Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How fight culture became fighting game history, part 40

In the three decades since the fighting game genre had been established there were dozens of forgettable bosses and only a handful that withstood the test of time. The best of these villains had achieved a mythical status. Some were as well regarded as classic movie, comic book or animation villains. For a generation growing up on videogames the boss characters were revered as much, if not more, than most of the heroes. Undoubtedly it was Capcom that set the bar for what defined a great villain was in Street Fighter II (SF II). The game already had an exceptional boss with M.Bison in the USA aka Vega in Japan. He was known commonly around the world as the Dictator. The Dictator was completely unlike the martial arts characters featured in the regular cast. Instead of a traditional fighting costume he wore a red military uniform. He had large metal wrist guards and heavy boots covered in armor. His assortment of moves had no definable style. He could leap well over players, come stomping down on their heads and even fly across the screen with an awe-inspiring psychic attack known as the Psycho-Crusher. The character did not seem cheap or overpowered. His moves were slightly superior than most characters but not to the point where it felt impossible for players to defeat him. He had elevated the standard set by the Muay Thai giant Sagat, who was the boss from the original game.


The Dictator seemed the perfect template for fighting game bosses. That was until one day Street Fighter II got an upgrade and introduced the world to the monster known as Gouki aka Akuma. The character was hidden in the game, he could only be fought after certain criteria were met by the player. The gamer could not lose any rounds and had to defeat most of their opponents with a Super Attack. It seemed like only the best players could meet these requirements. In most arcades whenever a player was about to face Gouki all of the other patrons would stop what they were doing to see the man in action. Just before the fight against the Dictator a new opponent appeared. Gouki had a move that allowed him to slide by his opponents, the Ashura Senkuu. In this case he would slide right past the player and pummel the Dictator with a flurry of strikes. Players didn't know it at the time but the attack was known as the Shun Goku Satsu, literally the Instant Hell Murder. He would then drop the defeated Dictator and turn his attention to the player and issue a challenge. It was one of the earliest cinematic experiences for the genre. This display of raw power was unnerving for the first players that reached him. Gouki had an assortment of moves that none of the other characters had. He could throw fireballs from the air, dive kick and throw opponent while leaping as well. He was absolutely relentless in battle. Unfortunate players would be dispatched by a Shun Goku Satsu. The legend of Gouki would only grow from there.


Players had no back story on the character so rumors began to circulate as to his origins. Why were some of his moves similar to Ken and Ryu? Was he the father of Ryu or was he some long-lost rival? Was he their former master? Why was he so powerful? Most important; where did he come from? The answers to these things would be revealed over time in many more Street Fighter sequels. The actual origins of Gouki were less inspiring. Capcom was asked to release upgrade after upgrade for the arcade hit. Bootleg CPS-II boards allowed cabinet owners to set up all sorts of special things that deviated from the regular gameplay. They could speed up attacks, allow players to switch characters on the fly and increase the combo system so that battles could take place mid-air. These variations of Street Fighter II often turned up in liquor stores and laundromats rather than arcades. Capcom released the Turbo and Championship Edition upgrades to arcade owners that wanted legitimate copies and not bootlegs. At the same time titles from SNK including the Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury as well as competition from the US in the form of Mortal Kombat had begun putting additional pressure on Capcom. The studio was at a crossroads. They could continue working on Street Fighter III or take some of those characters and make one final push for a SF II upgrade. Management pushed for the latter and Super Street Fighter II Turbo was born.


It was not enough to simply add some new moves, characters and animations to the original SF II lineup. The game needed a new boss character to go with it. Electronic Gaming Monthly had a hand in creating the Gouki myth. During one of their more elaborate April Fools jokes they created a hidden character called Sheng Long, named after the dragon punch used by Ryu. They included screenshots to help sell the character. They said that the only way to reach the true master of the game was not to lose any rounds and avoid getting hit by the Dictator until time ran out. At which point the master of Ken and Ryu would show up and beat up the Dictator. Those that didn't get the joke spent the better part of a summer trying to unlock the character. Rumors that the friend of a cousin in some unnamed arcade had seen Sheng Long in action. The myth stayed alive for years. The internet was not widespread in the early '90s so there was no way of proving if it was true or not until EGM had said something. Capcom learned about the prank and decided to put Gouki in the game using similar criteria. Unlike EGM the people at Capcom did much more than put a ponytail on Ken when they created him. They wanted players to remember this boss. In order to do that they had to make him absolutely terrifying and unlike any boss ever seen before.


The designers at Capcom in Japan put together the definitive style guide for fighting game bosses. Actually they had done such a good job that Gouki could be considered as one of the great villains in all of game history. They started by making Gouki appear less human and more animalistic. They flattened and broadened his nose. Instead of a normal skin tone they gave him dark red, almost clay-colored skin. He wore all black and had a rope belt. His hair was crimson, spiky and tied up in the back like a crown or horns. The artists actually looked at a lion for inspiration. The king of the animals was a great template to work from. Years later the studio would revisit the design when they created Leo, the warrior featured in Red Earth / Warzard fighting game. The dark eyes, with a red glint, the sharp teeth… Gouki could hardly be considered human. This was an important trait from both a design and a gamer perspective. The physical traits were used to intimidate players. Although there were bigger characters in the game none of them had the presence of Gouki. Players were not staring down a man as much as they were staring down a beast.

This was a fine line that Capcom was walking. The use of physical traits to make a person seem more animal than man was used in racist propaganda less than a century ago. By dehumanizing minority groups it was easier for the public to side against them and for segregational laws to be passed. In order to make players fear Gouki he also had to be dehumanized. The Dictator was an impressive boss but Gouki was the peak as far as villains went. Capcom was able to dehumanize Gouki without offending players or their sensibilities. Part of that was through the animal cues but part of it was also through spiritual and metaphysical traits. Gouki wore large wooden prayer beads around his neck. This did not make him a spiritual man but instead was a sign to demonstrate that he was a martial arts master. While most Westerners were familiar with the colored belt system used in karate Gouki had evolved well beyond that. He wore a rope instead of a colored belt. The beads were an older symbol, they were something that he had taken from his old master, a Chinese martial artist named Goutetsu. The poses and art featuring the character were pulled from ancient Chinese and Japanese mythology. The demonic protectors of the gates of Heaven and Hell were mighty warriors. They were muscular, crimson skinned, had fearsome scowls and spiky hair. The connections between Gouki and the ancient Nio were certainly more identifiable for the Asian community than the Western one.


This relationship between man and demon was not lost on westerners however. His design was believable but clearly supernatural. It was the way in which the industry reinforced the myth of the supernatural karate fighter that kept audiences coming back for more. The next blog will explore a similar villain created by SNK.

Monday, September 28, 2015

How fight culture became fighting game history, part 39

Scott Stoddard and Adam Ford were the founders of Spiritonin, the independent game development studio. They had cut their teeth working on projects for Avalanche Software, Disney Interactive and other publishers. Both were huge fans of fighting games, especially the Street Fighter and Tekken series. Scott had actually practiced capoeira for a number of years. A back injury and family life kept him grounded but he never lost the passion for the art form. At the end of 2001 he put together a game called Capoeira Fighter. It was like a Shockwave tech demo. He converted 3D models into sprites for his newly created game engine. The animation was okay and the control was pretty good but sluggish when compared to any arcade or console fighter. The game featured two characters on one screen. There were none of the fancy level details, like scrolling or musicians in the background that appeared in subsequent titles. It was as bare-bones a fighting game on the web could get. The game actually had a plot which established the canon of the universe. Mestre Rochedo was honing his techniques for an upcoming fight with Mestre Zumbi. The fight was actually called a "Batizado" which meant Baptism in Portuguese. Students that were trying to earn their cordas, the rope belts worn by practitioners, had to prove themselves by competing against an upper classmate. It was similar to the trials that karate practitioners had to go through in order to earn a new belt. Rochedo was one of the shaved-head characters featured in the series and Zumbi was the one with large dreadlocks. In the first game Rochedo was player 1 and player 2. Zumbi would not appear officially until the sequel.


A few months after the original game came out a much more polished sequel had arrived. Released in 2002 Capoeira Fighter 2 had laid the foundation for an amazing series. The game had much larger and more complex models. The game camera would actually zoom in and out to follow the players. The background was static but there were now musicians playing traditional instruments as well as the other playable characters clapping along in the background. It was as if the players were competing in an actual roda. The gameplay was still fixed in 2D like Street Fighter with similar mechanics. There were a handful of selectable characters, each with their own techniques and moves. Although the models were crude they were all distinct. The sequel had expanded on the story of the game. This time around Mestre Loka and Mestre Rochedo had teamed up to get their students ready for a batizado. Loka's rival Mestre Zumbi showed up to cause trouble. This meant that they all had to fight to defend the honor of their school. This small plot helped establish who the major players were in the game and what their motivation was. It may have sounded insignificant for a fighting game, especially a web-based fighting game, but the story helped demonstrate the commitment that Spiritonin was putting into the series. All of the individual personalities began to come through as the characters, moves and details of the game had gone up considerably. The game had whites and non-Brazilians as well as minority characters in the lineup. The people of color were not treated like exotic or token characters but just as equals. All of the playable characters studied capoeira yet each had their own unique form. It was a refreshing change of pace as far as videogames went, especially fighting games. The diversity reflected the heritage of Brazil and the cross pollination of different cultural elements that helped transform Kupigana Ngumi into Capoeira.

