Highlight Clips and the Loss of Context

On the internet in the early 2000s, the short, 5-second-at-most animated gif reigned. Before high-speed internet became ubiquitous, the gif was a low-commitment way to share snippets of your favorite show. While gifs are still used frequently, things have changed with the advent of YouTube, Twitter, the webm format, and more. Where once gifs were ideally super short, super-optimized for size, and often made to loop smoothly, now clips can go for minutes on end to showcase exactly what’s necessary to impress and astound. But as fandom and even online cultures in general have grown into an environment of instant gratification and moving snapshots, I find that it can influence how people view a given work or performance.

Highlight reels are nothing new, and I think they fulfill a useful role. Speaking from personal experience, they help me understand things that I can’t quite make time to fully delve into. For example, I’ve never been a big basketball fan, but seeing highlights of Michael Jordan’s famous “flu game” (where he managed to lead the Chicago Bulls to victory despite being incredibly ill) helps to drive home to a novice like me the sheer significance of Jordan’s feat. However, not everything boils down easily to small, digestible clips, and there’s increasingly a risk that people will judge the clipped version as if it speaks for the whole product.

Here are three examples that I think encapsulate this dilemma:

On the wrestling subreddit /r/squaredcircle, one fairly common topic is the WWE wrestler Finn Bálor. In multiple instances, Bálor is criticized for being a boring wrestler whose offense lacks weight and pizzazz. However, I’ve seen another sentiment in response: Finn Bálor is impressive when viewed over the course of an entire match. His moves might not leave a deep impression individually, but he weaves them together into a story. Every dropkick, every stomp from the top rope means something, and viewing the moves in isolation fails to tell the whole story.

Starcraft is a series of competitive video games known for pushing players to the limits. Occupying the real-time strategy genre, it will have the occasional flashes of brilliance that can be captured in highlight clips, but more often what makes people fans are the stories told over 20-60 minutes of adversaries trying to outwit and out-muscle each other. It’s often the case that written essays more accurately capture the strength and tactical brilliance of a player than a minute-long Twitch clip. As a result, games that are conducive to highlight reels, like fighting games or MOBAs, tend to go viral much more often.

On a personal note, when creating the “Precure Party” panel for AnimeNEXT 2015 with Alain from Reverse Thieves, I tried to find the best clip to convey the quality of my favorite, Heartcatch Precure! In my opinion, the show’s greatest strength is how it delivers very profound and considerate messages using the depths and quirks of its characters. What I ultimately decided on was to combine two clips: one showing Kurumi Erika (Cure Marine) being jealous of her older sister, and then another showing her older sister Momoka being jealous of Erika in contrast. The point was to show how it threads together those two episodes two make a stronger point about how Erika’s sense of inferiority isn’t the entire story, but the short highlight reel didn’t hit as effectively as I’d hoped. It just wasn’t as effective as showing transformation sequences, dramatic character development scenes, or easy-to-understand gag scenes. If I were to do it over, I would pick something with a lot more impact, but I’d still be a bit sad that I couldn’t properly convey in that instance the X-factor of Heartcatch.

I care little for complaints about shrinking attention spans; I’ve been hearing them since I was a kid. While there is a lot of desire out there for immediate satisfaction (see commenters online who write gigantic replies based purely on the title of a video or article), I can only put so much blame on the viewers and readers when it’s the people making the ads and videos to exploit their customers’ tendencies. What’s more important to me is that I hope people who see short clips or highlight reels for more complex subjects understand it’s just a taste of whatever they’re looking at, and that it’s not always the best or most ideal representation.

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Turrican for Super Smash Bros.

Ever since Smash Bros. Ultimate was announced, I’ve been inspired to draw and design character movesets for iconic figures from video game history. Last time, I did Tatanga, final boss of Super Mario Land. This time, it’s going to be a somewhat more obscure character: Turrican, from the game of the same name by German game designer Manfred Trenz.

While Turrican might be somewhat familiar to SNES/Super Famicom owners, the real meat and significance of Turrican is that it’s one of the most famous games for the Commodore 64 and Commodore Amiga. As Smash Bros. slowly expands from a celebration of Nintendo to a celebration of gaming, I’ve entertained the notion of computer gaming getting its due with characters like Turrican and Thrall from the Warcraft franchise.

