My Dream Smash 4 Tournament Scenario

(Note: I originally posted this to reddit Smash Bros, and am putting it on the blog for posterity.)

The game has been out for over a year. During this time, it’s widely accepted by the community that Pac-Man is bottom tier. Try as people might, no one can seem to do anything with him.

EVO 2016 rolls around and it’s by far the biggest Smash tournament ever for any game in the franchise. All of the big names are there, but one by one they fall to a mysterious masked challenger who, unbelievably, is 4-stocking everyone with Pac-Man. Strangely, he appears to be much older than the average demographic for Smash.

Upon reaching the finals, the man removes his mask and reveals himself to be Billy Mitchell. Somehow, the skills that made him the first person to ever beat the Pac-Man arcade game have translated to Smash 4 almost perfectly. At this point, people are discussing if everything they knew about the game was wrong.

However, there’s another unidentified challenger in a hoodie who, while falling to the lower bracket early on, has been tearing it up. In the finals, he also reveals his true identity: Steve Wiebe.

Upon sitting down, they both set aside their mains and go straight for what counts the most for their pride: Donkey Kong mirror match. Gamers young and old start to watch. Just after the first set, people are declaring it the greatest finals ever in any competitive game, let alone Smash.

At EVO are both the crew for a new The Smash Brothers documentary, and the director of The King of Kong. The next day, they announce their collaboration for a sequel to The King of Kong in the Smash realm. The film is released internationally and is so successful, it turns the esports documentary into the most popular genre ever.

Thoughts on Singapore Mahjong

Ever since I wrote about the idea for a mahjong manga where the protagonist travels the world and plays various forms of the game, I’ve been eager to try out other types. Unfortunately, the best I could do was read about them and engage solely in theoryjong, which while potentially useful and certainly fun in its own way could not match the act of actually playing a game. Fortunately, I was able to find a website with not only rules for a Singapore-style of mahjong, but also an online game implemented for the enjoyment of visitors. Apparently it’s been around for a while, and I just wasn’t looking hard enough.

Before I go into my impressions of Singapore mahjong, there are two caveats I have to make. First, the online game provided by the above site is 1-player only. None of my words reflect someone who has played other human beings, and so I cannot talk much about the mental aspect of it beyond a certain solitaire-esque mindset. That said, I think a lot can be discerned just from playing the computer. Second, as I am mainly familiar with the Japanese-style riichi mahjong, I will be using that form of the game to relate my experiences. Also vital to note for those who are stumbling on this post from perhaps other mahjong sites is that I’m not even that good at Japanese mahjong, so the particulars of my “tactics” are mediocre at best.

Like all of the other forms of mahjong, the Singapore style is about creating a complete hand consisting of a number of 3-tile combinations and a pair to finish it off. 3-tile combinations consist of either three-of-a-kinds or straights. Players draw and discard tiles looking for a winning hand, with the last vital tile coming only after the rest of the hand is in a position to actually win. Like Japanese mahjong, you need at least 1 yaku/fan in order to win. However, there are three main differences (and a bunch of minor ones, but I won’t go into those too much).

1) Animal Tiles

While many forms of mahjong have “flowers,” tiles which are collected and set aside during the round that can potentially give bonuses to the player who collected them, the first and most glaring difference between Singapore Mahjong and all other forms is the additional presence of “animal tiles.” Four exist in a set: Chicken, Centipede, Cat, and Mouse, and they behave similarly to flower tiles, except that getting both the “predator” and its “prey” will net you additional points. The chicken eats the centipede, the cat eats the mouse, and should either of these happen you don’t even need to win in order to reap those benefits; you gain the points immediately. This also applies to appropriate flower tile combinations, and it means that even if you end up losing, you still kind of won.

2) Little Variation in Winning Hands

The path to winning of course lies in “fan,” or “yaku,” the predetermined combinations that are considered part of a winning hand. However, unlike Japanese mahjong, the number of fan that exist in Singapore mahjong are remarkably few in number. Whereas in riichi you get credit for hands like san shoku (either straights or triplets), chanta, junchan, chii toitsu, tanyao, ii pei kou, and san an kou, none of those I just mentioned are considered noteworthy hands in Singapore mahjong. Even Yakuman such as suu an kou, ryuu ii sou, and chuuren pooto do not get honored in this mahjong variation. Essentially, the only realistic paths are getting triplets of honor tiles, hands consisting entirely of straights (the “chicken hand” in Chinese forms of mahjong), toi toi, and either chinitsu or honitsu. If you didn’t understand any of what I just said, let me summarize by saying that Singapore mahjong has significantly fewer ways to win a game compared to Japanese mahjong, and that has a clear effect on how it plays out.

