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Direct to You: A Farewell to Satoru Iwata

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Direct to You: A Farewell to Satoru Iwata

I found myself a lot more affected by Satoru Iwata's death than I thought I'd be.

Earlier that night, before I heard the news, a friend of mine joked that people I'd met but didn't have any personal affection for might as well have died, and I'd feel nothing, because I didn't consider them part of my life. He wasn't wrong. Just a few hours later, after hearing about Iwata's death, I was told about a few deaths of people related to people I knew. Not that any of them were close to me, but beyond the general pang of sadness you feel when you hear about loss, it didn't really affect me. Iwata's death affected me. Honestly, it fucked me up a little.

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Op-Ed: Arkham Knight Has the Best Bad Camera

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Op-Ed: Arkham Knight Has the Best Bad Camera

For the most part, Batman Arkham Knight is a game that lacks confidence. It can't quite commit to a representation of Batman that feels unique, and its Gotham is drawn from so many sources that it feels more referential than essential in and of itself. But there is one place that Arkham Knight feels not only confident, but genuinely innovative and interesting. Arkham Knight has some of the most interesting camera work I've ever seen in a game, but at every step it leaves me cold....

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Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker Review- The Anime Connection

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Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker Review- The Anime Connection

Devil Survivor 2: Season 2 is probably the best way to think of Record Breaker, in fact. The second campaign has more taxing, complex battles, but also more of the cast hanging out between fights, chatting and slowly learning to trust each other as the world falls apart all around them. No one character is particularly exciting or spectacularly written, but they're solid executions on the traditional anime cliches that the SMT series trades in, and the added wrinkle of only having a limited amount of time per in-game day to spend with them means you start thinking about budgeting your friendships. 

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The Film Makers- The Works of Hideo Kojima and David Cage

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The Film Makers- The Works of Hideo Kojima and David Cage

Hideo Kojima's earliest games starred Hollywood actors. 1987's Metal Gear for the MSX2 featured character portraits drawn to resemble popular actors, like Sean Connery, Mel Gibson, and uh...Albert Einstein. Scientists aside, it was a pretty clear mission statement on Kojima's part. He was a man who decided to go into video games, but he came primarily from a film background. Not academically mind you— Kojima studied economics— but he spent much of his childhood making films on an 8mm camera, and watching movies with his parents. He references games like Yuji Hori's 1983 adventure game, The Portopia Serial Murder Case, as the games that inspired him to get into the industry. He was an aspiring short story writer and artist and film maker, and here he was, making games. Games that were inspired almost entirely by movies.

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The Primer: Like a Movie You Can Play

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The Primer: Like a Movie You Can Play

Video games have a story problem. They've had it pretty much since their very inception, and they'll probably never STOP having them. It's really damn hard to tell a good story while a player is mucking around in the game world. Generally speaking, they won't care, and even when they do, it's hard to draw their attention to certain things without wresting control of the narrative away from them. So, instead, most games turned to cutscenes, cutaway mini-movies that tell stories in between gameplay, and thus began games' everlasting obession with becoming movies. Here are just a few games that can help you track the evolution of cinematic storytelling in games, and help keep you on track for our theme month on the intersection of games and cinema.

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Mario Galaxy and the Mechanization of Space

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Mario Galaxy and the Mechanization of Space

Super Mario Galaxy is the spaciest space game of all time.

To be fair, it doesn’t seem that way at first glance. Mario is a plumber from Brooklyn by way of the Mushroom Kingdom, which isn’t the kind of CV you need to get into NASA. The planets have nonsensical and inconsistent gravity, the stars have big cartoon eyes and goofy singsong dialogue, and all of outer space is ruled over by an amazonian princess with a magic wand. But, beyond all the parts of Mario Galaxy’s space that put it squarely in the Disney afternoon sector of the universe, its mechanics are not only what make it unique among platformers, but the only game I can think of that’s both about space, and actually feels like it earns it.

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The Wacky World of Nintendo's Shared Space Universe

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The Wacky World of Nintendo's Shared Space Universe

Years ago, Nintendo used to hold a show called Space World. It was a sort of Nintendo-only counterpart to Tokyo Game Show, which they didn't (and still don't) attend, where they'd announce new games and consoles, and put them out for the public to play. It had very little to do with space as a concept, but its makes for a very convenient segue into the fact that Nintendo has a crazy shared universe you never knew about, and it all takes place in space. Also, it's all perfectly reasonable and requires no insane leaps in fan fiction logic.

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The Primer- Lost in Space

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The Primer- Lost in Space

For any number of reasons, games set in space form the backbone of our medium. For the most part, they feature the kinds of narratives you'd find in a YA book with a cool space dragon on the cover, but sometimes, they strive to be a little more. Some games take that concept of space, which most people have never really interacted with, and finding the ways it intersects with a primarily interactive medium. Which is to say, sometimes games are about big, empty voids, and sometimes, they like to contemplate infinity, and maybe even mechanize it.

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Touching is Good: Physicality in Games

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Touching is Good: Physicality in Games

When I was young, one of the coolest board games I never got to play was Mouse Trap. There was something semi-mystical about the game of building something. To this day, I don’t quite understand how the game works (I’m pretty clear on the part where you build a mouse trap so elaborate it’d make Rube Goldberg indecent, I just don’t get what happens next) but whenever I think about it, I imagine the weight of the pieces in my hands, the feeling of things snapping together for some greater purpose. I loved Lego, but Lego didn’t have a goal. Lego told stories, sure, but it wasn’t a game. Lego had a magical ability to draw my imagination out of me when it was in my hands, but Mouse Trap, a game I never played and only ever saw in commercials starring multicolored mice and overacting children, captured me.

