Wherein I discuss my new Nigma Box work balance, The Embrace of another neggest of Gamindustri, the resurrection of a thrice-killed corpse, Steam’s purity policy, the return of Bop Louie and friends!
This past week, I have tried to adopt a more disciplined schedule when doing things for Nigma Box. This was seen with my four-day production timeline for TSF Series #004-3, which I released 2 weeks early because I could. Less than 10 hours after finishing that project, I began work on Verde’s Doohickey – Session Extra (an alternate universe continuation novella). Production has been going swimmingly, and I am having so much fun bringing these characters to life in a whole new way.
I originally planned on releasing all four parts on a monthly basis, but after finishing the first installment’s rough draft, I decided to make Verde’s Doohickey – Session Extra my top priority. Why am I doing this instead of getting out my Mice Tea review or doing some interim Student Transfer Scenario reviews? Well… the answer is a bit complicated.
Video games are one of my favorite things in the world, but lately I have been struggling to get invested into them, for two reasons. One, when I am writing something original, something that comes purely from my mind, I feel like I am accomplishing something greater. I feel like I am creating ‘art.’ And while it might not be ‘good art,’ it is something unique and all my own. Something too distinct for someone to do a ‘better version.’
Two… When it comes to video games, much of the reason I play them is to produce a review. To summarize my thoughts, analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a work, and summarize them. However, I have been becoming increasingly unconfident in my ability to review games, analyze them, or frame my analysis in a nuanced or creative way. I feel like I am doing something inherently wrong and dated with how I have been approaching my game reviews. I rarely feel as if I can succinctly capture the essence of something a fraction as well as other people, such as Hazel to ThorHighHeels to Amelie Doree.
Furthermore, I have been questioning my approach. The ‘validity’ of text reviews like this, as opposed to video reviews that, objectively, do a better job of capturing what a game is like to play. Which is before getting into the fact that I have so many contemporary blind spots in the medium. There are so many contemporary games that I know so little about that I question if I even have the vision needed to properly analyze games… in general.
I feel like the only thing my reviews are good for at this point is highlighting more niche or obscure TSF visual novels. While I love those things to death, I also don’t want my entire experience with the medium to be relegated to that sub-sub-genre. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of games I want to experience, but… what good is playing video games unless you do something with it? Unless you use that experience for something?
This is, of course, a toxic ideology for anyone to have. The enjoyment of leisure should not need to be commodified into content, but I think about it almost every day. When I do my Dragalia Lost dailies, I feel like I should be streaming them, just so they are preserved. When reading TSF comics, I feel like I should finally launch TSF Showcase and start writing essays about… the micro-level triumphs of Remedial Sex-Ed by SigmaGal or some other crap. When I write my fiction, I think about how it is not a comic or not a visual novel. Something with at least two additional dimensions.
I am under no obligation to create stuff, this is not my job and I don’t make money off of it (I spend hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours a year on this site). But I have been doing this for so long that… I feel like it is. Without Nigma Box, I don’t have much else in my life. I want to produce quality content that I am proud of and that I can release on a regular basis. Because, like it or not… I’ve made that my purpose in life.
So, um… Verde’s Doohickey – Session Extra will release every Wednesday in September, work on the Mice Tea review will begin after the retail release comes out, and I have lots of ST Scenarios lined up for review. Detachment looks neat. I’m not 100% sure if I want to try messing with the Fellas’ Necto-verse. I need to see if Whodunnit and Axiomatic are good— and after that, I… shit, I still need to do that Dragalia Lost mega project. ARGH!
Also, I need to emphasize how much I am loving the writing process for Verde’s Doohickey – Session Extra. It captures so many things that I love to see in TSF media, but so rarely get to experience. It is a slow-burn post-body-swap story about people learning to get to grips with their new bodies while confiding in other people in the same damn predicament. Something goes beyond the transformation, and… it is probably the horniest thing I have ever written. I hope other people will enjoy it a fraction as much as I do.
