East vs West
Smash Brothers is the Madame Butterfly to Halo's Pinkerton.
Halo is as Japanese as a game can get without actually being Japanese at all, and Smash brothers is as western as a game can get without being anything at all western, whatsoever, no matter how hard or frequently it tries.
The gulf separating eastern and western art is purely cultural. Western society thrives on self restraint, and eastern society thrives on communal restraint. If a westerner is behaving badly, for example, committing rape, we react by avoiding involvement, because helping someone who's being tormented is an act of pure self indulgence; the province of children, and most children learn not to get involved with a swift backhand, or being pushed down some stairs. Whereas if an easterner is behaving badly, for example, committing rape, other easterners, particularly the japanese, will shun them ostentatiously, by avoiding getting involved or even helping their victim; only a child, unaware of the vast social burden being imposed, could violate the quarantine of approval and attempt to interfere, but its mother, or a nearby concerned citizen would immediately take matters into their own hands and usher the child away so that the rape could conclude in a lonely isolation from the embrace of the community. Clearly, what we can see here is that you should walk in well lit areas, no matter what culture you come from.
In a dissimilar example, you could approach the concept of school, where there are no wrong answers in japanese classrooms, only ones which are 'different' for instance from what the teacher was 'looking for', because, again, for example, they are fucking wrong. You are not to be restrained in your attempts to make an ass of yourself publicly, you are to be restrained by other members of the community from making an ass of your school as a whole. In an american classroom, if no one provides the answer, someone will be called upon to provide it, and if they articulate that they do not know, they will be given additional information until they cannot help but produce the right one. At the end of this process, it is appropriate to act as though you have been harassed by the teacher, and act like you not only don't understand the significance of what you've said, but, indeed, the significance of the process altogether. You see, there's nothing wrong with putting the burden of willful stupidity on someone else--after all, you are intensely managing your own behavior, specifically to make sure you don't say things that you aren't certain will meet with approval from anyone you care about. If the teacher is going to prod you into a realm of uncertainty with dogged determination, well, they're doing nothing less than undermining the very foundation of our great taciturnity!
In actual practice, the difference is vaster and more soul crushing. The only reason communal restraint works is because your nextdoor neighbors are defined as the person to your right and left who have a hand in your pants pockets at all hours of the day. The reason individual restraint works in our european derived ancestry, is because there is a long and noble tradition of a somewhat sketchy legal system for dealing with murder. Over the years, refinements to the behavior of the animal revolve around the people least willing to start shit. For example, Duels. The recurring theme that disagreements are best solved between two consenting adults with tools designed to maim or kill is a selection process which produces restraint. If people just put on fake sumo suits and had fake boxing matches where nobody could possibly get hurt (unless it was fake hurt), we'd be forced to restrain each other too. Thankfully, we can rely on the ethereal qualities of a strange shared past.
Or maybe not, if I build anymore bridges to preexisting social structures, I'm inevitably going to run into some kind of contradiction, but before I do that, I want to emphasize the insanity of the Japanese gaming world and the source of its power (sauron).
Japanese art, without the inherent restraint of an individual, is and has been the expression of an individual with little or no filtration. It is a dreamlike vision that often, enough, is unrefined except with great effort. There is, after all, corporate 'art', the translation process by which real art becomes a digestible element of cryptographic semen stains on the evening gown of popular culture. When you see japanese, for example, spaceship designs, you can put aside, for the moment, the fact that the japanese have never actually made the hull of the yamato into giant laser beam to defeat aliens. The fact of the matter is, all japanese space ships come from the wedge. Portions of that wedge have been mapped, removed, slid, warped, smoothed, given new edges, tesselated, rotated, reversed, stuck end for end, and flipped upside down to create a set of permutations that appears to be creativity. But I can tell you this with utter certainty; there is nothing creative about *that*. The creative part of japanese art is when an octopus shoots giant gay statues in space. There is no amount of flipping space ship parts that turns that original wedge of a gradius ship into an ethniconeutral hairless body builder in fishnet stockings. The octopus is a well worn icon of beat-red polyphallic imagery, but you can score some points for the juxtaposition at the very least, or perhaps thematic consistency, if you catch my drift. I'm talking about Parodius, and it is an example of the finer points of japanese art.
For the most part, the japanese iterative process is more well defined than chinese or korean counterparts. For instance, a korean artist may and will occasionally produce something quite obviously 'asian' in style, but otherwise unaccountably unique, in the way that we would expect from any given artist. The chinese would be unique if they weren't currently busy doing it faster and cheaper than anyone else. But the japanese are the point-man for asia when it comes to the american heritage of video games, and for that reason, emphasizing the inertia in their creativity is key. They do not know what creativity is, because they spend most of their time translating impossible dreamstates into their art with no filtration mechanism, OR, when they're not doing that, they spend that time iterating carefully, logically, and soullessly on any given premise until it is mush. Just like everyone else, to be clear. The way in which they can break down the specifics of an experience, find the seems, pull out the stuffing, and then replace it with pure lowest common denominator bamboo sawdust is inspiring and complete. For instance, Devil May Cry, which, if there is any justice will stop numbering their sequels and just append more question marks from now on to communicate, viscerally, the confusion that any genuine fan of the first game should have within the first 5 seconds of playing any subsequent title, with *perhaps* the exception of 2, but maybe not, after all, since wasn't there a russian woman who turned into a dolphin demon in that one, you should breath between these commas, has clearly had its core discarded like a peach pit by subsequent development, when it was, in fact, an artichoke.