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Critical Hits: Repetition, Bravely Default, and Repetition

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Critical Hits: Repetition, Bravely Default, and Repetition

Repetition is educational. We learn when we have something drilled into us until it becomes reflex. I know how to step when I block low with my forearm. I don't necessarily remember the pattern, but my body moves the way I was taught years ago. Formula is comforting, and slight variations upon a theme is essentially the structure chart for serialized fiction. Repetition is one of the most important concepts to both the natural world and entertainment. It's a key part of poetry, the scientific process, math, psychology, fiction, and, well, everything really.

So if repetition is truth, is Bravely Default the truest game ever made?

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Split/Screen: Sharing a Screen and Intimacy In Multiplayer

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Split/Screen: Sharing a Screen and Intimacy In Multiplayer

Some Japanese arcade machines don't have controls for a second player. Instead, they get two cabinets to be networked together. Sometimes, the two machines are right next to each other, sometimes they're across, so you can't see your opponent but you always know where they are. Sometimes, as was the case with the Japanese machines in the arcade I went to a few times in high school, they were scattered among the giant lineup of cabinets, so you had no idea who was playing with you. It added this palpable sense of loneliness to whatever game you were playing, since any opponent was essentially a CPU. There was no face to them, no name, just a series of strategies and inputs that was trying to defeat you.
 

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My Multiplayer Story - How Street Fighter Made Me a Better Person

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My Multiplayer Story - How Street Fighter Made Me a Better Person

When we were growing up, my brother and I would fight a lot.

I've heard that's pretty natural actually, but when we were younger it always drove me crazy. Not because we weren't close, I didn't really care about that, but because my parents would always demand we be nicer to each other. Well, specifically, they yelled at me that I was too mean to him. I figured they were playing favourites, but looking back, we were very close in age, had similar interests, plus, we were little kids with awful tempers- we were bound to butt heads.

We would hit each other, a lot. I was bigger and stronger, but not by much. There's about two year's difference between us, so whenever I got a little bigger and tougher, he'd just have to wait a few months and eventually we'd be on the same playing field again. 

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The Circle of Sakurai or: The Irrelevant Relevance of Super Smash Bros.

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The Circle of Sakurai or: The Irrelevant Relevance of Super Smash Bros.

Masahiro Sakurai directed his first game at the age of 22. It was 1992's Kirby's Dream Land, and if you'll pardon the pretension this early in an article, it was the first postmodern platformer. It was a platforming game where the platforms were meaningless. The protagonist could soar over levels, never having to interact with enemies outside of bosses. It drew explicit attention to the fact that it was a platformer (which may as well be called "jumpers" honestly) where the challenge didn't lay in the jumping. In fact, at least with Dream Land, the challenge didn't really lay anywhere. Kirby didn't hop on enemies, he swallowed them from a fairly safe distance, and if a certain area was too tough, he could float on above them, laughing all the way.

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Reviews From a VR Future

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Reviews From a VR Future

This VR theme month has really got us here at Built to Play thinking about the future. We were promised hovercars and cool robots by now, and the future has yet to deliver. But, in a mystifying coincidence, while we were sitting around complaining about our lame present, we got a missive from the future through one of the many pneumatic tubes set up in the recording booth. It told of a terrifying but wondrous future, mostly similar to our own, but where virtual reality technology had taken over video games, ushering in the anaglyphic age of gaming. As part of the time capsule, we also got a set of reviews set to go up the week of September 22nd, 2034. We’re pretty sure we can’t break embargo on games that don’t exist yet, and stable time loops are for wussies, so we’re gonna post them today. Unfortunately, as we have no photos of these future games, you'll have to make due to terrifying Google search results and atrocious artist's representations.

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The Next Reality- What Works With VR?

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The Next Reality- What Works With VR?

For years, virtual reality was nothing but a twinkle in the eye of the goofiest of cyberpunk-tinged games industry futures. But now, with the advent of technology like the Oculus Rift, and the Samsung Gear VR, virtual reality is just a few steps away from your eyeballs at any moment. Of course, that means the temptation to make those headset-wearing VR dreams come true is stronger than ever, and here at Built to Play, we’d like to crush those dreams. Not every game is good for VR! In fact, most games aren’t! But some work really well- like, genre redefining well.

Virtual reality displays are- and have always been - peripheral to the overall game experience. Generally speaking, games that are made for VR displays are incunabular in nature. They ape the current format of games rather than create something that requires VR to function properly.

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Super Smash Bros. WiiU/3DS Preview: Lookin' Good

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Super Smash Bros. WiiU/3DS Preview: Lookin' Good

Smash Bros. is a weird beast. On one hand, it’s an outsider game, part of Nintendo’s initiative to take genres they aren’t comfortable with and Nintendo-ize them. Smash Bros. is an action-platform-brawler, sure, but it’s also Nintendo’s more intuitive, easy to understand take on the fighting game genre (see also: Splatoon for shooters, Fire Emblem for RPGs, Luigi’s Mansion for point-and-click adventure games). On the other hand though, it’s the insider game, combining pretty much every Nintendo franchise that matters (and some that really, really don’t) into one fan-pandering package.

It's like Rock-Paper-Scissors. Mega Man beats Mario who bears Sonic who beats Mega Man until both are irrelevant.

It's like Rock-Paper-Scissors. Mega Man beats Mario who bears Sonic who beats Mega Man until both are irrelevant.

That fighting game part of the equation is really relevant these days, with the sudden surge of popularity Super Smash Bros Melee, the 2001 Gamecube incarnation of the series, has been seeing in the fighting game community. Nintendo, in response, made sure that Gamecube controllers, the Smash Bros. standard would be compatible with the WiiU game through some sort of Frankenstein's monster of a switching box. It takes up two USB ports, and I’m not really sure how. Then, they held a tournament, inviting the world’s top Smash Bros. players to show off the game in a livestreamed event in the Nokia Theatre. Nintendo is pinning all its WiiU hopes and dreams on Smash, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s consistently a multi-million seller, but unlike Mario Kart, its more popular older brother, it draws in a fairly stable crowd of Nintendo, and specifically, Smash Bros. diehards.

