Spiritual Successors and Reclaiming Dormant IP

Non-Fungible Taylor Swift by Ben Thompson for Stratechery

Ben Thompson had a great free weekly article about Taylor Swift reclaiming her music by using her fans.

It’s not just Fearless, it’s Fearless (Taylor’s Version); which version do you think that Swift fans will choose to stream (which, after all, is where most of the residual value of Fearless lies)? That’s the part that Logan forgot: when it comes to a world of abundance the power that matters is demand, and demand is driven by fans of Swift, not lawyers for Big Machine or Scooter Braun or anyone else.

It’s easy to see how this plays out going forward: Swift probably doesn’t even have to remake another album; she has demonstrated the willingness and capability to remake her old records, and her fans will do the rest. It will behoove Shamrock Capital, the current owner of Swift’s masters, to buy-out Braun’s share of future upside and make a deal with Swift, because Swift, granted the power to go direct to fans and make her case, can in fact “change history, facts, and re-frame any story [she] want[s] to fit with any narrative [she] wish[es].”

I’ve never even listened to Fearless outside of its hit singles, but I already am anticipating Spark’s Fly (Taylor’s Version) and Red (Taylor’s Version), if those ever see the light of day.

Thompson’s analysis of Swift and Dave Chappelle taking back their work got me thinking about video games. Has gaming already had its reclamation boom? Can developers take back their original games when the publisher / rights holder seemingly does nothing with the IP? It seems far more convoluted for say Hideo Kojima to just retake Metal Gear Solid. Games often take a proverbial village to “raise.” While Kojima and Metal Gear Solid go hand-in-hand, legally, commercially, and in their development, Kojima is just one person from a team. Compared to music or comedy or stories, games have to be far more difficult to reclaim like Swift and Chappelle have done.

In light of the legal and developmental hurdles, devs have turned to Kickstarter and the like. There is a cry for a new Castlevania game and Konami seemingly won’t deliver one. So Koji Igarashi, the man who put the “vania” in Metroidvania launches a Kickstarter for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, earning $5+ million. Same for Mega Man through Mighty No. 9 and Banjo and Kazooie through Yooka-Laylee. These developers take fans of games and genres, reunite the team of old, and make a new game to satisfy fan demand and their own creative desires. The spiritual successor has become the means for reclaiming art/design/gameplay/characters for developers.

Game Pass is the Ultimate ‘Pile of Shame’

Maybe Your ‘Pile Of Shame’ Is A Problem – A Short-Sighted Take from Kotaku

Game Pass provides its subscribers access to hundreds of games.

Games that they don’t own. Games they will never have time to play all of. Games that come and go as contracts and deals expire.

I suppose paying $15 a month for instant access to a game library is foolish then, by Luke Plunkett’s logic.

It doesn’t matter if that’s $[15] you were never going to spend, there’s a button being pressed inside our brains that says hey, this is a lot cheaper than it used to be, get it, because you’re saving and saving is smart. Not like those idiots who paid full price at release. [Subscribe to] it.

Right?

I know that’s a radical suggestion, but you’ll be OK. You’ll get through this. We live in a digital world. Those games are going to go on sale again, and they’re never going to run out of stock. Enjoy the games you’ve got and are still playing! 

Games exist to serve one purpose: to be played. If you’re buying them and not playing them, maybe you’re doing it wrong.

Maybe Your ‘Pile Of Shame’ Is A Problem – Kotaku

Maybe Your ‘Pile Of Shame’ Is A Problem by Luke Plunkett for Kotaku

A backlog shouldn’t need to be unpacked like this. If you’re still playing a game, and liking the game, and you already have another 1-2 sitting there unplayed, maybe…don’t go buying any more? I know that’s a radical suggestion, but you’ll be OK. You’ll get through this. We live in a digital world. Those games are going to go on sale again, and they’re never going to run out of stock. Enjoy the games you’ve got and are still playing!

Try saying that to PS3 and Vita owners in two months.

Games can be delisted. Stores are closed. Physical game prices rise and fall. Buying games digitally is just long-term rentals. Folks have to accept that with their digital purchases. 

Games exist to serve one purpose: to be played. If you’re buying them and not playing them, maybe you’re doing it wrong.

Games serve more than one purpose. Sure, playing them is at the heart of their existence, but one purpose? I guess Plunkett just writes about them for free like me? 

What a shallow take to kick off Kotaku’s month-long coverage about gaming backlogs.

UNBEATABLE – Kickstarter

UNBEATABLE – A game where music is illegal and you do crimes by D-CELL GAMES — Kickstarter: via Josh Scherr on Twitter

UNBEATABLE looks like a ton of fun & I backed the hell out of it, but I want to call out how the promo video exudes the same style & tone of the game itself; really effective & worth studying for anyone looking to promote their work!

Josh’s point on the tone of the trailer is what drew me in. Always down to see great examples of people’s work.

This trailer is bonkers good. 

I went from “I’ve never heard of this game” to “please come to console someday” in a beat. Excellent looking work. Also, killer tag line.

