Talkin’ about Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure

Well, to be specific, I’m talkin’ about Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure parts 4 and 6. If you’re following the anime adaptations but not the manga, there will be spoilers, though I’ll try to keep them under toggle. (Click the tiny pluses to show them!)

In the last, oh, six months or so, I’ve been revisiting parts of Jojo I haven’t read in quite some time – stuff that hasn’t yet seen an anime adaptation, and won’t be published officially in English for a good while yet. I read through all of part four again and am a little over halfway through part six. I feel like it’s always good to revisit stuff like this after a long period, because it lets you re-examine it under the different perspective that years of partaking in other media gives you. In my case, re-reading Jojo part 4 after having played Persona 4 was rather eye-opening: it’s very clear the influence the former had on the development of the setting and progression of the latter. That’s not to say P4 wholly ripped off JJBA in an unflattering way – rather, it utilizes a lot of the same elements that make this portion of the manga so great to make one of the best JRPGs of the last decade.

In fact, I remember not liking Part 4 all that much when I first went through it, but now that I’ve finished it off again it might be my favorite piece of Jojo in terms of how it handles its setting and character development.

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Do Run Run: The Overlooked Runs of Summer Games Done Quick 2015

Last week, another fine Games Done Quick event went down in the books, and as always, there were plenty of highlights: Swordless Zelda! More high-speed Tetris TGM! Races upon races with photo finishes! We watched, we stared in awe at amazing gaming skill, and we collectively raised $1.2 million dollars for Doctors Without Borders – a new record for the SGDQ events. But, as always, there are a lot of fantastic runs scheduled during an event that goes on for seven straight days that people with jobs and sleep schedules have to miss, particularly of games that might not be headliners like the Megamans and Marios and Metroids of the world. I’ve gone through and picked out some of my favorite runs from the event that you may have overlooked. Grab a drink, sit down, and watch some awesome folks play through some obscure (and a few not-as-obscure) games with amazing speed!

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The Gaming Figures of Summer Wonder Festival 2015

Oh boy, it’s Wonder Festival time again! Yes, Japan’s twice-yearly figure and modelling extravaganza just had its annual summer outing, and there’s plenty of great new stuff on display – especially if you like games! It’s a bit tough to find the interesting gaming figures amongst the massive amount of goodies on display, however.

That’s where I come in to help! I’ve been carefully searching for info on gaming-related figures from the show, and I’ve collected everything I’ve dug up here on this page to serve as a one-stop information source to know what kind of delightful game character figures you can expect to see go up for preorder from your favorite importer/exporter in the near future.

You might notice that this list doesn’t include *all* the gaming figures shown at the event. Like I said last time I did this feature, I understand that I’m omitting a lot of stuff from series like Im@s, Love Live, KanColle, Tony’s Shining stuff, etc. I’m not going to argue something stupid like “these properties aren’t games” because they are, obviously! But there are just so damn many of them that they’d dominate the list. I’d rather give the focus to more obscure stuff because hey, obscurity is our lifeblood here! I’m also skipping over stuff that’s already out for preorder, was shown elsewhere very recently, and/or hasn’t changed significantly since its last showing (i.e. that Orchid Seed Sorceress from Dragon’s Crown that still lacks a color prototype).

Images are sourced from Akiba Hobby (possibly NSFW), Dengeki Online, MFC, Figsoku twitter and website, WHL4U, the Hobby Search blog, and the AmiAmi Blog. As always, if I’ve missed anything, let me know and I’ll add it ASAP!

So normally I try to sort by manufacturer, but this time I’m going to put what are by far the MOST IMPORTANT figure announcements first. I’m not even “Read more”-ing them, this is how important they are!

wf2015_082_cs1w1_400x wf2015_083_cs1w1_400x

Yes, it’s Sarah and Akira! From the original Virtua Fighter! In their beautiful circa 1993 blocky polygon glory! In figma form! Holy crap, FREEing, you know how to get this girl’s attention (and, inevitably, money). Besides the crazy Sega nostalgia on display, this also means we are that much closer to the Vanessa figma thousands of fans are craving! (I count for thousands of fans, trust me.)

And now, everything else.

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Thank you, Iwata

This is going to be much more stream-of-consciousness than most posts on here, but that’s the way writing from raw emotion is, I suppose. I’m writing this the morning after news of Iwata’s death broke.

