Best Games - Waku Waku 7
Waku Waku 7 walks a fine line. Everything about the game is a send up of the fighting genre. Still it manages to be a competent fighter. The characters are thoroughly ridiculous, but not more so than the rosters they are making fun of. The settings and story are knowingly composed entirely of anime tropes.This game would be easy to dismiss if it weren’t so surefooted in making fun of itself and all of it’s genre baggage.
Where a game like DarkStalkers can play off it’s silly nature with a classic monster theme, Waku Waku 7 pulls from all the embarrassing nonsense in both anime and fighting games. Let’s just run down the character list and you’ll see what I mean.
You have your plucky high school fist fighter.
The anime girl who points her butt at the screen as her winning pose who might also be an anthropomorphised rabbit.
The child robot nurse.
The Hayao Miyazaki styled walking robot tank.
The brooding swordfighter elf guy.
A kid riding a purple Totoro.
The rugged adventurer. Really it’s just Guile with a beard and a hat.
The cast rounds out with a Mario chainchomp and a sour faced punching bag.
It’s like they pulled the character traits out of a hat and mushed them together. This is what you would make if you wanted to simultaneously poke fun at a genre, while never letting on that you are poking fun. It is what it what it is a parody of. Subtlety is not usually the calling card of anime or fighting games, so it really refreshing when it works.
So is it better tuned than say, Street Fighter Alpha, or does it feel more precise than King of Fighters. No. Waku Waku 7 never attempts to ascend to those heights. What is though is both very good and very clever. I have one more very to add. Waku Waku 7 is very fun, and that earns it a spot as one of the best games.
I don’t know how you were first introduced to Shakespeare, but it was probably taught to to you in school, and it was probably taught to you wrong.
The collected works of William Shakespeare is a pillar of english literature. That much is obvious. Literally hundreds of common words can be traced back to Shakespeare. These are things that we learn in high school. Just being taught Shakespeare can improve you, the english speaker, in some foundational way. Reading Shakespeare is a multivitamin for your teenage mind. Reading Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet will give you a love for all the better things in life. You will probably listen to Vivaldi afterward and do some whittling or something.
Don’t get me wrong here. I really like me some Shakespeare. But I was that kid. The one who was actually, legitimately, and without prompting, interested in reading Shakespeare. You know, a geek. A theatre geek even. I was also way into video games. Looking back, I’m surprised I made it out of high school alive. I really couldn’t have been a more perfect target.
Even back then I knew that we were being taught Shakespeare wrong. Shakespeare wrote plays, not novels. Sitting at a desk and reading through a play, even one backed up by a handy Coles Notes, is the wrong way to teach a play. You can either watch a play performed, or perform it yourself, but reading the script is absolutely, bar none, the most superficial way to experience a play. A script can be interpreted in so many ways. Every actor, every director, can take those raw words and interpret them in a completely unique way. A tragic line can be played for comedy in the mouth of a deft actor. The impact on the audience is profound. The context of watching actual people move around and say these words changes their meaning. Never, not for one microsecond, was the intention of those scripts for them to be read by a quiet person sitting at a desk. Teaching Shakespeare as literature is to reduce its impact. It’s teaching it wrong.
So I usually write about games here, because, as stated earlier I’m a geek. While there are very few people teaching games as cultural artifacts just yet, it’s coming. What got me thinking about Shakespeare was the some of the criticism around games, and how we deconstruct games to make criticism easier. We break down the parts, most notably the narrative gets excised from the gameplay, to make it easier to parse. Maybe there is some clinical value in that. taking each part, graphics, sound, action, writing, and dealing with them one at a time. But ultimately reduction is reduction, and the way we view a thing will influence how we go about making a thing. The only problem is that interacting, playing the game, influences how we view the narrative. As actors provide context for the nuances of a script, gameplay provides context for the narrative of a game. Thinking of them as separate in our evaluation of games can lead to people thinking that this is an okay way of doing things. It isn’t.
Plays have been around for a while. Like a dawn of civilization while. Shakespeare’s plays were written over 400 years ago, and we still haven’t figured out how to properly teach them. Video games are only a few decades old, and games with narrative are even younger. Maybe we can get a jump on teaching them a better way. It would be a shame if a hundred years out it became acceptable to have a kid read all the dialog for a game at a desk, and never have them actually play it.
