Category: games

Kickstarter shuts down indie game project Meifumado over copyright dispute

Meifumado was a goodlooking indie game with detailed 16-bit style pixel art and smooth animation that OldBit pitched on Kickstarter earlier this year. It reminded me of a hit indie game from a few years back, Shank, but with a samurai theme and setting.

Meifumado was a good looking indie game with detailed 16-bit style pixel art and smooth animation that OldBit pitched on Kickstarter earlier this year.

Today Kickstarter took down their project page temporarily pending resolution of a copyright dispute from one of the project’s contributors, who claims they have not been paid for the music they contributed, which was used in the trailer video.

Meifumado [Submitted by private individual]

Date: 2022-08-23T10:56:53.000+01:00

Sender

[Private]

Sent via online form

Recipient

Kickstarter, PBC

58 Kent Street

Brooklyn, NY 11222

USA

Re: Meifumado

Description of copyrighted material: The music in the trailer is created by me , but I havent received any payment and cant reached the creator and devs of the game. I dont know the developers personally and only had briefly contact during the creation of the trailer music.

Several backers are asking for an update, but receive no information, like me. This comes off as a scam.

Under the section “Team” I and my music are mentioned and linked too.

Bc of this situation I am asking to be removed from the text and campaign page and further more ask the kickstarter team to look into the situation.

I am very saddend and disappointed by all of this, esp. for everyone who supported this project. Everyone has been very patient, but I worry a bit that the frustration at some point might be redirected at me, as its seems I am the only “real” and reachable person.

Here is a personal link I gave Marco (german ks support) as proof. This is the trailer track and the soundcloud profile linked to. https://soundcloud.com/more-sound/marco-kickstarter/s-0qrEefYer5I

Thank you for your help and I hope this matter can be resolved. Best regards, Moritz

Description of infringing material: Trailer music as linked here : https://soundcloud.com/more-sound/marco-kickstarter/s-0qrEefYer5I

The use of me as a team member under “Team” and the link to my soundcplud page.

[Submitted by private individual]

Kickstarter

Backers have not heard from OldBit since the project achieved its funding goal — no updates from the project team in months. Meifumado’s twitter account has been silent since April 1 of this year. The project had a page on Steam, which also appears to have been set up and abandoned not long after.

It’s looking more and more like this project was a scam, or fell apart due to poor project management or bad business practices. Kickstarter is not returning funds to backers at this time, and likely will not do so per Kickstarter’s terms of service.

Some indie dev teams are made up of non-professionals, complete amateurs, and skilled kids who can collaborate despite lack of formal business structure, and based on the account given above by Moritz, and its lack of proofreading, it seems like that must have been the case with the Meifumado project.

It remains to be seen how this will resolve.

Atari to release SwordQuest AirWorld for 50th Anniversary Celebration

The company that calls itself Atari these days is releasing the fourth and final game in the SwordQuest series, as part of the brand’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. Atari was founded in 1972 by Nolan Bushnell, Al Alcorn, and Ted Dabny, making 2022 the 50th anniversary of the brand’s existence.

The SwordQuest series was an ambitious, ahead of its time, puzzle/quest game, intricately tied into a real-world contest to solve each game. The first three games in the series: EarthWorld, FireWorld, and WaterWorld were released, but the final game, AirWorld, was never developed and was canceled amid the 1983 video game crash.

Each game was packaged with a comic book which told the story and held hidden clues which the player would follow while playing the game to try to discover the secret. Players who solved the puzzle were entered into a contest where they could real jewel-encrusted gold prizes, worth $25,000 according to Atari: a scepter, a crown, and a cup. I think the plan for the fourth prize was a sword, but like the game you’d need to beat for a chance to win it, it was never made.

The games were very cryptic, and would have been suitable for older (teenage and up) gamers. As a 7 year old, I didn’t really understand what was going on in these games, but spent hours wandering around, trying to collect the objects from the rooms to figure out what they did, and what you were supposed to do in the game, but never really understood that the game required the comic books in order to solve the real puzzles and beat the game. You controlled a man who ran around a top-down “overworld” which consisted of mostly empty rooms with doorways to each of the cardinal directions. The only difference between the overworld rooms was their color, and sometimes items that were found there. Many of the rooms had a challenge that you had to overcome before you could enter. This challenge consisted of one of a selection of mini-games where you had to evade obstacles in order to pass from one side of the screen to the other. Typically if you fail the challenge, you get knocked back and have to start over, or you can give up and back out. EarthWorld, FireWorld, and WaterWorld had color schemes and graphical themes corresponding to their respective elements, as well as tie-ins with things like the Zodiac.

The mini-games were challenging enough, and were fun enough, when they weren’t infuriatingly unfair.

EarthWorld and FireWorld are very common, but WaterWorld is a rare cartridge. It was produced in limited numbers and I think it was only available by mail order or some kind of limited time special order offer. A friend had a copy, which I was fortunate to be able to play when I as a kid, and I never realized that it was so rare. As a result WaterWorld is an expensive collector’s item, although as a game it’s not really any better than the other two, which, apart from their contest allure to win real-world gold prizes, are not really great games by modern standards, barely worth replaying now.

Not much is known about AirWorld yet, but we can expect it will likely be similar in format as the first three, but perhaps more refined, than the other SwordQuest games. We do know that it will play on the 2600, and that it was not a re-discovered unreleased game, but was developed only recently. I’m actually curious to see what it’s like, and looking forward to playing it, just to be able to complete it. A re-issue of WaterWorld that I could buy at a reasonable price would be nice, but Atari’s re-releases of 2600 games have been priced at $100, which is about what a loose copy of WaterWorld is worth. There’s no word as yet on whether there will be a new contest with a big-ticket gold prize, but I’m not holding my breath.

When finally released, SwordQuest AirWorld will set a record for the longest time between initial announcement and release — about 40 years — beating Metroid: Dread (16 years) and Duke Nukem Forever (15 years) by over a decade. (Of the three Duke Nukem Forever was supposedly under continual development, and was never canceled, making it the longest continual game development project.)

Please don’t do this

I got this email today…

To:
Webmaster

Name:
Dean

Email:
[redacted]

Subject:
Dungeons and DoomKnights

Message:
Hello friend! I saw your posts about Dungeons and Doomknights and I
was wondering if you could send me a copy of the rom?

I know this is a bit blunt however I can’t find a digital copy of the
game anywhere including for purchase. I am a really big fan of the
creators and would really love a chance to play the game. Thank you!

I replied:

Hello, Dean,

I’m not at liberty to share the ROM. It is a copyrighted work.

You may purchase it from Hero Mart, however: https://www.heromart.com/products/copy-of-dungeons-doomknights-retro-edition

If you’re a big fan of the creators, you should want for them to be paid for their work.  This will enable them to create more games for you to enjoy.  $14 is not a lot of money to pay for a game such as this.

You’re welcome,

–Chris


I think ripping ROMs and sharing ROM files for abandonware titles is an ethically very-light-grey area, and would like to see copyright law revised to make it fully legal. But please do not hurt developers, particularly small indie and homebrew developers, by asking around for ROMs for recently released commercial products.

It’s one thing if the creator/rights holder releases the game for free, it’s quite another to go about asking reviewers for an unauthorized copy. If you understood how much effort was taken to create the work you’re seeking, you would appreciate how little they are asking for a legit copy.