I’ve talked with a fair few folks from Nintendo over the course of my career, but I never had the honor of speaking to Mr. Iwata himself. I already know that this will go down in my list of life regrets. People like Iwata are rare in the modern game industry.

I’ve made it very clear that I dislike most of the corporate leadership at game publishers. I loathe the fact that these people who don’t play games, who’ve never played games, and have no idea what makes a game good are telling the rank-and-file developers and coders beneath them what to do based on charts and buzzwords that cross their desk. These people have never written a line of code in their life, but are sure they know that you can ship a product with expansive features by a certain date, and if it’s still a buggy mess then screw it, release now and patch later! Employees, morale, creative energy, and quality products that actually work when you take them out of the box mean nothing to these people in search of the coveted bottom line to please shareholders.

I can see why investors like Michael Pachter hated Iwata’s business style. Just look at some of the questions Iwata got at investor meetings – people didn’t seem to understand why he ran Nintendo like he did. (Hell, we’ve all criticized Nintendo for being stubborn and old-fashioned at times.) But Iwata’s philosophy was clear: make consumers happy first and foremost. Pleasing investors was lower priority than pleasing the people who actually bought games.

It’s sad that this thinking seems so incredibly rare in the current game industry. After all, happy customers that stay happy for a long time become devoted fans, of which Nintendo has some of the most fervent out there. It was never a sprint, it was a marathon.

When Nintendo hit a rough patch a few years ago, rather than lay off employees, Iwata himself took a pay cut. He explained why:

Regarding why we have not reduced the number of the personnel, it is true that our business has its ups and downs every few years, and of course, our ideal situation is to make a profit even in the low periods, return these profits to investors and maintain a high share price. I believe we should continue working toward this ideal. If we reduce the number of employees for better short-term financial results, however, employee morale will decrease, and I sincerely doubt employees who fear that they may be laid off will be able to develop software titles that could impress people around the world. I believe we can become profitable with the current business structure in consideration of exchange rate trends and popularization of our platforms in the future. We should of course cut unnecessary costs and pursue efficient business operations. I also know that some employers publicize their restructuring plan to improve their financial performance by letting a number of their employees go, but at Nintendo, employees make valuable contributions in their respective fields, so I believe that laying off a group of employees will not help to strengthen Nintendo’s business in the long run.

This is something you don’t really understand if you haven’t worked in a rank-and-file development position, as Iwata did during the 80s at HAL. Cutting you off from the people you’re creating something with abruptly is soul-crushing, and development team layoffs rarely accomplish anything but contributing to the industry’s notorious instability and career churn rates. Iwata was the rare executive who knew the game industry from numerous perspectives, from that of the lowliest code monkey to the highest public-facing representative of a major company, and that had a tremendous impact on how he ran the show at Nintendo. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when he needed to, either: the stories of him shedding his executive clothes to do some hardcore coding on games like Earthbound, Pokemon G/S, and Super Smash Bros. Melee have been making the rounds.

Having experience as a coder has another benefit when running the ship at a game company, too: you know what is and isn’t feasible to accomplish with various tools and hardware. It helps you set realistic goals: there’s a big difference between “tough, but do-able” and “literally impossible given the time and tools.” People like Iwata have the ability to push for the former and avoid the latter. Sadly, there are very few of these people in management positions in the business, leading to the disappointing, half-finished, buggy AAA releases that seem to be clogging up the shelves (both real and virtual). Every Nintendo title – even if the game turns out not to be that great – still feels like a polished, complete product, something Iwata and his peers at the company knew was important.

One of the big things on my mind right now is – did Iwata know how bad his condition was? Did he tell anyone? The former I can’t be sure about – he had his first operation for “removing a growth” on his bile duct in 2014, which was phrased to make it sound fairly benign. Obviously, it wasn’t – and looking at the terrifyingly poor survival rates for bile duct cancer, I feel like he may have known his time was coming. In retrospect, his not attending E3 this year seems less “I have to stay and handle business for the Japanese side” and more “I am literally dying here but I can’t cast a pall over what is supposed to be a really fun show.” It seems like a very Japanese thing to devote yourself wholeheartedly to your work and colleagues even in the face of death, facing it stoically as you do your duties to the very end.

