Category Archives: Bishoujo Gaming

Spring 2018 Anime Selections

Here are some impressions, as per usual. On a personal note, I recently signed up for HiDive, and it doesn’t have Apple TV support, which is what I use to watch probably 75% of anime these days. It also doesn’t have Chromecast support, which is what I use to watch ~15% of anime these days (only usually because I’m at a friend’s house or Apple TV is having issues). The two technology platforms are kind of interchangeable, since I use both at home for various things. The rest of the time I watch either on my phone (because I’m on an airplane) or on my PC (because I happen to be in front of it), in that 10% remainder. It also means HiDive is kind of worthless to me right now.

The problem with HiDive is that it doesn’t support how I watch anime most of the time. If it takes less effort to me to XDCC some files and watch it on Apple TV via Plex, than load up the video I want on HiDive, cast my whole phone, then hit play, this competing product is just a waste of my time that happened to cost money. Would it be OK for me to subscribe and not use it? I guess so. For now, the only real way to watch stuff on HiDive, short of inside a browser, is that I can dial up a video on my phone and stream my phone Airplay/Chromecast-like, but this sucks if all you have is your phone, and not a second device to play with in your living room. It is very much a first world problem, but this entire blog is more or less a first-world-issues only site.

That’s not even mentioning all the bugs in the Android app. And how the web version is making the same mistakes that plagued FUNi’s website back when they were solo on the streaming. Anyways.

On a less ranty, but still ranting, note, I picked up the EN version of BanG Dream game, administered out of Singapore. It’s perfectly fine and provides an updated experience than my first run-ins with the original JP version¬†so long ago. They fixed most of the tuning issue with stamina usage and event point system. The more fleshed out exchange system now has some balance with grinding up character training mats. There are more songs you have access to right out of the gate, if just the newer covers alone.

Playing it also reminds me what I didn’t like about the game, which is having to put up with songs you don’t like or don’t want to listen to during multiplayer. This is why I almost never choose Random for song selection, anyway. Oh, and the usual abusers in the game that coast or outright cheat.

Then again, I get why some people instant-disconnect after the song selection screen. I really don’t have to want to put up with one more listen of Shuwarin. I’ve not fallen that far yet but it’s getting close. It would be really great if the game lets you blacklist a few songs!

OK, enough sidebars. Here are the initial offering (which is bound to shrink as the MLB season wears on).

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Forever Million Live

Today is the last day of operation for the GREE-published version of Million Live, which is the original IDOLM@STER MILLION LIVE game. Ps call it “greemas” for short. It is the core product of that IP and it is now shut down as of this writing, just moments ago.

There are so many things I want to say so I’ll just keep it short and in bullets. Think of it as a way for me to commemorate this occasion.

This game was how my “gacha cherry” was popped. This meant my mental barriers were rationalized away and since then I spent good money on games I think that are worth it, which is namely just the other two major IDOLM@STER SNS games, Deresute and Theater Days. I also spend money on games that I think have entertained me a lot, just much less. (For example, I already spent maybe $160 in Pricone Redive but I probably will stop there. This is not even 10% of what I spent in Greemas.)

This game was occasionally very fun, but usually more a chore. The saving grace is that the chore part is pretty light, unless you wanted to do a crazy amount of ranking. In the finals stats page the game provided during its shutdown period, I was able to get the “IDOLM@STER” achievement 11 times, which is just to say I was able to produce at least 1 idol in the top percentiles. I forget exactly. But it’s little things like that which makes this game fun.

The thing I will miss the most about Greemas is how it is a game that really went to creative places. Like a Star Wars inspired event. Or taking traditional idol torture to the next level. Or the Namasuka Sunday events. Or Tokugawa’s Castle, literally. There were various sports meets. There was TGS. There was the live on the space station. It was nuts. Theater Days so far has not even came close to scratching that itch, although it does seem things might move in that direction finally…

Million Live might be the first time where the game and the live events were closely integrated, to the degree that you can have producer support walls and even ticket lotteries in the game. Will this tradition continue? I hope so.

