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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.
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?
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
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 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.)
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 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)
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)
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)
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)
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 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, 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 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, 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
It is in fact possible to complete Alpha Protocol without killing a single person, if you want
Other Concept Ideas
The Obsessive Madman
The Proud Noble
The Spoiled Brat
The Hero Complex
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?
My Recent Reviews
Footage from the character, car and tattoo customization in APB.
In 2009 Bub and Bob defeated Master Chief in Gamespot's "Greatest Ever Video Game Hero" contest. This is a video recording of the events that day...