying it to hype myself up for ten bloody years! So let’s leg’s fucking gooooo!

The Most Powerful people Are The Most Common Slaves
(Natalie Rambles About Oppressed Magic Users As An Allegory)

Final Fantasy XVI came out about a week ago, and there has been plenty of discourse about the game, gaming press, and how the title changes the spectrum of what Final Fantasy is. I’ve made my thoughts on the title well-known at this point— I think it looked like a rote dark western fantasy action RPG— so I haven’t paid too much attention to the hype cycle. However, I did catch how the game handles the subject of magic users as an allegory for oppressed ethnic groups. A long-standing fantasy trope that… I think is a downright bad worldbuilding decision and an even worse allegory.

Now, I get why this trope exists. White people have a millennia-long history of claiming that ethnic minorities are witches, Satan worshipers, and miscellaneous uses of the dark arts. Whether they be Romani, Jews, Blacks, or whoever. As such, it was predictable that fantasy stories would explore worlds where magic was real, and cast these people in the role of magic users.  Witch doctors, voodoo users, nomadic G-slurs who cast curses on people, that sort of thing. All manifested from White people’s fear of the other and use of faction to confirm their superstition.

This idea persisted for a while, but sometime during the latter 20th century, when the contemporary idea and genre of fantasy was being standardized, magic was introduced as something divorced from race. Something that people either had or lacked a natural affinity for. But despite this, magic users were still consistently presented as a sort of oppressed minority group. People who were ostracized, hunted, forced to live on the fringes of society, kept their abilities a secret, or formed a coven with other magic users, such as a school to help them hone their abilities. (I am referring to the concept before she-who-must-not-be-named did her own spin on it and popularized the worst flavor of magic.)

Now, there was always something about this idea that… made no sense to me. How would a group of people who can heal deadly injuries, conjure fireballs, summon familiars, or soar through the sky be considered an ‘oppressed minority?’ Why would they be oppressed? I think the dude who can shoot lightning from his hands could one versus one-hundred a bunch of dorks wearing chain mail and wielding metal swords. Or if they used magic realistically and made crops bigger, better, and faster, then guess who will have extra food they can sell during the cold long winters? Magic users. And you know who is the least oppressed group in every society? The rich.

Magic users are… basically people with superpowers. And if this is something passed on genetically, as is often the case with western fantasy stories, then wouldn’t that make magic users the ‘chosen ones’? They have the powers needed to unleash carnage on those who oppose them, and to better the lives of their subjects. They are people with the power to improve the lives of others, and the power to become heroes

Magical abilities, most often, come with zero non-societal drawbacks, and basically make people… better. And in most of these settings, magic is so powerful, so beneficial, that you could make an argument that those who can’t use magic should be treated as second-class citizens. Heck, you could even make an argument that encourages the castration of all non-magic-users, as the end result would be a group of people with… countless more abilities. Because while eugenics is a bunk science invented solely to promote White Supremacy, it’s kind of a different story when one group of people can fly and throw 50 kilogram rocks with their minds.

This is actually something I have been sporadically thinking about— about once a year— ever since I watched the first season of The Legend of Korra back in 2012. A series set in a universe where people have access to magical powers that correlate to one of four elements, known as ‘bending.’ In the predecessor series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, I was under the impression that everybody could learn how to bend their respective element, but it required time, rigor, and dedication. Similar to learning a trade, as everybody can become a cobbler or bricklayer or accountant, but not everyone does. However, in Korra they establish bending as a biological trait.

And this is not just a throwaway line. The first season is extensively about an antagonist who views bending as an unjust power that gives people a greater place in society, and wishes to rob them of their natural abilities. Now, this antagonist is going about things the completely wrong way, but they do have a point. A society where an entire class of people, presumably greater than 10%, lack an ability that the rest do, is one where injustices are near inevitable

Everybody should have the capacity to learn something as crucial and useful as bending, and a society where some people can and can’t is one that will be unequal. But rather than viewing the problem as one to be solved through accessibility or government intervention, the antagonist basically just wanted to cripple people by taking away their powers. …And then season 3 is all about non-benders suddenly gaining the ability to airbend. Which is kind of the ideal outcome for a setting like this, as it lifts everybody up onto an equal playing field with different but comparable magical abilities.