It is definitely the first IM@S game where recorded lines from the live were delivered into game as content, days just after the event. It’s a great way to energize your hardcore eventing fan base. It also points at the live events as a part of the game. It is the kind of thing that makes me think that Million Live is an IP where the content revolves around the live events.

This is all besides the core community on Greemas. During the Theater Boost [idol voting for Theater Days] people were communicating on the idol boards on Greemas. Greemas also has a dialog engine where you can create commu screens and it ran contests on the best fan-submitted entries. On top of the basic player communication and lounges, there are no easy replacements for them.

Thank you Greemas. Million Live will continue without you, but it will never be the same and we will never forget the good (and bad) times!


Loot Box Situation, Whale Perspective

The Star Wars Battlefront II Loot Box Whine situation is one thing, but I have thought about this a lot over the years, as a transition from someone who only knows about gacha games into someone who whales in gacha games. I have my own take on this, which is microtransactions will invariably be a part of life for a lot of gamers, because that’s where the business is going no matter if you are AAA or the most indie of indie game makers. As business models revolving around various styles of microtransaction matures, we should see more significant and mature design philosophies and best practices emerge.

That is if people who make games get a clue. I think for the most part, the people who cut their teeth on the various app stores with F2P models do today, at least as a business. They wouldn’t be in the business otherwise, since that field is quite competitive. It’s a different ball game with AAA for sure, as the constraints are different.

I guess I can start with some disclosures. One of my dayjob’s department (which I’m not related to or work with) actually publishes F2P games and deals with some microtransaction. They are big on narrative driven games powered by subscriptions, where a customer on the plan can get new content on a regular basis. Subscriptions are really the way to go for certain markets where the mentality is a lot more entrenched against gacha, or due to government regulation on gacha, things are more limited.

The fundamental psychology behind player emotion, satisfaction, and gacha is interesting, but the game design side is also very interesting. Most of the interplay between psychology and design in gacha-style games are no different than any other game. You want mechanics that evoke positive emotions and behavior that drives player interests forward, and you build a content delivery system along that to create positive feedback and further emotional and behavioral reinforcement. On the flip side, you want players to have agency yet gate content reasonably with some metric to reward user attention, play time, skill and spend.

There is actually space for negative reinforcement too, I think, but in very limited cases–I see this the most in Korean and Chinese online games now where player simply just grind for the most part, in a sad way that mimics an outlook of reality that is unpopular in the west. In short, simple and repetitive completion rewards those who can put in the most time playing, and reinforces a sense of fairness and achievement through predictable, simple labor as a form of escapism. The model is attractive because the development is simple and the content is piled on linearly. In a way I feel this is the approach Battlegrounds II is taking.

On the flip side you have a game like Deresute, where gacha is the beginning and the end and it’s really like gambling, in that the stuff you want is gated inside the UFO Catcher machine of bling and glam. It’s great fun to hit a jackpot and this is part of the game’s draw. On the far side of the digital idol-casino-resort is all the rhythm game machine you can play rhythm games, or a game of house, or watch idols dance. Each section of the game is its own draw that are tied together thematically by a cohesive franchise.

Basically, try this thread.

I think a basic understanding in terms of free play versus paid play tend to come down to being able to get what you want easier. In these idol gacha games for example, the goals tend to be the collection of some or all idols, and/or creating strong teams or specific teams or outfits for the rhythm game part. Free players just gain idols at a slower rate than paid players, and strongest cards are gated more so for free players (needing to roll). The strategy is either you spend your currency in ranking to get fairly strong but effort-based characters or you save more of it to roll. The efficacy comes down to pricing and availability of the ingame currency, as well as how competitive the game is for events (which is tied to how strong or desirable the reward is). This is where you balance player perception of “P2W” by making a big enough of a separation between winning competitively in rhythm games and winning in the casino in your idol-casino-resort. (It isn’t in Battlefront II but western gamers don’t know the difference, partly because the play paths are unusual for a AAA game and it’s obfuscated (intentionally even) by the game design choices.)

