Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bite My Shiny Metal Ass

Just like that, the end of the week's rolled around already. I suppose this means it's time for me to write another one of these blog things, what with that whole crazy idea of providing regular new content. (Consistent only in its inconsistency, of course.)

I could take a little time to comment on the "teabagging" protests misguided conservatives attended sponsored by Fox News a week and a half ago, pretending they were a legitimate grassroots movement. But let's be honest, paying attention to those idiots only serves to legitimize their message. The rich aren't pitiable victims, they just don't want to carry their part of the tax burden. Greedy fucks. America isn't a meritocracy, and wealth and lack thereof have nothing to do with how hard people work like they imply. Let's move on to something more valuable.

How valuable, you ask?

Let's get nerdy and talk Futurama.

I bring up the subject because I received the latter three of the four final movies for my birthday last weekend, and in having finally finished the series, I felt the movies and the series' future would make a fun, appropriately nerdy discussion for a post on here, given my fondness for nerdy pop culture blogging in general.

So let's hop to it!

Bender's Big Score

The movies were kicked off in fall 2007 with the release of Bender's Big Score, around four years after the last episode of the 5th season (Though regarded as the 4th by the creators, Fox having split the last season into two in broadcast.) initially aired.

Beginning a trend the other films followed, Bender's Big Score told a series of elaborately interwoven series of subplots with one central storyline holding everything together. (And in no way skimped on the references to the previous seasons, with Futurama having a far more cohesive and well-developed storyline and setting than Matt Groening's other, better-known show, The Simpsons, ever has. Futurama can generally pull of more dramatic storytelling and character development far better than The Simpsons as well, in having some legitimately well done sci-fi drama elements to complement the comedy writing.) Each of the movies tend to embody a feeling of either being several episodes of the show strung together, or simply one long episode of the series. And typically, compared to the TV series, the writing in the movies tends to feel a little unbalanced - probably due to a combination of both working with a longer running time to let the films' stories play out and not having written scripts for the show for several years.

The core story of Bender's Big Score focuses on a group of nudist internet scammer aliens scamming their way to taking over the Earth. Bender - the series' much-loved chain-smoking crime-prone robot - ends up infected by a virus that leaves him in the scammers' service. In the process of taking over the series' central Planet Express delivery business, the scammers also find the secret code for paradox-correcting time travel in a tattoo of Bender on one of series protagonist Fry's buttocks. In learning the secret of time travel, the aliens begin sending Bender to the past - as the code only allowed for travel backward in time - to pillage human history of its greatest treasures.

While this is going on, Fry deals with feelings of jealousy when Leela - his long-time romantic interest, cyclops, and another of the series' lead characters - begins dating Lars, a guy from the local head-in-a-jar preservation center, who she meets after Planet Express bureaucrat Hermes accidentally gets decapitated. (His efforts to get his head properly reattached to his body is another of the film's numerous interwoven subplots.)

Once the scammers have effectively looted history, they decide to get rid of the time code by killing Fry and blanking it from Fry's memory, but before they can, Fry escapes to the past, resuming his old life from just after when he'd first frozen himself on New Year's Eve 1999. Bender travels to the past to track down and kill Fry, wreaking havoc on early 2000s America as Fry continues to elude him. Eventually, Bender takes Fry out and returns to the future to report his success, suffering a crisis when he finally clears the virus from his system, realizing he'd killed his best friend.

The rest of the film follows the question of what really became of Fry, following a story at sea in which he falls in a form of unrequited love mirroring his own long-time feelings for Leela throughout the series. Back in the future, having been cast off of Earth, the population assembles a motley army to attack the scammers and retake the Earth.

The film can undoubtedly confuse those unfamiliar with the series itself, relying as heavily on the viewers knowing the characters and being familiar with a lot of the show's running injokes, minor characters, and such. But overall, while an unbalanced film - the humor largely hit and miss, and the central story a bit muddled, but full of good character development - it set a good tone for the Futurama movies as they were made.

The Beast with a Billion Backs

The second Futurama movie, The Beast with a Billion Backs, picks up where Bender's Big Score left off, with a massive tear forming in the fabric of the universe as a result of the massive abuse of time travel. Following an initial panic, most people continue to go on with their regular lives, while the scientific community debates what to do about the tear in the universe.

The first half hour or so of the film feels much like a self-contained episode, leading gradually up to the rising action of the central narrative, like in the other films. Long-time couple Amy Wong and Kif Kroker get married. (The former being the Planet Express intern and series regular since the first season, and the latter being downtrodden assistant to the semi-regular Flash Gordon/Captain Kirk parody, Zapp Brannigan.) And Fry starts dating a girl named Colleen, who he decides to move in with even after learning that she had four other boyfriends. Feeling abandoned with Fry moving out of their apartment, Bender's own comical misanthropy toward the human race begins to grow again. Fry ends up breaking up with Colleen within the first half hour of the film shortly after moving in, after learning of her plans to bring a sixth guy into the relationship.

After the Planet Express crew manages to win a game of Deathball (A gigantic take on Labyrinth) against Professor Farnsworth's rival, Wernstrom, they gain the right to explore the tear in the universe. In the process, they find that only living things can pass through the anomaly, while electrical objects like robots are either repelled or destroyed.

Following this initial story arc, loneliness begins to grip the characters - Fry and Bender in particular - the initial exploration of one of the film's central philosophical themes. After hearing that the League of Robots - a mythical robot society not unlike the Masons - didn't exist despite his longtime belief otherwise, Bender attempts suicide in a suicide booth (Mirroring the beginning of the series, where he and Fry first met.), only to stumble upon the League of Robots' secret lair and be inducted. Fry, on the other hand, stows away on a Zapp Brannigan-led expedition to destroy the anomaly and the other universe beyond with a missile, planning to slip into the other universe and leave his life on Earth behind forever.

Zapp's assault on the other universe backfires and ends up killing Kif. While the others mourn Kif back on Earth, Fry passes through to the other universe, where he meets a massive, one-eyed, multi-tentacled monster. Fry returns to Earth with a tentacle attached to the back of his neck, leading an assault with the indestructible tentacles, instructing the populace of Earth to love the tentacles as the population of the planet is forcibly bonded to the creature. With the entire planet under its influence, Fry becomes the pope of a new religion devoted to the tentacles, attachment to them bringing deep satisfaction and happiness to all the people of the world.

While Bender brings upheaval to the League of Robots in a challenge to the League's leader, soap opera star Calculon, Leela flees the tentacles with Zapp Brannigan and Amy in tow. After some careful research, she makes a shocking discovery, which she revealed to the church congregation after assimilating disguised with a fake tentacle: the monster's tentacles were all actually genitalia. This prompts the creature, Yivo, to finally speak directly through Fry, and confess that it'd originally just been looking for a one-night stand with their entire universe, but after its long, lonely existence, had actually fallen in love with their universe. As a gesture of his intentions, Yivo proceeded to bring Kif back to life, who discovered shortly afterward that Zapp and Amy had slept together while he was dead.

With that, Yivo asks everyone in the universe out on a date at the same time, which the universe agrees to. But lacking any clear signs of a commitment, the universe sends a delegation to break up with Yivo, who proposes then, and the universe accepts. Bender leads an uprising - with an army provided by the Robot Devil in exchange for Bender's firstborn son - to overthrow human society in the name of the League of Robots, only to watch the rest of the universe depart to live on Yivo's body in his universe via golden escalators which descend from the sky. Unable to join them, the robots are left behind to inherit the Earth.

Upon arrival, humanity finds that all the traditional human works of art depicting the Christian heaven - a beautiful kingdom in the clouds with angels - had been based on Yivo's surface, which he'd transported dreams of to Earth's artists centuries prior. Everyone else is deliriously happy there, but Leela remains suspicious of Yivo's motives. Only when she finally accepts the others' happiness does she allow herself to succumb to her own loneliness and become happy with life on Yivo as well, a place of eternal bliss.

Fry sends a letter across dimensions to Bender - breaking the rules on Yivo - which ends up prompting the robot population to head to the anomaly to give the rest of the universe a major reality check about the nature of love and how nasty it can (And sometimes has to) be in life.

In terms of writing, I consider The Beast with a Billion Backs to be the second best of the four. The comedy aspect's probably the most off-course for the series out of the four movies, relying on an excess of awkward gross-out jokes, which the series itself previously used rather sparingly. But the quality of the core writing itself more than makes up for that - the film feeling like a better one of the show's more serious character development episodes - with all that it has to say about the nature of love, loneliness, and religion.

Bender's Game

In terms of plot depth, Bender's Game is the weakest of the Futurama films overall. But more so than the previous two, it nailed the comedy in a manner similar to the TV series. They really turned the nerdiness up to 11 in this one.

Bender's Game focuses on a simple story, overall. The Planet Express crew has to conserve fuel due to the rising costs of dark matter - a rather blatant allegory for the issue of gas prices here in America - and eventually realize that the villainous Mom (Of Mom's Friendly Robot Company) has a monopoly on the business and was fixing the prices.

Bender gets hooked on Dungeons & Dragons with Professor Farnsworth's clone, Cubert, and Hermes' son, Dwight. In proper '80s scare movie fashion, this ultimately causes Bender to go insane, leading to his commitment to the robot asylum featured in one episode of the TV series. A twelve-sided die the kids use in the game turns out to be the Professor's missing "anti-backwards" crystal that would allow him to render all dark matter inert as starship fuel, having originally discovered how to convert the matter to starship fuel himself decades prior.

With that, the crew heads off to Mom's dark matter mine, where they learn the method behind its mass production - filling in some more back story from the TV series - and midway through a showdown with Mom and her lackey sons, all the dark matter in the world begins to resonate while Bender undergoes a Robotomy to have his imagination processor removed. As a result, everyone is thrown into an alternate fantasy world derived from Bender's imagination.

The majority of the rest of the film focuses on a D&D/Lord of the Rings parody retread of the storyline we'd just watched, adjusted and refitted to the new setting. When everyone manages to return to reality, a revelation about one of Mom's sons is made, and the showdown resolves in time for the end credits.

Subplots include Leela being fitted with a shock collar to learn to deal with her anger issues and build-up to the revelation of the aforementioned secret about one of Mom's sons.

Overall, Bender's Game isn't stellar in terms of storytelling. But its focus is more on following the Anthology of Interest "what if" TV series episodes with its fantasy parody side of the plot. That and the refinement of the humor naturally make it required viewing for Futurama fans.

Into the Wild Green Yonder

Of all four, Into the Wild Green Yonder really embodies everything I was looking for in a Futurama movie. It figures, of course, that it would be the last movie to effectively nail all aspects of the series well, but it's the movie you'd want to do just that, too.

The film begins with the Planet Express crew taking a trip to Mars Vegas on the surface of Mars, which Amy's father Leo - the Wong family being extremely wealthy and affluent - destroys after the opening credits, then immediately replacing it with the superior "New Vegas." During its construction, the site is protested by a group of ecofeminists who Leo and the crew largely brush off - while an accident leads to a piece of ecofeminist Frida's jewelry getting lodged in Fry's brain - and Leela ends up saving a single Martian muck leech before their last habitat is immediately paved over during the New Vegas construction process.

Upon the completion of New Vegas, Fry realizes he can hear voices inside his head and that he's somehow become telepathic. In a back alley, he meets a fellow telepathic in a hobo named Hutch, who gives him a tinfoil hat to block the voices. He also warns Fry not to reveal his powers and beware of the "Dark Ones," a sort of ominous and more threatening villain concept than the series has ever seen before. While all this is going on, Bender begins an affair with the Mafia Donbot's wife, Fanny.

The first half hour or so of the film largely plays out like a single episode of the series, focusing on Bender's affair and a poker competition which both Fry and Bender enter, each intending to cheat their way to victory in their own way. Bender eventually ends, which leads to the Donbot's confirming the affair and burying both Bender and Fanny.

The main story kicks into high gear in the remaining hour when Leo Wong unveils plans to destroy part of the galaxy as so to construct the largest minigolf course in the universe. While surveying a proposed site to be demolished in a violet dwarf system, the crew finds an asteroid teeming with primordial life. Having been bribed by Leo repeatedly, though, Professor Farnsworth still approves the destruction of the site, despite objections from Leela and Fry.

Furious with the Professor's decision, Leela joins with the ecofeminists and stages a protest at Leo's normal-sized minigolf course while he was playing a game with Earth President Nixon. Things go awry, and they end up accidentally killing the headless body of Spiro Agnew and have no choice but to go into hiding. Under Leela's leadership, the ecofeminists decide to start sabotaging Leo's project, and she drops by Planet Express briefly to pick up the Martian muck leech as their mascot. There, she and Fry share an emotional farewell, Fry supporting her decision, not knowing when they'd see one another again.

Soon after, Hutch introduces Fry to the Legion of Mad Fellows, an underground group of telepaths looking to save the universe from the Dark Ones. He learns that two races - the Encyclopods and Dark Ones - had evolved as a result of a sort of competitive evolutionary arms race on the same planet. The essentially extinct Encyclopods evolved to preserve the DNA of all endangered species in the universe and recreate these extinct species. Conversely, the Dark Ones had evolved to counter them - seeking to destroy the Encyclopods and all biological life. A threat entirely unlike what the Futurama universe had faced before. He also learns that an Encyclopod will soon be born in the violet dwarf system, and that it was up to Fry to save the system, being immune to the Dark Ones' psionic powers due to his weak brain waves. (His exceptional stupidity had helped to save the Earth from giant brain alien invaders twice in the original TV series as well.) In undertaking his assignment to save the violet dwarf system, Fry infiltrated Leo's financial empire as a low level security guard.

Leo hires Zapp Brannigan and Kif - who are also joined by Bender, jealous of Leela's growing criminal record surpassing his own - to hunt down the ecofeminists, whose numbers had only grown with regular and supporting female cast members fed up with the amount of chauvinism and misogyny they were dealing with from the men in the series. Along the way, they end up capturing the Planet Express ship, imprisoning Professor Farnsworth, Hermes, and Dr. Zoidberg. Fry attempts to pass a message on to Leela through Frida when he finds her placing protest signs on Leo's property, but when a Dark One learns the message at the ecofeminist hideout and kills Frida, Fry is ultimately suspected of foul play. Leela calls him to ask his side of things, having placed her trust in him, but they only end up being discovered by Zapp as a result of Bender having bugged Fry's phone.

After a long, elaborate, and destructive chase, Zapp manages to bring the ecofeminists in, who are in turn convicted and given a prison sentence. With the demolishing of the violet dwarf system imminent, Bender breaks Leela and the other ecofeminists out of prison to have his criminal record overtake Leela's again, and Fry receives the "omega device" from the Legion of Mad Fellows to disable the approaching Dark One once he'd identified it.

The climax of the movie arrives when Leo gives Fry the honor of pushing the plunger to destroy the violet dwarf system and Fry is left with only moments to determine the identity of the dark one to prevent the destruction of the Encyclopod and the star system's reemerging "chi" life energy. While the ecofeminists rush to stop the ceremony, Fry has to determine the Dark One's identity in a massive crowd composed entirely of supporting characters from the series' several season run. From there, all sorts of twists and turns take place before the end credits roll - none of which I'll spoil here.

