Escalation of moral maturity from game to game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mecha design: Animal transformation

While majority of the transforming  mecha are of vehicles, Beast Wars engineered biological transformations as we understand it nowadays. We did have transforming robots that had animal like modes, but these were always more or less mechanical in nature. Be it Transformers‘ Dinobots or Tobikage‘s Ninja Robots, organic transforming mecha were a rarity. Beast Wars didn’t just push toy engineering, design and manufacturing further, but also had a television show that is of high quality. It’s 3D CG looks outdated by modern standards, but we can’t blame the staff for not using technology from the future.

Organic transformations use the same idea as before; break down the individual components and reform those into new form. However, we can have two approaches to this, depending on what is our alternative, or Beast Mode. Well, Beast Form is more likely what Hasbro could use nowadays due to Marshawn Lynch trademarked Beast Mode for his clothing line.

The first approach is to have no excessive parts, no unnecessary shifting. To stay true to the idea that we are talking about a mecha that is so organically intertwined with its beast form that the transformation scheme flows from one to another. This approach can simplify the transformation quite a lot. To the point in which an animal pretty much stands up. Let’s use Boxtron’s brother, Anitron, as an example.

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Animatron? You couldn’t come up with a better name?

I’ve broken down a generic four-legged animal into more geometrical elements. Breaking organics into chunks of irregular geometric shapes works better than oversimplifying them. This is assuming we want to keep some of natural shapes around, rather than mechanise the beast form completely.  To keep with the first approach, the easiest way we can have the first step in a humanoid mode is to make Animatron stand.

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Are you serious?

Four-legged animals are a very easy example due to them having somewhat remotely similar body structure to humanoids. It just needs some tweaking. Let’s throw the animal head back, push the front leg’s paw’s back while flipping hands out from the forearms and turn that tail into a gun.

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There are multiple ways to handle the animal head. Here we see an example where it’s essentially a hanging kibble on the back. While it’s dirt cheap method, it has its use when handled properly. More often than not, the head of the animal is pushed to the front so that the face is on the chest. This gives the mecha a crest and a thematic approach. Take a look at Cheetor’s toy control art to see how they’ve flipped the head forwards.

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Cheetor’s transformation is not the same as Animatron’s (there is more twisting of limbs and whatnot), but the point still stands. With a shorter neck, the head dangles on the chest. There is also an option to leave the animal head as-is and use that as the mecha’s humanoid mode head as well. You can also do what Voltron did and have the face be hidden inside the animal’s mouth, leaving the top of the animal head a helmet.

This approach is very straightforward and can be adapted to pretty much any animal shape, except to those that do not necessarily lend themselves for the humanoid two-arms two-legs form. In cases like this we need to start looking how to either break down elements in order to force them a new shape, or how we could create the animal form to function as a shell. Shellformers are a thing, and here’s the worst (best?) example; Break.

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Cliffbee‘s review says it all, really.

You could really just pull all the penguin parts and have a robot with no forearms. The design’s not something that would win prizes, but not all designs are required to be of top percentage.

But let’s combine the shellforming and “standing-up” transformation for the second approach, where we have to tweak some things in order to work. A T-Rex is always a popular theme for robots, so let’s use that. An intentionally bad example, so I can touch upon this sort of volume-centric scheme later on.

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Let’s try to have a smoother T-Rex than breaking it down to geometrical elements

A dinosaur like this poses two problems compared to the four-legged animal above; the forearms are short and can’t make humanoid arms, and tail is far too long to be integrated easily without adding too much bulk. In order to achieve a similar transformation, we need to add few more steps into the mix.

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Animatron is pleased, yes

In order to house human proportion arms, we can stash them inside the torso underneath the robot mode head. We turn the torso’s sides into shoulder armours and have the arms lower from there. Then we can have the neck take over now empty section of the torso all the while pushing the head down to become the chest. Straighten the legs and turn the tail into a turret attached to the pelvis, and shorten it by splitting it open and covering top and bottom.

There would have been multiple ways of achieving a transformation. We could’ve have gone the opposite direction and split the head and neck open to form legs, legs becoming hulking arms and tail becoming the weapon again. This approach, where elements are derived from the volume.

Volume-centric transformation schemes work best when you have enough volume to work with, where you can turn things inside out to reveal something that the mecha was hiding underneath. This isn’t transforming one shape into another anymore, like we did with Boxtron’s example. Here we are revealing completely new elements from within the mecha itself that have no relation to the beast form with the arms. I could’ve done this a lot more, like have the legs transform into more mechanised ones instead of keeping the T-Rex legs as-is. The tail-gun, which looks absolutely retarded above, is another far simpler example.

