The Archetype maker

Before going into Mega Man’s 30th anniversary, let’s make this week a thematic one for Street Fighter. Let’s talk about the design now that I alluded to that possible topic last time.

To cut the chase, this will be a very truncated version what should be a series of posts concentrating on each of the original characters in Street Fighter II. Yes, we’re ignoring the original game, because it’s just background noise at this point. Unless Capcom decides to remake it, which they should have already done. Also note that I’m going to use Japanese naming scheme.

The core of Street Fighter II‘s character designs is that they come from the culture around. It’s not self-referential or tries to shove other games into itself. There was nothing to reference yet, outside Capcom’s use of Yasichi and few other smaller items, like Henry from Side Arms Hyper Dyne. All the characters also have certain spot in the roster both in terms of gameplay and design.

While the planet beneath there came out of nowhere, it really drives in the idea of a World Warrior

Ryu’s design at its core is a Japanese martial artist, specifically Masutatsu Oyama. While originally a South Korean, Oyama has been one of the most influential martial artists in Japanese culture for developing his one-hit kill techniques that could kill a bull. Not only are Ryu’s and Oyama’s training style similar, but his Hurricane Kick, or Tatsumaki Senpuukyaku, was inspired by Oyama’s match against a Muy Thai fighter in 1954, where Oyama defeated this Black Cobra with an elbow strike, followed by a swift aerial triple kick. Yoshiji Soeno, Oyama’s most senio pupil, would later repeat this aerial marvel against another Muy Thai fighter in 1974 in hopes to rise against Reiba, who also went under the title The Dark Lord of Muy Thai. The name was attached to him not only due to his presence in the ring, but also due to his dealings with the local mafia, who killed him before he had a chance to fight Soeno.

Street Fighter‘s core is in Oyama’s challenge to fight against skillful martial artists in the world to test himself and his skills. The bout between Kyokushin Karate and Muy Thai kickboxing was not to be underestimated and spread around the scene in stories and legends. You never really knew any of this, but your brains did because of popular culture you consume.

Sagat is an amalgamation of these Muy Thai fighters, though due to how much has been lost to time its hard to say how much in terms of visual flavour. His trunks are style for certain are direct visual cues at least. Understanding how Ryu and Sagat are essentially the core martial art theme in Street Fighter gives them more depth both in terms of characters and design. This sort of approach is what makes Street Fighter II unique, even among Street Fighter games.

It’s said Thai fighters are not interested in fighting the Japanese anymore due to them lacking the same drive as they used to. There is not contest anymore.

However, things need to be more fantastic, and the low, semi-realistic take Street Fighter used to have is all but gone. Despite having roots in anime too (Hadouken is supposedly inspired by Uchuu Senkan Yamato and its Wave Motion Gun), none of its fantasy elements were too exaggerated.

The rest of the cast follows similar suit. Mike Bison is modeled after Mike Tyson, who at the time was the boxer around. Even now his name resonates among boxing enthusiasts. He has weight in popular culture due to his career, and probably will stay there for a good time, until someone stands up to take his place.

Ken, while being just a pallet swap of Ryu, was based on Joe Lewis. Lewis isn’t a small time name either, as he has won large number tournaments and was voted twice at the greatest fighter in karate history. He was a strong fighter, but what set him apart was his explosive speed. Ken’s kicks were probably inspired Lewis’ left side kick.

E. Honda and Zangief are both easily recognisable from their looks. Whereas Zangief is your archetypical show wrestler, E. Honda an archetypical sumo wrestler. Zangief carries the name of one Victor Zangiev, a Russian amateur wrestler who was known for his spinning throws, The Carousel. After winning two titles in Soviet Russia, he entered the New Japan Pro Wrestling scene 1989, from which he probably was just directly adapted into Street Fighter. Capcom’s staff is filled with pop-culture hogging fans, as it should be evident whoever has played their games. E. Honda is probably based on a well-known sumo wrestler, but my knowledge on sumo history is lacking. Only as of late I’ve begun to appreciate the sport. However, seeing he is still a very unique character in the whole of the roster, E. Honda stands out on his own and counters Zangief in the heavy weight department.

