It’s Not About Yellow PaintFebruary 17th, 2024
Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth released a demo and... there are yellow painted cliffs, reigniting a conversation that keeps coming up every few months. Now, I have no exact opinion on it's use in FF7R. It seems to be explained in universe (it's a temporary route, purposefully marked), and marking paths is hardly a sin. Hinting at the so called Golden Path is a fundamental aspect of level design. This isn't about FF7R.
... But oh god did it unfortunately choose that yellow paint that has come to symbolize a type of hand holding that has been wearing on players over the last decade. It has started to feel similar to the ancient Old Man Murray "Start to Crate" system, judging a game on "How long it took to see a crate", representing the point where "the developers ran out of ideas".
This standard wasn't exactly fair and neither is judging a game on using yellow paint. FF7R is probably fine, because again, this isn't about FF7R. It is, of course, not even about the yellow paint. It's about what the yellow paint represents.
It's Not About Leaving the Player to Struggle
A lot of people have responded to this pushback saying of COURSE modern games have to do this. They have to appeal to everyone. People didn't spend $60 dollars on a game just to get lost. Companies have to do this to make money you know!
But they don't have to. People will quickly point to Souls games, and while that works, those games always seem like they don't count. The exception, no matter how much they sell. You can't actually learn from them (even if you obviously can)... but I'm going to talk about Nintendo. Nintendo has played around on all fronts of tutorialization. Nintendo has many different kind of designers working for them. They can fall into bad habits like all of us but they tend to be ahead of the curve. Even going back to Super Mario Odyssey you can see what they chose to and what they chose not to communicate. You get your magic hat. It tells you to use it immediately. On the side of the screen is a video of human hands, doing the motion to throw your hat. The game wants to make sure you know how to use this basic ability.
... But then it doesn't tell you what to do with it. It doesn't even tell you what it does. It just surrounds you with things that can interact with this ability. It creates a space for play. You're here to play the game, right? "Oh here is a ledge that is too tall? Try catching this frog" ... and then what? Like obviously you know, and the game isn't even trying to make you feel clever for using the ability to jump without being told. You're not being told what to do because there isn't any rush. You'll jump up when you're ready. Because you're here to play... right?
Nintendo games will do things to help stuck player, to nudge them along. They'll use, like everyone else, basic level design to guide you around, but the goal usually isn't to get you to go The right way but to show you all the places you can go so you can play.
... And Dark Souls isn't much different. We might want to pretend the game is negligently unconcerned with our enjoyment but it is merely doing as much as it feels it needs to do to encourage play. Getting lost is part of the play, so you are given enough room to get lost. But discovery is also an important part of the experience so there needs to be enough things to entertain yourself finding before you stumble onto the right path. The game isn't indifferent to you, it's trying to enrich you and give you what it sees to be a good experience.
It's Not About Tricking Players into Thinking They're Smart
A type of response I saw from a lot of fellow game designers who didn't immediately dismiss the issue went kinda like this... "Okay look, players don't mind being lead around! They just don't like when it's obvious! They want to be lead around! So we have to trick them better so they think they're clever."
The painful thing here is that the general idea isn't wrong. The framing though... it bugs me. It bugs me a lot. People would accuse me and I Wanna be the Guy of adversarial game design, but honestly, no. I think this is adversarial. Not having a fun, playful relationship with the player, but looking at the player as an obstacle between us and our intended experience.
A designer friend of mine, Zara, said "Maybe it'd help if we didn't see players as a particularly stubborn breed of dog" and I feel like that's how a lot of designers look at game design. Like we're magicians, trying to fake emotions and accomplishments. We will lead the horse to water, and we will make them drink their $60+ worth of game. Nobody thinks they're smart for finding the ladder... and sure, they might feel dumb if they can't find the ladder. But we all feel dumb when we don't feel like we're trusted enough to even try.
If we design our games with the assumption that the player is an idiot, then they will feel that resentment when we hold their hand.
Enrichment, Agency, and Overly Paternalistic Game Design
As a kid, did you ever plan on doing something useful without being asked? Taking out the trash, or doing the dishes unprompted? Being proactive, showing thoughtfulness? ... and as you walk out of your room to do to the thing, a parent turns to you and goes "Hey, can you take out the trash?"
Maybe it's not with a parent. Maybe it's a boss, or a loved one. Regardless, no one in this situation is doing anything wrong but gosh does it feel like something was taken away... Worse, it often isn't as enjoyable as it would have been if you just went out and did it without them saying anything. It has been turned back into work. Repeat this too often and a person might feel like no one thinks they're capable of making the right choices on their own. They lose their feeling of agency.
Game Designers force this situation a lot in modern times. Overly aggressive popups, color coding, 'helpful' partners who bark the solution to a puzzle at you while you're just looking around for a moment. Waypoints for everything, markers for everything. All of these things good in their own context, useful design elements when appropriately applied, stacked upon each other until the game designer becomes a hover parent trying to ensure the perfect experience. You must be protected from yourself. What if you get lost? What if you don't know what to do?
