Guilty Gear Design comparisons; Millia Rage

One of the cast members of the first Guilty Gear, Millia Rage has been a fan favourite and a mainstay in the series for her fast, close-combat mechanics with few options for ranged attacks. In this way, she’s similar to Jam, but does not need to rely on wall bouncing and card stocking for high damage. Her most prominent design feature is Forbidden Beast Angra, her hair, which takes all sorts of forms as she attacks. Millia is named after the band Meliah Rage, and the hair probably comes from their constant use of skeleton of Meliah tribe member with the iconic Indian chief headdress. However, her most prominent and famous musical reference is her Instant Kill, Iron Maiden. She’s essentially a rock and metal band reference package, Winger, Emerald Rain, and even Angra are all band names. Millia may be easy to handle, but just like her namesakes, she hits hard.

With the intro out of the way, let’s get on the design business.

Xrd, Original, X and XX designs

Continue reading “Guilty Gear Design comparisons; Millia Rage”

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On electronic games’ history and culture

This post is a collection of related subject, combined into easier access

A game is an interaction between at least two individuals under certain rules to achieve some sort of goal or achievement. These rules can be shared between the parties and can contradict one side. This idea has not changed with electronic games, and they are not the first ones to have a non-living party. Just like card games have a card deck as the opposing party alongside other human players, electronic games use their device as the party to oppose the human player. In the end, modern video and computer games use the same rules and point calculation methods used past games and plays, be it sports or card games. After all, Super Mario Bros. is just a continuation of our play culture.

Steve Russel’s famous By gosh, it’s a Pinball! is a good contrast how not even the first computer game was, in the end, nothing new. After the Second World War, game parlors had become the cradle of youth culture, and pinball game parlors (or game arcades) became the place where young men and their girlfriends could escape to from the world, essentially becoming their own little separate worlds from the oppressing reality. This world was from the reach of mainstream culture and its moral guardsmen, allowing the youths to let their suppressed side to blow out.

Originally released 1969, this song is iconic representation of the time

Pinball Wizard is an anti-hero, an abused young man who is shunned by the larger world. However, in the game parlors he is able to convey himself to his peers, becoming one with the machine.

As such, it should be no surprise that parents would be worried about these parlors. After all, penny arcades before had been seen as place of vagabonds and men with beaten past. A place where people with less fortune could come together and entertain themselves with cheap coin operated machines, while possibly making connections to the criminal world. Different leagues and mafias controlled these penny arcades at during the 1930’s America, and as such it’s understandable to see people shunning arcades well up to the 1980’s. That shadow never left these places where men could get together and play games. It could be argued that even the games we have nowadays are suffering from similar complains, where moral guardians blame games for ruining whatever they deem valuable. In this light it is interesting to note that it is more than probable that many parents bought computers and game consoles to keep their children out of the arcades later down the line to keep them away from entering the wayside paths of life.

While my text is largely based on American culture, it’s not to say that the rest of the world saw these parlors in any better light. In France, Jean-Claude Baudot banned all coin operated machines in 1937 to prevent the disease penny arcades were seen as. According to Baudot, this law was still in effect up to the early 1980’s, though the law had been eased and circumvented in all ways and manners. In 1981 Ferdinand Marcos, the president of Philippines,  banned all arcade video games. To enforce his rule he smashed arcade machines in public. This is the same man who banned Voltes V  and other similarly themed cartoons just before the series’ final episode. Both of these men echo events that had taken place during world history time and time again, and events like these would be repeated after them, like how Pokémon was seen as the tool of the Devil by some religious forces. In Colorado Springs, 1999, pastor Mark Juvera took a 30-inch sword to a Pikachu toy in front of 85 children and calling Pokémon poison, not to mention the claims of video and computer games causing players to be more violent. Neither of these points are anything special, they’re just continuing  the same backlash games and other media forms have experienced throughout the ages.

