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THE ARCHIVE 2011-2015

Filtering by Category: editorial

Ridge Racer's Hairpin Curve

In the past week or so I've been playing Ridge Racer Unbounded, a game I've been interested in for the better part of the year. When it was first revealed, It was shockingly amusing to see almost no one share my measured interest, and instead spew a lot of angry kneejerk responses -- mainly just repeating "fuck Namco" -- as if the company had made some bold proclamation that they wouldn't make any more Ridge Racer games except this one. I wrote about this episode in SCROLL 02's end-of-issue editorial to frame a larger point about pre-entitled people getting their panties in a twist over a game they just found out about and won't get to play for at least a year. But now it's almost a year later, Unbounded is finally out, and the reviews from critics and impressions from folks online are largely positive, or at best, not very mean.

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I'll admit that the initial anger towards Unbounded was, to a degree, understandable. Word of it came just a little while after Capcom announced their Devil May Cry reboot, which went with a different kind of hero and a general tonal shift that didn't meet anyone's expectation. The pervading view was (and, er, still is) that Japanese giants are scrambling to keep up with the West by tossing their beloved franchises to Americans and Europeans who hang a little too long onto the word "reimagining." And so the collective gamer mood swings continue every quarter, all based on childish fears that someone new will come into their club and squeeze them out. Yet for every blatant molestation of a dormant series, there's a perfectly respectful treatment that everyone can agree on.

For me, Unbounded sits somewhere in between. Besides some music tracks borrowed from older Ridge Racer games, Unbounded is not a Ridge Racer game in the least. But even to an understanding guy like me, it's still kind of uncomfortable. The graphics are bleak, the cars are generic, the shoehorned "story" is never heard of past the intro movie, and the physics feel too realistic, focused on a drift button that immediately gets you swingin' along the road. Even if you nail that mechanic, the game's challenges are needlessly difficult from the get-go, almost devoid of the curve Ridge Racer games usually have, with cutthroat AI opponents that can toss you off the track even before lap one gets started. A course editor is a welcome addition, but when the developer-made courses are obviously cut from the same cloth, with the same road shapes dressed with the same patterns of buildings, the main campaign loses a bit of its appeal. Compared to its immediate competition -- Burnout, Split/Second -- it's just average. So why worry?

But is it actually fair to compare Unbounded to the rest of Ridge Racer? Given that it's obviously supposed to be something else, does that mean it automatically fails at being the original something just because it has its name on it? I don't think so.

Slow and steady

Ridge Racer fans get a lot of guff, usually indirectly, in reviews of recent sequels that call the games samey, too traditional, and other well-worn platitudes. And like other "threatened" fans of things, they have a standard set of defenses, and one of the main ones is the claim that RR games are just simple and proud arcade racers like always, and that the games themselves have always been just fine. I agree with that, but that's because I love arcade racers, so of course I'm going to recognize and deal with sameyness, because I still want the fun that I know I can rely on.

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But I'm also starkly aware that Ridge Racer games have not been putting butts in seats. Since the PlayStation 2, they've only come once a generation, right at the beginning, and then never on the same system again (except Ridge Racers 2 on PSP). At the PS2 launch in Japan, Ridge Racer V was pretty much the best game you could get (and Tekken Tag), because the rest of the lineup was unanimously decided to be crap. With the Western PS2 launch, that wasn't so much the case, because then you had SSX, Madden, and several more worth caring about. It was even less the case when the PSP arrived: most people talked up Lumines, Wipeout and Metal Gear Acid. And now even less so with the PS Vita, where people are drawn in by Uncharted, Wipeout (again), Lumines (again), Rayman, Marvel, and the 20-or-so other launch games. And it's extra precarious, too, because the newest Ridge Racer has been widely panned for having no real single-player modes, not running at 60 fps, and relying on paid add-ons to pad out what's otherwise a husk of a game. That may be expected and even work with Ridge Racer Accelerated on iOS, but could Namco not foresee RR Vita averaging two out of five stars on the PlayStation Store user ratings?

Nevertheless, when "fans" voice their opinion about Unbounded -- and I put that word in quotes only because I can't prove exactly how loyal everyone's been to the series over the years -- the underlying question is, why put the words "Ridge Racer" on it in the first place? The answer doesn't really require a communications degree. Ridge Racer, despite a glacial slide into irrelevancy, is still a brand a lot of gamers recognize. If you like racing games and were big into the PS1, this is a given, and you don't need to play any new ones to remember the name. This is what Namco banks on, and they still make Ridge Racer games, so it makes business sense.

