While I applauded the sheer amount of unnecessarily large file sizes with stupidly large amount information in scans in my last post about the subject, here I’ll be arguing against this to some extent. It’s all about where you want to go with the result and what you want to preserve.
Perhaps the main example is what you’re aiming at; the original artwork at the core, or the magazine itself. Old magazines tend to yellow their pages, so the question becomes extremely relevant. The lower quality the paper printed on, the worse the picture will end up being. Furthermore, I’ll be using comic scans for this post alone, and at a later date talk about magazine scans that are in colour at some later date as that’s another whole thing. To illustrate the diaspora, I’ll need to use proper examples, right after the jump. We’re bound to have large images sizes in this post, as I don’t want to showcase itty bitty pictures if I can help it.
This blog has touched a lot on the cultural and historical phenomena regarding video games and their design throughout the years. For some these have been posts of interest, while others seem to regard the late 1990’s as the pinnacle of video games, despite the same has already been said about the mid-2000’s and early 2010’s. Arguments fly about and you, my dear reader, probably have a take on the subject that might support one but not the other. Maybe you even consider the late 1980’s the pinnacle of electronic games, but that’s how it is. We all deep down know that the Golden Age of video games was in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, when computer, video and arcade games begun taking their modern shape.
The Golden Age of Arcades is established to be around the years 1978 and 1979, based on the release years of Space Invaders and Asteroids, which works just fine for them. The overall Golden Age of Games can be expanded from the the mid-1970’s to the 1983’s video game crash, as this was the period of rapid expansion consumer bases, genres, technology and popular cultural phenomena. This is contrasting the electronic gaming history to that of comic books’, where the Golden Age of Comic books, where most, if not all, classical archetypes and heroes were created, and the medium became a significant power in publishing.
The reason this contrast is made is due to the cultural phenomena usually work. These periods are of making the media into something that is able to stand on its own, establishing itself through various creators and enjoyed wide public attention, which naturally leads into impacting the culture in major ways. The very reason you still hear certain kind of sound effects in films and television when it comes to video games being depicted is because those bleeps and bloops are culturally associated with gaming as established by the Golden of Electronic Games. Be it the sound Atari games or the PC speakers made, certain sound is still associated with gaming by being handed down by the surrounding pop-culture. This era would fit the first two Console generations just fine, and majority of the early PC gaming as well, when people were turning their Dungeons and Dragons sessions into text adventures for their universities mainframes.
As a side note, you can pin point certain era of Famicom just by listening to the sound effects, as vast majority, if not all, developers used the same effects library in the early years.
But that side note throws a wrench into the whole Age discussion, as we must remember that all events weren’t global at that point in time. The 1983 crash had little to no effect outside the United States, as Europe was tightly grasping local micros at the time, and it wouldn’t be until the very late 1980’s and early 1990’s when console gaming had its breakthrough in Europe. This and IBM standard effectively killed multiple computer platforms, and Windows 95 cleaned the slate. Now we effectively have only three standards, four if we count Android, instead of each manufacturer having their own. The story’s completely different in Japan for many reasons, as Japanese computer history is a different beast altogether from its European and American cousins. If you’ve ever wondered why European developed games for the third and fourth generations felt so different and bit off, it’s because they were developed under a cultural paradigm that favoured platforms like the Commodore 64, Atari ST and Amiga 1000. These games look and play in a particular fashion, something we might get to few years down the line.
How can we say that this specific era is this or that when it only touches certain parts of the globe? The answer is; because of history.
We can’t say what era we are living in currently. World War I was originally named as The Great War, the war to end all wars, but then Germany decided to slap Poland around a bit. As such, we have to look at what sort of massive expansion gaming overall had during that time in the US and Japan with arcades and how little they impacted Europe at the same time. It wouldn’t take but few years until European arcades would see the same titles, but the impact rarely was in the same ballpark. Culturally speaking, Europe didn’t produce much content that would impact the global gaming sub-culture, but if you lived during that in France and UK, you probably remember few regional names that pop into your head right away. Now, how many of those are as well remembered in the cultural background as Pac-Man and Space Invaders?