So, getting Super Smash Bros. for WiiU and 3DS (seriously, that's the full name) right is a Big Deal for Nintendo. Such a big deal that they’ve dedicated multiple Nintendo Directs to it, post daily updates on the games development to Miiverse, and commission original, usually super clever art every time a new character is revealed. Smash Bros. is an event game. It’s a once a generation game. But enough context, let’s talk video games.

Rush....Do you think love can bloom? Even on a battlefield?

Rush....Do you think love can bloom? Even on a battlefield?

To prepare for the demo, I played enough of Melee and Brawl to get a feel for the differences between the two games, and to remind myself exactly how they felt to move around in. I found that Melee was a lot slipperier than I remembered, while also being a very stiff game overall. Brawl, meanwhile, had a lot more traction on the ground, and moved more smoothly, but had a lot of floatiness and looseness in the air. Smash Bros. for WiiU feels tighter, in a good way though. Melee’s stiffness made hit and run tactics the order of the day giving defensive players really big opportunities, while Brawl’s floatiness made matches one long air battle, eventually culminating in a single strong ground hit for a kill. Overall, characters feel like they have less airtime now, as well as more responsive hits on the ground. The overall feel is snappier, tighter. Characters have real weight to them again, but not so much that they feel cumbersome to combo with.

K! O!

K! O!

For example, I got my hands on Punch Out’s Little Mac, one of the game’s newcomers. Mac is a boxer, not exactly skilled at air fighting. His jumps are low and heavy, and his off-screen recovery options either move straight up, or straight to the side, no precise recovery here. But, his ground game is unmatched. He’s lightning quick, hits like a tank, and most of his specials and smash attacks combo out of his jab attack. Mac also builds up a power meter as he takes and deals damage. Once it fills up, you get a single use, instant-KO uppercut. It comes out slow, but hitting it stops the action and zooms in on you crushing your opponents jaw with the might of a thousand elephants. It’s crazy satisfying. The rebalancing of the air and ground game still makes Mac a less viable character overall, Smash Bros. is an action-platformer after all, and what good is a platforming character who jumps like a turtle? But, more of the action takes place on the ground, and playing to your strengths (and the center of the stage) makes Mac a really solid, entertaining character to use.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Rosalina. The Mario Galaxy princess is light, and floats around pretty much like she’s right out of Brawl. Her shtick is that she has a Luma following her around, sort of like the Ice Climbers tandem system from previous games. Unlike Nana though, Rosalina is in full control of her Luma, and can use it to create devastating (and really cool looking) set ups and combos. In the time I used her, she seemed really tricky to get a hold of, but definitely showed potential for serious damage. Between the Luma and Little Mac’s power meter, it’s easy to see that Smash Bros. new direction isn’t so much about refining the engine and core feel of the game, as it has been before, but about refining the characters, and making each feel more unique.

Don't worry, Diddy always has it coming.

Don't worry, Diddy always has it coming.

Take a look at Mega Man. He doesn’t have his own special subsystem, but the way he operates is entirely different from the rest of the cast. His jab combo fires three pellets (and only three, just like NES sprite restrictions demand), and each of his moves are individual, distinct hits, often with charge up time, poor recovery, or slow start-up. Mega Man doesn’t combo. At all. But, just like he does in his games, he has a ton of options available to him. The (ironically sort of useless) Metal Blade can go off in any direction, the Leaf Shield lets you run right through projectiles, Hard Knuckle demolishes any enemy beneath you, Air Shooter lets you chase enemies right off top of the screen in an aerial battle. Mega Man has an option for any situation, and they hit hard. Mega Man requires you to understand the game and predict your opponents, not react, then pick the right tool for any job. No other character plays like that.

Yeah, but where's all the sports tape?

Yeah, but where's all the sports tape?

Even older characters have gotten tweaks. Pikachu’s thunder attack is no longer nearly as useful, and his “breakdancing” down-smash has a bit of a vortex applied to it, letting him suck enemies into his whirling death tail. Overall, it forces Pikachu players to play more aggressively, having to rely far less on well placed thunders to carry enemies off screen for them. Meanwhile, perennial bottom-tier bench sitter Link has a stronger downwards stab in the air, as well as far batter range on his boomerang. Maybe it’s not enough to take him out of the D-List, but he certainly feels more viable.

I could look at 100 screenshots of Sonic eating it and never get bored.

I could look at 100 screenshots of Sonic eating it and never get bored.

It all makes Smash Bros. feel much more like what I think it was intended to be. A collection of Nintendo's unique characters, each recognizable because they play just like they’re supposed to in their original games. They’re more different than they ever were before. It diversifies the gameplay in a way that Smash Bros. hasn’t tried since the very first game. Greninja plays hit and run like a melee character, Wii Fit Trainer is floatier, but hits hard and plays a strong fundamentals game. The Villager is unpredictable, much like Mr. Game and Watch, but with a heavier focus on set ups and traps. It’s the first Smash Bros. game where I feel like I really need to sit down and learn some of the characters, and that’s a really good thing. It’s making me very excited to clean up with Little Mac in Super Smash Bros for WiiU and 3DS.

Boy, it really needs a better name.


Sidebar: Smash Bros for 3DS Update-

It does actually look this nice up close. Zoomed out? Not so much.

It does actually look this nice up close. Zoomed out? Not so much.