And if they wanted to sign on Bugbear to make a racing game, what reasonable choice did they have but to include the brand of their only active racing franchise? Frankly, this isn't 2004, when everybody was trying to make their own Gran Turismo. Capcom and Konami had theirs, but Namco had the most, and kept throwing in racing games with wild abandon. Ridge Racer! MotoGP! Alpine Racer! Street Racing Syndicate! Not to mention R: Racing Evolution, a sort-of-not-really Ridge Racer spin-off that tried to be more like a sim, but ended up so thorougly boring that it evolved itself into the bargain bin. And that was the one they really tried to push -- ports on every console, ads all over the place, and almost no payoff. 

Since then, the playing field has leveled out, and that's just made it even harder to get a foot in. Racing games, at least on this side of the world, are a two-course meal at this point: You play either Gran Turismo or Forza, and those wanting something less realistic are playing Need for Speed, or more often than not, Real Racing HD. With an ever-dimming spotlight for racers that aren't simulations or at least have real cars in them, if you were a Namco executive, you'd probably start looking for workable options elsewhere, too.

Basically, Ridge Racer is the Dynasty Warriors of racing games. They're both around for system launches, their sequels rarely have any sweeping changes, and they both have a marginalized sect of loyal fans that grumble amongst themselves when a big website predictably gives new installments a bad review. But they're both still around, with no clear end in sight. I don't see Unbounded changing that whether it succeeds or fails, especially when Ridge Racer's lack of change has only made it more unique. The hyper-stylish cars plastered with names of Xevious enemies, the gorgeous track designs, and the insanely unrealistic drifting are what's remembered most, not another game where you break stuff. You should probably get used to paying $5 for new cars, though.

Shifty Supercade

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You might remember the beginning of Valiant Comics, when their first big titles were under the "Nintendo Comics System;" officially-licensed comic books featuring Super Mario, Captain N, The Legend of Zelda, and a few others. It was potentially a great opportunity to get original stories from games that deserved them, but the comics were essentially extensions of the TV cartoons -- obviously Captain N, but even Mario and Zelda took more elements from the shows than the games. That said, they were all better than you'd expect, with the Mario stories in particular being genuinely funny, sometimes even deadpan. Their four books continued apace for just one year, when Nintendo parted ways, and Valiant continued on with their original superhero titles. Meanwhile, Archie scored Sonic the Hedgehog, which is the longest-running video game comic in the Western world.

I bring this all up to frame a recent development in game comics that had me thinking of Valiant: ShiftyLook, a comics site/imprint/thingy owned by Namco Bandai, but with the comics themselves done by contributors from Udon and Cryptozoic Entertainment. ShiftyLook's current lineup re-imagines three old Namco games (and one new one) as twice-weekly webcomics. And these really aren't Namco games that the average comics reader or gamer would remember. You'd have to be some retro game nerd who makes his own magazine to recognize or give a damn about Xevious, Bravoman and Sky Kid comics in this day and age. Given that, I was interested in what ShiftyLook was doing, and started reading what they have so far and thought I'd share some impressions. (Note that I base all this on the first month of strips, so whatever I describe may change one way or the other as months go on. Maybe I'll revisit them here in the future.)

One of Cryptozoic's strips is Xevious, which is pretty much my favorite Namco franchise, so I was drawn to this comic first. The setup is familiar: aliens are attacking Earth, starting with Peru (so far the only reference to the Nazca Lines in the game), but everything else about the story seems to take a sharp left turn. The hero is Oscar, nickname "Mu," a young guy from Argentina who joined the national air force to fight the Xevious (why not "Xevians?" They're aliens from the planet Xevious!). And apparently the Argentinian air force are the ones who fly the Solvalou ships.

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The first strip has a tongue-in-cheek air about it, or maybe that's just the utterly strange dialogue coming from Oscar. Regardless, that doesn't seem to be the actual intent once you keep reading. Oscar left his almost-fiance Eve to join the battle, but then discovers she joined up right after. How did he just now find out? Was she drafted really quickly? There isn't enough time and not enough panels to find out, because the next skirmishes are just around the corner. Despite some liberties in the characters and setting that make this comic look and sound like G.I. Joe plus emotions, it seems to be progressing towards something closer to the actual Xevious backstory, as Mu and Eve are both figures in the original "mythology" -- methinks I'm not the only one who's read the HG101 article.

