This Week’s Topics:
- The hunt for meaning through new experiences
- A TSF manga that should have been much better
- The dread of going back to older generations of Pokémon
- Musings about Nintendo’s second tablet
- A rema(ke)(ster) of Oblivion
- A semi-regular update on Natalie.TF projects
Rundown Preamble Ramble:
Nothing Like The First Time
The hypothetical question of ‘what would you like to experience for the first time again’ is a question I regularly see posited by people. …And a question that I don’t think I understand on a fundamental level. For general life experiences, I understand that doing something can be exhilarating initially, but feel routine after sufficient repetition. If one had a great time doing something the first time, and feels as if their life needs some extra spice, I get why one might wish to change things up and make the experience more enjoyable.
However, when it comes to media— when it comes to playing a game, watching a video (it’s a more general term for TV and movies), listening to an album, or reading a book… no, I don’t get it. Why don’t I ‘get’ it? Well, I think that is more of a philosophical argument about what the point of media is. See, as a reviewer, I tend to approach most media from a more critical eye. I like to examine what it is trying to do, process its strengths, weaknesses, and, ultimately, judge it.
Now, I don’t do this with everything. I like having a video, podcast, or album play in the background as something to keep my autistic millennial brain focused. But when playing a game, reading a comic, or doing something of the sort, I am formulating the notes for a review in my head. It’s not a wholly clinical approach, I still can emotionally resonate with a work. But I try to attribute this resonance to something the work does well. If I like something, I find a reason why I liked it, and I am almost always considering that.
I also have a slightly different perspective on re-examining or re-experiencing something than I think a lot of people have. I view a re-examination as an opportunity to better understand something, to see more of its strengths, to understand where its weaknesses came from, and overall appreciate a work more. If this reappraisal causes one to think less of a work— if it gets worse the second time around— then there’s a good chance their initial impression was inaccurate, or they are engaging with it in a detrimental manner.
Some might say that an element of surprise can change one’s views on a work. That having knowledge of certain events and scenes can change how one views a work. And they want to experience these works without the burden of knowledge. This sounds reasonable, but only if you are judging a work on a more emotional level. Which is the core of where this desire actually comes from.
The reason why people want to ‘experience some piece of media for the first time again’ is because a piece of media gave them a strong emotional reaction, and they want to feel those feelings all over again. They want an emotional experience comparable to their first time.
This makes sense… but I think there is something deplorably twisted about wanting to forget a meaningful experience under the hope of capturing something new and ‘fresh.’ People are defined by their experiences, and I view experiences as the most extrinsic part of being alive. They are the foundation of one’s memories, they are the thing that truly make people different, and I view the act of removing these things to be… terrible. It’s part of the reason I don’t really dabble with concepts of identity death or memory loss in my works, and instead INSIST on the idea that experiences make people better. (Like how EXP makes your character(s) better in a video game.)
As such, I think that what people are really getting at with this question is that they crave more meaningful and emotionally resonant experiences, but struggle to find it. So, instead of pursuing something new and venturing into the unknown, they go to something they knew they liked in the past, and opine about how they want to feel that way yet again. …Even though there is simply too much in this world for one to ever forget a meaningful experience, just to chase the same high all over again.
You might be asking where these experiences are, and… that’s a problem that people have been grappling with for some time. In the modern climate, it can be difficult to find something that resonates with oneself. The isolation and alienation endemic to modern capitalism. The loss of public places to bond with people in your own community. And a sense of fear that has been bleeding across America for… well, decades, but shit really got messed up in 2001.
Emotionally meaningful experiences can be harder to come across, especially as one grows older, wearier, and harbors more responsibilities. But you should never stop trying, never stop looking. Because you never know when you will find something dope, something new to love, and something better than the formative experience you had all those years ago.
Don’t chase the past, chase the future. Because the future is unwritten, and the future can be changed.
