Wherein I discuss: The next maiden in the DOPE TSF canon. The (partial) acquisition of Souls. The resurgence of an investment laid in the sand 3.5 years ago. Further Payments and Quibbles. A glorious gacha gutting. The Date of Death of Dragalia. And some pedantic Pokémon prattle.
Rundown Preamble Ramble:
A Shameless Plug for Remedial Sex-Ed
Over the past few months— or perhaps the past year— I have become increasingly fond of this new generation of Koikatsu-based TSF comics creators. I have previously talked about Forever Summer by Moonlly, Requited Change by MassManiac, Another Invasion by Tira, and the works of Shiyin— all of whom make ill shit that I love. However, I seem to find another one of these people every few months. I also recently discovered Kawaii Tsun’aho, who does (mostly) textless comics and shows a great understanding of the visual language of both sequential art and a TSF comic. They also do a bunch of Genshin Impact TSF stuff, if you’re part of that niche.
But my latest find was a creator by the name of SigmaGal. Currently, her only finished and publicly available series is one by the name of Remedial Sex-Ed. A story that I was hesitant to get into, as the title and cover art for the first chapter made me think that the subject matter was a bit more… problematic.
In actuality, Remedial Sex-Ed is about Declan, a writer who wants to observe the female students of an adult reform school as part of research for his next novel. The vice principal pegs him for a predator, but instead of banning him from the school, she realizes that he would be the perfect subject for her feminization and humiliation fetish. So, the vice principal uses the mind control technology she developed and the feminization powers of her succubus friend to transform Declan in both body and mind.
From there, the story follows the route that any seasoned TSF fan would expect. Duncan gradually undergoes a physical and mental transformation into Daphney, while steadily growing used to their life as a student. Side characters crop up, social dynamics are established, and the mental transformations are flipped on and off, giving Daphney a looser understanding of herself, before she falls into her new life. Conceptually, it’s fairly standard stuff, but it stuck out in my mind for four core reasons.
The first is that it knows what it wants to be and does not shy away from its indulgences. Just by reading this story, it is clear that SigmaGal is a woman of several kinks, and she curated the story around just some of them. It is a school life, TSF, MtF, age regression, identity death, and… sorta bimbofication story. To me ditzy busty school girls are just another variant of bimbo (forgive my heresy, bimbo TF nerds). She had a list of things she wanted to do, formed a narrative around them, and executed the narrative with both confidence and a discernible vision.
The second is the art itself. Koikatsu is an odd animal that I have never made the time to tinker with myself. Mostly because I know it is a wormhole I may never escape. Based on my non-experience, I would say that most Koikatsu comics look okay at a minimum, but there is a lot that one can do to enhance the image with plug-ins, lighting, and edited models. There is a lot that separates the crème de la crème from the riff-raff, but in my mind, the true sign of a skilled Koikatsu user is in their expressions. And my goodness does RSE deliver on that front. I don’t know what exactly it is, but (nearly) every panel has deliberate facial positioning and expressions. You can tell so much about the voice and inflection of these characters just by looking at them.
Number three is the humor. Trying to infuse and find humor in TSF is relatively easy, as the genre is lousy with opportunities for awkward moments, misunderstandings, a disregard for social cues, and general silliness. RSE does pretty much all of those, in addition to being filled with cute little jokes, humorously blunt remarks, a generally absurd tone, and a sense of… shamelessness. There are times where the comic reads almost like a shitpost, and I mean that in the best possible way. RSE is actively trying to be funny and when combined with the expressions and framing, I probably wound up audibly laughing about twice per 30-40 panel chapter. Which is pretty darn impressive in my book.
While the final reason is the fact that… the story is actually developed. If you have listened to me ramble about TSF before, you know I am a sucker for stories that are longer, more in-depth, and have enough room for proper arcs. And… RSE does that. At roughly 1,000 panels, it manages to feel like it has all the time it needs to, and each chapter introduces something new. However, what it introduces is not just limited to the story itself, as it sets the stage for an entire TSF universe. Characters are poised to appear in future works, lore is detailed, and it makes for a good introduction for grander and crazier stories yet to come.
There is definitely a lot to love about RSE— enough for me to give SigmaGal $6 a month on Patreon in exchange for access to a bunch of extra comics. However, the comic does have a few rough edges.
- Near the end, the story gets bogged down with superfluous lore for the universe the writer is trying to craft.
- While I do appreciate the variety of mental transformations, it did sometimes feel like SigmaGal was throwing kinks at the wall before getting bored.
- The story asks the reader to ‘just roll with it’ a bit too much.