It is somewhat ironic to note that television was seen as one of the remedies to keep these rebelling young people at home, as the 1950’s saw it entering mass markets despite not many having the money to buy one. Television didn’t give solution to the problems parents saw game parlors to be, as the problem was social and parlors were not the originator. Turned out that these young people watched television and took themselves to play pinball with their mates. Basically everything that was seen a solution to a problem would later be deemed a problem in itself as well, as seen with books, movies, amateur radio and maybe some day with games too. The problems were real to an extent, they are always more about the stereotypical view the mass culture takes at them. Books, amateur radio, television and games share the same blame that they keep people, children and adults alike, inside rather than “allowing” them to go outside and play, or do something more worthwhile.

Arcades, as we now remember them, didn’t come from nowhere during the 1970’s. They are just those game parlors with a new name and new machines, just like penny arcades before them. We can trace these places back to the game events held before mechanical games existed. In Herrad von Landsberg’s manuscript from the 1100’s we can see a pair of knights fighting each other through controlled marionettes. While it would be easy to compare this to modern era Vs. fighting  game, that would be far too direct. We do not know whether this was a common event or not, nor whether or not this is a real depiction as intended.

Artikel_45890_bilder_value_1_augsburger_puppenkiste1[1]Street Fighter with dolls?

Nevertheless, the core idea of contest and games are still present, even in the physical games. In the same extension, cock-fighting has been compared to Pokémon and other similar games. This is not rare in any way, as all games have their roots in some form of other plays and games. Majority of first person shooters are based on war games, strategy games are war board games, platformers are adventures children have in forest and elsewhere and imitates jumping form rock to rock, fighting games are rooted in physical combat and so on. Plays and games the adults play do stem from the childhood games, and to certain extent adulthood work and politics are just grander, more serious form of these games. It should be noted that video games especially have stemmed from boy’s play culture (and still reside there due to the competitive nature of it), thou arcade games like Pac-Man and Breakout are more or less neutral in their approach.

But what are the original electronic or mechanic games that can be called as the firs physical grandfathers of modern computer and video games? Perhaps the first ancestral machines are the automata, with machines offering entertainment and awe to the audience. However, games require interactivity, and one of the first proto-interactive machines that allowed the user to dictate some elements of the entertainment was the mutoscope from the late 1800’s. It was deemed to cause moral decay and was blamed to corrupt the youths for the pennies they cost. Pornography was a thing, and mutoscope is most remembered for those kinds of movies. We shouldn’t forget shooting galleries and the like as one of the proto-interactive game machines, as Nintendo’s Zapper and the games it used are pretty much a straight continuation.

Perhaps the mutoscope’s history is closer to films overall. However, it’s slightly more interactive nature does make it a relative of playing

1900’s saw all these machines to become everyday objects, and despite the bad rap they got, they spread like wildfire throughout the world. UK created their own machines alongside Americans (a lot of mutoscope’s UK had were either destroyed or exported to the Denmark during coin change in 1971), France and Germany had their own similar history with coin operated machines and Japan had adult-only pachinko parlors in 1930’s Nagoya. It’s not a large step from these mechanical devices towards electronic games, and through that, into computer and video games.


While many of the fears from the late 1800’s and early-to-mid 1900’s still persist when it comes to electronic games, those who play games and are most enthralled by them has not changed too much since then. Things changed with the advent of Golden Era of games, especially with Pac-Man, a game that attracted both men and women to play. Pac-Man as a character was largely a non-descriptive blob despite the game’s and character’s name.

I’ve talked about Industrial revolution being the main dividing point between arts, crafts and design, but when it comes to games it also created a cultural point with boys’ and girls’ cultures. According to E. Anthony Rotundo (1994), the industrial revolution separated boys from their father’s work environment, leaving them for their mothers’ to take care of. Boys moved outside from there, as motherly care usually emphasised good morals, pampering and kindness. Boys’ games and plays often were almost the opposite of this with physical contact with surprising aggressive attitudes. Going against mother’s command was a way to show that you weren’t a momma’s boy, and building from that onwards is a sort of step towards independent manhood. Regardless of how wild these games were, boys would return home to their mothers. One could say that unlike the Freudian Oedipus complex, boys’ fight against their mothers’ culture.

