What Lies Behind the Wobbling Debate in Smash Bros. Melee?

Introduction: Two Climbers, One Grab

In the world of competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee, there’s an ongoing open debate as to how to keep the game thriving in the long term. What’s the best way to present the game to a larger audience? How do you maintain tournament integrity? What should competition even look like? With a reputation for being fast-paced and technically involved, Melee often attracts a certain audience of thrill seekers, whether as players or as viewers, which is why there’s been a recent movement to potentially ban or restrict certain techniques and perhaps even characters under the pretense that they harm the longevity of the scene.

Current arguments are centered around a powerful technique known as “wobbling” and whether or not it should continue to be legal in tournaments. The surrounding discourse is fascinating because of how it reveals the values that are deeply entrenched in Melee and its history, and how they can at times be at odds with each other.

What is Wobbling?

For those unfamiliar with wobbling, it’s a maneuver exclusive to the Ice Climbers that takes advantage of their unique “twin-character” properties to virtually guarantee a KO no matter how healthy the opponent is, with few exceptions. While other characters have vaguely similar throws that allow them to rack up tons of damage, nothing in isolation truly compares to the sheer power that wobbling brings to the table. In fighting game terms, it’s essentially an “infinite,” or a move that can be looped potentially forever. There are actually tournament rules already in place to prevent Ice Climbers from just beginning a wobble and running the clock.

Strength is Relative

An argument I see thrown out fairly often is that infinites and guaranteed death combos are generally patched out or removed from games if the developers can help it, which is mostly true. But it’s also not as cut and dry as proponents of this reasoning use. Infinites are only as powerful, unfair, or game-breaking as the game around them allows them to be.

Take the 2005 Hokuto no Ken fighting game, where an infinite or 100% damage combo by no means guarantees a character to be top-tier…because almost every character in the game has at least one or two of them. Instead, the game revolves around these absurd, high-damage combos and potential infinites, and become the reason the game has a scene in the first place. Crazy, elaborate combos are accepted as core to the game.

Of course, Hokuto no Ken is not Super Smash Bros. Melee, but if one were to go along with the “infinites are removed by developers” stance, this also means examining two points. First, how powerful/game-changing is wobbling in relation to everything else in the game? Second, if developers did actually patch Melee after all these years, would they only remove wobbling, or would other, more beloved aspects of competitive Melee end up on the chopping block as well? The answers to these questions are subjective and speculative, respectively, but the ambiguity of possible answers also speaks to the relationship between the competitive players and the game itself as both a passion and a proving ground.

Perception of Strength is Also Relative

Ice Climbers, even with wobbling, are not considered the best character in the game. Records prove out that the tools of the true elite—Fox, Falco, Marth, Jigglypuff, etc.—outshine theirs. Although those other characters might not have anything as singularly powerful as wobbling, they have a plethora of almost-as-good options. And while a wobble that has been successfully initiated cannot be stopped outside of an input error, top players have developed anti-Ice Climbers strategies that revolve around prevention. Fighting Ice Climbers involves removing or halting the elements that lead to getting wobbled in the first place: avoiding grabs and separating the two Ice Climbers characters from each other. If one is going by dominance as a criteria for banning Ice Climbers or wobbling, it doesn’t apply, excepting the argument that it’s a steep wall for newer players to scale—a soul-crushing experience for those less honed..

Wobbling is most likely unintentional, given that the current Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has actively removed the ability for chain grabs and grab infinites to occur in the first place. However, there are many things about Melee that would likely get removed alongside wobbling if a balance team were given the chance to redo things. For example, certain characters have what’s known as an “invincible ledge dash,” a technique that lets them get up from the ledge and move forward while retaining full invincibility. What makes an invincible ledge dash different from wobbling? The answer in the eyes of many players and fans is execution and effectiveness. Wobbling’s opponents view it as too easy to pull off for the reward it brings, and that it’s potentially antithetical to the community’s general love for difficulty and precision of execution. The same issue has come into play with the Smashbox, a stickless controller meant to be gentler on the hands, whose easier execution is a point of contention for a competitive community that values complexity of physical performance.

