Gimmick Man

After all that Virtual-On, I decided to revisit Mega Man games for the kicks. Playing the games back to back reminded me why the series was such a hit. Great music, great controls from the third game onward, steady progression and evolution of the concepts and their implementation, and tight level design. Well, most part, at least.

I’m not sure at what point Mega Man saw a change. It’s not clear-cut as to say that a particular game had a definitive paradigm shift that changed the MM formula, as each game gave a new twist in some manner. 2 introduced 8 bosses, E-Tanks and classical help items, 3 introduced sliding and Rush, 4 introduced chargeable buster and slight branches in the stages, 5 expanded on in-stage collectables with Beat and backup tanks, 6 had Rush Adapters and colour changes to stages depending whether or not you have BEAT letters collected, 7 introduced the initial Robot Master split to four, included a lot more support items and took some parts from the Game Boy Mega Man games, and 8 revamped all the stages to have a specific gimmicks.

Perhaps the existence of these gimmicks rather than concentration on the core of Mega Man ultimately drove the sales down.

The best example of this is Mega Man 8. While Mega Man stages are all about a certain kind of theme to them, with a gimmick or two in there, they’re usually either harmless or practices in moderation. Mega Man 1‘s Guts Man stage is an example of an early exception for this, as its moving platform segment is infuriating, but luckily relatively short. With the PlayStation era, we began seeing the inclusion of automated driving stages becoming a thing, culminating to one of the worst stages in the whole series with Mega Man X7‘s Ride Boarski. Similarly, X8’s Gigabolt Man-O-War and Avalance Yeti have driving stages as well. Two out of eight main stages were effectively wasted for driving.

The increase of gimmicks like these, be it Rush Adapters or driving stages, really didn’t do good for the series overall. While some argue that Mega Man 9 and 10 returned to the core of the series, they concentrated on the wrong aspects in overall terms.

The evolution of the series core concepts has always been slight changes to the controls and what initial tools the player has. Sliding was a solution for quick evasions and increased movement, which also gave the developers more options with enemy and stage designs. (In DLC Proto Man has the slide, when he previously had a dash. Gotta earn that nerd cred.) Charging shots increased damage output per shot, but it’s not necessary in all cases. Still, it allows both the player and the designers to tackle certain aspects in enemy design differently than with just the lemon shooter. Rush’s inclusion, while stemming from the mobility Items from Mega Man 2, again is a tool for movement and stage design options.

These could be considered three core additions to the series since the first game, and should always be there. However, at some point the series began adding too much unnecessary stuff without really compensating, and then you lost most of the good stuff with Mega Man 8 and its two sequels.

It says a lot that Minakuchi Engineering, the company in charge of the Game Boy games (par the second one) really made additions and tweaks to the formula work well, and Capcom’s stuff took some of it and ran with them in MM7 without really understanding why they worked. Well, outside the Item Replicator, which allows player to produce support items for a cost, but they screwed that over with MM8 by limiting the amount of bolts in the game to build items, and the removal of support items in general.

Mega Man 8 is really a weird game, it tried something different, but failed pretty badly.

Stage gimmicks, the constant addition of option tools and lack of emphasize on the core aspects is probably why the series stagnated as hard as it did. Mega Man 11 has an uphill battle to re-instate all the best elements from the first eight games while trying to ignore the two last ones. Let’s be honest with them, unmaking a decade worth of design and evolution in favour of nostalgia pandering was the very first misstep Capcom made with them, but this was the era of retro-lookalikes being the hottest shit on the block. Can’t really fault them for striking that trend. (This is also why Mega Man 2 was used as the base to model MM9 and 10 after, because nostalgia was rampart and the game has a deified status [Despite certain later games being objectively better.])

Cuphead showcased that the stigma 2D action games had during the naughts is more or less over. However, I hope Capcom recognises that Mega Man has ten games doing the same thing, with varying success. If Mega man 11 is to succeed, it should not pander to nostalgia. It needs to find the proper way to evolve the formula and make the best use of it. It should be more like GameBoy’s Mega Man IV than Mega Man 8 (or 9 and 10) in how it doesn’t forget to balance the core and new.

Certainly the fans will appreciate it just fine, but if it’s just another throwback for these fans, Capcom might a well quit making the game mid-way through. The announcement trailer does give some glimpses, that the core elements established by the first four games are in there to some extent. Charged shots and Rush are in there, with no movement slipping. Sure, the animations could use some work, but that’s always the case. Bolts are back, so we can assume Item Replicator is being implemented. There seems to be some sort of overcharge shot as well, meaning we’re going to see additions to the core formula. We can just hope that their implementation is decent at least, and the staff do not negate the core aspects of good level design first and foremost.