This really leads to one thing: explaining the loot in the box. In Japan rates and results of gacha is available by law. There are some loopholes to this (see: building ships in Cancolle or Azur Lane). There are some downsides to publishing your rates, too. But there are upsides, which is people can figure out how to play your game right in terms of how the gacha mechanics play in player progression. This isn’t clear in Battlefront II by design. Furthermore, having the probability and rewards available is just less sketchy and people can take you to your word in terms of rolling the die, and gives developers and publishers more credibility. You want this to not be like actual gambling in reality, in that people are doing it because they don’t know what they’re doing, that it’s done sometimes coercively, that people don’t trust the system (especially when it’s unregulated). You kind of actually want it to be like actual gambling, in that it’s fun for some, and the odds are well known. In other words, microtransaction games can be the best of both worlds–or at least a bit better than each of them separately. Developers can get paid no matter of their games’ scale, and game designers and players can embrace the RNG for mutual benefit.

I think this has to happen first by devs knowing how to extract pleasure for microtransactions in a non-zero-sum kind of way. Which is to say, you have to treat all your customers like customers, because paying customers are only going to have a good time only if nonpaying customers are also having a good time. It’s not like video games have real marginal costs, so this is entirely possible, and is actually what happens in many of the best F2P games. It’s a real pity that this hasn’t been the case in the earlier days of microtransaction, firmly planting the concept in the negatives in public.


Some Thoughts on the “FairyTale Ja Irarenai” Event

I went on Reddit looking for a fight and caught a fish who didn’t know any better. So let me summarize the finding in more precise terms. And also some thoughts.

  1. The new ranking event forces everyone to play the same way, with some options:
    1. You can pick your Stamina use, 2M, 4M, 6M, MM. (15/20/25/30)
    2. On the next page you can pick from two songs (one is “recommended” and gives slightly more points, see below), or a job;
      • And also, alternatively, the event song. Which uses no Stamina but song tokens and doesn’t count as one of the 5-things.
  2. You do 5 non-event-song things with Stamina and you get 1 event song token (max 99 stored)
    • Each of those things also give some amount of event points.
    • The amount of event score those 5 things give you correlates to Stamina used. More Stamina you use, more points you get per type of thing.
      • Job gets you about half the points as the recommended song for the same Stamina tier.
  3. The lower Stamina you spend to get finish those 5 things, the less Stamina per token you can get.
  4. Since event songs give the most score for the event, it is most efficient to do the lowest Stamina things over doing higher Stamina things, because you end up with more event song tokens with the same Stamina spend.
    • But of course, it also means playing for longer to get the same amount of points as someone spending more Stamina.
  5. People who don’t spend money on stamina or has a cap and need to maximize mileage, should play with minimal Stamina per 5 things.
    • Because you get more points overall since playing the event song gives you a lot of points
  6. People who have unlimited spend or limited time to play that they can’t use up their budget/Stamina store and need to maximize score at all cost, should play with max Stamina per 5-things.
    • The event song also rewards players who do the higher stamina 5-things, but not enough to cancel out just grinding with the lowest stamina and then play the event song.

I basically spelled out point #6 on Reddit and one person refuses to get it, because the realization that you get more points with the lowest setting stops them from realizing that this event is about max event score, not max efficiency. In other words, time is a limited resource for everyone, Stamina is not limited in the same way for rankers and whales.

Ultimately a hybrid strategy is ideal for people who want to achieve a high rank in this event; the score scale has changed from a standard “play songs normally, or crunch gems to P2W, whoever does the one or the other thing the most time wins” to “play songs normally…and optionally spend gems to get more points per period of time, and somehow someone wins?” The scaling swings towards people who can play the event song the most number of times, rather than the limits of the event token that you can get. It opens two doors for whales; you can grind 75 stamina or 150 stamina, the latter gives a modest advantage only (maybe 50% more points for 100% stamina), but it closes the door on them in that the overall time it takes is not drastically reduced unlike the jewel crunch method for the other type of ranking event.

There’s a calculus problem hiding in here.