Sky Kid is one of the Udon strips, and is ostensibly the most faithful to the game, with its world of anthropomorphic birds in endless dogfighting combat. Humorously, the comic is tonally similar to Xevious, opening with serious introspection and touching flashbacks, and me once again not knowing exactly if I should be taking this seriously or not. 

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Bravoman might be the "webcomic-est" of the whole lineup: it's kiddish and features jokey two-character dialogues with distressing regularity. It sits in between Sky Kid and Xevious in terms of faithfulness: Bravoman and the Alpha Man and Dr. Bomb and most everyone else in the game are here, but it doesn't follow anything else about it. What started out normally is now mostly just character introductions to familiarize people with Bravoman again. The comic feels like it's just playing with a toy box of characters, and that's probably because the writer had never heard of Bravoman before. My question is, will Pistol Daimyo show up? How about the talking telephone box? I mean, really, you guys should've given me a call.

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Alien Confidential is the other Cryptozoic strip, and is based on a Namco game that isn't even out yet -- an iOS game with a more serious look than the comics -- so I don't really have much to say about it. Essentially it's a slightly goofier version of Alien Nation with a little bit of Men in Black, told through flashbacks of a former alien-busting agent. It is the fastest-moving one of the lineup so far, though, with the flashbacks being mini-arcs of only a few parts each. They just don't seem to be tied together, though that could be the point.

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Artistically, there's nothing wrong with these comics: they're done by professionals who clearly know a thing or two about ink 'n' color (iffy dialogue aside, I like Xevious and its slight watercolor look the best), and are written with relative creative freedom -- all good starting terms for a tie-in. Is that freedom bad, though? I'm not entirely sure yet. Valiant's Nintendo comics were based on the cartoons more than the games, and when they had to get creative, it mostly worked out. And years before that, game comics had to get extra, uh, interpretive because the games had practically nothing to work from (that link is Galaxian, by the way). If ShiftyLook's comics simply run long enough to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end, that's fine. Rather, I think the immediate issue I have is with the concept of serialized, serious, short-form comics. Soapy superhero arcs are bad enough in the trades, but to have them portioned out daily in syndication is maddening, because more often than not you have days where absolutely nothing happens, or a tiny something happens and ends with a pregnant pause, and you have to wait at least 24 hours for the next one (48, in this case). Furthermore, not everything has to be serialized: Bravoman looks like it's meant to be a regular gag-a-day strip, but then it keeps introducing characters. And introducing, and introducing... It doesn't have to be Garfield, but Garfield was ready to go by strip two.

Nevertheless, ShiftyLook stands out immediately because its comics are based on games that no one outside Japan would care about -- no better way to get attention from me, anyway -- and on the whole, that's kind of what's bad. While I can understand the creators wanting to introduce characters and slowly build up the story as weeks go on, they're still making comics about unappreciated games with stories where not enough happens on a regular basis. It's worth noting that the site launched alongside a few big Namco and Namco-related releases: Soul Calibur V, Tekken 3D, and Street Fighter X Tekken, any and all of which would have made perfectly fine serialized comics, and in Udon's case, would be right up their alley.

Plus, if the site doesn't have ads or any other way to make money, then just what are they trying to accomplish? This is Namco we're talking about here; a company routinely criticized by their "fans" for doing more harm than good by overdoing DLC and making questionable sequels and reboots. Where and how do free webcomics fit? Well, to paraphrase ShiftyLook pre-launch, they want to re-expose these franchises with the possibility to expand them into other media, be it animation or even new games. And as another promotional image read, "No character is too obscure. No franchise is too dead. No husk is too decrepit. They can all be revived. Your voice will be heard." OK, well, I challlenge them to make a Phozon comic.

Shell Shock

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Last Thursday, I posted a tweet. A typical tweet, if you know me. I was bringing attention to a ridiculous iOS app I found: "Ninja Turtles" by Namphuong Star. All you need to see are the screenshots and read the description. Like, seriously, go look; I don't need to paste it here. For anyone who tracks new additions to the App Store, it's a fly in the ointment, but nothing out of the ordinary (and from what I gather, nothing but ordinary on Android Market). It's not to me -- I've seen a decent number of shitty apps made by anonymous shysters from all around greater Asia, but "Ninja Turtles" floored me. It has all the elements of top-shelf insanity: painted-over Contra background? Turtle-colored hero? Everybody's clothes made of gradients? This is special stuff, because even most of the awful copyright-infringing games at least have some sort of direction to them, like its makers know what they're ripping off. This, though, is especially hilariously bad. Not to mention $4.99.

