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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complexity is the appeal of Guilty Gear

In a recent interview, ArcSys’ Daisuke Ishiwatari and Toshimichi Mori were discussing the company’s different fighting games and what they’ve learned from them. What they see is that the less complex and easier to master mechanics of their two other big titles, Dragon Ball Fighters Z and BlazBlue, are selling more than Guilty Gear, and the next title will have less complex mechanics. Because, y’know, everyone is supposedly having hard time with them and everything.

Which isn’t the case.

Guilty Gear as a series found its place with the X and XX titles, something Ishawatari has historically being rather against, first trying to remove these games from his beloved story with Guilty Gear 2 Overture and then reinstating them back as side-stories due to fanbacklash. Let’s not forget him telling the fans that they’re too old for games, essentially doing a Shattner bit where he told Trekkies to get a life. Considering how BlazBlue helped him to regain Guilty Gear‘s license and was considered the fighting game franchise during the time when Capcom’s fighters were absent, Ishiwatari & co. really should reconsider their approach to the series if their first realisation is downgrading the game.

This lesson of theirs isn’t anything spectacularly special, both Mori and Ishiwatari have grown into businessmen first and businessmen tend to be reactionaries instead of trailblazers. They see certain kind of aspects selling well, wagering their bets and materials, and then changing existing products with an aim to cater for larger audiences. After all, once you’ve achieved a popularity within a niche, it’s much easier to expand outwards. The niche’s positive view on a product often travels outside this smaller section, and can catch on if the marketing and product meet with larger audience’s expectations.

The main problem with Guilty Gear being that the genre it is in itself has always been in the middle of being popular with the masses and being within a niche. As a franchise, Guilty Gear has a prestige spot of being recognised as damn good by most consumers into the genre and gained a small pop-culture status by the mid-2000’s.

In short, Guilty Gear as a franchise is a deluxe product. As a game it’s easy to get into despite its complex mechanics, but in the end they are hard to master. It may have generally lower consumer base as BlazBlue, which took GG‘s spot during its absence, yet neither series will never reach the popularity of Dragon Ball Fighters Z due to sheer amount of Dragon Ball fans out there.

Being a deluxe product with a limited consumer base isn’t anything bad, especially if the general view towards the product is highly regarded. ArcSys did a great job at building one of the best tutorial modes in fighting game history, but they can’t force consumers to get into said game. As mentioned, Guilty Gear‘s appeal is in its complexity, which really has been overstated. The sheer amount of options and unique methods to realize those options per character is rather unpresented in other fighting games, and by that extension does take a bit more time to learn. That goes for every fighting game, really. Games are, after all, all about learning the rules and trying to become the best you can. It has always been counter-intuitive for gaming for the games to hand-hold the player through them, as that’s essentially removing playing from the game. Some people just don’t want to play, they just want to spectate or walk around a house in search for a diary.

ArcSys would be doing damage to the franchise if they began to move against its established fame and history. Guilty Gear‘s complexity is not damaging the franchise, but as a businessman would rationalise it, it’s not for everyone. Naturally, the answer is to lessen those systems to make appeal the wider audience. Ishiwatari claims that it’s a difficult issue to balance with the controls and trying reduce the systems in the game, but in reality it isn’t. Keep Xrd as a series as it is, there’s no reason to muck around it. If they want capitalise on Guilty Gear while still appealing to the general audience, ArcSys should consider creating a sub-series. They actually have one they could re-use all the while poking fun at the fans and the franchise as a whole in good faith. Guilty Gear Petit is a thing.


You might want to turn the volume down, WonderSwan’s sound is rather spartan. The game looks better on a real screen, believe it or not

ArcSys won’t give two cents about this idea, because it is much easier just to recycle everything they have now rather than plan a new, more wider audience friendly entry in the franchise. Of course, a game like this would be considered a toned-down, dumbed down second rate entry by some, and because of this it would require a solid, well thought approach to make it competent. This being ArcSys, this will never happen in a million years, they’ll make more money on releasing most characters as DLC and concentrating on milking whatever they have left for now.