In a world where magic exists, wouldn’t people want others to know magic and for magic-based knowledge to be as common as reading, writing, and arithmetic? Wouldn’t they want everybody to use magic? Well, not according to a lot of fantasy stories, and I think I know the core reason why. Because that would involve changing the world, improving it. Anda lot of western fantasy is more interested in saving it from something bad, and preserving the status quo.

…Which is also the way Final Fantasy XVI ends. It is a game about suffering and people being awful for awful reasons. It could have ended with the protagonist effectively freeing its people, and making something similar to what I just described. But, because it needs to be a dark fantasy story, the protagonist just throws the baby out with the bathwater. 

What does that ending mean thematically and what were the creator’s intentions? I dunno, I have never seen a PS5, let alone played FFXVI. But I think it ends the way it does because how else would a dark fantasy game end after raising the stakes to an apocalyptic high? The two choices are revolution and regression… and FFXVI chose the dumb one. 

Remember kids, embrace Japanese conservatism, deny western progressivism, and claim the throne of the divine for yourself.

Nintendorks and the Quest To Make History
(Natalie Complains About Nintendo Fans – July 2023 Ver.)

It’s time for Natalie to complain about petty nonsense she heard while perusing the Nintendo fandom shortly after last week’s Nintendo Direct!

I swear, ever since the Wii U era, Nintendo fans— or as I like to call them, Nintendorks— have had this awful habit of hyping up and hypothesizing about what the next Nintendo system will be. Much of this was due to the Wii U being… the Wii U. An utter disappointment of a console that Nintendorks have a complicated relationship with, and have been wanting a replacement for since… since the thing was a year old, pretty much. From 2014 to 2016, you saw a constant wave of fake rumors and deliberate misinformation from these people who wished and hoped for a better system, before finally getting the Nintendo Switch. A system that was basically the dream machine they have been hypothesizing since 2014, and was met with an overwhelmingly gushing reception throughout 2017.

But then come 2018, you saw some Nintendorks start to throw around wild theories about what Nintendo could do next. Namely, they thought that a more powerful version of the system was in development, one that could play games at higher resolutions and frame rates and featured a better form factor. Why? Well, they looked at the past, realized that console revisions were a thing, and intuited that the Switch must receive a revision! Which led to this just… relentless tide of speculation about a ‘Switch Pro’ that continued through the announcement of the Nintendo Switch Lite before dying with the Nintendo Switch – OLED Model.

Afterwards… they immediately shifted to discussing the idea of a Switch successor. This is something that Nintendorks have been sorta wondering ever since the Switch became a clear success. But most of the discussion was just concerned that Nintendo would do some dumb deadend innovation like they did with the Wii and DS. However, circa 2021, there was a consensus among Nintendorks that the Switch successor would be an iterative console, and not an innovative console.

This seems like it should have been the end of discussion. …Instead Nintendorks began asking when the ‘Switch 2’ would come out, and started writing narratives in their head about how the Switch was entering its ‘twilight years.’ An improperly used term that Nintendorks trot out, because they’re used to getting a new Nintendo system coming out every 5 or 6 years, and the Switch is currently 6-years-old. 

However, what these people fail to realize is that… game systems just have longer lives than they used to. I mean, the PS4 and Xbox One are going to be ten-years-old this November, and only within the past few months have the systems been missing out on major exclusive titles. Using them as the most relevant example… are they in their twilight years? If so, when did its twilight years begin? Can’t answer that? Then don’t just say a system is ‘in its twilight years’ because you want a more powerful system. …And that’s what this all comes down to.

People are upset that the Switch is just a gaming tablet. I know some people will be upset by that statement… but if you look at the hardware, form factor, or just try to use the device without any Joy-Cons, you’ll see that I’m right. Despite this, Nintendorks like to say that it is a home console, that it is a hybrid, and that it is different from a true ‘dedicated handheld.’ But that has been bullcrap since day one, and I’m sick of people drinking the marketing Flavor Aid when their eyes should be enough to tell them the truth. 

Natalie lives in a room with bad lighting, but the point still stands.

…Dang. Knowing that the Switch still has at least another 1.5 years of relevance really makes me hope that the Switch gets more HD ports/remasters. There are so many rumors that have been going around that it’s bonkers. F-Zero GX, Kid Icarus: Uprising, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, and probably more. You know what that sounds like to me? That sounds like a good set of games to have if you need to spend a year or two in prison, and they let you play video games for some reason. 

