What’s in a List? Thoughts on the Smash 4 Backroom Tier List v3

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Recently, the granddaddy of all competitive Super Smash Bros. sites, Smashboards, released their third Smash 4 tier list. The significance of this version is that it’s the first tier list that did not come in the middle of patches or DLC, so it provides our first big look at the status of Smash 4 in a stable environment.

Overall, I have no major qualms with the tier list, and my go-to characters—Mewtwo and Mega Man—are right where I think they should be. Some characters might be a little too high or a little too low, but I don’t have any horses in that race. However, I’d like to talk about two topics: theory vs. results, and the most controversial characters among the tier list voters.

Theory vs. Results

One of the frequent struggles when it comes to bringing together tier lists is the balance between theory and results. A character can look great on paper, but actually using them and winning with them is another matter entirely. On the flip side, even if a character is winning consistently versus everyone else, this could be simply due to a gap in knowledge.

For likely a multitude of reasons, the Smash 4 community at large seems to have a hard time marrying theory with results to the extent of other fighting games. For example, the tier list above has Bayonetta at #1, but it wasn’t long after the list was announced that people were commenting that the results don’t support the position. This isn’t to say that they’re necessarily wrong, but always get the impression when looking at and joining in on discussions about character viability that people either overshoot or undersell the influence of a character’s theory with respect to what they’re capable of.

Some of the reasons I think it’s hard for Smashers to get the right balance of theory and results are as follows.

  • The game is full of Nintendo icons, so there’s often the desire to argue in favor of your beloved character
  • As a result of the above, players will often theorycraft from a biased perspective. This is difficult to avoid, and is not inherently bad because of how it can motivate people, but leads to a lot of broad leaps and assumptions.
  • People become distrustful of theorycrafting and instead lean towards results, which have defined parameters (wins, losses, championships).

This leads to people taking extreme stances about the importance of results vs. theory, where one is touted as significantly more important than the other. However, I believe that the ideal tier list is one that uses results to theorize further beyond what results currently show us. They should be less a snapshot of what the actual current metagame is like, and more an image of what we think the game will become given the information we have.

Disagreements on Character Viability

In the Smashboards post about the tier list, it’s possible to order the tier list in order to see which characters garnered the most disagreement in terms of placement. The top 5 (not counting Miis) are Samus, Bowser Jr., Pac-Man, Olimar, and Wario. According to the tier list, these characters are supposedly mid-tier at best, but it’s still worth noting that there were some who thought highly of them nevertheless.

One of the reasons for this might just be that the voters come from all over the world. Different regions are known for having strong players for characters that one might not find elsewhere. For example, Duck Hunt was considered a pretty bad character until three Japanese Duck Hunts made their way to the US and took some big names. In the case of the five characters above, Olimar is a major influence in California, Florida, New York, and especially Japan; the ranked fourth best Japanese player in their region is an Olimar named Shuton. Similarly, Wario is a major presence in Europe thanks to France’s Glutonny, with a lesser but still significant mark being made by Wario player TheReflexWonder.

Pac-Man and Bowser Jr. have been on a progressive downward slide because their most prominent players, Abadango from Japan and Tweek from New Jersey respectively, have long since put them on the backburner. I believe that there must still be those holding out hope that Pac and BowJow have what it takes to cause the occasional upset (and they still do sometimes!).

Samus is the major enigma. She has never been considered strong in Smash 4, especially compared to her armor-less counterpart, but even after a number of significant buffs she received through patches there’s still not the sense that she’s any good. And yet, enough players voted her as being at least mid-tier that there has to be some strong belief in her potential. I think what causes such disagreement as to her character is that her toolkit is actually very diverse and her physical properties all appear to be strong but dysfunctional, and how much a player can overcome that dysfunction (as they have with Shulk) remains to be seen.

The Future!

Early Smash 4 was an interesting beast because of how, for once, swordsmen weren’t dominant. This meant characters with lesser range could thrive. This has changed dramatically with the rise of Marth and the advent of Cloud (pun intended). Will there be another major shift, even without balance patches? I look forward to seeing players push their characters to their limits.

