Friday, July 24, 2009

What Influences Video Games? - Comic Books

My other main hobby, besides playing video games, is reading comic books. There was even a time when I was considering starting up a comic book blog, but changed my mind and created Art of Gaming 101 instead. Comic books and video games go together pretty nicely. If you follow comic conventions at all you will see that there is a chunck of coverage dedicated to video games (not all of which being comic book adaptations). Both comics and video games tend to capture the same audience making cross-overs from one to another inevitable. However, I will not be talking about comic book adaptations (like Spider-Man the game), but looking into how comic books influence game design decisions. Before gaming, comics were the rogue art-form not understood by many, and hated and feared by some. Since it is the older artform many things that comics made popular such as its take on story, art, and presentation have become standard in video games today. I will be focusing on Super Hero comics since they have loaned the most to gaming.


Super hero comics and video game character design have a lot in common. The first: colour. Super hero comic books had to use their limited set of colours in order to make dynamic characters. This led to super heroes with very strange and multicoloured costumes. In many cases these would not translate to reality, but looked great as art on a page. The main reason these outlandish costumes worked on a page was because the colours drew the readers attention to the character and allowed action scenes to read more clearly.

Superman is the original and quintessential superhero. A lot of comic book design starts with him and builds on his characteristics. This can also be said for video game characters.

I talked before about Mario and Mega Man and how their costumes led to great game design. The overalls on Mario help break the character up into easy to read movements (since his arms are a different colour than his body). Even though Mario's colour scheme may only coincidently be the same as Super Man's, there is no denying the similiarities.
Mega Man models his design directly after super hereos wearing his underwear outside his pants. Looking at Superman, Mario, and Mega Man together you can see how the video game characters owe something to Superman.

But not all super heroes and video game characters are created in capes and tights. Both gaming and comic books have a grotesque side to them, with characters who look much more ugly and not so heroic (at least at first glance). This doesn't neccesarily mean that these characters are not visually appealing though since they attract readers and players with their odd looks. The Incredible Hulk is a perfect example of this. He is one of the first main stream comics that had a odd looking character as the lead (there were tons of horror comics with strange looking creatures before this but none were as influencial as the Hulk or as consistently occuring). The Hulk's character design is one of many comic book characters that has influenced gaming characters.

The Hulk has a fairly simple design - big and green. He was originally grey and more ugly in his first appearences but he didn't take off as a character until he was redesigned.

Beast from the X-Men is another classic grotesque character. The big difference for him though is that he is heroic. Even though he looks somewhat frightening on paper, once you get to know him he becomes a lot more easy to relate to. He originally looked like a man and transformed into his current look much later. It wasn't until he was covered in blue fur that he took off and became an icon.

Blanka is almost like the perfect mix of the Hulk and Beast. His green skin definitely is borrowed from the Hulk and his features (facial, hair, and posture) are much more like Beast's.


When Action Comics #1 (first apprearence of Superman) came out, it started a pop-culture phenomenon. It was the first appearence of a superhero with super powers (their were other "heroes" in pop-culture like The Phantom and Zorro, but Superman was the first with real powers). Shortly after Superman every comic book company came up with their own superheroes each of which had their own unique traits. Currently there are thousands of super heroes in the comic book world. This idea of a specific character who has a certain set of specific powers is the basis for many action/adventure video games. Sometimes the powers and gameplay in a video game are very close to a comic book character.

Spider-Man is one of the most popular characters in the world. One reason he is such a fun character is because of his powers. He moves fast, and swings around on webs. The web swinging has made its way into games without being directly Spider-Man games.

Bionic Commando was an arcade game and a hit NES game that took out the jump mechanic for a grappling hook to swing from platform to platform. It was better than playing Spider-Man games that were out at the time and still reminded players of the super hero. The newer game has the swinging mechanic even closer to what it is like to be Spider-Man.

It is hard not to keep coming back to Superman, but he does lend a lot to both video games and comics. One of the most notable aspects of the character is his flying ability. Seeing Superman fly through the sky has captured many imaginations. (Side note the comic in this picture is AMAZING. If you are a comic book fan pick up the Final Crisis hardcover).

In Super Mario World for the SNES, Mario took the Superman influence one step further. In this game Super Mario could gain a cape and fly through the sky. Without a doubt the game designers were thinking of Superman when designing this.

