Rundown (9/17/2023) Natalie is a TOS Violation

  • Post category:Rundowns
  • Reading time:114 mins read
  • Post comments:7 Comments

This Week’s Topics:

  • Why Natalie cannot be trusted on any major platform
  • A wackadoo TSF manga from my magic bag
  • TF trials and tribulations
  • The inevitable death of Mario Kart 9 (or 13)
  • Embracer’s quest to liquidate
  • Unity’s endeavor to make things worse for everyone
  • A definitional diatribe only Natalie cares about
  • Another Nintendo Direct rundown
  • A half-assed State of Play rundown
  • Wizardry Re;Birth

Rundown Preamble Ramble:
Natalie is a TOS Violation

So, something my buddy Cassie said to me a while back, when I casually talked about possibly being on one of her Twitch streams, was that I am a “terms of service violation.” That I am such a loose cannon, such a wild card, that I am a liability, and cannot be a co-host for any form of live video. On one hand, that is a deeply insulting dig against me, showing a complete lack of faith in my ability to behave or conduct myself. In addition to an implication that myself is something that cannot be allowed to exist on a public corporate-owned ad-supported platform.

On the other hand… Cassie does have a point. I am a writer of some truly deranged and bizarre stuff. It’s kind of my brand and has been ever since I dropped Intertoids in 2012. Which, for those not in the know, was basically my attempt at creating the most grotesque, convoluted, and unsettling pseudo-fanfiction I could. It was so buck wild that I have forbidden myself from doing many of the things featured in that story. Mostly everything that involved minors.

I would like to say I’ve calmed down since then… but in 2022, I wrote a story entitled Weiss Vice: Glory Unto Genocide. Which, based on its title alone, I would fully understand if someone were to nope the hell out and never engage with anything I have to say or create. And the less said about what I have planned for Psycho Shatter 1988… the better!

Now, you might be asking why I do this, why I try to dabble in things that would not be okay on other platforms. And the answer is that… it’s just how my brain works. I don’t do weird stuff just for the sake of it. I do it because I have spent so much of my life entrenched in the bizarre bazaar and when I find something that makes me uncomfortable… I obsess over it until it becomes normalized.

To name an example, there was once a time where I was teaching someone how to masturbate and they decided to go to the top trending whatever of Hentai Haven. There, they found… something that was porn, but in a more technical sense. It was a series about a man who rescues a teenage girl from an abusive relationship by murdering her boyfriend… before abducting her for himself.

With this underaged girl in his possession, the man— who held a strong resemblance to Ash Ketchum, proceeded to sexually abuse her in many ways. But the most memorable of which involved shoving eggs up her anus. …A total of five, just plopping them inside there as she screamed and then, with her butthole chock full of eggs, the man sucker punched her. Just BAM right in her stomach like the dirtiest boxer. Immediately, the egg whites, yolks, shells, and pieces of feces all came flying out of her asshole, and the man caught it in a bowl. A bowl the man then proceeded to stick his dick inside of, where he used to egg poop goop to masturbate. That would be fucked up enough, but it went a step further, as the man forced this girl to make these feces-filled-butt-eggs into an omelet… and then watched her eat it.

This was in 2016, but I still remember this vividly, because I keep replaying this… half an episode of a hentai whose name I forgot, in my mind. Over, and over, and over again. To the point where there is an ironclad connection in my brain between eggs and buttholes.

Anybody who has stuff like that bookmarked in their mind, and can imagine it on the fly, might not be the best choice for live video content, because you don’t know what they will say!

…Or at least that would be a good takeaway if not for the fact that I am very good at behaving myself avoiding subjects when presented in a more professional context. Again, I’m a tax accountant, I talk to my boss and clients for a good chunk of most workdays (days where my boss has work for me). I fully and completely know how to behave myself in a professional context.

But when I am around my friends, or in a place like Natalie.TF, where I run the shots and do things primarily for my own amusement, then I will get silly, will lose my filter, and so forth. I can reapply my professional filter if need be or requested… but Cassie doesn’t do that, and she has accepted me for who I am. Like a good friend! :D

…Also, Cassie says hi!

Everybody, please leave a comment saying hi to Cassie!

TSF Showcase 2023-25
Kikaishikake no Eve [Clockwork Eve] – Haruno Suzune

Okay, I was going to keep things light this week, because I have a TF discussion next up, and I didn’t spy anything new that I wanted to talk about. So I dug into my collection of… maybe 400 TSF manga and pulled one random example. Hoping to just get 500 words out of it. …But then I realized its politics are really messed up, and has a lot of stuff going on.

Let’s start with an overview before getting deep into the roots, because otherwise I’d get too distracted. Clockwork Eve begins with an 18-year-old man, Gorou, breaking and entering into the home of an unnamed woman. After raping her, he is arrested and subjected to an experimental reform procedure, the Ludovico Technique, which involves “gender optimization” and “personality adjustment.” More directly, sci-fi drugs turn his body into that of a biological woman, and mind control makes him nauseous whenever he tries to behave ‘violently.’

Once the physical changes are complete, Gorou is given a part-time job, forced to present themself as a woman named Yui and, like a TSF hentai protagonist, winds up getting raped in a public bathroom by their aniki. This traumatizes the protagonist, who is found and counseled by a man named Kyouji. A psychiatrist who immediately breaks several conflict or interest and ethical rules by letting the protagonist live with him while administering robust treatments. During this arrangement, the protagonist, who is now fully presenting as female, begins developing signs of androphobia, which Kyouji treats via a drug that comes with a side effect of memory loss.

Cutting ahead to months later, Yui has fully acclimated to her role of a housewife who spends most of her days in her new home, and proceeds to ’embrace her role as a woman.’ Getting measured for a bra, going to a salon for a haircut and makeover, and rewarding her male partner with sex as the day comes to a close. During this sex scene, Yui struggles to recall ever having sex as a man, let alone being a man, before accepting her role as Kyouji’s partner. A role that, as conveyed via the prologue, she maintained for at least two years.

…Well, that’s pretty dense for a 45 page comic, so let’s go through four things I want to say about the story, starting with its depiction of justice and the law.

In the comic, Gorou is established as an orphan who did not receive a full education, struggled to find career opportunities, housing, or money, and resorted to a life of rape and robbery. Depending on where you are on the political spectrum, Gorou was either a rotten kid who needed his life to be taken away from him. Or a victim who society failed to support and nurture with education, stability, housing, or a reliable job he could perform. But regardless of what should happen to him, he is immediately arrested after the act, tried harshly, and enters a program to rehabilitate him, while sacrificing his autonomous rights.

Whether this is a good or bad thing is presented in varying lights throughout the story. With Kyouji explicitly decrying the program for being inhumane. Gorou being inhibited by it repeatedly, while rendering him unable to harm others, but also leaving him unable to defend himself. And the broader society being presented in a way that implicitly makes it seem like a just punishment, due to how the law is presented throughout the story. In the two instances they are depicted, the police are hyper-competent, punish rapists right after they commit their crimes, and based on what happened to Gorou, they are not dealt a light hand. (When they are in many societies around the world.)

I find this all interesting, as I cannot tell quite where the politics of the Haruno Suzune are. If they believe the mechanisms of the law (in Japan) are used to unjustly harm people. Or if they are used to bring order into the world, and correct the ills of society. Because I truly think you can read it both ways.

Secondly, this story features one of the worst examples of unethical behavior from a doctor that I have ever seen in a work of fiction. Kyouji is presented as an honest upstanding man who simply wishes to help a hurt young woman, and throughout the story, there is never a hint that he acknowledges what he is doing is… wrong. He uses his credentials to grow closer to someone who just underwent a traumatic event, inviting them into his home, and insisting that it is not safe for them to leave. He distances Gorou from his facility— which should be against his parole— and becomes the center of Gorou’s world.

Kyouji is presented as altruistic, and Gorou/Yui, traumatized uneducated child that they are, never questions whether Kyouji is a good person. But just typing out what they do, and remembering they are a doctor who needs to adhere to the Japan Medical Association, makes them seem like a manipulative bastard who preyed upon a vulnerable person. Why would he do that? …Because he wanted a younger, hotter wife after his last one “passed away in an unfortunate accident.” Uh-huh. A likely story. And boy, it sure is convenient he kept all her stuff around and she had her own bedroom. You know, like most married couples.

It is sinister enough to keep the reader in suspense for the villainous pop off… But I actually like how it never confirms this incredibly reasonable suspicion. Sometimes, denying the truth is the sweetest truth of them all!

Thirdly, this story is an example of a ‘punished to become a woman for the good of society’ story. This is a complex subject that could warrant its own essay, going into long-standing ideas of sexism, gender roles, and the fertility and birth rates in Asian countries with declining populations. And as a TSF concept, people have been thinking of it ever since at least the 1960s (see Sex Change Diary by Tsukiyomin and Tsukiyono Marron).

It is an idea that openly disregards the gender identity of another in favor of authoritarian control, viewing people as mechanisms to fuel a society and government. It presents becoming a woman as becoming an inherent lesser, of being robbed of a natural privilege and power entitled to men. And is a punishment that utterly fails to address the myriad issues that can lead someone to do bad things.