Therein lies the real heart of the argument for and against wobbling. A vocal dislike of defensive, non-flashy play permeates the Melee community, and you’ll find fans tying the health of the game to the high-octane excitement it can generate. This is why the argument against wobbling somehow began to drag in the topic of Jigglypuff, the chosen character of current #1 player Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma, and the very symbol of slow and careful play. It’s the same struggle that boxing has had with Floyd Mayweather’s defensive style or the way Royce Gracie would seemingly “hug” opponents into submission in early UFC bouts. It’s an argument between the two facets facing any competition with an audience: do you prioritize visual flair, or the win-at-all-costs mindset—especially when competitors’ livelihoods are tied to both audience appeal and legitimacy of competition?

But What If It Actually Harms the Game?

It’s not as if competitive fighting game communities never ban things. In Street Fighter II, or more specifically Super Street Fighter II Turbo, the character of Akuma (Gouki in Japanese) is forbidden. Designed as a hidden, unlockable boss, Akuma comes with advantages that no other character has: invincible limbs (absurd in a game built around punishing arm and leg over-extensions), an air fireball (in a game not built to handle projectiles coming from certain angles), and dizziness immunity, among other perks. Put differently, he countered all of the things that Street Fighter II was built around. He’s such a clear-cut #1 that other characters might as well not exist, and the extreme lack of diversity threatened the life of the game.

Even in Hokuto no Ken, where 100% death combos are lauded, there are also a few banned moves. For example, character Rei can perform an infinite rising uppercut to send himself and the opponent into the sky without any ability to fight back.

In relation to wobbling, the Street Fighter II example doesn’t really apply. Ice Climbers are nowhere near the being the best or killing variety among character choices, and in fact it’s the other better characters who keep the low tiers of Melee down. As for Hokuto no Ken, there’s arguably a closer parallel with wobbling. Both are infinites and both are relatively easy to execute (at least, if you ask competitive players). However, the fact that there are preventive countermeasures players can practice and implement to mitigate the threat of wobbling, and that wobbling isn’t being done by one of the Top 2 characters in the game (Rei is either the best or second-best in Hokuto no Ken) changes the dynamic. One can learn to defeat wobbling, but it’s more about planning in advance how to avoid the Ice Climbers’ deadly mittens.

If we go back to an earlier point—that wobbling is especially harmful to low- to mid-level players—then there is some weight to that statement. It’s only a matter of course that weaker players aren’t as well equipped to defend against such a powerful technique. Does it scare off newer players enough to kill off the pool of new players coming into the Melee scene? Perhaps, but I think it also speaks to the kind of player base Melee tends to attract, i.e. interested in aggressive and flashy gameplay, and the potential failure of the Melee community to encourage its base to accept and appreciate defensive play.

A Community that Fails to Accept Defensive Play is Punished for It

If you’ve been wondering where the term “wobbling” comes from, it’s actually named after an Ice Climbers player who popularized the technique: Robert “Wobbles” Wright. However, more impressive than his ability to push the character is his intelligent analyses of gaming and the competitive mindset. On a recent Twitch stream, Wobbles discussed the controversy over wobbling, bringing up a couple salient points.

First, he tells the story of a tournament that ended up with a top 3 of all Fox McClouds (the character synonymous with “exciting Melee”), only for the commentators to complain that the more defensive Fox tends to win the mirror matchup. In other words, the pursuit of an “ideal” way to play leads to attacking even that which was once viewed as “acceptable.” Second, he argues that no single character has ever threatened to kill Melee. Instead, the real culprits are stagnation and perception. When wobbling is used to dominate a scene’s perceived heroes, it is regarded with disdain. However, as soon as it’s a villain on the receiving end, fans are eager to cheer for it. Third, he posits that removing wobbling can very well remove Ice Climbers as a viable tournament pick, actually reducing diversity and increasing the risk of stagnation.

But in spite of being the technique’s namesake, Wobbles is just one of many voices out there. And while many prominent members have argued against banning wobbling—including players and tournament organizers—it’s more a begrudging acceptance than anything else. “I hate wobbling, but it’d be wrong to see it banned” is a half-spirited defense that I believe speaks to the lack of major figures in the Smash community as a whole who are ready to argue in favor of doing what’s effective, not just what looks good.

