192: Bushido and Beamsabers

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Bushido and Beamsabers

What do medieval Japanese warriors and giant fighting robots have in common? Probably a lot more than you think. Ollie Barder examines the influence of samurai on mecha, and how that influence has led to a particularly unique genre of videogames.

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Man, the article kinda made me want to dig out Dynasty Warriors Gundam...

I found it a little bit over the top in the romanticism of Japanese/Samurai culture, but he's probably right about the influences on mecha games. Gotta admit you lost me on the whole ruleset thing - dirty gaijin that I am believes in the KISS principle.

Mastery over the controller... interesting. It's true that control schemes that aren't immediately intuitive make far more sense in the context of operating a giant robot than, say, a zombie-hunting special ops agent starring in a new (racist?) adventure.

I like the suggestion that mech games are deliberately inaccessible as a reflection of their subject matter. Because maybe, just maybe, giant robots are tougher to control than a human body.

In terms of actual military usefulness, mecha tend to lie on the side of "Cool But Inefficient". In order to keep them upright, you need masses of gyroscopes and a constantly adjusting computer system. In order to get them to move, you've got control mechanisms which would make even fighter pilots confused. And once they get knocked down, you're going to have one hell of a time getting them back up again.

Compare this to the more traditional powered exoskeleton, with examples starting from the Lensman series and Starship Troopers, and more common in Western video games. With negative feedback systems or neural links, using such a suit is commonly described as being no harder than moving your own body.

Perhaps your connection between samurai and mecha is apt in more way than one. Samurai became obsolete in the face of new weaponry, because of their firm maintenance of tradition. Mecha would immediately be obsoleted by already existing weapons, because of their restrictions. The Japanese have become people who no longer engage in war, but maintain an interest in their military past. The Americans and Europeans are people who still engage in war, and constantly think towards its future.

RAKtheUndead:
In terms of actual military usefulness, mecha tend to lie on the side of "Cool But Inefficient". In order to keep them upright, you need masses of gyroscopes and a constantly adjusting computer system. In order to get them to move, you've got control mechanisms which would make even fighter pilots confused. And once they get knocked down, you're going to have one hell of a time getting them back up again.

Compare this to the more traditional powered exoskeleton, with examples starting from the Lensman series and Starship Troopers, and more common in Western video games. With negative feedback systems or neural links, using such a suit is commonly described as being no harder than moving your own body.

Perhaps your connection between samurai and mecha is apt in more way than one. Samurai became obsolete in the face of new weaponry, because of their firm maintenance of tradition. Mecha would immediately be obsoleted by already existing weapons, because of their restrictions. The Japanese have become people who no longer engage in war, but maintain an interest in their military past. The Americans and Europeans are people who still engage in war, and constantly think towards its future.

Lies and untruths :( I'm taking my ZGMF-X10A Freedom and you can't stop me!

BEAMSPAM AHOY

RAKtheUndead:
In terms of actual military usefulness, mecha tend to lie on the side of "Cool But Inefficient". In order to keep them upright, you need masses of gyroscopes and a constantly adjusting computer system. In order to get them to move, you've got control mechanisms which would make even fighter pilots confused. And once they get knocked down, you're going to have one hell of a time getting them back up again.

Compare this to the more traditional powered exoskeleton, with examples starting from the Lensman series and Starship Troopers, and more common in Western video games. With negative feedback systems or neural links, using such a suit is commonly described as being no harder than moving your own body.

Perhaps your connection between samurai and mecha is apt in more way than one. Samurai became obsolete in the face of new weaponry, because of their firm maintenance of tradition. Mecha would immediately be obsoleted by already existing weapons, because of their restrictions. The Japanese have become people who no longer engage in war, but maintain an interest in their military past. The Americans and Europeans are people who still engage in war, and constantly think towards its future.

Wow, I never really looked at it that way. I'm thinking that in the foreseeable future, Exoskeletons will be field tested first and it will most probably be used quite a lot. Robots (I mean robots like the ones in anime and sci-fi flicks) fighting wars for its masters seem very much far off.