Mighty Number 9 is a great example of all the core elements missing quality to them.


Breakout, Arkanoid and Cyber Block Metal Orange: Evolution in simplicity

Few years back when I was looking at old game footage with some of my friends, one of them could not get his head around how games like Breakout and River Raid could be called games, they didn’t even look the part. I never understood what he meant, but I’m guessing it has everything to do with him growing up with PC games of mid-90’s. Granted, I didn’t specifically live grew up with Atari 2600 either, if anything it was the Atari computers and C64.

It’s been few years since that, but it never left my mind for whatever reason. It doesn’t even look like a game, was his exact words. To him, it looked too simple to be enjoyed. Is the current cultural mentality expecting games to look complex and reflect reality whenever possible?

Breakout is a 1976 game headed by Nolan Bushnell. One of Atari’s biggest hits, Bushnell conceptualised Breakout as a single player Pong, and prototyped by none other than Steve Wozniak. Single player Pong in itself sounds dull, but what Bushnell and Steve Bristow made a significant change; the tiles.

If Pong is an example of pure core game design without any extra elements hampering the competition between two players, Breakout is similarly an example of pure single player game design. There is nothing unnecessary in Breakout, there is nothing in-between the player and the game. There is, quite simply to put it, only the game and the player.

Breakout is a game I played a lot during the mid-90’s and early 00’s on computers in my local library and whenever I had the chance at schools. It was, at a time, very popular game to code for aspiring game designers and coders, as Breakout‘s apparent simplicity hides relatively complex nature. For example, the paddle that bounces the ball is often split into five sections, each sending the ball to a different angle trajectory. In the Atari 2600 version, each 12th bounce would increase the speed of the ball. Things like that you wouldn’t consider consciously, unless you found yourself obsessed with the game and wanting to rip it apart. Breakout, as Atari designed it, has no random elements to it either, and there is nothing to keep the player from having a perfect, calculated game.

Breakout, compared to modern games, tends to look rather bare bones. That is, of course, due to technological limitations of the era, but on the other hand anything else thrown in there would be unnecessary to an extent. The classic Atari sound effects also have a function rather than just filling in silence. I’ve read reports from years back how some players were able to complete a game just by the sound alone. That’s a key to one of the most mesmerising elements of Breakout; it hooks you.

Breakout‘s apparent simplicity is easy to understand. Send the ball flying off, hit a tile, calculate where the ball will land and bounce it back up. Rinse and repeat. However, the actual game is challenging and involves more skill and eye-hand coordination than it appears. It’s a game that’s easy to get into, but ultimately hard to master. Once you get into the game, it doesn’t let you go easily. Watching the ball rhythmically hit the walls and tiles with each blip from the speakers announcing a contact is something only other similar games can ultimately replicate. Some people talk about getting into the zone with games, and Breakout is a game where you can find yourself in very easily. This has happened to be with Breakout’s few descendants, Arkanoid and Cyber Block Metal Orange. To some extent, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach volleyball can induce similar effect once you get into how the ball goes over the net, how it’s returned and in what way. DoAX really is just Pong with prettier graphics and more physics thrown in.

There is nothing in your way to blame the game for in Breakout either. Modern games have animation management, random element management and God only knows how many more elements thrown in there just to drop a monkey wrench in your gears. Technology has allowed games to represent motion and reality to a larger extent than what they could in 1976, and with that certain design elements in game development have been lost. Certain instantaneous elements in gameplay has become a rarer element as natural animation has taken its place. Link swings his sword more realistically in 3D, but there is a lack of satisfaction that you got from a well placed near instant stab from the original game.

Breakout’s design has been copied few times over. By few times I mean more than anyone can count. However, across all the Breakout-clones out there, the core gameplay is very much the same. Whether or not it has been realised well is a whole another thing. A lot of times I’ve heard people first experiencing Breakout on computer, either as a some sort of unofficial clone or browser version. Most browser versions out there are shit, without a doubt, and to find a well coded version that would improve from the original are essentially non-existent. I had the chance the play the Atari 2600 version once with the a paddle. There is nothing quite like finding yourself having an absolute control over the paddle’s movements on the screen, something that no controller has managed to replicate. Even with mouse controls it feels just inaccurate enough, even when it’s competently done. Google launched a version of Breakout you can still play today, but it’s slower than the original and mouse controlled. Ultimately, Breakout’s clones have a very hard time to beat the original paddle nub, because it simply works the best. Mouse control is the closest you can get to it, but it still can’t top the original intended controller. There are Breakout clones that do work with other control methods, but this is because the functions and speeds have been altered to accommodate these controls, which is just a good thing.

