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Ten 3rd Party Characters Nintendo Should Include in Smash Brother's Brawl

One thing that really bothered my about Smash Brothers: Brawl was that it included so many duplicate convenience characters, who looked almost exactly the same, were from the same game, fought the same, but had a different skin. Why they chose to include Lucas as well as Ness I'll never understand, nor will I understand the inclusion of both Link and Cartoon Link, or (as if Fox wasn't enough), Falco AND Wolf. Come on now Nintendo you're just being lazy. Nintendo opened a whole new can of worms when they started including characters such as Snake in their Smash Brothers series. What they were basically saying was that it was okay to add non-Nintendo characters, as long as those characters have featured in at least one game on a Nintendo console. As long as they can afford to pay out a share of the profits to the companies that own the characters in question, then, the sky is the limit, and Nintendo really should considering bumping their character roster to insane numbers. This got me thinking about some of my favourite characters from old Nintendo games who I would love to see included in Smash Brothers. While being mindful of how much each character's licence might cost Nintendo, here's some of my picks:

Bubsy the Bobcat

Published by Accolade, Bubsy was a comical Sonic style game featuring some weird fast-running cat creature, lots of wacky levels, and suitably quirky music. Accolade are gone now, so paying for Bubsy's inclusion wouldn't cost an arm an a leg, and would be a nice nod to the SNES / Famicom faithful of old.

Alex / Ryan from River City Ransom

Alex and Ryan returned to the Nintendo when RCR Ex was released for the Gameboy Advance some years back, and in Japan they were given many sequels. In the west, they are just as popular, if not moreso, due to their quirky appearance in the original RCR, which was far ahead for its time. Released by the relatively unknown Technos (then later, by "Million" on the GBA), including these cult favourites wouldn't cost Nintendo much at all. Think of the dust-bin pounding, ground-stomping, acro-circus possibilities!

Conker from Conker's Bad Fur Day

Rare have already allowed Nintendo to include characters which were created by themselves, such as Diddy Kong. Even though Diddy was created for a Nintendo originated franchise (Donkey Kong), Diddy was Rare's creation, as were the Proximity Mines (Goldeneye). Conker was one of Rare's best ever characters, and although he might have to be censored slightly for such a kid-friendly game, he was already included in Diddy Kong Racing, after all.

Olaf from Lost Vikings

Olaf comes complete with his large shield, a horned helmet, and a futuristic race car from Rock 'n Roll Racing. Yeah that's right, bring out the hover car with guided missiles! Although Lost Vikings was originally developed by the now super-rich Blizzard, development of later sequels was handed over to the recently defunct Krome Studios Melbourne. Who holds the rights to Olaf? The answer to that would also answer how much his inclusion would cost Nintendo.

Rygar

Another cult classic, Rygar was one strange little game on the NES, which was unfortunately sullied by its sequel years later on the PS2 and Wii. Tecmo was the company responsible for his creation, the same company who created Dynasty warriors and Dead or Alive. Yes, Rygar might cost Nintendo quite a bit in licensing, but his host of interesting weapons and gadgets would make him a welcome inclusion into the brawler.

Rash from Battletoads

Another character developed by Rare. Rash was practically made for Smash Brothers! With hands which morph into anvils and hammers, and heads which spontaneously grow horns when head-butting oversized demon pigs. I'm unsure which publishing company holds the rights to Rash, but many of those listed in its long history (such as Tradewest) are now defunct, so it very well could be in Rare's hands.

Ebishimaru from Mystical Ninja

Forget Goeman! It's all about Ebishimaru (the fat one)! With his comical walking, drawling on his back, and insane Japanese dialog, Ebishimaru would be a fan favourite for those who remember the original Goeman / Mystical Ninja series. He throws coins, he hits people with umbrellas, and summons giant robots named Impact ("dash dash dash!"). Konami currently hold the rights to Ebishimaru, and let's be honest, those guys aren't poor, so they would probably ask for a nice fat slice of the profits if Nintendo wanted 'Bishy, but they most recently returned the Mystical Ninja series to the Nintendo DS, so who knows?

Jake Armitage from Shadowrun

The greatest western-made game for the 2nd generation Nintendo console? Very possibly. The guy might have looked liked a Nazi torturer, but damn could he hack. Not to mention shoot guns, summon magic, and call on the aid of his massive troll bodyguards. Data East created Jake for Shadowrun on the SNES, and they have long since dispersed. With no foreseeable Jake Armatage sequel, how much could it really cost Nintendo to include him in the next Smash game?

Earthworm Jim

Don't pretend you don't want him on your roster. Jim appeared on most consoles back in the 90's, and although his game wasn't a masterpiece, simply being on the Nintendo at one point makes him a viable candidate for Smash inclusion. His cartoon-like appearance and fantastic moves and weapons also makes him ideal. Plus, who could say no to an Earthworm stage, complete with orchestrated cartoon theme? An alternative to Jim, should Nintendo fail to obtain his rights: The Tick. Oh yes, I went there.

Julie from Zombies Ate My Neighbours

Water guns, lawnmowers, holy relics, inflatable clown decoys, and six-pack fizz bombs. Do I really need to say much more?

Video Games: The Superior Storytelling Medium

Video Games: The Superior Storytelling Medium

There's a very deliberate flaw in the heading of my blog entry. You see, it's a lie. Most people will probably see that heading and instantly disagree, and so they should. However, place one word in that subject line, and suddenly it becomes arguably quite true. The word is "potentially".

They offer unique possibilities in the area of story telling and audience involvement that no other medium of art or entertainment can offer. They excel in areas that other mediums do not, making up for the brevity of films, the formulaic nature of TV, the forced perspective of 2D visual art. They are vastly untapped and hugely underrated by those with limited imaginations or pre-conceived bias against the industry.

So let's take a look at the competition, and see what video games are up against, and in which ways they are potentially superior or inferior.

Comics

Comics have only recently been accepted as a legitimate art form, but they have always been indisputably considered a notable form of entertainment involving storytelling. Visually, they tell a story without limitations on budget for special effects, realism, or author imagination.

But their narrative itself feels somehow lacking at times. The time-consuming task of telling a story through a series of pictures often limits the possibilities of the story itself, especially when it comes to character development or pacing. Although a comic with a brilliantly told story is indeed possible, there are certain unavoidable limitations to comic narrative, including but not limited to the possibility of music.