But even if he did know, did anyone else? It’s hard to say – some tweets and blogposts from Iwata’s dear friend Shigesato Itoi indicate that he was as blindsided as we were. It wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t want to tell anyone. Itoi talks of Iwata’s selflessness; perhaps Iwata thought that telling people he was terminally ill would be an undue burden on them. That also strikes me as a very Japanese way of thinking.

Of course, it’s still just conjecture on my part. Unless Iwata’s widow outright says “he knew but didn’t tell anyone,” we can only theorize.

I hope that we, as an industry, will do more than pay lip service to Iwata’s memory. He was exemplary, a person in the game industry not for profit or pure personal glory, but out of a genuine love for the medium and its potential. What we need in this business is more people like him. Thank you, Iwata, for being a beacon of joy in an increasingly cynical industry. Let’s keep his light shining onwards.

How to Power Up the Nintendo World Championships

Boy, E3 sure was a thing this year, wasn’t it? Announcements were made, expectations were blown away, and as many a thinkpiece writer has pointed out, it was like we were transported back into the 90s. I mean, look at how it started – Nintendo revived the Nintendo World Championships after 25 years of dormancy!

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The NWC was one hell of a great way to start E3 this year. After seeing the great reception last year’s Smash Bros invitational got at E3, Nintendo decided to do something similar this year – but hold it before E3 rather than during to kick everybody’s week off in a Nintendo state of mind. And it worked!

…Mostly. As fun as the event was, there were several hiccups throughout that made me wince internally throughout the program. There were a lot of good things – and really, the decision to end on some downright evil Super Mario Maker levels was absolutely perfect – but if Nintendo wants to make this a regular thing from now on, the modern NWC has a long ways to go.

As I was thinking about this topic, I caught this episode of The Final Split, Go1den’s speedrunning-centric Twitch show, where NWC15 invitee Bananas talked about the experience. I highly recommend a watch, as there’s a lot of amusing stories in there about the run-up and the event.1 Going from her account, one gets the impression that things really were rather rushed and disorganized on Nintendo’s end.

Taking all of this into consideration, I decided to write an editorial of my own. How can the NWC improve from this point forward? I’ll posit several ideas.

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  1. The Final Split is a really fun show to listen to in general, as well, and I wish Go1den and company would put it up in a more traditional podcast format.

Imageepoch: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times, but Usually Just The Most Mediocre of Times

One of the more bizarre bits of drama that was going down in the Japanese game industry recently was the situation with developer/publisher Imageepoch. The CEO, Ryohei Mikage, had vanished without a trace, the company’s social media accounts went silent (or disappeared entirely), and the company’s latest game, the 3DS RPG Stella Glow, was wholly acquired by Sega1. Speculation over the health of the company ran rampant, and the rumors were confirmed earlier this month with the company’s filing for bankruptcy in Tokyo court.

(Even now, nobody knows Mikage’s whereabouts. I sincerely hope he’s okay…)

Imageepoch was an interesting company – it was built as an independent RPG development studio by the aforementioned Ryohei Mikage, a young developer and entrepreneur who had seen a fair bit of success in spite of his relatively young age. Over the course of the company’s life, he was able to lure big-name talent away from companies like Square-Enix, Namco Tales Studio, and Atlus in the hopes of turning Imageepoch into a RPG creating powerhouse – even going so far as to launch a label called “JRPG” in hopes of being seen as the future bearers of the genre. But obviously, things didn’t go quite as planned, and a little over a decade after their founding Imageepoch is no more.

I sat down with fellow Japanese game enthusiast Elliot Gay – formerly of Japanator and currently running his own import-centric site, Doki Doki Kusoge – to talk a bit about the life and times of Imageepoch. We’d both had quite a bit of experience with the company’s output: I’ve reviewed pretty much every English language release of their titles, while Elliot has spent a lot of time with the Japanese-exclusive releases. In this article, we take a look back together and remember Imageepoch’s brief, occasionally interesting, but mostly disappointing life and output.

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  1. Atlus will be publishing in the West, however.