Much like Tetris, Breakout is a perfect game in its simplicity. While many mistakenly label it and Tetris as puzzle games, neither are that. Both of them are more or less unique entities of their own, something that could only be realised through a video game. The only way to continue from either from these games would be break that perfect, balanced simplicity by either changing the core rules, or with additional things. Super Breakout was the first sequel released few years after the original, but perhaps the most famous Breakout clone is Arkanoid.

I recommend everyone to read a book called Pilgrim in the Microworld by David Sudnow. The book is his autobiography, detailing his obsession with Breakout and how he manically spent his time to understand the game. He went to the extent of visiting Silicon Valley and interview the programmers to gain insights about the game. He understood how a game could become addictive, an obsession without being a gamer. Sudnow was a pianist. He came from outside the gamer culture of the era, someone who didn’t really saw their appeal until he stopped to learn about them, first by sight, then by trying his hands on them. It’s not only a fascinating glimpse into one’s mind how they saw a game, but also how Breakout’s design, simple as it is compared to the modern games’ overblown layers of complexity, can capture a person’s fascination.

Complexity fascinates people. Things and people themselves are not complex, but we make them to be. There is beauty in simplicity, but by our nature we want to mess with that simplicity. Breakout was a perfectly simple single-player game and effectively created a sub-genre to Pong games through its innovation. You can’t really add more depth to Breakout without changing its gameplay and design, which changes how it ultimately plays out. Super Breakout was the first official sequel to Breakout, adding new game modes and such. Still, it didn’t touch on the design itself.

Ten years later, in 1986, Arkanoid was released. Either it or Breakout are used as an example for the genre, and as such Breakout or Arkanoid clone is not too uncommon to see around. Nevertheless, Taito’s Arkanoid stands apart from Breakout due to its expansion to the formula. Arkanoid did not add any depth to Breakout, and by its extension, to Pong, but it expanded how the game is played and approached.

Arkanoid wasn’t the first Breakout clone, but it sure was the one that stroke true. Its expansions are basically power-ups that adds on top of the existing gameplay rather than changes it. There are some Space Invaders influences in there with a power-up capsule that adds a shot option, and thus another way to break the tiles. Other power ups affect the length of the paddle, adds a multi-ball mode and add a ball capturing ability.

These of course change how you approach the game. Do you pick up certain power-ups over the other, or will you stick the current ones you have? What will serve you best in what situation, and are you able to utilise them all equally well? As the game has become arguably safer to play with these additions, Taito added falling planet debris that spawns at the top of the screen. If the player’s paddle hits one of these debris, it affects how the paddle controls. Another addition is unbreakable tiles and tiles that require multiple hits, adding a way to prevent player from hitting certain spots with ease.

Breakout’s stage design follows the same simple idea as the rest of the game, whereas Arkanoid’s one of the best things are the stage layouts. Arkanoid abandons the idea of breaking out and increased difficulty and adopts progressive stage-by-stage transition. Progressing through the game is done by entering a door that opens up with a certain capsule or automatic progression when the screen is cleared.

Arkanoid got a slew of sequels pretty soon and was ported to pretty much all popular systems at the time. Out of them, Arkanoid DS is the most divisive entry due to how it changed dynamics of the core gameplay. It narrowed and lengthened the play field, making it far higher than in previous entries, and changed the tiles into squares. This changes the dynamics of the game, especially now that there is a loss of information. Breakout is a 100% information game; everything you see is what you get. Arkanoid’s slight variation in the planets debris’ motion adds a random element to the mix, but with Arkanoid DS you have a dead zone where there is no visual information for the player to latch unto. With DS, if the developer wants to use both screens in gameplay, they can either simulate the space between the two screens or ignore the space. Taito decided to include this screenless space, which does add unknown factor to the gameplay. The paddle doesn’t seem to have any changes to it and feels larger due to the narrower field.

