Sunday, November 13, 2016

Did Warner Bros Animation just give a nod to Street Fighter?

The good thing about being raised on a steady diet of comic books and cartoons is that you learn appreciate the best things in life. Those of us who remember the late '80s and '90s experienced the fighting game revolution as well. Kids that got a chance to live through that era were influenced by a lot of different things. Those kids eventually grew up to become artists, animators and producers in their own right. It looks like they did not forget the things that meant the most to them.



Warner Bros Animation has come up with a spiritual successor to The Justice League and Justice League Unlimited series. The new series is called Justice League Action and has a style that falls somewhere in between the original Teen Titans and JLU shows. A lot of classic voice actors have returned as well as rare DC heroes and villains. I'm glad that Plastic Man finally has a chance to shine but even more happy that they are keeping things light with the pop culture references.


In one of the new episodes the Toy Man makes the Justice League fight against each other in a game called Blvd. Brawlers 2. It is beat-for-beat identical to the introduction of my personal favorite Street Fighter Alpha 2.


Warner Bros isn't the only studio that gets a shout out for the Street Fighter love. Remember that Disney's Gravity Falls had an episode that centered around "Fight Fighters" a Street Fighter II knock-off?


Are you happy that the JL series is giving the nod to Street Fighter instead of the Injustice games? What are your favorite pop culture Street Fighter nods? I'd like to read about them in the comments section.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The best championships in fighting games, part 2

In the previous blog I had pointed out the unique belts and champions featured in fighting games. From the small symbolic belt of Russian boxer Andrei in the King of Combat to the gaudy bull horn belt of Antonov from King of Fighters. There was a championship for every form of fighting. The wrestlers in these games seemed to have the best titles. While Darun Mister of Street Fighter EX fame had a total of 3 championship belts he was nowhere near the most decorated champion. Hugo Andore, the German giant from Street Fighter III also had three championship belts and at least 5 other trophies and awards from different promotions. These were all visible in his stage from Street Fighter III 3rd Strike.

 

The accolades given to Hugo were based on real-world championships. Take a look below at some of the Japanese promotions that inspired the gold. In some promotions the best wrestlers are given statues, plaques or towering cups wrapped in streamers. They are the result of winning a tournament or even beating multiple opponents in a "battle royal." In the multiple endings in Street Fighter III: Giant Attack Hugo was written as having different tag team partners, there was a chance that one of his belts or trophies was won with the help of a partner. It was never established who the actual person was but many assumed it was Alex, the American MMA star.

 

Hugo was a Mad Gear Gang-member-turned wrestler. He along with the Andore family from the Final Fight series was inspired by Andre the Giant. The French wrestling star was huge (pardon the pun) in the '70s and '80s. He traveled the world and made a following wherever he landed. In his younger days he was quite athletic and could actually perform some high risk 1st and 2nd rope leaping moves. He had a large head of hair, almost like an afro which gave him a wild appearance when he debuted. As he got older he gained some weight, slowed down and cut his hair a little bit shorter. Age did nothing to curb his awesome strength and legendary drinking ability. The character of Hugo is a sort of amalgamation of the young and old Andre. He has some of the speed, moves and hair of the younger version with the raw power of the older self. One of Andre's great rivalries, and even tag team friendships was with Hulk Hogan. This insight from the developers was celebrated as a special animation whenever he fought Alex. The two would have a stare down before the round, similar to the Wrestlemania III match.

   

Andre had beaten many of the best wrestlers around the world. Yet he was not necessarily the person who would be considered the heavyweight champion for a particular company or promotion. He never held the title for any length of time because he was constantly travelling. Andre was a sort of sideshow attraction. He would only appear from time-to-time so that his marketability and thus legend would remain intact. Promoters knew that audiences would eventually tire of seeing him squash all of his opponents, so he was considered a gimmick fighter and only hired him for a few weeks at a time. Any belt he won was usually won back by the hometown champ before he left the country. Hugo on the other hand was a runaway terror. He took the belts and steamrolled every promotion he went to. There was no one in the Street Fighter universe that seemed capable of stopping the giant. But did that make him the best wrestler in the SF universe? I would argue no, he was not the best wrestler and certainly not the best fighter. Guy, Cody and Mike Haggar from Final Fight have all shown that they could take him, and his extended family of giants in a stand up brawl. Despite Hugo's collection of belts and trophies he is missing a very important one. He does not have the Capcom Wrestling Association or CWA belt. This would be THE title held by Victor Ortega in Muscle Bomber / Saturday Night Slam Masters. Hugo also does not possess the rival promotion Blood Wrestling Association or BWA belt.

 

I have talked previously about the middle-aged phenom known as Victor Ortega on previous blogs. This character and his title was created by Tetsuo Hara. The co-creator and artist behind Hokuto No Ken / Fist of the North Star. is a huge wrestling fan. Many of the big wrestling names from the '70s inspired several of the characters in his comic book series through the '80s. These in turn inspired the artists working at Capcom through the '80s and '90s. When they began designing the villains in Street Fighter and Final Fight series a few were based on the work of Mr. Hara. When the company wanted to create a wrestling-inspired brawling and later fighting game they went directly to Tetsuo Hara. He created a cast of characters and set the pro wrestling canon of the Street Fighter universe. At the top of the chain was Victor Ortega, based on the flamboyant and photogenic Superstar Billy Graham. Billy had a bodybuilder physique and looked incredible in televised matches. It didn't matter if other wrestlers were technically more sound, because they didn't look and act like a champion they often had to "work" (lose a match) to Graham.