It’s a good idea to expand a company’s market, sure. However, it’s not a good idea to do this at the expense of your product. The market where most fighting games are, and all but one ArcSys games are in, is in the Red Ocean. You can’t expect to expand within this limited area, you’ll end up cannilibizing. The best option often is to offer more alternatives. A Metroid to Mario and Zelda, all three sharing different sections of the overall market, all offering different play. Expansion means you need to expand the lineup as well and maintain it, not take an existing piece and mangle it up for general markets that were not interested in it in the first place. Keeping your current consumers market is easier than trying to appeal to a new one, especially if you’re using the same damn product, just not even trying to keep it the same anymore.

Playing with cardboard

There are times when a company shows how out of touch they are with their global audience. It is understandable, keeping in touch what world-wide audience is like or wants can be a difficult task, but knowing some of the basics should be doable for every corporation working outside their own borders. Nintendo’s recent Investor Q&A summary shows that while they may be seen a worldwide brand, their concern is still in Japan first and foremost, just like with every other Japanese company.

There is a quote in this Q&A that really shows this;

I’m sure we surprised everyone with the use of cardboard, but it is not so far-fetched if you consider how familiar the material is at least to Japanese people who from a young age use it for play and as a material for creating things such as fancy crafts.
This is not something specific only to Japanese. Crafting your own toy out of anything is part of children’s play culture. What that crafted toy is made of and what it is depends on the culture. My parents played with conifer cone animals, as I did and as I have seen numerous other children do. Cardboard is just another material to be used in these plays, making good material for a knight armour, sword and shield. Saying that cardboard is important at least to Japanese people is extremely self-masturbatory and tells how global view is being ignored. Well, that comes with the name of the product too. Labo is short for laboratory, which in English would be Lab. Because how Japanese works, lab becomes labo, ラボ.
The tone underneath this really puts only one side of the global market on a high pedestal, business as usual. It’s no wonder why certain titles fail in the West, when even a simple thing like this is being ignored. The only people Nintendo can blame on their lack of success in European markets over the years is themselves, as clearly they’ve not gotten over how they simply can’t manage the markets properly. America’s a different deal, of course, with their solid footholding. Europe’s like a black hole to them, and they still can’t get over how NES didn’t succeed here, and it was Donkey Kong Country that finally made SNES a household name.
Miyamoto’s assurance that Labo is a product that seems like very Nintendo rings another bell. Nintendo, above all other game companies, especially form the Big Three console manufacturers, is all about toys and children. Nintendo may want to steer away from this image with the constant support of Bayonetta, but when you have your Walt Disney of the company telling investors that their company wants to make cardbaoard toys and hires people who want to make cardboard toys, something’s extremely off.
Nintendo Labo has its potential and we all get it. It’s like with LEGO, where it supposedly should encourage kids to try building stuff and see how things work mechanically. What makes the world tick, if you will. They get to build it and see its function first hand, all the while enjoying the game these crafts were made to function through.
However, Nintendo’s history of success has not been in toys or crafts items, love hotels or vacuums. Nintendo’s history has been success of games, from hanafuda cards to video games. With Nintendo Labo, the game part comes second to the toy. While trying something new is always a positive, putting this sort of emphasize on it as one of your main things probably will bite you back. Virtual Reality didn’t catch on like wild-fire, as it was expected to (as it is always expected to, mind you) and Nintendo Labo is just Nintendo’s version of VR. It’s all about how people interact with their games and through what means, not about games themselves. New Form of Play, as the slogan puts it, matters jack shit if the game played isn’t any good on itself.

Maybe this is just one of those 3D things Nintendo always goes on about.

