Can Consoles become the new Master Race?

console-vs-pc

Predicting the Apocalypse of Consoles

Every once in awhile, the subject of video game consoles coming to an abrupt end is brought up. Every few years critics would claim that consoles are on their way out and will be replaced by PCs. Only to be proven wrong when the next generation is released into retail. Some are even being lead to believe mobile will also contribute significantly to the demise of video game consoles, even though they appeal to different target markets. Obviously such statements are open to interpretation. If we are talking dominance in revenues and profits, that is a worthy debate but one replacing the other? A rather sensationalist conclusion. Although many are convinced consoles’ end is a matter of time with PC gaming regaining its crown and the masses embracing the “master race”. But what I don’t see being discussed is whether it could work the other way round. What is to stop consoles – that are gaining more of PC’s main attributes – from sucking substantial market share from the PC gaming market in the near future?

With the market share between PC and console gaming evenly split, it’s hard to see either one gaining a significant lead over the other. Since the beginning it has always been plug-n-play convenience vs. sheer power and performance and neither advantage has had enough pull to create a big enough lead in recent years. This could be about to change as new trends are about to shake up both markets significantly and we will finally learn what matters to consumers the most.

newzoo_global_games_market_revenue_growth_2015-2019-1

Neither market will suffer handheld’s fate

Firstly, every game console has its place, even the near extinct handheld consoles. With Super Mario coming to iOS, the fate of handheld surely lies in the hands of Nintendo. Video Game consoles are dedicated machines and easy to use while PCs are for the enthusiasts who don’t mind tinkering with their machines. These markets will never disappear completely but their market share can experience a heavy downturn similar to their portable cousins. So let’s explore the trends that could contribute to such a scenario.

Trends in favour of home console gaming

The end of traditional console life cycles

Xbox and PlayStation are finally attempting to shorten the product life cycles which would allow their products to close the gap between them and desktops in processing power and gaming performance. Originally, upgrading every 6 years gave PCs too heavy of a lead which may now be mitigated with more frequent releases. This combined with computing power taking longer to evolve would mean consoles have a better chance of catching up. There will always be a gap in graphics, frame rates and performance but the smaller the gap, the less significant it is.

Consoles are not only becoming more powerful but also more similar to PCs in terms of architecture.

Moving to x86 means that Sony and Microsoft can do just this and make their next consoles with newer and more powerful components and still retain the same operating system, online services and games library –  The future of games consoles is evolutionary

The actions of the big console manufacturers is proof they are becoming more aggressive towards stopping consumers adopting PC gaming, hence why PS4 Pro was actually created.

Deeper Customisation, More Freedom

Buzz Light year mod on Fallout 4

The PC modding community has always been the biggest draw with games such as the Fallout series. With them now arriving on consoles, we could be seeing the beginning of a new trend. The best mods eventually arriving on consoles gives gamers more options and access thus providing a more expansive experience. It still has a long way to go but it’s a very exciting prospect that could also prove a great unique selling point for console manufacturers and game publishers. Although whether this gains traction across other games is dependant on the cooperation of the likes of Sony.

Frame rate vs Resolution

NiOh Alpha Demo Resolution Framerate Modes

Recently with the PS4 exclusive – NiOh alpha demo – there was an option for players to select between framerate and resolution. Also with the PS4 Pro, you can select such settings on Tomb Raider. If this becomes the norm with new AAA titles, it would potentially put to bed the heated discussions over what developers should prioritise with the limited power of consoles. By putting the decision in the hands of gamers, they can both empower them and also confirm what IS their preference if given the choice. Consoles are becoming more sophisticated at fitting the needs of gamers with attention to detail. An advantage that is known to be mainly reserved for PCs.

Neglecting the Master Race

You would think developers working on multi-platform titles would give PCs their best work. I mean they do love demoing on these high-spec machines during conferences. However this has not stopped Steam being plagued with bad ports to PC. No matter how superior PC is for their games, they are still seen as an afterthought to the more profitable console gamers.

It is not surprising if you consider that PC piracy is still an issue in 2016 alongside frugal customers who tend to hold their wallets for Steam Summer Sales. This all means smaller margins for developers and less incentive to deliver a quality product.

Trends favouring PCs

Cross-platform-play means more friends to play with

Rocket League Cross Platform

On the other hand, there is a lot more going for PC gaming. Firstly, cross-play between PC and consoles is officially a thing. A lot of PC gamers will tell you of the frustration of not being able to play with their real-life friends who have consoles. You can now play with your friends and also have access to bigger online communities.

Console games are no longer exclusives

Xbox Play Anywhere 2016

Playstation Now coming to PC is another move by Sony to cater to the PC market. Xbox Play Anywhere may have forced their hand but there is one clear winner either way. With access to the previously forbidden game libraries, it is another reason to not buy a console.

