Wherein I discuss a Chinese currency conundrum, some surprisingly restrained gams, the re;birth of a studio after a decade of darkness, and the death of one of the greatest mangaka.
If you follow financial news, you probably heard that China recently kicked off a new set of regulations prohibiting financial institutions from providing cryptocurrency-related services, or getting involved with crypto clients.
Why is China doing this? Well, China has a history with cryptocurrency, and they generally don’t want it to exist. It muddles up their legal tender and is used to generate wealth outside of traditional, better controlled, and better-regulated means. This led oodles of cryptocurrency exchanges to leave China moving in 2017 and banned Chinese citizens from taking part in Initial Coin Offerings (basically an IPO, but for crypto instead of stock). But people still found workarounds with the laws put in place.
So this is not a change from out of nowhere and is more the Chinese government recognizing that Chinese citizens are making and losing excessive amounts of money off of crypto, and they cannot control crypto like they control banking. Accordingly, they are strengthening their limitations on crypto trading. This ultimately caused the crypto market to crash as people saw this news and decided ‘now is as good a time as any to get out of crypto.’ …And they weren’t wrong.
For those not in the loop, since early 2021, the crypto market has been a bull market, where prices have been inflated due to an influx of investors and buyers, causing the value of crypto to rise astronomically. These bull markets are an unstable thing that almost always lead to a financial crash after they stumble onto even a minor roadblock, and that’s what happened this past week.
Many prominent cryptocurrencies dropped as much as 40% over the span of 24 hours, and cryptocurrency holders around the world were thrust into a tizzy… except for the old guard who have a memory that lasts longer than a year. Any investor will tell you that markets always have and always will undergo dramatic booms and busts. By having your money invested in the wrong/right thing at the wrong/right time, you can see a dramatic change in wealth overnight. Which is truer for crypto than any other form of financial investment.
Volatility is the name of the game with crypto, as relatively worthless investments have grown and blossomed into something stunning over the years, and once promising projects have been rendered worthless. Individual currencies can easily rise or fall by over 5% on a daily basis, and even though things are bad now, they likely will not say that way for very long.
I advise readers to keep this in mind whenever they hear about crypto or Bitcoin crashing. Because just because it did crash does not mean it is irrelevant or not an industry where people have invested billions upon billions. It’s not going to die from this, it’s not going away just because China is throwing a fit, and while there might be some fluctuations, nothing short of an outright ban by the US and European Union is going to kill the market.
This might upset some of my more environmentally conscious readers, as crypto is generalized as being woeful for the environment. But as I explained previously, there are two main types of crypto. Proof of Work, where an insane amount of power is used to process each transaction. And an alternative, Proof of Stake, where a comparatively insignificant amount of power is used. But Bitcoin, and 80% of crypto, are POW, so people just assume all crypto is bad crypto.
…Also, for clarification’s sake, I do not actually own or trade crypto. All I do is help crypto traders organize and report their trade history and holdings. I help these folks keep track of their finances, pay their taxes, and make sense of nightmare 7 year trade histories involving 30 different crypto wallets, 5 of which do not exist anymore.
Putting dumb crypto stuff aside and focusing on slightly less dumb video game stuff, let’s kick off this week with an announcement from Cygames! As a developer, Cygames has a very… interesting history when it comes to their growth and release history. The company was established in 2011, broke into the mobile market, and found a few early successes that allowed the company to bolster themselves into what they are today. A collection of studios spanning multiple countries, thousands of employees, and pushing out massive multimedia projects while developing no less than a dozen games simultaneously.
Based on my experience with their output, I think they are an excellent developer who has made some truly remarkable stuff, but their projects have routinely gone through prolonged or rocky development histories. They’ve shut down and rebooted several projects, turning middling successes into mighty juggernauts, and for other titles, they went through these prolonged development cycles for reasons that are not incredibly clear.
The wildly successful Uma Musume Pretty Derby was originally set to release in late 2018, but was delayed until February 2021, where it made enough money to buy a literal boatload of horses. Granblue Fantasy: Relink started development back in 2015, was announced in 2016, and it still is not out yet despite looking like an exceedingly polished and fine AAA action JRPG. And Project Awakening, their more realistic action RPG, started development in 2016, was teased in 2018, and has not been shown since.
This all makes me very hesitant whenever I hear about them taking on more and more projects, which is precisely what happened this week, as Cygames announced Project GAMM. A fantastical action RPG with elegant character designs that we currently have a whopping total of two screenshots for.