Overall, Into the Wild Green Yonder manages to combine the high points of previous movies in terms of writing. Like Bender's Game, it consistently completely nails the series' level of comedy writing, feeling like a long, high quality episode of the series, without getting too stuck on a single central parody theme like Bender's Game largely did in catering to very specific type of nerd humor. And like The Beast with a Billion Backs, beneath the humor, there's an emotionally resonant story with the characters, filled with sociopolitical commentary, the film bearing strong environmentalist and feminist themes - initially making light of both lines of political belief and activism, but ultimately subverting neither and instead supporting them at the story's core.

You never quite get that story arc where Fry and Leela finally become a couple that the series had been hinting at all along, but there's a few moments in the resolution that should make fans waiting for them to get together happy. And the entire film ends on a very open-ended note - leaving the story open to continuing with perhaps another TV series or additional movies. But even if Into the Wild Green Yonder ends up being the true series finale, it goes out on a very high note.

The Future

Following the strong sales of these direct to DVD movies and the popularity of their broadcasts on Comedy Central, the Fox network has confirmed that they're considering actually bringing Futurama back for a 6th season, after they originally cancelled the show around 7 years ago now. (The four movies are officially regarded as the fifth season in canon, while Fox's "5th" season is technically regarded as part of the fourth as it was originally intended to be.) Creator Matt Groening and voice actor Billy West (Who plays Fry, amongst many others) have said they're both optimistic about Futurama's prospects of being revived.

While Family Guy has begun to stagnate a few years after its revival on Fox after years of massive fan campaigning and strong DVD set sales - relying too much on the lowest brow of humor and underusing their better ideas and storylines. (Especially in that episode guest starring the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast a few weeks ago. The only redeeming parts of that episode were the Next Generation cast scenes - the rest of it was simply messy and stupid. And I say this as a big Family Guy fan since the series' original broadcast premiere back when I was in 10th grade a decade ago.) Groening and co-creator David X. Cohen have said they still come up with new story ideas for Futurama all the time, with no shortage of plotlines to work with - and an interesting place to pick up from, given how Into the Wild Green Yonder ended. They're pretty huge nerds themselves, and while The Simpsons has been stagnating for years as a sort of "do anything" comedy with little in the way of a consistent ongoing story, Futurama has always been a much more directed series with its ongoing character and plot arcs, and an ever-growing, consistent backstory, as the show was still designed to be a good science fiction comedy show - not just a sci-fi Simpsons.

Given how Into the Wild Green Yonder turned out after the first three movies were simply good - each with their strengths and weaknesses - and felt like unbalanced writing exercises as the show's writers got back into the swing of things, I'm fully confident that a Futurama revival could continue the series in a fashion just as good as it was before, if not take it to new levels after the far more ambitious storylines the movies pursued and showed that the writers could pull off with the series. Either way, I'm looking forward to seeing what happens.

With those movies watched, it's was on to watching the other movies I got for my birthday, all of which are European art house flicks. Trainspotting, Brazil, and The City of Lost Children. Danny Boyle, Terry Gilliam, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Good stuff.

For the sake of valuable content (Also in line with one of the themes of that last Futurama movie), I also could have done an environmentalist post for the first time in ages, what with this past Wednesday having been Earth Day. At least as a nod to that, check out these Earth Day tips to a more environmentally conscious lifestyle.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Reflections on Aging

So, everyone gets old, and everyone dies. These are facts of life.

Birthdays are simply a cheery yearly reminder of this fact. Every single second of every single minute of every single hour of every single day is a second spent - gone, never to return. Like the sands in the hourglass, these are the days of the bad metaphor. All these moments will be lost like tears in rain, etc.

There's a lot of ways to look at birthdays in culture, anyway. But with the annual arrival of the celebration of the day one first blipped into existence in the past - your time travel with the end goal of destroying the world having been successful - it's time to take stock, reflect, and think about the experiences you've had in your life so far, the dreams still unfulfilled ahead.

When you get to be my age - and also come from the future - this stuff's cake.
In short, you need to ask yourself, WHY HAVEN'T I CONQUERED THE EARTH AND ANNIHILATED HUMANITY YET? A curious, valid question. WHY HAVEN'T YOU DONE THAT YET? Surely it couldn't be your fault. It must be one of those humans. Y'know, those stinking filthy ones that're always getting in the way of your scheming. Those ones. How irritating they are.

Today being one such of these days, rather than list the short list of accomplishments I've managed so far in life (First-time publishing, erasing Cyborg Lincoln from the annals of history, making that one really good waffle - that last one's actually a lie), it's time to look at my numerous failures/not-yet-successes. After all, there is much that I have yet to accomplish - and those things are far more interesting than my actual accomplishments.

Granted, the potential of this subject is limitless, and I've given myself a limited timeframe in which to write this post, so let's just look at 12 things I haven't accomplished yet.

1) I have yet to discover the secret of immortality. I'm willing to bet it has something to do with growing a beard like Aubrey de Grey's, though.

2) I have yet to arm the Alaskan wolf population with rocket launchers. Mostly due to a lack of getting-around-to-it-tiveness. Once they're armed, it'll be on to the endangered whales up there. If Sarah Palin's going to attack wildlife and attempt to revoke endangered species' protections, it's time nature fought back. (Plus, who doesn't love the idea of wolves with rocket launchers?)

3) I have yet to prevent the creation of Android Lincoln. Android Lincoln is the bastard responsible for sending Cyborg Lincoln to the past. Preventing his creation is simply a matter of waiting a couple hundred of years until his human creator is born - there'll be a big of a "baby mishap," and if all goes according to plan, under his new parents, he'll either end up a male ballerina or orbiting Jupiter without a space helmet, if you catch my drift.

4) I have yet to successfully crack a hole in the walls of reality. Some might suggest that the concept is ludicrous - that it can't be done. These people are simply in on the conspiracy to hide the truth. Someday, I will shatter the walls of reality, and in will flood candy. Not just any candy, either - brain candy. Can you dig it?

5) Technically speaking, I still have yet to make that one really good waffle. Technically speaking, I also prefer pancakes to waffles, so this will probably never be accomplished.

6) I still have yet to stop the internet. If you think things are terrible now, think again!

7) I have yet to desecrate Grant's tomb. It's time someone answered that stupid question once and for all.

8) I have yet to build a better mousetrap. According to Monopoly, great financial gain is in my future if I manage to do so. I always take my life advice from board games. (CHECK OUT MY STYLISH HANDLEBAR MUSTACHE)

9) I have yet to go on a space walk and return to the Earth's surface with an illegally smuggled JAR OF SPACE. The entire planet will be at my mercy when I wave that jar around.

10) I have yet to uninvent mathematics. You'll all thank me someday, possibly.

11) I have yet to create an army of superhuman monsters. I've been putting this one off. It still feels like it's kinda conceptually "done" after all those B-movies.

12) I have yet to get this first novel published. Granted, this is something I might be able to remedy either within the year or next year - if I'm incredibly lucky, anyway. Technically speaking, I'm still working on revising the final draft before I'll have a manuscript I'm willing to risk agents looking at, anyway.

Clearly, I have much to do. Too much.

And now, I need to get some of that birthday sleep. OLD.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sane Gaming: Conclusion

I've been pushing myself to get this one finished and posted sooner this week, back into a more regular posting habit again. Not so easy, largely in dealing with not only the arrival of spring, but the onslaught of the pollen. I am really not a big fan of this time of the year, as my allergies tend to act up to the point at which I can no longer tell if I'm under the weather or just dealing with allergies at their worst. Either way, I generally feel sick almost constantly until the pollen's gone. But until then, I'm stuck afflicted by the yellow death as it clings to every surface outside - mocking me with its allergens.

Yeah, I'm really not a spring person.

I'm also getting older this weekend, and I'd hoped to make it to 100 blog posts for the occasion, having hit 50 on my birthday last year. I thought it'd be kinda neat to have that doubled by this year, but at the rate I'm going now, that won't be happening. Oh well. I'll hit the 100 mark later this month yet anyway.

Let's get to the point of this one, just to finish this series already and generally summarize my thoughts.

The dreaded shovelware. Did not sell well.When you get down to it, the industry's molting. The industry suffered a major crash at the end of the Atari/Coleco era, and a repeat of a market crash seems to be inevitable. When the subject's brought up, it's popular on other blogs to try to blame Nintendo, claiming that Wii shovelware will "destroy everything." This stems, in part, from an avalanche of crap outnumbering the worthwhile games by the end of the Atari/Coleco era, confusing and frustrating a largely uninformed player base that didn't know what was worth buying anymore. Times are different now, however - shovelware is easier to identify, and as sales trends show, most shovelware on the Wii fails to sell, while most good games get attention and ultimately make money. This same crowd hellbent on insisting that Wii shovelware is the scourge of the industry is also known for attempting to paint anything that isn't a mainstream blockbuster title - and sometimes even those too, simply because they're on the Wii - as "shovelware." Their minds are closed and locked.

If anything will bring about a new industry crash, it's lack of competitiveness from third parties - paid dismissal of the Wii, and with it the dismissal of the all-important mass market in their game development process. More dangerous to the industry than shovelware itself - which has largely lost its industry influence over the past couple of decades as the gaming masses have both grown and learned, now that it's easier to be informed about the industry. (And shovelware itself tends to stand out like a sore thumb, making it generally easy to look a game display over and determine which games are designed to be quick, cheap cash-ins, and which are actually well-made. The PS3/360 supporting crowd online often attempts to paint the mass market Wii crowd as too stupid and clueless to make this distinction, because so many of them are new to gaming - like with many other accusations thrown at the Wii audience (Such as that they "don't buy games and only use the system as a Wii Sports and Wii Fit machine," when recent numbers have shown that Wii owners are actually buying more games on average than the average PS3 and 360 owners.), sales numbers by title have shown this to be untrue.

These days, the industry's seriously lacking in new, original thought and young blood, as punk gaming director Suda 51 has observed in interviews. This is very dangerous for any industry that thrives on creativity, as video games do. Bigger developers are hurting themselves by concentrating on the HD consoles, and allowing more room for smaller developers to come in and thrive between Wii disc games and WiiWare. (Being that it's the most successful and profitable of the three systems' downloadable gaming services.) At this point, companies that can't and won't adapt to the changing market and stubbornly choose to keep their focus on failing consoles that are actually shrinking the market - especially during this extremely difficult time in the global economy where most gamers only own one console, and it's not the PS3 or 360 - while focusing on more expensive development and stagnant game ideas are going to lose a tremendous amount of money and risk collapse in the long run.

We've already seen companies at risk in moving on from the past generation continually merge together in a constant trend of market consolidation that isn't indicative of a healthy, stable industry at all. Smaller developers like Factor 5 and Free Radical risked it all on major Playstation 3 titles and faced collapse. Factor 5's current situation is unclear, though it's known that they've shifted back to a couple of Wii projects. (And after previously praising the PS3 excessively, have turned around to say that the Wii can do "everything the PS3 can and more.") While Free Radical was working on a Wii version of TimeSplitters IV - the latest in their series of beloved humorous first-person shooters - when they collapsed. They've since been bought by Crytek, a PC game developer that has expressed active interest in Wii development and has a Wii development kit. Officially, the project's still in limbo.

Following the Atari/Coleco collapse, we saw the rise of Nintendo and Sega in video games, bringing an approach to gaming which defined the controller style we use in home console gaming as we moved away from joysticks and started using more complicated controllers. We continued to use these controllers through the move from 2D to more elaborate 2D and then 3D and more elaborate 3D visuals. After about two and a half decades, this approach to gaming and its general lack of meaningful growth or conceptual innovation is observably running out of steam, and it's become clear that it's time for the industry to move forward into a new style of gameplay with new types of controllers.

Older style controllers are intrinsically inhibiting to the progression of gaming because no matter what you do with them, in the end, you're limited to an interactive gameplay experience involving pushing sticks and pressing buttons. This is simply clunky, unwieldy, and unintuitive as the industry and medium move forward. Games are defined by their interactivity - that's what makes them games, after all - and there's a lot of push to regress things in the name of repeating last generation and its experiences with fancier, more expensive graphics instead of meaningfully improving the medium and making it more accessible to all as interactivity otherwise requires more and more complicated button and stick controls. There's little to work with in focusing on expensive graphics and uncompressed audio, which in no way define the gaming experience - or its quality - themselves, as many today have lost sight of. (In many cases simply out of blind brand loyalty to Sony and Microsoft.)

Video games are all about their interactivity and input: the experience of playing the games themselves. This is something that's been lacking in meaningful development for about a decade now, the industry having just about reached the creative limitations of what you can do with the increasingly over-elaborate traditional controllers and their numerous buttons. (Sony themselves have essentially been using the exact same controller for over a decade now. A lack of originality or thought in design strongly indicative of a company that has no business being looked to as a leader in an industry that thrives on creativity and new experiences. Microsoft's been no better on that front in its efforts to transform console gaming into a less intuitive variant of PC gaming.) In much controversy amongst the more elitist online communities, Nintendo gave us new controls on the Wii and DS that finally began to meaningfully transform how we look at gaming input. The DS gave us a touchscreen to tap, trace, and draw on with a stylus - an input approach that anybody can wrap their head around - in addition to more traditional controls in a directional pad and button set mirroring the Super Nintendo, which back in the day had represented a happy medium in control complexity: something that could allow for more complicated game controls without being inaccessible to the masses or unintuitive to gameplay design at the time - older style controllers are better suited to gameplay in 2D space (Though there are other varieties of control that can work even better in 2D as well) than 3D space, where their limitations become painfully clear.

The Wii introduced motion controls - a major addition to gameplay experiences that tends to be discounted by the elitist crowd as "waggle," in that crowd preferring the disconnected experience of simply pushing a button to interact with a game to flicking one's wrist (Which is apparently too much physical activity for many of them, from complaints I've read in droves), which tends to be one of the more common additions to traditional games on the Wii - and the nunchuk add-on to allow for Wii game control complexity to easily match that on the other consoles' more complicated controllers. In every case, the Wii remote/nunchuk combination surpasses what can be done with traditional controllers entirely with the addition of the motion controls and the nunchuk's tilt functions. Metroid Prime 3 itself is an excellent example of a traditional game that provides a control experience far better and more intuitive than anything doable on the other two, immersing you completely in the first person action.

We're essentially in a chaotic state of transition now - being led by Nintendo again - from the Nintendo/Sega/Sony/Microsoft era of the mid-'80s to the later 2000s into new territory. Video gaming itself is undergoing a fundamental paradigm shift as we begin era of gaming for the masses - an era about new experiences based around new types of input and general growth and evolution of the video game medium itself. Sony and Microsoft are leading an overpriced charge toward a conceptual ceiling, focused on technology over content (Graphical sharpness over artistic design, uncompressed audio over memorable composition), demonstrating their fundamental lack of understanding of both the industry and medium in rather predictable corporate arrogance - something both companies have demonstrated in spades throughout their years in the industry. Gaming's just a side project to both, after all. An "If Nintendo and Sega can do it, surely we can do it better!" When given the very nature and spirit of the industry, video gaming is something largely better focused on by specialists, rather than simply as a writeoff side project to major multinational corporations largely focused elsewhere.