TSF Showcase #2023-19
Boku wa, Onnanoko (I am, a Girl) by Takako Shimura
So, this is a comic that has been on my radar ever since Chari handed me a few articles on TSF manga back in February. I downloaded it shortly thereafter, but it has been sitting in my ‘mangadump’ folder for 5 months at this point. So I dug it out to read it for this Rundown and… son of a— I’ve been bamboozled! This isn’t a proper TSF manga, it’s just a one-shot as part of a short story collection, and the closest other thing to TSF in this tankobon is a story about a mildly perverted salaryman befriending a trans woman. Which, for the record, is pretty well done, especially for the late 90s. But I suppose that is kind of to be expected, as Takako Shimura is also the creator of Wandering Son. A name you might be familiar with, as it is the go-to realistic trans anime, and cracker of many eggs.
However, I can squeeze a few paragraphs from the first story, also called Boku wa, Onnanoko, as its views on gender are… perplexing for a creator so comfortable with queer subject matter.
The story is set shortly after an unexplained phenomenon caused the entire human population to undergo a spontaneous change in sex. Men became women, boys became girls, and it affected everybody of all ages. The protagonist, Tsukaki, wakes up two months after these changes, and finds their body has transformed into that of a young woman. Shocked but not discouraged, they go to school, meet a few of their friends, and take in how people are adapting to this change. Afterwards, they have a bath with their only present family member, their former sister-in-law, Kyouko, and relax for the night, thinking about how they’ll become a “fantastic woman.”
Reading it as the first chapter of the story, it offers a lot of set-up and hints about future characters who either ran away after the change, or are still in a coma after their transformation. However, as a one-shot, it all feels eerie in a way that I don’t think the creator intended. What happened to these people is a dramatic change. Something that should send ripple effects for generations, and change the paradigm that society uses to judge gender and sex. …Instead, most people just sort of accept these changes. Tsukaki’s classmates might not like this, but they just sorta have to deal with it. Kyouko has cut his hair and grown his stubble. And rather than retaining their masculinity or even resisting a bit, Tsukaki is all ‘I guess I’m a girl now.‘ The comic does say that there is some resistance to this change, but it never meaningfully shows it.
I want to say that the story is simple or unambitious… but that would be a damn lie! There is way more than just some ambition here. It sets up and establishes an utterly fascinating setting. The comic tries to tell a parallel story, with Tsukaki reading a book written by a child as they go about their day. But before it can do more than make an introduction, it just ends! There are isolated moments, a few panels and lines, that feel like the writer is really trying to say something meaningful about gender. Instead, it just feels… kind of empty… while also looking empty as well.
I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but the world of Boku wa, Onnanoko is an eerie one. The streets look half as full as they should. The school only has a handful of students in it. And it visually looks indistinguishable from a story where the majority of the population just disappeared one day. Everything is still clean and people are trying to behave as if things are normal, but it feels like they are just in denial over how society was just irreparably changed. This visual approach could definitely work for a story like this, but we spend so little time in this world that it just feels… hollow. For all of this eerie imagery and for this rich premise… Boku wa, Onnanoko doesn’t have much to say.
…Also, the manga goes out of its way to highlight how trans people were also affected by this phenomenon. But rather than showing them experiencing euphoria with their new bodies, it shows a trans woman, post bottom surgery, revealing that she went “back to being a man.” Which… just raises so many questions. It is acknowledging trans women as women… but in the one instance where trans women would not want to be acknowledged as a woman.
Now, if this were a more contemporary work, I would probably read into this and ask what was going through the head of the creator. But this is a comic from a twenty-something in 1997. Clearly, they wanted to do something, while not knowing how to do it, or deconstructing why they want to do it.
Never Go Back to No Quality of Life
(Natalie Meanders About Pokémon Hacks & Fan Games)
In my hunt for ROMs as described last week, I couldn’t help but notice just how deeply popular the ROMs for the GBA and Nintendo DS Pokémon series were. To the point where a lot of ROM sites had these big all-in-one bundles for the first five generations of Pokémon games. And right besides these bundles, I found a tidal wave of Pokémon hacks built off of the GBA and DS titles. Bust mostly the GBA titles.