The western concept of self restraint spawned a long and storied history of 'realism' which, while technically impressive, lacked certain basic foundations in the imagination, and for that reason generated 'controversy' when introducing ideas such as a picture of a man frozen in a moment of motion, rather than sitting or standing in such a way that he is balanced. Further 'crazy' thoughts include visual fidelity not being the first last and only defense against the godless legions of satan, and the very real possibility that the best possible thoughts don't belong to whoever can portray jesus the most times in a single bucket of paint. The self restraint has been a burden, there's no question, however it provides, like the classical grounding of Van Gogh provided *him*, the means with which to be truly, genuinely free. After all, if you only know what's wrong when someone else tells you, how can you possibly know what's right when no one else can express it? Art occupies a rung of communication which is irreplaceable, and that is why the japanese struggle in their self expression. The artist hasn't been taught to refine his own work. That is the job of external sources who come in and tell the artist what to practise (yes, with an s!), and how to grow. Raking an artist's gravel every day to restore his randomly rearranged components to a state of overall aesthetic cohesion will never turn gravel into pavement, or grassland, or a pool of water. The gravel has to decide to change if it wants to become one of those things.
Caution, metaphor is unfeasible. Continue? (y/n)
In any case, the cross pollination and deification of the Japanese game industry as the saviors of gaming in america have hopelessly complicated the process of refining art for video games, and particularly the video game concepts, themselves, so that, when there is a genius moment, we often have no meaningful way, anymore to communicate what about it is moving us in the right direction, or what about it preserves some great attribute of yore, and what thing we are actually talking about.
The japanese have cursed us with genres based upon the cooperation of entire sectors of their society. Europe has cursed us with genres based upon singular magnificent works which pollute every descendant: even unto the last. I do not know what the first 'RTS' was. But we have been playing Dune II for so long, it may as well have been the first, last, and only entrant in the genre. Only when Blizzard decided on all our behalf that Dune II's true meaning was that the spice could give you the power to see the ways between the stars, if the stars were zerglings, and the spice were hotkeyed unit powers, such as the science vessel's radiation cloud, did the genre become the frozen mammoth meat of wonder and awe that we are attempting to clone today. No japanese company could have produced starcraft. There was no context for that type of game, only a bizarre game element among a sea of tropes. To the japanese developer's mind, Dune II is a tile based strategy game in the vein of sim city or [Name of Hex Based Wargame with Modern Weapons and Endlessly Detailed data that inevitably comes down to screens where 10 tanks shoot at 10 infantry, 4 infantry die, and 1 tank dies goes here] with the elementary added gimmic that it all moves forward in real time (lowercase). Whereas, in the western mind, it is a game with moving parts... That contains depth and detail, and works on remarkably simple principles. Despite the fact that you are harvesting worm farts in space, Dune II doesn't look, on paper, nearly crazy enough to drive japanese development for the next upteen years. Whereas to the western eye it is a bizarre conflagration of such kindling as we'd never before noticed while trudging through the woods (intent, as we were, on huntin squirrel and such). We never saw it coming, whereas they saw it coming and didn't know what it was. This is a delightful forced dichotomy that informs my bizarre first sentence.
Smash brothers, as a 'fighting' game doesn't exist in the western mind, because the western taste of genre is one which develops after consuming a very specific beast. In our case, it was probably street fighter 2, since, while fighting games such as double dragon existed *Before* SFII, it was only *after* that we began to distinguish between fighting game and 'side scrolling blah' or 'beat em up blah' or 'zelda clone with blah'. Before it came, a fighting game was a noun which contained a verb, so long as the verb referred to fighting which didn't involve shooting (since, obviously, that is a shooter). Anything more specific would have been a robotron clone, or an asteroids clone, or some other type of clone. Unless it was a sports game. After SFII came, there was only the genre it made, and any deviations from that genre are punishable by being shucked to death (like corn); divested of your Hu-man skin. However, by any reasonable, just standard, certainly according to the japanese, it is a fighting game. It has taken the basic assets of the genre from *their* perspective, and removed 3 attributes and added 3 attributes. They do this all the time. But, whereas, say, powerstone is merely an iteration on the premise of the original fighting game, from which SFII sprouts, they have tried to seize and understand the reigns of refinement and self restraint.