Compare with the Street Fighter competitive scene, which has had “lame” players practically baked into its essence. On a recent episode of the UltraChen Tuesday Show, Gerald “LA Akira” Abraham recounts the very earliest days of the fighting game community surrounding Street Fighter II in the 1990s, and the fact that one of the best players in the US at the time and a major mentor, Jeff “LA Akuma” Schaefer, is one of the all-time kings of lame play. In this environment, getting past that defensive, minimalist style was practically a rite of passage. Anyone who complained wasn’t strong enough to survive. Following his lead have been big names such as David Sirlin of “Playing to Win” fame and all-time great Justin Wong, who just released a video called “The Art of Lame.” In it, Wong emphasizes the idea that “playing lame” is not intrinsic to any specific character, but a philosophy that can be applied to any character. Street Fighter has had a support structure from practically day one to teach players to accept non-flashy, defensive play—something missing from Melee.

The Anti-Defense Bias Will Still Exist, Regardless of Wobbling

While there exist some guides to fighting Ice Climbers and the threat of wobbling, there are remarkably few for what is supposed to be a major problem in the Melee scene. It’s understandable that the kind of preventive counterplay required is harder to teach, and perhaps banning wobbling ends up being the cleaner and easier solution. However, it still doesn’t address the deeper problem, which is that something needs to be done about educating players instead of just feeding into their biased desires for a certain type of “ideal” game they might never reach.

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My Top Handheld Video Games of All Time

When I think about my favorite video games, they’re often less about some remotely objective measure of greatness and more about personal impact. It wasn’t easy to narrow down a list, but I think this runs the gamut of my experiences. I’ve never owned any non-Nintendo portable systems (not counting smartphones), so it’ll be skewed heavily in that direction.

Note that I am not including Nintendo Switch games because that’s a big ol’ can of worms.

In no particular order:

1. Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow

I love the Pokémon games in general, and each one has its own strengths. But for all its flaws, nothing is closer to my heart than the original. That sense of exploration, the thrill of meeting random people on the street and linking up (via cable!) for a battle, going online and discovering communities dedicated to both competition and general fandom—the only games that ever gave this sense of camaraderie were NiGHTS into dreams… (i.e. my favorite game ever) and the Super Smash Bros. franchise. Many of my faves from this generation are ones I love today: Chansey, Vileplume, and Mewtwo.

2. Super Mario Land

So much about this game is memorable. From using boulders as stepping stones to narrow the distance with an Easter Island-headed boss to frantically running from Chinese hopping ghosts to taking down Tatanga in a shoot ’em up finale, there’s so much I can look back on with fondness. But what sticks out most in my recollection is the fact that I actually beat this game for the first time while sitting on the toilet. That sort of experience doesn’t leave you.

3. Super Robot Wars R

This was my first Super Robot Wars game, and it was more than just some fun turn-based strategy. While I was a big mecha head long before I ever got this game, the easy access it gave me to discovering a plethora of big anime series, and the nitty gritty of their robots—Gear Fighter Dendoh, Daitarn 3, Voltes V, and more—only deepened my desire to explore the genre further. And while it’s considered a fairly easy SRW game, that made it all the better as I fumbled through the game with only the barest hint of Japanese literacy. I literally took 70% of the game to learn how to select “dodge!”

4. Metroid: Zero Mission

This is about as good as Metroid games get, and it’s a pretty flawless work in general. However, it means even more to me because when I studied abroad in Japan, it was pretty much the only game I had with me. So what’s a guy to do except play it over and over and over again? And given that I love boss fights (especially final bosses!), I had one save slot for Mother Brain and one for Mecha Ridley.

5. Ghost Trick

This is a certified masterpiece. The gameplay is ingenious and addictive, like a series of Rube Goldberg devices with an occult twist, and the story is charming and heartwarming. It also gave me plenty of reasons to cheer on my girl Lynne in WVGCW!

“Ha ha! I died again!”

6. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS

While inferior to its Wii U counterpart in almost every way, the fact that it made a portable, 60 fps Smash game possible with only a few compromises (no Ice Climbers) on an increasingly dated system is nothing short of incredible. Letting me play Mega Man in Smash Bros. for the first time ever is reason enough to get on this list.

