Rundown (9/26-10/02) GUI and Sticky!

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Wherein I discuss the dichotomy of upgrading my GUI, a delayed acquisition, a rise to a better platform, and a pachislot peddler getting their groove back.

Something that has been on my mind over this past week is computer user interfaces. How standardized they have become over the years, and how… mixed my feelings are on this matter. On one hand, computers are something that many people stare at for a significant portion of their day, if not the majority. You ideally want to make sure that users are looking at something aesthetically appealing with a functional GUI, and quality color balancing.

There is no perfect GUI, as different people react to different stimuli and designs differently, but the standardization over the years has found something that is widely understandable to a large portion of users. So you see a lot of software GUI following the same trends and format, as people have figured out what works. Except what works is not always what works best, and there is a lot of software that allows users to customize the GUI to their preferences and liking. Which I think is a great thing for users, and something I routinely want to do, as I use a computer for most of my day. However, I routinely avoid changing my computer’s set-up or customization for three reasons:

One, If I get used to a non-standard format, then it will be harder for me to adapt back to a standard format when the non-standard format stops being supported. Notice how I said when, and not if. That was intentional. Because as Windows and web-based software advances, things get more and more homogenized, and are built more and more about one focus-tested ‘best’ format.

Two, while my PC at home is my personal computer and I am free to use it however I please, I use an employer-provided PC at the office, which other people use when I am not around. Meaning that even if my home PC is customized to my liking, I would need to switch between different interfaces several days a week, which defeats the core benefit of customization: increased efficiency and comfort.

And three, even if I did not work in an office, only used my home PC, and nobody else in my home needed to use my computer, I would still need to screen share my set-up in order to do my job properly. And when you screen share a set-up that users cannot come to grips with, or simply do not understand, you tend to alienate or confuse them. Which is not something I want to do, and strongly discourages me from changing the GUI of software I show people.

Take for example, Microsoft Excel. I use this software every day for my job, but I only use a few functions accessible via the ribbon near the top of the software. Clipboard, font, alignment, number, editing, queries & connections, and specific functions like print tiles, filter, text to columns, and remove duplicates. I could realistically fit all the functions I need on a singular custom tab within the ribbon via the built-in customization options, and do everything else via key commands I perform instinctively. 

However, I don’t want to do that because this user interface is not strictly for me. It is for everybody else I am screen sharing with, whether it is my boss or clients. And when I am presenting my screen to them, I want to show them something they can immediately understand. I want to show them regular-old Excel, not some customized version of Excel where things are rearranged in order to be more efficient to me..  

Starting with a follow-up story, back in July 2021, I mentioned how Sony acquired BluePoint Games, developers of Shadow of the Colossus (2018) and Demon’s Souls (2020), and providers of some grade-A remasters of beloved classic titles. However, this news was swiftly taken down by Sony after the announcement was made, and BluePoint denied this acquisition was happening. I naturally did not believe them, because you don’t accidentally announce an acquisition like this, and I assumed that it was only a matter of time before the acquisition was officially announced.

Then on September 30th, Sony announced that BluePoint Games was now part of PlayStation Studios. And, based on a follow-up IGN interview, Bluepoint is actually working on an original title, which will mark the first time they developed a wholly original title since 2006’s Blast Factor. While this might be irksome to some who wanted the studio to revive this or that classic game, I view this as a grand opportunity for the skilled studio to flex its accumulated knowledge over the years. 

Because after you remaster games like God of War, Metal Gear Solid 3, Ico, and remake the predecessor to one of the most influential games of the past generation, you are inevitably going to pick up on how to make one fine video game. I’m actually surprised that a publisher as risk averse as PlayStation is even allowing a studio like this to work on an original title, instead of going for something with less associated risk. To the point where I could imagine this being some sort of clause in the acquisition agreement: that Sony would contractually need to let Bluepoint ship one original title by a specified release date.

That sounds like it could be a thing, but it is also possible that my image of Sony’s management is needlessly pessimistic and unrepresentative of how the studio actually operates.

