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What does it mean to create a follow-up act to a multimedia franchise as successful as Love Live!? That’s the challenge facing  Love Live! Sunshine!! To fans, each of the original girls is something special, something unique, and renewing that fervor can be like catching lightning in a bottle. Of course, a franchise like Love Live! is designed to do just that, across different characters and different iterations of the concept, but it’s still not necessarily an easy task. Though I might be jumping the gun with what I’m about to say, I think the people in charge of Love Live! might now have a much clearer idea of what is most effective, and this potentially manifests in the physical appearances of the characters themselves.
I decided recently to see how the physical characteristics of the μ’s girls stack up to those of Love Live Sunshine!!‘s Aqours. Thanks to Reddit, I found a convenient chart comparing all of their heights and bust sizes. What’s noticeable is that the Aqours members are all closer to each other physically. Toujou Nozomi and Yazawa Nico are at the extremes in terms of bust size (to no one’s surprise), but a character like Hanayo who is above average compared to the rest of μ’s is decidedly normal in the world of Love Live! Sunshine!! Similarly, while half-Italian American Ohara Mari is the tallest, the other girls are also relatively close to her. Keep in mind that the disparity is not especially large, especially when it comes to height. The difference between “tiny” Kunikida Hanamaru and “towering” Mari is a mere 4 inches (or 10 centimeters). Already, there’s a certain narrow range median that reminds me of something anime voice actress Nonaka Ai once mentioned when I interviewed her: she wanted to be an actress but was considered too tall. Similarly, Hanayo’s voice actress Kubo Yurika is the tallest of the μ’s cast. Like Mari, she is 5’4″ or 163 cm.

I think it’s worth entertaining the thought that the success of Love Live! School Idol Project, which grew gradually from a modest success to a cultural phenomenon, has informed the current version in terms of what is the best median to take, at least in terms of physical traits. Moreover, given the seaside venue of Love Live! Sunshine!!, I believe that there is a greater push for sex appeal, though I’m sure they’re aware that keeping the fanservice from going too overboard is important for maintaining Love Live!‘s large female fanbase.

That being said, while they’re more similar in size, I’m not sure the same applies to the characters’ personalities. In many ways, they feel more extreme and more adhered to certain archetypes, such as Yohane’s chuunibyou identity, Kurosawa Dia’s “Kanzuki Karin” levels of haughtiness, or her sister Ruby’s ultra moe shyness. The closest we have to Ruby in in the original was Hanayo, and at this point we’re aware that Hanayo is kind of a maniac. That doesn’t mean the Aqours characters are bad, however. In a way, perhaps it helps to distinguish them further from each other.

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Pokemon Go is by far the most clear indicator of Pokemon‘s cultural impact in the United States. While there are plenty of other examples, from perpetually high sales numbers to the unprecedented Twitch Plays Pokemon, the way that Pokemon Go literally became an overnight sensation and has people of all ages running around their towns and cities trying to catch Pokemon takes the presence of the franchise to another level.

While I personally am not as obsessed with Pokemon as I was 14 years ago, I still find myself drawn to this new take on an old idea. What I’ve found is that the catching element has made me fall in love with Pokemon all over again, but the way that evolution works still leaves something to be desired.

Over the years, catching Pokemon in the main games has felt fun but also kind of like a chore, especially after playing them for so many years. However, I still remember what it was like to first venture into Viridian Forest in Pokemon Red, the first time I encountered Articuno in the Seafoam Islands, and just that overall sense of wonder when one unexpectedly comes across Pokemon. Even though all of the current species in Pokemon Go come from the classic 151, and so I’m more than familiar with all of them, I find myself getting excited over spotting a Jynx or running into a Squirtle. Even though the ARG elements of Pokemon Go don’t feel like a perfect immersion, they’re good enough.