It has been a few months since Embracer made a big acquisition, so it should come as no surprise that they picked up more mid-shelf developers at the shoppe and left the industry a little smaller in the process. Who are these developers? Well, this warrants a list and some brief synopses!
- Bitwave Games – A Swedish ‘modern retro’ game developer who is probably best known for the 2020 puzzle platformer Wunderling DX. They are currently working on re-releasing B-tier classic games, including the memetic 1989 ‘classic’ Zero Wing.
- Gioteck – A British gaming accessory producer who mostly dabbles in controllers, headsets, and related accessories. Which is more of a vertical integration, but I suppose Embracer wants to cover all of its basis.
- Limited Run Games – These folks kind of speak for themselves. They produce limited quantities of niche and independent games, yet have grown large enough to have their own showcases every year. They have gotten some flack in recent years for some of their practices, but I will admit that there is an inherent good to games getting physical releases. They are set to join Embracer Freemode, a division set to focus on more retro gaming, which aligns with Limited Run’s recent trend of reproducing games for older systems.
- Middle-earth Enterprises – This is the holding company that owns The Lord of the Rings IP and… okay, this is getting scary now. Not only does Embracer own the third largest comic distributor in North America, but they now own one of the most influential works of fiction around. This probably cost them an arm, a leg, and at least one little brother, and I have to say that this is one of the most egregious acquisitions they’ve made to date. It shows that Embracer has long-since past the point of wanting to secure a stranglehold on the mid-shelf video game industry, and wants unprecedented power over pop culture.
- Singtrix – This is a small tech company founded by some of the original creators of Guitar Hero, who recently launched a karaoke system designed to enhance one’s voice and make them sound better than they actually are. The product itself seems more like a novelty to me, but it appears that this acquisition was more so Embracer could nab the “innovative team of five” behind the project. They want to use their technology and network, which is often the ‘point’ of a lot of tech startups. Amass connections, tech, and talent, before taking a millions dollar payday.
- Tatsujin – This marks Embracer’s first Japanese acquisition, and they settled on what is extensively a licensing and port house for various games developed by Toaplan. A Japanese developer mostly known for their scrolling shooters before shuttering in 1994. I would say that this is an odd acquisition, but really, this is more of a throwback to when Embracer was picking up whatever B-tier forgotten IPs they could across Europe.
- Tripwire Interactive – The developer behind the popular Killing Floor and Rising Storm series, in addition to the surprise 2020 hit shark ‘em up, Maneater. As a 100-ish employee studio that was trying to branch out into publishing games like Chivalry 2, it’s not surprising to see them fall under the Embracer umbrella. Or, more specifically, the Saber Interactive umbrella, because Embracer really wants to grow that division. Also, they had some abortion controversy last year regarding their CEO, but he is not involved in this transaction, at all.
- Tuxedo Labs – A Swedish developer behind the recent hit voxel-based destruction sandbox, Teardown. A title that, just based on its trailer and screenshots, looks like it would strike a chord with streamers and their audience. Because, deep down, I think everyone, man, woman, or child, loves seeing construction vehicles break down buildings within a semi-realistic physics system. They’re a developer who shipped a banger, got money, and then settled down under a bigger company for security and funding purposes.
There is also another acquisition that will be announced at a later date for “commercial reasons.”
As for how much this all cost, taking all of these announcements when combined with the secret announcement, the upfront costs were a resounding 6 billion SEK, or approximately 557 million USD. On one hand, I have to ask how Embracer is managing to afford all of this, but their sales have generally gone up with every acquisition. With their pre-existing capital, combined with how gaming as a whole experienced a boom during the pandemic, it makes sense why they can keep affording to do this, but that doesn’t mean I like it.