- Despite starting with such a rigid protagonist, the story is a bit too quick to rob them of their shamelessness. As in, it takes two panels before this core part of their personality goes away.
There’s also the formatting of the comic files, which is a minor point, but I’ve been looking for an opportunity to talk about this for almost a year. PDFs can be a frustrating file format in general, and I don’t understand why certain Koikatsu comic creators publish works the way they do. (Especially MassManiac and his 640 by 900 pixel comics. I love that dude, but he should take some pointers from Moonlly and their trim PDFs of ~600 KB 4K jpgs. I don’t even know how that’s possible with shit this crisp.)
SigmaGal used 4K images from day one, but she started compressing them super hard after Chapter 7. While they look fine on a 1080p monitor in a maximized Adobe Acrobat window, they look pretty darn skunky with all their artifacts when zooming in at 100%.
Aside from those aforementioned nebulous little quibbles that would make me feel like a failure— because I have brain problems— I thought Remedial Sex-Ed was really a fun read. I would recommend it to any TSF fan who can vibe with the image I just ‘sausage-fingeredly’ illustrated.
You might also want to listen to the songs that certain chapters are named after, but, uh, I didn’t do that. I just listened to Music for TV Dinners: The 60s, Gaia by Valensia, and C.O.L.O.U.R.S. by Fonzworth Bentley. Because fine American Manga such as this deserves to be enjoyed with good music. Just like a Belarusian macaroon trough.
Natalie (Mini) Rambles About Inefficient Downloading
(Side Note That Got Out of Hand)
I would comment on some of SigmaGal’s other works, but I have not read them yet. I did spend nearly an hour downloading and renaming the files though. You see, Patreon is pretty bad when it comes to downloading content from creators. It is always such a hassle and waste of time, and I wish they would implement a bulk downloader for creators (but they won’t). I would love to see creators like SigmaGal create a password protected MEGA folder, lock it behind a password, and share the password with her Patrons. Similar to how creators like Blackshirtboy have massive archives of their past works.
In case anybody thinks I’m being a bit too picky about how my files are handled… I am. But I also knew better back in 2015, when I was 20-years-old, and made it easy to download archives of my awful TG Captions. And caption sites are easy to download from. As someone who once had a collection of 3,000 TG captions stored locally, I would know! I erased most of them, but I still have archives of 265 images from Great Shift Captions (rest in peace) and you better believe I didn’t right click all of those!
Anyway, I have an archive of over 1,000 panels to get smart on, but for you folks, here’s (almost) 3,000 words of some smelly lady yelling about video games. Peace!
The Savage Acquisitions Continue
(Sony Acquires Mobile Developer for Live Service Games)
Starting things off with some acquisition news, PlayStation is continuing to build their first-party line-up and expand the PlayStation brand with the acquisition of Savage Game Studios. A Finnish and German developer established in 2020 that is currently working on a “AAA mobile live service action game.” I don’t have much to say about this announcement, as I have beaten topics like this into the ground at this point, but I do have three key comments.
One, PlayStation has been vocal about their desire to hop aboard the live service bandwagon, so them acquiring a studio to develop a live service makes all the sense in the world. I would have anticipated a more established studio, but I’m guessing that they got Savage (which has not shipped a single game) for a good price.
Two, this news went alongside with the announcement that PlayStation established a new mobile division. The creatively named PlayStation Studios Mobile Division. Pretty much every major gaming company has some sort of mobile presence, given how big the mobile game industry is, so the only surprising thing here is how long it took Sony to establish this division. Sure, they had PlayStation Mobile, but that was mostly for PS Vita and PSP. Not phone stuff.
Three, while I normally bemoan the loss of autonomy in studios upon being acquired, Savage strikes me as a start-up that was fishing for a buyer since day one. As much as people like to believe that companies exist to last forever, acquisition culture has changed that perspective and plenty of tech companies are established for the sake of being bought out. Now, I could be wrong about Savage, but that’s just the impression that I get.
Selling Souls for Power
(Sony and Tencent acquire a 30% stake in FromSoftware)
Fortunately, Savage was the only studio that Sony bought this past week… Unfortunately, it was not the only one they invested in, as Sony and Tencent collectively acquired 30.34% of FromSoftware. This might immediately ring alarm bells for some, but I would not be worried about FromSoftware becoming a PlayStation-exclusive developer or becoming part of Tencent’s worldwide developmental workforce. Simply because From is already a subsidiary of Kadokawa Corporation. A 100,000 employee Japanese corporate juggernaut with tendrils in a vast number of industries.
So, why did Kadokawa sell such a large chunk of From to Sony and Tencent? Well, the answer seems fairly clear to me.