Guile’s sources, while clear, are rather interesting. Combine with 1980’s American Action movies Schwarzenegger offered with a cyborg Nazi Rudolf von Stroheim from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and you get Guile. Stroheim’s influence comes in with Guile’s neat, flat cut, while the rest comes from Arnold’s physique and the American soldier image. Guile is a strong character, very limited in some sense, yet extremely explosive when used properly. Even without the JoJo reference, Guile’s appearance is very much to the point and shows one of the ways how Capcom’s staff didn’t stick just with Japanese popular culture. Well, Sagat and Mike Tyson already told you this, but the point still stands.

This playing with existing ideas and giving them form plays out in Dhalsim and Blanka as well. While neither has a strong real-world point of comparison per se, they both embody the idea of something that has spread across the world. Dhalsim as the Indian mystic who can contort his body into the most odd shapes and breathe fire isn’t exactly a stereotype. It’s more a mystical character and a perception the rest of the world has of some of India’s holier people. The skulls around his neck are a point of interest too, as you wouldn’t expect any other character carrying them around. Blanka is probably the strangest of the bunch due to him being a wild child, and is a good example of Japanese culture electrifying a something to an extreme degree. A green beast-man itself is nothing new, and out of all the more human kind of characters he stands out.

Balrog, the Spanish ninja, stands out for a different reason. The only globally accepted warrior-type characters Europe has are knights and Vikings. The rest don’t even scratch the surface. Nobody even knows Finland has an old martial arts of its own that is based on bear’s movements. Thus, Balrog fills the place of the exotic. A very lean, masked assassin with a claw might not be anything new, but putting flamenco into the mix allowed them to create something that reminds an archetype, but isn’t one. It could also be that Balrog gained his design cues from Japanese pop-culture, with him sharing similar history with JoJo‘s Dio and tends to hold a rose between his lips, a thing Japanese tend to repeat with certain kind of beautiful male characters.

Vega is Yasunori Kato of The Tale of the Imperial Capital. This in itself doesn’t matter much. the West only has passing familiarity with the character and story through the anime Doomed Megalopolis. What matters more is that the influence from Kato comes into play in his military uniform design. With a glance the player can see that Vega is something serious; while all other characters are martial artists, Vega is a military leader. Vega’s uniform however isn’t anything exceptional in itself, as it is more or less a suit from the Imperial Japan’s army. Vega is also the only character who still has a introduction before the fight, where he throws his cape away. That alone makes Vega seem a threat. These few simple things hammer in Vega’s influence.

Lastly, we have Chun-Li. Her design harkens back to a time when Japan had a boom for Chinese culture, hence such titles as Ranma½ and Gekisatsu! Uchuuken came to be. Her design takes the usual Chinese qipao and dons her hair into buns. Both of these are very traditional take on Chinese clothing, though her choice of military boots and wrist bands with spikes give a more lethal impression. Those wrist bands and Blanka are pretty much the only thing in the design department that hasn’t aged all that well, but have become iconic in the game scene. Chun-Li uses some open hand techniques that were inspired by Chinese kung-fu, but her very core point was her legs. Her design makes a clear colour difference between her qipao and lower body, and this comes clear through Hyakuretsukyaku, or Lighting Kicks. Certainly, she was designed with certain liking in mind, but this doesn’t demerit her at all; it gives her far more control in terms of visuals and how she controls the fight through speed from her legs as opposed to punches or projectiles.

That’s where come to an end. Street Fighter II didn’t just write the book how make a V.S. Fighter, but also what character styling to use. Almost all fighting games that followed used the same base formulae of character set-up and design to some extent. The simpler designs like Ryu and Sagat carry a long history before they were put into sprites, and often the reality is more fantastic than what we see on the screen.

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Plane elements in Tactical Surface Fighters; MiG-29OVT Fulcrum

While we’re probably going to discuss the base MiG-29 Lastochka one of these days, the main reason we’re going to have MiG-29OVT variation on the table today is because it had a significant antagonist role in Total Eclipse, and that I had the pictures readily available and didn’t want to do Active Eagle.

