Friday, February 16, 2018

The Giant Monster Series, part 6...


The first game featured today should be enshrined in the gaming hall of fame. Shadow of the Colossus (2005) was an international sensation when it was released. Very rarely were games so universally accepted that they required little if any localization. In order to be played the game required nothing more than the time, patience and practice. The game did not really need dialogue or lengthy cut scenes in order to be enjoyed but it didn't hurt that they were included. Fumito Ueda's tragedy featuring Wander, Mono and a very brave horse named Agro showed the industry that the giant monster could be a stand alone genre. The game used every lesson taught by giant monster films and classic literature and then created an original play experience out of them. The game isolated players in a forbidden land. They were enclosed by high cliff walls that couldn't be scaled and an ocean that could not be crossed.


Players could do nothing more but explore the environment and search for enormous creatures that were part living and part stone. Wander was equipped with two weapons, a bow and arrow and an enchanted sword. The creatures were invulnerable to both weapons with the exception of some strategically placed magical tattoos. When Wander stabbed the colossi on those tattoos the monsters could be defeated. Players did not know about the rules of combat regarding the colossi or how the sword worked. They were trained by the levels on how to run, scale, roll and jump around the environment. Little by little everything in the game was learned simply by playing rather than by going through a tutorial. Knowing how to perform multiple actions would come in handy as the colossi they fought were harder and harder to reach and defeat.


Just one of the genius details in the game design was in creating tension before each encounter. The levels were spread out far enough for players to develop a sense of isolation as they went from battle to battle. The music and sound effects reflected this emotional pull. Each colossi was introduced in a short cinematic that showed players the enormous scale of the creatures. They were very intimidating and no two were exactly alike. The music would pick up and increase the pressure for the duration of the battle. The colossi would focus their attention on the player with bright unblinking eyes. They would search for them, stomp and scratch at them as they ran and hid in corners of temples and pits. It was an amazing action experience that was highlighted by the giant monsters themselves.


Ueda had created a universe filled with mythical creatures that appeared to be alive. He left enough clues on each level to let the origin of the creatures be explained. At some point the colossi might have been considered gods to the ancient civilization that built the temples. Prior to the colossi there was a single creature that inspired fear in the old tribes. Dormin was a dark, horned god that used to rule over the land. He was split into 16 pieces that each became a colossi. During the game it was revealed that Wander was slowly becoming possessed by Dormin as he defeated each of the colossi. On the last stage Wander underwent a transformation. Players could suddenly control Dormin against a group of tribal elders. This twist to the plot and game play was sublime. Players had no idea that they would end up becoming the creature that had been leading them on. Shadow of the Colossus redefined the giant monster genre and ended up influencing titles yet to come, not the least of which was Nintendo's award-winning game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017). It turned out there were still other lessons that could be learned by playing with and against the creatures.


Vander Caballero created the indy hit Papo y Yo (2012). Minority developed an experience that captured the art of storytelling in gameplay as well as the biggest Triple-A studio. The game revolved around a unique relationship created between a monster and a little boy in a Brazillian favela (slum). The game turned the imagination of the young Quico as gameplay elements. Quico was searching for a way out of the favela while trying not to irritate the monster Papo. The game was actually an allegory for the relationship between the Vander and his alcoholic and abusive father. Quico could make walls turn to stairs and have building stretch as if the world were made of toy blocks and Silly Putty. Papo was available for some of the puzzles by triggering doors, traps or simply helping Quico reach higher places. The exploration and imaginative puzzles was only part of the reason that gamers wanted to find a way out of the favela. The sense of isolation that Ueda created in Shadow of the Colossus were mirrored in Papo y Yo. The favela was modern, it had color and personality but it also appeared like a prison. The walls were made up of the homes of people that seemed perpetually absent from the world. As far as the eye could see there were the walls, leaned onto the next, piled on top of each other. Despite the brilliant graffiti murals it was an oppressive site. In Shadow of the Colossus Wander would have to travel through the ruins of castles and temples that were even more imposing than the colossi that dwelled within. These design choices were part of the psychology of the games. The isolation created by these locations made Wander and Quico more sympathetic and their struggle more impressive.


Papo had a weakness, he enjoyed eating frogs but when he did he became a raging monster who did nothing but hurt and destroy. Papo could be pulled out of his rage by feeding him melons, but like sobriety to a person with a severe problem it was a constant struggle. The contrast between the friendly Papo and the flame-engulfed monster was a shock. Players learned to keep an eye on Papo while trying to figure out the next puzzle. The tension in the game was palpable. Players were tiptoeing around a ticking time bomb yet rather than stop playing they were compelled to help Quico escape. The emotional draw of the characters pulled audiences into the world. It was similar to the attraction behind Shadow of the Colossus. Wander needed the player to help him defeat the colossi and resurrect Mono. Quico needed to find a way out of his nightmare. Both games taught audiences to be brave and even defiant in the face of adversity. It also forced the players to think about their own mortality. The psychological elements from the giant monster myth were done equally well Papo y Yo. The isolated environment, the layers of detail that brought players into the world. The indestructible creature. When these things were combined they helped create a sense of primal fear. The fact that the game was created as a coping mechanism to help with those that came out of abusive relationships was superb design.


There was more to the giant monster genre than simply running from or battling against them. It was something that had been overlooked in the series thus far. A completely different contribution to gaming that could only be provided by the creatures themselves. Entirely new styles of gameplay had to be created so that the player could wreak havoc on an unsuspecting population. To say that the newfound power went directly to the heads of the players would not be far from the truth. In the next blog we shall look at the games that turned gamers into virtual gods.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Giant Monster Series, part 5...


The giant monster genre was a subsection of the monster genre. The tradition of scary beings went back to the earliest days of storytelling. Imagine primitive tribes sitting around a fire recounting the time they almost got eaten by a giant bat or snatched by a troll living under a bridge. Monsters were sometimes shape-shifters, they looked human from a distance but then up close they were something else. The bigger the monster, or god, the greater the chance for destruction. Gods and giant monsters were the roots of disease and natural disasters. Some demanded a blood sacrifice in order to be satiated. Smaller monsters could still be bloodthirsty, or demand a sacrifice. Their destruction was limited to a small group of people, a clan sometimes, they were just effective when used for a cautionary tale.