Who knows how far Sony will take PS4’s Remote Play? I wouldn’t write off the idea of streaming directly from the Playstation ecosystem on your gaming machine rather than needing the console itself. Microsoft for example are not shying away from these possibilities so once they lose their market dominance, Sony could be forced to follow suit.

Phil Spencer’s Vision

Head of the Xbox division – Phil Spencer – has a big vision for the future of Xbox that includes unifying Xbox and Windows 10 into one huge gaming platform. Meaning Xbox gamers moving to PC even faster without missing out on Xbox exclusives. This is fine with Microsoft as they have always been more of Software-As-A-Service business and are continuing this company strategy in regards to their gaming division. But their plans are not without resistance. PC gamers may grow uncomfortable with Microsoft’s attempt at dominating both console and PC if the economic benefits favours one heavily over the other.

Virtual Reality could create a new power struggle

Best Virtual Reality Gear

The tech industry is betting big on virtual reality and PC gamers are in prime position to embrace this new gaming experience. If it lives up to expectations, it would warrant investing in the hardware that can withstand high demands of virtual reality. It’s not as if consoles cannot compete effectively but this is completely new territory and forecasting who will win/lose/profit is very difficult. On the flip side, this pushes PC gaming’s price tag back up if VR becomes a must-have requirement.

Verdict – Console will eventually secure a big lead because economics

There will never be one winner but the advantage will eventually swing in one direction. Console manufacturers’ are almost giving away their main advantages over PC while also adopting the best parts of PC gaming. On the other end of things, PCs are becoming more accessible and affordable that may appeal to a growing tech savvy generation. Although if VR were to gain traction, it would prove how expensive the desktop experience can be. Many would say the ball is in the court of the gatekeepers – Sony and Microsoft and how much they wish to cooperate with these new industry changes but how the market moves is even more important. Console gamers remain the most profitable consumers and with everyone driven by economic incentives above all, market will dictate who reigns supreme in the end.

Is Noragami an illustration of how we deal with mental health?

Yato Final Rend

This was written as an entry to Anime Writing Reddit Competition. It’s an essay so this isn’t my usual style nor it is as comfortable to read if you’re not in the mood. Expect spoilers for Season 1 and 2 of Noragami (Aragoto).

Introduction

Noragami is an anime based on the adventures of an up and coming God called Yato without a single shrine to his name and a schoolgirl – Hiyori – who changes his fortunes forever. The purpose of this essay is to explore how the anime illustrates how religion, spirituality and medical practices approach mental health in today’s society.

This anime is appropriately based in a country with supposed mental health issues linked to its high suicide rates, while potentially aimed at an audience who can relate to the circumstances depicted. It is based on a religion ingrained into the Japanese culture that is strongly tied to elements of spirituality. This can be seen as a double edged sword in combating mental illnesses as I’ll explain in more detail next.

Religion and spirituality are not the same especially when it comes to mental illness

Shinto Shrine

People are very unhappy nowadays in what is becoming a very atheist world in many parts. Organised religion is slowly taking a step back and Japan is a prime example of a country who is duly influenced by it. The first thing I’ll do is refer to is a survey based on 7,000 people in England that supports the basis of this argument. It identified that people who had “spiritual understanding of life” but not practicing organised religion were more likely to have a variety of mental health disorders than religious and atheists people. While looking into this, I couldn’t ignore the correlation. Japanese culture is technically not religious but it is instead spiritual as the dominant religions are either considered lax in dictating a way of life or lacking in a strict religious framework. This forms a rather thin connection between the mental issues in Japan and the Shinto religion – which Noragami is based on.

Going on this, some can make the assumption that having a spiritual understanding of life (without a religious framework of regular worship) somehow causes more mental health problems. This is all hypothetical because the survey doesn’t prove cause and effect. It cannot prove which came first: spirituality or mental ill health. But it may warrant further looking into.

This challenges a common assumption that spirituality (think mainstream rituals such as yoga and meditation) leads to better mental health. Although there is one consideration to bear in mind. I wanted to point out that the broadening of the term spirituality can imply mental health by definition. Such misconceptions make mental health more difficult to diagnose and cure if there are unsolved misunderstandings.

Now that the parameters of spirituality and religion has been defined, I’ll move on to the main event.

Episode 1: How negativity spreads

The anime starts season 2 by recapping on the concepts of how humans fall prey to dark spirits requiring the intervention of “kamis” ie Gods such as Yato.

Scary Baby Face Mirror

“His longing created the vulnerability that brought the Phantom”.

In the first episode, what seemed to be a simple matter of babysitting turned out be something more sinister. The baby wouldn’t stop crying. This was a symptom of the vulnerability that drew a phantom. How this all came about becomes clearer a few minutes later when Yato looks in the mirror. It seemed the phantom was an image created by the baby in the mirror because he wanted someone to play with.