Don’t touch this: the bizarre gaming influence of MC Hammer

The late 80s and early 90s are riddled with stories of meteoric rises to stardom and falls from grace, but perhaps none burned out quite as spectacularly (and publicly) as M.C. Hammer. We often forget just how much of A Big Deal Hammer and Vanilla Ice and other 90s musicians/groups were1. Honestly, I’m not sure if even modern social media powered bands like One Direction come close to just how visible, overblown, and heavily merchandised Hammer and company were. We laugh at the ridiculous crap their faces were plastered upon now, but at the time, these guys defined coolness to young people.

Yes, MC Hammer had it all in the early 90s: mansions, racehorses, a vanity Saturday morning cartoon series, and the admiration of millions, yet numerous poor investment decisions, a taste for expensive theatrics, and constantly overextending himself eventually bit him in the ass. I’m honestly surprised people didn’t see it coming at the time – watching the 2 Legit 2 Quit music video again, over 20 years after its debut, will rid you of any pity you might feel for his extravagant lifestyle and rapid crash really fast. The amount of sheer ego and hubris on display here is simply jawdropping.

One privilege that major English language recording artists have is that their stuff faces very few barriers to worldwide acceptance. Popular English music is inherently a global thing, just like Hollywood films, even in territories where English isn’t widely spoken. Such is the case with Japan as well, where audiences were equally taken by Hammer’s impressive dance moves, slick beats, and flashy performances. While his contemporary Vanilla Ice may have earned eternal infamy in Japan by becoming a nasty Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure villain with a prominent bulge, Hammer wound up getting tributes (and attempted tributes) in a handful of games, including an all-time classic.

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  1. NKotB comes to mind, as well – we still haven’t found their NES game yet, but the prototype box has changed hands for a ridiculous sum.

Mystery Tournaments are the best tournaments (and SpeedRunsLive MT6 was especially great)

If you’ve been to a nerdy convention with a game room, you have doubtless encountered some manner of gaming tournament – usually for stuff like fighting games or FPS titles, maybe some RTS or MOBA sessions if someone arranged a LAN setup for PCs. Every so often, however, you’ll encounter the fabled “mystery tournament.” The idea behind these is that you get a bunch of people to play through a gauntlet of different games with varied short goals, eliminating players along the way until you wind up a champion. Pretty typical, save for the multi-game part – the catch is that none of the players know in advance what is going to be played, and typically the game choices are obscure or off-the-wall so that players, in all likelihood, have never played them before.

Mystery tournaments are tons of fun for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, they present a playing field that’s a bit more level – everyone’s going into these games at least semi-blind, so you don’t have the “oh, I’m out of practice” reluctance that would come when considering entering specific titles you may not have had time to play. Another factor is that they test a completely different set of skills than a typical game tournament: whereas a fighting game tournament might test your ability to compete against several different characters and individual playstyles in a single game you’re intricately familiar with, a mystery game tournament challenges your ability to quickly learn rules and figure out effective means of play coming from no familiarity at all across multiple titles. Sure, having a good knowledge of action games might be helpful when you’re given a random platform title to play, but what happens when you get something totally new like an unreleased indie game with completely bizarre mechanics that the dev gave to the tourney organizers? You’d better be able to learn, and quickly.

The absolute best thing about mystery tournaments, however, is the games themselves. You’re given an opportunity to discover interesting titles – some of which you’d never consider playing or overlook amongst your already-massive backlog – within a fast-paced and competitive environment. Now, this certainly isn’t the best way to first experience some games, but getting (or even just seeing) that taste of a game from a mystery tournament can be enough to get people interested in exploring it further. For example, when competitive indie darling Nidhogg showed up at the finals of a Northwest Majors mystery tournament, it got a whole heaping of hype and attention1:

Or check out the finals for Lethal League, from UFGT9:

Of course, the games don’t necessarily have to be obscure – you can take old favorites and put new and unexpected twists on them. UFGT was very well known for this, their mystery tournaments included stuff like Spinjustice (playing Injustice while people spin the chair you’re sitting in slowly), Marvel vs. Capcom 2 all-Thanos teams, Soul Calibur 2 on DDR pads (see the first part of the video above), and last year’s surprise ender Don’t Break The Ice:

It’s great on many levels: organizers can showcase games that they want to give more attention and think players would enjoy, participants get to explore a bunch of old and new games they may have otherwise overlooked, and developers can showcase, build hype, and get feedback from players in an exciting environment.