However… it is also presents a world where if someone is so bad at being a man, then the government will make them transition. It is a form of state-sponsored transition, and that’s something basically every trans person wants. Because not only does it mean they don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on getting surgeries, but it can be seen as a more thorough, socially accepted means of transitioning. So yes, this is an authoritarian nightmare… But ‘do crimes and get a full ticket to transition,’ is a pretty damn appealing idea to trans folks.

While the final element that stuck with me while reading this story is how it… both is and is not presented as a tragedy. This story can be read about a man who was robbed of his body, his autonomy, his memories, and his identity. By the end of the story, Gorou is fucking dead. Yui does not look like, act like, or remember being Gorou, and has more in common with the woman Gorou raped at the start of this story. Meaning they look almost exactly alike. Huh. Almost like that was intentional or something.

None of this was consensual. The entire serial rapist to loving housewife pipeline is screwed up. And the more I think about this comic, the more I flip through it, the more wrong this entire concept seems.

…However, it can also be seen as a story of rebirth, of blossoming into a new person, of being freed of one’s ills and being transformed into someone who fits into society, rather than harming it. Yui is a happier, more fulfilled person than Gorou ever was, and leads a life where she has a deep connection with another person, food, and shelter. Sure, she might not be educated, but who needs smarts when you’ve got happiness? Socialists, that’s who!

While reading, I also couldn’t help but be reminded of a certain fantasy I’ve been seeing crop up in the limited TSF flavored circles I check. There is a group of young trans women whose ideal fantasy is to forget their male lives and identities, and become a loving housewife. They just want to stay home, cook, clean, and spend time with their partner at the end of the day, possibly ending it with some lovemaking.

It is a lifestyle that, inarguably, has its appeal. It is low stakes, comfortable, and is punctuated with a deep connection with another person. …But is also surrounded by literally 70 years of just the worst discourse that I’m going to just end here. Because I don’t want to shit talk über radical feminists from the 70s, and left-leaning folks waste too much brain power on capital-C Conservatives.

In conclusion… I think Clockwork Eve is dope, actually. It’s a story with a messy underbelly that you could easily miss if you are reading through it quickly enough, or just looking at the raws. But the more I thought about it, the more meaning I saw in it. It is simultaneously a wicked story about the evils of humans and the systems they create. And a story about how a misguided youth found her true calling in life all thanks to an efficient government and a kind man who gave her a life with everything she lacked.

…And this is just something I pulled out semi-randomly, having just thought it was alright when I first checked it out. Huh. Either I’m getting too lenient with what I expect from a TSF comic and pulling blood out of a stone, or I’m getting better at this analysis game.

TF Discussions and Drama
(Natalie Rambles About a TF)

This past week Natalie.TF regular Chari Shal sent me a pair of videos that were, in varying ways, about explaining the world of transformation, of TF.

The way people are introduced to TF and get into it, or any of its subsets, is deeply fascinating to me. Precisely because there isn’t a widely available public resource that explains or breaks down the appeal of this genre. This forces people to enter into a community in order to understand the minutiae of the genre, learn the lingo, and garner a better understanding of it and what it can do. I sort of tried to create a resource like this for TSF with Natalie Rambles About TSF, but that was ultimately more of a scattershot personal essay.

As such, I have a natural interest in any attempt to explain or compartmentalize something that is not widely known. So let’s get started!

The first is A Deep Dive into the Transformation Trope. A broad overview of the topic of transformation, particularly as it relates to animation, presented by ToonTuber (cartoon YouTuber) Saberspark. A creator I’m only familiar with through their 2020 video What the HELL are GENDERSWAP Episodes? A very mainstream focused and not great exploration of gender bending slash gender swapping slash Trans-Sexual Fantasy. I briefly talked about it earlier this year, and was not impressed, but I also would not expect them to really ‘get’ it. It was clearly a video by someone who just saw a bunch of things, tried to spin it into a broader topic, and made up their own rules without consulting or digging into the enthusiast community around that.

As such, when I happened upon the fact that they worked on a video more focused on transformation, I didn’t pay it any mind, as I expected it to be more of the same. And what I got… honestly reads like an English 102 essay on the topic. Something by a person who clearly did some research, broke down their findings, centered it around a few major points with cited examples, and positioned its findings with confidence. It still reads like something written by a community college student, rather than… something published in a journal. It’s not peer viewed, it has plenty of tiny problems, but inarguably contains an effort to understand and explain.

However, this video is also clearly an outside piece, from someone not intimately familiar with transformation, and one that mostly limits its scope to… cartoons. Because while Saberspark is a pretty big channel, with nearly 2 million subscribers, their schtick is talking about the minutiae of cartoons, while putting out one video a week. With this context in mind, and viewing this video as a product of its environment… I actually think it’s pretty good. As I said, it has many mistakes, and it has one glaring error with how it defines mental changes. It uses an example that’s clearly possession, before listing possession as a different category.

It needs a visit to the center for academic writing at their local college campus, but for a video made to appeal to teens and tweens, I think it is a decent enough introduction to the topic. It is not a ‘deep dive’ as the title explains, but the term ‘deep dive’ is one being used for SEO, draw in viewers, and justify its twice-as-long-as-average length. Even as someone knee-deep in TF, it introduces some examples I have never heard of before, and provides a structure to categorize and understand the numerous ways a story can use and incorporate a transformation.

…But the way I learned about this video was through a thumbnail for the TF focused podcast, TFTuesdays, who did a breakdown/commentary on this video highlighting what it got wrong. I am decently familiar with this podcast, and have slowly been chipping away at it. Meaning I am still on episode 14. It is a casual and informal podcast where various creators in the TF community (specifically those who overlap with the furry community) discuss miscellaneous minutiae about the subject. There is not much structure or planning that goes into these things, but it is still a valuable resource. It captures discourse typically reserved for private or obscure forums and puts it on major podcast platforms.

However, because they are also so deeply invested into this, the current hosts, Zil and K-Libra, also have high standards for how TF is presented, explained, and organized. Standards that they don’t believe this video meets, and they are… rather harsh in their criticisms. Zil and K-Libra are not wrong as they criticize the structure of this video. The way it sorta throws around a bunch of historical examples. The fact that this is more akin to an introductory 5,000 word essay rather than a true ‘deep dive’. Which I guess would be the length of a textbook.

There is also a persistent lack of understanding, or perhaps acceptance, of what this video is, where it is coming from, and what it is trying to do. Highlighting how this is a video from a channel with almost 2 million subscribers and focuses on ‘animation’ are presented as digs against the level of research here. When, to me, those indicate the opposite, as this is a channel that puts out weekly videos, talks about cartoons, and I’m sure at least 30% of all viewers are under 18. Yes, it can be ‘misleading’ for this to be labeled as a ‘deep dive’ but YouTube titles are so notorious for their exaggerated language that I think anybody who does not get that is… out of touch.

Why does the video feature a catgirl doing a sad dance and feature rule 63 content while ignoring the NSFW community and rule 34 content? Because this video is trying to be advertiser friendly and avoid being flagged by YouTube as adult content. If you have a problem with what is and is not permissible according to corporate morals, hit up your local society and file a complaint! Does the lack of discussion of porn fail to touch upon an incredibly important aspect of TF? Yes. But this video is also made to be palatable to 12-year-olds. It’s… obvious.

The general tone of this episode also just bugs me, and it often feels as if the hosts are deliberately trying to find problems with Saberspark’s video. Such as when they go off on how Saberspark says the transformation in Transformers was not considered a significant use of transformation. Despite being in the title, and being the hook of the series.

On its face, this is a kind of stupid statement, but when Saberspark brought it up, I immediately got what they were trying to say, while Zil and K-Libra… seemingly didn’t?

Transformers varies a lot from series to series, so there are many different ways one can look at it. If one is looking at it from the perspective of a human, it is a series about vehicles becoming giant fighting robots. It is about the transformation of something mundane and insentient into something extraordinary and sentient, and how it affects the protagonist(s). Making it… a transformation story. Just as worthy of the title as any transforming girlfriend story!

But if the story is framed about the ongoing battles between the Autobots and Decepticons, then the transformation elements are sometimes… supplemental. Look at Transformers The Movie (1986) or the video games War for Cybertron (2010) and Fall of Cybertron (2012). The fact that they can transform between robot form and vehicle form is about as important as the fact that they have guns and spaceships. It is just a thing the characters can do, an ability they have, and not what the story is about.

Zil and K-Libra clearly want something like what Saberspark created, but better… and I want exactly the same thing. I want an actual deep dive into the world of TF by people who know what’s up. By people who love this shit, live this shit, and bump this shit 24/7. And what Saberspark attempted here… is not that hard to do ‘properly.’ If someone knows the world of TF, if they have TF loving buddies who can consult, then making something like this video just requires a basic editing program, relevant B-roll, a good mic, and writing skills. And if you are really lazy, like me, you can just write an essay that discusses these concepts, and get things done 7 times faster.