This is a concept in Noragami influenced by the Shinto religion – humans are made vulnerable by a circumstance which a dark spirit (or phantom) exploits. This perspective minimises accountability and emphasises sympathy with the plight of the “victim”. Sympathy is the key word here because we are more inclined to help someone rather than blame them for their erroneous ways. For example,  an unsympathetic psychiatrist would be very problematic if their patient happened to be deeply depressed.

Her humanity will be taken

“Unless we do something it will eventually possess his mother and take her humanity”.

There was also another concept I picked up on. In this scene, the mention of the mother eventually becoming possessed was glazed over when on reflection I saw it hinting at a bigger theme in the series. Simply put, negative emotions are contagious.

“Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” – 1 Corinthians 15:33

The World Ends With You

You can easily imagine how this story would work if re-enacted in a more realistic setting. A baby refuses to stop crying, so the mother takes out her frustration through violence (beating the child). Or worst, the lack of sleep causes dramatic mood swings at her workplace and her colleagues respond in kind. By the end of the week, the whole town has been affected by bad spirited behaviour. And this continuous cycle would have all started from an innocent place – a newborn child. Think the “Noise” and “Reapers” from The World Ends With You if you’re familiar with the game.

Episode 1 shows us how a simple scenario can be interpreted differently leading to a similar conclusion but different diagnosis. Remember that mental health is very murky and hard to quantify even for medical professionals. This creates a challenge for medical diagnosis counter arguing conclusions drawn by the illustrative nature of mythology and spiritual beliefs. Simply put, in many religion circles, a demon possessing your child is pretty powerful diagnosis rather than “he needs more company”.

Episode 2: The power of faith, the perils of doubt

She has long forgotten about you

In episode 2, the one who falls prey to dark spirits isn’t human but a spirit who befriends Yukine. What you’ll realise in Noragami, spirits suffer the same emotional issues as humans. The afterlife doesn’t grant them immunity to this. The spirit – Suzuha – was neglected by his God holding onto a promise by a human who could see him even though she was a living person. The promise was his cherished friend would come visit him again to watch the cherry blossoms, so he decorated the tree where the promise was carved. Thirty years and counting, he held on then Kugaha broke the news that he was abandoned. The phantom dogs then appeared to attack him at his most vulnerable state.

Suhuza is bitten by phantom wolves

Faith is at the centre of all that is religious and spiritual. We have all heard of people finding God in their darkest hour, finding hope when there seemed like none. On the brink of mental breakdown, faith in a higher power is literally a life-saver. Many people probably would suffer from deep depression if it weren’t for faith. It allows you to move forward into the unknown and acts as a shield against uncertainty, once removed your doubts resurface and you can become victim to negativity and temptations.

What we can take from episode 2 is the coping mechanism are the same. It could be denial, delusional thoughts, obsession or naivety. We turn to different sources to find a solution to the darkness in our hearts and prevent it consuming us. And this anime show does more than weigh on this – prevention.

Two methods of prevention

so many of regalias have died again

We have looked at small examples of dark spirits spreading their evils and the infectious nature of negative emotions. A remedy for this surfaces when looking at the God-Regalia relationships. In Noragami, Gods can be “blighted” (infected) by the impurities of the spirits under their care when their regalia commits a sin or is attacked by phantoms. The ramifications are laid bear when you see how Yato treats Yukine and Bishamon’s relationship with her numerous Regalias.  

Yato implores Yukine to talk to him

The lowly God on one hand always asks Yukine to discuss his feelings whenever he begins to sense ill-thought creeping in. In contrast, Bishamon had little interactions with her regalias outside the 9 combat ready shinki. This results in her suffering in isolation whilst relying on medication and her traitorous doctor who eventually abuses his position. This may have been a sly dig at the pharmaceutical approach (use of antidepressants) to mental health treatment. Either way it highlights effectiveness of two contrasting methods.

There’s a reason why having someone to talk to is highly recommended when facing mental health issues. Venting and expressing emotion is a remedy well illustrated in this series. Bishamon’s story is also reflective of how neglect can result in deep isolation a recent phenomenon in Japan called Hikikomori. Additionally, I find Gods being able to feel their regalia’s emotions is similar to how loved ones tend to sense your bad moods. A mother may not become blighted by her daughter’s transgressions but she is definitely affected when her children experience any form of emotional turmoil.

The Cure: The one thing they all agree on

“The two cannot be separated. To cleanse the body is also to cleanse the mind.”
Aiha successful endures ablution

When all else has failed, you call your psychiatrist or if you’re religious, your religious leader. In Noragami, there is an ablution. This is is a ritual held to purify a Shinki that has been committing sins and betrayed his/her God(s). It is a painful process of cleansing the impurities or blight attached on the body. You can draw direct parallels between an ablution, cleansing of sins or exorcisms of christianity and other religions. Unfortunately, this is too mystical for the medical profession but these processes are not completely world’s apart. A big part of dealing with a mental health situation is confession. Yukine had to confess his sins before the blight left him. Honesty with your psychiatrist is vital to proper treatment. I think this is the one thing, medical practices, religion and spirituality all agree on. Confess it, let it go and move on.

