On Title Screens and the Lessons Still Not Learned From Catherine

Posted by Pepsiman (2478 posts) -

As Atlus games are regularly wont to do with me, Catherine is a game that I still regularly think about, a somewhat remarkable feat on its part considering more time has passed for me since I played it compared to the majority of the game's western players. Although much of what I had to say about the game was encapsulated in my review and the subsequent retrospective blog post, the contents of both of which I continue to stand by, there are still a few things I've left unsaid in the nearly two years since I last wrote about it in any major capacity. I've never actually discussed the mini-crisis I had in deciding the game's score, for instance, its last plot arc, like with many other reviewers, having left me feeling jarred and struggling to figure out whether it was sufficient enough to bump the game down to three stars or not. (It was never going to garner a five out of five either way, though, despite how much I may personally like it.) Likewise, I've never mentioned how one scene late in the game actually deeply disturbed me in a way I doubt few other games will ever replicate and how that scene's ability to tap into one of the darkest parts of my memory is one reason I find the game to be largely successful to me personally on an emotional level. The one largely unmentioned thing that still lingers in my mind most and what I want to focus on in this ever-so-rare new blog post, though, is Catherine's title screen.

From what I've personally noticed, whenever people discuss Catherine's visuals at any length, the dialog is usually centered on a few very specific topics. Chief among them, naturally, is the game's aesthetic style and the bemusing notion that the same engine that powered much of Fallout 3 and New Vegas could somehow be used to produce something that's so striking to see. Yet rarely have I seen the blog posts and forum messages delve much deeper beyond that and provide a proper analysis of the game's imagery. This could entirely be due to my own incompetence at finding the places where that's actually being discussed, but by and large the conversation on the artistic side of Catherine seems to focus only on its superficial style, rather than its substance. That's a huge shame since, like many of Atlus' other games before it, a deeper understanding of the symbolism behind the game's scenery is hugely beneficial to understanding it on a deeper thematic level. While I'd be happy to talk at length about a number of visual elements in Catherine, I feel its title screen in particular is important to note since it's very quietly subversive of a lot of video game standards when it comes to that element specifically. So much so, in fact, that if Catherine's influence isn't felt in future games as a result of its plotline and its attempts to meaningfully make a game targeted at an adult audience, then I hope at least some developers out there are taking notes about what its title screen has to say, for they show that they way things have to be done is hardly as fixed as it so often seems.

However, let's quickly go over what your typical title screen achieves in terms of both visuals and functions to provide a better context of the general precedence that's come before and after Catherine's. Although I'm fully confident that anybody on this site reading this blog knows what a title screen is in at least basic terms, I still have things to say about what specifically constitutes normal ones and why those things are the standard bearers, so be patient with me if it seems like I'm initially discussing things that don't need to be reviewed. To begin, I've provided several examples of title screens in the image set above, one from each major console generation, plus one pre-NES era one in the form of Wizardry's. Title screens tend to exist for two specific purposes. The first of these has historically been to provide a common starting point for the game from a debugging and development standpoint; if a developer can guarantee exactly how a game will always initially boot up, that's one less variable that needs to be considered in figuring out why some part of a game has broken. (For perspective on the importance of this basic technical consistency, think of modern Grand Theft Auto games and how they always immediately start the player in the game world after the initial load with nary a proper title screen in sight and how very few other games, even today, attempt to emulate that practice; it's logistically harder to program than it may initially sound.) The second of these purposes, as we all know, is to introduce the player to the name of the game and, through its imagery, offer a basic idea about its actual contents. In the Call of Duty: Black Ops one above, for instance, it's not hard to surmise that the game is fundamentally about warfare, while the Super Mario Bros. one actually goes a step further and conveys to the player the fact that it's a sidescroller. Usually you'll see things such as "Press Start" on the screen as well and nowadays they'll almost always have a musical accompaniment, but as the gallery demonstrates, such things don't all have to be present for something to inherently qualify as a title screen. Then, naturally, once you do hit the start button, either the game starts or you're brought to a menu that lets you configure different variables before proceeding into the game itself.

I bring up all of these basic details about title screens to point out how prevalent they are regardless of the era in which they were created. What once initially began as a practical need in the arcade era to attract players and give game programming a consistent starting point has become a tradition that has remained largely unchanged at its core. This isn't a bad thing per se; title screens obviously have extremely important purposes and they've served the video game medium extremely well. But little meaningful change overall despite vast progress on most every other front in video games since the golden era of American arcades in the 1970s and 1980s says, to me, at least, that perhaps the greater potential of many title screens is being left untapped. From a functionality standpoint, this can't necessarily be helped and doesn't really need to be addressed for reasons already discussed. What's more damning is still how so few title screens have anything significant to say from an aesthetic perspective. To be certain, there are philosophical reasons why more time and resources aren't spent into making intellectually deeper title screens. As a part of the game that most players are naturally going to quickly zoom past so they can access the meat that is the actual game itself, it can be hard to justify putting so much effort there when, at the end of the day, often the quality of the gameplay mechanics and how fun they are will be the factors that make or break its reception for the vast majority of people. Again, obviously not a bad thing on its own and is perhaps how things should be with many games if resources are limited. But that perpetual emphasis on games as products of fun entertainment is also a rub in its own right, as it tends to result in much of its evolution and innovation being hamstrung into a few specific sectors of game design and technology, rather than outright challenges to just what can and should represent games and in what ways all of that is manifested. It's a common critique brought up in the discussion of games as art, but it's something that's also equally relevant to the discussion of other things that are normally as overlooked as well, title screens included.

Catherine, however, is hardly a game that's just about fun. To be certain, there's a segment of its player base, myself included, that found things such as the puzzle block mechanics to be genuinely interesting and thoroughly engaging, but when the basic idea behind its creation at Atlus was to make an adult game that went beyond gratuitous violence and purely titillating sexual content, there's no way fun can be the one and only almighty thing that keeps it together as a game and grants it integrity as a creative work. Catherine is a game about sex, infidelity, the place of both in relationships, and what all three can say about an individual person and the ways that they approach life. There are plenty of points where the player has to get serious in order to appreciate the game's contents and although people remain highly divided about just how well it accomplishes what it sets out to do, the point remains that Catherine draws its legitimacy as a game from a very different philosophical place than many others released today, especially in the physical retail market for which it was developed. It's from that contrarian identity that Catherine's title screen was formulated and, in turn, is the ultimate root behind its unorthodox nature and why it's so worth more closely examining.

I feel equipped at this point now to finally dissect Catherine's title screen. A good first step in doing so, then, is breaking down just exactly what we're looking at in the first place since, while there aren't necessarily a lot of things occurring visually on the screen, the elements that are present may not seem cohesively put together at first glance. As such, more likely than not, the first thing that likely attracts players' attention when looking at the title screen is the image of Katherine and Vincent. Hoisted up into the air by a black-and-white cubic object amidst a vast, hot pink sea, the pair might be physically close to each other, but are otherwise in completely different positions circumstantially. Katherine, for example, sits on top of the cube, sporting her normal outfit and casually leaning back, with the upper half of her face partially obscured along with her expression. She seemingly takes no particular notice of the surroundings around her, at most giving a cursory look in Vincent's general direction before turning her gaze elsewhere. Either she doesn't realize or just outright doesn't care that she also happens to be sitting on top of barbed wire.

Vincent, however, is strapped to the side of the cube by that same barbed wire, a pained expression on his face as he repeatedly tries and fails to attract his lover's attention. Although he calls out Katherine's name when the title screen first appears, this only occurs once; otherwise, he silently switches between vainly flailing about to break free while desperately looking towards Katherine and being resigned to his current predicament, staying still and not fighting what he can't overcome. Save for the parts where the barbed wire cuts into his skin, he, unlike Katherine, is completely monochromatic, practically blending in with the block behind him and wearing nothing but spotted boxer shorts and a curious pair of ram horns atop his short, dark, unkempt hair. On the opposite end of the image are two large symbols for the female and male sexes that are also dangling by chains, with the word “Catherine” illuminated behind them in a lighter shade of pink. In the bottom-right corner, the words “Press Any Button” are written in a font whose letters are composed of dramatically jagged angles and, to top the whole image off, sheep regularly fall infinitely in the background of the screen with a desperate bray while the trumpet and piano-laden theme song "It's a Golden Show" by Shoji Meguro plays nonchalantly.