   

The version of a champion that Mr. Hara created may have been visually inspired by wrestlers like Graham, however his in-ring skills were the real deal. Ortega had legitimate punching, kicking and grappling skills. Despite his size he was also very fast and very flexible. He needed to be a great all-around champion considering the different styles of wrestlers that filled both the CWA and BWA rosters. Some were technicians, some brawlers, some were high flyers and some were shooters (submission fighters). Victor Ortega was easily the most muscular character set in the Street Fighter universe. This undoubtedly made him intimidating, even to a giant like Hugo. I would like to think that not only did Hugo fail to capture the CWA title, but that he was afraid of Ortega.

In the real world Andre the Giant faced all sorts of opponents, including some almost as tall and as strong as he was. Outside of the ring he sometimes had to fight off hecklers, drunks and angry wrestlers. He beat just about all of them, most with ease. After all of his travels and all of his victories there were only two men that Andre was afraid of. According to former wrestler and manager Bobby "the Brain" Heenan the two men were Harley Race and Tonga Uli'uli Fifita. Both men had reputations for being tough as nails. They were strong, intimidating and did not appreciate being messed with. Both were also fiercely loyal, good to their friends and stand-up men whose word was their bond. The two men were also a foot shorter than Andre.

 

Tonga was the younger of the two hard legends. He was a trained martial artist and had actually been picked up as a teen to learn the art of Sumo by a Japanese stable. While in Japan he was able to adapt to life in the squared circle. He was gifted with great strength and stamina. These things came in handy as he fought many Japanese legends. They were trained in the "hard style" of wrestling where people barely pulled their kicks and punches. Karl Gotch was a pioneering grappler that took his classic techniques with him to Japan. Pro wrestling in Gotch's day was much more about grappling and submission holds than the "sports entertainment" it tries to be on television. He wanted his students and opponents to come at him with the same ferocity of the turn-of-the-century wrestlers. He wanted them to know how to legitimately catch holds and counter attack. Tonga was already a tough person but his time in Japan tempered him into a dangerous weapon. It was not hard for him to find work in any promotion acting as a heel or bad guy. In the '70s and '80s the large Pacific Islanders were often marketed as savages or wild men by the various promotions. This worked to their advantage as they intimidated opponents and audiences alike. The gimmick had gone over so well that one of the concept fighters for Street Fighter II was a Ugandan warrior. This character had elements of the Wild Samoans, the body paint of Kimala (the original Ugandan warrior) and the frame of Tonga.

The bar fights that Tonga participated in were the stuff of legend. The majority of the time all he wanted was a drink and to be left alone but trouble would find him. Many of his friends were astonished by how often people would pick fights with him. There are stories of how he took on groups of people and even the police in the melees. The scariest were stories of how he bit the nose off of an attacker, or how he reached into a man's mouth and pulled out his teeth. The stories were gruesome and certified by witnesses. He worked with Andre a few times and they got along great, possibly because Andre avoided him outside of the ring and never tested him. It would be interesting to see a redesign of this character by the people at Capcom, one that captured more of the presence of Tonga without pandering to the wild man mystique. The other person that Andre feared had an equally interesting history.

 

Harley Race was similar to Karl Gotch in that he came from a different era. Harley was a tough guy, even at a young age. As a teen he was thrown out of school for beating up his teacher. He decided that he wanted to be a wrestler and actually joined up with a carnival where he learned the ropes from actual carney catch-as-catch can fighters and strongmen. This was a direct link to another time, literally a connection to the 19th Century, when wrestling was real. Before promotions divided the talent and before television turned it into a soap opera. Harley had no amateur wrestling experience, unlike his opponents which often came from college backgrounds. As he went from town to town he had to take on any and all challengers. Some were men, some were teens but most had experience on the mat. Harley learned that he had to adapt quickly to these people and try to get a pin or submission right away. If he lost then he didn't get paid. Not only that but his handlers would beat him up as well. Harley survived a car accident as a young man and was told he'd never walk, let alone wrestle again. Harley recovered and became one of the hardest men in the business. He was a legit shooter and knew a countless number of ways to hurt someone. He picked up many things along the way from pro wrestlers which complimented his street experience. Harley was soft spoken but intense, his promos became legendary. It was his mastery of the ring and respect for the business that earned him followers the world over.