On a more positive side, a PDF released around the same time properly presented Nintendo’s plans to continue the Nintendo Classic Editions. Which actually throws a monkey wrench to Miyamoto’s point in the Q&A about Switch going to have a longer life span. With these Classic editions, Nintendo has effectively extended both NES and SNES’ lifespan, the same way they did with Virtual Console. These consoles selling out and being put back into manufacturing puts an emphasize how stupid limited console cycle really is. A console has as long cycle as the parent company wants it to, whereas consumers really just want t good games. Fanboys of course disagree about on what platform, but that’s another topic. The main dish of this meal is how prowess and hardware barely matters when the games are just that damn good. The selection on these Classics editions of course could use some revamping, though I’ll grant this to Nintendo; they make one helluva first entry to video gaming.

Nintendo’s classics don’t sell because they’re some sort of revered holy objects, though to some that may be a reason. They sell because the consumers have a certain want these classic titles fulfill and what modern Nintendo does not have and have not beaten. In Nintendo’s Earning Releases, specifically their Supplementary Information about Earning Releases, you can see a trend appearing when you backwards; 2D Mario titles in the Million-Seller list. New Super Mario Bros. 2 was released in 2012 and it’s still making on the list and keeps appearing there since 2012, with New Super Mario Bros. still appearing there as well.

The New SMB line of games are not (or should I put that were not?) high-budget titles. They were games made on the cheap, and they sold like gold in most cases. If Nintendo would put the same level of care and intention on titles like New SMB games that they put on Super Mario Odyssey, they probably would see even further increase in sales. New SMB line was a nice throwback, but 2D Mario never got the glorious return it and the consumers have been demanding and wanting. Instead, it gets wah wah music with cheap 3D and we get cardboard.

Virtual-On Retrospective: MARZ

Previous: FORCE

In the early 2000’s, Sega’s plan was to deliver cheaper and more effective arcade hardware for the Japanese market, which of few would see worldwide releases. NAOMI 2 was given the emphasize over the Hikaru, which was phased out in 2002. NAOMI 2 would last to 2008, with Atomiswave, a Sammy developed NAOMI derivative, running by its side. Around the same time in 2001 Sega developed the Triforce with Nintendo and Namco, based on Nintendo’s GameCube. Two years later, Sega would release Chihiro to the arcades, based on Microsoft’s Xbox. All these arcade machines ran different games that Sega was directly involved and developed, like NAOMI 2’s Virtua Fighter 4 series, Triforce running AM2 developed F-Zero AX, Atomiswave running many fishing and fighting games Sega was part developer and publisher, and Chihiro most known for OutRun 2 and House of the Dead III due to their Xbox ports. Later in the 2000’s, Sega’s arcade hardware would be more or less completely home media derivative, based on normal PC architecture, making some of the modern games running on a modified Windows. However, there was no Virtual-On, on any of these systems.

With Virtual-On FORCE generally receiving lukewarm acceptance from the overall audience, regarding Oratorio Tangram the superior game, Hitmaker would develop a console-only sequel for the PlayStation 2; Virtual-On MARZ.

Continue reading “Virtual-On Retrospective: MARZ”

Adventure over Story

With recent game sales in store here, I decided to pick up Pokémon Sun. I’m the kind of fool who recognises how the series has gotten progressively worse, when the series hit Game Boy Advance with few saving graces thrown here and there, but nothing that could keep the series from falling steadily. Pokémon is, after all, mostly kept alive by its large fanbase, both in and out of electronic gaming, of which most people are have been there since the first few games. This has caused a certain kind of generational shift, where younger people see the franchise as something for their parents or the same age rather than for them. In 2014, Yo-Kai Watch‘s Jibanyan overtook Pikachu in overall popularity in Japan. This didn’t happen in the West though, despite Yo-Kai Watch being a franchise with potential. It was, as you might’ve guessed, a bit too Japanese. Pokémon overall outside few important bits, is rather global in its approach, something Nintendo and Game Freaks tend to emphasize to ensure further acceptance.