I love Free/open source software, but not everything is. And that’s OK.

Respect creators. By paying them.

Update

“Dean” wrote back to me, to let me know that he tried to purchase the ROM from Hero Mart, at the link I provided, and the purchase failed. He wrote to their customer support and they confirmed that the ROM is no longer for sale, and Hero Mart have since taken the item off their site.

I do think it’s unfortunate that they chose to discontinue sale of the game so quickly. I can’t understand why they would want to do that. It’s their choice, but to me it runs counter to the spirit of the homebrew community, which is trying to keep old systems alive.

Update 2: rom and cart are back on sale https://www.heromart.com/collections/dungeons-doomknights-collection

Dungeons and DoomKnights

Dungeons and DoomKnights, a new NES release in 2022, dropped last week. I didn’t kickstart it, but I did pre-order it about a month ago. Unlike just about every other thing I’ve pre-ordered in the last 10 years, this one arrived quickly — not two years later than announced, but just a few weeks after I paid for it.

I put about an hour into it today. I haven’t gotten very far yet, but I’ve made a little bit of progress. So far, I’ve managed to lose and re-gain my Axe, collect two Heart Containers, and befriend an attack Pomeranian, who can reach some areas that I can’t fit into.

I’m not entirely sure what else I’m supposed to do, or where I’m supposed to go next. The level design is non-linear, allows backtracking (to an extent), and doesn’t give you a lot of indication about what you’re supposed to do, or where you’re supposed to go next (although there’s some tantalizing spots where you can see an area that you can’t get to due to some obstacle, and the primary challenge of the game seems to be to find objects that will grant you an ability that you can use to clear the obstacle to get to the next area.

I’ve managed to find two keys, and there’s been a few switches that you can flip to open doors as well. It’s that sort of game. So you have to experiment and figure things out. Oddly, there doesn’t seem to be a pause feature, nor are there any functions to the start or select buttons.

My impressions so far are that it’s decent, if not great. I find the controls feel on the stiff side, not necessarily a good thing. Your primary attack is an overhead axe smash, which can hit slightly behind, above, and in front of you, as the axe passes through its arc. You don’t have a lot of range with it, meaning any time you’re close enough to hit an enemy, it’s also pretty close to you, and if you’re not careful you’re likely to blunder into it and take some damage. Due to the stiff controls, it usually seems like you should have been avoided most of the damage, if only they controls were a bit more fluid. Also, if you’re approaching from above, your attack hitbox will put you at a disadvantage, and so far I haven’t found too many solutions to compensate for this weakness.

Enemy AI is very rudimentary, but very much on par with what you’d expect from a NES game. Enemies basically move around in a simple pattern, not really reacting to your presence. They don’t sense your presence, and don’t deliberately attack you, they just follow a looped set of actions and if you’re in the way, you’ll take damage. Accordingly, although there’s enemies pretty much on every screen, they’re not terribly interesting or challenging to deal with. Certainly they’re no worse than many other games from the original NES era.

The game has a lot of nostalgic cultural references and callbacks to the NES, for laughs. It’s pretty cheesy, but if you grew up in the 80s, you’ll probably appreciate and understand most if not all of the references.

On the plus side, the graphics are really great. For a NES game, they did a excellent job of creating good looking pixel art for the background tiles and character sprites, using the palette limitations of the NES to good effect to create a legible visual language that is fairly easy to pick up. At times you can be fooled by what’s dangerous when touched and what you need to walk up to to talk to, though. And some of the entrances to caves can be a little bit non-obvious – basically if you see a big black hole in the wall, it’s a doorway, unless it’s not. Usually it is though. This was probably more obvious back in the day, but more recent retro games made for modern platforms tend to be a little less ambiguous.

Dungeons and DoomKnights was built with NESMaker, and (as far as I’m aware) it’s the first NESMaker game I’ve played. If you liked games like Wizards & Warriors or Rygar this is probably a worthy pick-up. You can purchase it, while it lasts, at their web site.

.

Some thoughts on the design of Mini Metro

I picked up Mini Metro about a week ago. I know it’s been around a few years, but I never claimed to be trendy.

I like the aesthetic and the mechanics of the game. It’s relaxing to play, yet gets hectic and overwhelming. It’s a fairly unique concept for a game, so it gets innovation and originality points. It’s a math-y game, but it presents the math intuitively and concretely, using shape and color and quantities that you have to eyeball, rather than representing quantities with numbers. There are various rates at which things happen, things that place demand on your resources, and you have to come up with a system that effectively utilizes those resources and balances demand. It requires a bit of strategy and some cleverness, and you can pause it, take your time, and think, or count and measure, or whatever you need to do to figure out your strategy. You have to understand how the rules work, and there is complexity in the ways the rules combine, but the rules are relatively simple taken individually, and they are introduced one at a time in a way that makes them easy to learn.

I don’t think it’s perfect, but it’s a pretty good game concept. Obviously, it’s been successful and popular.

But I think about ways I might improve its design.

What I don’t like about it is that there’s a little too much randomness in the spawning of the station points. Depending on how those play out, you can get totally screwed and have no possible way of managing the problems the game presents you. I feel like a better game design would always ensure that there was a solution that a sufficiently talented player could come up with, but that seeing the solution and implementing it would be the things that are difficult. It’s fine for the game to present a difficult challenge, and more difficult as the game progresses, but they shouldn’t be impossible.

So, for example, spawning a cluster of 6-10 Circle stations with no other types of stations in the region is an unfair situation. The spawning code should either not do this, or there should be ways to consolidate/erase multiple stations into a super-station. The game does give you Interchange stations, which have more capacity and speed than a basic station, but it only upgrades one existing station, and can’t be used to consolidate several nearby stations of the same type into one. I think it would be way more interesting if you could upgrade one station, and then all basic stations of the same shape within a certain radius of the new interchange would de-spawn, consolidating their traffic into the Interchange.
But I think the way I’d prefer to solve the problem would be to put the Station spawning in the player’s hands, not have it be done automatically by the game.

So my proposal would be that **passengers** would appear throughout the city, with a destination in mind (indicated by their shape). They have a limited walking distance that they are capable of traveling before they get tired and irritated. Irritated pedestrians change color and vibrate to indicate they are tired and unhappy. They will walk toward the nearest station, and try to travel to the closest station that matches their shape.

To make them happy, you can build a station near enough to them that they will walk to it, and then you can connect stations with your rail systems to take them efficiently to their destinations. You can spawn an unlimited number of stations (hmmm, perhaps), but you have limited resources in terms of rail lines, cars, carriages, bridges, and tunnels to connect them.

The passenger spawning is out of the player’s control, that part is provided by the game as the challenge, and the player can strategically build stations of the type desired, at the point desired. Maybe the player should be constrained by having to choose how many of which shape station is available to them, or something like that.

The other thing that I see with the game is that, at some point the game just decides to flood you with passengers until you die. Usually somewhere around the 1200-2000 passenger mark, the game just cranks up the generation of more passengers, attempting to overwhelm the player and force the game to a conclusion. Again, I think it’s better to give the player challenges that are possible. Maybe it gets harder and harder to keep up with the challenge, but there should always be a way to do it.