Hinting through level design is not new. It's ancient technology. Super Mario Bros' coins, Donkey Kong Country's bananas, every aspect of Doom's level design always tries to give you some idea where you should be going. Dark Souls does not lead you to grope blindly. Buildings convey their importance in the distance. Lighting cues help guide you. Even enemies can be a way to funnel you were you should go. The thing is though... Most of these old things aren't 'compulsory'. They are used to set the expectation. To get you to try new things. Mario will use coins to get you to jump places to do things you don't even expect to happen. Oh, what, I can break out of the ceiling? And I only noticed because I tried to get some coins? You are taught what to look for, and then you are allowed to find it later on your own. Games like DKC, or something like Super Metroid create a relationship with the player. These hints get played with, subverted, omitted, and inverted, all to slowly expand the problem space in your mind to help you have enriching play.
A lot of modern, condescending game design fails to create enrichment. It's about going on the ride. It's the overly scheduled trip to Europe your friend planned that has an itinerary down to the hour. Homie, we're not going to Europe again for years! We gotta MAXIMIZE. But by maximizing, you miss the real experience. You miss the lazy morning in Paris, wandering around until you find an espresso place. You don't look at the reviews, you just go in. You have an authentic, human experience. Could you have gotten better coffee? Could you have planned to take a bus at 8:45 over across the city to have coffee at the 3rd best reviewed espresso place in all of France? Sure, but are you here for the coffee, or are you here for the experience? It is the down time, the space between the notes that make experiences special. You don't get that when your character is telling you what you should be doing every 10 steps in whatever current grey goo ubisoft game is out right now.
People worry about games now being made for stupid people. Dumbed down for idiots. I don't like that kind of disdainful thinking, judging peoples intelligence by how they interact with mainstream videogames. No, instead, we make games for the uninvested. Games for the people who want the sampler plater of the current zeitgeist. A child, with an brain not yet fully developed, will get through these games. They will look up answers. They aren't getting every release. It isn't about intelligence. They are getting through these games because they care more, and they have been doing this since home consoles were a thing. Meanwhile, most of my peers are more concerned with avoiding FOMO.
Do players get stuck on the simplest things? Absolutely. But no one buys a 60 dollar game and gives up on it because of some easy problem that can be solved with a google search. They give up because they have 3 other 60 dollar games waiting to be played. I am left wondering if game devs are more concerned with fun experiences, or avoiding negative ones. That when you don't finish their game, you at least remember it fondly. That you come back for the DLC. That you consider the sequel. If you have to make too many decisions, you might make unfun ones, so they keep you on a tight gameplay loop.
It's not the made-up mythical "stupid gamers" (we all get stuck in silly ways and no one should be ashamed of that) bringing things down for everyone. It is our peers, who care more about being current than taking in an experience. Because we'll all get through whatever game ultimately catches our interest, no matter how obtuse it gets. But game devs can't count on that, so they keep you moving. It's Speed, with Keanu Reeves. Drop under 50 MPH and the player gets bored and moves on to the next Call of Duty game. Players will buy a game but don't play it with respect, instead turning a lot of their playtime into some weird cultural obligation, like watching the next marvel movie.
Game developers have a problem too. A huge problem is that watching someone get stuck is a thousand times worse than being stuck. This isn't just a developer problem, look at any twitch chat while someone is playing Dark Souls. Now imagine you made the game and you're watching. It's torture. My friend who conducts testing has to tell game devs to stay hands off. No interfering with the test!! The urge is there though. Every spot must be sanded down because watching someone get stuck for even a minute is worse than having a grain of sand stuck in your eye. But testing has it's limitations. It can help you see how intuitive a menu is, or how well new players can understand your mechanics, but you can't recreate the moment of a bunch of people buying a new game and talking about it. Or recreate the focus and stubbornness of someone who has been waiting for this game for five years. It's the same reason you get a lot of weird stories about successful movies having bad test screenings. You cannot simulate your release audience. But you can polish a game until all texture is gone, and the experience is like a line at disneyland. Well designed, impressively built, highly detailed, but still... a vapid experience, cosplaying as a richer one.
Players don't respect the games they play enough to let themselves get stuck, and designers don't trust them enough to get stuck. This is the end result of a relationship built on disrespect, condescending parents speaking down to their disinterested children, who are so used to being micromanaged that they've gone numb. Testing can tell you a lot of things, but not what years of disrespect will cause in the player base.
It's not about yellow paint, it's about the fact the modern AAA space has forgotten how to have a dialog with the player. It has forgotten how to enrich and has instead decided to only try and wow. Most players don't even notice. They're so far behind in their backlog that they want content that can go down easily, not because they're not capable, but because they're overwhelmed. Culture moves so fast.
The yellow paint is just a reminder. Another unneeded reminder to do the dishes.