Now, this is a fragmented niche that I have personally dabbled in way, way back in 2014… twice. But the niche has continued to produce titles for over a decade and… it’s honestly kind of amazing to me. Not because I don’t understand why these games are so beloved. Just looking at these games fills me with a wave of nostalgia. Not only from playing them for hundreds of hours, but from effectively memorizing the map layouts via guides, going on mock playthroughs, and reading a slew of webcomics based on these games like Pokémon-X, Pebble Version, and Granite. Gosh did I love those as a kid.
I love the games of that era… but I also know there is a bunch of shit about them that sucks. HM management, limited TMs, move tutors and removers, balance issues all plague these games. And myriad quality-of-life features found in later games in the series— some of which were removed because Game Freak likes wasting players’ time— are simply missing here.
This makes going back to these games a hard ask, but this is where the pocket community of Pokémon fan game developers, hackers, and modders all come into play. People who, over the span of nearly 20 years, have made a cavalcade of titles… but they tend to fall into three general categories.
One, ROM hacks that aim to enhance the original titles in some way, either by making them more difficult, adding quality of life features, or doing something the creator really wanted to see. These are wonderful concepts that have the potential to breathe new life into these games and make them far more playable based on modern standards. I always worry that modifications like this will introduce new problems, but that’s kind of inevitable when you let… actually, no, that’s just inevitable. The more things you change, the more changes you have to screw things up.
Two, ROM hacks that take the foundation of the original and, based on this video I saw a few months ago, use a deluge of community developed tools to make GBA development palatable to non-programmers. But it’s still developing for an older system and modifying a fairly complex game, so… I doubt it would ever be truly easy.
Three, fan games made in Pokémon Essentials, an RPG Maker XP modification, is still receiving significant updates after over a decade. And based on this tutorial series, it seems like a pretty stinking good creation tool. Yes, it’s RPG Maker, and RPG Maker has become flat out BAD in recent years. But XP is pretty good… once you get rid of all the crap. (I miss Rhaokja.)
So you have these three variants, and probably a bunch of subsets that I don’t even know about. But regardless, there is so much content, so many different spins on this series, all created by fans and not monetized. There are myriad new, better, and overall fun Pokémon experiences out there… so why is there such a fixation amongst the Pokémon community when it comes to the official releases?
Well, there are two reasons. For as much as people like to dog on Game Freak’s titles for their sometimes lackluster presentation, they are fully 3D titles with modern production values beyond that of any fan group. (Name one fully 3D fan-made Pokémon game, not a ROM hack, that actually finished development.) And as I discussed two months ago, the industry has trained people to see 3D as being more important and valuable than 2D games. Similarly, people have been conditioned to think that the official release is more important, because that is the narrative that benefits corporations and the wealthy. Sure, you could say because that is the one with better production values, marketing, and social importance… but you are the one who is considering those things to be ‘important.’
(The theme of this Rundown is that Natalie believes everything except maths is subjective and both rules and authority should be always questioned.)
Anyway, that’s just an observation I had. And my big takeaway is that, if you are going to go back to these older Pokémon games, you probably should just play one of the enhancements instead. …But that also begs the question of which refinement is best, as every rom hack does something a little different, and it is hard to determine what the best one is.
Honestly, it would be great if there was a way to choose features from a long list of variables you want, but implementing that and making it work would be hellish. Same with implementing some sort of mod manager for games like these. And nobody’s gonna do it because creators have big visions and want to make dream versions of their childhood favorites. And be the subjects in garbage video essays where creators voice how a small team of passionate fans are factually objectively better than a large corporation of
passionate creators lazy corporate bigwigs.
In conclusion, no matter what you do, playing Pokémon games is kind of a nightmare. So just stick with Legends Arceus or something.
Also, I am not going to go back to the Pokémon ROM hack or fan-game hole. Despite reviewing Student Transfer scenarios, I still don’t love the idea of reviewing fan-made content for something I am not intimately familiar with.
