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With the surprise announcement of Cloud Strife in Super Smash Bros. for 3DS & Wii U, as well as the upcoming mysterious December Smash Bros. special report, I felt inspired to start up a new line of Smash character what-ifs. You can see the previous ones I’ve made below.

King K. Rool (Donkey Kong Country)

Princess Daisy (Super Mario Land)

Geno (Super Mario RPG)

Great Puma (NES Pro Wrestling)

Thinking about how 3rd-party characters in Smash tend to be ones from influential or important games (Cloud), or representative of entire genres (Ryu), I decided to create a moveset and design for Pitfall Harry, the hero of the classic Atari 2600 game Pitfall. If you don’t know who Pitfall Harry is, that’s probably not surprising, as 1) the game is from 1982 and 2) even if you know the game Pitfall Harry doesn’t have much of a presence. After all, this is what he looked like:

Pitfall is significant in that, to my knowledge, it’s the first horizontal multi-screen platform game, and in terms of its implementation on the Atari it is a technical marvel, like creating boeuf bourguignon out of leather shoes and ketchup. Because of this, I think Pitfall Harry could reasonably have a place in a pantheon of gaming icons, however unlikely.

However, the first challenge that presented itself is the fact that Pitfall Harry has no consistent design. In addition to the fact that his original sprite (although amazing for its time) has no real identifiable features, Pitfall Harry across adaptations and sequels changes size, hair, clothes, musculature, personality, and more from one iteration to the next.


Possible Costumes?

As mentioned on the image itself, I decided to prioritize Pitfall Harry’s movements, because they’re what’s iconic about him, while trying to keep his silhouette closer to the original sprite wherever possible. If he can for the most part capture the animations of the Atari 2600 sprite in Smash, then his identity should come through. This should also be reflected in the audio. When he jumps, he should make that distinct Atari noise (or a higher-quality version of it), and when he does his Jungle Swing Pitfall Harry should yell out like Tarzan.

As for the attacks themselves, I feel that Pitfall and Pitfall II are where most of the game franchise’s influence comes from, and so they should be prioritized. His Final Smash is his “deadliest enemy, the crocodiles,” his Balloon recovery move comes straight out of Pitfall II (and is super vulnerable so only useful as a last resort), his Tar Pit trap references both the treasure and hazard aspects of Pitfall, and the Jungle Swing is iconic. The main exception is the Slingshot neutral special, taken from Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure and other sequels. If his son can use it, I’m sure Harry can as well.

Gameplay-wise, I picture Pitfall Harry as being average in weight, average in ground speed, a little above average in air speed, and below average in racking damage and KO power. He’s not that much of a fighter (unlike Mario, jumping on enemies just kills Harry), so he would function primarily as a zoning and trapping character who controls space with his specials, but doesn’t have as much sheer recovery power as Smash 4 Villager. If anything, he’d be closer to Duck Hunt. However, his trapping game is not to be underestimated. Tar Pit works like a souped-up version of a burying attack, both getting the opponent stuck and dealing damage over time. It would also be unblockable, which somewhat makes up for his tether grab. The caveat is that it is very obvious where it is located, with the big glowing gold bar to indicate the trap, but this also means that the opponent best steer clear of the location. Essentially, Harry could cut off a portion of the stage, such as Smashville’s platform or Battlefield’s top platform, and manipulate the opponent to get hit by a Jungle Swing or a smash attack (which would mostly involve fists).

Overall, Harry would emphasize cunning and ingenuity. To succeed as Pitfall Harry requires a clear understanding of space control, as well as adapting to a somewhat unorthodox neutral game.

So, who do you think I’ll be showing next time? I’ll leave you with a hint. “Japan shut down.”

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By this point, you’ve probably heard: against all odds, and against all predictions, Cloud Strife is in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS & Wii U. The very symbol of Square Enix (back then Squaresoft)’s departure from Nintendo consoles, and the most popular Final Fantasy ever, now challenges Nintendo’s greatest icons. I’m not going to show you a hype reaction video (all of my hype tends to be inward), but if you want to see one, this is my favorite.

Instead, I want to talk about this:

smash-cloud-ffvii smash-cloud-adventchildren

(No, I did not purposely use the Japanese trailer, it was just up on the Japanese Smash Bros. page first.)

As you’ve probably noticed, you have the choice between Final Fantasy VII Cloud and Advent Children Cloud. However, what impresses me is that Cloud’s hair is more realistic-looking in his Advent Children model.