In basic terms, Catherine's title screen contains virtually every basic element we associate with title screens. The game's name is clearly present, as are a variation of the iconic phrase "Press Start" and some imaginative decor in the form of Katherine, Vincent, and various other background elements. It doesn't abide by these practices, however, without breaking away from a lot of conventions during the process. One of the more apparent ways the title screen does this is through its placement and orientation of every element on screen. Rather than place the title and main imagery in the middle like in the examples above and as most title screens have been designed since the 1970s, all of the elements of Catherine's title screen are deliberately pushed off to the side, often rendered chaotically and contorted at an angle. This effort extends even to the phrase “Press Any Button,” which it should be noted, is usually written in a small, meek font not unlike this blog post and placed in the center underneath the game's name in a typical title screen. Instead, as it was mentioned before, it's depicted in a jagged manner and once again juxtaposed into a diagonal, off-center position, its clear, bright white, once again being more immediately noticeable than the lighter pink used to write the title. Meanwhile, the center of the screen is just a blank, hot pink space while the name “Catherine” itself has been unusually relegated to the upper-right corner. Still partially obscured by the gender imagery in front of it, the title, for once, is clearly not meant to be the center of the player's attention. That honor, instead, goes to the block-bound Vincent and Katherine, with the pair filling up a large majority of the vertical space available in their portion of the title screen off to the left. When players first start the game, they aren't necessarily supposed to know their exact relationship or even their names, but the fact that they're the first things that draw the player's eye implicitly indicates that they're set to play an important role of some sort in how the game will pan out and that they're therefore worth noting.

The anti-establishment nature of Catherine's title screen only get deeper and more interestingly cryptic from there. The basic color pallet of the title screen, for instance, when excluding the purposefully full-color Katherine, consists solely of pink, white, and gray. These choices constitute a stark contrast to the video game industry's more typical red, black, and brown varieties in other title screens. As we're all very well aware, such colors are often used by games to try and evoke a sense of grim bleakness in the player, a trend that, as we all know, has become so pervasive in Western games in particular during the last two console generations that such art directions are regularly derided as being unimaginative and lacking creativity. Catherine's color choices and usage are therefore a very clear antithesis to that precedent. The pink and white make clear Atlus' intentions for the game to be aesthetically distinctive from the get-go and reinforce gender dynamics as one of Catherine's central themes. As for the gray that's visible on Vincent and the block in contrast to Katherine and the rest of the scenery, it brings to mind that perhaps not all of the game is necessarily as bright and energetic as the pink and white may indicate, that there are more subdued moments awaiting the player, too.

But the subversive traits in Catherine's title screen lie not just in its visual design. It's also present in the sort of information it actually manages to quietly tell the player about the game's contents and narrative themes. That is to say, these initially disparate components combine to form a deeper agenda as a title screen than just something such as, “This game has soldiers and guns and you'll be playing as one to shoot a whole lot of the other” as in the Call of Duty: Black Ops one included in this post, even if the exist of a deeper undercurrent isn't readily apparent to a first-time player of Catherine. Obviously, the presence of the male and female sex symbols and the positioning of Katherine and Vincent on the gray block immediately indicate that the game deals in gender and sexual dynamics as one of its main themes. However, the details get more specific than that even in spite of the relatively sparse amount of imagery available. The expressions that both Vincent and Katherine wear, for instance, as well as their general circumstances, actually provide nuanced insight into their personalities and overall relationship. The fact that Katherine, for example, is able to sit on top of the block so casually and unrestricted is telling of her dominance over the relationship. Although she cares deeply for Vincent and the bond that the two have formed, she's still a deeply independent person at heart and is unwilling to compromise on that, whatever such a commitment to that value may entail. Hints of this reality lie even in the juxtaposition of a fully colored Katherine against the monochromatic Vincent and the block they both share. Deliberately depriving some areas of an image of full color is an easy, effective way to manipulate viewers' attention and give the impression that the colored portion is in some way more lively and important than its blase surroundings, with Okami being another game that uses this technique to iconic effect at times. In Katherine's case, this subtly alludes to her dynamism and independence, the fact that she understands herself and her being, and her willingness to stand out and be different for the sake of her own needs and desires, even if it causes conflict for her in the long run.

Compare all of that to Vincent, who, on the other hand, is a demonstrably different person in a number of dimensions by virtue of his title screen presentation. His pained, desperate face that yells out to his apparently apathetic lover and the barbed wire that pins him to the block to the point of bleeding point to a number of things. The contrast between his worries about the symbolic, irreversible weight of his commitments that he's made and may continue to make to Katherine are embodied by the barbed wire keeping him firmly attached to the block to the point of pain, his complacency with being around her and his ability to depend on her presence in his life foretold by his fruitless attempts at provoking her to do something about his plight before subsequently giving up and starting the cycle anew. His gray color pallet reflects his personality, representing a distinct lack of vivaciousness on his part and a lack of motivation and/or perceived need to change and grow as a human being. He is a man who is ultimately resigned to his fate and yet, as we can see with his struggling on the title screen, will come to resent that part of himself or, in trying to reach out to Katherine, either seek salvation through her or try to no avail to retain her as part of a normal life she increasingly wants to be less and less a part of with no clear emotional progress in sight.

The boxer shorts and ram horns, meanwhile, are a complimentary package, his shorts blatantly speaking of his ongoing infidelity with Catherine while his horns classically evoke both his libido and a certain element of biblical sacrifice. The former is explained when taking into consideration the ram's significance in both Western symbolic canon and the Chinese Zodiac, of which Japan is an adherent, as rams are regularly perceived to be intelligent, powerful animals that are driven by sexual passion and can persevere through life's trouble's. With regards to the more biblical elements behind Vincent's horns, much of their importance is tied to critical storyline spoilers that are best not discussed here for those who haven't cleared the game. Even so, what can be said is that sheep and rams are commonly depicted in the Bible as being the animal of choice for violent sacrificial rituals done in God's name. The story of Abraham and the near-sacrifice of his son features the most famous use of sheep in this capacity. If the player is able to make those connections, a lot of information can be derived about Vincent's ongoing troubles and the sorts of trials he'll come to face by the time Catherine's story wraps up. Obviously, this can be extended to the falling sheep that are seen in the background as well, with the blood-splattering death of one above Katherine and Vincent's block in the opening sequence leading up to the title screen proper commencing an infinite series of other plunging sheep in its wake. The jazzy musical number that plays in the face of all that chaotic trauma, like with Katherine's relative color saturation compared to her surroundings, serves to emphasize the psychologically dire nature of the game's contents by cheerily contrasting with what's on the screen, all the while giving players a subtle idea of the ambiguities that lay in store for them.

When viewed as a complete, cohesive package, the point of Catherine's title screen being so important to me and why I feel it's worth emulating in other games is simply that it has a point and things to quietly say to its players in the first place. What's regularly perceived to be filler and a means to reaching the end that is actually playing the game with most other title screens is, with Catherine, a critical tool for immersing the player in its world and preparing them for the long, arduous, hugely symbolic journey ahead before they even press the start button for the first time. Whether the player even understands a fraction of what I'm able to discuss about the title screen in retrospect is irrelevant; coming from personal experience, at the very least, the title screen at its outset is evocative enough to establish a basic sense of the game's tone and, more importantly, its overarching thematic framework. Catherine isn't the first game even within this generation to achieve this, with Braid potentially being an earlier contender for the title, but it nevertheless stands out because of how relatively unblazed that trail still remains in this day and age.