Things went quiet for a few years as Scott and Adam were working on another entry during their free time. The third game in the series could be considered the best web-based fighter ever made and one of the best fighting experiences period. Capoeira Fighter 3 (CF3) appeared in 2004 as a demo with a finished version not long after. Everything that was in the game was exponentially better than what had come before. Stoddard, Ford, their friends, coworkers and families all pitched in to help make sure that the game was worth remembering. The character models, animation, levels, effects, control, balance, music, sound and options were through the roof. Not that many people took notice of this detail but the game actually applied a lighting filter on the sprites. Shadows fell in the foreground or background depending on the placement of the "sun." Skin was shiny or dull, muscles and clothing were highlighted or dark, again depending on the placement of the light source. This was an amazing achievement considering that the game was created for the web on Shockwave, with a full version for the PC being available for purchase on CD.


It took a long time for Capoeira to become implemented properly in a game. It had actually required more work and research than any other Western or Eastern developer had put into the art. The tradition was still outlawed at the start of the 20th century. Just as blacks found it difficult to assimilate into society after the end of the Civil War in the US, the black Brazilians faced many of the same racial tensions, discriminatory practices, violence and oppression for decades after slavery had been abolished. They found it hard to gain acceptance or make headway into positions of power or respect. Capoeira was the one tradition they could hold onto and keep alive despite attempts to suppress the culture. The practice was gaining support in small communities and by 1937 the practice was tolerated by most non Afro-Brazilian towns. By 1953 it was no longer outlawed across the nation. Gamers should be thankful that SNK helped introduce the formerly forbidden art to gamers in 1989 and that by 1997 both Namco and Capcom helped it gain global visibility. In 2008 Brazil declared Capoeira part of its Cultural Heritage. It was only appropriate that the full version of Capoeira Fighter 3 was released in 2008 as well to further educate gamers to the Dance of War.

The game oozed style, Scott Stoddard and Adam Ford had created it as a love letter to the genre. It had pulled many elements from Street Fighter Zero / Alpha but with hints of the King of Fighters and Tekken series thrown in for good measure. To be fair the game also gave a nod to the characters, music and even locations featured in the cult martial arts film "Only the Strong" and even the 1977 classic Cordao De Ouro "Golden Cord." All of the characters introduced thus far had returned in Capoeira Fighter 3. Each of the characters was far more developed and distinguished. The size, scale, body type and even color choices applied to the characters was done with forethought. For example the colored cords that the characters wore reflected their rank and were worked into the theme of each costume. The bold primary colors placed on the cords were reflected on the clothing worn by some of the fighters. The use of primary colors to help identify characters had been used to great effect in Street Fighter II more than 20 years prior. Ken wore red, Ryu wore white, Guile wore green and Chun-Li wore blue. In CF3 Furacao (hurricane) wore yellow, Santo wore green and Perereca (poisonous tree frog) wore white. All of the women in CF3 were also dressed more realistically as well. None sported the bikini of Elena or the revealing costume of Christie Monteiro. Their costumes were functional yet form fitting so that they still accentuated the curves of the females.

A person might think that the gameplay would be very redundant with the number of capoeiristas but no two shared the same moves, combos or special attacks. Capoeira, like kung-fu and karate had hundreds of variations. The strikes applied to each character fit their personality as well as their body type. The muscular characters like Zumbi and Maestro had power moves which relied on tremendous upper body strength. They dealt a lot of damage with a few strikes but tired quickly. The smaller female characters like Coelha (named after a bunny rabbit) and Perereca did not do as much damage per attack but had lighting speed and did not tire as quickly.

The diversity of the characters could not be understated. There were 15 unique capoeiristas (16 including a special version of Zumbi). In addition there were 13 other "World Warrior" type characters that represented other fighting styles like Muay Thai, Tae Kwon Do and boxing. It was not the sheer number that made the game unique but instead the showcase of figures. In other fighting games the playable characters were always roughly the same size and body type. They never had an ounce of fat on them and were never too short or tall. Capoeira Fighter 3 had every skin color and body type that a person could imagine. The various tones and shades of skin suggested that several characters were of mixed marriages, mulatto or even native. Very few games before or after had put as many minority characters in the roster. Very few games had ever put minorities in prominent roles for the accompanying story. The lineup featured tall, skinny, fat, short, muscular and average build body types. Even the heroic Mestres could not have been more opposite. Rochedo was tall, tattooed and muscular whereas Loka was shorter, stocky and wore a tank top that covered his paunch. Loka also sported very nasty cut through one of his eyes. The character had lost it in a maculele or machete battle. The dangerous Cavalaria form of the art emphasized weapons and strong take downs which made Loka a tough fighter.


There was a character that reflected just about every type of gamer there was, including the young and old. None of them seemed feeble when competing against fighters in their prime. This distinction was important because the art form actually helped keep bodies healthy and limber even in old age. Something else to consider was that in most fighting games the token power character was a musclebound man. Zumbi and Maestro did fit the bill however one of the strongest characters in CF3 was a tall and heavyset woman nicknamed Buldogue. She didn't have the fancy tumbling moves of other characters, and she didn't jump very high for that matter. Instead she relied on more realistic open hand slaps, hip thrusts and kicks that could knock down walls.


The nicknames given to the characters was done in more earnest than tongue-in-cheek. Capoeira had been banned a few centuries prior in Brazil. Practitioners knew each other by nickname only. This protected the identities of the masters and their students. The nicknames were earned by peers, after a batizado and were closely guarded. These nicknames were the reputations that preceded the best fighters. The fighters could be named for their tenacity or lack thereof, like Stoddard's alias and playable character "Maionese," Animal names were revered because they were like avatars. Several fighters featured in CF3 were named after animals. Buldogue had the fearlessness and raw power to back up her nickname it was however her trademark yell that gave birth to her legend. The other women in the game were just as unique and memorable. Some were shorter than their male counterparts and some taller. They all had a reputation and purpose written in canon which was revealed during the course of the game. For example Cobra was constantly pitting sides against each other. She was trying to get ahead in the criminal underworld that her father ran. Cobra had demonstrated that the women characters did not have to be heroes. Not only that but they could have as much influence on canon as any male character. Several of the main characters like Furacao, Zumbi and Jamaika were based on real people and the ones who trained Stoddard. It was funny because he turned some of them into villains.

Stoddard knew that it didn't make much sense in other fighting games that all of the characters knew each other or that they happened to be in the same country or town at the same time. So when he began writing the story for CF3 he made sure to reunite the characters under a common goal. This time it was Mestres Loka and Rochedo sending their students around the world to show off their capoeira skills. Zumbi was in hot pursuit of them. They had to prove their art against other fighting styles as well as each other. This meant that allies could fight each other through the course of the game and some could even switch sides. Male and female characters could be fighting for good or evil and the truth would only be revealed at the end of the game.


Some women had more altruistic goals than simply fighting for the sake of fighting. The tall light-skinned Ramba had actually been away from competition because she was busy at the university. She was asked by Mestre Loka to look after his students. She reluctantly agreed as it would be a good excuse to get away from law school for a moment. Along the way Ramba met Buldogue and offered her a better life. Ramba knew that Buldogue was a strong fighter but had never been given an opportunity outside of the roda. Buldogue had been used as hired muscle by other characters in the game and Ramba wanted to get her out of that life. She knew that the bruiser was actually respected by the community, especially the poor that lived in the favela or ghetto. If she were able to get an education and become known for something other than fighting then Buldogue could become an inspiration for other women trapped by their situation. Players were given a choice whether to team up Ramba and Buldogue or to play solo. The purpose of Ramba in the game was not to beat the main villain but instead to help guide those in need. If players completed the game solo then Ramba learned what she was really fighting for. She earned her degree but decided to open her own firm to help the less fortunate. If she teamed up with Buldogue she became a mentor and enrolled her in school while still working double-duty as a lawyer.

Strong, positive, dynamic, interesting minority female characters that didn't need to flash skin to get noticed? There had been few and far between for over 25 years. Designers in Japan and the US had lost focus on how they could introduce new faces without relying on pandering or stereotype. Characters could color the perception of gamers after all. When done in a positive light they could stop perpetuating stereotypes. Capoeira Fighter 3 had set a standard that would be hard for many developers to follow. Where I believe the game excelled was in creating a villain that would hold his own against the best fighting bosses ever designed. The next portion of the series will break from the issue of color to explore what it took to become infamous in the genre.

Friday, September 25, 2015

How fight culture became fighting game history, part 38

Street Fighter III was the long-awaited hit from 1997. Thanks in part to the dazzling animation featured on Elena and her contemporaries. Unfortunately advances in 3D technology were putting the squeeze on Capcom. Namco had fired a shot across the bow of their rival with a new character named Eddy Gordo in the game Tekken 3. The animations for Eddy were created by motion capture. Mestre (master) Marcelo "Caverinha" Pereira lent his talents to the game. The end result was a character that had genuine personality and moved unlike anybody else in fighting game history. Eddy became an overnight sensation. Arcade players were eager to find what combos worked best for the character and even what hidden moves Namco had included. Unlike every other martial art featured in the game Eddy seemed capable of flowing from move to move without having to reset to a standing position. This distinction set Tekken apart from even Street Fighter. For example Elena reset to her standing animation after every attack but Eddy could make an attack into a handstand and still be able to turn and move while upside down. Gordo was such as easy character to control and play as that he became appealing to many novices. They could almost blindly mash the four control buttons and put together a fluid combo string. The term "dial a combo" used by fighting game fans to describe a simple control interface was coined with Eddy in mind. Beginning players looked like pros while Eddy spun, jumped and kicked in all three dimensions. The ease of use upset many players. They felt as if the balance between the various fighting styles had been upset. At no other time had this game or any other inserted a character whose attacks came in rapid succession through simple button sequences. Even Elena required timing and practice just like the other characters in SFIII.