 

One of the classic monsters was the Cyclops. The one-eyed monster was the child of the god Zeus. The creature had a habit of eating trespassers on his island. He was blinded by Odysseus (Ulysses) and as punishment Zeus caused Odysseus and his crew to be lost at sea for a decade. Most lost their lives to various creatures, large, small and seductive. Homer the poet was credit for writing the Odyssey. The creatures he described represented a various state of being for the gods, or hubris for the lost Greek sailors. No matter how far they traveled, they could never outrun their past. The monsters in classic literature manifested our innermost fears. Another creature that reflected our psyche was the monster created by Dr. Frankenstein. The story by Mary Shelley was a cautionary tale about accepting responsibility for your actions. In the case of Dr. Frankenstein he was a reckless scientist. He succeeded in creating life from death but was horrified with the results. He abandoned his creature and without a master or guiding hand to temper his existence the creature terrorized a village. There were so many layers to the creature, ranging from pitiful to morbid. It made the creature both sympathetic and terrifying to behold. When the monster showed up in movies it created a template that would be copied by other studios and even game developers.

 

Bioshock by 2K was released in 2007 and had a monster not unlike Frankenstein's creature. The "Big Daddy" was a mutated man inside of a twisted diving suit. He was protective of his "daughters," mutated girls. Like the creature he was obscenely strong. He was relentless in his pursuit of the hero. The setting in the game made the encounters with Big Daddy much more intense. Audiences were trapped in the remains of an underwater city called Rapture. The hero couldn't simply run to the next town for help. The additional layer of isolation on top of a great antagonist made the series unforgettable. In the follow-up title, Bioshock Infinite by Irrational Games, the player was trapped aboard a floating city called Columbia. The game from 2013 replaced Big Daddy with a cybernetic automaton called the Handyman. Like Frankenstein's creature it was an unstoppable force with a tragic back story. Series director Ken Levine managed to turn both monsters into sympathetic creatures by the end of each game.

Great monster stories are about escapism. Whether the setting is Victorian England or Japan in the near-future, there has to be something for audiences to escape to or from. For video games it is not enough to run from the monsters, but to be able to fight them as well. When audiences were introduced to the Big Daddy or the Handyman they were grossly unprepared for the encounter. Early on in each game players had to learn how to hit and run from their opponents. As they gained experience then they earned new weapons and abilities. Eventually the game evened the playing field and audiences no longer had to fear the monsters. This formula has probably never been exploited more than in the Earth Defense Force series.

 

Earth Defense Force is a long-running series from publisher D3. The game has traded multiple developers since it debuted in 2003 but the core experience remains the same. You are the hero in the ultimate movie spectacle. Imagine a game recreating the biggest fights in Independence Day, Pacific Rim, Guardians of the Galaxy or Godzilla. In essence the jaw-dropping special-effects scenes that put people in movie theaters every summer. The story in each game is straightforward, you are a member of an elite force that is protecting the Earth from alien invaders. As aliens, in the form of giant bugs start popping up you fight them with small weapons but as you progress the tools get bigger and better. You move from machine gun, to rocket launcher, to tank and eventually science fiction weapons; power suits, laser rifles, rocket backpacks and much more. Your squad is under a constant barrage of enemy fire and giant monsters. It is a frenetic experience that ups the ante with every mission.

If you've never heard of the title there's probably a reason. The game has a cult-like following. Visually the graphics are amazing. The scale of the creatures you have to fight is off the chart. The alien spacecraft, giant bugs and monsters in the series are literally breathtaking. They are among the largest things ever presented in a game. Remember that this includes the enormous monsters in Mass Effect, Resistance, Lost Planet, Monster Hunter and the God of War series. From a game play standpoint there is a lot of action to be had and a ton of different ways to dispose of the various giant creatures you come across, including the ability to pilot a mecha or giant robot.

   

Despite the awesome visuals the game is lacking in depth. Like many of the summer movies the experience is about spectacle and nothing else. Films like Armageddon (1998), The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and San Andreas (2015) pile on the special effects and hope that audiences don't mind the lackluster script or poor acting. The EDF series is the gaming equivalent of those effect features. Small details that are addressed in AAA titles are overlooked in the series. Things like clipping (where 3D models intersect), animation and collision detection are not always right. But it doesn't seem to matter when the game hits you with wave after wave of giant robotic lizards and space ships that eclipse the horizon. No sooner are they destroyed than another batch arrives. You have no time to wonder how cities are rebuilt so quickly or why you are never fighting atop the remains of your enemies. The steady build up and immersive narrative of a Bioshock game is replaced with explosion after explosion. So was there a man versus giant monster game that captured the gravity of the situation better? Certainly! We will look at some examples in the next entry.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Giant Monster Series, part 4...


Capcom was creating memorable games featuring gigantic characters before the release of Asura's Wrath. As hardware got more powerful the developers were able to maximize the size and scale of opponents in their titles. Fans of science fiction shooters were sent to remote outposts in the series Lost Planet (2006). Players would come across alien lifeforms capable of swallowing entire trains whole. This was a departure from even the largest opponents in the Resident Evil series. The creatures in Lost Planet could easily snack on El Gigante and the Lake Monster from Resident Evil 4 (2005).


The Lost Planet series introduced many unique monsters to the genre with most of them being gigantic. To help immerse players in the experience the developers placed gamers in remote outposts on extreme climate planets. In the first Lost Planet players fought through the frozen wasteland of E.D.N. III. The harsh environment helped create an isolated feeling for the heroes. Something akin to the John Carpenter movie The Thing (1982). The limited visibility in a blizzard made it possible to have opponents appear out of nowhere and surprise the players. It made the encounters with giant aliens have much more of an impact. In the sequel the frozen wasteland gave way to jungles and desert environments, each of which could be extreme climates as well. The developers incorporated unique game play elements to allow players to navigate the environments and fight the monsters. Wading through the snow would have slowed down the game play tremendously but characters had grappling hooks which allowed them to jump over large patches of land.

Players were also equipped with machine guns that could mow down man and creature alike, and could pick up various types of explosive launchers. In addition to heavy weapons, players could control mechanized suits of armor and even large robots to combat the creatures. The most unique game play elements were based around the monsters themselves. The enormous Salamander was the size of a football field and players could actually get swallowed whole by the creature. Rather than die if eaten, as was the case for most other games, players could continue fighting the creature from within its digestive tract. It was a gross visual but something completely unique to the genre. Lost Planet was not the series that made Capcom a player in the giant monster genre.


