This Week in Games - The Uncomfortable Crunch

by Heidi Kemps,

Hey folks! It's another beautiful week of games for everyone! It's a bit of a slow news week as hype for Red Dead Redemption 2 reaches a fever pitch. I'm still plugging away at my Soul Calibur VI review, which has experienced some minor setbacks due to ongoing medical woes. Or maybe that's an excuse and I've actually spent countless hours screwing around with Create-A-Soul mode. Or maybe… it's a little of both!

Speaking of which, have you all seen some of the really good character edits people have been making? Even though the items seem a bit limited (I'm sure some are coming as DLC), the amount of amazing character creations is truly something to behold. There's also been some top-tier trolling with things like THE CUBE.

I get the feeling people are going to want me to comment on a couple of stories that are making the rounds this week. The first involves a bunch of alleged, conflicting Super Smash Bros Ultimate leaks. I don't want to say too much because, as we've learned over the years, people love to fake Smash-related rumors. I will say that I completely expect Ken and Shadow the Hedgehog to be confirmed as echo fighters, as is widely speculated: they take a lot less effort to make than a completely new character and they're both big fan favorites. Other than that, though, I take everything I hear regarding Smash that doesn't come from Sakurai's mouth with a spoonful of salt.

The second big news-thing that's been getting a lot of chatter is Rockstar Games's development practices, particularly as they pertain to crunch. Crunch is that stretch of time in game development where everybody is expected to focus hard, put in extra work and hours, and basically sacrifice everything else for a set period to ship the damn game on time. It's a pretty brutal part of game dev, and part of why a lot of people in the industry burn out so quickly. While it's been a problem stretching back a few decades – a lot of issues regarding the toll crunch takes on workers and their families were first brought to light by ea_spouse back in 2004 – a combination of the Telltale layoffs and recent reporting on Rockstar and Red Dead Redemption 2's development have brought the issue of mandatory crunch back into the spotlight.

I highly recommend reading this Kotaku article: it's an inside look at the kind of practices that happened at Rockstar during RDR2's development, and it's pretty damning. Of course, crunch doesn't just happen at Rockstar, either: in the wake of the Telltale closure, several former employees shared their stories, and then the Rockstar reports spurred more current and former folks in game dev to share their anecdotes.

Burnout's a serious problem in some of our favorite creative industries, too. We all know that many folks working in anime suffer from long work hours and low pay, and they tend to bail for greener pastures like the game industry… only to find out that it's not much better. These work cultures grind the passion and enthusiasm out of talented people, and it's a shame: there are undoubtedly some creative geniuses that could go on to make amazing things if they didn't grow to hate what they were doing thanks to absurd expectations and deadlines.

I feel like I can't really weigh in much harder on this other than “crunch is bad and needs to stop and if it means game dev slows down a bit, I'm okay with that.” Honestly, we should be listening to the words of the people most affected by crunch – the devs – more than an editorial writer like me. Unfortunately, I have a sinking feeling that it's going to take a high-profile physical and/or mental breakdown of a game developer before the issue is finally addressed, akin to how it took some deaths before overwork in Japanese corporate culture became a hot public issue. Then again, a lot more people are beginning to speak up, so who knows? We might just see a real revolution in terms of work conditions for the industry. And frankly, that's long overdue.

YAKUZA 4'S RE-RELEASE GETS A NEW FACE

Remember those Yakuza re-releases that are coming for PS4? They're mostly upscales without any huge changes to gameplay meant to "fill in the gaps" between the Kiwami games and Yakuza 6. Unfortunately, Sega and the Ryu ga Gotoku Team have to be a bit more hands-on with Yakuza 4's reissue because...

Well, let me explain. Here in North America, when a celebrity is revealed to maybe have a drug problem, we kind of shrug and say "Yeah, so what next, you're gonna tell me the sky's blue?" We kind of expect it, in other words, and we usually hope they can pull off a stint in rehab so we don't have a tragedy on our hands later. In Japan, however, if you are even suspected of drug use as a public figure, you can basically kiss your career goodbye. You, as a celebrity, are supposed to be setting an example, dammit -- and illegal drug use, in the eyes of the Japanese populace, is one of the image-destroying sins out there.

So what does this have to do with Yakuza 4? Well, the character of Masayoshi Tanimura, the biracial cop, was originally based on Japanese actor Hiroki Narimiya. Narimiya "retired" from acting a few years back, mostly because of strong rumors that he was hitting cocaine. And, well -- once you're suspected of drug use, your days in the biz are numbered.

The Yakuza 4 re-release is seeing a new, adjusted model and voice for Tanimura as a result. Our new Tanimura is Toshiki Masuda, who has been making the rounds in the anime voice acting circuit over the past couple of years. Will we notice much of a difference? We'll see on January 17th, when the game launches in Japan.

PCUBE AND RED ENTERTAINMENT SHOWCASE A NEW VISUAL NOVEL

Red is one of those companies that have been involved with games for ages, yet outside of Japan, very few people know who they are. Basically: Red is a company that cooks up concepts for games, which are then (mostly) handled by outside publishers and developers. There are a few exceptions, but mostly, they're an idea house that develops and pitches concepts for games (and sometimes other media). You might not know them by name, but odds are you know of something they had their hand in: Lords of Thunder, Gungrave, Fossil Fighters, and one of their biggest hits, Sakura Wars. (I'm personally fond their weird action/adventure games like Bonk, Spike McFang, and Tempo, and am sad they basically gave up on those after the 32-bit era.)