The two approaches are almost inseparable to some extent. More often than not, you need to use both volume centric and shape transforming approaches when it comes to organic objects due to the nature of the beast. In a way, an animal may force a smoother and flowing idea of a transformation compared to a machine, where industrial efficiency in shape and function reign.

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?

Three approaches to transforming mecha designs

Unfolding, folding, opening, twisting, turning, exposing areas and revealing hidden parts is basically what mecha transformation is all about. There is no one way to do it, and the sheer amount of examples there exists eclipses the scope I’m willing to work for free. To tackle transformation schemes in general requires part problem solving and part puzzle making in a nice balance, where a irregular shapes can be turned into e.g. a humanoid and vice versa. By first introducing this sort of base idea of categorizing transforming mechas into will give some foresight how I’ll tackle the subject down the line.

Much like Three approaches in mecha design (which will be rewritten at some point this year,) I tend to employ a similar template for transforming mechas specifically. These three are not necessarily connected to the three initial approaches as some sort of rule, but they do work under them if you’d wish to make a transforming mecha. These might help you to lock down your approach better. This post can barely scratch the surface of it all with the given limit I’ve set to myself.

The three approaches in transforming mecha design are Fantastic, Toyetic and Realistic. As with previous, there are overlapping elements with each of the three and can be even split into sub-categories if necessary. Examples of Fantastic transforming robots are all the outright impossible ones in any form outside animation and movies. Getter Robo and Gurren Lagann are probably the best examples, where thing just fall into their place and morph into new shapes. Mass shifting is nothing short of expected and even mandatory.

Continue reading “Three approaches to transforming mecha designs”

Monthly Three: What’s in a name (of a remake)?

Remake get a lot of hatred, overall speaking. Unlike with remasters, remake takes something that exists, and rather than creating something new, it recycles elements of the previous product to create something new. Rather than creating something new or enhancing something old with new techniques and technology. Still, simply using the same core starting point with a piece does not make a remake. For example, the Transformers live action series are less a remake of any of the cartoons and more a different take on the work and story. Their quality is another thing altogether.

In film, remakes have become something to abhor, especially how the 2000’s was largely controlled by panned remakes of reheats of past franchises. From Clash of the Titans to Wolfman and whatever the latest horror movie remake out there is. That actually may be Godzilla Resurgence, which shows that remakes have their time and place as well, and that they can be done well, potentially. 1982 The Thing is an excellent remake that brought the story to a new generation with visuals and tone that still haven’t made obsolete. Similarly, The Fly from 1986 gave David Cronenberg a reason to do further body horror through a classic horror movie, and

That is the core idea of remakes after all; to take the old piece and recreate it for modern audiences. The problem is that not all pieces require a remake of any sorts. Wolfman is an example of an ageless classic that works more as a period piece nowadays, and much like 1934’s Dracula, works the best because of the era they were made in. This particular Dracula has never seen a remake, but further adaptations of Bram Stoker’s original book have been many, for lesser success most of the time.

The 1998 Pyscho is an example of a remake that remakes the original film point by point, almost replicating every scene of Hitchcock’s version. It’s a largely pointless way to make a remake, as it doesn’t do anything on its own, outside one added masturbation scene for shock value. The resources wasted on this Psycho could’ve been used for something better.

While we do expect remakes to do their own thing and add something to stand apart from their progenitor, often they just miss the point of the original piece. 1999’s The Haunting went straight up haunted house with being absolutely explicit that yes, there are ghosts about. The original film from 1963 is very subdued, never defining whether or not the main character is truly seeing ghosts or not, and works in allegories. It’s a subtle piece, something that the 1999 remake is not. It’s completely in your face remake with broken budget and has absolutely no subtely to it, not to mention it lacks any sort of legit scary moment. It stands apart from the original, and outside them idea basis, has nothing to do with the original piece and should’ve been named something else completely. Just like Gatchaman Crowds.

2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street on the other hand is just a bad movie outright, largely having worse special effects than the original 1984 and being explicit in everything it does instead of treating the viewer with respect.

In music, covers and different versions of songs are essentially the industry’s remakes. The basic beats and lyrics are the same, most often, but given completely new sound to them most of the cases, or simply taking it as it is and trying to do it better.

Remakes in music does offer much more freedom, in a sense. While a film remake can aim to change genre and stand completely apart from the previous work, just use it as an inspiration, in music you can take pretty much any song and give it a completely different take without much any hate. Game music is an example of this, with large number of songs being remade in rock, metal, symphonic, jazz and other arrangements. Companies themselves do this very often, Nihon Falcom having perhaps the largest selection of different pieces of each of their songs.