Video games, on the other hand, have no such limitations. In the time it takes a comic company to create a single visual novel, which lasts perhaps a few hours of reading time, a game developer could tell a story that lasts weeks, and fuels its intricate character development and twisting plot lines with a beautiful score and fully explorable environments.

(Video:Batman Arkham Assylum, based on a comic but does things that no comic ever could.)

Television

In many ways, the potential of television shows feels nearly as untapped as video games. Up until recently, that is. Shows such as Lost, Breaking Bad, Dexter, 24 and the forthcoming Game of Thrones have shaken off the formerly restrictive cliché of serialised episodic narrative, and instead tell a story at their own pace, where characters grow and things change, people die and nothing is completely predictable.

Although they sometimes offer beautiful scores, and even huge budgets to deliver their massive and lengthy stories, the flaw of television shows comes from the undeniable fragility of their existence. They all are -- in one way or another -- around at the whim and economic viability of the networks. A show doesn't meet the required audience target, and it has a few episodes to wrap up its entire story, whether its ready or not. As an artistic medium, there's something a little wrong about that.

Video games, while they are indeed subject to the demands of publishers (and yet, not always), usually get to finish their stories before the plug is pulled on them. Not only that, but the episodic nature of television still demands a form of cliff hanger at the end of each and every episode, and fitting chunks of entertainment into neat little 45 minute slots can make (and indeed, has made) narrative possibilities of the medium somewhat limited.

(Video: Alan Wake.Didn't sell well. So as a TV show, wouldn't have made it past episode 3)

Film

Film was once like game. Many refused to see it as a legitimate art form, even while avant garde artists created experimental moving pictures that truly broke the mould and expanded upon all former possibilities and limitations of art. Nowadays, films often tell stories that are entertaining, moving, grand of scope and intricately told. They have outstanding acting and music with which to deliver their stories, and their directors often put such thought into even the smallest of shots that the atmosphere of a great film can be almost unbeatable.

Almost, that is, but for video games. The atmosphere of a great game can be likewise heightened by brilliant music and masterful use of cinematography, but it has one distinct optional advantage that film does not. Interactivity. Think back to the first time you played a good survival horror game. Did you slowly find yourself so immersed in the projected reality that you found yourself slipping into the shoes of the protagonist? The nature of giving the audience control over the protagonist is such that some small part of your subconscious feels like it is actually there, and when those zombies first attacked you in that survival horror game, didn't you feel different to all of the times you've watched similar horror movies? Not only that, but games with a degree of choice and consequence actively force the spectator into an emotional involvement with the supporting cast, and perhaps even the fictitious universe itself. While this might not be technically better than something that a film can offer, simply having this possibility -- this narrative tool at your disposal -- is something unique to gaming, and something which film can never offer.

Of course, all immersion and interactivity aside, a film costs sometimes billions to make, and is forced to squeeze its story into 3 hours at the most, which is often a very damaging factor to films, especially those based on books.

(Video: Resident Evil, which scared us all in totally new ways when it first came out)

Gallery Art

They say that a picture speaks a thousand words, and that might even be an understatement. Although visual art doesn't often aim to tell a story, it usually does, in one way or another. The story might not be linear; it might simply be a feeling or a hidden message, but it is still a story, and often a very powerful one.

Without dwelling on the obvious advantages video games have over this medium of story telling, let's compare the one thing already mentioned as a positive aspect of visual art. The picture itself. Of course, there's simply no denying that no game has ever come close to the visual artistry or imaginative depth of some images and sculptures created by the greatest of humanity's artists. But we're talking potential here, so imagine for a second that you could step into a Cezanne painting, or explore a full world populated by the imaginings of Salvador Dali. Picture a game universe created with the visual styIe akin to Picasso's later works, but with equal originality and artistic scope. Now step beyond that picture, and actually explore those images in your mind. Stand by a lake made up of impressionist brush strokes, and spend as much time there as you like, watching raw art just drift by, and then go to the other side of the lake, and explore the story found in that part of the painting. True enough, a sculpture already has a similar exploitative narrative involved in its artistic imagery, but picture an entire world populated by such sculptures, and then explore them at your leisure. The reality itself becomes the story - becomes the sculpture.

(Video: Flower, tells a story without words, about a beautiful world that we are ruining)

Books

Reading through some comments and threads on Gamespot, I noticed an opinion trend that more than one person seemed quite outspoken about. 'If you want a good story, go read a book', they said. True enough, books are regarded as the pinnacle of story telling by many, even in this day and age, where the visual and musical absolutely dominate our lives and entertainment. And rightly so. Games, thus far, have seldom come close to the scope, length, depth and believability found in the stories by the greatest authors of all time. Books can be written quickly be just a single person, and can explore not only the relationships between characters, but their innermost thoughts and feelings. They give us a world painted by the seemingly limiting palette of words alone, but by using only words, the world comes alive in our minds. We flesh out what the words say, as if we were dreaming the reality presented to us and filling in the blanks, and in doing so we form a basic emotional attachment to the memories made in reading. The creative process is activated when we read in a way that no other medium of story telling could possibly provoke; we create as we explore, and that is a powerful thing indeed.

To say that games have not matched the narrative level of books could be a true statement. But to say that games never will would be a limited and somewhat blinkered view of what is possible, and the potential of the interactive medium of storytelling via games. Firstly, we have the fact that games offer visual and audible components of their stories, and music can be even more powerful than using our imagination. A piece of music alone could be considered art, or a story, and when combined with a well-written and performed script, or a tragic visual scene, games would seemingly have a distinct advantage.

But all obviousness aside, what about the aforementioned creative process and audience participation (through imagination) which books offer? In many ways, the creative process is also at work while playing a video game. Though this might not be true in all of us, and certainly not in all games, it is possible to imagine aspects of a game as we play through it in a very similar way to which we imagine as we read. If we are given choice in a game -- choice over the creation, development, and personality over a character WE create -- not only does it sometimes force us to directly use our imaginations to play a certain role, but it also leaves certain blanks in that character's history and personality which we are free to imagine as we like. Oblivion and Fallout are both very good examples of this. The motivations of what our characters choose to do can simply be a matter of what we feel like doing at the time, or they could be born from a very complex personality we have created for our characters. Moreover, such games give us a world, not just to explore, but also to inhabit. Where we make our homes, who we decide to like, what profession we take, all things provoke a small degree of imaginative reasoning. Perhaps not to the same degree as which books instigate the creative process, but there is still the same basic attachments formed in the characters we create, and even the decisions we make and how we deal with other characters within the world.