I know this is doable… so I need to ask why don’t Zil, K-Libra, and their buddies try to do what Saberspark did, but better. Why don’t they just make the 150 minute documentary A Deep Dive into the World of TF? Because what they are doing here is part dunking on a normie who doesn’t get a subculture they stumbled into, and part laying out how to make a better video on the same topic. I mean, they are smart enough, connected enough, and resourceful enough to make a video like that.

Also to just shove a vital note into the first place that sorta fits, this podcast highlights the issue of determining what is a genre, what is a trope. Which is part of a greater issue of determining the language and categorical systems one should be used to analyze art and storytelling. A genre is “a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.” A trope is “a common or overused theme or device.”

Zil claims that TF is neither of these, that it is something greater, but does not recall the exact term. As such, I cannot really disagree with them, as I do not fully grasp their argument, but I will say that I still consider TF, TSF, and all that stuff to be sacks within sacks of genres. Transformation though? As in the broadest idea of any form of change? That’s a concept so nebulous that it is effectively meaningless.

Also, TF should stand for Transformation Fantasy in my book, not TransFormation. The other version… is too broad to actually mean anything. Hit me up in the comments or invite me onto your podcast and we can hash this ish out.

The Tour is Over!
(Nintendo Will Stop Producing Mario Kart Tour Content)

Nintendo’s attempt to get into mobile gaming was… truly mixed. Between Miitomo, Super Mario Run, Fire Emblem Heroes, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, Dragalia Lost, Dr. Mario World, Mario Kart Tour, and Pikmin Bloom, it… it lacks much theming, reason, or focus. Success has run the spectrum, but the simple version is that Fire Emblem Heroes, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, and Mario Kart Tour all did well. Everything else… not so much. As such, I was a bit confused when I read that Nintendo is ending the production of new content for Mario Kart Tour.

After the release of a final batch of new content (courses, drivers, karts, and gliders) on October 4, 2023, that’s it for Mario Kart Tour. The game will be put into ‘maintenance mode’ (a colloquial/industry term) for an indeterminate time. Then, whenever Nintendo thinks enough time has passed, an end of service date will be announced and the premium shop will close. They have done this before, it is the natural cycle of live services like this, and… it freaking sucks.

I never played Mario Kart Tour. I am not a big fan of Mario Kart in general. But this still represents a significant loss of gaming history, and is a damn shame. Now, some might highlight how the game is being preserved with DLC for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which brings original courses to Nintendo’s second best-selling game of all time. That is a type of preservation, porting content from one game to another, but they are not bringing over everything. The mechanics, the characters, the gliders, the karts themselves, and so forth. Say what you will about Mario Kart Tour as a game, but it was its own unique Mario Kart. It was a prominent title in a widely beloved series and… I really hope someone replicates the miracle that happened to Dragalia Lost. Because this game should have a private server so people can continue to play it.

…Now that I said that, let’s ask why this game is shutting down. Is the game just not making money? Well, no. Last month, published a breakdown of how much money FEH, ACPC, and MKT have been making, and they were respectable numbers for maturing titles. All their revenue has been going down, but that is because they are dormant titles in a market where players gradually drift to newer, more technically impressive, titles.

As such, Nintendo has two options. Ride out these mobile titles until they stop being worth maintaining. Or continue to invest into this highly competitive industry where they make less money on transactions (standard 30% fee), and need to produce content indefinitely to succeed. Also, DeNA is the co-developer of Mario Kart Tour, and Nintendo (presumably) needs to pay them to help maintain this game. …Ah. That’s probably why MKT is the first brick to fall.

Meanwhile, FEH is still making good money despite looking like a 2017 budget mobile game, and is being headed by Intelligent Systems. APCP is not making as much money as MKT, because it’s an older title, and is (presumably) being handled by NDcube, who just makes Mario Party and other party games. So they have nothing better to do.

Regardless, I can easily see a future where the only available Nintendo mobile games are Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes, and… I think that should be a damning reminder of why one should NEVER trust live services to survive. Because they are designed to die. It is not a failure of a system, it is a system working exactly as intended. Because if media has an expiration date, people are always going to crave more.

Gearbox (May) Escape the Controlling Embrace
(Embracer Group is Weighing Options to Sell Gearbox)

Embracer Group is currently in the midst of searching for ways to get out of their precarious financial position after the Saudis screwed them over. Two weeks ago, they shut down Volition, screwing over 200+ people in a city without many tech jobs to go around. And this week, they are looking to sell Gearbox, which… is a strange way to recuperate costs.

In February 2021, Embracer announced their acquisition of game developer Gearbox for a resounding $1.3 billion. This seemed like a high asking price, as Gearbox’s portfolio was not the most impressive. Sure, they shipped Borderlands 3 in 2019, which went on to sell 18 million units, and published Risk of Rain 2, a highly successful roguelike, in 2021. But what else did they have? Not much. I sort of shrugged it off initially, but… this was just a bad investment, and they overpaid significantly.

According to Reuters, Embracer is working with Goldman Sachs and Aream & Co on a potential sale of Gearbox, and materials have already been made available to potential buyers. Who include “international gaming groups.” Which makes me think of Tencent, NetEase, or Savvy Games Group. (I would laugh and cry if the Saudis bought assets from Embracer after screwing them over.) However, the article cautions that these are merely discussions, and nothing may ever come of this. A lot of weird discussions happen between businesses all the time, but most of it is kept confidential, and not that interesting. Such as choosing which company they want to partner with for venture X or event Y.

That being said, I had to ask if it would have been possible to sell Volition instead of shutting them down like that. And after thinking it over for a minute, I’m guessing not. Volition was an expensive company to run, and basically no publisher would be interested in buying them without the related IPs. You might think that a fully stocked studio of experienced developers would be valuable… but nobody wanted to buy Vigil Games, developers of Darksiders and Darksiders II when THQ fell apart.

At most, big publishers and groups want small teams who manage to be successful while operating on slim budgets. While both Vigil and Volition were AA developers who failed to meet their publisher’s sales expectations.

We Must Stand Unified Against Unity
(Unity Will Charge Royalties for Game Installations)

While it is great that game developers have such powerful and versatile engines available for licensing these days, it is concerning that only a few companies are responsible for them. While Unreal Engine 5 is a great tool from what I have heard, it is ultimately beholden to the whims of Tencent and Epic Games. They could remove features, impose harsher demands, and do just about anything… so long as they don’t lose a high-profile lawsuit.

Anyway, this topic is about how Unity is changing their monetization strategy. …But first, let’s go over how Unity originally worked!

Like many modern software tools, Unity is broken up into various tiers. Unity Personal is a free plan for more low scale developers who do make less than $100,000 in revenue (from Unity games, I think) over the past year. Unity Plus was a budget option that cost $400 a year per user, but Unity killed it, effective immediately. Unity Pro is $2,040 a year per user, which is so high that I wonder how many people actually use Unity under these conditions, because that makes Adobe’s pricing models seem lax. Unity Enterprise is a custom tier whose price is kept secret, which is normal for a lot of B2B packages. While Unity Industry costs $4,950 a year per user, which is… about what I pay for health insurance a year.

This is all vastly unlike Unreal Engine, which has the free 5% royalty license after the first million in revenue. A $1,500 a year royalty-free license per seat, mostly for non-game projects, like movies and such. And various custom licenses (which is probably what most big developers pay for).

Now, I am not a game developer, but just from a glance, I can tell this is a complex issue. There are times when other companies cover the fees, licenses are given away, and deals are always brokered between parties. However, I do not need to know how to play indoor baseball to know that you aren’t supposed to use a tennis racket to dribble a basketball.

…What the hell even is that analogy?

Point is, Unity’s pricing was already pretty damn steep, and they just raised it significantly last year. However, that was not enough, and now they are demanding more money on top of these fees. I would assume they would mimic Unreal and add a small fee to every transaction. Maybe 1% or 2% after reaching $1 million in revenue for the year. Instead… they decided to add a fee for every time a game is installed. …Which makes absolutely no sense, at all.

“Also we believe that an initial install-based fee allows creators to keep the ongoing financial gains from player engagement, unlike a revenue share.”

Unity Technologies

You know what it costs a company to have software installed? Nothing. When you download a free app on your phone, the app developer does not need to pay anything. When I install some obscure software used by maybe 5,000 people that I found on GitHub, there is no cost incurred by the developer. There is a cost incurred by the app store owner and Microsoft, because they own the servers I am downloading this file from, and downloading anything requires bandwidth and power.

However, Unity does not host games. They do not maintain a server of all Unity games, and when people install Unity games, they are not involved in the process. The games are distributed by platforms like Itch, Steam, and console storefronts. Unity recognizes zero costs in this transaction, and when something is downloaded and installed, no revenue is generated. …So why would Unity think it is a good idea to charge game developers up to $0.20 for every installation?

Okay, phrasing it like that is deceptive. Unity’s actual ‘runtime fee’ pricing model is pretty complicated, and it is very easy to misread or misconstrued. …Which is an indication that your pricing model is bad from the get-go. So let’s just walk through four scenarios instead.