And oh lordy, did this sprout legs. Usually when I tweet something that hits, it balloons to 20-ish retweets within half an hour, and quickly peters out. And, well, it was the same with this. I mean, I'm known, but not so known. So I expected that to be the end of it, though maybe one of my like-minded colleagues would pick it up for their blog like other times. As it turned out, when I wasn't paying attention, "Ninja Turtles" leapt off Twitter and hit the blogosphere, which may as well have been a dream come true: It was getting lots of attention, and none of it good, as it deserves. There was one curious commonality among all those that picked it up, though: except for GameSetWatch, where I've been reliably sourced before, no one outside Twitter linked to my original tweet, if anywhere else at all.

Despite how that sounds, this post is not me saying I should have been sourced. I don't care. And if I did, I'd still understand why I wasn't: 23 retweets is peanuts no matter how many more thousands of followers some of those RTers had, so in all likelihood, the biggest number of people who saw it in the first half of the day was probably from John Gruber's site, where he got it from the Twitter of developer/follower of mine Shaun Inman. That night, though, Namphuong's mutant "Ninja Turtles" made Kotaku, and all bets were off.

For me, the coverage instead added a new layer of amusement, based solely on the tones of the posts. GamePro: coated in sarcasm. Kotaku: analytical with an extra toe-dipping into Namphuong's catalog (brave!). GameSetWatch: bemusement; the most apt response. (Danny also has a keen eye for retarded rip-off apps.) Destructoid: 70% horror, 30% snark.

In contrast, the last sites to pick it up on Sunday and Monday -- VG24/7, Develop, MCV, Edge and GamePolitics -- filed bone-dry posts, all seemingly written with an inference that this game's appearance on the App Store was some sort of one-in-a-million fluke. But if anything, every one of these posts are great case studies in how these sites and their editorial voices treat a lot of their coverage. Develop even asked for comment!

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So, again, I'm not looking for a linkback; I'm more fascinated with a phenomenon that shows the real worth of a worthless game. Though if I do say so, I haven't noticed anything I brought up like that spread that far for... well, ever. And if you wanted to split hairs, you could say the real "source" is the App Store anyway.

I'm also not trying to denounce game journalism -- there are people much "better" at that -- although it is a little disconcerting to see the lengths to which the Sunday-Monday group went to try and push a story out of something that is A) not the least uncommon, even for the puritanical App Store, B) probably already covered by them in the past with different example(s) and C) best mocked into oblivion than warned against. And for all the sourcing these sites do do in much of their posts, the fact that some didn't bother or just ended up linking to the other guy with the same-sounding story is a slight fumble, especially when other tweets are linked to, copied, or screencapped all the time.

But right now I'm more concerned that we might not even be hitting the second wind yet. I'm half expecting this thing to show up on CNN.

Update: Shortly after this post was published today, "Ninja Turtles" was finally taken off the App Store. Damn! I changed the Store link to a Google-cached version. There's also a new notable piece of coverage from The Escapist, where they're apparently calling a few innocuous negative user reviews an "outrage." Uh, OK. It's sad to see, but Apple and the media at large have swiftly killed whatever joy there was to be had about this shameful little game.

Update 2: For an in-depth examination of Ninja Turtles, please see Hardcore Gaming 101's Kurt Kalata give you the skinny in this article.

Legendary Mistakes

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The Mega Man series used to be built on fan input. Maybe you know about the boss design contests that the development team would promote in the NES days, before the next big sequels would come out. They would field submissions from all over Japan (and North America for Mega Man 6). It was kind of remarkable, both then and in hindsight, to ask for the public to help create the defining parts of each sequel, and then to choose and immortalize the work of a select few. It was also perfect timing, as Mega Man was in his prime. Back then, you'd be silly not to expect a new Mega Man every year or two.

Capcom took that to the next level, or tried to, when they announced Mega Man Legends 3 last year. Fans would have been perfectly happy with an MML3 that was already near-done, but Inafune and the team invited Japanese and American fans to get on the web and start sharing their opinions and creative contributions whenever possible. But now that's all for naught, and those now-disappointed fans understandably feel indignant. To them, they were strung along and ultimately gutted, in the end getting nothing but nebulous excuses and wasted time.