Where I think the game falters is its current approach to evolving. Instead of leveling up or using stones or trading as one could in the first games, all evolution and strengthening of one’s Pokemon is done through collecting candies and stardust. All candies and stardust, in turn, are obtained by catching more of the same species. This makes it so that, while the catching mechanics are fun, I feel no sense of personal connection to the Pokemon I am catching because I cannot use them in anything other than gym battles. When I get a Pokemon to evolve, they do not feel like comrades with whom I have developed a bond over the course of an adventure, but rather just something I feed sweets without their participation.

Pokemon Go has only just come out, and in spite of its numerous bugs it’s still quite fun to play. This speaks well for the basic appeal of the game, and I think it won’t go away even as it eventually adds newer Pokemon. I just hope that the game will let me feel like the Pokemon I catch matter more than they do, and that I can share my victories, defeats, and growths as a trainer with them.

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Mario nabs a fire flower, instantly transforming into an engine of destruction. Enemies that previously gave the plumber pause are dispatched with ease as Mario rains hot death upon them. Yet Mario is in a rather fragile position, and brushing up against a single enemy will instantly revert Mario back to a lesser state. Even so, for that brief moment Mario experiences an exhilarating sense of power.

Mario appears in another game: Super Smash Brosfor Wii U. Here, the fireball is a permanent fixture of his arsenal. He cannot “lose” his fireball. However, what he can do is combo his opponent repeatedly, using a variety of quick moves to keep them pinned down and begging for mercy. However, when he’s ready to finish off his opponent, many of his combos are no longer as feasible, and he has to take risks to achieve the KO, changing the power dynamics of the character.

How does the feeling power influence how we play and perceive games?

When the Good Outweighs the Bad

In recent years, the Super Smash Bros. series has arisen to be a very popular competitive franchise. The most current game, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (aka Smash 4) is generally considered superior to its predecessor, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but not everyone agrees. PK Blueberry, a Brawl Lucas player, contends that Lucas in Smash 4 is less satisfying to play with because the character is less pleasing to control and fight with. Brawl Lucas had a lot of tricks up his sleeve, such as “Zap Jumping”–a technique that could double Lucas’s jump height. “But wait,” others might ask. “Wasn’t Brawl the same game where Lucas would get demolished by characters like Marth, whose grab release infinite made the matchup virtually unwinnable for Lucas? Didn’t this basically sabotage Lucas’s competitive viability in a major way?”

The rebuttal is that, while that is all true, Brawl Lucas was still more satisfying to play. Praxis, the developer of the Smash Pad app, has frequently likened Brawl to a wine with a strong, unpleasant flavor but an amazing aftertaste. The idea is that, once you got past all the nonsense, the crazy things you could do in Brawl were amazing and made it more complex and satisfying. Thus, while there are a lot of ridiculously unfair things that can cripple your character, having just small moments and situations where you can feel immensely powerful is considered by some to be more valuable than just being consistently “okay” and lacking any debilitating weaknesses. Other characters fall into this category as well: players of Ganondorf and Jigglypuff (two of the weakest characters in Brawl) who made the transition to the newest game will sometimes lament the loss of certain amazing attributes or techniques, even though their power levels are closer to the rest of the cast in Smash 4.

Will Power

Another game in the franchise, the immensely popular and competitively long-lived Super Smash Bros. Melee, is one where players, when sufficiently skilled, feel like they can do anything (provided they use the best characters). For example, Fox McCloud is so versatile and powerful that some players and commentators have started using the term “Fox Privilege” to describe the range of strong options available to the game’s best character. Recently, two members of the Smash community have made efforts to describe what Melee‘s feeling of power is like relative to other games, and their descriptions work very well together.

In the video above, ESAM, a top Smash 4 player who’s also skilled in Melee, says that Melee is a game where most matchups come down to how well you can implement your character’s tools against the opponent’s, whereas Smash 4 is more about learning how to fight against characters by avoiding their strengths. In other words, Melee is how much you can do to your opponent, and Smash 4 is how much you can prevent them from doing stuff to you.