Arkanoid DS seems to play in a lacklustre way without an additional paddle controller. Complains I’ve seen regarding the game range from lacklustre ball physics to amateurish visual designs to irritating elevator music used in the game. I have to agree with most of these points. Because there are far better Arkanoid clones out there, games that play reasonably well even without a paddle controller, I never bothered tracking one down to my library. Its presentation isn’t all too appealing,

Taito’s success with Arkanoid stems from well planned expansions on pre-existing game design. This made Arkanoid stand out from other Breakout clones. The additions were important and no other Breakout or Arkanoid clone has managed to beat them in how these two defined the genre. There are numerous good Arkanoid clones out there, and we’ll be taking a look at one next time.

Within the game industry there really isn’t a comparative example to Breakout-Arkanoid relationship. The closest ones that hit the mark are Doom clones that run on the same engine, but there are not straight up analogies. Perhaps one of the best examples is Star Wars: Dark Forces, as the rumours say that the Jedi engine was made from reversed engineered and largely modified Doom engine. The difference in comparison is difficult to make between Breakout-Arkanoid and Doom-Doom clones is because the technology has become advanced enough that such changes have become more or less meaningless. Well, another one would be Street Fighter II compared to earlier fighting games, of course, but SFII did far more than just expanding from the base gameplay.

Most modern games are essentially derivatives from GTA-3D Zelda style games as simplicity and certain level of abstract worlds have been all but abandoned. What use is technological advancement if we can’t obsolete old games and still recycle the same exact methods of gameplay and progress we’ve had over two decades now? It’s no wonder that the general audience liked the Wii and the DS, it had games that deviated from the standard formula a bit, like Brain Age.

Perhaps rather than designing the expansive and complex game systems each and any game seems to go for, there should be a slight paradigm shift to concentrate on the core gameplay over everything else. Such approach is impossible for the modern Triple A game development mentality, I’m afraid.

After Arkanoid, Breakout styled games become hottest shit again. While people mostly remember that time as the boom of NES era and arcades were in a weird moment in time, when home consoles started usurp them. Not to say that the arcades didn’t have their share of awesome games, but less people remember any arcade games from 1986 than console games. PC had its own fair share of games from the time, and Arkanoid was ported to basically every major PC of the era.

Where do you go from Arkanoid? From Breakout it was a simple task just to expand with options, or vary the gameplay rules by changing the tiles or the ball. Arkanoid DS was less successful in changing everything from the physics to the shape and dimensions of the playfield. Nevertheless, Arkanoid stayed true to the idea of keeping it simple, but not all Arkanoid clones followed this path, at least not in visual design. Of course, it was just a matter of time until a porn version of Arkanoid would surface.

The Japanese PC scene was very different from the western one, until it was basically taken over by the IBM standard, a thing that seems to bother some people a lot. I understand these people very well, there are a lot of things that fascinate me in these old PCs, be it how the visuals or simply the how they work out. Even on emulation there’s some nicks here and there that need to be figured out, but luckily most modern emulators are straight forward. Once the IBM standard began to take foothold in Japan, some games had both PC98 and DOS support.

Japanese computers were not technological marvels when it came to screen scrolling, which is why Super Mario Bros. Special opted for screen-to-screen transitions instead. This is also one of the main reasons Visual Novels became a thing; it was easier to showcase one picture with bunch of text than code gameplay in. By 1990 people had got around how to make scrolling work, the year when Cyber Block Metal Orange was released on NEC’s PC-8801 series of computers.

Metal Orange is not really an expansion on Arkanoid‘s gameplay, but a modification. It takes the same basic gameplay as Breakout and takes the idea from Arkanoid, but mixes things with its own method of power-ups and progression. The gameplay is really tight and stands well throughout comparison, especially its Sharp X68000 port.

First thing that you may notice that the overall design of the screen is more expanded than what it usually is with Breakout titles. One third of the screen is dedicated to a HUD with score display, the operator of your spaceship and power-up indicator. It all looks really lovely, with that Japanese 80’s sci-fi flavour to it.

Nevertheless, there are three major flaws in the design of the visuals. The first one is that the power-up capsules increase a bar that indicates which power-up you have an access to. The capsules don’t straight up grant you a boost this time around, but you need to collect them certain amount get certain level power-up. From one capsule to seven and grant the usual Arkanoid like power-ups. The interesting one Silhouette, that gives you after images. The most expensive one creates a Barrier that bounces balls up. Unless you can keep up how many capsules you’ve collected and in what order the power-ups are on the bar, you’ll be eyeing that bar from the playfield to check what the current status is. While you can play Breakout just with the corner of your eye, most people want to focus on the action. Placing this bar underneath the playfield would’ve made it easier to keep an eye on, as players would still check where the spaceship paddle was located.