For a small developer, relying on the free version of Unity, this new fee only comes into play when two criteria are met: The game has made over $200,000 in the past year, and the game has seen 200,000 installations. Afterwards, the developer needs to pay $0.20 per installation. So, if a developer is just selling a tiny game on Itch for $1, this probably won’t be an issue, as more obscure cheap games like that rarely see $200,000 in revenue. And if making a game that costs $20 and releases on Steam and Switch… then it would still be hard to see 200,000 installations, as a lot of games do not sell that many units.

On the other end of the spectrum, if a AAA multi-platform developer is using Unity, then they will almost certainly surpass the Unity Enterprise requirements within the first week. This means they will need to pay a diminishing fee largely spread out over installation number 1,000,001 to 2,000,000. A fee of $46,500, or just under 5% of $1,000,000. From install 2,000,001 and beyond, it is only a $0.01 fee per installation. Meaning that they would need to see 96.35 million installations before paying a total of $1 million in fees. That… is not a big fee, but the fact that it is based on installations, rather than revenue, just hurts my brain. Wouldn’t you want to put the larger fee on the bigger titles? Or at least charge them more than 1%? I mean, there’s a reason why tax brackets go up as income goes up.

But what about the developer user? Let’s aim for a more exotic, yet increasingly common, scenario. One with numbers that are not widely reported, yet look plausible enough to my simpleton eyes. A Unity Pro user snags a deal to distribute their game on Epic Games Store, PlayStation Plus, or Game Pass as a free title. They are paid $5 million for this deal, secure an extra $1.5 million in regular sales through the first 12 months of sale, and by the end of the year, they saw 10 million installations. How much would they owe Unity? Well, they would owe $60,000 in fees for the second million installs, and $160,000 for the next eight. Bringing their total fee to $220,000, which would be a 3.385% fee for a game that made $6,500,000. That might not seem like enough… but it would if you consider they had to pay $102,000 for ten seats over five years. (I do not know what the reasonable number of seats is, this is a guess.) Now the costs of Unity have tripled!

Oh, but that does not even get into the worst-case scenario, which is common enough to impact at least a few developers. Let’s say a game was developed using a Unity Personal license. Their game blows up, they make $10 million in sales, but also have their game downloaded 25 million times. Unlikely? Sure. Possible? Absolutely. And you know what the fee would be in that instance? $4,960,000. So… half of their revenue.

To me, that makes this a full on TERRIBLE system that only works in specific instances, and for developer who do not fit into clearly defined groups, then they are being just… ruthlessly fucked over. Especially because of how Unity defines an install as whenever a game is streamed or reinstalled. So if it is a browser-based Unity plug-in, every visit, every refresh, is an install. Meaning someone could rack up tens of thousands of ‘installs’ on a title if they dislike a developer and have enough knowhow to automate this.

Side note, but Unity has gone back and forth with this definition since I wrote this section. Which just makes this system seem all the stupider.

Also, it is not clear to me if you can just upgrade from a Unity Personal to a Unity Pro plan if it saves you money, or how that works. Or how it works if you work with someone using a Unity Personal license, but the game was ‘mastered’ using Unity Pro. In fact… would developers all need to have the same tier? Couldn’t they just have one guy with Unity Pro finalize things? Because I don’t think Unity could actually track that. Let alone how they can track installs, especially if (when) piracy is involved.

Regardless, my takeaway from this situation after crunching the numbers is… these rates are flagrantly hostile to the most vulnerable developers. Like… holy shit, if the Personal tier was subjected to the same fees as the Pro tier… that would still be fork-in-the-microwave levels of stupid. Because for a lot of game developers, $220,000 is a lot of money, even if they made $6,500,000 in a year. As in, that is enough money to keep some developers afloat for 6 months.

Hell, this is so hostile that this actively encourages developers to delist their games, making them unavailable to ever be downloaded again. In researching this, I found that the developers of Neonball, some techno marble game I never heard of, are delisting the game soon because of these policies. And I doubt they will be the only ones!

This is such a bad move, such a disastrous call, that I actually think it would honestly be better if Unity went bankrupt, and all support for their software ceased. This is viciously dangerous to all projects that are using Unity, as the costs of releasing a game could be seen as so severe that it is not worth publishing the game, or developing it. And because engine switches aren’t cheap, that could destroy dozens, if not hundreds, of games.

This should not be allowed, this should be illegal, and… how is this enforceable? Does Unity seriously think that they will be able to withstand the wrath of every game company who uses Unity? Because it’s not just independent developers. They will need to answer to a LOT of angry billion dollar corporations who are going to need to contend with these fees.

Unity clearly did not think about this decision. Independent game developers are livid about this change, and Unity had to spend days on full damage control, clarifying their terribly vague statement as the shitstorm brewed.

What Unity is doing here is, quite frankly, pathetic. Because they already lost. Unity does not get the chance to re-do their mistakes, they show their ass, farted their eggshell-filled feces over the people who rely on them, and do not get to say sorry. Fuck Unity, fuck the idea of paying for the installation of software, and I hope that the company goes bankrupt in five years.

…Or if that’s not immediate enough, it’s always an option to take a page out of the Oklahoma City Bomber’s playbook. Because here’s the dirty little truth about terrorism: it fucking works. Terrorism gets shit DONE! That ain’t my opinion, that’s a fact, yo!

(And this is why Natalie is a TOS violation.)

Also, while I was editing this post, I saw that someone actually issued a death threat that forced Unity to close two offices. That was not what I was talking about, as terrorism is an action, not a threat. Bomb threats are some twelve-year-old White boy shit. Actual bombs though? That’s some twenty-year-old White boy shit!

Franchise and Series – A Pet Peeve of Peeves!
(Natalie Defines a Franchise and a Series)

This is a petty little nothing that I’m just bolting onto this whale of a Rundown, but it has been bothering me for weeks, so… let’s get into it.

I often see a lot of games media writers and video creators use the terms series and franchise interchangeably, and I kind of understand why. A lot of common parlance discussing media has shifted from individual works and more toward corporate brands, intellectual properties, and large media empires. So people see all of these similar words thrown around, and try to infer their meaning from this context, because language is learned through usage.

Okay, let’s start with the definitions. A series is… a grouping of related things, generally within the same medium. Broad definition for sure, but that’s what it means. A series does not need to be set in the same world, characters, or occupy the same genre, but they need to be related in some nebulous, deliberately flexible, way.

While a franchise is a business term, so let’s just pull a definition from Investopedia. “A type of license that grants a franchisee access to a franchisor’s proprietary business knowledge, processes, and trademarks, thus allowing the franchisee to sell a product or service under the franchisor’s business name.”

…What does that practically mean? Let’s use an example. If one is talking about the Legend of Zelda series, they should only be talking about the video games that were approved or created by the owner of the Legend of Zelda intellectual property, Nintendo. However, there is also Legend of Zelda apparel, food products, toys, concerts, licensed accessories and tchotchkes, comics, etc. These would not fall under the series, but would be part of the Legend of Zelda franchise. Because these products were licensed by Nintendo and produced by third companies in industries and mediums that are different from the Legend of Zelda video game series.

That being said, the Legend of Zelda manga created by Akira Himekawa is… also its own series, because it is a grouping of multiple manga volumes.

A franchise can be home to multiple series, and if an intellectual property has multiple series, or is spread across more than one medium, it is a franchise.

If one is only talking about video games, and not the related ephemera, spin-off media, and merchandise, then you should only talk about the series. To say something like ‘the New Super Mario Bros. franchise’ means one is talking about the four (to six) video games in addition to any related media. Shirts, toys, licensed snack food, product tie-ins. Anything that had to be licensed by Nintendo. …And I don’t think there actually was much of that, as most Mario licenses stem from the broader Super Mario franchise. Which is a bucket where everything that involves Mario’s face and iconography is thrown into.

…Actually sitting down to explain this, I now understand why so many people are confused by this distinction and get them mixed up, because this is a bunch of dumb business jargon for people without souls. Like me! …Not because I’m trans, asexual, and autistic. Because I never underwent any trials bad enough to get one.

Nintendo Direct 2023 – 3 of 2
(Rundown of the September 14, 2023 Nintendo Direct)

Yo-ho-ho! It’s time for another Nintendo Direct— the third one this year after the ones in February and June. While I personally have sworn off supporting Nintendo until they do a not entirely specified list of things, I still consider them the most consistently high quality games producer on the planet. Also, talking about their games is oodles of fun!

All in all, it was a pretty stacked Direct with a lot of good stuff, but also a lot of remakes and retreads of older titles Nintendo could make available on their platform, but chooses not to. However… that is what I actually want from them, as Nintendo has the best catalog of any game developer/publisher, or all time. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

With that in mind… it’s strange that my biggest criticism with this Direct is that it didn’t announce enough old shit coming back. I know Nintendo has HD ports or remasters of at least six old-ass games: Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, F-Zero GX, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. I have seen them with my mind’s eye, the eye that bridges reality! …But I have a feeling that Nintendo is saving them for when they need something to fill up a game in a release window. Which… they simply don’t have, as Q4 and Q1 are looking pretty stacked with games.

It really makes those claims that ‘yo homies, the Switch is gonna fall off after TotK, and B.I.G. Nina be bumpin’ up they’s new shit’ seem like straight lies from trog-lites who liked stirring the drink wit a varnished dick.

