All posts by Pete Davison

Southampton-based music teacher, writer and enthusiast of Japanese popular culture.

From the Archives: On Two Working Designs Classics

If you’ve been gaming as long as I have, you probably remember an outfit called Working Designs.

Working Designs was an American publisher from the PS1 era that specialized in the localization of Japanese games — particularly RPGs, strategy games and shmups — and quickly gained a reputation at the time for being one of the best in the business.

The primary reason for this reputation was the fact that Working Designs’ Western releases of Japanese hits weren’t just straight word-for-word literal translations — rather, they were genuine localisations that made appropriate use of Western slang, turns of phrase and even popular culture references to give them a unique feel all of their own.

While opinions on this approach to localisation vary today, the effort the team made to make these games as approachable as possible was very much appreciated by the audience of the time.

This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2013 as part of the site’s regular Swords and Zippers column on JRPGs. It has been edited and republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

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From the Archives: Meaning in the Madness

With a lot of the games I’ve played over the last few years — including many of the visual novels that I’ve read — I’ve found myself thinking “gosh, I really wish I had this when I was a teenager.”

Not just from a technical standpoint — though naturally the games of today look and sound considerably better than those of 15 years ago — but from the perspective of subject matter and the willingness to tackle issues that simply would have been unthinkable to see in a video game of the ’90s.

This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2013 as part of the site’s regular READ.ME column on visual novels. It has been edited and republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

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Shmup Essentials: Cardinal Sins

As we’ve already established, Qute’s Eschatos is an absolutely fabulous shoot ’em up that every fan of the genre should have in their collection.

Its predecessors are still very worthwhile games in their own right, too; while technologically rather more primitive than the 60fps cinematic polygonal action of Eschatos, their 2D pixel art and chiptune soundtracks have a great deal of charm to them — and, most importantly, they’re damn fun to play.

Today I wanted to particularly look at Cardinal Sins, one of the two games that eventually begat Eschatos. Technically a freeware spinoff of Eschatos’ true predecessor Judgement SilverswordCardinal Sins is arguably the most interesting of the two games, for reasons that will become apparent.

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MeiQ: Narrative, Themes and Characterisation

Dungeon crawlers aren’t historically associated with having particularly strong stories, perhaps largely due to their origins as mechanics-heavy games with player-created parties.

A number of recent Japanese takes on the subgenre — including, among others, Demon Gaze, Operation Abyss and Dungeon Travelers 2 — have proven it is possible to blend mechanically sound, deeply absorbing dungeon crawling with a strong sense of narrative, however.

MeiQ is the latest game to follow this trend, featuring an imaginative steampunk-cum-sci-fi tale revolving around a strong, all-female central cast of characters.

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Wii U Essentials: Wii Party U

Nintendo’s Wii gained something of a reputation as a “party game machine”, for better or worse.

The Wii U never quite captured the same success as its predecessor in this regard due to its considerably smaller audience — not to mention the rise of other types of games filling a similar niche — but that didn’t stop Nintendo in particular from producing a number of different games intended to be played socially. With other people. In the same room! Imagine that.

One such example was Wii Party U, a successor to its similarly named predecessor on the older platform. Designed to be accessible and understandable to all ages, it’s neither the most complex nor technically impressive game on the platform — but it is noteworthy for being very successful at what it does.

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From the Archives: Let’s Go Round Again

What do you think of lengthy games such as JRPGs (or indeed Western RPGs) having multiple endings?

I remember having this discussion with a friend a while back, and he commented that he hated it when there was more than one possible outcome to the story, because he 1) hated having to repeat things and 2) hated feeling like he was “missing out” on part of the game that was “locked off” to him when he started down a particular route.

Obviously this applies more to games where your actions throughout the whole story determine which ending you get rather than a Mass Effect 3-style “which ending would you like?” decision point, but it’s a valid concern that I completely understand in this day and age. Gamers on the whole are getting older and consequently tend to have less time on their hands for lengthy games anyway – so to expect them to play through one game several times in an attempt to see different endings is perhaps unrealistic on the part of developers.

This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2013 as part of the site’s regular Swords and Zippers column on JRPGs. It has been edited and republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

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13 Reasons Why the Games Industry Needs to Stop Idolising Anita Sarkeesian

Although self-described feminist pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian has abandoned her Tropes vs Women in Video Games project, she hasn’t stopped exerting her influence over an apparently enthralled games industry.

Writing on May 19, 2017, James Batchelor of industry publication Gamesindustry.biz reported on Sarkeesian’s speech at the 2017 Nordic Game conference, an annual event that describes itself as “the leading games conference in Europe”.

Sarkeesian’s 45-minute speech was called “Diversity is Not a Checklist”, and, broadly speaking, was an exhortation to the industry to better represent the diversity of its audience through playable characters, and to tell stories that “recognise the systemic oppression” that women and “people of colour” face.

Not, in itself, a bad topic to explore — though as we’ll discuss in a moment, it disregards one of the key reasons many people turn to video games as entertainment and represents just a single perspective. The main problem is, as with much of Sarkeesian’s previous work, her lack of knowledge and awareness regarding the industry outside the most high-profile parts of the Western triple-A and “in-crowd” indie spheres undermines a great many of her arguments. And, unsurprisingly, Batchelor does not take the opportunity to analyse her remarks in his report, instead simply parroting them uncritically.

Enough is enough. It’s time the industry stopped hanging on Anita Sarkeesian’s every word — or at least started thinking about the things she is saying a little more critically, and researching her claims rather than accepting them at face value. Here are 13 reasons why.

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