Zen Of Design

The design and business of gaming from the perspective of an experienced developer

Operation #BarelyADribble

Last year, I wrote about Fire Emblem’s poorly conceived romance option which involved drugging your lesbian companion so she would have sex with you — but only if you were male.  This was perceived by many observers as (a) creepy as fuck and (b) reminiscent of a barbaric American practice known as Gay Conversion Therapy, presenting the idea that homosexuality as a character flaw that can be fixed.  Ian Miles Cheong tried to handwave it away as normal for Japan, describing one of the most sexually repressive countries on earth as ‘sex-positive’.

Anyway, there was enough of a stink about it that Nintendo decided to change this quest when they localized the game for America.  This is, of course, completely a common process when localizing games, as Nintendo pointed out.

“Making changes is not unusual when we localize games, and we have indeed made changes in these games. When we localize a game we do so in order to make it appropriate for that particular territory. All our choices were made from that point of view.”

Indeed.  As a common example going the other way across the Pacific, you can’t go into China with skeletons, and you can’t go into Germany with swastikas.  It’s also not uncommon for design teams to remove content that wasn’t obviously objectionable in later releases.  In this case, they actually added content – adding same sex romance options to the game (some existed before but didn’t end in marriage).  It also, uh, removed a face-petting minigame.   These sorts of changes are routine for the Fire Emblem franchise.

“In the Conquest edition a male main character created by the gamer can pair up with another male character (Niles) which ultimately leads to marriage. Similarly, in the Birthright edition, a female main character created by the gamer can pair up with and eventually marry another female character (Rhajat). Like married couples of the opposite gender, these same-sex couples enjoy the stat boosts that come with marriage, which means when they are paired up in battle they are stronger than when they are apart or paired up with another character.”

“In the third edition, Revelation, that will be released as DLC in the eShop on March 10, a same-sex marriage is possible regardless of the sex of your main character, as both Niles and Rhajat can be encountered in this edition.”

Needless to say, the contingent of gaming idiots who believe that SJWs are too thin-skinned and that artists should always have the right to steward their own art decided to go on a hysterical hissyfit because an artist dared to adjust his product to better suit market sensibilities.  This led to cries of censorship from the mothership of the GoofyGrape brigade.  They immediately declared a boycott and email campaign which has bafflingly dominated discussion by the sort of maladjusted shitlords who literally believe that editing=censorship.  An example:

FE Fates is currently the focus of the campaign due to its Western release coming soon on February 19th. The intent is to spread awareness and send a message to Nintendo that Western gamers do not want censored localisations via #FireEmblemFates and #TorrentialDownpour on Feburary 19th.

There’s even a petition to avoid this looming act of heresy!  Um, with fewer than 8K petitioners.  So you can probably guess how all this turned out.

The dual release launch strategy was an intriguing one, seeing the Intelligent Systems series follow the examples of the likes of Pokémon and Yo-kai Watch. It seems to have worked, too, with Fates setting the record – by quite some distance – as the fastest selling Fire Emblem release in the US.  Nintendo of America has confirmed that over 300,000 copies were sold over the game’s launch weekend (just three days); that’s over five times the equivalent Fire Emblem: Awakening figure, which held the previous record.

Given the success of similar reactionary idiocy of Mad Max and The Force Awakens as well as idiotic overreactions to more indie endeavors like Gone Home and Firewatch, it seems more and more like getting rejected by neanderthal thinking is more and more quickly becoming a pathway to getting known.


  1. Obviously the real crime regarding Fire Emblem Fates is that Rinkah isn’t into women.

    They can’t give a woman abs like that and then force me to play as a man for the romance! It’s just not fair!

  2. “you can’t go into Germany with swastikas”

    …Yes you can. Movies do it all the time and I’m not talking about documentaries. Inglorious Basterds for example uses it. And it also doesn’t result in the equivalent of an R rating.

    • Damion Schubert

      February 25, 2016 at 3:48 pm

      The rules are different for video games in many cultures. As the linked article described, to go into the german market, you have to be very careful of german symbology or be blocked or forced behind the counter by their equivalent of the ESRB. The difference is that games do not enjoy the same legal status as art that movies enjoy there, and therefore do not have the same lattitude that they do here in American releases.