To save most of real world MiG-29’s history for Lastochka, I’ll shorten it here and see what we have on the OVT model. Which isn’t much, but we’ll get to that later. One of the major differences between the real fighter and the TSF is that all MiG-29 variants are known as Fulcrum in the NATO designation. The Soviets and Russian pilots adopted this name later on. NATO just adds a letter and a number after the designation to denote which variant we’re talking about.

The Fulcrum has a long history behind it. The fighter was developed in early 1970’s as a hi-performance, hi-manoeuvre light-weight fighter to tackle whatever the West was cooking against the Soviet nations. Indeed, it’s not rare to see enthusiasts to decree the Fulcrum to be an equal to Western fighters, especially due to it incorporating numerous technological advantages not in its Western contemporaries, the F-16 Fighting Falcon for example. The base model, Fulcrum-A, became operational in the mid-80’s and had a very high manoeuvrability. It could track ten targets at the same time with its cohere pulse Doppler radar at a range of 69km. Combined with a laser range finder and infra-red search and track, which all where linked to Helmet Mount Sight, made the base Fulcrum a very dangerous enemy in a close-in fight. It should also be noted that the Fulcrum has LERXs, or leading-edge extensions on its mid-mount swept wings. These small extensions improve and control airflow at high angles of attack.

The 29M and OVT are both Second Generation fighters and have enhancements everywhere, including evolution to the overall airframe in order to increase its thrust-to-weight ratio. As OVT is essentially just Fulcrum-M with thrust vectoring RD-133 engines, it shares all the same advanced avionics its brother does. To go slightly into the history of the Fulcrum-M, it’s development began in the mid-80’s with a new need for a frontline fighter that would be able to carry out multi-role missions. Due to shift in Soviet military strategy, the Fulcrum-M design saw constant updates and variants before it eventually split into MiG-29M and M2, denoting whether or not its a two-seater. It should be noted that the MiG-29M, despite sharing its name with its original variant, is completely redesigned version. External differences may be sparse, pretty much everything else was improved beyond the Fulcrum-A.

MiG-29OVT is more or less an acrobatic performer that mainly showcases the modern MiG-29’s capabilities rather than being a frontline fighter.

Remember to click for a larger version

In Muv-Luv Alternative‘s BETAverse, the Fulcrum is a given name to the advanced MiG-29. Based on MiG-29 Lastochka and shared technology gained via Project Prominence, the MiG-29OVT is an advanced variant that is supposedly able to go toe-to-toe with the American F-15 ACT Active Eagle. Changes from the earlier MiG-29 variants include upgraded avionics, improved Jump Units, Light by Light and redesigned shoulder blade vanes.

To reflect the thrust-vectoring capabilities of the real world OVT, the TSF OVT now has added thrusters in the shoulders and hips. This supposedly gives it 3rd Generation level manoeuvrability. It carries Blade Motors from earlier MiG-29 variants in its arms and legs, as well as the A-97 Assault Gun. Being on the side of close-combat, Fulcrum pilots tend to favour brutish tactics and acute-angle attacks on the enemy. One might even assume that the Fulcrum showcases the changes in Soviet’s doctrine against BETA and human targets.

In terms of design, the MiG-29OVT shares more with its in-universe brethren than with the real fighter. It’s chunkier than blockier to keep in-tone with the rest of the MiG-29 series. Similarly, while the MiG-29 has rounded and smooth corners to it, the TSF design has opted to angularise itself in many cases, like with adding more corners to the wings and fins. There are surprising amount of included elements from the fighter in the TSF, albeit the TSF elements govern the overall look of the unit.

There would have been few points that the MiG-29 could have stood out overall. The fighters are unique in that their intakes and nozzles, indeed almost the whole department, resides under the fuselage. The pilot also sits very high in the cockpit. Neither these aspects carried into the MiG-29 line. However, perhaps the TSF elements again override the fighter design points in this case.

Don’t overdo the quality

The concept of quality is somewhat twisted among modern consumers and manufacturers. Not because there are not high quality products or the like, but because there is a certain kind of veil that goes between product quality. Granted, this veil does exist for a reason, as the consumer shouldn’t have a need to see behind the curtains in which the his product are made of. Then again, it would be better if companies would be far more transparent in everything they do rather than protect less than favourable practices.