   

Harley, like Tonga, did not get into wrestling the easy way. He knew many different ways to seriously hurt people but instead worked to make his opponents look great and have long careers. He was just over 6 feet tall but had worked with many bigger men including Andre. Audiences soon forgot about the size difference in their matches because his presence was so commanding. It was Harley and not Hulk Hogan that had first slammed Andre the giant. Harley would often chaperone the big wrestlers when they traveled abroad. It was said that just a look from Race was enough to make the biggest wrestler back down when they crossed the line. Harley's old-school origin and NWA championship, which represented some 30+ or 40+ independent promotions / territories was the ultimate prize for a pro wrestler. There were other "world's" titles, including those from WCW, ECW, WWF and NJPW but among the purists you could not really consider yourself the heavyweight champ unless you held the same belt that Harley did. Andre the giant did not hold that belt. He once wrestled Harley to a 60-minute draw but that's as close as he ever got. When Harley joined the WWF he won the first Royal Rumble and became the King. When he felt ready to leave the business there was only one person he felt appropriate to lose the crown to and his name was Tonga.

Hugo may have been a beast but he was not the best. Mike Haggar had the chops to be the true CWA champion. Zangief and Darun probably have the chops too. As for Hugo, well, if he doesn't have the belt then he has not beaten the best. Or more likely he is scared to fight Ortega. Do you have a favorite video game champion? Or a favorite title? Who do you think is the best game wrestler? I'd like to read about it in the comments. As always if you enjoyed this blog and would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The best championships in fighting games, part 1

If you are a fan of fighting games then you're probably familiar with the different fighting styles represented. Kung-fu, karate, judo, muay thai and boxing are among some of the more common forms featured in the genre. One of the stand out forms is pro wrestling. In video games the pro wrestlers are often the characters wearing the brightest costumes and using the flashiest, most impractical moves. These days they are thought of less as fighters and more as "sports entertainers" thanks to the WWE. If you have been following this blog then you know that pro wrestling is among the oldest of the fighting arts. There are some legitimately tough fighters that know actual grappling moves. Many consider themselves true professional wrestlers.

In the fighting game genre the most memorable characters often represent the best fighters in a particular form. Ken and Ryu for example are not simply practitioners of karate or ansatsuken, they are the absolute best in the world. Chun-Li is not a very good kung-fu practitioner, she is the best living kung-fu artist. She represents a legacy that includes the earlier Street Fighter masters Gen and Lee. Sagat is not a muay thai expert, he was formerly the greatest fighter in the world. Zangief is not simply a massive wrestler, he is a Russian hero. Fighting games are designed to answer the question of who was the best fighter and what is the best style. What would happen if the best boxer that ever lived squared off against the best karate master?

   

A small detail that you may or may not have noticed is how few characters in fighting games are presented wearing a championship belt. After all, real pro fighters don't wear their titles while fighting. But this is something that makes some game characters visually appealing. Dudley has a great design but he doesn't go around with his belts. The aesthetic choice of having him dressed in civilian clothing worked well in the lineup. Street Fighter III was a chance to introduce a new generation of fighters, one that wasn't as campy as the original cast. Yun and Yang for example had classic Chinese shirts and pants but also paired that with modern sneakers. Alex was an MMA star but wore overalls and heavy combat boots instead of trunks. As long as Dudley wore his boxing gloves it was painfully obvious what type of fighter he was. In canon Dudley had at least two, of what can be assumed, world championship belts. Here's a short list of some memorable champions in the genre, if not their fancy belts.

   

Not many boxers flashed their belts in game, one of those that did was Andrei. The Russian boxer was featured in King of Combat. The young boxer had a great belt design. The star, sickle and hammer were supposed to conjure up images of the old Soviet Union. It was perfect for the upstart. He was proud of his country. It showed in his Cryllic tattoos, amulet he wrapped around his boxing glove and militaristic haircut. In the best designs from the various studios every detail of a costume has to reinforce the personality of the fighter. The details should each tell a story. Whether it's a torn sleeve, a spiked bracelet or even an eye patch. They all have to mean something and not simply be a superfluous detail. There were other fighters in the various games that were as accomplished as Dudley and Andrei.

   

Muay Thai master Prayuth had a hefty belt that he wore in the King of Combat. The large circular fur-lined plate was reminiscent of modern championship belts. Flamboyant champions are nothing new in professional fighting. The best in the world wanted to show off from time to time. Over the past century and a half many different champions would add their own flare to the titles. They would encrust their belts with ribbons, fur and eventually gold plating and jewels. Some belts were even made of leather that had been dyed to a brilliant red or bright green. Prayuth's belt was representative of modern belts but its fur-lining also served a practical purpose. It could be worn while fighting. It wouldn't scrape or irritate his skin even with sweat. The developers on King of Combat even had an alternate color scheme and with it an alternate belt for Prayuth. The alternate title was more in tune with a classic championship belt. Instead of the sponsor logo there was a head of the mythical Garuda. It celebrated the spiritual origins of South Asian, specifically behind Indonesian and Thai culture. If Prayuth was the best Muay Thai fighter in the world then his belt should reflect the culture that created that form of fighting.

