SimCity 2000, Part XI: Bread and circuses

We left the SimCity of Hell several months ago, but it is not forgotten.  Heaven will not allow the crimes of its mayor to go unpunished.  Or something.  Anyway, please enjoy Part XI of this formerly dormant quasi-LP series.

One way you can tell that life has returned to normal after a disaster is that people start to complain about relatively minor things again.  Going by that metric, Hell has definitely recovered from its earthquake quickly.  Shortly after the quake that killed thousands and the quick rebuilding, the citizens begin griping about not having enough fun things to do.

Although they’re demanding a marina, really any of the entertainment options will do to sate their desires.  The more expensive and bigger options naturally make the people happier and let them distract themselves from the fact that they’re apparently sitting on top of a fault line and right next to a nuclear power plant.  Since that’s the case currently, the mayor decides to build the biggest and best entertainment venue possible: a stadium.

Stadiums take up a 4×4 tile space, though, so it can be hard to find a place for them without bulldozing entire city blocks.  Instead of doing that, let’s create more space by moving some earth around.

The terrain-editing options cost money to use (think of it like hiring a crew to haul earth around) but they’re not really too expensive considering their value in creating more space to build on.  In this case, let’s lower some terrain at the top of a still-undeveloped hill.  This will make for a great spot for the stadium.

Lowering this terrain ended up causing the destruction of a few buildings and a road, but that’s a small price to pay.  That’s how the mayor feels, anyway.  And since the city has the power of eminent domain, it can pretty much do whatever it wants as far as demolishing existing buildings goes.  (In real life eminent domain is a lot more complicated and requires the government to fairly compensate the owners of the land being taken if it turns out that the government has the power to use the land in the first place, but in Hell, eminent domain is an absolute privilege.  Just like sovereign immunity!)

Anyway, let’s just build the damn stadium already.

Before you can build, though, you’ll have to pick the sport played at the stadium and the name of the home team.  As far as I can tell, these options are purely cosmetic, so pick your favorite sport, as long as your favorite sport is baseball, soccer, football, rugby, or cricket (though if cricket is your favorite sport you’d probably be just as happy watching grass grow.)  Since I’m a god damn American, though, we’re going with football.  And since there’s already a soccer option in place, we know that this is American football.*

I didn’t name this team the Llamas, by the way – that was the game’s suggestion.  At Maxis in the 90s they had an obsession with llamas and related animals like alpacas for some reason.  We may as well go with it.

Hell yeah.  Doesn’t that look majestic?  The mayor is pretty pleased with the whole arrangement and looks forward to the increased business that the stadium will bring from out of town.  (He doesn’t care about the increased traffic, or the increased crime around the stadium, or even about the cost of building it – it’s the taxpayers’ money, after all, and the mayor doesn’t live in the city anyway.)

The mayor, now high on the feeling of building massive prestige projects, orders the building of a university hospital downtown.  Not for the purpose of helping his citizens – though it will help raise life expectancy in Hell – but just to brag to other mayors that his city has a university with its own hospital.

The Llamas really suck, by the way.  Maybe it’s just because it’s their first year.  Hopefully they start to gel better next season.

Two years pass, and the Llamas don’t get any better.  Here’s some better news, though – the average intelligence of Hell’s citizens has risen!  A whole lot, in fact, from 76 to 87.  87 still isn’t great, but it’s a hell of a lot better than it was thanks to the building of the university and a few libraries.  People are living longer lives as well, though pollution is still a serious problem.

Maybe things are looking up for Hell!

Or not.

Another plane falls out of the sky in 2050, and it decides to fall in almost the worst possible place – right next to the nuclear power plant.  Every fire truck in the city is lined up in defense of the plant before the plane even hits the ground.

Thankfully, the crash only takes out a few pieces of road and rail (along with every person on board, presumably.)  The fire is easily put out.  But if the plane had crashed a few tiles to the southwest, it could have caused an enormous disaster.  Nobody is sure whether the plant can withstand a fire without causing a meltdown, but it would be better to not have to find out.

Despite the danger posed by the nuclear plant and the fact that it was nearly involved in an accident that could have caused a catastrophic meltdown, people keep moving to Hell, which now contains over 67,000 souls.  Maybe it’s the low property tax.