FromSoftware has historically relied on publishers, such as Bandai Namco, Activision Blizzard, and Sony, to publish their titles, and I do not believe they own any of their more successful IPs. Except for Sekiro. However, as Elden Ring proved, FromSoftware is such a household name that even their new IPs can sell over 16 million units in less than six months. As such, they have a financial incentive to stop partnering with publishers and self-publish their titles with IPs they actually own. Which is exactly what the proceeds from this sale are being used for: Establishing more self-owned IPs and expanding into the global publishing market.
So, why would Sony want to invest in FromSoftware? Well, Sony owns Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne. Sony launched the PS5 with a remake of Demon’s Souls. They are clearly invested in the IP they made with From, and want to continue a close business relationship. And as a 14.09% shareholder, From pretty much needs to at least listen to Sony. What does Sony want from From? Well, that’s anyone’s guess.
As for Tencent, they have a habit of investing in major gaming studios, such as when they bought 20% of Marvelous, even when they know that the owners probably won’t budge on selling unless things go super bad. Why do they do this? For the dividends, distributions, influence, and easier access to IP when it comes to bringing titles into the Chinese market. Elden Ring was a hit pretty much everywhere, including China, but it was not released through official means. While From might be an aspiring global publisher, when dealing with the Chinese market, you typically want a Chinese division or a major Chinese company to handle your game’s release. It is just easier and cleaner that way. And there are few Chinese companies as major as Tencent.
Also, people did not seem to really take note of the price as, um, Sony and Tencent are both investing over $260 million dollars (36,399,550,000 yen) for this 30.34% share in FromSoftware. Based on that valuation, From is worth roughly 120 billion yen, or 860 million US dollars. …Damn.
The Quantic ‘Dream’ Comes True
(NetEase acquires a majority stake in Quantic Dream)
One of the earlier Chinese investments into a western gaming company that I can recall was in January 2019, when NetEase acquired a minority stake in QuanticDream. This was followed with the establishment of a Montreal studio in February 2021, and the announcement of a Star Wars game with a vague CG trailer in December 2021. A game that is not due out to release until… 2025. Huh.
Considering these factors, I was not surprised to hear that Quantic Dream was properly acquired by NetEase. I could only assume they needed another influx of capital after going so many years without a brand new release, and NetEase was probably eager to add another studio under their banner. Despite this change in ownership, Quantic Dream will continue to operate as an independent studio, which is actually a bit of bad news.
Instead of having a team-oriented structure, like most studios, Quantic Dream depends on writer/director/founder David Cage, who has a history of harassment and is… just not a very good writer or storyteller. I would say that things might start going downhill for them, but… they’ve been making AAA kusoge since 1999.
Payments and Quibbles – Case Two
(Further payment disputes alleged toward publisher PQube)
Last week, I reported on allegations that PQube was withholding grant money secured for the Indonesian team behind the upcoming adventure game, A Space for the Unbound. This past week, another story about PQube withholding payments from developers has surfaced. Thailand-based Corecell worked with PQube for the European console publishing of their 2019 puzzle/action platformer AeternoBlade II, releasing the title for PS4, Xbox One, and Switch.
According to Corecell, PQube failed to make the minimum payments outlined in their publishing agreement. This led Corecell to terminate their agreement in September 2020. Despite this, PQube did not return the publishing rights to Corecell and has continued to sell and take all revenue from AeternoBlade II for the past two years. PQube then offered to return the publishing rights to Corecell if they kept this matter private. Corecell recognized this suspicious situation for what it was, and contacted the platforms instead. Sony and Nintendo have delisted the games from the European storefronts and to this day, Corecell has not received a cent from European console sales. They plan on making additional moves to improve this situation and “patch the problems” out of AeternoBlade II sometime soon.
Assuming Corecell is representing things accurately, what PQube is doing in this situation is blatantly illegal. They are ignoring the termination of a contract and profiting off of a product they no longer have the rights to, while financially abusing a small developer.
PQube responded via a VG247 article, but some of what they are saying seems… wrong? Supposedly, PQube was not happy with the product quality of AeternoBlade II and requested fixes to make the game more “commercially viable.” This makes sense given their role as a publisher, but this is by no means a justification to withhold payments.
PQube also claims that they actually wanted to revert the rights back to Corecell and contacted them about this numerous times, but Corecell never “acknowledged” these requests. Furthermore, they said that the publishing rights were reverted to Corecell “well before the end of the agreement term,” which does not explain why they have not seen any revenue from European platforms.