The 80s/90s

When video games were first gaining steam in the mid to late 80s and throughout the 90s, comic books were extremely popular. However, many people see the 90s era comics as shallow. They focused more on action along with tons of characters appearing with big muscles and badly formed antonomy. Regardless of its merit it did leave an imprint on the video game industry as game designers took what was popular in character design in comics and transplanted them into their games.

Cable is the hallmark 90s era superhero. He is big and muscular with a tiny head, many lines all over his face, part metallic, and carries a big gun. You will see a lot of these traits in many video game characters. There were many characters before Cable who influenced games but he is an amalgamation of many character design choices. I have pictured him here because he is the easiest to compare to.

Another highly influencial series is the GI Joe comics, which predates Cable by nearly 10 years. It was a toy line at first but it was the Marvel comic series that gave the franchise its personality. This military/sci-fi/adventure was used a lot in the 80s.

Jax from Mortal Kombat was updated in the third game and redesigned with metallic arms. He is also a military man and could have easily been a GI Joe.

Contra captures a lot of the comic book feel of the 80s that GI Joe built. The big guns, the military atmosphere, over the top villians were all made popular by GI Joe beforehand.

Duke Nukem was a complete embodiment of the 90s. He was extremely violent, muscular, carried big guns, and trash talked. Duke Nukem could have fit in any comic book in the 90s and fit in perfectly. There is no doubt that the attitude of the 90s pop culture took some cues from comics and was then carried over into vide games.

Even games of today are influenced by comics of the 80s and 90s (maybe because current game designers grew up reading these comics). Gears of War features big burly men with big guns and tiny heads. The all look like offshoots of Cable.

I mentioned Bionic Commando before with its gameplay link to Spider-Man. The newer game does have this gameplay but the lead character design looks a lot like it was influenced by Cable.

Complete video game/comic book crossovers

I am not talking about games based on comic book properties but games that are almost completely linked to comic books in presentation. These games try to bring comic book ideas to life rather than just borrowing a few aspects.

Comix Zone is a Sega Genisis game from 1995. The gamplay was completely linked to comics by having the game take place inside a comic book. The lead character went from panel to panel in order to progress through the game.

Crackdown is a game about cops who gain superpowers. It is a simple game that makes you feel like you are playing as a superhero. You can jump though the air and lift heavy objects, it really makes you feel powerful. The game is also cel-shaded thus has a cartoony look making it seem like a comic come to life.

Prototype just came out and plays a lot like Crackdown giving the lead character insane power. This game though, is a bit darker and your lead character is not that heroic and more of an anti-hero. The game has a comic book feel to it. One of the main reasons this game is so closely linked to comics in presentation is because the designers previously worked on "Hulk: Ultimate destruction" and created a prototype as a spiritual successor. The game also has a 90s era feel to it, since it is bloody and dark.

Infamous is another game that came out recently. You can either play as a super hero or super villian. The games cut scenes are also done in comic book style. The gameplay also borrows from Spider-Man, as you are climbing buildings a lot.

Next time you pick up a game take notice of how much comic books could have influenced it. You may be surprised to find how much of it was borrowed from the world of super hero comics.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Evolution of Mario - Super Nintendo into 3D

Last time I went through what created the foundation of Mario games. Each one is a classic in its own right but that didn't stop Nintendo from improving the winning formula.

Super Mario World

A launch game for the SNES and still one of the best looking games for the system. Super Mario World took the basic ideas behind Super Mario Bros 3 and enhanced them. The over world was now much larger with many more pathways through them. It was a deep game with nearly 92 levels (much of them hidden) making it one of the most robust platformers ever released (a fact that stands to this day)

The biggest change to the Mario franchise that Super Mario World brought was the introduction of Yoshi. Yoshi essentially brought vehicle gameplay to the Mario world. Yoshi changed the gameplay by adding the ability to eat your enemies (some of them even gave Yoshi special abilities). Later Yoshi became popular enough to star in his own games and become a stand alone character (Yoshi was even the central character to Super Mario World 2).

Super Mario 64

While it is not the first 3D platformer it was by far the most polished and easy to play. Before Super Mario 64, 3D platformers were clunky and had many issues. Super Mario 64 came along and reinvented gaming the same way the original Super Mario Bros did. Super Mario 64 is the blueprint for every 3D platforming game.