I’ll have to indulge myself just a bit here and list few of Yuzo Koshiro’s Morning Grow from the first Ys game, because the piece is simply one of my favourites in the series…





…Thou this dance pop version confuses me to this day. Provincialism Ys is a strange album

Unlike with films, cover songs in music are often less about the money and more about the love for that a particular song. The other side of the coin there are songs that are remade simply to be sold rather than about the song itself. Still, some authors and studios push remakes and covers of certain songs to ride on their popularity for simple monetary. After all, all remakes, film or music, are meant to be sold. However, in music remakes rarely obsolete the original piece, if ever.

In games all this is a bit mucked because companies tend to use remake and remaster liberally. Ducktales Remastered is an example of this, as it is a full-blown beat to beat remake and not a remaster.

Much like films, game remakes may get a cold shoulder from the consumers, sometimes because they don’t simply play as well as the original, sometimes because they have nothing new to them outside lick of new paint, or sometimes because they’re simply not wanted or needed.

CAPCOM tried to reboot the Mega Man franchise on the PSP with Mega Man Powered Up and Maverick Hunter X, but the main problem with both of them was that they were the exact same games CAPCOM had re-released for decade and a half at that point, solid two now. It didn’t help that they were on a system that wasn’t really all that successful, Maverick Hunter X ran slower and had more issues than the Super Nintendo original and only fans really bought MM Powered Up. It looked too cutesy and despite its addons offered nothing of real value, at least according to the bush radio. It didn’t help that it was a game aimed for a younger demographic on a system that was clearly meant for the older audience in the market.

What do the consumers expect from game remakes? The general idea seems to be that keeping it true to the original, refining some rougher elements and adding more content seems to be the right thing to go with. However, with older games this can become a problem, especially if the title is required to move from 2D to 3D, a change that can screw up the gameplay.

a boy and his blob is an example of a remake that took the original game and worked it from the scratch up. It’s a pretty good game on its own rights, and rather than hitting on nostalgia cashgrab, did something good. It largely ignores stages and everything else from the original game. Perhaps this sort of ground-up remodelling of a game is beneficial, as it allows the remake to stand apart from the original game, and act both as an independent piece and semi-sequel/reboot.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Metroid: Zero Mission, a game that remakes the NES original with seemingly the same maze layout while streamlining the experience, adding new content and forcing a story narrative in. Zero Mission is often called the better between the two, but it can’t be denied that it only stands on the shoulders of the NES original, removing large parts of the adventure the original game had going on for it, and perhaps even saying that Zero Mission tries to pander with nostalgia rather than stand on its own legs. It’s speedier gameplay is not necessarily better either, as original Metroid was very methodical, seemingly slow, and required a lot exploration from the player’s part instead of being directed to the next destination. In many ways, the Metroid is similar to Dark Souls in this rather than to its remake. To many the simple fact that Zero Mission is on a better hardware and plays more like a modern game makes it better, despite the fact that as a game it is a simple repeat, just like Ducktales Remasted.

Remakes have a place in every industry, despite their divisive nature. The good remakes show that you can use the same basis and narrative to create a new wholesome piece that can stand against the original without any problems, whereas the bad ones on the other hand show you how much certain works are largely timeless, at least for now. Remakes can work as a vessel for something great, despite their inherent repeating nature. Sometimes, repeating something is required to move forwards.

Old metal will always be replaced with something new

Recently a question was thrown out there; why isn’t the giant robot genre more popular in the Western markets? The answer to this is both simple and complex, depending how deep you want to go, but also reflects the overall way of things when it comes to popular things in pretty much anything in any given era.

To use the giant robot genre as an example of this, almost every body of work is seen as science fiction. While science fiction itself has always been largely popular, the emphasize on giant robots, or mecha if you want to use just one word, has few stigmas to it that it simply can’t escape due to how world works. Using the Transformers as an example is a very straightforward one; despite it being a franchise that has rather sophisticated stories to it, ever since its inception it has been vehicle to advertise the toys and that dictated to what audience in what way those stories would be told. The genre has been vastly catered to children across in its modern form since the 1960’s, with each show in Japan getting slew of toys. This of course has always reflected back to the US with each of its localised show. Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot, Gigantor, and even Astroboy all were localised shows that were hits, but were children’s television. For adults (and for the whole family really) you had Star Trek and the Twilight Zone, shows that were more than just about robots beating each other or aliens, and Twilight Zone offering other sort of stories to boot.