Monster Hunter, released in 2004, was one of Japan's all-time best selling titles. It had appeared on multiple platforms and introduced many an MMO player to real-time action combat. This was opposed to traditional MMO games which required gamers to point and click at their targets and let pre-rendered animations show whether or not they were hitting an opponent. In real-time combat players had to move, dodge and trap monsters just as they would have in an action game. The only difference being that the world was persistent and they could join thousands of other players online at any hour of the day. Like Lost Planet it too introduced unique elements to gamers. There were extreme changes in terrain, day and night and even weather effects to help immerse the players in the fantasy world. The creatures themselves were some of the largest ever created for an MMO or action title. They were a cross between mythological dragons and realistic dinosaurs. Each creature required a plan to defeat. Players could not go in swinging their weapon wildly and hope to take down the largest opponents. Gamers had to learn how to set traps ahead of time, lure monsters, how to regain health and recover from poison if bit. Even specific weapons and armor did more or less damage depending on the creature being fought. Cooperation was the most important element when dealing with the largest creatures but even the mid-sized monsters required a certain level of expertise.


The Monster Hunter universe was set in a fantasy setting unlike the science fiction future of Lost Planet. The weapons in monster hunter had a limited range and were made from enchanted metals or the bones of defeated creatures. This type of game play appealed to different audiences than Lost Planet but that was not to say it could not work for a science fiction MMO. Sega had released an MMO based on their futuristic Phantasy Star Universe some years prior. Phantasy Star Online, released in 2000, had different classes of warriors with science fiction weapons and allowed players to explore regions of an alien planet in solo or group missions. The gameplay of PSO was closer to Monster Hunter than Lost Planet. Even though the characters had Star Wars-like weapons they had limited range so players were forced to get up close to the action for most of the battles. Some players referred to the gameplay as "hack and slash" like the medieval fantasy games.

PSO was originally released on the Sega Dreamcast. Despite the hardware limitations compared to the current consoles, the graphics were well rendered and several of the monsters were titanic in scale. The game eventually found its way to multiple platforms. The character classes and opponents becoming more imaginative as the series continued. The Phantasy Star Online and Phantasy Star Universe servers closed down in 2007 and 2012 respectively however PSO 2 began open beta in 2012 and would be released in 2013 around the world. Players were eager to see the increased scale of the alien monsters based on the new hardware that Sega was developing for.


Making a fun and memorable giant monster game took a lot more work than presenting enormous creatures on screen. Like Godzilla and King Kong, the best titles drew audiences into their world. Mass Effect, Resistance, Lost Planet and Monster Hunter all adhered to very specific themes. Players could talk about their favorite levels, locations and visuals from the worlds presented in those games. The studios did a great job placing players in unique worlds but there was much more to learn from cinema. The best films created an atmosphere by layering details that made the giant monsters even more terrifying. The sights of mass destruction, uselessness of conventional weapons and the sounds of people screaming in terror allowed audiences to suspend their disbelief and tap into their primal fear whenever the giant monster appeared on screen. The games mentioned thus far were very well made, however they did not always elicit the same emotional response from the great movie titles. We shall explore a couple of games that did in the next blog.


Friday, February 9, 2018

The Giant Monster Series, part 3...


When Godzilla was first designed the creators were looking for dinosaurs as their main inspiration. As sequels were released Godzilla needed allies as well as new opponents to fight on Monster Isle. Designers went back to work crafting monsters that were rooted in nature and even mythology. The serpent like Manda was based on classic Eastern dragon designs, the spiky Ganimes on the other hand was more like a giant crustacean. The Japanese seemed to be going through the same creative roadblock of Western movie producers. Gigantic versions of natural creatures were good but lacking. Godzilla did not quite look like any actual dinosaur and that lack of connection seemed to work. The better monsters had more fantasy inspired cues and took many artistic liberties.


Toho studios hit their stride in 1964 when they released King Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster. They combined classic and science fiction designs into one creature capable of giving Godzilla and his allies a run for their money. The gold scaled three headed dragon, possibly a wyvern, was from Mars, sometimes credited as the uncharted Planet-X. Toho was combining extraterrestrial elements with their version of giant monster storytelling. This opened up the daikaiju format exponentially. The creatures could come from nature, or they could be the result of a mutation brought on by radiation, or they could even come from outer space. The rest of the world ran with possibilities but none did it better than Toho. Godzilla and the other daikaiju were proving to be extremely popular with young audiences. Kids loved the spectacle of the monsters destroying models. They understood that Godzilla was not a villain and the destruction was collateral damage from his battles. Toho began introducing villains that were unlike earlier daikaiju. The new monsters began developing personalities. Little by little the daijaiku were becoming like the classic Hollywood monsters. They were even developing a following the world over. Toho was listening very closely to their fan base and began designing villains that were multidimensional as well. Godzilla's next truly worthy challenge would appear in 1971. Hedorah, the Smog Monster was a creature born from toxic pollution. It polluted the air around it and reduced cities to sludge. It was actually a very powerful opponent and like King Ghidorah it managed to give Godzilla a good thrashing in their first meeting.


Hedorah was much more than the Blob (a 1958 cult classic) with eyes. It was drawn from the zeitgeist of environmentalists. Those too young to remember the atomic weapons used against Japan were keenly aware of the effects that pollution were having on their health and homes. Toho used the film to educate kids on the dangers of pollution as much as it did to entertain them. The generation being raised on giant monster films were also absorbing lessons from comic books, manga, anime and cartoon shows. These young men and women would become the early generation of game designers. They went through a similar learning curve that movie studios had when they first began working in the giant monster genre. Some of the challenges of making a convincing giant monster was a technical one. Software and hardware were very limited in the late '70s. It was tough to get audiences to commit to suspension of disbelief when they were looking at boxy shapes instead of creatures. Developers learned that visuals and effects were only part of the draw of the giant monsters. Control was a make or break point for every title. The ones that found the perfect balance of control while managing the expectations of gamers did the best. It took almost 30 years for graphics and control to reach a point where audiences could be completely engaged in the experience and accept the giant monster as more than a backdrop.

If a current generation player turned on their game system they could expect to be floored by the visuals of a creature like the Hekaton monster from Bulletstorm. The player may not realize that the creature came from somewhere beyond gaming, That somewhere was a combination of influences from science fiction cinema and giant monster movies. The developers at Epic Games had used their insight when designing the Locust aliens in the Gears of War series and were now pushing the envelope as to what was possible. Only when they had enough experience, from a Gears of War trilogy, were they able to create Hekaton in Bulletstorm without breaking the engine or game play.