Guest Characters, Fortnite, and the Capitalistic Collapse of CultureJanuary 17th, 2024
I think about this video a lot. It probably pops into my mind at least once a week. It's hilarious, but also dystopian. Hell, it's hilarious because it's dystopian. Seeing this weird game that is technically kinda actually really cool have so little identity of its own, instead being some viscous Ready Player One gruel of pop culture. Endless slop to help the Battle Passes go down easier. But this video, or any other random video of Naruto knocking off Jack Skellington, is... almost beautiful, like a dying star, sucking everything in with it's massive gravitational pull.
Guest Character’s Aren’t Bad but I Will Resist Them With Every Fiber of My Being
In my usual fashion I was popping off on twitter about how I'm honestly glad Street Fighter and Guilty Gear don't really do guest characters (I guess SFV had Akira but there is a weird DNA link there). Had some fun discussing edge cases or how things have changed but I didn't really argue too much with anyone, even though some people really disagreed. Like I'd get some QRTs calling me a stuffy nerd and well, I'm a stuffy nerd and this is the lowest stakes thing to talk about.
... I did read a lot of those replies though, and people venting in their own little threads and one bit just made me sad. Someone was venting about SF6 dumping all it's guest stuff into Battle Hub avatar gear. Overcharging for things. Not making actual costumes.
"Why even bother to collaborate to begin with?"
The word collaboration has stuck out to me since I've started playing SF6. "This month, we're collaborating with -X-!" ARE YOU? Are you really? Is any meaningful collaborating happening or is licenses and contracts being exchanged with a few notes? Because I'm pretty sure it's the latter for SF6 and a lot of other things. Why are their no quality costumes, or guest characters or whatever? Because the purpose isn't to collaborate, the purpose is to extract money with an intellectual property. If people will pay $15 for a Ninja Turtle, why do something as intensive as making a full Fighting Game character? Hell, you could do a character costume, but if the costume is Battle Hub only, you don't have to go through as many development channels. You don't have to argue with the Battle Director about if a costume reads clearly. You can already be a literal burrito there. No one will say no. It's the smoothest Content Pipeline they got. A lot of people assumed I hate Guest Characters because I'm a stuffy nerd. Sure, that's half of it, but the other half is all THIS.
This is the ultimate result of Guest Characters. This is the unavoidable end state.
People would assume the same when I'd complain about DLC costumes. It's not that they can't be good. They HAVE been very good. Soul Calibur and Tekken had great 'Player 2' costumes for YEARS that were great expressions of other facets of characters. The current spread of SF6 costumes are pretty strong. But give it a few years. It's not that their can only be one canonical design, but when you are rewarded for putting out trash you will put out more trash. Not meaningful collaborations, but brands teaming with brands to extract value.
I kept joking on twitter that Akatsuki is the only good Guest Character. That's not true, but I think what's important is how clearly French Bread wanted to pay respect to Subtle Style and Blitzkampf. No one was getting that big Doujin Fighter paycheck. They are actually collaborating, as peers. Akuma in Tekken was a clear collaboration and a homage to the Cross-Over fighter that will never come to be (Cross Over fighters, unlike Guest Fighters, are cool, for the record. Every character is a First Class Citizen). Even Baiken in Samsho seemed like an attempt to help an industry colleague. There are actually a lot of reasonable guest characters. There are currently, despite MK's attempts, probably actually more good ones than bad ones.
... It's not really about Guest Characters. It's about the Rot.
Shadows of the Metaverse
I think a lot about Second Life, and everything that has tried to be Second Life since. Second Life is a strange game. Like Ready Player One we are left in the shadow of Snow Crash's metaverse. Second Life was a pretty capitalistic game. A game of shops and landlords and real money, even in the mid 2000s. Despite it's capitalistic roots, Second Life believed its value was in that of creativity. You could just MAKE things right there in the world. Want a cube? Here, have a cube. Move terrain, upload textures and animations, whatever. The game even had a UBI. While the income wasn't enough to afford housing (what else is new?) it allowed you enough money to upload textures and make things. All building and scripting (at least for the era I played in) was done in game. You didn't need external tools or 3d programs. Just a 2d texture editor. You could use paint. The game let you code like real ass code that you could run in world for free.
Turned out most people weren't interested in any of this. They wanted to have affairs in beautiful houses on the water and go to BDSM raves. Which, you know, also cool, but their priorities missed the mark of their audience. But in a way that was creatively liberating for weird freaks, furries and code perverts who ended up often being the true backbone of SL. Every attempted successor tried to fix this miss in priorities. These aren't games about creativity, they're about buying things. We'll have a whole confusing tool chain for content creators. This isn't about impulsive expressiveness and exploration this is about hustle. If you want to hustle, you'll read documentation.
They all pretty much failed though.