Companies must keep the quality of their product at a certain level. While advertisement and promotional speeches often tell you that they’re aiming for the best possible quality, that’s not exactly the case. I’ve discussed the subject of things being good enough in the past, and this is the core of if all; Quality, Time and Resources are tied to each other, and extending one of them extends the other. While there are numerous versions of this triangle, I’ll present here the simplest one out there.

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You can pick only two, and depending on the product you may only have a chance to hit one spot.

If you go for a product that’s done quick and with as little resources as possible, you’ll end up with a product with low quality. If you go for a product with fast production time and of high quality, your resources will go out of hands. Most often this just means you need to put a whole lot more money into it. If you want something with as little resource expending as possible but still maintain high quality, the time the product will be made under will increase and in the end, it’s probably a very low priority product then.

Everyone would wish to balance these three in their daily lives, be it at home or at work. We all make decision if we want to, for example, put the time and effort into washing our dishes properly, when there are other things to consider as well.

This becomes a whole lot more complex when you must consider multiple projects and expenses. Any corporation that wishes to provide products for consumption have to juggle multiple triangles, or multiple elements of each triangle. To use translation in video game industry as an example, it often ends up in the Resources-Time section, where quality is not emphasised in favour of allocating that into other sections of the production.

NIS America is an example of a company that has managed to ignore Quality most of the time and have introduced questionable translations, additional bugs that did not exist in Japanese versions of the game and removal content. An example of this would be in Ar Tonelico II; Melody of Metafalica, where a mandatory boss battle locks the game up at a certain point.

As such, a company policy towards the public often states how their quality are the highest possible quality where in reality the product is balanced between the aforementioned elements in order to have a product on the shelves making money faster. This also means that the worker must adhere to the level of quality they’ve set. This sounds counter-intuitive, especially in the craftsmanship industries, but it is a necessary level. It is far too easy to get sucked into your own work and begin to burn your own self, and surrounding resources, for the sake of quality that goes wasted.

A product that has gained its quality by burning its creator, time and resources may serve the consumer to some time, but that level can’t be maintained without sacrificing something elsewhere. To use translation as an example again, a translator can’t sit on a translation until it has become what he considers perfect. A product that sits on the production line excess time due to some element, be it translation or whatever else, costs money each day. This is where having an acceptable level of quality steps in; it protects both the worker and the company.

What about the consumer then? For the consumer this is something he rarely thinks about. A literary work like a book or a visual novel that has thousands upon thousands of sentences in it is allowed to have certain amount if typos, misspells and textual errors. Content and information errors are of different things. The consumer does spot these errors more often than not, be an extra e in a word, lacking some alphabet or sentence starting with a lower case letter. Nevertheless, they are acceptable in overall terms. The worker hates the errors and would rather have them straightened out, and the corporation might recognise that this would raise the bar higher, but in the end the effort that is needed to achieve a certain kind of perfection of quality costs the damnest amount of money. Unless you can just issue a small, simple patch on your website without extra costs.

To use an analogy of this, achieving perfect emulation of a game console is rather hard. Most people who use emulators don’t care that the games they are playing on these emulators are not running the same way as they were intended on a real console, but care little because the quality of the emulation is good enough. As long as its playable, they’re satisfied.

In order to achieve perfect emulation of a more complex machine, the requirements stack up the closer you get 100% emulation accuracy. The last few percentages towards cycle-perfect emulation square from each other, and for modern systems it is currently simply impossible due to emulation requiring many times faster CPU than the original console’s.

Similarly, achieving perfect quality towards requires increasingly high amounts of resources and time. A steel product that needs to have a mirror shine to it takes its shape in a very short time, and the bulk of the work is spend in sanding and then buffing the surface in order to get that wanted finish. Of course you could just throw some reflective coating on top, or anodise the surface, but the end result wouldn’t be the same.

There are times when we just cut the cord and be done with things. This applies to every work. Still, the best thing is, in the future we’ll have more experience and better technology to increase that quality without putting any more resources or spending more time with it.