(Video: Jade Empire, based on cIassic chinese novels, encourages imagination by decision making)

Video Games

When you combine all of these advantages; from the visual to the musical; from the interactive to the lengthy, you start to see the potential of video games. And pretty soon developers are going to start realising this too, even as the industry grows and begins to outshine many of the other storytelling mediums. Maybe soon game developers will start to realise that a good story in an adult video game is not only optional, but essential.

Perhaps games have not yet reached their full potential of narrative excellence -- and perhaps they never will -- but the day that they do, it will be something very special indeed.

(Video: Dreamfall, my personal favourite storyline in a video game ... so far)

What's My Motivation?

With the rising popularity of Bioware and Bethesda RPGs, more and more games on the market are adopting the Bioware gameplay mechanic of choice and consequence. Just recently, the downloadable Faerie: Legends of Avalon opted to borrow the very familiar "conversation wheel" feature from the Mass Effect series, and there have been rumours that Bunjie's latest IP might be entering a similar realm of video game interactivity. It's of little surprise to us gamers who already favour this type of interactive storytelling in our games, as the possibility to craft an in-game personality is hugely alluring. Even more-so when coupled with the possibility of fleshing out that character using a series of encounters where you have a choice in the decisions you make, the conversation avenues you pursue, and the friendships you nurture (or destroy). So there is certainly a good demand for this approach to RPG making.

But as these games of choice, consequence, and interactivity continue to grow in complexity, many of us are left with a choice. Do we play our game character as ourselves, or do we play them as a true role play character; a role of our own creation? Many will never deviate from the typical desire to project their own avatar into such worlds, possibly from their need to fulfil their own fantasies as if they were the protagonist. Others merely opt for a single play-through as a generic good character, and then another play-through as a generic evil character. The rest of us (though our number may be few), find ourselves spending hours planning and building fictitious personalities ready for fleshing out within the games themselves. Often, these imagined roles for us to play will become so complicated that we might find ourselves really slipping into character as we attempt to see through the eyes of our created persona, or getting frustrated when a game doesn't give us a fitting option for our character.

With the increasing frequency of similar games -- and with the looming releases of Deus Ex 3, Dragon age 2, and Mass Effect 3 this year -- we might be finding ourselves coming up short with new character ideas. So I've created a little list of RPG personality concepts, most of which I've played in the past and enjoyed a great deal. Maybe you will have already played as all of these personality types, or maybe you've never really considered playing through Fallout as anything other than a pure "evil" or a pure "good" character. You might not find this list helpful at all, but either way, it's fun to consider. The list goes from moral blacks to whites, with a bunch of greys in between.

1] The Sadist

The sadist is definitely the most base of "evil" personalities, but at the same time, quite a realistic one, if played well. Your character enjoys inflicting harm on other people, insulting people, or doing messed up things to their rag-doll physics corpses (yes, Bethesda, I'm talking to you), or perhaps all of the above. Your character might not always pick the most vile options, because sadistic doesn't always mean unintelligent, and it doesn't always mean that they want to hurt everyone, just that they are disturbed in some very deep ways.

Your character might be like this because they were abused a kid, or witnessed some horrifying murder as a baby (Dexter), or perhaps they were just born without any empathy at all. It's easy to put the sadistic characters down to just being pure "evil", but give it more thought than that. Why are they "evil"? What makes them so angry, or so cold?

While it might be fun to play the pure sadist without any redeeming qualities or restraint, it can be equally fun to play them as being crafty and sly; only baring their fangs when they know they can get away with it. Alternatively, try playing them as a vicious homicidal maniac who exercises deep restraint, and somehow finds redemption at the end of your story.

Oblivion's Sadist

Oblivion's sadist assassin, who lives, breathes, worships, and eats death.


2] The Power monger

I love playing the power monger. It's simultaneously lots of fun and comes with the convenience of eventually having a comparatively stronger character. Your character will seek out power in all its forms above all else -- sometimes at the expense of all others around them. They will make deals with devils, steal from the poor to give to their own pockets, and cut nearly any throat (if they think they can get away with it) on their road to absolute power.

History has been full of these characters, and although not all of them were "evil" in the typical definition of the word, they were almost all very selfish, which is the key emotion behind this type. Often they received -- or were born into -- a small taste of power or status when they were younger, and this awoke a deep desire for more. The alluring power your character seeks could come in the form of riches, status, fame, respect, or simply raw and massive magical strength.

However, some power mongers do not seek power for purely selfish reasons. As in the case of Anakin Skywalker, your character's ambitions may have started with a desire simply to protect what they love. But the road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions.

Also, many typical power monger characters come with the obligatory Darwinian philosophy that the weak do not deserve to live unless they can gain power on their own volition. Such philosophy can be found frequently when playing games such as Dragon Age (Morrigan), KOTOR2 (Kreia), and most noticeably, the way of the closed fist from Jade Empire. This type of character might not even consider themselves evil at all, quite the reverse, in fact. Did Hitler consider himself evil? It's hard to say for sure.

Jade Empire's Power Monger

Jade Empire, where you can almost literally become a god.


3] The Bitter Cynic

A character type I recently settled on using for a re-run of Knights of the Old Republic 2. The bitter cynic, is, as the name describes, bitter and cynical. Your character is pissed off. He mad! He very mad indeed. This character is basically so disillusioned with life and the universe that they either justify every evil action, or they hate everything. As an example, you could consider Nico Bellic from GTA4 a great example of a bitter cynic character.

Something happened in your character's past that make them bitter towards most things, and unable to see the good in anything. Perhaps they just have extreme depression, or maybe they were just born with the ability to dismiss all idealism and place everything and everyone in the "don't trust them" pile.

Perhaps they aren't anywhere nearly as "evil" as the first 2 personality types, and maybe they have good intentions. For example, I'm currently playing as a character who despises injustice, which was the main thing to turn him bitter and cynical, but in the end, he's still just an old angry man with no desire to get involved in wrongs that surround him, because he learned the hard way that there is never a "good" and "evil" side; just an evil one. You could also offset this very pessimistic personality with a wicked sense of sarcasm, making your conversations with party members both (initially) mistrustful and hilarious.