As for the article, isn't the whole point of competitive gaming built around this "Mastery of the Controller" concept? It's more prevalent in "twitch" games (fighting games, shmups and racing games come to mind). What I'm trying to say is that, this concept is pretty much in place ever since the first Pong cabinet came out. It applies to all games across all genres.

CantFaketheFunk:

untruths

I had a 1984-induced cringe when I read that. I was half expecting the Thought Police to show up.

I'm actually just here to thank you for the name of the game with the huge controller, "Steel Batallion." Now I can start looking for that game on Ebay again.

If anyone wants to play a real game about the code of Bushido in a more traditional sense they should try Bushido Blade.

It's a really awesome sword fighting game that has a quick kill system, making every battle potentially end by a single strike. It actually has rules of Bushido, like you shouldn't attack your opponent before he is ready (you actually can) and you should strike their dead bodies. I still play that game today, even tough the controls feel slightly awkward. Sadly noone ever developed this system in a meaningful way...

I never could get into Mecha games

CantFaketheFunk:
Man, the article kinda made me want to dig out Dynasty Warriors Gundam...

Which they did not even mention considering the picture they used.

For a great control example I'll point at Chou Soujuu Mecha MG (Super Control Robot MG) by Sandlot (published by Nintendo on the DS), the same company that made a Tetsujin 28-go videogame, Robot Alchemic Drive (which had the same remote operated robot premise) and of course the Earth Defense Force games. In CSMMG you have the basic dpad controls for movement but most of the controls are on the touchscreen. These aren't just a fire button or radar operation, these are intricate mechanisms you have to interact with to get your mech to do what you want it to do. E.g. one mech has a transformable vehicle form that has a giant doom laser on top. To activate it you have to flip a row of switches (I think the Death Star firing sequence in Star Wars included a scene like that, as did a scene where He-Man prepares to fire a planetbuster missile in Masters Of The Universe). The steam-powered locomotive mech actually requires you to shovel coal into the burner and then turn the steam valves to allocate power to the steam-powered nunchakus or the cannon. On the nuke missile launcher when you activate the launch sequence you're prompted to enter a 4 digit code before it will reveal the big red "fire!" button. The pistolero mech has you reloading the revolvers by pulling cartridges from the ammo pile into the chambers of the gun. Maneuvering an electric train mech in train mode uses sliders, making it much harder to use for racing than a car mech that lets you use the throttle and brakes with the dpad so you can keep the pen on the steering wheel. The game is awesome and the cumbersome controls on some mechs actually balance them out because they're really damn powerful when fully operational (fighting against the locomotive makes it seem like an ubermech but actually operating the thing is so hard you'll probably not get to use its full power).

As for pointing at VOTOMS as another vector of "samurai infection", I'm not sure about that. While soldiers are treated as expendable it's more like the Empire of Man from Warhammer 40k, simply wasting them because it can be afforded. The first battle of Pailsen Files has about 200000 men (all in mechs) sent to certain death on a D-Day style beach landing while the final battle sees a deployment of 120 million men just from the Gilgamesh army. The actual characters aren't sacrificing their bodies, they try to stay alive at all costs and a mech is used as one of the possible weapons to get that done (and if you can't find an empty one just shoot the sensors out of one so the pilot has to look out of the hatch, then shoot him in the face). If you see the pilot as the soul and the mech as the body, sure, then it applies, even heroes get their mechs wrecked constantly and usually they fight to make the enemy's mech fall apart faster than their own, finally bailing out when the mech is destroyed but a lot of the story in the OVAs is about how having plot armor doesn't help when you've got an objective to accomplish, it only lets you come out alive but usually with everyone else dead*, the mission failed and you getting hated for using your comrades as a meatshield.

*=What can I say? I've seen it happen in Starlancer, usually the only ones to get out of a battle alive were the ones with plot shields or whose death would have made the mission fail, everyone else was dead.

I've got to say, aren't pretty much all games about mastering the controller, and isn't petty much every well balanced multiplayer game work as a cipher for skill?