It is possible that this is more of a misunderstanding than an act of malice, but I am less inclined to believe PQube. It is weird to say that a publishing partner had “very poor reviews and sales” and the claim that “Corecell agreed in March 2020 to provide the PC version to PQube” makes no sense to me. PC publishing is only sometimes handled by the console publishers, but there is typically one publisher for all regions. As a Thailand developer, it would make the most sense for Corecell to self-publish on PC. Furthermore, why would they transfer the publishing rights to a third party publisher some months after release? Most of a digital publisher’s job is to gear a title up for release, handle PR, and help with the launch.
Or in other words, I think PQube is in the wrong here, but I am definitely biased in favor of the smaller party with fewer resources. Because, in the vast majority of instances, they are the ones being exploited.
Pack the Pipe and Punt it to Pluto
(Mario Kart Tour Ditches Gacha Model)
Speaking of exploitation, let’s talk about gacha! Nintendo has announced that Mario Kart Tour will be undergoing a monetization revision this October. Per an in-game notification posted on the game’s subreddit, on October 5, the game’s in-game gacha/loot box system will be removed and will be replaced with an in-game shop known as the Spotlight Shot. In the Spotlight Shop, players will be able to buy drivers, karts, and gliders for the game’s various currencies, allowing players to purchase what they want without needing to deal with RNG.
This feature has not been rolled out, so the generosity or outlandishness of the pricing model cannot be assessed. However, conceptually, this is leagues better than gacha. I went on a bit of a tirade related to this back in June, when I was discussing the recent global release of Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds. But let me make my stance on this matter perfectly clear.
Under a gacha or loot box monetization model, players do not purchase in-game resources outright. Instead, they purchase the chance or opportunity to get something they might want. While this might not match the legal definition in certain nations, this is a form of gambling, and encourages both reckless spending and irrational decisions.
You can easily have a free-to-play game with heavy monetization without using a gacha model though, and while there is probably a better term for it, I call it a ‘direct purchase model.’ A model where the player can directly purchase what they want. Characters, items, weapons, perks, everything that was once available via a gacha system, all through an in-game storefront.
I think that every game using a gacha or loot box system would be better if they were using a ‘‘direct purchase model.’ It is a more moral and responsible way to encourage player spending. It does not encourage ‘binge spending’ like gacha. It makes for a simpler and easier to understand economy, at least in theory. And it avoids all the controversies that have been surrounding loot boxes over the years.
The beautiful thing about a ‘direct purchase model’ is that it would work for the vast majority of ‘gacha model’ games. Implementing a new shop system would take time and resources, but I think it would make for better games overall. So… good on you Mario Kart Tour. Hopefully, more people follow your example.
Side note: Sensor Tower posted an updated estimated player spending graph for all of Nintendo’s games, and Mario Kart Tour is still going strong, with lifetime sales of $282 million, and Q1 revenues of $15 million. So the game is still doing fairly well, and this is not a last ditch effort or anything.
Dragalia Will be Lost in 87 Days
(Dragalia Lost EOS date announced)
Here is where I would posit how one of my favorite games of all time, Dragalia Lost, would fare under a ‘direct purchase model.’ Sadly, Dragalia’s days are literally numbered at this point. On Tuesday, it was announced that Dragalia Lost will end service on November 30, 2022. I assumed this was the case after the datamine back in July, and… I would feel sad or forlorn about this loss, about how this game is going to die and will never be playable ever again. However, I have spent 5 months stewing in this reality, and I think I have accepted it for what it is.
Dragalia Lost is an impressive and lovingly crafted title. One with an excessive amount of story, an amazing soundtrack, banger character designs, a vibrant low-poly visual presentation, and mechanics that, while messy, are both deep and engaging. Every game deserves to be preserved, but the loss of Dragalia Lost is a damn shame, and I hate the fact that there is basically nothing that can be done to save it. I will commemorate its loss my own way with Natalie Rambles About Dragalia Lost – The Final on November 30th, but I will never forget the game for as long as my brain continues to function as it should.
I will try to enjoy the game these final three months. But at this point, every time I play the game, I feel like I am visiting a friend who was diagnosed with a terminal condition and lives in a hospital. We have said so many words together that I feel I have nothing left to say to them. And while there is nothing new that we can do together while they are still alive, I do not want to see them go. Because when they leave my life, and once I stop visiting them, they are gone forever.
Humans come and go. It is the unfortunate reality of life and mortality. But art does not need to operate on the same principles. Games, books, music, movies, shows— anything that can be digitized— can be preserved and cherished for centuries to come. But some corporations do not see things that way. They just see art as a means to an end, a tool for profit. And once that profit trickles up, they shatter what was created, paving the way for something else.