In my view, Capcom was in much too deep to cancel it, and shouldn't have. There was simply too much invested in it, mostly from the fan side, but they went ahead and killed it anyway. How could they not? Forgive me for sounding like a scorned fan in denial, but I'm serious. I was saying it months ago, before cancellation even seemed like a possibility. "Can you believe the backlash if they actually canned it?" Not to mention that Capcom has one of the most consistent backlash records of this generation!

Well, I can't say they're bad at surprises.

One type of response to the news was the belittling kind. "It's just the reality of the business;" "It happens all the time, but this time it was just in public;" "No use crying over spilt milk," etc. It's a response that may sound more level-headed compared to the incensed fans, but unfortunately, the situation isn't that black-and-white. What Capcom did was get fans riled up and excited from the get-go, then did their best to maintain that excitement on a regular basis. With announcement after announcement, news post after news post, contribution after contribution, blog after blog, and especially the promise of the "Prototype" demo, the development team wanted, and got, a whole lot of people wanting this game regardless of how many of them were registered in the Devroom.

Capcom went forward with an unprecedented development plan -- one that no company, least of all a Japanese one, had ever really attempted. And on top of that, it was a plan for a sequel in a series that had 10 years of incubation and fostered its own faithful audience. Given that, the mere brushing off of the cancellation as a "business reality" doesn't hold water, because that only represents one side of the story. Again, there was no real precedent, and the company willingly tied in the emotions of hundreds of thousands of hardcore fans and interested observers.

So, how could they not finish it? By cancelling it anyway and continuing to say it's an experiment. However, the public wasn't told that at the beginning. Go ahead, visit the last page of the Devroom blog, keep going up, and see what the tone is like. A whole lotta excitement and recruitment. For months on end, those posts don't even so much as whisper the suggestion that this was not a guaranteed game. It was guaranteed in-development, but you can take that in any dozens of ways. It wasn't until Masakazu Eguchi's February 2011 blog post -- the infamous "Declaration of Resolve" update where it's revealed the project was not even "greenlit" yet -- did people start to feel uneasy. That was seven months after the reveal, and roughly a month since the decision of Aero as the heroine.

They made grand implications of transparency, but this wasn't transparency, it was translucency. And for that, people have every right to be less than understanding of the situation. If Capcom was wanting to involve people in the "development process," they failed out of the gate. Now, I know it's impossible to share everything, because you still have to be reasonable when you're a multinational game publisher. But what's unreasonable about a rough, just-a-few-bullet-points outline of the development schedule? How about any advance notice of Capcom's approval process? Instead, we got blissful ignorance and jumping to conclusions, with a big blister of hurt ready to burst as the months went on.

From USA Devroom Liaison Greg Moore:

The team developing this game provided in-depth articles detailing the various processes that going into this game's creation, from voice recording to the creation of 3D character models. They talked about the office atmosphere and all of the ups and downs of the game development process with a degree of candor that was, to be perfectly frank, often quite concerning for the rest of the company. (via)

That makes some sense. You always hear (if not experience) the big bosses not seeing things in the big picture, acting like the old farts they usually are when a new thing doesn't entirely fit with the way things have always been done. It's understandable that they'd think the Devroom was getting too loose-lipped. On the other hand, no, they weren't. Those aforementioned posts on the voice recording sessions and character modeling were about as inside as it truly got -- and those were the ones with photos. Many significant bits about the game were planned to be announced later and redacted in posts. We got daily updates on other things now and then, and they'd tell us about some meetings, but all with varying degrees of exposition. Sometimes they overdid it: recognizable Capcom producer Jun Takeuchi was only referred to as an "official." If anybody was really worried about exposing trade secrets, I don't think it was happening here -- besides, I doubt anyone at Capcom makes 3D models or character profiles dramatically different than other companies. Most of it wouldn't be out of place in a "making-of" featurette or an art book. So Capcom's explanation comes off as another arbitrary pointing of blame meant to band-aid the situation. I guess that's the level of exposition they wanted all along.

In hindsight, the entire undertaking was woefully half-baked. Infaune and the team should have taken the path of least resistance: Announcing the project when it was already greenlit, and then inviting the fans in to contribute all that they could from that point. With that, you get two things: pre-existing assurance that the game won't fall off the map, and pretty much the same level of fan enthusiasm and contributed talent featured in the final product. After all, it worked 20 years ago when those Mega Man boss design contests went on; when making the story and stages was already going full-steam, and the only big missing pieces were the bosses. But what of Inafune's leaving? Simple enough: if he still left within the same timeframe, then management could have much more easily canned the project privately before it even got to the public phase. And as long as it was kept secret, no tears (or blood) would be shed.