On that note, this Direct came out right after a slew of reports and speculation about the Nintendo Switch successor. Lotsa people are psyched about this, but after the NX speculation… I don’t care to participate in that sort of thing. Nintendo will announce the system when they feel like it. When will that be? Probably sometime in March to June 2023. Because that’s when the PS5 and Xbox One were announced. Because the Switch was announced… 5 months before its release, and the Switch successor will most likely have a November launch. Why November? Because that’s when most game systems launch.

Minis Go Home! The Boy Is Back And He Don’t Look Like Ass No Mo’ (Mario Vs. Donkey Kong Remake Announced)

I think it is non-controversial to say that Nintendo’s worst recurring series is probably the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series. It started with a sequel to the excellent puzzle platformer Donkey Kong (1994), but then became… basically Lemmings but less interesting in every possible way. March of the Minis (2006) was aight, it was a new spin and showed Nintendo Software Technologies being fancy and creative with this genre. Minis March Again! (2009) was just a DSiWare version of the 2006 game. Mini-Land Mayhem! (2010) was a sequel that did the same damn thing as the first DS game. Minis on the Move (2013) was basically just Pipe Dream, but at least it was something different. Tipping Stars (2015) is only worth noting because it was a dual release on 3DS and Wii U. While Mini Mario & Friends: Amiibo Challenge (2016) was Nintendo’s big Amiibo game… and it only worked with Super Mario Amiibos.

However, Mario vs. Donkey Kong (2004) is still a good game, filled with fun bite-sized challenges, and some really great platformer design. It’s only a few hours long but doesn’t outstay its welcome. And the only real criticism I can remember is that the game looked like it was yanked outta a horse’s ass. Pre-rendered 3D sprites look terrible most of the time, and that’s sadly how everything looks like in this game. …Making it a great candidate for a remake!

Yes, Mario vs. Donkey Kong, no subtitle attached, is a fully 3D remake of the 2004 title, and it looks just… stupidly good. It reminds me a lot of the Super Mario 3D World style from Super Mario Maker 2 with how crisp and polished everything looks. It might seem like generic Super Mario fare, but everything is at such a high level of polish that I struggle to imagine how it could look materially better.

The layout of visual information is excellent, either every element, every tile, remaining clearly defined and understandable, and contained across a few scrolling screens. Meaning all the player needs to do is look, make a plan, and execute upon it. Combined with redone cutscenes that, unsurprisingly, looks super good, and a new local co-op mode, this seems like it is easily the definitive version of the game. The developers clearly understood the assignment, and everything looks better than I would have ever imagined..

Mario vs. Donkey Kong will launch on February 16, 2024 for Nintendo Switch. …Where it will cost $50. …Nintendo was selling the original game for $7.99 earlier this year. And they are charging $42 for a new paint job. I was expecting it to be a $30 eShop title, but I guess Nintendo’s gonna Nintendo…

Trace to Another Code to Recollect Two Memories of Cing
(Another Code Recollection Announced)

Cing is a developer that I really should have searched out more during the DS era, but I kind of doubt I would have really appreciated their games at the time. I only ever wound up playing Little King’s Story, which was a marvelous little lite strategy game that stuck with me for its cheery world, classical score, and toyetic interconnected world. It’s not in my top 25… but in my top 40.

However, I cannot help but look at games like Trace Memory (also known as Another Code: Two Memories) and Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and feel like I should or should have played them. They were real-ass Japanese adventure games in an era where they were rarely published, and were supposedly quite good.

As such, even though I knew this was coming via leaks, I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw Another Code Recollection. A fully 3D remake of 2005’s Another Code: Two Memories for DS and the Japan and PAL exclusive Another Code: R – A Journey into Lost Memories. This is downright bizarre, as Cing went bankrupt in 2010, and I doubt anybody was asking for or expecting a remake of these games, but… it’s happening!

…So let’s try and assess how the game fares as a remake, first by looking at the titles it’s remaking. Unlike its predecessors, Another Code Recollection is a fully 3D third-person adventure game. The player character walks around an environment with an over-the-shoulder camera angle and interacts with various parts of the world. Mostly interacting with interactables, and triggering small cutscenes, dialogue sequences, and puzzle sections. This is actually far more than what games like Zero Escape or Danganronpa ever really attempted, and shows a dedication to giving this game a more robust presentation.

Character models also look great, but the environments… honestly look like they are using lower resolution textures and a flat lighting system. It reminds me of AI: The Somnium Files, but while that had to run on Vita, Another Code Recollection was built from the ground up for the Switch, and I know games can look better on this hardware.

That being said… it looks WAY better than the originals. The first game for Nintendo DS was… kind of ugly. The assets were low resolution in the grimy way, the overhead traversal looks awkward in a way that only DS games did, and I don’t think it always used the two screens well.

As for the second game, that one was a fully 3D adventure game for the Wii, and it looked pretty good, but I’m not sure if its soft watercolor texture aesthetic really worked the best here. Everything looks a bit too desaturated, and a bit lifeless. An impression that isn’t helped by how limited the player’s interactions with the environment were. Everything was broken down into sections, and even when walking from place to place, players could only move down a linear pathway with a side-view camera.

So… yeah. Even if Another Code Recollection looks a bit low budget, it is a considerable improvement over the original titles. Also, it has voice acting, so there’s another point in its favor.

Another Code Recollection will launch on January 19, 2024 for Nintendo Switch.

Peach Game is a Genre Mashup, and That’s Sparklin’ Cool!
(Princess Peach: Showtime! Fully Announced)

After a brief tease with June’s Direct, Nintendo did a formal unveil of the second game to place Princess Peach in a starring role. Princess Peach: Showtime! The game was revealed as a multi-genre variety game where Peach travels onto different sets in a magical theater, each of which comes with its own unique power-up and own gameplay styles. In a fairy tale set, Peach picks up a sword and the game becomes a 2D action title. In a museum set, Peach cosplays as Sherlock Holmes and searches for the thief as the game becomes an adventure title. In a… cooking set, Peach needs to bake a bunch of cakes in what looked to be a rhythm game. You get the idea.

Now, this is not a typical approach to how you build a video game, as this is introducing a lot of systems that are only going to be used a few times, and none of them seem particularly deep. However… I actually think this looks like an amazing game for small children. It dabbles in a lot of different genres both thematically and mechanically. It prioritizes spectacle over complexity, which is good for those with developing motor skills. And it is also bright and imaginative while making use of lighting to make its shoebox-sized environments feel massive!

It looks great, has an adorable concept, and seems like a wonderful beginner game for a parent to play with their children to help show them what the world of video games has to offer. It is so good… that I have to ask why they initially revealed it in such a limp, uninteresting way. Because this… seems like something special.

Princess Peach: Showtime! will launch on March 22, 2024 for Nintendo Switch.

We Sold Enough Remasters to Continue Da SaGa!
(SaGa Emerald Beyond Announced)

The SaGa series is so bloody weird. It is something that only has a niche fanbase due to how… eccentric the games are with certain concepts, yet has received a level of love and attention that few series ever do. It has seen over a dozen entries, and its remasters are so prolific that you can play about half of them on modern systems. Seriously. The Final Fantasy Legends titles for GameBoy, Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song, Romancing SaGa 2, Romancing SaGa 3, SaGa Frontier, and SaGa: Scarlet Grace have all been remastered or re-released on modern platforms. For a series that is the weird child of Final Fantasy II— the worst mainline FF game— it has received a level of support that is, quite frankly, baffling to me.

That’s not me dissing the series. I wish all series could get as many chances and as much support as SaGa. It all makes… wait. All of these remasters probably did pretty well, as they are mostly just re-releases of old games, and the dev costs would be pretty modest. They are frequently featured in Nintendo Directs, so more eyes are on them. The series director and creator, Akitoshi Kawazu, has been part of Square Enix since the first Final Fantasy, so he has seniority to the nth degree. And the series spawned SaGa Re;univerSe, a sprite-based 2D gacha game in 2018 that still makes over $5 million a month (circa February 2023).

Okay. Got it. This makes sense. This series seems like it can sustain itself with this approach… but it would need to be interspersed with new games and… they just announced one of those.

SaGa Emerald Beyond… has one of the most dense trailers I have ever seen, and it all starts with its five protagonists, who are all a buncha random weirdos.

  • A Self-insert-looking protagonist who fights with sentient puppets who he dresses in the flyest fashions.
  • A high school magical girl, except she’s a witch, and not a magical girl, while still being a magical girl by every meaningful definition, and several meaningless definitions.
  • Bonnie and Clyde, if Bonnie realized she was a lesbian, ditched Clyde, became girlfriends with a Muslim woman, and then became vigilante cops— the only good cops.
  • A singer who got turned into a soda-can-shaped robot that also can’t talk (I think).
  • And… a dapper JoJo character. Seriously, this dude looks like someone from Part 5 who was supposed to be a descendant of Zeppeli. Also, he is an evil king, because of course he is.

After selecting one character, the player is then sent through a branching narrative where character stories interact, and things get so complicated there’s a flowchart for easy multiverse jumping. An already wild idea that just reaches a new layer of ‘what’ with the introduction of 17 inter-connected worlds, which the protagonists traverses via a space void!