The afro-sporting, bellbottom wearing Tiger Jackson was the alternate character created from Eddy's motion capture data and moves. Jackson never developed the following that Gordo had. He looked like a joke character and was treated as such by most Western gamers. Despite having the same moves as Eddy he was less frequently played in arcades, even by most in the black community. Eddy and Elena introduced something original to the genre. Most fighting games featured either a white person from the US or a Japanese person in the leading roles. It was almost assumed by the developers that people from other countries could never play an important role in the game. Elena and Eddy dispelled that myth. Capcom and Namco won over minority and non-minority players by treating them all with respect. These two were not basketball players, boxers or break dancers. The developers did not rely on trope for the new minority characters but instead grounded them in a real system. This exposed people around the world to capoeira and made two new stars in the process.


It turned out that neither Eddie Gordo or Elena were even the first capoeiristas featured in a game. They weren't even the second ones for that matter. At the dawn of the genre, around 1989, there was a villain named "Slippery" Sam Santana, the 38-year-old character was featured in an SNK fighting game called Street Smart. The characters did not have names in the original arcade release. It would only be revealed once the game was translated to the Sega Mega Drive a year later. The tanned brawler with the long pants and sunglasses was simply known as the Stage 2 boss. His use of tumbling attacks as well as the ability to flip and spin away from opponents had a very distinct capoeira appearance. The designers at SNK were very fond of the unique fighting arts from around the world. They would continue to learn from the fighting community and refine the characters until they were ready for the genre.

 

The first capoeira character worth highlighting in an arcade fighting game was Richard Meyer. He appeared in Fatal Fury, a 1991 title that was also published by SNK. The game was designed by Takashi Nishiyama and Hiroshi Matsumoto. They were planners on the original Street Fighter for Capcom but then moved to the rival studio shortly after it was released. Some of the Japanese developers had been aware of capoeira and had experimented with the form in Street Smart. It didn't really take off prior to 1991 due to the limitations of the hardware and software. Nishiyama and Matsumoto took a chance with the "exotic" style in Fatal Fury. Meyer's kick based moves were revolutionary. He would perform handstand kicks and tumble through the air with wide sweeping motions. He could even hold onto the rafters on his stage and kick at the player. Despite the limitations of the game engine he had a sort of shuffle to indicate the ginga or dancing stance of the art. The immigrant to the fictional Southtown carried with him the music and atmosphere of Brazil. His club, the Pao Pao Café, became well recognized in the series.

In game canon Meyer retired from fighting to run his club. Bob Wilson, introduced in Real Bout Fatal Fury 3, became the second Capoeira practitioner in fighting game history. Although when the game was originally translated in the USA it was called "Cooperia." The sleeper from 1995 actually influenced SNK canon. As a bouncer Wilson accidentally burned down the Pao Pao Café 2. It would be rebuilt and multiple sister clubs would be featured in other SNK games including the King of Fighters. By 1997 gamers had become somewhat acquainted with the art form. It wasn't until the brilliant animations from Capcom and the motion capture sessions from Namco that players really took notice. Capoeira had arrived and would become part of gaming landscape forever.


The next Capoeira star would be Christie Monteiro. She was the daughter of Eddy Gordo's teacher and one of the new faces in Tekken 4, a game from 2001. The character was created using the same motion capture data as Eddy and Tiger Jackson along with some new moves thrown in. The graphics had been improved considerably on the new Namco System 246 hardware. Despite the bump in graphics, lighting, effects and level design, Namco was keenly aware that sex was a major selling point for many characters. Eddy would appear down the road as an secret character but Christie was designed to get the attention of players. This skin show was obvious pandering to the mostly male fans of the genre. The objectification of women in fighting games is a topic for another day. For Elena and Christie the looks got the attention of the players but the Capoeira moves were the icing on the cake. Not that many gamers complained about the sexy designs as the Tekken series stood on its own merit. It was a well designed and well balanced game. It had more things going for it than Killer Instinct and thus saw far more sequels. Tekken, along with Sega's Virtua Fighter, would continue to be the standard by which all other 3D fighting games would be measured.

Even Evoga, the developers of the Rage of Dragons, were not immune to the appeal of capoeira. They had created the insipid Mr. Jones but followed up with some more original ideas. Brazilian Pupa Salgueiro and Mexican Pepe Rodriguez were a tag team pair that added color to the lineup. Pepe had a fictional fighting form given to him while Pupa had a variation of capoeira. Pupa made for an interesting choice because she was young and undersized compared to the other characters in the game. There was another young girl in the game named Alice Carroll but she had awe-inspiring psychic powers that allowed her to throw players around the screen using her mind. There was an eight-foot-tall 600-pound brute in the game named Abobo. He had arms twice the size of Pupa and Alice and enjoyed menacing the other fighters. Pupa kept a rather large pipe wrench in her back pocket for just such an encounter. Whether Pupa was a master of Capoeira or not the wrench was the great equalizer.


Rage of Dragons had capped a decade of Capoeira in the arcade and positive minorities in fighting games. The downside for people from other nations was that the roles were often fixed to the country of origin. Most karate experts were Japanese, most boxers were black Americans, most kung-fu artists were Chinese, most wrestlers were white Americans and most capoeiristas were Brazilian. However as Ron Van Clief, Dennis Brown, Willie Williams and other African-Americans had shown, the black community could excel at kung-fu, karate and wrestling in the home countries of the art. Foreigners had contributed greatly to the fighting arts from other nations. Asians could be great boxers, Europeans could be great at judo and anyone could practice capoeira. When a small team of developers got together to see if they could make an all-capoeira fighter they set a standard yet to be topped. The next blog will look at this series.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

How fight culture became fighting game history, part 37

Many readers that were fans of the fighting genre could probably guess that this blog would be highlighting the martial art of Capoeira. In the previous blog I had mentioned that the fighting art of Kupigana Ngumi incorporated rhythmic dances to help teach the style. Slave owners had made an off-hand comment about how the Africans were born with rhythm and the ability to dance. What they failed to realize was that the slaves had brought their Kupigana Ngumi traditions with them and these things could not be thrown overboard, destroyed or erased by violence. Nowhere else was this cultural tradition more apparent than in South America. The Portuguese, French and Spanish traders had taken slaves through the islands of the Caribbean en route to the new continent. Along the way they cross-pollinated spiritual, musical and religious ideas with island natives. When the slaves had arrived in Brazil they maintained a good portion of their cultural heritage but also brought with them many new lessons. The fighting art they developed came to be called Capoeira.


The slaves and natives kept authorities from discovering the true origins of the fighting art by making it look like a dance and a even a game. African drums were replaced by the native panderio (tambourines) and the berimbau (a stringed bow). The rhythms or toques played by the musicians, usually made up of other capoeiristas, determined what style the session would be in. Some songs emphasized leaping and tumbling moves, others focused on quick moves or trapping and still others forced participants to lay low and focus on upper body strength exclusively. The most dangerous form "Cavalaria" had knives, razors or machetes used by participants. In demonstrations two sticks replaced the machetes. The songs could also be used to signal the community of approaching authorities or soldiers. Practitioners would trade moves in a circle or roda. The constant movement of the dance would help make the practitioners hard to hit in a real fight. It would also teach timing, feinting and counter defense, which were all important elements in a battle. Capoeira became known as the Dance of War. It didn't take authorities long to figure out what the practitioners were really up to. The form was outlawed but many capoeiristas, not all African-slaves but also natives, ex-soldiers and immigrants kept the system alive. It became the secret fighting art of the New World. It was practiced in the back alleys and outskirts of town far from questioning eyes. Practitioners would call each other only by their nicknames or apelidos as to not tip off authorities to a real name or hideout even if they were to be captured.

Slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888, decades after the Civil War in the US had ended. It lasted longer in South America because of the higher demand for slaves. The tropical climate was very good for year-round growing of crops and traders demanded a massive workforce. The indigenous people could not leverage enough support to end the trade with smaller nations or European partners. Those in authority did not want their economy or power structure to collapse so they did whatever it took to keep it running. When slavery ended capoeira finally came out of the shadows and became ingrained into Brazilian culture. Practitioners acknowledged the African roots of the art but also understood that it had changed considerably in the 300 years since the first generation of slaves had arrived. Brazilian natives, European immigrants and Caribbean islanders had all helped shape the fighting art and keep it alive.


Capoeira would look great in a video game but there was one major problem. The system was much more fluid and rhythmical than the other arts. Karate looked absolutely stiff by comparison. In order to be accurately represented in a game it required hardware capable of displaying hundreds of complex animations on the fly. The early fighting game engines were woefully underpowered. They could only show a handful of frames of animation and had relatively small sprites. By 1997 both Capcom and Namco had developed powerful game engines that were up to the task. The CPS-III engine by Capcom was sprite-optimized hardware. It allowed developers to work with a more robust palette of colors, larger pixels and characters whose animation frames had gone up exponentially. Namco by comparison was working on 3D hardware. The System-12 unit they had developed created stunning animations on complex models with detailed textures and lighting effects. The characters both studios introduced set the gold standard for capoeira characters in a game.

Elena was the playful long-legged African girl created by Capcom. The developer had rotoscoped one of their designers, Daigo Ikeno, who actually practiced capoeira in order to make the animations look as fluid as possible. Players could tell that the CPS-III hardware was leagues ahead of any other studio as they watched the hundreds of frames of animation given to Elena flow from one move into another.