Rotundo contrasts this against girls’ culture, which is tied to their mothers, which have lived in a sort of symbiosis with each other. While he boys’ “adventure island” had a confrontational setting, girls’ had their own place within the “secret gardens.” While girls tend to favour for more socially interactive game with less or not emphasize on competition and physical contact, the concept of secret garden, a secret place reserved only for them and their fantasies. It should be noted that a lot of books for girls are the opposite of this thinking, where their normal lives are broken by a fantastic individual of sorts and their lives see a change, often at the cost of that secluded place. The differences between classic boys’ and girls’ literature is that boys had the heroes travel far away, while the girls’ literature tended to emphasize on staying home. Through that the stakes were different; for boys the adventures were physical like their games, whereas girls’ adventures were more about the psychology and emotions.

It’s not hard to see why electronic games would end up seen as a boys’ hobby. It is far easier to create a game that’s based on competition and rules rather than a game that requires methodical interaction between characters. A game is easy to program to offer a direct challenge the player needs to achieve, like destroying alien invaders than it is to program to reply to inquiries in a naturalistic and sophisticated way to counter the player’s emotional state.

The question whether or not there is a difference between boys’ and girls’ is cultural at its core. American game developer Purple Moon was known for developing games aimed at girls of age 8-14, and their Secret Paths series could be used as an archetypical example of what is generally seen as a girls’ game.

Secret Path games showcases some traditional symbols and images associated with girls. The cursor in the example above is a heart or a ladybug, there is no physical conflict in itself, and whatever action there is leans on metaphysical than physical. Interestingly, despite Purple Moon’s games tend to be simplified in how things are presented, they still manage to make better use of progressive values than most games we have nowadays.

While Purple Moon’s games were designed to be more about places of relaxation, where girls could pour out their stress and observe things with their hearts, so to speak. Each character has their own secret, and it is up to the player to find the secret paths that are laden with gemstones and other artefacts that give social, emotional and psychological strength. These visuals and pathways are representative of the characters’ plight, and the stories these physical environments contain encourage the player to try things out in their own social life. It’s not hard to see why the founder Brenda Laurel called their games as friendship adventures.

Similarly, Theresa Duncan’s Zero Zero is another example of a game that ties to girls’ culture.

While Secret Paths can be regarded as a continuation to the secret garden idea, Louise Fitzhugh’s 1964 novel Harriet the Spy, is about another sort of play space for girls; the city. Within the book, Harriet observes her city’s, her microworld’s she creates, citizens and their complex interactions and how she changed them as she sees fit. This idea of creating a world and having total control over it is similar to SimCity. The difference between the two is how SimCity is more about playing god and micro-manage everything. To Harriet, creating this world is just the first step, and moves towards spying on the individuals to the point of breaking in real world buildings to understand adult interactions. The same contrast repeats here; there is no physical confrontation like there would be in boys’ novel, all the challenge comes from the human interactions and gaining information on the interactions.

It wouldn’t be too hard to see Harriet the Spy as a stealth game that has no combat. Zero Zero is essentially a computer adventure game version of the novel, where the player goes through the city and similarly seeks people’s’ stories. Despite this innocent sounding setting, Zero Zero and other games from Theresa Duncan do not try to be sleek and pat down the reality. On the contrary, Zero Zero‘s French are bored and tend to insult the player in a stereotypical fashion, as do the flowers. Women with strong make-up smoke freely and tend to flash themselves, promising an event in the Red Lights district.  The Sims has a considerable female fanbase, and in a way can be seen as a modern example of a game that allows the player not only play dollhouse, but also play god and decide the interactions.

Secret Path games and Zero Zero are good examples of two strong sides of traditional girls’ games. Secret Path games are very balanced and encourages the player to feel, so to speak. Zero Zero is an example of a game that shows the misshapen world in a very caricature fashion and encourages the player to seek knowledge and information that is hidden from them. Both are about exploring a physical space, but in the end both are about the players’ inner worlds.

Games like Pac-Man and Nights into Dreams are in neither space as such. Pac-Man‘s design as a character and game had no points to either direction, and as such I personally consider Ms. Pac-Man a needles exercise in hindsight despite it becoming extremely popular. Nights into Dreams on the other hand was designed to be androgynous from the get go, both in gameplay and character designs. It even has a boy and a girl character, Elliot and Claris, who have very different dreams for their life.

