Selling with sex

So Dead or Alive 6 got released with some limited fanfare, and it hasn’t really made an impact. For all the PR lip service it made for it and its direction to become more serious in visual tone was just that. It is getting sixes and sevens out of ten, which doesn’t really mean much nowadays seeing most games get sixes or sevens. Reviews range from utterly baffling (Eurogamer wants to make sure there’s some sort of agenda in there by name-dropping the Trumps) to somewhat competent but failing due to having an idea that isn’t exactly true (like Destructoid‘s review, where the reviewer thinks we’re living the most experimental era of fighting games.) Most Western reviews of course will tote the whole thing about sex appeal. While that is certainly an element of the series, there’s significant lack of mentioning the chiseled bodies and female-fantasy level physiques to direction or another at offer. The old saying Sex sells hasn’t ever been as true as people might make it, but in this case it is true. All these people are making their money on speaking about sex. Like that Eurogamer writer, who apparently thinks having a nude model for Resident Evil 2 remake’s Mr. X would be the best thing since corn. They may not realise it themselves, but whenever these sources make a hullabaloo about skimpy outfits or sexualised content to any direction, they’re selling their content with a sexual boost. They’re no better, or worse, than the people they may criticise.

Does this make me hypocritical, seeing I talk about sexualised content at a rather decent rate? I’m not selling you anything, and the stance on the blog has always been pro-sex for wherever applicable and designed into the product.

The whole thing about Dead or Alive and its sex appeal is more or less old news. It warrants no real criticism at this point anymore. Everyone and their mothers have effectively covered it, but its the easiest topic to discuss. It is also always topical, as different sections if different cultures have completely different ideas and standpoints where respective culture, worldwide or local, should stand in terms of body representation and sexualised content. None of them are inherently negative or positive, though all sides might argue otherwise. Then again, humanity has always admired the shape of a body in sculptures, paintings, songs and writing, almost mirroring their respective eras. Sometimes the bodies are idolised, sometimes they’re represented in a more natural state. The 3D models in Dead or Alive, or in any game that in any way tries to achieve some sort of elevation of a human shape, be it via clothes or body shape, is closer to statues of old representing the same core idea. Of course, sexualising men and women is largely different in nature. The whole procreation and nature of women as the birthing side in the two sexes of mankind serves a strong drive, whereas women value athletic bodies and social positioning. The small stubble, somewhat pronounced square chin, slo-mo motions of the camera and actors you always see in certain commercials are to hit this spot with the women in the audience. These too are tied to eon old genes, but everyone has their quirks, and some deviations are more common than others. Like the people who’d rather fuck cars.

While the whole discussion whether or not certain Western Christian traditions are the reason why parts of the world has become rather prudish when it comes to the nudity and sex business, there is a point there. Excess use and availability of something does devalue the matter, like what would happen to money if it was shared around to everyone willy nilly. The value of money would plummet, and maybe in certain ways the access to perfectly shaped bodies, fictional or not, take away something from the value of having a perfectly shaped body here and there. Unhealthy living is an issue though, and being a fatass is not only detrimental to oneself and making a dent to the value, but also promotes rising costs and risks to the society. I’ve discussed to death how more and more items like beds and chairs need to be designed to take account the increasing weight and body mass people have in Western nations, especially in the US. Crematoriums catching fire have become an issue as well, as cremating overly obese bodies raises the risk of starting a grease fire, like what happened in Ohio few years back. There’s no value in increasing costs like this. In this sense, promoting the idolised bodies to strive for could be seen as a very positive thing. After all, as long as go for it, it doesn’t really matter if we achieve a perfect body. Some people just can’t due to genes, but we shouldn’t let genes to decide such a thing. In the end, our bodies is the best thing we can put money into and take care of, as my shoulder currently reminds me of.

Dead or Alive or any other IP with human body idolised, but not necessarily sexualised, will always get scrutiny. It’s a never-ending issue, which seems to change hands from time to time. Before the current climate of progressive stack and political movements driving this whole agenda to censor sexual content from pretty much everything, it was the puritanical and zealous Christians. I wonder when it’ll exchange hands to some other group and for what reason. It’s an eternal hot topic that each generation will have to deal with their own way. Make no mistake, sex does sell, but only when it has been applied properly. After all, it makes money, and in an era where clickbaiting and outrage culture produces positive financial results, it’s an extremely easy subject to keep tackling over and over again. It’s a cycle that a lot of these sources that seem to be mad about how culture portrays something would lose a significant element from their usual roll. Then again, there are people who can’t be pleased to any extent, so you shouldn’t even stoop down to try.