Elena was designed with a combination of different native elements and animé influences. She had white hair and blue eyes, which was rare for a native African but seemed to run in her family. It was an interesting visual contrast, similar to the Aboriginal tribes of Australia. It hinted that Elena was actually of mixed descent. This made her one of the first mixed ancestry videogame characters. Black Orchid and her brother Jago from the 1995 game Killer Instinct were actually the first mixed ethnic fighters. They were from black and Asian parents but presented with Western comic book design cues rather than animé ones. The developers at Rare were keenly aware of their audience in the US. North, Central and South America had become ethnically diverse thanks to centuries of emigration. Asians, Europeans, Africans and Natives were not always mutually exclusive communities in the New World. Gamers that came from two different cultures sometimes felt that they could not identify with the main characters in their favorite titles. Even the strong minority characters only represented half of their heritage. Killer Instinct changed the perception of what was possible not just to gamers but to the industry as well.

Granted, Rare exploited many of the same trends when creating their cast that the other studios did. Orchid was a highly sexualized character. She was very busty and fought in heels while wearing a tight rubber dress. Her brother had huge muscles, like the other males in the cast, yet was still incredibly fast and flexible. The characters and gameplay was completely over-the-top and audiences understood that and appreciated the game for what it was. Killer Instinct was not meant to be a copycat of the games from Japan. It did not use hand drawn sprites but instead pre-rendered CGI sprites so that its graphics appeared years ahead of the curve. It did not limit the number of strikes that players could pull off and instead celebrated the 20-hit, 30-hit or even 90+ hit combo strings that savvy players could put together. Killer Instinct featured violent, gory or even comedic "Fatality" moves for the characters. Orchid for example would open her top, flash opponents and give them a heart attack. The game had become a reflection of what the audience desired in a fighting game. Players from Generation-X made up the majority of arcade visitors in the US. By '95 they had become older teenagers and wanted to see sex and violence in equal measure. Killer Instinct was a bold contrast to the sanitized experiences from Japan and offered more "mature" themes for these teenagers.


Jago and Orchid did not have an actual fighting style associated with them but instead had fictionalized martial arts moves. This was fine among players considering the duo were battling lizardmen, werewolves, cyborgs and aliens. None of those fantastic characters had realistic combat styles either. Gamers enjoyed the clash of styles and characters and for a few months Killer Instinct was the hottest title in the arcade. Once players had figured out all of the possible combinations and fatality moves the game tapered off in popularity. The characters and premise were fun and the uniqueness of the experience had built a strong following. Unfortunately the game lacked depth. The sequel failed to gain as much interest as the original. Within the community it became another challenge to figure out all of the combos, fatalities and secrets as fast as possible. Once that was done players went to other fighting games, and in some cases back to older fighting games.

The staying power of the best franchises was due to more than shock value, fancy graphics or massive combo strings. Great game engines and characters went hand in hand. Fantastic character designs that relied too much on spectacle rather than substance eventually sank the KI experience. Street Fighter tended to have a bit more forethought in their character designs and game engine. The developers had created a balanced game that would be easy for beginning players to pick up and yet gave advanced players a challenge to master. Killer Instinct had a steep learning curve by comparison. Beginning players could be brutally punished by opponents or the computer AI. This reduced the chance of repeat plays from those still learning the intricacies of Western fighters. The characters for KI were interesting but also lacked staying power. Gamers did enjoy the diversity of the cast but perhaps they were a little too generic. A black boxer, an alien made of ice and one made of fire… it was as if they were pulled from comic books and rival fighting games. Capcom on the other hand was crafting fighters that had more substance. In some cases they were inspired by real fighters, rooted in real systems and bore cultural cues when they could. It was easier for gamers to identify with these characters when it seemed that the studio respected their audience. The jewelry that Elena wore for example was similar to the layered necklaces of the Samburu tribe from Kenya. Her costume was anything but traditional though as it consisted of a very short bikini. The appeal of sexualized characters was not lost on the Japanese developers! Elena's stages in Street Fighter III featured the beautiful landscape of her home country. Wild animals, sweeping valleys and amazing sunsets framed the postcard-worthy Africa. Perhaps she wasn't meant to be a capoeirista but instead was supposed to represent Kupigana Ngumi.


Elena had set the bar for traditionally animated fighting game characters. Moreover she was a strong minority character of mixed ancestry. These design choices spoke to the community of players from different backgrounds. It was however a rival character that made the biggest impression with audiences. The next blog will look at the whirlwind character introduced by Namco and the style that inspired millions of gamers.

Monday, September 21, 2015

How fight culture became fighting game history, part 36

The subjugation and oppression of minority groups was the backbone of Bioshock Infinite. The game actually compared the grotesque caricatures of minority groups with illustrations from historical abolitionists. It was a well crafted way of rewriting history and exploring themes which still affected modern society. Developers had opened a dialogue of sorts with their audience. They cast a complex issue in a new light by creating a virtual world for players to explore. Gamers could see and hear the differences between how the privileged class and minority characters were treated in the floating city of Columbia. Many of the elements featured in the game were pulled from actual US history. It gave the game a sense of depth and substance that few titles had ever achieved.


One of the most horrific acts in the building of the US was the workforce acquired. Slaves from Africa and Europe were brought over by the shipload in inhumane conditions. Those that survived the crossing were separated from their families, sold as property and beaten into submission. For centuries these unnamed and unknown servants helped shape America. The world they left behind, the veritable cradle of civilization had been encroached upon by colonists. In their assimilation to "the New World" a good portion of their culture, their history and their traditions were lost. The ancestors that knew the languages, belief systems and wisdom of the homeland died off from work or disease. Slaves learned that the American continent was their new home, only that they would never be allowed to call it such.

Columbia in Bioshock was a microcosm of post-industrial American society. It summed up multiple periods in history, the ugliness of hate speech, propaganda and showed how difficult it was for migrants to integrate into society. The spiritual and religious themes were also very important considering that the tenants of the Christian faith extolled forgiveness and acceptance. These teachings seemed only to apply to the leaders of Columbia and not the servants. The contrast and hypocrisy of this utopian society were the undertones that carried the game. Yet outside of the dialogue started by the developers at Take-Two Interactive the game still revolved around white protagonists. The studio seemed unsure how to write for minority leads, if they were even considered to be stars of the game to begin with. Take-Two seemed as out of the loop as Japanese developers when it came to creating strong black characters. To be fair though the lack of high-profile black characters was the status quo for most AAA titles. Following the trend did not make it right.


One of the biggest mistakes made by modern game designers were the roots of black fighters and traditional combat systems. The previous blogs showed how black characters in games were given a gimmick. Boxing, basketball or breakdancing were the most common "forms" applied to them. It demonstrated how hopelessly out of touch most developers were with regards to the martial arts of Africa or what arts had been studied by African-Americans outside of boxing and wrestling. African-American martial artists had been making tremendous strides through the 20th century, especially during the Civil-Rights Era. For example Kung-Fu practitioner Ron Van Cief survived a lynching from his own unit after joining the Army. He also survived a tour of duty in Vietnam against very adverse conditions from his fellow soldiers as well as the enemy forces. When he got out he auditioned for a movie role and became a star. He would appear in more than three dozen martial arts films overseas. In the US he and fellow blacks that practiced martial arts were still heavily discriminated against but in Hong Kong they were treated with respect. Van Clief and other black karate, judo and kung fu fighters had mostly been ignored by game developers in Japan and the US for their contributions to the martial arts. Only the stylish characters like Jim Kelley would make a lasting impression to designers.


Some of the oldest combat systems the world had ever known were born in Africa. They went back thousands of years, back to the days of the pharaohs. Ancient carvings depicting hand to hand and weapon based combat were on the Beni Hassan Temple in Egypt. The did not record a war or ceremony but appeared to depict a system of grapples and strikes dating back to 3000 B.C. The system was known as Montu Ngumi or Kupigana Ngumi in Swahili. The martial art combined many elements from various tribal cultures into its development including music and dance. These things were not all strikes but included meditation, breathing exercises, religious and spiritual beliefs as well. In these ways Kupigana Ngumi was very similar to the martial arts of Asia. Many systems in China and Japan also relied on mediation and other exercises to help mentally condition their practitioners.

 

Mental discipline was just as important to most defensive arts as learning how to properly block, throw a punch or kick. People concerned with only learning how to fight often missed the most important lesson the arts had to offer. Self control and character development were paramount to physical training. The difference between learning to fight and learning a system was in the "kata" or forms. In karate practitioners learned a routine that used punches, kicks, blocks and stances. These were called kata. As new moves were learned they were incorporated into the kata. Variations of these kata were long and complex, taking thousands of hours to learn and a lifetime to master. What Kupigana Ngumi did was use music and dance to help practitioners memorize the techniques. Moves flowed from one into the other like steps in a dance. This made for a very fluid system which allowed for individual interpretation. Asian systems were usually fixed forms, having zero room for deviation. Practitioners for Kupigana Ngumi were free to build on their strengths while switching from standing to crouching movements in a nonstop, rhythmical string.


This was a technique that was taught to both men and women starting at a young age. The form was good for core strength development and building arm and leg strength as well. The broad swings of the appendages allowed for even the smallest fighter to learn powerful attacks. Momentum, speed and torsional mechanics replaced the need for big muscles while striking. The constant shift from foot to foot and crouching moves meant that some practitioners were were extremely good at evasion. Pacifists or those that could not generate the right "snap" for a kick could still make it out of a tight spot thanks to the system. The low stances were also useful for those that had fallen or were tackled. The majority of real world fights ended up on the ground and people that knew how to strike and evade from a low position had the advantage.