I think when it comes to mental health these can all be effective because the outcome is within the mind. It is what you make of it – a placebo effect in different shapes and sizes. For example, if I genuinely believe Pastor David just casted out a demon from my body, I would stop worrying and suddenly feel happy. And I’m the only one who can judge whether that’s correct. With the intangibility of such cases the concept of Gods and spirits may not look so far fetched after all.

We have advanced to the point, the human body is well documented and understood. But the mind is still rather mysterious. Noragami painted an interesting picture around mental health issues and gives us a new angle to view them. Even if there is nothing groundbreaking to be found on the surface, what’s to say inspiration cannot be found when addresses such challenges?

Conclusion

Japan has developed a reputation for high suicide rates so it doesn’t surprise me an anime show tackling mental health exists. The show touches on the potential causes such as neglect, isolation and lack of expression. It does a fair job of visualising the effects of mental illness even if unintentional. A child suffering from such issues could potentially find comfort in dark spirits being vanquished by good, down-to-earth duos such like Yukine and Yato. Drawn as symptoms of distressed souls but reflective of medical conditions rampant in Japanese society and all around the world. The more I read into Noragami and Japan, the more vivid the connection and real life analogies became.

Game sequels are as demanding as their customers

As we all know, long running franchises dominate the game industry. They are the cash cows for AAA publishers while juggling a sporadic relationship with gamers from one sequel to the next. Being emotionally (and financially) invested in them means that we always have a lot to say about them. Actually, moan. We love to moan about them.

When we experience a good game we tend to want a sequel. Then another and it turns into a series. The people get what they want, developers get rich, everyone lives happily ever af-ahh wait. It’s never that simple. Actually it’s a complex request – give me the same thing but slightly different.

The consumer is both demanding and resisting change at the same time but there’s nothing special about that in itself. Although when reflecting on the gaming community’s perception of different game series, it becomes more interesting and outright hypocrital at times. Using examples of the hottest and coldest franchises nowadays, I’ll look at what franchises are doing right and wrong.

The same thing over and over again.

The Soul series hasn’t changed much since Demon Souls. I know, I’ve been there since day one. The fighting style is the same, the game design follows the same concept of progression through shortcuts and an interconnected world design. As a player your approach to the game is the same – watch your enemies move, wait for an opening and overcome. The movesets of the bosses have become familiar and there’s been a lot ofasset reuse throughout the series. The type of the accusation that has been thrown at other franchises.

But the industry isn’t bored of it and praises it critically for doing the same thing over and over again. Why? Because that’s what we want, iterations of the same game. I’m not complaining but from an unbiased view why is this frowned upon in other cases?

Perhaps because 3 is the magic number?

It started with Far Cry 4 then became an on-going joke with Primal. Browsing forums and review comments, you see a lot of comments saying things such as “4 is Far Cry 3 reskinned/ Primal is Far Cry 4.5” which is sort of true. As stated above, this is probably not an isolated case. Putting aside the Ubisoft’s reputation, the series may have been harshly judged in comparison to From Software when it comes to asset re-use. The difference is one is 5 games deep, and the other 3. In my humble opinion, 3 is the magic number. Anything beyond that and you will most likely face similar accusations of repetitiveness. Good thing Miyazaki will close the chapter on no. 3 before the magic fades.

Too much change is bad thing right?

With the open world series facing the same accusations normally directed at its sibling – Assassin Creed – it seems appropriate to touch upon it. Ubisoft has been here before, it’s just this time round people are complaining about watchtowers and animal skinning. So like any good corporate organisation, it decided to innovate its product. With this sequel, changing the setting, time period and story wasn’t enough. So it added a new aspect to the gameplay and Assassin Creed: Black Flag was made.

The game sold and reviewed well but somewhere along the line you couldn’t help hear the groanings of the game being called a Pirate Simulator instead of an “Assassin Creed game”. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It seems some gamers are either very picky about what change they want, don’t know what they want or simply hate Ubisoft. I say that as this same argument has been used against the recent third-person shooter, The Division. Apparently, the lack of stealth, online-only aspect and new premise doesn’t make it a “Tom Clancy game” (I wish I could find the link). The message is clear, people want change but not too much. For me, I loved Black Flag and thought Ubi hit gold ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) with the pirate aspect. The Division also strung a chord with consumers as it has sold a lot already. Whether you are for or against the publisher’s annualised releases, it would be fair to give credit where it’s due when it does actually creatively improve its products.

Uncharted revolution over collection

So I have recently finished the Uncharted Collection in time for the 4th and final installment. Playing it may have actually inspired this blog because frankly, the series is pretty repetitive. I get that it is one long story split over several games but the gameplay is practically unaltered. The only changes I can pick out are more to do with technological improvements rather than creative ones. It feels like Naughty Dog got a free pass amidst the hype of the Uncharted 4.