That was totally unnecessary to do, but it’s this kind of attention that I love about Super Smash Bros. One aspect of Advent Children is that it updated the designs of the FFVII characters, showing off in the process the advances in 3D graphics that had developed since 1997. What I find especially impressive about this is the fact that the game ends up embracing both versions. While Cloud isn’t blocky like the Akira from Virtua Fighter Mii Costume, there’s still that sense of not just a different hair style but a more polygonal one.

Then again, given Little Mac’s wireframe model, this is exactly the sort of thing I should have expected…if I had expected Cloud at all.

Who’s even left at this point? Who could even top the surprise factor of this? At this point I’m calling Pitfall Harry, the first side-scrolling platform hero.

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The question of how much technical skill or physical prowess should play a factor in competitive games is an on-going debate that really puts at the forefront the tension between “games” and “sports.” I’ve discussed this divide previously in reference to Super Smash Bros. with the intent to understand both sides, but a recent comment by Starcraft and Hearthstone community leader Day[9] has me thinking about the extent to which technical refinement can contribute to the competitive viability of a game outside of the environment of competition itself.

While explaining why he believes that Counter Strike: Global Offensive is the best-designed competitive multiplayer game (emphasis on the word “design”), he organizes his argument into four key points that a lot of the best games tend to share: an engine that encourages interaction, room for strategy, variety of content, and some sort of execution skill with clear reward. In elaborating upon the idea of execution skill, Day[9] explains that it can often be difficult for players to feel a sense of improvement if the goal or evidence of improvement is too abstract. In contrast to the difficulty of tracking your decision-making, getting a basketball into a hoop has a clear goal, and the actions you take towards achieving that goal are immediately noticeable (did this help me shoot more hoops successfully or not?).

The reason why I want to focus on this idea of a high technical or execution skill is, first, that I can totally understand what he means from my own experience playing competitive games, and second, that it really opens up the idea of competitive gaming as being about so much more than just “winners and losers.”

In my time playing Japanese mahjong, I’ve run into a number of hurdles that made it difficult to truly gauge whether or not I’d improved. As much as mahjong takes skill, it’s still a game where luck is a significant factor, and when playing opponents who are equal or better than you, it’s not uncommon to go on a serious losing streak that makes you question if your previous wins were due to luck of the draw or if you’ve indeed progressed as a player. It’s only over the course of many games, as well as by facing players of lesser skill, that it becomes more obvious if your skills have improved. You begin to see the mistakes that you made in the past in the actions of other players, and you understand on a more fundamental level what made those decisions mistakes in the first place.

The big issue is that this is a painful way to go about improvement, and it would not surprise me if most people were not this masochistic about finding out whether or not they have become better players. One has to claw in the dark, finding bits and pieces of light wherever they might appear, and eventually find out if they’re now standing on something stable or a worn-out rope bridge.

Abstract thinking and decision-making are difficult to quantify, which is why something like a Training Mode in a fighting game is so appealing to players. As Day[9] mentions, even if you fall behind in terms of strategy, a game with a “high-variance execution skill band” can give players something to aim for (no Counter Strike pun intended) with very clear rights and wrongs. Compare trying to learn a high-damage combo to trying to understand intrinsically the concept of a “neutral game.” Some players are better at technical execution and others are better at grasping deep concepts, but I think both players would agree that the combo, the headshot, the waveshine are all much more tangible than what David Sirlin calls “yomi,” or reading the mind of the opponent.

This can be a problem, as explained by James Chen when he refers to fighting game players who try to master the art of complex attack patterns (mixups) that cause the opponent’s defense to falter (“opening up the opponent”) without actually understanding the fundamental goal is that you’re trying to psychologically intimidate the opponent into not blocking. James makes an important statement, which is that, while many people believe that the “neutral” (the game state where both players are fully in control and have equal dominance on the field) is all about the mixup, in fact the mixup is the reward you get out of winning the neutral. After all, what use is your amazing mixup and combo game if you never actually get to land it? It’s complex, I know, and it’s amazing that James is able to explain it so well.