Did you hear? Smash Bros. is also on 3DS this time around!Presumably because the WiiU isn’t exactly setting the world on fire, and a 3DS version is a pretty sure sales bet for a good few million copies. But handheld fighters are never the best idea. Sure, they can function, but it often comes at a serious cost. Either the engine suffers, or the controls aren’t right, or frames get dropped. 3DS Smash Bros. is a pretty unique case in that it is literally the exact same game as it’s console big brother. Sure, it has a different set of stages and a few special modes, but it uses the same characters, the same assets (scaled down significantly for the smaller screen) and the same engine. It plays identically, smooth as silk. I’ll take the thick black outlines over dropped frames any day of the week.

The game’s big draw right now is the Smash Run mode, which lets up to four players run around a floating island dungeon for five minutes, killing various Nintendo enemies for power ups. These power ups then get applied for a set of multiplayer matches once the time limit is up. The mode is entertaining, but playing against CPUs really only hammered across the fact that Smash Bros. is built on local multiplayer. The controls work (the timing for smash attacks feels a little more lenient on the handheld), and the screen size isn’t really an issue. Online multiplayer is solid enough on 3DS, but it’ll never replace the local, punch-your-friend-in-the-shoulder-for-using-a-cheap-move multiplayer that made the series so popular. This game needs tons and tons of single player content, but I have to imagine all of that will find its way to the WiiU version anyway, considering it comes out a few months later. No matter what Smash 3DS does, it’s always going to be the inferior version, and that’s not a great place to start from.

Not the 3DS version, but do appreciate the RESOLUTION on those hula hoops. You won't find hula hoops like that on any other console. Those are proprietary hoops. First party hoops.

Not the 3DS version, but do appreciate the RESOLUTION on those hula hoops. You won't find hula hoops like that on any other console. Those are proprietary hoops. First party hoops.

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Op-Ed:  We Need To Talk About Budgets

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Op-Ed: We Need To Talk About Budgets

Yesterday's EA conference bugged the hell out of me. Not because of the constant deluge of sports games, I'm used to that. That bit where they called bothMadden and Fifa football in the span of like 20 minutes was pretty annoying, but I got over it. There was a good 5 minutes there where they were using Bruce Lee's digital corpse as a puppet to shill UFC games, but that didn't annoy me so much as make me deeply uncomfortable. No, the part that drove me insane was when they showed four games that looked to be in varying stages of pre-beta development. Criterion's new, currently untitled, action sorts game, DICE'sStar Wars Battlefront 3, as well as their Mirror's Edge prequel/sequel/reboot and Bioware Montreal's Mass Effect 4. 

Every one of these games was prefaced with plenty of text telling us about how the footage we were seeing was nowhere near final, and, in the case of Battlefront, that this was merely a test of what the engine could potentially achieve. Hell, Bioware announced a new game that didn't have a concept, just a fancy season changing system. 

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Thou Hast Played a Game! - A History of Olde English in Localizations

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Thou Hast Played a Game! - A History of Olde English in Localizations

There's something about old English that gets RPG localizations going. Maybe it's the often medieval settings, or all the swords, or the fact that it's actually impossible to cast magic without sounding like a Ren Faire reject (seriously, try it sometime), but any game with a high fantasy air to it going to be scripted like an episode of Game of Thrones. What's interesting though is that this localization choice has been around almost since video game localization started. It's a thread that runs through Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and dozens of other RPGs from pretty much every era of gaming. And every time it's served a very specific purpose. What's really weird is that it never served the same purpose each time. It's a not-so-unique stylistic choice with a real variety of uniquely weird choices.

Thou art confused as to why this omniscient narrator speaks such!

Thou art confused as to why this omniscient narrator speaks such!

Probably the first game that went full-on Arthurian in America was Dragon Warrior (nee Quest). In Japan, Dragon Quest was one of the early Famicom days to break one million copies. Thing is, since the Famicom was so popular, and there were so few games to buy, pretty much every game sold a million copies. But then Dragon Quest 2 happened, and by the time of Dragon Quest 3, we were getting rumours in Nintendo Power that the Japanese national guard was deployed at game stores to keep kids from buying the game on a school day. So Nintendo was pretty keen on making it the same kind of sensation here as it was at home. 

The problem was, Dragon Quest wasn't the grassroots success a lot of people sold it as. Part of that series' huge success can be attributed to the fact that it had promo art from Dragon Ball's Akira Toriyama. The Toriyama connection then got Dragon Quest comics into Shonen Jump, the suer-popular children's comics magazine that serialized Dragon Ball at the time, which in turn kept Dragon Quest on the brain for the millions of kids still looking for decent Famicom games. Toriyama wasn't the only talent that drummed up continued interest in the series either, composer Koichi Sugiyama was relatively popular for his work on anime like Gatchaman and Cyborg 009, and designer Yuji Horii was a writer known for his regular video games column in Shonen Jump, as well as his script for the Portopia Serial Murder Case, a beloved Japanese computer adventure game. Horii's writing was known for being charming and clever, and his games were always designed with the belief that no game should ever be too challenging for the ordinary player. Adventure games and RPGs weren't necessarily reflex based games, the skills required were purely mental, and could eventually be brute forced with enough patience. 

If that kid turns around, Goku can actually sue.

If that kid turns around, Goku can actually sue.

That last bit was what Nintendo was banking on when it brought Dragon Quest over as Dragon Warrior, and gave it away for free with subscriptions to Nintendo Power. Dragon Quest worked for all ages, with gameplay simple enough for a kid, and dialogue charming enough to engage adults. But a literal translation of Horii's writing would have sapped the game of all its character, so the localizers elected to recast the game in faux-Shakespearean "thee"s and "thou"s. It was a way to keep the game cute and clever, without having to go back to the drawing board and rewrite the entire script- an efficiency measure, but one that stuck around in RPGs for a very long time.