Nintendo Switch 2.0 Confirmed for H2 2024
(Natalie Complains About Nintendo Fans – July 2023 Ver.)
I complained about the insatiable appetite of Nintendorks for the NEW and a Switch successor five weeks ago. But thanks to the industry insiders, journalists, and reporters, we now have a pretty definitive launch window for this bloody thing. Multiple sources have told VGC— who I just want to say has been doing some real great work with these reports— that Nintendo has shipped development kits for their next console to key partners. Something that typically only happens when a new system is… when did news about the Durango and Orbis first surface? Eh, let’s just say 1 to 1.5 years from launch.
As always, read the full article for the full details, as there’s some good stuff but here are the key takeaways:
- The system should be released during the second half of 2024, as while production starts in early 2024, Nintendo wants to avoid hardware shortages.
- The screen might be LCD to keep costs down, rather than the more expensive OLED model.
- The 32 GB of internal storage will be improved. This would be nice, but you can get a 1 TB MicroSD card for just over $100, and everybody has a spare MicroSD card lying around so that’s not a big deal.
- Backwards compatibility is still up in the air, even though I think it would be a ‘top ten biggest mistakes in gaming’ decision to not include backwards compatibility.
- Switch hardware sales are expected to drop by 16.5% in 2024. Meaning it probably won’t sell the 25 million units it needs to beat the PS2 and become the best-selling games system of all time.
Now, there are three major things to be concerned with regarding the Switch successor. The first is the input devices and backwards compatibility, as I want the Nintendo of 2004 to 2016 to remain dead and buried, and for games to conform to standardized input devices. Yes, that stifles innovation, but preservation is more important than innovation. The second is the aforementioned backwards compatibility issue, as people consider Switch to be a ‘personalized device.’ And the third… is the price.
COVID, rampant inflation, and boosted costs of living have all caused a level of economic insecurity not felt since the last major recession starting in 2008. Everything without a fixed price has gone up, and oodles of people are struggling to keep up with rent and groceries. Which is why we need socialism and government regulated housing and food distribution— Goldarn it, that stuff just slips out, okay! It’s like Tourette’s but for lefty politics.
The point is that the Switch has not undergone a significant price decrease since launch. The Wii launched for $250 in 2006 dropped to $130 right before the Wii U came out in 2012. The DS launched for $150 in 2004, but the price of a DS Lite dropped to $100 right after the 3DS came out in 2011. The Nintendo 3DS launched for $250, but ran from $80 to $200 in 2016, before the Switch’s launch. But right now, in 2023… the $300 base price for the Switch has not gone down a cent. You can find bundles that come with a free game for the standard $300 price tag, but anything less than that is a retailer deal. Meanwhile, the Nintendo Switch Lite is still going for $200, and the OLED model is still going for $350.
The system has not received a proper price cut in over 6 years, and if a successor is going to come out, I think a price cut will be necessary. Partially to sell an extra 5 to 10 million units. Partially to liquidate inventory of hardware and physical games. And partially to build a price gap between the Switch and its successor. I’m guessing this would only be a $50 price cut for all models, and that the new system would cost $400. Now, a $400 price tag might seem kind of steep when compared to the $400 (base model) Steam Deck and the $300 Xbox Series S. However, both of those are loss leaders, and Nintendo likes to make a profit on their systems.
…Also, in writing this segment, I did the math and figured out that the Nintendo 3DS, launched in March 2011, would cost $341 in 2023 money. While the Nintendo Switch, launched in March 2017, would cost $375 in 2023 money. Inflation’s fun, kids!
Do I foresee there being any real pushback to a $400 price tag? Eh, probably initially and verbally, but realistically? No. For as much as I like to go on about how hard it is to live in these modern times, people still find money for entertainment and tech products like these. And I think there are enough people who ADORE Nintendo nowadays that there will be a big demand for a new system… So long as it actually has quality games, like a new 3D Mario.