  3. Gaterism has always been a ball of contradictions, among which the embrace of libertarian ideas (including economically), while whining about “censorship” for economic decisions made by private companies, as opposed to the government. But I guess they rationalize it (inasmuch as Gaterism can be said to be rational) by saying it’s the SJW Review Board which persuaded Nintendo to make changes in the first place, hence the necessity to tell Nintendo not to make changes, Or Else.

    Strangely enough, I find myself roughly agreeing with Gaters here, but for reasons which are antithetical to Gaterism. Not that I care about the game (which I’m not going to play), nor about whatever is in it , nor what should be in it, nor what might be in it.

    It’s just that I’ve reached the point where I want to see some artistic integrity on the part of whoever makes this. I want to see decisions taken which lead to a better result, not to a more fashionable one. I want to see stuff which isn’t afraid to insult its audience, that refuses to give in to the grain of contemporary society — because if it does so, it starts digging its own grave from the minute it’s released. I’m tired of the kind of crap where Ms. Marvel is remade an Arab-American teen just because $$$. (To be fair, I never cared about the spandex set before, and I’m not going to change.)

    I’m tired of the kind of crap where you take an existing franchise and turn it into something else because you can’t/won’t run the financial risk of starting a new franchise in which all your nice progressive touches are canonical, instead of add-ons to something else. I know this is dangerously close to the James-Bond-should-be-white controversy, but had it been left to me, Bond would never have left the sixties to begin with. 007 is already corrupted by trendiness, with the only redeeming contribution post-Connery having been The Living Daylights, that it might as well go whole hog. I just know not to watch.

    I’m tired of the kind of crap where the game is to call something racist, or problematic, or whatever, based on the flimsiest of pretexts, at which point nobody (but the troglodytes of GG who will provide all the evidence to prove the author’s point) will dare to refute it, lest they also be accused of racism. There is now Salon writing an article under the title: “The 15 most racist Oscar films of all time: Here’s why #OscarsSoWhite is not a surprise “. Anything with apes is racist — “King Kong” as well as “Planet of the Apes”. He’s got a Stanley Kramer film on the list, when Kramer is pretty much the fifties’ idea of a sanctimonious liberal, just like Salon today. But the best one is where the author says “Rocky” is racist. Why?

    “Rocky Balboa—a kind, humble, hard-working, slow-talking journeyman boxer—symbolized the pride of racist White masculinity in the late 1970s. Rocky refused to be knocked out by the avalanche of punches from the antiracist movements—as symbolized by the rich, unkind, cocky, fast-punching Black heavyweight champion. Apollo Creed is a fictional stand-in for the actual heavyweight champion in 1976, Muhammad Ali, the personification of antiracist resistance.”

    Since I sort of remember that Creed won the bout at the end of the first film, that Rocky beat him in the second, and that they became fast friends in the third, what the author is really complaining about is why didn’t Balboa make a note of the allegory he was fighting against and take a dive ten seconds into the first round like he should have instead of lasting the entire twelve, the bloody racist.

    Every time crap like this goes up on the internet, Trump gains a vote. And all they do is response is (still from Salon) to call voters “loud, illiterate and credulous”. Every time you excuse Cosby not even on a point of evidence but just because you can’t condemn the black guy without being a thirties lynch mob, there’s one more pointy hood at the cross burning. Every time a grad-school brat whose only idea of economic inequality is his own student debt calls a white guy on minimum wage “privileged” (and idiotic to boot), there’s one more Dylann Roof stroking his guns. And the same people, meanwhile, have the gall to shake their heads at the dead bodies of the Charlie Hebdo editorial staff, saying: “you shouldn’t have punched down”.

    There is something you need to know about my opposition to GG. Everything GamerGate says about “Social Justice Warriors” is true. Everything it says about their sanctimonious, authoritarian designs is true. No, I didn’t “drink the GamerGate Kool-Aid”. GamerGate didn’t persuade me of anything. It didn’t have to. It’s Broken Forum, and places like GamerGhazi or Shakesville, and news sites like Salon, and people like Arthur Chu or Jessica Valenti, who persuaded me it was true.