The form followed slave practitioners to the West Indies, the Caribbean and eventually the Americas. Consider the blasphemous stereotype that slaves were born with natural rhythm and the ability to dance. Could it be possible that what those early slave owners had witnessed were some of the first Kupigana Ngumi moves in the New World? Any accurate report of what customs and traditions the Africans had brought over were lost in time and simply never recorded. The settlers considered them savage and sub-human after all. The slave owners would have destroyed any artifacts the Africans brought and would have worked tirelessly to suppress any spiritual beliefs they had. The history books would have made no mention of what African culture was like before the slave trade started. The brutality of the slave owners had twisted the generations born on the new continent. During the centuries of slavery and apartheid the African fighting arts had evolved into a new form. The large sweeping motions of Kupigana Ngumi had all but disappeared. In its place was a system that was far more brutal and to the point. Kiungo Cha Mkono or "Shackle Hands" was a form of trapping and striking that was very similar to the Chinese Wing Chun school of boxing. It could be practiced by any person regardless of gender or age. It was born from the necessity of slaves and prisoners to defend themselves while handcuffed and chained together. The strikes used in the system were meant for maximum soft tissue damage. Exposed ears, eyes and throats were prime targets. Jabbing with fingers and scratching out eyes were fair attacks considering what sort of life the Africans were being sold into.

Kupigana Ngumi and Kiungo Cha Mkono survived a long and ugly history and were still being taught thousands of years later. More than any boxer, basketball player or breakdancer it would have been amazing to have seen a fighting game character use the systems. Those that played arcade games in the '90s had actually been exposed to parts of the African fighting culture. It turned out that the genre was not solely not about stereotypical gimmicks being placed on minority characters. Some of the greatest game characters introduced almost 20 years ago were rooted in reality. The next blog will look at the proud characters that highlighted the beautiful fighting art.

Friday, September 18, 2015

How fight culture became fighting game history, part 35

Capcom had the greatest success in casting minority characters as fighters without relying too heavily on stereotype. They presented quasi-realistic fighters from various nations in each incarnation of the series. In order for gamers to pick up nationalistic cues they dressed each character appropriately. The military fighter from the US wore camouflage, the karate fighter from Japan wore a white gi and the Muay Thai fighter from Thailand wore shorts. Three of the black characters in the first three games were boxers but the three were unique. The original, Mike, was a boxer with street roots, he wore sneakers and battled with taped up hands. The second, Balrog / M. Bison, looked like a boxer in training. M. Bison was actually designed to be an evolved version of Mike, one that had achieved his dream and became a boxing champ but threw it away chasing women and money. The third boxer, Dudley, was dressed in a fine suit. He represented the champion boxer that never took his eye off the prize. In all Capcom had managed to respect the genre and their audience in equal measure by avoiding the stereotypes that seemed to keep popping up in the early SNK titles.

Street Fighter IV was released in 2008, it was 11 years after Street Fighter III had come out and a generation removed from the stereotypical fighters from 1994. A gamer might assume that in that span of time Japan had become more familiar with the various ethnicities that made up the USA. After all the internet had only served to make the world seem smaller by making trends move faster. That seemed to be the case at Capcom. During the early stages of character development a new fighter named King Cobra was created. The character looked interesting as he was a mash up of Hip Hop culture and traditional karate. He had a shaved head and sported and earring, his gi had a fur lined collar. The character looked very similar to Meera, a character from the manga Tokyo Tribe by Santa Inoue, Mr. Inoue had done an exceptional job of bringing Hip Hop culture, the language, music and fashion to his native Japan. He had followed it for as long as he could remember, which was interesting considering that the Japanese had been deemed an insular society by the rest of the world.


The designers at Capcom did not have to travel far to learn what made a black culture interesting and how to bring that into contemporary character design. Tokyo Tribe had done all the work and acted as a primer for urban trends. Readers could find out about mix tapes, graffiti, criminal organizations and thug life. Plus they could see how strongly it contrasted against the Japanese landscape but was acceptable as a youth movement. Meera was actually a villain in the series which made the points of reference all the more unique. King Cobra wasn't always a young karateka. In his earliest concept art he was actually a giant. He was designed to be a rival of Ken. The studio wanted Ken to have his own Sagat, or impossibly big obstacle.

Before the Meera look King Cobra was tall and lanky with a big afro. The design was taken from Kareem Abdul Jabar, a villain from the Bruce Lee film Game of Death. Street Fighter IV designer Daigo Ikeno thought that the point of reference was a bit dated. Although martial arts film fans considered the piece timeless the character was not. Jabar was barefoot, sported tiny shorts and a long sleeve shirt. He looked a little silly by the standards of today. There didn't seem to be a strong unifying costume for the Jabar as there were for the other fighters that Lee had faced in the picture. Jabar was actually vacationing in Hong Kong when he decided to visit his friend and martial arts teacher. Lee took the opportunity to cast him in a role. The costume shop didn't have anything ready for the 7' 2" NBA center so he just wore whatever he had handy. This would explain the leisurely clothes.



The original design of King Cobra / the Black Cobra gave away that the character was from the '70s, it was a step back to Mr. Jones territory. Ikeno was looking for a younger face and a more contemporary cultural touchstone. The Hip Hop elements seemed obvious. The character would be a young upstart looking to dethrone Ken. He would be equal parts attitude and ability with an homage to the Karate Kid (the original one, not the remake) thrown in for good measure. Ikeno wanted Cobra to be appealing to new players yet also threatening to the older guard. Abdul Jabar needed to be replaced as the template and even Shaquille O'Neal had become dated. Kobe Bryant became the most obvious choice. He was tall but not gigantic. He was slender but still very athletic. The face, the earring, the charisma and confidence of the young Cobra were very reminiscent of the Black Mamba, the nickname that Bryant gave himself.



King Cobra was a character with an exceptional design. The color of his uniform was a solid black. It balanced the iconic white gi of Ryu. The color of the gi was contrasted by the gold belt and gold punching gloves of the character. These elements were repeated with the gold necklace. His costume looked classic but actually had a non-traditional cut. He was one of the rare SF characters that had a mid-sleeve gi. Ken, Ryu and the Brazilian Sean all wore sleeveless tops. The Japanese Makoto had a traditional long sleeve gi, but Cobra had a mid sleeve. The sneakers were a perfect modern touch. They were very subtle, and yet, could not be ignored. In the very first Street Fighter Ryu wore red slippers. It was much easier to imagine him traveling from town to town challenging opponents while wearing slippers.

Cobra represented just a hint of Hip Hop culture, truly an artistic global culture and not limited by USA ideals. It was just enough to remind audiences that he was the modern urban youth, not a jet-set playboy like Ken, nor a wandering solemn hermit like Ryu. The gold chain on his neck was not too bold or thick, he could never be confused for the Blacker Baron or Joe Fendi. He did not sport any sort of earrings, medallion or emblem that would have dated his appearance. His jewelry was very clean and simple. The ruffled edge of his gi gave him personality. The sneakers were classic, something that would have worked in any decade of the modern era. They were appropriate for the look that this character represented, a cue from the traditional and modern, not unlike the wrestling boots that contrasted the dress of Chun-Li. The sneakers were something that could be worn while traveling down city blocks walking into dojos and beating people up. The legend of the barefoot master did not make much sense in the modern city. Cobra was young and bold and not scared to bring just a little bit of his world into the Street Fighter universe. His design was not so bold as to try to change the universe and our attitudes towards the established characters. His belt and uniform reminded us that he was mindful and respectful of the martial arts.



Yellow was usually the first belt awarded to students learning karate. However Cobra's belt had more of a golden hue to it, allowing us to ponder if he was a master and of what form. The characters on his belt spelled out an additional layer of detail from Ikeno. Most SF fans knew that Ryu had writing on his belt. Thanks to my friends Bob, Cesar and Lester for coming through with the translation and meaning. Ryu's black belt reads Fūrinkazan, literally "Wind, Forest, Fire and Mountain" It was paraphrased from Sun Tzu's The Art of War: "Move as swift as a wind, stay as silent as forest, attack as fierce as fire, un-defeatable defense like a mountain." This was an epic sentiment that shaped the character and personality of Ryu.

King Cobra had a different statement on his belt, Jyakuniku kyoushoku wich roughly translated to "survival of the fittest / law of the jungle." These things combined with the gold and black and cobra logo on the back of his gi made him a subtle homage to the Karate Kid villain Johnny Lawrance. It was yet an additional layer of detail that Ikeno laid down that would have gone over well with audiences. Certainly this was a design for a strong black fighter that would have been very appealing to Americans. It was much better presented and respectful of the fighting arts than Dee Jay or the basketball players mentioned in the previous blog. King Cobra followed the traditions of the classic characters yet visually did not have to bring up racial prejudices or gimmicks to make him stand out.


There was one thing that was troubling about the design, this was not something that was seen but rather unseen. Since the character was never finalized there were no models or animations to look at. Players didn't know that the original plan for the character was to give him "Breakdance Kung-Fu" as his fighting style. It was inconceivable that the designers at Capcom had really not caught up with the times. Just about everything worked well for Cobra except for his moves. The black-entertainer-as-fighter had died with Boggy back in 1994. At least players in the West had thought the stereotype had passed. Besides, breakdancing was considered a "fad" in mainstream US culture and only hardcore dancers still supported it in the States.