(I accept that it could be there is, and that it only seems like the game becomes impossible because I’m locked in to the design choices I made, and if I tore everything down and re-designed, maybe there’d be a way to create a more efficient system with the same resources available to me that could handle the new volume of traffic. But it doesn’t seem that way to me — even on Endless and Creative modes, where I have no constraints on the resources available to me to build the system, no matter how many lines and cars I throw at the problem, the population will always scale to a point where there’s always overcrowded stations.)

One thing I like about the game is that they don’t have an in-game currency that you earn by transporting passengers and use to spend on improvements for your transit system. I think if the game had that, it would be too much like a Sim-style game, and I think removing a concept of money, and de-coupling a potential feedback loop of performance income improvement more performance helps to keep the game simple — and I like that.

I wonder about that, and why the designer of the game decided on that. Because it’s inconceivable that they wouldn’t have considered every completed trip being converted into in-game money that would be spendable on more rail lines, trams, carriages, etc.

And they must have considered that, and then discarded the idea. I wonder why they decided it and what pros/cons they weighed to make that decision.

Failure to launch, failure to thrive

What can we learn from Ouya, Atari VCS, and Intellivision Amico?

The videogame industry is highly competitive and cuthroat. There is a glut of competition. The market is vast. Games are everywhere. You can play them on your desktop or laptop computer. You can play them on a gaming console attached to your TV. You can play them on your tablet or smartphone. You can play them on a handheld device. You can play them in a web browser.

The big players: Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Valve (Steam) all own hardware or distribution platforms. If you want to be a big player, you must own a platform.

Establishing a new platform that can compete in this market is incredibly difficult, and even big players with ultra-deep pockets can fail to establish a foothold. Atari and Sega couldn’t keep up and fell by the wayside. Apple and Google (Stadia) couldn’t get established and haven’t managed to build significant marketshare, but remain relevant to some degree due to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store with their vast catalogs of 3rd party mobile apps and games.

Most of the companies that have risen to the level of a top tier player in the market were either early innovators (Atari, Sega, Nintendo) who entered the market at a time when there was little to no competition and literally grew the industry up from nothing, or were already successful giant companies that could sink billions of dollars into R&D and operate at a loss for years in order to build marketshare in the gaming segment while operating profitably in other divisions (Sony, Microsoft).

There’s little to no room for also-rans. Tiny players can exist, but they don’t have a hope of cracking the “Big Three”. The best they can hope for is to establish themselves as niche players. AtGames, Hyperkin, and so forth produce clone systems for obsolete consoles that have exited the main market but still have healthy followings from large, established fan bases that will always be there.

On the side there’s some third party players who produce accessories and sometimes they can venture into creating actual consoles, although they tend to clone old systems. Semi-hobbyist and boutique projects (retroUSB AVS, Analogue, CollectorVision Phoenix, 8bitdo, Retrofighters) can be viable businesses, if they’re run right and can deliver products on time that are of acceptable quality and provide value to the consumer. Often these enterprises establish themselves first by making official accessories for the major console systems — controllers, carrying cases, and the like — and once they have a manufacturing and supply chain solution established, at some point they might try to expand by doing their own R&D to produce something beyond that.

Companies that fail tend to follow a pattern:

  • An idea or concept is announced, often a rebirth of some old, idle IP
  • They start trying to raise money, awareness, and support, by taking pre-orders and/or doing crowdfunding, but the fund raising goals are well under what would be required for a new platform to have any hope of becoming established as a big player. Nonetheless, the people behind the project push on.
  • Then they get to work developing the thing they described in their concept
  • Delays happen
  • The thing eventually releases (or doesn’t) after much acrimony, disappointment, and diminished expectations
  • If a product does get launched, it fails to meet expectations, doesn’t thrive in the market, the company fails, or drops support, and the product becomes irrelevant.

Ideas can be good and still fail. It takes more than a good idea for a thing to succeed.

A few million dollars raised, a few thousand backers, is not enough to support a new platform. It just isn’t. You need to sell at least a few million units at a minimum, and real success doesn’t come until you can sell tens of millions of units.

Ouya (2012-2019)

Ouya raised over $8 million in crowdfunding through kickstarter, which at the time was a record for crowdfunding. They had nearly 64,000 backers. Who knows how much money they raised through other means. But they didn’t have anywhere near the numbers they needed to succeed. Still, they “succeeded” in exceeding their crowdfunding goal (by over 8x), they “succeeded” in developing their console and controllers, getting them manufactured, and delivered them to backers. But that still wasn’t enough for Ouya to succeed as a new platform. They struggled to grow, they failed to gain marketshare, weren’t able to profit with their business model, ran out of money, and went out of business, went through acquisitions, the new owners tried to turn it around and still couldn’t, and today it doesn’t exist.

Ouya had no pre-existing market and didn’t try to leverage any old, defunct brands that had nostalgic mindshare. They didn’t necessarily need to, but it would have helped.

They had some problems with their controller hardware, but that could have been overcome had the company had deep enough pockets to stand by their products even if it meant taking a loss initially.

Ouya didn’t do enough to develop a library of first party/exclusive titles that would have given customers a reason to buy Ouya rather than another console. This was a strategic error. They thought they could court indie developers, who, at the time, faced high barriers to entry to get their games onto the platforms controlled by Big Gaming. At the time, though, this was already starting to change: mobile app stores, web gaming portals like Armor Games, Kongregate, Newgrounds, and the like, Steam Greenlight were all established to one degree or another, and providing indie developers with opportunities to bring games to an audience.

Soon the even the major players began to notice indie developers, court the best of them, and eventually the best indies found ways to get onto the big platforms, where they could make the big money.

Ouya’s approach was to lower the barrier of entry for everyone, including lowering the cost for consumers to “free to try” for everything, and it turns out to make a lot of money selling games, you need to sell games for money, ideally for a profit. Ouya couldn’t figure out how to do this, and even then, they weren’t the ones making the vast majority of the games that could be played on the Ouya, so they were putting in a ton of investment into creating a platform that they were not positioning themselves to monetize very effectively, while attracting indie game developers of any skill level indiscriminately to publish games of any quality onto the Ouya marketplace, where it was up to the individual consumer to try to find games that were worth buying, and then didn’t give them enough reason to buy them, and conditioned customers to believe that games should be far cheaper than was really viable to sustain their developers or the platform.

The business model seemed like it made sense, given that it followed the familiar example of countless early internet startups that gave a lot away for free, operating in the red while living off startup investor funding. It was a gold rush strategy that rewarded a lucky few, who were in the right place at the right time and figured out how to strike it rich, and was far from guaranteed of success — it was high risk, high reward. Sadly the risks didn’t pan out, and the reward never materialized.

Still, Ouya was one of the most successful and most promising of these failures.

Retro VGS/Colecovision Chameleon (2015-2016)

Some projects are out and out scams. The Colecovision Chameleon was one such.