 

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I Have a Choco: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for February 2017

February might be Valentine’s Day Month, but how much I’ll actually discuss romance on the blog remains a mystery even to me!

Whatever the situation, I know that if I were in Japan, I’d be giving giri choco to my Patreon sponsors.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Viga

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Given that this will be the tenth year of Ogiue Maniax, I decided last November to do a Genshiken series 1 re-read. I’ve started with Volume 1, and you should expect to see them come out every other month. (I would have said bi-monthly but that phrase can also mean “twice a month,” so…) I’ve already felt like I’m stepping back into a different world, so I’m looking forward to the next article too.

Speaking of Genshiken, I also wrote a little post comparing Kasukabe Saki to Love Live‘s Nishikino Maki. The latter’s cooldere attitude reminded me of Madarame’s fantasy version of the former.

Perhaps the most important post I’ve written this month is on the subject of butts in anime. In it, I detail increasing presence of large rears in Japanese animation, and put forth my own hypothesis on why this has occurred. The seeds of this post have been germinating in my head for a very long time, even before Ogiue Maniax ever began. If you want to see more content like this, let me know. I just hope it doesn’t take me another 10 years to write one!\

I was also sad to see the end of Soredemo Machi ga Mawatteiru aka And Yet the Town Moves. It’s a very unique series in a lot of ways, and I look forward to seeing what the artist does next.

On the video game side, I’ve written a couple of posts thinking about what how players view competitive games, and what they can potentially do to both bring in a bigger audience and keep them from running away in fear.

As for this month’s Patreon-sponsored post, I looked at the subject of babies in anime and manga. My rating of babies is based on how much they make their parents suffer, I guess. If you have a subject you really, really want me to write about, it’s just a one-time $30 pledge.

If you’re wondering why I have it at that price, it’s just because I don’t necessarily want the blog to consist primarily of requests as opposed to my own ideas. That being said, I am considering maybe offering a poll with three or four topics that can be voted on with Patreon pledges. Is this an idea readers would be on board for?

Overall, I think this was a pretty solid month. I don’t have a wholly solid idea of what’s going to come next, but it might be a bit less review-heavy compared to this one.

 

 

 

 

What People Want Out of Competitive Games (Part 2): Power and Powerlessness

“It’s easy to learn, but difficult to master!”

One of the unicorns pursued by designers of competitive games is to create something that is enjoyable (and competitive) at all skill levels. However, there’s a tricky balance to maintain, because if you skew it too much towards the most advanced players, then only those willing to place countless hours towards honing their skills can enjoy the game. On the other hand, if you cater too much to the beginner, then the overall competitive depth of the game may suffer as better players find that there is less for them to do as they improve. What’s more, some players want to feel like they always have a fighting chance, while other players want to feel the sheer power of a superior opponent bearing down on them, something that tells them how deep the rabbit hole goes. Leaning towards any of these options isn’t inherently wrong, but I think trying to appeal to as many different types of players as possible is an admirable goal in itself.

I’ve been thinking a good deal about what it means to enjoy a competitive game. In Part 1, I wrote about how, while the classic image of the competitive gamer is the “Spike”—someone who prioritizes using the most effective and efficient strategies to win—the current esports/competitive gaming field is comprised much more of “Timmy-Spikes”—people who love to win, but prefer to win with style and flash. What I’m about to say might sound obvious, but I think there are two unifying factors for players of all skill levels and of different philosophies when it comes to enjoyment of video games that involve facing off against opponents both human and AI.

  1. Players love to feel powerful
  2. Players hate to feel powerless

It’s pretty simple, but I think that there’s a lot that can be extrapolated from these two statements.

Whenever I read comments and forum posts about competitive games, there are certain recurring complaints. “This game doesn’t let me play the way I want to. “In this situation, there’s pretty much nothing I can do.” “It’s not fair that this game lets people worse than me win.” Now, some of these complaints might just be rationalization of one’s flaws or simply the act of making excuses, but I find it worthwhile to think about these statements in terms of notions of power/powerlessness.