The connotation of all blacks being good dancers was a stereotype as old as the Sambo himself. One of the oldest ideas about blacks was very dehumanizing. According the slave owners the blacks were born with natural rhythm and an ability to dance. They insisted that the savages had no concept of self and that they "would even dance on the auction block." The decedents of the slaves were some of the early successful entertainers in turn-of-the-century America. Unfortunately many of them were paid to perform as minstrels. They had to act like clowns in black face makeup and be the ugly parodies of themselves that the racially charged audiences expected to see. They sang and danced on stage and in film so they could afford a better life. Unfortunately no matter how rich or famous they got they were still second-class citizens. They could not eat where they wanted, travel where they wanted or even consort with non-blacks without fear of reprisal by racist groups. African-Americans had therefore been very critical about their portrayal as dancers and entertainers rather than people first and foremost for most of the 20th century.


From the early black and white pictures to the first audio and full-color feature there had always been an African-American pioneer working in film. It took a long time for Hollywood and the rest of the world to appreciate the contributions of blacks not only in entertainment but in "American" culture. If someone made the mistake of assuming that they were natural at it they could be corrected. Blacks worked hard for everything they had become famous for, they put up with tremendous amounts of hate and bigotry while claiming a slice of the "American Dream." The lessons from history were obvious. If minorities wanted to be taken seriously in the arts or entertainment then they had to work hard for it. If they wanted to see minority characters in gaming then they had to become programmers, designers and developers as well. A generation would grow old waiting for the publishers to catch up.



Whether King Cobra was the Black Mamba in disguise, a positive role model like Dudely or a throw-away character like Boggy would never be known. The Japanese were merely reflecting US pop culture. They did not have the complete picture of black society in the USA. However not every developer relied on stereotypes while creating a lineup. Not every developer believed in the images that they had been fed by the media. Many travelled the world, did their homework and learned that different ethnic groups were much more interesting than any news clip or music video. When these designers went back to the drawing board they developed characters that were much more universally appealing. They accomplished this by incorporating actual cultural cues and details into their black figures. There were reasons why the genre survived the rise of the home consoles through the '80s and the arcade crash of the late '90s. Truly great fighting games had a diverse fan base made up of every ethnicity and background. When these players saw a diverse cast, one that they could identify with, they were willing to embrace the series. The audience would continue to support the publishers as long as they continued developing great games with a broad well-respected cast.


When the developers in Japan and the US took the time to incorporate real elements from history and society into their titles they accomplished something profound. They managed to expose the world to systems and cultures they might have previously never known about. The fighting genre was indeed very influential to a generation, but not in the ways that the politicians had made it out to be. It did not turn fans of Street fighter and Mortal Kombat into cold-blooded killers. It did however color the perception of young impressionable gamers by making them aware of how amazing the world really was. The next blog will explore the ways that one of the darkest times in modern history also changed a beautiful art form.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

How fight culture became fighting game history, part 34

Characters in the fighting game genre did battle for any number of reasons. Some were noble, like police officers trying to bring criminals to justice. Others to prove their fighting style was the best. Some simply for the sake of achieving fame and glory. Black fighters seemed focused on the fame and glory part but to all things there were exceptions. The military officer Jackson "JAX" Briggs from Midway's Mortal Kombat II (1993) and the gentleman boxer Dudley from Capcom's Street Fighter III (1997) were contrary to the typical portrayal of black characters in most games. They were noble, powerful, fit well into their respective franchises and never allowed old conventions to dictate their presence or personality. Unfortunately both Jax and Dudley were rare in that regard. Japanese and US developers seemed to find it easier to rely on the trope that a black fighter was a brute, a thug. EA Sports BIG even created an entire fighting game series based on the Hip Hop / Thug characters in 2003. Def Jam Vendetta put actual rappers like DMX, Ludacris and Method Man against fictional thugs in an underground fighting tournament. The game did well enough to spawn a couple of sequels. It seemed that as long as fighting games were halfway decent then audiences would play characters of any color or background and support the publishers. Yet long-term success seemed to elude the games that only pandered to the lowest common denominator. The demand for a Def Jam fighting game had never been very high, especially when compared to the demand for Street Fighter.



It seemed that substance did matter to the core fighting game audience. Respect for the genre and the audience was good for the long term success of a franchise. The gameplay, control, and animation featured in the Street Fighter series was better presented than any other series. The characters featured within had become more iconic than those from any other game. Most players were familiar with Balrog, the name of M. Bison in the USA, They knew that he was based on pro boxer Mike Tyson. However during the development of Street Fighter II there was going to be a boxer as a playable character. This boxer was named Dick Jumpsey. He was inspired heavily by Jack Dempsey, a prize fighter from the turn of the century. The stance, moves and techniques of those early legends like Dempsey were the stuff of legend, especially in Japan. Boxing was made popular in the manga and anime series Ashita no Joe (Tomorrow's Joe) and the more contemporary Hajime no ippo. The influences of popular culture on the decision to use a boxer and even how he appeared should not be underestimated. These elements have been influencing designers for decades. The Joe story would have been something that the team at Capcom had grown up with in the early 1970's while the Hajime no ippo story would have been a contemporary manga running parallel to the development of Street Fighter II in the late 80’s.


A Dempsey-inspired character would not appear until years later. Dudley, featured in SF III was a gentleman boxer whose timeless qualities made him an instant success and a perfect fit for the SF universe Dudley could be argued as a complete vision for the Dick Jumpsey character abandoned previously. The "Dempsey Roll" was a technique that the actual Dempsey used to dodge under opponents and throw a flurry of punches while bobbing and weaving. This was a rarity as a real life technique rather than a fantastically impossible one would end up in a videogame. In anime form the move looks fantastic, in game form it was doubly so and could be used in combos with relative ease. Dudley's Rolling Thunder in SF IV was based largely on the Hajime no ippo version of the attack and makes for a very visceral super. Dudley may not have been based on a real person but he had a better reputation as a fighter than Method Man.


Hip Hop was influencing global culture at an alarming rate. From the rise in New York through the '70s through the exposure on mainstream media in the '80s Hip Hop had pushed for a major shift in pop culture. Blacks were becoming very prominent influences. The points of reference that the Japanese were using to recreate blacks and black culture had evolved greatly between the time the first and second Street Fighter games were released. The Japanese didn't always manage to keep up with those changes. When that happened the studios ran to two extremes of depiction for black characters. They were either over-the-top, boisterous and flamboyant characters. Or they were the opposite, completely devoid of personality and simply a dark skin tone on a 3D model. Jeffry McWild was the first black polygon-based character in a fighting game. He was one of the original faces in Sega's Virtua Fighter released in 1993. The character was neither thug nor cop. He did not have a basketball, nor did he dance. He was a powerful fighter from the caribbean that muscled through opponents with his unorthodox grappling style. Jeffry was a rarity in fighting games, especially for the 3D fighters. He had a personality, proud and confident but not silly like Dee Jay. It was unique that the two characters came from the same region but had vastly different design cues and presentations. The Japanese had demonstrated once more that they could have tremendous respect for black character designs. In 2001 Sega released their second black character in the series. Virtua Fighter 4 added Vanessa Lewis, the first black female mixed martial artist in gaming. She was similar to Jeffry in that she had striking and grappling moves but past that had zero personality. She was a stunning 3D model that was simply designed to appeal to male players. She demonstrated that the developers, while respectful of their audience, had less of a cultural understanding about strong black female characters than they had of black men.

Tecmo licensed the Virtua Fighter 2 engine from Sega when they started their own 3D fighting franchise, Dead or Alive. When Tecmo did not have a point of reference for an acceptable personality trait among the black community they made one up. The character Zack was a DJ that had entered the fighting tournament. He was not a Hip Hop DJ but seemed to be a flamboyant party DJ. To be honest he was never shown on the turntables in the series. Zack became obsessed with fame and attention and became more and more outlandish in each revision of the game. Absurd would not even properly describe the character, he went well beyond the excess of Dee Jay or any other character mentioned thus far in the series. Zack was not representative of black culture, Hip Hop culture or even Western culture. The basis for the character could be likened to Dennis Rodman, the eccentric NBA player. Yet Zack was simply a clown, a buffoon that happened to have dark skin. The defense once more would be that the character made sense within the context of his game and was a satire of typical character designs in a fighter. It was not a surprising defense of the series considering that the title was famous for its jiggling breast "physics" and objectification of its women characters.


There was a world of difference between Jax, Dudley, Jeffry, Dee Jay and Zack. Developers, publishers and even gamers may have dismissed the relevance of the designs over the past two decades but something had to be said. It was a duality that the industry and audience observed about gaming. Players wanted the mainstream culture, and especially the mainstream media to identify games as art. However when questions were raised about games being too violent or sexual for some audiences then it became an argument about entertainment and freedom of speech. The industry and the gamers themselves could argue the fundamental rights protected by the First Amendment, however they seemed to do that when it was most convenient to them. Gamers were passionate about their favorite titles and characters but only when it served their own interests. Many did not want to infer or interpret any controversial themes within their favorite games or even question the developers. There were many fighting game fans extremely passionate about the genre but to not question the characters featured in some of the most popular titles would be irresponsible of them as consumers.

To say that Zack or Dee Jay were just game characters and appropriate within the context of their title would be an attempt to bypass the argument. Without a cultural touchstone the Japanese studios seemed to rely on trope. The patterns of minority character designs were starting to become demeaning to audiences. Yet none of the gaming outlets seemed to call the publishers on that. But again, if I looked for the bad in fighting games I would find the bad. There were positive minority role models in fighting games and videogames in general. Characters like Dudley, Jeffry and Jax were created by Japanese and Western studios to show that diversity was alive and well. Games could still be art and entertainment in equal measure and publishers could still be socially responsible to their supporters. The next blog will look at the recent character that Capcom tried to create out of Hip Hop culture, classic cinema and black sports superstars.