There is a stereotype of Japan being a nation of technological marvels, and there was a time when it seemed to be absolutely true. The industrial growth Japan experienced after the World War II, and the economy bubble it experienced in the 1980’s, supported the admiration of technology. Cold War pushed technological advanced in both West and East, and man travelling to the stars had become an evident thing. There was a moment in history when science fiction flourished both in US and Japan, which lead the 1980’s to have more adult sort of stories concerning giant robots with the adults who had grown up with Ultraman and Mazinger Z. Similarly how we have people doing things like Pacific Rim with the people who grew up with Voltron, Robotech and Star Saber. Robotech were the first proper taste of 1980’s robot anime in the US, which would lead way to further ventured, and without it things like Gundam Wing would not have seen on US television. Europe was largely a different beast, Spain enjoying Mazinger Z, others enjoying the likes of Grendizer in form of Goldorak, and we Nordics were stuck with Balatak and Starzinger. UK always had its own thing going on and influencing its cultural scheme with Stingray, Thunderbirds and the like, which also were rather popular things in Japan. Hell, if you check UFO’s opening and compare it to how Evangelion’s opening was cut, you’ll see a lot of similarities.


 UFO is pretty damn good show, you should watch it

With the 1990’s rolling in Transformers had died out and would see a sequel with Beast Wars in 1996, but it wouldn’t be similar cultural impactor despite it being rather good show and how the toys drove toy engineering and design forwards. The Brave series continued as its spiritual successor, but in the West we saw none of it at the time. Evangelion, despite how much people love to hate it, came around the right time to make one last impact on global cultural consciousness, and when giant robots were to become passé.

The question why giant robots are not popular in the West can be answered simply with Times change. The genre has not innovated itself as visibly as since Evangelion, and as such has served in the role of being the last of mecha shows. Sure, there has been slew of revivals, competitors and imitators, yet none of them have done anything new. Living robots, robots that transform, robots that combine, robots than combine with humans, humans that are robots, robots that aren’t robots at all and so, it all has been done and the storytelling regarding them has not advanced. The best examples of mecha as a genre have always been about the people, but they fall in the same category as any other niche genre within its mother genre by being very specific in their contents. Something like Muv-Luv might’ve been a huge success in the 1980’s or even in the early 1990’s, but in 2000’s and 2010’s its story doesn’t carry have any punch behind it. The same applies to a lot of other franchises, and while you see the occasional show that becomes very popular for a time and may leave catchphrases floating around, like Gurren Lagann did, they’re still in the same old mould.

The people who grow up with mecha, even in the 1990’s, have grown old and so has the genre. It doesn’t attract new blood from the young ones, because there are other, better things out there. Just like Pokémon and Pikachu have become a thing of the adults and has been replaced Yo-Kai Watch and Jibanyan in Japan, these newfangled things have taken mechas spot in the niche spotlight. This is reflected in the West as well, with Edge of Tomorrow enjoying better ratings than Pacific Rim. Pacific Rim itself showscases all the elements a hardcore fan of monster smash flicks wants to see, and almost everything a general audience thinks are petty and childish. Why Tranformers movies have seen the success they’ve had is both because of nostalgia and that they hit that certain cultural spark, and are largely unapologetic about what they are.

The few old franchises that still kick around in the West are for children only. Hasbro still pushes a lot of Transformers toys out, accompanied by cartoons and comics, while Japan has mostly chosen to cater the ever older otaku audience with Schwarzesmarken, Macross sequels, Valvrave and the like. It doesn’t help that outside Africa, Middle-East and certain parts of Asia birthrates have been dropping, significantly so in Japan, which means less quality children’s robot shows outside the few that have been running for an eternity and will most likely run at least to the end of this decade.

It doesn’t help that the current cultural climate also takes technology at its face value. We lived in a time when every single technological leap made a difference in our lives, but nowadays it seems even the greatest findings, like the recent news about over 1200 newly discovered planets that could sustain life, goes to largely deaf ears. Space travel is mundane. Even the miracle machine in your pocket is mundane, everyday item. No, not your vibrator, your smart phone. There is no more marvel in a giant walking robot when Iron Man’s latest suit in Civil War makes them look absolutely archaic? How can Macross hope to impress with its designs when it still uses the same basic shapes and concepts since its inception? Of course Macross was never about the robots first and foremost, yet that’s the first things you’re always shown, the first things that pop to you.