The Turrican games are sprawling platformers/shooters in the same vein as Metroid, and even the Turrican character himself bears a lot of resemblance to Samus Aran—ranged weaponry, armor, and even a rolling form. Ideally, a moveset would emphasize their differences rather than their similarities. To that extent, there are a few unique qualities about Turrican. Unlike Samus, who has a gun arm, Turrican holds his gun with at least one hand at all times. This means a lot of his normals are knees, elbows, etc. Also, his ranged weaponry serves different functions. He can’t charge his Laser or his Snaking Beam to be high-powered KO moves, though the Laser can eventually KO at very high percents, and it goes through obstacles.

Snaking Beam is somewhat akin to Bowser or Charizard’s flame attacks, except that its range is much, much greater and it can be swung to cover nearly 360 degrees around Turrican’s body. However, the drawback is that it eventually stops flinching if held for too long, so it can’t keep opponents out forever, and it has a long recovery time. But it’s great for tacking on damage in edgeguarding situations and makes running away nearly impossible.

Turrican’s Wheel attack is closer to a Sonic Spin Dash or a Yoshi Egg Roll, but more potent in certain respects. It’s invincible on startup and has strong KO power at the very beginning, meaning it can reliably get Turrican out of uncomfortable situations or lead to a kill. That said, the move can only be used sparingly, with a long cool-down that keeps it from being abusable—missing means having it off the table for a good chunk of time. Also, it’s good at killing or evading, but trying to do both is difficult. As for the Jet Pack, it’s a fairly conventional no-damage recovery move that doesn’t induce a helpless state, and the “Power Lines” Final Smash hits left and right at the same time.

In summary, the way I picture Turrican is as a somewhat low-mobility character who relies on his ranged weaponry to whittle down opponents as they get close. When they close in, he pushes them off with close-range normals and repeats the process. He doesn’t exactly have the speed to run away, but he’s also an anti-keep-away character at the same time due to the reach and coverage of his special attacks.

Is there anyone you’d like to see me draw as a Smash character? I can’t make any guarantees, but feel free to make your voice heard!

Previous Characters:

King K. Rool (Donkey Kong Country)

Princess Daisy (Super Mario Land)

Geno (Super Mario RPG)

Great Puma (NES Pro Wrestling)

Pitfall Harry (Pitfall)

Zoma (Dragon Quest III)

NiGHTS (NiGHTS into dreams…)

Thrall (Warcraft)

Tatanga (Super Mario Land)

Tatanga (Super Mario Land) for Super Smash Bros.

It’s been a few years since I dedicated serious time and effort to imagining new characters for Super Smash Bros. But with the announcement of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and the increasing excitement that comes with every nugget (or avalanche) of news, I felt compelled to go back to making more character moveset what-ifs. So here I am again.

For my first “Ultimate Era” character, I’ve drawn Tatanga from Super Mario Land. The final boss of Mario’s first Game Boy adventure, Tatanga is an alien who pilots a battle mecha called Pagosu, which Mario fights shoot-’em-up style. He makes another appearance in Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins in a different spacecraft.

Broadly, Tatanga is a super-heavyweight character who specializes in mid to long-distance combat. His close-range attacks are fairly slow and unreliable, but with multiple jumps and his special “hover” ability, he can create a wall of projectiles that’s difficult to get past. Hover is similar to Princess Peach’s “float” mechanic, but while floating allows Peach to move back and forth horizontally with ease while airborne, Tatanga’s hover lets him control his vertical height in the air with similar precision. It’s bad for spacing, but good for preventing juggles and mixing up projectile attack patterns.

For Tatanga’s special moves I’ve taken cues from both games in coming up with his special attacks. Spread Shot is a large projectile that splits into three smaller ones mid-flight, with the larger form being a KO move. Crescent Moon is a piercing move that can go through opponents and other projectiles, giving him the ability to stand toe to toe in any ranged battle. Space Bombard drops down, moves forward, then shoots up. The points at which the attack changes direction depend on the height Tatanga himself is at—great for using while hovering. G-Sweep is a standard stage recovery attack that swoops down then up. Pagosu Barrage shoots two massive beams that combine elements of all three of Pagosu’s projectiles.