Similarly, in an an episode of The Scar & Toph Show, Melee player and commentator Scar compares Melee to Ultra Street Fighter IV, describing Melee as a game where you can easily impose your will upon the game and the opponent unless playing at the very highest level. However, Scar mentions, trying to do the same in Street Fighter is impossible, and that learning to respect the opponent’s options and play that mental game against them is a requirement for even basic competitive play. In contrast, Melee is a game where you can do decently without having to truly “think” unless you play the best of the best.

Together, ESAM and Scar paint an interesting picture of Melee as a game where the player is almost like a force of nature that can only be stopped by colliding with an even greater force. This sense of power is visually evident whenever you watch a game of Melee, and I think this goes a long way in explaining why the game has developed such a diehard fan base. When you play Melee, you enter the realm of the five gods, so to speak, or at least you end up feeling that way.

Desiring Power

In a conversation about fighting games with Dave Cabrera, creator of Kawaiikochan Gaming no Corner, he brought up the idea that while combos are often perceived as something that “top players do,” in terms of game design they offer much more to mid-level players. He quoted an interview with a game designer, who basically asked, “What’s harder to do, successfully performing a complex and intricate combo, or sweeping Daigo ten times in a row?” The latter is about the most mechanically simple thing to do in a fighting game, “down + button,” but one can only achieve it against a player of Daigo’s caliber by being similarly strong. Difficult combos, on the other hand, can grant a feeling of power to even those who lack it, because they can give a sense of accomplishment that motivates players forward. There is a more clear-cut feeling of reward. Without being able to grant power to lower-level players, they very well might stop playing at all.

Conclusion

It would be no understatement to say that Melee and Brawl are actually very different games to their competitive communities, and yet the two games share something in common, which is how they are often perceived relative to Smash 4. Again, while Smash 4 is praised by many as a superior game to Brawl, a frequent criticism of Smash 4 from players of previous games is that the characters lack “teeth.” Even if it is a more balanced game, in the Wii U iteration character power levels (and the range of options and techniques available to players through them), are unsatisfying to some players. Of course, there are plenty of players (including myself) who love the power dynamics of Smash 4, but as I hope is clear, a satisfying level of power in games is very much a personal thing.

Not every player who seeks power does so in the same way, or to the same extent as others. For certain players, power is at its best when constantly generated, especially when the opponent is of similar make. For others, memories of even the most dire of lows can be overcome with even the briefest of highs, such as when their character controls in such a way as to make them feel vibrant and overwhelming. Power can be self-centered, ignoring the opponent almost entirely. Power can be interactive and dynamic. Like water, power is a versatile “substance” that manifests as two immense waves crashing against each other, or the ebb and flow of the tides. How we gain satisfaction from power through games depends on a lot of factors, but when it is considered insufficient, even a mechanically solid game can be perceived as lacking “soul.”

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Love Live! Sunshine!! is a thing, and while it’s a bit premature to do a full comparison between the old and new guard, I wanted to write a little about an observation I had regarding the franchise protagonists. Take a look, and tell me if this is perhaps the second coming of To Heart vs. To Heart 2.

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To end off my Love Live! Character Spotlight series, I’ve written an article about my favorite school idol, Koizumi Hanayo.

May the rice be with you.

Defensive styles get a bad rap in many arenas of competition. Whether it’s Floyd Mayweather in boxing, Jigglypuff in Super Smash Bros. Melee, or turtle play in Starcraft, a strong focus on defense can draw the ire of both players and spectators. Whether or not the defense is the product of immense skill seems to matter little except for the most hardcore or well-informed. Defense is viewed as passive, and passive is viewed as lacking in “hype.”

It’s not surprising that many people share this belief. The impact of aggressive play carries a kind of emotionally visceral thrill that the mental excitement of defensive play can’t quite fulfill, and participants (both in the game and in the audience) are frequently looking for entertainment and gratification. There’s nothing wrong with this mindset, and it’s a bit presumptuous to decry people for liking what they like (as tempting as it is to do so), but I have to wonder if anything can ever be done about this mindset such that a significant number can enjoy or appreciate defensive play.