Prison would be so much better and more effective if they just let you play Nintendo games. But the people running prisons actively want prisoners to become repeat offenders, to never get better, because they are incentivised to keep prisoners for as long as possible, to keep their populations up. About 20% of people in jail should be in jail— maybe a bit more or less— but everybody else? If you gave them $8,000, a job, an apartment, a $250 phone, and maybe a therapist, they’d be cool. Also, this country flat out needs more therapists. It’s cheaper than becoming a lawyer or a doctor, and easier too! So do it.

…I keep doing this without meaning to, and it’s starting to worry me. Like, I know I’m autistic, but this combined with my growing inability to focus on something for more than 10 minutes without a micro-break is making me wonder if I might also have something else. Like, I dunno, ADHD, or something. However, whether I do or not… really doesn’t matter though, so I guess I’ll just leave that to die on the vine. I could get some sort of test done, but I know those tests are easy to fake. To the point where I primarily know I have autism because neurotypicals don’t have a history of bashing their heads against hard plastic objects when they do something wrong. Also, I made stuff like this and this for fun

Create or Play
(Playing Games Does Not Make You Creative)

So, I recently made the bad decision to start watching what I generously dub ‘Pokémon outrage porn’ after my YouTube recommendations kept throwing it my way. I have talked about how tiring I have found these sorts of Pokémon fanatics in the past, and it has only been getting worse with each subsequent game.

However, I find their commentary and view of this situation fascinating because of how wrong it is. 25% of the time, they make a decent/good point. 25% of the time, they are making a comparison to another title with clearly different priorities. 25% of the time, they are misinterpreting the point or purpose of something in the games, giving what I could only describe as a bad faith reading. And the final 25% of the time, they are just blaming the series for being something it is not, and it is clearly not trying to be. Which I consider to be the biggest faux pas in criticizing something. 

To use a hyperbolic example, if you use an axe like a shovel, you would be correct in determining that an axe is not a good shovel. …But why the hell would you want an axe to be a shovel?

I have been deliberating if I should make a Ramble about this, because whoo boy some of these takes are just terrible, but one that has deeply bothered me centers around… creativity. And how games ‘are supposed to let players be creative.’ Which just… baffles me as I do not consider the act of playing most video games to be a creative act. Like, at all.

There are exceptions, but as a rule, video games are about accomplishing a goal using a series of tools provided to you. There are different ways that a player can achieve such an outcome, yes. But it is similar to how one might calculate a math problem using a different method or style, word a sentence differently, or build a spreadsheet in a slightly different manner.

When playing most video games, most people are not trying to make something, and if they are, they are not trying to make something new. They are crafting their own experience, yes, but I do not consider that to be a truly creative act.

To keep the focus on mainline Pokémon games, players do have plenty of opportunity to build and assemble different teams, learn different moves, and often have some freedom in what they do and do not do in a playthrough. Their experience with the game is their own, and it is probably somewhat different from the millions of others. But in assembling a team, in playing through the game in one’s own way, I don’t believe that constitutes a creative act. 

It is a form of expression, it is a way to manage mathematical and aesthetic variables for one’s own enjoyment, and a choice that one can make. But making choices is not the same as being creative. To be creative, to me, means… to create something. To take something, make it your own, and inject some of yourself into it. Games where you design landmasses, buildings, cities, theme parks, homes, critters, or other games are definitely creative tools, as you are inarguably making something.

There is definitely a spectrum, and everybody will have a different exact opinion of what a ‘creative game’ is supposed to be. …But I think that Pokémon is and always has been closer to the non-creative end of that spectrum. The games have largely been about going on a predetermined journey with a defined end, going through linear routes, and participating in standard challenges.

To criticize them for not allowing creativity is… just kind of missing the point. You could criticize the formula for being rote and boring— because it is. And with Scarlet and Violet, you can criticize its poorly constructed open world that doesn’t explain how you should explore it, and actively discourages exploration in many respects. But that’s not the same thing as ‘discouraging creativity.’ Like, not even close.