On the game front, there is now question which one is more popular, and here comes the core reason why Pokémon gains criticism with each further entry it sees and why Generation 2 is still so revered. It has everything to do with one single point; great world that supported a grand adventure.

It’s a small miracle the first Pokémon game generation even works as intended, most of the time. Under the good, the code may be rather terrible, but on the front the design of the maps and monsters was terrific. Well, to be completely fair, they weren’t the most imaginative map designs up to that point, which was partially their charm. Pokémon‘s earlier games’ maps shine because they’re mundane, everyday places you can see in your home town and surrounding it, with enough interesting points thrown here and there to add the feeling of fantasy. For example, no power plant would look or be mapped like Red/Blue‘s, but it still seemed plausible. The Burned Mansion was a place every child (and even adults) would like to wonder into, full of secrets and treasures left around. You didn’t need to info or story bit about them, all you needed was some sort of simulacrum to convey the place and a place’s name.

Second Generation had things a bit too mundane at places, making certain paths in Gold/Silver tedious, which detracted from the overall experience. However, because of the Day/Night cycle and new possible scenarios Weekday’s gave, you’d explore every nook and cranny.

The Third Generation’s overall map is terrible, slowing the progress. Fans know the drill; too much water, too much slow Surfing. That’s only half of it though, as the Ruby/Sapphire began to detract from the adventure. For Pokémon, the abandonment of adventure has been rather slow, yet in the latest entries its clear that most of advancements to the overall game play has been addition of more complex and intricate stories rather than expansion of maps and emphasize on their interesting design. We have no Friday Lapras to go around, less maps that are interesting to go through again or maps that would require returning to at later points for further venturing into outside the story or progression. The adventure of exploration has been replaced with story, to put it shortly.

Playing is an action, be it a video game, a play with toys or in bed. As much electronic games may split opinions, it is universal that when we stop an action we are currently enjoying (or finding a need to finish the act due to pressing matters) always impacts us in a negative way. However, with computer and video games having increasingly more elements that belong to films or books, the action of playing is cut and diminished. With some games nowadays, you are required to sit through a tutorial and intro cinematic that can last up to thirty minutes. While you can argue that tutorial consists of playing, this isn’t the case. A tutorial is like watching a toy in a box with a Try Me! function on it. Only when you unwrap and unbox the toy, you can play with it. What story does to this toy is that it makes you sit in front while telling you about the toy, and stops you every five minutes from playing to tell you something else.

Most developers don’t realise that you can tell a story through action, like kids do when they play, or simply refuse to consider it an option. Sometimes, like with Order: 1886’s director Dana Jan, regret that they were making a game when they could be telling a story. Just like how the use of mind and brains are valued over honest physical work, stories are seemingly only valued when we can wager the storyteller’s words, camera work or direction.

We’re at a time when adventure, or the sheer action of playing, is struggling. FMV games overall were the bane of game culture overall, yet seen as something that would enrich and truly bring something mature and irreplaceable to video and computer games. So very few succeeded to be games, how little interaction the player ultimately had with game. Games are not about taking you to an adventure like books or movies. Games are about you being on an adventure. Less so in puzzle games obviously, which is why it’s easy to see the same detrimental evolution in Zelda series.

To return to Pokémon and Yo-Kai Watch, it must be mentioned that Yo-Kai Watch too emphasizes story, though to a lesser extent than its elder competitor. Playing the two games side by side, Sun and the original Watch, the differences in pacing and how much the games take your hands off from playing. Yo-Kai Watch, while still having story segments that stop playing, are not bloated to showcase the elaborate models and character animations, or have lot of empty air or simply slow and jarring text. While both games have scenes that are unskippable, try guess which one lets you more freedom from the get-go and tries to keep things to an optimal minimum.

With time being of the essence to many nowadays, one of the worst sins a game can do is to waste your time and keep you from playing.