Rundown (8/20/2023) The Quest for Quantified Quality

  • Post category:Rundowns
  • Reading time:66 mins read
  • Post comments:4 Comments

This Week’s Topics:

  • The NEED to turn art into a number
  • A BlazBlue manga I read to appease my Cassie
  • NetEase is back with another expansion!
  • The dastards who screwed over Embracer Group
  • The 18.5 year 360 of life and death
  • Wishing for the end of modern development schedules
  • A body swap formatting dilemma
  • Region locking vs. autistic archivists (archivists always win)

Rundown Preamble Ramble:
The Quest for Quantified Quality

In the world of gaming, I have many, many, many pet peeves, but one of the most routine ones is when someone uses the phrase ‘one of the best games ever made’ or some variation thereof. A phrase that drives me up the wall because… what does that even mean? How is it the best? Why is it the best? What rubric is being used to determine that it is among the best? Who creates and populates these rubrics? Is there an organization who awards games as being ‘one of the best games ever made’? Can these awards be rescinded? Are they limited?

Now, these are all rhetorical questions. Here, the term ‘best’ is being used as a shorthand for a game widely regarded to be of a particularly high quality and/or importance by a community or organization. One of the myriad and fragmented communities who fall under the exceptionally broad umbrella of gaming can perpetuate a belief reinforced by the community and fueled by consensus. And one that is published by a publication, i.e. the awards that most games news sites publish in December.

However… that’s not what the term ‘best’ means. Best does not mean ‘great’ or ‘excellent.’ It means, the highest quality thing in a group of things. With ‘one of the best’ referring to a broader range of multiple items. It could refer to two, or it could refer to a few thousand depending on how big the sample size is.

So, why is the term ‘best’ used in this manner? Because it sounds important using only a single syllable, and people like punchy hyperbole, as it drives up engagement and produces greater dopamine. However, it also indicates a broad need and desire among the gaming community (a term that I hate because it can mean 17 different things). A desire to quantify, rank, and objectively measure the quality of something via simple variables. Whether it be a list or, better yet, a numerical system.

Now, this is related to a broader trend over the past ten, twenty years, where people and organizations have been trying to reduce a measure of quality into a simple number. You see this in businesses who rely on score-based ratings and reviews.. You see this with gig economy workers like Uber/Lyft drivers, whose jobs depend on getting good reviews. You see this with social media pushing people to raise all sorts of numbers between reposts, likes, replies, and most of all, impressions. You see this with all manner of content providers. And you see it when buying most products online.

Why do they do this? Well, because numbers are easy to understand and process, for both people and computers. …But they are also a pretty shitty way of measuring things, as they rely on scales, and scales mean different things to different people. Get a group of twenty random people together, and they will disagree with the difference between a 2 out of 5, 3 out of 5, or 4 out of 5. Combine this with the fact that everybody operates under different standards, and I would say that scoring systems, despite seeming so simple, have a lot of problems. Hell, not even hospitals get this right, as every pain scale is a bit different!

Introductory tangent aside, let’s talk about the de facto scoring system used by the video game industry and community. Metacritic. A review aggregator that takes reviews written by various platform approved outlets, grabs a quote and a score, and then combines the score into a weighted average of some manner. The problem here is… the problem that I just identified in the last paragraph. Scores from various publications do not mean the same thing. They never have, never will, and pretty much every site who publishes game reviews has a different scoring system, where every score means something different. There is no standard scoring system. But Metacritic, and platforms like it, take the raw number of this score, directly convert it, and then use it to inform their aggregate score.

Meaning that this number only somewhat represents the recognized critical consensus for a game… but what does the ‘critical consensus’ even represent? …How much critics of the time liked a game and what they generally thought of it. If the number is big, that means they liked the game a lot, but if it is small, they were probably livid in their review. That’s what it means, and it should also not be used too specifically, that one should not look at a ranking and assume that the placement is deliberate, intentional, or anything more than statistical happenstance. There is probably a good reason why one title would be at 90 and the other would be at 70, but not so much for a title with a score of 89 versus one with a score of 84. If you think so, you probably aren’t taking a lot of factors into consideration, or recognizing that review standards have changed in the past 25 years.

To me, this is pretty obvious if you stop and think about the situation from a logical and mathematical perspective. …But some people generally do not think about Metacritic scores like this. They instead use Metacritic as a pseudo-objective way to measure the quality of a game. As an almost definitive way to say that a game is good or bad in some instances, as something objective and indisputable. And in others, a way to show how game journalists are the vile cretin that ought to be exterminated and replaced by der Übermensch. (I compare because I see overlaps.)

Why do people do this? Well, the former do it because… having a numerical representation of something’s quality is incredibly convenient, incredibly simple, and incredibly useful. If you want to know if a game is good or not, just look at the variable that represents the quality of a game. It is a wonderful idea… but because there is no reliable way to get such a variable, a proxy is being used. Now, there is nothing wrong with using a proxy variable, but this is not a good proxy variable.

There is a group of people— a frighteningly large group of people— who are relying on these (in my opinion) materially flawed statistics to measure the quality of games. They are trying to make this work, have been trying to make it work for years, and have engineered a culture that sees the Metacritic score of a game as something of great importance. Because it is the closest metric for quality they have.

So, the problem is that the wrong variable is being used as a proxy for quality. Does this mean I have a new variable I would like to propose? …No, I don’t. If there was a better variable, someone smarter and more powerful than me would have already proposed it and implemented it. The problem comes down to trying to assign a single number to represent the quality of a highly complex piece of art and software. And trying to impose a standard in an industry where there is no material or perceivable monetary benefit to impose a standard.