As games have evolved, contact between the two cultures have become more frequent. One could argue that open world games that contain as much non-physical social confrontation as they do physical are mixing these cultures. MMORPG’s and other games that offer larger interaction with real life people also supports the idea of supportive interaction between girls while offering brotherly confrontation and rivalry boys’ culture has. This sort of neutral space in gaming requires both sides giving something in, and in real life this can cause some argumentation and fighting between children.

Stereotypical girls’ games tend not to be remembered. Purple Moon folded in 1999 and merged with Mattel, and their games were not without criticism. Their games were called to be called sexist, stereotyping the characters and themes, a thing that can be extended to a lot of other girls’ games, especially Barbie games. The space where these games were set in was another major factor.

Space is a keyword here. The pinball culture if the mid-1900’s was very masculine and based on long-standing tradition of penny arcades. When these games began to appear outside their initially designated areas, e.g. pinballs in restaurants and shopping centres, it was seen as a positive progress as anyone, women included, could now access these machines. As games moved away from spaces that were largely seen as dominated by men like universities’ IT-departments and penny arcades, the view on them changed. Pinball is not associated with violent rebels any more, but as a classic game everybody can play. Similarly, the advent of Japanese games in arcades and the renaissance of electronic gaming after the second Video game Crash introduced further colourful and fantastic creatures to the electronic game culture. Pac-Man, Mario Bros., and their like, despite being competitive, offered visuals that weren’t all about blowing shit up, but also attractive colours and challenges that weren’t just about the abstract.

It should be noted that games like Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog and Abe’s Odyssey garnered players from both sexes, and both games shows that in the end, the player character doesn’t really matter as people don’t tend to see themselves in the character. If there is a character creation, sometimes people make themselves, but often it’s an admired, a fantasy version of themselves. They create a fantasy persona, and similarly each player character out there is a fantasy persona that the player doesn’t exactly identify with. After all, the player character is largely unimportant, the game world is what matters.

Perhaps the only truly neutral game between the spaces and cultures is Tetris. Tetris wasn’t just a game that can be described a perfect game and neutral, but a game that was everywhere. It was on home computer where anyone could play it and it was on the Game Boy where everyone could carry it with them. There is no true confrontation in the game, and despite the having a competitive goal in form of scoring, the gameplay is from neither side particularly.

GDP – Gabumon Design Progression

Sorry, no Aalt today, A9 to the rescue. You guessed it, time for another Digimon design post.

1 Gabumon Digivice

What a cute little bugger. Like all early Digimon, Gabumon had its sprite designed first. The actual drawing and finalised design only comes later. As usual, the first sprite comes from the Pendulum toys with its small displays. As we don’t have the official design yet, this is the most basic image that exists, and it looks like a weird bunny that’s standing up, ready for a fight.

2 Gabumon

And there we go, the actual design. Naturally, the first thing that springs out here is the pelt, a new addition compared to the sprite. Other features have been exaggerated: a longer snout, large teeth, bigger horn, thicker legs and bigger ears. The sprite already featured stripes of some sort, but now they are transferred unto the fur and boy howdy have they multiplied. Giant claws extend from the fur, with two extra (empty) arms hanging in the back. Another new addition is the tail, which seems quite reptilian (which Gabumon is, underneath this fur). Finally, there is the egg shaped mark on its belly. Personally, I see some small resemblances to Agumon here as well, the yellow colour of the main body, the small feet and the somewhat protruding snout with higher placed eyes.

3 Gabumon_ver_s

Games time: Digimon Ver. S. Although our friend got squashed a bit, most details remain, although the fur colour got quite a bit darker. Most of the stripes on the fur stay in approximately the same place though, which surprised me of a sprite of this size. Furthermore, the toe claws are a bit sharper instead of the dull ones from above. The only other major change is the belly, only because there was no enough room to properly put that whole design in such a limited space.

If there is a chance to talk about the V-Tamer manga, I’ll take it. It’s one of my favourite pieces of Digimon media, but that’s something for another time. This is not quite the Gabumon you know, yet he appeared a few months later than the sprite above.