Guilty Gear design comparison: BAIKEN

Baiken is a hodgepodge of samurai tropes. While her initial design does come from Kenshin of Rurouni Kenshin (whom Ishiwatari thought to be a woman at first,) Baiken is quite a lot more than just that. She gets her scar and lost arm from the literary character of Tange Sazen, though which eye has been scarred has been switched around. While Sazen is a man, the very second movie the character starred turned things around and starred Michiyo Okusu as Lady Sazen in Lady Sazen and the Drenched Swallow Sword.

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She may lack the Demon Tools, but Lady Sazen cuts people down like grass

Certainly we can trace some elements of Baiken’s designs to characters like Tezuka’s Hyakkimaru as well, but all this really is to show that Baiken encompasses characteristics from an archetypical ronin samurai stories, including her traumatic past and thirst for revenge. Hell, she even kicks tatami up with a special move, and let’s not forget she gets her name from Baiken Shishido, who probably influenced her use of Demon Tools through his proficiency with the kusarigama, the sickle-chain. However, I do argue that Lady Sazen and Kenshin were the main influences here, and everything else was more or less a supplement to fit popular samirai tropes.  Hell, she even has a pose where she holds her chin like Sanjuro from Yojinbo. Let’s get it on after the jump.

Continue reading “Guilty Gear design comparison: BAIKEN”

Your own brew of mead

The reason I tend to compare developing electronic games to cooking is that even with the right ingredients you may fail miserably for countless of reasons. This could of course be extended to pretty much any field that requires design, but for the sake of this blog we’ll stick with games.

However, the main obstacle with this comparison is that everybody capable has to learn how to cook something in order to produce food for consumption. We’re side-lining all the modern brouhaha of microwave dinners, because even then some preparations is required. In general, very few people are not inept within the kitchen and are able to use the oven and other appliances for some cooking.

This is not exactly comparable with game development, as one can argue that it takes longer to learn a coding language and create assets for a game. This is of course under the assumption that we have single chef compared to a sole developer. While food is a necessity, games are not. They are a common luxury item to many of us to the point that we barely even realise their worth and are willing to push their value down by any means necessary while expecting high enough production values. To be fair, this blog tends to argue that developing and publishing games as become too costly and grandiose, and should be scaled back and return to form. Video game industry does have its own Hollywood, and the same cores have taken effect; the committee.

Hollywood blockbusters tend to be described committee movies to an extent, with loads of people from marketing and higher ranks having a check-list of things that need to be included in a movie due to statistics and research showing that this and this age group and this and this audience likes certain factors in a given movie and genre. They’re not wrong either. The very reason you have dozens of different flavoured products is that people like certain things in a certain way. The movie being here the whole of pasta sauces and each variant an ingredient of a given movie.

I admit that this blog does emphasize the whole statistics perspective quite a lot, perhaps to a degree that it has given a hidden bias. However, trends are made to be broken, and it’s not beneficial to look just what the paper says works. Ultimately, this approach will only yield one design, one style product that will be repeated to ad nauseam. Film trailers tend to be a prime example of this, where they follow what was proven to be popular to the point of each trailer essentially having the exact same blueprint independent of the movie, genre or studio. An example that pissed yours truly off few times around was the BAWWMMM sound effect from Inception. Let’s not forget the distorted booms and stuttered downers either. Guardians of the Galaxy did set up a new trend for comic book movies with its use of music, for better or worse.

Nevertheless, there’s very little reason to fix what’s not broken. That’s not to say we can’t make previous items obsolete. In fact, we can make any design obsolete as there is no one perfect product out there. Well, the only good contender for that title is the Kikkoman soy sauce bottle, but we’ve talked about that already. Here’s where the whole thing about your own brew steps in.

At home you can produce your own mead or vine and have it taste pretty much perfect to your taste. Same with cooking and games. However, once you step into the market place, your tastes apply very little.

That is to say, whatever a designer thinks may be a great product for the user does not tell whether or not the product in reality is a great product for the user.

We can’t completely separate personal preferences from the cold statistics when producing a product, be it a game, book or food. They need to be married together in harmony that will push through the personal investment as well as present it in a fashion that is relatively easy to digest. This is not an argument for dumbing down, this is an argument for creating a product that comes half-way through to the consumer so that the more intricate aspects of it can be absorbed.