I’d like to encourage people to organize and participate in in-person mystery tournaments, which is why I’m writing this – to help bring more awareness to the format. But it can be difficult: having a bunch of different games usually means having a bunch of different consoles and controllers to manage, which can be a tech nightmare, especially when running on a tight convention schedule. It’s also a fair bit harder to promote a mystery tournament given that you can’t attach the name of a popular game to it (even if you’re playing some bizarre variant of said popular game).

Fortunately, it’s also possible to organize mystery tournaments through the internet. SpeedRunsLive, who you may know as part of the folks who put on the Games Done Quick marathon, holds their own online mystery tournaments twice a year. While I’m not a speedrunner, I’m (obviously) a huge fan of the format, and the SRL Mystery Tournaments have a few interesting twists that make them particularly appealing. Read on for an account of how my Mystery Tournament 6 experience went down.

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  1. And thus Lord BBH’s shame lives on. I’M SORRY ;_;

The first possibly-annual Gaming.moe April 1st kusogecast!

You may have noticed a bit less content than usual this month, something I’m not particularly happy with. Chalk it up to a combination of GDC and the work resulting from it (speaking of which, check out my interview with Danganronpa writer Kazutaka Kodaka over on the Anime News Network X button column!), a whole boatload of new releases for March/April/May that need coverage and reviews, and first-time participation in the SpeedRunsLive Mystery Tournament. (I’m out of the tourney now, sadly, but the stuff I’ve been playing during the tourney has provided an inspiration for future articles, so I’d say it’s been a very worthwhile exercise!)

With all of this on my plate, April Fools Day has crept up on me – and I completely forgot about it! It hit me yesterday that we were close to the most amusing day of the year for game-related fantasies and parody (because screw the April Fools haters), and I had absolutely nothing prepared… nor any real idea what I was going to do. But since I’ve been trying to stream more as of late, I had a sudden burst of inspiration: To both make up for a lean March and celebrate a day of awesome, awful things, why not have a lengthy stream of some awesome, awful kusoge?

So that’s exactly what we’re doing. The first possibly-annual Gaming.moe Kusogecast will be tomorrow, April 1st, from 4PM to 10PM PST. Join in on twitch at twitch.tv/devilrei to watch me play carefully cultivated garbage while chatting it up with various guests! I’ll be playing different games throughout the evening, and it won’t just be the stuff I covered in the panel, either, so come to see some new obscure disasters and some old favorites! If you can’t catch part (or all) of it, fear not – Twitch VODs will be available, and I’ll also export things to Youtube for posterity.

Hope to see you there!

The gaming figures of Winter Wonder Festival 2015

It’s that time of year again: a weekend where rampaging figure nerds like me mash their F5 keys across numerous Japanese webpages to get sweet, sweet pictures of pretty new plastic figures from the twice-annual Wonder Festival. Wonder Festival is a celebration of all things figure, bringing together garage kit makers and builders, prepainted figure manufacturers, traditional action figure makers, and a whole brigade of fervent otaku.

Every Wonder Festival brings with it a plethora of pictures of new wares from numerous Japanese figure manufacturers. While I’m certainly a fan of figures in general, I’m most excited when my passions of gaming and figures collide to create gorgeous pieces of three-dimensional art. And I’m sure I’m not alone! Yet with so many manufacturers large and small competing for the attention of showgoers and photographers – and with juggernaut series like Kantai Collection spawning huge amounts of merchandise – it’s hard to sort through everything to find the gaming-related goodies.

That’s why I’ve done it for you! I’ve assembled a gallery of Wonder Festival’s gaming figure announcements, both prominent and obscure. Given how much gets shown at a typical WonFes, I may have missed a few things – if so, let me know and I’ll add them ASAP!

Some notes: I’m not posting garage kit pics, because as awesome as resin kits are, a lot of them are extremely difficult to obtain (since the creator probably makes less than a hundred of them). I’m trying to focus on stuff you actually have a chance of seeing in your hands sometime in the near future. I’m also aware that KanColle/Tony Shining Series/Love Live/Idolmaster/Senran Kagura etc. would technically fall under the gaming figures category. My major excuse for excluding them, in this case, is because there are like a billion of them and I’d rather look more at the gaming stuff that doesn’t get the plastic treatment quite as often.

Images are sourced from Akiba Hobby, Dengeki Online, MFC, Figsoku twitter and website, WHL4U, and the AmiAmi Blog.

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