Wherein I discuss the definition of TSF, the biggest and wettest revenues in gaming, the absurdity of the NiFTs, and The Saga of Souls – Part 7.
One of my biggest bugbears with the world of TSF, TG, gender bender, or whatever the hell you want to call it, is the matter of terminology. Different people have different terms for what is extensively the same thing and have differing standards for what is and is not within these informally defined categories. As someone who works in a very logical and procedural manner, this is incredibly frustrating to me, as it becomes harder to express or explain the things I like and am passionate about.
A few years ago, I personally settled on the term TSF (Trans-Sexual Fantasy or Trans-Sexual Fiction) as being the best descriptor for this sort of thing. I felt so strongly about this that I went so far as to name a gosh darn short story series after the term. But lately I have been digging around in some gulags, and rethinking my definitions.
The reason why I like the term TSF is that it does not contain the word or any abbreviation of “gender” because gender does not need to play a role in this… genre. It can and often does, but it is not the unifying thing that makes TSF what it is. What is important, I thought, is that someone undergoes a change of sex. A boy becomes a girl, girl becomes a boy, XY chromosomes become XX, and all secondary physical characteristics are altered as part of this transsexual transformation conducted via fictional or otherwise fantastical means.
The problem with this term, however, comes when you find works that look, feel, and taste like a TSF work, but lack the transformation of one’s sex. And two in particular have been on my mind as of late.
She does this by making him work at a maid café, get hormone injections, undergo voice and movement training, and get unsolicited breast augmentation. The entire story is a tour de force of a feminization story as the protagonist gradually grows accustomed to living as a woman, and develops an alter ego that steadily grows into his full-time identity. …Absolutely none of which is consensual, by the way. Which makes the continued feminization efforts of the supporting cast feel more like abuse that the protagonist should be able to recognize, but he’s kind of a dummy.
Now, by definition, this is a forced feminization story. It is extensively about someone being forced to undergo HRT and going through something that most burgeoning transgirls would consider to be an absolute fantasy. And while the effects of HRT are overstated, it remains a startlingly grounded story that was clearly created by someone who did research about what they’re talking about.
That being said, after reading thousands of pages of this story, it is becoming harder and harder for me to convince myself that it is not a TSF story. While there is no change in physical or biological sex, the gradual change, the protagonist begrudgingly accepting their femininity, and the mental/physical element of his transformation… simply feels like a TSF story.
Also, Moonlly considers themself to be TSF and TG creator, and has over 900 Patreon supporters. So it’s safe to say that they, one, understand the genre, and two, people clearly agree that what they do is TSF.
The other story that got me on this thought tangent was a comic by the name of Requited Change by massmaniac. It follows a male protagonist who is duped into taking an experimental drug by an experiment-loving girl. The drug rapidly feminizes his body through the magic of science, and from there, you can pretty much guess what happens. Changes compound, relationships develop, and the protagonist continuously struggles to hide their transformation, even when they are sporting a dobonhonkeros and a badonkadonk.
It is an exceedingly cute comic that is not afraid to get weird, moves along at a refreshingly brisk pace, without ever feeling like it is rushing to a conclusion, and overall gets a full recommendation from me.
However, going back to the point I’m trying to make, the protagonist never explicitly undergoes a change of physical or biological sex. They have an overabundance of estrogen that their body was tricked into producing (just roll with it) but their penis still works just fine, so it does not really mean the “Trans-Sexual” quota of this definition. Yes, even though there are entire chapters where the protagonist is dealing with being a ‘breast milk fountain’, that is something one does not need to change their physical sex for. You see, the mammary glands are present in all humans, and all it takes is the right hormones to get them to kick it into milk mode.
…But if the protagonist were to suddenly undergo a transformation involving their genitals and become a full-blown biological female, then would the story be TSF? Yes, yes, it would be. But what about before that? Does a TSF story only become a TSF story when the transformation occurs? Does it retroactively become a TSF story after a TSF transformation happens? Or does a TSF story simply meet this qualifier when/if it ‘starts to feel like a TSF story?’
It all begs the question of where the lines are between feminization, masculinization (which is rare as heck) and TSF begin. Because the more I think about it, the more I realize this is a spectrum of sorts. A spectrum with blurry lines that people will interpret differently depending on their own personal or learned definitions.
Now, I do not like this. I actually hate this. I love booleans, tags, and being able to confidentially categorize things. But the more art I engage with, the more I create and analyze, and the older I get, the more I realize how few things in the world are truly binary.
Also… it is really hard for me to say that Requited Change is not a TSF story, when so much of the initial premise is basically lifted from X-Change. You know, the seminal 1994 erotic visual novel that spawned a 6 game series that, without question, left a massive impact on the TSF genre. Not just in Japan either, as the first four games were localized and released on physical discs. Hell, I actually own X-Change 3 and Yin-Yang! X-Change Alternative on DVD! And those games are street trash!