If 30 years after Pong's release and the rise of Atari as an American cultural icon we're only just finally beginning to see widespread, concerted efforts towards games exploring facets of the human condition by changing the relationship between gameplay and the player to mean something more than pure fun, then there are even more places where the medium can grow in terms of how pure presentation is able to influence that mission as well. Catherine proves that even facets of video games as seemingly permanent and fixed as title screens aren't exempt from that scrutiny, either. Throwaway in terms of overall time invested by the player though the may be, the fact that they're also a guaranteed sight that players will encounter every time they turn on the game can actually be a justification for investing more time in their creation and better integrating them into the overall fabric of the game itself. In Catherine's case, this results in imagery whose meaning and significance to players can change and broaden the further they delve into the game, despite the fact that every facet of it will visually remain constant from the beginning of the game to its conclusion. And if that much can already be achieved at a point in the medium's history where the philosophical utility of a title screen still isn't widely recognized, surely other developers in the future can make title screens that take things even farther and are more deeply integrated with whatever underlying gameplay experiences they seek to create. It just requires taking that first step of acknowledging a greater utility for title screens is possible, something that goes beyond functioning just as a gateway to gameplay and makes it more than just a thing that "has to be there" for the sake of tradition and development logistics.

I think that lesson at least is something that can be universally taken away from Catherine's title screen regardless of whether you actually like, loathe, or feel ambivalent towards it as a game. Its accomplishments aren't nearly as pronounced as Catherine's themes or its visual fidelity and, indeed, it took me 40 hours, three endings, and a lot of post-game contemplation to even begin to realize they were there at all, but it's a testament to their impact that I find myself still able to vividly recall it and eager to pick it apart nearly two years after I finished playing the game. As someone who's about as academically distant from formal art and music studies as one can be, I don't doubt that there are even more things left to decipher and ponder over that I haven't been able to cover in this post. It's the fact that I find anything substantial in it to say in the first place compared to so many other title screens in video games, let alone to this unprecedented extent, that tells me that Atlus has uncovered an abstract aspect of video game design that's well worth investigating and refining moving forward. I don't think it's a path that every video game has to take or even should pursue, but with so few other games even attempting it up until now, there is, to say the least, room for growth. Catherine proves that even something as proven and set in stone formulaically as a title screen can, in actuality, be molded to serve other purposes and it's from that I hope that future games take heed and find the inspiration to explore what function means in video games beyond practical realms. Such things, after all, only truly stay permanent and fixed as standards for as long as they are allowed to do so.

#1 Posted by Pepsiman (2478 posts) -

As Atlus games are regularly wont to do with me, Catherine is a game that I still regularly think about, a somewhat remarkable feat on its part considering more time has passed for me since I played it compared to the majority of the game's western players. Although much of what I had to say about the game was encapsulated in my review and the subsequent retrospective blog post, the contents of both of which I continue to stand by, there are still a few things I've left unsaid in the nearly two years since I last wrote about it in any major capacity. I've never actually discussed the mini-crisis I had in deciding the game's score, for instance, its last plot arc, like with many other reviewers, having left me feeling jarred and struggling to figure out whether it was sufficient enough to bump the game down to three stars or not. (It was never going to garner a five out of five either way, though, despite how much I may personally like it.) Likewise, I've never mentioned how one scene late in the game actually deeply disturbed me in a way I doubt few other games will ever replicate and how that scene's ability to tap into one of the darkest parts of my memory is one reason I find the game to be largely successful to me personally on an emotional level. The one largely unmentioned thing that still lingers in my mind most and what I want to focus on in this ever-so-rare new blog post, though, is Catherine's title screen.

From what I've personally noticed, whenever people discuss Catherine's visuals at any length, the dialog is usually centered on a few very specific topics. Chief among them, naturally, is the game's aesthetic style and the bemusing notion that the same engine that powered much of Fallout 3 and New Vegas could somehow be used to produce something that's so striking to see. Yet rarely have I seen the blog posts and forum messages delve much deeper beyond that and provide a proper analysis of the game's imagery. This could entirely be due to my own incompetence at finding the places where that's actually being discussed, but by and large the conversation on the artistic side of Catherine seems to focus only on its superficial style, rather than its substance. That's a huge shame since, like many of Atlus' other games before it, a deeper understanding of the symbolism behind the game's scenery is hugely beneficial to understanding it on a deeper thematic level. While I'd be happy to talk at length about a number of visual elements in Catherine, I feel its title screen in particular is important to note since it's very quietly subversive of a lot of video game standards when it comes to that element specifically. So much so, in fact, that if Catherine's influence isn't felt in future games as a result of its plotline and its attempts to meaningfully make a game targeted at an adult audience, then I hope at least some developers out there are taking notes about what its title screen has to say, for they show that they way things have to be done is hardly as fixed as it so often seems.

However, let's quickly go over what your typical title screen achieves in terms of both visuals and functions to provide a better context of the general precedence that's come before and after Catherine's. Although I'm fully confident that anybody on this site reading this blog knows what a title screen is in at least basic terms, I still have things to say about what specifically constitutes normal ones and why those things are the standard bearers, so be patient with me if it seems like I'm initially discussing things that don't need to be reviewed. To begin, I've provided several examples of title screens in the image set above, one from each major console generation, plus one pre-NES era one in the form of Wizardry's. Title screens tend to exist for two specific purposes. The first of these has historically been to provide a common starting point for the game from a debugging and development standpoint; if a developer can guarantee exactly how a game will always initially boot up, that's one less variable that needs to be considered in figuring out why some part of a game has broken. (For perspective on the importance of this basic technical consistency, think of modern Grand Theft Auto games and how they always immediately start the player in the game world after the initial load with nary a proper title screen in sight and how very few other games, even today, attempt to emulate that practice; it's logistically harder to program than it may initially sound.) The second of these purposes, as we all know, is to introduce the player to the name of the game and, through its imagery, offer a basic idea about its actual contents. In the Call of Duty: Black Ops one above, for instance, it's not hard to surmise that the game is fundamentally about warfare, while the Super Mario Bros. one actually goes a step further and conveys to the player the fact that it's a sidescroller. Usually you'll see things such as "Press Start" on the screen as well and nowadays they'll almost always have a musical accompaniment, but as the gallery demonstrates, such things don't all have to be present for something to inherently qualify as a title screen. Then, naturally, once you do hit the start button, either the game starts or you're brought to a menu that lets you configure different variables before proceeding into the game itself.

I bring up all of these basic details about title screens to point out how prevalent they are regardless of the era in which they were created. What once initially began as a practical need in the arcade era to attract players and give game programming a consistent starting point has become a tradition that has remained largely unchanged at its core. This isn't a bad thing per se; title screens obviously have extremely important purposes and they've served the video game medium extremely well. But little meaningful change overall despite vast progress on most every other front in video games since the golden era of American arcades in the 1970s and 1980s says, to me, at least, that perhaps the greater potential of many title screens is being left untapped. From a functionality standpoint, this can't necessarily be helped and doesn't really need to be addressed for reasons already discussed. What's more damning is still how so few title screens have anything significant to say from an aesthetic perspective. To be certain, there are philosophical reasons why more time and resources aren't spent into making intellectually deeper title screens. As a part of the game that most players are naturally going to quickly zoom past so they can access the meat that is the actual game itself, it can be hard to justify putting so much effort there when, at the end of the day, often the quality of the gameplay mechanics and how fun they are will be the factors that make or break its reception for the vast majority of people. Again, obviously not a bad thing on its own and is perhaps how things should be with many games if resources are limited. But that perpetual emphasis on games as products of fun entertainment is also a rub in its own right, as it tends to result in much of its evolution and innovation being hamstrung into a few specific sectors of game design and technology, rather than outright challenges to just what can and should represent games and in what ways all of that is manifested. It's a common critique brought up in the discussion of games as art, but it's something that's also equally relevant to the discussion of other things that are normally as overlooked as well, title screens included.

Catherine, however, is hardly a game that's just about fun. To be certain, there's a segment of its player base, myself included, that found things such as the puzzle block mechanics to be genuinely interesting and thoroughly engaging, but when the basic idea behind its creation at Atlus was to make an adult game that went beyond gratuitous violence and purely titillating sexual content, there's no way fun can be the one and only almighty thing that keeps it together as a game and grants it integrity as a creative work. Catherine is a game about sex, infidelity, the place of both in relationships, and what all three can say about an individual person and the ways that they approach life. There are plenty of points where the player has to get serious in order to appreciate the game's contents and although people remain highly divided about just how well it accomplishes what it sets out to do, the point remains that Catherine draws its legitimacy as a game from a very different philosophical place than many others released today, especially in the physical retail market for which it was developed. It's from that contrarian identity that Catherine's title screen was formulated and, in turn, is the ultimate root behind its unorthodox nature and why it's so worth more closely examining.