As for how much this all cost, taking all of these announcements when combined with the secret announcement, the upfront costs were a resounding 6 billion SEK, or approximately 557 million USD in upfront costs. On one hand, I have to ask how Embracer is managing to afford all of this, but their sales have generally gone up with every acquisition. With their pre-existing capital, combined with how gaming as a whole experienced a boom during the pandemic, it makes sense why they can keep affording to do this, but that doesn’t mean I like it.
Film and TV have already suffered from great consolidation in the past two decades, and with every passing month, it seems that gaming is getting closer to that end goal. The corporatization of art forms and mediums is all but inevitable and while there was one time I was championing Embracer for ‘saving’ rare or obscure IPs and giving them new life, those days have long since passed.
Now, I bad-mouth Embracer for buying up seemingly every company they can, because I do not trust a capitalist system where power is consolidated into fewer and fewer corporations, but they are not that bad.
For one, they actually value video game history and are currently building a video game archive for the sake of preservation and education. So I don’t see them letting their history rot away, like EA, Ubisoft, and most other big publishers.
For two, based on an article from The Ringer about the recent consolidation of the games industry, Embracer is an “anti-consolidating consolidator.” They are hands off with development, but encourage synergies between their subsidiaries, sharing projects and data to maximize productivity while “connecting the dots” between studios. Plus, based on an anecdote from Keith Warner, CEO of New World Interactive, they keep their subsidiaries’ bank accounts flush with cash. Which I’m sure is a huge relief for management and employees alike.
With Embracer, they really have not done much that I dislike. (Except for the 2019 8chan AMA. That was wack.) Rather, I dislike them for the power they have, and for what they represent.
However, I still find them more preferable and less suspicious than, say, Tencent. In the aforementioned article, Tencent chief strategy officer, Eddie Chan, spoke highly of acquisitions and defended the current trend, using arguments like this:
- In the current economic climate, acquisitions are just a “natural” part of the business.
- Acquisitions are good for employees… assuming they are stockholders or are given stock options as part of this deal (which they often aren’t).
- Acquisitions are good because they create a new cycle of the next generation of game studios.
All of these are true to an extent… but these are arguments that, to me, were clearly created as a means of defending a position. Ones that exist to perpetuate a status quo and assume that things are and will continue to operate optimally. Even if they just remain hands-off for now, that might not be the case five or ten years from now. Companies can change far faster than most like to admit, and all it takes is for the top to be shuffled about just right.
Also, on an only tangentially related note, the complete shitshow that has been the Warner Discovery merger has solidified my belief that larger mergers and acquisitions are… just outright bad things. The destruction of art for tax breaks, the mass exodus of workers, the cancelation of projects for the sake of providing additional compensation to executives. It’s all a cartoonish rendition of the inherent evils of M&A. While the industry may be different, corporate culture is something that spans across industries, and I simply cannot trust anyone with that level of power. For once power becomes overwhelming, it poisons even the most righteous of individuals.
…I should have named this installment ‘The Pursuit of Power is Poisonous’ but I’m not going to.
Taking two steps back to Embracer, let’s talk about one of the more prolific pieces of modern vaporware, Dead Island 2. Originally announced at E3 2014, the title is notorious for its rocky development history. First it was being developed by Yager of Spec Ops: The Line fame. An alpha of this version of the game leaked back in 2020, and while… an alpha, it was shaping up to be an actual game. However, the publisher, Deep Silver, chose to cut ties with Yager back in July 2015.
In March 2016, Sumo Digital announced that they had taken over the project, where I assume they started over from scratch. I say assume because I do not believe that any footage, screenshots, or concept art of this version of the game ever surfaced. Deep Silver reiterated that the game was still in development in May 2017 and July 2018, only to announce a change of developers on August 14, 2019. This put Dambuster Studios, the studio behind Homefront: The Revolution, on the project and… Deep Silver has been quiet about the title for the past three years.