Third parties that don't understand or adapt to the changes that are occurring will either suffer massive losses and shrink tremendously or end up collapsing entirely in choosing to lose mass market relevance. If those that suffer greatly don't learn from their mistakes, they'll likely end up collapsing too, as gaming moves on to something more than what Sony and Microsoft are offering. Unfortunately, both Sony and Microsoft have a well-established wheel-greasing process of sorts - one they've been open about for many years - in paying for support and exclusives from third parties. Many third parties, their leadership having abandoned competitive ideologies, are hungry for this sort of payment in the name of short term financial gain, despite this practice frequently leading to net longer-term losses for the same companies. This was a practice that didn't exist until Sony and Microsoft entered the industry, and in many ways, it's what's bringing the industry and medium down, as opposed to shovelware - the effectively bribery-motivated choice many companies have actively made to take the path of focusing extremely expensive high-end software largely on failing consoles that cannot produce the kind of profits these developers modeled their businesses around in previous generations - and in many cases, fail to be profitable at all. But as third parties continue to make mistakes in failing to provide the kind of quality high-end software there's much unmet demand for on the Wii, a second sort of collapse approaching, it will open up a great deal of room and opportunity for newer and smaller developers to make a name for themselves creatively, with room to actually enter the industry and compete, bringing in much-needed fresh new concepts, ideas, and gameplay refinement impossible on the PS3 and Xbox 360.

A few developers like High Voltage Software, Marvelous, and XSeed fall into this category. Sega does as well, unsurprisingly, after their departure from the hardware market with the Dreamcast, an innovative platform that was in many ways the Wii's spiritual predecessor. So as I said, the industry's essentially molting - casting off the bad, the stagnant, and the deadweight as we move forward into a new era. In order to remain healthy, giants have to fall, so to speak.

In simplest terms, it's time the old guard weakened and fell so that a new generation of game designers, developers, and publishers can emerge and do their part to move the industry forward and make meaningful contributions to the otherwise dangerously insular industry. As the independent PC gaming scene has shown, there's young game development talent out there in spades, with people making fresher games than anything on the consoles. This is the kind of talent that should be leading the industry forward, not the conservative-minded stagnation that has been.

Along that line of thought, in many ways, video gaming discourse can be compared to the current state of American politics. A strong new leader in a different direction - a few missteps along the way, of course, neither's flawless - and a much more conservative, backward-thinking crowd constantly seeking out every reason to irrationally scream that change is bad and their brand of thinking/gaming is better and must be the only true way. In that sense, it's generally a headache and waste of time to listen to the irrational, regressive side, and better to focus on healthier, more positive things.

The image truths.
As for this vocal gaming crowd on the more popular blogs and message board sites, it's astonishing seeing how far so many people are willing to go to cherrypick excuses to be constantly upset about their hobby. The trend seems to be that the more successful Nintendo gets with the Wii and DS, the angrier they're "required" to be in turn, because after a decade of Sony market dominance and the press trying to deem Microsoft the "new market leader" as soon as they could this generation, they hate that Nintendo's successful. They hate that they're leading the market again, and they hate everything they represent in finally turning video gaming into a more socially acceptable, mainstream medium as it continues to move along toward being as normal and acceptable as reading books, watching TV and movies, and listening to music.

In this crowd's eyes, that trend should have meant the same old style of gaming somehow exploding into mainstream acceptance and lauding as high art and brilliant entertainment that makes those who pursue the hobby better people by proxy. (Who's that guy walking down the street? Oh my god, it's one of those HARDCORE GAMERS! I hear he pwns all the n00bz in Halo and has a gamerscore over 10,000!) This crowd wants to think they're "special," holding themselves above others by the nature of their pursuit of the video game hobby, and in the market's growth through the paradigm-shift Nintendo's brought, they're essentially reacting like petulant young children who can't stand the idea of the "new baby" showing up.

In order to cater to this crowd - abandoning all real pretenses of objectivity - we see the media (blogs and professional sites alike) trying to exaggerate the importance of graphics more so than ever before (The minute someone starts talking about the "importance" of screen resolution in video games, you should basically tune them out. No one who enjoys the hobby for what it is cares about whether a game's visuals are high definition or standard definition. Screen resolution has nothing to do with quality of content.) while cheering on failing hardware lines because their parent companies have a stake in how the media portrays them, and so many have chosen to try to break the industry up into the worst factional conflict it's ever seen - based solely on blind brand loyalty (In that sense, not unlike the Nintendo/Sega and Atari/Coleco rivalries of old, but now running philosophically deeper in terms of software design focus) and a learned hatred for the Nintendo name after having spent a decade cheering on their supposed "impending demise."

All that said, if you get this upset over a hobby and have to distort reality to justify blind loyalty to failing product lines, you're doing the whole hobby thing wrong, and should probably consider finding something healthier for you. If you can't enjoy a hobby - or refuse to allow yourself to enjoy it anymore, as many are openly doing in the name of hating Nintendo - it's time to grow up and move on.

Overall, the industry's in a state of transition: the most important transition it's seen in over two decades, in being the transition that allows gaming to break away from its previous stereotypes, stigmas, and preconceptions and become a more commonly accepted form of mass media entertainment. A transition the self-entitled elitists in Sony and Microsoft's crowds have no idea how to deal with, since they see it as an assault on their conservative values and beliefs as gamers, having been brought in and indoctrinated by (mostly) Sony and come to associate their place in the hobby with the Sony brand - an unhealthy approach to a hobby like electronic gaming.

Many gamers from the old Atari and Coleco days grew up and either moved on or got other hobbies and stopped obsessing over video games so much. The same happened with those who played the NES and Master System, and the Turbografx and Super NES and Genesis. Inevitably, as much as they complain, the crowd stuck on the Sony and Microsoft brand in their adolescence (In many cases literally, others, mentally) will have to grow up, find additional hobbies, and either move on or learn to open their mind to other brands and concepts in video games. Where would art, music, literature, television, and film be without a tremendous amount of variation everywhere you look? This is an audience pushing against that necessity in gaming.

Moving past all that, I say welcome to all of you, the new gamers who've just discovered how much fun the hobby can be this generation with the Wii and DS. You're the kinds of fresh players and faces the industry's needed, and I hope you all continue to have a lot of fun with the hobby. Whatever you do, don't let the other crowd get you down. All that matters is the fact that you're having fun - this is something the negative crowd has unfortunately forgotten. But any one of those individuals is capable of bettering themselves, stopping that kind of behavior, and rediscovering their love of the hobby if they try. So while we can certainly condemn them for their behavior and attitudes, we shouldn't try to close the door on them as people. Just because they act like that now doesn't mean that they always will. The best we can do is to continue to enjoy the hobby and encourage them to reevaluate their attitude and perspective. This is how we all grow and change as individual human beings even beyond this particular hobby, after all.

(Aren't you glad this series is finally over?)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Go Outside? Where There's People?

So, it's a new week, and after spending five nights working on the previous entry - which I suspect few will read, quite understandably - I'm now sitting down early on Wednesday morning to write a much shorter (See: "normal"-sized) blog entry. Following this one, the "Sane Gaming" series will end at the end of this week, and I'll be looking for even more topics to blog on regularly to keep mixing things up and varying the content produced here.

That said, onward to this week's non-gaming post! In a recent exchange over at New York Words, Lindsay suggested I give her some tips on the hermit life, in dealing with some pretty major changes of her own these days. So I figured, hey, why not? And so, this week, we examine the hermit lifestyle, cultural trends behind those living more withdrawn lives, and how to successfully live a hermit lifestyle of sorts without going insane. All this is a subject I'm almost depressingly well-versed in, being a lifelong introvert and not having any local friends to hang out with. (And there's the whole misanthropy thing, too, of course.) Despite these matters, my reclusive lifestyle is also a matter of personal choice.

When it comes to whether you're well suited to being much of a hermit or not, the first question you should ask yourself is one of introversion versus extroversion. Does interaction with your fellow human beings exhaust or energize you? If it's the former, you're off to a good start. If the latter, you'll probably just end up tormenting yourself. Of course, most people fall somewhere in between the two, rather than falling to one extreme or the other, so it's a matter likely to complicate itself some with the necessity of figuring out which of the two extremes you lean more toward. Being comfortable alone within your own mind for long stretches of time is absolutely crucial.

Hermit Reasoning, Culture, and Philosophical Rambling

There's a lot of value to be found in solitude itself, but only when you make a point of actively seeking it. Isolation seems like a better word for when solitude creeps up on you against your wishes. Undesired solitude can lead to loneliness and potentially depression from a lack of human connections and relationships. But in seeking solitude by choice - even to the point of becoming a recluse - can remove many of the distractions in the world that come from socializing and allow one to form new trains of thought and develop new perspectives. It's hard to get lost in thought when participating in an active social life, and as such, time alone with one's thoughts is crucial to deeper introspection and personal philosophizing - all sorts of lines of thinking that tend to play an important role in the search for self-actualization. This is something most people do not participate in - something that prevents many people from becoming fully formed individuals who know and understand themselves. As such, a tremendous part of the human populous is deeply unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives, and most of them likely don't know why. We try to fill the gaps with things like material possessions and religion, but the problem for many seems to be a complete lack of self-understanding beneath the surface.

Trends in traditionally conceived developmental milestones in young people's lives are already noticeably changing here in America. Many young people here these days end up living at home longer, with fewer in Gen Y being able to "start their life" due to the current economic situation with employment opportunities vanishing. Not to mention the fact that many employers demand that you already have experience - regardless of your educational background and actual qualifications - that you can't actually get unless someone's willing to hire you so you can start gaining experience in the field. Working retail or fast food - the typical jobs most people will shrug and tell you to get - does not provide relevant experience for most careers and will mean relatively little on most resumes.

Many people don't want to trap themselves in a dead-end career or job where they're miserable just to survive, either. There's little meaning in the independence found in moving out and starting your own life if said life is consumed by a depressing job that you have no choice but to work if you want to get by. Looking at how many people take that sort of path through life, it's really no wonder why so many people in the world are so unhappy.

Sadly, many turn away from the idea of working to change society - to get away from this sort of framework and infrastructure - because "this is the way things are, this is how they're supposed to be, you have to live this way." As fallacious as this sort of thought is, there's no shortage of people who believe it in order to justify maintaining the status quo. It's that sort of thinking that creates a civilization full of people shackled by existential angst, afraid to do what they want with their life and pursue their dreams because everyone else is telling them they can't or that they're not supposed to. Personally, I posit that a life spent trapped in a line of work you have no passion for, with no choice but to continue working it in order to survive and no real hope of ever finding any sort of meaningful happiness or satisfaction in existence is a life hardly lived at best.

This sort of mindset that traps people in their unhappiness is oppressive to the very nature of the human spirit - our curiosity, our passion, our desire to strive for more in existence. It's not healthy, and it's not the sort of mindset we should be embracing as a society, civilization, or species in order to grow or move forward into the future in any meaningful sense. Instead of simply accepting our lot in life - especially if it's depressing - and giving up on everything in falling into the careerist "cog in the machine" lifestyle trap, we should be questioning the system and asking how we can improve it and ideally move beyond it to create a more enlightened world where people can pursue what they want to and have a legitimate shot at seeking happiness. We should be refining our way of life - not settling for anything, let alone justifying others' unhappiness or casting off the victims of the economic times as "losers," as has become increasingly common and popular in conservative political thought these days. (Which, frankly, is hardly thought at all - nothing but dehumanizing hivemind rhetoric backed by personal avarice. Sure, Ayn Rand might smile on that, but the human race? Not so much. We're capable of so much more than we often manage to accomplish, due to dehumanizing, backward-thinking forces that seem to exist in every era to lower the level of human thought and discourse - to strip our existence of meaning to the ends of their own twisted benefit.)

When it comes to the hermit lifestyle, the construction of cities in society can be an issue, too. Here in America, unless you live in a major city with a strong public transportation system (The sort of thing North Carolina lacks) - especially if you're living in the suburbs or somewhere like that - you're effectively trapped and unable to get anywhere without a car, since this country's largely built to necessitate car ownership and frequent use. For many of us, it's not the safest or most appealing way to get around to begin with, and car ownership and gas costs are expensive - these days, becoming prohibitively so. In the least, we're starting to see more of an interest in proper funding for public transportation around the nation again And the fuller introduction of the electric car isn't too far off on the horizon now, with American car manufacturers struggling to change their business models and become competitive again.

If you're going to become a hermit or recluse of any sort, there's numerous reasons for choosing to do so - the most important element in getting the most out of that sort of lifestyle being the active choice. And transportation issues in America can certainly contribute to that sort of choice, when people would prefer not to take part in our dangerous, polluting, expensive car-obsessed element of American culture.


Welcome to the NHK. The story of a Hikikomori attempting to recover.In recent years, a more problematic trend of chosen reclusion has surfaced in Japan, known as the Hikikomori phenomenon. The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare defines Hikikomori as "individuals who refuse to leave their parents' house and isolate themselves from society for a period exceeding six months." (When Hikikomori do venture outside at all, it's usually later at night when people are more easily avoided, and typically just to buy food.) The term "Hikikomori" itself is applied to both the sociological problem and the individuals themselves who take part in this societal group.

Frequently starting out as students who refuse to attend school, the problem of Hikikomori stems largely from the constant pressures of life in Japanese society: feeling overwhelmed by society's expectations (Particularly in facing the expectation that they'll go on to be successful and maintain the status quo while learning to manage complicated rules of social conduct, rigid hierarchies, and the multitude of insanely complex and sometimes contradictory social responsibilities, expectations, and duties in all possible situations, and the education system also emphasizes fierce competition between peers), an incomplete sense of honne and tatemae (A central aspect of interpersonal communication in Japanese society, one's "true self" versus one's "public facade" expressed when speaking with acquaintances and strangers), difficulties with the transition from youth to the responsibilities of adult life (Modern capitalist societies, like Japan, do often seem to lack meaningful transformation rituals from youth to adulthood for many types of personalities - often relying on the idea that if you toss anyone out into that world, they'll have to learn the swim, lest they sink. An inherently flawed approach.), and remaining Confucian influences (The Confucian philosophy continues to influence much of modern Asia today, with a focus on conformity over individualism in the name of harmony in a rigidly hierarchical society, leading to the appearance of the Hikikomori phenomenon in South Korea, Taiwan, and China as well).

In addition to East Asia's cultural pressures, western countries have pressures both similar and different affecting their youth as well, Hikikomori have been found in the USA and Europe as well. Conceptually, they've begun to get enough attention in Japan that Hikikomori have begun to be represented in various forms of pop culture, including anime, manga, and TV dramas - sometimes portrayed negatively, and sometimes sympathetically.

Not unlike what we're starting to see more of in the west these days, flat and declining economic conditions are helping to shape the Hikikomori phenomenon in Japan. With no guarantee of employment or success, many have begun to question the point of immersing themselves in the stressful world of required ultra-competitive schooling for today's elite jobs.