I feel equipped at this point now to finally dissect Catherine's title screen. A good first step in doing so, then, is breaking down just exactly what we're looking at in the first place since, while there aren't necessarily a lot of things occurring visually on the screen, the elements that are present may not seem cohesively put together at first glance. As such, more likely than not, the first thing that likely attracts players' attention when looking at the title screen is the image of Katherine and Vincent. Hoisted up into the air by a black-and-white cubic object amidst a vast, hot pink sea, the pair might be physically close to each other, but are otherwise in completely different positions circumstantially. Katherine, for example, sits on top of the cube, sporting her normal outfit and casually leaning back, with the upper half of her face partially obscured along with her expression. She seemingly takes no particular notice of the surroundings around her, at most giving a cursory look in Vincent's general direction before turning her gaze elsewhere. Either she doesn't realize or just outright doesn't care that she also happens to be sitting on top of barbed wire.

Vincent, however, is strapped to the side of the cube by that same barbed wire, a pained expression on his face as he repeatedly tries and fails to attract his lover's attention. Although he calls out Katherine's name when the title screen first appears, this only occurs once; otherwise, he silently switches between vainly flailing about to break free while desperately looking towards Katherine and being resigned to his current predicament, staying still and not fighting what he can't overcome. Save for the parts where the barbed wire cuts into his skin, he, unlike Katherine, is completely monochromatic, practically blending in with the block behind him and wearing nothing but spotted boxer shorts and a curious pair of ram horns atop his short, dark, unkempt hair. On the opposite end of the image are two large symbols for the female and male sexes that are also dangling by chains, with the word “Catherine” illuminated behind them in a lighter shade of pink. In the bottom-right corner, the words “Press Any Button” are written in a font whose letters are composed of dramatically jagged angles and, to top the whole image off, sheep regularly fall infinitely in the background of the screen with a desperate bray while the trumpet and piano-laden theme song "It's a Golden Show" by Shoji Meguro plays nonchalantly.

In basic terms, Catherine's title screen contains virtually every basic element we associate with title screens. The game's name is clearly present, as are a variation of the iconic phrase "Press Start" and some imaginative decor in the form of Katherine, Vincent, and various other background elements. It doesn't abide by these practices, however, without breaking away from a lot of conventions during the process. One of the more apparent ways the title screen does this is through its placement and orientation of every element on screen. Rather than place the title and main imagery in the middle like in the examples above and as most title screens have been designed since the 1970s, all of the elements of Catherine's title screen are deliberately pushed off to the side, often rendered chaotically and contorted at an angle. This effort extends even to the phrase “Press Any Button,” which it should be noted, is usually written in a small, meek font not unlike this blog post and placed in the center underneath the game's name in a typical title screen. Instead, as it was mentioned before, it's depicted in a jagged manner and once again juxtaposed into a diagonal, off-center position, its clear, bright white, once again being more immediately noticeable than the lighter pink used to write the title. Meanwhile, the center of the screen is just a blank, hot pink space while the name “Catherine” itself has been unusually relegated to the upper-right corner. Still partially obscured by the gender imagery in front of it, the title, for once, is clearly not meant to be the center of the player's attention. That honor, instead, goes to the block-bound Vincent and Katherine, with the pair filling up a large majority of the vertical space available in their portion of the title screen off to the left. When players first start the game, they aren't necessarily supposed to know their exact relationship or even their names, but the fact that they're the first things that draw the player's eye implicitly indicates that they're set to play an important role of some sort in how the game will pan out and that they're therefore worth noting.

The anti-establishment nature of Catherine's title screen only get deeper and more interestingly cryptic from there. The basic color pallet of the title screen, for instance, when excluding the purposefully full-color Katherine, consists solely of pink, white, and gray. These choices constitute a stark contrast to the video game industry's more typical red, black, and brown varieties in other title screens. As we're all very well aware, such colors are often used by games to try and evoke a sense of grim bleakness in the player, a trend that, as we all know, has become so pervasive in Western games in particular during the last two console generations that such art directions are regularly derided as being unimaginative and lacking creativity. Catherine's color choices and usage are therefore a very clear antithesis to that precedent. The pink and white make clear Atlus' intentions for the game to be aesthetically distinctive from the get-go and reinforce gender dynamics as one of Catherine's central themes. As for the gray that's visible on Vincent and the block in contrast to Katherine and the rest of the scenery, it brings to mind that perhaps not all of the game is necessarily as bright and energetic as the pink and white may indicate, that there are more subdued moments awaiting the player, too.

But the subversive traits in Catherine's title screen lie not just in its visual design. It's also present in the sort of information it actually manages to quietly tell the player about the game's contents and narrative themes. That is to say, these initially disparate components combine to form a deeper agenda as a title screen than just something such as, “This game has soldiers and guns and you'll be playing as one to shoot a whole lot of the other” as in the Call of Duty: Black Ops one included in this post, even if the exist of a deeper undercurrent isn't readily apparent to a first-time player of Catherine. Obviously, the presence of the male and female sex symbols and the positioning of Katherine and Vincent on the gray block immediately indicate that the game deals in gender and sexual dynamics as one of its main themes. However, the details get more specific than that even in spite of the relatively sparse amount of imagery available. The expressions that both Vincent and Katherine wear, for instance, as well as their general circumstances, actually provide nuanced insight into their personalities and overall relationship. The fact that Katherine, for example, is able to sit on top of the block so casually and unrestricted is telling of her dominance over the relationship. Although she cares deeply for Vincent and the bond that the two have formed, she's still a deeply independent person at heart and is unwilling to compromise on that, whatever such a commitment to that value may entail. Hints of this reality lie even in the juxtaposition of a fully colored Katherine against the monochromatic Vincent and the block they both share. Deliberately depriving some areas of an image of full color is an easy, effective way to manipulate viewers' attention and give the impression that the colored portion is in some way more lively and important than its blase surroundings, with Okami being another game that uses this technique to iconic effect at times. In Katherine's case, this subtly alludes to her dynamism and independence, the fact that she understands herself and her being, and her willingness to stand out and be different for the sake of her own needs and desires, even if it causes conflict for her in the long run.

Compare all of that to Vincent, who, on the other hand, is a demonstrably different person in a number of dimensions by virtue of his title screen presentation. His pained, desperate face that yells out to his apparently apathetic lover and the barbed wire that pins him to the block to the point of bleeding point to a number of things. The contrast between his worries about the symbolic, irreversible weight of his commitments that he's made and may continue to make to Katherine are embodied by the barbed wire keeping him firmly attached to the block to the point of pain, his complacency with being around her and his ability to depend on her presence in his life foretold by his fruitless attempts at provoking her to do something about his plight before subsequently giving up and starting the cycle anew. His gray color pallet reflects his personality, representing a distinct lack of vivaciousness on his part and a lack of motivation and/or perceived need to change and grow as a human being. He is a man who is ultimately resigned to his fate and yet, as we can see with his struggling on the title screen, will come to resent that part of himself or, in trying to reach out to Katherine, either seek salvation through her or try to no avail to retain her as part of a normal life she increasingly wants to be less and less a part of with no clear emotional progress in sight.

The boxer shorts and ram horns, meanwhile, are a complimentary package, his shorts blatantly speaking of his ongoing infidelity with Catherine while his horns classically evoke both his libido and a certain element of biblical sacrifice. The former is explained when taking into consideration the ram's significance in both Western symbolic canon and the Chinese Zodiac, of which Japan is an adherent, as rams are regularly perceived to be intelligent, powerful animals that are driven by sexual passion and can persevere through life's trouble's. With regards to the more biblical elements behind Vincent's horns, much of their importance is tied to critical storyline spoilers that are best not discussed here for those who haven't cleared the game. Even so, what can be said is that sheep and rams are commonly depicted in the Bible as being the animal of choice for violent sacrificial rituals done in God's name. The story of Abraham and the near-sacrifice of his son features the most famous use of sheep in this capacity. If the player is able to make those connections, a lot of information can be derived about Vincent's ongoing troubles and the sorts of trials he'll come to face by the time Catherine's story wraps up. Obviously, this can be extended to the falling sheep that are seen in the background as well, with the blood-splattering death of one above Katherine and Vincent's block in the opening sequence leading up to the title screen proper commencing an infinite series of other plunging sheep in its wake. The jazzy musical number that plays in the face of all that chaotic trauma, like with Katherine's relative color saturation compared to her surroundings, serves to emphasize the psychologically dire nature of the game's contents by cheerily contrasting with what's on the screen, all the while giving players a subtle idea of the ambiguities that lay in store for them.