Dragon Quest 2 and 3 held on to the old English style for a few more years within the Dragon Quest series, but 4 dropped it due to the more global nature of the plot and characters. Though, DQIV's DS port had an accent-filled localization, complete with completely incomprehensible Scottish accents for some of the cast. But that wasn't RPG localizers last chance to put Horii's dialogue in a time machine. Chrono Trigger's Frog speaks in the absolute most imprenetrable old English I've ever seen in a game. "Mayhaps a hidden door lurks night?" he croaks. "Let us search the environs." Meanwhile, the Japanese version opts for the much more reasonable "Yes, there's a secret passage somewhere in this room."

Just in case you didn't believe me...

Just in case you didn't believe me...

In fact, the choice to make Frog a cartoonish Shakespearean buffoon is super weird in light of his attitude in the Japanese version. Japanese Frog is a more boisterous knight, with a propensity to call enemy leader Magus a bastard, and a zeal for beating up monsters. As far as I can tell, the choice was to keep him more in line with Western expectations of what a medieval knight should sound like, though the DS port toned down his "hast"s and "dost"s considerable. Around the same time, Chrono Trigger's translator Ted Woolsley also worked on Final Fantasy 6, where he gave Cyan, the technologically-inept knight a more Shakespearean bent, though not nearly to the extent of Frog. In fact, Cyan's Japanese was similarly archaic, though more in line with how samurai and ninja would have spoken.

So, sometimes it's a character thing. Other times though, it's a space thing. Etrian Odyssey II doesn't feature too many archaicisms, but it does refer to almost every shield in the game as an aspis, which technically isn't old English, but we'll accept ancient Greek for our purposes because it never comes up. Etrian Odyssey limits weapon names to 10 characters, including spaces. In Japanese, ten characters might as well be a sentence, but in English, it barely gets across two words. The word "shield" plus the space before it eats up seven characters, leaving only three to describe what kind of shield it is. Meanwhile "aspis" is only six characters with the space, leaving a roomy whole four letters for an adjective. Archaic speech patterns might not always be known for their efficiency, but sometimes out-of-use words are just what a smart localization needs.

Pretty sure this paragraph counts as the airing of grievances, but I'm tapping out when we hit the feats of strength.

Pretty sure this paragraph counts as the airing of grievances, but I'm tapping out when we hit the feats of strength.

Sometimes though it's just weird and crazy annoying. In what the localizers say was an attempt to evoke the high fantasy grandeur of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, Capcom's Dragon's Dogma is packed to the rafters with strange, out-of-use, and archaic terminology. For example, the fire sell is called "Ingle", an older English word for a fireplace, while the ice spell, "Frazil" is named after a needle-like ice formation. It can get confusing, especially when characters heap on the archaic grammar, but it allows for some clever workarounds. Since your character can be male or female, characters address you as "Ser", a gender neutral version of sir and lady that, while not necessarily an old word, definitely looks and sounds like one. Iit fits in seamlessly with the localization and cuts back on voice acting work without raising any more eyebrows than the rest of the script.

Any excuse to post FF12 concept art is a good excuse.

Any excuse to post FF12 concept art is a good excuse.

In a similar sense, the Ivalice series of Final Fantasy games use old English to set the tone of the world. It's a little different than Dragon Quest's attempts to inject some much needed character into boring RPG text though. The Ivalice games span hundreds of thousands of years in the timeline of a fictional world, and the specific choices made in localization over the years really reflects that. Final Fantasy XII is chronologically the first game in the Ivalice timeline, but takes place during the world's golden age. There's a distinct olde English flavour to everything, but it's more Victorian than Elizabethan, in fact, the game's bestiary text was styled after a Victorian handbook on medicinal herbs. One of the cleverer localization choices made by Ivalice series translator Alexander O. Smith, as well as frequent partner Joseph Reeder, was to recast the antagonistic empire's characters as British, and have the friendly rebels speak in American accents. Sure, it's not exactly what the Japanese writers had in mind, but it very quickly gets across the idea that the rebels are on your side, and the empire isn't. 

Lotta cur talk in this game actually.

Lotta cur talk in this game actually.

Meanwhile, it was a calculated difference from Smith. he also translated the chronologically final game in the Ivalcie series, Vagrant Story, which still has that archaic flavour, but is distinctly more modern in places. "All because of this religious freedom! Too much freedom, too many gods. Let those cultist cur-dogs run loose, and they will bite you. Gods! While our Parliament cowers..." is a lot more readable to a modern audience than Shakespeare. In between there's also the Final Fantasy Tactics Advance games, which Smith worked on, but those have a much more modern take, most likely because they were aimed at younger audience who might not have been able to pick up on the purple prose. Put together with Square Enix's updated translation of Final Fantasy Tactics for the PSP (the middle game in the Ivalice series) and the changing speech patterns give a really strong sense that there's one world grounding all these stories, but it's shifting, ever so slightly.

Basically, old English isn't quite the cheap and easy localization tool that Dragon Warrior would lead you to believe. It's a shorthand for the middle ages, sure, but it can also build a world, set a mood, save some space, or even just make a frog sound like he stepped out of someone's horrible Shakespeare fanfic. Truly the finest use of language.

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The Primer- Great Localizations

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The Primer- Great Localizations

When it comes to figuring out what goes into a great localization, there's a lot of time spent thinking about games that really nailed the transition from one region to another. And also games that totally dropped the ball. Sometimes games dunk that ball though. Other times someone gets hit in the face by an errant pass. Occasionally the ref calls a time out and has to analyze what just happened because the ball was floating in the air gloriously, before crashing back down to the court in a flaming wreck.