The second is the spaceship itself, and this is largely a personal issue I’m sure. The spot that bounces the ball up and down is the top of the craft, and doesn’t go deeper than the front of the ship. Sometimes I try to bounce the ball with the side of the ship, underneath the hitbox, with no avail. It’s a visual cue with no attributes. This is more an issue with the X68k version with more detailed graphics.

Third is a minor, but with the stuff that’s going on the screen, tiles breaking, balls bouncing, enemies falling and whatever power-up you have, the animated background can actually make you mistake one of the stars as the ball. I’ve heard this to happen some people who’ve played this game, so it’s a minor issue, but an issue nevertheless.

Depending on your worldview, you may dislike the porn aspect of the game, but that also gives it its rhythm. Each Stage is divided into smaller sections, first having two stages and then increasing each opened image until the player has to beat four stages in one go. Not that it matters really, there are infinite Continues and a Game Over doesn’t send you back to the first stage of a smaller section. The CGs themselves are decent and look very much in-line with other Custom games, like TEEN.

One last thing that Metal Orange does that Arkanoid didn’t was the music, as in there’s quite a lot of it for a Breakout game. Each Stage has its own theme, each character has its own theme, there’s the opening and ending themes and they’re all pretty damn good.

Nevertheless, Metal Orange’s greatest changes really do lie in the visuals and in the sound department, and these two are really what Breakout games can do without completely revamping the game system. The simplicity that started with Pong has not aged one bit in our modern-day games, but we’re seeing it less. Whenever Nintendo got back to basics with Wii and the DS, they faced great success, similarly how the NES and GameBoy become phenomenal.

After all, hitting the Blue Ocean market with attractive products always seems to yield hits.

This post was originally posted in three sequential parts, now collected for easier reading.

Plane elements in Tactical Surface Fighters; F-18E/F Super Hornet

The F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet was an upgrade to the single seat F/A-18C/D line of Hornets. It all goes back to the YF-17 test fighter in the 1970’s, on which the base F/A-18 Hornet is derived from. This base F/A-18 Hornet is a twin engine multi-mission aircraft designed around leading-edge extensions with digital fly-by-wire controls, with single-slotted flaps and ailerons over the whole span of the trapezoidal wings. This, alongside with canted vertical stabilisers give the Hornet an excellent high angle of attack, which was tested by NASA’s High Alpha Research Vehicle. All in all, an aggressive fighter, if needed.

Originally, the Hornet was to have two variants, an attacker and a fighter. However, these were merged into one craft via the Hornet’s multi-function displays, which allows the pilot to change to attack or fighter mode, or both, making the Hornet a proper multi-role fighter. This proved to be valuable asset in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, where operational commanders had large flexibility within scenarios and were able to adjust to situations with a single aircraft in the air.

The C/D version, the which Super Hornet is an upgrade on, has two variants; C being single seat and D being two-seat. D is more a training variant, while the proper mission-ready D’s second seat is reserved for Weapons and Sensors officer to assist the pilot. As such, it mostly served as U.S. Marine Corps’ night attack and Forward Air Controller.

Overall, the C and D models are block upgrades made to the Hornet in 1987, incorporating upgraded radar and avionics, ability to carry newer and larger variety of missiles and got neat little things like self-projection hammer and a synthetic aperture ground mapping radar. It also got a new ejection seat, the Martin-Baker NACES. 1989 models also had improved night attack abilities with Hughes AN/AAR-50 thermal navigation pods, good ol’ night vision goggles and two full colour MFD’s. An upgrade set that overall increases the effectiveness of the fighter.

The F/18-E/F upgrades were based on this, but where much larger in scale. While avionics, ejection seat and such things from the previous upgrades stayed largely the same, including the computer software, the Super Hornet is about twenty percent larger, has both heavier empty and maximum weights. Due to it carrying 33% more fuel internally, its mission range is 41% higher as well. All this meant that the catapults and arresting systems on the naval vessels had to be set differently for Super Hornets. Unlike the Hornet, Super Hornet was also designed  to for aerial fueling, extending its airtime even further.