When viewed as a complete, cohesive package, the point of Catherine's title screen being so important to me and why I feel it's worth emulating in other games is simply that it has a point and things to quietly say to its players in the first place. What's regularly perceived to be filler and a means to reaching the end that is actually playing the game with most other title screens is, with Catherine, a critical tool for immersing the player in its world and preparing them for the long, arduous, hugely symbolic journey ahead before they even press the start button for the first time. Whether the player even understands a fraction of what I'm able to discuss about the title screen in retrospect is irrelevant; coming from personal experience, at the very least, the title screen at its outset is evocative enough to establish a basic sense of the game's tone and, more importantly, its overarching thematic framework. Catherine isn't the first game even within this generation to achieve this, with Braid potentially being an earlier contender for the title, but it nevertheless stands out because of how relatively unblazed that trail still remains in this day and age.

If 30 years after Pong's release and the rise of Atari as an American cultural icon we're only just finally beginning to see widespread, concerted efforts towards games exploring facets of the human condition by changing the relationship between gameplay and the player to mean something more than pure fun, then there are even more places where the medium can grow in terms of how pure presentation is able to influence that mission as well. Catherine proves that even facets of video games as seemingly permanent and fixed as title screens aren't exempt from that scrutiny, either. Throwaway in terms of overall time invested by the player though the may be, the fact that they're also a guaranteed sight that players will encounter every time they turn on the game can actually be a justification for investing more time in their creation and better integrating them into the overall fabric of the game itself. In Catherine's case, this results in imagery whose meaning and significance to players can change and broaden the further they delve into the game, despite the fact that every facet of it will visually remain constant from the beginning of the game to its conclusion. And if that much can already be achieved at a point in the medium's history where the philosophical utility of a title screen still isn't widely recognized, surely other developers in the future can make title screens that take things even farther and are more deeply integrated with whatever underlying gameplay experiences they seek to create. It just requires taking that first step of acknowledging a greater utility for title screens is possible, something that goes beyond functioning just as a gateway to gameplay and makes it more than just a thing that "has to be there" for the sake of tradition and development logistics.

I think that lesson at least is something that can be universally taken away from Catherine's title screen regardless of whether you actually like, loathe, or feel ambivalent towards it as a game. Its accomplishments aren't nearly as pronounced as Catherine's themes or its visual fidelity and, indeed, it took me 40 hours, three endings, and a lot of post-game contemplation to even begin to realize they were there at all, but it's a testament to their impact that I find myself still able to vividly recall it and eager to pick it apart nearly two years after I finished playing the game. As someone who's about as academically distant from formal art and music studies as one can be, I don't doubt that there are even more things left to decipher and ponder over that I haven't been able to cover in this post. It's the fact that I find anything substantial in it to say in the first place compared to so many other title screens in video games, let alone to this unprecedented extent, that tells me that Atlus has uncovered an abstract aspect of video game design that's well worth investigating and refining moving forward. I don't think it's a path that every video game has to take or even should pursue, but with so few other games even attempting it up until now, there is, to say the least, room for growth. Catherine proves that even something as proven and set in stone formulaically as a title screen can, in actuality, be molded to serve other purposes and it's from that I hope that future games take heed and find the inspiration to explore what function means in video games beyond practical realms. Such things, after all, only truly stay permanent and fixed as standards for as long as they are allowed to do so.

#2 Posted by Make_Me_Mad (3091 posts) -

You'll probably catch a few odd glances for looking so deeply into a title screen, but hell, I like Catherine and the Title Screen certainly is memorable and striking. Can't say that about many games. Fun read, and I think you're pretty much dead-on with the symbolism you talk about throughout. My personal favorite detail was just the simple fact that Vincent is trapped and drained of color, and Katherine isn't. I always thought it said something about how they feel in their relationship, with Katherine looking bored, frustrated, sitting and waiting. It's representative of how she's in control of her life, thinks things are going well, but she's frustrated at Vincent's unwillingness to move things forward in any meaningful way. Vincent, out of her sight, is trapped, miserable, and filled with doubts and regrets about their relationship and the mistakes he's made and continues to make; plainly out of her view, because he wants to pretend everything is fine and won't actually voice any of his misgivings to her.

#3 Posted by Marino (4699 posts) -

Aaaaaaaaaaaand... on the front page.

Staff
#4 Posted by ImmortalSaiyan (4677 posts) -

I don't have anything to add to the subject, just want to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I never spent much any time thinking about the Title Screen from the first time I seen it it stuck out to me. It's visually striking, different and sets the tone of what is to follow.

#5 Posted by ShaggE (6455 posts) -

This analysis (excellently done, by the way) makes me all the more depressed that I find the meat of the gameplay so dull. There's an awesome game tucked into Catherine, and it's a shame that I basically have to Youtube it if I ever want to see the back half without suffering more block puzzles.

#6 Posted by Dudacles (1455 posts) -

I remember thinking it was an unusual -- and therefore, really interesting -- title screen back when I was playing Catherine as well, but I've never quite put this much thought into it. This is a well-written and thoughtful blog, excellent work!

#7 Posted by Tylea002 (2295 posts) -

Excellent write up, dude. Better than most of the "Worth Reading" column! Game title screens are definitely in need of a shake up, there's so much potential there, like you said. They just are what they are because they are, when they should be striking as hell, seeing as they're the first thing you see.

#8 Posted by Phatmac (5726 posts) -

Catherine is game that i think about just like you. I hate and love and hate it and it just alllllllllllll makes me crazy about it. The title screen was just simply odd to me and frankly scary. I'm glad you put so much thought into this title screen. I've found a new appreciation for Catherine! It still kinda sucks though. :/

#9 Posted by MikeGosot (3227 posts) -

I've never thought about the horns. I've just thought they were there to show Vincent's just another sheep in the herd, even tho' he sees himself as a person. Also, little trivia: Horns, here in Brazil, are related to adultery. And... What's up with those ants?

#10 Posted by Little_Socrates (5677 posts) -

Absolutely the kind of writing that I want to see more of on our wonderful website.

Brilliantly done work.

Catherine's a beautiful, brilliant game. No matter how little I want to play it by night 6 or 7, I can't deny its quality.

#11 Posted by talkingtoast (85 posts) -

Man I thought I was in the dubstep in video games thread, and these comments were confusing me so much.

Now that I'm here I feel like I have to add something, but I haven't read the post... I didn't really like the part of Catherine where you played it !

#12 Posted by Flappy (2253 posts) -

I'm fairly certain that my brain liquefied halfway through that post, but from what I read, you really put a lot of time analyzing the title screen and pointing out things that most people (like myself), don't really focus on. For that, my friend, you get a nod of approval and a follow from me.

Keep up the good work.

#13 Posted by Bollard (5550 posts) -

Awesome read! I hadn't seen the title screen before or played the game, but you saw a lot more in it than I probably could. And I totally realised how uninspired most title screens are after reading this. Thanks.

#14 Posted by Sinusoidal (1510 posts) -

I'm going to be an asshole and say that this was not well written. You're like the Paganini of blog writers: too many notes and not enough getting to the point. You really said everything you needed to say here in the last half of your final paragraph and the wall of text preceding it was just a run-on sentence filled vocabulary exercise.

That said: I agree with you. An effective title screen really can be an important part of the experience and there is plenty of unexplored potential there that developers could be working with. I haven't played Catherine so I can't say, but Skyrim's title screen in particular stands out to me as one that really symbolizes everything that's awesome about that game. Its bleak and minimal visuals echoing the world you play in and absolutely epic music foreshadowing your deeds. I spent more time staring at and listening to that one than I care to admit.