What this tortured metaphor is trying to get at is an introduction to just a few of the most impressive game localizations of all time.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

The thing about the Ace Attorney games is that all at once, they manage to be some of the best examples of how to do a Japanese-to-English localization, while also showing exactly what goes wrong when you play it fast and loose with localization. One one hand, they’re loaded to the brim with clever puns, mostly subtle references to american pop culture, and charming dialogue. On the other, it’s actually impossible to believe the series could possible take place in Los Angeles.

Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies is either the most amazing series of typos ever, or an incredibly detailed post-modern comedy bit.

Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies is either the most amazing series of typos ever, or an incredibly detailed post-modern comedy bit.

To be fair, the series isn't exactly batting a thousand. Between goofy nonsense that doesn’t register as a pun until you think about it and get disappointed (see: Glen Elg, the palindromic homicide victim), and the grammatical catastrophe that is Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies, there are a lot of missteps in what’s usually considered to be a shining exemplar of good localization. It says a lot that, for a time, the biggest meme to come out of Ace Attorney was making fun of the one major error in the second game. Well, that and people constantly yelling objection for no damn reason.

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It takes a lot to take a game, especially one as text heavy as Ace Attorney, from one culture to another. The first game in the series did an impressive job of balancing the whole “it takes place in america” thing with the rest of the factors in the plot. To be fair, not too much about that first game was very Japan-centric. The Steel Samurai read as a Power Rangers/Super Sentai-esque kids show in both regions. Sure, it was weird that the Fey clan ran a mystical spirit channelling village somewhere in the mountains of Orange County, but it didn’t ever take me out of the suspension of disbelief required to believe that the world’s most incompetent lawyer was an undefeated defense attorney. But, the part in Ace Attorney Dual Destinies where an entire Japanese village relocated to America and took their ancient chained-up demons with them so they could use them in wrestling TV shows pretty much snapped my disbelief over its knee. It was a smart choice to set the first game in LA. It made it feel closer to home for North American players, and really let the writers play with pop culture references that wouldn’t really fly if the game was set in Japan. Unfortunately, it made the rest of the games stick out like a traditional Japanese shrine in the middle of LA. It was one smart short term choice, that ate into the suspension of disbelief more and more with each game going forward. At this point, I’m half-expecting the upcoming Meiji-era Japan game to be set in the Wild West when it comes over stateside.

Actually, samurai in cowboy hats sounds rad. Sign me up for that.

Pokemon Red/Blue

Pocket Monsters: Lizard Dude Version

Pocket Monsters: Lizard Dude Version

The impressive thing about Pokemon’s localization isn’t really in its script. “I like shorts” isn’t exactly Dickens. No, the cool thing is all the work that went into it that most people miss. It’s the names. Pokemon names to be specific, Charmander to get really particular, actually. See, in Japan, Charmander is called Hitokage, which literally the word for salamander in Japanese. That itself is sort of a pun, because it means fire lizard, but a straight translation would still render that as either salamander or fire lizard. And then what do we make out of Lizardo and Lizardon, Charmeleon and Charizard’s Japanese equivalents? Fire Lizard Jr., Fire Lizard and Fire Lizard Sr.? Lil’ Fire Lizard to Big Fire Lizard? Nintendo’s trick was to flip the script and go with what localization always tries to do at its best, preserving the original intent without sticking to the literal script. Charmander works. It says fire and lizard and salamander all at once, perfectly preserving the Hitokage pun without just calling it “Salamander”.

Changes like that actually led to a few problems down the line. The longer english names often hit the character limit, leaving Gyarados without his former English title of Skullkraken, and forced the designers to change the status screen orientation for foreign versions of Gold and Silver. Longer names meant they wouldn’t fit in the Japanese version’s vertically oriented menus, forcing a horizontal flip. Some people say that the best localizations are the ones no one notices. A light touch. Pokemon, the first games at least, are probably the lightest touch I’ve seen in a game while still being an enormous amount of work. Charmander is clever, but 151 of those critters is crazy. By now, renaming Pokemon is a science, but in 1998? It was a new frontier. You try to come up with 150 cute puns that kids will get but not get bored of?

I’ll start: Skullkraken.

SKULLKRAKEN

SKULLKRAKEN

Mother 3

If you say so...

If you say so...

Mother 3 is another one of those “look how impressive this text-heavy game’s localization is” kind of games. It’s funny, clever, charming, the puns work, and it all manages to be poignant rather than tripping over the language barrier. Part of that has to do with the script’s pre-existing qualities. Shigesato Itoi, the creator of the Mother/Earthbound series, is a well-regarded and respected writer over in Japan. But, the rest of it comes from a superb english localization courtesy of some folks from the internet.

Mother 3 never came out in America, reportedly because it was a late-period GBA game that would have required a lot of effort, leaving it in the same Japan-only vault as the first Rhythm Heaven game from the same time. Realizing they wouldn’t be be able to play the game unless they did it themselves, Earthbound fans banded together and worked for years on their own translation of the game. Earthbound fans have a reputation for being a bit crazy in their love for the series. Considering Americans only ever got one game out of three in any official capacity, it’s not hard to see their love for the series as a little out there, but it led to possibly the best fan translation of all time, so I’d call it a win.

All of Mother's official art is done with clay figurines, appreciate it, because it'll never happen again.

All of Mother's official art is done with clay figurines, appreciate it, because it'll never happen again.

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One of the really neat things about the localization is that they also launched some merchandise to go along with it. The team released a hardcover guidebook with a full game walkthrough, which came with a keychain. That guide was also the first major release out of Fangamer.net, another product of the Earthbound fan community, which now produces stuff like Earthbound-themed vinyl figures. Also, in a rare look into the localization process, the lead on the project has a series of articles detailing his translation choices throughout the two years of localization work. It’s a worthwhile read, and it’s still amazing that a small group of people could turn out a translation at Nintendo Treehouse quality. I'll be the thousandth person to say that Nintendo should just use their translation in a digital release, but they really should. Unless a player already knew, they'd never guess it wasn't an official job.

