Monday, August 18, 2008

Benimaru, the ladies' man

There's a character in the King of Fighters games who's supposed to be a notorious ladies' man. Here's a few images of him...

Uh... yeah. As if the tight leather pants and leopard print halter top weren't suspicious enough, he's got more feminine mannerisms than most women I know.

Friday, August 15, 2008


My interests are sorta lika a drunk pendulum, and there are several endpoints of its swing that it may linger on for some time before swinging a different way for a while. All of the interests remain, but at any given time, one or more will be ascendent and the rest will be quiescent.

Right now, my interest has returned to the Japanese superhero anime-like two dimensional martial arts games. That designation is my own invention; what it really means is that I'm playing a lot of Street Fighter and other games like it right now. The other games like it include the King of Fighters series, the Fatal Fury series, and other games like that, all by developers Capcom and SNK. You pick characters and face off in a two dimensional playing field and attack each other in a combination of martial arts and super powers.

Why do I have such an unnatural affinity to this particular kind of game? I'm not overly Japanophilish and I don't even like anime, so I'm not sure I can answer that. I just do. It's like those old Apple Jacks commercial where the dad asks the kids why they like Apple Jacks; they don't even taste like apple. They look at each other in confusion for a few minutes then say, "We just do!" and go on happily enjoying them. I suppose I'm that same way. I can't rationalize my near obsession with that type of game, it just exists and that's that.

What I'd like to talk about with these fighting games today is something that I think is often overlooked; the rather striking (at times) animated artwork that makes up the "stages" or backdrops for the fights. Finding sprite rips online of characters performing their moves is easy; finding animated (or even just still) images from the games as backgrounds is somewhat trickier. I have, however, managed to collect some of them, and I'm going to use a few to illustrate my points.

There were some interesting developments in the games as they went on. Most of the earliest backgrounds (i.e., Street Fighter 1) are fairly simple and relatively crude by later standards (no surprise; everything about the game is) but they did establish the precedent. Lots of scenic stuff in the background; Mt. Rushmore, Mt. Fuji, etc. They had very little animation, and little "effects" still at this point, but in 1987, they looked pretty stunning for graphics on a video game, honestly.

The first Fatal Fury game, as well as several of the stages from Street Fighter 2 gave us something new; cheering audiences watching the fight. The fights still took place in odd places; scenic locals, often, or just some location in the street, but the cheering crowd was an interesting touch. As time went on, that developed in many cases to just simple scenes of people going about their life; shopping in an open air market, playing in a park, etc. If you really think about it, that's really bizarre; when two martial arts superheroes start fighting right in front of you, you'd think you could quit doing what you're doing and pay attention. It doesn't bother me too much, though, because by the time that idea developed, the backgrounds got very, very technically proficient indeed, and many of them look fabulous.

Right now, I'm actually working up a rather ambitious fanfic (yes, I really am that nerdy. Sigh.) and for me, trying to set the fights, whenever it makes sense, in an actual stage that appeared in an actual game is something that I think is quite fun. After all, I've got by now literally hundreds of background images to choose from. Sadly, I don't actually have animated images of that many, but I've got quite a few.

Here's a few of my favorites.

This first set is from Art of Fighting 3. I'm otherwise not a huge fan of the Art of Fighting series; it just didn't catch my interest the same way Street Fighter, King of Fighters, or even Fatal Fury did, but it has a bunch of cool characters that later went on to feature in King of Fighters games, and of course their backgrounds are the equal of anything SNK otherwise did on the old MVS hardware. The game is also set 100% in Mexico which gives it a unique perspective; most of the other games tend to bounce all over the place, so backgrounds can come from a variety of places.

This one is one of my favorite backgrounds ever, from any game. Just check out the artistry there and remember that this was done on hardware that debuted in the 1980s. There's a night time version of this as well, but I like the lighting of the day, plus you can see the pyramid in the distance. Cool stuff. My fanfic will very definately feature this scene. Somehow.


Both Capcom and SNK have a somewhat unusual fixation on trains. Hardly a game gets released that doesn't feature a train somehow. The very first Street Fighter had Joe's stage; an urban trainyard with grafitti covered railcars. This one is one of my favorites, just because it's so bright, clean, the rain and wind effects, etc. Perhaps not as overtly cool as fighting on a moving flatcar, which is another popular effect, but still very nice.

If you don't believe that the backgrounds can lend a lot to the atmosphere and ambience of the game, and create a real sense of drama, check out this evocative graveyard, with the squabbling crows, the dead trees, the wind-blown weeds, the ruined church in the distance, the gray rolling stormclouds. This background has it all.


Here's one of the ones I mentioned where---if you really think about it---why are these people just sitting around doing their same day to day stuff? I dunno, but I can forgive it because it looks pretty cool. Check out those shafts of sunlight coming through the treetops, too.

This is a boss stage from King of Fighters '99. This shows the very comic bookish nature of many of these games; the whole hi-tech secret lab kinda thingy. This is the cloning facility for the boss Krizalid of NESTS.

Besides trains and trainyards, airports are another repeating influence. They're usually military airfields, but here's an interesting commercial airfield scene, set at sunset out on the tarmac.


This is one of my favorite. This scene itself is nice, but not extraordinary. What makes this one so unique, and sadly I don't have the other versions that I can show you, is that in the second round it changes; most of the people are gone and dark clouds start rolling in. Wind starts blowing and it starts to sprinkle. By the third stage, it's raining cats and dogs; a truly remarkable effect, with washed out back layers and water bouncing up from the table and puddling in the grass.

I could do plenty more SNK backgrounds, but let's switch gears and show some Capcom ones for my next post.

Monday, August 11, 2008

King of Fighters

That link is an interesting little series of essays posted on a messageboard (you don't have to be a member to read it, and they go all the way through the first page before it turns into posts and responses rather than actual essays) that neatly describes one of the reasons I like the King of Fighters games so much. My interest in these kinds of games waxes and wanes with time, but it never goes away (just a few months ago, it faded and I was really into reading fantasy novels and D&D books; now I desperately want a PS2 so I can buy a few games that are out that will round out my collection... for now. Until KoF XII, Street Fighter IV and Super Street Fighter 2 HD Remix come out for Xbox 360 and PS3 anyway.) Now, I'm back staring at these bizarre manga/anime like Asian plainclothes superheroes of martial arts games and loving them as much as ever.

I've got more to say on the subject, but I'll get back to it in another post. In the meantime, read the link above. It's refreshing, for a fan like me, who wandered into KoF late after exhausting Capcom's games (again, like me) explaining exactly what about them so captivates me.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

2-D still lives

Just when I thought it was safe to claim that my favorite video game genre was effectively dead and my rather largish collection was more or less complete... it's not true anymore.

Just recently we've had releases of stuff that's never been easily (or legally) available stateside on good systems in better than arcade perfect formats: Street Fighter Alpha Anthology, the Fatal Fury Battle Archives (including the fabulous Real Bout games), King of Fighters XI and more.

And now, we're getting a Street Fighter II Hi Def Remix; Street Fighter 4, King of Fighters '98 Ultimate remake of 98 (quite possibly the best of the series), King of Fighters XII, with an all new vastly improved look, and who knows what else.

To say nothing of Arcana Heart, which is probably even more anime-like than Guilty Gear in some ways (and therefore not really my cuppa tea, but still important in helping to revitalize the genre.)

I'm not sure whether I should be disappointed or excited that I'm not yet done collecting after all!