Many things were introduced and influenced the gaming world industry wide. Super Mario 64 had an open hub level (the castle and its grounds) with many different levels joining it (through paintings. This idea of a hub world was not new to gaming but it was new to platform games (hub worlds were typically only used in RPGs or Adventure games). The hub also provided the player with a safe area to explore and practice their new skills. Since Mario 64 was such a new game, and many players had not experienced a 3D game like it, it was useful to have this area. One of the most exciting experiences in the whole game was just running around and exploring the castle (which was full of secrets). Nearly every single 3D platforming game now uses a hub world and joining levels, just like in Super Mario 64.

The way you progressed in Super Mario 64 was by collecting stars. You needed a certain amount of stars to get to the next area of the castle. Stars were hidden in each level and could be acquired by completing specific missions. The idea of collecting stars has been transplated into many games ("Banjo Kazooie" has his puzzle pieces, "Ratchet and Clank" have their bolts, "Sonic" has his emeralds, Prize bubbles in "Little Big Planet" and this list goes on and on). Many game designers did take this idea to the extreme giving players too many things to collect which became overbearing for the player. Super Mario 64 used stars as a means to allow the player to explore each level and test their skills. It was a great idea at the time and when used properly can really hook a player to the game. Collecting stars also influenced games past the idea of collect-a-thons, since they introduced the idea of a mission structure to each level. For example, the FPS shooter Goldeneye got the idea for their mission based levels from Super Mario 64; Martin Hollis (designer on Goldeneye) stated that, "the idea for the huge variety of missions within a level came from Super Mario 64"

Super Mario 64 also changed around the core gameplay. Mario could still bounce on enemies to stop them but also had the butt-stomp which sent Mario down fast and hard. His jumping was also improved as he could now triple jump, backflip, and bounce off walls. He could also grab a hold of trees and poles and climb them, as well as hang on edges. Many of these gameplay tecniques were new to games in general and many games have copied these same moves (the double/triple jump is in many platformers now). One thing Mario borrowed from other games was the introduction of a health bar.

One of the simplist additions is also one of the most important. Mario had a little camera man following him where ever he went, and the player could control that camera with the C buttons. The idea of mapping the camera to a seperate set of buttons was a great idea and gave the player the ability to move the camera around to the best position. This is something that has been copied in every single 3D game since (except those with fixed cameras).

Super Mario Sunshine

Super Mario 64 was such a success that no 3D platforming game really topped it for a long time (some say nothing has yet). Even Nintendo shyed away from trying to improve on a perfect formula. It was not until the Gamecube came out that Nintendo gave it a shot (and it didn't come out until later in the Gamecube's lifespan). Super Mario Sunshine may be the biggest success and failure at the same time.

Nintendo has never been content with creating carbon copy Mario sequels (spin off games not with standing) and they have a drive to try and add something new to each game. Super Mario Sunshine kept a lot of the same gameplay from Super Mario 64 keeping the same skills and collecting "shines" (which were identical to collecting stars). However, Super Mario now had FLUDD a water based weapon, which he could use to perform attacks, fly through the air, and clean the environment. It complicated the controls but once the player got used to it, it was easy enough to use. Many players were turned off on this new aspect and wanted Mario to stay streamlined. Personally I had a lot of fun with FLUDD and found it added a new layer to the game. But, I also found Super Mario Sunshine to be the hardest Mario game I have ever played and part of that is thanks to the more complex gameplay. Sometimes it wasn't so much challenging as it was frustrating.

Nintendo has scrapped most of the things they brought up in Super Mario Sunshine, and even though it is one of the less influencial Mario games it is still a solid game. Being the least loved Mario game is kinda of like getting an A on a test when you are used to getting A+.

New Super Mario Bros

Before the next full 3D game (Super Mario Galaxy), Nintendo created a new 2D Mario game for the DS. This game took most of Mario's moves from Super Mario 64, but everything was pulled off on a 2D plane. This game was not as robust as Super Mario 3 or Super Mario World, and almost acted like a successor to the original Super Mario Bros. The gameplay was simple, and the levels were short. This game was an astounding success mostly because of how easy it was to play. The simplicity of the game also helped the fact that this game was on a portable system, and most player play the DS for short spurts of time (I play my DS on my bus ride to work so I appreciate being able to finish a level in a short period of time). Playing this game felt a lot like playing a updated NES game, which isn't really a bad thing.

Super Mario Galaxy

The last Mario game Nintendo released and easily the best one yet. It took the basic principals behind Super Mario 64 (collecting stars and having an open hub world with many hidden and unlockable areas) and kept the controls the same. Rather than updating the gameplay with something radical (like FLUDD) they decided to change that way the levels work. Most levels took place on a series of planets and Mario could travel all around them. Gravity would pull you from one planet to the next and at points Mario would be completely upside down. It was flipping the gameplay on its head literally. The gravity aspect of the game was a little confusing at first but after a little bit of time with the game it became easy to understand. Super Mario 64 took gameplay and level design to full 3D but Super Mario Galaxy took it all to the next level. It is currently one of the highest rated games of all time!