Final Fantasy Tactics

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There’s a pig in FFT that has an attack called “nose bracelet”. The dancer class uses the skill “wiznaibus”. The boar enemy classification is listed as “wildbow”. The best part comes early on in the game, when a character is reading something out loud, so you can’t control how fast the text scrolls. In the second sentence, he says “little money”, which takes longer to scroll for each letter than the rest of the text does combined.

 

L

     i

          t

               t

                    l

                         e

                              m

                                   o

                                        n

                                             e

                                                  y

 

Really, it speaks for itself.

Really, it speaks for itself.

If the rest of these games on this primer were great examples of how good localization looks when it’s done right, then the original Playstation version of Final Fantasy Tactics is a crash course on what can go wrong. Back then, Sony was handling Squaresoft’s english translations internally, and they polished the game’s script to a dull brown mess. Nose bracelet is supposed to be oink, which is odd, because bracelet was supposed to be “breath” every other time it appeared in the game. Why else would a dragon have a fire bracelet? Dancers who fight dance “with knives” or “wizu naibusu”, not wiznaibu. The boar is a wild boar, not a particular misbehaved bow. The little money thing seems to be a programming error that cropped up during localization, because there’s nothing like it in the Japanese version.

Whatever you say, lady.

Whatever you say, lady.

The fairly complicated plot, full of political machinations, backstabbing and demonic usurpation of the church is had to follow in the much more coherent PSP remake, so it goes without saying that it makes no damn sense in a version of the game where they manage to misspell Malboro, one of the series’ classic enemies, as Morbol. It’s an impressively terrible translation, which is doubly as terrible because it’s such a great game. Comparing it to the PSP remake, War of the Lions, makes it look like the amateur job it probably was. Fortunately, we all have that version now, so there’s no need to have a death cold about it anymore.

No, I don’t know what that one was supposed to be either.

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Adaptation: Three Classic Comedies that Need Games

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Adaptation: Three Classic Comedies that Need Games

Look, there are only so many times we can say this, but games can, and should be funny. Sometimes. Maybe not all the time, but there’s definitely room for cracking jokes through gameplay. Sometimes, you just need the right material. Now, I’m no game designer, but I feel like I have some idea the industry could put to good use. Specifically on adaptations of famous classic comedies, beloved the world over. Here’s some material folks- great ideas to better homes. Do with them what you will.

Mrs. Doubtfire:

This summer, Robin Williams is still doing vaguely offensive voices.

This summer, Robin Williams is still doing vaguely offensive voices.

The Pitch:

There’s a new Mrs. Doubtfire movie coming out. Now, I know movie tie-in games aren’t quite as popular as they used to be, but licensed game doesn't carry the same baggage as it used to. It’s a trade off. I’m fairly sure the only movie licensed game coming out for the major consoles this year is Amazing Spider-Man 2, so the market for a tie-in movie game is underserved at best. Now, it’s also nonexistent at worst, but you can’t make money without taking a few ungodly risks. And the biggest, stupidest, most ungodly risk available to you as an investor is getting behind this Mrs. Doubtfire game.

Like, just make that broom a trident and we are halfway to pig monster.

Like, just make that broom a trident and we are halfway to pig monster.

Robin Williams has effectively pissed away his popularity with projects like RV and those Zelda commercials where he had a crazy beard. Actually, can we get Robin Williams to play Ganon in a Zelda game? Check on that after we’re done here. Robin Williams is only slightly more popular than crossdressing comedies. Other than the shambling franchise zombie that is Medea, zany drag comedies don’t really pull in the audiences anymore. This probably has something to with the fact that playing crossdressing as hilarious in and of itself is crazy offensive, but then again, White Chicks in on Netflix and we as a society haven’t started rioting yet, so what do I know?

What I know is I have a killer pitch for a Mrs. Doubtfire game.

 

The Gameplay:

The game has two distinct gameplay stages. The first is a makeup portion, think Cooking Mama meets a dress-up doll game. You have to do Daniel Hillard’s make up perfectly for whatever the occasion calls for. Going out on the town, staying in to take care of the kids, top-secret missions in North Korea, whatever Mrs. Doubtfire needs to do.

That sweater is actually kevlar. 

That sweater is actually kevlar. 

Yes, that’s right, Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire is now a top-secret agent for the US Government, the world’s best disguise artist, able to infiltrate any compound without detection, all while maintaining an impeccable falsetto British accent. Depending on how well you do your makeup in the pre-mission portion of the game, the level may be easier or harder in certain places Your makeup affects your ability to blend in and attract interest from NPCs. Different makeup styles will lend themselves better to certain strategies, and don’t forget to try and track down the secret looks, which can unlock special skills like invisibility and constant-being-on-fire.

During the mission portion, you’ll be tasked with infiltrating an area with the least amount of casualties. Like Snake in Metal Gear Solid, Doubtfire only procures weapons on sight, and attacking guards and innocents is likely to arouse suspicion. Be careful not to blow the mission, your president is counting on you to stop terrorist attacks from a country that hopefully won’t be an ally in six months when this game is on store shelves. Games are missing this blend of tactical espionage action and makeup simulation, and Mrs. Doubtfire 2: When in Doubt, Fire, is just the game to give gamers what they crave.

 

Borat:

Every promotional image of Borat involves that green swimsuit, and I just don't want to put you through that.

Every promotional image of Borat involves that green swimsuit, and I just don't want to put you through that.