The larger frame of the Super Hornet comes from its longer fuselage and increased win area. The oval shaped intake ramps of the Hornet were switched for rectangular intakes, which also also slightly larger. Despite the larger size, the General Electric F414 engines give the Super Hornet 35% additional trust compared to Hornet’s F404 engines. The fuselage was not designed for stealth, but the overall design was to reduce ballistic weaknesses and emphasize the use of existing electronic warfare with innovative tactics its flip-of-the-switch multi-role function allowed.

The fuselage is also considerably smoother than its predecessors, as Super Hornet saw extensive use of panel joint serration and edge alignment to eliminate unnecessary surface joint gaps and resonant cavities. These help to reflect waves away from the craft, and with smaller frontal cross-section than its predecessors, the Super Hornet is hard to pick up by radar. F-22 and F-35 would totally eclipse it with their stealth technology.

The F/A-18E/F saw its first action in 2002 during Operation Southern Watch in Iraq as a bomber . After that, the Super Hornet has been flying every sort of mission, from escorting to  close air support. For the U.S. Navy, they’ve proven a competent and effective fighter, which has made it a possible candidate for multiple countries for adoption. The Royal Australian Air Force acquired 24 Super Hornets in 2007, which was a controversial order due argument made that Super Hornet was inferior to the MiG-29 and Su-30 in the South East Asia. The first RAAF Super Hornet arrived in 2009, with the rest coming later down the line.  Numerous other potential operators are about, including Canada to replace their CF-18 Hornets, Finland to replace their F/A-18 Hornets under HX Fighter Program, Poland to modernise their defence in 2021 and to have something to replace their Su-22M4 fleet, with few others in the line. Numerous bids for Super Hornet has failed across the years.

The difference between E and F variants are, as you’d expect, is that E is a single-seat variant while F is a two-seat variant.

And as usual, the image board original

The history of BETAverse Hornet and Super Hornet are very similar to the real world counterpart. Based on YF-17 from the Lightweight TSF Program, McDaell Doglam refined the fighter into a multi-purpose surface fighter for the U.S. Navy to use. While the F-14 Tomcat was still around, the Hornet began replacing them as U.S. Navy’s mainline surface fighter due to its lower maintenance and better cost-to-performance ratio. This mean that a Hornet had a longer fieldtime compared to the Tomcat, just like with the real world fighter. All in all, the BETAverse Hornet follows the history of the actual Hornet very closely.

The same can be said for the Super Hornet. With the all the upgrades made to the F-18E/F Super Hornet, it’s effectively a 2.5th generation TSF and fights in the same league as the SU-34 Terminator. Shoulders saw expanded thrusters, head section gained upgraded avionics and sensors and lower body overall was increased in order to expand operating time. The Super Hornet has similar performance to F-15E Strike Eagle, but at a lower cost, making it U.S. Navy’s and Marine Corps’ flagship and mainline machine, which got exported to place like Australia. E and F variations have the same seat arrangement as the real fighter.

As for its armaments, the Super Hornet doesn’t exactly have a wide variety to choose from. The American Assault Cannon of choice, the AMWS-21 Combat System, is the standard long-range combat goes by. As a special option inherited from the Hornet is the MGM-140 ATACMS missile container system, which has a neat radar unit on it to help guidance. Luckily, the Super Hornet as CIWS-1A Close Combat Knife over the terrible CIWS-1B.

As for the design, the Super Hornet really goes its way to incorporate some of the fighter elements into the TSF, but due to the size of the shoulders and knees, you don’t recognize it as a Hornet of any sort from the first view. This is due to its front silhouette being too large, whereas the Hornet and Super Hornet were designed to have less bulk. The colour is adopted from a real life Super Hornet, as pictured above.

Super Hornet had that smooth surface going on for it, and the TSF version of it almost seems to use this. However, the torso’s many segments, and hanging bits on the skirt armour and slightly excessive raised levels on the arms tell that this wasn’t a main concern. Even Tomcat seems to have smoother surface than the Super Hornet. However, it must be mentioned that the skirt armour does relay some of the fuselage’s smooth look, but that’s about it. Not that TSFs have to concern with stealth when it comes to fighting the BETA, but it’s rather important when fighting other TSFs.

The Jump unit is a truncated and deformed version of the fighter, with the nose cut off. Nothing too special overall, though it is slightly bulky.

Where the Super Hornet made its name for the fans was during the events in The Day After timeline, where it serves as the primary American TSF. Especially notable is how twelve  Super Hornets defended USS John F. Kennedy against a sea of BETA in 2nd of July, 2004. Notable is also their use during the Defence of Seattle and during following events.