The Future

Now even though I have described the main Mario games there are many more Mario spin-offs, some of which are great games on their own right. Nintendo is always careful to give their full attention and time to Mario's core series, and right now they are working on 2 new games. Super Mario Galaxy 2 seems to be an extention of the first game, but adding new level ideas and power ups (it worked for Super Mario World). Super Mario Galaxy will also bring back Yoshi as a vehicle in the game (He has only been that role in Super Mario World, and Sunshine). They are also building New Super Mario Bros for the Wii, and it looks like a more complex and robust experience. In that game 4 players can place at once which should add a new layer of gameplay that Super Mario games have not seen yet. I am really excited about the future of the series and you can guarantee they will both be smash hits.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What influences video games - Animation

Video Games started off with really basic looking characters and backgrounds. The idea of realistic graphics was impossible to pull off until recently. Therefore video game designers had to turn to more artistic representations of reality to get their ideas across. This lead to borrowing a lot of ideas from animation.


Disney and a lot of early animators and cartoonists perfected the art of anthropomorphic animals. In this school of art it is not important to keep the animal looking like its reality. The reason artists wanted to give animal characters more human features was to make them more relatable to the viewer. These humanizing features also helped with portraying emotion and character. The basic idea was to take an animal and make a few key changes to it; have it stand upright on two feet, elongate its arms and legs, give it fingers and thumbs, enlarge the eyes, and widen the mouth. The changes to the arms and legs allowed for the animation to move more fluidly and represent gestures. Giving the animal fingers and thumbs made it so the character could now interact with the world around it. The enlarged eyes and mouth gave the animation more personality and portray emotion. Everything in animation is usually exaggerated and this can only work when the characters features are also over the top.

Bugs Bunny is a perfect examples of pulling these techniques off. He still looks like a rabbit while having exaggerated human features.

Klonoa is suppose to be his own breed of animal but as you can see he has cat-like features mixed with human elements. The standard things are exaggerated and elongated (legs, arms, hands, feet) but his ears are also long. These ears not only create a unique animation but also add to the gameplay.

I can't write about animal characters without mentioning Sonic the Hedgehog. You can read more about him here.


The Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 try and make human characters look as realistic as possible. However, before these consoles, realistic high definition graphics were not common (some games still tried to pull off realism but not to the extent they do now). Older games used highly stylistic art designs to create an appealing character without having to be realistic. When game designers are trying to create a characture of a person they also borrow a lot from Disney as well as Anime.

Many people do not realize but Anime and Disney have a lot in common. Anime is highly influenced by "Steamboat Willie" the very first Mickey Mouse cartoon. These Disney cartoons were such a success in the west as well as in Japan that the Disney signature (big eyes, overly expressed emotions, and slapstick humour) is still prevelant in Anime today.

Steamboat Willie. Probably the most important cartoon ever created. The styles seen in this cartoon were almost unheard of before. Disney was a pioneer in animation and how to make it look fluid and not stiff. Even though Mickey Mouse is far from being a human the animation in this short influenced everything.

Astro boy is one of the older Japanese characters. Notice the big eyes and exaggerated emotion. These are all traits the Japanese learned from watching Disney.

You will notice that most stylized humans in games feature big eyes. These big eyes help with expressing emotion (just like with animal characters). Also these characters usually have enlarged heads. The face is the most important thing for the player to read their character (especially in older games where the hero rarely spoke) and when you have a big head you can exaggerate the face.

Super Mario is easily the most recognizable figure in video games. He is such a great character not only because of his early design but also for his later more polished design. Once Nintendo had the technology they made Mario more cartoon-like. His features could fit into any Disney movie.

Final Fantasy VII is full of anime characters. Final Fantasy VII is one of the first games to bring anime into 3D. The overly anime stylized characters in the game matched perfectly with the quirky storyline.

Link from The Windwaker. Rather than going with the realistic look, The Windwaker took Zelda into a cartoony animation style. It was a blend of modern Anime and Disney. Some features (such as the eyes and certain character emotions) came from anime, while the colours and enemy models look like they are straight out of a Disney movie. This cel-shading style (the use of 2D art on 3D character) has become extremely popular.