I guess if the storytelling is good enough gameplay stagnation is irrelevant. It could also come down to the studio’s good public reputation that makes it hard to criticise. Based on this, it seems you can get away with little to no change if you do everything else right. You can assume the same logic will be applied to The Last of Us 2 but do we just want a continuation of a great story and no gameplay changes? Looking at the contrast between the article and the comments section, we are pretty divided on that too.

There’s a risk in change

Change is risky and risk isn’t good business. You will get eaten alive by critics if the change doesn’t come off right regardless of your effort, impacting your sales and profits severely. Because remember, making games isn’t cheap.

I went to a Comic Con in London in 2015 and attended the Batman: Arkham Knight presentation by Rocksteady Studios development team. I was lucky enough to even ask them a question during the Q&A which was “What was the biggest challenge creating the game?”. The response was a long-winded (but interesting) lecture on how they created the Batmobile. During the explanation, you could tell they tried really hard to make it great and when the game was released, it got torn apart. They must have felt very deflated once the reviews came out.

The Batmobile was their big change to keep the franchise fresh. It was the change that defined this installment from the last. They could have given us the same thing but no, they tried something new. I’m not saying it wasn’t a bad move but critically it didn’t pay off (but financially it did – life is good).

Gamers are a tough crowd and they should be if you intend on making profit off them. Publishers will continue to attract criticism the longer franchises go on but hopefully, you can appreciate the complexity of balancing expectations. But hey, if I profited from beating a dead horse, I wouldn’t stop either.

Pride: The Double Edged Sword in Anime

Fatal lack of pride in your sword skills

What is “Pride” and why it is so common in Anime?

Pride has always been a common trait in anime series I’ve watched over the years. More common than any other character trait and also the one I’ve enjoyed the most when it materialises in key (and badass) moments within a story. So I wanted to talk about it as a driving force behind key characters’ development. Firstly, I wanted to establish what definition of pride I am referring to as there are multiple meanings to this.

“A feeling of self-respect and personal worth.”

Or

“The Trait of being spurred on by a dislike of falling below your standards.”

Japanese Ritual of Seppukk

In this case, Pride is about how you feel about yourself. An important distinction because in a lot of cases, pride is measured by what you think others perceive you as. Initially I thought its common occurrence in manga was due to its prevalence in Japanese culture. But actually it is tied to a bigger cultural theme – a culture of shame and honor. In essence, you live to make your family proud, which is closely related but slightly different to self-respect and personal worth. It is possible that could be getting lost in translation of subtitles to this day. For example, a character could be referring to his “honour” in japanese but translate to his “pride” in english. This is simply food for thought and I won’t go further into this.

So back to the original question, why does “Pride” appear so often? I felt it had more to do with my watching preferences. I mainly watched shows based on shonen manga which focus on martial arts, competitiveness and battles. I don’t like using wikipedia links but it was all I could find to define “shonen” as a genre. I feel it encapsulates the main character traits seen in these series very well:

 For my pride as Warriorof Elbaph

Such manga often portray challenges to the protagonist’s abilities, skills, and maturity, stressing self-perfection, austere self-discipline, sacrifice in the cause of duty, and honorable service to society, community, family, and friends.

Shonen manga generally fall under the action and adventure genres containing elements of violence. Many portray a male team, whether a sports team or a fighting squad, working together for a common goal.

The correlation between shonen fighting and pride is obvious. And maybe we can give credit to Akira Toriyama for he contributed to the popularity of shonen manga with Dragon Ball. And by extension provided the blueprint for what personality traits future shonen character will have. And with that, I will look at a character of his whose pride is more than a trait but rather a way of life.

A Saiyan’s Pride

Majin Vegeta

“You may have invaded my mind and my body, but there’s one thing a Saiyan always keeps… his pride!!!” Vegeta resisting Babidi’s control.

Vegeta was without doubt the proudest character in the Dragon Ball universe. What looked like arrogance at first eventually became something more. He felt his royal blood destined him to greatness but he knew that this destiny came with a huge responsibility. On top of that, he was one of the only survivors of his extinct race meaning he couldn’t disappoint them even if they were no longer alive to judge him.

Seeing Goku, a Saiyan of lower class attain powers beyond comprehension was something Vegeta couldn’t live with.There were no Saiyans to mock him or question his royal status but it was his duty to reach such levels of power. His pride demanded it.

“Now it’s time to share that pride..pride in myself. I am a Saiyan who was raised on Planet Earth, and in the name of every single Saiyan that you’ve made suffer!…For them, and all the people of Planet Namek, too!…I will defeat you!” Goku right before his battle against Frieza begun

This led Vegeta to partake in a near-impossible training regime to become a Super Saiyan. This single goal was a compass that guided him towards being Goku’s greatest rival but it also led him astray. It had a dark side which was exploited by Babidi who tried to take control of the “Dark Prince”. Fortunately, it was Vegeta’s Pride that would always overcome any obstacle.