Knights of the Old Republic 2's Bitter Cynic

Knights of the Old Republic 2 gave us the perfect place to start as a bitter old cynic war veteran.


4] The Pragmatist

Often portrayed as the darker of two paths to be taken, particularly in the Mass Effect games. The pragmatist character believes in the needs of the many, and not the needs of the few. They aren't inherently evil, they often just believe that two wrongs sometimes do make a right. Your character probably believes in torturing terrorists and allowing civilians to die if it means winning the war. They might even at times go as far to do these things themselves to get what they believe is ultimately right. To them, the ends always justify the means.

More often than not, this type of character is born out of a sense of duty, usually to their government or military arm. As such, they might consider themselves a tool rather than a "good" or "evil" person, which could even lead to feelings of guilt later down the line, leaving room for interesting character development or even complete change.

Deus Ex's Pragmatist

Deus Ex, where expendable is merely a matter of opinion


5] The Mercenary

The mercenary could be seen as the most simple of all the possible roles, but its also a ton of fun, and also quite realistic. Money, as they say, is the great motivator, and your character has it foremost in their minds.

Your characters greed doesn't always mean that they have to be evil, just that their selfishness sometimes gets in the way of them doing the right thing. Their love of money indicates a love of pleasure, so they could also be combined with type 6 in this list.

My favourite example of a good mercenary character is Han Solo from Star Wars. And with that example, you start to see how fun this role can be. Rebuffing NPC attempts at getting you to do the right thing with constant selfish indifference and incessant whining about not getting paid can make for some hugely fun dialogue. On the other hand, you could opt to play the type of mercenary who also quite enjoys killing, and has absolutely no loyalties, making them able to switch sides at the drop of a hat.

Fallout 3's Merc

Never is greed more tempting than in Fallout 3


6] The Playboy

In many ways similar to the mercenary in that selfish desires drive them, but with a certain slant they can become an entirely different character. Your character, in taking this role, enjoys nothing more than laughing, joking, drinking, stealing, gambling, and sleeping around as much as humanly possible.

It's not just the gain that motivates them, but the chase, which often makes them less of a selfish character than the merc, if you so desire.

Playing this very common type at least once in every major choice/consequence game can lead to some very entertaining conversation lines, particularly with jilted or jealous lovers. Though it's difficult to know which direction to go when things get more serious, in this way the character feels more real somehow, as you begin to see events through their eyes. In progressing with this type of pleasure seeking playboy, many players find that their character very naturally evolves into something slightly more serious and thoughtful as the story itself progresses in a similar direction.

Baldur's Gate's Playboy

BG2 allows for romance options with many characters.


7] The Judge

Your character sees themselves of something of a judge, jury, and executioner all roled (if you'll forgive the pun) into one. He or she sees injustice, and flips out a little bit, and in this way they couldn't be considered fully "good" in any typical sense, because of their tendency to kill whoever they think deserves it. Some examples of this type of character include Jack Bauer (who is also partly a pragmatist) and The Punisher.

Their motivation could be a mixture of a life of constant injustice, and an innate and powerful anger at seeing this injustice. Perhaps a great injustice was dealt to them early in their life, or perhaps they have their own desires for vengeance locked away, which they project onto any injustices they witness in their travels. For example, they might be seeking revenge for the slavery inflicted upon their people or family, and as such, they fly off the handle whenever they see somebody being used in a slave-like manner.

The degree to which your character adheres to their sense of honour and justice is yours to decide, but could range from a knight-like princely hero who only gets violent with the most deserving of villains, and a mouth-frothing nut-job with barely-controlled feelings of rage towards people who litter or cross the road without looking both ways. But whatever noble slants you want to put on the judge, at their core they are still being judgemental, and often pushing their views of right and wrong on others.

VtM's Judge

Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines is an often overlooked game of expansive choice


8] The Idealist

The idealist has an idea of how life should be in their heads, and there are lots of colourful roses in that picture. When they see something that doesn't quite fit that idea of how the world should be, they try to fix it, no matter how unrealistic it might initially seem. They are, in many ways (though not all) opposite to the pragmatist type described earlier, and believe in the needs of the one without always looking at the bigger picture. Or perhaps they do look at the bigger picture, but they think the bigger picture sucks.

The source of your character's idealism could spring simply from a sweet naivety, or it could be something more complicated such as a sense of right and wrong instilled in them by a religion, or a parental figure with very definite ideas of how to fix the world. Usually -- but not always -- the idealist will make reckless decisions such as putting a vital mission at risk for the sake of one life and the ideology that "no one gets left behind". However, their often excessive emotional attachment to allies and friends can sometimes lead to their making stupid mistakes, or jumping in the deep end of situations that neither concern them, nor are as simple as they might have initially seemed. Their emotional flaws and strengths married with their attractive belief in an ideal universe gives them a certain interesting and entertaining flavour.

Fable 3's Idealist

Fable 3 forces the player to choose between idealism and saving lives

9] The Monk

Rather than simply going for a typical paladin figure who slays evil at every turn but is quick with mercy and kind words, I've always opted to play a more complicated figure. Just as nobody is truly fully "evil", nobody is fully "good" either.

The Monk, in many ways, is similar to a Jedi type of character. He or she strives for goodness, justice, honour, peace and all of those other things, but believes those things are only attainable through one's own peace, and as such, attempts to distance themselves from emotion and the turmoil of relationships with others. They often avoid violence at all costs, and only use it as a last resort, favouring persuasion and live capture to violence or execution.

The ideology of your monk-like character could go even more extreme, though. For example, your character might believe that violence is only acceptable in defence of those in immediate physical danger, and that getting involved in things that might be technically legal, such as slavery or corporate greed, just wouldn't be right. They could avoid physical and emotional attachment to their allies at all costs, which might end up forcing your character down a seldom-trodden 'loner' path, increasing the challenge of the game itself. Or perhaps your character has a deep dark side, bubbling away somewhere inside, and maybe that side could flare up at some point in the story?

Despite the challenges though, the stoic and/or saintly monk like character can be rewarding and interesting, just in a completely different way.

Alpha Protocol's Monk

It is in fact possible to complete Alpha Protocol without killing a single person, if you want


Other Concept Ideas

The Coward

The Obsessive Madman

The Anarchist

The Stoic

The Proud Noble

The Spoiled Brat

The Hero Complex

The Zealot

The Manipulator

What about your ideas? What characters have you played before in such games of choice and consequence? What were your favourite games to play as such characters?