To follow the Ages of Comic Books, we naturally are lead into the Silver Age of Electronic Games that encompasses the fourth and fifth generations. The reason again is comparative to comics, where old heroes were rekindled into new forms. Best example of this would be Mario, where we go from single-screen titles like Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. into fully-scrolling Super Mario Bros., re-imagining the games’ world as Mushroom Kingdom with kidnapped princesses and turtle kings.
While Famicom was released in 1983 in Japan, the starting point of the Silver Age must be set to 1985 with the American release. This is also a turning point in Japanese software development, where the quality of the titles began to ramp up. New competitors would establish themselves on the console market across the world, some spinning themselves off from the arcades like Sega (who already had a presence in Japan with their 1984 SG-1000) and Hudson hitting the market with NEC backing them up with the original PC-Engine in 1987. Atari still tried with the 7800, but couldn’t find a niche against the juggernaut that was the NES.
Despite all the above, what if I argued that the Golden Age would be from late 1970’s and up until the release of PlayStation in 1994? Despite the Crash of ’83, the third and fourth generations saw further expansion and cultural impact. The Super Mario Bros. and Sonic cartoons, comics, food stuff, everything that went into making electronic gaming into a global force didn’t happen just on few years. Modern electronic games are still a young medium, despite some having lived with them throughout their lives, they’re still younger than television, cinema, theater or literature. Maybe in a hundred years or so people will have enough perspective to view the changes in the game culture properly. Currently we are too close to these events with heavy bias to go by properly, and so much of it extremely well recorded. It would be extremely easy to dissect history into extremely small blocks, because we can do so. Those in the know would understand and acknowledge all those minute changes that had a ripple effect down the line.
Instead, maybe we should call the era from mid-1970’s to mid-1990’s the Classic Age of Gaming, where expansion was largely constant, new companies and hardware would pop up and die during the contest all the while others would grow strong and established. From there, we are now living through the Modern Age of Gaming, where we have seen the cross-pollination taking hold over the industry and the establishment of the Big Three with no real competition offered in the console market. Further mixing of genres and new impacting titles have been introduced, like Halo and Devil May Cry.
Even this might be somewhat arbitrary, but as mentioned, we’re too close in time to take back and see events as they are. How culture and industries move in the grander scale is hard if not almost impossible to surmise at they are going on, and perhaps the first mistake a young medium as comparing itself too much to other media and let those dictate too much what it should be.
I’ve been importing games since the NES days. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project was supposed to get a full-blown PAL region release and was even advertised to get one, but the looming SNES probably was the reason they cancelled it. Too bad, TMNTIII is best of the bunch, even better than Turtles in Time. It’s been an easy time overall for importers. Region circumvention has been a thing since day-one and relatively easy. Sometimes you just need two pieces of wire, sometimes you need an extra in-between cart, and sometimes all you need is a boot disc that does the job. However, with the further digitalisation of machines, importing became somewhat an issue with the Xbox 360 and 3DS. The 360 was a semi-region free machine and it was up to the developer/publisher if their game was to work on different region machine. 360’s online store was also region bound to the console’s region, meaning you couldn’t access out-of-region stores and their exclusive titles and content. Sometimes a release of a game would work in two regions, sometimes in all three, but it’s really a toss of a coin without some resources on the ‘net, and not all of them are complete listings.
Importing machines is an adventure and a half unto themselves. With older hardware you’ll come across with stuff like having to get a separate power converter if the power leads are physically connected, or buying a new power cable at easiest. The hardest thing I’ve seen people doing is modding the power components or modding the cables to feed the proper volts and ampere. It would of course solve all the problems with the game compatibility, considering mixing NTSC and PAL software and hardware always produces mixed results, especially if your television doesn’t support both standards (though I know a Russian method to introduce colour to NTSC signal via extra lead on a PAL telly that can’t understand it) , importing consoles really solves a lot of problems in regards of the games and their online stores. The question just is if you’re willing to dish out several hundreds of your local squirrel skins to get one. Chances are that you’re not, and will resort to modding your machine and just use other ways to obtain the games for play.