 

A belt that celebrated a culture and also looked intimidating belonged to Hakan from the Street Fighter IV. I was not a fan of his design, how he misrepresented yağlı güreş or Turkish oil wrestling. I was not a fan of the color of his skin and absurd blue hair. One thing that I cannot deny is the costume he wore. The chain and strap symbolized strength but it was the roaring lion that really caught my eye. I cannot say with any certainty that this was a championship belt. Modern oil wrestling championships are sometimes a trophy and sometimes a belt that looks like a modern wrestling title. Hakan's belt might have simply been a family crest or his business logo. In all regards it was a fine belt, accessorized by large metal chains and rings. Anyone could tell that only the absolute strongest could wear this ensemble.

   

One of the biggest and possibly gaudiest championship belts belongs to Antonov. The self proclaimed original King of Fighters champion wears the belt in KOF XIV. Although I would argue the legitimacy of his claim with the iconic Geese Howard and Terry Bogard who had been there since the first tournament. Anyhow the belt is plated in gold, with thorn tribal patterns, gold chains and enormous bull horns. Aside from being bulky it would not be sensible to wear in a fight. The horns would limit the range of motion for the wearer. I can only imagine the number of times Antonov split his forearms open each time he threw a punch. The reason that Antonov wore it was two-fold. It showed off that he was the champion obviously but less known was that he was hooked on smoking and he kept his trademark cigars hidden in the front plate. If it were reproduced I can only imagine that a combination title and humidor would make it among the most expensive belts ever built. Antonov's belt was meant to be over-the-top, bigger and gaudier than any other title in any fighting game. It was not supposed to look like a traditional belt as with Dudley, nor was it supposed to have elements of a particular culture like Hakan or Prayuth. If I could find an example of a belt that balances culture and gaudiness it would have to be Darun Mister's Indian elephant title.

 

The main plate, in gold or bronze, is a sculpture of an elephant wearing a ceremonial headdress. The side plates are silver and have the outlines of the global continents. It symbolized that this belt had been defended or recognized by promotions around the world. The elephant has a number of details. The flower pattern on the trunk and filigree on the ears mirrors the long standing custom of painting the elephants as a sign of reverence. The elephant has powerful cultural context, especially when considering the relationship that the Hindus have with the god Ganesha. This belt is not representative of Ganesha but it is supposed to make Indians feel proud. There was more forethought to this championship title than say the stages created for Dhalsim in Street Fighter II and Zero / Alpha which pandered heavily the symbol of Ganesha. Unlike Antonov's belt there is nothing that would interfere with the wearer. The elephant trunks are short and stubby, they wouldn't catch a person like bull horns could.

   

Darun was a unique character, inspired by various legendary Indian wrestlers including the Great Gama. In Street Fighter canon I would argue that he was a greater wrestler and champion than Zangief. I could back up this claim by pointing out that Darun not only held the elephant title, his alternate costumes featured two other belts. The gold and silver titles had a flat cut to them, they seemed to be from other, possibly Western promotions. Darun was a multi-promotion heavyweight champion and possibly the best pure wrestler in Street Fighter canon. Darun however was not the most decorated fighting game champion. In the next blog we will look at the character that had more belts than any other Street Fighter icon combined! As always if you enjoyed this blog and would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Capcom is hiring a Fighting Game Associate Producer! Should I pack my bags and move up North?

You ever get the feeling you were born in the wrong era? Or maybe a great opportunity comes up at the wrong time? I'm getting a healthy dose of that right now. It looks like Capcom is hiring Fighting Games Associate Producer. I've been a vocal critic of the company but also a passionate supporter of their franchises for more than two decades. I lack formal development experience and a degree in Japanese for business. I do have experience in most of the software the job requires and of course I can learn new programs quickly. I might not get an interview but I would hope that the studio would even consider me in the first place.

 

If you are serious about fighting games and want a career in game production then there is no better place to start. Capcom has the most influential library of fighting game titles in the industry, including ones that deserve a new lease on life (Darkstalkers?!). If you love the community and want to see it grow and create the best experiences then why not apply? As for myself. I don't live in the Bay Area and I have a wife and daughter to support. My current job pays well, has a great team and benefits. It wouldn't challenge me the way that Capcom could but right now stability is more important than satisfying my ego. What do you think? Would you like to see me as a producer on Capcom fighting games?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Some of my favorite Street Fighter collectibles, part 2...

In the previous blog I highlighted some of my favorite collector covers from the Chinese Street Fighter comics. Today we're going to look at some of the other memorable special issues that they printed. Often a special issue not only came with a unique cover, it also came with a collectible. Some of these things were postcards, puzzles or calendars featuring the best covers from the past year. Sometimes these issues came with an embroidered hat or sweatband featuring a character. The best were even more original. Take Chun-Li for example, when the publisher wanted to celebrate the character in Street Fighter Zero they distributed spike bracelets to their fans.


Of course the bracelet was foam wrapped in vinyl, but it was a very clever marketing toy. In what other country did Capcom create anything like that for their fans? Another soft good that they distributed through the comics was actually attached to the cover of a comic. The Spanish assassin Balrog (Claw) wore a trademark mask. The publisher of the Street Fighter Zero comics created a die-cut cover of Balrog wearing the mask. Fans could remove the mask and wear it. Imagine being a kid and being a huge fan of Street Fighter. How awesome would it be if your favorite comic book came with a goody on a regular basis? What if Marvel did the same for Spider-Man, or DC for Batman? People would be all over it.