Let’s look at some examples.

  1. Take the classic idea that “throwing is cheap” from the early days of arcade fighting games. Why was it considered a dishonorable tactic? It’s because, for many players, the act of blocking makes them feel powerful (or at the very least safe). The ability to just block high/low and stop/weaken the opponent’s offense is a simple and easy way to make a player feel better. Throws destroy that false sense of security, creating a sense of powerlessness. It’s up to the player being thrown to learn how to deal with it, and of course many have over the years, but that feeling of vulnerability (and the fear of vulnerability) is why so many throwers got punched over the years in arcades.
  2. One of the complaints about Heroes of the Storm from other MOBA players is that the leveling system, wherein all players on a team gain levels at the same rate instead of having it determined on a per-player basis, means that individuals cannot become the stars of their team. Similarly, while Street Fighter V has its supporters, one criticism from detractors is that the combo system SFV isn’t complex/difficult enough to allow for players to distinguish themselves. In other words, they feel that the game is shackling them, stripping them of power at moments when they wish to feel most powerful.
  3. In Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void and previous versions, the Protoss race is usually the cause of much ire (or should I say “Aiur” dohoho), and they’ve been described as a “coin-flippy” race. The idea is that there is no skill involved, that it’s merely a 50-50 guessing game for a lot of their strategies. For enemies of Protoss, this is the reason they’re strong and annoying. For users of Protoss, this is why they’re weak and frustrating. When you break it down, hinging your success or all-or-nothing strategies is the epitome of the “power/powerlessness” dynamic.

Power can take on many forms. Training is power. Knowledge is power. Good teamwork is power. Outwitting the opponent is power. Overpowering the opponent is, well, a show of strength. Even in pay-to-win games that don’t reward skill but rather how deep your pockets are, the very idea that you can just outdo your opponent because you have more money can be a power trip. Different players experience feeling powerful through different means, and it’s why they likely gravitate towards their chosen games.

For instance, I believe that part of the reason Super Smash Bros. Melee and Starcraft: Brood War have such a loyal scene that considers most other games inferior is because it has many ways to make players feel powerful. They both require constant practice to keep one’s skills at a serviceable level. Both games are clearly stratified in terms of skill level, as knowledge to and access of specific non-obvious techniques creates a divide between those who know and those who don’t. Perhaps most telling of all, in both games, even simple movement, e.g. controlling your army to compensate for Brood War‘s poor pathing or utilizing dash dancing and wavedashing in Melee for basic neutral interactions, involves “advanced actions.” At the same time, these are also the reasons why many prefer to play other games.

As much as a robust player base is needed for a strong competitive scene, one of the challenges of trying to make a  competitive environment more accessible is that, ironically, players who are trying to be “competitive” might not realize what it entails. Street Fighter V took the route of simplifying controls and execution barriers so that players could theoretically reach the point where they’re matching wits more directly. The problem is that many players don’t necessarily want that close, intimate experience of trying to out-think the other, making this “simpler” game even more daunting. Nothing’s worse than feeling, in the words of Fatal Fury villain Geese Howard, “predictable.”

Instead of having multiple paths to feeling powerful, such as training technical skill, to dampen the pain of losing on the mental level (or vice versa), new players are left feeling powerless.

I’m not a game designer, so I can’t profess to know the exact mechanics of “fun,” but I believe that one possible key to making competitive games fun for all is that players should be able to have moments where they feel powerful no matter their skill level or experience. Moments of feeling powerless cannot be avoided 100%, but if there are enough instances that can make a player feel like they did something, that might just be enough to soften the negative impact of defeat.

“I lost, but did you see that awesome shot I made?”

“I lost, but my team and I almost brought it back.”

“My opponent really got me in the end, but I could tell they were scared for a second.”