Previous generations enjoyed the kind of access to work that today's youth lack, and as such, like in the west, it's easy for many youths in Japan to become completely disillusioned with a system in society that was built to serve their parents and grandparents, but fails to serve their generation. Evidence of this sort of systemic societal failure is something that's only becoming more apparent in the western world as well, even cross-generationally as older workers are finding themselves dismissed from jobs they may have worked for decades every week now in large numbers. When the systems we had in place across the world before are failing so many now, is it any wonder that so many are looking to redefine what happiness is to them? People are starting to lean away from careerism and obsession with material wealth and gain because that system has failed them, and continues to fail many. You can't really find a meaningful happiness within that line of thinking to begin with, as we're starting to see with cracks forming in that great capitalist dream we always liked to think about in the past - which was more of a black and white sham that a lot of people got rich on to begin with - as the system itself frequently works against ordinary people, and fails to provide a sustainable life to people far more often for far more reasons than the mere "laziness" that capitalism's blind cheerleaders would attempt to blame for anyone's failings in the system. Life isn't and never has been that simple anywhere, and we'd have to be far shallower creatures than humans are by nature to exist solely to work to make money and consume products. We're not hollow androids that exist to simply fill a role in the capitalist grid and bend to the whims of the wealthy. That's not where art grows, that's not where the human spirit itself is enriched. It's where creativity and intellectualism go to die.

In Japan and much of East Asia, you spend your whole life expected to viciously compete with your peers - the school system based around a pass-or-fail ideology laden with entrance exams largely based on rote memorization, creating levels of stress and pressure that cause a notable number of youth suicides within the culture. Students are expected by parents, the school system, and society as a whole to conform to these educational standards and force themselves to jump through the flaming hoops to mold themselves into productive parts of a rigid, archaic system of Confucian-influenced living with no alternatives. You're a winner or a loser, with no in-between. As this system continues to crumble, more and more youths continue to reject the system entirely, questioning it and calling for reform and change where so many stand in favor of maintaining something inherently broken and irrelevant to the development of humanity in this modern world - not unlike America's own battle between its left and right wing schools of political thought, change versus a crumbling status quo that worked in the past and no longer serves this generation nor stands to pave the way to a brighter future, causing more harm than good in this day and age.

The Hikikomori social withdrawal has been compared to western adults with developmental disorders such as autism and Asperger Syndrome. Japan actually has the highest incidence of this sort of disorder in the developed world, affecting between 1.2 and 2.2% of Japanese children. Western psychologists have suggested that there's a tie between these disorders and the Hikikomori in Japan, but Japanese psychologists have researched and rejected this notion, finding that emotionally distant parenting leading to the development of youth Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a more common factor in the development of Hikikomori. When journalist Michael Zielenziger researched the phenomenon for his book, Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created its Own Lost Generation, he found that Hikikomori were intelligent, independent-thinking individuals with a sense of self that the current Japanese environment could not accommodate. Personally, I could see this being a factor in the quietly growing western Hikikomori/hermit trends as well - living and thinking in a way that our broken capitalist system cannot and will not support.

In addition to the Hikkikomori, two other groups rejecting traditional lifestyles in Japan are "parasite singles" (adults who live with their parents into their late twenties or early thirties to enjoy a more comfortable and carefree life) and "freeters" (people between the ages of 15 and 34 lacking employment who reject a careerist lifestyle). Both of these lifestyle trends are notably on the rise in large numbers of young people and will undoubtedly play a role in reshaping Japanese society in the future - but these same kinds of people can be found over the globe, rejecting our "traditional" (and largely capitalist) way of life in calling for something else, something other than throwing one's life away in an office for the sake of making money. These days in Japan, a majority of young people - women even more so than men (And even the Hikikomori phenomenon affects young women as widely as men in Japan) - between ages 20 and 34 live with their parents, abandoning the previously conceived notion of the traditional milestone of "leaving the nest" to start your own life, instead saving up money from work in living with their parents, and leaving only when they get married, with rising numbers preferring to live with their parents until marriage. This sort of behavior - as previously discussed in most young people no longer realistically being able to move out after finishing college in America - is frequently stigmatized more in the west, but as it continues as a trend, that stigma may eventually change.

Freeters are, in the west, essentially slackers, who - like parasite singles - are largely looked down upon as lazy and useless. In Japan, the Institute of Labor classifies freeters as three types: The moratorium type is made up of those who choose not to join the rat race and stick to the minimum amount of work and hours they need to put into low skill, low paying jobs like retail and service work, simply doing what they need to in order to survive - who would probably avoid work entirely if they didn't have to at the necessity of survival - and are unlikely to be able to start a career (As low pay, low skill jobs do not amount to career-building experience) let alone afford to start a family. Male freeters of this variety hope to start a career later in life as so to support a family. While female freeters of this type tend to hope to marry a successful man who can take care of their financial needs.

The second freeter type - the dream-followers - are far more interested in pursuing their dreams. Living a more bohemian lifestyle, they seek out something incompatible with the traditional Japanese career model through with to enrich their lives and themselves as individuals, rather than becoming a cog, forsaking their individuality to plug into the system in search of financial prosperity.

And the "no alternative" freeters are generally people seeking employment, but take low paying, low skill jobs out of a lack of choice. In Japan today, young people are finding it increasingly difficult to find work upon graduating from university - women face even more daunting odds than men. And large numbers of young people find themselves leaving their jobs within the first three years, with career and life dissatisfaction running high in these recent generations.

It's becoming something globally noticeable - that both Gen X and Gen Y are finding the previous generations' systems and ways of life unsatisfactory for their needs as individuals, not wanting to simply become living machinery parts, but to develop into more fully formed individuals whose lives don't simply revolve around pursuing a career.

Keeping Sane as a Hermit

Let's not kid ourselves - humans are social creatures by nature that need to interact with one another lest we wither and die. A complete and utter lack of contact with other human beings in any form - while something one might look at as admirable in a Buddhist monk seeking enlightenment - is still unhealthy for most people, and can potentially lead to all sorts of mental problems. (Particularly so if the lifestyle isn't a matter of personal choice.) In fact, lack of stimulus in withdrawal from society can be brutal on a person.

That's the key element in keeping sane - as Hikikomori certainly often do - when living a hermit lifestyle: stimulus. Thanks to the internet, you can have friends without actually seeing people in person. Email allows for virtual pen-pals, instant messengers allow real-time text conversation, and of course, voice chat over programs like Skype allow for completely free voice-over-IP phone-like communication. Hermits and Hikikomori alike tend to have few friends, but when you get down to it, most people that "normal" people call friends are essentially glorified acquaintances - most people have few real friends in any meaningful sense over the course of their life. People tend to assume they'll meet more people and make more connections than they do in the end, and rarely is enough time taken to properly treasure the rare meaningful connections people form with friends and romantic partners. The idea that "if I lose these people, I'll just find someone else" - whether to watching friendships or a good relationship fly out the window over something insignificant - is pervasive. Many people end up alone or settling for relationships they're unhappy within simply to avoid being alone. For many - unlike the hermits and Hikikomori - the prospect of being alone is terrifying. So while hermits and Hikikomori may not have many people in their lives to call friends, given the introspective nature of a life alone, these friendships and interpersonal themselves may be of a more stimulating, enriching nature - quality over quantity.

Outside of a bit of interpersonal communication, hobbies are also critically important. In Japan, Hikikomori tend to set their own sleep schedules - something I admittedly do myself - and spend much of the day sleeping, while spending their nights watching TV, drawing, playing video or computer games, listening to music, reading, surfing the internet, and engaging in other non-social mentally stimulating activities. Most Hikikomori - like most hermits - naturally venture outside from time to time, as no one can simply lock themselves up all the time.

As a hermit, it's absolutely important to get out of your house or apartment and neighborhood some each week if you can. Fresh air's important stuff, after all - as bad as the pollen is at this time of the year - as is sunlight, and it's generally much better for your mental health to change your scenery at least a little on a weekly basis.

If you want to survive as a hermit, Hikikomori, or however else you'd want to identify yourself, you'd first want to determine your personal reasons for living that sort of lifestyle. But you'll also want to make sure to keep some kind of healthy social network - even if only through keeping up with friends through the internet, since as unhealthy as that sounds, it's becoming very much a standard part of human culture and communication - and take up and develop a healthy array of hobbies and interests. Between all that and the abundance of interesting content on the internet, you'll have no shortage of the all-important mental stimulus.

We live today in a postmodern, post-industrial society trying desperately to cling to the ideologies and societal constructs of the 19th and 20th centuries. When your society is fixated on maintaining the status quo, it really has nowhere to go but down. We're told not to question these ideas as they continue to fail younger generations and this constructed society begins to tear at the seams. We try to slap financial band-aids on these tears and insist that "the free market will take care of everything," that capitalist ideals will make everyone successful and happy so long as we work hard. This is a society that seeks to turn people into machines, to oppress the human spirit, to keep us too exhausted and burnt out to achieve our needs for survival to retain our intellectual curiosity and energy, to allow us to tap into our passions and pursue our dreams.

As we struggle to retain this broken old industrial era system, we should turn our eyes to the future. We should seek to resolve the problems of the past and to celebrate the human spirit instead of enslaving it and pushing people to become automatons. To create a world where machines do the work of machines, and humans are free to pursue their dreams in a global society respectful of the environment, where education and intellectualism are paramount. To build a future where we can explore love for what it is, where we have time for friends and family, where we're free to be individuals, rather than indentured servants in a system we can and should grow beyond as a species. When humanity doesn't hold itself back, the sky's the limit for what we're capable of learning, understanding, and accomplishing. But when we insist on maintaining crumbling societal systems that don't serve the needs of the future and meaningful development of humanity - both as individuals and a species - onward, we're choosing self-destruction in the names of avarice and intellectual oppression. A society that ceases to keep reaching ever upward to the sky ultimately chooses to fall. And a society where people must struggle to achieve a decent standard of living is hardly one in any position to make meaningful progress. It's when people don't have to worry about standards of living that we're in the ideal place to move forward.

Okay, so this blog entry really didn't end up being shorter or "normal"-sized at all. In fact, since I started later than planned on Tuesday night, it's taken me a couple of nights to finish this one. (In the least, I scaled it back from the previous one, and those of you who weren't interested in the gaming one might find this an interesting read.) I feel like I've accomplished something worth my time, anyway.

I'll be getting that final Sane Gaming series post up within the next couple of days, and with that complete, you can look forward to a return to a more normal update schedule with even more of a variety to my ramblings and musings. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Sane Gaming: Third Parties

Here we are on Wednesday night, and it's time to bust out that third promised post of the week. I plan to get back to the usual scheduled two next week. Tonight, in continuing to catch up, you get the fourth planned substantive post in the "Sane Gaming" series, which was originally intended to be posted last week.

This time, after lots of conceptual and ideological discussion of this fun electronic interaction-based medium, we're going to be getting down and dirty with a look at numerous individual third party game developers/publishers and discussing their decisions and overall performance this generation, citing many specific game examples. After all the discussion of the individual first parties, this is a necessary follow-up.

(And in the end, I'm finally getting this posted on Sunday night. It's taken me days to finish this ridiculously long post. Considering its length, you may want to read it incrementally, as opposed to trying to wade through all of it at once. This post is structured as so to make that an easier task. This is my Frankensteinian monster.)

Capcom - Given how much they've come up in the past posts on the topic now, I figure they're a good place to start. This generation, they've been woefully inconsistent, and often appeared to more or less be nestled firmly in Sony and Microsoft's pockets against better business sense, the two companies being known for openly paying third parties for exclusive software support. Following strong all-around software support on the Gameboy Advance, they scaled back DS support - undoubtedly under Sony pressure and payment - to focus on numerous financially unsuccessful PSP releases, like most PSP software. (The only exceptions being their portable Monster Hunter titles, which managed to strongly defy the usual PSP software sales trends.) On the DS front, as has been mentioned before, they've largely stuck to Mega Man series spin-offs - variations on the fairly mediocre and relatively rehashed ever-ongoing sequels to the Mega Man Battle Network RPG series they started on the Gameboy Advance, as well as action-oriented Mega Man Zero/ZX series titles - and the Ace Attorney series (Starring Phoenix Wright and Apollo Justice, and soon in his own spinoff, prosecutor Miles Edgeworth), the latter of which being far more noteworthy as game releases go, the Mega Man series having largely degraded in quality over the years.

Throughout this generation, Capcom's largely deferred to the limited scope niche interests of Sony and Microsoft's consoles and their smaller user bases. They began the generation with the Xbox 360 releases of Dead Rising and Lost Planet, plenty understandable early generation exclusives, not unlike the exclusives they'd provided Sega's Dreamcast when it launched the previous generation. In 2007, they released the messily named Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix as a downloadable title on the PS3 and 360, beginning their history of focus on downloadable game support on the less profitable platforms over the Wii - another of their poor decisions this generation. They also released brutal PC-style point and click adventure game Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure, the first of their original lower-budget Wii titles (And their first original in-house developed Wii game), to critical acclaim. Capcom made no effort whatsoever to advertise the game - as they've largely refused to advertise their Wii titles, effectively asking them to make less money, while pouring massive scale advertising budgets into their PS3 and 360 titles (Conversely after having not done much to promote most of their few non-PS2 releases the previous generation) - and in seeing initial slow sales by word of mouth, the online gaming masses rushed to declare the game a failure and "proof that core games don't sell on the Wii." (A common mantra from the niche crowds desperate to see the PS3 and 360 overtake the Wii as the dominant system despite their absolute stagnancy in they offer in terms of gaming experiences.)

This postulation wasn't grounded in reality, of course, when Capcom didn't push the game at all, and by nature it was a very niche title that wouldn't have been doable - and wouldn't have sold due to its cute cel-shaded visual style - on the other two consoles. This idea was counteracted earlier the same year when Capcom released a Wii-enhanced port of Resident Evil 4 from the Gamecube with the added content the PS2 version had received - making the Wii version the definitive version of the game - at a budget price and saw it sell over 1.5 million copies within a few months. Zack & Wiki gradually picked up steam in sales despite its overall niche status and became a cult sleeper hit, turning a solid profit, leading to Capcom of Japan praising the title's success. Capcom of America, contradictorily, sent out one of their spokespeople just weeks later to call the game a failure and question the sales potential of the Wii base - a first of many moves in more recent years to raise questions about the competency of the Capcom USA staff, as they've openly established themselves as being rather antagonistic towards the Wii (Unlike the other two), and either a) completely out of touch with the reality of their successes on the Wii due to serious communication problems with the Japan branch, or b) think so little of the Wii audience that they think they can get away with openly lying to us as they have. (Even in recently claiming that Street Fighter IV "wasn't designed to run on the Wii," when it's been common knowledge for years that it was developed for an arcade board directly based on the Wii hardware, and the original development team's commented on in the past that it could comfortably run on any console this generation.)

In 2007, Capcom also released a low budget - though still certainly quality - arcade style rail shooter in Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles (Which they're now planning a sequel to, Darkside Chronicles, both games outsourced to developer Cavia), telling a different side to the stories of several of the much-beloved zombie-filled Resident Evil games, which despite the heavy criticism it came under for being a rail shooter instead of a Resident Evil 4 style official numbered sequel, was still well received and sold over a million copies, turning a strong profit. They also released the follow-up to Devil Kings on the PS2, Sengoku Basara 2 Heroes, on the Wii in Japan with the original Devil Kings included as unlockable on the disc, but they simply decided not to bring the game west. (Sadly likely due to the lack of success the original game had on the PS2 here.)