My gut feeling is that much like the pay-to-lose style of grind that characterizes Greemas Million Live battle ranking events, pay-to-win jewel crunch for the typical PST event is too easy. You can grind in a couple hours enough points for the 5000th place tier, and that’s probably impossible for this event given how things are working out 2 days in.

The meta models is pretty easy to understand. Instead of calculating the best efficiency, it’s about predicting player behavior and figuring out how to one-up other players, in a competitive ranking event. So you do still need to understand efficiency, but the psychological barrier preventing people from spending or taking a less efficient route necessary means the group of players who do not have that Greemas 1200th place ranking mentality will have narrow score groupings, because you would do the max efficiency model. People who want to tier 2 will figure things out early and abandon that to go full throttle, or try to see if they can extend that efficiency to higher scoring tiers.

I sort of like this particular change they’ve done to the meta, but at the same time, it’s an outright nerf to P2W so it’s more P2L–in that the trap is both you could be spending your time grinding 2M and getting fewer points than your ranking competition, or you could be blowing cash and achieving fewer points than someone who has more time and is steadfast. Pegging the amount of play you do with the final score by requiring the # of tokens to be fixed and unattached to the ticket system is both good and painful, I guess.

At least, if anything, there are more options to victory in this event, and equally options to screwing yourself over. That is an overall improvement, I guess.


Theater Dayz

So much to unpack. But let this be the prelude and I’ll just build on it.

The rhythm game IDOLM@STER Million Live: Theater Days, launched the night I was packing for Anime Expo (day -1). I put in a fair amount of hours and money in the game since and we don’t really have a real event yet. The first “event” is actually just a period of time where activities in-game will yield more rewards, and you get a free 30-stam drink every day.

Since I can’t talk about how events affect this game, I can talk about the other stuff–which is rather noteworthy. To put it simply, this is the game we’ve been waiting for since Shiny Festa was first a thing. It takes the next step that Deresute didn’t quite take, which is to build out hakomas-style dance groups (fixed at 5 members), but also with audio mixing. Granted this is only available for one song, Brand New Theater, but we expect Thank You, Welcome, and Dreaming all will have this option available.

Watching and playing Brand New Theater in Theater Days (avoiding the Milishita nickname for now) is a trip. It is enough proximity of an experience to watching S4U modes in PS3. This is something that I can call authentically “IDOLM@STER” which has been now recreated in a new video game. On just this level, Theater Days is a success in my book…at least comparable to Shiny Festa.

The main interface of Theater Days is full 3D with characters moving about the screen like…ships passing in the night? They just glide to and from designated points in each “room” and other than a few pre-scripted things, they are just kind of there. I guess this is the limitation of randomly-generated character events than carefully-scripted ones you find in the in-game menus of Platinum Star or BanG Dream. I’m nonetheless grateful that at least on an individual basis, the idols that appear in the rooms, lobby, hallways, or whatever, do the things we want to see them do.

Unlike Deresute, I’ve been playing Theater Days with 3D as much as possible. The 2D mode is pretty lame, but it does what you need it to do–which is nothing but static background that you can’t even affect (outfits/SSR make no difference). Indeed, this game is meant to put the fact that IDOLM@STER the Video Game Franchise is about 3D-rendered idols dancing and singing while you do things, front and center. The gameplay even forces a gameplay pause during the bridge of each song so you can watch the idols strut their stuff.

I feel this is the main charm of the game. And at the same time it’s something that the market has been kind of weaning off of. Most players these days are groomed to play them without these enhancements, in order to squeeze the battery life a bit longer. The hardware in the wild probably still has a ways to go to make the Theater Day vision 100% true, but we’re pretty close, if you have a modern phone (GS8, iPhone 7).

The rest of the game is very much similar to Deresute. The team composition, leveling, training, awakening, and limit breaking all play more or less like modern rhythm F2P games that now flood the market. I won’t belabor this and rhythm game aspects of Theater Days besides to say that flick notes sure are PITA. And probably the one most notable thing is that Theater Days have many quality-of-life upgrades over Deresute, such as removing inventory management all together, so you never have to deal with duplicate cards or putting cards into dorms or whatever. Not too important of a thing, but I appreciate it.