The Pitch:

You know it, I know it, the nation knows it. We, as a society miss Borat impressions. People aren’t saying “My Wife” enough anymore, or parroting anti-semitic and/or misogynistic comments sans satirical context. We’ve lost the Borat spark. Sacha Baron Cohen has disappeared to parts I do not know where, and there is no one to fill the void left behind by the lack of Borat in our collective life. But now, there is. Look, the Ghostbusters game was supposed to be Ghostbusters 3 until it wasn’t. Then Ghostbusters 3 went back to being a thing that will never happen but we’ll keep hearing news stories about until we’re all dead, so why can’t Borat 2 do the same?

He is ALREADY A MII. It's that easy people.

He is ALREADY A MII. It's that easy people.

See, Borat 2: The Game won’t be a good game. That’s literally impossible. What kind of game would it even be? We’ll get to my pitch in a moment, but seriously, it’s terrible. Don’t bother. The point is, it’ll light a fire under Mr. Borat’s ass to work on the real Borat 2, or better yet, Borat 3: The Canonical Sequel to the Trainwreck Known as Borat 2: The Game. It’s sure to be a film loaded with laughs, hoots, hollers, and guffaws galore. Maybe there will be a celebrity cameo or two? Maybe I’ll appear, and Mr. Borat can say something mostly offensive to me. It’ll be very exciting. The point is, we need to make this game happen, and then we can all go back to the halcyon days of late 2006 to early 2007, where your dad thought the Borat voice was the key to comedy.

Ahhhh, nostalgia.

 

The Gameplay:

I’m not going to lie to you, folks. This cannot be a good game. I mean, first of all, Cohen refuses to play the Borat character anymore, since he’s too famous to trick people with. Second of all, what do even gamify here? I was thinking to go the easy route, and have Mr. Borat platform his way through America, but we’re not lazy here at Built to Play. We’re innovators, and we have a trainwreck of a design pitch for you. Imagine a 3D exploration game, where you, as Borat, walk around a town, asking for interviews with various townspeople. Using a Mass Effect-style dialog wheel, you find the best way to keep the conversation going, which builds up your catchphrase bar. Once full, you can decide to end the conversation by making them uncomfortable, and physically yelling on of Borat’s many catchphrases into a microphone. By the way, you’re also wearing an Oculus Rift, two Playstation Moves, and Wii Vitality Sensor, so your body language, heartbeat, and head positioning have to be perfect for the NPCs to trust you during the interview.

Remember this? No? Good.

Remember this? No? Good.

Alternatively, you can use the catchphrase bar for point multipliers, which will increase your score the longer you keep the conversation going. It’s a classic risk reward system, like quoting Borat in 2014. You have one life, and villagers react as you move, so it’s pretty much a roguelike too, because the kids are into those these days. And everything has Minecraft-style graphics, because we aren’t made of money here. We’re already packing three high-end VR peripherals into the box, and one of them doesn’t even exist. The game also features a day-night cycle,which affects which NPCs you find roaming town, as well as your tiredness meter. It’s also the key to the endgame. After ten in-game years, your character will be retried, all your relevance is shot, and you’ll still hear people saying “my wife” is a dumb voice.

What’d I say? Trainwreck.

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

No, that is no Donkey from Shrek, but that you for pointing out our cultural touchstones.

No, that is no Donkey from Shrek, but that you for pointing out our cultural touchstones.

The Pitch:

If it makes you feel better, pretend we're adapting the manga.

If it makes you feel better, pretend we're adapting the manga.

Shakespeare is classic. And I don’t mean that in the patronizing, pretentious, you have to read him because he’s so important. You don’t, and he isn’t. I mean it in the literal sense, he’s old, and kids don’t care. But, he’s public domain as all hell, which means a cheap game idea is ripe for the picking. I flicked through a list of his comedies, and the dude didn’t really “get” being funny, but hey, this one has donkeys and fairies in it, and that’s probably good enough. We polish this thing up, give it some grit, market it to the Mountain Dew generation, and we’re golden.

In case you don’t know, and who am I kidding, you probably don’t because who pays attention in high school english other than nerds like me, A Midsummer Night's Dream is about four dumb teens who get messed around with by some fairies in the woods. Puck, the fairy court jester, makes some of the teens fall in love with each other, and the whole thing becomes a confusing love quadrangle. After that, a guy called Bottom shows up and he gets turned into a donkey before everything gets sorted out, and Puck tells you it was all probably just a dream.

There’s a couple directions we could go with this. Obviously, kids love “it’s all a dream” endings. They’re all over video games. Hell, Mario 2 was all a dream, and that’s the greatest story in the history of video games. It has frogs, it has vegetables, what more could drama need? Second, kids love fairies. It’s all over their media. Name me one show that doesn’t have a fairy in it. They all do. They’re tiny and magical and only visible to the pure-hearted, so of course you don’t see them. Maybe stop being such a jerk and work with me here.

 

The Gameplay:

Like this, but with more boredom!

Like this, but with more boredom!

I have two ideas for this project. Both are first person titles, but only one is a shooter. That one has you in the woods, playing as one of the four dumb teens. Each has a different special ability, and is fighting to make their way back to their friends for sweet group makeouts. Hermia is a sniper, Helena uses rockets and explosives, Lysander is an all-around character with an assault rifle, and Demetrius is a close-up shotgun character. There’s no real reason for any of that, but no one’s read the play, they won’t know. They fight all kinds of twisted monsters in the forest, and at the end of each level, they fight one of the fairies as bosses. Threatening monsters like Mustardseed, and Peaceblossom. The final boss is Bottom, with his donkey head as a horrifying, gruesome visage that will scare the daylights of of children for decades to come, guaranteeing our place in gaming history.

Alternatively, my other idea is a first person VR experience, where you sit and watch a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from any seat in the audience. But, no matter which you pick, you’ll always be bored. It’s art!

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