7. Greenhouse (Game & Watch)

The first time I unlocked Mr. Game & Watch in Super Smash Bros. Melee, I was floored. My family had owned a few Game & Watch games over the years, and my favorite among them was Greenhouse. The first time I got over 999 points and caused the score to flip over back to 0 was an achievement for my young self, and the simple yet frantic fun of its dual-screen format made it an entertaining option even though the Game Boy was already a thing by the time I played it. In a way, it’s a timeless game.

8. Tetris (Game Boy)

C’mon, it’s Tetris. There’s no need to explain the appeal of this absolute classic, but the Game Boy’s A-theme is the definitive Tetris song, and that alone will keep it in my memories forever.

9. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

The Ace Attorney games are so clever and full of personality, both in terms of characters and gameplay. It’s just a memorable series through and through, and the deduction-based system is both gripping and easy to get into without devoting much time. Of the iterations I’ve played, I still feel like I enjoy the first game most of all. Extra bonus points go to the DS version’s extra story, which introduces Ema and Lana Skye, my two favorite characters in the entire franchise.

10. Fire Emblem (aka Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade)

The first Fire Emblem game to hit the US is still my favorite of that franchise. The characters are amazing, and not even just the obvious ones—I’m currently playing Fire Emblem Heroes with Serra set as my favorite while I’m trying in vain to get a Ninian of any kind. The animations are so vibrant and seared into my brain. Who can forget seeing Lyn, Hector, and Eliwood using their sacred weapons for the first time? Even the gameplay is my favorite. Basically, what I’m saying is, bring back the ability for mounted units to carry other units!

Do you have any handheld games that are in your emotional pantheon? Let me know!

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This blog post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’d like to request a topic on Ogiue Maniax, check out the Patreon.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and the Potential Positives of Project Wendy

One of the strangest trends in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate hit YouTube recently, as countless creators began putting out videos centered around Wendy O. Koopa—a character who, in a sense, isn’t one. She’s an alternate costume for the playable Bowser Jr., so the fact that this one skin was singled out above all others reeked of conspiracy. Indeed, it looks like this was all a combined effort by all of these YouTubers to highlight one of the least popular characters in Smash Bros.

In a sense, this is the very definition of a forced meme, though fans seem to be rolling with it. However, there’s another potential consequence outside of fun, stupid jokes involving a fast food restaurant or a Samoan pro wrestler (see above): giving a spotlight to an otherwise neglected character. Bowser Jr. (and his seven Koopaling skins) is one of the least talked-up and least talked-about characters in Smash Bros. Ultimate. In tier list after tier list, Bowser Jr. is placed firmly in low tier. It’s certainly possible that he’s one of the worse characters in the game, but the Ultimate meta is still young (barely a month old), and opinions can changes. What can turn opinions around, then, is research and exposure.

There’s a “million monkeys on a million typewriters” effect to a certain extent. If Project Wendy inspires scores of players, even mostly lower-level ones, to pick up Wendy, Bowser Jr., or any of their alts, then the sheer increase in quantity can push that character further along than any sort of on-paper theory-crafting. That’s the funny thing about competitive gaming: often times, how deep and complex your game is ends up being less important to competition than the player population and their eagerness to push ahead. Regardless of motivation, whether someone truly adores Wendy, or whether they’re just jumping on the latest bandwagon, this is a chance for Wendy and her fellow Koopa Clown Car warriors to get some attention. Characters die when their communities get stagnant, and pushing a meme is one…unique…way to try and avoid that.

I might be a bit idealistic in terms of the long-term effects of Project Wendy, but who knows? The next great Wendy/Bowser Jr. player might emerge out of this crazy effort. Imagine…

Early Thoughts on Competitive Changes for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been playing a ton of Smash Bros. Ultimate, and throughout this time I’ve been mulling the multiplayer changes they’ve made. I have not played the game online, which I know has been a source of frustration and controversy for many, so I’m not going to go into that aspect of the game.