Esports historian, writer, and commentator Duncan “Thorin” Shields has argued that people’s uses of the terms “aggression” and “passivity” are too simplistic, and that this limits their ability to discuss play styles in games. In fighting game terms, this would be the false idea that aggression can only come in the form of rushdown, constant in-your-face attacking, when there are a whole range of possibilities. I think Thorin makes an excellent point, but that still requires people to take that extra step. They have to search out information, to think more deeply about the games they play and watch, and this is perhaps more than what can be expected of an audience (though perhaps that onus should be placed on players who are critical of defensive styles).

Not that I think people like Thorin should stop what they’re doing, or that it’s pointless. They provide a valuable piece of the puzzle towards increasing people’s appreciation of competitive play, but perhaps there should be an additional step in between, something that can reach people even when their minds are not fully geared towards learning.

One possibility comes in the form of commentators often found at these events. Perhaps there needs to be a more active push by commentators in general to emphasize the positives of defensive play, and to encourage that more mental (rather than emotional) look at games and sports. One potential problem with this is that it doesn’t apply when commentators aren’t around, and that it still might not convince people’s hearts where it arguably matters most.

Is it a hopeless cause to get people who thrive on “hype” to not sneer at “overly” defensive play? Is there a future where this can happen?

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Nozomi makes number 8 in my Love Live! Character Spotlight series at Apartment 507. I hope you enjoy her kansai-ben and attitude as much as I do.

Now only one remains…

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I recently attended “Love Live! Sukufesu Kanshasai 2016″ in Japan, and I managed to get an extra bag of freebies. Now, I want to give it away to my readers.

All you have to do is show why your favorite Love Live! character and why they’re your favorite. Write an essay, take a photo, draw fanart, make videos, I’m leaving it up to you to express your love! They don’t even have to be a main character; moms and alpacas are valid too! And no, picking Hanayo won’t give you a higher chance either. I want to see and feel your passion, not just agree with my tastes.

Submissions can be emailed to ogimaniax at gmail dot com, and are due by July 9, 2016 11:59pm EST.

However, as thanks for being my patrons (and many of you have been with me since the beginning), I am prioritizing my Patreon supporters. If you’re one of my patrons, you will have a much higher chance of winning the prize; however, it’s not impossible to get it otherwise.

I want to emphasize that this is not an attempt to get more Patreon supporters. I merely want to thank my patrons for supporting me. If you’ve been thinking about joining the Ogiue Maniax Patreon for other reasons (perhaps you enjoy my writing), then by all means go ahead. Also, pledging more does not give you a higher chance of winning. You can be pledging at 1 cent or 1 million dollars and you would have the same chance as every other patron.

By the way, one of the items in the swag bag is an unopened card from the Love Live! Card Game. I’ve already opened mine, and it’s a Maki card. I know a lot of people are Maki fans, so if you want that one instead just tell me and I can switch them no problem.

Good luck, and may the Loveliest, Liveliest fan win!

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In my most recent trip to Japan, I attended two different Love Live! events in one day. The first was “Bokura no Love Live! 12,” a doujin event. The second was Love Live! Sukufesu Kanshasai 2016″ (School Idol Festival Thanksgiving 2016) in Ikebukuro, an official event held in celebration of the School Idol Festival game. The contrast between an event that revels in fan expression and one that presents everything in an official capacity is interesting to me, because I think it shows both the strengths and weaknesses of each approach to fandom.

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Though I had the opportunity to take a look at both, a question occurred to me as I was traveling from one to the other: if I could only go to one, which one would I choose? I took this from the perspective of a Koizumi Hanayo fan. At the doujin event, I could buy Hanayo-dedicated fan comics from people I knew were fans of Hanayo as much as I am (if not more!). I found a bunch of amazing comics and parody works, and I even got a couple of amazing tote bags that might be my favorite purchases of my entire Japan trip. There’s sort of an interesting magic to buying things in person that get lose with just ordering online, and it’s enhanced when you know the person behind the table put their heart and soul into it. Overall, it was one of the best highlights of my trip to Japan.

