So much for Freeloader

Well, this very short era of international enjoyment of Wii titles comes to an abrupt close. After having enjoyed the Gamecube version of this region-freeing boot-disc I took the plunge and bought the Wii version, which, at first, seemed to work fine and dandy on the single US game I tried to play on my JP Wii.

Emboldened by this success I purchased two more titles. These, however, failed to load properly, so a quick email to the CodeJunkies support email address was in order. Here begins a tale of futility. The email bounced back an auto-reply instantly, telling me all problems were discussed on their support website and that that would be the end of this email conversation. After finding the site through a link in the email, rather than from their website, I lodged a ticket and started my wait.

They are keen to point out their helpdesk system is not an instant message service, but neither is it, I daresay, a service of handwritten parchment, encoded by the Enigma machine and hand-delivered by the royal tortoise. It took an astounding two weeks before I received a reply, which included the reminder it was not an instant messaging service. The reply was of course, useless, stating they couldn’t guarantee all games would run using the Freeloader and that this was stated in the manual too. Which it was. Still, maybe I’m spoiled in this digital age, but I’d expect a helpdesk to respond a little more punctually and be, well, helpful.

However, by that time Nintendo continue to tighten its grip on the Wii by releasing a new firmware to ostensibly deal with the infamous Zelda save game data hack, but which also rendered the Freeloader 100% useless. So now I have a product which doesn’t work as advertised. “We can’t guarantee the Freeloader will work with every game” can now be replaced with the line “We can guarantee the Freeloader won’t work with any game”.

Of course, part of my beef is with Nintendo, who, inexplicably, require me to purchase a full US console if I am to enjoy US Wii games in Japan. Well, I say inexplicably, but it could just be a clever ploy to make geeks buy the console twice, though it is probably more the usual kind of paranoia rather than a business strategy. But considering CodeJunkies’ helpdesk system is slow and utterly unhelpful and even had the temerity to very subtly suggest I might not be running an "original game disc", I have no qualms hereby recommending any readers of this blog not to bother with their product. It doesn’t work and they don’t care.

What with the PSN pre-paid cards not out yet in the US and no online store selling the XBLA point cards (that I know of), the life of a global gamer and importer remains a painful and disappointing one. On top of that the PC now seems to have its own form of region locking, with the demo version of Spore’s excellent Creature Creator being sold to specific regions only. I was not allowed to buy the English version from Japan but had to make do with the localized Japanese version, which doesn’t even come with the English components provided. Personally, I am thoroughly sick and tired of too many people trying to control my purchasing habits for no reasonably explicable motive.

And one of the reasons people pirate software, it is said, is due to the convenience of it. That is a sentiment I can totally understand. If people continue to want my money, maybe they should consider allowing me to actually purchase items I want.


Contemplating the future of videogames is never an easy task. Short term trends are obvious to even the most casual observer, but who would have predicted the Wii and its immense success just a few short years ago? I distinctly remember attending the E3 at which the DS was unveiled and listening to supposed industry professionals snort with derision and predicting its inevitable failure. Still, it's sometimes cool to imagine what gaming would be like in the future. Here is one possible vision.

Digital distribution will become so all-encompassing that boxed product is reserved for retro gaming with all new products being delivered through some digital channel. All major manufacturers will continue to put their entire back catalogue up for download services. This makes the home console a repository for your entire games library and other media. Handheld gaming will plug directly into this media hub. Instead of carrying its own media your handheld device will, with the aid of pervasive, superfast wifi that makes every spot in any major city connected at all times, run its software on the home console hub. Only control input will be sent from the device to the console, where the game is run, which sends back the visuals to the device. This means the handheld device is light and cheap. It can also access all your music and video from the home console. The device itself will be small and foldable, with a digital paper screen. Its input is both tactile and motion sensitive to a socially acceptable extent.

Some company will revive "Virtual Reality" but, despite the massively improved tech, the public still resists. Peripherals that detect motion and position will replace the idea of a VR helmet and as the console is basically a media hub, gaming will stay married to a television screen for many years to come as a result.