March 2021’s Monster Hunter Rise was previously announced for PC back in February 2021, when preview pieces casually mentioned how the Switch ‘exclusive’ was coming to PC. It was a bizarre move that I did not understand at the time, as there was nothing stopping Capcom from waiting several months to drop this announcement. Now, several months after Rise’s release, and as part of the Tokyo Game Show build up, Capcom announced that the game was hitting PC via Steam on January 12, 2022, and a demo will hit the platform on October 13th.

This announcement came with a trailer showcasing how the game looks on PC and… I have to say, it really makes me think that the game truly was designed for the PC first and foremost before being downscaled for the Switch. Based on the demo I played, the Switch version looked good for the hardware it was running on, but there was this sense that the game was aiming for more powerful hardware with its realistic art style and blurry textures. 

Looking at the PC version, with its crisp resolution, detailed textures, and better draw distance— it looks like the version of the game Capcom wanted to make. Which I think speaks volumes about the versatility of PC ports like this, and just how much the Switch is struggling to keep up with ever-growing graphical standards. 

Now, I say that, but I don’t think that most Switch games look bad. It’s just that many developers are used to working with more powerful hardware and seem to forget how to design games with simpler art styles and textures, as that is the best way to make something that looks appealing on weaker hardware. Most of Nintendo’s games understand this, and that even applies to the Pokémon games released on the systems, all of which I think look quite good. 

That goes for Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu and Let’s Go, Eevee, which offered clean and crisp HD visuals. And even for Pokémon Sword and Shield, which provided clean models, a lovely-looking UI, and pushed the graphical prowess of the series ahead by at least one generation over what GameFreak accomplished with Sun and Moon within a period of 3 years or less. 

…Now is the point where I am supposed to talk about the latest trailer for Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, as the game has undergone various visual overhauls prior to launch. However, I still cannot say that the game looks good, except now my criticisms are focused squarely on the lighting. I do not mind the toyetic characters, I like how simple the coloring for character models is overall, but whoever decided on the lighting is… a crazy person. Everything is covered in this soft desaturating glow that almost applies a layer of white to every surface. When combined with the terrible decision to emulate defects of photography with the blur filters, the game winds up looking dramatically worse than it would if it emulated the flat lighting of Let’s Go

This trailer dropped right at the same time as a new trailer for Pokémon Legends: Arceus, which continues to buck the poor reception associated with its reveal by looking like a major leap forward for the series, in both interactivity and visuals. All character models have nice bold colors that stand out next to backdrops with a shading and coloring approach reminiscent of oil paintings. The menus look sleek, character customization is extensive yet period appropriate, and while the game does have some harsh lighting effects in place, that’s because the game is trying to emulate how real lights work while keeping that two-tone lighting that looks better than real lighting.

It overall looks quite good, and while I am sure some sticklers will go into this game with negative feelings, every new showing makes this title look increasingly promising, and… I hope for the best. 

Next up, good old Video Game Chronicle put out yet another insider scoop on the goings-ons within Konami. According to them, after a restructuring earlier this year, Konami has gotten back into making use of their vast catalog of IPs by initiating a few revival projects. Namely, a reimagining of Castlevania created by a core team at Konami with support from local external studios. A remake of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater by Virtuos, a support studio who has worked on hundreds of different titles over the years. A slew of remasters of other older Metal Gear Solid games for moden consoles. And all of this is in addition to the multiple Silent Hill projects the publisher has greenlit.

While I am still upset with how Konami conducted themselves over the past few years, and know that they have more than a few skeletons in their corporate closet, they are doing precisely what I wanted them to do. They are doing a series of remakes/re-releases and contracting other developers to produce games on their behalf, while avoiding much of the risk associated with funding an in-house dev team. Which both gives the developers more freedom and limits just how much Konami can abuse the developers working under them.

Header image comes from the Korean anime series, When I Woke Up, I Became a Bagel Girl, which I reviewed earlier this year. But instead of simply using a screenshot showing off a standard UI, I decided to screencap the image from within ImageGlass, an image viewer that I have been using for a few weeks. I previously used the standard Windows Photo Viewer, but it recently became unable to open larger JPGs, so I decided to make a switch, and I think ImageGlass is a quite good piece of software. It is simple, clean, has a good amount of customization, and is pleasant all around. Also, I feel comfortable using something like ImageGlass because I do not do anything extensive with images in my field of work, beyond showing them to clients or my boss on occasion, so I have no qualms using customized software like this.

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