Though it can be said that previous games received changes among releases in different regions, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS & Wii U is the first official game in the franchise to receive regular balance patches. With every patch that comes out, people, including tournament champions, aspiring game designers, and just fans of the series give their thoughts and opinions, and a lot of it revolves around whether or not a character is now “good” or whether or not a character who was seen as too powerful is now “fair.”

I’m not a game designer. I’m not even much of a competitor. So, take all of this with its own massive grain of salt. The way I see balance, and the directions of the buffs and nerfs that have happened to the characters in Smash, is that it’s not solely a matter of making a character viable or able to win tournaments, but rather…

1) Making their strategies clear, effective, and unique…
2) While maintaining the identity of the character
3) Allowing them to on some level fight the rest of the cast…
3) While also giving other characters an opportunity to fight back

When it comes to game design, based on what I’ve read and even what I’ve seen Smash creator Sakurai’s comments on game design, 1 and 2 are the most important. He chooses characters for Smash based on what they could bring to the series on a gameplay level, which is why, for example, Bowser Jr. fights in a clown cart and isn’t just a tiny Bowser. It gives him a variety of tools and an overall feel that you don’t get with Bowser, namely the feel of an aggressive trickster. While certain characters over the course of Smash have been “clones,” using other characters as a template with a few tweaks, they’re more time-savers in the development process than anything else, and should be judged differently.

The result is that, when buffing or nerfing characters, I believe that the thinking isn’t “How can we make them just as good as the top characters?” That’s probably not that difficult: just improve frame data, make a bunch of hitboxes bigger, make hits stronger and faster, etc. etc. Rather, it’s about “how can the characters be expressed more effectively?”

In his posts on Miiverse, Sakurai mentioned that the character Marth is meant to fight like a fencer. Thus, he was designed to be weak when fighting in-your-face but does massive damage when striking with the tip of his sword, which requires you to understand and master spacing as a concept. Ever since Super Smash Bros. Melee, the second game in the series, Marth has at his base been all about grace and positioning, and theoretically rewarding players for fighting with that fencing mentality.

However, in both previous games that Marth was featured, he could short hop through the air and do two quick swings with his sword (his forward air), and then recover quickly. The question is, then, does having a double forward-air which he could then recover quickly from upon landing follow along with this fencer archetype? While I think it might be argued either way, I think a lot of people who played and played against the character, as well as probably Sakurai himself, have seen how double forward air is less about grace and more about brute force, just bullying your way through lesser opponents and sometimes even greater ones too. Thus, it’s out, never to be seen again, and instead everything about Marth emphasizes not only being rewarded for good spacing, but HAVING to space well. That’s why his f-smash is shorter than previous games, but it kills earlier than ever. That’s why he has the end lag on key moves but even tilts can kill when spaced properly. It challenges you to be the fencer OR ELSE. All of his (and Lucina’s) buffs emphasize this game plan further.

So why then has Roy changed so drastically from Melee? Again, this is only my own thoughts on how this might have come about, but I think that Sakurai looked back at Melee Roy and what he intended Roy to be, and realized the result didn’t match the planning. He was, as we all know, mainly a worse Marth. So, in order to emphasize the whole idea of having the sword that does more damage up close, and also perhaps giving him a feel akin to Melee, he was given high movement specs, effective throw combos, etc, and in exchange he gets wrecked off-stage. Roy’s character identity becomes a swordsman who charges in and values offense over defense, and any buffs or nerfs that happen to him in the future will likely still reflect this concept.

In other words, Concept/Meaning > Viability from a game design perspective. Of course, it’s not bad if you have both, but balancing a character in the context of a video game isn’t just making them stronger or weaker but doing it in a way that allows the individuality of the character, and thus the person who plays that character, to shine through.

Ogiue Maniax is returning to Otakon in Baltimore this year to cover the biggest anime convention on the east coast and to have some fun. My schedule isn’t set it stone, so there’s probably not much point in saying where I maybe might sort of be, but there’s one place you’ll definitely be able to find me:

GREAT UGLY MANGA

Sunday July 26

10:15-11:15am, Panel 3

Some manga are praised for how gorgeous they look, while others are beloved in spite of their drawings, but what about those manga that are made BETTER by the awfulness of their artwork? Join Carl from the Ogiue Maniax blog and Ed Chavez as we look at some of the best and most entertaining ugly manga out there, and see why there’s no irony when we say that these manga are great.

 

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to be a patron of Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

This month I received the following topic request:

“Keeping interest in your hobbies through the trials of life.”

I wonder if it’s more than coincidence that I would get this at a point where life is busier than it’s ever been. I used to think I understood what being busy meant, and that keeping up with your hobbies is simply a matter of carving out time, like watching shows during mealtime, or playing a game or reading a manga while commuting. That still applies to some degree, but I realize now that sometimes it’s not possible to carve out bits and pieces of time if your spirit isn’t up to it.