Back to Day[9]’s point, what I find to be the major significance of this idea of high execution skill is that improvement becomes almost like a salve, a way of reassuring yourself that you’re not that bad, or that you see a clear path towards getting better. Unlike blaming your teammates (common to DOTA 2 and League of Legends), this isn’t merely a placebo; you’ve still gotten better at your game on some level, and the best players marry brains with brawn. When looking at discussions of competitive games, certain communities such as Super Smash Bros. Melee and Starcraft will tout their games’ “high skill ceilings” with respect to technical skill as signs of their superiority as competitive games and as esports, but the presence of a high skill ceiling also becomes a comforting warm blanket. Even if you falter in terms of strategy and abstract thinking, you have the option to continually improve without needing it because you can advance your execution skill.

When I say that this idea seems to bring competitive gaming away from the competitive environment itself, what I mean is that, even though the improvement of skills (be they mental or physical) are generally supposed to accompany you to the moment of competition (whether it’s a tournament or a ladder), the ability to look back at your progress and declare yourself better than you once were is just as important. “I am not what I was yesterday.” Unlike strategy where the personal rewards can be distant and obscure, execution skill is both a short and long-term confidence booster, bringing the competitive game to be just as much about constructing pride as it is about victory or defeat.

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September I feel was kind of an exciting month, and I think I’ve put out some of my best articles in a while. Chief among them are my review of Love Live! The School Idol Movie and a monthly sponsored Patreon post, “The Rise and Fall of Saimoe.” In fact, even though it’s against the rules of my Patreon, I want to extend my gratitutde to Johnny Trovato, who while no longer a patron was the first to take me up on my offer to write posts based on topics chosen by my patrons. Thanks, Johnny.

Over the past month I’ve introduced a new type of pledge, where you can pledge a certain amount based on your favorite Genshiken character. In all honesty it’s just an excuse for me to make bad puns, so that’s why the amounts are all over the place. Of course, this also means that there are now different categories for sponsor shout-outs.

This month’s special Patreon sponsors are:


Ko Ransom




Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Kyubey Bryant

Hato Kenjirou fans:


I haven’t gotten to all of the Genshiken characters yet, but if there’s one that you really want to see (Kaminaga? The younger Yoshitake? Ohno?), then speak up! It’ll be interesting to see which characters are still the fan favorites after all this time.

As for what’s on the horizon, New York Comic Con is this week, and I’ll be attending all 4 days! Of course I’ll have a con report for everyone to read, and you’ll be able to (most likely) catch me at a number of panels. Of course, given the hectic nature of NYCC, there’s no telling for sure!

Thu. Oct. 8
5:30 – 6:30 pm
VIZ Media Presents: An Evening with Masashi Kishimoto, Creator of Naruto
Location: Main Stage 1-D Presented by AT&T
Panels & Screenings
Fri. Oct. 9
8:00 – 9:30 pm
Love Live! School Idol Project
Location: Room 1A05
Panels & Screenings
Sat. Oct. 10
11:15 am – 12:15 pm
CBLDF Presents: Comics Censorship in 2015
Location: Room 1A05
Panels & Screenings


Though competitive players are but a subset of the grander video game fanbase, if you ever look into the world of competitive fighting games people will throw out terms such as “neutral,” “advantage,” and “disadvantage,” all of which appear to be (and are) key terms to understanding fighting games on a deeper, fundamental level. Often their meanings can come across as obtuse and rather abstract, and what exacerbates this confusion is that people make the mistake of trying to explain neutral before explaining advantage/disadvantage. This is why I’ve written this article. Advantage/disadvantage are much easier ideas to understand compared to neutral, and once you get those two down, the concept of “neutral” follows along more naturally.

Advantage, Disadvantage, and Neutral

So, imagine you’re in a fight. Would you rather be punching someone in the face, or getting punched? Most likely you’d prefer the former, a position where you’re at an advantage.

However, this idea extends more to than who’s getting hit. Would you rather be backed into a corner, or backing someone into a corner? Would you rather be standing with your back towards the edge of a cliff, or forcing someone towards the edge?

All of these positions involve someone who has fewer options available to them. The guy with his back to the cliff  or the wall can’t go backwards, of course, so he has to fight his way out or somehow get around. However, this also makes him relatively more predictable. In contrast, the person forcing the opponent towards the edge can attack if he chooses to, or walk back. He has the luxury of more choices.

One person is in an advantageous position, the other is in a disadvantageous position. “Neutral,” then, is when neither person feels like they have an advantage or disadvantage. Neither one is getting hit, neither has their backs to a wall or has to worry about a 500-ft drop. Both fighters are fully in control of themselves, and their goal is to get the other one into a disadvantageous position.