While Tatanga’s ships in SML1 and SML2 are not quite humanoid, I’ve re-designed Pagosu to include retractable legs. I think it allows for a bit of extra animation flair for a model that would be fairly static otherwise. Combined with Tatanga’s expressions changing within the cockpit, it lets the character show more personality.

Previous Characters:

King K. Rool (Donkey Kong Country)

Princess Daisy (Super Mario Land)

Geno (Super Mario RPG)

Great Puma (NES Pro Wrestling)

Pitfall Harry (Pitfall)

Zoma (Dragon Quest III)

NiGHTS (NiGHTS into dreams…)

Thrall (Warcraft)

 

The Fujoshi Files 179: Rulutieh

Name: Rulutieh (ルルティエ)
Alias: N/A
Relationship Status: Single
Origin: Utawaterumono: The False Faces

Information:
Rulutieh is the youngest princess of the vassal state of Kujuuri. Accompanied by her trusty companion, an adorable yet powerful giant bird named Kokopo, she winds up traveling with the amnesiac Haku and his guardian Kuon to the capital of Yamato. Though typically shy and softspoken, her passion can be roused by the thoughts of two men showing passion for each other. Rulutieh’s father is Oozen, one of the Eight Pillar Generals.

Fujoshi Level:
In the capital of Yamato, Rulutieh comes across a shop selling original editions of male-male romance art books. The uncharacteristic aggression she expresses at finding such rare treasures is enough to scare her friend and fellow princess Atui.

How Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Gameplay Decisions Support Both Casual and Competitive Players

E3 2018’s come and gone, leaving in our wake the juiciest details about the new Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for the Nintendo Switch. The goal is clear: to make this the most complete Smash game ever, most evident in the fact that every playable character across the franchise’s almost 20-year history is back, along with newcomers Daisy and Ridley. I have a million thoughts about the new game, in no small part due to the sheer amount of information coming our way. Not only were there 25 minutes devoted to Ultimate in the Nintendo Direct, and plenty of Nintendo Treehouse play sessions at E3, but there are also official introductory video clips for every characters, filled with tidbits if you look carefully.

My major takeaway from following all of this news is that Ultimate is embracing the idea that a game can truly be capable of excelling in both competitive and casual environments, instead of having one compromise the other. Many decisions made for the current build benefit players of all stripes.

New Dodge Decay Mechanic

One brand-new change in Ultimate is that rolls and dodges get less effective if you overuse them. While I personally believe that their power in Smash Bros. for Wii U is quite manageable for the most part, there is an environment where rolls are the bane of everyone’s existence: wi-fi play. Thanks to the inherent lag in online play combined with the fact that players had no control over who they connected to, rolling became much, much more powerful. For Glory mode became infamous early on for being filled with players who roll over and over, relying heavily on the inconsistency of variable online connections.

But while highly skilled players, especially the pros, have mastered punishing bad rolls, it’s not as if they fail to benefit from having dodge maneuvers being limited by decay. Playing at the higher levels means having a thorough mastery of all aspects of the game, and now rolls and dodges have an added wrinkle to them that encourages players to use their other fundamental tools, like walking and running. Moreover, these evasive techniques are now a resource to be managed. Do you use more rolls now to guarantee getting out of a sticky situation if it makes you more vulnerable later?

Tournament players now have another skill they can improve, and newer players online can avoid frustration dealing with lag. It’s win-win.

The Hybrid Air Dodge is Gentle Yet Harsh

In the history of Smash Bros., there have been two different types of air dodges. The first is the directional air dodge, originally from Super Smash Bros. Melee, which allows players to become invincible for a brief period and move a short distance more in any direction they choose. The penalty is that you become unable to do anything but plummet down afterwards, leaving you vulnerable. The second type is the unlimited air dodge from Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which lets players use repeated air dodges but prevents them being able to do a quick juke like the Melee directional air dodge does.

Air dodging in Ultimate is a hybrid version between Melee and Brawl. Players can choose to shift their direction during an air dodge or fall naturally, but there’s a period during which follow-up actions are impossible. It doesn’t put you in a helpless state as it would in Melee, but only one air dodge is possible before landing.