To provide a conclusion… I am still going to use the term TSF and Trans-Sexual Fantasy, but I am going to change my definition to include a change of sex or sexual characteristics, like breasts, butts, shoulders, and all the good stuff. Meaning that something can be considered a TSF story even if it merely features a fantastical rendition of HRT.
…Okay, but what about ‘busty boys’? Are those TSF? Well… I’ll just tentatively say sometimes and only if it “feels like a TSF story.”
The first news story that slid across my desk this past week was an estimate floating around detailing the highest first-year revenue of all games of all time. The list likely has several inaccuracies, as it relies on second-hand data due to how frustratingly secretive the games industry is. But I still find it incredibly interesting due to the placement of two titles.
First off, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is cited as having the fifth highest first year revenue in all of gaming, bringing in roughly 2 billion in revenue. I knew the game was successful, but I think I underestimated how many people were invested in the title, as it sold 32.63 million units from March 20, 2020 to March 31, 2021. Now, its success makes sense. Animal Crossing was a popular series after New Leaf in 2013. New Horizons came out right at the start of the pandemic, and it was the perfect title for many. And the title spread widely via social media, giving it longer sales legs. But… that number is completely absurd and easily makes the title one of the most successful games in history.
It begs the question of how Nintendo will prioritize the series from now on and with their next system. Though, I really don’t know how they could make the game better after New Horizons. …Unless they are going to get some sense and start going after the nebulous criticisms that people developed after investing hundreds of hours into this title. However… I kind of don’t see that happening. Nintendo likes to make a lot of 9/10s and not a lot of 10s. They’re kind of vain like that.
Anyhow, the next title I want to talk about from this list is Genshin Impact, which is projected as having the highest first year revenue in all of gaming, and I have zero reason to doubt that. Genshin has vast global appeal, has become a sensation in the money-rich world of gacha games, and appeals to mobile and console players alike. That being said, I cannot help but look at this figure and groan.
While Genshin Impact is a great game with a wonderfully crafted world, gorgeous environments, a fun combat system, oodles of mechanics to play with, and a deluge of content, it will forever strike me as an inferior version of the game it could, and probably should, be. Genshin is an open world gacha RPG, and it is, extensively, the first of its kind. Or at least the first culturally successful incarnation of the concept.
I personally enjoy gacha games due to their progression systems, presentations, and how satisfying it is to perform dailies and amass power over a span of months. Hell, I just wrote a 40,000 word essay on why I love Dragalia Lost, a gacha action RPG that I have played every day for over 800 days.And much of the reason why I enjoy gacha games is how intuitive, menu-driven, task-driven, and instanced they are. Gacha games are traditionally designed as mobile games. Or in other words, games to be played in short bursts, and no one thing in Dragalia takes more than 10 minutes.
However, open world games are generally the exact opposite. While players can enjoy these titles in smaller instances, I always found that they were best played in 2 to 3 hour chunks. That way, players have all the necessary time to engross themselves in the game and complete a bunch of things from their literal or metaphorical checklist.
Genshin is trying to blend these two things, asking players to return to an open world every day to play procedurally generated quests and travel to a location to participate in events. And in order to participate in events, players need to engage in a combat system with no auto-play or speed-up features and a more complicated input system. In my experience, the traversal and UX experience of doing these dailies is among the worst I have encountered in the world of gacha gaming. Because instead of using a menu, they use an open world. And that does not make things better. That makes the game flow slower.
Also, the developers use the open world as an excuse to have players do more and more stuff every day, week, or month, so the player needs to invest more time to complete their assigned tasks that, unlike in a package open world game, cannot be put off until later. Genshin Impact takes something that I think players should be able to take at their own pace, and pads it with a series of daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. And that… that just pisses me off.
Seeing as how I’m now in a nasty mood, let’s talk about Non-Fungible Tokens! NFTs have been an on and off hot topic over this past year and, naturally, people in the games industry have been musing about how they could be used. Executives have called NFTs the future of gaming. Think pieces pondered how NFTs can be used in games. Exchanges announced how games could make use of NFTs. Notices urged developers to use a Proof of Stake cryptocurrency if they use blockchain technology. And companies like Steam have outright prohibited games from using NFT technology.
Now, in theory, I am all for games making use of new technologies to make new or otherwise better experiences. And so long as the cryptocurrency used is environmentally responsible, I would generally have no problem with a game using a proprietary cryptocurrency, blockchain technology, or NFTs in some way.