Chameleon was supposed to be a throwback to old-school cartridge based consoles, a rejection of the “release when promised, even if incomplete, and fix everything you couldn’t deliver with 0-day patches” model that too many developer studios had come to rely on because of project management that couldn’t deliver projects on time or on budget because creative productions like video games simply aren’t software engineering projects. Publishers couldn’t accept “it’s done when it’s done”, forcing developers to ship on deadline regardless of quality or completeness, and customers hated buying a much-anticipated game to find out that it sucked, or that you had to wait hours to download gigabytes of patch files to play it. Players were buying discs with outdated, obsolete, broken software, as a sort of token that would entitle them to a digital download of a 1.1 release that should have been the 1.0. Rather than simply switching to digital distribution, Chameleon’s pitch was to go back to cartridges; cartridges couldn’t be updated, so had to be complete before they shipped. Hey, it sounded good at the time.

Chameleon was so-called because it was going to have adapters that allowed you to play old existing cartridges from any game system, making the Chameleon “look like” whatever hardware was originally supposed to run those games — hence the name Chameleon. That’s not a terrible idea — imagine a multi-core FPGA system with a bunch of different cartridge ports capable of reading games from every conceivable system you could ask for, that could output HDMI and let you play your favorite games on a modern HDTV. That’d be awesome, right?

It was all smoke and mirrors. They didn’t have the rights to the Coleco trademark secured, and they tried to fool the public with an early mock-up of their hardware that was in reality a Super NES stuffed inside of a modded Atari Jaguar case. Nevertheless, they managed to fool a few people for a short time, taking some people for a little money. There’s little or no evidence the project ever had any real R&D or concept to it. It was all just mockups. People were fooled, and once the deception was uncovered, people were pissed.

I mention it despite the Chameleon not being a genuine effort, in order to underscore the point that consumers shouldn’t be pre-ordering products. Pre-ordering games was a thing for one reason: fear of missing out (FOMO). At the height of the NES’s popularity, 1987-88, a chip shortage made it difficult to find games in stock on store shelves. People scrambled to buy when they could find them, which sent demand through the roof. This was great for business and Nintendo to this day seems to like to size supply to demand in such a way that they can brag about selling out, and FOMO can persuade hungry fans to pay full retail, and use pre-ordering to feel secure that they will be able to get a copy of the next release in their favorite game franchise when it comes out.

There’s absolutely no reason to pre-order games if there’s no shortage. For digital download distribution, there will never be a shortage. You can buy whenever you want, and you can play wait and see, putting your money down only on games that deliver the quality and fun that you expect. You don’t have to take a gamble on a pre-order and wait months (or years) hoping there’s no delays and that the game is actually as good as the hype.

There’s absolutely no reason to pre-order games if there’s no shortage. You don’t have to take a gamble on a pre-order and wait months (or years) hoping there’s no delays and that the game is actually as good as the hype.

Chameleon promised everything and delivered nothing. But a lot of the ideas that were part of its pitch were things that appealed to gamers who weren’t happy with the status quo at the time, and felt nostalgia for how games used to be.

It’s possible that the people behind the Chameleon didn’t set out to defraud the public, and that they really wanted to develop the concept. But it was so under-developed at the time that they pitched it, they had no working model, nor did they truly have the capability to design a working model. It was basically just an idea. An idea that seemed cool and exciting. Imagine: being able to play all your favorite old games in their original format on a new console attached to a modern TV, that can also play new games with classic flavor, delivered in the way those old games you loved were, without the perceived downsides of modern games. In reality, it’s a long way to go from a cool idea to a prototype, and the people behind the Chameleon weren’t capable of delivering that, but they maintained a charade of it for as long as they could. Perhaps they were hoping they could get real hardware engineers interested in working with them, but it didn’t pan out.

Disappointment with underwhelming games is bad enough. Outright deception and scams a la the Coleco Chameleon is terrible. At that point, people should have wised up, and many of them did. The public had been so conditioned by Nintendo and Sony’s successful products that they forgot that they probably weren’t the first kid on their block to buy a NES or a Playstation. They wanted to be the first kid on their block to own a Chameleon, even though the developers of it had nowhere near the reputation or resources of a Nintendo or Sony.

The lesson: don’t buy into something just because it sounds cool. Buy a real product, not an idea. If the hot new thing is destined to be a success, you’ll have no problem buying it. If you buy it the moment you hear about it, without seeing if it’ll prove to be a success, you have a much greater likelihood of buying into a failure. Don’t waste your money.

But as P.T. Barnun said, there’s a sucker born every minute. So this story goes on…

Atari VCS (2017- )

Initially Atari was mysterious about their AtariBox concept. It was all image and brand. This generated a lot of interest. It might have worked had they had a product ready to go, to follow up quickly on the interest their early marketing efforts had generated.

Sadly, they teased a little, waited, then teased a little more, then waited, then eventually they announced a concept for what AtariBox was. Renamed Atari VCS, reusing the original name of the first Atari home gaming console, they had a great looking design for the system, which beautifully recalled the aesthetic of the original woodgrained CX2600 system.

But it took Atari over 3 years to develop a manufacturable version of this case, put low-end commodity PC hardware into it, set up a graphical UI shell and store for downloadable games for the system, arrange some third-party deals and ship it to the retail channel. At the same time, they should have been developing games for this system, and they did work on a few, but all of it was underwhelming. Mostly you can play old games that have been available for years through other platforms on the Atari VCS.

Atari claims a library of thousands of games for the VCS through providing gaming marketplace apps for Google Stadia, Luna, nVidia GeForce Now, XBox Game Streaming, AntStream Arcade, and AirConsole, and… so what? These are all available on any Windows PC, which you already have, and probably has better hardware specs. And these aren’t free subscriptions bundled with the VCS, these are add-ons that you have to pay extra for. So why do you need a VCS, then? This is like picking the dandelions that happened to grow in your yard and calling it a garden salad. Technically it is. But you didn’t have to buy a house to make yourself a dandelion salad.

This is like picking the dandelions that happened to grow in your backyard and calling it a garden salad. Technically it is. But you didn’t have to buy a house to make yourself a dandelion salad.

There are a handful of new titles, some third-party games that aren’t great and are available on other platforms as well, and as for the first-party content, they’re all warmed-over remakes of old classic Atari games which they brand as “recharged”. Mostly this means a re-skinning, updated graphics, and the original game play, which, while classic and solid, doesn’t offer anything innovative or novel. Just a slightly more polished version of some 40 year old arcade IP with some neon glowing wireframe vector graphics.

Other games they used to hype the project (Tempest 4K) were released on the major platforms years before the VCS was ready to ship. Atari outright lied about its relationship with the Tempest 4K developer and implied that it would be a launch title and exclusive, when none of that was true. A total embarrassment. Tempest, originally an Atari classic IP, should have been an exclusive, and a launch title. But (wisely) the developers of Tempest 4K put it out when it was ready, on platforms that existed at the time, and made money.

That left Atari with nothing, and when the VCS went to market, Tempest 4K would be a 2-year old, non-exclusive game. And guess what? You still can’t buy Tempest 4K for the VCS. It’s a Windows/XBox/PS4 game. (Which means you can sort of play Tempest 4K on an Atari VCS, if you boot it in PC mode and run Windows. You’re kidding, right?) Even if Tempest 4K had been an Atari VCS exclusive, I’m not sure that Tempest has enough draw to it to make it a killer app that would have sold consoles. Like, Tempest is a cool game for 1981, but it’s no Mario or Zelda. Nowhere near.

The VCS has been out for a little over a year now, and while it at least exists today, it is hardly compelling.