But perhaps the ultimate ideal would be, instead of making Mega Man Legends 3 a game that tried to involve the public in development, they could have just not made it Mega Man Legends 3. If this were a wholly original property, yet went through all the same steps as MML3, then there's no doubt that if it got cancelled, the only people who would take it personally would be the people who actually contributed to it, and not thousands of other fans who just wanted to see a sequel in a series that ended -- with a question mark -- 10 years ago.

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Ah, but that's the catch-22, isn't it? You want to get people fired up, so you go with something big and familiar, but if it was something new and different, the level of excitement probably wouldn't be the same. And to go back to my "advance notice" point, the project would probably would get less attention if the team was more upfront about the approval process -- why pour your heart into temp work? Basically, it was apparent that based on what Inafune has said over the years, getting MML3 made the Crazy Way seemed to be the only way. That's the actual "business reality."

On the whole, the story of Mega Man Legends 3's development makes for a great narrative. A new idea leading to a reconstruction, the will of the people gathered, and then the loss of a leader, mounting struggles, and an eventual collapse, with the same people now furious, and a host of questions that will likely forever go unanswered. Not just the how and the why, but the more cynical questions, as well. Would the game have been any good anyway? Would it have been a highlight of the 3DS library? Would it just be a critical darling? Would anybody but a small percentage of Mega Man fans in their 20s and 30s buy it? Sadly, those questions don't matter, since they're about what could have happened and not what did. What did happen was a year of hope, excitement, fun, interaction, and wishes seemingly come true. And what's left? Disappointment, anger, posthumous PR idiocy, and most obviously: no game, anywhere. All from one mistake. And the lesson learned isn't any better.

Tall Tales

Did you happen to see the news last week about Charlotte Toci, the Bandai Namco Europe community manager (or "junior community manager," apparently) who wrote some posts on Facebook responding to a fan asking about the PS3 version of Tales of Vesperia, and if BN would still localize it and bring it out (Vesperia on PS3 has a new character and other stuff left out of the original Xbox 360 version)? Toci said no, and that it was because Microsoft paid for the game's 360 exclusivity outside Japan. The original post was actually from April, but didn't get wide attention until recently. Here's Exhibit A:

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Again, the original post was from April, but that's not the funny part; it's the fact that when it resurfaced on forums and the like, it floated for a week. A week! That's like a year in nerd rage reckoning. More than enough time to verbally crucify Toci, Bandai Namco, Microsoft, Sony, and whoever else the delightful Tales fanbase wanted to peg. Meanwhile, BN said nothing; Toci said nothing; nerds continued flogging. Why? Who really knows. Maybe nobody pinged BN (or enough); maybe most people just saw it as BS and let it blow over. After all, Vesperia PS3 is two years old, and the ship had likely sailed regardless of the method.

So it wasn't until a week after its resurfacing, when enough people had made a fuss of it, when Toci admitted she was not being totally authoratative, and apologized:

A few months ago I replied to a fan who asked me why Tales of Vesperia wasn’t localized in Europe on my Facebook page. I replied that it was because of a Microsoft exclusivity, thinking that that was the reason why, even though I didn’t have any official information on that.

I was wrong to do so, and sadly my reply was relayed on many websites, thus sharing a false information to fans around the web.

I would like to send my sincere apologies to all the Tales Series fans I have wrongly informed, and Microsoft & Namco Bandai for any damage that might have been caused with this.

As ridiculous as it is, I won't say Toci should be condemned or fired or never trusted again -- that's dumb, and it's not always the best way to get a point across. With any luck, her lesson has been learned, and she can continue her job. And it's not like her saying otherwise about Vesperia would completely reverse any hatred directed at Namco regarding Tales games anyway (yeah guys, keep calling them "Scamco," that's bound to get you what you want).

It is, however, a misfire when a company gets someone to be a friendly voice that more or less does speak for the company, then unexpectedly breaks off the leash, and everybody just stands there. So, the most troubling part of this to me isn't how long the misinformation was out there; rather, it's the thought process of someone at the front gates of a company in an industry they clearly don't have the right idea of. If Toci really believed that Namco was paid off to keep Vesperia on 360 outside Japan -- enough to say so confidently in a public venue without checking with anyone -- then I start to wonder what inspired that. What if it was predicated on the more ignorant views of the video game industry, where people ceaselessly presume the entire business is founded on one big unending cycle of bribes? Would you want that to be the voice of your company?