Even the games that were not violent or graphic were pulling tremendous cues from the giant monster genre. Pokémon for example was a mostly nonviolent battle game targeted at younger gamers. The series had introduced several monsters that were inspired by daikaju legends. Some were subtle and some were overt. Tyranitar could be considered the Godzilla equivalent of the Pokémon universe. As if it were not obvious the series even introduced a Mecha Tyrnaitar as well. The use of robotic daikaiju dopplegängers first happened in 1974 when Godzilla fought Mechagodzilla. Since that time there has been a robot equivalent for almost every major Toho monster.



Even titles that did not feature giant monsters were still drawn to the appeal of the genre. Since 2007 Team Fortress 2 had pitted the Red and Blue armies against each other. In 2012 Valve introduced a third army with the Mann vs Machine multiplayer campaign. The new army was made of robotic copies of all the main military classes. Fans of the game went wild at the announcement. Of course the older players clearly knew where Valve had drawn inspiration for the new army.


Some of the best games of the current generation have exploited the giant monster in one way or another. Several of the most memorable action sequences in first person shooters used the creatures as set pieces. The Leviathan battle from Resistance 2 and the Thresher Maw versus the Reaper from Mass Effect were among the best moments on the new console shooters. Mass Effect was notable for pitting enormous science fiction technology against gigantic alien lifeforms. They had clearly been paying attention to what Toho had contributed to the genre some 40 years prior. The creatures and robots featured in those games had an incredible scale and would have been impossible to render on older hardware. Their purpose however was more than simply for the sake of showing off the horsepower of the new consoles. They were the set pieces that designers had been chasing for over a decade.

Many first-person shooter game designers wanted to give players a feeling that they really were a one-man army trying to save the world. It worked previously by putting the player on another planet or featuring backdrops that filled the entire horizon. For the first time though programmers were able to animate creatures that actually filled more than the field of vision for the gamers. These colossal beasts could now also interact and create a game play challenge. Insomniac and Bioware studios maximized the impact on players by making sure the world presented in their games was as realistic as possible. They included the details to support the environment that players were fighting through as well as the technology that allowed them to battle alien lifeforms and humongous creatures. The soldiers and teammates in the game had personalities and were written well enough for gamers to relate to them. When the gigantic creatures appeared the players were ready to stand side by side with their allies.


This type of interactivity, immersion and emotional draw was not limited to the FPS format either. Role playing, adventure and fantasy titles had also been pushing the limits of what was possible for gamers. The original God of War actually tapped into the origins of the giant monster mythos. The search for Pandora's Box took the Kratos to the ends of a deadly desert. It was where the leader of the Titans, Cronos, had been exiled. Cronos was also of the father of the Greek pantheon. Because he was jealous of their power he ate each god after they were born. Zeus escaped this punishment and returned with full power to release his siblings and imprison Cronos and the other titans. The version of the legend was worked into the plot of the game. There was a mountain strapped on his back as punishment. The mountain was actually temple to Pandora wherein there were traps and puzzles to challenge players.

The Playstation 2 hardware was not powerful enough to render massive characters, instead Sony Santa Monica used scale and perspective to trick gamers into thinking that Cronos was as enormous as described. In the first full shot of the character he was presented many miles from Kratos. Then as he got close the team framed just part of his face on the screen. They created a portion of the level on an outcropping of the mountain. As the camera pointed down the gamer could see a portion of the massive chains that bound the titan. They could also make out an arm and head of Cronos as he wandered the desert. Since very little of the titan was actually shown the engine could animate just those part while keeping the rest of the level static. The illusion was very well done. Producer David Jaffe and his team were fans of giant monster films and used their composing techniques to make the gods in the game look as massive as possible on the hardware.


The final level of the game featured a battle with a gigantic Ares and Kratos. Again, using the tricks of scale and perspective Sony Santa Monica created a miniature version of Athens for players to walk around. The hardware was able to render the level by scaling down all of the scenery, reducing the details and bordering the edges of the level with a bridge and mountain range. The studio introduced a convincing pair of giants that still moved like regular characters.


Eventually the hardware caught up with the vision of the designers. When God of War III was released on the Playstation 3 the Titan set pieces had no equal. Cronos and several other titans featured in the series all became self-contained levels. They walked around Tartatus, the underworld of Greek mythology, all while swatting at Kratos and trying their best to crush him.


Other studios were having a field day with the processing power of the new consoles. Capcom shattered the bar when it came to the scale of giant monsters in a video game. In Asura's Wrath the players were not battling giants or even titans but instead planet-sized mechanical deities whose fingertips enveloped entire continents.


Capcom became very successful at creating games that featured a strong contrast between playable characters and giant monsters. We shall look at what they learned about monster, character and game design during these releases in the next blog.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Giant Monster Series, part 2...


When I began this series I mentioned that the giant monsters in stories were created to entertain but also to help make sense out of chaos. They were created to help audiences face their own limitations and mortality. In the past century there have been tremendous natural disasters. Tidal waves, earthquakes, hurricanes and other phenomena that have caused the death of thousands of people. Centuries ago those events would have been attributed to an angry god, but today we know much more about the natural world than ever before. Yet there existed one thing that could never be predicted, the cruelty of man. The atomic bombs dropped at Hiroshima on August 5, 1945 and Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 at the end of World War II forever changed the psyche of the nation and planet.


The fear, anger and loss experienced by the Japanese was incalculable. It extended beyond mass destruction and a never ending body count. The terror witnessed by survivors was infinitely worse than could be imagined by any horror writer. The flash generated by the bombs evaporated people near ground zero and burned their shadows into nearby buildings. The heat generated by the bombs was three times hotter than the surface of the sun, fuzing metals and ceramics together and burning out the eye sockets of those staring at the blast. Those that did not perish in the explosion died slow, lingering deaths from radiation burns and radiation poisoning. Hell on Earth was personified in the irradiated wasteland left by the US bombers. The Japanese that were neither for or against the war were trapped in the middle. They did not know that their cities were targeted instead of the military bases. They did not know that people in the West would ever retaliate in such a way after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. What the bombs did to the people, the psyche and world view may never be fully understood. The nation did rebuild, its infrastructure, its industries its business and education systems were restructured. The nation came back stronger through the '50s and '60s but perpetually haunted by the ghosts of the atomic age.