I hate this situation. I loathe this practice. And it honestly makes me never want to engage with something that I cannot preserve myself. Because if it is on my hard drive, in my cloud, I know that it is safe. If a corporation is in charge of it… its days are almost certainly numbered.
Also, I participated in an survey related to Dragalia’s EOS announcement a while back, thinking nothing of it. So imagine my surprise when I saw excerpts from my survey were included in a Verge article by Alicia Haddick.
I seriously never thought my survey would be used for everything, but… that’s my first name. Those are my words. And there’s my pull quote at the end of the article. “I do not want to get invested in another title that will be taken away from me.”
I love the fact that I was chosen for this article, because it makes me feel recognized in my bitterness. I was so bitter that I was cast as the bitter disheartened fan in an article about the game’s shutdown.
Pedantic Pokémon Prattling Vol. 67
(Pokémon Developmental Insights & Scarlet and Violet Leaks)
Over this past summer, there have been a flurry of leaks for Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, which is rather atypical of a Pokémon release build up. Leaks of this level are typically rare, and details such as a full Pokédex normally don’t surface until a week or two before the game’s release. However, the leaks have gotten to the point where people have assembled a loosely complete list of the new Pokémon introduced in these games.
As someone who enjoys going into Pokémon games with ample knowledge, as that is the way I have been playing them since I was 8-years-old, I look forward to these leaks. They serve as supplemental announcements that help build up my interest in the games, and make me forget about all the things that will inevitably frustrate me about the final release.
However, my likely frustrations with Scarlet and Violet have recently been tempered, following a CEDED 2022 presentation by Game Freak. This is all based on the tweets by a Pokémon modder and YouTuber by the name of Lewtwo, who is planning on translating the full presentation, but I had two big takeaways:
Pokémon Legends: Arceus began development in the fall of 2018, while Scarlet and Violet began development as Sword and Shield were wrapping up. This means that PLA had about a 2.5 year development cycle, not the 2 year cycle I claimed in my February 2022 review. While SV was in development for roughly 3 years. However, this also means that both games were developed independently, so certain innovations from PLA will probably not carry over to SV. This was implied previously, but it is nice to see a timeline illustrating this, as otherwise people might assume the games were regressing. When in actuality, Game Freak is just dealing with the problems inherent to parallel game development. They’re not removing features.
The other thing this presentation focused on was the development pipeline of Pokémon models. During the turbulent lead up to Sword and Shield, there were a lot of bad faith arguments about model recycling, while game developers said that models aren’t things that you can plop into a game and have work. They require a development pipeline of rigging, effects, and everything needs to be uniform so that the models can be both iterated on going forward and can be updated with new effects. Such as the skin textures in Scarlet and Violet.
It all seems pretty impressive when presented like this, and I’m glad that Game Freak was willing to show some insights into how their tools work. Because, from my naïve perspective, it seems like they are doing everything right. It’s just that what they are doing is really hard and there is a reason why basically nobody else is doing it. …Well, maybe Atlus for the SMT demons and Bandai Namco for Digimon, but the scales there are wildly different.
So… yeah. I’ll try to keep this in mind while trying to enjoy Scarlet and Violet as much as I can when the games launch on my 28th birthday.
Ends & Updates
As you can see here, I’m playing around with the formatting of Rundowns, adding headers to make it easier to tell where one story begins and the other ends. The original purpose of Rundowns was for them to be a spew of thoughts all jumbled and meshed, but over the (almost) ten years I have been doing them, I have gradually realized that formatting is actually important. And while this is a far-too-late and experimental new measure, I figured that I should try it out.
In addition to this, I figured that I should dedicate the ending section to updates regarding the site, my output, and what you can expect in the upcoming weeks and months. Will this stick? Who knows! Nigma Box is a continued experiment, and so long as I’m trying new stuff, that is technically a form of progress.
Anyhow, I changed the release timeframe for Verde’s Doohickey – Session Extra. Instead of releasing weekly, the four parts of this extension novella will be released daily from September 6th to September 9th.
Why am I bumping up the release again? Because I’m going to wrap up this novella this weekend and I don’t want to just sit on it. Plus, it is a summer story, so I want to get it out before summer is completely over. …Ah, who am I kidding? Summer ends after Labor Day. Summer starts on Memorial Day and ends on Labor day. That’s just international law. If you don’t like it, buy a new planet.
Also, upon editing this story, it is not nearly as hot as I thought. I thought I was having some sort of ‘sexual reawakening’ while writing it, but that was not the case. My libido is a mystery wrapped in an enigma… Or maybe just a dead horse. I dunno which.