* Coincidentally, both the pro and college football seasons just started here in the States.  I hope my alma mater doesn’t choke like they have the previous few years.

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A review of Dreaming Sarah (PC)

Once again, I’m late to the party.  I came across Dreaming Sarah, an exploration platformer made by the independent developer Asteristic Game Studio, just recently, despite the fact that the game itself was released in 2015.  At first I thought it was related somehow to Dreaming Mary, another independent game that came out a few years ago, but it’s really not.*  In fact, the developer says straight up that his game was directly influenced by Yume Nikki, a Japanese RPG Maker game in which you control a girl who is exploring her dreams.  Yume Nikki has influenced a ton of games, so that isn’t a big surprise.  The influence is especially evident in Dreaming Sarah, though.  You play as silent protagonist Sarah, a blue-ponytailed girl who mysteriously awakens in a field in the middle of a strange forest.  Although this is a platformer, Sarah cannot punch or kick or stab anything – there’s no combat in the game, in fact.  Her only goal is to break out of her dream and into the real world, where she’s trapped in a coma.  You might expect this fact to be concealed until the end of the game, but the developer throws it out there right in the first line of its description, so I guess it’s not meant to be a secret.

Fortunately, Sarah can discover various items throughout her dream world that give her new abilities and that unlock new areas of her dream world.  Most of these items are hidden in worlds other than the initial forest area, worlds that are often far more bizarre and surreal than the forest.  Sarah also runs into other people and beings, residents of her dream worlds, who sometimes have helpful advice or a new item to offer.

I hate these fucking eyes, really I do.  They don’t do anything; they’re just creepy.

As Sarah unlocks new areas in her dream world, the game drops hints about what might have happened to her to cause her coma.  I should note that, even though I wouldn’t exactly call Dreaming Sarah a horror game, it does contain some unsettling imagery.  Even more unsettling that the above eyeballs staring right at you.  Yes, really.  I won’t spoil it for you, though.

Dreaming Sarah also contains a few puzzles.  Some of them are quite easy, but a few require you to take cues from your environment that may lead you to a new item. The puzzles are all doable, and none of them are really difficult at all, but they do require the use of dream logic – Sarah is exploring her dreams, after all, so this is fitting.

Even in my dreams, I get carded.

There’s not actually much more I can say about Dreaming Sarah without spoiling parts of it.  I really like the pixel art and the general style of the game.  Special mention has to be made of the background music, which is made by one Anthony Septim (who gets top billing in the game, right after the initial title screen for some reason.)  Every track fits the changing environments in Sarah’s dream world and adds to the mood.  Just like the background music in Yume Nikki, it’s simple but effective.  I’ll be following Septim from now on, along with Garoad, the guy who wrote the soundtrack to VA-11 HALL-A.

I’ll also be following Asteristic Game Studio.  I’m not going to say Dreaming Sarah was amazing.  It was about two hours long as I played it, and despite the variety of strange dream worlds it all felt a little lacking at the end, as though it could have been something more.  In fact, it’s kind of hard for me to say the six dollar price tag is justified.  I enjoyed the game, but I also bought it during a sale, and it might be worth seeking Sarah out on sale too if you’re interested in it.

Then again, two Big Macs cost more than six dollars, and I’d say that playing Dreaming Sarah is at least better than eating two Big Macs (and playing Dreaming Sarah won’t devastate your colon, either.)  So maybe the value of the game is entirely relative.  But I do see a lot of potential here, and I hope this developer follows Dreaming Sarah up with something even better and more fully realized. 𒀭

* Dreaming Mary is well worth playing, though it’s much more of a nightmarish horror game in the vein of something like Blank Dream.  Unlike Dreaming Sarah, it’s also free, so if the wallet is light at the moment and you can’t spare even a dollar (or six dollars) for a game then it’s a good option.  The same is true of Yume Nikki.  And Blank Dream, which I reviewed here.  In fact, you’d better just play all of them.

The myth of the entitled gamer

My apologies for the second two-month break in a row. Aside from finally finishing NieR: Automata (which I might have a few things to say about soon) I haven’t been doing very much game-related at all since writing that review of Persona 5. My focus was primarily on my duties at work, and it’s lately been on my search for a new job following the recent completion of my one-year contract. Anyone who’s found themselves in this kind of spot can probably relate.