Everyone’s day is a bit different, and if the issue is being too busy for your hobbies, the first question that I think needs to be asked is, does your hobby help you mentally/emotionally? What I mean is, when you’re done working through the day or week, whether that’s at a job or in school or taking care of your family, does watching anime, playing games, etc. make you feel better or worse? I don’t mean this is a narrow way either, like the way “healing anime” is meant to provide stress relief, though there’s nothing wrong with that genre. Rather, there are many different ways that your hobbies might motivate you.

Maybe you want to constantly refine your tastes and experience the best of the best. Maybe you need a good laugh. Maybe you see it as an opportunity to bond with friends. Whatever the case may be, it shouldn’t feel like a burden more than anything else. Even if it’s “work” to keep up, there should be some level of satisfaction associated with it. If you have a completionist mentality, then make sure it provides you more joy than disdain, and if you’re the type who enjoys watching shows you hate so you can make fun of them, at least make sure that it provides energy and doesn’t drain you, whether you see it as a form of stress relief or because you believe you have some responsibility to tell others to avoid bad things.

It might also be possible that you’re so busy that you can barely do one thing, and you feel terrible for not being able to keep up with as much as you like. Not being able to watch or play as much as you’d like is why you’re losing energy and motivation. In that case, I think it’s still useful to prioritize in the way I mentioned above, but to think of your lack of time as an inspiration. Look at all of the things you haven’t done or watched or played, and how satisfying it’ll be when you get to it. If it turns out that it’s not so fun after all, maybe put it on the back burner or drop it entirely if that’s your style. Sometimes not finishing something doesn’t mean you didn’t love it enough, it just means you didn’t finish it. That’s all.

The reason why I’ve spent so much time emphasizing this idea of getting energy from your hobbies is that, if you don’t at least prioritize the hobbies that actually drive you forward or give you strength, then the busy days will feel even longer and busier. The problem of not having enough time to follow all of your hobbies isn’t quite the same issue as the problem of burnout, but they are similar in that they can make the day feel longer, and in fact the former can become the latter if those “hobbies” drain your strength. Again, strength in this context can mean many things, and how you define that is a personal matter.

 

EVO finals Sunday is currently underway! I wrote a blog post for the Waku Waku+NYC blog detailing some of what I think are the more interesting aspects of EVO’s history. Here’s an excerpt below:

The Evolution Championship series, also known as EVO, is the largest fighting game tournament in the United States, and it’s set to return to Las Vegas this weekend. Having been in existence for 14 years through multiple iterations of fighting games, technological changes, and even generations of gamers, what I find most fascinating about EVO is that, true to its name, it is both a showcase of a survival of the fittest philosophy, as well as an example of change and adaptation.

I’ve been recently reading the book Passionate Friendship: The Aesthetics of Girls’ Culture in Japan by Deborah Shamoon, which looks at the culture surrounding and created by girls in the early 20th century, which includes magazines that were basically the precursors to the manga magazines of today, and bridges the gap between that period and modern shoujo.

One aspect it talks about that was common at the time was “Class S,” where female teenage classmates had close, intimate relationships with each other, and which became a common subject of fiction for girls’ magazines at the time. These could be interpreted as lesbian but at the time were considered an innocent substitute for male-female relationships (which were so forbidden at the time even seeing boys and girls together was scandalous), with the idea that these “S” relationships would be outgrown as girls became adults and married.

When it comes to more recent anime and manga portraying girls together in early 20th century Japan, the first series I think of is Taisho Baseball Girls, which is a series about girls living in the Taisho Era (1912-1926) who learn to play baseball in spite of the fact that girls weren’t supposed to engage in athleticism. It’s an excellent series, and even after reading Passionate Friendship I still hold that opinion, but it does prompt me to look at the series in different ways.

One aspect that Shamoon talks about is how some of the popular images of the “Class S” relationship would frequently portray one girl dressed in western clothing, and one in Japanese clothing. As Taisho Baseball Girls is set in a specific time period, school is portrayed as an environment where some where the sailor uniforms that are ubiquitous today while others wear kimono, but with “Class S” in mind I have to wonder if there’s supposed to be a bit of subtext in that general direction. The opening to the anime leaves it open enough that it looks like it might be just a close friendship, or something more.

Another plot point in the show is the fact that the main character, Suzukawa Koume, is betrothed to a boy who works at her father’s restaurant. In fact, one of the things I really like about Taisho Baseball Girls is that it contextualizes its feminist angle by showing how the characters both defy and are a part of their culture at the time, and that arranged marriages are one face of that. Koume and her future husband are shown to get along and even have feelings for each other, and yet at the same time there’s this idea that this is Koume’s fate, even if it looks to be a fairly happy one. Compounding the complexity of this situation as well is the fact that the idea of romantic or spiritual love (ren’ai) was only recently introduced to Japan at the time (also mentioned by Shamoon), and so there’s this mix of duty, desire, innocence, conformity, defiance, and more, with a great deal of hindsight.