Now, you might be asking why I even care about this when I have sworn off buying Nintendo games unless they change their practices regarding how they treat their dedicated fans. …Or bring back my beloved Dragalia Lost. Well, the answer is simple. Because I just can’t help it! Because deep down, I will always be a Nintendork.
Late Minute Addition: After getting everything all nice and situated, more details dropped on the latest VGC and NateTheHate podcasts. Namely that The Switch successor will have an 8-inch screen, which is up from the 7 inch screen of the OLED model, meaning the system will probably be even more cumbersome for handheld play. It will launch with 512 GB of internal storage, which is just enough to warrant going digital, even without a MicroSD card. Backwards compatibility is still up in the air, but… Nintendo does not want to port Switch games to their successor platform, and third parties would be PISSED if people on the successor system couldn’t continue buying their games.
Virtuos is Probably Remaking Oblivion
(The Worst of the 3D TES Trilogy Is Gettin’ Gussied Up!)
Well, here’s a story I didn’t really expect to see cropping up on my news feed. One originated from a Reddit thread by a verified former employee of Virtuos. A multifaceted studio spread across the entire world, who has had their hands in a litany of projects. Though the most notable is probably the upcoming Metal Gear Solid Δ: Snake Eater. They’re a studio with a lot of experience re-releasing, porting, and remastering titles, so it is not overly surprising to see them remake… any game. Admittedly, the poster talked about many projects, but the one that caught the most attention was a supposed remake (or possibly remaster) of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
Now, the decision to do a remake of an Elder Scrolls game while Bethesda is just getting started on The Elder Scrolls VI makes all the sense in the world. And the decision to remake Oblivion of all titles is rather… interesting. When discussing a remake of an older game in a series, some might suggest starting from the beginning. But for TES, that idea doesn’t make much sense. Say what you will about the innovations offered by The Elder Scrolls Arena (1994) and The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (1996), but those games look and feel super old, and Bethesda does not value them. Meaning they make them available for free on Steam and GOG. Heck, some insane people even ported Daggerfall to Unity.
So, what about 2002’s Morrowind? That is when the series really took off, and is still seen as a fan favorite to this day and receiving pretty regular mod support for a 21-year-old game. Well, Morrowind is beloved partially because it offers a level of friction and obscurity that you typically do not see in most modern games. It is an open world where you need to take the animal bus to fast travel. An action game where your attacks do not connect if you don’t have the right dice rolls. An RPG with a narrative with a level of depth that probably wouldn’t mesh with a more mainstream audience. And most importantly… It takes place in a swamp country! Swamps ain’t sexy!
Also, if they screwed up a remake of this game, the fans would be downright livid, and things would be almost as toxic as a Pokémon launch. Sure, they could temper things with options, letting players choose a ‘classic’ or ‘modern’ experience.’ But I’m pretty sure if I suggested that, I would be told ‘that’s not how video games work.’ Even though it totally is.
A Skyrim remake… would be stupid. Every feature they could add has already been achieved through mods, and the game has been re-released… initial, GOTY, next gen upgrade, VR, Switch, 10th anniversary, 10th anniversary Switch— 6 times!
Okay, so what about 2006’s Oblivion? …Now that is an interesting case. Compared to Morrowind and Skyrim, Oblivion is the odd duck out. It was a glowingly well received game, but it never maintained quite the dedicated community of Morrowind, nor did it achieve the mainstream success of Skyrim. The title did well, received a lot of awards, was one of the first big third-party games for the Xbox 360, and sold over 3 million units by the end of 2006. That seems impressive, but I do not think it fully clicked with a broader audience, who were far more enthused by 2008’s Fallout 3.
However, it was still an influential game in many respects, seen as proof that open world games like this could work on modern consoles, and was an inspiration for RPGs all over the world. From the Eurojank RPGs of that generation to pretty much every Japanese game with a western fantasy aesthetic, especially Demon’s Souls. A game that probably would not exist if Oblivion didn’t do surprisingly well in Japan. You might think that’s weird, as Japan is the home of Dragon Quest, and not standard western fantasy. But western fantasy is actually a pretty sizable niche in Japan. I mean, nobody in the west cares about Wizardry anymore! But Japan? They literally own that shit!