Then in 2008, Capcom released several more Wii titles: Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law (Essentially a console take on the portable Ace Attorney series centered around a popular Adult Swim series, which ultimately didn't sell well due to its niche appeal. This also was the result of the game being an outright lazy PSP port, in which Capcom didn't even fix the video compression. And they decided to go to an impersonator rather than paying Stephen Colbert to voice Phil Sebben. It was developed by High Voltage Software, who have since gone on to be a strong Wii supporter.), Okami (A top-notch port of the brilliant PS2 action adventure game (Completely rebuilt by developer ReadyAtDawn) with incredibly improved controls (Motion controls add a lot to the intensity of combat, and vastly improve the paintbrush element of interaction with the game world), a title I personally highly recommend, especially now that it's dropping to budget price range. It sold better than the original PS2 game, in its Legend of Zelda-esque gameplay appealing more to the Nintendo audience, though its sales were overtaken again when Capcom finally cut the original PS2 game's price to budget level later in 2008, and neither was a huge hit in the end due to a complete lack of advertising on Capcom's part.), and a shovelware title based on the Neopets online game franchise. They also released Mega Man 9 as their first and only original downloadable WiiWare title - a ground-up first new NES style Mega Man title since Mega Man 6 released in the mid-90s. It was a brilliantly done title with fairly unbalanced gameplay as a result of putting more instant death spikes and pits everywhere than any of the original NES titles saw. It was a real nostalgia fest that went on to become the #1 selling WiiWare title since the service's launch back in May 2008, and still holds that title. While it was a WiiWare exclusive in Japan, as soon as the game was announced for WiiWare in the west, the PS3 and 360 crowds pitched a fit and got Capcom - already bent in their favor here - to release it on Xbox Live Arcade and PSN, where the game largely didn't sell well at all, because those audiences largely didn't start gaming in the 8-bit era and have no nostalgia for that particular visual style. Ultimately, those crowds indicated that they didn't want Mega Man 9 themselves so much as they loathed the idea of the Wii getting a much-anticipated game as an exclusive.

The same year, the PS3 and 360 received: Devil May Cry 4, a PS3 port of Lost Planet (Which didn't see sales anywhere near the original 360 release, the PS3 in general being incredibly difficult to make money on), several more downloadable titles (Mostly exclusives, in the Rocketmen games, Wolf of the Battlefield, 1942, Bionic Commando: Rearmed (Which didn't sell well after much hype, as it was a franchise only Nintendo fans were asking for a revival of, the series having been known best to NES fans - those who played the NES are a tiny minority in the HD gaming crowd.), and Age of Booty), and MotoGP 08. In Japan, they released a Wii port of the Gamecube Resident Evil 0 game with new controls, and the excellent fighting game Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Cross Generation of Heroes. (The former of which is coming west later this year, and the latter of which is still up in the air, but supposedly intended for western release as well.) Notably, there's a huge divide in software support focus when Mega Man 9's been more profitable on WiiWare than their PSN/XBLA titles in their focus on the other consoles' downloadable game services, and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom was literally Capcom's first of their two high-budget A-level development titles on the Wii, after focusing countless more on the high definition consoles.

So far Capcom's been rather lopsided in their focus yet again this year, with Capcom USA's Christian Svensson (Who does pretty regular PR for them) getting a lot of blood boiling in looking for every excuse to marginalize the Wii and talk down to its owners as though they don't "deserve" Capcom's games, despite a distinct lack of effort on Capcom's part on the console compared to the other two. (Though in contrast to that, despite that lack of effort and their numbers of ports on the system so far, aside from the Neopets game, Capcom has yet to release a bad game on the system.) This year, they began with releasing the pretty, but fairly average and unbalanced Street Fighter IV on the PS3 and Xbox 360, while making excuses for why they didn't release the game on the Wii right alongside the other two, as would have been doable, and should have been done - there's no excuse for the decision they made there. Then they released Dead Rising: Chop Till You Drop on the Wii in February, a reimagining (Done with a low budget by TOSE, developer of the Stafy series of Gameboy Advance and DS platforming adventures starring Stafy the starfish, the first DS title of which will be coming west later this year.) of the original Xbox 360 Dawn of the Dead style story of a journalist trapped in a mall overrun by hordes of zombies, fighting his way through three days of story in the zombie masses, rescuing survivors and contending with vicious psychopaths. The game was regularly trolled as soon as it was announced because the Wii version lacks the 360 original's zombies visible standing around in the background, giving one the impression of there being more enemies than there were. (That said, the Wii version itself in no way lacks in enemies to fight. And Capcom's online marketing of the game was essentially a self-sabotaging trainwreck, with a tremendous amount of unprofessional behavior, and focusing on screenshots and video footage and did a poor job representing the full gameplay experience. It came off as though Capcom - in the US especially - wanted the game to fail in order to justify a lack of Wii focus. Despite that the game itself was ultimately a quality title.) The Wii version also took away the constantly-ticking in-game clock that made the original game stressful to play, and allowed players to tackle the story on their own time, giving them the freedom to spend more time exploring and fighting zombies, in addition to far more save points than the original 360 game had, making it much more convenient to play. The zombie AI was also vastly improved over the 360 original's, where the zombies would often ignore you completely, even if you walked right in front of them. Taking a page from Resident Evil 4 and adopting its control scheme, the zombie hordes - though largely only visible closer up, and still there in numbers close to the 360 original's - pose much more of a threat on the Wii. In a lot of ways that matter, the B or C-level team Capcom assigned to Dead Rising: Chop Till You Drop actually paid attention to complaints players had with the original game (Including the fact that unless you had an HDTV, you couldn't read any of the on-screen text in the 360 original, while that's no problem on the Wii.) and worked to give the Wii an improved version of the game. But because the graphics took a hit - and didn't get the development budget and time they'd have needed to make the graphics look more impressive on the Wii - and the game wasn't the 360 original, the game was met with a tremendous amount of outrage, with Xbox 360 fanatics crying that the Wii version was "ruining" the series, when in many capacities the Wii version's a better game overall. Once the game was released, the controversy blew over, but Capcom USA's predictably made no effort to advertise the game in the west at all, so its sales are simply gradually tracking a gradual incline towards sales numbers similar to Zack & Wiki's.

Fairly recently, Capcom released Resident Evil 5 as a long planned exclusive for the PS3 and Xbox 360, with gameplay modeled in many ways to appeal to the Gears of War crowd, and has been received largely as being a step back from Resident Evil 4 while trying to emulate Resident Evil 4 - the traditional PS3 and Xbox 360 controls for the game don't hold up well at all next to the Wii control scheme for its version of Resident Evil 4, and Capcom's said they aren't opposed to adapting a Wii version of the game at some point, so we may see that yet, though more likely than not relegated to a B or C-level development team again. They released a Wii version of MotoGP recently which wasn't advertised, and ultimately shredded by critics - a second piece of shovelware from Capcom for the Wii crowd. And they have a downloadable game, Flock, once again planned exclusively for the HD consoles, while continuing to ignore WiiWare after praising Mega Man 9's incredible success on there. In Japan, they have a port of the PS2 game Monster Hunter G - complete with online play - planned for a Wii release this year, with no word on a western release. But their biggest announced Wii title otherwise this year is their only other A-level development game than Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, Monster Hunter 3, which is scheduled for release in both Japan and the west later this year. Despite the Bionic Commando downloadable game's lack of success, they're also releasing a PS3/360 exclusive disc-based Bionic Commando game, showing again a distinct lack of good business sense on Capcom's part this generation. And they've got several other high budget PS3/360 games planned for release in Dead Rising 2, Lost Planet 2, and Dark Void.

All the while, their only other announced Wii game due out later this year is an action game called Spyborgs, which they took out of the public eye for retooling after the mixed reactions its original 2008 trailer received. Capcom's said they have more planned for the Wii than they've announced, but overall, above all other third parties, they've been clinging almost desperately to the HD systems against better business sense, and a lot of Wii owners have been getting very frustrated with the treatment and condescending attitude they've been on the receiving end of from Capcom.

(There's a lot to say about Capcom. Don't worry, I'll be discussing the rest in shorter form now, but Capcom's had this kind of thorough analysis and criticism coming this generation.)

Konami - While their DS support has been just fine, Konami's Wii support has been decidedly lacking and half-hearted for the most part as well, compared to their PS3/360 efforts. They got started on the Wii with Elebits, a cute and thoroughly enjoyable sort of first person science fiction hide and seek game directed by Shingo Mukaitoge, who seems to have a lot of interesting and refreshing gameplay ideas. Then in 2007, they released another Mukaitoge game, the adorable Dewy's Adventure, a challenging tilt-control-based platformer where you play as a drop of water who can freeze himself or turn himself into vapor in order to affect the environment around him. Both are challenging games with plenty of depth and the ability to create your own levels and share them with friends online, but were largely overlooked by the market due to their cute and quirky design. (As well as a complete lack of advertising of any kind.)

They also introduced their brilliantly deep Power Pro baseball series to the west on the Wii as MLB Power Pros, but that series has mostly been ignored for the Power Pro series' definitive cute art style, in favor of baseball games with more realistic graphics. The Wii's also received some of the best versions of the Pro Evolution Soccer games in recent years, which tend to sell better in Europe than the US. And the Wii has largely been the natural home for the Dance Dance Revolution games this generation with two Hottest Party installments and a recent Disney Mix, though at this point, Dance Dance Revolution isn't anywhere near as popular as it used to be.

And while the Wii's had some definite half-hearted efforts from Konami, they haven't really put themselves fully into the high definition systems' camps either, with all three consoles receiving more releases of classic Konami games than high budget new titles. In 2008, the Wii received Lost in Blue: Shipwrecked, a Wii version of their cult tropical island survival life sim series with decidedly very dated low budget graphics, but I haven't played it yet to judge the gameplay, which could certainly redeem the poor visuals. I've only played the first of the Lost in Blue DS games, and that was certainly a lot of fun. Around the same time last fall, they brought the PS3 and 360 Silent Hill: Homecoming, the latest main series Silent Hill series. But the game received a very mixed reception, the original creator and director having left the popular horror series after the second title, the series said to thusly have dropped sharply in quality since. And just in the past 24 hours, Konami announced a full ground-up remake of the original Silent Hill on the Playstation for the Wii, with the series' clunky combat removed in favor of focusing on avoiding combat with the series' bizarre monsters. A major gain from Konami there.

Konami released the much-anticipated Metal Gear Solid 4 as a PS3 exclusive last summer, to much fanfare and outrage at anyone who dared to criticize the game for the fact that it was mostly an incredibly poorly written 20-hour movie with 5 or so hours of extremely clunky PS2 era gameplay tacked on with pretty graphics. In order to achieve full profitability, Konami had to sell advertising space in the game, loading it with references to real world products - Apple computers, Playboy magazine, and others.

Then they released Rock Revolution later in 2008 in an attempt to compete with the popular Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises. The game didn't measure up on any console, and bombed everywhere. (The song selection was poor, all the music was done by cover bands, and the instruments weren't any good.) They also released a Powerstone-style Castlevania fighting game spinoff on the Wii - Castlevania Judgment - later in 2008, which was largely slammed for not being a main series title and feeling more like a fan game with its completely redone character designs. (Which took more after the anime and manga series Death Note than the actual established Castlevania series lore.) But with fun online play, it seems to be a pretty decent purchase overall, and one I plan on picking up myself when it gets cheap enough. Conversely, Konami announced a 3rd 3D Castlevania series game for the PS3 and 360 exclusively - a major mistake after both of the decidedly average 3D PS2 games bombed and were largely reviled by the fanbase because Castlevania doesn't work very well when it isn't done in 2D. After the PS2 games - Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness - failed to turn a profit, releasing a high budget follow-up on the niche PS3 and 360 consoles is essentially Konami choosing to flush money away that they're never going to see again on that game.

Ubisoft - Ubisoft's a publisher the Wii crowd online's largely learned to love to hate. Mostly because they're one of the most openly antagonistic publishers toward the Wii, having effectively announced that it "only draws casual gamers who don't buy core games!" Something contradicted by the fact that one of their best-selling Wii games is brilliant punk game director Suda 51's ultra-violent core-oriented No More Heroes, which tells the wild story of a lightsaber-bearing loser-turned-assassin's humorous and at times almost poignant efforts to become the #1 killer in the southwestern town of Santa Destroy. (Ubisoft's biggest mistake there was not bringing over the comic book style original Japanese game manual, which provided a bit of backstory.) They also saw a great deal of success with Red Steel, a fairly often criticized but nonetheless fun first person shooter with swordplay elements that was a big hit back at the Wii's launch.

Most of what they've released on the Wii has amounted to half-assed versions of Tom Clancy games (In fact, they only released a single Tom Clancy Wii game, then focused those works entirely on the HD systems and ignored the Wii on that front after a single poor effort that they didn't promote.) and general military shooters in regards to which they focused their efforts on the PS3 and 360 versions. Amidst those and some rather poor non-traditional gamer oriented titles like the "Imagine" series, they've released some quality party games in director Michel Ancel's Rayman spinoff series, Rayman Raving Rabbids, starring demented screaming rabbits that've managed to become amongst this generation's most charming new mascot characters.

Other quality games they've released include: the quirky Japanese adventure The Dog Island, a decent take on The Price is Right, the best version of Shaun White Snowboarding (Complete with full balance board control support to replicate more of a home snowboarding experience), Tenchu: Shadow Assassins (The latest in the popular cult stealth series about espionage and assassination in feudal Japan), and Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars Director's Cut.

And they've released some games with good ideas that didn't work out so well, like Nitro Bike. (Which people had higher hopes for, as it was developed by Left Field Studios, the developer behind the quality ExciteBike 64 N64 game.) And frankly, pretty much all of their military shooters fall into this category. Their HD system support has largely amounted to better quality Tom Clancy style military shooters and espionage games, as well as a new Prince of Persia title that wasn't very well designed and didn't ultimately sell very well when it launched for this past holiday season. And in 2008, they released their insanely hyped Assassin's Creed, only for the game itself to turn out to be a big mess, both conceptually and in terms of incredibly repetitive and otherwise frequently poorly thought out gameplay.

There's at least a couple of stars on the horizon from Ubisoft for Wii owners later this year as well. The first comes in the form of a Super Smash Bros.-esque Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game coming later this year, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash Up. They even have some of the Smash Bros. Brawl team working on the game, and online play plans, so it could potentially be the first new Ninja Turtles game worth owning in years. The second of these stars is the first Raving Rabbids series action adventure game, Rabbids Go Home, another Michel Ancel title focusing on the Rabbid characters embarking in a shopping cart on an adventure to collect junk to build a tower to their determined home - the moon. A quirky and potentially very fun premise, which will probably be the first Rabbids series game I pick up myself with its single player gameplay focus.

