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Bushido and Beamsabers

Ollie Barder | 12 May 2009 13:22
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Likewise, the Virtual On series has a simple control scheme that allows for some highly complex tactics. Virtual On affords players what appears to be a standard set of controls (the Tank-esque twin-sticks) along with an equally simple dash mechanic - that is, until you realize that dashes occur in fixed vectors with a freeze penalty at their conclusion. Combat becomes an attempted tactical wrong-footing of your opponent, since you must find an advantageous dash vector at the precise moment of your opponent's dash freeze. It's basically kendo ... with guns and robots.

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If you were thinking that Western games like MechWarrior and Heavy Gear are somehow exempt from this samurai influence, you're sorely mistaken. BattleTech was essentially lifted from the anime Fang of the Sun Dougram, and Heavy Gear is very similar to Armored Trooper VOTOMS. Both of those shows were penned by Ryosuke Takahashi, who is particularly fastidious when it comes to his mecha's operational capacity. So it's hardly surprising that the already cogent rule set that existed within his animated works mapped so well to videogames.

So, if this cultural baggage is unavoidable, why are mecha games still made in such huge abundance? The simple answer is that Japanese gamers still want them, and the Western gaming community has a rather provincial outlook on the rest of the global gaming populace. It's not that these games are wilfully awkward - it's that many Western gamers are functionally prejudiced and cognitively lazy. They've forgotten that games are actually about rule sets and not about badly copying the medium of film with a cut-and-paste approach to interface design.

The point of mecha games is to become a capable pilot. They may initially appear similar to first- or third-person genre-based games with human avatars, but they aren't at all meant to be pedestrian. They are functional ciphers for your skill and a rather ingenious attempt to live life, if only for a brief while, as a futuristic samurai.

Ollie Barder has worked in the games industry for a number of years both as a journalist and within publishing. He now works at the game developer "doublesix" as a Senior Designer. He's also imported a sizeable amount of games since childhood.

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