Would it be useful to have a council of multiple qualified, skilled, and learned reviewers to assign numbers to games to quantify their quality? Yes, very. But that idea has at least three paragraphs worth of problems. Including risk of doxing, harassments, and so, so many artificial controversies. You know how people hate every awards show for having standards people don’t agree with that? Imagine that, but instead of a grumbling general audience, you have the worst Gamers™. Which is synonymous with the worst people.

Another solution is to rely on user scores instead of a smaller group of critics… but that has even more problems. User scores are frequently abused, are only used by a small percentage of users, and are vulnerable to being manipulated by garbage data. The fact that one of the best user score systems I have seen is Steam’s should be an indication of their general quality.

What would NOT be a solution is to simply discard this pursuit, as this is something that gaming enthusiasts have been trained to want, that they will want if it is ever taken away from them. And… something that should exist. Games are too numerous, complex, and time-intensive for there to not be a way to quickly gauge their quality. And for as much as I want to highlight how it is futile to assign art a number… this is a necessary variable.

A quantified representation of quality is necessary for the modern gaming landscape, and something like it has been for decades at this point. However… I just wish there was a better source for this number than Metacritic.

TSF Showcase #2023-21:
BlazBlue – Remix Heart by Deko Akao, Toshimichi Mori, and Sumeragi

So, here’s something I wouldn’t be checking out without multiple recommendations from my dear friend Cassie. Remix Heart is a manga spin-off of Arc System Works’ BlazBlue fighting game series, and centers around Mai Natsume. A DLC character from one of the latter entries, who I learned about when scrounging for transgender characters and TG transformations in video games a few years back.

I remember doing some light research into her back then, and not being impressed by how Mai was handled in the game. Then, after looking at her in-game design, I pretty much brushed her backstory off as yet another trope in a trope-filled anime fighter. As such, I was a bit curious if the manga detailing her backstory would actually give her more depth, or if it would just be some ecchi school days fluff. …And it is just some ecchi school days fluff.

Remix Heart is what I call a magical fighting school days manga. A story set in a fantastical world where people have anime super powers, magic is a thing that exists, but the world still evokes the vibe of a Japanese high school. The school is ancient, has numerous secrets obscured to the students, and is chock full of kooky characters with big personalities, but not much. Conspiracies, mysteries, cameos, and details for fans of the source material are strewn about. Despite taking place in a school, classes are barely shown or detailed, even though that’s the actual point of school. And the comic is far more interested in depicting school events. The sports festival, the beach adventure, cleaning things up and discovering something, you get the idea.

So, where does Mai fit in as the protagonist of this story? Well, she is a girl with a special ability, that of ‘super taste,’ which is kind of like the ability of the protagonist from Chew. Despite seeming like an odd quirk initially, it gradually blossoms into something more significant, enough for her to warrant the spot as a main character. She’s sheltered, quick to frazzle, and while receptive to friendship, she is still coming to terms with how the world of female friendships function. Changing, bathing, getting touchy feely, having pajama parties, stuff that anime girls wanton do.

…Also, she used to live as a boy prior to the start of the story, when she had a chance encounter with some magical doodad that turned her into a girl. Despite this, she rarely ever acts like a boy who was suddenly transformed into a girl. She is more concerned about being rejected by her newfound female friends than being a girl for the rest of her life. And though she says she wants to turn back, that’s mostly because she does not want to disappoint her father. All of which… it reminds me of a quote from a Japanese writer who has been thinking up TSF concepts since the 1960s and writing TSF stories since I was a toddler.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s very interesting when the character is suddenly a girl right away. It might as well be a normal story about a girl after that.”

Tsukiyomin, Sex Change Diary

And that… that succinctly describes my problem with Mai as a character. She is technically a TSF protagonist, but takes to the life, body, and role of a girl so quickly she may as well just be a cis girl. Not even a trans girl, as she never seems euphoric about her situation. She’s just… herself. There are moments where Mai ponders her situation, such as her mild identity crisis at the start of chapter 20. But I’m convinced that you could easily edit out all of these instances with general gender insecurities about her sexuality, sociability, and general ability as a person.

However, this is still my friend’s favorite manga, so what does she see in it? Well, I asked her, and the core of the reason she resonated with the comic so much is because of… vibes.

Remix Heart is about a boy becoming a cute girl, going to a school, making female friends, doing female activities, and being seen as female. Mai has a menagerie of female friends with larger-than-life personas and cute looks, who love and accept her without question. Every part of her design screams feminine, from her voluminous hair, her stylish ribbon, and a slim busty appearance that manages to be both cute and sexy. She still goes to a school, but never has to study, attend lectures, or do any of the boring crap. This school is only home to the fun parts, and the disappointment of reality is replaced with chuunibyou coolness!

That is the fantasy of trans girls who don’t like school and watch too much anime in their teens. To just suddenly become an anime girl and do anime girl things at an anime school in anime world. A world where every day is fun and happy, instead of an interchangeable deluge of dawdling while waiting for things to change or get better.

…But as an alternative breed of a trans girl who also watched too much anime in her teens, this does not appeal to me, like, at all. My patience for high school settings dwindles with each passing year. I’m 28, I finished high school a decade ago, and I feel way, way too old for this stuff. And the tropes, story beats, lore, and general vibe of this manga is… pretty much the reason I stopped watching anime. Because I find it to be boring.