His character development is built around his sense of pride and has inspired many Dragon Ball fans to root for him over a rather cardboard cut-out protagonist – Goku. When I was a kid, I always remembered my dad coming back from work, seeing me and brother watching DBZ and he’ll always ask “where’s Vegeta”. That’s all he cared about. I think this was because he related to Vegeta as a man of great pride. As my father’s son, I feel the same connection too.

A Soldier’s Pride

I lost my Pride Ein Dalton Iron Blooded Orphan

Ein Dalton was a dutiful young soldier, who held intense loyalty to both his comrades as well as Gjallarhorn – the organisation he fought for. Above all, he was extremely loyal to his mentor Crank Zent who died at the hands of Mikasuki Augus – the main protagonist. His story is one of pride and his honour as a soldier versus Mika – an orphan with none. Unfortunately, it didn’t end well for him nor his mentor who was the one that instilled these values.

You allowed me to rise again Gaelio and Dalton

From what I saw, pride was never the victor in this series but was a self-destructive trait that faltered when tested. Crank Zent didn’t have to go back and fight Mikazuki but he did it out of duty. It was his responsibility to preserve his soldiers reputation. Then he died for that and his student continued this vicious cycle. He became obsessed with vengeance and even put his life on the line for Gaelio who provided him another opportunity to restore his pride.

“McGillis. As a way to ensnare Gjallarhorn. You used Ein. You used his pride.”

But in the end, it was McGillis who used that against him for his own aims. What would be seen as admirable in many people’s eyes, was shown to be fragile and easily manipulated. Not everyone can survive a blow of this doubled edged sword like Vegeta.

The different forms of Pride

“If it is for the sake of my pride, there is nothing I won’t destroy.” — Byakuya Kuchiki 

When he said this, it seemed he had betrayed the Soul Society by siding with the rogue Zanpakutos. Eventually it was revealed that Byakuya’s true intentions were to stay close to Muramasa so that he could locate and kill his Soul Reaper Kōga Kuchiki for dishonoring the Kuchiki clan. This was a filler arc so you can take what you like with a pinch of salt but the reference to his pride (whether true to the manga or not) is interesting in how elusive it is.

Pointed at my pride Bleach

“My killing you is no other reason than the fact that you… Pointed your blade [view shifts to Rukia] at my pride”

Byakuya Kuchiki is the 28th head of one of the four great noble clans in Soul Society and captain of the 6th Division in the Gotei 13 so there’s plenty of reason for his prideful nature. But his is a lot less straightforward. I say this because it was this same pride that was for Rukia’s execution. He felt it was his duty as head of the Kuchiki clan to uphold the law even if it meant his adoptive sister’s death. Then in another arc, he refers to Rukia as his pride after saving her from the 7th Espada, Zommari Rureaux.

What you may take from these examples is that Pride can take many forms, whether it is a matter of honour, a sense of duty or virtue you live by such as protecting your loved ones. Essentially it is something you fight for even if it means putting everything else at risk, including one’s life.

Pride in today’s society

Lucifer falls from heaven

“Lucifer spoke thus. Pride took him from heaven, though he sat at God’s right hand. In the end, pride is the root of all evil.” – Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Pride has always had dark connotations but I can imagine it had a better reputation a few centuries back. Nowadays it is dismissed as hypermasculine or egotistic, I can understand why. The stakes are not so high, we are not soldiers and have no reason to fight nor do we have anything to prove to anyone. These values were reserved in times of wars or for people of power such as royalty. These things are less visible in a world of democracy and flatter hierarchies. You would struggle to justify a person possessing this trait as it is no longer needed.

Does Pride still serve any purpose?

Dishonour can be washed away with success

When I see a football (soccer) player dive, I question their sense of pride. Nowadays there’s no shame in getting the best outcome. Whether it is your team winning or doing wrong by your work colleagues for shareholder profits. We even applaud these actions as if it was for the greater good. Without the fear of public shame or anyone questioning your “honour”, such acts are more likely to happen. It makes me wonder whether pride has become so socially unacceptable, it’s facing extinction.

Maybe it is the rarity of it that makes characters with pride my favourite. It can send one down a spiral of darkness, as shown by the above examples but it can also motivate you to do what’s right and attain greatness. Isn’t the Pirate Hunter Zoro a prideful man? Didn’t he swallow his pride when it mattered for a higher purpose? For me it is a double edge sword worth wielding but not out of a honour or a sense of obligation. Simply because I want to meet my own high standards and be great enough to reach my full potential.

 

Eiichiro Oda’s World Building and Video Games

The Fictional World of One Piece

Doflamingo City.png

So I was recently catching up on One Piece having just reached the Dressrosa Arc where Luffy had entered the tournament at the Corrida Colosseum. When the contestants were being revealed both through the announcements and during the backstage drama something dawned on me. I don’t know if “dawned” is the right word because I have always known this deep down but it really “clicked” this time round. Maybe it was the long break from watching the series that made this realisation ever more clear or possibly the way this was presented to me in these episodes. Either way Oda has built one of the most expansive fictional worlds in existence.