Granted in the US there have been unique collectibles released with comics as well. The Batman trade paperback A Death in the Family came with a grotesque Joker mask and the Court of Owls came with an owl mask. Fans had to wait until the specific series had ended and was put into a TPB before they could buy it. Yet overseas these giveaways are more common. In Italy for example the Topolino (Mickey Mouse) comics sometimes come with toys, called gadgets. The most popular Chinese comics came with all sorts of soft goods and toys on a more regular basis.

 

Of all the collectibles I've gotten from the Chinese Street Fighter comics the best one was without a doubt the dog tags worn by Charlie Nash. Like the Balrog issue this comic also had a die-cut cover. There were two holes poked in the sides of the neck were a metal chain and polished metal dog tags were on display. These were full-size dog tags with the name and likeness of Nash. To make sure collectors picked up the issues there was even an embossed Capcom license on them. I wonder how many people that cosplayed as Guile ever tracked down these dog tags.

 

What about you? Do you have any rare or unique Street Fighter items in you collection? If so I'd like to hear about it! As always if you would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Some of my favorite Street Fighter collectibles, part 1...

Howdy friends and visitors. I apologize for the lack of updates. I was working on a new series when my computer crashed. I was in the process of gathering images and history for a few projects actually. It was the reason I had started a Patreon to help me raise some money. I knew the days of my computer were numbered so I wanted to get a back up as well as new system. Unfortunately it died before I could do either. I am saving up my money to get a new computer and hopefully salvage the data on my old hard drive. Once I am up and running I may actually be able to put together podcasts and even videos a little bit faster, that is the goal after all! I was saving some of the text and image links on my email for those future projects just in case. This way I didn't have to start from scratch when I got a new computer. The next few posts might be a little short, I hope you understand.

Like many of you I am a huge fan of Street Fighter and I like to collect SF merchandise. I focus on things that are not common in the USA, so I have a lot of books and guides from Japan. Udon made a fantastic comic book series out of the franchise, no doubt about it! When it came to collector issues and special issues Udon gave the fans what they wanted. Some of my favorite Street Fighter comics actually came from China. As great as the comics were in North America I have to say that the Chinese comics sometimes had the better exclusives. Best of all these were not bootlegs, but actual licensed items!
 

Let's be completely honest when talking about licensed Chinese comics, or manhua as they are traditionally known. From a print standpoint these comics are inferior to those from the West. The paper the comics are printed on are not as good as the magazine quality paper used in comics from North America. In fact they still use the old 4-color process instead of modern digital printing, except for the covers. The covers are glossy and sometimes feature wrap-around painted images. Yet the best cover poses are often stolen from the official character art from Capcom in Japan.

 

Sometimes it's even more shameful than a repaint of a classic Akiman illustration. The artists working on the manhua will actually redraw, or repaint the art from a licensed Japanese manga and change the main characters around! It's tough to be a fan where there is so much shameless poaching on the part of the Chinese. It happens in comics, in film, toys, gaming, fashion and electronics. Yet to be fair they do this with everything that is popular, not just Street Fighter. The nation doesn't necessarily correlate copying with a bad thing, at least not the people that run the companies. They consider it more of an "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" or just smart business to follow the popular trends. The consumers on the other hand have a less favorable opinion on copies or counterfeit items.

 

But I digress... the reason I like some of my Chinese Street Fighter comics more than those from Udon are because of the painted panels. They are few and far between but some of the better covers and spreads in manhua are actually brush paintings instead of digital color illustrations like in the US comics. There is something to be admired in the art form, in the ability to create an actual physical painting and see it reproduced in print. These original panels and covers were rare, but when done right they jumped off the page.

 

The other reason I enjoyed the SF manhua were because of the special issues. Limited runs, foil, hologram and other gimmick covers had been used by Udon and other publishers for years. In China they went the extra mile when creating the exclusive covers. One that they released for Street Fighter Zero3 featured Gouki in a red metallic ink. It was printed over a black vinyl cover, that looked a bit like leather. It was a classic pose but not poached from any official Capcom art.



The special edition covers are often placed over the regular covers. I have a few issues with both the regular and special edition covers. What makes these covers unique is that no two are printed exactly the same. A different black and red cover that I had featured Balrog (Claw). It was also printed in a red metallic ink yet the cover was a hard black plastic with tiny cracks that gave it a prismatic effect. It was a great pose which highlighted how the Chinese artists had their own unique aesthetic, their own unique was of interpreting the character that was every bit as memorable as those from Japan and the USA.



Some of the covers I had celebrated the fan-favorite characters. A Sakura cover for example was printed on a very thin piece of corkboard. It was printed in black and silver-flake ink. The inspiration behind this cover was school related. The corkboard was supposed to rekindle images of doodling on folders and pinning favorite pictures on a study area. The cover actually had a lot of hand-drawn details. Once printed the finishing touches were applied by hand. Some of the hair and costume were hand-painted in black ink. It's hard to tell from my fuzzy pictured but you can actually see the brush strokes and different shades of black ink used by the artists.