Something similar happened to the US on September 11, 2001. The hijacking of multiple planes and their use as weapons of mass destruction had never happened before on US soil. The nation used to have a completely different mindset before the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. To say that people in the US felt invulnerable would not be far from the truth. The loss of life, scope of the attacks and coordinated effort to topple a nation almost worked. The people were shocked. We were not in a war and had never known enemies of the nation that could strike at home. It seemed impossible but as the news poured in we could not escape the terrible truth. We were vulnerable, we could be hurt and we could be killed simply for being US citizens. Many lashed out with rage, others looked inward with blame. There was nothing that could make sense of this tragedy. Fear covered the psyche of the people like a weighted blanket. People woke, went to work or school with a heavy heart. Never knowing when the next strike against the nation would happen. The perpetual state of fear seemed to be part of the new daily routine. The uncertainty must have been similar to what people in Japan had felt after the bombs.


Living with fear and uncertainty on a daily basis must have been what our ancestors had struggled through since the dawn of time. Speaking about it seemed taboo yet almost every person must have felt like talking about it at some point. It was family, friendship, love and community that held them together. It was the stories of heroism in the face of adversity that motivated them. The villains in those stories were like the forces of nature, often gigantic, unstoppable and uncaring. Their modern equivalents were atomic weapons and planes-turned-into bombs. Broadcasting the pictures and film over and over had become the new taboo. People were already living in fear, why would they need to be haunted by images the mass destruction?

Something happened in 1954 that completely changed the psyche of millions. Gojira (Godzilla) debuted the same year as Them! the movie about giant radioactive ants however only one giant creature would be ingrained into global consciousness. Godzilla would be the measuring stick by which all other giant monsters would be judged. Godzilla was a horror movie unlike the giant monster movies in the west. The bipedal lizard was an unstoppable force that left nothing but mass destruction in its wake. It was a modern god of chaos, an engine of destruction with no equal. Tiny models crumbled and exploded under the weight of a man in a rubber suit, however the subtext was anything but campy. Japan was barely managing to survive the wrath of an atomic menace. They hit the creature with everything they had but did no discernible damage to it. In return they had to find a way to survive the onslaught. Their struggle was broadcast for the world to see.


Looking back it was a very risky film to produce. Perhaps some things were too taboo to make screenplays on, then again perhaps some things needed to be dramatized in order to be explained and understood. Godzilla became a hit because it offered something that no other monster movie had before. Godzilla offered a cathartic experience for audiences. Specifically to those that lived in fear and those that lived with the guilt of surviving the horrors of war. The film worked on the same level as the ancient Greek tragedies. Audiences could see a tragedy unfold before them. They would become connected to the actor on the stage and feel as if they were a part of the loss but when they left they would also be relieved of that loss. The burden of survival that those in Hiroshima and Nagasaki bore was shared by a nation. Those that perished from the atomic monster did not die in vain. The nation was strong because it was made up of people that learned to adapt and face adversity with courage. They no longer had to live with fear because the menace that plagued them was only temporary. The monster that had terrorized them was like a force of nature, it did not care for the destruction it left behind, in fact it cared for nothing at all. Godzilla returned back to the ocean that spawned it almost as quickly as it arrived.


In 2008 the American Director JJ Abrams released Cloverfield. Audiences either loved the movie or hated it, mainly because of the filming style. Abrams used a point-of-view handheld camera throughout the movie in order to create a realistic feel. This gave a large number of patrons a sense of vertigo. I did not enjoy that style of "found" footage in the Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity yet for some reason I thought it worked well for Cloverfield. The unnamed monster seemed more menacing when it could only be captured in glimpses or filled out the frame even on distance shots. If helped create a sense of scale for the enormous beast. More important, the use of the format allowed for audiences to become more intimate with the main characters. When they died audiences felt a connection, especially with Hud the cameraman. The movie was an homage to Godzilla, only this time set in New York. The creature destroyed several landmarks and toppled a skyscraper similarly to the planes on September 11.


I felt nervous watching the scenes of destruction especially when the main characters were caught between the giant monster and military assaults. Nothing the Army did seemed to faze the creature. Just like the first Godzilla, people were simply powerless against it. At the end of the film I actually felt different. I felt as if something had changed in the core of my being. Audiences left their negative emotions behind when they saw a tragic play, I had the same feeling when I left the movie theater. The emotional reaction that Abrams was going for worked because he set his film in New York and he let audiences work out their own feelings of what would happen to them if they were caught in a situation like that. The knot that I had in my stomach from living day to day in fear of another terrorist attack had been undone. I walked away feeling changed. I knew that no matter what devastation I saw on the screen the real New York City was safe. More important I realized that the city had not stopped rebuilding since September 11.


Location was part of the reason why Godzilla and Cloverfield worked but there was much more to the formula than that. Giant monsters were different from regular monsters. Regular movie monsters were emotive, sometimes cruel and calculating villains. Giant monsters were more like disasters than bad guys. Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman and Frankenstein's monster were monsters, or kaiju in Japanese. King Kong, Godzilla and the other enormous creatures were daikaiju, or giant monsters. A regular monster in most films had a weakness. Whether it was a stake through the heart, being dragged into the sunlight or shot with a silver bullet. Most movie monsters could be defeated through conventional weapons. Daikaiju were nearly indestructible and no weapon invented could kill them. In many films there were even enormous robots and other science fiction weapons created to try and stop the daikaiju. Perhaps armies could slow them down or contain them but they could never hope to kill a daikaiju with anything short of a nuclear strike.

Daikaiju stories worked on a different set of principles than traditional tales. In order for a daikaiju story or film to work the creator had to build an atmosphere that tapped into an emotional and psychological response. By making the creatures nearly indestructible the author could focus on creating relationships with the characters and the audience. It could draw viewers into the world they created and have them emote as the story progressed. The emotions explored by the best daikaiju stories worked at a primal level with audiences. Daikaiju became the new myths and gods, their mere presence tapped into the same fear of our ancestors. In cinema this was done through visual and also audio cues. What movie fan does not know what the roar of Godzilla sounds like? When Ifukube Akira composed the Godzilla theme he used a full brass section to underscore the unstoppable force that was heading toward Tokyo. The motif continually built tension and had a forward moving momentum. The music featured strong contrasts between the strings, woodwind and brass. They were continuously fighting each other for the theme. It was like the classic composers Mahler or Wagner had become movie composers. The music shaped the world for countless generations, just as the music featured in cartoons had exposed many a young child to classical compositions. The themes highlighted in Godzilla showed audiences that new compositions could sound just as amazing. The use of the theme helped frame even small scenes with great success. The coming-of-age film Always 2: Sunset on Third Street inserted a short Godzilla sequence which gave many moviegoers goosebumps.