Gaming Subculture Fails, Part 1: The Fanboy

You are not your ******* dogtag.

Tyler Durden wants you to understand: You are not your ******* dog tags

Ahh subcultures. The nightmare of every 14 year old nerd, and the delight of every 14 year old cheerleader. Categorizing people into 5-10 creeds has become something of an art form in the past 10 or 20 years. New genres of subculture come and go, but the aim of them remains the same; to unify and to mock.

Although "gamer" didn't start off a subculture, the introduction of the label into the popular eye of the masses slowly came about as gaming became less synonymous with geeks, and more of a thing that included people of all shapes, sizes, colours, and backgrounds (the gender thing is still unfortunately up for debate, as we'll get to in part 4 or 5). We now have our own fashion, our own music (Powerglove and Minibosses anyone?), our own clubs in highschools and even our own hangouts. What started out as simply a term used to label a person with an avid interest in hardcore gaming has slowly evolved into a faction all of its own.

While the invention of the gaming subculture isn't an evil all on its own (any more than the usual evil that subcultures bring), its how we as a subculture have degenerated that makes me despair for humanity. Once upon a time we were a rather select breed of nerds and geeks; RPG fanatics, FPS experts, and RTS elite. We gamed therefore we were gamers. But slowly, and unfortunately, gamers have dumbed down and become much more annoying as our popularity has increased. Kinda like Greenday.

So here are a few things in the gaming subculture that really annoy me personally. This isn't saying a lot, because I probably need anger management, but maybe you'll agree with one or two of the following points.

Point 1: Fanboys

Though the idiotic term might have originated from another medium of entertainment entirely, it has since come to be used most often when referring to rabid fans of a certain console.

Why would somebody go fanboy over a certain console, you might ask? Aren't we all gamers, and aren't all consoles simply different platforms for experiencing games? We can all just get along, right?

False!

A bunch of tools, in a box, with an x on it ... ahhh you get it now.

Look inside, fanboys, you might see some of your friends

Like the divisions of tribes, slowly the 4 major gaming platforms (yes I include PC fanboys, wow they are the MOST rabid!) have bread fans that literally want to rip eachother's faces off for the simple reason that somewhere down the line they started liking a particular console, and now all the other systems are total trash and inferior. Their irrational hatred for "rival" systems is only upstaged by their vehement hatred aimed at the fanboys of said "rival" systems.

What do they care? Why are they getting so worked up? Surely, you wouldn't get Nike and Adidas fans screaming at eachother over which manufactures the whitest sneakers, would you? You let Nike and Addidas fight it out, because what do you care which company earns the most money in a year, or shifts the most goods? Evidently, console fan boys care. They care A LOT.

What I personally find exasperating about the whole fanboy thing is how they care about the result of the "console wars" so much that they've been suckered into doing the dirty work FOR the manufacturers. Not ONLY do they advertise for Xbox, Playstation, PC and Nintendo, (free of charge!) but they also go out of their way to do stupid things like buy every shovelware game that comes out on the system and justify it by saying to themselves "it's okay, the money is going to Sony, who I love, and worship, and will serve as my master for all time. Warning! Warning! Nintendo fanboy proximity alert! Heckles activated! What does he mean Sony stole Nintendo's ideas? Does not compute!"

So congrats fanboys of all the systems! You're not only consumers; you are now also neat little loyal marketing machines. They couldn't have asked for more than you're giving them, I bet they are jumping around for joy.

The console wars escalate to new levels.

2026: The console wars escalate to new levels.

The future of fanboys? I picture a football-hooligan brawl on the streets outside of E3 2026, where Xbox nerds - coated with big green X facepaint - swarm the terraces of the sectioned-off PC fans and beat them with bricks until they all die.

Or we could just make a multi-platform Smash Brothers MMO fanboy brawl?

Phillips CDI squad, attack!!

Next time, part 2: Teabagging!

Puerile Maturity

Okay, so let's talk about maturity in modern gaming.

Back in the days of the Super Nintendo, a game was released - first onto the arcade market - called Mortal Kombat. It was one of the first games to use "maturity" of any sort, at least by the standards of modern reckoning of the definition of the word "maturity" when used in gaming circles. Without restraint it allowed players to rip apart opponents in as many different grotesque, over-the-top, blood spurting, organ grinding, skin charring ways as humanly possible.

Of course, it was an in instant hit. Perhaps it was even more popular than Street Fighter, at least for a few months or so. The fact is; KIDS love to see blood gushing out of people in any entertainment medium imaginable, so for them to interact real-time with the blood gushing was something they'd only ever beheld in their wildest dreams. I myself, as a 13 year old boy at the time, adored Mortal Kombat, because I loved violent games and films.

Why is it then, that over-the-top unrealistic violence in video games no longer particularly appeals to me? Simply: because I have grown up. I no longer judge a film or a game based on the amount of gory violence contained within. Unlike the majority of gamers, who never really grow up at all, I now look past the streams of blood and the nudity and the excessive swearing, and I look at the game itself, because all of that "mature" stuff is only skin-deep. It's irrelevant. It matters about as much as the level of violence in a classic novel by any of the great authors, or the amount of swearing in an emotionally engaging and well-composed piece of music.

So what then, is this word "maturity" that people keep banding about in relation to excessive games? They aren't using it to describe the rating classification of the game, because the word is often used in context with 12+ and 16+ games, rather than just the "M" (for mature) and 18 rated games. And they certainly aren't using it to describe the level of sophistication in a game, or the artistic, grown up, cultured content that most children aren't mature enough to comprehend or appreciate. They are mistakenly using the word "maturity" to describe scenes in gaming with unrealistic amounts of blood, risque sexy scenes, and excessive cursing.

And these things are a celebrated facet of gaming today. People ACTUALLY favour judging a game based on how much blood and guts there are, or how much the character swears. You see it on comments for game previews all over this very site. 'Finally! A "mature" game for the Wii', they say, or 'This is a mature game, not the sort of game you'd show to your grandma'. Hey, guess what kiddies? Your grandma is three times as "mature" as you, and you just proved it.

But here's the amusing thing. Most of these very same people that say these things are 12 to 16. They celebrate this "maturity" because their parents let them experience it in video games, and it makes them feel all grown up and cool. They enjoy it not because it makes a game realistic, but because it appeals to them as juveniles, in the same way as the forbidden fruit appealed to Eve; because it was forbidden.