Greymon Design Development

Welcome back to guest-post hour, I’m your host, the digi-destined A9. Since we left off at Agumon, it makes sense to go to his most commonly known evolution: Greymon. So let’s not waste any time.

Greymon Prototype

Wait a minute”, I might hear you say. “That’s not Greymon! That’s Rhydon, or Nidoking!” And it’s true, all of those have a very similar shape. But consider this: it’s a rough dinosaur sketch, that’s all that was needed at the time since Greymon wasn’t exactly a poster boy for the Digimon Pendulum series. That spotlight went to Tyrannomon, the true and honest evolution of Agumon. Still, the most prominent features are there: fat belly, three horns and a tail. The only thing that’s missing is the skull that the other versions are wearing over their heads, so let’s take a look at those, shall we?

Continue reading “Greymon Design Development”

Behind the scenes theatre

After a long time, I had a moment to spare to watch some movies. Whilst my collection is nothing special and does not contain many flicks film buffs would tell you to watch, I noticed an interesting trend with then. Behind the Scene stuff changed across the ages. For example, with Star Trek‘s behind the scenes footage was quite honestly just someone on the set doing home videos, with the occasional Roddenberry-owned goof tape he used to sell at conventions without any approval of the studio or the actors. I think you can still find pirate versions of these tapes floating around the Internet. These are honest showcases of what was happening, all the flips and flops of the actors.

Television didn’t exactly have the same amount of documentaries about making of television or movies, all these were relegated to magazine articles and newspaper interviews. Something that the studios themselves didn’t do at all. The value wasn’t in there for them. Genre magazines shone with their exclusive contents, behind the scenes photos and such.

Things changed, albeit slowly. By the late 1970’s you began seeing more and more material on the television about movies being made, as studios began to recognize the PR value. Outside the usual interviews, footage was more often than not honest to the reality.

A paradigm shift began to take hold in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, where  some studios began to intentionally build a library of making of documentaries for documentary and PR use. While only Laserdiscs could really contain large amount of extras, television saw more of these Behind the Scenes stuff to a larger extent. These documentaries have a more professional feel and look to them, as they’re shot as intended for a purpose.

However, it wasn’t until the 2000’s when Behind the Scene documentaries lost pretty much all plausability. Star Wars Episode I; The Phantom Menace‘s footage is one of the last Making Of documentaries, where you see the director and his staff being completely honest. That footage is interesting, because it has no veil on it, and you can see all the little bits that would build up the movie, for better or worse. There are multiple moments of Lucas himself telling directly in a natural environment what he is doing and how. Him watching old silent comedy for Jar Jar Binks, using a marker to draw on storyboards or reviewing readied models, it’s all there.

Then jump to Star Wars Episode VII. By 2010’s, Hollywood has fully recognised the power Behind the Scenes and Making Of features have. DVD brought us an era, where discs were chock-full of specials features, something we’re starting to lack with BDs. While a lot of the special features were simply transfers from the LD versions, at some point you could find yourself watching a Making Of, where the actors, director and everyone else who is involved being interviewed against a backdrop, over a footage they act in or make models.

In effect, these features have become less about the reality of the situation and fully about the public relations aspect, and how the studio and its staff can promote each other to the fullest. These studios, Disney especially, exerts large control over what material gets out and how it should be presented. A book called Making of the Force Awakens supposedly would’ve revealed lot of the background while making the movie, including some of the details about the deal Disney and Lucas made. The only reason a book like this would get cancelled is because it had something negative, something that could’ve damaged reputation of Disney or Star Wars as a franchise. There would have been no questions about its potential sales, as Star Wars was at its hottest since Episode I at the time.

The design of these things have never truly been about what’s happening behind the scenes. However, with time these features have become effectively fraudulent, showcasing a reality that doesn’t exist. Well, perhaps this was to be expected, a documentary is one’s subjective view of the events after all, not the objective reality.

Music of the Month: The Scheme

These two months have been filled to brim with Virtual-On to me. It may not seem like it, but in order to make the retrospective posts on the series I had to replay all the games for numerous times (had to obtain FORCE in the first place) and go through stupid amount of sources and books. Yet, so very little was transferred from these to the posts, which just means I’ll probably end up expanding them a little bit. Things like how Virtual-On‘s project name was Virtuaroids and more about the stupidly serious and in-depth lore the developers have written up. I mention some of the side-materials, mainly the popular One-Man Rescue, but never go in-depth into them because the sheer wall of text they’d require to describe and go over.