Possibly the most unique of the custom covers again featured Gouki. This cover was printed on a paper-thin piece of bamboo and then laminated to prevent splitting. The texture was unique and thanks to the printing process no two covers would ever be exactly alike.


There are a few more special issues that I would like to share with you, but I'll save it for next time. Are there any Street Fighter comics that you are proud of or are your favorites? Please let me know in the comments. As always if you would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Fighting with a disability, final part.

In the previous blog I had mentioned some fighting game characters with visual impairments and even blindness. But what about characters with other disabilities, how were they represented over the years? There have actually been a few characters that fought despite amputations. Two of the most memorable were doing the representation act quite well. The fighters were actually Black and featured an assortment of boxing moves. Major Jackson "Jax" Briggs was a new player in Mortal Kombat II. He debuted in 1993, like his co-stars he was originally an actor that was rotoscoped and turned into a sprite for the game graphics. He wore spandex pants and silver sleeves on his arm that made them look cybernetic. His look changed over the years when the game engine went to 3D. His arms were now clearly robotic. Like many fighters in the series he had to be very strong in order to survive the onslaught of the warriors from the Netherrealm. A similar character appeared in 1994. TJ Combo debuted as the deadly boxer in Killer Instinct. He was a great boxer but his arms were cybernetic implants, making him punch much harder than a regular human. He had to fight demons and aliens in his respective title so his exaggerated strength made sense.

 

Actual paraplegic fighters had very rarely been done in gaming. In cinema there had been plenty of drunken and blind masters but those with real or imaginary physical deformities were rare. Possibly the most famous of the real-life kung-fu exploitation films was the Crippled Masters. The film from 1979 featured Chen Mu Chuan, Jackie Conn and Frankie Shum, two of the actors were actually born with deformities. The film told the story of a Shaolin monk that teaches a person born with no arms, and a person with deformed legs, how to use kung-fu in order to beat a local crime boss. It so happened that the crime boss was a "hunchback" with deep facial scars. The villain actually had a metal plate covering his deformity. It was a unique premise but with an absurd "team up" ability. The duo has a backpack that allows them to fight back-to-back.

 

In fighting game history there was actually a character that was similar to the Crippled Masters. The villain Twin Tartars appeared in the game the Killing Blade. The 1998 title by IGS appeared on their PGM arcade system. Both fighters had flaming swords that they used in combat. The larger of the fighters was blind and the smaller had achrondoplasia. He was a little person, someone that may be mislabeled a dwarf. The smaller brother rode on the shoulders of the larger and helped direct the attacks. There was a more recent character that was in a similar vein. Ferra and Torr appeared in Mortal Kombat X. The game came out in 2015 yet the idea of a smaller character controlling a larger fighter was at least 30 years old. The design could be traced back to the film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Released in 1985 it was the third film in George Miller's Mad Max series. In the film the warlord that controlled Bartertown was called Master Blaster. Master was a little person that rode on the shoulders of an enormous warrior "Blaster" who was actually a young man with down syndrome. People with cognitive disorders or impaired development were even less likely to be featured in any form of popular entertainment. It was one of many bold ideas that Miller brought to cinema and it helped color the design of other films as well as fighting games.


Killing Blade was notable because it had more characters with physical challenges than any other fighting game ever made. The Twin Tartars were non-playable boss characters in the story mode. One of the main characters that players could use was just as unique as the bosses. Zhuge was a one-armed swordsman. He was driven for revenge but by the end of the game he realizes that no amount of bloodshed would bring back his loved ones or his arm for that matter. He accepted this and became a wandering sword for hire, content with his jug of wine. If anything he had the temperament of Haohmaru, the star of the Samurai Shodown series.


The one -armed swordsman was a character that was made popular more than a generation ago. Jimmy Wang Yu was a young writer / action film star that appeared in a movie called the One Armed Swordsman. The title from 1967 introduced us to a melancholy fighter. It became a big hit in Asian markets and a sequel soon followed. The films gave Wang Yu the traction to leave the famous Shaw Bros. Studio and strike out on his own. In 1971 he released a variation of the movie titled the One Armed Boxer. I had written about this influential person in a previous blog. The movies featuring Jimmy not only influenced other action films but they also planted the design seeds of fighting games, not the least of which was the Street Fighter series. His one armed characters were very well done. They were interesting and sympathetic characters.

 

One of the action film stars influenced by Jimmy was Donnie Yen. Donnie like many of his contemporaries had grown up watching the movies and learning the legends of the various martial arts heroes. Donnie decided to write, direct and produce a love letter to the classic films. He called his 2011 movie WuXia, which was the Chinese word for martial arts myth. In the film Donnie played Tang Long, an assassin that was wanted to escape his brutal past. He married and had a child and moved to a village in the country. A botched robbery brought him out of hiding and made it so his old gang was able to track him down. In a last ditch effort to leave the gang he tries faking his own death and even cuts off his own arm in a symbolic gesture that he has quit the gang. I don't want to bore you with the details but I will mention that Donnie managed to get Jimmy Wang Yu out of retirement to play the leader of the 72 Dragons and father of Tang Long. The fight choreography was superb and it really demonstrated what was capable by using only one arm in battle.