The importance of a strong theme and a powerful roar were not lost on Cloverfield. Award-winning composer Michael Giacchino was born during the release of the greatest string of Godzilla features in the mid 60's. He wrote Roar, the theme of Cloverfield. The nearly ten minute song is beat-for-beat an homage to the Godzilla overture.


Daikaiju evolved with cinema. The giant creatures were not locked into one role but began assuming more important elements. Society dictated what they wanted to see in film and the daikaiju had a sort of renaissance through the '60s and '70s. The style of post WWII monster movies changed with the times and laid the foundation for the giant monsters of today. The genre rose and fell in popularity through the '80s and '90s, at some points it became very silly and campy but it never fell completely out of favor with audiences. By 2000 the genre had become so well recognized that it could be adapted to just about any format. Dreamworks combined the old Hollywood monster films and the daikaiju films of Japan into an animated comedy in 2009. Monsters vs Aliens was a nod at several classic characters while trying to make the monsters more contemporary. The directors created awe-inspiring set pieces. Enormous space ships and fights throughout the city of San Francisco, the type of which could only have come from a daikaiju story, to make the battles bigger than those from any other animated film.


The spectacle of the gigantic battles and the exotic monster designs influenced several generations of artists, directors and now programmers. We shall look at how the genre changed from the 1960's to today, specifically what they contributed to video games in the next blog.


Monday, February 5, 2018

The Giant Monster Series, part 1...


Friends, this is a repost from an old 1UP series. It took a long time coming as I had started on it a little when my computer crashed in 2009, then I went back and added some new things after my second computer crashed in 2016. I put the idea on the back burner until I was able to restore my system. As you can see it took a while for that to happen. What I'd like to do is celebrate the most influential giant monster games of the past two decades. The entire reason I went back to the archives was because of the Rampage movie featuring Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson. I have little-to-no-faith that Hollywood will make a good movie out of a fan-favorite game. In fact the series itself made fun of the idea back in 2006 with the game Rampage Total Destruction. In it the monsters could destroy the set that they were filming the movie in.There were many good titles and not-so-good titles released over that time as well as many rarely seen gems. We owe it to the creators to celebrate the best ones. The best way to do that would be to go back to the origins of the giant monster genre in pop culture and find out why it had such an enduring presence.


Giant monsters had been a part of the cultural landscape since the dawn of humanity. Before there were civilizations there were tribes. People were nomadic and fearful of the unknown. Their understanding of the universe was primitive by the very definition of the word. The sun, stars and moon were perpetually suspended in the sky. Perhaps there were giants holding the celestial bodies high above them? The forces that generated the winds and tides were invisible but sentient. Tragedy was always a step away thanks to these thinking but unfeeling phenomena. Origin myths were accepted as fact as they were passed down through the generations. Religion spawned around many of these myths. The gods of ancient Mediterranean, Asian and American cultures shared similar traits. Personalities reserved for people were applied to the invisible forces. Man created the monster as a way to cope with disease and disaster, whether they were self inflicted or natural.


The myth of the giant monster was created to make sense out of chaos. It you were caught in a sudden rainstorm then it was because a god was weeping. Thunder and lightning were caused by giants fighting. Many of the ancient gods appeared as enormous beasts, some with the body of a man and some made up of multiple creatures. These were the precursors to the modern horror monsters. Stories of dragons, giants, ogres and trolls could be used to control the masses. Children listening to fairy tales were not far removed from followers listening to religious leaders. The monsters in the forest were in league with creatures in the closet, waiting to drag weak-willed people to the underworld. At some point the stories evolved to include lessons on morality and temperance. Heroes learned to be defiant in the face of adversity and remain faithful insurmountable odds. Jack could slay the giant just as easily as Jonah could accept his fate in the belly of a giant fish. The giant monster became a tool for writers and storytellers. Stories featuring giant creatures could entertain but they could be used to make audiences cope with their own mortality. The mix of entertainment and morality played best on the silver screen.


Audiences were blown away by the amazing effects featured in the original King Kong. A stop motion ape, no larger than a foot in real life, placed in front of a miniature jungle convinced audiences that lost continents existed. The sense of awe and wonder felt by audiences was palpable even decades after the film was released. The 1933 classic was re-released and remade several times over the past century. The modern retelling by Peter Jackson in 2005 cost millions to produce and used some of the most cutting-edge effects in a film. Whether they saw it in a theater, on re-release or television almost every cinema fan was very familiar with the story of the giant ape being taken from his primeval island and falling in love with a blonde explorer. Ultimately the giant ape is killed when he kidnaps the girl and climbs to the top of the Empire State Building and is shot at by airplanes.

King Kong became part of the mainstream consciousness and even influenced global culture. Decades after it was released a young Japanese game designer named Shigeru Miyamoto created two of the most famous gaming mascots ever. The mustached Mario was allegedly based on his old apartment manager however the title character, a large ape named Donkey Kong, could not have been more similar to the original Kong. He too climbed to the top of a structure while holding onto a blonde damsel. Plus he was only defeated when he fell from the structure. It was all too similar a scenario for Universal Studios and they sued Nintendo over the game. Thankfully Nintendo won and games inspired by other giant monsters could be developed as well.


The monster movie genre peaked in the 50's and 60's. Post WWII America was in dire need of entertainment. The baby boomers were enthralled by the spectacle provided by monsters, aliens and creatures of all shapes and sizes. Studios were constantly battling to outdo each other with special effects. Camera tricks and stop motion models were used for some shots while gigantic animated props were used for close ups. These enormous creatures terrorized audiences and haunted the dreams of many a child. In essence the same visions of ancient gods were used to spellbind contemporary viewers. The earliest monsters created for film were often based on existing creatures. A lizard or insect made enormous was absolutely frightening. Of course today many of those early creatures could be considered campy but their entertainment value could never be argued. Those giant creatures eventually became woven into pop culture. The giant ants in the 1954 film Them! for example were undoubtedly the basis for the giant ants from the Man Ant episode of the Aquabats Super Show.


King Kong gave giant monsters a presence and personality. The monsters that came after built on his legacy and introduced new concepts to film. They developed trademark roars or other gimmicks to set them part from the other studio monsters. Overseas the influence of western movie monsters was not missed. The importance of the films and monsters coming out of Japan would forever change the landscape of cinema. The most important of these new movie monsters was the result of a great tragedy. We'll look at the daikaiju that started an industry in the next blog.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

From Strider to Zeku, where did the lighting-quick ninja come from?