Why am I talking about importing like this? Importing has been in a breaking point for some time, at least from a personal perspective. Yes, this post is a bit out of character, as you guessed. With the constant and further digitalisation of titles, you’d think unifying the regional availability would not be much of an issue. That’s ultimately hubris, considering everything from regional currency and legislation will step in to block this. You can’t appease everybody, and if you are adamant to attempt to do so, you’ll find yourself offering the same titles in different forms in different regions, which is already what they’ve been doing, or you’ll have to use the tightest and most draconian rules as a whole. I’ve discussed China’s policies to some extent and the whole thing with Sony now practicing global censorship is one of the end results you can get in the end. I would still consider censorship a service failure like this. Hell, it’s a brand failure, as it directly fights against PlayStation’s image as the console of choice for more adult and refined console. Censoring your games just shows how easily the brand is swayed by politics and ideologues outside the market’s wishes and demands, especially when kicking the developers nuts. What’s the point in importing, if all the titles are the same across regions? One of the many reasons to import titles in the first place was to get uncensored version of the games, or games with extra content that were cut out or added in for whatever reason. The proverbial drive to find the purest version of the game out there usually takes some research, but with older titles you can bet religious and sexual themes, and gore, usually got cut on Nintendo consoles. Things change with time, for better or worse.
With the further digitalisation, using a VPN will end up being a modern way to import things. That is, to gain an access to region specific variety of goods that would not be available to you otherwise. This doesn’t work on consoles that have the region hardcoded into them, but increasing amount of machines allow cross-region stores to be accessed based on the account information. It’s not too uncommon to find a Switch or a PS4 with multiple accounts simply because they serve as a way to access multiple regions. Nevertheless, things like Amazon Prime, Netflix and even Steam can be access out-of-region with a VPN, and get that access protection while you’re at it. VPN, as much as I’d dislike to say it, is more or less a modern way to import in the digital environment that is the Internet. Not as much in ways of how it works, but in the principle of what’s the goal; access to materials that are not available in your region. Is there an echo in here?
This will become more and more relevant as companies want to downsize their physical output. Preaching the inevitable death of physical media has been around for good decade now, but the death has been extremely slow if it is going to happen, and the chances are it will never truly go away. There are too many collectors out there, and Japan still loves their physical media. This will also go in cycles, I bet your ass, where a new generation will begin to appreciate then obsolete way of having a physical copy you yourself own rather than have an access of bits and bytes on a server somewhere via your subscription to a service.
To be completely honest with you, I’m tired of importing, or considering to use a VPN in order to access sites and goods that I can’t otherwise. Some of these breaking legal boundaries without a doubt, especially when it comes to console modifications, and even after importing physical machines to access games sometimes isn’t enough. There are so many hoops and loops to get across, that straight up piracy is simply the best option. The provider won’t lose a sale anyway, because there is no way I could even make a purchase to begin with. You’d think that someone who’s game collection is 41% of imports and 60% with DVD/BD media, all this would be easy and nothing to worry about. I don’t have time for that anymore. Life has become so hectic that I’m late on every project I set up two years ago, not to mention the time I spend socialising with friends has dropped. Readers probably have noticed how my posts have gotten later and later due to this, and I might have to cut blogging to once per week, something I don’t want to do.
If physical goods has one edge over digital, it’s they’re available in online stores to purchase across the globe. As long as the seller is willing to ship outside their own nation, and there are always options, you can procure yourself an item without any hassles. Sometimes you might need a proxy service, but that’s a whole other post I probably will never type out.
When a person like Stan Lee passes away, there’s very little someone like yours truly can add to what’s already been said and written many times over. To some he has been an inspiration, to some a crook who has taken credit from someone else’s work. Nevertheless, he was one of the main instruments to create Marvel as a comic publishing powerhouse to rival any competition, and did have his hands in creating characters and stories that have turned into modern myths.
While Lee’s cameos in Marvel movies have been his probably the most visible appearances in terms of world wide exposure, the most exposure I got of him was in the comics’ pages themselves. Stan Lee Presents… almost served as a badge of quality. Lee’s voice in the NeverSoft’s Spider-Man game was made the game more legit, something that Lee’s voice lend itself for very well. Hell, he even appeared in-person in the 90’s Spider-man cartoon. Then again, his first appearance was in the 1989’s The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, so he has a history with these, both in and out of Marvel related productions.