I’d rather be on the Bunker with all the cute android girls than here, but what can you do.

Still, I have to keep myself sane, and so I have to take some time out of the day to write. And today I feel like writing about a prevalent concept in game journalism and criticism that I find completely maddening – fan entitlement, or the idea that fans of certain series feel unduly entitled to have things done “their way”. This is a very interesting concept to me, especially since it seems to crop up more in the world of PC and video game criticism than anywhere else. It’s also a concept that, as you can tell from the title of this piece, I find to be utter bullshit.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, refer to this piece written by Jim Sterling, a very well-known, ridiculously dressed game reviewer who produces several popular review series on Youtube. Sterling is best known for his legal run-ins with garbage game developer Digital Homicide, but he also wrote the above article for Destructoid several years ago in which he claims that hardcore fans were “ruining” newly announced titles in long-running franchises. The following excerpt sums up his position well:

It’s the sheer selfishness of these so-called “fans” that really irritates me. They don’t care about other fans, or even the developers. They don’t give a shit that if a developer catered exactly to them, that they could risk making a game with limited appeal and lose money. You’d think a fan would be happy to see a game in their favorite series make some money, but apparently not. The more hardcore the fans, the less happy they seem to be.

We have all seen the sort of hardcore fanboy/fangirl that Sterling seems to be writing about here. The type that demands that each and every aspect of the upcoming game in his favorite series be absolutely faithful to his vision of what makes said series special. And naturally, each hardcore fan of this type might have a slightly different vision for the series. However, the picture Sterling paints here of the legion of lunatic fans threatening to ruin good game series with their obsessive complaining leads us to ask three questions:

1) How many of these sorts of fans are there?

2) Are their complaints based on obsessions over minor aspects of the series, or are they grounded in reasonable concerns?

3) Do the above two questions even matter?

It’s impossible to accurately answer the first question because one man’s deranged fan is another man’s standard consumer. One subset of fans might really care about a game’s artistic style and might be irked when that style changes, for example, while a second might only care about whether the gameplay is fun and well-balanced, and a third might really be bothered by a subpar soundtrack. Which of these sorts of fans are foaming-at-the-mouth lunatics, and which are perfectly sane and reasonable people?

The second question ties into the first. Take all of the above hypothetical subsets of fans, dump them into the same Discord server or subreddit and they may well tear each other apart, because each of those fans is either obsessing over a minor aspect of the game or is expressing legitimate concerns about the game’s quality depending upon their points of view. Most people will probably agree that the sound Sonic the Hedgehog makes when he jumps doesn’t really matter when considering the overall quality of a Sonic game, but the fact that Sonic CD used a different jumping sound effect from the classic Sonic games of the Genesis/Megadrive bothered at least a few fans enough that they felt they had to bring it up. To most of us, Sonic’s jump sound is no big deal; to them, it is. Are their concerns automatically invalid because they’re not shared by a majority or even a significant minority of fans?

Sonic CD does have a weird jumping sound effect.

The most critical of these questions, however, is the third, and my answer to it is an emphatic no. Whatever the ratio of sane and rational to insane and lunatic fans is in any given fandom, wherever you choose to draw that line, it simply doesn’t matter because potential buyers of games cannot possibly have an entitled attitude regarding those games. The concept of gamer entitlement, and more broadly of fan entitlement, is completely bunk.

Let’s get technical about this. According to Merriam-Webster, entitlement is “a belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges.” And a privilege is “a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor.”

When you buy a PC or video game, are you expecting to be granted a privilege; that is, a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor? No. Almost by definition, a privilege is given for free or for a nominal sum, or as an additional part of an exchange (for example, I contract to work for you, you contract to pay me a salary, and I receive the added privilege of using your company’s parking lot.) When you buy a game at retail price, however, you’re paying more than a nominal sum for a product that you hope will be worth the price in terms of the enjoyment you derive from it. It’s an equal exchange: your hard-earned money for the work of the game’s developers. Under the circumstances, therefore, neither side is entitled to anything before the exchange is initiated: you aren’t entitled to a game unless you pay for it, and a game’s developers and publishers aren’t entitled to your money unless they can convince you that their game is worth buying. The same principle naturally applies to any kind of product, whether it’s a work of art or entertainment or otherwise.