It really makes me want to watch through Taisho Baseball Girls again every time I learn more about Japanese history and the Taisho period.

Anime is no stranger to characters crying. Whether it’s Kenshiro in Fist of the North Star or the entire cast of Alien Nine, tears are fairly ubiquitous. Over the past 10 years, however, there’s been one studio that’s stood at the top of the salt mine, and that’s Kyoto Animation. When they animate characters bawling, the tears are so physical, so three-dimensional that they practically become characters unto themselves.

Kyoani’s new show, Sound! Euphonium is no exception to this trend. Particularly in the penultimate Episode 12, the main character Oumae Kumiko has a scene where she just cries her eyes out. However, while on a technical level this is what we’ve come to expect, within the contest of the narrative itself the tears in Euphonium they take on a new meaning compared to their old works.

[Spoiler warning]

What makes Kumiko’s tears different and indeed special within the greater works of Kyoto Animation is what they represent. In prior shows, tears generally came from some kind of deep trauma or suffering, as if the characters were so overwhelmed by their particular circumstances or the horrible truths of their existences that crying often meant a kind of cathartic, primal action. Reason gives way to sheer passion, so to speak, and the result is a very Key game-esque scenario, not surprising given how many Key games they’ve adapted.

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 11.01.04 PM

However, in Sound! Euphonium, Kumiko’s tears are specifically tied to her reason and logic. They’re not caused by her simply being overwhelmed by emotion, but are also tied to the fact that she knows exactly what’s causing them. At that point believing that, despite all of the time and effort she poured into improving, that she would be denied the opportunity to play as part of the ensemble in one of the most important points for a Euphonium in their competitive recital, Kumiko’s tears are frustration towards inadequacy. In doing so, those same Kyoani blobs of liquid gushing out the character’s eyes transform from this generally moe trait to actually conveying the sheer weight of failure, or at least the self-perception of failure.

In a way, in older series from Kyoto Animation, the tears were about being not in control of one’s own life. In Sound! Euphonium, there’s still that sense of lack of control, but it’s paired with a character’s earnest attempt to master her own destiny, and to fall short in the process. Sorrow through action, rather than inaction, is what defines that moment in a series that already places more active motivation in its characters than many other similar series.

I wrote a post on the Waku Waku +NYC blog in honor of Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo, who passed away last Saturday at the age of 55. Here’s a sample below:

Yesterday, Nintendo announced to the world that its president, Satoru Iwata, had passed away at the age of 55 due to a bile duct growth. The weight of his death was immediately evident, as fans and industry veterans gave their condolences, but also their respect for a great man in the industry who made a difference in more ways than one.

Name: N/A
Alias: Best Friend (親友)
Relationship Status: Polyamorous Dating/Complicated
Origin: Receptacle

Information:
A girl who regularly discusses her very active sex life with her female friend, she is also secretly in love with her as well. In spite of the fact that her good friend is already in a relationship with a man, this girl begins to date her own friend as well.

Fujoshi Level:
A self-proclaimed fujoshi and shotacon, she believes that there is little difference between otaku and fujoshi in the end because it all comes down to attraction to 2-D.

Hi Score Girl is the story of a beautiful romance where a young gamer who meets a girl who’s even better at Street Fighter II than he is. Though antagonistic at first, they begin to develop a friendship, and eventually something more. If you ever get the chance to read it, I recommend checking it out, as does my good friend Dave of Kawaiikochans fame. It’s a shame that the anime adaptation (and a lot of other things) got cut down at the knees due to SNK arguing copyright shenanigans.

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I noticed a few things about the girl in the story. First, she has long, thick black hair. Second, when she plays Street Fighter II, she picks mainly big, bald, and/or burly characters: Zangief, Dhalsim, E. Honda. In fact, when she plays Final Fight, she selects Haggar. Third, her name is Ohno.

Hmmmmm.

I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence or what, but I’m looking forward to the possibility that one Ohno might cosplay as the other. Also, now that I think about it, the Ohno in Hi Score Girl is more like a cross between Ohno and Sue, given her violent and eccentric temperament.

A couple of days ago Google had a Doodle celebrating the birthday of the creator of Ultraman, Tsuburaya Eiji. I wrote a post over at the Waku Waku +NYC Blog talking about the influence and impact of Ultraman. It talks about the Australian Ultraman, Evangelion, and more.

Interested in Supporting Ogiue Maniax?

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