The true successor in the end was VR Chat. Not a one-to-one return to form, but perhaps better for it. There was something intrinsically Punk about Second Life. The fact that, despite it's capitalistic leanings, you could eat dirt, squat in a strangers house and build crazy public works in dark alleys. How you lived was meaningfully expressive. VR Chat celebrates creativity even more openly (but with less dirt eating). When you look at VR Chat you can see scenes unfold just like that Fortnite clip. It hits different. It isn't some emergent dark comedy shining through corporate slop, but genuine funny, expressive, personal chaos. It's sincere.
Punk won in Virtual Worlds space, but the monetization, the rot, just moved on.
Was the problem in Counter Strike that players couldn't express themselves? Were visual customizations in Call of Duty an obvious evolution of the game's identity? Were these things added out of a game design need or a financial one? I love the goofy SF6 World Tour avatars, but were they about expressing yourself or to be a vector for battle passes? I don't think any of these are strictly 'monetization', but they all seem motivated, or at least justified by it. This is The Rot, the force that brings the worst out of things, the perverse incentives that make systems and content insincere. Hating Guest Characters and cosmetics isn't about hating fun and whimsy, it's about trying to maintain a firebreak between sincere art and the corrupting forces of brand monetization.
... No, that's giving us too much credit. We can't stop it. We're just retching at the smell, the acrid taste of decay. It is a reminder of what is likely inevitable. While a few large games resist this force now, will they in 10 years? The market has been trained to want all their favorite culture and art pureed in a blender and fed to them through a straw. Some are so young they've never known a world that was any other way. For many, a fortnite clip and a VR Chat clip are basically the same. Even those aware of these horrible dark patterns often end up embracing the chaos rather than be miserable about what they can't change. What else can you do?
"Fine, fuck it, add John Cena to Street Fighter 6."
This is gaming's final form. Doom Eternal loads up with your Doom Slayer in a little shrine, so you can think that customization is important. It has to be important so you can pay little micro transactions to a corporation for the right to express yourself. All in an unwanted multiplayer mode that no one wanted or asked for. 3rd person cutscenes in Doom? Of course, if we don't show you how you look, you won't pay to look different. Does this make sense? Does this fit the vibe? The player base? Doesn't matter. This is the carcinization of AAA games, the evolution into the inevitable Monetization Crab.
I don't hate Guest Characters and Costumes. I miss sincerity.
2023 Wrap up of... StuffJanuary 11th, 2024
I'll be honest, this year I hadn't played much new I haven't already written about so this year is going to go a little different. I'm going to talk about a BUNCH of stuff.
I Guess I Didn't Talk about Elden Ring
It was great? What do you want from me? What could I possibly say? Like it was a Fromsoft Souls game not named Dark Souls II of course I loved it. I guess I could say it has some of my favorite lore? I feel like it and Bloodborne do the best having their lore feel more forward and visible. Not explicit like most Fromsoft games, but you could get it without as much item-description-wrangling.
Besides Dark Souls 1, this might be my favorite? And honestly at this point DS1 is held up entirely by its map in my mind, where the other contenders of Elden Ring and Bloodborne play so so well. But yeah w/e it's all been said.
Fighting games in 2023
While I didn't play a lot of new games, I played a lot of fighting games so I guess it's a good time to talk about my current relationships with them.
Street Fighter 6
(Still with less MR than I started with 😭)
I've put a lot of time into SF6 and have even been playing it on stream every other week, mixing it up with Rev2. While not as popular around Warmrock, I still have been putting time into it on my own. It's been my first time really putting time into a ranked mode and getting over ranked anxiety. It was nice to get into a game with a fresh mindset and no expectations about how good I should be.
I messed with a few characters but got immediately pulled to Dhalsim. I had developed a soft spot for him since SF4. I was playing C.Viper early on but decided I needed a "netplay" character, because trying to play Viper online seemed like a nightmare and he kinda stuck with me as a secondary for all of SF4's many versions (even as my actual 'main' changed). I never played 5 but I liked what I saw of him there and 6 seems like a combination of both versions.
I also sometimes pick mains or play alternate characters as a way to force me to play different and work on skills I don't exercise as much. Years of Sol in Rev2 left me with a lot of reason to want to slow down and respond.
When I finally decided to go for Master, rising in rank went pretty smooth. Depending on your experience, Master rank can be a massive accomplishment or the start. I figured I was in the latter bracket but didn't know if I'd be in for a rude awakening before or after I graduated. Diamond 5 started to get hard and actual Master rank has been a struggle but the most important thing is that I didn't get too used to winning. I was afraid once things got hard, I'd start getting anxious again but... eh, it's been smooth.
Really enjoying SF6 in general. I love how cracked the system is. I feel like playing it helps me keep my brain younger. Having a game with modern training mode features also is helping me approach fighting game problem solving in a much more modern way.
Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2
I've slowed down a bit here. It almost feels like I'm taking a break without really taking a break. Breaks are good though, this is a natural part of the cycle. Still my favorite Guilty Gear I think and still playing it every other week at least, but I'm rarely playing it more than that. Still, I feel like I'm bringing some better decision making back from SF6. Just trying to look at situations differently now. Hopefully at some point I'll get back to focusing on it and hop into more random lobbies and tournaments.
Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo
As less people show up on mondays this has become the 'Weekly FT10 with CaliScrub'. My majority of time playing is just the Zangief vs Shotos matchup. Despite almost always winning the set, I find it weirdly frustrating. I constantly feel like I'm letting too much slip past me, or that my 360s are always off or that matchups that are in my favor feel often like I'm not sure what I should do. Even writing this made me watch a youtube set and hop into training mode.
Cali is better than he lets himself be and it is my job to make sure he never realizes his true potential. The Games are Good, but I am a petty bitch 😤
Guilty Gear X2 Accent Core +R
In a weird place with this. Love this game, love how it has no buffer, love how everything is super hard and sketchy, love all that shit... except for the fact I don't really have a chance to actually PLAY that much. Combine this with playing Johnny and I feel like I'm somewhere between "derusting" and "relearning" every time I play. It's frustrating, because the lack of stable play time makes me feel like I'm always peddling in place. Not the game's fault -- merely the fault of circumstance.
Guilty Gear Strive
I've come to terms with Strive, especially with every game having rollback now. I don't really love it, but if I can pull out Goldlewis or Johnny and do some dumb combos and have a good time. Playing with my local friends is fun and it's probably kinda helpful that I don't play Strive as much as anything else. I don't know WTF they were thinking with Wild Assault like what was their goal??? Clearly to make another resource, but it doesn't feel like it's solving any problems. It's just a system tacked on because they needed a new system and it makes an already pretty volatile game even more volatile. On the other hand, as someone who only plays maybe once a month, it's fun to be a bully with it. The last patch at least fixed Red WA, but I haven't played with it yet. All I know is that Goldie is extra stupid, so that sounds fun.
Projects of 2023
I spent a lot of 2023 pursuing a lot of non-gaming projects!
God I fucking hate wordpress. Keeping it updated was a pain, random updates would fuck up my site, plugins were constantly breaking, and the whole thing has drifted to some dumb SEO bullshit so I wanted some flat file stuff. I ended up redoing everything in Grav, which has been super pleasant and way more approachable for me to extend and theme myself. I mean I did do wordpress theming, but I barely knew what I was doing. I also moved my private lore wiki over to a grav site too, eliminating the need for mysql on mny server. Wikis are nice, but when you mostly work alone, it makes things extra slow for little benefit. It's also nice because now, while the file structure is a little nutty, I can READ all my lore writing from a text browser, even if I don't have a working site up.
Another nice benefit is it's made it easy to keep a local server running that is a copy of my whole web presence. I an edit stuff locally until I'm happy and then just do an rsync. It's... been really nice!
Brave Earth Cartography, Family Trees, and Vexillology
I spent a lot of time doing fun stuff for my own world building and reference purposes. The big one was using QGIS to remake my old map and then generate a super in detail, multi-scale map. I wrote about whole process over on cohost here and here. If you care about the dumb lore if an unreleased game, there is a whole blog of little details over there. If you want more maps, there is also this lovely map of Vannaleona, Naomi's home city.
Also on cohost is a write-up on Aistorian Flags and Aistorian Heraldry. There is also my Family Tree project, which was the most hilarious hackjob I've ever done. A complete crime. Completely hacking obfuscated code of a proprietary web viewer and writing weird file format converters. The cohost post only shows so much, so here is a zoomed out tree from GRAMPS, which I use to organize all the core data.
A lot of this map fun gets extra fun with the grav redesigns, allowing me to link info between all these different projects, allowing me to go from the family tree or map to a character page or whatever. All this stuff is mostly just for me and a few other people, but it's like keeping a nice scrap book. It makes it a pleasurable object to interact with.
This is gonna be it's own post at some point so to give the short version... I found a jumping spider, I threw it in a box, I threw dirt in the box, and then some plants, then I tried to feed it sme roly polys, but roly polys are too brollic for most spiders to eat so then I just had a spider and a whole bunch of roly polys and wait holy shit are those centipedes?? A WORM??? Wait, where did that Harvestman come from. MULTIPLE MILLIPEDES???
So I now have a cube of nature with some outdoor plants mixed with some plants I bought. I'm surprised how much I'm enjoying the plant part of everything too my desk is covered with weird little growing projects and I know have a few actual house plants sitting around that I can take cuttings from for terrarium purposes. But a quick list.
- Flatwell the Tan Jumping Spider
- 3 Species of Isopods (idk like 20+ at least? Maybe even 30?)
- Armadillidium Vulgar (The black tank like ones)
- Armadillidium Nasatum (The flatter, greyer ones)
- A Singular Philoscia Muscorum (The false king, small and kinda striped)
- At least 3 Species of Springtails
- Orchesella villosa (Big hairy little buggers. Big enough to have a personality)
- Collembola Springtails (Little white fellas)
- Red Globular Springtails (Little useless Red Dots)
- 3 Harvestmen who run around all day like goons
- Soil Centipedes
- Snake Millipedes
- A worm???