Think of this as a follow-up to Zeku, the new (old?) face in Street Fighter V. By all accounts Zeku is a ninja, a master spy, martial artist and assassin. Yet Zeku doesn't look like what the west considers a "traditional" ninja. He doesn't wear a black costume or throw ninja stars. He doesn't carry around a straight sword or cover his head. There have been other ninja characters in Street Fighter, going back to the original game from 1987. Geki (a non-playable character) was what we think of when we hear the word ninja. He wore a blue costume, fought with a claw hand weapon, threw shiruken or ninja stars at the opponent and could even disappear in a puff of smoke. Ten years later Capcom released Street Fighter III: New Generation and it introduced the world to Ibuki, a fledgling but insanely talented kunoichi or female ninja. Again, she more or less wore something that could pass as traditional garb.



Zeku on the other hand was visually very unique, he had one foot in classical ninjitsu and one foot in the modern world. He wore designer suits yet could change into his fighting uniform in a flash. Zeku was created as the mentor to Guy, the ninja featured in Final Fight, a 1989 arcade hit. I had mentioned previously on this blog how the design of Zeku, credited to senior Capcom artist Bengus, was a nod to the anime heroes from the 1970's. His appearance, his style and even his aesthetic were rooted in the heroes that the Capcom creators had grown up with. But there was another layer of design and meaning with Zeku and with Guy. These were the templates that created the character Strider, a hero from a 1989 arcade hit of the same name. Strider was a revolutionary title. I can say with fair certainty that there was no game that looked even remotely close to it. Part of the reason for its unique look was because people outside of Capcom, a manga collective known as Moto Kikau established the world of Strider Hiryu. They set him and his organization up against a terrorist organization made up of martial artists, robots and cyborgs, lead by a shadowy villain known only as the Grandmaster.



Strider was a cult-hit in the arcade and a smash on the consoles. It was one of the first arcade-perfect games to appear on the 16-bit Sega Genesis in 1990. The 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) also had its own version of Strider. It came out a few months after the arcade game but was graphically inferior. The main character was the same, he still used a sword called the Cypher, fought bosses and traveled the globe. But because of the limited resources on the NES they had to focus less on graphics and expand on the game play. The stages were laid out more like you would expect on an 8-bit platform game, something like Contra or Rygar. Despite the small sprites and limited animations it was still a fun game to play. A big plus was that the story was expanded. It was much closer in details to the manga. Capcom had a lot of buzz from the community but didn't really capitalize on the game right away. A third-party developer, Tiertex Design Studios, made a sequel called Strider II aka Journey from Darkness: Strider Returns. The game was released on the PC and a few console systems but was lackluster in every regard. It rehashed the sprites from the Genesis game and did little to expand on the game play. An actual Strider 2 by Capcom would not debut until 2000. The new game was designed for the Sony Playstation. It was a mix of sprite and 3D backgrounds, making it one of the earliest 2.5D games ever created.

 

Strider had an iconic design. His costume was a blend of cyber-futuristic with classic touches. His costume down to his split-toe boots were something that you might have seen in a traditional manga or anime. Inspired by actual fighting uniforms it was blue rather than black. It turns out that for an assassin a dark color was easier to camouflage at night than absolute black. The costume was also functional, in that it allowed him a full range of motion. His character was about speed and stealth, these are things that would have been sacrificed with heavy armor, like that of a samurai. The biggest update to his design was the sword. It was replaced with a Cypher, a stealthy weapon he could strap to his back that functioned somewhere in between a lightsaber and a tonfa. Strider Hiryu was dangerous because of his fighting ability and his blinding speed. The high tech gadgets at his disposal were the frosting on the cake.

 

When we look at Zeku we are meant to think about Strider Hiryu. Obviously because his alternate costume is in-line with the other Strider uniforms. But we are also supposed to think of Strider because of the array of quick strikes and amazing acrobatics. Lightning speed is something that works extremely well for Ibuki in Street Fighter III (SF III) and Guy in Street Fighter Zero / Alpha (SFZ). The diversity of physical attributes and fighting styles is something that Street Fighter became known for. No matter how broad the size differences were the studio made an effort to keep the game balanced. The massive Hugo and tiny Ibuki were evenly matched in SF III because it was a contest of power versus speed. If a player had great technique then they could use either character well in the game. Yet where did this style of character come from? How did the Strider-like fighter evolve?



One of the early and popular ninja series in the arcade and consoles came from Sega. The Sega arcade game Shinobi from 1987 placed the ninja Joe Musashi in a modern setting, fighting a present-day cartel with his traditional weapons, the shiruken and a kodachi or short sword. However he could also use a handgun if he picked up a power-up. It was an interesting play mechanic, and influential to the development of the action platformer. Musashi was made all the more interesting with his ability to use ninja "magic." These were special attacks that allowed him to clear all of the enemies off of the screen or do tremendous damage to boss characters. Shinobi predated the other arcade hit Ninja Gaiden by a year. The aptly named Team Ninja, a group of developers from Techmo, introduced the world to a new hero. Ryu Hayabusa was their ninja-versus-modern crime lord archetype, the game was closer in game play to Double Dragon than Shinobi. Musashi and Hayabusa were names pulled from Japanese history but their video game personas became the new types of action stars. Each character appeared in a series of games for the consoles and handhelds over the next 20+ years, further expanding on the role of the ninja in pop culture. Shinobi and Ninja Gaiden predated Strider but I would argue that neither really were that influential to Capcom.

 

In 1985 (1986 in the US) Taito released Kage no densetsu, better known as the Legend of Kage. It was an action platformer the likes of which had never been seen before. The premise was straightforward, bad guys kidnap a princess and it's up to Kage (Shadow) to kill the bad guys and rescue the girl. The entire game was set centuries ago in Feudal Japan and it featured Kage, a young apprentice from the Iga school. He didn't resemble what we would consider to be a ninja but his clothing was accurate for the era. He fought costumed ninjas as well as other assassins and magic users on his quest. The game was notable because players would fight waves of opponents on a background that allowed players to scroll left, right up and down. Most games back then only advanced in one direction. Moreover the way the player moved and how he fought had never really been done before. Kage was insanely fast and when he jumped he leaped three or more times his height. This allowed him to jump onto tree branches and jump even higher into the canopy until he could fight his opponents above the treeline. These were the types of fights that had been romanticized in manga and cinema.