Now, that’s not to say that Remix Heart is a bad manga. The artwork is good, paneling is good, the characters are fun, there is some solid tension to its climax, and I cannot say the comic in any way fails to do what it’s setting out to do. But I had to force myself to get through. …Which I did, but by the halfway point, I was just enabling auto-scroll.

It does not capture what I personally like to see from a TSF story. (Which is a mixture of coolness and commitment.) And the more I read, the more painfully obvious it became that Remix Heart is a comic for BlazBlue fans, period. It is not meant to draw in new readers. So, as someone not interested in BlazBlue, I guess you could say it has an entropy effect on my brain, attention span, and capacity to care.

…Get it? Because while I was writing this and finishing Remix Heart, BlazBlue Entropy Effect just released? Which has Mai Natsume as one of its five playable characters? …Eh, it was funny when I wrote it anyway.

In conclusion, Remix Heart is for fans only. 6.3/10. Natalie period tee-fee.

Also, I got bored while reading this comic, and made this shitpost. It did not really fit, but it still made me chuckle, so… here it is.

One day I’ll learn how to make real memes… one day.

NetEase Establishes Their 11th Foreign Studio
(NetEase Establishes T-Minus Zero Entertainment)


Since 2020, NetEase has gone freaking bonkers with their foreign studio openings. They have established 10 studios, more if you are counting studios with teams in two cities, and have seemingly no intention of stopping. Now, I would get it if these studios were pumping out games, but I don’t think any of them have properly announced anything so far.

You have Sakura Studio, Nagoshi Studio, Studio Flare, PinCool, and NetEase Games Tokyo in… Tokyo, GPTRACK50 in Osaka, Jackalope Games in Austin, Jar of Sparks in Seattle, Anchor Point in Seattle/Barcelona, and Bad Brain in Toronto/Montreal. And now NetEase threw another one onto the pyre with a second Austin-based studio by the name of T-Minus Zero Entertainment.

T-Minus Zero is currently developing a “online multiplayer-focus sci-fi action game,” and is being led by some Bioware and Bethesda refugees with promising-sounding experience.

…Uh, what else— Oh! This studio establishment can also be seen as part of Austin’s gradual transformation into a tech hub, after San Francisco stopped being cool during the pandemic. Personally, it sounds like a really bad place for a tech hub considering how hot the place is year-round, and how poor its state’s electrical infrastructure is.

But hey, no income tax! Not for corporations— the real American human beings— and not for those meat bags who have families, because society isn’t real. (Yes, I just combined a Mitt Romney mnemonic with a Margaret Thatcher-ism as a joke.) I mean, there is a gross receipts tax, but that’s only 0.331% to 0.75% of the lower of gross profit or 70% of revenue. I think. …State taxation is a PITA to understand sometimes.

This is Why You Don’t Make Deals With Saudi Arabia!
(Embracer’s $2 Billion Partner Revealed)

Guess who finally downloaded an SVG editor? Me!

Back in May, the Embracer Group announced that they had lost a $2 billion deal. It was not clear which party bailed on the deal, but I saw people theorizing that it might be Disney or Amazon. However, looking back, those theories don’t make much sense. Why would companies like Disney and Amazon put that much money into a single games publisher, especially one without the panache of a major AAA publisher like EA or Ubisoft? And the same is true for Sony or Microsoft, who really wouldn’t have much reason to make a ‘bundle deal’ of that magnitude.

Fortunately, we now know who this mysterious partner was, and why they weren’t name dropped until now. Because the bailing dastard was none other than Saudi Arabia’s Savvy Games Group! Also known as the parent company of SNK. This makes sense, as Savvy has been throwing around stupid sums of money into various industries, and did insane things, like buy 5% of Nintendo, just ‘cos they could.

Now, this kind of makes sense… but also doesn’t, and makes the folks at Savvy seem pretty scummy. In June 2022, Savvy purchased an 8.1% stake in Embracer for around a billion dollars. A considerable investment that was meant to help Embracer establish a regional hub in the country, as Saudi Arabia is trying to become the center of gaming in the growing MENA region. I didn’t like this news, but it made sense.

The nation of Saudi Arabia has a lot of money from their ample supplies of oil, but aside from that, it’s a pretty terrible country geographically. No rivers, limited drinking water, intense heat, and little in the way of arable land. If the nation wants to exist as the world transitions to renewable energy, they need to diversify their wealth into other sectors. Make foreign investments. And change a bunch of stuff with the absolute mess that is their government.

Okay, so that is why they invested in Embracer. The same reason why they invest in anything. …But why did they spend months working on a $2 billion deal with them, only to bail at the last minute? They not only sent Embracer into crisis mode, but as a shareholder, they lost hundreds of millions of dollars!

Well… I think the reason is pretty simple. Because the Saudis running Savvy Games Group are a bunch of assholes who don’t know what the hell they’re doing, and don’t care if they burn bridges with investors. Now, I know there are more complex geopolitical reasons why they might cancel this, as $2 billion is a lot of money, and they might need it to buy food for their citizens. Still, they screwed over a big company that employs a lot of people, and some will or have lost their jobs because of this. Not a good look, but it’s nothing compared to Saudi Arabia’s list of human rights atrocities.

The Xbox 360 Marketplace Will Die in 11 Months
(Backwards Compatible Titles Will Be Preserved)

…Ah shit! I knew this was going to happen someday, but this still freaking bites. After maintaining one of the most robust digital storefronts for so many years, Microsoft is shutting down the Xbox 360 Marketplace effective July 29, 2024. This does not mean you cannot buy Xbox 360 games digitally anymore, as users will be able to buy backwards compatible Xbox 360 and original Xbox games via the Xbox One, Xbox Series, and So, from a certain perspective, this is not the loss of an entire digital library… just most of it.