This might very well be why so-called “comeback mechanics” exist in games, like desperation moves in Fatal Fury 2, X-Factor in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 or Ultra Combos in Street Fighter IV. They give something to the losing player when the chips are down, a glimmer of hope to keep them in the game. The tricky element of this, however, is that this can end up actually making winning players feel powerless. The common complaint of comeback mechanics is that they “punish the better player,” and while that’s debatable in terms of the actual effect on the game, that doesn’t prevent people from feeling that way. It might not sound important, and it might sound terribly subjective, but feeling that something is cool, fun, and indeed powerful is subjective already.

 

Good Idol/Wise Sister: Dia, Ruby, and Notions of Ideal Japanese Women in Love Live! Sunshine!!

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Following up my character spotlight articles for the girls of Love Live!, I’ve written a post analyzing Dia and Ruby from Love Live! Sunshine!! and their relationships with the concept of the “ideal Japanese woman.” Spoiler alert: It can be hard to be the perfect wife when men seem to barely exist in the world of Love Live!

What People Want Out of Competitive Games (Part 1)

The purest image of the competitive gamer is the person who “plays to win.” Whereas other players might decry a particular move or strategy as “unfair” or “overpowered,” the true competitor uses every tool available. But while this is the ideal in a certain sense for how a competitive gamer should behave, I find that it’s not actually a reflection of reality. If it is, it’s a reality that has long since passed.

Since the proliferation of the internet in the 90s and into the 2000s, the image of what it means to be competitive in the world of games (particularly fighting games) has been defined by two different resources. One is David Sirlin’s “Playing to Win,” which discusses what it means to not be held back by concepts such as “honor” or “aesthetic.” The other is Seth Killian’s “Domination 101,” which positions opposite the true competitor the figure known as the “scrub”—the player who constantly makes excuses, refers to things they lose to as “cheap,” and chooses to complain rather than learn. Within reason (so no foul play), both are based around the idea that what matters most in competition are the words “YOU WIN.”

Both Sirlin and Killian have changed over the years. Sirlin became a game designer who has to take a greater range of players into account. Sirlin is now a community veteran, old and wizened and less fiery. However, at the time these series of articles were written, both were most certainly what the Magic: The Gathering developers call “Spikes.” According to the developers of Magic: The Gathering, players of their card game can be roughly divided into three different archetypes. In contrast to the “Timmy,” who loves to make big plays using the highest-damage tools, and the “Johnny,” who loves to innovate new strategies and employ unorthodox tactics, the Spike is defined by the tendency to simply do what is most effective and efficient to beat the opponent.

Because of those articles, I believe that the stereotypical image of the competitive player, in fighting games especially, became the “Spike.” However, what’s curious is that, when you look at even the highest levels of play, that undiluted competitive mentality does not seem as dominant as one might assume. The greatest fighting game player of all time is Umehara Daigo, but in his book The Will to Keep Winning, he writes:

Tournaments are a playground for people who practice for growth. It’s where they show off their achievements. Once I made that realization, I finally started making continued growth my goal, rather than winning. Games enrich my life by allowing me to grow as an individual, and that’s what motivates me to keep on going.

Going from a different angle, Super Smash Bros. Melee player Mang0 has discussed how he’s had to balance changing his playing style to suit more recent developments in his scene with staying true to himself:

What’s clear is that even the best players in the world aren’t necessarily subscribe “pure Spikes.” While anyone who goes to a tournament to get as far as possible is a Spike on some level, hybrids such as “Johnny-Spikes” or “Timmy-Spikes” exist. This is even acknowledged by the Magic: The Gathering developers. However, what I believe is that, not only are “Timmy-Spikes” present among competitive gaming communities such as the FGC, but they are about as prevalent as pure Spikes, and in some communities are the greatest population.

Where once even the biggest competitive gaming communities might have been incredibly niche and might have indeed been comprised of mostly Spikes, I think that world has changed immensely, due to online play, greater publicity, streaming video such as Twitch, the concept of eSports, and so on. Going from the strongest champions in the paragraph above to the lower levels of aspiring competitors and eSports spectators, it is often the case that many people care just as much (if not more) about how victory is achieved than whether it happens at all.