You’ll often find characters who are considered to be great at neutral, and these are generally characters that have more or better weapons at their disposal when trying to gain an advantage. In this respect, you might see people throw out another common but also confusing fighting game term: footsies.

The idea of footsies derives from what kids would do at a lunch table. One kid tries to kick another kid’s legs. If a kid misses, then the other kid is free to kick that extended leg. Fighting games are kind of similar. If one character tries to punch another, but he misses, his arm is now extended forward, and his opponent can “punch his punch” back. Or, if he anticipates a punch is coming, he can hit more quickly, preventing the attack from happening in the first place (see also Bruce Lee’s original concept of Jeet Kune Do, the “Way of the Intercepting Fist“). When combined with the threat of a cliff or a wall, two opponents will try to trick the other into overextending or doing something predictable, and retaliating accordingly.

Neutral and Psychological Damage

You’ll also often see people say a character in a game is “bad at neutral,” and sometimes they’re right, but take the statement with a grain of salt because a lot of people don’t understand what neutral really is. They think it’s just about who can more reliably get the first hit in, and then whose attacks can lead to more combos, but neutral is just as much about potential damage as it is about actual damage.

Let’s go back to the example with two people fighting. They’re both in “neutral,” standing at the center of their fighting area. However, both want the opponent to be at the edge of the cliff, because as great as it can be to throw 20 punches at someone, it’s even better to throw one punch that knocks them off the edge of a cliff. The potential for greater advantage, and the fear of getting hit, become tools just as important as who actually successfully connects.

Leaving Off

Neutral is often touted as the most important aspect of a fighting game, because it’s where the game begins, where the mind games originate from, and is the most basic area where it’s necessary to understand yourself, your opponent, and the tools each of you have at your disposal. I hope in reading this that you have a stronger understanding of how you can use it in your own game.

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Recently I accomplished one of my goals over the past couple of years: I finally created a team of 9 unique Hanayos in the popular mobile game Love Live: School Idol Festival. Seeing as how tomorrow I’m going to see the Love Live! movie, I think now’s as good a time as any to discuss how I play School Idol Festival  as a fan of the franchise, but also as someone who knowingly restricts his exposure to the game, and creates games within games.

There was a time when I didn’t feel as strongly about Love Live! as a whole. All I knew was that I liked the anime quite a bit, and when I discovered the increasingly popular mobile rhythm game, it introduced me to the collector’s mentality that goes into supporting idols, digital or real. What began as a curiosity became an understanding of how involving the rhythm game with its collectible card aspect, character loyalty, and other aspects could be. The game taunts you with the prospect of buying more gems to give you that next gashapon-esque crank of the lever. If you choose to not give the game money, it then becomes the absolute biggest time sink there is. It’s a dangerous combination not uncommon to mobile games, and seeing the potential threat to my free time that the game posed, I knowingly restricted my goals. Thus, the All-Star All-MaddenHanayo Team starring Jerry Rice became my aspiration. I could pick my battles, prioritize certain events over others, and prevent the game from destroying my free (or not free) time.

While I hit my original goal, what’s funny is that somehow I feel that, by aiming for it so intently, it actually got further away from me. What I mean is that in the process of trying to get 9 unique Hanayo cards, I ended up with full teams of Eli and Umi without even trying. I’m sure there are fans of those two characters who would devote their everything to having full squads, but it was merely a stepping stone in my process. Again, it’s a good thing I didn’t approach the game with a completionist mentality, or else I would really be in trouble.

In the end though, I find that the game was merely supplemental to my fondness to the anime, which is why I’m looking forward to the movie far more than my anticipation over getting the final 9th Hanayo on my team. There’s an interesting disparity between the worlds of the game and the anime, and that has to do with the role of men. While players of Love Live! traverse all sexes, genders, and sexual orientations, there’s still the residual effect of idols classically being a point of desire for guys. A lot of the rewards for playing the game are messages from the girls, who will talk about how they want to be alone… with you.

In contrast, men are virtually non-existent in the anime. This is what perhaps makes it yuri fuel for a certain contingent of the fanbase, and certain characters’ actions acknowledge that men exist in a kind of abstract sense (Nico’s behavior, for example), but a lot of the character dynamics and interactions are pointed towards each other rather than the hypothetical viewer/player. The game is where I show my support as an extension of my fondness for the anime, and even if I ever buy a CD (NicoRinPana of course), then that’ll also be supplemental to my fondness for the overall narrative and theme of Love Live!