Needless to say, I’m not satisfied how the retrospective ended up being, slight too much hyperbole used in the last sections of A Certain Magical Virtual-On. A smart reader noticed I changed the title halfway through the series too, from historical to retrospective. I also had planned to add an extra post, which would have covered some Virtual-On inspired titles or their appearances in Super Robot Wars. I ended up scrapping this due to knowing I was burning my interests out too fast, and tacked the SRW entries at the end of MARZ‘s. I just mentioned Clash of the Elementalists, a game that’s directly uses Virtual-On‘s gameplay on the DSi, elsewhere just for the record. It’s a fun little title that plays similarly to Oratorio Tangram, but not quite.

With that, I’ll aim to cover a new Guilty Gear character entry this month. I also need make a new TSF comparison entry. Both of these have been on the backburner too long. The initial entries for some of the Guilty Gear characters are lacking compared what the entries ultimately became, with the expanded detailed information, so going back and covering them again is a valid option. At least for now.

As for the TSF comparison, I still have F-18E, MiG-29 and Tornado on the list from the original imageboard variants, so it’s one of those three. However, if I manage to get ahold of some other TSF materials, you never know what I’ll throw out in the end.

That’s pretty much all I’m going muse myself this time around. Enjoy the music and the upcoming weekend.

Virtual-On Retrospective: A Certain Magical Virtual-On

Previous: MARZ

Kamachi Kazuma, a novelist for Dengeki Bunko most known for his A Certain Magical Index series was approached by Sega to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Virtual-On series with a novel. Their approach for Kamachi was to do a new sort of Virtual-On instead of just doing what had been done in the past, resulting in a cross-over novel. This was a sort of dream project for Kamachi, and at this point, it’s not longer just a dream, with A Certain Magical Virtual-On game released in early 2018.

A Certain Magical Index‘s first novel was released in April 2004, debuting Kazuma Kamachi as mainstream light novel writer, which also gained a popular animated series in 2008, and gets its third season in 2018. The series mainly takes place in a fictional city called Academy City, west from Tokyo, where science has advanced more than in the outside world. This city is of scientific marvels, making leaps and bounds to every which way. This means the city has constant testing of new technology and designs, including testing such things as weird soda drink flavours. The city is walled all around, protecting the valued assets and data, but also keeps other people out.

The most important project that’s running in Academy City is its espers. The city has around 2.3 million espers, all students who partake in Power Curriculum Program, which aims to attain one’s own Personal Reality in order to awaken esper powers. Personal Reality is essentially one’s own secular view on reality, able to affect the objective reality’s state through their own “power” to the system in microscale. Essentially an esper believes, if you will, that she can control electricity, and so she does. However, the Curriculum requires quite literal rewiring of the person’s brains through use of various drugs in all forms, various forms of hypnosis and suggestions, slight surgical manipulation of the brain, and different sensory deprivation methods. This rewiring effectively separates the students from reality, after which they may develop powers depending on their own reality. All these powers of course are not as potent as others, with some never manifesting any.

However, this is the science side of things, and the main story takes place in the magic side. Sorcerers mostly belong to different sects and religions of the world, and their magical power does not stem from being separated from the world, but rather from idol worship, where a system of rituals are prepared in order to invoke higher powers to grant supernatural effects on reality. This can range from creating golems to controlling wind with a tool. These are fundamentally different kind of power from that of an esper, and due to the sheer difference how the users’ are wired thanks to the Curriculum, an esper can’t use magic without physical trauma. Similarly, a sorcerer does not have access to espers’ powers, as they lack a Personal Reality.

Enter Kamijou Touma, the series’ main protagonist, who has the power to break down supernatural powers with his right hand. He has a rotten luck, which drops him into fights, causes him to lose money, or in one case, meet up with an English nun named Index, who is being chased. Due to circumstances, Touma is made Index’s companion, with the English church allowing him to accompany her despite the clear threat his right hand poses to them. Index is important asset to the world of magicians, as she holds Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a library of 103 000 forbidden books, in her head due to photographic memory and can recollect information from those pages. This places them both in a crossroad of events and situations, where both the world of science and magic collide with each other, often despite of them, sometimes because of their direct actions.

This is, of course, very short and spartan introduction to the A Certain Magical Index series’ world, as we need some context for A Certain Magical Virtual-On.

Continue reading “Virtual-On Retrospective: A Certain Magical Virtual-On”