The best parts of the Atari VCS were the joystick hardware and the “recharged” games. Atari could have put all of its effort into developing these, put them out on existing platforms in 2017-2018, and built from there. Instead, they tried to build themselves a platform which would give them power to be masters of their own fate (or something) but really just made it harder for them to bring a product to market.

It’s pretty clear they never intended to go toe-to-toe with the big platforms of Nintendo, Sega, Microsoft, and they’ve always said as much. They certainly never had the capability to do so. But what then is the point of having a low-end non-competitive platform that doesn’t offer anything unique or exclusive? Atari have no real answer to this. They’ll tell you it’s a “hybrid” console that you can also boot into “PC Mode” and use as a Windows or Linux computer, but so what? Everyone has 2-3 old PCs sitting around that they can install Linux or Windows on. Probably with better specs than the VCS, or cheaper, or both.

After years of delays, people starting to question whether the project was legitimate or a scam, Atari finally launched the VCS, and it was pathetic. It felt incomplete, like a homework assignment by a kid who procrastinated until the morning the project was due, and tried to con the teacher into accepting something they were scribbling on in the minutes between classes.

Atari’s main problems were having insufficient resources to match their ambition, combined with a complete lack of strategy and planning, and half-assed execution. They hyped their project before it was even a project. If they had developed the product quietly and then launched it within a few months of their initial hype announcements, and had a launch library of new, exclusive games that leveraged their classic trademarks and provided novel and innovative gameplay experiences on par with what Pac-Man Championship Edition was to Pac-Man, or what Yacht Club Games is to the NES, it could have been a completely different story. As it is, Atari VCS has been a disappointment. Atari does have a wealth of IP that they could do something with if they had the resources and talent behind it, but instead they wasted years trying to sell a budget PC to sell games they didn’t have yet.

Intellivision Amico (2018- )

In October 2018, a group owning the Intellivision trademark lead by Tommy Tallarico announced the Amico, a relaunch of the Intellivision brand that would embrace retro-style gaming and provide simpler, family oriented gams for all ages at a budget price point. Their four word pitch: Simple, Affordable, Family, Fun.

They had a lot of good ideas: all games that would run on the system would be exclusives, that you couldn’t get anywhere else. The games would be super cheap, there would be no hidden costs like in-app purchases or DLC, and they would be designed with couch multiplayer in mind, and provide balanced play so that players of different skill levels from toddler to great grandma could get in on the action and still have fun and feel challenged. The target market was families with young children, and parents (or grandparents) who remembered the original Intellivision system from 1979.

Similar to the pitch of the Coleco Chameleon, Intellivision pitched that the present-day game industry had gone astray in so many ways, and lost sight of what we used to love about video games. This meant that a return to classic roots would tap into a latent market of everyday people who want to play casual “fun” games, and couldn’t get into big budget “hard core” games that require hundreds of hours of focused play and high skill to beat. They promised to eschew violence and adult themes, and everything would be 2D only, aiming at an all-ages family friendly audience.

In short, their vision differentiated them from existing platforms enough that it seemed like they might have a shot at finding underserved markets. The announced price point was a budget bargain $150-180, with games costing under $10. Additionally, all games were to be Intellivision exclusives.

Unlike the frauds behind the Chameleon, the people involved with Intellivision appeared to have legitimate pedigree and full ownership of the Intellivision trademark. They had physical demo units early on, and a few teaser trailers of games in various stages of development. The controllers were unique, intriguing, and paid homage to the original Intellivision controllers. It looked like they were serious, capable, and had a clear concept of what they were going to build, unlike Atari which mostly focused on superficial case design, logos, 3D model mockups, and branding.

The Amico had a unifying vision and a market strategy. It even appeared that they were already pretty far along with physical prototypes of their system, which included a unique and interesting controller design.

The controller gave Amico the opportunity to make games with unique player interaction, with motion controls, a touch screen, as well as a classic Intellivision-style thumb disc. The thumb disc was a slightly controversial and perhaps questionable design choice, considering that the original Intellivision controller wasn’t necessarily great. But it tied the Amico to its predecessor in a way that a D-pad couldn’t. It wasn’t yet-another standard, off the shelf dual-stick gamepad. It made the Amico unlike any other console. Who knew, maybe it would turn out to be strong selling point, like the Nintendo Wiimote.

You could, in a pinch, even use an Android smartphone as a controller by installing an Amico app on it, as well. So instantly you could add 3rd and 4th players to the game cheaply, without having to buy additional official controllers. Maybe not with all the features of the official control, but would provide at least something.

Intellivision issued an early release of the Amico app, which wasn’t actually the controller app, but rather a demo of a re-imagined Moon Patrol that you could play on your smartphone, without any Amico hardware. It wasn’t much of a game, but it really existed, and gave the project legitimacy. It seemed like they had the hardware ready to go, or nearly so, and just needed to complete some games to provide a decent launch library, manufacture them, and get them into stores.

Over time, though, the project seemed to stall. The COVID-19 pandemic lead to economic disruption and supply chains stalled. The electronics industry was disrupted by chip shortages, the effects of which rippled through the economy and were widely felt by many industries.

With Amico development, not much happened for months on end, deadlines slipped, news announcements appeared to be using recycled footage and showed little to no actual progress. Worse, it appeared that some of the games they demoed were using stolen graphical assets. Tommy Tallarico leapt into action with excuses and damage control. The graphics were placeholder, not final, and so on. Some of this might have been legitimate, but a lot of it was suspect. Tallarico’s personality rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and his tendencies to get into petty internet wars with minor “influencers” on forums or social media didn’t look good.

Today, the future of Intellivision appears to be in doubt. Tallarico has just been replaced as CEO, and there’s a lot of concern among the community following the project that the delays may prove fatal as cost overruns and lack of revenue due to not having a product to sell will doom the console, which never had much of a chance of becoming a major player alongside the likes of Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony, but might have been viable as a B-grade market alternative.

Lessons

  1. Startups shouldn’t launch platforms as their first product.
  2. It takes billions of dollars and vast resources to develop and launch a successful platform. Only a mature, thriving company can properly support a console and bring it to market.
  3. Even then the chances are good that it will fail in the market.
  4. History shows that at most there is room for 2-3 successful platforms.
  5. If you can’t knock out Nintendo, Microsoft, or Sony, you’re going to fail. Google failed.
  6. Hitting a crowdfunding goal is not success. It’s a very early step along the road.
  7. Success means in 5-7 years, you have enough profits that you can self-fund R&D for your next generation console without having to crowdfund or court investors.
  8. The best time to launch a new console is 5-7 years after the successful launch of your previous console.
  9. The best time to announce a new console is within weeks of retail launch, and not more than 1 year ahead of time.
  10. If you can’t take money and ship immediately after your announce your product, you’re probably going to ship late and disappoint a lot of people after they spend a lot of time hyping themselves up to a point where nothing can possibly meet their expectations and dreams.
  11. Don’t let them dream too long, give them a reality. Or when you deliver your real console, it will reality-check their dreams and inevitably lead to dissatisfied customers. Those who once sang your praises will suddenly call for your head.
  12. It takes longer than you think to develop a console. It takes longer than that to manufacture and distribute that console.
  13. Don’t try to combine pitching to investors and marketing to customers. Crowdfunding is not the way.
  14. If you don’t have a previous console in your past, perhaps consider not trying to develop a platform. Develop other things — games, controllers, accessories. Perhaps in time you can gain experience from doing these things that can allow you to develop a console.
  15. If you have a vast, successful business with R&D, manufacturing, distribution, logistics, software development, marketing, and customer support all figured out, and sufficient reserves and revenues that can afford to pour billions of dollars for several years without realizing a profit, you might have a chance of developing your own console platform. If you’re not sure, ask yourself: do you have a lot in common with Microsoft, Sony, Google, or Apple?
  16. If you can’t do something unique and better than what already exists, why are you even bothering? If you want to make games, make games. Pick any of the existing platforms, or all of them.