To use an example, we had plays before movies. The jump from one to another, while somewhat drastic in technology, ultimately relies in same core elements while having its own identity as a form of media. Further there we have movie genres, techniques and so forth that have taken the field onwards, both in terms of visuals and storytelling. Consumers have easier time adopting new movie formats and ways things are set up due them being accepted by the consumers, and most of the industry people, to contain valid values across the board.

The same goes for video games, albeit due to harsh crevice existing between the Blue and Red Ocean markets it should be noted that the trends valued in one does not necessarily meet with the other. These values are not just technological or design aspects, but also philosophical and political. As video games are escapism (undervaluing escapism as some sort of lesser act or even detrimental is a topic on its own) there are subjects and things that can be handled well, and that can be forced from a certain perspective towards the player.

The problem here is that the biggest sin a game can do is to take control from the player without their own action, e.g. for a cut scene. This lack of control is best shown in RPGs, where some games tend to showcase a topic through one facet only and ignore all others, deciding for the player in black and white terms what should be done and how. This sort of railroading is done for the benefit of the story and detriments the game’s play.

I would argue that in both game industry and in Hollywood the execs and marketing departments should lift some of the pressure off from the developers, but at the same time these creators should not ignore the audience’s wishes and wants (while aiming for needs.)  The mead you brewed might be the best shit you’ve ever tasted, but your neighbour probably thinks it tastes like piss.

Mecha design; Combiner Core

Combining and transforming has been with the mecha genre at least since Kouji Kabuto’s Hover Pilder turned its hover wings up and docked unto the head of Mazinger Z. This is the first major example in the mainline media that shows two separate individual mechanical objects combining and forming one cohesive being, as small act as it is. Nevertheless, a Pilder is an inseparable element of a Mazinger in a form of another. However, Mazinger Z is not the first combining mecha, unless you belong to the school of thought that mecha is an umbrella term for all mechanical like it’s original intended use is.

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Kouji Kabuto becomes the brain within the helmet of Mazinger Z

Many would coin Getter Robo as the first combining mecha, but that’s not exactly correct either. It certainly can be said to be the first mecha that is formed by using three individual components that share equal amount if importance and space in the formation. Getter’s selling point was that all three fighters used to form a Getter had their own form in the lead. One Getter Robo thus has four configurations; three separate fighters, one for airborne fighting, one for land based and one to fight in water. This essentially translates into balanced, fast and strong forms. However, this power balance is not emphasized, as the balanced form gets the best attacks and most face time. The third form is most often wasted and almost practically useless.

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I love using this .gif, so sue me

Often a forgotten, and probably the first example of combining robots in how most think it as, is Gadem from Tetsuwan Atom. Gadem was a giant mechanical centipede formed from 47 individual androids. The reason Gadem doesn’t trump Mazinger Z is that Gadem’s a Monster of the Week, something that’s interesting for that one episode and then passed on. You don’t seem Gadem combining in the opening every single time.

The original Tetsuwan Atom is so much fun

The reason I wanted to go through this very short history of combining mecha first is to portray that much like with other things when it comes to designing mecha, there is no set rule as such. There are trends and styles that one prefers over another, and if you were to design your own combiner, the best way is to look what has been done, and then research real world mechanics how things are fit together. However, the real world doesn’t exactly have the highest amounts of combining war machines, e.g. there are no tanks that can form a big supertank, and thus we’re “limited” to our imagination and what we know of real world mechanics.

As with transforming mechas overall (most often a mecha needs to transform in order to accept other components of the combination), the design can be done so that it looks somewhat realistic in the sense that it could be realized e.g. in toys. The above example of Mazinger Z and Pilder combining is incidentally relatively realistic, despite being coined as the first Super Robot. There is no warping or the like. It’s a craft docking, landing, combining, whatever word you want to use, with a surface designed to hold the Pilder in place. We can question the design and all that, but it might as well be a spacecraft docking with a station or helicopter landing and locking itself down unto a carrier.

Getter Robo’s combination and subsequent transformation (the fighter are required to transform in order to take the shape of the robot) are no-sense kind. There are some indications what part ultimately becomes what, and we’ve gone this over before.