Ever since the backwards compatibility initiative began in 2015, I was under the impression that Microsoft wanted to make every Xbox and Xbox 360 title backwards compatible. And while they have made some great progress over 6 years… They stopped trying in 2021. With a final list of 633 or 2,154 Xbox 360 games and 63 of 996 original Xbox games made available via the backwards compatibility program… That’s only 22% of libraries that were built up over the span of 15 years.

Now, they tried, that much is without question. But I think the original Xbox game compatibility is particularly upsetting. …Though, it is worth noting that it’s not like every original Xbox game was made available digitally via the Xbox 360 marketplace. Not even close. Only about 32 were prior to the start of the backwards compatibility program. And of these 32 games, only 12 are really affected by this shutdown. 12 original Xbox games that were made available digitally, will no longer be available for purchase for any platform. Of these 12… 8 can be played on Dolphin, the leading emulator of this generation, 2 were also released on PS2, and 2 were true exclusives.

  • BlowOut (can be played on Dolphin)
  • Burnout 3: Takedown (PS2 and Xbox exclusive)
  • Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex (can be played on Dolphin)
  • Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows (PS2 and Xbox exclusive)
  • Intellivision Lives! (can be played on Dolphin)
  • The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning (can be played on Dolphin)
  • Magatama (100% Xbox exclusive)
  • Metal Arms: Glitch in the System (can be played on Dolphin)
  • Puyo Pop Fever (can be played on Dolphin)
  • Raze’s Hell (100% Xbox exclusive)
  • Sega Soccer Slam (can be played on Dolphin)
  • Zapper: One Wicked Cricket (can be played on Dolphin)

So, from the original Xbox perspective, that’s not too bad! Still bad, but… thank the based god Erinlingo Hucklebee for Dolphin!

Okay, but what about the Xbox 360 library? Well… digital releases weren’t a thing for retail games at the start of the generation, and a bunch of games were delisted. So it’s not like 1,521 games are going away. It’s still over a thousand games (probably), but a bunch— if not the majority— of them were released for the PC or were otherwise brought to other systems. As such, it would take a day of analysis to determine the exact number of games that fall into each bucket. And I’m not going to do that. It would be a lotta fun, but a Reddit user actually compiled a robust list that I skimmed over. It’s not perfect, and does not account for Xbox One/Series backwards compatibility, but I don’t blame them.

There are a LOT of games. Not that many that stand out to me, except for some weird oddities. Anarchy Reigns, a bunch of Armored Core games, Eternal Sonata, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom, No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise, or Zone of the Enders HD. But still, a LOT of games, and games should be preserved, regardless of their quality or recognizability.

Now, I would be willing to brush a lot of this aside if I knew emulation was in a good spot with the Xbox and Xbox 360. I mean, the Xbox was the DirectX Box, and there’s a reason why there was so much overlap between Xbox 360 and PC releases. As such, I would think that emulation would be a solved thing by now… but that’s not really the case.

Original Xbox is doing pretty well considering how niche its greater library is. The leading emulator, Xemu, boasts an impressive 79% playable rating and only 4 broken ratings, so that’s good news for preservationists. But Xenia, the leading Xbox 360 emulator is still getting there. Its compatibility list only includes 301 games as ‘playable.’ That is not enough to cushion this loss, and sends this library into a nebulous state of uncertainty.

Fortunately, Xbox 360 hacking is pretty sophisticated at this point— it’s been ‘found out’ for over a decade if memory serves. Xbox game collecting and console buying has always been peanuts compared to any Nintendo system. And while a LOT of Xbox 360 systems are suffering from a late red ring of death or general hardware problems (mine needs a disc reader adjustment), the system is reasonably available.

Now, I am still pissed about this. But nowhere near as pissed I was about the Wii U and 3DS eShop closure. Because an effort was made, and they waited a good decade before pulling the plug. Could Microsoft afford to keep this storefront up for several decades? Without question. But saying they should goes against the coda of capitalism.

Also, I would like to highlight how most of the games ‘lost’ here are also available on the PS3 storefront… Which is a whole other mess! Sony planned on closing it back in 2021, but stopped due to a viciously negative outcry from the community. Including me, because I was spitting venom at them for that. In the past two years though, things have changed slightly.

The leading PS3 emulator, RPCS3 went from bringing about 1,900 titles to a playable state to about 2,600. That’s WICKED! Sure, they added 398 games to the list, but still, progress is progress, and 68.05% is a passing grade. It’s still two percent from a C and one percent from being nice, but hey, they’re making waves. Tidal waves!

However, Sony also expanded their PS3 offerings since then by revamping PlayStation Now into PlayStation Plus. I checked a list that said the service was home to 380 PS3 games. …A number that’s inflated by alternate versions of the same game, episodic games, and a lot of titles that are readily available on PC or other platforms. So let’s just say maybe 350 games. …Only available via streaming, meaning they are one minute away from being purged from the storefront.

Is that enough? NOPE! Not even close. And there are a lot of PS3 exclusives that have never been brought over to another platform. That can never be brought over without skilled technical labor.

…Also, the PS3 and Vita storefronts are sort of linked, even though they were released 5.5 years apart, so let’s look at the Vita.

People have figured out how to make Vita hacking nice and easy, but hardware will die, and I view hardware preservation as an intermediary step. Kind of like how film preservation… means transferring things from film and into digital files. Because lossless digital files are not crash. They be forever, yo. Which is why I am such a fan of emulation. And on that note, the leading Vita emulator, Vita3k, was looking like an offshoot experiment 2 years ago, with a compatibility rating of less than 3%. But now, it is boasting a compatibility rating of 55%! WOW!!! Now that’s what I call sexy!