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The Super Robot Wars series, which crosses over various mecha anime across history in the form of turn-based strategy video games, is known for trying to make giant robots look their best. One way in which this is accomplished is through the attack animations, which have become increasingly detailed, dynamic, and beautiful as graphics have improved, such that even the less popular and even less good-looking series of yesteryear appear to have a new lease on life.

However, on a few occasions there will be an attack, even an ultimate attack, that will within the context of the source material be followed by failure or tragedy, and I find it pretty funny to see when the makers of the Super Robot Wars games try to compensate for this in some way. Below are a few examples.

(Spoilers for some series below).

The first comes from King of Braves Gaogaigar Final.

The mighty King J-Der, rival and ally to Gaogaigar, launches its strongest attack, the J-Phoenix. In the OVAs, this attack is unsuccessful in taking down the enemy, but of course you can’t have that happen in the video game. I personally interpret that pause at the end of the attack animation in Super Robot Wars Alpha 3 to be a vestige of that past failure.

The second example comes from Shin Mazinger Shougeki!! Z-Hen (also known as Mazinger Edition Z: The Impact!).

In the final battle, archetypal hero Kabuto Kouji sends a shower of Rocket Punches at Dr. Hell, ending it off with a final blow with a “Big Bang Punch.” However, in the actual anime, while the attack succeeds, the consequences are revealed immediately after to be arguably worse than if Kouji had not defeated Dr. Hell. It turns out that Dr. Hell, while evil, was also trying to prevent an even more evil force from succeeding. While this is acknowledged in the Super Robot Wars Z games through its story, as the games move along you can just keep using the attack mission after mission. The fact that the background doesn’t just suddenly turn red to signal further horrific developments almost feels as if something is missing.

The third comes from Neon Genesis Evangelion.

When the Angel Zeruel appears, it’s the toughest enemy that Ikari Shinji and the other Evangelion pilots have ever faced. At one point Asuka, desperate to prove herself, launches a non-stop artillery volley at the Angel, only for it to prove utterly ineffective. In the anime, this is one of the stepping stones to Asuka’s total breakdown at the end of the series, but in the video from Super Robot Wars MX below shows it being used to defeat opponents with few problems.

As I mentioned, most of the attacks in Super Robot Wars don’t really have this issue, and generally it’s all about celebrating their successes and having fun with characters from multiple series working together. Though, if most of the attacks in Super Robot Wars were to come from failures in the original anime, that might say something about where mecha anime as a genre has gone.

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Every so often you may have seen me link to blog posts that I’ve written for Waku Waku +NYC, which is a new Japanese Pop Culture Festival in Brooklyn. Waku Waku +NYC is set for next weekend, August 29th to 30th, and while some of my readers are complete con veterans at this point and others might not have other been to anything of the sort, I encourage everyone to go because it’s going to be a different experience from the typical anime con.

The main things that probably separate Waku Waku +NYC from similar shows is that, in addition to having cool anime guests—like Mega Man and Mighty No. 9‘s Keiji Inafune and veteran anime screenwriter Takao Koyama, who worked on such shows as Saint Seiya, Time Bokan Series, Dragon Ball Z, Slayers, and The Brave Express Might Gaine, —there’s also going to be a huge emphasis on mixing things up. Rather than keeping each all of the various elements of Japanese pop culture in their respective bubbles, Lolita fashion will be encouraged to intermingle with Japanese hip hop and EDM, for example. It’s also going to feature a cool area full of delicious eats called “Savory Square,” which will be serving authentic Japanese food from some of the most notable restaurants in both Japan and NYC. Probably the main attraction is Dotonbori Kukuru, which will be flying in from Osaka to serve the classic Osakan snack, takoyaki.

Waku Waku +NYC will be spread across multiple locations in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. These are the Brooklyn Expo Center, Wythe Hotel, Verboten, Transmitter Park, and Brooklyn Bowl. They’re all within walking distance of each other, but a shuttle will also be available.

I hope you can make it to Waku Waku +NYC. If you come, you might be able to spot me. I’ll be running around the venues conducting interviews.

A number of years ago I was in an online conversation with a friend who refused to be critical of anime. While others argued that this didn’t make sense because every person has to prioritize likes and dislikes to some degree, my friend rebutted that it was not their own role to pass judgment or to push their own taste on others. Rather, what they preferred to do was to match a show with what someone was looking for, a librarian’s approach rather than that of a critic.