#15 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -

@Tylea002 said:

Excellent write up, dude. Better than most of the "Worth Reading" column!

Screw that. It's better than half the stuff on the site. (Although that might be because I write half the stuff on this site.)

@Little_Socrates said:

Absolutely the kind of writing that I want to see more of on our wonderful website.

Brilliantly done work.

Also, this.

#16 Edited by FluxWaveZ (19342 posts) -

Nice read. I guess this isn't part of the title screen (like how you didn't write anything about Catherine pointing out the menu items), per se, but I think the way the developer's logo is represented when booting up the game is also a small point worth observing. The buzzing sound of a low quality light bulb as the ATLUS logo appears, all grimy and dirty looking, along with the ominous music and, finally, blood filling in the "T" is an excellent way to set the tone as a precursor to the actual title screen.

Not sure I agree with the point that Vincent's boxers symbolizes his infidelity, but I'm with you on the rest. Haven't thought about it too deeply until reading this, but that title screen is indeed striking, in more ways than one. I don't think I can think of another game that made the Giant Bomb guys react in such a way shown in the Quick Look, for example. I'd like to see more title screens like it.

#17 Posted by Pepsiman (2478 posts) -

All right! Now that I'm on one hour more worth of sleep than what I had when I found out people noticed this post, clearly the time is ripe to reply to you all!

@FluxWaveZ: The boxer thing isn't an argument I'm particularly attached to, either. I think given the rest of his physical appearance I think it's at least an accenting point that speaks to his libido, but at the end of the day, there's only so much I can divine without having been a part of the creative team behind it all. I enjoy the speculation more than actually being right anyway, honestly.

@Sinusoidal: I always welcome criticism no matter how scathing it is and as someone who does their fair share of it with other people's work, I'm happy to see someone go against the grain and not just give my ego a boost. You've articulated your points well and that's all I could ever ask for. Obviously as the person who wrote it, though, I'd disagree about the notion that only the conclusion contains the salient points worth paying attention to. It summarizes my thoughts, to be certain, but the given that the thesis of the blog is how I think Catherine's title screen has more things to impart the player symbolically than a lot of other games, I think the analytical exposition is a necessity to both fortify the legitimacy of my own argument, as well as just help people understand my general perspective. As another commenter wrote on here, title screen analyses are far and few between, so I felt it was my job as a writer to justify why devoting one to Catherine is worthwhile in the first place, especially since it was a topic of my own choosing and not posted as part of some larger ongoing discussion.

It's probably also worth noting that I'm a trained essayist at heart; even if this work isn't necessarily great in your eyes, this formalized and admittedly long-winded sort of structure is what comes naturally to me even in more casual settings like blogs and forum posts. Am I just trying to make excuses for a piece that could always use more polish? Perhaps, especially since this exact style has landed me writing jobs elsewhere, but like with many people, your criticism about my lack of conciseness is something I'm aware can be a fundamental problem in my writing. Subtlety is not my forte, to say the least. My greater concern as a writer with these sorts of posts is for my readers to be able to see completely eye-to-eye with me in how I came to reach a given opinion and I like to think that, if nothing else, I was hopefully not at least repeating my various points ad nauseum to achieve this sort of length. But I do know that a compromise between establishing that connection and ensuring greater readability of my pieces is also my responsibility as a writer. I probably haven't done a great job here, either, but your words are something that I'll make sure to try and bear in mind in the future.

I hope you at least see where I'm coming from when it comes to how this blog turned out the way that it did. I'm not looking for you to change your opinion about its quality, however. Complacency is one of the worst things a writer can have and you've done a great job of keeping me in check. For that, I'm thankful for your criticism. I would move on to your other comment about Skyrim's title screen, but as someone who's just barely played the game, I'll spare you another three rambling paragraphs on something I'm barely equipped to discuss.

@MikeGosot: I caught on to the horn symbolism in Catherine after my best friend, who's a proper art student unlike me, let me in on it after playing some of the game herself. From what I'm told, the connotations it has in Brazil are pretty universally recognized worldwide, so I wouldn't be surprised if Vincent's was a more direct allusion to his adultery than I might have concluded in the writing. As for the ants... I've been puzzling that one out for a long time as well to mostly no avail. I may need to just go read some interviews in Japanese with the art director to see if I can find some more direct clarification.

@ShaggE: Like I wrote, I personally enjoyed the puzzle stuff, but definitely understand why a lot of other people reacted in the exact opposite way, so I'm definitely not out to evangelize its praises. In all fairness, as somebody who played the original Japanese edition before it got a difficulty patch that was then patched some more for the American release, there were definitely times during the later stretches of the game where my sanity was getting frayed. I'm not sure how I found the willpower within me to gold medal all of them on normal so I could skip the puzzle stages for future runs, but yeah.

@Make_Me_Mad: I'm definitely aware that most long-form analyses of games don't delve into their title screens, so it's nice to be told that my writing justified the unusual choice in topic. Many of the specific details I wrote about in this blog and the original essay that I used as a starting point only came to me the more that I was writing it. I felt like I was onto something when I first decided to pursue this topic, but didn't know what sort of rabbit hole it would take me down until I just went in and investigated for myself. The color contrasts are definitely one of those details that I only noticed later on and that was as a result of the formatting of the original essay requiring I spend the opening paragraph just describing the image itself before proceeding into the analysis. Like you, it's probably my personal favorite detail, since it can impart a lot of information to the player about Katherine and Vincent's circumstances without the need for them to do anything more explicit. Subtlety is always the hardest thing to pick out with this sort of stuff, but they typically yield the most material to pore over, too, so I'm glad I took the time to try and work it all out in my head.

#18 Posted by MikeGosot (3227 posts) -
@Pepsiman: I did some quick search about ants when i finished the game, and, while i don't remember much of it, i remember thinking that the ants represents the opposite of what the sheep does. While the sheep are left to their fate, and mindlessly follow each other to death, ants represents organization and strenght. And witches. I dunno, it's weird.
#19 Posted by Praxis (261 posts) -

Okay, bear with me, I'm going to play devil's advocate for a bit here. It's hard for me to separate title screens from the concept of an attract mode, since they both serve to familiarize a person with a game before they've actually played it. The attract mode has more or less gone the way of the dodo now that people no longer need to be enticed into pumping quarters into an arcade machine, though the title screen still somehow persists, almost vestigially, as a means of conveying the name and general idea of a game to the player even though they in all likelihood have made their purchase already and know with reasonable certainty what type of game they have gotten themselves into. In this sense, title screens serve a strictly utilitarian purpose that, frankly, no longer exists, and furthermore create an additional hurdle on the way to actually playing the game, though admittedly a brief one. Bearing this in mind, isn't Catherine's title screen, when it hints at the themes and relationships to come, even in such a nuanced way, still slavishly adhering to a formula that has been passed down for decades? Isn't Sonic the Hedgehog's title screen, with its fast-scrolling parallax and smirky, finger-wagging protagonist, doing more or less the same thing? You can glean a fair amount about both games from these screens, though obviously the imagery of the former is somewhat weightier that that of the latter. It might be more subversive to, say, blur the lines that separate the title screen from the main game, as the God of War series has toyed with, or introduce elements that are wholly unexpected. I find it interesting that you mention Black Ops in your article as an example of a ho-hum title screen, as that game also allows the player to completely detach themselves from the main menu, walk around, fiddle with a computer terminal, and play Zork all without touching the game proper. It may not be related to the title screen, sure, but by introducing elements not commonly associated with menus, one could easily argue that the secrets hidden within Black Ops' pre-game content are far crazier and more subversive than what Catherine accomplishes with its title screen.

That's my two cents, anyway. Don't take this rebuttal to mean that I didn't enjoy the article, by the way. On the contrary, its kind of rare for a video game blog to give me something to think about. Keep up the good work.