3) Everybody Pays

Another major difference with riichi mahjong is the point exchange that occurs when someone wins. In riichi, if someone draws the winning tile themselves, they get a few points from everyone else. If someone discards the winning tile, the victor takes their earnings entirely from the player who threw that tile away, with the other two players remaining untouched. Not so in Singapore mahjong, where everyone pays if a win happens on discard, and everyone pays even more when a win is achieved by self-draw. Combined with an utter lack of furiten, that lynchpin rule of Japanese mahjong that prevents a player’s discards from outright lying to the other players, it means that playing defensively as one normally would with the Japanese style does not hold anywhere near the same benefits in Singapore mahjong.

Overall

Taken all together, Singapore mahjong’s profile is that of a game where aggression is valued and tough decisions have to be made from the very start. The absence of even tanyao as a viable hand means that if your hand is half triplets and half straights, you have to make the decision to go one or the other, or to hope for some honors, flowers, or animals to give your hand the necessary minimum fan to even try to win.

The sheer lack of options can feel stifling for someone like me who is used to having many more options. Hands do not grow into one another easily; a potential san shoku cannot slowly arise from a pinfu attempt, because the gaps between hands are too stark, outside of possibly a honitsu turning into a chinitsu or vice versa. While one could argue that Japanese mahjong has too many options that make the game seem ridiculously arbitrary and tough to learn, the dearth of yaku in Singapore mahjong makes it feel less like a “flow” of tiles and more like a “hail.” That simplicity is not without its merits, but it’s something I’d have to get used to, especially coming from the defense-heavy style of riichi mahjong.

Funnily enough, a pinfu hand actually nets a whopping 4 fan (with 5 fan being the absolute limit allowed typically), but on one condition: no bonus tiles (animals, flowers) can be collected. With 12 of those suckers in a given set, it becomes a matter of avoiding “good luck” just long enough for one’s own “bad luck” to implode on itself and transform into something even more powerful.

Given that my interest in it has something to do with imagining how it would work in a comic, I have to then ask, what interesting story elements could be derived from playing Singapore mahjong? I think that for at least part of a Singapore arc, animal tiles would have to play a significant role. They’re one of the more distinct parts of this particular flavor of mahjong, and if it were something like a Fukumoto manga, the whole predator-prey thing could make for some amazing metaphors, and the immediate point exchanges upon getting a proper combination could subtly shift games.

It would also work as somewhat of a setup for a Malaysia arc, as I’ve read that 3-Player Malaysian mahjong is quite similar. I’ve yet to try that, though if someone can figure out a way for me to do so, I would very much like to hear it.

Ichika’s Rosy Life: An Infinite Stratos Fanfiction

It was noon at the Infinite Stratos Academy in Japan. There in the cafeteria sat Orimura Ichika, your typical guy who also pilots an advanced robot suit. In fact, it wasn’t the suit that made him special, it was that he was the only man in school, a special and rare case of a possessor of the Y-chromosome being able to pilot an IS. At least, he was, before his new roommate Charles Dunoa arrived from France.

So as Ichika sat there eating his sandwich, a bunch of girls came up to him. They were curious about Charles, particularly because he was quite handsome, and they used this opportunity to not only try to get more information on the Frenchman but also as an excuse to get closer to Ichika.

One of them sat right next to Ichika and said, “I’d like to visit the two of you in your room.”

“I guess that’s all right,” replied Ichika.

“Can I…invite my friends?”

“Sure! We’ll go wild.”

The girls’ faces all turned red and they shouted various exclamations and variants of “Kyaaaaa!” But just as it began to escalate, in  came four of the most talented girls in the school, Houki, Cecilia, Lingyin, and Sarah. Houki brandished her Japanese sword at the blushing girl. Cecilia reprimanded them. Lingyin began to activate her IS. Sarah pushed her short pink hair aside and told the girls that she prefers older men.

Ichika tried to calm the girls down. He figured the best thing to do would be to get up and leave the cafeteria, but while standing up his hand slipped and he fell face first into all of the girls’ chests.

I will leave the grim and violent details to your imagination.

Ichika eventually managed to escape, and saw a mysterious figure with sharp eyes and turquoise hair. Another guy, it seemed. He beckoned Ichika to come over and handed him a note.

Ichika whispered to himself. “This changes everything.”

What Makes a Series Good Fanfiction Fodder?

I’ve been thinking about the nature of fanfiction recently, what spurs people on to write stories in pre-established settings, and what sources make for good fanfiction. For you fanfic buffs, what I’m about to say probably isn’t going to be anything new to you, but I just felt like jotting some thoughts down in a public setting. Feel free to correct me or to chime in.

I feel that there are two types of stories most conducive to creating a fan community that generates fanfiction. These are “detailed world fiction” and “sparse information fiction.” That is to say, the former is comprised of series which provide detail after detail about the setting of the story, while the latter consists of fiction where details are scarce but just enough are provided to get fans thinking about possible connections. Examples of “detailed world”  include Buffy and Harry Potter, stories that lay out how the world works and why, while examples of “sparse information” would be something like Super Mario Bros., where its lack of real concrete detail means you can fill in the blanks with your own imagination. They’re not separate ideas either; a story is capable of having both a detailed world and sparse information, only concentrated in different areas.