…Okay, but the bottom line is still that this— the Xbox 360 storefront closure— SUCKS. Sadly, storefront closures are an inevitability. Hardware dependence means games will inevitably become harder to play and less accessible. Emulation continues to be the best bet and greatest asset for game preservationists, and it should be encouraged on all fronts. And I think that console manufacturers should have a responsibility to preserve the works of others on their platforms.

This is where I propose solutions, and there are three. One, just don’t do anything, and maintain a culture of legal defiance, because the law is the tool of the ruling class. Two, bring back the ways our great grandpappies and grandmommies got shit done. Hold protests outside of their offices for months, throw rotten fruit and produce at executives, get absolutely toxic toward even the mention of the companies. Look at the first half of the 20th century and later 19th century, and remember the socialist roots that made America sorta good for a little while, and crank that shit from 10 to 37. Don’t do it softer, ‘cos we be a softer species now, do it harder. Do it so hard that the planet busts!

…Three, try to facilitate change in the inefficient way that liberals and neoliberals like to triumph as the right and civil way to do things. By creating laws meant to punish companies for practices that make people’s lives worse. But… that would only have a chance of working in the European Union.

Also, the destruction and commodification of art is a feature of capitalism, and that’s one of 483 reasons why it’s a shit system. Yes, I know it ‘works’ and ‘can be modified’ but I have a big, fat, wet, and positively juicy imagination, and I’m not gonna accept ‘good enough’ when it could improve the lives of billions.

…Anyway, back to doing taxes to fund the American Empire War Machine.

Games Do Not Take Too Long To Make; Production Values Are Just Too High
(Another Natalie Neumann Mnemonic Nitpick)

This is the best you’ll get from me at 1:30 AM on a Wednesday…

Another mnemonic that has been really grinding my gears puckering my butthole as of late is the idea that ‘games take so long to make nowadays.’ A term that I know means ‘because of the immense scope, complexity, and graphical fidelity of modern games, it takes longer to make a game now than it has at any point in history.’ But the wording always strikes me as… referential of a decline and the loss of a golden age.

This sentiment can easily be mutated into ‘games used to be quicker to make, but developers have gotten slower, lazier, and tainted by modernity.’ And if someone is strictly viewing things by release year, not considering other factors, I can see how they would come to this WRONG conclusion.

Looking strictly at ‘AAA’ games, a 5 year development cycle is currently considered the norm in 2023. In 2010, it was common to see dramatically different or improved sequels come out roughly two years after the original. From the mid-90s to the early 2000s, annualized titles in established series were pretty common— look at Crash, Spyro, Sly Cooper, Jak and Daxter, Ratchet & Clank, or Tomb Raider to name a few. In the early 90s, it often seemed like a 1 year development cycle was considered normal for games, unless significant time was devoted to them. In the mid to late 1980s, games took a matter of months to develop, unless the dev team was extremely small. And before then… games were typically made by one person over a few months.

Why does it take so long to make a game in these modern times compared to the historic and hazily remembered halcyon years? Well… Use your eyes and compare how complex a game from 2003 is relative to a game from 2023. More intensive visuals, more intensive systems for just about everything, and generally more content and stuff to do. Games are set in bigger worlds, give players more actions to perform, and are filled with so many (primarily visual) systems that comparing them is difficult. Compare the sheer quantity of stuff going on in the environment of Resident Evil 4 (2005) versus Resident Evil 4 (2023). Both great games, both similar systems, both very similar goals, but there are so many extra details and bits of flair in the 2023 version that it’s staggering.

Am I saying the reason why games take so long is because of their presentation, graphics, and attempts at building a realized and detailed world? …Pretty much, yeah. Environments, set pieces, character models, animations, and the myriad systems that go into making a 3D world interactable have gotten more complex. If developers wanted to or were allowed to do what are functionally PS2 games running in HD or Xbox 360 games, but running on modern hardware, then I’m certain they could develop games in one or two years. …Assuming they have a comparable team size.

In the world of indie game development, it is also common for titles to take years to develop, rather than just a 6 months to 2 years, as was the case throughout the 90s. Why is that, if a lot of indie games are maintaining a scope similar to that of a game of that era, and lack modern levels of detail? Well, the answer is simple. You could fit the entire dev team of most indie games into a van. Also, a lot of indie games devs are only working on the project part-time, because they have other jobs.

This is the core reason why a title like Final Fantasy VI was developed in a year, while comparable independent sprite-based RPGs take several years to develop. Because FFVI had a dev team of 48 people. Which was pretty huge for the time.

…Also, the developers were intimately familiar with the hardware, familiar with each other, and could iterate on what they did previously, rather than scrapping things for next gen tools every dev cycle.

Nowadays, I would say that a game with the scope and detail of Final Fantasy VI could be made within a year if you had a team of less than 48 people. …And the only reason why it couldn’t would be because of the conditions that most games were made under. Which is to say, game devs in that era did a LOT of crunching. That was just the rule.

There are a lot of factors that affect a game’s development time, but I think I identified the key ones. Staff, scope, detail, experience, and crunch. By balancing these factors, you can affect how long a game takes to develop, but that also affects the game itself in dramatic ways. There is clearly an imbalance due to the rising scope and level of detail in a lot of main games, which begs the question of how to fix this issue.

…Um, have you seen the meme?