- There was a beetle at SOME point
- There is SOME kind of tiny translucent baby spider I saw???
- Lunch, a caterpillar that ate everything and is now in a jar out on the poarch as a chrysalis, buried in sand
For plants, besides for a whole bunch of clover, the biggest thing is a gigantic Peperomia Piccolo Banda that grew HUGE in like a month. Gonna try and squeeze in some lemon button ferns and some fittonia eventually. Got a few string of turtles strands in there but they haven't rooted yet.
I have a thread on twitter you can check out if you want, and I also post a lot of stuff on tumblr too. At some point I'll make a blogpost detailing the critters and plants I have, but until then... I've really enjoyed my weird box full of dirt.
90s-2000s All Japan/NOAH Exploration
Been working through the old catalog of All Japan and Noah wrestling matches. I remember watching old Misawa vs Kawada matches in the 2000s and just not getting it. My tastes were bad then though. I was too fixated on cool moves and not how god damn hard these moves were hitting, let alone the emotional connections. Working through Joseph Montecillo's Walking the Kings Road series was a great way to get context for what me and my friend were watching. Also jumped ahead to watch some of Kenta Kobashi's legendary run in NOAH. It was even fun to see a lot of the gaijin wrestle. God, Doctor Death fucking ruled. Stan Hansen was all he cracked up to be. I even ended up loving a lot of the old guard like Jumbo(the tiredest dad) and Tenryu(the perfect perm).
Brave Earth Prologue
It's painfully close to done. I got over a lot of burn out and stagnation at the end of last year and I'm making the final push. Expect more detailed news soon (hopefully).
Nostalgia vs Having an Active Relationship With Your MediaDecember 15th, 2023
If you've worked with raspberry pi emulators or retro gaming handhelds you notice a common theme pop up a lot in comments and reddit boards. Setting up these devices can be a hobby unto themselves. Curating roms, downloading logos and screenshots, scraping data, picking themes, tweaking and customizing until... you realize your done. Maybe you should actually play a something.
... And then you'll see threads of people talking about the same thing.
Hey, have any of you guys actually played anything? I mean I messed around with mine and loaded a few classics, but now that I'm done, I... don't know what to do with it. I feel like I had more fun setting it up than playing with it.
Now, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the process more than the end project. A garage carpenter doesn't necessarily make a chair for the pleasure of sitting. They can make it for the pleasure of making. Sitting can be a bonus. The part of this that is the problem is... the kinda sadness that comes out after when you're not prepared for it.
You'll see this with nintendo themed "man caves" or other gaming rooms where having the games... having the right screen and the right connectors, isn't enough... having the games of your childhood aren't enough. Gotta collect more, gotta try and get everything. Satisfaction isn't playing a new game, satisfaction is "New in Box". The hobby switches form. The hobby is no longer playing video games. The hobby is paying tribute to the memories of your past, the aesthetics of video games. What they can't force themselves to play anymore was still, at some point, formative and important to them. They can't let it go. The music, the pictures, the symbols of these old game still resonate in their heart.
So instead of actually playing, they construct shrines of worship to the warm, comfortable memories of their youth. This is, of course, nostalgia.
I hate on nostalgia a lot but there isn't truly anything wrong with it. In most realms, it doesn't matter. The people whose love of Star Wars hasn't grown in decades can still watch the movies they like and enjoy them. A few hours, a few times a year, relaxed on a couch. Gaming, on the other hand, takes some stubbornness. It takes some skill. Effort, even if mild effort. Investing the increasingly scarce resource of time. It's frankly more than a little understandable. The problem is when that they don't recognize any of this and when they go back... there is nothing but a weird emptiness and some frustration. For those who don't even realize they've grown out of gaming entirely, gaming becomes an endless line of frustration and backlogs with a few scattered high points. We don't know how to manage nostalgia in the gaming space.
Hell, by we, I feel like I only speak to fellow Millennials. Those of us who have been on the content treadmill, where gaming advanced so quickly year by year that we never had a moment to collect our feelings. Deeply influential pieces of media in our lives got let go off within years or even months because the next thing was that much crazier. Whenever I look at the release timeline of the 90s I feel like I'm going insane. "All those things couldn't have happened that quickly."
We call things retro and they feel retro because our whole timeline was stretched by the insane technological race we grew up in. We'll argue up and down if something is truly retro, comparing time and design styles but... I don't think I've ever seen a zoomer refer to a game as retro. Some games are... merely old. These new gamers exist, seemingly, at the end of time, free to pick from the fruits of the past. A lot of them aren't too technologically savvy, but those who are use emulators end up using them more freely and explore more deeply than a lot of my peers. The peers who don't "because it just doesn't feel right". On their couch, in their pajamas, on a sunday, playing on a fuzzy CRT. They're not burdened by our memories. They're us, picking through our parents vinyl. Their childhood memories aren't being rushed out the door for the next thing like ours were. They're... kinda free?