    Why do I oppose GG, then? Because Gaters are *just like them*. They’re hypocrites. They lack grandeur. They’re vulgar. They’ve done nothing for their mantra/smokescreen of ethics in video games journalism. They’re sanctimonious and authoritarian just as they say their opponents are — as their opposition to Depression Quest and indie games generally demonstrates. And I’m not even discussing the harassment they’ll always deny doing. Also, I’m not a libertarian, so I leave Gaters to their fun pretending they’re left-wing while they quote Mises and Hayek.

    To get back to the topic, there’s one other trait which Gaters and their opponents share: it’s that both shamelessly enlist the forces of the Market in what they do. Gaters are obvious enough: a good game is that for which there is consumer demand. But let’s talk progressive types, who encourage corporations to get involved in progressive causes, while they decry the power of corporations in everything else. Progressive types who like to get people fired for failing to align with their cause, without ever realizing what that will mean come the time to unionize or just ask for a raise.

    Fuck it, it’s not desirable to make deals with the devil just because he promised to implement a diversity policy.

    The Ghazbags have a new thread about “Hollywood Diversity Report: Mounting evidence that more diverse casts help the bottom line”. Sigh. Don’t ever place yourself in the kind of situation where, should the opposite someday be demonstrated, you would be left unconvincingly shrieking your way out of a paper bag. It’s already the problem that Hollywood will do anything for money, so if there ever were a “New Study: All-White Casts Help Box Office”, the same progressives jumping on this current revelation will find themselves shrieking “wrong-wrong-wrong, racist, we’re on the right side of history” to people whose only important words are money-money-money. It’s quite presumptuous to hear progressives talk of the “right side of history” in the age of Putin, Trump, the European Far Right and the Islamic State — but no, they go on with how just as you had eight years of a President of Color, you must now have a President of Gender, regardless of whether you think (as I do) that Sanders stands a better chance against Trump. (If the Republicans were smart, they’d ask Condoleezza Rice to run for president and start calling racist sexists anyone who wouldn’t vote for her. Now progressives would really be screwed.)

    We already see how Hollywood is pandering to China whenever there’s a new large-budget film coming out because foreign now outpaces domestic gross. But maybe your cultural industry shouldn’t be in tow of China, especially since I think Chinese arrogance will have to be dealt with on a battlefield by the mid-century point. Let individual countries censor your cultural production, but don’t start bending your artistic vision to suit them.

    And if it’s all about the money, and that there is no artistic vision, and that it’s all planned obsolescence — then I don’t have time for this. Chateaubriand’s 2,000-page memoirs await.

    • Allan Schumacher

      February 27, 2016 at 2:53 am

      The point about things like “diversity in film makes more money” is actually about refuting the commonsense notion that the reason why we have to cast white people is because that’s what makes money. The situation you’re scared of happening was already the status quo.

      Same with stuff like Bill Cosby, which has seen legions of also black people acknowledge “Dude is a monster.” I’ve never been called racist for thinking that Bill Cosby is a monster. I’d say pretty much the entirety of my social circle that condemns Bill Cosby is also pretty unsupportive of stuff like what Charlie Hebdo does (though that doesn’t justify violence).

      Sure some will wield various -isms as a cudgel, but I think it’s equally damaging to say “you can’t point this out because it just makes someone more extreme in response.” It’s equivalent to saying that we can’t talk about race because it just brings race into focus and supposes that if we don’t talk about it, it won’t be a factor.

      As someone that works in game development, “artistic vision” can also influence localization. If I want someone to make a gesture with their hand in support of the character, I’d prefer to pick one that doesn’t get seen as an insult in other cultures. I don’t consider it erosion of any artistic vision to make a change like that (or to even have the gesture be different in a different region) unless a specific gesture is essential to that character (and most of the time it’s not).

      Even with Ms. Marvel, 4 different women have carried the mantle. If it helps consider Kamala being the 4th to simply be a fair thing to do in terms of representation. That it doesn’t hurt sales is more about challenging the notion that the character *must* be white in order to be profitable.