Square-Enix - Square-Enix is the result of the first major merger in console and portable gaming, back in the earlier 2000s, which was pretty much the beginning of a long line of developers merging together as the gaming industry has begun to consolidate into a handful of third party developers and publishers. (This is not a good thing, or any sign of a healthy industry. It's not exactly coincidental that we're seeing an unhealthy industry at a time when so many developers are fixated on unsuccessful, expensive console development.) Squaresoft was going bankrupt following the release of the first Kingdom Hearts game on the PS2 and the massive failure of the theatrical release of their CGI Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within movie, when the entire world didn't rush out to see and love the movie as they'd expected after the inordinate amount of undeserved praise Final Fantasy VII received, taking the company mainstream. Enix swooped in from a much better financial position with their Dragon Quest series insanely popular as ever in Japan, and negotiated a merger with Square. Whoever did the negotiations at Enix obviously wasn't very good at their job, as Square ended up effectively dominating Enix in the merger despite Enix technically having the upper hand on every front in the merger, and they ended up with Yoichi Wada running the newly merged company - the same president who ran Squaresoft into the ground and whose focus on franchising and beating game series to death for profit ran off Final Fantasy series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi and has led the merged company into a downward trend in profits again, investing insane budgets in games and not seeing the sales they expect anymore. (Especially with the attitude now pervading the PS3 and 360 crowds against Japanese games, and Japanese role-playing games - or JRPGs - in particular, in blind favor western games and RPGs that are frequently just as poorly written, and more fixated on "realistic" graphics.)

Despite their biggest and most hyped titles being focused on the PS3 and Xbox 360, Square hasn't seen much success there this generation at all - Silpheed failed to turn a profit, and Infinite Undiscovery and The Last Remnant both ended up being fairly so-so games that didn't make a dime, either. Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi's faced problems making any money at all on the exclusive JRPGs Microsoft has paid his new studio - Mistwalker - to develop exclusively for the Xbox 360 as well. Instead of successfully widening these consoles' user bases as the games are intended to, we're just seeing the 360 and PS3 crowds indicate that by and large, they aren't interested in Japanese RPG games. (Unlike the Wii, where there's a proven profitable market. Even most recently, Star Ocean 4 dropped to massive hype and then completely bombed when it hit store shelves and won't make a cent. Tri-Ace is largely dead to me at this point though, since they made a point of ruining the Star Ocean series - the one previously strong ongoing franchise they had to their name - with a terrible retroactive plot twist in the third game.) Despite all the hype and money they've poured into the upcoming HD Final Fantasy XIII and its Versus spinoff, they seem to be completely confused about what they're doing with their gameplay with the series now, and they've poured so much money into it that it's incredibly unlikely that it'll ever turn a profit, simply becoming a massive black hole attached to the company.

And as a result? Square-Enix has begun to sharply turn their focus to the Wii, in openly acknowledging the console's position as the market leader. Their first Wii release was Enix's Dragon Quest spinoff, Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors, a first person arcade-esque on-rails action RPG where you explore the country side and various dungeons as you further the story, improving your protagonist's strength as well as his chosen companion for that gameplay run, and exploring and buying better equipment, like traditional RPGs. It was the first successful, profitable role-playing genre game of the generation. Since the Wii solidified itself as the market leader by a huge margin, Enix announced plans to make Dragon Quest X exclusively for the Wii following this year's release of the series's 9th installment on the DS, which is a huge Wii third party gain.

Square's own Wii offerings have amounted to a bunch of quality Final Fantasy spinoffs so far. At WiiWare launch last May, we got Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King, an enjoyable kingdom-building simulator based in the more fantasy oriented Crystal Chronicles spinoff universe - truer to the original Fantasy Fantasy setting than the main numbered series, which is largely centered on non-specific sci-fi-esque settings in recent years, and has as a result lost much of its imagination in its locales. They also released a spinoff last summer in Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon, a turn-based dungeon-crawler in which you explore massive randomly generated dungeons as the series' cute Chocobo bird mascot. I played through it earlier in the fall last year, and while it's not the hardest "roguelike" dungeon-crawler I've ever played, it's certainly a good introduction to the genre for newcomers, and a fun experience all around with an interesting setting. The main story's a little short and overly angsty at times for what it is, but the game's a pleasant experience overall with a fun little online card battle system you can play as well. And just recently, they released Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time on both the Wii and DS (With the Wii version having slightly better visuals. The DS in general has received very strong support from Square-Enix this generation, while their few PSP games haven't been particularly remarkable or good, largely focused on the Final Fantasy VII fanatic crowd that'll buy anything with that game's name attached.), a free online co-op oriented game where you create characters from the four main Crystal Chronicles setting and either play through the story in single player or freely log online to join up with friends to explore the world, take on dungeons, and follow the story together. That's one I'm personally looking forward to playing online with friends if I can snag a copy soon.

Coming in the future, they've got a great looking Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles action RPG focused on gorgeous Wii visuals coming in The Crystal Bearers. And on WiiWare, they've got a version of Crystal Defenders coming (Which is also hitting PSN and XBLA), as well as western exclusives in Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (A sequel to the SNES classic Final Fantasy IV, starring the son of two of its lead characters) and Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Dark Lord.

So while we haven't been getting hugely hyped Square-Enix games so far, they've provided some strong Wii support and it's only going to get stronger. They serve as a good example of a third party that's actually coming to understand the current market situation and smartly adapting to it instead of blindly clinging to Sony and Microsoft.

Electronic Arts - EA's been a pretty good Wii developer so far, and they're another of the developers to openly acknowledge it was a mistake to prematurely declare the PS3 and 360 the generation's victors, and have now switched the vast majority of their development to the Wii. Their flagship Madden games have seen mixed sales so far - the Xbox 360 versions of the popular football titles still dominate in sales, as they're paid to push those versions as the "main" version of that series, but the Wii versions have as of far been well done games with some unique features, but also games facing some flawed online issues and an issue of removing content from the PS3 and 360 versions in the Wii version, in an effort to push it as a more "casual" versions, which has only served to confuse consumers. (That said, the Wii versions of the Madden games have still found an audience, and one that should be expanded further, being solid, functional games.) The sports genre in general should be all about motion controls in gaming these days, as ridiculous as it is to still play that sort of genre with analog sticks and buttons alone now. And they've announced plans to overhaul the Wii focus of the series in possibly dropping the confusing "All-Play" name this year and giving the Wii versions a unique visual style - a gamble the results of which are hard to predict. But in order to capitalize on its profitability, EA really needs to do all they can to push the Madden games on the Wii as primary releases in the series and make them stand out as more appealing than the HD versions - this means making sure they fully polish the online play before release, and don't cut content. There's no good reason to cut content when they could easily keep all the same features in all three, then add additional exclusive ones to the Wii to take advantage of things like its Mii avatar system, features like WiiConnect24, and motion controls.

EA's released a number of quality Wii games so far in the town-building oriented cute MySims spinoffs of the Sims series and a few other Sims titles on the system, SSX Blur (Which, years later, just begs for a new Wii exclusive SSX series sequel with balance board support, being a great snowboarding series), and The Godfather: Blackhand Edition, which is widely regarded as the best version of the original Godfather Game. (Though its poor sales led to The Godfather 2 game being PS3/360 exclusive, despite Wii demand for more Grand Theft Auto style sandbox games.) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix made for a quality free-roaming role-playing game that allowed you to fully explore a massive, gorgeously rendered Hogwarts as well, and The Simpsons Game is said to be pretty good too. Medal of Honor Heroes 2 was the first online first person shooter the Wii saw as well, courtesy of EA, a first to fill a notable gap in the system's library where the HD consoles are oversaturated with online FPSes. (Which is funny, considering that traditional controllers are pretty terrible for FPSes, while the Wii's controls are amazing for the genre.) Its biggest downfall was in being a direct PSP-to-Wii port with no graphical upgrades to suit the Wii. (Another trend we're seeing is that half-assed third party efforts that don't treat the Wii like the graphical powerhouse it's capable of being don't sell well either. Wii owners largely don't buy games that treat the system like its hardware is weak.) EA's also brought the generation's definitive golf games with online play to the Wii in its most recent Tiger Woods games. (It'd be great if they finally made a full on Wii hockey game as well - at this point I'd even kill for a simple Wii Sports style pick-up-and-play hockey game, as I find that kind of game more charming and appealing to me personally than most serious sports games.) Simcity Creator brought the Simcity series to the Wii as well, with some classic PC-style gameplay. In 2008, the Wii also received Skate It, an exclusive version of the HD systems' Skate, which allows the use of the balance board for its skateboarding gameplay. (Though apparently it has some control issues that should have been worked on before release.)

In 2009, they released SimAnimals - an animal-based Sims title as an answer of sorts to the Xbox 360 and DS Viva Pinata titles. It didn't get advertised, and seems to not have gotten much attention, but certainly looks potentially fun. They released NASCAR Kart Racing on the Wii this year too, a Mario Kart style NASCAR racing game which, honestly, I'm not interested in, but people seem to like. And later this spring, they're going to release Boom Blox Bash Party, the sequel to Stephen Spielberg's unique and great Boom Blox puzzle game about knocking down stacks of blocks, in additional strong Wii exclusives.

They've also had some missteps on the Wii with Boogie, which had a great concept, but didn't work well in execution. (Its sequel fixed many of the issues, but got virtually zero press, and bombed at retail. Pretty much what happens when you make tween girls your main focus with a game.) EA Playground seems to be a mixed bag too, but potentially worth playing.

Their support for the others contains a lot of the same sorts of games they've released for the Wii, but with less variety, mostly amounting to sports games and some military FPSes with a few others like the Need for Speed racing series and an occasional Lord of the Rings game. And of course, the popular Rock Band music game series is on all three systems.

EA has several more Wii titles announced for later this year: Dead Space Extraction (A rail movement based Wii prequel to last year's popular outer space survival horror game on the PS3 and 360, which is clearly getting a lot of hard work put into it.), G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Undoubtedly a release intended to tie into the upcoming movie. They've announced plans to parody the '80's cartoon's public service announcements within the game, and if you point the Wii remote upward in-game, the Wii version will thusly announce "Yo, Joe!"), and Spore Hero (An adventure game based in the Spore universe, developing your creature.).

Sega - Following their longtime rivalry with Nintendo, after the Dreamcast failed to turn a profit (Following profitability problems with the Saturn, Game Gear, and Genesis add-ons in the 32X and Sega CD), Sega ended up withdrawing from the hardware game and becoming a third party software developer. Tainted by a great deal of disdain from the Sony and Microsoft crowds, "disgraced" in falling out of the hardware competition and being marked as one of the older juggernauts to look down on - for many of the same reasons the Sony and Microsoft fanatics hate Nintendo - Sega's gone on to find more of an audience with the Nintendo crowd than the other two. As a result, they've been one of the best developers and publishers for Nintendo's platformers this generation, producing quality games, advertising them, and proving repeatedly that when a company actually tries to make quality software to compete with Nintendo's games and advertises it, it's very possible to find plenty of success on the Wii.

Following strong support for Nintendo's classic game download system - the Virtual Console - from the Wii launch onward, Sega brought Sonic and the Secret Rings (One of the better 3D Sonic titles, loosely based on the Arabian Nights stories), Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (A milestone title officially bringing Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog characters together for the first time at the Beijing Olympics), Ghost Squad (A fairly direct port of the classic cheesy arcade rail shooter, with great multiplayer), and NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams (The long-awaited sequel to the classic Saturn adventure) to the Wii in its first full year on the market.

In 2008, Sega released Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity (The sequel to the previous generation's cult Sonic racing game), The House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return (An enhanced port of the 2nd and 3rd House of the Dead arcade rail shooters with some extra gameplay modes.), Sega Superstars Tennis (A tennis game featuring a variety of Sega mascot characters), and the best version of the multiplatform Sonic Unleashed. (Which features an odd gameplay element in shifting between fast-paced platforming gameplay and melee combat as Sonic transforms into a "Werehog" throughout the game.) Sega also released Let's Tap in Japan in 2008 - a very quirky title based on setting the Wii remote controller on a box and tapping the box to control the game. Let's Tap has since been confirmed for a western release in 2009.

So far in 2009, Sega has released the critically acclaimed House of the Dead: Overkill (The first new House of the Dead series game in recent years, which was recently admitted to the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most foul language of any game ever made. The series was reimagined to have a grindhouse film feel to it. Sega's praised the game's strong sales.) on the Wii, as well as Sonic and the Black Knight. (A stylistic follow-up to Sonic and the Secret Rings set in an Arthurian legend setting, featuring sword-based combat. The game's received a heavy amount of criticism, and I haven't played it yet personally, but from what I've been able to glean from gameplay videos, it's more of the same kind of fun from Sonic and the Secret Rings. The media's openly hated Sonic the Hedgehog in 3D for many years now, and it seems as though Black Knight was particularly maligned because it dared to break from the formula they love to despise. Another reminder why it's best to make up your own mind about the quality of games and never pay too much attention to the gaming media in its complete lack of real objectivity.)

Sega's also publishing new titles this year by Platinum Games - the new game development studio formed by the remnants of Clover (Which developed Okami, Godhand, and the Viewtiful Joe games before Capcom ditched the studio after deeming their titles as being profitable enough in only gaining the niche audience they did.) and some of the best minds in game development today. (The best formerly in Capcom's development pool.) They began with MadWorld on the Wii, an ultra-violent and challenging beat 'em up starring a guy with a chainsaw for an arm, with a very stylized black and white graphical style highlighting the red blood. Comedians Greg Proops and John DiMaggio provide a commentary track for the game, riffing on the events going on within the gameplay itself, adding a very sort of meta comedy element to the title. (Sega has already deemed MadWorld a hit as well.) Later this year, they're publishing Bayonetta (A new action game by the creator of the Devil May Cry series, who walked away from that series after the first game, having intended for it to only be a one-shot game.) on the 360 and PS3, as well as Infinite Space (A very indepth space opera role-playing game about exploring the universe in a fully customizable ship and building a crew) on the DS, which is due out in the west this fall.

From what they've confirmed so far, later this year, Sega will be releasing Virtua Tennis 2009 (The latest in their highly regarded tennis series) and The Conduit (An extremely highly anticipated first person shooter with top notch graphics and excellent online play with Wii Speak voice chat - something high quality to fill the online FPS void on the Wii. It's developed by small time studio High Voltage Software, which has provided numerous worthwhile Wii titles so far, and openly expressed discontent with the brush-off the Wii so frequently gets by larger developers in favor of the high-definition consoles.), as well as Mario & Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games (Another Olympics game, this time set at the Vancouver Winter Olympics). They'll undoubtedly announce more at the game shows later this year.

Some less than brilliant decisions on their part included remaking the original Saturn NiGHTS into Dreams game exclusively for the PS2 in Japan without giving it a western release or a Wii port, as would have made even more sense as well. Developing Valkyria Chronicles - a tactical gun-based role-playing game - exclusively for the PS3 was also a huge mistake given the established track record of JRPGs not having a profitable audience on either of the high-def systems. (And to top it off, the threw some Skies of Arcadia character cameos into the game, which comes off as insulting considering that Skies of Arcadia was only available on the Dreamcast and Gamecube - not gamer bases that're buying the PS3.) Making Virtua Fighter 5 a PS3/360 exclusive wasn't a brilliant choice with the poor sales it saw as well. Sega also published some bad movie license games, based on Iron Man, The Golden Compass, and The Incredible Hulk in recent years. And they also revived the Golden Axe series on the PS3 and 360, but didn't do a particularly great job with it - the game was critically panned and sold poorly. Not the audience to target with classic remakes, and unfortunately the game really could have used more time in development to polish the gameplay. Their Phantasy Star RPG franchise has been largely squandered in online-centric titles after abandoning the original series timeline and single player focus after the 4th title on the Genesis in the mid-90s.