Game producers know this. And so they make games for "hardcore" (read in a gruff movie-trailer voice) games in the hopes that kids will buy them, or at least men with kid brains (which is what most of the producers actually are). They know that it's simply not cool to play games with colourful sprites and cartoony animations. Doing so would be childish, right? And the last thing a teenager wants to look is like a kid! Heaven forbid they look like the child they actually are, when at the very same time, grown men and women of epic maturity are sitting around playing Ico and actually enjoying it, because they know things such as gore in gaming does not equate to excellence.

Maturity is not evidenced by over indulging in "adult" things. It is evidenced by RESTRAINT.

Let's take some examples. No More Heroes for the Wii is one of my least favourite games of this generation. Now, I've nothing against the excessive adult content of the game. Indeed, when such things are used in a truly mature and intelligent game, they can actually aid it rather than hinder. My gripe with No More Heroes is how particularly juvenile it is. Everything from the plot to the characters to the "mature humor" (quoting a gamespot reviewer), to the gameplay itself is shallow, uninspired, unoriginal, and quite honestly could have been written and produced by a bloodthirsty 12 year old. Why, then, do games like this get called mature? Why are the adult aspects of these games celebrated as 'being games for grown-ups' when in actual reality, when you really examine the game it's as puerile and simple minded as a chimp.

Also, take the Prince of Persia series as an example. The first game in the series is generally considered to be the least of the three modern outings. Despite a superior artistic feel, better voice acting, a plot that makes more sense, and music that culturally and atmospherically fits the setting itself, the first game in the series is not considered as mature as the others. Then move onto the sequel; Warrior Within. While still a very good game, the series suddenly abandons logic, historical accuracy, continuity, musical accuracy and originality in favour of out and out bloodthirsty killing, with as much cleaving people in half and scantily clad warrioresses as you could ever hope to squeeze into a spotty juvenile teenager's wet dream. Is the unrealistic amount of gore and cleavage mature in any way? Adult themed, perhaps. But mature does not mean exactly the same thing as adult.

But I'm not going to make a point of arguing definitions. What I'm arguing is against the premise that "maturity" for the sake of "maturity" is a good thing, when it really isn't. Of course, when placed in a truly grown-up game, explicit content can help the realism, or even advance the plot. But it should never be used simply for the sake of appealing to the masses.

Nudity, gore, excessive cursing ... these things should only ever be used where it is essential, because if it gets used as much as possible just so that the game is slapped with an M rating (and by extension sells more copies), the game is cheapened, and the producer's tactics on selling games becomes cheap. The game producers themselves become cheap in stooping to the whims of the brain-dead hordes. Using sex, gore or cursing to sell a product is like selling a broken car all dressed up and polished as brand new. They're essentially churning out sub-par games, and they are safe in the knowledge that these games will sell in their droves, simply because they've included a suitable amount of blood.

Is that acceptable to you? If it is, then I know which of the two categories of gamers you fall under, and it's certainly not the mature one.

ANY game can have blood and swearing and tons of cleavage, but these things do not a good game make. A good game is like a good piece of music. It either entertains like freaking crazy, or it paints a picture and makes you reflect on it, but neither of which require the mandatory inclusion of "maturity".

So why is explicit content so popular in gaming? Is it realism that the masses crave? Or is it just plain bloodthirstiness? I believe that the mere fact that people judge the quality of a game based on how excessive and offensive it is, speaks for itself. Don't believe me? Go read people's reviews on M rated games and see for yourself their comments about how awesome all the blood and gore and swearing is. WHY is that so awesome? Maybe it's just me and I don't get it because I've outgrown the teenage bloodthirsty stage, or perhaps some people never grow out of that. But personally, I think the type of person that never grows out of that is the type of person that should be avoided.

Not that video games make people violent, because I'm not sure that they do. But it says something slightly creepy about a person that will engage in a form of interactive art simply and exclusively for the chance to simulate hurting people as much as possible. Is that not worrying to you?

Sure, it's slightly different with swearing and sex. Swearing is a part of modern life, and sex is very natural. But it's using these things excessively in games simply to boost their ratings - and not as an essential plot element - that I'm complaining about. The type of person that will judge a game to a higher standard if the characters all curse non-stop without regard for civility and dignity couldn't be considered mature by any stretch of the word's definition.

So what then makes a mature game actually mature, if it is not the crude and violent content? Well, a woman once said to me that male digital artists need to "grow up" because whenever they make a female character they make them with huge boobs. And I agree, it does show immaturity for them to do so. Surely, if they were so concerned with realism, they'd include flat-chested women too, or overweight women that aren't the butt of some sort of joke? Because in real life, not every woman you meet has huge boobs, and not every person you kill it war comes apart like a banana-skin filled with fifty litres of blood. So realism is one thing that equates to maturity. REAL realism, too, not "realism" with a lack of plot continuity or logic, or "realism" that ignores probabilities entirely.

What else evidences real maturity? Well, the word itself is indeed linked to age. The older people get the more their tastes in such things as music, film and books often mature. Not always, by any means; but often. Surely then, another sign of maturity in gaming could be demonstrated by artistic content? Allegorical messages; real thought-provoking subject matter; imagination restrained only be logic; deep and complex storylines; realistic fallible characters; blurred and objective lines between good and evil; and lastly, throwing off the shackles of neatly defined genres within gaming and simply being a style of the game's own making. These things would evidence maturity, at least to me. They would prove to me that the gaming world as a whole has GROWN UP. That the personified medium's transformation from a spotty puerile adolescent, to an artistic, cultured, realistic, imaginative young man is finally complete.

And until that day comes, non-gamers will be correct in their stereotyped assumptions that most video games are for kids. Because most, unfortunately, still are.

Steps toward real maturity in gaming might be a long way off. They might never come at all, but for in the comparatively rare glimmers of hope we receive from projects such as Syberia, Dreamfall and Jade Empire. But - as with everything - a form of art is only ever as mature as its audience.

But by all means; feel free to continue enjoying puerile gore and unrealistic cleavage in gaming if you like. Just don't call it mature.