 

Zhuge was a variation of the One Armed Swordsman, combined with elements from other films. As great as it was having an amputee represented in a fighting game, it also pointed out one glaring issue with sprite-based technology. Namely the issue of sprite mirroring. Animators working on sprite-based titles only had to create character art facing one direction. The programmers would simply mirror or flip the image so that they could face the opposite direction in game. This was perfectly fine for the vast majority of fighting games because players had full use of both arms and legs. When The Killing Blade came out this limitation was obvious. Zhuge would have the wrong arm missing when he faced the opposite direction. It was a minor detail and most audiences didn't seem to mind this.

 

The limitations in technology throughout the '80s, specifically with memory, were responsible for sprite mirroring. Designers had to carefully plan out costumes for their main characters that required few colors and little detail. They tried to limit the details that would give away the mirroring effect, such as patches or words that would end up backwards. When the game came out many Street Fighter II fans noticed that Guile's USA flag tattoo was reversed when he faced the opposite side. Not every studio took the time to review these details, a few got past Capcom but not enough to be noticeable. When sprite-based engines improved in the '90s then the ability to create larger, more colorful and more detailed sprites took over. Capcom showed off their CPS-3 hardware with the games Warzard (Red Earth) and Street Fighter III. To show how much the engine had advanced they decided to create a boss that would take advantage of this new technology. The final boss of Street Fighter III, Gill, was not a mirrored sprite. He had a left and right side, the right side was made of fire and the left made of ice. That little detail remained correct regardless of what side of the screen he was on. His attacks even showed off this detail, he could burn or freeze opponents depending on which arm or leg he struck with.


In the planning stages Gill was not the only character that was supposed to have a left and right side. One of the early concept characters for the "New Generation" was a one-armed fighter. Somebody that could be likened to the one-armed boxer from the Jimmy Wang Yu movies. The artists, specifically Akiman and Kinu Nishimura looked at Helio Gracie, the co-founder of the Gracie Ju-Jitsu system as the root of this new character. The figure would evolve and become Oro. The developers realized that while they could create a left and a right-side version of this fighter that in order to be accurate he would actually have to have his back to the player. This was an aesthetic challenge. The ability to "read" the character was very important to players. The competitive game players would have their rhythm thrown off if they could not see a leading hand or foot, Casual players would not be able to appreciate the design of the character if all they saw was a back. Capcom had to figure out a way to present the "crippled" boxer while also using sprite mirroring. It was decided that Oro would simply tuck his arm behind his back depending on which side he was facing. It made sense and was accepted by audiences. Just remember that for a brief moment the designers at Capcom were considering including an amputee in the lineup. How interesting would that have been?


The Taiwanese designers at PGM didn't think twice, they actually put a swordsman with only one arm in their game. More important they had another playable character that had an even greater physical disability. The character Tsan was legless. His long white hair and green skin made him appear like a demon. Many game players assumed that he was indeed some sort of supernatural creature. The game was poaching many of the ideas and themes explored in SNK's Samurai Shodown series, including the mystical elements. Yet instead of feudal-era Japan this game was set in ancient China. Tsan wielded two swords and actually "walked" around on the tip of his blades. He could hurl himself at players, leap across the screen and pretty much moved like a ghost.

 

As the plot was revealed it turned out that Tsan was a living sword master and not some sort of ghoul. He had overcome his disability and learned various two sword techniques. The fact that he was lighter without his legs allowed him to move much faster than a normal person. When this was combined with his looks it was easy to see why people thought he was some sort of monster. Tsan was actually a positive character. He was such an accomplished fighter that he had actually taken on pupils. When the evil of the Twin Tartars and a corrupt emperor were defeated he decided to go into retirement. The Taiwanese developer had done a great job at creating heroes and villains with different backgrounds. The fact that they included disabled fighters was one of their more unique contributions to the genre.

 

What are your thought on fighting game characters with different backgrounds and abilities? Who were some of your favorite non-traditional fighters? I'd like to hear about it in the comments.
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Monday, August 15, 2016

Fighting with a disability, part 1...

Fighting games make the fantastic possible, but sometimes they make the real-world fantastic as well. It's one of the reasons we love the genre so much. They can turn a boxer into an unstoppable force of nature, they can turn a wrestler into a cast-iron robot. There is a part of us that believes in these characters because we know there have been men and women throughout history that have done legendary things. One of the things I enjoy most are seeing the unorthodox, whether it's a technique or personality. This time I want to feature fighters that were unique because of their disability. There have been athletes and fighters born with all manner of physical and mental conditions. This did not stop them from achieving personal success and I find their stories inspirational. But what about the fighting game characters with disabilities, what do we know about them? What can they tell us about the developers or nations they came from? I want you to think for a moment about characters in fighting games that were presented with a disability. How many could you name?