From here we can roughly split combining mecha into three styles. First would be vehicle combiners, where a giant robot is formed through combination of vehicles (or animals). Super Sentai tends to favour this the most above all. Second would be humanoid combiners, where humanoid shapes are first transformed into appendices or similar in order to complete their gestalt form. Despite Transformers having two forms most of the time, I would drop them into this category due to the fact that their main form, in the end, is their humanoid one. Their Alternative mode is the one they disguise themselves into, after all. Lastly, there is non-humanoid gestalt, where either vehicles or humanoids form up a combination result that isn’t a giant robot but something else.

Of course, there is also equip-combination, which is more or less one whole mecha gaining an extra pound of equipment of on top of itself. This is separated from the the aforementioned because it doesn’t create a new whole in itself; it’s just a mecha putting a jacket on, if you will. An example of this would be Sonic Convoy from Transformer: Galaxy Force.

Is this some new level of geekiness from this blog now that I’m referencing Japanese original version of Transformers Cybetron?

Each of these approach really would garner its own post with examples, as one combination style has quote a lot of stuff to go into. As such, maybe this post is best to take as a prepper for possible future expansions.

One thing that the designer of combining robot has to keep in mind is that it needs to be cool, no matter the approach.

A combination that has no tension behind it, no emphasize or meaning, lacks impact. Within fiction combination shouldn’t be treated as something trivial. Even in Getter Robo the combination plays important role with switching between forms and dramatic evasion manoeuvre. Even when combination becomes a common occurrence within fiction it has to leave some impact. Transformers has made offence of this few times over, but as long as the gimmick of combination is treated with respect, it works well as a dramatic device.

To use an example from the aforementioned Transformers, Combiners are almost always stronger than any other single character within fiction. A Combiner is the sum of its parts in pretty much every regard, and thus can change the tide of a battle on its own. To see a Combiner parts on the field should fill a soldier with fear or anticipation. Perhaps the most proverbial Combiner (not to mention a sort of classic example of modern humanoid mecha combiners overall) Devastator is the poster child for what it is to be a Combiner in Transformers fiction. You let Devastator loose on a field and follow it from afar how things just get devastated. Afterwards Megatron can always command its components, the Constructicons, to build something new. Treating Devastator otherwise would cheapen the fiction, character and the concept. Incidentally, Devastator’s intelligence is not the sum of his components, but who needs smarts when you have strength?

Switch inherits Wii’s philosophy

Nintendo Everything has an interview up on regarding the inception and design of the Switch. We’ll take it at face value for now, all this sort of interviews are mix of hard facts and PR after all. It’s a bit on the long side, four pages in total, but a good read nevertheless.

The first thing they quote with big blue font is how the Switch was designed to bring everyone together and play. Remember Wii’s We’d like to play ads? The Switch encompasses the same idea, which incidentally is shared with the NES (which they specifically mention and want to go way back to the hanafuda cards) and to some extent with the SNES. Can’t forget the Game Boy and the DS. It’s sad to see Koizumi saying that playing together is core essence of Nintendo, when they’ve done so much do disregard this. It is also not the full extent of Nintendo’s core, but this is neither here or there. What Koizumi is saying with his little speech about getting strangers into gaming is expansion of the market, something that Nintendo’s successful consoles have done.

The idea of Nintendo’s home console being a device that could be turned into a sort of game-presentation/sharing device on its own probably shaped the console all the way through the development. The Switch is chock-full of technological things that aren’t really needed, like the HD Rumble that the upcoming Senran Kagura is probably going to use somehow to imitate the physics of female body. The split wireless controller would’ve been enough to allocate this, but Nintendo does have a history of obsessing with useless WOW!-factors, like the 3D screen on the 3DS or the tablet controller on the Wii U.

While the Wii wouldn’t fit into this console-presenter idea, it had much easier time penetrating the wall that modern controllers put up. The Wiimote is an easy contraption to handle and use, which made the Wii an excellent console to boot up and have people playing games without worrying much how to control a given game. The rest was up to how well the game itself was designed. There certainly was a WOW! factor in Wiimotes without a doubt, but at least they saw use.

I should note at this point that the Switch is mentioned began development about three years ago. This is about the same time Nintendo’s main support on the 3DS and Wii U started lacking in major releases (or on VC for the matter) and fits their modus operandi. Just like with the Wii and previous consoles, about half of the predecessor’s life cycle is dedicated for the development of the successor.