Disregarding the ladle and pan as props, it’s a more simple design with a cute charm. While Gabumon still wears his fur, it has a more smoother look. This manga isn’t really clear on his extra arms though, as they can sometimes be seen (as in the picture above, below his left arm) but on other drawings they are completely missing. The overall shape of a lot more simplified, with the snout being much more flat and wide (yet retaining his teeth). The very small tuft of hair that was present in the original design has grown quite a bit, even surrounding his horn. The belly markings are still there, but have seen a bit of a redesign giving the top marking extra curves while giving the lower ones pointy edges. To top it off, its feet have also shrunk considerably so the for actually drags over the ground a little.

Very noticeable is the fact that its claws turn into digits, allowing it to grab things. Previous incarnations actually have hands hidden inside the fur, making the claws part of the ‘wearable’ fur.

6 DMW

As can be seen here, in a screenshot from Digimon World. A very faithful model, with only the smallest details left out or simplified such as the bumps on its tail, no small tuft of hair around the horn and the lack of extra arms, the rest is fully visible. The aforementioned hands within the fur, the belly design, the horn and the long ears. Its teeth are even protruding giving it a bit of a savage look.

7 Gabumon Anime

Time for Adventure. This design is a whole lot more rounder and cuddlier, with the savage details being toned down for a cuter look. Let’s start from the top, the horn. It is almost completely identical, save for a few missing lines on the top and bottom and the colour. The original horn had a lighter shade of yellow than the main body, but those are minor things. The fur has gotten a bit lighter and the purple stripes have turned dark blue. Most of the markings are in their original place, but some are missing like on his ears and his extra arms. Now for the most major change, the face. Just like in the manga it is shorter and wider, giving it a cuter look. This is also made possible by making the teeth smaller and making them stick out less. Because of these changes, this reptile head looks more like a weird dog.

The eyes have changed ever so slightly, with a little less eyewhite being visible. This also contributes to the cute factor, has it is less of a predatory look. The mouth is changed in a very subtle way, by giving Gabumon a chin of sorts clearly defining the head by adding an extra line above the markings on its belly. This gives off the idea of it having a very fat neck.

Yet again we have to look at its belly markings, because they have changed again. Just like the rest of the design, they got smoother and lighter, but more importantly it got symmetrical. You can argue that the original design has no clear perspective for the belly markings, but it’s also possible it’s just a very weird shape in general. The arms lack a few veins as is common with the early designs, but they’re also slightly longer and more importantly closer to the actual claw part of the fur. Ending at its feet, we have smaller toes (claws) that are more removed from each other while also being sharper.

9 Gabumon_dgp

Honestly, we cannot tell all that much from this image. I just really wanted to include it, since he looks baller as fuck.

11 Gabumonx

X-Antibody time. As always, these designs are complete overhauls being based more on nature and ‘realism’ as far as that’s possible. In the case of Gabumon, that means that it’s no longer a reptile, but a beast, drawing more inspiration of a giant ferret. Its horn size (heh) increased and the fur changed to a darker shade of blue / purple. It covers almost the same area, except for the snout and one of its arms with a different pattern. This also reveals the way smaller teeth and a snout that’s not on the fur. Claws have formed at the end of his hands, and the claw on the fur has drastically increased in size. According to the lore, it picks up pieces of fur left behind by Garurumon and shapes it into his fur pelt. He keeps one arm bare to set it on fire to punch others with (we can only hope it’s magical fire). It’s unclear if this form has two extra sets of arms as well, as images are scarce of Gabumon-X. The tail has changed from a reptilian tail to a furry one and the other big change his the belly markings. The belly itself is a dark purple instead of teal, and the markings itself have a drastic different form with very sharp corners. As far as I know, the markings have no meaning but it’s still interesting how they even changed that aspect.

13 Gabumon_redigi

We also got a slight redesign in Re:Digitise. This one is fully based on the original design and doesn’t have too many differences except for some minor ones. The horn is sharper at the end, and the markings are more subtle and thin. The fur is almost the same, except that it looks raggedy and worn. The darker stripes are also a little lighter while being in the same places as before. An extra detail is revealed at the mouth however: since the mouth is open, we can actually see the teeth of Gabumon itself and not the fur. The reptilian side comes more way strongly here and is a nice touch. The muscular legs are more defined, and end it sharper claws. All in all, this is personally one if my favourite designs, even is it starts to look a bit like Agumon with a cloth over its head. In all essence, this is not as much as a redesign, but more of an update.