While the story mode of Smash is insanity, there is an extra-ordinal part of the process. They are not following the ritual for fleshing out the middle ground of their genre, but instead, critically eyeing their genre and realizing that, in point of fact, what the so called fighting game was would have been served well by the so called platform game! *dramatic snap of fingers* if you please. And further more, if you got it right, you could then simply put the characters into platforming situations, and the transition *should*, if you do it right, be seemless.
Indeed it was. When smash brothers appeared, it was without doubt a beautiful tribute to the japanese genres which spawned it, and, in some way, it could even be considered the Ozymandian project which produced that twinkling which could spawn a subgenre in the western structure. But it hasn't, even after having ample time to deal with it.
You see, when a western genre masterpiece shoots out of the throbbing cloaca of western development, nobody knows what the fuck they're looking at, they only know that they need to make more. The original studio will show everyone the light by truly iterating on their own premise once, so that the arc of success can be traced like the unbelievably half-assed best-fit lines that make up the bulk of modern particle physics speculation. Wolfenstein, aside from popularizing an already existing demo format, created a genre. Then, rather than waiting for other people to understand and interpret the masterpiece which is impossible within the artist's own lifetime (when it might do someone some good), Doom was created with the restraint inherent to its founding culture, and showed us the light. There will always be health; you may choose to add other, more elaborate forms of health. There will always be a nearly superfluous weapon of last resort. The player must always start with it. There will always be a nearly worthless projectile weapon, and then 3 or 4 weapons that do useful thing. Then several ones that will not. You can add more 'D's. As many Ds as you think you can manage. For instance, wolfenstein had 3. So, by my count, that makes doom 4, quake 5, and the upcoming desert thing 6. The player will always be ready for another D. Just so long as you don't do something fucking asinine, like demanding the player change perspective (see where I'm going with this?), or contend with some bizarre circumstance where they must go for an entire game without making a barrel explode. Within 20 milliseconds of Doom's release, the fortress of Dr. Radiaki, Duke Nukem 3d, Dark forces, and Blood had all contributed their genre stabilizing flavor text to the wiki article of the western genre. Meanwhile, the japanese still have no first person shooters aside from the game where you play a knight or something in what seems to be a shooting gallery crossed with a first person brawler powerpoint about eastern misconceptions of medieval fantasy. Why? Because, while it is possible to derive genre descendants by the eastern method which make street fighter II, ninja gaiden, and zelda all part of the *same* basic game (in terms of clan loyalty), it is not possible to simple look at asteroids and say 'what if I *were* the ship...' as id software managed to do. At least, not in that perspective. Smash brothers is as close as you can get; take two mutually exclusive genres, and commingle their dna until their vampire-werewolf offspring of unsurpassed beauty emerges from the tube; or else, the hideous monster responsible for resident evil: usw erupts and forces you to make a love note to one of the genres that intrigues and disgusts everyone who plays it in equal measure.
Halo, on the opposite tack, attempts to take the japanese genius of freedom within its own genres and apply it to the western model. Unsuccessfully. There is no new mandate that every first person shooter contain truly excellently modeled and integrated vehicular combat that feels heavy and does not live in a kind of hovercraft-only exclusive club down by the waterfront. The FPS genre has learned nothing. It can't. You see, an FPS, says the condescending voice of genre masterpieces, simply *do* not contain vehicles sections. What we have here is some kind of aberration. Two games in one. Like some kind of reese's peanut butter cup of dubious value. Real white people wouldn't expect to ride in a jeep every time they had to traverse some endless post-holocaust wasteland.
This is why, for instance, the utterly brilliant War of the Worlds style walker from Unreal Tournament is not Everywhere. It's the reason the FEAR suit is denigrated as somehow wrong in the face of 'genuine' FPS action--some kind of palette cleanser to enable you to consume another pile of pasta; you fat fuck.
Smash brothers hasn't transcended to a new genre, but it takes an existing genre into heretical territory not dared by iconophiliacs in the western realm. Halo fuses two genres together in the terrifying belief that you can somehow Alter The Formula (woman shrieks in terror), but cannot succeed in actually showing the industry that the alteration is 'fact'. That is, until id makes their version of a game about being in cars all the time, and suddenly it becomes ok for everyone else to do. Then, perhaps, the car and the gun will be roughly the same thing.
In the midst of these absolutes, of course, is the reality that, while we haven't seen it yet, the japanese method of development is toying with western genres in an attempt to form some kind of crysalis. They just haven't chosen the appropriate milkweed yet. Western genres are slowly and painfully learning the lessons of genre cross pollination; taking two steps backward into first person vehicle sequences for every step forward taken into 3rd person navigation with a toggleable 'aiming' first person mode.
If the japanese could mitigate some of their undefinable 'this person has a wing sticking out of his head, and flipper, and wants to destroy the planet with a meteor' and cram it into something sensical 'asymmetry is madness, and here's why', while western developers learned that, while lightning never strikes twice, it might strike so close to the original bolt that it hits the same golfer-asshole who should pick a real sport and let them convert the fairway into a park, twice...
...then that's how the magic would happen.
back to the news...