Even if all this was a facade, just a front to serve Stan Lee better as the company face, I can’t doubt his enthusiasm to be in almost everything he was part of. To take his own words at face value, Stan Lee ended up loving the fact he entertained people through the comics. They served as a basis to delight, scare and bring new worlds and experiences to the reader, sometimes just brightening up someone’s day, sometimes perhaps even pulling them away from the edge. Bringing joy to people just by being there seemed to be a lot for him, and probably the paycheck that it brought with it, but let that one slide for now.
He was a character that seemed to be full of life and joy, though at the later years of his life there had been some rumours that age had got to him, and how there were people in his close circles trying to swindle his property away from him. Of course, only few are privy how he really was for all those years, but as a legendary icon, it doesn’t really matter much. This is one of those cases, where the person has been eclipsed by his cultural status and has embraced it. I’d say we should too, at least for the time being before historians and nerds begin write biographies and True Stories of Stan Lee.
That’s where Stan Lee will stay for long time. The image people have in their heads about him vary somewhat, but often I see people drawing him with the heroes he created, next to a drawing table or otherwise entwined with then goings of comics and related phenomena. Always smiling in his trademark glasses and moustache, and that go-get ’em attitude. Dare I say, as an icon, Lee’s legacy could be called inspirational. Perhaps that’s why I returned making an entry about a celebrity’s death, despite stopped doing so after few early on in my blogging. In my head, I always reserved two more spots after Ralph McQuarrie; for Stan Lee and Go Nagai. While I can’t say I am sad at his departure, I can’t deny a part of me thinks that something that has been with me on the pages of comics has now left.
There will be someone to take his place, at some point. There won’t be another Stan Lee, but there is no need for that. If Lee was there to entertain us, there are and will be people who would take up on that mantle, and entertain us like there was no other, in their own fantastic and amazing ways.
With the recent new of Patrick Steward returning as Jean-Luc Picard in his own Star Trek spinoff after the questionable ST Discovery. With CBS now footing the bill for the second season after Netflix essentially paying for the ride for the first one, Abrams’ Trek movies effectively being dead in the water as main cast members are walking away from it and Les Moonves of CBS still wanting to screw things up to the point crashing the franchise. Midnight’s Edge’s recent video goes over the background events of the Abrams’ Trek movies, what the current license and copyright mess is and dire the situation for the franchise is overall. To put it short; the man currently in charge doesn’t like SF and wants to remove all the history of Star Trek by somehow collapsing timelines in-fiction to justify to do whatever kind of story he wants.
The thing is, he always could.
The worst decision that franchises like this do is writing prequels. By doing that, the staff is essentially tied to defined future of the story. If they break the future, the overall story and canon makes less and less sense with each little breakage. One drop doesn’t break a damn, but enough drops turn into a tidal whale. For long time fans of any franchise, they know how prequels often turn out. Not all that great, sometimes even sullying the story they’re based on.
The better option is to move forwards. If Star Trek Discovery had been another Trek show set in whatever time span after Star Trek: Nemesis, there would have been far less cacophony from the audience. No strings attached, no character references needed, no plot points to follow, everything can be made new and shiny.
But that takes effort and references seem to something Hollywood and TV writers and execs things are needed to bring in the fanbase. They seem to treat their audience as some sort of imbeciles.
References to past parts of a franchise is the easiest way to make sure the fans and general audience in the know understand that the series is part of it. For Star Trek, it’s the recurring species of Klingons and such with the occasional visitor from other shows, like how DeForest Kelley made an appearance in the first episode of The Next Generation as an older Leonard McCoy. While it supposedly gives legitimacy to the series as a sequel, it all really ends up being useless fan pandering. Similarly, Picard appeared in Deep Space 9‘s first episode to give it a sendoff, and that was about just as needless. The story had already tied itself to a past even, the Battle of Wolf 359. It can be argued that this was more a necessary cameo due to Picard’s role as the enemy in that battle, and to showcase the difference between Sisko and Picard. Problem of course was, the show could’ve done this by itself. At worst, a cameo like this makes a show look weak, as if it couldn’t stand on its own two legs. This was one of Discovery‘s worst weakness, as it was directly tied to the Original series through introducing yet another relative to Spock, and using Spock’ father Sarek prominently throughout the first season. The second season will have Spock in some role as well, meaning Discovery further loses its unique status as a show and as a story, making the world so much smaller.