Tharja from Fire Emblem: Awakening. I’m not posting the screen in question because it’s NSFW depending on your job’s tolerance for honestly pretty tame images of anime girls in bikinis.

So when some fans of the Fire Emblem series kvetched about Nintendo censoring one screen in one of the DLC missions in Fire Emblem: Awakening featuring Tharja, the fan favorite creepy goth mage girl, bending over in a swimsuit in the North American release of the game, was that an instance of fan entitlement? If the DLC had been provided as a gift to players, you could perhaps argue that it was, but it wasn’t – we had to pay for that mission. You might think the complaint about this very minor instance of censorship was silly, but it was not an instance of entitlement if those fans were not going to buy the DLC otherwise.*

The next time someone makes an argument about fans acting “entitled” and being “whiny”, then, think about whether that’s really the case. The truly insanely hardcore fan with the long list of extremely specific demands is relatively rare – rare enough that such people seem to be pretty much ignored by developers and even mocked by their fellow fans. But one can’t blame fans for having certain expectations of their series they follow. When Jim Sterling wrote that “[y]ou’d think a fan would be happy to see a game in their favorite series make some money” he missed the mark completely – when developers make conscious decisions to change their series to appeal to wider audiences, they necessarily run the risk of alienating their established fanbases. As in any business, the developers are taking a calculated risk that may or may not pay off, and they can’t really complain if they lose old fans as a result – because they were never entitled to those fans in the first place. 𒀭

 

* By the way, Awakening is a great game that I highly recommend if you have a 3DS. Aside from the couple of missions that are specifically designed to provide you with tons of gold and EXP, though, the DLC content isn’t vital to the experience. Especially not if you’re playing the beach DLC just to see Tharja’s butt, because you’ll be greatly disappointed if you’re playing a North American or European copy of the game, which you probably are. If you’re looking for that kind of material, just go to Pixiv and plug サーリャ into the search bar (but not while you’re at work – I can’t stress that point enough.)

A review of Persona 5 (or, why I’ve been away for the past two months)

For those wondering why I’ve been neglecting my writing duties lately, here’s the reason. Also, I don’t have any duty to write here; it’s not like I’m on a schedule or have a Patreon account set up or anything like that. If you, dear reader, want to pay me to write here or anywhere else for that matter, send me an email and we can make some arrangements.

Anyway, my life has been fully occupied between working and playing Persona 5 since I got my preorder on April 4. It’s honestly a stupid idea to write a review of Persona 5 – if you’re reading this, you already know it’s good, and you probably know that I loved it. The game has been showered with praise from every corner. This is exactly the reason why I’m not going to bother writing a review of NieR: Automata – nobody needs it. But since life itself is ultimately futile and pointless, why not throw one more review onto the pile?

Persona 5 is without a doubt my favorite out of the Persona games, not counting Persona and the two Persona 2 titles that I didn’t play aside from the first ten hours of Innocent Sin.* While I loved Persona 3 and 4 and really, extremely loved Persona 4 Golden, Persona 5 is better than all of them in every way. If I bothered to rate games I’d have to give this one a 10/10 and reassign P4 Golden to 9.9/10 or something. See, though, this is one of the reasons why I don’t give out ratings to games. People can accuse me of not being reader-friendly on this site, but nobody can accuse me of being inconsistent.

If you’ve been in solitary confinement or a monastery without internet access for the last few months, here’s the basic plot to Persona 5: your high school-aged silent protagonist character tries to help a woman escape from a creepy, gropy drunk guy. However, protagonist ends up accidentally injuring the assaulter in the process. It turns out that Drunky is a man with influence and has clout with local police because you are unjustly convicted of assault and placed on probation, and for some reason you’re forced to move from your small town to a seedy-looking Tokyo neighborhood as a condition of your probation. Your new guardian sets you up in the attic of the coffee shop he runs and warns you not to screw up or else you’ll be sent to serve the rest of your probation in juvenile hall. Then all the typical Persona stuff happens (go to the Velvet Room, learn about impending disaster, enter a dream world where you fight monsters while also attending high school during the day, date a bunch of cute girls at the same time, etc.)

Makoto is best girl, just in case you were wondering.