Dead or Alive 6 might end up a rush job

I didn’t really mean to write about DoA‘s T&A again so soon, I’ve intentionally been skipping the subject with each new news item. Same with China slowly having an economy bubble bursting there, which I’ll hope to touch on Sunday. As it always turns out, DoA6‘s director Yohei Shimbori can’t seen to handle his spaghetti. The title’s already a PR nightmare when it comes to the fans, as they’re effectively being treated like dogs in the heat who need their nads cut off. On the other hand, it’s DoA, you can”t escape two decades worth of high fidelity graphics and extraordinary physics simulations for human body. Hell, the series was build on honking tits and beauty, don’t make me laugh.

This is where Shimbori’s sensibilities seem to be in, as he takes the credit/blame for the game’s visual design; it had too much fanservice. His aim is to show that DoA6 is a real fighting game, which is like saying you’re trying to showcase that a plate is a plate by changing the picture printed on it. Renewing the engine to another that lacks most physics elements DoA‘s previous titles had and made the games have a unique look. Now, with that latest Dynasty Warrior engine, everything’s so damn rigid. Argument that realism would drive home that DoA6‘s a real fighting game is also extremely stupid, as pretty much every fighting game out there looks unrealistic. Street Fighter has exaggerated hands and feet so the player can recognize them better, KoF has that picture-perfect Chinese beauty look to it (Christ how I need to write about this design aesthetic of theirs), Tekken has explody bits in the air and demon fighting all around with dude with pizzas on top of their heads and Guilty Gear has always has fantasy rock aesthetic to it. Realism? Fighting games don’t do realism. Well, maybe Virtua Fighter. Nobody ever questioned whether or not DoA was a fighting game series, but if Shimbori really was intending to raise the series to new heights, he would have stopped doing these platitudes and concentrated squarely on the gameplay. Screw damage modelling or using a new engine, fix the game gameplay to be less a copy of Virtua Fighter and something of its own instead.

Let’s not forget what Simbori originally said why they changed the looks of the game; he wanted it to look cool, after EVO players told they felt embarrassed playing the game. Looking behind the PR speech, it’s clear that the goal is to lessen the sex appeal of the franchise due to the flack it’s been getting, especially with Dead or Alive Xtreme 3. It’s either Shimbori wanting to cater both the EVO players and busybody jackasses who don’t have anything better than complain about digital tits, or his boss does. The way Shimbori’s replies and statements comes through with these interviews is like he can’t keep his story straight. He certainly wants to believe it all, but it’s far more likely there’s some corporate bullshit going on behind the scenes. Tecmo doesn’t want DoA to be a PR shitstorm again, despite it never really was. Again; only certain people bitch about it, and only certain grain-sized part of the audience feel embarrassed about the game. The rest don’t give a damn and just want to see the game to be true to the franchise and enjoy the visual flavour. Soul Calibur VI isn’t being petty with their body models, they’re going straight in where the sun don’t shine and make it look damn good.

Shimbori and the dev team have been in damage control mode since the initial launch trailer, there’s little doubt about that. The constant mantra Don’t worry, we haven’t show you all yet works exactly once, and then you need to showcase what you mean. Thus far, DoA6 hasn’t shown anything outside the norm. Hell, showcasing the norm has been an improvement in itself. While there was no doubts that most characters would return in their most iconic outfits, it says how weak their approach and attitude when instead of just saying the costumes are in and then showcasing them, Shimbori goes on about how the new designs will be more worldly because they’re inspired by American comics. Because y’know, Europe and the rest of the world don’t have their own comics going, especially China. There would be something in there if Shimboru would have used the comic book movies as an example, but he specifically meant the comics themselves from.

Do the game’s supposed to be launched in February 15th 2019. That’s not a whole lot time to develop it, considering the game was around 20% finished in August. Something will be missing from the title, and if modern fighting games are anything to go by, it wouldn’t be surprising if DoA6 ends up being just another platform to drive season on. The last few months will be all about trying to get the game produced to the point that it can be pressed, shipped and stocked. It’s more likely that the end of the year is their real deadline, the rest is trying to fix anything that doesn’t work.

I’ve been grinding the same gears with DoA6 for how many times now? This’ll be the last entry on the subject for now. Reality is that the campaigning against DoAX3 worked and Tecmo has changed their view on the franchise. The voice made heard was loud enough to cause backpedaling. Whatever the fans say or do at this point won’t change how DoA6 will be finished. All the stuff thus far added and changed have been nothing short of expected damage control. The only way for the consumer to say that this shit doesn’t fly is to make a clear-cut statement and voting with their wallets. None of the fans and core audience will do it though. Some will think that this is just one-time fling or that the series will return to its roots once the whole boobie-panic blows itself off. The history of the franchise or the long-time core audience doesn’t matter with this game. Only its PR fame and hoped higher revenues do.