Then again, this comes down to more of a… game design literacy problem. (Which is a weird thing to say considering how two of the peddlers I watched were/are game design students.) Specifically, with regards to what an ‘open world game’ is and should be. I touched upon this in my review of Pokémon Violet earlier this year, but people got super bad brain poisoning after Breath of the Wild ‘redefined open worlds.’ So they think that being creative is the ‘point’ of open worlds, because that was the ‘point’ of Breath of the Wild

Which… I mean, most of the 30 million people who bought that game did not play it to be creative. Most pursued the direct solutions to puzzles and played the game in the most obvious way it was designed. Because they were focusing on playing a video game. While those who tried to use these mechanics to achieve wild or unexpected results were a small niche of enthusiasts whose actions were picked up by thought leaders. Because it was something new and special that people wanted to be important, so they found ways for it to be important. But… I’m losing track of my point again. 

The point is that most games are designed to be played a certain way. Sometimes, you can break a game and play it in an unintended way, and that could improve the experience. Is that being creative? Sure, I guess. It is making your own fun and experience that the designers (likely) did not explicitly intend. But most of the time… games are not creation tools. If you want to create something, do literally anything else.

…Also, I feel like I need to take a shot of something painful every time I need to bring up Breath of the Wild. Because there is no other game discussed by people so smart and so dumb in equal measure.

Read Dead Remastered – No Redemption is Possible
(Korean Ratings Board Leaks Possible Red Dead Redemption Remaster)

…I sometimes forget about the utter disaster that was the Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition. If you were compiling a case against remasters and trying to hold the games industry accountable for the destruction of art, this would be example A right here. In my mind, remastering a game should be a relatively simple process. You take the original game, port it over to modern hardware, make it run at modern resolutions and aspect ratios, and whatever you do beyond that… just don’t break things. That is not easy work, but it should be compared to making a game.

However, sometimes developers, or more likely publishers, demand that a remaster be more than just a straight port with pretty standard features, and try to modernize the title. This, again, should be a simple process. Look at the original, and try to make something like that. You have an example, and just need to add details where there weren’t any before. However… in far more than zero cases, the exact opposite happens, the aesthetics are ruined in the remastering process, and the original winds up looking almost inarguably better.

While there were some attempts to salvage The Definitive Edition, the game is still busted, still a disaster, and almost objectively inferior to the PC versions of all three original titles. You know, the versions that people have been modding for two decades and actually have more songs in their soundtracks? The ones that Take-Two delisted to make more money? The actual definitive editions of these games?

The game was such a disaster that I genuinely do not think that any Rockstar game should ever be remastered after this. Hell, it actually makes me wish there was a caveat for mistreatment of artistically important works, so that literally anyone else could claim ownership of these games and give them the remasters that respect the original release.

…Also, I’m saying that as someone whose most meaningful connection to the GTA games is… the Vice City soundtrack. If I grew up with these games, then I would be spitting venom. Instead, my only real experience with Rockstar games are via L.A. Noire and Red Dead Redemption. Two games I struggled to ‘get’ on a meaningful level. 

Let’s just say that I did not find the rote driving or the horseback riding to be an engaging form of traversal, felt the gunplay was weirdly stiff, and lacked the genre experience to grasp the story. What can I say? I was a cartoon and anime kid who had never seen a noir or western film (I still haven’t) and only knew the genre through parody. So any subversion, nuance, or broader statement of these games was utterly lost on me.

…Holy crap, did it take me six paragraphs before getting to the actual story? I guess so. 

Anyway, I am going on this ramble because the trusty old Korean ratings board went and leaked another announcement in the form of one “Red Dead Redemption.” A new listing that implies the game will receive a remaster or port of some variety. A thing that people were clamoring for prior to the release of Red Dead Part 3: Red Dead Redemption 2, but was deemed ‘impossible’ by certain people in the industry. I forget the details, but they amount to ‘the game was held together by shoestring, bubblegum, and dried worcestershire sauce.’

As such… I am expecting this to be a real project, but I am also expecting it to be either a bloody disaster or the most barebones basic port of the GOTY edition of the game. And I think everybody would be happy with the latter. Sure, some people might object, but … those people should not be given even an ounce of attention.

…Another phrase that has burrowed itself in Nat-Nat’s head is “east side, west side, north side, Japan, doing everything I can do, doing all that I can.” I don’t know where it came from— probably rap music like 13% of the things in Nat-Nat’s head— but it likes to show up every few months.

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