I don’t want to spoil too much about Persona 5, because it’s worth playing completely 100% blind. However, if you don’t mind minor spoilers, proceed below to see my reasons, in no real order, why I think this game is better than the preceding Persona games and why you might considering playing it even if you didn’t like P3 or P4.

– A more interesting story

This one is admittedly subjective, but I felt more engaged by the plot of Persona 5 than those of 3 and 4. The Phantom Thieves administering justice to wrongdoers by stealing their evil desires and forcing them to confess their crimes was great fun to watch. And the theme of abuse of power than ran through the game made it more compelling.

– A better soundtrack

Another subjective point, but this is the best Persona soundtrack yet. It’s a lot heavier on the jazz with some rock and 70s funk/RnB (?) mixed in, and I just prefer that to the styles of music used in 3 and 4. I never once got tired of “Last Surprise”, the normal battle theme that plays over 1,000 times every playthrough, even though I should have. Meanwhile I never want to hear “BABY BABY BABY BABY BABY BABY BABY” ever again.

I still really like “Time to Make History” though.

– Date your fucking teacher

I am completely serious

In Persona 3 and 4, the protagonists got to try dating their choice of a whole set of various classmates (including a robot girl in Persona 3 FES.) In Persona 5, the protagonist can also date several of his classmates, but he can also start a romantic relationship with his homeroom teacher. Yes, this is really an option they included in the game. Ms. Kawakami seems to be only about 10 or 12 years older than the protagonist, but since the protagonist is 16, that’s a pretty serious age gap. I don’t know if Japanese consent laws are that different from American ones, but I imagine she’d be in trouble with the law or at the very least lose her job if anyone ever found out about her relationship with a student.**

The protagonist can also charm his way into a relationship with a few other adult women in Persona 5, including a doctor, a fortune teller, and an alcoholic journalist. I don’t know if all of the above makes P5 better than 3 or 4, but it does make it more interesting, doesn’t it?

– It’s basically Shin Megami Tensei V

Every mainline SMT game takes place in Tokyo. So does Persona 5. P5 also contains demon negotiation like those games – unlike P3 and P4, which featured bizarre shadow monsters as enemies, P5 lets you fight the actual SMT demons and recruit them when you hit their weakness or crit them, complete with the weird human/demon conversations you’ve come to expect from those games. It’s more or less Shin Megami Tensei V disguised as a Persona game. All it’s missing is the Law/Chaos alignment system.

Okay, this one is a real stretch. It seems like the actual Shin Megami Tensei V is coming out on the Switch, though it hasn’t been officially titled yet. My point is that Persona 5 feels a lot more like a mainline SMT game than any other spinoff in the series I’ve played, and I think that’s a good thing.

Those are all the spoilers you’re getting. If you haven’t played Persona 5, for God’s sake go and play it. Unless you really hate turn-based JRPGs. In which case what the hell are you doing reading this site?

* Persona 2: Innocent Sin isn’t bad by any means, but I found that it was really hard to get used to the wonky battle setup and weird fusion system after playing P3 and P4. I was also attending school at the time, so my attention was already mostly on my studies. I know people who swear by Persona 2, though, so I might still return to it someday.

** There is absolutely no way in hell Atlus would put this particular social link in the game if the protagonist and Kawakami’s genders were reversed. Not that I advocate this kind of relationship no matter what the particular gender setup happens to be, but the double standard is still worth mentioning.

First impressions of Persona 5 (it’s good)

Unless you’re a student who’s had spring break off last week or this week, or you’re unemployed, or your job is streaming games on Twitch, chances aren’t you haven’t gotten much farther than I have in Persona 5, which was released in NA and EU on April 4. Unfortunately I have a regular job and can’t live as the idle rich do because I am mainly broke. However, I was not so broke that I couldn’t pay for Persona 5, which I’d been anticipating since finishing Persona 4 forever ago. And after finishing the first stage of the game, I can already say that the game was worth the $60 price tag.

