PIXEL BURN – #igavania Mania, Black Me$a 4 Money

In which Matt posts his vids on here late again.
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Hello my name’s Matt and this is Pixel Burn, where I take a sarcastic look at some of the more important, interesting or irritating things that happened in the week’s gaming news.

Starting with the curious case of swordorwhip.com, a website that appeared this week featuring a pixel-art rendition of Koji “IGA” Igarashi, co-creator of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, as Dracula, main villain of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and other Castlevania games. Seated on a big throne and swirling a large wine glass, like Dracula in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Koji Igaracula, as I’m calling him, asks the curious visitor to choose between a sword, used by the protagonist Alucard in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, or a whip. the iconic weapon of the Castlevania series, and then tweet their answer with the hashtag #IGAvania.

Now I’m no Sherlock Holmes but…I think this has something to do with Castlevania.

Although certainly not officially. Koji Igarashi left Konami, who own Castlevania in every legal sense, in March of 2014 after twenty years of service, citing his dissatisfaction with being made to work on mobile and social games. Yes, that’s right. The co-creator of one of the most fondly-remembered games ever made, and one that lends part of its name to an entire genre – the Metroidvania genre – was made to work on the equivalent of Farmville and bloody Candy Crush.

And no doubt Kojima would’ve been stuck doing the same, if Konami had their way.

This site isn’t the first hint we’ve had of Igarashi hankering to make a new Castlevania-esque game however. Back in September 2014 these leaflets were distributed during an event at PAX for Mighty Number 9, a spiritual successor to the Megaman series from one of its co-creators, Keiji Inafune, that was funded on Kickstarter back in 2013.

Eager Castlevania fans soon discovered the symbols on this leaflet weren’t just there to look spooky and ominous, and when translated spelled out the words “What a wonderful night to have a KS.”

Which, as any Castlevania-playing fool knows, is a callback to Castlevania 2.

Incidentally these same symbols appear behind Igaracula’s throne on the swordorwhip.com website, as if the whole thing weren’t already blatant enough.

Alright, enough gormless fake speculation. Clearly Igarashi wants to make a new game in the vein of Castlevania – no pun intended – and will be launching a Kickstarter for it.

Probably on Monday if this message is anything to go by.

What’s most interesting to me is this makes him the second big-name Japanese developer to have done so, the first being Keiji Inafune, and in very similar circumstances.

Both developers wanted to create a new game in the style they’re best known for: Megaman for Inafune and Castlevania for Igarashi. Both were also treated like dirt by their parent companies after years of dedicated service: Inafune by Capcom and Igarashi by Konami. One successfully turned to Kickstarter to create a spiritual successor, the other is blatantly teasing as such. Rather than celebrate this as Japanese developers embracing the potential of independent development however, the western press are instead still pushing the narrative that Japanese games are dead.

Even though Bloodborne, a new IP in a niche genre, sold over 1 million copies worldwide within a week and a half of launch.

Sure. Japanese games are dead. Whatever you say, western games media.

Now I have also been guilty of saying similar things myself in recent years. But there’s a world of a difference between saying Japanese games development was no longer the global powerhouse it used to be, and saying the era of powerful Japanese videogame designers is over. Like this little hitpiece in Wired did at the end of April.

The idea that a big Japanese developer like Igarashi, Inafune or even Kojima would stop making games because they’ve parted ways with their parent companies is patently ridiculous. Sure Kojima probably won’t be able to afford the voice of Kiefer Sutherland again, but saying he won’t be able to make games anymore because he won’t have a huge budget? Being a multi-platinum selling musician doesn’t stop Prince playing impromptu secret gigs in tiny London clubs. Guillermo Del Toro has made both big-budget blockbusters and independent films. So why should a smaller budget stop anyone? It’s certainly not stopped Inafune and it probably won’t stop Igarashi either.

Not with a legion of Castlevania fans out there hungry for more, even if Igarashi will have to file-off the metaphorical serial numbers to stop Konami shutting him down legally. Which I’m sure Konami would jump at the chance to do, given their previous treatment of him.

And let’s not forget Japan’s own small but growing indie game scene. Indie games do exist in Japan but they haven’t had the same local impact as they’ve had in the west, barring exceptions like Cave Story, La Mulana and Downwell. This could very well change however with the likes of Inafune and now Igarashi going the independent route via crowdfunding. More such big names going indie could help shine a brighter spotlight on the Japanese indie scene as a whole, as well as inspiring more Japanese developers to realise a place outside the traditional Japanese corporate model.

In the meantime we can at least anticipate a new game in the tradition of Castlevania Symphony of the Night.

Unless this is all a bait and switch for something in the style of another series Igarashi worked on.

Because a spiritual successor to Japanese dating sim Tokimeki Memorial would be fucking hilarious.

Staying on the topic of Kickstarters, I’d like to give a shoutout to Demons_Wrath616 on twitter who alerted me to the one for Starfighter Inc by Impeller Studios. A multiplayer PVP space combat sim in the vein of X-Wing, TIE Fighter and X-Wing vs TIE Fighter with none other than one of the X-Wing series’ original developers, David Wessman, on board.