Also, it’s a turn-based party-based RPG where the player needs to manage a ‘timeline’ as seen in the old Grandia games, and several Zeboyd titles. A format I find to be a preferable way to pace turn-based combat, as it allows for more dynamic decision making than a round-based system.

…So, um, clearly somebody on the development staff had a vision here, and has probably been waiting almost a decade to bring it to fruition.

SaGa Emerald Beyond is coming to PS4, PS5, Switch, PC, iOS, and Android in 2024.

Tomb Raider’s Getting Re-Re-Remade!
(Tomb Raider I II III Remastered Starring Lara Croft Announced)

I remember, maybe a year or two ago, Liam Robertson mentioned on his Patreon podcast how he wanted a re-release of the original Tomb Raider titles on modern systems. I thought he was a damn fool for asking these games to come back, as Tomb Raider is a relic of its era.

The original 1996 title was a pioneer in 3D game design that was about as influential and innovative as Super Mario 64, in part because they were developed during the same time, and Europe didn’t get Mario 64 until 1997.

That might be hard for some Nintendo fans to grasp though because… Tomb Raider had tank controls. Now, tank controls are not a bad thing, they are just an alternative way to move a character around in a world. But a few years into the PS2 generation, they were seen as outmoded, clunky, and generally unwanted. I personally can defend them on principle… but if you asked me to play a game with tank controls, I would not have a good time. I would rather have the camera abruptly change direction than deal with slow turning.

Background aside, the original Tomb Raider series on PS1 was huge. The first four entries sold about 7 million, 6.8 million, 6 million, and 5 million units respectively. This series almost single-handedly turned Eidos into a major publisher. And the cultural impact of Tomb Raider was massive. They are titles that warrant remakes as thorough and loving as the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, Spyro Reignited Trilogy, and Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1+2. Sure, you might need to tweak some of the controls, alter some of the game feel so it strikes a balance between something older and more modern. Creative liberties would need to be taken with cutscenes. Voice work would probably need to be redone (preferably with one of the original actresses). And the aesthetics would need to be more unified.

It would require an extensive rebuild to become a game that connects with new and old fans of the series. And I think that series owners, The Embracer Group, not only have the resources needed to do this, but would see wonderful returns if they did a full and complete reconstruction. …Instead, they’re getting the porting wunderkind at Aspyr to make a faithful port of the original with a toggleable HD mode. Which… I have mixed feelings on.

When I saw the trailer, I thought it looked like… a PS2 game with an HD lighting engine. Not bad, but such an underwhelming jump that it almost seems like a waste. Retro enough to be endearing, and not detailed enough to look modern.

But then I looked at the screenshots and… it looks far better. This has to do with how the trailer has a lot of zoom-ins, but… the texture quality is better in the screenshots. Just doing a comparison between the YouTube video and these publisher-issued captures is almost comparing low to high texture settings, which is… strange.

That all being said, part of me is still miffed that the game is going for such a limited remaster treatment. If the developers are going to remaster a bunch of Tomb Raider games, I would rather they go all out and do the entire pentalogy. I know The Last Revelation was take it or leave it. I know Chronicles was crap, developed by burnt out devs after four years of constant crunch, and sold a pathetic… 1.5 million units. But it was part of the series, damn it! And if they were focusing on the original trilogy, I wish they were making something closer to Tomb Raider: The Dagger Of Xian. A fan-made recreation of the Great Wall level from Tomb Raider 2 using Unreal Engine 4. …Which was released in 2017.

Anyway, judging this as a fairly direct yet faithful remastering, I think Tomb Raider I II III Remastered Starring Lara Croft looks pretty good. I’m sure the game will do well, especially in Europe, and hope that these games will be polished and modernized enough for them to jive with modern audiences.

Tomb Raider I II III Remastered Starring Lara Croft… is technically titled Tomb Raider I-III Remastered, but I like my version better. The game is coming to PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, Switch, and PC via Steam and GOG. All on February 14, 2024 for the low-low price of $30! …Yeah, that’s fair.

Konami Refuses to Give Contra, or Any Game, A Proper Budget(?)
(Contra: Operation Galuga Announced)

Okay, so this one confused me when I first saw it. The Nintendo Direct made it sound like a remake of the original NES version of Contra, but this is just another Contra title. Not even a reboot or a revival, since Rogue Corps came out in 2019, and kind of muddied the waters of what Contra is by making things an overhead shooter. Like most of the bad Contra games (and also Neo Contra).

By contrast, Contra: Operation Galuga is a 2.5D platformer— the first one since 2011’s Hard Corps: Uprising— and one helmed by WayForward— developers of 2007’s Contra 4: Dual Spirits. As for what it has to offer to make the series fresh again… not much as far as I can tell. It looks to be a straightforward run, jump, and shoot game, so old school it uses a lives system, and the biggest innovation is probably the fact that it features four player co-op. …Which honestly sounds like it would be a blast, assuming players can see anything through the barrage of explosions and gunfire.

WayForward is a skilled enough developer they should be able to deliver on the concept… but this game had the same damn issue that Tomb Raider Remastered had.

Watching the Nintendo Direct footage, I thought the game looked pretty rough, but when I went to gather a YouTube link for this Rundown, I noticed that the gameplay trailer was different than the one shown in the Direct… and was from a different, presumably later, build of the game. The environments look richer with more and better distributed foliage, the shadows are more pronounced, and something was done to the models so they look less like action figures under flat lighting.

These kinds of improvements are far from uncommon as a game develops… but it is strange for a game to seemingly undergo a subtle yet meaningful visual leap like this within… an hour?

Anyway, Contra: Operation Galuga will be released for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, Switch, and PC via Steam in early 2024.

Is That Freaking Grand Knights History II? …No. It’s BETTER!
(Unicorn Overlord Announced)

Unicorn Overlord is… one of the coolest names and most adorable logos I have seen in a hot minute. But more importantly, it is the latest project from Vanillaware. Creators of some of the most beautiful 2D games ever created, titles whose every frame could be a painting, and whose games I have been begging to come to PC for years. Because that way, people would always be able to play them at the highest resolution available. GrimGrimoire OnceMore, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, and Dragon’s Crown Pro were admirable attempts to keep up with dramatically increasing screen resolutions and image quality demands. But I just want them to dump a version of their game with the highest quality versions of these assets possible. I’m talking about uncompressed 8K quality assets, so big and lossless that a single one of them takes up 250 GB.

But noooo! Instead, they announced this game for PS4, PS5, Xbox Series (a Vanillaware first), and Switch. Which… if you are targeting that many skews, you’re deliberately choosing not to bring a game to PC.

Anyway, let’s actually talk about Unicorn Overlord. A game with the unparalleled audacity to claim it is “the rebirth of tactical fantasy RPGs” while looking sick enough to almost justify that position. I think the best way I can describe this is that Vanillaware looked at Square Enix’s HD-2D style, as seen in games like Triangle Strategy, and decided that they wanted to do something like that, while also delivering what has to be some of their greatest artwork of all time.

The bulk of the game takes place in a lavishly detailed yet retro-styled 3D world, maneuvering around similarly detailed sprites of characters. Even though the world is connected by trails and exploration is clearly delimited, there is something I find beautiful about just how it looks. How things scroll, the way distance is conveyed, and the way things are so clearly denoted with bright icons that avoid clashing with the greater image. But then I realized that this is not just an overworld. This is the arena of battle. For a tactical RPG, this is something you basically never see. Hell, In RPGs of this nature, you almost always see a division between an overworld and the maps where battles take place. It is such a minor thing conceptually, but it does a lot to make this world seem more realized.

However, when it comes time for the story to progress, or for blows to be dealt, the game switches over to the typical Vanillaware style. Complete with the dizzyingly detailed 2D characters, all bearing excellent, immediately lovable, designs. And because these ‘models’ are only used for such limited purposes, they truly dazzle with their details, and sell the idea of this game as a living painting.

Without question, Vanillaware is pushing themselves and the types of games they can create with their paltry sized teams. Hell, I looked up footage of their last fantasy strategy game, 2011’s Grand Knight History, and the gulf in ambition is enormous.

As I said earlier, Unicorn Overlord will be released for PS4, PS5, Xbox Series (a Vanillaware first), and Switch. But rather than make players wait four years like they did with darling flower child of Nippon, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, this game is coming out on March 8, 2024.

Nintendo, This is Just a Straight 3DS Port…
(Luigi’s Mansion 2 HD Fully Revealed)

Something I’ve been complaining about a lot about this Rundown has been how so many of these Switch games look… kind of bad. I do this because I know how good Switch games can look, and while I’m not big on fidelity, I’m big on games looking as good as they reasonably can. Taking advantage of their hardware to look dope!

However, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon’s remaster, Luigi’s Mansion 2 HD, actually just looks like a 3DS game in HD. It looks like some things were updated, but the lighting tech, models, and general look of the game are still carried over from the original release.

All of which makes this game feel like a quick and easy filler title, perhaps one that could be dropped this October for Halloween. And based on the trailer… the game looks done. They even had the multiplayer mode (that I doubt most buyers will play) up and running. Instead, it is getting one of the most futuristic launch dates in the entire showcase of summer 2024.