Shin Megami Tensei is one of my favorite game series – way more of a favorite than the more popular Final Fantasy franchise, which I haven’t really been interested in at all since Final Fantasy X came out 16 years ago.* But that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily going to love any game that’s SMT or an SMT spinoff. Happily though Persona 5 so far is even better than Persona 3 and Persona 4, which were already excellent games. One of the reasons I think I like P5 more than P3 and P4 is that while it’s still definitely a Persona game (high school protagonist & co. fighting shadow creatures in a dream world to change the real world for the better, social links, dating) it also adopts some aspects of the main SMT line of games. This time, the shadows you fight aren’t just formless blobs or bizarre creatures as they are in P3/4, but rather the actual demons of the SMT universe. Just as in SMT1/2/3/4/4A/Strange Journey, the protagonist can negotiate with these shadows/demons if he and his friends manage to hit all their weaknesses, and said demons can be recruited to become personas.

This is a welcome development. I love both the main line of Shin Megami Tensei games and the SMT-spinoff Persona series and take no position in the stupid little war between hardcore fans of each side that you can sometimes witness on 4chan and Reddit. Now that Persona 5 is slightly closer to the main SMT series, maybe those two sides can make peace and both enjoy this game. Well, probably not. They’ll still find something to fight about.

The war will continue forever

Another interesting aspect of Persona 5 is its darker, more realistic feel. Persona 4 was a lighthearted anime Scooby Doo RPG, and while Persona 3 was sort of dark, it also felt a lot heavier on the science fiction and fantasy elements with the evokers, the Midnight Hour, Tartarus, and robot girl/weapon Aigis. While P5 obviously has a similar sci-fi/fantasy aspect to it, the central story seems to be a lot more realistic. If you’re going to play this game, prepare to get kicked in the gut throughout the prologue, because the protagonist gets an extremely raw deal. Instead of being sent off to a nice town in the countryside or a dorm full of supernaturally gifted students, you’re placed on probation by a court for assault and/or battery (for being an upstanding citizen and preventing a sexual assault; the assailant pulls some strings and gets you convicted on a bullshit charge) and have to live in the attic of a coffee shop in a Tokyo suburb owned by a surly guy who agreed to take you in for a while because your parents couldn’t be bothered to deal with you. Thanks Mom and Dad, you’re really great.†

Official corruption and abuse of power seem to be central themes of Persona 5, and you’re naturally in a position to fight both with your Persona-using abilities. And of course the old mysterious man Igor will summon you once again to the Velvet Room to help you refine these abilities. In keeping with the theme, the Velvet Room is now a prison, the protagonist is a prisoner in a cell facing Igor, and Igor is now assisted by twin prison wardens Caroline and Justine, who are little kids dressed like French gendarmes. (Maybe Elizabeth and Margaret’s nieces?)

I haven’t met her yet in the game but I already know who my waifu is going to be in this game. Look at her glasses and giant headphones she’s a nerd just like me!!!  god I’m so lonely.

The bottom line is that you should play Persona 5 if the first 15 hours are any indication, and I’ve never known an SMT game to suddenly get shitty in the middle or near the end. I got the nice steelbook case with my preorder as well, but I don’t know whether any of those are available right now. I didn’t splurge on the expensive “Steal Your Heart” deluxe box but I hear it’s pretty great if you can get your hands on it at this point and if money is no object.

* My opinion might be uninformed here because I gave up on the series after I played part of Final Fantasy XIII and hated it.  Maybe XV is really amazing but I won’t be finding out anytime soon, at least not until I finish P5 and NieR: Automata.

† Come to think of it, the protagonist’s parents are always absent in these games, aren’t they? P3’s protagonist was an orphan, and P4’s protagonist was sent off to the countryside for a year because his parents were working overseas. This is the only time that the protagonist’s parents seem like they’re actively being shitty to their kid, though their actions might be better explained later in the game.

Atlus places severe restrictions on Persona 5 streaming and recording; the internet loses its collective shit

Yesterday, on April 4, Japanese game developer and publisher Atlus finally released Persona 5 in North America after two and a half years of delays. This much anticipated release came along with an announcement from Atlus forbidding the public display through either posted videos or live streams of spoilers, boss battles, or of any part of the game beyond the in-game date of July 7 (about three months from the game’s starting date, and probably about a third of the way through the story.) Both Youtube and Twitch are widely said to be on board with this policy, so if that’s true, punishments for rule-breakers will presumably get doled out in the form of bans.