Of course, Theater Days is still in its early days, and it isn’t as feature rich as Deresute, although you can kind of see they plan to feature-match all the basic stuff down the road. It’s also kind of buggy on the edges, and talks to the server a lot. The core game works pretty well, so it’s not like BanG Dream which can still cold crash on my phone (happened just today in fact…).

And yeah, it’s invariable to compare Theater Days with Deresute, and so far it’s a helpful guide. There isn’t a room of SD stuff you can play with, but I think that’s intended (no such thing in ML card game). The gameplay adds a “shigoto” mode which in effect, lets you progress using stamina to get a random commu, rather than to play a song. Maybe it’s a QoL thing too, but commu with idols is also another hallmark of the franchise. It’s important and heartening to see this feature being put it to in the game explicitly, rather than just story that you unlock.

One last note in regards to the early days of Theater Days: the gacha. Unlike Cinderella Girls, you can reasonably “collect” all the Million Live characters off the bat. In fact, with 765Pro characters in the game and getting new voiced lines and scenarios, I really wanted to at least get those 13 first. It would just be like OFA! LOL. The harsh reality is that the initial gacha layout gives 26 R and 26 SR, splitting the full cast in half. Since there is no “friend point” gacha you cannot roll for Ns, as N cards drop only by completing songs and work, and at a “fairly low” rate (given that this is a compu gacha you’re aiming for). The characters whose only non-N cards are SRs are hard to get. Also since the SSR rate is at a blessedly 3% it meant that you had a higher odds of pulling a SSR than a specific SR. With the first new batch of limited SSR/SR, that ratio has changed a bit so you have 0.388% of pulling a SR (excluding the promoted SR) and 0.338% of pulling a specific SSR–almost the same IMO. But it’s hard to get all the Ns. As of this writing I have 48 Ns, 24 SRs, and 7 SSRs. I only was able to complete all the Rs.

So, let’s talk about the meta stuff.

I’m still struggling to incorporate Kaori and Tsumugi into my brain, on an emotional and intellectual level. I don’t think there’s anything unusual about it; it took me over half a year to get into Million Live properly so I expect to get comfy with the two project 39 members by winter this year at the latest. I certainly don’t dislike them, but it would help to see them live in October, yeah?

There are some fanon forming and reforming around Kaori and Tsumugi, and it’s kind of a fun time seeing it happening as it goes. The game itself brings life to Million Live by introducing the characters to more people and to opportunist artists, so hey, not complaining about that.

One of the more subtle threads about the two new characters is how in effect, at least at this point, the less refined characterization necessarily meant they are caricatured to a degree, replacing existing ships or roles in well-established tropes or jokes. I think Fuuka is really feeling it. Hopefully this is just a temporary thing while Mugi and Kaori spread their wings to come into their own selves.

With SideM game also on display (prereg period ongoing now!) we get a glimpse of the hydra that is IDOLM@STER as a game franchise. LOS is clearly taking a different path than TD and SS. It’s sensible to see that the boy side take a different route than the girl side. And it makes me wonder if we’ll get another boy-idol spinoff…

What’s probably the most noteworthy is Taneda Risa and Tanaka Kotoha. Kotoha is plainly not in Theater Days, and this is a huge move relatively. This speaks to me that IDOLM@STER is done with seiyuu switching if the circumstances can help it, and this is an internal decision. If anything, we should infer all the more that Tanechan is coming back, and it is just a matter of time. Just like how SideM anime announcement confirms that Million Live anime will happen, and it is also just a matter of time…

I guess I can take heart that at least the management is committed to doing the right things, but it’s hard to see what’s good about it. Tanechan is not Kotoha. But if Tanechan is coming back, then we need to keep that seat warm for her… Maybe there is a temporary compromise somewhere that makes up the room for improvement. Namely, just put Kotoha in but keep her voiceless?

Please get well soon & come back Tanechan, we all miss you (and not even just in Million).