Monday, September 14, 2015

How fight culture became fighting game history, part 33

The fighting game characters highlighted in the previous blog were examples of how pop culture had colored the design of minorities. Unfortunately the pop culture choices that the Japanese designers were pulling their cues from were built from old stereotypes. The black characters featured in many Japanese games were often happy-go-lucky characters. They were presented as smiling, friendly figures, yet also never the lead character in any game. Minority characters were usually never featured in anything but a supporting role in either Eastern or Western produced titles. Could any gamer remember the last time there was a black lead in a game or even a black villain? CJ from San Andreas or the Agent from Crackdown were possibly the first and last entries of a console generation. They were well rounded characters but more the exception than the rule for the industry.

Unfortunately the perpetually grinning, carefree black man was one of the oldest negative stereotypes about African-Americans. That distorted caricature was called a Sambo. He was always happy but had no desire for work. By making the black characters happy and one-dimensional it was easy for bigots to think of them as less than human. The Sambo was created during the final years of slavery in the United States. Half a century after slavery had been abolished that image had permeated US culture to the point that the grinning figure was seen on advertising, in cartoons and even on household items. It was not until the civil rights movement that the mass consciousness grew to accept that the image was demeaning and hurtful to an entire population. Products lost the offensive art and black characters began to be drawn more realistically by advertisers. People the world over did not get that memo however. They did not experience the civil rights movement and had no idea what was to be considered offensive. They may have assumed that this was an acceptable way to present black characters.


There was a period of time where I wondered if Sega were capable of introducing a black character into an arcade game that was not perpetually grinning. The games the characters appeared in were very well done but the minority characters looked tokenized. This was not an issue exclusively with Sega. When many Japanese studios began incorporating black characters into their games they went to the long standing designs from the West. In some cases they did not dig deeper than recreating the look of popular athletes and actors from the late '80s and early '90s. The controversial NBA player Dennis Rodman and action movie star Wesley Snipes were just two people that ended up inspiring a series of characters through the golden years of the fighting game genre.


Being a black wasn't enough to make the character unique to the Japanese developers. The characters almost universally had to be very "cool," almost to the point that they were too cool to be seen in the game itself. How did the developers accomplish this? Quite simple, they often gave black characters sunglasses and unique hair styles. Sometimes they would even have gold teeth. Truly right out of a rap video! Rare and unique fighting arts were often assigned to all of the other characters but it often seemed secondary to black fighters. They had to appear cool first and foremost or else audiences would not know what to make of them.

 

Sega, Capcom, Namco, Square-Enix and SNK were some of the Japanese publishers that ended up running with the skewed look at minorities. By making a non-threatening black person the studios thought they were showing diversity. The colored characters were like cartoon mascots however, emotionless and simply there to make people feel good about diversity. The fighting genre never had a Sambo, although Dee Jay from Super Street Fighter II certainly came close. The character wore a perpetual grin and danced with maracas whenever he won a fight. No other fighter in the series had ever carried such a silly expression while battling or celebrated with dubious overtones. The celebratory dance of Dhalsim though, whose head shaking and wide armed gyrations could have been considered as culturally insensitive and out of place.

DeeJay was actually designed and named after James "DJ" Goddard, a former Capcom USA employee. The Japanese therefor assumed that the character was appropriate. The basketball playing, breakdancing, fighters that emerged in the mid '90s could be considered leftovers from a less enlightened era. In the history of the US there were actually multiple racial caricatures that had been created to demean and dehumanize African-Americans. The Sambo was one of the earliest but the ones that followed became uglier and more widespread. The nicknames given to these representations of blacks were so grotesque that I wouldn't want to repeat them on this blog. There was an excellent documentary that explored the history of the stereotypical images. I would advise that everyone reading this blog should watch Ethnic Notions. Readers would be able to look at black character designs, especially in fighting games with a more critical eye thanks to the film.


The defense sometimes used to explain characters like Dee Jay, Magic Dunker or Boggy were that the studios were simply trying to show the personality of the fighters from within the game. Many of the characters carried with them some sort of national pride. Guile was in the military and therefore the US Flag tattooed on his shoulders and camouflage pants made sense. Chun-Li was Chinese and had gone undercover in the fighting tournament so her pseudo-traditional costume also made sense. Like his namesake Dee Jay was a Jamaican entertainer first and foremost. He was a musician and happy about life in general. It just so happened that he was also a master of kickboxing and according to canon more powerful than the Thai boxers Sagat or Adon. Of course you would be hard pressed to find a game player that would consider Dee Jay a better character in canon or design. In context it was appropriate that Dee Jay carried maracas or a boombox with him wherever he fought. However the impact on gamers would have been wasted if the final boss in the original Street Fighter were a Jamaican layabout (that could not lose the ugly grin even in his sleep!) instead of a seven foot Thai boxer with an eye patch.


Dee Jay was inspired in part by martial artist and movie star Billy Blanks. Blanks had played an assortment of heroes and villains throughout his movie career but none were as lacking as Dee Jay. Aside from skin color and haircut there was not much that united the man and caricature. Dee Jay certainly skirted the line of Sambo. His carefree, perpetually grinning facade hid a lack of empathy and understanding about powerful black fighters and the ways they should be presented in gaming.

The Japanese studios by and large did not recognize that they could have associated a genuine fighting style with a minority character. It would not have offended the sensibilities of the game players. It would not have "broken" the game in any way. Characters like Dee Jay, Boggy, Ten Count, J. and Magic Dunker would have obviously remained black but their personality did not have to be dependent on sports or entertainment. Unfortunately the only alternative to basketball-playing fighters was to have those characters be arrogant, womanizing boxers.



Again, if people in the West were offended by the image it was most likely because this was the mirror that Japan was holding up to them. In athletics the black man had been depicted as a brute, loudmouth or womanizer for the last half of the 19th century and the better part of the 20th century. Changing global perception would mean undoing almost 200 years of negative campaigning. Some of these myths were reinforced by actual personalities throughout history. Part of the stigma was due to the bravado of fighters like the legendary heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali and fighters that came before and after. Ali would put on press conferences denouncing the stereotypes perpetuated by his rivals. He would carry on with boisterous and very arrogant overtones. In the eyes of many he was as misrepresentative of black culture as he accused his opponents of being.

In the later part of the 20th century several fighters began combining that showmanship with demonstrations of excess. Fighters like Floyd "Money" Mayweather would flaunt their success, travel with full entourages and flash gold and money as if they were living out a rap video. Since it seemed that all of the boxing champs acted this way on television then the stereotypes must have been true. M. Bison, Joe Fendi and Rob Python were just a few of the black boxers presented in fighting games that reflected these images.

 

The Japanese developers were a little heavy handed with the pandering through most of the '90s. Black fighters in the games were almost all boxers. Yet it wasn't enough to be a boxer. These characters had to once again look and act cool otherwise audiences might not give them a chance. What could be cooler than boxers that wore sunglasses, jewelry and fought with gold and silver gloves? In the offshoot of the fighting genre, the brawler, the trope could not be escaped. The Blacker Baron from Anarchy Reigns was a revised version of a character that had appeared previously in Mad World. Both games were completely over-the-top and meant to shock players. In Mad World the Black Baron sported large lips and wore a "pimp" costume. I have been accused of being too sensitive to the portrayal of minorities in fighting games. But I have to ask if past a certain point is it not the responsibility of the gamer to ask why the characters have to appear this way?


The Japanese designers seemed locked in a circular school of design. They would borrow points of reference from each other but never bother to venture outside of what they knew. The occasional bell bottoms and platform shoes here, or the big afro and sunglasses there. This was what it meant to be a black character right? They could not seem to break the mold when it came to black boxers. Even the characters for cancelled projects had the same aesthetics as designs from years later. The jewelry, the long pimp coat and exaggerated proportions were almost interchangeable between titles. It did not help that the wrestling and sometimes MMA promotions would have the black fighters wear costumes that perpetuated the stereotypes. The long coat with the fur trim, jewelry and sequins was not really from the "street" as much as it was from show business. The origins of the costumes did not seem to be a concern for the fans as long as they were being entertained.

 

In order to make black fighters more endearing to Japanese audiences they often had to be very flamboyant. Dancing, entertaining and always smiling. The thing was that a one-time appearance like this from a big-name fighter, like football player-turned-mma-turned-pro wrestler Bob Sapp, would carry forward in game design for years and years. Japanese promotions were not the only ones to push a heavy handed stereotype on audiences. In the US the WWE had Mexican characters that rode lawn mowers and low riders and had to "lie, cheat and steal" in order to win. They had Irish wrestlers get accompanied to the ring by leprechauns. They had black pimp characters call out the Ho's so they could dance with them in the ring. Minorities had to have a gimmick first and foremost. In-ring talent was an afterthought.

 

In other cases it was an attitude or even a hairstyle that would be most ingrained in the minds of Japanese developers. The contribution of black martial artists to wrestling and MMA would become secondary to a sneer.

 

Not all of the studios were following these trends however. Some of the more memorable black fighting game characters were making waves in early 2D and 3D releases. The next blog will look at these pioneers.

Friday, September 11, 2015

How fight culture became fighting game history, part 32


For the next portion of this series I would like to take an extended look at how one fighting art was tied into the history and culture of the slave trade. To mention the fighting art and separate it from its racial origins would be a disservice to the practitioners. This series will cover some sensitive topics so if you do not want to read about minority figures in fighting games then please return at the end of this series. In previous blogs I had mentioned that the Japanese had become almost notorious for perpetuating certain takes on African-American culture. No where else was this more apparent than in fighting games.