Sidebar: I just remembered that EA has been sitting on the Ultima series. If they did a remake of IV, V, VI, or VII would be GOTY material if given modern quality of life features and the same level of freedom. Instead, they just made a shit mobile game, are letting Ultima Online rot away, and gave the okay to that shitty Ultima Underworld successor.
So, Oblivion is an influential, significant, and well received title. But it is also a game with a lot of quirks that were later fine-tuned in Skyrim, and its quirks are not as deeply tied to the game as they were in Morrowind. It did not receive as significant of a modding scene as other Bethesda titles. The game is also one of the most mid-2000s looking games ever with its bloom and lighting effects. And it is a game that I think people know more by reputation these days, mostly via its much maligned horse armor DLC. …The horse armor joke is 17 years old.
As such, I think there is definitely a good reason to remake the title in order to keep The Elder Scrolls relevant. Plus, it will also make the game more digestible to a new generation who might have only played Skyrim as kids, but are now adults with mortgages.
…What am I saying? Zoomies can’t afford mortgages, especially with these interest rates!
That’s my requisite political jab, so let’s talk about my personal experience with Oblivion. I played the title sometime back in… 2009? It was the first classic-style open world game I played, and I was utterly overwhelmed by it. The limited inventory, the weapon durability, the day-night cycle, the onslaught of side quests that I had to complete, it was far too much for me to fully understand. So after 40 hours of mostly side quests, I just gave up and sold the game shortly thereafter.
However, it was an experience that taught me a lot, laid the foundation for me to properly understand a lot of mechanics, and helped me consider Skyrim a magical experience… Before replaying the game on PC, and seeing through its tricks without the goggles of surprise and wonder. Though, a lot of my problems with that game are broader problems with open world games. Fluff content that robs the experience of focus and meaning.
…Also, yes. I say Zoomies instead of Zoomers, just like how I say nebbies (nebby) instead of enbies (enby). Simply because nebby is a better contraction of non-binary. Like, why would you throw an e in front of that? The e should go in the middle!
Progress Report 2023-08-06
I’ve been focusing on Verde’s Doohickey 2.0: Sensational Summer Romp the past two weeks, so let me give an update on that story. Currently, I am flirting with the idea of the story being 75 chapters long. 11 of them have been drafted (or at least that was the plan before I fell down the Playnite rabbit hole). And the current word count is over 70,000. Which, when you consider the 69,000 word incomplete outline and the 50,000 word draft of the World Information, means this project is fucking huge! Like, it’s going to be 500,000 words if I keep this up!
That’s all well and good, but I know why most people read Natalie.TF. What’s the status with Student Transfer scenario reviews? Honestly, I have not touched Eman Looc’s Possession Scroll in weeks at this point, and my interest in checking out another ST scenario is pretty low at the moment. Simply because my mind is already drenched in body swap stuff, and it is hard for me to stay engaged in a dozens-hours-long TSF project without thinking that I should get back to VD2.0 SSR.
However… I already delayed it once, so I will try to get around to ELPS sometime in August.
Beyond that though, I’m going to keep focusing on VD2.0 SSR for the remainder of August, hopefully reaching chapter 19, the end of Act 1 of 5. Afterwards, I will start working on TSF Series #017, coming September 27, 2023. Then I will FINALLY resume actual work on Dragalia Lost V3 Re;Works, coming November 30, 2023. …While taking a break for TSF Series #018, coming November 18, 2023.
What about other ST scenario reviews? …Honestly, I dunno. I’m not really in the mood to dive back into that hole, and I have a feeling TSF Showcases might satiate my blazing lust to talk about TSF stuff.
I wonder if anyone realized that the header image this week is a pastiche/reference to an old George Watsky mixtape called Nothing Like The First Time. For the record, I have not followed or heard about the artist since 2015. I regularly listened to his work while in my community college days (2013 to 2016), and despite having cleaned out my music library on occasion, I still have this mixtape.