      • Allan Schumacher, you managed to get a crucial point across without insulting anyone’s intelligence. Thank you. We need more constructive arguments like this… And less “press B” to [fling shit].

  4. Today in SWTOR, it’s Bounty Contract Week. I mention in chat (general, Dromund Kaas) that I like to exit the random informant conversation until I meet the cute twi’lek guy, Dekk’lar (the game’s sole male-on-male flirt option, anywhere, available before level 50+ content).

    Immediate response in chat? Disappointment that the dev team did not also include an option to kill him.

    No, really – that was the player response.

    I forbore to point out that the first male-male romance option ever implemented in the game, with Sith pureblood Lord Cytharat on Makeb, does in fact include an option to send him to his death, before being exposed to the [Flirt] prompt that actually leads to an onscreen kiss.

    I guess if I have to wait until 50, I am glad they do, too, but seriously?

  5. As far as I know, Nintendo has always taken strange decisions when localizing games to NA, by example, defining the female enemies of SNES Final Fight as crossdressers in order to avoid showing violence against women.
    IMHO level of localization should be player-defined, like difficulty or blood displayed, from “100% family friendly for this country” to “translation as faithful as possible from source”.
    Talking about GamerGate as contradictory is pointless, because unlike social justice and feminist groups who tend to be homogeneous and where opinion differences can result in ostracism or even a defamation campaign against the dissenters, GG is composed by people that have broad range of opinions. Yes there are common beliefs and a general direction, but dissent of opinion is mostly tolerated. Obviously you can for any position, find people of different stances inside the same GamerGate. We don’t aim to be a homogeneous herd, because we value individuality and existence of a free marketplace of ideas.

    • “We don’t aim to be a homogeneous herd, because we value individuality and existence of a free marketplace of ideas.”

      Except Gamergate clearly doesn’t value a ‘free marketplace of ideas’ as seen by the attempts to silence Anita Sarkeesian and any gaming website that doesn’t toe the GG line through the removal of ad revenue.

      • I’ll even go further. One of the core values of GG is to control the “marketplace of ideas”, with a focus on aggressively purging progressives voices. GG loathes the “free marketplace”, won’t allow it to exist and everything it did could considered, directly or strategically, an attempt to silence ideas.

        • The commissars of free speech, as it were.

        • Come on, you can’t really say that when people like Anita Sarkeesian has tried to tell companies as big as Bungie and nations as big as Japan what they can and what they cannot create and export, with the sponsorship of UN itself. Open your eyes and look who is really pushing against a free marketplace of ideas.

          • Damion Schubert

            March 5, 2016 at 5:00 am

            Literally everything you say here is bullshit. Well done!

          • The visit from Sarkeesian to Bungie HQ, her relationship with UN, and her public comments of how Japan should abstain from “export sexism” are pretty verified.

          • That’s nowhere near telling the what they “can” or “cannot” say since none of her statements come with any form of coercive force. So, yeah, your entire construction is a built on a foundation of sand.

      • GamerGate is an evolving entity.
        One year ago, I was anti-GamerGate indeed. The group was tightly held by its 4chan founders, who started the operation against ads and such.
        But after incidents like the fall of people like RogueStar and RalphRetort distanced the general mass of the movement from the doxxers and troublemakers who started it. Specially the last dump of RalphRetort chat who showed how little they really cared about gaming and how they were willing to throw their followers under the bus to push an alt-right agenda.
        So if you want to characterize the current status of GamerGate and videogame culture advocacy with information from a year ago, by logic… You are one year behind.

        • “GamerGate is an evolving entity.”

          If you mean you’re not giving a damn about your initial excuse for “ethics in video games journalism”, you’re right. You don’t even bother about that anymore. It’s as though the whole ethics game never existed. This alone makes me mad. Not because I’ve been fooled — as most people, I saw through GG’s charade from the moment it was announced — but because it’s like someone compiling a long, investigative exposé on a particular business, just for that business to declare bankruptcy and start under another name at the same location and with the same people, after taking over a year claiming you weren’t any of those things we were accusing you of being.