…I was going to ask why, but I already know the answer. This title exists to fill in the gaps further up on the release schedule. It was announced in June 2023, and showed off in September, strictly to let investors know that there is going to be more Mario content released for Switch.

After 19 Years, F-Zero is BACK… in 2D!
(F-Zero 99 Announced)

The F-Zero series has been shafted by Nintendo to the point where Super Smash Bros.’s Captain Falcon as a character is an order of magnitude better known than the series he hailed from. They gave reasons before, they were bad, and now that things are finally nearing the 20 year nostalgia cycle, they decided to reinvigorate the series… with another Nintendo Battle Royale blast! Yes, after Tetris 99, Super Mario Bros. 35, and the to-be delisted Pac-Man 99, F-Zero 99 was announced.

The title is based on the SNES original— because that was the best-selling title in the series, and is about what one would expect. 99 racers are funneled into a narrow track, where they must not only reach the end before anyone else, but avoid getting destroyed in the process. Whether it be by the bumpers at the edge of the track, other drivers, or by sacrificing one’s vehicle health for a desperate boost. All of which… sounds like a cool idea for a racing game, and probably unlike anyone had attempted before battle royales became passé. Well, unless you are Pub G’s Battling Ground or Fortnite.

That being said… this is not how anybody really wanted F-Zero to return, but this is a great way to reintroduce people to the series. With a shadow-dropped free game available to all Nintendo Switch Online subscribers. It gives them a taste, but comparing 1990’s F-Zero to 2003’s F-Zero GX is like comparing Super Mario Kart to Mario Kart Double Dash!! When people who spent a few hours in F-Zero 99 see the inevitable F-Zero GX re-thing, I’m sure a good chunk will be impressed and intrigued.

One of Nat’s GOATS is BACK! (Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door Remake Announced)


(And this is why Natalie is a TOS violation.)

I’ve said it before, but Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is one of my most formative gaming experiences, one of my favorite games of all time, and a game I have been kicking myself for not revisiting within the past 15 years. I love the world, I love the characters, I love the look, I really should listen to the soundtrack again, and everything about it just fills me with happy feelings. …Even if I never did beat The Shadow Queen without using an Action Replay.

So seeing Nintendo announce a remake of this, before they released the remake of Super Mario RPG, was something I did not expect, and was not ready for. Especially when the remake looks so… good.

I tried to convince myself that something had to be wrong, as I cannot trust Nintendo. But after watching this comparison by GameXplain… Yeah, no, the remake does look better. I might prefer the aesthetics of the original GameCube game, because I grew up with it and love how the 3D environments look. But from a technical and design perspective, this is both a more modern Paper Mario take on this world, while showing a deep respect for the original title. Honestly, the only change I dislike is how TEC-XX’s camera is now red, when it used to be blue. …But they kept the noose!

The noose is one of the most iconic parts of this game, and one of the most fucked up. Because this is an E for Everyone affair, and the central town’s central element is a stand that was, and possibly still is, used to hang people to death. They kept that. They went from a disgustingly creativity averse series to one that embraces the edge, the creativity, and the charm that once defined this series, and… it makes me so, so happy.

They kept all the designs, all the environments, kept the superguard, will probably make it easier, and while I think this influx of Mario is weird… I’m just so, so happy. What a way to end a Direct, and what a way for me to eventually celebrate my winter break… in 2024. I know! It can be my 30th birthday present! The centerpiece of Natalie’s XXX Bash!

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door will launch in 2024 for Nintendo Switch.

Moon: RPG Remix Adventure Part 4, Bay-Bee!
(Onion Games Announces Stray Children)

Goldarn, I really need to buy and play Moon: RPG Remix Adventure. It is a game with such high importance to the RPG genre and sparked such a lovely lineage of creative and cool games that I think it will teach me something profound. Honestly, the same could probably be said about much of the Love-de-Lic lineage, but… I don’t have time to play games. I barely have time to talk about games. So lemme just quickly acknowledge this new hotness and all its dopeness!

Coming from a Love-de-Lic successor, Onion Games, and boasting that, to me, iconic flair is Stray Children. A title that I would describe as an HD-2D Moon successor that is more Moon than any of the other successors, while taking some cues from Undertale and Deltarune. Both of which were heavily inspired by Moon. Which is to say… it looks rad as all shit, fuck, and hell!

Am I going to say more than that? No. Watch the trailer, see it with your eyes, and if you don’t catch the winds of brilliance… then I can’t help you.

Stray Children will release this winter in Japan, and while an English localization was confirmed, no western release date was announced.

The Original Mystery Dungeon is Back, Bay-Bee!
(Shiren the Wanderer 6: Toguro Island Expedition Record Announced)

The Mystery Dungeon series is such a strange little animal. First, it was a Dragon Quest spin-off starring the best shopkeeper in gaming, Torneko. Then they spun it off as its own IP with the initial Shiren the Wanderer game. Afterwards, Chunsoft went all in on this series, annualizing it with Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy Mystery Dungeon titles, while producing its own original ones. Namely Shiren the Wanderer 2 and Asuka the Swordswoman. …And all of them looked like pre-rendered PS1 ass.

Moving into the PS2 generation, they continued to crank these games out, struck international success with the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon titles, and decided to make new installments in their fully owned Shiren the Wanderer series… Meaning they made four in three years. A Nintendo DS remake of the first game, released by Sega as Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer. A third numbered entry was released on Wii, localized by Atlus as Shiren the Wanderer in 2010, which simultaneously really looks like a PS2 game and looks shockingly good in HD. Shiren the Wanderer 4: The Eye of God and the Devil’s Navel in 2010, which was only released in Japan. And Shiren the Wanderer 5: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate, which came out only ten months later. …In Japan at least. It took until the PS Vita expanded version before the title was localized, and then it was expanded again for Switch and PC in 2020.

On that note… the Mystery Dungeon series has been in a weird place these past few years. Since the 3DS died, there have been Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon Every Buddy! and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX. A pair or re-dos that… were more mixed in their quality. Every Buddy! changed a lot of visual and aesthetic elements and just looking over this comparison, the remaster seems worse in some noteworthy ways. While Rescue Team DX traded in some of my favorite sprite art of all time for stiff models and a heavy filter that needed more R&D. I reviewed the game in 2020, and while Rescue Team DX is technically more impressive… I just think the game looks weirdly low budget, despite clearly having a bigger budget.

Akumako: “OKAY NATALIE! You gave the people three paragraphs of background. NOW GET ON WITH IT!!!”

…Alright, fine, geeze.

In the Japanese Nintendo Direct, Shiren the Wanderer 6: Toguro Island Expedition Record was announced. The game is only slated for Japan at the moment, and I am not familiar enough with the series to suss out any new innovations, so I am mostly judging the game on looks. …And this game looks like a modern take on the pre-rendered 3D Mystery Dungeon games of the PS1 era.

I can see the level of detail, acknowledge the fidelity, but this is trading in fantastic sprite art and gorgeous tile sets for something that… just looks weirdly artificial. The environments look wrong, the character models look plasticky, and everything looks strangely inconsistent. It could be a fine game… but Shiren 5 looks so many leagues better, and there are so many good roguelikes out there, I have to ask… why bother?

Shiren the Wanderer 6 will be released in Japan on January 24, 2024, with no western release announced.

Shin-Chan Did Well Enough To Get A Sequel?
(Shin-chan: Shiro of Coal Town Announced)

Shin-chan: Me and the Professor on Summer Vacation – The Endless Seven-Day Journey… is a title I never want to say, and I love long titles. This game marked the return of Boku no Natsuyasumi developer, Millennium Kitchen, to the world of game development, and the first Shin-chan game to ever come out in English. So, you know, it was kind of a big deal if you’re a Nihon Nerd.

I expected the game to ultimately be a failure, or at most, the mildest of successes. It seemed like a game too fixated on a specific niche… but the game sold over 400,000 units before releasing outside of Asia. Well… okay then! I guess it makes sense why they’re making a darn sequel!

Shin-chan: Shiro of Coal Town was also announced as part of the Japanese Nintendo Direct, and it’s immediately different from the Summer Vacation title. Shin-chan now has an adorable dog, the titular Shiro, who comes from a mysterious city of metal located at the top of a plateau. The titular Coal Town. Something is clearly amiss in this city, with strange guards all over the place and darker industrial vibes all around. But the game also features the same lush greenery of the first title, but with a new town known as Akita. Meaning it should offer both the lax summer vibes as the first game, but also a stronger narrative focus and greater mystery, because now we are dealing with dual worlds. …Worlds that the press release implies are different realities?

It sounds like a far weirder take than anything the first game attempted… but that also makes me curious to see how the title fares, and if it can keep the magic of the original. Mostly because Millennium Kitchen apparently isn’t working on this game. Huh. I guess they were busy with Natsu-Mon.

Shin-chan: Shiro of Coal Town will launch for Switch this winter in Japan..