Based on this alone, I would guess that this game is a long ways away, and that there really would not be anything to talk about. But one detail I honed in on when I viewed this press release was how Project GAMM is being produced and directed by none other than Kenichiro Takaki. A figure who you might know for his producing credits on the Senran Kagura series, Valkyrie Drive (that game where lesbians turn each other into swords), and the hot-blooded ill-fated former Vita exclusive, Uppers.
How the hell did he wind up directing this AAA-looking project, and one with such reserved character designs? I really have no idea, but I’m interested in seeing just how much of himself Takaki will put into this game, or if he, as a creator, is about more than sexually stimulating action games.
Next on the agenda, we have news centering around Free Radical Design ‘coming back’ and… woo boy. Buckle in kids, because Auntie Nat is going to take you on a drive down old memory lane.
So, the story of Free Radical dates back to the mid-90s, back when Rare nabbed the James Bond license and was cranking away at GoldenEye 007. The title went through an exceptionally rocky development history, shifting from the SNES to N64, going from a rail shooter to a first-person shooter, and going from a single-player game to a title that would be renowned for its robust and endearing multiplayer modes.
The core team behind GoldenEye 007 was one of the many, many mostly autonomous teams within Rare, and this team immediately went on to make Perfect Dark, a title that, outside of an IP change, was the sequel to GoldenEye 007. However, many core members of the team were not happy with where Perfect Dark was going after a year of development, leading the team to fragment and scatter. Rare reassigned more people to Perfect Dark as this happened, enabling them to get the game done by 2000, while the group that left Rare went on to form their own studio, Free Radical Design.
After its formation in April 1999, Free Radical quickly got to work on their own first-person shooter, TimeSplitters, which served as one of, and arguably the best, launch titles for the PS2. The success of this title led Free Radical to pump out two multiplatform TimeSplitters sequels and the psychological stealth game Second Sight. They were a lauded name in their day, but things got messy as the 7th generation kicked up and the studio switched to HD development.
Firstly, from 2006 to 2008 Free Radical was working on Star Wars Battlefront III. Development on the game was going well, and it was reportedly 99% completed, but the publisher canceled it at the very last moment, and before an official announcement. Footage of this game got out in 2012, before a playable build was released in 2016 (you can still download a copy from Archive.org).
Secondly, in entering the new console generation Free Radical formed a contract with Ubisoft that resulted in 2008’s Haze. A fairly unremarkable and messy FPS that was marred for various reasons. The team underestimated how difficult developing an HD title, let alone a PS3 exclusive, was, and while Ubisoft delayed the project a fair bit, they also demanded new features be added during these delays, instead of letting the team fix the parts of the game that needed fixing. Thus leading to a lopsided end product that disappointed fans and critics alike.
One cancelled game and one critical dud were enough to spell doom for the studio, and following a slew of layoffs, Free Radical was purchased by Crytek in 2009. Under Crytek, Free Radical was renamed to Crytek UK and served as a support studio on the Crysis series and Warface, but their true aspirations were much larger.
Free Radical was doing some work on TimeSplitters 4 early in the HD generation, but after many layoffs were made and Crytek bought them, the game was put on hold and while they made pitches, the title never entered full development. Instead, Crytek had their UK studio work on a sequel to their newly acquired IP, Homefront. This led to the development of 2016’s Homefront: The Revolution, which lasted for about a year before Crytek spun itself into a dire financial situation and could not pay their UK staff. Desperate for cash, Crytek entered an agreement with Deep Silver to more or less transfer over the Crytek UK staff and Homefront IP, and re-established Crytek UK, formerly Free Radical, into Dambuster Studios.
As a result of this transition, Homefront: The Revolution lost a lot of development time and staff, likely shortening its practical development time to something under 2 years, which simply was not enough to polish, refine, and work the game into something remarkable. While it improved dramatically with subsequent patches, Homefront: The Revolution was critically lambasted at launch.
The best thing players had to say about Homefront: The Revolution was how it actually contained a 4K remastered version of TimeSplitters 2, playable in an in-game arcade. Originally, only the first two levels of the campaign were available, but in 2021, a super sleuth found a button-based cheat code that unlocked the full game.