The game feels very well balanced, though that is naturally subject to change as patches come out and players get better. It’s not perfect, and I wouldn’t expect a game with 70+ characters to ever be 100% balanced, but Ultimate is in a good place for the time being. There are a number of factors that contribute to this feeling, but the overarching philosophy I sense from the game is based on three factors: 1) rounding out characters’ tool kits so no one option is too weak and no one option is too strong 2) providing universal mechanics that benefit all 3) making characters’ strengths on paper actual strengths.

Rounding Out Movesets

In Smash Bros. for Wii U (aka Smash 4), many characters ended up having a few extremely effective attacks that would render entire other parts of their movesets nearly obsolete. Think about Donkey Kong’s cargo up throw into up air (aka the Ding Dong) or Meta Knight’s dash attack/dash grab into up air strings. The game often focused on each character’s few powerful options, and it made you wonder why certain attacks even existed. In Ultimate, however, it feels like the craziest and most overwhelming attacks have been shaved down a bit while the neglected moves were given some love.

Take Mewtwo, for instance. In Smash 4, Mewtwo’s down tilt was one of the best moves in the game, period. It had long range, it was very fast for how much ground it covered, and it started combos and juggles with the greatest of ease. In contrast, Mewtwo’s forward tilt didn’t see much use. Almost anything forward tilt did, down tilt did better, except for maybe hitting opponents who are jumping.

In Ultimate, down tilt is still fast and with excellent range, but you can only reliably combo off of it if you hit with the base of Mewtwo’s tail, which means having to be closer to the opponent and thus being in a riskier position. The move is good, but it’s no longer a cure-all. Forward tilt, in turn, now has utility that down tilt doesn’t—namely better knockback, more kill power, and slightly more range. So players have reasons to use both. You might want to down tilt, but if the opponent’s at max range, forward tilt could be better for knocking them farther off the stage.

You’ll see this across multiple characters’ movesets. Players will need to master their characters’ entire set of moves to do well.

Equalizing Key Universal Mechanics

One of the biggest jokes of Smash 4 was that Jigglypuff, a character who specializes in aerial combat, took a much longer time to actually get off the ground than most other characters. Actually, the biggest joke was that Jigglypuff never got a single buff across the game’s many patches, but that’s a whole other rabbit hole.

In every Smash game, characters take a bit of time to leave the ground after a player hits jump: this is called a “jump squat.” In Smash 4, the fastest jump squats were 4 frames (1/15 of a second), the slowest (Bowser) was 8 frames (2/15 of a second), and Jigglypuff was in the middle at 6 frames (1/10 of a second). If you’re confused by all the numbers, just think about it like this: because characters like Jigglypuff and Bowser took longer to actually jump, it meant that they would fail to land attacks that other characters could get away with.

In Ultimate, every character has the same jump squat: 3 frames, or 1/20 of a second. This means that big, lumbering characters can’t just get trapped on the ground and be forced to eat hits because they’re busy trying to jump. This means Jigglypuff can take to the skies much more easily. Most importantly, it proportionally buffs characters who used to have bad jump squats much more than those who already had them. Going from 4 frames to 3 frames is a 25% improvement. Going from 8 frames to 4 frames is a 50% improvement.

Creating True Strengths

Big characters have for the most part been disadvantaged in the Smash games. Bad jump squats, as mentioned above, are one factor, but the supposed weight advantage that would let such characters survive longer compared to their lighter adversaries never actually panned out in practice. Instead, these super heavyweights often ended up as huge punching bags unable to properly deal with the speedy attacks of their foes.

Another supposed advantage that failed to live up to its potential is the tether grab. Instead of using hands, tether grabs utilized ranged weapons to grab from a distance—think Link’s hookshot or Samus’s grappling beam. The trade-off, on paper, is that these tether grabs are slower to make up for their longer range, but almost without fail they were simply worse than having regular, close-range grabs. Players could learn to use tether grabs effectively, but that was more about them making up for their characters’ flaws through intelligence and cunning.