The flamboyant afro-sporting black man had become a gaming trope. Look at Tiger Jackson a hidden character in Tekken 3. The Namco title from 1997 was one of the first 3D games to exploit this dated character concept. A year later Square released Tony Umeda in their sword fighting game Bushido Blade 2. He was a mixed ancestry character being half-Black and half-Japanese. Of course that didn't explain his costume. Bell bottoms, platform shoes and afros had fallen out of favor at the end of the '70s. Years later it would return in arcade titles. Tiger Jackson and Tony Umeda was followed by Mr. Jones / Jones Damon from Rage of Dragons. Both characters were undoubtedly influenced on the classic Jim Kelly character Black Belt Jones as well as the "Black Dragon" Ron Van Cief. Black fighters created by Japanese developers seemed incapable of escaping the look. Even Zack from the Dead or Alive series became an afro wearing clown at one point in the series. Believe it or not Mr. Jones was considerably worse.
 

The 2002 game by Evoga was set in the Double Dragon universe. The game actually had a pedigree. It was a descendant of what many consider to be the original arcade brawler. Double Dragon was held in high regards by long-time arcade players. Sadly the fighting games based on the franchise were lackluster. They demonstrated a lack of originality and innovation. Evoga was borrowing gameplay elements from titles like the King of Fighters and even graphic styles from Street Fighter Zero / Alpha. Copying rival studios and introducing characters like Mr. Jones into the genre just about guaranteed that it would be forgotten by audiences. The studio ended up doing a disservice to those long-time players by failing to respect the legacy they were drawing from. Things had been slowly devolving for the genre before Rage of Dragons had even been released. The mid '90s gave game players reason to believe that the Japanese did not know their audience as well as they should have. At best they were just filling a niche but at worst they were negatively coloring the perception of audiences.


Not every character that came from a Japanese artist was done so out of willful ignorance. Afro Samurai was written and drawn by Takashi Okazaki and published in manga form in 1999. It would be serialized and even adapted into an animated mini-series and game a few years later. The creator was actually a huge fan of Hip Hop culture, the music, the fashion and the movement. He saw his titular character as an homage to the super-cool characters Ron Van Cief and Jim Kelly had played in the "Blacksploitation" films all those years earlier. What was unique about the martial arts films that the black actors were cast in was it was the first time they were allowed to be the stars of the films. As long as they could fight and act they were invited again and again. The films even had the occasional relationships with Asian women on screen. The studios in China and Taiwan had a much more progressive attitude towards blacks than the US had. It was no surprise why Van Clief chose to work there when his own country didn't welcome blacks.


The first black samurai character in pop culture appeared in 1977, around the height of the Blacksploitation movement. This character, who mumbled in fake Japanese, was portrayed by Richard Pryor on his short lived comedy show. There had been an actual historical precedence set for this character however, his name was Yasuke and he first appeared in the 16th century. Yasuke was the first and only recorded black samurai from feudal-era Japan. His name was actually given to him by the warlord Oda Nobunaga. While this person is not really known about in the west the Japanese would have recognized the archetype. It was what allowed characters like Tony Umneda and the Afro Samurai to be accepted.



Some artists working on the black sword master didn't quite grasp the subtleties that Mr. Okazaki was going after. His work was bold, violent, stylish and very avant-garde. The things that made the Afro Samurai popular in manga and animation circles was lost on many other Japanese designers. To many artists and consumers black people were gimmick characters. They could never really carry a series. In 2008 SNK introduced the first black character in their popular Samurai Spirits / Shodown series. J. was a sailor that was shipwrecked on Japan. He learned the art of sword fighting, he nicknamed his sword Elvis (I'm sure the designers thought they were being clever) and he became a hired swordsman. Most people were scared of his skin color more than his fighting ability. They called him the "Black Devil." To make him more empathetic to Asian audiences his goal in the game was to free a geisha that had shown him kindness and wasn't scared of his color. Japan had been on the wrong side of black character design for years but were beginning to give them more dimension. Only time would tell if the trend would continue. Things weren't really much better on the other side of the ocean.


The United States Congress had gone out of their way to interpret every corruptible influence they could from fighting, action and shooting games through the '90s. They tried blaming violence in video games as having a detrimental affect to children and society as a whole. It was a similar argument that they had about comic books and rock and roll music a few generations earlier. In the end these accusations were baseless but ended up in the music, comic book and video game industries creating a form of self censorship. Some things that was never addressed in the Congressional hearings and something that the gaming industry and the gaming media managed to ignore were the subtle racial undertones placed on characters. Violence was one thing but racial bias was apparently something too taboo to bring up. Things were especially bad for Black characters in 1994. They were not always African-American but when they were they could be guaranteed to share similar traits. Magic Dunker was just one character in a series of black, basketball playing, fighting game characters. It was not hard to tell who the token "American" character was in the game given his Star-Spangled costume. He originally appeared in the game Fight Fever by Viccom. Apparently the Japanese had been keeping up with trends. Magic Dunker and the other black fighting game characters appeared the same year that western publishers had released the dismal Shaq Fu, a fighting game featuring Shaquille O'neal the master of "Shaquido." Japanese developers were giving audiences what they assumed they wanted.



In reality the developers in Japan had mainly pop culture as a point of reference for the USA. When they wanted to make a character that would be popular with the Americans they looked at the trends. The biggest stars in the US seemed to be music stars and sport icons, at least according to television. Singers in general did not have the physical traits of a fighter but athletes were spot on. Magic Dunker had the stylings of Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, two of the biggest stars of the era. The hi-top sneakers, flat top haircut, tank top and sweat bands were slightly behind the fashion curve though. Perhaps the Japanese were working from dated information. The athlete-as-a-fighter carried over several times on other titles.

Shaq and Magic Dunker were joined by Bobby "Brown Bullet" Nelson. The breakdancer and basketball playing prodigy from Aggressors of Dark Kombat was one of the youngest fighters ever devised. The SNK title was developed by Alpha Denshi Corp. and there was little originality in his basketball-based and dancing attacks. Not that Lucky Glauber from the King of Fighters USA team was any better but at least he was an adult. Glauber did not have any named style of fighting but instead relied on his long legs for sweeping kicks and basketballs he could summon out of thin air to throw at opponents. At least fighters of other nationalities or ethnicities were allowed to have more convincing fighting styles. The Neo Geo arcade cabinet seemed to be a magnet for these ill-advised characters. A few years later Capcom introduced Sean in Street Fighter III. The game from 1997 did not force the character to have either dancing or basketball-based attacks but the studio did incorporate basketballs into his opening animations and taunts. It was unsettling how similar the fighters were, what traits they shared in common and how little the Japanese seemed to know about black culture, at least about blacks in the USA.


If gamers were offended by these characters, not that they were necessarily, it was because the Japanese were holding up a mirror to Western society. What the developers had learned and assumed about the US was pulled from media from the West. The biggest icons for black culture were featured in Nike ads and McDonalds campaigns, ten times out of ten they were athletes. The news did little to help the image of blacks as well. A person watching television that didn't speak English would see a black criminal, entertainer or sports star, sometimes all three were the same person, within the span of an hour. Was fame the most important thing a black person could strive for? The positive role models in science, politics or education were not as visual or as celebrated on television. This perception skewed the view that the world and not just Japan had about Americans. For African-Americans it was more divisive. Some of the cultural cues that were being picked up by developers were insensitive to the black community and actually reinforcing stereotypes. Basketball was one thing to pin on the fighting characters but it soon became more subversive than that.


In 1997 Takara released the third part in their 3D weapon-based fighting game. Battle Arena Toshinden 3 introduced a character that danced, did a high pitched yell and moonwalked with a saber in hand. His name was Ten Count. The similarities between himself and the legendary performer Michael Jackson were too much to ignore. It was a shame too because the series was a ground breaker. It was the first notable 3D weapon-based arcade fighting series. It came out in the middle of 1995. The more popular Soul Edge, the first in the Soul series by Namco, didn't debut until the end of the year. While Ten Count was a blatant rip-off character the other black fighters from the '90s didn't fare much better.

Boggy, a character from Kaiser Knuckle, made his debut in 1994. The game by Taito was one of the worst fighting games developed. It gave Fight Fever and Aggressors of Dark Kombat a run for their money. Boggy was an entertainer and a fighting man at that. Apparently the Japanese developers were a bit behind the times when they introduced the breakdancing brawler to audiences. His look, clothing and mannerisms were all dated. His fighting stances were not from any named fighting art but mostly made up of dance steps. Where else could these influences have been pulled from than from television, specifically music videos? Were the developers really so detached from Western audiences as to only use second-hand sources for inspiration or did they assume that these characters were appropriate?



An important thing to consider was cultural relativism. The reaction to Boggy, Magic Dunker, Bobby Nelson and the rest was different outside of the US. Other countries might have had the same ideas about black characters based on the same television shows and movies they saw from the West. For all they knew these things were true of all black people. The view that the global television audience had was broken from the get-go. Reality rather than sensationalism was seldom shown on television. Poor, rich and middle class blacks existed but were never covered by the news. Their stories had not been shown on sitcoms or dramas. At leas not since the '80s. To the developers overseas it was okay to have dancing, basketball playing black people in fighting games. Minority characters in fighting games appeared as marginalized as they had been in society. Very few countries ever had the minority groups push for change at the local, state and national level in the way the Civil Rights Movement had in the USA. Even today stereotypes, racist attitudes and institutionalized segregation were very real issues the world over. There were not laws against discrimination in all of the nations. Minorities and women could be denied benefits, rights and privileges because their employers and even government were immune to reprisal. The characters that debuted in 1994 skirted the sensibilities of Western audiences, they were borderline racial caricatures that harkened to a dark era in US history. The next blog will look at the fine line that the Japanese developers walked during the fighting game boom.