How to Make a Good Zelda Game

Allow me to prelude my post with a disclaimer of sorts. Zelda is, and always has been, one of my favourite video game franchises of all time. I played the original Zelda when I was about 8 years old, and from that moment I was hooked. Hooked on the puzzles, the imaginative world, the interesting creatures and magical items. My expectations of the Zelda series were surpassed; first with the release of Link to the Past, and then with the fabled Ocarina of Time, which remains one of my favourite games, especially considering the era in which it was released.

But that's when things started to go downhill. Now don't get me wrong; I thought Majora's Mask was epic and intelligent; I thought The Wind Waker was charming and intriguing, and I thought that Twilight Princess had some of the most fun moments I've yet to see in a Zelda game. But even Twilight Princess (which is an excellent game) has failed to live up to the Zelda name. Why?

Well, Zelda, in the old days of retro gaming, excelled all expectations of the era in which they were released. The original was - and still is - superbly complex for a NES game, and Ocarina was unmatched in terms of gameplay and original concepts for the time in which it was released. But after that, Zelda has failed to break new ground. Sure, it gets technically better with each outing, but only compared to past Zelda titles, and NOT compared to the standards of the time.

Isn't it time, then, that The Legend of Zelda got serious? With such an imaginatively crafted world, surely a storyline to rival the likes of Dreamfall and Final Fantasy VII would be apreciated? We live in an age where it's no longer simply children that play video games, and although Zelda has always been a family game, isn't it time that the storyline and the scope of the world had an upgrade to match competition such as The Elder Scrolls? Don't we as Zelda fanboys deserve something better?

We do. But the problem is, Nintendo doesn't know it. And although Nintendo will never read this blog post, I've decided to speak as though they were, irrespectively of my audience.

So, Nintendo, THIS is how to make a good Zelda game. The kind we've all been waiting for.

1) Give Link a Real Personality
For the love of the Three Goddesses, GIVE LINK A PERSONALITY. The voiceless everyman hero thing got old at around the time the original Secret of Mana came out. We've moved on to bigger and better things. Video games are art now, and with that art comes narrative excellence that rivals Hollywood, television, even novels. And any author of speculative fiction that wants to be taken seriously tends to write in the 3rd person form. Which means that - no - the audience is NOT the hero. The hero is the hero. And Link would be so much more interesting if he had his own personality; his own likes and dislikes, his own strengths and faults. Link should be less like the voiceless dummy through which we live vicariously and more like Ryo Hazuki or April Ryan or at the very least more like Tidus. Link is legend, and legends should have their own personalities, and their own voice actors. Which ties in neatly with my second point...

2) Include Quality Voice Acting
What are these the dark ages? Where is the voice acting!? Instead of reading through pages and pages of our new awesome storyline, we can hear it spoken from the mouths of our cast themselves. And please, please, please, please, please, leave out the corny acting! Use real actors, not voice "talent" from the studios that voiced Dark Chronicles and Shenmue.

3) It's time for a storyline.
Yes, a real storyline. No, you've probably never experienced one, but here's what it DOESN'T include: a captured princess; running around collecting 3, 5, or 8 items like amulets or sages; anime logic (also see: Harry Potter logic); a forced pretext enabling us to transform into a wolf; defined and rigid black and white lines of good and evil (we'll come to that shortly); being pre-destined to become "The One"; faultless characters; purely evil characters; predictable endings without any plot twists or character deaths, etc. Also, I was never a big fan of the whole "this is Link and this is Zelda, but they're the decedents of the original Link and Zelda, even though they look exactly the same, but they aren't. The originals are kinda dead." A bit of continuity between stories would be nice. Like a continuing storyline, because the whole ancestors thing is just lazy. Bad Nintendo! Bad!

4) Blur The Lines Between Good and Evil
Good and evil should never be clearly represented by two separate, clearly defined sides. Thems' the rules of modern fiction. No war in history (except maybe World War 2) had an 'evil side' (and even in WW2, there was no totally good side, seeing as they all committed atrocities). Gannon should be re-invented. Yes, power hungry works, but why is he power-hungry? Who was he before he had a taste of power? Why did he crave more? What sent him over the edge? Or perhaps Gannon isn't entirely evil, but merely has a different point of view from everyone else? Maybe he wishes to unite the kingdom of Hyrule in the name of unity itself, but goes about it in a severe way? Or perhaps he wants revenge for something he's quite justified for wanting revenge for, but the hunger for vengeance has twisted him? Characters that aren't evil through and through tend to be more interesting ones. And the same goes for the side of good. Perhaps having a fatal character flaw for link would be interesting, such as a tenancy to doubt himself or to lose his temper when somebody he loves is threatened? Adding something for the protagonist to struggle against other than the 'forces of darkness' adds another dimension to the story itself. As for the side of good for which Link strives, perhaps a plot twist at the end of the game that reveals corruption or some sort of wrongdoing from part of the 'good' side would mix things up a bit? These suggestions right here are really simple contemporary narrative aides, which thus far Zelda has failed to utilize even the most basic among them. Make the audience think, don't give them an easy ride. Kids or adults, all will come away from the new game with the memories more deeply impressed on their minds than they would with a run-of-the-will Zelda outing.

5) Give Us More Challenging Puzzles
Zelda is about puzzles. So make the puzzles harder. Sure, Twlight Princess had a few puzzles that had me stumped for all of an hour, but as far as I'm concerned that's not good enough. I want puzzles so hard that I have to go and get the help of my family and friends with superior brain power to me. Sure, this will put some of the younger gamers off, but here's how much I care, summarized in text replantations of my current expression: -_- Yes, that much. Actually, Zelda could have two settings. One for ordinary puzzles, and one for uber hard puzzles. While, you're at it, include riddles in Zelda. Riddles with vague, criptic metaphors that give no other clues, such as symbolism desribing landmarks leading to the entrance of the next dungeon and riddles that explain how to solve certain complicated puzzles. Everyone loves riddles, and an unrestrained riddle system in Zelda would be a step in a new direction for gaming as a whole.

6) Make Hyrule at Least Ten Times as Large
Hyrule needs an upgrade, Nintendo. Sorry, but it's true. Go play Morrowind for the Xbox and you'll have an idea of the scope of the world I want to see in the next Zelda game. Yes, Nintendo, I really do mean I want to see it THAT big. Multiple FULL-scale cities and secret dungeons with secret weapons/armour upgrades and hundreds of sub-quests are a must. Zelda is a fantasy game, and fantasy equates to epic, so ... Start. Getting. Epic. That is, instead of remaining at your current state of which would best be described as "meh". If I was Gannon in the previous games, I wouldn't have wasted so much energy on taking over a kingdom that could be traversed in a single hour.