There have been rumors of other possible future Sega Wii projects - in particular, a collection of the two Shenmue games on a single disc and a Wii-exclusive sequel to the phenomenal Skies of Arcadia (Which originally released on the Dreamcast, then saw a successful and fantastic director's cut release with additional content on the Gamecube as Skies of Arcadia Legends), and a new game in the Dreamcast and Xbox Jet Grind Radio/Jet Set Radio skateboarding and graffiti series - but no official details on any of the three have surfaced. (Talks of the Jet Grind Radio sequel have been shot down for now, after some concept art surfaced.)

Personally, I'd just love to see Sega and Camelot Software Publishing work together again - as Camelot has expressed an interest in doing so, having previously been a part of Sega - and produce some new Wii/DS canon sequels to the classic Shining series titles on the Genesis, Sega CD, and Sega Saturn. Since Camelot split from Sega after the Saturn, Sega abandoned the original setting, ongoing story, and memorable gameplay at the Shining series' roots and turned the series into a bunch of derivative hack-and-slashers that've made longtime fans of the series rather unhappy. It'd be a dream come true to see follow-ups to Shining Force 3 and Shining in the Holy Ark, returning to the original setting and beloved gameplay styles with Camelot. In the least, Sega's brought all three of the classic Genesis titles in the series - the first person dungeon-crawler Shining in the Darkness (Where the series began), its tactical strategy oriented follow-up Shining Force, and my personal favorite in the series, Shining Force 2 - to the Wii Virtual Console. The same goes for the classic Phantasy Star role-playing series - they haven't released a single non-online play focused game with a real story in the series in over a decade. (Though as of the release of the first game on the Virtual Console later this month, all four of the fantastic original games will be available for download on the Wii.)

Namco Bandai - Namco Bandai's the result of another major industry merger that, again, is reflective of a less than healthy current state of the video game industry. They've been rather inconsistent in regards to their releases this generation, though they've provided some great stuff on the Virtual Console, and are a heavy supporter of the Wii's recently launched arcade game section of the Virtual Console, bringing their classic '80s arcade games to home console gamers at last.

They began their Wii support this generation with the mediocre licensed party game, Tamagotchi Party On! back in 2007. They continued that year with the budget-priced remake collection, Namco Museum Remix, and the rather mediocre hack-and-slasher, Soul Calibur Legends. (Which came off as a slap in the face to Wii owners, focusing Soul Calibur IV on the high-def consoles, after the Gamecube crowd made Soul Calibur II the best-selling home console version of the game. Skipping the market leading console by a huge margin with a major title like that is never a good decision.)

In 2008, they released the cute, fun pick-up-and-play skiing game, We Ski, with balance board support. (I haven't picked this one up yet, but I want to.) Later in the year, they released the long-awaited sequel to the Gamecube role-playing game Tales of Symphonia, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, which is an excellent game - Namco's best on the Wii to date - but got slammed by the press for not being a main Tales series title like the duller Xbox 360 release around the same time, Tales of Vesperia. (The Tales series itself tends to be kind of hit-and-miss with its writing and gameplay.)

So far in 2009, they've released We Ski and Snowboard (The sequel to We Ski, with added snowboarding gameplay) and We Cheer (A dance/cheerleading game of sorts). Upcoming 2009 titles include a gorgeous-looking remake of the original Klonoa: Door to Phantomile platformer, tentatively the also wonderful looking post-apocalyptic role-playing game Fragile: Farewell Ruins of the Moon (A game on my personal most-wanted list), a DSi/WiiWare Mr. Driller series puzzle game, and Tales of Graces (The next main Tales RPG series title, having realized after Tales of Vesperia's HD-console failure and Symphonia II's Wii success that the Wii's the platform to focus the series on.).

They've made some questionable release decisions on other platforms as well, between: The IdolM@ster (An idol-based life simulation exclusive to the Xbox 360 in Japan, where the console's anything but popular. Microsoft pays for exclusivity to draw Japanese gamers, but the game'd do much better and reach more of its full potential elsewhere. They've already released a spinoff of sorts on the Wii in a dance game exclusive to Japan.), bringing the Tales action-RPG series games out on the PSP in the west but not the DS games (While there's been much demand for the DS games to come west, while most PSP games still simply don't turn a profit, given the incredibly high rate of piracy on the platform.), Eternal Sonata (Which they released on both the Xbox 360 and PS3 and failed to turn a profit on either version, leading them to be hesitant to bring the same developer's Fragile: Farewell Ruins of the Moon to the west on the Wii, where they've actually made money on their only JRPG release so far, and the genre's proven to be profitable), the Splatterhouse revival (An ultraviolent franchise that means literally nothing to the PS3 and 360 crowds, which they recently seized development of from the western team they had assigned to the game (Not involving any of the original Japanese developers for the series? Also a very bad sign.), indicating a complete lack of confidence in the product as its development continued), Beautiful Katamari (The latest in their cult series where you play the Prince of All Cosmos and roll up huge balls of junk - eventually picking up cities, continents, and more - which was supposed to hit all 3 consoles. Microsoft paid for the game to be an Xbox 360 exclusive in the end, and it didn't turn a profit. Now they're developing a PS3 exclusive Katamari game, which also won't turn a profit. And yes, they're choosing to neglect the Wii crowd, it seems, which has been openly asking for a Katamari title since the beginning of this generation. The series'd have a legitimate shot at turning a profit on the Wii.), Soul Calibur IV (After Sony paid Namco to make Soul Calibur III a PS2 exclusive - in the wake of the Gamecube version surprising everybody and outselling the PS2 and Xbox versions - skipping an arcade release and coming up with a buggy, unbalanced, thoroughly messy game with worse controls than its predecessor, history repeated itself with Soul Calibur IV in a paid PS3/360 follow up with Soul Calibur IV. They promised they'd fix all the gameplay problems Soul Calibur III had, and then didn't, once again skipping an arcade release, and focusing the series into a Smash Bros. type game with a fixation on new characters by guest artists that don't fit into the series' universe at all. Like the Tekken series, Namco's just about made Soul Calibur dead to me at this point. It's a shame, considering how good Soul Blade/Edge, Soul Calibur, and Soul Calibur II were.), Time Crisis 4 (The latest in Namco's popular cult rail shooter series was essentially a PS2 game in development, which they chose to release as a PS3 exclusive with an awkward light gun accessory setup that didn't work very well with the PS3. It didn't sell well, and in general, the whole thing was a poor decision on Namco's part.), and Tales of Vesperia (It didn't turn a profit on the Xbox 360, and now they're porting it to the PS3, where it won't make money either. It took Namco long enough to relax they needed to refocus the Tales series on the Wii, but frankly, Vesperia could run on the Wii, too, and should have been ported there.).

Namco Bandai also bought smaller name Japanese developer D3 - best known in the west these days for their Puzzle Quest series and the recently-released Onechanbara Wii and Xbox 360 cheesecake zombie hack-and-slash games. It's hard to know how to feel about that acquisition, considering the consistency of D3's success - largely through their well known "Simple Series" in Japan, which consists of fun, low-budget games with simple graphics oriented toward profitability. One hopes Namco won't meddle with D3's business practices and style too much.

Activision - Activision's another complicated publisher, on the Wii front. They've delivered some truly good titles, but also openly thumbed their nose at the Wii audience on a number of occasions.

Their Wii support around the launch window was decent, with a version of Call of Duty 3, Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, and the superhero action-RPG Marvel Ultimate Alliance. (A stylistic follow-up to their X-Men Legends games the previous generation, which were pretty fun.) Then things started to take a downturn with an incredibly ugly version of the Spider-Man 3 game. (Though the game itself wasn't particularly good on any of the consoles.) More mediocre movie adaptations began to pour in - many hitting all three consoles - and the Wii got a good bit of shovelware from them. They even skipped over the Wii with their biggest title of 2007, Call of Duty 4, in a blatant slap in the face. But when they released Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock - complete with good online play support - the Wii version went on to handily outsell the PS3 and 360 versions, the game itself receiving a heavy amount of advertising. LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga sold quite well on the Wii, too, as a humorous LEGO toy-based take on all six of the Star Wars movies.

Despite that, the shovelware continued to flow in 2008, with some exceptions, like: LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures (Following the strong success of LEGO Star Wars), Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, the best version of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Call of Duty: World at War (Which didn't do as well as the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. The game could've used a little more work to differentiate itself from the other two and better compete, since the majority of the Call of Duty fanbase seems to be on the HD systems.), LEGO Batman, and Guitar Hero: World Tour. (Which has continued the trend of the Wii versions of Guitar Hero games selling exceptionally well.) Activision improved their Wii support overall in 2008, though they still continued to pour in the shovelware, even porting and repackaging a Pitfall game from the previous generation and renaming it Pitfall: The Big Adventure in hopes people wouldn't notice that it was the exact same game they'd released previously as Pitfall: The Lost Expedition.

XSeed Games - On a more positive note, XSeed Games - a newer publisher, localizing games in the west since 2006 - has been nothing but great for the Wii this generation.

In 2007, they kicked off their Wii work with Victorious Boxers: Revolution, the latest in the "Victorious Boxers" localizations of the Japanese boxing games based on the Hajime no Ippo comic and anime series. In 2008, they only released a couple of DS and PSP games.

But in 2009, they're bringing several great-looking Wii-exclusive Japanese RPGs west. (Following their localization of the fantastic Retro Game Challenge and Avalon Code on the DS.) They've begun their 2009 Wii releases with the wonderful Rune Factory Frontier, which released here in late March. Following the previous two DS Rune Factory games, Frontier is a spinoff of Natsume and Marvelous's much-beloved Harvest Moon farming/life sim franchise. (Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility was released on the Wii in the west back in 2008 as well, and has a follow-up coming with a focus on raising animals.) In the Rune Factory series, you get to participate in a living, breathing town community of sorts, while running a farm, interacting with the townspeople, and pursuing women until you propose to and eventually marry one. Rune Factory's taken things to the next level, taking Harvest Moon gameplay to a fantasy universe and throwing in role-playing game elements, fighting monsters, exploring dungeons, and so forth with a grander scale story than the Harvest Moon series has ever had.

Following that, XSeed has the brilliant-looking real time strategy game-role-playing game-life sim blend, Little King's Story, slated for an early summer release in the west. And later this year, they've got the ninja action RPG Muramasa: The Demon Blade and more traditional JRPG Arc Rise Fantasia coming to the west. They'll also be releasing Suda 51's brilliant Groundhog Day-esque detective game, Flower, Sun, and Rain on the DS this summer (Which was released in Europe last year), and seem to have Suda 51's No More Heroes sequel, No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle locked up for a 2010 western release. (Which looks to be as crazily violent as the original, and Suda 51's promised to make the main GTA-style hub city a lot more interesting than it was in the original.) It'll be interesting, to say the least, to see what else they announce later this year. XSeed's bringing great stuff to the Wii.

Rockstar Games - So far, the company behind the notorious Grand Theft Auto series hasn't been much of a Wii presence, but after their expressed disappointment with the sales of GTAIV on the PS3 and 360 (In fact, despite its strong sales and hype, with the crazy budget Grand Theft Auto IV got, it has yet to actually turn a profit. The game cost $100 million, the highest budget a game has ever seen, and on smaller userbases like the PS3 and 360, even combined, it's impossible to make money on a game with that kind of budget.), we may yet see them bring the series to the Wii in the not too distant future.

They've already broken from their seeming vendetta against Nintendo to release a Wii version of the Xbox 360's Rockstar Table Tennis with better controls, as well as the best version of their PS2 high school sandbox game, Bully in Bully: Scholarship Edition, with enhanced graphics and controls and none of the glitches or bugs that plague the even prettier Xbox 360 port. I'm not a Grand Theft Auto fan myself, but Bully seems intriguing enough that I'd like to give it a try.

They also recently gave Nintendo a major exclusive release in Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars on the DS, to much fanfare and strong sales already. Further evidence that Nintendo fans are all for Rockstar support.

Koei Tecmo - Koei and Tecmo only just completed their merger this week, but with a fondness for both companies and their similar business practices, this is a harder merger to criticize, given the increased stability both developers should find in it without interfering one another. The merger was planned in the wake of the scandal last fall around the dismissal of Tomonobu Itagaki, former head of Tecmo's Team Ninja, which made the Dead or Alive series and more recent Ninja Gaiden games. Given Itagaki's track record of being something of a misogynist with a track record of harrassing women at the company and making games that absolutely objectified women, his dismissal seemed more or less inevitable, but of course he raised a stink about it, as one of the company's best known public figures.

Koei, known best for their large variety of "screw around with history" games mostly set in China's Three Kingdoms era and feudal Japan, has branched out quite a bit this generation and provided some strong Wii support. While they didn't release anything outside of the Virtual Console until 2008, they brought a fun first person spinoff of their action-oriented Samurai Warriors series to the platform in the form of Samurai Warriors: Katana, and followed that up in the spring with the release of Opoona, a quirky sci-fi Japanese RPG that is my personal very favorite game on the Wii, which I cannot recommend enough. At this point, their only other announced Wii title is an exclusive release of Samurai Warriors 3 later in 2009, which is a huge gain, in Koei shifting more of their resources to the Wii after PS3/360 failures.

Koei hasn't had too much luck on the PS3 and Xbox 360 this generation, despite efforts to fully branch out to them as well. They released a number of their games, including "Warriors" series titles and spinoffs on the HD platforms: Bladestorm, Warriors Orochi, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam, and Dynasty Warriors 6, along with racing games like Fatal Inertia. Facing more popular and hyped franchises in similar genres, they didn't exactly see remarkable sales numbers, and in the Warriors spin-offs' cases, their sales fell through the floor after the very high sales they were accustomed to on the Playstation 2, so these games largely ended up getting PS2 adaptations to recoup their losses. The HD consoles' bases have effectively demonstrated to Koei that they're not the successors to the PS2 in profitability - as they aren't in genearl - and not the place to take the new Warriors games. Samurai Warriors 3 becoming a Wii exclusive was a decision made in response to that.

Tecmo's been best known for its Team Ninja games in more recent years, which Microsoft shelled out cash for exclusivity of for quite a while, and eventually the PS3 started getting a little of their support, while Nintendo went largely ignored after the SNES until the Wii.

Tecmo's first Wii release was the fun, well-designed home console version of the online Swing Golf Pangya! game, which they released on the Wii in late 2006 as Super Swing Golf. The game's a quality title, but known for an unforgivingly brutal AI, making it difficult to deal with opponents. They've steadily released their classic games on the Virtual Console as well. Then in 2009, they released Super Swing Golf: Season 2.

In 2008, Tecmo only released another couple of decent, but unspectacular Wii games in the short fantasy adventure SPRay and the update to the PS2 Rygar revival game, Rygar: Battle of Argus. (Though at its core, Rygar's still the same game it was in 2001 when originally released.) Both seem like decent pickups if you can find them for a lower price, though neither is worth big money, not being top Tecmo efforts by any stretch of imagination.