After Homefront: The Revolution, Dambuster spent the next 3 years… um… helping Fishlabs develop the upcoming sci-fi action game, Chorus? I seriously don’t know what they were doing. But I do know that in August 2019, they took over development on Dead Island 2. A perpetually cursed project that has gone through Techland, Yager, and Sumo Digital. Something that has been built and rebuilt so many times that it probably cost Deep Silver at least $100,000,000, all for what should have been a standard zombie looter shooter.
…Why the hell did I go on this prolonged and stupid history lesson? Well, as I said at the top, because Deep Silver announced that they are making a new company by the name of Free Radical Design, staffed by many former developers of the TimeSplitters series, with the intention of starting development on the next TimeSplitters game in a few months. Or in other words, after about a decade of making a mess, a new TimeSplitters is in production. Which is good, cool, and the path to get here was overly dramatic and filled with heartbreak and unintended disasters.
To close this week’s rundown off, the biggest piece of news this past week, for me and for many others, was hearing that Kentaro Miura, the creator of the renowned manga series, Berserk, passed away on May 6th at age 54.
As always, it is sad and distressing to hear about such an influential creator passing away before their time. But what really saddens me about this news is that this did not come at a time when Miura was winding down as a creator, and instead came as he was still working on Berserk. He worked on the series for 32 years, the majority of his life, but… he never got to finish it. He was unable to leave this world without creating something complete and definitive. And I think that is the greatest tragedy of all. That he did not pass away knowing that he made something definite with a clear end.
For the fans… they have grown to expect that Berserk would never end. Since 2006, the series has come and gone, going through prolonged hiatuses with only a few chapters released in between them, leading many readers to believe that the series would never be completed. I personally believed this, reconciled an ending in my own mind, and I personally am not bothered by the idea that Berserk is over. I’m just sad that Miura did not get to finish it on his terms and bring his full vision to life.
But even if he did not bring his full vision to life, he still inspired countless others. Berserk has influenced an entire generation of dark fantasy, both in and out of Japan, and his work will remain a source of primary, secondary, or tertiary inspiration for decades to come. Most would comment on how beloved and grander titles like Dark Souls and Monster Hunter took heavy inspiration from Berserk, but this… this news hit home for me personally.
While I do not talk about it very much, Berserk is one of the finest comics I have ever read, one of the most gorgeous things ever illustrated, and it is a work that has deeply influenced much of my work. I read it back when I was 16, and, at that impressionable age, it left a huge impact on me
At the time of reading it, it was the genuinely darkest story I have ever read, being this beautifully crafted yet viciously disgusting tale that viewed nothing as off limits and dug deeply into just how horrific and deplorable human beings can be to one another. In doing so, it never read as a story designed to be edgy or to appeal to more ‘teenage’ sensibilities. It read like a story set in a world that is filled with things that suck, that are horrible, and urges the reader to admire and appreciate the happier and finer moments these characters find as they struggle through life.
As their bodies are tattered, those around them perish, and they are abused by those they trusted. It was a genuinely hard story for me to read at the time, but I carried on and grew far more comfortable with darker subject matter as such, which helped influence many of the creative works I made. From Raiyne’s Whimsy to Psycho Shatter 1985: Black Vice Re;Birth, there were hints and nods to Berserk that I kept subconsciously going back to. And now that Miura has passed away, now do I only truly recognize where his influences hit, and how hard they did.
However, none of these influences were as strong as that of Casca. Casca was one of the first strong, dark-skinned women I saw in fiction. Her boldness, strength, and appearance all struck a chord with me and directly influenced the design and appearance of many of my characters. Most notably Abigale Quinlan, who drew from her depiction during the Golden Age arc. And Maxxie Flare, who drew from her depiction afterward. I adore both of these characters, and without Berserk, I don’t think that they would exist. Hell, I’m not sure if several of my stories would exist.
And it is for this inspiration, for creating a work so rich that it urges others to create, I want to thank Miura. Thank you for giving so much to me, and to so many others around the world.
Header image comes from chapter 363, the final released chapter, of Berserk. Hearing of Miura’s death inspired me to catch up on the 10 or so chapters I had not read previously. They see the plot move at a steady pace, furthers the damaged relationship between Guts and Casca, and introduces new tendrils of lore into the story. But alas, things end on an open note… and one that I cannot help but find to be so quintessentially Berserk.
The final page of Berserk is this gorgeous image of a naked boy with long hair walking through a moonlit field of flowers. I love it because it is adorable, innocent, but also kind of messed up, because it is a depiction of a naked small child.