Shorter games, that look worse, by smaller teams, so they are paid more when the game sells, because if they made the game, they should get a share of the profits. Bam! That ought to ‘fix gaming’ right there!

…Now, there is one teensy problem with that solution. A significant population, if not the majority, of people invested in non-mobile gaming DON’T actually want shorter games with worse graphics. They want the opposite… Or they think they do. For nearly 40 years— Nintendo hasn’t done SHIT for the Famicom’s 40th anniversary! I forgot it even happened! DAMN IT!

…For nearly 40 years, the games industry has trained people to expect games to get bigger and more visually intensive. As such, there are a LOT of people who only give a crap about realistic AAA games set in big open worlds. People who view those as the ‘real’ video games, and view games with non-realistic graphics or smaller scopes as being lesser. They are a similar genre of people to those who view ‘real movies’ as synonymous with a Hollywood blockbuster, and consider everything else to be lesser.

If you cast these people aside, you will give rise to a group who feel as if something has been stolen from them. People who will search for an ‘other,’ an enemy, that must be eliminated to usher in the palingenesis of the golden age. Also, they lowkey made up the majority of the sales of a lot of the biggest games of any given year.

So, what do you do to do the do? Uh… Ceiling! Just… stop making things bigger. Stop making them prettier. Make things peak, make them plateau, and just get better at using what is currently available. Perpetual growth of anything cannot be sustained, and unless things stop, they will collapse one way or another. I look at titles like Forspoken, Redfall, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, and the dismal performance of Star Wars Jedi Survivor as a sign that this cannot continue.

However… This year has also been home to a number of widely acclaimed titles that seemingly go against that narrative. Games like Baldur’s Gate III, Dead Space (2023), The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Resident Evil 4 (2023), Street Fighter 6, Final Fantasy XVI, and Pikmin 4. All are graphical/technical showpieces that received widespread critical, commercial, and communal acclaim. And while most of them took a long-ass time to make, they wound up being better for it, and did more than they would have been able to do with a smaller scope.

Would these games be the same without their respective level of detail? Would they have the same factors that made them so beloved if they took a more conservative approach to their scale? Well… no. Just… no.

So, does that mean I’m wrong to be worried about the ballooning costs and development times of games? Nope! Just because a system is broken and unsustainable does not mean it cannot produce something quality. I think that a collapse of some manner will happen, and more companies will suffer from public failures of big budget projects. …But there is too much appeal, acclaim, and profit to be had from producing titles like the ones I just listed. Sure, making a game for a million that makes ten million is what business folk refer to as a “ten bagger.” But if you make a Tears of the Kingdom, you are making mainstream history and shaping both a medium and the biggest entertainment industry in the world.

Now, I personally do not really care too much for the continued advancement. Because if gaming were to ‘die,’ I would still have the LIBRARY.

Look closely and you can find custom box art for TSF visual novels. Also, I still have loads of games on my wishlist.

Screw Region Locked Purchases! I Just Want Some City Pop!
(Natalie’s Been Jiving to Some Anri While Writing Stuff!)


It’s summer, I wanted some fresh music to write to, so I decided I would grab a few albums with a summery theme that I could listen to. The logical answer was to grab some citypop, and after looking up some good summer city pop albums, I was directed to the work of Anri. Like a responsible adult with disposable income, I checked out her work on a major music platform, meaning iTunes, and quickly found much of her original catalog from the 1980s.

…But when I went to purchase some albums, namely Timely!! and Summer Farewells, both of which have banger cover art and banger-er music, I was told no. No, I cannot buy these albums because I am not a resident of the promised land of Nihon. I can listen to them via Apple Music, but I view music streaming as an utter waste of money and resources. So I did some sleuthing, found it on a site called funky town, and downloaded the album while enjoying their online radio station.

Somehow, YouTube is the go-to platform for music preservation…

However, as I got to the end of Summer Farewells, I realized that the final three tracks all had some extreme corruption on them. So I tried looking for alternatives, came up with nothing else because the search function is dying, and then tried looking up Anri discography. First link sent me to some paid premium user only download site. Second link was an page that contained all… 49 of her releases, dating back from 1978 to 2015, which include over 450 unique songs. …Damn. Japanese musicians are just built differently (and better).

So I downloaded all of that— because fuck you for not letting me buy her older work. And then I bought one of the few albums that I could. Smooth & Groove. Because she was wearing a cool jacket and a dorky hat, and for a woman who was in her 50s when that cover photo was taken, she sure looked 32. …But she sounds 42. Which is cool. Moms are cool. And moms have the best voices. According to math, science, and based god Erinlingo Hucklebee.

I snag unauthorized copies of loads of things, but I ain’t no dollarless schmoe!

So, what’s the lesson here? Well, region locking SUCKS, and continues to be the best website on the internet. It’s a vital research tool, one of the greatest culminations of human history and art, and a way for people to practice the proliferation of digital goods, because official distributors can’t be trusted to SELL THEIR GOODS.

I swear, I keep thinking that I should set up monthly donations to, because they are just the best place. Even when they are jank and require a utility to manage downloads, I still love them.

Also, the dude who uploaded this discography has an upload history that I could spend hours getting lost in. It’s a mixture of dope shit like the Spanish Windows port of Virtua Fighter, and also a bunch of images that were just stolen from 4chan.

How The Frick Should I Represent Body Swaps Via Text?
(Mind(Body) or Body(Mind)?)

The ongoing canon is that Natalie has been replaced by Akumako. #LearnTheLore

Throughout my life, I have never been fond of the way written works are formatted.