The air dodge in Brawl was changed in the first place likely so that it would be easier to use and understand for newer players—especially Nintendo Wii owners who were playing video games for the first time. It even introduced the concept of dodging in the air and counterattacking, something that wasn’t possible in Melee. Certain characters, namely Mewtwo in Smash for Wii U, even excelled at this strategy. However, fans who love Melee competitively often dislike this air dodge because it means juggles and combos were easier to escape. In their eyes, being able to air dodge repeatedly took away from one of them franchise’s best features.

Ultimate‘s air dodges leave a player vulnerable but not overly so. Using it eats up an option and makes one more susceptible to getting juggled, but the player can still attack out of it. Reports say the stationary air dodge allows faster recovery, which means the Mewtwos of the world can still do their thing. Directional air dodging vs. stationary air dodging also provides an added layer of decision-making, and gives characters like Yoshi and Little Mac who traditionally have suffered from limited recovery options to do a bit more.

Simpler, Freer Movement Benefits All Levels

One of the other new features of Ultimate is the ability to do pretty much anything immediately out of an initial dash. Past games restricted your options, but now everything from smash attacks to tilts to specials and more can happen out of a dash.

The probable reason this was previously not possible was because it made dashing into more of a commitment, and players ideally worked around it. In practice, newer players tend to just charge headfirst into things and then complain when their predicable option gets called out.

Melee is something of an exception to the rule of restrictive dashes because of the existence of wavedashing, an advanced technique that allows characters to slide while standing still, granting greater access to their arsenals while advancing or retreating. The lack of wavedashing in other games is a huge sticking point for many Melee fans, and is part of why they prefer those other games less. However, the execution of a wavedash requires a good amount of timing and dexterity. While most Melee players will claim it’s simple and easy, for many people it’s not, and failing to learn it actually significantly impacts your ability to succeed in that game.

By having these “dash cancels” (or whatever they’ll be called) come out of a more natural tendency to run ahead, it potentially makes less experienced players feel like they have more control. At the same time, it also fulfills at least some of the functions of wavedashing while being a more simplified command. Just dash, pause briefly, and attack.

Buffs Across the Board

Balance for a test version is of course not finalized, but from all reports so far it’s clear thay they’ve aimed for competitive improvements to nearly every character. Zelda suffered from being unable to act out of her Din’s Fire and Farore’s Wind special moves in past games, but now they no longer hold her back. Ryu always faces his opponents 1v1 (just like in Street Fighter) and can now back dash to improve his footsies. Little Mac can use both of his recovery moves, allowing him a little more leeway getting back on stage. Ganondorf’s attacks are surprisingly quick. The only exceptions seem to be Fox, Cloud, and Bayonetta, who are more limited in what they can do. Notably, Bayonetta’s infamous combo game and Witch Time ability have been made less effective, and Cloud’s Limit, which granted him improved specs as well as access to souped up specials, now only lasts 15 seconds instead of being potentially infinite.

Characters are getting quality-of-life changes and things specifically targeting their crippling flaws in previous games while also making them easier to use. There’s a clear desire to bring everyone up. However, what’s also important is that it shows on some level an acknowledgement of the skill found among stronger Smash players. Likely the reason Zelda’s Din’s Fire caused a helpless state when performed in the air was a fear that using it offstage, especially against weaker players, would be too powerful. No more—now, the game acknowledges that it might be really strong in those scenarios, but so what? “You can handle it,” says Ultimate.

A Game Already Loved

Despite being a mere test build, praise for the gameplay has thus far been near-universal—something that didn’t happen with Smash Bros. for Wii U when it was revealed in 2014. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate appears to be on track to giving almost all players what they want, and it’s thanks to mechanics that seem to reward skill without making the learning process daunting for less strong players. Unless something goes terribly wrong between now and the December 7 release date, it might become the most successful Smash game ever, both financially and competitively.

For more details, as well as some of the sources I used to get info for this post, check out the following.