Tex Avery

If there is one other person who is just as influencial to animation as Walt Disney, it is Tex Avery. Tex Avery worked for Warner Brothers and later MGM, designing the characters Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig. However, what Tex Avery is most remembered for is his animation style and direction. Tex Avery took the Disney school of thought to the extreme. Tex believed you could do anything with animation and proved it. His characters were much more flexable and had extreme emotions. Certain things we take for granted in animation like the double take, eyes popping out of a characters head, characters falling off cliffs into a puff a smoke, and cartoons having a sarcastic tone to them (Whats up Doc?) were all popularized by Tex Avery. He pushed animation into a truely unique form of comedy that was a perfect blend of both slapstick, and smart-humour.

A typical Tex Avery character emotion. Even though the character is very distorted it is still recognizable and easy to read.

Daffy Duck is one level of Tex's comedy. Daffy is comepletely insane and is almost constantly on the edge of a mental breakdown. You can also see Porky Pig who was a much different character under Tex Avery (and the villian Porky evolved into Elmer Fudd).

Bugs Bunny is the opposite of Daffy Duck. A complete straight character whose sarcastic tone and straight talk helps highlight the craziness around him.

These animation techniques were brought over into video games very early. Older games could not be subtle in their animations and needed exaggeration to get their point across. Tex Avery techniques were used to fully animate characters and make them more fun to play. It also helped introduce a level of humour to some early games.

The Battletoads may have been a cheap Ninja Turtles rip off but their animations were almost completel borrowed from old Tex Avery cartoons. Notice how the characters are very flexible and eyes popping out of their heads.

Sonic the Hedgehog was animated much like a Tex Avery cartoon. Sonic's speed lended itself perfectly to the rubber like aspects of Tex's style. In Sonic 2, the lead characters gained the ability to roll into a ball and speed off in a blur. This transformation is much like something Tex would have done. Also Sonic has a bit of a Bugs Bunny attitude.

The old NES Super Mario Brothers had a simple gag in it. When Mario died he faced the screen with an emotion of despair and fell off. This is exactly like when a cartoon charater walks off a cliff and looks at the viewer before he falls, which was a Tex Avery trademark. The death in this video is from a glitch but the animation is the same no matter how you die.

Dhalsim was one of the more unique fighters in Street Fighter 2. What made him so strange was his ability to stretch and contort his body. The rubber qualities of Dhalsim are very similiar to a Tex Avery cartoon in which the characters were always stretched in every which way. This picture is from the newest revision of Street Fighter 2.

The Nintendo character most influenced by Tex Avery is Kirby. Kirby may take a lot of cues from anime in his design, but the gameplay is all Tex Avery. Kirby stretches and contorts his body as he eats his enemies or flies through the sky. He can change his form into a completely different physical shape and structure to attack with special powers. If Tex Avery was designing video games you can bet he would create a character like Kirby.

Because of the early cartoon like nature of video games it was only natural for designers to take some cues from animation. Furthermore, videogames started off as a children's market so it was only natural to tie it to another thing that children liked. Animation helped give designers the tools they needed in order to make a memorable and appealing game.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Evolution of the Mario games (NES years)

Like I talked about in one of my first posts the original Super Mario Bros is one of the most important games of all time. It laid the blueprint on how to create a 2D sidescroller. However, the designers did not stop innovating and influencing other games with the first game. Everytime they went back and made a new Mario game it was a great experience that topped almost everything on the market. I will be looking into the basic evolution of the core Mario series and how each one changed gaming. Only the core Mario games will be talked about (no Mario Kart, or even Yoshi's Island).

Super Mario Bros

I have already talked about this game at length so I am going to keep it short this time. Super Mario Bros is one of the first platformers ever, and easily the most polished. It used power ups to give the player new skills and abilites which has become a staple in all Mario games since (even the non-platform ones). It was one of the first games that had an extensive amount of hidden secrets and pathways (they appeared before in games but not to this extent). It had 32 levels, all of them were fairly unique from the last. Players could transverse the levels in many different ways, using different pathways and skipping certain levels. It not only brought in the idea of running through levels but also swimming, changing the gameplay. Being the first game in the series it introduced Bowser as the main antagonist and he has held that spot steadily since. It is, without a doubt, one of the most influencial games of all time. Every platforming game owes some of its design to Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros 2 (Japan)