While few people, be they watching or playing, can say they have no investment in wins or losses, what competitive games provide for a great number of players is a feeling of power. This might come from the look of the game itself, or from how it plays. A pure Timmy, at their most extreme, wouldn’t mind a loss, provided he managed to land a breathtaking combo that squeezes the life out of the opponent. They fight for the highlight reel, to be turned into a 30-second Twitch clip or gfycat. Keep in mind that this is not necessarily a “scrub” attitude. Timmy-Spikes, while they most certainly want to win, would prefer to win with style.

There are certain games, I believe, that even encourage Timmy-Spike mindsets more than others. These include the Guilty Gear series, the Marvel vs. Capcom series, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. What they all have in common is that the flashiest, most impressive-looking techniques tend to also be extremely effective in high-level play. Techniques that make you feel like unbridled energy is coursing through your veins, things that the common gamer might never achieve reliably, become yours to control and command, and they just so happen to carry a lot of visual oomph.

None of what I’ve mentioned in this article is fully an “eSports” or “video game”-exclusive phenomenon. People want to see and experience glory, and that image of grand triumph as a dramatic moment is etched into the human experience. It might just be that, because video games are a relatively new form of competition in an age where media and personal interaction become increasingly blurred, we’ve seen eSports grow much more rapidly and visibly than other forms of competition, even if it’s still small potatoes compared to soccer or boxing.

From Cutie Honey to Keijo!!!!!!!!: The Rise of Big Butts in Anime History

NOTE: This post is NOT SAFE FOR WORK

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Introduction

For as long as there has been fanservice in anime, there has been an emphasis on rear ends. Few things are more associated with anime (for better or worse) than the panty shot, and the form-fitting suits in works such as Neon Genesis Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell have helped to bring posteriors to prominence. However, I believe that buttocks have not remained static over the course of anime’s history and that, over the past 10-15 years, we have reached a point where big butts are “in.” The purpose of this post is to show this gradual change in tastes while also positing some possible reasons that this change has taken place.

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Love Live School Idol Festival and Ten Fes: Rise of the Normal Girls?

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Recently, the Love Live! School Idol Festival rhythm game began featuring a new comics series within the English-language app itself: a 4-panel comic series called Ten Fes: Transfer Student Fesival. Its premise is that, rather than focusing on the expected stars of Love Live!, these manga put the spotlight on the lesser-known girls exclusive to the game. Whereas once these characters’ stories were told in only the briefest vignettes, they might now have the chance to really show off their charms.

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I once expressed a desire to see these “Normal Card” characters fleshed out more than they currently are, and I feel that Tenfes, while not an absolute game changer, is significant in this respect. To understand the potential impact it can have, it’s important to look at a rival fictional idol franchise: The iDOLM@STER.

The iDOLM@STER is devoted to having every one of its idols, be they the original ensemble from the first game or new ones created for their mobile apps, feel like a star. Love Live!, on the other hand, went as far as to create a new set of core girls to focus on, while the lower tier from School Idol Festival remain as essentially “fodder,” cards sacrificed to level up the ones that “matter.” Although being featured in short gag manga isn’t quite the same as getting to star in a full-fledged show like what happened with The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls, it still gives a chance for these “lesser” Love Live! characters to be characterized in more than just brief vignettes you earn within the game.

I’m not the kind of person who can thrive off of just sparse character descriptions. Even when it came to the main stars of Love Live!, I needed the anime. I could not feel any particular attachment to them when they were merely faces with semi-long descriptions. Also, while properties like Touhou and Kantai Collection can get away with it because all of its characters are equally barebones, the fact that this massive rift exists between the central casts of Love Live! and the School Idol Festival-exclusive girls makes that much more difficult.

Ten Fes allows for greater opportunities to portray interactions and relationships between the “common” characters. In isolation, these girls can only provide so much interest, but if they’re reacting to each other, playing off of each other, and maybe even butting heads with each other, then it gives them the chance to establish a lasting presence and build fan bases of their own.

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