I find it easy to get lost or skip lines when reading something with justified margins. I think that the fonts used for physical books are both aesthetically dull and almost jarring next to the fonts used for just about everything on modern computers. I think the lack of spaces between paragraphs is aesthetically disgusting, even if it does save on paper. I think that the way dialogue is written makes it alarmingly easy to lose track of who is saying what due to the lack of speaker tags or clear denotations of who is saying what. And the fact that, when writing a multi-paragraph piece of dialogue, you are supposed to end the paragraph without a quotation mark is… utterly maddening to me.

The first three things are issues that only come into play when I am creating ePubs. Where I deliberately code things to be displayed left-aligned, add spaces after paragraphs, and use Arial as the default font— because it is a helluva lot easier to read than Times New Roman. But I find the formatting of dialogue to be so distracting and attention intensive that I am strongly considering switching everything over to my own bootleg format. Which is a mixture of the way a screenplay, playscript, or visual novel is written:

Natalie: “Where the speaker name comes before every line, is bold, followed by a bold colon, an unbold space, and then the character’s dialogue, in quotation marks. Any related actions can be described before or after. Or if you write dialogue well enough, the actions are implied.”

Every device capable of displaying an ePub or website nowadays can display bold text, and while capitalized speaker names are seen as more traditional, that’s a remnant of typewriters. Plus, bold text tends to draw the eye better than ALL CAPS.

Psycho Bullet Festival 222 was a DOPE time!

However— and this is the part where I explain what this segment is actually about— lately I have been running into a particular issue regarding body swap writing. Which is… how do you refer to characters? In most body swap stories, they are just referred to by their mind/soul, and their body is referenced by other text. However… I think that can be very confusing in a body swap story with a large cast or a large number of different body swaps.

As a fan of body swaps, one of the most frustrating things is needing to write out who is who while a story plays out, and that becomes damn near necessary when a cast exceeds… eight people?

So in 2015, with Verde’s Doohickey, I ‘invented’ (I probably borrowed from something else) a way to refer to characters based on which body they are in. The character’s name, followed by the first letter of their first name. So Akumako in Natalie’s body would be referred to as Akumako(N), while Natalie in Akumako’s body would be referred to as Natalie(A).

This worked in Verde’s Doohickey, as the central body swapped characters were Jad, Maxxie, Zoe, Shiaka, and Terra. But for the upcoming Verde’s Doohickey 2.0, I have decided to expand this format to refer to characters by their mind, and then their body. Meaning Akumako in Natalie’s body would be referred to as Akumako(Natalie), while Natalie in Akumako’s body would be referred to as Natalie(Akumako).

To me, this is the most efficient way to refer to a character and their body, and I have not seen an example of a better format. In fact, I had not really seen another format to even build upon, largely because I so rarely read body swap writings nowadays. I’m too busy writing my own body swap stuff!

However, I noticed that the folks in the Press-Switch discord have been using a similar format to the one I proposed… but backwards. Where they refer to the body first, and then put the mind in parentheses.

First example I found. They do it with images, but still…

To me, this is wrong. A character should be viewed as their mind before their body. If a man swaps bodies with a woman, you would/should refer to them as a man’s mind inside a woman’s body, and a woman’s mind inside a man’s body respectively. Referring to the MtF character as ‘a woman’s body with a man’s mind inside it’ is not incorrect… but that’s not how things are typically worded in English. I could try to go into detail, but I’m still a remedial student of the English language… even though I haven’t been in a remedial class in half my bloody life. I might be one of the smartest kids in remedial class, but I think that still makes me dumber than the dumbest kid in gifted class.

In other words, I strongly dislike the Body(Mind) format, and infinitely prefer that it be Mind(Body).

…But then Trigger posted WIP screenshots for Press-Switch that use the same naming convention to refer to characters as Body(Mind) or rather Body (Mind). And if there is one person on this Earth who I trust to know what’s up with body swapping, it’s the dude who made Press-Switch. The OG, the originator who all other contenders are derived from.

No P-S means no Student Transfer, no re:Dreamer, no Mice Tea. And if you don’t respect history, Imma make you history. And I’ll do it for $350. …Plus travel reimbursements.

That’s hot.

So, does that mean I will accept my mistake, eat crow, suck out that turkey spunk through a straw, and reformat how I refer to body swapped characters in my stories? …Oh, fuck no. I would rather be objectively wrong than conform with something I think is bullshit. And if I was met with sufficient backlash for doing things in the ‘wrong way’ then I’d just take my ball, go home, and archive this site. Still making posts every week… but making them private until I die. Why? Because that would be such a fuck you. To act like I give up, die, and realize that I never gave up! I only denied you my wisdom.

…I swear, my brain is just on a full on amusement mode right now

Progress Report 2023-08-20
(Also, WordPress is Getting Worse!)

It still hitches a bunch… But it looks way cleaner.

Work has continued to be busy, so I haven’t been able to make much progress on things. Reading Remix Heart took my entire Tuesday evening, because I had to do a lot of little things. Read 650 pages of manga, take screencaps of panels, take notes and begin tangents, do basic fan wiki research, and then write a 1,200 word write-up.

Because of diversions like this, and the time it takes me to conceptualize, write, fact check, rewrite, and edit, these Rundowns have been regularly taking me about 10 hours to produce per week. Even beyond the writing, they have been taking even longer as of late, due to technical factors, as the compatibility between Google Docs and WordPress broke within the past two months.