 

Two more 3D models, from Digimon Masters Online and Digimon Allstar Battle Arena. Both are based on the anime version of Gabumon, but they both show one important change: there are straps beneath the fur to hold unto. It actually makes sense, how else would Gabumon use the claws without them flying off his hands? Nevertheless, it’s seen after. The only other major difference is from the first 3D model, where the belly marking has gotten significantly smaller.

 

Gabumon from Cyber Sleuth and Cyber Sleuth Hacker Memory. These games share the same artstyle, hence them being grouped together. As you can see, no straps to hold unto, but there is another change: big hands. The size of the hands has increased, causing them to not be fully enveloped by the fur and ‘pop out’ a little. The fur got some extra detail as well, causing it to look a little bit more rugged. To top it all off, and this is a pretty strange choice, the eye colour starts to turn a little brown.

Even though they are basically from the same game, there is one other change between them, although I suspect it’s mostly artstyle related: the first one has a very clear defined tongue while the other goes with a more ‘the inside of the mouth is just red’ approach. Maybe a little mundane to focus on, but at least I mentioned it.

17 Gabumon_tri

Yet again we wrap up with Digimon Tri, and yet again the fur looks a little bit more shabby. Moreover, the colours have turned a little bit less saturated. The tuft of hair as increased at the base of the horn (it hit puberty) and the eyelashes are way more defined. Funnily the eyes itself have turned a little bit more red again, but not as red as the original.

With that we come at the end of some of Gabumons designs, but we have our first bonus feature here: peltless Gabumon!

 

Only a few images of peltless Gabumon exist, and they vary in colour. This is the true reptilian form: no teeth shown, droopy ears, no beast-snout. You can see the scales on its tail moving along its spine, but the most interesting detail are the markings on its arm. It almost feels out of place, as it looks to me like a military rank tattooed on its arm. But hey, I won’t judge.

Escalation of moral maturity from game to game

One aspect that’s been part of boys’ play culture for as long as we can go back in written history with records of children’s play is the moral play between good and evil. One of the modern classics that display an everyday battle between these two extremes would be Cops versus Robbers. As we grow up, the stark contrast between good and evil usually begins to dim to the point where we can accept that good and evil are subjective, at least on philosophical level. The contest between the perceived sides still persist into our adulthood, more often than not shaded to the point of the perceived evil being more justified than the opposing side.

The traditional pen and paper role playing games stem from the myths of antique and the knight plays. I don’t think there’s one child in the world who has no played a role of a knight in some play. The knight I’m referring here is more akin the idea of local protector, hence why black knights are the opposing, equal power. Perhaps an allegory for the fallen angel of sorts on some level. Nevertheless, the early computer RPGs were largely digitised forms of Dungeons & Dragons games these people used to have, with Ultima being an example of such. If you look in late 80’s and 1990’s Japanese fantasy light novels and series branched from them, like Slayers, they’re largely based on the author’s own D&D games. With the D&D crowd, at some point they stopped playing knights outside in the nature, and moved indoors. Of course, Live action role playing, or LARPing has become somewhat popular, and is effectively just people playing like kids with far more serious intent and costlier props.

The aforementioned paragraph may sound rather negative, though it’s more an argument of natural change. Whether or not theatrical plays predated children play acting is unknown, but the two have a linear connection between maturity and playing. Play acting became a profession, something done so good that it could be made money with. The adult life is strongly reflected in children’s plays, as playing is often the best form of education and learning for the future. Kids trading stones and sticks on the playfield essentially prepares for commerce. Pokémon TCG was largely panned by parents in its initial release years, but one thing they learned about it was how it taught children the value of goods and trading. Modern world simply allows certain aspects of immature play to be present more than with previous generations. The concept of something being childish and for children only has seen a silent paradigm shift.