Abadango’s thoughts on the new Smash (Japanese)

Full Breakdown of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Gameplay Mechanics

VGBootcamp VODs

Report: Retro Doujin Event Game Legend 28

On a recent trip to Japan, I attended a doujin event dedicated to retro games. It was an opportunity on my part to not only attend my first ever Japanese event dedicated solely to video games, but to see just what “retro” meant for a Japanese audience.

Held in the city of Kawaguchi, “Game Legend 28” saw a fairly packed attendance. I’m awful at estimating crowd sizes, but I’d say there was close to 200 people in attendance. The vendors there offered a diverse range of goods, even more than events I’d attended in the past, and it was primarily due to the subject matter. While the standard comics and essays were there in droves, one could also find CDs of video game music covered by amateur bands, entire archives of instruction manuals, people’s personally developed games, and even super-miniaturized (and playable!) versions of arcade and console titles. The last item seemed to be a trend, as more than one table offered them.

When it comes to trends one might not see at a US convention, I noticed that there was a great amount of love given to the PC-Engine (released in the US as the Turbo Grafx 16), and that certain popular Japanese meme characters such as Spelunker still held strong. I also met a woman who wore a Segata Sanshiro t-shirt and sold a photo journal of her time attending a Sonic fan event in Korea. Another dedicated herself to F-Zero, showing not only doujinshi but tiny F-Zero machine replicas as well.

It’s common to presume that doujinshi means “porn,” but I actually saw very few tables dedicated to 18+ material. Even then, one was selling a comic featuring a popular heroine from Tokimeki Memorial. In other words, even the smut was frequently retro.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Game Legend 28, and even bought a few things, including a Sega Smash Bros. parody doujinshi starring Alex Kidd. But the event also inadvertently curried favor with me when a small live brass band played a song from one of my favorite video game soundtracks ever. Following performances of the boss theme from R-Type and the ending theme to Chrono Trigger, they went straight into “Back to the Fire,” the Hydra stage music from Thunder Force III.

At that point, Game Legend 28 could do no wrong in my mind.

“Flukes”: Competitive Rigor vs. Sustainability in Esports

The question of whether or not to stratify different groups of competitors occurs in any competitive setting, but it tends to be ground zero for debate in gaming even more than in traditional sports or fields such as Chess. For this reason, a recent tweet by veteran League of Legends and Overwatch commentator MonteCristo lamenting the lack of “pros-only” tournaments for fighting games garnered a significant backlash.

There’s one core reason for the negative response to MonteCristo: those who consider themselves part of the fighting game community tend to consider the ability for “gods” and “mortals” to meet in open competition—and for god slayers to emerge at any moment—as one of the strengths of fighting games. In particular, people latched onto the use of the word “flukes” as evidence of the esports works being afraid of “true competition.” If esports could be compared to tennis, then to the FGC a world of invitationals (and nothing else) would be akin to the pre-open era of tennis—when pros and amateurs were not allowed to compete against each other at major tournaments.

However, having followed esports for over ten years now, I’ve noticed that this seeming incongruity in values stems from a difference in what aspects of competitive gaming are prioritized. Is it about competition and camaraderie, or competition and sustainability? While the two are not wholly incompatible, the esports side has long expressed a desire for recognition, expansion into the mainstream, and eventually a reverence similar (but not necessarily identical) to traditional sports. With respect to this, figures in esports have emphasized the importance of “narratives,” and seeing how big a deal they are is very telling as to how esports tends to try and achieve sustainability.

In 2010, StarCraft II ushered in a new era in esports, and tournament circuits such as GOM Starcraft League in Korea and the US-based Major League Gaming were established to give players a chance at competition. While there were many differences in their formats—GSL participants played only a handful of matches per day over the course of weeks and months, while MLG pitted hundreds of players against each over a single weekend—both came to the table early on with a certain goal in mind: to create stars.

GSL created a distinction between the cream of the crop (Code S) and the almost-greats (Code A), where players from the latter could earn the right to be promoted to the former. However, in the first few incarnations of the GSL, it was purposely made difficult for players to fall out of Code S. Essentially, the players who performed the worst in Code S had to compete against the best of Code A in a potential changing of the guard. The number of players who dropped down to these “Up and Down Matches” was restricted, and the Code S players could still end up defeating the hopefuls from Code A and send them back down. The reason? To make sure that recognizable faces remained on camera so they could establish fanbases, and by extension garner a sense of celebrity—to be people that fans and players could remember and look up to.