Children wish to stand apart from their parents, each generation does. Admiring technology, and by extension, the fiction using technology to a miraculous degrees, is a thing of older generations. When you have a thing that people have tired of and regard it something worn out, you begin to cater something new, something colourful (or in case of Apple, something black and white) and something that would replace the old. However, as things cycle, we may arrive in an era where things like space travel is of interest again, and we may relive a sorts of new renaissance of giant robots in fiction, but I doubt it’ll happen in my life time.

As a sidenote, if you’re a âge fan, you should head to kiminozo.life and check out Evan’s Kimi ga Nozomu Eien Drama Theatre Vol.3 translation. It’s a good piece.

Of silhouettes and robots

First, as a side note, I’ve put up a separate page that lists all mecha and robot related posts I’ve made. You can access it from the list of pages above the changing header image.

Silhouettes are important and overly visited point in character design. To go directly to the point, a silhouette needs to be uniquely recognizable. This has gone to the point that we all recognize a ball with two smaller balls on top of it side by side as Mickey Mouse’s head, and that silhouette cannot be replicated and sold. This applies to giant robots as well, and if you’re into robots, the following ones should look familiar.

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It’s not hard to decipher the distinct look from the three above. Roundy, blocky and organicy. We recognize Mazinger Z because of its overall body shape, but it’s head and Breast Fire panels is what makes it stand out the most. For RX-72-2 we see the usual Gundam V-Fin, the shield and that rifle. Proportions, beam sabres and legs also give it away. A lot of Gundams share a very similar silhouette and people can make a mistake, but that’s one thing that makes them a Gundam. For EVA-01 the overall shape stands apart from the previous. Those shoulder pylons are a dead give away, as are the legs and the overall lanky pose. The horn is also another element that gives it away, even thou the overall head shape would be a better signifier, but this image hides it into the left shoulder pylon.

To hardcore robophilist, recognizing silhouettes across the genre is not too difficult. Some are head scratchers. To a person who is just glancing at these, RX-78-2 looks like a Transformer.

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There are thousands of giant robot designs out there, Transformers hitting several thousands. All franchises with numerous designs and have run for years, like Gundam, most likely are hitting well over thousand. I’m just throwing these as guesstimates, but it illustrates a problem; not all designs can be completely unique from each other, and often within a series there is a pre-existing elements that dictate certain elements of a design that makes it instantly recognizable. For Gundam, it would be the face or the V-fin, and exceptions do exist. This is also why TSFs look so similar to most people, as they see the silhouettes better than the detailing. A Gundam has colours to make it look different because of their toyetic aesthetics, but a TSF is very mundane in colours in comparison, and due to many factors a lot of them share a similar silhouette by design.

An idea and purpose can dictate the look of the design just fine, but that’s just one initial approach. A method I’ve seen car designers use is start with a scribbled blob of non-descriptive nothing and see what’s in there for them.

 

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Facing left, with a long horn swept towards back. Can you spot what looks like a Robot Bunny and an Orbital Frame to me? There’s also a skater, I think, and what I can only call a mechanical hummigbird

I’m not terribly good at this myself, but it does give some good ideas. A friend of mine showed me this some years back, and he can do some nice sketched renders. Do check his Twitter for neat stuff. Out from all those blobs, I lined out one that could be a neat starting point for a head design. This may seem stupidly easy and nonsense, but it does not negate the points of learning how mechanics works. This is a very useful method to test out shapes, and while I didn’t have no rhyme or reason to these, you can make sharper corners, more cubic or whatever tickles your fancy kind of shapes. Whatever suits your needs. Essentially, this is sidestepping the need to look for a shape, when you allow your subconscious to vomit out everything, and after that you just see what you have on paper. Of course, everything from this would need a large amount of detailing, but that’s later when you’ve locked down what way you want your piece to look in overall terms.

You can apply this to one part alone, or the whole damn thing you want to make. However, do keep in mind that this is just the very barest of starting points, as you’d still need to collect the shapes together into a cohesive whole and make them look right. That head design, if I were to create a whole linework just based on that, it would have swooped main curves with sharper angles to accent it. You can do as many shapes as you want, and often only a handful can give you some idea what you may want to go with. Much like everything else, you train this as you do it, and you can see I’m not the master of this approach due to preference of scribbling lines from whatever visual image I in my head. However, I do see this a more useful and easier way to approach of How do I get shapes?  I guess I’ll use Gundam as an example how to approach a design where there are set rules, thou you could just read the rules in TSF design posts for that.

Try this out if you’re in a block and can’t find the right shape. Sometimes what you need isn’t strict shape and form, but splattered scribble to give you a hand. Y’know, see the forest from the trees.