The problem I run into here is that I genuinely could not think of a way where NFTs could benefit a game. So I did what I always do when I’m stumped: I searched for answers to this query, reviewed them, and, after perusing a few sources, I have reached the conclusion that the people who are into NFTs have no idea how games work. Or, alternatively, their suggestions can be done using existing technology, and a unified account system.
With NFTs, there is this belief that players will be able to own digital goods purchased or otherwise obtained in games and, as digital goods, they will be able to sell them on an exchange, or independently trade them to other players for agreed upon goods or services. Now, this is something that you already see in a lot of server-dependent online games that feature an auction house, where players can exchange items with other players. This is common in MMOs, and was famously removed from Diablo III because of how much it hurt the game at launch.
Players can already own digital assets in games— it’s called tying a purchase to their user account— and the only real difference NFTs would make is that they would, in theory, not be tied to a central server. Which would be great… so long as people could play the game without a central server. …But if a game is offline and does not depend on a central server… What purpose would these NFTs have? Because if a game is offline and does not depend on a central server, it can be hacked, cracked, and broken open.
Accordingly, I do not see how NFTs would make things better, unless it would be easier for the server to process player-to-player item transactions, which… might be the case, depending on the game and the way the blockchain is made, but even in that instance, it would not be an innovation as much as it is a technological alternative.
Uniqueness and Scarcity:
Something that NFT pundits like to preach is how each NFT is this unique, bold, and creative thing that one person owns, but this very idea of owning one single copy of something unique and original… simply does not make sense in the digital age. In the digital age, anything can be replicated in its entirety, and nothing is truly scarce anymore, because, unlike with physical goods, one copy could be made into a million copies, all the same quality. There is no good reason to limit something digital and, unless the digital file uses invasive DRM, there is nothing preventing someone from replicating it.
Also, again, there currently exists a way for one to prove that they digitally own something. It is called an account system where the user has a library of digital goods they purchased. You might be familiar with how Steam, Amazon, and iTunes all let you purchase digital media files and access them as you so desire. And while NFTs might make account systems easier to manage if used properly, that is merely a potential backend improvement, not something that end users would directly benefit from.
Another proposition I have seen is this idea that you could use a single NFT across multiple games, and the people who propose this concept… seem like people who have never heard of game modding or understand how games are made. You cannot simply move the assets of one game into another and have the game know what to do with them. Every game is made differently, and while certain features and assets can carry over between titles, they almost always need some fiddling and technical know-how to work right.
NFTs will not fundamentally change how people design maps, how properties are assigned to equipment, and how things like clothing interact with character models. And even then, if the goal here is to transfer user-owned assets owned from one game to another, there already exists a way to do this. It’s called an account system.
The most confusing argument I have seen in favor of NFTs is that, when an online game shuts down, your in-game purchases would remain as NFTs in the blockchain, and can still be used. Which is true, as NFTs do not depend on a central server, as they are decentralized tokens.
…But what is an NFT for a dead game worth? What can you do with it? Who would buy it? If I have a rare mount NFT for an MMO, and that MMO dies, what can I do with the rare mount? Their answer is to port it over to another game, but what if there are no other games that support these NFTs? Then what do I do with it? Could I trade it for cash or cryptocurrency? Well, yes, but only if there is a buyer, and nobody would actually want to buy it, as it no longer has any use.
While NFTs are based on the blockchain, they do not have a market value like most cryptocurrencies. Ethereum-based NFTs are known as an ERC-721 token. ERC-721 tokens, like hundreds, if not thousands, of other cryptocurrencies, are part of the Ethereum blockchain. All Ethereum tokens have the same value— the current market value of Ethereum— but ERC-721 tokens are not a proper currency. They are merely a digital license, and each one is a unique license to something. As such, ERC-721 tokens do not have any universal value, and in order to sell them, you need to find someone who wants to buy a specific ERC-721 token— a specific digital license.
Or in simpler terms… NFTs are worth whatever someone is willing to pay for them. They have no inherent value, no inherent use, and the only reason to buy them is for the clout and self-satisfaction with owning one. NFTs are like paintings, except the paintings are digital files that are hosted on a publicly available server. And when you buy an NFT, you are just buying a receipt that says you own something.
The ONLY instance where I think an NFT market would work is if you create an exchange where there are nothing but NFTs, and there is no way for players to cash out. …But that is LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE, as users can ALWAYS find a way to exchange money outside of the ordinary means.
After being properly revealed earlier this year, Bandai Namco released an 18 minute trailer for FromSoftware’s upcoming open world action RPG, Elden Ring. And while I normally do not find things like this super newsworthy, I was curious to see how this title would adapt the structure and format of a Souls title into an open world game, and… it looks like the next Souls game, but with some open world stuff thrown in for good measure.