Double Direct Debauchery
(A Narrow Rundown of the September 14, 2023 State of Play)

Oh god… I wrote nearly 6,000 words in a day about the Nintendo Direct, but I’m still not done? Sony just had to do a State of Play so… okay, let’s go over the State of Play!

Akumako: “Natalie then proceeded to skim through the 30 minute video, skipping everything that did not bear the scent of her beloved Nihon, Alphrika.”

So, the first title that caught my eye was leaked via a European trademark listing… 9 months ago. Tales of Arise: Beyond the Dawn is a sequel/epilogue to 2021’s Tales of Arise. A title that really breathed new life into the Tales series, which was struggling to move past their PS3 era tech. Which is not to say that games like Graces f, Xillia, or Berseria were bad… but they weren’t exciting and didn’t do super well. While Arise reviewed well, sold well, and had that sick Unreal 4 anime look.

That being said, the fact that Beyond the Dawn is an expansion strikes me as a bit of an odd one. While it makes sense to build on Arise and follow through with its story and characters, DLC released two years after the initial release typically does not do very well. People who played the game have moved on, and part of me thinks this game would do a bit better if it was a standalone follow up, presented as a mini-sequel that, while a direct follow-up, can be played on its own. …Kind of like Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna The Golden Country.

As for the DLC itself… I have no clue what is going on in the trailer, but it looks neat.

Tales of Arise: Beyond the Dawn will be released for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC on November 9, 2023.

Also, there was another Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth trailer, and it… looks like a continuation of Final Fantasy VII: Remake in just about every way. Meaning it looks good, while clearly not being afraid of being its own thing. The game will be released for PlayStation 5 on February 29, 2024.

…Yeah, that was easy.

Akumako: “Everything’s easy when you don’t try.”

Lady, it’s 01:32 in the morning, I’m tired, and want to go to bed. Also… I thought I was you. Are there just multiple Akumakos running around or—

Akumako: “About 56,432 last I checked.”

Well… Nevermind then!

Wizardry Is Back… Except It Never Left!
(Digital Eclipse Announces Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord)

Now, this is something nobody could have expected. When talking about the history of RPGs, there are two great grandpappies who always get mentioned. The Ultima series by Richard Garriot and Origin Systems, which I carry a reverence for— mostly endeared by Spoony’s old retrospective on it. And Wizardry, a game series that I see fairly regularly cited as being influential… but know only through its reputation. Somebody should make a long-form retrospective on every game in the series, discussing their quality as games, innovations, and contributions to the genre. I want to know about all eight of the original string of games, see footage from them all, and have someone ape out over how sick they are.

Instead, we have the re-release wunderkinds at Digital Eclipse taking on the series. For the obligatory second dose of history, Digital Eclipse are the folks behind Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration and the recently released The Making of Karateka. They are pretty much the masters of video game preservation, respecting the original releases, and feature ‘extra features’ so robust that they pretty much stop being game compilations and become something more. Game compilations have had bonus features before, stretching back to interviews and old ads in titles like Sonic Mega Collection. But Digital Eclipse… eclipses all over compilations in this regard, and produces works that are one part compilations of gaming history, and another party documentary. I mean, I do not give a rat’s tail about Karateka, but The Making of Karateka is a work of art so detailed, thorough, and refined in its presentation that I can’t help but gawk at it.

Akumako:Wowie fuckin’ zowie… So, are they making a Wizardry documentary or something?”

Uh, no. A remake!

Akumako: “Wut?”

Yeah! Digital Eclipse is releasing a fully 3D remake of the original Wizardry, dubbed Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord. Complete with modern flourishes, interface, art, and quality of life improvements, available now in Early Access via Steam and GOG.

Akumako: “Bitch, Imma repeat myself only once: Wut?”

So, I’m pretty sure the goal of this remake is to illustrate how influential Wizardry as a series truly was, as this remake allows players to switch between a new modern presentation and the original presentation. To the point where the game is actually built off of the code of the original Apple II release from 1981, and you can look at an overlay of the original version while playing the new one. And you know what? While the visuals are a bit low budget, this looks like a modern first-person dungeon crawler. It all seems like a deeply respectful way to preserve what the original did, while making it more accessible and palatable to an audience whose parents might have not even been born when the first game came out.

However, and this might just be me being pedantic, I also feel like this game is only receiving this level of treatment because it was the first Wizardry game. Because it was the first party-based RPG. Because it was the innovator who inspired a genre and myriad subgenres. Which reflects a broader issue I have with history in general.

So much weight is placed on the original, who did it first, and the impetus for things. But if someone said something better, did it better, or warranted a greater reaction than what came before, then it is somehow seen as less important. This extends to philosophy, inventions, products, and the catalog of creators. The first is so often placed on a pedestal of reverence, has an iconic status afforded to it, while things that were derivative of it are just forgotten as mere imitators and copycats. It is just one of the many things humans do, have been doing for years, and that… bothers me.

I don’t have a solution other than… realize that history is everything, not just what came first, and if you are gonna look back to the past, seek out the best. Seek out what actually made an impact. Innovation is fine and cool, but sometimes, the first is the worst, and the first should just be archived for weird freaks who dig that sort of thing.

Again, I’m not familiar with Wizardry, but I know that if someone were to do a remake of Ultima… they should just start with 1985’s Ultima IV. The first three were cool games in their own right, but that one… is still weirdly ahead of its time with its virtue system and actually making the player act like a hero.

Progress Report 2023-09-17

Sooooo sleeeepy!

2023-09-10: Wrote 3,800 words for TSF Series #017.
2023-09-11: Wrote 3,400 words for TSF Series #017.
2023-09-12: I was busy getting my mortgage documents in order and working on Rundown topics, so no work on novels/novellas was done.
2023-09-13: Wrote 4,500 words for TSF Series #017.
2023-09-14: I was busy working until 19:30, did the dishes, and then helped my mother censor K-1 packages, because accounting firms are not expected to prepare censored K-1 packages for distributions to partners. Except for mine. I do that. I re-export censored K-1s, then break them down by member for easy email distribution. And I don’t have fancy tax software. I have tax software with 15 frames of latency and a boot time of 3 minutes. Fuck you! Also, there was a Nintendo Direct, I guess, and I had to write a 6,000 word write up, which also involved light research. (Wikipedia hopping and watching gameplay on YouTube.)
2023-09-15: Edited this 15,000 word Rundown, converted it to WordPress’s format, and got everything looking nice. I stayed up until 01:30 in the morning to work on TSF Series #017… But got too tired to write anything after 300 words.
2023-09-16: I was busy with chores, home inspection, and work stull until about 17:00, and then I wound up playing the demo for isometric action RPG Silent Hope for 4 hours… But I finished TSF Series #017 with a 300 word epilogue.

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: 255

Production on VD2.0 is on hiatus. Work will resume after TSF Series #017 is completed. Afterwards, I will wrap up Act I: Switch & Swap, then focus on Dragalia Lost V3 Re:Works while swimming through tax hell.

TSF Series #017 Progress Report:

Current Word Count: 37,899
Total Chapters: 7
Chapters Drafted: 7
Chapters Edited: 0
Header Images Made: 0

This story wound up being larger than I originally intended, but part of that is because I decided to throw in stuff like a random game show section and a 1,000 word TF sequence. But despite mortgage stuff, work, and this MASSIVE RUNDOWN, I finished the initial draft.

TSF Series #017 Cassandra – The Cuddly Demon Empress will be released on September 27, 2023.

Mega Man X DiVE Offline Review Progress Report:

I played the game a few hours this past week, reached the ending arc of the story, I think, and am left with a thoroughly mixed impression of this game. It’s a low priority at the moment, and will likely stay that way for about a month.

Leave a Reply

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Hi Cassie

  2. Cassandra Catherine Wright

    Hi Cassie!

  3. Charishal

    Hi Cassie.

  4. Thelo

    The “feminization as punishment” trope that Clockwork Eve has, along with so many others, is… it feels basically like the horror genre to me. Where the whole social implications are horrifying, they evoke a powerful sense of fear and disgust.

    And most of the time, that simply puts me off. But when it’s done *just* right, and when I’m *just* in the right mood for it, it actually can enhance the erotic experience. It’s that whole “misattribution of arousal” thing about how any strong emotions blend together in the human psyche, so even strongly negative emotions can end up enhancing positive ones that happen at the same time. The fear or danger spikes the adrenaline a bit, and you end up more receptive to the arousal.

    It’s a dumb little glitch of human biology, and I sure hope I don’t end up making bad life decisions because of it, but at least I can occasionally wield it for erotic purposes.

    ( )

    1. Natalie Neumann

      The ‘misattribution of arousal’ is something I have heard discussed, but never in quite those terms. I normally think of it as someone getting aroused when placed in a dire circumstance, and it being used against them. But I suppose it could also have a role for more masturbatory purposes… Perhaps that’s the impetus for certain fetishes, where the sensation of fear or disgust gets mingled with arousal at an early age, and when a person re-experiences it, they might be fully aroused, not disgusted, or experience a unique type of arousal.

      I think one would need to be in a very… unique circumstance for something like that to result in bad life decisions. Especially when it is linked to feminization as punishment.

  5. Tasnica

    Hi Cassie! Hope you’re doing well.