But we exist in this same time too. At the end of time. The freedom to reach back to the past at our leisure has been there since NESticle came out in 1997.
I'm not even sure who I'm talking to. While I personally know too many peers who have fallen into this nostalgia trap, most of them don't follow me in places like this. And not every zoomer is some super media literate history hunter either. Most aren't. Most people aren't. But my interactions with these groups and how they contrast each other keeps rattling in my head. I'd much rather talk to a 20something about the SNES than someone of my age group. Because if a 20something is playing old games, they probably have a cool attitude and curiosity while... many of my peers cling to past like a childhood blanket they've long outgrown. They don't need to throw the blanket away -- it's a precious memory. But they also need something to actually cover them. They don't realize they're freezing to death.
I said on twitter (those threads are... here, here, and here) that if your favorite NES games now were the same as they were 30 years ago then I don't want to talk to you about old games. Not that you're hurting anyone, not that you're taste must be bad, but... 30 years is a long time. The games might not change, but you will. If your opinions haven't changed in any major ways (even if it's as simple as 'I played mother 10 years ago and it's in my top 5 now!') that implies that... you haven't had any active growth in your tastes and opinions. At least in this area.
Which is fine! We can talk about something else! Not everyone should care about old games, but too many people who say they care have let their emotions stagnant for decades. They say they care because gaming became their identity and now they're stuck. Stuck regurgitating the same canon they are too incurious to stray from and that they themselves can barely manage to replay. You have to let the relationship you have with these games change. You don't have to throw out your blanket, but you can't rely on it to keep you warm. You've grown too much.
The biggest issue with those twitter threads was... accidentally implying that the change was the point. That you need to cast away everything you loved, painfully, to grow and to find the 'correct opinions'. Instead what I'm saying is... the change should be unavoidable. The relationship you have with your long term friends, the family you still have in your life, changes, year to year, decade to decade. You both change, and the context of your relationship changes. You feel like nothings changed, but the vibe now vs 10 years ago has shifted. You can't stay the same. At best things are similar. Heck, if it hasn't changed at all, something is probably wrong. Every interaction is a chance for tiny changes that enrich and build upon what was there before.
I always hated the notion of "wishing you could experience something again for the first time". To me, it always felt like wishing you could start a friendship again from scratch. My relationship with media is active. Each time I replay a game my experience with it grows. Our relationship grows. People say you only get to do something for the first time once, treating your first time like this precious, ephemeral experience that must be protected at all cost. But how can that compare to an experience developed over years or decades? Like sex, the first time has all the memories, but it's also usually some of the worst you'll ever have.
Every game you play, every movie you watch, every book you read is context and experience that changes, even if only minutely, how you feel about everything else. You don't have to replay something a million times, you can think about it after new experiences, wondering about how it re-contextualizes what you felt the last time you played. As you understand the history surrounding things, as you get better at judging, appreciating and naturally enjoying things with their context and historic place in mind... your opinions on other things will change. It's not that 8 year old you liked dogshit and now you like The Good Stuff -- you will probably like some good things less while developing an appreciation for things you used to hate. Hell, you might end up loving a few things that are objectively bad. But you'll be somewhere new, emotionally, exploring, and developing deeper, richer relationships with the things that are important to you. Nothing gets thrown away, it simply changes. Just because an old top 5 favorite game is now in your top 50 doesn't mean that relationship is gone or that you hate it. Things simply change. People change.
I make games that draw from old games... but I can't say I really feel nostalgia for these titles because to miss something, it has to go away. IWBTG isn't about games I loved in my childhood, IWBTG is about games I love. I didn't like NES Castlevania games until I was almost 30 and now I'm 40 making the same quasi-fan game I've been making for over a decade.
(If you think an opinion on a game can change a lot in 10 years, imagine how you feel about a game you started 10 years ago)
I still feel nostalgia. When I go to upstate New York, to my grandma's house I barely see, laying in the moss I barely get to touch, looking at the sights I barely get to see, I feel something. When I hear a pop punk song that meant the world to me in 95' that I haven't thought about in 20 years... hearing the opening notes when I'm not expecting it hits something deep inside me. There is nothing wrong with nostalgia. But if I love something enough to make it an active part of my personality, to make it a part of my whole life... I owe it a real, active relationship.
The Game Awards as Stolen ValorDecember 8th, 2023
It's no secret that I hate The Game Awards. It's the same twitter rant from me every year. Some years are lucky and I mostly manage to ignore it, but a lot of twitter discourse got me thinking...
Now, I'm generally pretty anti-Award Shows in general. Not because I think Awards are bad (I especially love small community awards!), or industries celebrating their own is dumb but because most of them either fall to capitalism or have been cynical cash grabs from the start. Even events that seem like they were rooted in more positive attempts to celebrate accomplishments often fall short.