Of course, it is financially more viable to do this. Referencing and using existing characters and actors ensures the fans, or at least part of the fandom, will flock and pay for these characters. This allows modern versions to be made of these characters and these modernisations then can be licensed onward to toy manufacturers and such. It makes money, and is a safe bet to give that aforementioned legitimacy. It’s a no-brainer why CBS told Abrams and Paramount that their Trek wouldn’t be the only game in town in terms of licensing. I don’t believe there ever was brand confusion among core fans, or even with general audiences to any significant extent, as the visuals between Abrams’ Trek and old Star Trek shows were like night and day, or rather, difference between well shot scene and one filled with lensflares. Any audience, fans or not, are willing to pay for products that they have connected with when it comes to franchise merch, and considering how low quality Abram’s Trek is, it’s no wonder why its toys and other merch didn’t sell. On the other hand, the culture at large has direct emotional connection to the classic Star Trek shows, especially in the US, which means its much easier to sell new merch based on those series.
And as I’ve beaten this dead horse, using those characters to which the audience has emotional contact with in other shows is just good financial sense.
In a way, it is always risky to start with new characters as they have no history or properly set path, and it’s a slight gamble whether or not the audience will like them. The audience may no connect with the characters. Neelix from Voyager is a great example how not to do a character in Trek, as he was never improved upon. He stayed a shithead throughout the series. Character like Bashir is a great example how to improve your character throughout the series, as he started as annoying prick, and then evolved into one of the more likeable and stronger characters of the show.
However, despite the risks, starting from a clean table with new characters and new stories without any of the baggage of old yields better rewards than tying things down. All it takes is proper planning and using the heart of the franchise to its fullest extent, and building up a new story with brand new characters. A new Star Trek should just be that, a new Star Trek, advancing what the series can be about and going toward the future, but ever since Enterprise, everything has just stepped backwards and stalling the franchise.
This week has seen slight avalanche of Mega Man related news. We’ve seen more gameplay and stages revealed from Mega Man 11, some footage of the cartoon has been made available, a Rockman pachinko was announced and Rockman X Mega Mission is getting a States-side released.
To start with Mega Man 11, the one thing I mentioned early on was that it looked like it’d hit the spots with controls and add some neat new controls. To use an official source, check this gameplay in Fuse Man’s stage. Early on there is a showcase for change in the sliding mechanics that gives more control to the player, where previously sliding was more or less dedication motion to a direction. Now, you can change direction mid-slide. This is accompanied with slight yellow sparking and a sound effect. The reason why I’m pointing this separately is because this is detail quality is build on.
Should I also mention that enemy explosions are very 1980’s?
With the introduction of Power and Speed Gear the game’s core play has changed to a significant degree. Previously this sort of elements would’ve been relegated to supportive role and mostly as gimmick function. In Mega Man 11, the Gears are part of the core design to make stages and enemies easier. It would appear that neither of them are not required to complete the stages, but are used to make them significantly easier at places. This is an extremely welcome decision, as it means the core Mega Man play design is left untouched for those who would rather have purist approach to the game.
This doesn’t seem to extend to the bosses to certain extent. The Fuse Man Boss fight we see around 13 minute mark, the normal pattern is something that’s easy to deal with. Its power attack is specifically designed to be taken advantage of with the Speed Gear, though without a doubt a player can beat the boss without the use of it. However, saying that you don’t need to use it doesn’t null the fact that the bosses patterns and attacks are designed around the Gears to a degree, effectively making them additional weakness to the normal Rock-Paper-Scissor weapon cycle. This isn’t a negative in itself, as all this means the Gears are more or less completely integrated to the overall design rather than bolted on top of standard Mega Man design. On one hand, hopefully this won’t mean that future Mega Man games all share different important gimmicks jammed on top of them, but on the other hand, can the Gears be recycled into future titles with revisions to it? Is the Classic series to become like the X-series, where each game has a new gameplay mechanic in form of Gears to X‘s armours? We’ll have to see.
Otherwise, the game seems to be coming together just fine. The run cycle’s still a bit jarring and visuals are still rather plastic, but overall Mega Man 11 looks like its been carefully crafted to be a good entry in the series. You don’t need a million dollar budget for that.