MiSTer FPGA Thoughts and Impressions – My Tool for Researching the Past

I have been writing about Analogue since the start of Max Frequency a year ago. For those unfamiliar with the company, Analogue makes specialized HD retro consoles that use chips called Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs). The gist is that FPGAs allow for hardware-level, cycle accurate emulation opposed to software-based emulation. These chips can be reprogrammed to emulate a plethora of game systems. They have rapidly become essential in the retro gaming space as a means to play and preserve games and their hardware. You can really see the lengths the community goes to in Part 3 of My Life In Gaming’s docuseries Analog Frontiers – Preservation and Replication.

Analogue is far from the only FPGA-based console manufacturer. I only mention them because I have been familiar with them and their work for the longest. Posts I’ve written about them are often my most engaged articles. The demand for their products is high and the relative scarcity of them only amplifies that.

Other contenders are things like the AVS, which plays NES and Famicom games in HD. Plenty of HD mods for consoles use FPGAs as well like the GBA Consolizer, PS1Digital, and both the upcoming N64Digital and Retrotink5x Pro. While those are not emulating the hardware, it shows both how diverse FPGA application is and how essential they have become in bringing retro hardware to the modern era.

There is one other name in the FPGA scene that stands tall, often stacked against Analogue products—the MiSTer.

MiSTer is an open-source, DIY FPGA computer. Based off a readily available FPGA board (the DE-10), folks can buy components and assemble their own or even buy fully assembled kits from vendors like MiSTer Addons. The key differentiating factor is that MiSTer is not limited to one console like most Analogue products. Being open-source, there are countless people working together and developing numerous consoles, known as “cores,” for the platform. It can play NES, Sega CD, GBA, Atari Lynx, Galaga, Capcom’s CPS2 arcade board, and so much more. It is the swiss-army knife of FPGA retro gaming. And I bought/assembled one.

I’ve been aware of MiSTer for a couple years. Once you dive down the rabbit hole that is FPGA-based emulation, it won’t take long to stumble across the project. I never bought in before for two primary reasons:

  • I do prefer using carts/discs when possible. There is something about the tangibility of media that makes it feel more real. I know this has been embedded in my brain by growing up in the final, physical-only years of gaming, but I can’t shake it.
  • The cost. The MiSTer is not cheap when you spec it out with the highly recommended upgrades like RAM and the I/O Board. All-in-all, I spent just over $300 to buy the components and assemble my own MiSTer.

I changed my tune recently thanks to my journey to digitize and preserve my own game collection. Specifically, having my entire SNES and GBA collections–save data and all–available at my fingertips has bridged the physical-first mentality I have had my entire life. With enough searching, you could find any game online, whether you own it or not. That’s been a fact of life for a long, long time. But digitizing my copies of my games has tricked my brain into being happy with that. I’m not out here downloading any and everything; I am keeping the access at my disposal focused.

But those are games I have modern ways to play. I can play GBA games on my GameCube via GBI, plus my Pocket is coming soon. My SNES collection is fully playable on my Super NT. I do own some games that I have no way to play or play on original hardware.

Last year, I bought a copy of Naughty Dog’s third game, Dream Zone (yes, Math Jam counts). This game came out for the Apple IIGS, the Amiga, and the Atari ST. A few weeks ago I reached out to an Apple hardware collector to try and find a way to collaborate on my Naughty Dog book. He has the hardware, I have the software. This person is quite busy and understandably and politely declined. One sentence in their email did hit me with a dose of reality though:

…and my IIGS didn’t power on last time I tried it.  :(

I own none of those early computers and buying them individually, per PC game/platform, is financially unfeasible for me. When factoring in that some of these machines are also 35+ years old and that I don’t have the skills to repair and upkeep these devices, it doesn’t make sense to invest in them for one or two games specifically. Time is not on my side.

But with MiSTer, I have access to incredibly accurate hardware emulated cores for the Apple II (Ski Crazed), the Amiga and the Atari ST (Dream Zone and Keef the Thief). Plus, the Genesis (Rings of Power). There is even ongoing work on a PS1 core! Maybe the 3DO (Way of the Warrior) can magically run on MiSTer someday, if the community and hardware power is there; I’m not sure of the technically capabilities or not. The MiSTer gives me an ability to accurately capture these games at high resolution! I can actually experience these games and help visually preserve them for my book. This gives me value far beyond a new way to play Game Boy games. The MiSTer becomes a tool for my own research.

Assembling and setting up my own MiSTer was relatively simple. I used two key tutorials for the set up process and turned to the MiSTer Discord for help with some odds and ends. I do have a couple suggestions, if you are setting up your own and need some help.

When it is all set up, the MiSTer is slick beyond belief. I can run simultaneous output to my monitor and CRT, with a capture card in between. Thanks to my wide assortment of controllers, I can use USB-C cables and play SNES/GBA games with actual SNES controllers. I even bought the 8BitDo Arcade Stick for sweet, sweet arcade games and tate supported games (both on MiSTer and Switch).

I have had my eye on MiSTer for some time and finally found enough justification beyond “I want that” to bite the bullet. It’s a powerful retro-focused system and tool with insanely talented people behind its development. I am simply reaping the benefits. I cannot wait to see it side-by-side with the Pocket, which promises multiple core support in your hands with a technically impressive screen. MiSTer has a solid foundation and a bright future. It is actively breathing new life into old games and making them more accessible than ever before.