 

One of the longest-lived character designs, really a trope at this point, is the eyepatch-wearing fighter. Many games have featured a character with this disability. Usually in the form of a villain. But there were a few heroic characters that wore the patch as well. Many of these characters, including men and women, were based on the true story of Jubei Mitsuyoshi. While the actual Jubei had use of both eyes the authors that turned his story into legend often embellished his look and said he wore an eyepatch on the count that he lost it while sparring with his father. It made for an interesting character. One of the first fighting game characters to poach the look was Jubei Yagyu, who appeared in the original Samurai Shodown / Spirits in 1993. What made the series great was that several of the sword masters were inspired by fighters from different feudal eras. The scruffy hair, square chin and rugged looks of the SNK character were no doubt inspired by the actor Toshiro Mifune who played a swordsman in several films, including the phenomenal Seven Samurai.

   

Characters with eye patches were nothing new in the Street Fighter series. The original world champion, Sagat, had a patch. More recently Juri was also presented with an eyepatch as well. When it came to other memorable traits there were several characters covered in massive scars. Eagle, Cammy and Abel were three blondes that each had facial scarring. Abel and Cammy of course also suffered from amnesia and brain washing. These designs and themes would turn up in the Rival School series as well. Some of the characters were covered in many grotesque scars, even over their eyes, like Kairi and Gouken. The bare-handed one-eyed fighter was quickly becoming a trope for the genre.

A character blind in one eye was interesting enough but films and comics had turned completely blind characters into stars as well. Hong Kong and Japanese cinema both featured fictional heroes and villains that were both blind but lethal as well. None was more popular than Zatoichi. Created by Kan Shimozawa in the early '60s, the character of Zatoichi engrossed movie audiences for several decades. There was even a television series featuring the character that went on for 100 episodes. Zatoishi was a travelling masseuse and hired sword. His fighting ability seemed superhuman as he would often take on dozens of men at once. He often dealt with and for unsavory characters, including yakuza bosses. There was something sympathetic about the character and the actor. Shintaro Katsu poured himself into the role. Shintaro played the character in almost 30 films. You may have seen a more recent remake of the character featuring cult film star Beat Takeshi. In China there was a villain that was as awe-inspiring as Zatoishi. Unfortunately this character would appear in only one film; the Master of the Flying Guillotine, aka the One Armed Boxer part 2.

 

Whether the character was a good guy or a bad guy did not matter as much as their martial arts prowess. Zatoishi set an incredible standard. Fung Sheng Wu Chi was just as lethal, taking out masters of various fighting arts with his throwing weapon. The creators of both blind characters demonstrated that their other senses were heightened so that they could anticipate the moves of their opponents. They could hear and even smell opponents, which came in handy while fighting in the pitch black of night. Hong Kong cinema made sure that the myth of the blind master would spread around the world. When the west saw these figures they were engrossed by them. Some of the blind master retellings worked well. Such as the USA take on Zatoishi called Blind Fury. Other retellings were a little more humorous such as the Blind Kung-Fu Master from Mad TV.

   

In some instances the blind warrior would become the mentor for the star of the series. Think of the blind Shaolin priest from the classic television series Kung-Fu. Or Jedi Kanan Jarrus from Star Wars Rebels and even Chirrut Imwe from Rogue One. They were great warriors filled with wisdom despite their physical disability. Everything they knew could be passed on to a star pupil that would change the world. The west found these archetypes appealing and began creating new heroes from their legends. In the Mortal Kombat series there was Kenshi Takahashi. He had moves based on Tai Chi and Judo while wielding an ancient sword. Audiences could tell from the red bandage covering his eyes that Kenshi was a blind master. He had telekinetic powers that allowed him to throw opponents around and retrieve his sword without having to move. His initial costume and design was rooted slightly in the comic book and cartoon icon Snake Eyes. While Snake Eyes is not blind, he was disfigured and is mute and wears a mask. He was trained in the secretive arts of ninjitsu and became an elite member of G.I. Joe. He was the deadliest hand-to-hand fighter in the group comprised of the best soldiers of every branch of the armed forces. Mysterious characters like Snake Eyes and Kenshi always go over big in the west.

   

Kenshi was far from being the first blind fighting game character. That honor would go to Voldo. He appeared in Soul Blade / Edge, the first successful 3D sword fighting game from Namco. Voldo was an assassin from Palermo in the Kingdom of Naples from ancient Italy. He fought in an unorthodox style, twisting and flipping at opponents. He fought in an odd costume, wrapped in leather and other bondage elements. He even fought with an unconventional weapon, the three-bladed Jamadhar Katars. Voldo wore a strap across his eyes but he was not completely blind. He suffered from an eye condition that severely limited his vision. Whether it was due to an accident or birth defect he was presented using a telescopic device which allowed him limited visibility. The version he wore predated modern medical devices by more than 400 years. I think this would qualify Voldo as the first and as far as I can remember only character to wear a low vision optical device. Score one for the visually impaired community!

 

Characters come in a variety of sizes and abilities. We have just talked a little bit about those with disabilities. Differences in physical to mental conditions make certain characters more interesting. They add dimension to the figures and can turn an ordinary fighter into a memorable one. In the next entry we will look at those that had slightly more physical challenges. I hope to see you back for that! As always if you would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!

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