This is probably both a sweeping and ignorant statement and I’m aware that this is not area of expertise but I play RPGs regularly enough, read books and watch shows based in fantasy worlds and I’m convinced it’s up there with the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and War Hammer series’. Those who are not familiar with One Piece would disagree but those who are would understand why this is the biggest anime universe (and best). And that’s because of the characters. Oda builds his fantasy world through characters.

Poor Pacing or World Building?

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I realised this when became frustrated with the (well-known) pacing of the episodes. As each gladiator was being introduced, I sat there thinking why the hell is still taking so long? I was questioning the how necessary all these side characters were in the grander scheme of things. A common rule in storytelling is making sure you only include information that matters. This is something One Piece’s creator seems not bothered about on the other hand this may be what makes this story great. Because side characters and minor acquaintances do matter. Each person that enters the screen or graces the manga panel is a seed. Whether that be a potential ally or enemy, a new obstacle for the Straw Hats to overcome or a conflict that our characters must address for them to grow further.

On top of side characters with their own agendas, the series has continued to add layers to the world. Originally you believed it was just Pirates vs Navy. Then you find out there are secret organisations, revolutionaries, actual islands and countries with their own kind of warriors. And alien species who hold grudges against each other and even other worlds (think Fishmen Island and Skypiea). This means more possible outcomes, threads, possibilities, conflicts alliances, enemies. This is something the likes of Naruto and Dragonball Z failed to do, the side characters eventually faded into irrelevance – it became all about Jinchurikis and Saiyans. The creators of these great series funneled their own creations and shrunk their potentials.

Every character matters

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In One Piece, you don’t know whether a new character is simply another cameo or someone who will play a bigger role later on. We never anticipated how or whether Bellamy, Laboon or Coby would re-appear. The way the universe has been set up we don’t know who or what will impact the trajectory of this adventure. The world is filled to the brim with characters so maybe we are mistaking poor pacing with world building. This theory rather resonated with me upon reflection.

Necessities are things like gladiators in Dressrosa arc. They seem irrelevant and filler at first, but in reality are allies and future army that will aid Luffy either during a fight with yonko or during the final war. It’s something that has to happen and, for better or worse, is happening now.

Build games with characters not with quests

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I believe this is a concept that can be applied to open world games. Many sandboxes claim to be expansive worlds that are more open and big but really most are empty. In 2015, I wasn’t expecting to take an interest in Assassin Creed’s next game then I saw the likes of Jack the Ripper and Charles Darwin in trailers. These characters who would provide quests with substance.

I know it’s weird for game designers and writers taking advice from a mangaka but the demand narrative driven gameplay and storytelling experience is growing ever stronger in gaming. A lot of gamers don’t want “stuff to do” or collectibles but stories on top of stories. Short stories, weird ones mixed with dark ones based on characters from all walks of life.

As a gamer and someone who enjoys immersing himself in fictional realities I ask game designers who are building their own worlds to try something different. Try not having “side missions or quests” instead add new characters with quests attached. Don’t add a location or a “challenge”. Add another character. Because every character has hopes and dreams, a place they came from and a place they are going to. Build around characters and deep dig into their personalities because it is the characters that leave a lasting impression on you not game trophies (unless it’s Platinum).

My Gaming Wishlist for 2016

I’m a couple of weeks late as some of my wishes are already starting to come true but anyways this is a list of things I want from the gaming industry this year. 2015 was great and this one has the potential to be even better.

PlayStation VR

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For this not to flop. I’m not expecting huge sales figures but I want VR to do well because there is so much potential with this technology. The Playstation Experience tech demo was terrible  and made me feel that maybe we have rushed this process. The Oculus price point wasn’t a good start to the year either but I remaining hopeful that VR can add a new dimension to gaming that’s not another gimmick. The benefits and long term implications, go beyond gaming and can really enrich our lives in many ways. Sony has the biggest install base and a lot of third party support so they are in the best position to be the standard if given enough time, patience and investment.

Horizon Zero Dawn to justify the hype

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Probably the most anticipated PlayStation exclusive of 2016. We have seen promising gameplay trailers and interviews with the staff working on it. And based on initial impressions, this new IP can be another open world for RPG-enthusiasts to get our hands on.

Sony to actually listen to their customers

Better PSN 2016

Even though the console has sold very well, there is still a long way to go. We have had our first outage of the year already from a PS Plus service that has been supplying underwhelming freebies for some time now. It would be great if the platform got a few more Rocket Leagues and Shovel Knights to make up for recent drop in quality titles. Especially as Xbox has seemed more generous with their own service recently.

Also there’s the operating system itself. PS customers have made it very clear (think #BetterPSN) what features us users actually want. We still don’t know whether the survey rumours were true but 3 years into the console’s lifecycle, there’s really no excuse.