Copyright, contractual obligations screw Ms. Pac Man out of existence

Ms. Pac Man has an interesting history.

Pac-Man, the original game, was developed by Namco in Japan, and distributed by Midway in the United States, and was a massive, massive hit — the most popular arcade game of its day, and still one of the most popular arcade games of all time.

The videogame industry was different 40 years ago than it is today, and video games were still new enough that a lot of the intellectual property rights weren’t yet established in law, leading to unsettled (and often unasked) questions.

As a result, there was a sub-industry of third-party mod kits for arcade games, which gave arcade proprietors a way to renew interest in older games that had waned in popularity. It wasn’t illegal to modify an arcade cabinet that you owned, and so over time kits were developed by third parties to do just that.

One of the companies producing these hardware mod kits, named GCC, hacked Pac Man to create an unofficial “sequel”. To avoid trademark infringement, they named it “Crazy Otto” at first, but that wasn’t enough to avoid a lawsuit. In the end, a settlement between GCC and Namco turned Crazy Otto into an official sequel which became Ms. Pac Man.

GCC’s contract entitled them to royalties on each Ms. Pac Man cabinet manufactured or sold by Midway-Namco. Ms. Pac Man was a smash hit, just as popular as the original Pac Man. Everyone got rich and everyone way happy.

Ms. Pac Man went on to have a long life, and has been ported, re-packaged, and re-released on many platforms over the years, but GCC’s contract entitled them to royalties only from “coin-op cabinets”. Twenty-five years later, new cabinets were produced for the anniversary, and hybrid Galaga/Ms. Pac Man cabinets were a popular sight in bars in the mid-2000s.

By this time, the executives now running Namco had forgotten about the contract with GCC, who reminded them of it by suing for their royalties. Namco paid what they owed, and weaseled out of paying on arcade cabinets made for home use, which didn’t have coin slots, since the contract wording specified “coin-op cabinets” (which was simply what arcade machines were called at the time the contract was signed). And then, to avoid ever having to pay another royalty to GCC again, Namco wrote the Ms. Pac-Man character out of the picture, replacing her with other female pac-man characters such as “Pac-Girl” and “Pac-Marie”. Thereafter, future Ms. Pac-Man re-releases only came out on platforms not covered by the GCC contract, so Namco wouldn’t have to pay the royalties.

It just goes to show the level of sheer greed that companies have when it comes to paying creators and ownership of intellectual property. If the company can make money without having to pay the creators, they will do that. Granted, GCC wasn’t producing an authorized work, and this could have colored the relationship. But considering how much money Ms. Pac Man earned for everyone over the years, you’d think that those profits could go a long way toward smoothing over any rough spots in the relationship. Apparently not.

GCC later sold their ownership rights to Ms. Pac-Man to AtGames. If they had instead sold to Midway-Namco, this might never have been an issue. But because of how things worked out, one of the most iconic videogame characters of the 80s golden age of the arcade is basically sidelined indefinitely. Because contested or jointly owned intellectual property rights are that much of a legal pain to negotiate around that it’s better to just kill the property and make no money from it at all than to try to work out agreements for sharing revenues. How sad.

Atari Age releases new crop of homebrews for 2022

The new titles hit the Atari Age store for pre-order yesterday, 12/31. Included in the release this year are two Champ Games arcade ports for the Atari 2600: LadyBug and the much-anticipated RobotWar: 2684.

The new store listings don’t have video clips as yet, and I think videos really help you to decide what to buy, but I’m aware that at least some of these games have had demo or beta romfiles available for a long time, and if you want to try them before you buy physical cartridges, you can seek them out.

Knight Guy in Low-Res World – Castle Days and Game of the Bear look like fun puzzle platformers in a similar style. I’ve played Game of the Bear, the platform action reminds me of Terry Cavanaugh’s Don’t Look Back, which I loved playing about 10 years ago. Cavanaugh’s game was made in Flash, which hasn’t been supported in current browsers since Adobe retired Flash in 2020. Wizard’s Dungeon looks like an action RPG in the vein of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons on the Intellivision.

I haven’t looked closely at the rest of the list, but the titles mentioned above looked the most interesting to me.

Unfortunately, prices are up this year. Atari Age games listed between $25-40 for many years, but this year they’re more like $45-60. This is unfortunate, but I don’t think it’s gouging — there have been chip shortages, and inflation has been high since the pandemic disrupted the world economy. As well, Atari Age has invested in producing new plastic shells for cartridges, rather than cannibalizing them from old games. New games for modern consoles tend to run around $60, and often less than that, so to pay that much for new homebrew releases on obsolete consoles is really something only for the most die-hard fans of classic gaming to afford.

Metroid: Dread criticisms

I loved Metroid: Dread, but nothing is perfect, and a way I show my enthusiasm for something good is to analyze it, look for weaknesses, and think about how it could be even better.

Melee counter is OP

Against most enemies, any time you melee counter them, you can one-shot them with a follow-up shot. What’s more, killing them this way dramatically increases the amount of loot dropped as a result of the kill. It’s like the creatures of ZDR are all piñatas. Shoot them and you burn most of the candy inside, but beat them open, and you get a ton of loot.

I get that this is meant to provide the player with incentive to make use of the melee counter. Since it requires getting up close and personal with enemies, and screwing it up will damage you, the game design needs to balance the risk with an increased reward.

But they could have nerfed this, so that when you have a high success rate at pulling off the melee counter move, the game stops dropping quite so much loot. Or maybe wean you into lower quantity loot drops for pulling this move off as your max health goes higher. Arguably, they should have.

I also think that it would have been better to have melee-counters set up a counter-attack that does extra damage, but not always a one-shot kill. This mechanic makes too many of the regular enemies you encounter almost trivial, and not a threat at all. Even if you do manage to screw up a melee counter once in a while, you’ll get so much loot out of them when you’re successful that you’ll rarely if ever be worried about your health level for virtually the entire game.

Enemies drop too much pickups

Maybe this is a sign that I’d appreciate Hard Mode more, and if so, then this isn’t really a valid criticism, but I felt like it was too easy to replenish health and missiles whenever I wanted throughout the game. I never felt like resource management was ever a serious problem. This makes me wonder why have ammo at all. It only seems to matter in boss fights. Regular enemies mostly don’t pose enough of a threat to kill you. They mostly seem to exist to provide you with targets to shoot at, and drop so much life and missile pickups that it’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet at times.

In addition to this, the game provides copious recharge stations and save points, and there’s no limit to how much you can use them, or how often. They’re almost always right there for you both before and after a major challenge. I appreciate that the designers wanted you to reach these challenges at full power and ready to face them. And I appreciate that the designers made the boss fights super challenging, so that you really needed to be at full power before taking them on.