There will be a 2nd Great Game Industry crash. With the continued availability of cheap or free tools which become easier and easier to use, every hobbyist can create and release a game. There will be a tsunami of games created by these amateurs, as well as independent developers and larger publishers trying to cash in, that the public has too much choice of too many substandard titles, which become cheaper and cheaper until it becomes a totally unviable prospect. In one day seventeen different versions of a match-three title will be released, on average. After the crash the industry will rebuild itself, keeping some of the major players and introducing the big new names of tomorrow from amongst the survivors. Luckily, due to the digital nature of game distribution, there will be no landfills to allegedly cover with cement this time round.

Somebody will release a single, open platform console which will fail utterly in the market place, leaving just the usual number of large manufacturers who keep a tight and lucrative control over their hardware. The failure eventually boils down to the console acting too much like a PC with too much open source and modifiable elements making easy control of it outside the comprehension of the largest part of its intended market.

None of today's major IPs will survive. Nintendo will be the first to find the maximum age of a recyclable IP when their latest Mario title, though critically acclaimed, fails the sell. Children of the future will have no idea who Link, Mario, Lara Croft and Niko Bellic are.

A significant proportion of the film industry will make its money from film-games. These are not films made of video game IPs, nor games made from film IPs but films and games created entirely for the tandem development of both film and video games simultaneously. Eventually, though, the video game part of this marriage will be most profitable, leaving the film industry crippled. The most successful players in this new field will actually come from the game business side, who will employ film directors to its staff.

India and China will be huge players in the global video game business, not just as "cheap outsourcers to be arrogantly scorned" but as major businesses, designers and developers in their own right, providing, at first, their own cultures, but soon enough migrating to make significant sales across the world. Some of tomorrow's major changes, in hardware and game design will come from the East, excluding Japan.

None of this will happen.

Around the ashtray

One of the new hires finally gathers up enough courage to chat with the company gaijin.
“Are you fluent in Japanese?”
“God no,” I reply, in the usual mock embarrassment and humility. Making jokes about how shit my Japanese is in, presumably, decent Japanese breaks the ice and the guy feels more relaxed.
“So, is this your first game development job,” I ask him.
“How are you liking it?”
“Well….” he says, “well….”
I motion to him that he need say no more.
“What is it you do, JC?”
“Art. But I’ve been doing a lot of debugging recently.”
“Do you program too?”
“Um, no.”
“Oh, it’s just that I see you typing often.”
“Ah, yes, those are the circular emails I send when I update assets,” I say, and think: and my Google chats and emails and forum trawling and blog post writing…
“Are you enjoying it?” he asks.
“Strange weather we’ve been having of late, don’t you think?”

* * *
My GTA-loving colleague tells me “I bought GTA 4 for PS3.”
“Really,” I reply, “isn’t it difficult? The English I mean? You should have waited. Capcom said they’d release the Japanese version this year.”
“Yeah, but I wanted to play it. And besides, I don’t want some censored version. Also, a lot of the story can be found translated on-line.”
“But still,” I say, “you’re missing out on some choice dialogues, man. There is a lot of subtle humour in little throwaway lines.”
“Yeah, well….”
“I quite like the game. Maybe not as much as Vice City, though. I’m glad they added the mission restart option.”
“The what?”
* * *
Another recently acquired colleague turns to me.
“Where is it you’re from, again? France?”
“You should be very careful accusing an Englishman of being French!” I reply.
“Oh, haha. How old are you?”
I loathe this question so I usually tell them to guess. He guesses several years in excess. I tell him my age.
“Oh, really! Me too!” he says.
“You are? I would have guessed you were much younger than that!”
“Haha, thanks!” he says.
“Yeah, and thanks a lot for guessing my age so high,” I reply, hurt.
“I always find it impossible to guess the age of Japanese people,” I tell him.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that can be a problem. Your wife is Japanese, though, right?”
I still don’t quite know what he meant by that.