Only in Japan was this true sequel released (only much later on Super Mario All-Stars did we get the game in the west). It is basically the original game only much harder. Jumps were trickier, enemies were more abundant, and the levels were designed in bizarre ways. The hidden pathways were still in this game along with warp pipes that let you skip levels. However, in Super Mario Bros 2 some pipes sent you backwards in the game, forcing you to play levels over again. Players had to be extremely careful while making decisions in this game. It was such a difficult game that it forced players to beat it 8 times before arriving in the true final level. Another strange turn of events happened if you used no warp pipes, as you would end up in World 9. World 9 was a truely bizzare world in which fire would fly underwater, Bowser was in the 9-3 not 9-4, and clouds were underwater. This game was the programmers having as much fun as possible with the Super Mario Bros engine.

One notable thing the game did change was Luigi. Luigi was now a selectable character (not forced on player 2), and had a new gameplay which set him apart from Mario. Luigi could jump higher and run faster, but was also less stable than Mario. The idea of Luigi playing this way has carried over in other games.

Super Mario 2 (USA)

Many people already know the story behind this game but I will sum it up for those who don't know. A Japanese game called Doki Doki Panic was transformed into Super Mario Bros 2 for an American release. Nintendo felt the Japanese Super Mario Bros 2 was too difficult for the American gamers.

However, even though it wasn't originally a Mario game it has become an important part of the evolution of the series. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto did design Doki Doki Panic along with some of the team that made the Mario games. This is why the transformation wasn't so jarring. The enemies in Super Mario 2 (Shy guys, and Birdo) have carried over into more Mario games since. Doki Doki Panic had many levels and there was an ability to find warps and hidden pathways, which also translated perfectly for a Mario game.

Super Mario 2 was unique for having 4 selectable characters (because Doki Doki Panic had 4 characters) and each of them fit naturally with estabilished characters. Luigi was a high jumper and very fast (much like in the Japanese Mario 2 but taken up a few notches), Princess could float through the air, Toad was a sturdy character who controlled well on ice, and Mario was the balanced character who was the jack of all trades and master of none. In Mario game offshoots (the Mario Sports series, Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros, and other random action games) these character traits have been used again and again.

One change that has not stuck since was the way enemies were attacked. Rather than jumping on enemies and instantly killing them, you had to pick them up and throw them at another enemy. This was a fun and unique way to play but slowed the game down a bit. Mario games since have used quick attacks to finish off the enemy.

Super Mario Bros 3

The first Mario sequel that was built completely new from the ground up. Many players still hold this game to be one of the greatest platformers of all time, if not one of the greatest games in general. Personally I cannot see much fault in this argument as it is the penacle of 2D platformers on the NES (which had a lot of great games in that genre).

The game returned to its roots by just having Mario as player 1 and Luigi as player 2 both of whom played identical. It took the basic idea of the original Super Mario Bros and added better graphics, more power-ups, more enemies, bigger levels, more secrets, and more bosses. Everything was bigger and better. Instead of just facing Bowser at each castle you fought his children, each of which had their own personalities. This made for much more interesting boss battles. On top of that each boss resided on an airship which had the level moving while trying to move across it. Things like bullets and fireballs reacted realistically to the movement of the level and added an extra layer of gameplay. The standard castle levels were still found in this game as well and acting as mid-way points in the world. Each castle ended with a mini-boss.

The best addition to the game was the overworld map. Each world had its own map and the player could move across it in many different ways. Some items collected in the levels could be used to break down walls in order to skip sections of the game and fast-track. It really showed the size, scale and interactivity of the game. Each world also had its own trait. There were the standard fare of levels (such as an ice world and a lava world) as well as some unique levels (a world filled with pipes that created a maze, and a world where everything was much bigger). Because of this massive variety in levels and the ability to move across the overworld in many different ways, the game never got stale.

Part 2 will continue next week and we will look at the SNES as well as the 3D Mario games. Come back friday for a new feature article.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Street Fighter II - Part 2

*Make sure to check out Part 1 of this article.

The Bosses

Even though they are playable in every version afterward, in the original Street Fighter 2 players could not select them. M.Bison, Vega, Balrog, and Sagat made up the final four fights. The were all powerful and had an extra special character trait that made them stand out against the regular cast of fighters.

Balrog was a boxer who could only punch and not kick. He was very strong letting the player know that the difficulty was ramping up. In the Japanese version he was named M.Bison (a play on Mike Tyson's name) and had to be changed in America in order to avoid a lawsuit. Balrog clearly looks a lot like Tyson and takes almost all of his character design from him.