But I get that sometimes, for some companies, they're not looking for a "voice." For them, a community manager is tantamount to an intern with a salary; a peppy guy or gal who doesn't need years of industry experience but can still properly promote the products and draw people in. Meanwhile, the comparative "grown-ups" continue producing the games or handling the "real" PR. And even then, sometimes the company doesn't know what to do with them -- but hey, everyone else has a community manager, and we need a Facebook page and a Twitter account, so get on it.

I think that community staff, Junior or not, should be more than just contest-givers; they should be internal journalists of sorts. Of sorts -- ideally, they're hired to help humanize the company, to learn about it, and be as reasonable as possible to fans (or non-fans), and if a good question comes up that they don't know the real answer to -- like if Tales of Vesperia on PS3 is ever coming out -- they should be inspired, allowed and welcomed to send a query straight to the top and get the best possible answer, even if it's going to piss fans off. Again, that's my ideal, but if you have the wiggle room to hire more than one of them, how about exercising twice the potential? For what it's worth, Toci originally gave a nice, human response, which is respectable -- but imagine how much more respectable if it was truthful.

Then again, with this particular situation and subject matter, sometimes the biggest problem isn't on the inside...

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Omega Four Point Oh

After being squeezed out of 1UP, beginning SCROLL, getting a full-time gig at GamePro, and most recently, the news of Hudson probably-maybe canceling their 3DS projects, I thought now would be a good time to talk about something I'd been wanting to for quite a while; a particular episode in my career that wasn't as revolutionary in the long run as this long-winded post will make it sound, but it did kick my butt in a sense. It's the only review I've felt regret about, but probably not entirely in the way you think.

That would be my January '08 review of Omega Five, the Xbox Live Arcade shooter from Hudson. A few years prior, I had developed a renewed appreciation for arcade shoot-em-ups. I always loved the classics, like Gradius and Blazing Lazers, but I used to think the late-'90s rise of the "bullet hell" style was practically pornographic in nature; a twisted sort of puzzle game that had lost its way. Eventually, I simply realized that this is where the genre is now, and really, the games aren't any less enjoyable. Shooters still represent good, clean, simple fun that had endured since the invention of video games themselves. They may go a little overboard with repetition, but still offer the best bursts of fun in a pinch.

But anyway -- Omega Five. I was intrigued when it was announced, for sure. Hudson and Natsume, two old favorites of mine, putting out a great-looking XBLA shooter that was from the Holy Land of Nippon through-and-through!? But then I saw and tried the game months before it came out at a Hudson press event, and didn't like it. When it finally came out and I took the review, I got to spend more time with it. I still didn't like it, and wrote a negative review with a 4.0 (now "D") rating, sort of expecting to be just one of a few reviewers from the other mainstream sites who felt the same.

What I did not expect was that I'd be the only person on the planet who didn't like Omega Five. Everybody downloading it was loving it, other reviews were praising it, and their ratings were barely dipping under the average. Throw in a link to my review, and you have a perfectly balanced shitstorm.

The eye of it was GAF, as it usually is. The review went up the same day the game did, so as people were getting high off the game in the forum's Omega Five thread, they were rudely startled once my review showed up. Immediately, the accusations, insults, and thoughts on game journalism flooded in. Including the inarguable fact that because it was a negative review, it was therefore terribly-written (that one's always a favorite). Now, I wasn't a total newbie at this job, and I knew people on the internet are generally not nice, but still, when you're in the moment; when the signal-to-noise ratio is so imbalanced against you, it doesn't matter if you started writing reviews last week or for 15 years. To some degree, you're going to feel your world crumbling. I was enemy of the state for a day, but I just had to let it go. And I have -- but for a moment, I wanted to say a couple of things about the review.

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First: It definitely could have been written better. Thinking 1UP's audience was bigger than it was/is, I aimed the text towards a more general audience; the folks who didn't care about shooters that weren't Geometry Wars. But, oops, this was 1UP, a place with a solid history of great interviews with Japanese game makers, and other respectable coverage about Japanese game stuff that people visited and loved us for. For god's sake, it's what I loved them for. Instead, the tone of the review was excessively acidic. Normally, I'd say being harsh with one's words is acceptable for a review of what the writer thinks is a bad game, but with Omega Five I cranked it up to where it simply overshadowed whatever I thought was good about the game (there were things), and in turn, it irked people way more than it should have, based simply on attitude. Both the opening and closing paragraphs didn't help, as that's what most people scrolled down to first (or quoted in the forum posts).