Add-ons that are actually worth the price.

Microtransactions are here to stay and will become even more prevalent. You just have to not buy them, okay guys? And we can expect the money spinning manoeuvres to come in even more shapes and sizes. You can definitely get good, bad and ugly DLCs so try not be a sucker and research before you buy. Especially when it comes to the expensive season passes and high maintenance DLC skins.

Episodic games trend done right

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Publishers are coming up with new ways to slice up their game packages in order to increase their revenues. Such as releasing Vanilla like versions only to sell the rest of the game later and now multiplayer-only games  epitomising the business-driven practices of optimising their post-release sales. Now we may be on the verge of another variation in the long list of ways games are being sold to us in bits and pieces.

Episodic games are the new wave spearheaded predominantly by Tell Tales Studio and other niche developers. An interesting one but I can’t really tell whether this could work out. At the end of the day, it’s all about the price point (It’s the economy stupid!). This trend has usually been left to the small-timers but this may change with the Final Fantasy VII Remake potentially being episodic. I’ll hold back judgement but I have this feeling the economics will not weigh in favour of the consumer.

Publishers to stop yearly iterations

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Ubisoft may finally be deciding to take a break from the yearly releases of Assassin Creed. Thank God. Hopefully they will also consider this after releasing Far Cry: Primal which looks like a reskinned FC4. You would think the Call of Duty franchise would follow suit but deep down we know Activision are already developing the next iteration. Black Ops 3 was a great entry and it would be shame if the franchise then produced another flop straight after. Profit will always be important but yearly sequels do not provide the quality gamers demand for full retail priced discs. Hopefully this is a step in the right direction for Ubisoft as a whole so it can rebuild its tarnished reputation. Because as we all know, good will is profitable.

The announcement of The Order 1886 sequel

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Yes, it was short and deserved all the criticism it got. It’s unfair to charge people X amount for minimum content regardless of the overall quality but a lot of people enjoyed it. I have personally noticed many reddit posts from players praising it even though it was a glorified demo. When you look outside the lense of a hardcore gamer, you do realise that not everyone wants long ass games (but 20 hours wouldn’t hurt at £40 mate). Having played it myself I really love the concept and believe that there is a decent story worth pursuing.

Anyways that’s it, I’m not asking for too much.  Also more free time to actually play games would be great because my backlog is becoming problematic. What would you like to see in 2016 from the games industry? 

5 Reasons Why One Punch Man is Saving Anime

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In case you haven’t heard – One Punch Man is currently saving anime.

Before Saitama came along we were still mourning the loss of Hunter x Hunter (it’s been a year and Togashi still playing Dragon Quest). We were also feeling the burn from a below-par One Piece arc (Dressrosa). The industry was at wits end then our bald super hero enter the fray and saved the day – like a bawse.

The success of the series has surprised many but the Day One manga readers were already hyped the moment they found it would be Madhouse handling the adaptation. Inevitably there has even been talks of a second season.

These are the 5 (amongst many others) reasons why One Punch Man is worth the hype and has such an incredible mass appeal worldwide.

It is an anime true to its original source.

Saitama is OK

A lot of animes get a lot of stick for not following mangas closely enough or simply not doing them justice. Tokyo Ghoul totally went off track in season 2. Then in other cases, it’s the animation that’s at fault. Remember how Toei Animation went all weird on us with Dragonball Super? But obviously Madhouse who has been delivering BANGERS all year round comes along and delivers another smash hit.  

It has a great sense of humour.

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This is the best part about the series. We get a lot animes that get too serious and philosophical. Which is not a bad thing (unless it ends like Neon Genesis) but being funny is the ultimate form of entertainment. And as a westerner, it’s nice when Japanese humour doesn’t totally get lost in translation every now and then. The entertainment value overall is rather refreshing.

The Protagonist isn’t generic

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It’s nice to get a protagonist  that isn’t a hard headed, dumbass intent on saving the world (sorry Naruto/Luffy). Saitama actually moves away from the traditional protagonist formula of taking themselves too seriously while being overly stubborn for the sake of grit and gusto. My man right there, doesn’t give a fuck – and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Hitting the mainstream

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It is breaking records everywhere. The show is a commercial success without the accompanying hate you get from hardcore anime fans due its mass appealing nature. My friend at work asked if I watched One Punch Man the other day. He never watches anime.

Bringing the anime community

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For a moment let’s ignore the hype beasts doing weird shit like – fantasizing over Genos Tumblr gifs, power scaling Goku vs Saitama and comparing 12 episodes with shounen heavy weights –  we all are enjoying it and having fun. This is a nice change of pace from the usual discussions such as how overrated One Piece is, Naruto’s infinite fillers, shounen face-offs and Togashi’s mental state of mind.

Now the series is over (for now) let’s all take a moment to thank Saitama for ending the year on a high.
Cheers baldy.