Vega was an extremely fast opponent. He could climb on the walls of his level and was the only fighter who had a weapon. He is the complete opposite of the Balrog fight beforehand trading in slow powerful punches for lightning fast arial manuevers. Since Vega was so different from any other fighter the difficulty ramped up again creating a great build to the climax of the game.

Sagat is the third fighter returning from Street Fighter 1. He was the boss of the original game and now stands as the penultimate boss. He has fireballs like Ryu and Ken but was stronger and because of his tall stature had a very long reach. He may have been a more tradition fighter but his attacks and special techniques made him a perfect boss.

M.Bison was the final boss of the game. He was incredibly strong and fast. He was given a military look making him seem more menacing and powerful. Since he was the last boss he was by far the hardest battle in the game, and beating him was a reward in itself. His main colour scheme is red so it is more than a coincidence that this colour was chosen for the final battle.

Not only was each character unique but everyone had their own level. The backgrounds gave the game a little more personality. These backgrounds had minimal animations, which gave it enough feel to look alive while not becoming a distraction.


Street Fighter II had a great soundtrack. Music is extremely important in a fighting game since the score should get the player in the mood. Street Fighter II needs fast thinking and requires a lot of action, so the music should match the pace, or it would seem out of sync. Luckily, Street Fighter II has a wide variety of music (each stage has its own tune). Not only does the music successfully match the gameplay but adds personality to the levels.

Guile's music is by far my favourite. It sounds like something straight out of an American military movie. It's fast paced and really captures the mood of the stage and the fighter.

Blanka, being one of the bizzare characters, has equally unique music. It has a tropical feel to it that matches the Brazilian location. It is on the edge of not feeling like fighting music but never crosses that line. It is a strange blend of the bizzare, tropical, and action. Thankfully it works.

Dhalsim has some really great music. The designers took cues from Indian music but changed it to fit a fighting game. Indian music traditionally doesn't follow the same rules as western music so some changes need to be made in order for it to fit the game.

M.Bison is the last battle and thus has some of the fastest music. It is hard hitting and suits the climax of the game. A final boss needs a strong score to add tension to the fight.

Street Fighter II was a huge success, both in arcades and on the SNES. However, the designers never stopped trying to perfect the formula and went on to create many revisions to the game. Street Fighter II: Championship Edition let players select the bosses as well as play as the same character. This added a whole new set of strategy for the player to learn. Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighter (or Turbo on the SNES) sped up the game giving it an even faster feel. After playing Hyper Fighting the old game seems a bit sluggish. Hyper Fighting was the best change to the series by far. Later editions added new characters and balancing of gameplay. But no matter how often the game was re-polished Street Fighter II still remained the blueprint.

The progression of Street Fighter 2.

Even the current game, Street Fighter IV, takes a majority of its inspiration from Street Fighter II. Outside of its own series Street Fighter has been the inspiration for almost every fighting game (especially 2D fighters) making it one of the most important games of all time and a piece of art.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Street Fighter II - Part 1

**Because there is so much to say about Street Fighter II, I have had to break this post up into 2 parts.

There were some fighting games before Street Fighter II (like the original Street Fighter) but no game brought the genre to the forefront like it. Street Fighter II was a huge hit at the arcade and later successfully ported to the consoles (the SNES version was exceptionally great). It was the perfect fighting game of its day and it still stands as a solid game that gamers come back to. Many things went into making Street Fighter II so memorable that it became a true piece of art.


I have said this many times but the interactivity of a game is by far the most important aspect to the art form. Street Fighter II easily had the most polished gameplay in the arcade. Characters reacted to the controls naturally, and players found themselves learning the ins and outs of the game thus pulling off some fantastic techniques. It was the first fighting game that had multiple characters each of which had their own control styles and wide range of special moves. Players became attached to a certain character and tied themselves to learning the best way to play with them. The game had 8 fighters which allowed for 7 different play styles that welcomed a variety of players and suited their needs (Ken and Ryu were identical in the original version which accounts for the missing play style).

The special moves is what really caught a lot of player's attention. It gave the game a fun feel to it and a sense of accomplishment when you could pull the move off effectively and consistently. Most of the special attacks where over the top and departed from reality. Some of the fighters could throw fire balls while others could pull off impossible physical techniques. Since no two fighters had similiar attacks (aside from Ryu and Ken) each match required a different defense strategy.