Both Takahashi and Koizumi mention how Iwata helped them with engineering challenges, as both of them have design backgrounds. While they paint designers’ life as a daydreamer, it’s much more closer to constantly trying to solve a puzzle but having jack shit idea how to proceed. You just gotta make things work, and it helps if there are people in your team who can tell you what’s possible and why. Giving a designer total freedom only asks trouble.

I’m also calling bullshit on the fact that single-player games saw a rise on the N64 because only one controller was included. Knowing how Nintendo has gone on the record how they don’t follow their competitors’ actions (which is probably bollocks as well), how can they determine whether or not N64 was the reason for this supposed rise in single-player games? If Nintendo is worried about lack of multiplayer games and support this view, they should’ve dropped the price of their controllers and adding multiplayer elements to games like Super Mario Sunshine rather than bitching how third party is doing the same. It could be also argued that a game that can be played both single- and multiplayer and can stand on its own in single-player mode is superior to a game that requires two or more players at any given time.

Naming your product something that could attract the consumer is no easy deal. Sometimes you find a perfect name that has nothing to do with the actual product, like how Uncle Ben’s has nothing to do with rice, yet it’s a good name due to branding and all that. A PlayStation does give some hint what done with it, as does GameCube. Switch on the other hand doesn’t, but with the marketing and branding Nintendo’s doing, the idea of switching things up on the fly seems be associated with the system. Whatever else they had as candidates would be interesting to see, but at least it’s something simple and memorable. Like GameBoy.

One thing that will make the Switch stand apart from its competitors… actually, I’m not sure if the Switch has any competition per se. Because it’s a hybrid console, it doesn’t compete in traditional game console field. It competes against whatever Sony and Microsoft will dish out next, but they’re on weaker legs due to decentralisation of home entertainment. On handheld markets it has absolutely no competition with Vita being dead in the water elsewhere but in Japan. I hope you like importing for that little bugger. What a load of wasted potential Vita was. Whatever it is the competition will offer probably won’t be a pure bred game console. Consoles as home media centres is a ruling paradigm Nintendo has mostly gone against, and the Switch continues to do so. It’s main thing is to play games and dammit it needs to do it fast.

Takahashi’s argument that they didn’t want to fight smartphones and wanted to make friends with them makes no sense. Nintendo’s games and smartphones are two different markets, but I guess this is where the whole DeNA thing steps in. The whole social media aspect is what they gunned for, and seems to be the reason online chat and numerous other aspects of their online seems to be less than screwed up. Now that their online will actually cost money, I really do hope they’ll up their game in every aspect. I know it’s a futile wish, but it’s good to live with hope.

Nintendo also knows VR is terrible but still claims to be researching in it.

What strikes hopeful in Switch’s development is that it took in young people, to an extent. While it is good to take in new blood in order to rejuvenate your company and get in some new ideas, this is a generation that has lived with game consoles their whole lives. Unlike with the first three or four console generations, there is a preconception with high-end consumers what a game console needs to be like nowadays. It’s like how Zelda fans who jumped unto the ship with Ocarina of Time tend to rewrite Link’s Adventure as some sort of terrible aberration from the form. That’s Majora’s Mask.

Perhaps the last bit that garners a mention in this post is how Takahashi agrees that Switch should have more software than what was on the Wii or Wii U. Wii might be a bit hard to overcome, but Wii U’s statistics aren’t anything to write home about. Bloomberg seems to think that the Switch will sell more than the Wii, which is a tall order. While the initial reaction to Switch was essentially the same as with any other successful Nintendo console, i.e. dead on arrival, its sales show otherwise. Because the Switch sits in the handheld console market, it has the possibility of selling higher numbers than the Wii without a doubt. If it hits both home console and handheld markets with equal force, it’ll outsell the Wii. If the devs have games half-assed, it’ll sell less.

The Switch had a similar launch to the DS. It was big, with big sales left and right. Then came about a year long slumber, after which it was revised as a portable SNES of sorts. The Switch could have a similar cycle, where after this big start it trails off, and when enough and certain kind of software is release, blows up in sales again. Most likely during a holiday.