Back in 2017, Red published a PS Vita visual novel titled Our World is Ended. It's about a group of programmers who are making experimental augmented reality technology… only to stumble on something wrong when they go to test out their high-tech gear. Soon, the boundaries of reality and fiction begin falling apart. It sounds like a cool concept: the blurring of game world and reality is a theme cropping up more in games these days, though few games have really done it well.

We'll soon find out if it's any good, however, since publisher PCube has announced that they've picked up the game and are localizing it for the Switch, PS4, and PC with both Japanese and English text support. Interestingly, there's no mention of a Vita version… even though that's where the game began life. Hoo boy, they're gonna raise a big ol’ stink over on Vita Island…

FOLLOWUP: DEAD OR ALIVE 6 PRODUCER YOHEI SHIMBORI

At Koei-Tecmo's press event a couple weeks ago, I got to chat a bit again with Yohei Shimbori about the progress he and the team have been making on Dead or Alive 6. (My previous interview with him can be found here, and I recommend checking it out if you haven't yet!) I also had a chance to spend more time with the game (spoilers: I liked it) and used my play experience to help inform me in making a new batch of questions. Read on for more details about this hotly anticipated fighter!

Hey! So I'm super psyched to see Mila back in the game – she's my favorite DoA character. What kind of changes from DoA5 can we expect to see with her and the other returning characters?

Shimbori: Tina, in terms of her style, hasn't changed much. She does have more moves, though. If you watch the latest trailer, you can see her Fatal Rush and two new throws. Mila's attack properties have changed a bit, and her backstep speed has increased, as well. You might not have noticed, but her gloves have changed as well! Up until now, they were her “practice gloves,” but now they're real tournament-class MMA gear!

When we last spoke, we talked a bit about what you think makes DoA unique. With this latest trailer and some of the stage reveals, I feel like we're seeing more of another element that makes the DoA series special: an interesting sense of silliness and humor. We've got a stage full of dinosaurs that will swoop down and grab the fighters, a giant squid, and goofy characters like Bass and Zack… I feel like this outlandishness is also a key component of DoA.

S: Yes, there's definitely that element to the series. DoA encompasses a lot of different things. We've got sweat, tears, even a bit of love, too! *laughs* From a visual aspect, it's also a very colorful game. However, I think that when we first released information about the game, we were early on in development, so there wasn't a lot that we could show. I think we only really showcased one side of the game at that point. Now that we're further along, we're able to show many more aspects of the game. People can see that this is what DoA6 is really like.

During EVO, you were demoing the game with well-known players like SonicFox. Have you made any adjustments to the game based on feedback you got at EVO?

S: Actually, not yet. If we were to implement feedback every time there was a public showing, we'd never finish the game! Once we have all the characters in and the game is released to the public, then we'll look at the feedback and see what elements we can add.

So you anticipate there will be patches for balance and such.

S: Probably. Fighting games are never really “complete” when they first release. At the beginning, the fans are still trying to make their way through the game and figure it out, they might suggest some fixes, but as they learn about the game and figure things out, that dies down. We anticipate that sort of reaction: some players might have trouble with certain elements because they haven't figured out all of the mechanics yet. We'll give it some time to absorb all the feedback, and we won't instantly patch it unless there's some sort of severe bug.

I've noticed there's an option to turn the blood display on or off. Is this something you just added due to feedback, or was it something you wanted to include from the beginning?

S: It wasn't always planned. Within the company, there's an internal testing period for games. We got some feedback from these tests, and people seemed concerned about the blood. Because of that, we worked the option into the game.

I really like all the Break techniques and how flashy they are. Do you have any particular favorite Break skills from characters revealed so far?

S: Hmmm, that's tough! We worked hard to make them all look good… I guess I'd say I like Kasumi and Hayate's. The ninja characters are really cool, and the Breaks reflect that image. I guess I like Ayane's too. And Jann-Lee's. Argh, it's really tough! *laughs*

To wrap this up -- we know that Nyotengu is going to be a pre-order bonus character, but we haven't seen much of her yet. Is there anything you can tell us about her?

S: We haven't fully implemented her into the game yet. You'll probably be hearing something next month, though. I can say that since she does have wings, you can expect those to get used in battle. She's a mature, sexy character, and you'll be seeing that sort of confidence exuding from her in-game.

NEW RELEASES

The big release this week for us here at ANN is My Hero: One's Justice, which debuts on Friday on PS4, Steam, and Switch. (I still want to know why there's no Academia in the title, it's driving me bonkers to not type it.) It's an arena fighter featuring the cast of one of the hottest anime around right now. and you can read our review right here.

Most other folks seem to want to stay far, far out of the way of the Red Dead Redemption 2 juggernaut, but there are still a handful of interesting releases. Disgaea 5 Complete and Megadimension Neptunia VIIR are both coming to Steam, giving the PC market even more otaku-focused RPGs. The Switch is getting Neo-Geo fan favorite Windjammers, which should make for some fun on-the-go group sessions. Castlevania Requiem: Symphony of the Night and Rondo of Blood is hitting PS4, meaning you can buy SotN for the umpteenth time… and it doesn't have the classic voice acting. Well, there's still Rondo of Blood, which rules.  And then there's Johnny Turbo's Arcade: Heavy Burger, which mashes up a bunch of old Data East games into, uh… well, let me just embed the video.

That's all for this week! Enjoy the embarrassment of gaming riches that the last few months have brought us, because there's still more to come!


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