Atlus’ policy is now causing much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the internet among people who had been looking forward to stream or to watch streams of Persona 5. This decision doesn’t affect me personally – I don’t stream because I’m not any good at games and I can’t add interesting enough commentary to make it worth anyone’s while to watch. And I was not planning to watch a stream of a game that I’m already playing myself. But I do find the drama surrounding Atlus’ decision really interesting. A lot of people are angry at Atlus, and some of them have been arguing that Atlus shouldn’t be able to prevent the streaming of Persona 5. The term “fair use” has been thrown around a lot.

So first of all – does Atlus have the law on their side in this case? The answer is almost certainly yes, at least according to US federal copyright law. Atlus holds the copyright to Persona 5, and outside of certain exceptions it can freely enforce that copyright to prevent others from using its own work to create their own public performances.  But what about fair use? Fair use is an exception to the enforcement of copyright that applies to the use of existing works by a non-copyright holder for limited purposes. The four factors considered by courts to determine whether a work or performance is covered by fair use are listed in Section 107 of the Copyright Act:

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

There seems to be no case law establishing any kind of precedent to apply to Let’s Play videos or streams, but we can at least apply the plain language of Section 107. When we do that, we find that the law is very much in the favor of Atlus here. The second and third factors weigh heavily in Atlus’ favor. (2) deals with the amount of creativity that went into the original work, which in the case of a video game, especially one as long, complex, and unique as Persona 5, is extremely high. Let’s Play videos and streams tend to run through entire games, so the same goes for (3). And the first factor weighs in Atlus’ favor if the video or stream is monetized through ad revenue or if the streamer is using his playthrough of Persona 5 in part as a way to attract paid subscribers and to gather donations.

The only factor that’s not clearly in Atlus’ favor is the fourth one. It’s not obvious that a heavily streamed game will sell fewer copies than a game that isn’t widely streamed, all other things being equal. In fact, you could just as easily argue that a heavily streamed game will attract more interest and result in higher sales. NieR: Automata was streamed like crazy and that game broke a million sales just over a month after its release. Obviously those streams didn’t have too terrible of an effect on the game’s sales. (Then again, maybe the exposure of cute android girl protagonist 2B’s butt had something to do with the high sales too.)

In any case, after reading Section 107, I would bet money that almost any court applying this test would find in favor of the copyright holder and would not find fair use, especially if the use of the copyrighted material is for commercial purposes. And while a Let’s Play video series or a stream might qualify as a derivative work under US copyright law, that derivative work has to be authorized by the original copyright holder, in this case Atlus. And Atlus is clearly not interested in authorizing shit right now.

Going to federal court also costs $$$$$$$$$

Atlus very likely has the law on its side. But even so, was the severe restriction on recording and streaming Persona 5 a wise move? And was it wise to wait until the day of the game’s release to make that announcement? And was it wise to pretend that the stream restrictions are about avoiding spoilers, when they’re obviously about Atlus trying to sell more copies out of a fear that streaming would hurt their sales?

Will Atlus end up pissing away the goodwill it’s gained over the years in exchange for a possible short-term boost in sales?  That’s a risk for Atlus to take if they choose, but I’d hate to see the company go down the same “fuck the consumers” path that certain other developers and publishers have, because Atlus makes games that I like. I’m already five hours into Persona 5 and it’s really good so far. If P5 keeps up the pace throughout I’d recommend it just as much as I would P3 and P4 to anyone, provided they don’t hate turn-based RPGs or games that are too anime.

The way things are going, though, there might very well be a test case in federal courts about recording or streaming games online some day soon. And maybe that test case will involve Persona 5.* That’s serious publicity for the game, but probably not the kind Atlus intended. Even if the law is on their side, good sense might not be.

*Okay, probably not.  But it sounds good, doesn’t it?  Atlus v. Weeb Twitch Streamer et al.  It could be a landmark case.

SimCity 2000, Part X: The Nuclear Option

Sometimes – just on rare occasions – the Courier, Hell’s terrible newspaper, gets a story right.  In this case, that story had to do with Hell’s very first power plant.

The Courier is referring here to the two solar plants powering the upper-class southwestern district of the city, but this story also acted as a harbinger of something else that is soon to come.

One morning in November 2038, not a year after that headline, an earthquake – the first earthquake in the 138 years that the city has existed – shook Hell.  Several buildings, along with a section of highway, were immediately destroyed, among them the central coal plant that powered a large part of the city.  A massive fire started in downtown Hell after the coal plant exploded.