To stick with “base” Mega Man for a bit, the whole thing with Pachislot Rockman came pretty much out of nowhere outside the rumours, but for Western audience this means jack shit. You’ll be playing this only in Japan, and we don’t even have a cabinet pictures, just few low-quality magazine scans and an announcement pdf. The designs are all over the place with this, combining elements from all the mainline series into one. This is easiest to see with Blues/ Proto Man there, as he has that hair from his Battle Network version and glasses look like Star Force‘s Rogue dropped them by, with the Life Gem on his forehead and chest being something that’s prevalent in the X-series. I’m interested in seeing how they’ll include Mega Man series’ elements into pachislot, and how garish the machine will end up being.
Speaking of Mega Man X, Capcom has hinted that Mega Man X9 will be a thing. With the X Legacy Collection hitting store shelves early in Japan, the manual mentions that the story isn’t over yet. Mega Man 11 was teased in a similar manner. It’s good that Capcom decided to pack all the X games into one package, as there’s less nostalgia for the newer games in the series to pull in the audience. Mega Man Legacy Collection should’ve been one package as well, with the Game Boy titles with it, but those won’t be re-released anytime soon outside Virtual Console. Hopefully they’ll drop most, if not all pretenses that there’s some sort of deep and meaningful story in the series and concentrate on making a damn fine game with Sigma as the final boss.
Udon has also procured the license for Mega Man X: Mega Mission, a one-shot Hitoshi Ariga adaptation of the Carddass series of the same name. Sadly, it’s in full colour, so we’re going to miss the intended gray scale. I’m guessing they’re doing this because the previously coloured Ariga Mega Man comics sold more than their untouched originals. If you’re interested in checking what the original story was about, The Reploid Research Lavatory has you covered.
Then we have the cartoon, fully titled as Mega Man: Fully Charged. While it looks slicker than previously and this particular trailer drops all of Mini-Mega, who we see more in the US region only preview, the show’s pretty much Cubix remade. It says Mega Man on the tin, they’re forcing sprite graphics to tell a story, they’re even using cues from Wily Castle I theme from Mega Man 2, and yet it doesn’t look or feel what you’d expect from a Mega Man cartoon. Then again, like a broken record I am, this isn’t exactly an adaptation. This takes the idea of a good boy robot fighting evil robots with some general resemblance to its namesake. However, the more there’s footage, the less impressive the whole show looks. Neither the 3D or the designs look impressive, but seeing this isn’t supposed to be anything groundbreaking, it’ll get the pass by the viewers.
All in all, Capcom is gearing Mega Man for the next few years, and depending how all this goes, the franchise may become relevant again. It won’t happen overnight, but maybe in few years if things keep at a steady pace and all good things are taken advantage of.
The three approaches to mecha design this blog uses is based on their role and function within fiction rather than in-fiction. The first archetype is the Protagonist, a mecha that functions or acts like any human character and is treated as such within the narrative.
The Protagonist mecha as a character serves an integral role within the narrative. Initially they may seem like simple machines, like the eponymous Mazinger Z, yet they exhibit clear-cut human characteristics in actions and behaviour. Mazinger Z sunbathing in the original series Mazinger Z-series is this exact human-like behaviour the mechas are written with.
These type of mecha can also be explicit characters unto themselves, as it is with the The Transformers and Brave-series. These mecha are only separated from their human co-characters is their nature as giant mechanical beings. In cases like Beast Wars, there is no distinction between characters as such, all of them simply are the characters, but share the main characteristics of being human equivalent in different form.
The Protagonist has a unique role within the story. Not necessarily the main protagonist in itself, often sharing that role with another human character or another mecha. The same categories of heroes and villains apply to these as much as they apply to human characters.
In visual design, Protagonists more often than not share a humanoid body with strikingly human face. Heroman, by all intentions, shared all the previously mentioned points; a human-shaped mecha with human face and sits in a prominent role within the fiction as one of the main characters next to the main human protagonist.
However, there is extremely wide variety of Protagonist mechas which toy with the concepts and ways to realise the main role. GaoGaigar, for example, in itself has no characters outside as it is an extension of Guy Shishioh; it less piloted as it is a giant piece of armour for Guy.