While the game is indeed open world, it also sports a variety of dungeons of different sizes, which appear to hold the expected trappings of a usual Souls-style locale. Meaning it is a contained environment with enemies and environmental threats aplenty that culminates in either a treasure for the player to pillage or a boss for them to battle.
Summons were introduced as a school of magic, or perhaps consumable, that allow the player to call in a variety of familiars to help them dispatch, distract, or otherwise debilitate enemies. While this strikes me as a tad cheap, I appreciate it for its application as an easy mode for some players without accessibility tools that let them triple their health.
The game is incredibly pretty, with gorgeous horizons and high-grade environmental minutia that make the world feel realized. Although, I wish the game aimed for less of a realistic and more whimsical art style, especially given how ethereal and magical some of the scenery looks.
A crafting system is present, and I honestly do not understand why, as I find most crafting systems to put a needless barrier between the player collecting trinkets and finding something useful. I get that some players love these systems, but I personally view them as a lame way to elicit the rush of finding something useful, while making it harder for players to meet progression goals. I personally would so much rather find trinkets that permanently boost HP by 0.3% than sift ground textures for cotton husks and forest clay.
Horse traversal looks like it is weighty yet fluid, and while it is difficult to gauge by the trailer, it appears that FromSoftware did an insane amount of work to make horseback combat feel like something truly developed. More so than nearly any other game I can think of, as horse combat is so often an afterthought. Even in games like Shadow of the Colossus, which is built around the use of a horse.
Stealth mechanics are being emphasized as a way for players to avoid certain enemy encounters against imposing foes, and to infiltrate Ubisoft-style enemy camps with goodies to plunder. However, the demonstration of this stealth system comes off as a less interesting way to engage with this world, as you are effectively trading in combat for duck walking around in the background in order to knock out opposition.
Overall, despite claiming to be a new series… Elden Ring is basically just another title in the Souls series. Not because of its mechanical and aesthetic genres, but because it is lousy with tidbits that feel like FromSoftware lifted them right from Dark Souls. The walking animation, enemy movement patterns, general look of the world, way the protagonist opens doors, the new versions of bonfires, the drinking of potions to refill health, the way items are represented with a white wispy highlight— It is all Dark Souls.
Now, do I think this is a bad thing? No. I like Dark Souls and Dark Souls III. I think the series has been a predominantly positive force in the gaming industry. And I am happy to see FromSoftware sticking to what they do better than pretty much anyone else.
Although, part of me was expecting this title to feel a bit more like a brand new thing, instead of just being the seventh entry in what I have come to dub the FromSoftware’s The Saga of Souls meta-franchise. Which, for those uninitiated with my personal breed of nonsense, goes as follows:
- FromSoftware’s The Saga of Souls – Part 1: Fog of Demons
- FromSoftware’s The Saga of Souls – Part 2: Age of Dark
- FromSoftware’s The Saga of Souls – Part 3: Scholar of the First Sin
- FromSoftware’s The Saga of Souls – Part 4: Bloodborne
- FromSoftware’s The Saga of Souls – Part 5: The Fire Fades
- FromSoftware’s The Saga of Souls – Part 6: Shadows Die Twice
- FromSoftware’s The Saga of Souls – Part 7: Elden Ring
Unfortunately, due to IP management and publisher obligation, FromSoftware was unable to use these names, and (arbitrarily) divided these games into different series.
To close things out on a sour note, Devolver Digital has positioned themselves as the independent punk label of the video game industry, putting out a deluge of cult classics and major successes. They are considered one of the best publishers around nowadays, as they treat their development partners well, have a good irrelevant aesthetic, and know how to pick quality titles. However, this past week, they decided to not only launch as a publicly traded company but also acquired four of their development partners as subsidiaries.
Now, Devolver is the owner of Croteam (Serious Sam, The Talos Principle), Dodge Roll (Enter the Gungeon), Nerial (Reigns, Card Shark) and FireFly Studios (Stronghold). Their owners now include the likes of NetEase, Sony, and Slater Investments. And you can buy their stock on AIM.
Devolver’s statement on this matter is written casually, claims that this is for the good of their future operations, states that Devolver employees are still the majority shareholders, and tries to clarify that they will be the same company. The only difference is that they will be able to fund the development of more games.
On one hand, I agree with their approach of going public to accrue more capital and, so long as the current management and philosophy remain the same, this should not lead to any major changes. However, I worry about what this means for Devolver 10 or 20 years down the line, when management changes to people more risk averse and less willing to invest in small, quirky, or otherwise novel projects. I admit, this is mostly paranoia… but I also remember when Electronic Arts and Activision were once promising creator-led companies with strong values. And all it took to change them was an influx of cash, a change in management, and one or two decades.