          There was Milo at AirPlay: fighting for ethics and against “SJW”s were not separable. As obvious as it got. It was the confirmation of all we had been suspecting: the whole ethical stuff is a smokescreen. Only Koretzky got fooled, but since he’s recently announced he would be voting Trump mostly for the shits-and-giggles factor (plus some very naive desire to make both sides of Congress work against him), which as a journalist and SPJ officer is highly irresponsible (doesn’t Trumpieboy want to change libel laws to sue media critical of him into the ground?), I think I know where to place him now.

          If your ethical concern was impossible to distinguish from the anti-“SJW” crusade, it was only a matter of time before you abandoned the least useful of the two, which is what you did. Leading to the kind of situation where you’ve moved from citing (in the name of ethics) Jeff Gerstmann getting fired from GameSpot for low scores, to calling the same Jeff Gerstmann “anti-consumer” and wanting him gone — just because he told you that if you were so concerned about the accuracy of localized Japanese games, maybe you should try learning Japanese instead of complaining? God knows you seem to watch enough anime to pick it up almost naturally.

          It’s not just that your ethical concern was a sham; it’s that you brazenly associated with some of the least ethical media in existence (Breitbart first and foremost) just because they happened to parrot your views, or at least give you exposure. It’s also that you always came up with some sort of excuse to tolerate this — “nobody agrees with Milo entirely, etc.”, or “Ralph isn’t a journalist and must not be held to the standards of one” — until you turned on them for whatever reason, but apparently never because you realized they were unethical — just because you realized they stopped serving you, or had never served you to begin with.

          How blind must you be to not have realized at once that The Ralph Retort was shit, and that it took you not only the chatlogs you mention, but also a particularly vile article on the suicide of a Gater, to suddenly decide to distance yourselves from it?

          Through how many hoops are you prepared to jump to argue that Milo Y. is an ethical reporter, and not the kind of narcissistic, self-destructive shitbag who couldn’t care less about how much collateral damage he creates that he really is, just because Breitbart is your last connection to the mainstream media (outside of gaming) whose approval and especially exposure you always wanted?

          Yes, GG evolves. But only because it refuses to assume blame, because it evades being pinned down. I’ve argued with Gaters before. I’ve seen it called an “event”, not a “movement”. I’ve even been told – I kid you not – that “there is no such thing as a ‘Gater'”. The reason it evolves is because it respects clout – or Based, as they say in chat parlance – but it’s afraid as all hell of anyone who could ever claim to be a leader of it. You have celebrities that you congregate around, but should those celebrities prove embarrassing, you would just cast them off as if they were the most obscure of Redditors. Like Ralph, or RogueStar, or KingOfPol, or PressFartToContinue (now of The Escapist!), or whoever else.

          There was Pax Dickinson recently admitting he was behind a pro-GG troll account on Twitter; I leave it to you to discover the gentleman in question, but I’m sure you’re going to distance yourself from him too. Remember the Bokhari survey? The one GG uses all the time to say it’s left-wing? He had a question in there about “grey libertarianism”, which he took from Dickinson directly. Bokhari asked if Gaters liked what he proposed: 70% of respondents said yes. This “grey libertarianism” makes many declarations of freedom but badly disguises it’s really neoreaction. If Gaters persist in claiming to be left-wing, they are either fools, or trying to fool us.

          (The only point which I will risk granting you is that some of GG appear to be quite sincere in support of Sanders, and less so of Trump not because of any moral judgement, but apparently because he said mean things about video games in the past. I wonder what it must have been like to be Italian in the 1920s and obsessed with trains keeping to schedule. As for perils to American democracy, I am, if I am correct here, more concerned with the “Bernie Bro” — not with Sanders himself, but what his supporters might do later in life, especially if denied now — than I am with the Trumpers. I guess I’ll expand on that elsewhere.)

          Considering how you did the whole blah-blah-ethics-Gerstmanngate and now doing the whole blah-blah-anti-consumer-Gerstmann-needs-to-go, and between those how you went after advertisers because SURELY THAT WOULD BRING ETHICS TO JOURNALISM even though advertiser pressure was the exact reason why Gerstmann was fired, it’s always been that: either you’re fools, or trying to fool us.