EMMI fights are repetitive, lack variety

I really enjoyed outwitting the EMMIs and having to run and hide from them. I think this is something you don’t often get to do in video games, and I appreciate the EMMIs for being different from most other games.

But while the EMMIs were different from other games, they were too similar to each other. Why must you always defeat them in the same way? The Omega Beam as a temporary power-up that empowers you to kill the last EMMI you met, only to be taken away after each and every fight, feels so contrived, it serves to remove me from immersion in the world of the game, and reminds me that I’m playing a game.

I would have loved to see Samus really have to use her wits to defeat the EMMIs in unique ways, using her ever-expanding move-set, and taking advantage of the level design to use the terrain in various creative ways to trap and kill each EMMI. Sure, getting a super weapon that runs out of juice after you use it would be a great way to dispatch the first EMMI.

But if they told a story that you only got to use it once, and even then it was only because you overcharged it and the super charge Omega blast actually burned it out and left it permanently inoperable, that would have given you so much more of a sense of dread: Oh no, there’s still six of them left! Now how am I going to deal with them? Then you would get to learn that Samus isn’t just a hero because she has amazing weapons, but because she is a survivor, who can adapt and outsmart enemies that are more powerful than she is.

That would have been so much cooler than how they did it.

I’ve already said it a few times, but the Control Room fights are also repetitive, and, worse, provided too little challenge. I guess that they were supposed to serve as callbacks to the classic Mother Brain boss fight, but fighting Mother Brain was pretty hard — mostly because any time you took damage, you’d get knocked back into a position where you couldn’t hit the boss anymore, or into lava where you were taking damage every frame and you couldn’t hit the boss anymore.

Killing Mother Brain didn’t just require that you did a certain amount of damage, but that you did it quickly enough to counter her regeneration. So any time you got knocked out of position and couldn’t continue pouring on the damage, it was prolonging the fight. Those factors made the Mother Brain battles challenging and memorable. Control Room has some superficial similarity: you have to avoid laser turrets and Rinkas while hitting a thing that looks a bit like a brain that doesn’t directly attack you. But there’s none of the other element present that made the Mother Brain fight a classic challenge. So what’s the point? And why do we have to do it six or seven times?

What’s up with all the lame names?

Planet ZDR? Quiet Robe? Raven Beak? Couldn’t they come up with better names than these?

I guess maybe we could blame the English localization for this.

I guess you can name a planet whatever, but ZDR isn’t exactly rolling off my tongue. SR388, the name of the planet in the original Metroid, is obviously a take-off of the planet from the movie Alien, LV-426. So a convention of two letters, three numbers would have been reasonable, fitting, and consistent. Metroid already has a planet starting with the letter Z, Zebes, so why they went with ZDR, I don’t understand.

They could have just translated “Quiet Robe” and Raven Beak into Japanese and it would have felt fine: Shizukana rōbu, Karasu no kuchibashi. Even shortening these to Shizukana and Karasu would have sounded cooler. Many of the names given for enemies in classic NES games were just untranslated Japanese words (or at least Japanese-sounding words, or sometimes japanified or mistranslated English words…)

It’s not a major thing, but I think they could have done better.

Story quibbles

I don’t really play most video games for their story, which is to say I can very easily tolerate a very thin story in an action-heavy game, and I can accept weak storytelling that relies heavily or even exclusively on cliches and tropes that are utterly formulaic and even cheesy.

I do enjoy and want to encourage game story writers to aspire to do more than that and to elevate their craft to an art form, and to tell original stories in creative ways, and not simply apply “The Hero’s Journey” or some other formula again and again.

I found the way the story unfolded in Metroid Dread was satisfying. I always liked finding a new Communications room and getting an update from ADAM to find out what was going on, what I was supposed to do, and what new information he could tell me.

I also was very impressed by the way the cinematic moments in the game were blended seamlessly into the regular action. Everything is rendered in the game in the same 3D engine. Metroid: Dread is “2D” in that the camera is always showing the action from the side view angle that is consistent with 2D games, and that the levels do not make use of depth, even where they have lots of detail in the background. But the game uses 3D models and presents them in a way that looks the same as 2D side scrolling Metroids of the past have looked, with the added flexibility that whenever they want to, they can pop out of that camera angle and continue rendering everything that’s going on in a more cinematic and dramatic way.

This is brilliant, and I love it. It makes the “melee grab” action in boss fights look super cool, and even though they’re just scripted button mashing events, they look fantastic, are fun, and make playing as Samus so much cooler.

This is all preface to say that Dread does so much very well with its storytelling and with the plot and acting generally.

That said, there were things I didn’t much care for, things that didn’t really make sense, or that seemed unnecessary.

  • At the end of the final battle, the cinematic bit where Raven Beak monologues at you, you seem like you’re helpless, and they misdirect you to thinking you just died, when you suddenly revive and life-drain your way to victory, only to then have to face a “final form” of Raven Beak after he gets infected by the X-parasite and mutates into a giant beast for some reason. WTF was that all about?

    I didn’t buy for a second that Samus was really helpless, and when she uses the energy drain ability to win, it was never a surprise. There’s so much that doesn’t work for me in this little scene:

    Raven Beak’s holding her by the throat, but she’s completely encased in an armored exoskeleton, so it’s not like she’s choking in this moment. So how is it that she’s supposedly blacking out? Is the throat section of the armor that flexible? I guess it could be. Is she playing possum? That would make sense and explain how it is that she is able to “miraculously” wake up and lash out. She’s screaming as she unleashes this final power against him, so clearly she’s got air in her lungs, and her throat hasn’t been crushed.

    During the monologue, Samus is shown struggling, and she does use her left hand, which is her energy drain hand, to grab Raven Beak’s arm momentarily as she struggles to… grab him with her left hand so she… so she can apply the energy drain move… which doesn’t make sense: if she could grab his arm, she should have been able to drain him right at that moment. There wasn’t a need for the overly dramatic choke-out/fake-out. move. When Samus does apply the energy drain, she grabs Raven Beak by the side of the head. Raven Beak is roughly twice as tall as Samus, though, so there should be no way her arm can be long enough to reach his head. Not unless he pulls her in very close so that he can look directly into her eyes as she passes out for the final time, or something… But that’s not how it looks during the cutscene. Raven beak has her at nearly arm’s length, the entire time.

    It’s done solely for heightened dramatics, and doesn’t feel right. Samus should have grabbed Raven Beak’s wrist, and drained him, and that should have finished him off, and thus ended the fight.
  • But not only does Samus drain Raven Beak, this somehow causes the Itorash orbital station to lose power and fall out of orbit. This suggests a few things that are implausible and just dumb: that Raven Beak is somehow powering the entire Itorash station, and that its orbit is actively maintained through the expenditure of power, rather than a simple ballistic geosynchronous trajectory that would require no active power usage to maintain.
    Seriously, why did Itorash crash to the surface of ZDR?
  • The “epilogue” final final boss battle was silly. We see that Samus just drained Raven Beak, yet he’s still alive enough to stand up after surviving the crash landing of Itorash station into the planet’s surface. He’s apparently still got more left in the tank and is ready to continue the battle. Samus just acquired the hyper laser that we saw Raven Beak using in the battle, but we don’t know that yet. Then, out of nowhere, Raven Beak is infected with an X-parasite, and mutates, instantly growing to gargantuan size.

