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Right Now Is A Great Time To Jump Into No Man's Sky

Via Kotaku: Right Now Is A Great Time To Jump Into No Man’s Sky

I’ve been trying to figure out what to say about this for a month.

On the one hand, it’s a gratifying surprise that No Man’s Sky’s 4.0 “Waypoint” update seems like it finally deals with the problems I had with the game, and I went ahead and redownloaded it. But it’s also bittersweet, because Shamus Young had the same problems, so my immediate reaction to the news is to wonder what he’d have to say about this—

And then I remember.

I still don’t know what to say. I wrote before that I no longer had heroes in the talking-about-games-online space. Shamus was the closest thing left. I don’t think there was anyone I looked up to more.

I never met Shamus or even managed to have a direct interaction with him, but it’s hard to overstate his influence on me. I’ve been reading his work for something like fifteen years. There’s a reason he’s the first link in my blogroll and I’ve quoted or linked to him several times. I’m going to feel his absence for a long time, and I’m not the only one.

No Man’s Sky is just one game, and though Shamus wrote about it several times it’s not in the top handful of games that are most associated with him. But I can’t help but find it tragicomic that after he revisited the game multiple times and repeatedly found that its core issues weren’t fixed, they finally are and he didn’t live to see it.

You have to find the humor in these things, because otherwise there’s only the darkness.

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Star Trek (2013-2016)

So, I’ve been reading the Star Trek comics set in the world of the reboot movies. They are surprisingly good.

The sixth volume makes references to the events of the then-recent Star Trek game set in the same world, which surprised me–most Trek comics exist in their own isolated continuities, since mainline Trek continuity is dense with decades of lore by this point. But the reboot movies started with a cleaner slate and thus can have a single continuity between comics, movies, and games (well, there was just the one game, but still). So that’s kind of cool.

But it’s also clearly cross-promotional. If you read the comics and they tease you with references to the game’s events, maybe you’ll get curious and go buy the game. It’s a little blatant, but, well, I enjoyed the comics so much that it actually worked on me. I decided to pick up the game, which I’d previously ignored due to its poor reviews.

Here’s the dumb part: you can’t buy this game anymore. Not new, anyway. It came out in April of 2013 on PS3, Xbox 360, and Windows/Steam. In April of 2016 - just three years later - it was delisted from all platforms, presumably due to license expiration.

I don’t know much about licensing deals, but this really feels like a terrible model in which everybody loses. If I could have bought this on Steam, I would have, since I have a Steam Deck and no portable way to play a PS3/360 game. Instead, I bought a used physical PS3 copy and not a cent of that sale went to the developer, publisher, or IP owner. The cross-promoting comics convinced me to give Paramount money that Paramount actually refuses to take.

This is also a clear argument against digital-only distribution. If the game hadn’t been sold physically, it would now be almost impossible for me to play it at all… at least legally.

Thankfully, the game was sold physically, so I was able to grab it off eBay for ten bucks, and now I am excited to go play this terrible game.

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Pointless Viewpoint Characters

So, okay, Sega is apparently developing films based on two of its classic titles: rhythm game Space Channel 5 and beat ‘em up Comix Zone. Which–okay, cool, whatever; this early it’s impossible to say whether they will be any good. (Though my immediate thought was “Okay, now do Crazy Taxi.")

But here’s what caught my attention: the Space Channel 5 film will apparently “tell the story of a hapless fast-food worker who is recruited by a freedom reporter from the future to save the world from aliens using the one thing that unites all people on the planet: our love of silly viral dances.” If you aren’t familiar with the source material: the game Space Channel 5 stars a future reporter saving the world from aliens through dance. There’s no “hapless fast-food worker” in the mix. That’s new for the film.

To be clear: I’m not trying to pick on this film in particular. This is a really common pattern. The Sonic the Hedgehog games (and comics, and I think mostly the shows) are about Sonic fighting Eggman, while the films are about James Marsden meeting Sonic and helping him fight Eggman. The Transformers cartoons (and comics, and old movies) are about good and evil transforming robots, while the Michael Bay films are about Shia LaBeouf meeting good transforming robots and helping them fight evil transforming robots. And on and on; you get the idea. As part of an attempt to give an adaptation of a niche property more mainstream appeal, the studio adds in what TVTropes calls a “lead you can relate to”. As if the audience can’t understand a fantastical setting unlike modern Earth or relate to any of its characters unless there’s a wholly non-fantastical person along for the ride to comment on how unlike modern Earth this all is (and probably end up playing a key role in saving the day despite being wholly unqualified compared to the setting’s preexisting characters).

(Note that this is unnecessary for the Comix Zone adaptation since that game was already about a normal artist getting sucked into the world of their comic; the movie can just do the same thing there with no problem.)

Now, I have to assume from the sheer number of times this has been done and the unimaginable amount of money involved that the strategy works more than it fails (or at least seems to). But it perplexes me. Of course it feels bizarrely patronizing–the source material didn’t need to have an everyman audience surrogate in order for the audience to know how to understand and react to the premise and setting. The audience just had their own actual reaction.

But beyond that, naively it seems like this sort of move should reduce the overall appeal of the adaptation.

For the existing fans, the new viewpoint character is an extra layer of metaphor distancing them from what they came for. They’re here to enjoy retro-futurist dancers / brightly-colored forest animals / transforming robot battles, not to watch someone else enjoy them. Any time or focus the film spends on the normal everyday person is worse than useless because it takes away from the time or focus spent on what makes this IP what it is and the reasons the fan enjoys it.

So presumably the idea is that having a “more relatable” lead character will gain you more mainstream appeal than it costs you in niche appeal, but like… having a generic protagonist is not a unique selling point, by definition! All it does is make the movie more interchangeable with other movies, and there are so many movies out there–if you’re someone who needs that “relatable” lead, are you even going to choose to watch Space Channel 5 instead of an actually-mainstream film in the first place? Why would you, unless the fantastical setting appealed to you? In which case, do you even need the “relatable” lead?

It doesn’t make sense to me. It really seems like this kind of adaptation just waters down what sets the source material apart; taking away some of the reason to watch it in particular, replacing it with weaker generic appeal that makes it stand out less.

I can see where that’s a good approach if there aren’t many choices available to the audience and you just need to avoid pushing people away and thus remove reasons not to watch your film. But given the options available to modern film audiences, I’d expect you to be better off giving people a clear reason to watch your film by offering something other films do not.

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