Previously, I could just copy and paste a Google Doc, and everything would carry over. Headings would remain headings, horizontal lines would remain lines, videos and 𝕏 posts would automatically embed, and so forth. I would need to do some repetitive crap, like center all headings, center all images, change all horizontal lines to ‘wide lines.’ But it typically only took 5 to 10 minutes to convert things for WordPress, add tags, and skim through the article to make sure everything looks good..

Now, that time has been doubled, and I need to use two tools to achieve a fraction of what used to be automatic. I need to use a Google Doc extension to convert things to a WordPress draft. And then I need to take the code from the WordPress post and systematically remove the empty line after every item. I’ve been using Visual Code Basic for that, which is overkill, but NotePad++ does not support multi-line find and replace.

On top of this, the performance of WordPress’s modern Gutenburg editor has gotten super shitty over the past few months. It’s slow, laggy, and if making an image intensive post, like the Pokémon movie ramble, then I need to reload several times when editing a post. Oh, and getting that ramble ready took me, no joke, six hours. Because I had to grab the screenshots, embed them, and make sure they functioned as links.

The UX experience of posting something to WordPress is so bad that what was once the easiest part of the whole process, is now the most annoying. This is why software updates are not always a good thing. Because developers are not divine, and they are as prone to error as any other schmoe or schmuck.

Verde’s Doohickey 2.0: Sensational Summer Romp Progress Report:

Current Word Count: 107,231
Estimated Word Count: ~600,000
Total Chapters: 75
Chapters Outlined: 41
Chapters Drafted: 14
Chapters Edited: 0
Header Images Made: 0
Days Until Deadline: 283

Progress was paused on Monday after the completion of chapter 6-11. Work will not be resumed until I’m done with ELPS. Once that task is complete, I’ll start with a review of the remainder of Act I: Switch & Swap, before drafting and writing the 6-10 chapter. This is necessary, as that chapter was intentionally left open to fill in gaps for characters or story types. And with 100,000 words written, I know what kind of body swap bullshit I want to put in this chapter.

Eman Looc’s Possession Scroll Review Progress Report:

I got side-tracked with stuff related to this Rundown on Tuesday and Wednesday. (Which included setting up Ryujinx) So I didn’t pick this up until Thursday 8/17/23, where I polished off two endings and wrote 2,000 words of the review. It’s gonna be about 10,000 words by the end of things. I’m getting this post ready on Friday, but I’m dedicating this weekend to ELPS.

Mega Man X Dive Offline Review

I previously said I would take a look at Mega Man X Dive sometime this year. I was waiting on a release date before I planned anything, and this past week Capcom revealed the game is coming out on September 1st. With this information, when will I look at it? I have no freaking clue.

Things are currently swamped at work because an IRS agent was being a bad faith shithead, and my boss is a serial procrastinator. Also, I’m probably going to move before the end of the year after my mother and I buy a condo. So my schedule is all sorts of borked.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Cassandra Wright

    Hii~ Cassie Here

    Regarding Remix Heart, Me and Natalie have substantially different viewpoints on Mai as a character it seems.
    I personally feel like Mai has a character arc starting with them clearly being a male in a female body and ending with their acceptance as a trans woman. I do think that Mai adjusts quite well to the situation but I also believe that they are an extremely adaptable person, you could probably TG them back into a guy and see the same thing at the start of the manga.

    The main thing I used to read TG/TSF Manga for was to see a character deal with the consequences/ramifications of the transformation in question. The best example being Idol Pretender, which is a glorious WARZONE of Chinami Eita’s struggling with all the fun gooey TG syrup goings on and is very unsubtle in it’s going about them. Either I remember Mai being much more showing of her guyness or Natalie didn’t see those parts in the same light I did.

    In that regard, it’s a bit of a shame that Natalie didn’t vibe with one of my ‘favourite mangas of all time’ (aha) like I did but I guess I should consider this as an example that not all Trans or TSF folk share the same tastes. I definitely think we have different desires when it comes to what content we like to consume. Mai is like one of the three fictional guys I have crushed on in my life. Even weirder when you want to be their female self at the same time..

  2. skillet

    Not trying to seriously start anything here, but I had to laugh at the body swap naming scheme segment. Your logic is sound, and your frustration’s understandable, but as a user of the opposing format, my defense is that I’ve simply… never really thought about it in a grammatical sense; it’s just a visual thing.

    If you see a body-swapped person, whether you know they’ve been swapped or not, your eyes will still see the body they inhabit first, not the person inside of it. Hence, the visible body is listed first, and the soul on the inside (of the parentheses) comes after… though I guess that probably does make more sense when you’re using pictures, rather than just words.

    1. Natalie Neumann

      Heh. My buddy Cassie said pretty much the same thing. ^^
      There is definitely a logic to the more visual oriented approach, but in a work of writing, I feel that it makes more sense to place the mind before the body, and add the body as a supplemental visual detail.
      Also, in the massive story I’m currently writing, pretty much everybody knows who is who at all times, and things are mostly told from a third person perspective. So, to me, the Mind(Body) format is the one that makes the most sense.

      If it’s not clear by now, I’m kind of a stickler for formatting, and like things to follow a single standard so it is easier for people to immediately understand something. However, different standards just keep popping up, and it can be hard to determine if one is better, especially if you keep seeing people use a different standard. With writing, this is especially frustrating, as I was not taught to view writing as the most standardized and regimented thing, and have had to go on several purges of my work to try and unify a style. From things like making sure spelling is consistent, using written numbers and numerals for the right things, or content warning language. Though, I mostly care about that for more evergreen content, while a lot of older reviews and Rundowns are just left as is, because there’s simply too much old content (1,400+ posts) to manage. Formatting is important, but also a massive pain in the butt.