#20 Edited by asian_pride (1654 posts) -

Awesome read, enjoyed reading it thoroughly. I was actually thinking of some notable title screens before going in, but Catherine seems to be the only one I can remember in recent years. It's a great attention-grabber for sure; something that not only sets the game's overall tone, but in a way, foreshadows the fate of poor Vincent -- at least to me (also, who doesn't at least cringe at that title screen? I mean, come on, those barbed wires obviously hurt!). I basically interpreted the title screen as sheep-man receiving punishment for whatever he did to that sadistic woman, sitting nonchalantly on top of the cube without a care in the world. But that's probably just me.

Reading this makes me feel motivated to finally finish up Catherine (which I intend to do during Christmas break). I did enjoy it somewhat, but I got so caught up in other games last year that it just unfortunately fell by the wayside.

#21 Posted by I_smell (3924 posts) -

Some of this is interesting, but GOOD GOLLY,. there's at least 4 paragraphs worth of text I can snip out n make this way less of a slog to read.
I get that an enthusiastically garrulous and comprehensive dissection of thematic aesthetics is of the most uncommon though extraordinarily and indeniably, to oneself at least, indulgent diamond of exploration in thought and spark of scrutinous discourse, but don't fuck me about here!

#22 Edited by Pepsiman (2478 posts) -

@I_smell: Which paragraphs do you have in mind that are worth cutting? You're not the first person here to make this criticism and I'm legitimately curious in a non-facetious way what would be worth cutting that would still essentially retain all of my points. I suspect I know which ones you might be targeting, but, as the one who wrote this blog, I thought I provided justifications for why each paragraph should exist. Of course, I'm not my readers, so there's only so much guessing I can do as to how much that intent comes across. As I was telling another guy who had fair critiques of this post, I'm a trained essayist at heart and so I feel the need to make sure my arguments and the logic behind them are ideally made as clear to readers as they are to me, even if it comes at the expense of a lengthier piece. I tend to not write blogs so strictly since I care more about establishing an ongoing dialogue with readers than just proving a point and calling it a day, hence why you see things like that introductory paragraph included here. If parts of that structure seem tangential, it's a deliberate choice on my part, but, in my mind, there is still a greater structure that every paragraph supports. If it all just comes across as unnecessarily pretentious and garrulous rambling, though, then while I'm honestly a little bummed that it seems like I'm being self-indulgent since I wrote this out of passion and not just to indulge my ego, it's probably worth some reflection on my part. I appreciate the feedback either way, though, rest assured.

@asian_pride: The nice thing about interpreting things like this is that there's thankfully no right answer. The Persona team probably had specific intents behind the creation of the title screen that I'll never have knowledge about, but even then, things obviously take on their own meanings once they're out in the wild. So I'd say that I see you interpretations of it all as valid; when I was writing the original essay this was based upon, I had people providing me with similar interpretations and I'd by and large agree with them, so you're hardly alone.

@Praxis: I was curious if anyone was going to bring up the attract mode issue to me when I was writing this post. I don't inherently disagree with what you have to say and wouldn't be at all surprised if the place in title screens changes or is just more widely dropped as games continue to mature as a medium. However, having said that, like I wrote, title screens still have some utility from a debugging standpoint that enable them to persist with some sort of purpose. Rockstar games get away with dropping title screens completely without having their games spontaneously break, but I suspect that comes only after a lot of trial and error on their programmers' part, given how rarely that trademark is replicated today, even if it allows for potentially better immersion. So in my mind, if title screens are still a part of games that many can't avoid having for logistical reasons, there are opportunities to at least improve how cohesively they integrate into the rest of the game on an experiential level. Catherine's title screen does indeed uphold a lot of basic traditions with title screens, but the important thing to me is what Atlus has done within that space and not so much that, unusual imagery aside, its title screen isn't completely breaking boundaries entirely. You're also right that games like Black Ops do really interesting things with their menus, but for my purposes, I was trying to keep the definition of title screen strictly within that general realm of the basic splash image, logo, and "Press Start." If I were to include main menu systems as well, I think games like Black Ops and God of War would very much so have had a place in the essay, but I wanted to at least somewhat limit the scope if only so my thoughts could be relatively contained. Obviously depending on who you talk to here, how effective that intent came across is a relative thing, but for this comment, that's beside the point. Much obliged for your devil's advocating!

#23 Posted by Gold_Skulltulla (221 posts) -

You say that Catherine's title screen does a great job of preparing the player for what they're about to experience. Do we really need prepping though or is this just making the most of an old video game standby? Do you think we're meant to reflect on the imagery of the title screen as we play or are those tropes represented in the main game for consideration there? If the latter, couldn't your argument also be applied if this imagery were used in advertising materials, box art, or the cover of the instruction booklet? I'm not questioning your interpretation, just how much stock should be put into imagery that summarizes and re-represents ideas that are part of the "artwork proper."

#24 Edited by I_smell (3924 posts) -
@Pepsiman said:

@I_smell: Which paragraphs do you have in mind that are worth cutting? You're not the first person here to make this criticism but, as the one who wrote this blog, I thought I provided justifications for why each paragraph should exist. I appreciate the feedback either way, though.

There's a start. The rest of the information in that paragraph had already made itself clear by the fact that post 1 is 4000+ words.
The first 5 paragraphs are just there to set me up to read the essay, and here's the thing: I came here READY to read the essay. I've not played Catherine, but I'm already pretty up to speed on what it's about, because I'm on GiantBomb.com
I also know about title screens- you literally spend time describing what's in the pictures, and saying how you know this isn't interesting!
 
"Most title screens since Super Mario Brothers have been pretty much the same. They're designed from the function of giving the game code somewhere to consistently boot from, and to introduce the game aesthetically, which was all very important in the age of arcade cabinets. Outside of function though, they're all fairly boring centered images and standard PRESS START font.

IMAGE IMAGE IMAGE IMAGE IMAGE
 
With that in mind, here's Catherine:
 
YOUTUBE VIDEO "
 
There, I just saved the reader like 20 minutes. Nothing interesting was lost but fluff, and the fact that it runs on Gamebryo, which is tangential and can go anywhere. Can you imagine if I was talking to you in person, and I spent 20 minutes explaining the above couple sentences? Picture someone doing that.
You have to read your own paragraphs, and ask yourself "What am I trying to say here?" Then delete the paragraph and SAY THAT. You're saying this information is 4000-words valuable, but it isn't.
 Is there more interesting content later on? I have no idea because I got to the part about biblical imagery and stopped reading. I spent all my attention reading a description of what was in the Youtube video I JUST WATCHED!
#25 Posted by Pepsiman (2478 posts) -

@I_smell: Not that I don't see where you're coming from with those critiques, since you're hardly the first person to chastise me for lack of conciseness, but at some point I can only be so reductive with my own text before I feel like I've compromised the structural backbone that might lend my writing some semblance of argumentative legitimacy with at least some readers. For the section you outlined specifically, you argue that I could have boiled what I wrote about title screens down to, "Man, they sure haven't changed much since Super Mario Bros. and the arcade days aesthetically and functionally" and that much of the remaining text could have been dropped out, especially since I concede that a lot of readers on this site will know the basic stuff. I knew there was the potential that such text would be seen as unnecessary, but two reasons dictated why I still went ahead with writing all that additional text on a site like this. The first one was that if I was going to say that Catherine's title screen is so philosophically different from mainstream title screens, I better establish a baseline for what a normal title screen constitutes on my own terms. Maybe you're right and I got a little condescendingly detailed for a place like this, but it was also in service of the second reason, which was to put into perspective just how much tradition still influences what we see in today in title screens precisely because such specific details can apply to so many different title screens across game generations. Maybe you would have approached this post very differently in that regard and that's fine, but I stand by my statement that I do have reasons for the text existing as it does now.

The same applies for the images and the Catherine title screen video. I put those images up to give readers easy, direct representations of what I was talking about and that's doubly true for how I chose to present Catherine's title screen itself. I don't think it particularly hurts the text giving people direct access to the visual imagery that I'm discussing and the video specifically is there because I talk about some animating elements later on in the post that aren't properly represented in a still image. Maybe a lot of people here specifically already know the basics of the game and what that screen looks like, but having that imagery there reinforces the context and, in my mind, helps people keep it freshly in their heads as they read through the rest of the text. Again, great if it's your prerogative to assume your target audience will inherently be eye-to-eye with you at all times, but I have a large enough audience here and elsewhere reading my posts that I'm not always willing to make that gamble, especially when it doesn't take that much more time out of my day to be accommodating on such a basic level.