While in the end this was only one person with a very particular way of viewing media, I find that it encapsulates an unspoken (or perhaps sometimes unconscious) disagreement among fans within all sorts of popular media, from games to anime to comics as to how people should view and engage with media. This philosophical disagreement can in some sense be described as “modern,” the idea of aiming progressively towards an ideal, vs. “postmodern,” the idea that there are essentially multiple truths.

I will give two examples. The first comes from the popular site Anime News Network, and the other comes from the Super Smash Bros. online community.

Anime News Network is a general anime and manga site with news, an encyclopedia, and reviews. As is typical of a review site, its writers will often talk about a specific work, list their likes and dislikes, what they might find interesting or problematic about a series, and then give letter ratings. On the forums, this inevitably leads to some strong disagreement, where people respond as if they are being personally attacked by the review, while calling the reviewer out for bias.

I’ve seen the argument that ANN forum posters do not understand what it means to a review a series, and that they should not be so close to their anime that they would feel personally offended by a harsh review, but the more I think about it the less I think it’s that simple. Rather, what happens is a difference in how engagement with anime is perceived. The reviewer will tend to state their opinion in a manner to try and convince the audience that, as a reviewer, their thoughts have significance, and while the idea that a review is an opinion is thought to be implied, it’s a tendency of “good” English writing to state things somewhat authoritatively. This results in the sense that the goal of reviews, and what anime fans should be doing, is progressively refining their tastes. The more they watch, the more discerning they should become.

However, many forum-goers see things differently. While they often look towards the review for validation and thus see the reviewer as someone of importance (and indeed when the reviewer and the posters’ opinions align they tend to express positive feelings), there’s also a strong sense that a lot of these anime fans are not trying to become more critical, to develop better taste in anime. Rather, they’re trying to find the anime that suits them on some mental or emotional level, and because some reviews will criticize some social aspect of a work (portrayal of women, for example), this becomes a point of contention because from their perspective it can seem as if the reviewer is trying to invalidate the work and its readers, when it really comes down to a difference in philosophy. From the reviewer’s side, the forum posters might appear to be people with no taste, who don’t understand what reviews are generally meant to do. It’s like two different conversations are happening.

In the case of the fandom surrounding competitive Super Smash Bros., since 2008 there has been an on-going tension between fans of different iterations of the franchise. Amidst frequent arguing over the years, there have been proposals for fans of the different games to unite under one banner and respect and support each other, but almost without fail someone will ask the following:

“Why should I support a game I don’t like/is terrible? What’s in it for me?”

This way of thinking views the Super Smash Bros. games not as different takes on a core idea with varied gameplay experiences, but a series where one game in particular is the best and the others should live up to its example. This assumes that there is one right way to make a competitive Smash game, and that, the further away you get from that approach, the less competitive and interesting a game becomes. More importantly, however, this mindset assumes, rather than bringing in more people of different tastes and opinions, it is better to cull other games in order to further refine the ideal competitive environment.

Relative to the idea of unity across the Smash franchise, it is assumed that supporting “lesser” games is insincere, thus compromising one’s own tastes and, for some fans, going against their “objectively” derived conclusion that their game is simply the best. In contrast, basis for unity, the reason why it is touted as a goal for the competitive Smash Bros. community, comes from a different place. The idea is that, not only does the idea of a fun, competitive game vary from person to person and that those with whom you disagree might see something that you don’t, but that there should also be mutual empathy. Rather than focusing on which game is the best and why fans of the others simply aren’t seeing things correctly, this unity in a sense prioritizes people and their hard work over the games, which implies that, while playing the right games are important, it’s a very individual and subjective choice.

I don’t know if these differences are simply a matter of personality, or upbringing, or just the manner in which people are exposed to their hobbies and interests, but that’s less important to me than having people be aware of these varied mindsets when talking to others. Even though we might all be called “fans” of the same things, even within specific categories there are dissimilarities as to what we consider to be fundamentally important. If you’re an anime fan, what’s more important, the anime or the fan? If you’re a gamer what’s more important, the game, or the er (this is a less effective play on words)? This is not a black or white situation, as different people might even value different aspects of particular media. For example, someone might truly believe that books are in the eye of the beholder, but that music should be held up to higher standards. While this might seem to be hypocritical, I think it’s quite possible for it to be a positive thing, as it potentially allows people to see the other perspective more clearly. Each side, although they might have different goals or motivations, aren’t automatically invalidated.

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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.

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