When you add all the gamplay variations together you get a really deep game that is still deeper than many fighting games today. In Street Fighter you could not simply button mash (the act of randomly pressing buttons in hope of hitting your opponent), you had to watch every move and plan your attacks. The game did move fast so you had to think on your feet, but it rewarded players with a strategy.

A match in Street Fighter. You can see how it moves fast and fluid. Fighting games that came out before felt a little stiff and unnatural. Street fighter helped break that barrier.


One of the things that drew players to the game was the cast of fighters you had to choose from. Not only was their gameplay different but each of them had their own unique design. The visual artistry of Street Fighter was astounding and it created some of the most memorable characters of all time.


A somewhat central figure in the game and one of 3 characters returning from Street Fighter 1. He was the typical "Japanese Karate" fighter. In the spectrum of fighters in the game he would range in the middle of character design. However, the designer did add a little to the character to give him more personality. His outfit is a little loose and allows the character to more more freely without looking like the clothes are stiff. His head band and facial expression give Ryu a little more attitude than the other fighters.


Another returning character from Street Fighter. His design is just a head swap with Ryu, and a different colour outfit. Since his body and animations are identical to Ryu it is only his head that gives him some new personality. His shaggy blond hair, and facial expression gives Ken the same rugged attitude that Ryu has. Ken and Ryu are the center piece of the game as well as the standard fighting game characters.


For the most part the fighters all come from different countries (some do share nationalities) and some of them are overdone stereotypes. In all these cases the stereotypes are not offensive but somewhat humours. Guile is the typical all-american war millitary man. He has an exagerrated flat top hair cut, blond hair, a tattoo of the American Flag, and wears military fatigues. He has little touches to show that he is the "perfect" American boy as he combs his hair in between rounds and smiles. He was designed in part to appeal to American fans and for the most part it worked. Guile is also one of the few characters who could throw a projectile making him stand out. He could do large bicycle kicks and moved realitivly fast. He is a lot of fun to play and you can see his good natured all-american attitude come out in his gameplay.

Chung Li

The only female character in Street Fighter II. She is one of the more important characters from a game design standpoint. Chung Li is fairly weak yet is the fastest fighter. This blueprint of creating a female fighter as the weakest yet fastest character has been used in almost every single fighting game since. Her main attack is her kicks since she has long strong legs (in later Street Fighter games the designers even made her legs larger and stronger looking). Even her uniform places emphasis on her legs.


Even though he is yet another Japanese fighter in the game he comes from a completely different school of fighting. E. Honda is a sumo wrestler and therefore is slow but very powerful. He does have some quick attacks such as a flying head-butt and a rapid fire of palms. His design is taken straight out of what real sumo wrestlers look like. The only thing that makes E.Honda stand out against real life sumo wrestlers is his face paint. He is one of the few fighters who is a bit more linked to reality in his character design.


Easily the most powerful fighter in the game but also one of the most difficult to use. His special moves are much harder to pull off effectively, thus balancing him against other fighters. He is also much slower than most of the fighters. His character designer is very much influenced by the stereotypical portrayal of Russians during the cold war. Street Fighter II came out at the very end of the cold war and the USSR was still a nation. Zangeif is big, tall and hairy, and has scars on his body from fighting a bear. Out of all the fighters he does look the most menacing, and he wears red, the colour of the USSR. Zangeif is basically a symbol for how frightening a lot of people felt about what went on behind the iron curtain. Now that the cold war is over Zangeif seems a lot more comical to players.


One of 2 fighters that are just bizzare. Blanka is a green monster that was created after a plane crash left a young boy, named Jimmy, to be raised in the wild. Blanka's origin and character design is closey tied to comic books. Much like many super heroes and villians, Blanka is created out of a tradegy, and gains some sort of special powers and abilities from it. Blanka also has electric powers linking him even more toward the comic book realm. Blanka plays very low to the ground and has some strange animations in the way he moves. Many players when they first saw Blanka became immediately attached to him since he was so unique and different from everyone else in the game.


The other character who is a bit more bizzare is Dhalsim. Dhalsim is a yoga master who can stretch his body and teleport around the screen. He also can breathe fire. The way Dhalsim is presented is in a very comical manner. His streched out limbs look odd, and he is one fighter who will have a smile on his face from time to time. In a game full of mostly stern looking characters he stands out and provides a nice break in pace. His design and animation may even be stranger and stand out more than Blanka (when you see him in motion). Dhalsim is not one of the stronger fighters but his reach is far greater than all the others.

Check back on Friday for Part 2.