          You’ve always acted like Sarkeesian was the Wicked Witch of the West, even sometime before GG (when the game was to call every fundraiser she did a scam just to prevent her from getting funded), and now complain whenever she does anything. You’re simultaneously whining on your few platforms remaining about the way games are and should be designed, even though you’re clearly as much in a minority as Sarkeesian’s followers are. You’re also divided between yourselves, and you call carbon copies of you (in the GG “Revolt”) a joke for being too radical, while they complain about you (at KiA) having been corrupted by “SJWs”. I don’t see why we should take you seriously. And every time you complain about an indie game whose only crime is to exist, we know GG is not just a waste of time, but a hypocritical and nefarious waste of time.

          I have barely followed the last round of Gaterism, because there hasn’t been much new material and the US political situation is more important, but now it seems you’re what, going after a Nintendo employee because she, and of course it’s a she, (1) allegedly tries to “censor” games that you want to see just as they were created, no matter how inappropriate the content for a western audience, while you’re paradoxically (2) nailing her because of a paper she wrote in 2011 on how the west should cease pressuring Japan into adopting stronger anti-CP laws. When I read about the kind of Japanese garbage Gaters demand to play, some of which appears to be very close to pixel jailbait, sure, that’s not CP, but it’s not the kind of thing I would feel comfortable playing, nor that I could picture a moral person wanting to play — yet Gaters seem they can’t get enough of it. And there was (3) that time CP was reported to have been found on the new GG haunts, 8chan, to which Gaters responded by just passing the blame to the person who reported it. Ethics! It’s as if you had abandoned any internal consistency just for the sake of getting at people. Which, to those of us who have been paying attention to GG since the beginning, is exactly what you wanted.

          Gaters tend to be so convinced that their opponents are “SJWs” that it kind of throws them off balance when I say that I don’t like “SJWs” either. (I hate the term, but on Twitter brevity is foisted on you, so I tend to use the acronym, but with quotation marks). After that, I call GG out on its BS, especially on the part of how they are exactly like what they condemn (like an exasperated Kotaku In Action moderator recently did). Except for the hardliner ones, those who badly disguise that they’re hard-right racists. If it boils down to either being a racist or a SJW, I’ll be a SJW, thank you, and piss off.

          Has anything good come out of GG? Nothing. The worst part is that GG does have a point about “SJWs”. I see Notch of Minecraft these days is in a fair bit of hot water, because he condemned “SJWs”, which BOTH Gaters and opponents to GG like Ghazi immediately assumed was an endorsement for GG. I suspected at first that he was trolling, but he now appears to be quite sincere about “SJWs”. But he also distanced himself from GG. He has shown that he wants nothing to do with you. If anything, Gaters have so thoroughly poisoned that well, as with the one on the ethics of the gaming press, that it’s become impossible to seriously address the question. The only way out of this morass is to write at length condemning both sides, if one is prepared to be shunned by both sides.

          • Most of what you say is true. I don’t agree by example, with Milo in almost anything, also if you have read the Ralph dumps, he works too closely with the initial doxxers.
            GamerGate is not beyond criticism, but its very difficult to police because of the respect to individuality inside.
            That people, who distanced themselves from GG itself, while keeping their main positive points, like anti-censorship and anti-ideological-crusading, are by themselves the best result of GG, and IMHO they will become the position assumed by gamers by default. That is true already by example, in the mainstream gaming journalism of other countries, who call the content removal made by Nintendo and Capcom “censorship” already.
            So even if GG dissapears or turns against itself, the end result, of showing to the general gaming public the ways ideologues are trying to seize gaming and police what can and cannot be produced, and making that knowledge widespread and accepted, has been achieved. GG, as such, is not really needed anymore, giving rise to videogame culture advocacy.
            Even that woman, Alison Rapp, who hates GG and was unfortunately targeted by some doxxers and troublemakers, makes very good points against censorship and cultural colonization in her 2011 article. So she inadvertantly is helping our cause even while hating the concept that unethical, zealot journalists have spread about us.

    • John Henderson

      March 16, 2016 at 1:30 am

      “defining the female enemies of SNES Final Fight as crossdressers in order to avoid showing violence against women.”

      Not at all true. Poison was always a “newhalf”. Capcom’s call, not Nintendo’s.

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