    Then we’re given a mostly-pointless final-final boss battle with Raven Beak X, where all we have to do is hold the charge shot and stream ultra laser into the boss’s face until it melts off and it dies.

    It looks cool, I’l give it that. Having a laser that shoots a beam that’s as wide as Samus is tall feels ultra-powerful, particularly during the escape sequence that immediately follows, where it absolutely obliterates anything it comes in contact with.

    But there’s no challenge to defeating Raven Beak X, it’s literally just holding a button down. I get that the point of it is to show that Samus’s Metroid DNA has fully awakened, giving her the ultimate power, such that what should have been the most powerful boss we’ve seen yet is now child’s play to destroy. But that could have been conveyed through cinematic mode, rather than returning control to the player and requiring they press the button.
  • The escape sequence. Why exactly is ZDR exploding? Did the crash of Itorash trigger that? Was Itorash station somehow maintaining planetary stability? Or did the impact with the planet trigger this destruction somehow? Or was there some other process initiated that coincidentally started the planet’s process of destruction?

    I feel like we get an escape sequence because it’s formula. You can’t have a Metroid game and not have it end with a two minute timer countdown where you have to get to your ship before the world you’re on self destructs.

    I mean, we kindof needed to destroy the world to contain the X-parasites and end the threat they represent to galactic peace. But couldn’t we have waited until we were back on the ship and then nuked the site from orbit? I hear that’s usually how it’s done.
  • The whole “Surprise! ADAM is really Raven Beak!” and “Surprise! Raven Beak is kinda-sorta your ‘father'” thing. Samus is somehow always acquiring her power from her enemies. The last Metroid, the one she spared/rescued in Metroid II, comes back to imbue her with a life-saving power boost in Super Metroid; she officially is infused with Metroid DNA in Metroid: Fusion, which in turn gives her the ability to absorb power (and also DNA, maybe?) from the X-parasites; and now apparently she also has some Chozo DNA, or… I don’t get it anymore. It’s a bit much.

    There’s no actual Metroids in Metroid: Dread, until, at the very end, we’re told by Raven Beak-as-ADAM that Samus is now a Metroid, due to her Metroid DNA activating and metamorphizing her. So… ok. That’s pretty cool. I like it. But it’s a little much that she’s also apparently part X-parasite, and also part Mawkin Chozo?

    In storytelling, you can do a cool thing once, and it’s cool. But if you keep doing the cool thing over and over and over again, it becomes less cool each time, until whatever original coolness was there is spoiled. I feel like, OK, getting some Metroid powers is pretty cool. Using the Metroid powers to become immune to X-parasites and instead absorb their powers is pretty cool. Being X-infected on top of that is where it gets to be a bit much, but if we allow that absorbing the X-power sortof integrates X-parasite DNA into Samus’s already overcrowded gamete is probably about where I draw the line. Telling Samus that she also has Chozo DNA from both Thoha and Mawkin tribes is way over the line. How do the writers of Metroid think DNA works?

    I know, I know. It’s a sci-fi fantasy, it can work however they want it to work. I.. just… do the cool thing once, maybe twice, max. Samus doesn’t have to merge genes with every species in the galaxy.
  • The overly elaborate setup to awaken and harness Samus. At the very start of the game, Raven Beak kicks Samus’s ass. He could have easily taken her DNA right then, forced Quiet Robe to do science-y stuff to it to activate the Metroid in Samus, and then cloned that shit to make his army.

    He didn’t need to toy with Samus to get her to gradually restore all her suit’s missing powers, yadda yadda, and then pull a Philip K. Dick move on her at the end, revealing that the “ADAM” she thought she had been talking to since she woke up was really him manipulating her, and then offering a part Faust, part Darth Vader bargain to sell herself out to rule the galaxy side-by-side with Raven Beak as father and daughter.

    The whole game isn’t necessary because the plot self-nullfies when you realize that he could have just taken a sample of DNA at the very beginning, killed Samus, and did the thing he told Samus he was going to do during the final monologue just before you win the game.

    The only way it’s not necessary for the game to have happened is if the adventures you guide Samus through were somehow necessary in order to “awaken” the Metroid DNA.

    Which is silly. Even if it were the only way, Raven Beak could have taken a clone of Samus’s DNA, and raised it in a truly fatherly fashion, and brainwashed it to see him as good and willingly serve him and work for him.

    When you see stuff like this happening in suspense-thriller movies, and I suppose now also video games, it’s because the writers have lost the plot, trying to keep the audience guessing by introducing so many plot twists that stuff no longer makes sense, failing to pass self-consistency checks.

    I’m a big stickler for internal consistency. I can suspend disbelief, but I need for the internal logic to make sense. Otherwise, it just feels like the storytellers are bullshitting you, and it only works if you’re too dumb to see through it. Which is an insult to your intelligence, and so obviously when I’m smart enough to see that, I have to reject it. I have no choice.

    It’s that, or pretend that I’m dumb, in order to placate the storyteller’s ego, or something.

I still love the game, but these story aspects don’t do it for me. It only detracts from the overall game a tiny amount. But when you can make something good, why make it less than it could be?

I could be fine with Raven Beak impersonating ADAM and trying to deceive Samus; that element has a lot of potential. They could have had buried subtle clues that this was going on throughout the game — perhaps some ADAM conversations could have been the real ADAM, and others could have been attempts at misdirection from Raven Beak. This could have created some confusion initially, rising to a level of “OK WTF something is not right here” and then a revelation that at times you’ve been following instructions from Raven Beak who’s been manipulating you into doing his work for him, because (for some reason) only you could have, and now he’s got a planet full of X-parasites that he can use to take over the galaxy with… And at some point you have to figure out that this is what’s been going on, and directly disobey your ADAM instructions in order to advance the game.

  • The very final twist at the end, where Quiet Robe is waiting in Samus’s ship, and is somehow still alive, and is somehow able to revert Samus’s transformation into a Metroid by just touching her, and this is necessary so she can take off without draining all the power out of her own ship, and that Quiet Robe speaks to her in ADAM’s voice, and that this doesn’t immediately turn Samus against Quiet Robe because she just iced the last motherfucker to pull that shit on her, and that this all happens conveniently seconds before ZDR explodes, allowing her just enough time to escape… yeah, it’s straining credulity a lot thin by that point, isn’t it?

I guess you could refute much of the above criticism by saying something like “Come on, you care way too much about all these little details. It’s just a fun story. Just enjoy it.” But, no, telling someone to enjoy a thing more by caring about it less is nonsense. The little things matter. Continuity and internal consistency matters. Good storytelling matters. Feeling like you’re smarter or have better taste than the creators leaves an audience member feeling dissatisfied.

Could I have done Metroid: Dread better myself? Absolutely not. Could I have fixed all of the above story and plot issues if I’d been on the team? I absolutely could have. How much difference would that make really? I dunno. Maybe it turns a 92% score into a 96%?

My point is, the game is really good, and these issues are all minor enough that it doesn’t stop me from loving the game and thinking it’s a triumphant return to form for the franchise. But that doesn’t mean that these things shouldn’t be talked about, either.