In a “detailed world” series, so much information is given about the “rules” of the world that the basic building blocks for establishing a setting are there, often under unique guises. If you’re writing a Pokemon fic for example, then having a character who only uses Grass-type Pokemon can say a lot about their character. The type weaknesses chart is your basis for action scenes. Creating an original character within these worlds ends up being an exercise in just how you can incorporate the properties of the source material into your own ideas.

However, just as Pokemon provides endless information on certain aspects of its world, so too does it skimp on other properties, particularly in characterization and small details. Characters’ last names for example can be a big deal. The logic here for example can work like this: “If the main protagonist Ash Ketchum can have a last name, that means last names exist in this world, so why shouldn’t Brock and Misty have them as well?” In contrast, there is an explanantion in Avatar: The Last Airbender for why Toph is Toph Bei Fong and Aang is just Aang, and that is because last names are a sign of affluence in that world and culture. And never mind that the whole Misty’s last name thing only applies to an English dub of an anime; Robotech is all about that.

Fanfiction thrives when it has a place to grow. A story that is a little too closely woven, such as Monster, doesn’t do well for fanfiction because it fails to provide room for fan thought and imagination that could potentially be true. But when you have a story like Dragon Ball Z, with a universe full of planets and super powered entities, why the stories simply write themselves.

Fan-generated Fiction as some call it

I recently listened to the Ninja Consultant podcast concerning the sexualization that occurs among fangirls, and the fact that this has become more prominent in recent times, with not only yaoi becoming a common sight at conventions but also modern works such as Dr. Who and Avatar: The Last Airbender being consciously aware of this fanbase. The topic of fanfiction comes up in the discussion, which is to be expected given that fanfiction and fangirls practically go hand in hand, but it reminded me of the fact that at the beginning of my own internet-based fandom I too was into fanfiction.

When I first began using the internet, my first fandom was a NiGHTS into dreams fanfiction site. I loved the Sega Saturn game to death (and still do), and I sought out other fans of NiGHTS. It was there that I found a site called “Nightopia on the Net” which would later change its name a few more times. It was here that I not only discovered other people with a passion for NiGHTS, but also stories that expanded upon the few plot details we were given as players of the game into a rich and vibrant (at least in my young eyes) universe. I’ve never read the Star Wars Extended Universe books, but I suspect the feeling was similar to anyone who is a fan of those, a feeling that the world given to us in these initial stories is so vast and unexplored that one can’t help but wonder what else is out there.

At some point, a few years down the line, I read fanfiction less and less. By this point I had been checking out fanfiction from various sources based on all sorts of series and would even actively seek out more unusual titles and concepts. Something in me began to sour, and I could no longer take fanfiction until I almost stopped reading it entirely. Back then, my reasoning was that I disliked the stories being produced for my fandoms, feeling that more than any sort of technical errors the problem was that the writers did not understand the characters. The characters’ actual personalities as displayed in their respective shows were nothing like the personalities displayed in fanfiction, and I asked (no one), “What’s the point of using these characters if you’re not going to actually use them?”

As mentioned in the Ninja Consultant discussion, it seems as if some works these days are simply there as fan fodder. Characters are given basic traits which appeal to the “shipping” side of fandom, and fans are free to ignore or cultivate any “evidence” as to whether or not their “One True Pair” could thrive. Setting aside any original creators’ desires to actively engage this line of thought, by all rights these are the people who are responsible for me leaving fanfiction in the first place.

But really was I, and am I, all that different?

Why do people enjoy pairing unreasonable characters together? To put it simply, it’s because they find the pairing to be hot. No big mysteries there. It’s what makes the Zutara pairing in Avatar so popular: a conflict of emotions, the fire/water dynamic, the idea that “if only they would get together, they would be great.” Of course, the conflict comes from actually getting them together.

Is there something wrong with this? Wanting to dive deeper into a world, to prove through fanfiction that there is so much more to a story, one can say that trying to find deeper subtext in the relationships presented is its own form of exploration. Hell, I can somewhat relate to making unreasonable pairings. I have a rather straight-laced friend who I would like to see date girls that would be all over him 24/7. Why? Because it would entertain me to no end.

Perhaps there is a threshold, and it is crossed when fans begin to believe that their opinions constitute the truth about a work, or even what should be true. This isn’t about creator’s vision vs spectator’s vision or anything of that sort, but rather to what extent people and groups begin to believe their own hype. Other than that, I think people are free to believe in whatever they want.

Even then, such a statement borders on the idea that there’s such a thing as a “right” fan and a “wrong” fan, and really, even if I find certain fans or their reasoning distasteful, I am just one person and I am not a judge of fanfiction. More importantly, I am not a judge of the heart.

After all, as Sasahara once said to Ogiue, no one can stop you from liking something.