It must be mentioned that most Protagonist mechas are found in media aimed at younger audiences with healthy amounts of toys, and tend to have connections to the Super Robot side of mecha. This is not to degrade from the fiction itself, only an observation.
Naturally, the opposite of human-like characters would be the lack of humanity, as it tends to be the with the second archetype, the Machines.
The utilitarian approach to mecha design has always been there, though it gained most of its popularity in the 1980’s. While Mobile Suit Gundam certainly paved the way for Real Robot as a sub-genre, shows like Armored Trooper Votoms and FLAG have taken the concept to its more natural direction due to lack of needing to sell toys as much.
FLAG‘s HAVWC, High Agility Versatile Weapon Carrier, is equipment.
Unlike with the Protagonists, a Machine has no nature to speak of. To make a blunt comparison, they are toasters. Their use is largely utilitarian. The form is made and designed for a purpose first and foremost, following the necessities over flavour.
The mechanical design is far more industrial as opposed to organic contours, than anything else among the Machines. Take Heroman above for an example. Most of its shapes are round to further accommodate its humanoid visual. While at a first glace HAVWC would fit this as well, its shapes are equivalent that of a car, lines made to increase aerodynamics. Heroman is not exactly an aerodynamic character, and its not supposed to. That is a tertiary concern at best. In order for it to be more aerodynamic in its forward position, it would require some sort of wind-breaking apparatus around its chest to lessen drag.
However, FLAG is an example of the more more adhered end, similar to Metal Skin Panic MADOX-01, which has been described as equivalent of mechanical pornography due to its attention detailed opening.
The Machine comes in many varieties, all of which share multiple characteristics. Mass production is one, where the mecha can be or is mass produced. Scopedogs are a dime in a dozen in Votoms and are easily replaceable. Round Vernian Vifam is another example of a show, where mechas are tools, and the cast goes through numerous units during the course of the show.
Valkyries from Macross, despite often gaining a prominent role as a single unit or a customised main character vehicle, are all from a production line of similar units. While later entries in the series have made an effort to give most characters their own unique snowflake Valkyrie, in the end all of them are more or less faceless machines that showcase no human characteristics, outside the genre-defining four limbed humanoid shape.
Specialist roles are not exactly uncommon among Machines. Full Metal Panic!’s Arm Slaves, while mostly consisting of non-unique units, the units used by the protagonist Sousuke Sagara deviate from this mould in form of Lambda Driver, which allows the pilot to turn their willpower into physical force. This specialist position, be it due to extra equipment, prototype role or simply because the mecha is a protagonist’s unit, is a common trope. This position does not change them into Protagonists per se, unless human characteristics are applied. It is not uncommon for people, fictional or not, humanise their devices to a large degree and treat them accordingly.
Vehicles technically fulfill this spot,
However, it’s not uncommon to see the the aforementioned archetypes mixed either.
The Hybrid approach takes characteristics from both sides of the fence in a happy mid-ground. Perhaps the most well-known examples of this would be the Evangelion units of Neon Genesis Evangelion. While treated as equipment and something that can be mass-produced, each EVA-unit exhibits overt human-like characteristics from in-universe and in their role. EVA-01 is effectively one of the main characters while still serving the role of a toaster. Its design goes for utilitarian, but only in terms how the EVA-unit itself allows this in-fiction. The base design idea was, after all, a monster barely controlled by humanity.
Another method to give mecha character is by keeping the core mechanics itself intact in terms of its role though the use of Artificial Intelligence. Jehuty from Konami’s Zone of the Enders series of games is exactly this.
Jehuty in itself has no conscience or awareness within fiction, no character to speak of. Its actions and behaviour are determined by its pilot and support AI, A.D.A. In principle, A.D.A. could be embed into whatever Orbital Frame would support the addition.
These three approaches are more or less starting points, more or less. While at first it may seem arbitrary to make a category of three, one of which is effectively just combining the first two, they serve their role in setting the proper mindset for design work. That is, the nature of the mecha rather than the end-visual the designer ends up making. That is up to the designer’s own style and research into the subject materials.
For further reading on expanded subjects, such as combiners, basic design tips, controls and similar, please visit the Robot Related Materials section.