Both the super heavyweight archetype and the tether grab have new purpose in Ultimate, and it has largely to do with making sure these aspects actually matter. Big characters are heavier than ever and hit harder than ever, and it makes a significant difference in terms of how long they survive. Now, a King Dedede or a Ganondorf can reliably live long enough to become scary, especially when factoring in the “rage” mechanic that allows characters to hit opponents harder when they themselves have taken more damage. Grabs are generally worse in Ultimate compared to Smash 4, as characters have shorter range and take longer to recover from missed grabs, but the big exception is that tether grabs have been improved all around. Even if they stayed the same as they were in Smash 4, the gap between non-tethers and tethers would have been closer, but a lot of those tethers have either improved startup time, improved recovery, or both.

The biggest winner here is actually Pac-Man, whose ranged grab in Smash 4 was literally the worst grab in Smash history due to its wonky collision detection and its poor overall speed.

To a Better Game!

I thought Smash 4 was a really good game, even in the last couple of years as Cloud and Bayonetta began their rise and their stuffing of the lower tiers. History could repeat itself, but based on the changes mentioned, I think there’s a strong chance they’ve learned from their mistakes. Balancing a competitive game is a tremendously difficult endeavor, but I think the Smash Bros. Ultimate development team is up to the task.

Smashing-Good Holidays: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for December 2018

Ogiue Maniax just celebrated its 11th anniversary, and it feels like quite the milestone. However, as much as that has been on my mind, my head space is currently occupied 80% by Smash Bros. Ultimate. 4 days to go!!!

I’m always grateful for my supporters on Patreon and ko-fi. Many thanks to the following!

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Here are also my favorite posts from November:

Geek Reference Culture vs. Rap Reference Culture: A Personal and Meandering Comparison

An exploration of how heavy reference usage differs between geek entertainment and rap.

How Hugtto! Precure Tackles Childbirth and C-Section Controversy in Japan

The current Precure series likes to go places.

“Hi-New York”: Anime NYC 2018

My overview of Anime NYC 2018.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 10 feels like the end of one story and the beginning of another.

Patreon-Sponsored

An Amateur Look at the Atelier Games

How mellow can an RPG series get?

Closing

I promise that not every post I make for the next 6 months will just be about Smash Bros. That said, I get the feeling there will be plenty to go around.

Amateur Thoughts on the Atelier Games

I’m not terribly familiar with the Atelier RPG series. I’ve never played any of the games, and I didn’t even realize that Sue was cosplaying the main heroine from Atelier Meruru in a chapter of Genshiken (see above). But I was asked by one of my Patreon sponsors to write something about the games, so I decided to do some research. While I can’t even pretend to call myself an expert, what I’ve found out about the Atelier games has intrigued me, particularly the way they eschew Final Fantasy/Dragon Quest-style “save the world” scenarios.

Before I go further, I’d like to thank two YouTube channels: ValkyrieAurora, whose overview of the entire Atelier franchise allowed me to better understand the overarching themes of the games, and WeLoveGUST, whose Atelier Meruru play-through introduced me to the feel of an Atelier game. Watching them is no substitute for actually playing, of course, but they were quite helpful nevertheless.

Video games have classically had a violence issue. I don’t mean that violent video games are bad, or that they inherently corrupt people, but that fighting is a convention that’s so easily relied upon in games that it can be a kind of crutch. Fight to save your kingdom. Fight to get revenge. Fight to prove your worth. This doesn’t define all games, but those that step away from violence, also tend to go so far left-field from that world as to be considered a practically different universe. I’m talking about puzzle games like Tetris or gentler games like Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons or Animal Crossing. There’s a wide space in between those approaches (“violence solves everything” vs. “what’s violence?”), and the way the Atelier games strike a middle ground is rather fascinating.

Rather than having a looming evil that must be defeated, the narratives of Atelier games are more often based on personal growth. The key gameplay involves the player as the main character learning to make potions and other concoctions in a quest to master the discipline of alchemy. Experimentation is encouraged, and while the games can vary in terms of how demanding the clock is, they more often than not lean towards the leisurely. It’s still clearly a non-mundane environment, and there is combat involved when it comes to gathering ingredients, but violence clearly takes a backseat.

In this respect, I find myself drawn to Atelier Meruru‘s soundtrack, which is very heavy on recorder and flute usage. There’s a certain sense of innocent fun that permeates the game as a result, and it communicates a certain message, that there’s room to breathe, explore, and maybe even relax. It really sells the games well and really entices me to try out one of the games myself.