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However, doujinshi are, of course, not official portrayals of the characters. This is in many ways the advantage of fanart, fanfiction, etc., but what’s also clear is that the fan material feeds off of the official presentation. Much for the art at “Bokura no Love Live! 12” was clearly inspired by the images found in magazines, the mobile game, and everywhere else. There is a kind of power to official merchandise because it presents the characters at their best, but it’s also limiting because they can’t stray too far off from what is deemed “okay.”

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For example, the shirts being sold at “Thanksgiving 2016” were all prints of existing art that could be found in lots of places, while the merchandise sold at “Bokura no Love Live! 12” felt a little more unique because they weren’t officially sanctioned images slapped onto clothing. That’s not to say official Love Live! merchandise has to look blunt and straightforward (I actually also got a swank Love Live! polo shirt just the day before these events), but they seem to lean in that direction.

Another instance of the difference between events has to do with yuri and pairings. Love Live! encourages yuri to a certain degree, but has to keep it implicit because it’s supposed to appeal to all sorts of people (and indeed I saw everything from little girls to businessmen at Thanksgiving 2016). A doujin event, on the other hand, can go as explicit as possible in more ways than one, and can even merge the innocent with the racy and have them all exist in one place. Characters can be drawn to fit the whims of the artists to a greater degree with the doujinshi, but they necessarily must feed off the source material at least to a certain extent. Nico/Maki doujinshi can go the distance, but the dynamic between them is rendered through the anime, the game, and other canon resources.

Official events also have resources on their side. One of the highlights of “Sukufesu Kanshasai 2016” was a live School Idol Festival game where nine different people played simultaneously, each one commanding one of the buttons by stepping on them. The cards being used where all nine of the μ’s girls, but with special outfits for the event, and they were surrounded in a mall by throngs of fans dancing and singing along. A doujin event really couldn’t pull that off to the same capacity, nor could they be the place to get official Love Live! Final μ’s Concert shirts, which were a popular item at both events that granted legitimacy to the wearer’s fandom.

The division between official and unofficial events can be rather gray because of how the two feed into each other. The output of fans, albeit more often in the form of monetary purchases, informs the official companies responsible for Love Live! just what the fans are into. The fans, as mentioned, take inspiration from the official material, and convert it, thus spreading the joy of Love Live! further.

It’s hard to choose between the two when both have so much merit, but ultimately I think I would have gone for the doujin event just so I could have that experience of walking around and buying fan-made works. It’s sort of the difference between attending fan panels and official panels at conventions. The official panels are where you can meet the creators, but many times they’re curated and micromanaged heavily, whereas doujinshi and fan panels can stray from the “company line” so to speak. This makes them, in my opinion, overall more interesting, but I’m well aware that all of the Hanayo rice memes required the source material to emphasize it in the most amusing ways.

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The last thing I’d like to talk about is actually a little card found in the bag of freebies from Thanksgiving 2016 which is a drawing of some of the School Idol Festival-original girls. Unlike The iDOLM@STER, there is a clear stratification between the main girls (be they μ’s or their successors, the new group Aqours), who are considered “Rare Cards,” as opposed to the “Normal Card” girls that are basically fodder for the former. Here, even at this official event was a small token of appreciation for the lesser idols, and a part of me wishes that someone, be they official creators or doujinshi creators, would take the next step and flesh them out. The result would be different on either side, but both would provide value in their own ways.

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PS: I mentioned a freebie bag for “Love Live! Sukufesu Kanshasai 2016,” and I happen to have an extra one. I’ll be holding a contest soon to determine the winner, so stay tuned!

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For my seventh Love Live! Character Spotlight series I’ve written about its central heroine, Kousaka Honoka.

That means there are only two more left: Toujou Nozomi, and of course Koizumi Hanayo.

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In this one, I compare Honoka to John Cena, which I think is pretty appropriate.

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