Perhaps the example of this is electronic games. While computer games were seen somewhat more mature compared to console and arcade games in the 1970’s and 80’s, they’ve been accepted as a media for all ages since the late 1990’s, with some grudges here and there. It’s still not all that uncommon to see some parents from previous generations to describe game consoles and computers as toys, which often yields a rather negative response due to associated immature mental image it carries with it. While understandable, toys are means to play. Describing a game machine a toy in this sense isn’t wholly inaccurate, as all it exists for is to play.

However, electronic games and machines they run on prevent any creative forms of plays. They offer a statistic, controlled and extremely limited form of play, which is more akin to adult overseeing a children’s play. This is currently a technological issue, as we’ve yet to see completely dynamic world that allows the player to enact whatever possible they want. One can’t build a hut and live in there for the rest of the character’s natural life in a Final Fantasy game, because the game is not prepared for that. It’s limited to the story the game wants to tell. Playing often requires the player to follow the rules, after all. Not all toys allow all forms of play either, after all. While calling video and computer games as toys might sting your ear, the association with play is completely natural and such naming shouldn’t be deflected from the get go. After all, we have adult’s toys as well, which children shouldn’t have access to before they are mentally and physically mature enough.

The same applies to video games. Grand Theft Auto and Skyrim are both games we constantly see people of all ages playing, despite the age recommendations being there. Being a direct descendant of Cops VS Robbers and knight plays, both game simply take the basic core and expand on it. GTA may have you play as the Robber, but the moral hues you’re given are numerous. The same applies to Skyrim, where the player character is a figurative knight on his route to slay a dragon. The means and toys have just changed from a stick representing the baton or sword to a plastic controller and readily set digital world.

The question how much industrially prepared playing via toys has affected modern world’s play culture as a whole is a topic I’m not ready to touch on. However, some examples how things simply change drastically with a toy would be Barbie. The toy is not a doll for girls who play with it, it’s a Barbie. Singling out a toy like this outside all others has grown to the point of almost all toys have been made their own rather than for overall playing in general. Perhaps the largest reason for this change is the successful franchising, where the association with a toy and a character is made so much stronger. A child is not just buying a transforming robot toy, he’s buying Optimus Prime and all the mental images associated with the character.

While the contest between moral sides in boys’ games has escalated since the 1950’s, similar escalation has been lacing in electronic games. This is due to all the aforementioned; electronic games are just part of it. The age-old discussion about boys’ and girls’ games is valid, and while I’d argue that a well made game does cater to both sexes, the truth is that one has more interest towards certain kinds of games over the other. That is the nature of things. However, nothing exists in a vacuum, and games experience as much mixing of these two play cultures as real life does. The Sims is still the best example of girls’ play culture being completely accepted by both sexes (the game’s essentially playing Home), as is Super Mario. Super Mario just happens to be perceived more immature due to the design choices and lack moral greys over something like Halo, which is perceived a a “big boys game.”

This is a point, as not all games, electronic or not, are for all ages. It is up to the parents to decide whether or not Little Jimmy is ready to handle mature concepts like interrupted penetration, self-mutilation in the name of love, the absurdity of how pointless life is or the sheer sexual tension between a man and a machine. Something truly is for “big boys.” The core play doesn’t change with maturity, but the concepts and themes that frame the act do.

Sleep in the bed you made

Christopher Paul’s take on video games is an interesting one, to say the least. According to his book, The Toxic Meritocracy of Video Games: Why Gaming Culture Is the Worst, games have a problem of focusing on the individual and promoting meritocracy. Which really isn’t a problem, considering competitive and single-player games all necessitate player to become at least good enough to stand a chance. It’s a natural continuation from the whole game culture thing video and computer games have to them.

Of course, Paul’s argument against this is that this competitive environment is that this prevents creation of positives spaces for interaction. This is bullshit, as these spaces are created by the people, not games. Whether or not you’re a sore loser  or a graceful winner matters more whether or not a game requires you to have enough skill to compete. Certainly certain game franchises attract specific types of people for whatever reason, as we’ve seen with the Sonic the Hedgehog fandom throughout the years, yet we have to give the individual weight on their life selections over blaming the game they like.