But the second thing I have to say is that, regardless of the text, I have no qualms about the rating and core criticisms I gave the game. Those criticisms were A) the characters were too big, and B) the bullets interfered too much with the background. Well, what's "too much," you ask? Any shooter is going to have a curtain of bullets jetting toward the player at any given moment, right? That's the point, right? Right, but, that stuff is usually thought about very carefully. I didn't catch that with Omega Five; if anything, it seemed to me like the designers were trying too hard (or not enough) to balance the bullet volume with the character sizes, and I quickly reached points in the levels where I simply lost track of what I was doing, and the damn thing just got going. I can't say that about my time with, say, Deathsmiles, another horizontal shooter on 360, because Deathsmiles hardly has that problem when I play it. Deathsmiles was made by people who know how to make shooters.

And I like to think that I understand shooters, then and now. Probably not in all the ways that everybody else understands them (I'm not the 1cc type, so, sorry if that's all that matters to you), but I've played, and played, and reviewed, and reviewed tons of games over the years in a variety of genres, so I think I've earned the belief to know what works for me, and what usually works for a game of a certain type, and consider what may work for someone else. Maybe I'll treat a game a little worse or a little better than the other guy, and maybe I'll make a kneejerk reaction to something before it's out (y'know, like everybody), but when it comes to putting nose to grindstone, I'm always fair. Fair enough to take a game as it is; fair enough to compare, contrast, and contextualize, and fair enough to reserve some optimism if I'm disappointed. Yes, really -- I honestly could not wait for the 3DS Omega Five, and hopefully it still pops up.

Like I said, I was no stranger to assholes on the internet, and in GAF and GAF's spin-offs' cases, several of those people are so devoted to their shtick that it's no wonder they go kamikaze in response to the tiniest pinprick of opposition. And if I learned anything (hoo boy), it was that I should just be myself. Mindfully targeting an audience is one thing, but when you're so far off the target of another -- one that you yourself identify with -- the backfire is deafening and destructive. Yeah, no shit.

As much as the jerky responses made me upset at the time, nothing terrible occurred as a result of the review. No one gave me a talking-to. Hudson did not complain (as far as I know). I kept my job, for a couple years anyway. In fact, it was a few months later when Hudson brought by Takahashi Meijin, and I got to have fun with him, and generally end up with a good experience and a perfectly normal relationship with the company. Yes, a happy ending -- because, really, Omega Five was an XBLA shooter with an impact on video game history as strong as a raindrop. I'm glad you liked it, but I didn't, and maybe we can find something else to agree on. Oh yeah, well... three months later, I gave Ikaruga an A, and no one said jack about it, me, or Omega Five. At least one side had their expectations met that time.

バイ、ハドソン

A short time after Konami took full ownership of Hudson (they already had a majority stake, so that shouldn't have been too surprising), their US branch, Hudson Entertainment, has been shuttered. Hudson Entertainment wasn't exactly an upper-crust publisher -- Hudson as a whole kind of stagnated compared to their heyday in the 8- and 16-bit eras -- but in any business where you're a product of a parent company, you play the hand you're dealt. And they were crazy enough to bring Takahashi Meijin across the ocean -- twice! H.E. was ostensibly just a marketing vessel, but they were the driving force behind the passable Bomberman Live series, the Military Madness revival, and published non-Japanese casual stuff like Rooms and the console version of Diner Dash. (Maybe they should have ported that Obama game.)

It's difficult to not have a soft spot for Hudson, even when they really fumble. It's almost... human, for lack of a better term. They made some great 2D games, and hardware, for that matter -- not just the PC Engine/TurboGrafx, but some iconic accessories, as well. (What, you can't appreciate a good controller?)

As for Konami, the natural assumption is they'll handle the publishing of Hudson's games from here on out, which wouldn't be news to anyone -- they've published several Hudson games in the US already. Konami has also been more focused (somewhat unsettingly) on casual/family games, so adding stuff like Deca Sports to their stable might show some promise from a business angle.

While I love Hudson's retro stuff, I also have some favorite present-day Hudson games, both self-published and not: If you have a chance, I recommend checking out Kororinpa: Marble Mania and Marble Saga, Lost in Shadow, and Tetris Party Deluxe. And I even got some enjoyment out of the Dungeon Explorer reboot (on DS at least), Onslaught and Rengoku II, but with those, I'm sure your mileage may vary, and wildly. At best, just buy every TG game on Virtual Console.