"I found that the best way to handle [filmmakers] was to hang medals all over them ... If I got them cups and awards, they'd kill themselves to produce what I wanted. That's why the Academy Award was created"
- Louis B. Mayer, founder of AMPAS
I found this quote on wikipedia while reading about the Academy Awards. Even from the get-go, even when the awards were just a private party, the goal was money and control. They could dress it up and disguise it better, but while it doesn't compare to the naked commercialism of The Game Awards, it still sucks. But even sucking it can at least somewhat serve the "purpose" (like okay the purpose is money, but the purpose we pretend they have) of these types of events. Giving people their flowers, hearing from people we don't usually hear from, to elevate, to put faces to the people who make the art we enjoy.
The Game Awards can't even do that. Now, this has been a bad year for The Game Awards in general, between layoffs not being acknowledges, or the Future Class trying to get The Game Awards to acknowledge the Gaza Crisis. Those issues, while important, will change year from year. What likely won't change drastically is the trend. More commercials, more trailers, less time for awards. The Game Awards's DNA being a weird mix of the Spike VGAs (already a money grab shit show) and a new E3 really shines through when it comes to priorities. Companies with thousands of employees must give their thanks in 30 seconds, all so they can run the next trailer. They are not getting their flowers. They are not being celebrated. They are being used as an excuse to run an event. The awards are a formality.
For awhile I felt bad trashing on the awards. I have friends who have won awards and who should be proud of it! In fact, I generally don't take much issue with the winners, but in a weird way that's kind of the point. The Game Awards are telling you what you already know. Bashing the awards doesn't discredit the games who have won because those games don't need the credit. They credit the award. I know Armored Core 6 is the best action game of 2023.
Because the awards are never brave, they can never elevate. Now, an award doesn't have to be brave to be good. Sometimes respecting the obvious good work of others is enough. But with awards being an after thought they're not giving respect, and with the award's prestige never being used to elevate, all that The Game Awards become is a youtube clickbait top 10 list. A blind cash grab, fancied up with money. That if they spend enough money on a set, if people wear suits, if the award is Art Deco enough, their glorified content gruel will have legitimacy. Unfortunately, they're right.
The companies are fine with this farce. It lets them do their own advertising. Most people show up to see the new trailer for the game they already know exists rather than wanting to see the face and hear the voice of the person who composed their favorite soundtrack. Even when faces are shown, it's the most corporately presentable faces. Accepting an award is still marketing. An in-industry friend of mine made a great tweet reply to me basically pointing out that none of this even about people. It's about Brands. The Brands win awards and a face is shown to represent the brand. Only marketable people like Kojima are given much time, because he, in himself, is the commercial. Kojima is a Brand. We don't acknowledge the protests outside, layoffs during record profits, because protesters don't fit the Message we want associated with out Brand.
This isn't about celebrating or appreciating people, this is about making money. We can barely even afford the illusion of caring about people, we can't offer even the slightest sympathy to those we layed off because we only exist if we're useful to the big publishers. Why would they show their trailers in a show that talked about their bad business practices? What would even be the point of having an Award Show then!
The Game Awards blindly benefits from the hard work and passion of the people who make the art we love, stealing the credit to alchemize it into value for companies instead. Humanity and Art are sacrificed for Content, a trade that gamers historically accept readily.
I’m Tired but Will Never Stop Screaming
I saw so many people on twitter saying "I feel like I wasted 3 hours of my life" and to them I ask... why did you watch? Genuinely. Did you feel like you had to? That you'd be missing out? That you have a responsibility as a game enjoyer? You don't. And you don't have to. Even if you care about the news, it'll be on social media in minutes, sometimes even seconds. Is it being connected to the zeitgeist? You gotta ask yourself if that superficial feeling is worth it. It doesn't represent anything real. The fact I saw the Elphelt trailer 45 seconds later than everyone else didn't mean I was unable to participate. You're a free person. You can simply choose not to engage with the cynical bullshit you're told to care about. You will feel FOMO exactly once and then, the next day, realize that it didn't matter.
Maybe you watched it and enjoyed it with your friends. Maybe you had fun hate watching, I don't know, I can't stomach that crap but you do you. I'm not going to be like "You have to boycott The Game Awards!!!" because... it doesn't matter. Even if you could kill it, it'd be replaced by something worse. I can't even convince you all to stop letting yourselves get spoonfed by Nintendo Directs. Like I said, you're a free person. I'll tease you about waking up at early to watch commercials but it's not the end of the world. I'd just like you to genuinely ask yourself why you care? Why you can't just wait? Why you can't just pick out what you want to see when you get to it?
... And if you've been nominated for something, or even won an award... I'm genuinely happy for it. You deserve it. You and your team deserve better. Milk any credibility this gives you as much as you can, but know you deserve more.