The franchise is hardly devoid of a more fantastical setting, as all of the Atelier games take place in classic fantasy settings full of magic and kings and queens, but the balance it strikes is very alluring. It’s not so far into “farm plants and drive trucks” territory as to feel like a simulation of the mundane—the games give the impression of adventure, just not in the “defeat evil” sense. At the same time, I do wonder if it can be hard to balance the niche appeal of that classic Atelier pacing with the desire to draw in a more mainstream audience. In her video, ValkyrieAurora talks about how some of the games put more emphasis on going out on a quest. It makes me wonder if GUST (the company behind Atelier) thought that they needed to draw in more general RPG players, perhaps at the expense of the more core fans.

Atelier is hardly the only RPG series to try and minimize the impact and importance of violence, but its approach is a refreshing one, at least to someone like myself who didn’t really know about these games. It’s a celebration of a certain mellow pace that the world could use more of.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. To find out how to request topics, visit the Ogiue Maniax Patreon.

Dearth vs. Abundance of Information and Fan Engagement

When I was young, I often wondered about the worlds of the video games I played. Given only sparse information and basic “defeat the bad guy” plots, games were semi-open canvases for me to speculate. This desire is what led me to my earliest internet communities—video game fanfiction sites. Over the years, I began to notice a general distinction for anyone looking to explore beyond what’s available in their favorite works, between those where a bit of exploration reveals mountains of supplementary canon information, and those where the details remain sparse.

I once attributed the difference in fan involvement for filling in the blanks to just a natural consequence of the works themselves. Video game plots were simpler in an age before RPGs and cut-scenes were everywhere, right? More recently, however, I’ve been considering how the two avenues—abundance vs. dearth of information—appeal to different types of fans, and how more and more creative works purposely aim for one or the other (and sometimes even both, if they can manage it).

The “abundance” examples are many, as seen in lore-dense properties such as the Type Moon universe, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Tolkien fantasy. My personal favorite example from yesteryear is the Street Fighter Plot Guide on GameFAQS by Tiamat, because it’s for a universe that is otherwise pretty simple (as fighting game narrative tend to be), and it involves a healthy amount of fan extrapolation by Tiamat. On the “dearth side,” there’s Touhou and Overwatch, which invite fans in to elaborate on characters and character relationships. Broadly speaking, the former appeals to “sculptor”-type fans, while the latter appeals to “builder”-type fans. Sculptor I would define as those who like to reshape what’s already there, while builders prefer raw materials to weave their own elaborate ideas. Both types can make fan stories, but their differences lead to the two classic modes of Star Trek fanfic: the “hard SF” technical explorations, and the “softer” character-building and relationship works. Not that I think of those distinctions as rigid and wholly separate, of course.

An entire character profile and running joke was based on the Touhou character Cirno being labeled “baka” in an instruction manual.

While I am admittedly no expert on The iDOLM@STER, I’ve noticed that both researchers and builders exist within that fandom, possibly stemming from a generation divide of sorts. The original iDOLM@STER games were very involved experiences, where players interacted heavily with their idols. Roughly equivalent to a more animated visual novel format with some RPG elements, players could learn extensively about the characters’ histories, likes and dislikes, and generally explore the idols as fleshed-out individuals. At some point, however, The iDOLM@STER also became prominent as a series of mobile games where that active RPG aspect takes a backseat to more simplified story modes. Here, the visual impact of character designs can matter much more. For fans, especially those who have limited access to all The iDOLM@STER media, “headcanon” expression is a somewhat common Twitter activity.

Take for example the character of Tokiko Zaizen. Based on her appearance alone, one gets the idea of Tokiko being a sadist/dominatrix type, but the fans take that a step further.

Not all fans fall into either the “dearth” or “abundance”-favoring categories. Some prefer to take the story as-is, and then aim for criticism over speculation. Others might dip their toes into both of those worlds. Whatever the fan approach, the ability for fans to thrive in whatever space is left for them speaks to a kind of flexibility in what it means to be enthusiastic about the creative media we consume.