One of the advantages of writing these posts every week is that I have an instantly searchable record of all the dumb things that I thought over the past few years. Maybe that’s a disadvantage. I’m not sure really. Well, what’s done is done.
A quick search through the past archive for “Blender” returned a dozen articles. The oldest mention was from 2011. That’s sort of a while ago. In 2013 I was pondering moving to using Blender as my main 3D modelling tool. In 2014 I was fighting with the interface and some of the more obscure tools. By 2015 I seemed to be rounding the corner, and I no longer had my finger hovering over the “buy Maya” button. I was still having some trouble fully committing to using Blender, but I wasn’t really looking back either.
Finally, after all that time, and a lot of models built, animated, and rendered, last month I realized I was thinking in Blender. I wasn’t looking for Blender equivalents of tools from other programs. I was looking for keyboard shortcuts to make the tools available faster and more convenient. I have added a few shortcuts of my own to personalize Blender to the way I want to work.
It only took five years, but I got there. Or maybe I’m getting there. It’s hard to say. Whatever the case I finally feel comfortable using Blender for all my 3D modelling needs.
Last week I tried Clara.io and had a quick look at Onshape. They are web based 3D tools that let you work on models using a web browser. While they might be limited now, it’s really only a matter of time before a web based art creation tool becomes a kids first, and maybe only tool. Professional workflows will be based around a tool that never actually resides on the user's computer. For a lot of writers, this is already the case.
In five years, I’ll be able to do a search for this post and pinpoint the time when I started learning whatever comes next.
Double jumping. Simple really. You contract the muscles in your legs, storing energy. You drive as much force as you can muster down into the ground and while raising your center of mass. You lift off, extending your body into a long smooth crescent. As your ascent slows, you pull your legs back up under you, tucking your knees. At the apex of your jump, you spring out again, releasing every last newton of force. You rise again doubling your previous elevation. Maybe three or four times your standing height. Simple.
Of course the double jump is a physical impossibility. With nothing substantial to act against, pushing your legs out mid jump would be futile. Gravity wins. You could, conceivably, attach some sort of propulsion system to your legs that would facilitate a double jump, but nothing like that exists. Even if it did, it would be far too dangerous to attempt. Double jumps are the domain of video games.
It’s curious that we suspend disbelief for video game characters jumping several times their own height, and then doing it again in mid air. Like portals or bottomless pits, we have no real world analogue to tie it to, yet we accept and understand the mechanics of a double jump with no argument.
There are characters who can fly in other media. Superheroes have flown for half a century. Superhero flying is wish fulfilment, but it’s also not an alien concept in the physical world. Birds fly all the time. No bird ever did a double jump. We have seen examples of crazy wire work in kung fu movies, but as wild as the effect can get the performers are still bound by gravity. Creating a look that is graceful and fantastical, but still plausible is the goal. Movie kung fu does not double jump.
This is the envelope that video games have pushed. Physical absurdity. More to the point, agency over physical absurdity. As soon as you are empowered with directing the feat, double jumping seems perfectly normal. Obvious even. Were you to watch it performed in a movie or tv show, you would find it fake and uncanny. Watching a double jump would distance you from the media you were watching, remind you that this is all just pretend. When you press the button that makes events happen, it feels vital and precise. Tangible.
The real trick then, is not just bending the laws of physics, but applying this tangibility to other concepts. What other abstract or difficult notions can be made real for people through interaction. Can complex math be demonstrated easily by allowing you to interact. Can ways of seeing the world, unconventional points of view, even empathy, be imparted to a player just by pressing buttons. There is no basis historically, culturally, or evolutionarily for a human being to gain an intuitive understanding of double jumping in seconds. To me, that says that teaching anything through video games is possible.
Yesterday I sat nestled in the back of a classroom designed to accommodate dozens of students with just three other people. Joel Barr, Logan Cooper, Scott Wilson, and myself teamed up to create the game Panel Handlers. Over the 48 (or so) hour duration of the Global Game Jam, we succeeded, failed, and learned in roughly equal amounts, and in every order that you could possibly arrange those words.
Every year that I take part in this game jam, I always end off wishing we could have accomplished more. The next day I’m always amazed we accomplished as much as we did. As it turns out 48 hours is not very much time.
With that in mind, you can go here and enjoy the result of a lot of learning, failing, and succeeding that happened in Calgary over the last 48 hours.
Thank you to the rest of my team for making every hour of that time enjoyable.