 

The game was also very violent for the time. Although there was no blood players could kill opponents with either a shiryuken or with a quick slash from the kodachi. There was none of this knocked out nonsense. Players would leap into the air, throw his stars in any direction while slashing in the opposite direction and any ninja that was in the line of fire would come crashing down head-first. This nonstop killing barrage was the core of every Strider encounter. Players would also block other shiryuken by spinning their blade around. An action video game with both offensive and defensive controls was very rare. The game also changed locations. Players tracked down the clan of the bad guys, through the forest, up a retaining wall and inside a labyrinthine castle where they would find the princess and make a harrowing rooftop getaway. When the intuitive fight and defensive controls were combined with the evolving stage design and non-stop fights it made for a cult hit.



The Legend of Kage was arguably the most influential of the early ninja titles and colored the work of other game and animation studios. Yet even Kage came from somewhere. Ninjas had been a part of Japanese cinema for more than a century. Motion pictures started filming in Japan at the end of the 19th century and started playing at the start of the 20th. The early films were recordings of kabuki theater. Films with a plot came right after, bringing folklore heroes to life. One of the oldest ninja heroes in cinema was Jiraiya (Young Thunder) Gōketsu Monogatari. He appeared as he would have in story traditions, that was he didn't have the typical ninja mask or costume but something closer to everyday wear. He was a master of disguise, wily and charming, with the ability to shape-shift and cast all sorts of magic. He was like WuKong the Monkey King meets Robin Hood with the same amount of cultural significance in each nation. Films on Jiraiya went back to 1914 and turned up again and again over the next century. The way the character moved, his spell casting, his fighting became the standard for over-the-top ninja characters in film, anime and games including Strider and Naruto. In fact Capcom actually tried to make a game on the character post 2000.

 

Capcom had just released Maximo: Ghosts to Glory, a sort of 3D successor to the classic Ghosts 'n Goblins arcade game. In the original 1985 game a knight in shining armor named Arthur had to save princess Prin-Prin aka Guinevere from a horde of demons. In the updated 2001 game the story was reset to feature Maximo who wore a costume that was more Roman or barbarian in origins. The game was developed by a Western team led by David Siller (Crash Bandicoot / Aero the Acrobat). It was a hit and Capcom wanted to do something similar from a Japanese point of view. Jiraiya Kenzan was an unreleased PS2 game that would have been released in 2002/2003. It featured the art and design of Susumu Matsushita, a Japanese artist who had created thousands of covers for Famitsu magazine and was known for his western-cartoon-style designs. It didn't hurt that he also happened to be the lead artist on Maximo. Sadly there was no Jiraiya game and no telling how it would have compared to Maximo. Would it have been a 3D version of Legend of Kage? Or would it have been more like Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi or Strider in 3D? We'll never know.



There was one person that I felt was overlooked for the evolution of the high-speed ninja gaming archetype. Kouichi Yotsui was the director on Capcom's Strider. He had difficulties working with the company, whether it was management or another senior person was unknown. He was one of the first directors to leave Capcom while it was in its prime. Mr. Yotsui had nothing to do with Strider 2 (2000) or Strider by Double Helix Games in 2014 but you don't appreciate how much his fingerprints were on the original game until you look at the other titles he released. He directed Run Saber for the Super Nintendo. It was developed by Horisoft and published by Atlus in 1993. That game looked and played very much like Strider for the SNES. This was important because Sega had the exclusive rights to a 16-bit console version of Strider. Run Saber expanded on the list of game play mechanics set up by Strider Hiryu. The new characters Allen or Sheena could perform all of the same basic attacks of Hiryu, they could also climb and run just the same. The duo now had a diving kick which allowed them to smash through opponents as they descended. Run Saber was also a multiplayer game, whereas Strider was a single player experience. Years later Mr. Yotsui directed Moon Diver. Developed by freeplus, and published by Square Enix in 2011, the game was another return to the classic Strider feel. It made me realize how little credit the man got when it came to the genre and the type of cinematic action he helped create.



Mr. Yotsui's spiritual successor to Strider was another arcade game named Osman (Cannon-Dancer in Japan), published my Mitchell Corp in 1996. The game was beat-for-beat just like Strider. It was so similar in fact that the stage progression was almost identical. In Strider the setting was a futuristic Soviet Union, in Osman it was a futuristic Persian Gulf. The moves of the main character, Kirin, were identical to Strider Hiryu. He could fight, flip in the air, and climb. The lone assassin was a master of the "Secret Style" which allowed his punches and kicks to be as deadly as Strider's trademark Cypher sword. Kirin also had a new special "Fatal Attack" which was his screen-clearing move. He was on the hunt for Abdulla the Slaver, a female goddess-type character. She was the surrogate to the Grandmaster, the shadowy figure from Strider.

 

You begin to appreciate Mr. Yotsui's contribution to the genre and specifically the game play from Strider to Zeku when you look at the details in every game he's directed. In both Strider and Osman there was an emphasis on violence. Yes, graphic violence was in the manga, and had been a popular thing to do in post Hokuto No Ken / Fist of the North Star titles. But this was one of the first times graphic violence had been depicted in an arcade game. Strider killed opponents faster than any arcade hero previously. Bodies were getting sliced to pieces, or exploding in grotesque detail, but the sprites flickered so quickly that you couldn't really tell what was happening. Only when you go back and take a close look at the sprites and animations do you appreciate the frenetic deaths that Mr. Yotsui put into the game. In Osman the villains disintegrate in a flash of color and guts as Kirin strikes them down. If Zeku were based closer on the work of Mr. Yotsui then he would have had more lethal strikes. That or he would have been perfect for Mortal Kombat.



Kouchi Yotsui was a pioneer of cinematic action sequences in his games. I don't mean that he wanted to show the action in a CGI cut scene, or with a quick time sequence. Mr. Yotsui wanted players to experience what it would be like to do something incredible in game that would have been a highlight in an action movie. For example Strider ran down the side of a mountain while landmines exploded behind him. He ran faster and faster, gaining momentum then players made a blind leap before the cliff collapsed under them. This would have been an amazing shot in a Jackie Chan or Mission Impossible movie. In Osman a truck was chasing after Kirin down the side of a building. Again the character was running faster and faster until he could leap out of the way and let the truck smash into the roof of another building. These and many more amazing sequences (the gravity room, the airship, the satellite base) were what made the games unique. Nobody before or after Mr. Yotsui had produced games with the same over-the-top feel. He took the movie-style action of Legend of Kage and put it in a science fiction setting. If you play Zeku or are a big fan of the lighting-quick ninja fighters like Strider I want you to remember the work of Mr. Yotsui. He isn't credited as much as he should be and we should change that. As always if you enjoyed this blog and would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!

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