Paul mentions Mario Kart and Mario Party as examples of games where things are the opposite of supposedly toxic meritocracy. Which is a riot, considering both games can destroy friendships. Mario Kart may have some elements of randomness to it, but the player with the highest skill will always come at the top, as they he can make the best of his calculated risks and knows when and how to take certain positions. Being aware of the weapons in the game is important as well. The same applies with Mario Party, which while having some cooperative mini-games, is still all about the individual aiming to get Stars or whatever it is you collect them in the latest versions. These games still promote individuality and rewards the players with most skill. Their random element may add a layer of uncertainty, but that’s nothing new to video games at any point and only provide a challenge to beat the odds, rather than trying to level to playfield.

It’s an odd thing, really. Boys’ play culture has always had a competitive edge to it, mostly in form of adventure games and sports, so it’s not exactly a surprise that electronic game culture would mainly stem from that. Especially considering that it’s the men who generally love to tinker with mechanical stuff and mathematics. Trying to change this by force doesn’t exactly work, because you’d need to change the paradigm of what essentially is a result of thousands of years of evolution. What Paul seems to want to do is to change the paradigm toward girls’ play culture, which is more about peaceful interaction with each.

The two aren’t completely separate, of course. Nothing exists in a vacuum, despite certain sections of the population wanting to hole themselves into comforting bubbles. Boys’ and girls’ play cultures have their differences, but they mingle with each other to an extent. However, forcing one’s values towards the other has never really gone well. Just asking boys to play with girls’ dolls like girls would rarely goes as intended, which is why boys have action figures, not dolls, by name.

Paul’s assumption that meritocratic systems, the ones promoted by games according to him, are toxic by their nature is incorrect. People are individuals who have to strive for individual goals. At times, we combine out forces for a common goal, but we still stay as individuals with out own desires. Collectivising population into grey mass has never been successful without excessive force from the ruling party. Even then, nations like the Soviet Union no longer exist, despite brute forcing their way into power, keeping their power through terror and violence all the while subduing all forms of resistance. North Korea’s really the only place all people have been leveled down to the same field, except the ruling party. There, no matter how good you might be, you’ll be hammered down like a nail.

If we view video games from Paul’s perspective as a tool to promote individual achievements and rewarding merit, we soon come to a point where games are only a positive tool. If games affect their consumers like Paul seems to assume, then all who play games should be striving for high achievement in other fields in life. This should then yield highly educated and highly skilled set of workers, who would step into fields where people can contribute the most while raking in the most rewards. The STEM field would be one of these as would other similar fields of high degree of demand. The best workers would also deliver the best results, and without a doubt the person most fit for a job should always get it, as this would be seen in results across the board.

Natural order of things isn’t as forgiving though. People have different dispositions and there are biological differences between people, sex being one of them. Multiple elements affect us, but that does not prevent us from having the chance to strive and aim higher. Games, in that sense, offer a level playfield, as almost anyone can take part in them and learn. Hell, even people without arms can gain the same merit in video games than their more armed competitors.

If you choose not to put the time and effort to get to the level of gaining merit, nobody else but you yourself can be blamed on. That’s the decision you’ve made as an individual and that can’t be put on anyone else. If you didn’t take the chance, that’s on you.

Review of the Month: Retro Fighters’ Brawler 64 controller

The stock three-pronged Nintendo 64 controller is a peculiarity, to say the least. Whatever Nintendo’s approach was with it, be it designed solely to play Super Mario 64 or just try to separate itself from the rest of the controller crowd, it has ended up as rather infamous. To cut to the chase, it’s not very good as a general controller, and its shape doesn’t exactly fit the hand as intended.

Enter Retro Fighters’ Brawler 64 controller, which was Kickstarted a while back, to which I threw some money at just for this review. Intended to be competent, modern replacement for the stock N64 controller, the Brawl 64 opts for the now-standard pad design and placements, while also carrying the action button setup from the stock N64 controller. There is a follow-up campaign coming up with updated firmware and hardware for translucent shells

Probably needless to say that the controller was tested on real hardware

Continue reading “Review of the Month: Retro Fighters’ Brawler 64 controller”

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.