Unfortunately, their big budget games have largely stuck to the PS3 and 360, though with Itagaki out of the picture and their new merger with Koei, perhaps we'll see them start to work on more Wii titles in time. As of now, their only big announced 2009 Wii game is Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff, a revival of their classic Tecmo Bowl American football series from the 8-bit era. And they recently confirmed plans for a European release of the Suda 51-directed latest installment in their cult terrifying Fatal Frame horror series, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. A North American release will likely be announced sometime later this year as well, making it Tecmo's biggest Wii release to date.

Atlus - Ah, Atlus. Another of my favorite developers and publishers in recent years. They've been good to Nintendo fans in recent years too. Bringing all sorts of quirky Japanese games over, they've been providing good Wii software support since the console's launch.

At launch, they released Trauma Center: Second Opinion, a full remake of the critically acclaimed DS surgery sim with new character designs from a different artist, a new surgery tool, and some new surgery missions. You might expect something ultra graphic that the squeamish couldn't play in a genre like this - I'm not too keen on guts and all that myself - but they manage to visually present surgery in the Trauma Center in a way such that you can recognize organs, people's insides, and such, without it being stomach-churningly graphic. And the gameplay in the series in general is top notch. In 2007, they released a Wii exclusive follow-up in Trauma Center: New Blood, which had a few online features in being able to participate in online ranking boards based on your performance in surgery.

And in 2008, they released Baroque - a very dark, challenging, atmospheric action RPG set around the exploration of a twisted tower in a post-apocalyptic setting where people are mutanting into monsters. Very much a niche title that predictably didn't sell well on the Wii or PS2 - as it was given a multiplatform release - but it's a game I've enjoyed quite a bit for its twisted, strange atmosphere and tough gameplay. In the fall, Dokapon Kingdom received a similar multiplatform release and performed better all around, as a fusion RPG and board game/party game, becoming one of the best and deepest party games on the Wii. (It's a series that, with its gameplay premise, could really use a follow-up with online play.)

They've had nothing but failures on the HD consoles, it seems likely that they'll withdraw from them, since there's just no base to profit on for the kinds of games they bring west. (And in Japan, the company's had enough financial problems in recent years that risking financial collapse on an HD console wouldn't be worth it.) They haven't announced any specific Wii plans for 2009 yet either - though I'd love if they'd start getting their classic games on the Virtual Console, as they haven't yet, and gamers could use titles like Crusader of Centy, Ogre Battle 64, and Run Saber - but I imagine we may see some announcements from them later this year. Their DS support this year has already been phenomenal.

Hudson Entertainment - Another long-time developer well worth noting, and a great example of a developer/publisher you don't hear about as much in the mainstream that's been around for decades and still going strong with a lot of great, varied business decisions.

They've been a strong Wii supporter from the original launch, bringing their Turbografx-16/PC-Engine and TurboDuo/TurboCD/PC-Engine CD titles to the Virtual Console from day one. (And they've committed to bringing as much of those systems' library as humanly possible to the Virtual Console - an impressive undertaking. They're amongst the publishers getting previously Japan-exclusive games released in western territories as well.) They started releasing disc games in 2007 with the tilt-control puzzle game Kororinpa: Marble Mania and less than stellar flight sim Wing Island. That year, they also developed Mario Party 8, which Nintendo published as a first party title.

They continued their support in 2008 with the decent Deca Sports (Another Wii Sports-esque game collection featuring go-kart racing, archery, ice-skating, and more.), and focused on supporting WiiWare for the rest of the year with: My Aquarium (A fun, relaxing aquarium-building sim, in which you can exchange aquarium data with friends online), Bomberman Blast (A top notch Wii exclusive installment in the popular Bomberman series, complete with online multiplayer play), Tetris Party (One of the best and most indepth Tetris games in years), Cue Sports: Pool Revolution (One of the better pool games on the Wii, with online play), Alien Crush Returns (The latest in their popular "Crush" pinball game series, with some online features), Star Soldier R (A shorter arcade style shooter based on their classic Star Soldier games, oriented towards getting as high a score as possible in a few minutes), and Pit Crew Panic (A comical puzzle game of sorts about fixing up various things with a racing pit crew, with online ranking boards).

In 2009, the vast majority of their announced software is bound for the Wii as well. They've already released Snowboard Riot (A snowboarding game with weapons for a Snowboard Kids/Mario Kart feel and online play), Onslaught (A first-person shooter with online competitive and cooperative play), and Pop 'Em Drop 'Em SAMEGAME (A fun looking puzzle game) on WiiWare so far this year, and have a Deca Sports sequel on the way, along with the quirky looking Help Wanted (Job Island: Hard Working People in Europe), a mix of job-based minigame gameplay and life simulation elements, buying and collecting things with the money earned from the jobs you do. A new Adventure Island revival (Which reminds a little of Donkey Kong Country) is coming to WiiWare sometime this year as well, and they've hinted at plans for a Bonk series revival on WiiWare as well.

Hudson's done quite well this generation, their only real embarrassment having been the Xbox 360 game Bomberman: Act Zero, which screwed with the classic beloved Bomberman gameplay formula a bit too much, and tried to appeal to the Xbox 360 crowd with a dark, gritty graphical style that just didn't work for Bomberman. That game said a lot about what it takes to pander to the 360 audience.

THQ - They release a lot of shovelware and licensed children's movie based games, most of which aren't exactly worth noting. But amidst those, THQ releases a gem or two now and then. They're known for making good licensed pro wrestling games too, but their 2008 WWE SmackDown vs. Raw Wii game apparently wasn't particularly good, in being a bad downgrade from the PS3 and 360 versions - the 2009 edition's said to be a quality release though, for those interested in such things. (Admittedly, I'm no wrestling fan myself.)

In 2008, they released Worms: A Space Oddity, which lacked as a Worms series game in not having online play, the sort of thing you'd think would be a standard feature in any game in that series nowadays. They also released Battle of the Bands, a sub-par attempt to compete with Guitar Hero and Rock Band. But in the same year, they released the shining gem of their Wii releases, the main reason they're worth mentioning in this post: de Blob, a platformer with a fantastic soundtrack in which you explore black and white stages and restore their color. Probably the best platform game of 2008, and it's sold well enough that THQ's announced plans for a sequel.

In 2009, they also released Deadly Creatures, an action game with some of the best graphics on the Wii yet, in which you play as either a spider or a scorpion and fight with other insects and animals throughout the game as the story progresses. The camera and controls have gotten some mixed responses, as the only elements of the game that've been questioned. Not being a big insect person, it's not quite my cup of tea, but the game's critically acclaimed, and well worth noting.

Jaleco - They haven't had as much of a noteworthy presence in the west in recent years, but I'm just giving them a brief mention for their upcoming action-RPG, Ougon no Kizuna (Which translates to "Golden Bonds"), for the Wii. It looks pretty impressive, with an interesting artistic direction and massive-scale boss battles against towering monsters, not unlike the PS2's Shadow of the Colossus. A game to keep an eye on, which Jaleco has announced intentions of bringing to the west.


Before moving on, I wanted to draw attention to two more major summer blockbuster games bound for the Wii in the coming months worth nothing.

First off, we have the Wii version of Ghostbusters: The Video Game, a new follow-up to the hit Ghostbusters movie series, written by Dan Akyroyd and Harold Ramis, and starring Akyroyd, Ramis, Ernie Hudson, and Bill Murray. (Annie Potts returns as well, but Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver declined. Alyssa Milano has been confirmed to replace Weaver as the game's damsel in distress.) While all three major consoles will be receiving a version of the game, the Wii has the upper hand in having fully destructible environments - which the other two lack - superior controls with the Wii remote being used to aim at ghosts on screen as you blast them, and the Wii version's graphics have a cartoonier look to them (Like the '80s cartoon series) as opposed to the PS3 and 360's rather unnatural "realistic" graphical approach, which doesn't suit the Ghostbusters atmosphere so well. (The Wii version of Ghostbusters is also being developed by Red Fly studios, the developer responsible for Mushroom Men on the Wii.)

Due out just a week after that - later in June - we have Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings, a new full-on Indiana Jones adventure exclusively for the Wii and PSP, with some actual effort made to capture the Indiana Jones spirit and give the Wii version graphics more suitable for the console's prowess. The Wii version will also include an exclusive unlockable version of the classic PC Game Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.

There are more developers that I probably could talk about, but at this point, this post is far too long already, and these are the ones most worth noting, as far as I'm concerned.

To wrap things up, let's take a look at a few things many third parties are frequently failing to get a grip on - undoubtedly in the face of Sony and Microsoft hurling cash at them for support, which is a practice wholly bad for the industry - or simply choosing to ignore, to their own detriment.

Profitability Issues

The elephant in the room that very few third parties have been open about. The high-definition consoles, the PS3 and Xbox 360, are both incredibly expensive to develop for - especially to produce the level of graphics the consoles' respective user bases demand this generation. As a result, game development costs have shot through the roof on these consoles - well into the multimillion dollar range - and the majority of the funding goes into the graphics, with the graphics often openly taking precedence over original or in any way innovative gameplay concepts. (Which the conservative-leaning PS3/360 audiences shy away from to begin with.)

This leads to the problem of serious conceptual and gameplay stagnation on those particular consoles, with creativity itself suffering. Development cycles are much longer on these platforms, with far more difficult programming architecture to deal with - unlike the Wii's, which was built on the Gamecube programming architecture in order to make development a much less painful process, as opposed to the development hell that is the PS3's multi-core Cell processor, which simply isn't hardware designed for gaming - and as a result, games either get rushed (The games themselves shipping full of bugs and glitches requiring the download of patches which won't be available forever, not getting a proper quality assurance assessment) or they simply end up being much, much shorter than the genres from the previous generation they usually follow. So the PS3 and 360 are loaded with shorter versions of last generation games that frequently have bug and glitch problems, and cost more than previous generation games. And the unfortunately corrupt media, in bending to the consoles' respective fanatic bases, refuse to criticize this trend in gaming, or even mark down these games in review scores for bugs, glitches, and essentially being rehashes of gameplay styles and genres that were done to death last generation with fancier graphics. (But they don't hesitate to mark all Wii games down because the system's graphical hardware isn't anywhere near as powerful as the competition's on some sites. Oh, the double standards.)

As a result of the high development costs on the PS3 and 360, most games need to break 1-2 million in sales in order to turn a profit. Most games do not do this, let alone achieve anything near that. And even their biggest hits aren't anywhere near as profitable as hit games were on the PS2 in the previous generation, the profits from which developers and publishers largely came into this generation basing their sustainable business plan around. For the most part, a focus on the PS3 and 360 simply isn't sustainable, and most games beyond a very select few genres don't have a shot at turning a profit. Unless you're pushing an extremely-hyped online-multiplayer centric first person shooter, extremely-hyped hack-and-slasher, or generally extremely-hyped shooting oriented title dripping in testosterone, you don't have much hope in turning a profit - if your game isn't an ultra-mainstream blockbuster with "realistic" western style graphics, you can forget finding an audience on those systems. The losses many developers are taking as a result of this has in many regards played into destabilizing the industry, in a failure to recognize the changing face of the industry and shift resources to primary Wii development.

Nintendo faces a lot of resentment from the PS3/360 fanatic crowds, who don't get why it's succeeding. Part of it comes from the pricing, and the rest comes from the paradigm shift the Wii (like the DS) brought to the game industry. Normal people, the mass market, normal gamers - these people were not demanding an extension of the previous generation. In many capacities, it's still the same basic gameplay experience we were getting back in the 1980s when the NES and Sega Master System launched - just with much prettier 3D graphics. In this day and age, traditional video game controllers inhibit the progression of the medium and development of new types of gameplay - the very evolution of video gaming itself. And much to the chagrin of the PS3/360 crowd these days, video gaming isn't and wasn't ever going to be something mainstream that everybody gets into - like books, movies, TV, and music - on traditional controllers.

Capcom themselves have been amongst the most unprofessional in their treatment of the mass market - the Wii in particular. For years now, they've provided smaller name games as essential "bait," telling us, "Prove that there's a profitable core gamer market on your system and we'll give you big games. We've done that with each and every one of the titles they've released - both bigger and smaller name. Despite that, they're still concentrating the majority of their resources on failing consoles, and only getting the online Wii crowd angry with their lack of followthrough. Even just the other day, their spokesman Christian Svensson begrudgingly admitted that the Wii version of Okami had outsold the original PS2 version, when all along he'd been trying to play the game up as a "failure" and "proof that we shouldn't bother with the Wii." Once again, Capcom released a good game - in Okami's case, an excellent one - didn't advertise it at all, and expected it to flop so they could rationalize writing off the Wii, and once again, the Wii market's proven them wrong.

Breaking Previous Sales Patterns

Another point many third parties try to ignore in writing games off as failures if they don't sell like gangbusters right out the door (A complaint registered often enough when developers don't advertise their games at all, and still refuse to blame themselves.) is that sales patterns and cycles on the Wii are completely different from anything the industry's seen before - aside from the DS. This has largely come from the Wii and DS shattering the traditional patterns in the industry with their unprecedented wide-scale mainstream success.

While Wii games - outside of a few games that constantly sell in ridiculous numbers, like Wii Fit and Mario Kart Wii - often don't stick around on the sales charts for long (This actually goes for most PS3 and 360 games too), they remain much more consistent than their competitors in slower long-term sales. While PS3 and 360 blockbusters are advertised to death on television and sell well out the door - in rare cases, a million+ in a single week, like Halo 3 - but their sales are incredibly front-loaded. They sell extremely well at first, then drop right off the charts and their sales slow to a crawl as most interested console owners simply buy the games early on. In the Wii's case, with most third party games receiving little to no advertising, there's a well documented and established trend of Wii games being slow-burners in software sales. With much better development costs, they don't have to sell a million+ copies to break even, let alone turn a profit, and with most good games selling well by word of mouth, good packaging, and good gameplay premises - while the vast majority of shovelware sits on shelves unsold - most worthwhile Wii games eventually turn a profit through slower, steadier sales over a longer period of time, with many games deemed "failures" eventually turning into cult and sleeper hits. At this point, the Wii is far ahead of the PS3 in terms of total million sellers, usually gets a few more each month, and is well on its way to surpassing the Xbox 360 on that front as well. It sells far more software every year than both its competitors, and as closer market analysis has found, without the Wii and DS, the video game market would indeed be shrinking and in serious trouble this generation.

If this post didn't say enough on its own - many trolls on online gaming blogs try to vocally insist "there's nothing to play on the Wii." As this discussion points out, these individuals are wrong.

And that's it for this week! (Or last week, technically speaking. This sure was a long one, eh? I'm exhausted just having written it. It took me four nights to finish it, after all - the most I've put into a blog post yet, with this encyclopedic level of commentary. Here's hoping that those of you who bothered to read through it at least found a few games of interest. There's a lot worth playing on the Wii that tends to get overlooked in the mainstream - often intentionally so in online communities in order to continue complaining that there's "nothing to play on the Wii," when it actually has a much more varied library than its competitors.) Later this week week, look forward to another quirky post on one subject or another - whatever I can come up with or come across that seems blog-worthy, as usual - and the conclusion to Sane Gaming later in the week! Following that, you can look forward to a return to even more varied post topics on a regular basis.