You had me at TIE Fighter.

Unlike recent space-sim Kickstarter successes like Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen, Starfighter Inc is bearing full-tilt towards the space combat end of the space-sim spectrum, pitching itself as “World of Tanks meets Counterstrike in space.” So instead of worrying about where to deliver your cargo of tribbles, plotting a course on an interstellar map and getting jumped by Space animal rights activists along the way, you just hop into a cockpit, battle amongst the stars, then hop back out again.

Sure it’s lots of fun selling illegal drugs to the inhabitants of a remote mining colony on the arse-end of the universe, but sometimes…sometimes you just want to blow shit up. In space.

As with a lot of Kickstarters, Impeller have precious little to show at the moment besides various pieces of concept art, but are promising sixteen player dogfights with persistent ship customisation, player-run “mercenary corporations”, i.e. online clan support, and VR integration. The initial funding goal is $250,000 with stretch goals for things like player-designed missions, playable capital ships and a single-player campaign. The core of the game will however remain focused on PVP space combat.

Which is where some of my exuberance wanes, like the last rays of light from a dying star. Having grown-up playing single-player focused space-combat games, I can’t say I relish the idea of getting blown into a million pieces of flaming debris while some squeaky-voiced ten-year old calls me a gaylord.

Still, much like a fleet of warships descending upon a doomed planet, it’s good to see the inexorable resurgance of space-sims show no signs of being stopped anytime soon.

Meanwhile on Steam the Half Life 2 mod “Black Mesa”, a recreation of the original Half Life using the Half Life 2 engine, appeared on Steam Early access this week, available to buy for $20 yankee dollars or your regional equivalent.

Hang on, isn’t Black Mesa a free mod? Lemme just check.

Ah, it’s still there. And still available to downloa- wait a second, what’s this?

“The legacy release of Black Mesa is currently available free for download. The final release, via Steam, is under active development and available now under Early Access.”

Note their use of the word “Legacy” here, which has a specific connotations within the context of video games.

Legacy content is generally stuff that remains available for people to play but is no longer actively supported. Anything can be legacy content, from the humblest in-game item to the grandest multiplayer map. Or even, as is suggested here, an entire mod.

Well, 85% of one at least. You see the Black Mesa mod is still missing its recreation of Half Life’s notorious Xen levels, an alien realm of hair-tearing platform jumping that also happens to be where the end of the game is.

The Black Mesa mod team, who call themselves Crowbar Collective, promised these levels would eventually be added to the free mod, and most people were fine with that. We still had 75% of a remastered Half Life experience to enjoy, and enjoy it we did. Even those bits that were perhaps a bit TOO faithful to the original Half Life. By rebranding the original free mod as Legacy content however, Crowbar Collective are suggesting it’ll no longer be supported. Meaning no remastered Xen levels and thus no ending.

Which doesn’t jive with this statement Crowbar Collective made back in 2013, when they first announced Black Mesa would be coming to Steam as a retail product. Note here the bit about not dropping support for the free version, and the bit right after that about there being a completely new free version after a full release.

Now it could simply be the free version currently available will be replaced by this completely new free version they mentioned, hence them calling it a Legacy version. They’re not going to patch the old one, they’re just going to sweep it aside and replace it with a brand new free experience. Which is all cool and the gang!

But if that’s the case, why don’t they mention this in the developer FAQ on the Black Mesa early access page?

There’s plenty of information about what the paid version offers over the free one, such as an updated single player experience, multiplayer modes, fully integrated workshop support and custom modding tools. There is however no mention of any new free version, minus the aforementioned bells and whistles, that they promised back in 2013. Oh, and if you thought buying into early access would get you those missing Xen levels sooner then think again. The current early access version doesn’t have them either.

Now as you all know, I’m not against mod makers earning a living from their work. So when I first heard Black Mesa was going to become a full retail product with extra features, alongside the original free mod, I thought “great! It’s a nice way to reward the team for their frankly bloody good work, and you also get some exclusive features for your money. What’s bad about that?”

What we seem to have here however is a mod team pulling a classic bait and switch, reassuring everyone that the last part of the mod is still coming and then hitting them with a $20 mandatory paywall right at the last minute. Which may be good for your bottom line but is not a particularly good way to maintain community goodwill, especially in light of the recent paid mods fiasco.

I sincerely hope Crowbar Collective comes out with a statement clarifying the situation, even if it’s to confirm that there will not be any updates to the free version. Because I’d rather know for sure than let myself be strung along by the promise of an update to the free version that might never bloody come.

Although that would certainly influence any decision I make about whether to buy it or not. I want to support mod makers in a way that encourages more high-quality mods like Black Mesa, but I don’t want to reward dishonest business practices. And I expect you don’t either.

That’s all for this episode of Pixel Burn. If you still liked it then please let me know by clicking the appropriate button down below, and let your friends, family and Black Mesa research facility know as well. At the very least I hope you found it tolerable. Until next week, as always, you can go now.


About Matt

Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind bitscreed.com and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.