However, on the third anniversary (give or take a few days), a new listing for the game appeared on Amazon, complete with box art, screenshots, and a blurb describing the game. Based on these snippets, it appears that the game has not undergone a dramatic conceptual shift, as it is still a comically inclined zombie-killing FPS set in Los Angeles.
Whether or not it resembles the original Jager version in terms of structure remains to be seen. Personally though, I think it would be lowkey hilarious if the game turned out to be the same game that people played back in 2014. Same environments and animations, just spruced up slightly.
Anyway, Dead Island 2 is set to release for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC on February 3, 2023.
…I was under the impression that Steam had accepted its place as a platform where people could host pornography. My Steam Queue has been lousy with smut for years at this point, and I assumed the days where Steam was planning on removing games like HuniePop were a thing of the past. But nope! Steam is still restrictive with what content is hosted on their platform, but they seemingly only exercise this power when it comes to ‘adult’ games with an anime aesthetic and characters who resemble minors.
Earlier this year, they rejected Full Metal Daemon: Muramasa, which is supposed to be one of the best visual novels of the 2000s, due to its complex and adult subject matter. And now, they are rejecting… Chaos;Head Noah? A Science Adventure game?
…They are rejecting a game that has been released on various consoles for 14 years, that has gone through the ESRB, PEGI, and CERO rating systems. A title that, from what I understand, contains no sex scenes.
When I first heard this news, I was inclined to believe that it was just misinformation. But then I looked at the source, realized he was a localization coordinator from PQube games, and then Spike Chunsoft tweeted that Chaos;Head Noah was coming to Switch.
Could they overturn this decision after additional review? Yes. Is this an example of inconsistent standards considering the litany of sex games on Steam? Most likely. Do I think that this ban should even be allowed? Well… no.
I think that every game that has gone through the process of being rated and registered by ESRB, PEGI, or CERO should be able to be hosted on Steam, regardless of the content. Those organizations will outright reject something if it is blatantly offensive or hateful, and while they are flawed, I trust them a helluva lot more than whoever is approving this stuff at Valve.
Also, the SteamDB for Chaos;Head Noah updated after this kerfuffle went down, so I’m somewhat inclined to believe that this matter will be worked out, eventually.
SUNSOFT is one of those developers who never truly went defunct, but just sort of stopped making games after a while. The western video game canon recognizes them as a prominent NES action game developer, having made Batman (1989), Blaster Master, and Journey to Silius. But their actual legacy runs a lot deeper than that and… it’s a bit staggering to look over their list of games. Because while there are a lot of ‘hidden gems’ on there, they also have a startling number of shovelware licensed titles, mostly Looney Tunes, and took on publishing duties for dozens of titles.
Come the early 3D generation, they weren’t really able to compete, as demonstrated with titles like T.R.A.G.: Tactical Rescue Assault Group – Mission of Mercy and Master: Blasting Again, and Monkey Magic.
After doing a re-release of many of their NES titles back in 2002, they more or less closed off operations. The only products they have done were remakes of the Famicom game Ikki, occasional mahjong games, and the abysmal WiiWare reboot Blaster Master: Overdrive.
However, apropos of nothing they announced their intention to get back into game development. First by releasing Ikki Unite. A remake of a legendary kusoge with a cult following of sorts in Japan, but is basically unknown in the English-speaking world. And then by re-releasing Gimmick! and Ufouria: The Saga, two highly regarded, and exceptionally cute, late NES platformers.
Part of me is a bit confused why SUNSOFT is releasing these individual games piecemeal like this, instead of doing something similar to the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection. Even when considering the rights issues, they definitely have a library that warrants a massive re-release of their older titles. But I suppose that these smaller ROM dumps and enhancements are safer investments in a sense, and easier ‘impulse buys’ for people.
Sorry if I seemed a bit ‘unnerved’ in the intro here. These Rundowns are basically personal therapy sessions for me, and I like to keep my readers engaged in what is going on in my muddled spaghetti-like psyche.
Until next time, seeya!