Inspirational changes, Dead or Alive

Seems like every time we get a new Dead or Alive, something about it gets a rise from people to whatever direction.  For better or worse, DoA gets decent amount of press whenever a new entry gets announced, but mostly always for the wrong reasons. DoA Extreme 3 got marred in the press for both having cheesecake and for not being published in the Western regions, making it the best selling title Play-Asia ever had.

With the announcement of DoA6, you’d think things would’e been gone as usual. Well, in a way they did, with part of the consumers wondering what the hell was going on, and part celebrating titillation getting toned down significantly.  Because of eSports, of course.

Yohei Shimbori of Tecmo had an interview, where he states that the new DoA was inspired by American comics and movies. He wants people who play the game feel proud, as he puts it, while playing the game. Sidestepping the issue why should people feel proud while playing a game, the reason why things are changing in the first place is because during EVO tournament 2017 some of the DoA fans felt embarrassed. Whether or not these fans were the players or not is not mentioned.

The issue, of course, is how sexy the characters are. These fans they interviewed wanted the game to be cooler. The problem of course is, the game already looks cool.

Shimbori’s logic and source is sound. American mainstream cape comics certainly have moved away from showcasing the human physique in demigod form in favour of more realistic depictions and detailed suits, though at the same time the sales of these comics have tanked thanks to low quality of the comics themselves in general. Shimbori wanting to take inspiration from these comics, following similar path seems to be the right way, emphasizing on the suit fashion. While Shimbori emphasises on female characters, this is true across the board, especially with Marvel comics.

A major attraction for Dead or Alive has been its visuals and fun factor not found anywhere else. Taking that visual side away and replacing, for example, Kasumi’s now iconic outfit with an extremely generic blue-black full-body outfit looks lazy, detracts from her unique look in the gaming market and clashes with her intended original design. The cherry blossom petals and other moves don’t fit the character anymore, now that she’s wearing a supposedly more combat-sensible suit.  Let’s make a look at her DoA5 and DoA6 versions.

Wait, they gave DoA6 outfit high heeled sandals? While I may be talking about her iconic outfit, it was not her initial default outfit. It’s from completely different design perspective from the DoA6 design, and a direct comparison would be like apples and oranges. The iconic design doesn’t exactly render well in the modern style DoA is going for, as its intention originally was to be semi-cartoony to begin with. It clashes with the semi-realistic take. It would have been better to update that design rather than going completely away with it, as now we’re getting what’s supposed to be cool. Funny enough, if DoA6 is supposed to be less about the curvatures of a woman’s body shape, they failed. With skintight leather, it’s all about the curves. It may not be as sexy, but you might as well have her fight in black and blue body paint. It’s not exactly cool either in the sense Shimbori’s intention are.

Furthermore, majority of the DoA fans like the series’ aesthetics. DoA5 had a slight backlash against its style and take, but the dev team took this to their heart and tweaked things a little. Character models have been an issue with fighting games recently anyway, from banana hair and punched face Ken in Street Fighter V to pretty much everyone in Marvel VS Capcom Infinite, especially potato faced Chun-Li. However, DoA has always aimed follow the Virtua Fighter route with simple yet striking design, with their own flavour of fan service and certain level of risque that’s unique to it. In essence, one of DoA‘s winning elements has been its visual design that gives just enough glimpses with rather anything more. The sheer amount of outfits in previous titles has kept the players busy unlocking stuff as well.

The end problem of course is that DoA‘s fame and money has been made with Japanese influences, something the fans and core audience are attracted towards to. The loss of Soft Engine, an element that was part of the visual nature of Dead or Alive, feels cheap at best. Dev team’s emphasize on trying to make sweat and damage to be more a thing sounds more what you’d expect from a Mortal Kombat title. The audience that is there doesn’t want the game to look brutal, but to look beautiful. I doubt many Japanese fans want to see Kasumi’s face pummeled into mush, outside ryona fans.

There’s also the magical words of making the game more accessible, as mentioned in this IGN Live E3, with one-button combos to be a thing. DoA and VF controls have been the simplest out of all mainline fighting games, and simplifying them to this point seems like gimping it. Devs can claim that it simply adds a layer to the game, but that’s never been the case. It’s just to make one or two combos a constant.

This seems like a major step away from the series roots and nature. All this is ultimately to attract the expanded audience, or the audiene that considers the series problematic, sexist or otherwise offensive in content. The idea of expanding market is all good and fine, but not at the expense of the brand and franchise itself. At this rate, they should’ve rebranded the franchise altogether, or even better, start another fighting game franchise to run along Dead or Alive, much like how Tekken has Soul Calibur.

In the end, the devs are going to do whatever they want, eSports interviews and all. Perhaps the end battle of DoA5, where tacticafully black clad Kasumi fights her iconically clothed clone was a prelude to come. Forget exciting and interesting new design, we’re in an age of homogeneous coolness.

They could do better, but in the end, they’re bucking on already past trends.