This was also the reasoning behind MLG‘s seeding system for its multi-tournament season, which saw players who did well at earlier tournaments get byes into much, much later stages of later league tournaments. Going on a tear in your first tournament could pay off down the line. If a player earned a top-32 spot in one tournament, they could keep getting place into a high spot for the next, and then play just well enough to not tank out, it meant a stable spot for increased visibility.

Eventually, both GSL and MLG revised their formats to encourage less ossification of brackets and more chances for rising stars to make a name, but that still doesn’t erase the fact that their initial versions tried to create a delineation between the “Pros” and the “Joes.” Central to all of this was the idea that “good narratives draw viewers in.” What better way to encourage a good narrative than to have a consistent cast of “characters” for the audience to know and root for?

Examples of the benefits that heroes and heroic narratives provide to competition are numerous, but one that stands out in particular is the story of basketball legend Larry Bird. At the time, basketball was seen in the US as largely a “black sport,” and thus had a relatively small white audience. Larry Bird helped to change that, as could be seen from one nickname of his: the Great White Hope. Was this racist? Yes, to a degree. Did it also help pull basketball into the mainstream? Yes it did.

(Is there a comparison to be made between this example and the fact that esports vs. FGC exists along something of a similar divide in terms of racial demographics? Also yes, but that discussion will be for another time.)

Narratives do not have to be manufactured whole-cloth. Seeing an underdog defeat a champion, or watching a winner cement his place with an undefeated streak happens just from competition existing. However, in a world where visual presentation can often be confusing to those unfamiliar, presenting these bouts as being between humans with wants and desires and emotions (especially simple ones like anger) can bridge that gap. So it’s no wonder why esports organizations frequently try to control it through player perception, delineations between pros and amateurs, and so on. But one question that arises is, does setting things up so conveniently end up compromising the integrity of competition? The answer is that it can, but it largely depends on severity.

Take professional wrestling, which has been predetermined for many decades precisely because the promoters understood that most audience members cared more when the wrestlers had charisma. Famously, when a bland 1940s wrestler named George Wagner dyed his hair blond and became the arrogant and effete “Gorgeous George,” his antagonistic demeanor drew audiences in droves to see him in the hopes that they’d get to witness George getting destroyed. Pro wrestling isn’t a true athletic competition precisely because it becomes easier to control the narrative and get viewers invested.

But even in a legitimate sport like mixed martial arts, the desire for narrative can influence decisions. While the results of matches aren’t fixed, the media and advertising machine surrounding MMA are there to try and produce the best narratives they can, either by using what’s there or cooking up some controversy. That’s because they know that narratives make people care. Athletes will be brought out to drum up a sense of animosity between the two. Is it real? Is it fake? Does it matter if it sells tickets? A guy like Conor McGregor, who’s naturally antagonistic but also an amazing fighter, puts butts in seats. People are eager to see him be on either the giving or receiving end of an ass-kicking.

At the same time, leaving things to chance can be scary for those who have substantial amounts of money riding on the success of their investment. Conor McGregor is in some ways the ideal, but he also has a tendency to get himself in trouble and make the UFC look bad in the process. One can even compare those blunders to the number of players caught blurting out racial slurs onstream. Just because someone’s a winner doesn’t mean they’re a good spokesperson, especially if they have no media training and are just kids plucked out of online lobbies and given an environment to train in. When there are so many variables at play where something can go wrong—quality of the game itself, image of competitive gaming to the outside world, the perception of “nerds”—it’s understandable (though not immune to criticism) why teams, tournaments, and organizations would want to control what they can.

The divide between FGC and esports, or the perception of it, has largely to do with community vs. respectability. The former looks inwards, and believes that having a solid core, a group of passionate players who can weather any storm together through a love of competition, is paramount. The latter looks outwards, and aims to establish itself as a permanent fixture in the world, something that cannot die because it has the size and backing to keep it going forever. The two are not irreconcilable, but finding a balance (if a balance is desired at all) requires parties that can trust each other to not abandon the other side’s principles.