7) Give Us Real Sword Fighting Control
Why make the Wii with its all new motion sensor technology when all you're going to do is waggle your wrist to make link swipe his sword (in a totally random direction)? Damn it Nintendo!! Where's the accurate motion sensor sword controls we all hoped for when we bought the Wii? Where's the sword dueling accuracy with the angled swiping and shield response faithful to the real-world hand-movements we all assumed would be possible? Get it RIGHT Nintendo! Also, add the option to turn off wii-motion sensor control in favour of using outdated analog controls, for those 'hardcore' gamers who are too chicken to try something new. Just because their bi****ng and whining will be too much to bare if they are forced to play with a system that might actually require some energy and true skill. Pansies.

I will of course add to this list as I think of other ways to improve The Legend of Zelda.

But Nintendo, heed these words regardless of their stage of completion. Zelda cannot continue on its current path of comparative mediocrity. It will be the death of all the loyalty us fanboys/girls have for you. So get it right Nintendo, we're all counting on you.

Review Score Guide

Mooncalf reviews uses a system designed to judge games based upon the same basic criteria that is often used to measure the excellence of a book or a film. Video games have, in recent years, evolved to become nothing short of the latest medium of art, rather than being simply a form of childish entertainment or as just another media outlet. The stories we sometimes find in games nowadays are nothing short of spellbinding, and the fact that the fiction becomes interactive makes it all the more compelling. It is in light of this that Mooncalf Reviews has disbanded the typical reviewer's yardstick, such as graphics and sound as being essential criteria for an excellent game, which is simply no longer the case.

Use the following list as a guide for Mooncalf Reviews. Each of the following criteria are marked out of 5.

Overall Storyline
(N/A for non-story games)
Storylines are, without a doubt, the first thing that a discerning audience scrutinizes when they first view a film or read a book. It is the one thing that tips the balance either way - do they continue to indulge in the work of fiction, or do they lose interest and quickly move onto something with a more interesting premise for an overarching storyline?

The Hook
(N/A for non-story games)
Once you have an audience's attention, it is essential that you keep it. To do so a skilled storyteller must not only tell the story, but know when to refrain from telling it. Plot twists, secrets, betrayals, unexpected character deaths, and relationship hooks are all important aspects to consider in a game that wishes to be called intelligent.

Characters
Nobody likes reading about a character they dislike. Is it a wonder then how people dislike playing the role of a similarly despised protagonist? Moreover; unoriginal, uninteresting or unlikable characters can bog a plot down and cause it to lack personality and emotional engagement.

Originality
For the gaming zeitgeist to move forward it is essential that games continue to break ground in the criteria of originality. For us to happily play recycled ideas with enhanced graphics is to make us no better than the morons that continue to support the lazy attitude that the gaming industry has adopted, particularly in the area of clichéd plots and tired gaming formats. A game with an original overall premise, storyline, setting or some sort of unique feature could rightly be given high marks in originality.

Art
Art is very different, in essence, to graphics. While graphics are the opium to which the brain dead masses cling, we do not want to be overly concerned with how realistic a game looks, but rather, the art of it. Did Picasso worry about realism when he took pioneering steps into the realms of cubism? Did the first impressionists worry about their lilly pads looking a little too flat? Art is found in a games atmosphere, the general character - it is the overall theme and feel of the game's setting; be it cell-shaded cartoons, or a fog-ridden landscape of whitewashed faces. Perhaps not always realistic, but an artistic game retains a feel all of it's own, which contributes something to what the game is trying to say, or the specific aesthetics which the game is trying to consistently adhere to.

Voice Acting and Script
(N/A for non-story games)
If a game from this era is made without the inclusion of voice acting it is unforgivable, (unless presented in the manner of a silent film or some sort of Tom and Jerry-esc escapade). In previous eras of gaming history, the lack of voice acting was to be expected, and thus the attention for this criterion focuses also on the script of the game. In previous times, games that had been translated directly from Japan lost something in said translation, and the script often became little more than a laughing stock. Now though, there can be no such excuse for poor script, which would indicate nothing short of laziness and ineptitude on the part of the makers.

Music Score
Just as an emotionally engaging movie requires emotionally engaging music, the score of a game is equally important. Even from the times of the Super Nintendo, much work went into making the score of a game unique and altogether memorable. If a game seeks to provoke emotion, or to simply entertain, the music of a game must reflect this.

Fun
Take out the fun from an artistic game and all you have left is a movie or a book, and what would be the point of that? A game must entertain, that is particularly obvious. The manner it entertains in - and the people the 'fun' appeals to - is a matter of personal preference, but it remains a highly important area of the gaming medium.

Freedom
This criterion deals with fun elements added into a game as if in afterthought. Perhaps the realm is particularly free-roaming, or massive, or maybe there are elements of the game that add that little bit of often needed digression from the core plot, such as mini-games, sub-quests, or the ability to choose your path. Freedom in a game breaks the monotony of unoriginal mission-based gameplay, and sometimes adds something extra to the game which engages the imagination or keeps us interested in it for perhaps a second or third replay.

Lifespan
Simply put, how long does the game take you to complete? Lifespan varies from one genre to the other, so it will be marked taking this fact into account.

Multiplayer
There is no excuse nowadays for a game lacking in multi-player function. Even a game that is essentially a story-driven affair should have some sort of co-operative mode or challenge, either on or offline. Without such an option, the game looses value, entertainment possibilities, and fails to take advantage over one massive thing that games have over other mediums of art; the possibility of multiplayer interactivity and competition.

The 11 criteria (each of which are out of 5) will be added together to make the final score of the game, which will subsequently be converted into marks out of ten. As a game is unlikely to ever reach a total of 55 points, any game reaching even 50 total points will be given a score of 10/10.

The conversion rate is as follows:

5 points = 1 out of 10
10 points = 2 out of 10
15 points = 3 out of 10
20 points = 4 out of 10
25 points = 5 out of 10
30 points = 6 out of 10
35 points = 7 out of 10
37.5 points = 8 out of 10
40 points = 9 out of 10
45 points = 9.5 out of 10
50+ points = 10 out of 10

(Conversion for non-story-driven games differs slightly)