I think your remark about treating this post like a conversation is what really emphasizes the philosophical gulf between how we approach our writing. If I was just talking to someone casually about this on the street, you'd be certain I wouldn't give them a 4000 word monologue. I work as a translator and interpreter; I know what it means to be direct and to the point in those situations. If I don't act that way, I'm out of a paying gig! But I don't feel like the stakes are inherently the same in that regard between a typical conversation and something like this that I write in my own free time. Everyone's blog here is a personal soapbox and that gives us the power to express our thoughts in whatever way is the most comfortable. In uploading this post, I ideally hope that it inspires discussion and reflection on the part of my readers to some degree, but at the end of the day, it's an outlet to jot down my thoughts on my own terms. You tell me to just write what I'm thinking and that in turn will somehow inherently result in a more condensed piece, but that's what I have done and have always done with my writing. I do think in these elaborate, mechanical terms when making these sorts of breakdowns because to me, the hows are just as important to me as the whys when it comes to my thought processes. I, at least, prefer writing like this that has no outside constrictions to reflect that thought process, since I feel it's more honest to my readers about, again, how and I why that I reach the conclusions that I do. If my particular style and way of thinking doesn't jive with everyone, that's fine, I can live with that. I'd be pretty bored with myself if everyone agreed with me and thought the same way anyway. Conciseness is always, always something that I'm working on in my writing, but if I feel like a concise sentence doesn't reflect my underlying thinking to my satisfaction, then I'll write until I feel like I've achieved that. That's just how I approach things personally, plain and simple. And if your argument is ultimately just, "These are forums and you should have taken your lengthy post elsewhere," then we're not going to see eye-to-eye in terms of length vs. discussion value in a public space period.

So in the end, I still appreciate your feedback, since it is honestly rare for a reader to call out my style. You've given me a lot to think about in terms of my writing philosophy and the implications it has on my readers. But I think we'll have to agree to disagree on a lot of the specifics of my writing style and how that's been reflected in this Catherine piece. I don't honestly expect or need you to like this piece or my approach in general. I respect that different people tackle the same topics differently. That's great. It inspires me as a writer and a translator and, hell, it's not like being told I'm good over and over again actually provides any constructive suggestions for what's worth changing. However, while I'll never be one to say that my own work is perfect, at some point, I have to stop writing a piece, look it over, ask myself if the voice speaking in the text reflects the voice in my own head, and call it a day. With this Catherine post, I reached that level of contentedness and if not everyone agrees it's the best, then that's okay. I got the thoughts that I personally wanted jotted down and out in the world and that's all that matters in the end, acclaim, criticism or otherwise.

#26 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -

HOLY SHIT. That reply to i_smell was over 1000 words long. To put that in perspective: it's longer than my last blog (1024 words).

#27 Posted by Kierkegaard (592 posts) -

@Pepsiman: I like your analysis. And I enjoy seeing your entire thinking process in text no matter if it took me five more minutes to read. A little reading never hurt anybody. Quite the opposite.

Your underlying question of whether title design will learn from Catherine made me think of a game from 2002.

Ratchet and Clank's press start screen is story rather than gameplay driven. It introduces the player to the Ratchet before Clank, the lonesome mechanic trying to fix his ship so he can escape his drab planet. He walks back and forth in his garage with no hint of the weapon-wielding bad ass hero he is about to become. It's quiet. It's night time. The only sounds are the cranking of tools. It is the beginning of the game and it is the beginning of Ratchet.

I would love if someone were to do a heady analysis of all attract screens to see what innovations have occurred. This one popped into my head as a good example of contextualizing the screen within the story and universe.

#28 Posted by Praxis (261 posts) -

I knew I was throwing something of a curveball talking about main menus and attract modes and such, but it looks like you got my point regardless. Suffice it to say I think Catherine does interesting things with its title screen, and certainly Atlus put forth more effort than most developers would, but, if a developer is going to worry about such things at all, they could probably get more bang for their buck by dispensing with the normal tropes. Something like Braid, for instance, has a memorable title screen precisely because, technically, it doesn't have one at all. You view the game's title from within the game world, with no pressing of the start button required. The great thing about games like it and Black Ops is that by ignoring the old stand-byes of non-interactivity, they are making their titles, menus, or what have yous legitimate parts of the gameplay experience rather than simple gateways to it. Without that kind of integration, a title screen will probably just be regarded in the same way that a movie poster or a book cover would be: nice when it's done well, but ultimately inessential.

#29 Posted by ch3burashka (5081 posts) -

I think this is a great exercise in overanalyzing and regurgitation. Self-editing could have helped.

#30 Posted by Mento (2545 posts) -

I think it's entirely germane to be a chatty Catherine about Catherine. I'm a little abashed that I've only just got around to reading it.

I really love the title screen. Catherine's and in general. I know most people find it an annoyance that they're happy to skip as quickly as possible, but a lot of those people are also happy to skip cutscenes they haven't seen, even if it's just some establishing helicopter-camera shot of the next level. I've always been of the mind that you're kind of discarding the game's artistic direction by dismissing these scenes, as trivial as they might seem. A title screen is entirely intended to present a game's content and personality in a nutshell, but the purposefully truncated way it has to do so can bring up some really interesting minimalist interpretations. It's like a well-crafted Twitter post - how does one put together a thousand-odd words a game might need to describe itself in a single image (or a brief animation)? You can't go much further than that with your title screen, otherwise people will get too impatient to skip it all.

I bumped into this archive of NES title screens recently and it's curious how it's a mix of stark, utilitarian screens in which there's nothing but the title, the "press start" command and a credit or two (check out the first three Final Fantasy title screens for perhaps the least inspiring examples - many future Final Fantasies continue the trend, for possibly some ironic reason given the near-ostentatious levels of the rest of their presentation) and screens that deign to inject some of their game's personality in, or in some way go above and beyond what was expected or required of them. I think the way they go about making their first impression says a lot about a game.

Anyway great essay. Apparently, subconsciously, I felt it needed at the very least another essay as a response?

Moderator
#31 Posted by Dark_Lord_Spam (3302 posts) -

Glad to see a mention of Braid, since that title "screen" was what immediately entered my mind upon reading your thesis (I haven't actually played Catherine beyond the demo). I can't fault you on your style, either, as I tend to be a tad masturbatory in my writing and lengthy, well-laid argumentation is what I enjoy reading.

#32 Posted by Dixavd (1358 posts) -

Just want to say that there are a ton of people paying attention to start screens (it seems especially prevalent in Japanese developers where start screens are thought of as a key part of aesthetic).

Here is an article talking about Start menus from June of this year. And if you want to see a wide spectrum of what videogame critics/journalists are talking about (like what they think on the aesthetic of a recently released game) - then I would highly recommend Critical Distance.

#33 Posted by Forderz (247 posts) -

I would like to chime in to the fact that one day I just booted up and looked through the menus for Catherine after beating it.

#34 Posted by TrashMustache (452 posts) -

only the greatest of writers can go on at length about something as trivial as a title screen, I don't believe in anything you wrote but I enjoyed reading it, you have a very captivating pen.

#35 Edited by Fattony12000 (7416 posts) -

@Pepsiman said:

So much so, in fact, that if Catherine's influence isn't felt in future games as a result of its plotline and its attempts to meaningfully make a game targeted at an adult audience, then I hope at least some developers out there are taking notes about what its title screen has to say, for they show that they way things have to be done is hardly as fixed as it so often seems.

However, let's quickly go over what your typical title screen achieves in terms of both visuals and functions to provide a better context of the general precedence that's come before and after Catherine's.

That is so completely not the title screen for Final Fantasy VII.

That is the title screen for Final Fantasy VII. And damn fine it is too.

I really enjoyed your deep down and dirty look into Catherine's hot pink sea of a title screen. I can appreciate duders/bombers wanting to explore what might otherwise be taken as such a little thing. Such an insignificant thing. I too would like other games to put just that little bit more an effort into making that first thing you see something interesting.

BUT IT'S STILL REAL TO ME DAMMIT!

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