Looking at this fire, you might think downtown is fucked.  That fire is going to spread all over the place… right?

Wrong.  Fires are easy to take care of in SimCity 2000.  By pausing the game, you can destroy all the properties, roads, power lines, trees and other things immediately surrounding the fire without worrying about its spreading.  Once that’s done, the fire will have nowhere to spread and the firefighter units can safely contain and put out the blaze.  This is a good time to use the zone-only view so you can try to avoid specialty buildings and services as much as possible.

Do you think it’s cheap to pause the game to contain the fires?  Feel free to think that, but the makers put that capability in the game, and you don’t have to enter a cheat code to do it (and there are several cheat codes in SimCity that make the game a whole lot easier.)  So I don’t consider this cheating.  Maybe it’s a bit cheap, but then again maybe it’s cheap of the game to spring an earthquake on me after 138 years of no earthquakes.

In any case, this earthquake has definitely come with a cost.  Undoubtedly a human cost, because at least a few buildings went down around the city, and also an economic cost.

The Courier again amazingly gets something right when it reports that a dam was damaged in the quake – a few were taken out in the initial quake and another one was destroyed by fire.  The paper somehow neglects to mention that the massive fucking coal plant in the middle of town exploded, however.

At least the mayor said he didn’t like the fact that the earthquake happened.  He may be a huge dick, but he’s not such a dick that he’ll openly revel in his people’s misery.  Well, not yet, anyway.

A large part of the city is now without power as a result of the coal plant’s destruction.  We’ll have to replace it right away to avoid the abandonment of the unpowered sections of the city and a massive drop in population.

Unlike in 1900, we have a lot of power generation options now.  We’re only missing one, in fact – it has yet to be developed – but it’s something of a moot point because we don’t actually need that much power yet anyway.  Still, now might be a good time, since the city has a steady surplus coming in every year, to upgrade our power plant from coal.

What to pick?  Oil power isn’t much of an upgrade, although it is less polluting than coal.  Gas and solar power are too weak.  Wind power can be good for powering small areas independently, but it would take an assload of wind turbines to generate the kind of power we need.  More dams are an option, but we’d need to place a lot of waterfalls for that, and that can get expensive.  And microwave power, the newest form of energy, is just a hair too expensive to build.  True, we could wait a month, but it’s still overkill as far as power provided goes.

So what’s left?

Oh yes.  Nuclear power.  The game is sort of lying here – nuclear isn’t actually all that efficient if you look at megawatt per dollar, but it is very clean.  And the 500 Mw generated by the plant will be nice.  However, there is the possibility – not a likely one, but it exists nonetheless – that the plant will go Chernobyl and turn Hell into an actual hell of fire and radiation.

The decision is naturally up to the mayor.  And the mayor has an emergency bunker and a contingency plan borrowed from Dr. Strangelove just in case the worst occurs.  But really, what are the chances of that?  Nuclear plants have plenty of measures to prevent meltdowns, right?

The mayor makes an executive decision: build that nuclear plant.  Right in the heart of downtown where the old coal plant was, because there really isn’t any other good place for it at the moment.

However, once the word starts to go around that the city authorities are about to build a nuclear plant, a large contingent of citizens gather in the devastated ward and camp out in tents to protest the plan and to prevent it from occurring.  The engineers and laborers sent out to build the plant are ordered by the mayor to back down – for the time being.

When a certain facility that people don’t like – like a nuclear power plant – is planned to be built near a residential area, they can prevent the player from placing it.  (The same is true of water treatment plants, which apparently spew out a lot of pollutants.)  However, they can’t prevent the placement of the facility every single time the player attempts to build it.  The mayor waits until the protesters go home, then he sends his workers out again to build the nuclear plant.  And this time they build it.

Now it’s time to reconnect the western half of the city to the power grid.  The nuclear plant will both produce more energy and pollute much less than the coal plant did.  There is the whole meltdown thing, but again… not that likely, really.

Once the rubble is cleared and the city is full powered again, we can survey the damage.  The city’s population dropped by about 5,000 as a result of the earthquake, both from buildings being destroyed during the quake and from people moving out of unpowered zones afterward.

Hell’s future at this point is uncertain.  With the mayor at the helm, though… no.  There’s still absolutely no certainty about the future.