I've never really thought of the whole bushido thing. I always just thought of mechs as giant robots blowing the hell of it each other. Utterly inefficient and utterly ridiculous, but totally fucking awesome. Interesting food for thought even if I've never thought of my Timber Wolf as an 'expendable body.

Dynasty Warriors Gundam 2 comes out the 24th in the US. I cant wait to use the Sazabi and the Nu Gundam. My favorite mecha game for this gen is Armored Core For Answer, it really is amazing how in depth the combat goes once you really get into it. However I still think one of the best mecha games ever was Mobile Suit Gundam Side Story 0079: Rise from the Ashes (I know, long name) for the Dreamcast. The control scheme worked extremely well I think and I really liked the first person view from the cockpit.

I believe the reason why Mecha games over here aren't as popular is because gamers are more discerning. The latest releases I've seen - and feel free to correct me - in Mecha games are terrible. Dynasty Warriors Gundam is one example.

It seems like the Japanese market is content to buy the games as long as Gundam/Final Fantasy/Dynasty Warriors is on the front of the box.

I also have to say your comment on the Armored Core series being accessible to novices was way off the mark.

If you pick up Armored Core: For Answer the first thing you will notice is how inaccesible the game is. The first thing that highlights this is the fact the tutorial only explains you the basics of movement and combat, and that's all you get.

With a basic FPS this would be fine but the fact that Armored Core is a difficult game and customization with multitudes of components and tuners and various sliders, it's difficult to understand and even if you read the manual and look up faqs you're still in the middle of the freaking desert.

Mecha games will not succeed in the west unless we get something that is worth playing.

The easiest mainstream debut imo would be a Mecha game that plays like a fps with destructible environments, various energy weapons and miniature cityscape battlefields.

DirkGently:
I've got to say, aren't pretty much all games about mastering the controller, and isn't petty much every well balanced multiplayer game work as a cipher for skill?

I've never really thought of the whole bushido thing. I always just thought of mechs as giant robots blowing the hell of it each other. Utterly inefficient and utterly ridiculous, but totally fucking awesome. Interesting food for thought even if I've never thought of my Timber Wolf as an 'expendable body.

Not really. My brother is currently playing Spectral Force 3 and it is not a matter of controller skill, it is turn based, and all turn based do not need skill with the controller as it lets you stop, look at the manual and ta da. Also ever heard of 'button mashing'? The epidomy of skilless controller use. As for multiplayer, sometimes it is merely complaining, sometimes things are cheap and overpowered.

DWG is not a horrible game, best? No, but Dynasty Warrior games are biased against. Also, Armored Core is successful, Mech Assault did very well, and Chromehounds is also an amazing game. Just because they are not so widespread like shooters (Halo, CoD, GoW) does not mean they are unsuccessful, bad, or failures. It just means they are less mainstream which is a good thing in my eyes, as it attracts more dedicated and skilled gamers opposed to the meathead CoD4 and Halo 3 fans.

Kiutu:

DirkGently:
I've got to say, aren't pretty much all games about mastering the controller, and isn't petty much every well balanced multiplayer game work as a cipher for skill?

I've never really thought of the whole bushido thing. I always just thought of mechs as giant robots blowing the hell of it each other. Utterly inefficient and utterly ridiculous, but totally fucking awesome. Interesting food for thought even if I've never thought of my Timber Wolf as an 'expendable body.

Not really. My brother is currently playing Spectral Force 3 and it is not a matter of controller skill, it is turn based, and all turn based do not need skill with the controller as it lets you stop, look at the manual and ta da. Also ever heard of 'button mashing'? The epidomy of skilless controller use. As for multiplayer, sometimes it is merely complaining, sometimes things are cheap and overpowered.

I meant to say "competitive". COD4, TF2, Counterstrike, it's all mastery of the controller. Likewise, I said "balanced" games, thus meaning a minimum of cheap tricks or means of countering them.

And button-mashing != victory.

CantFaketheFunk:

RAKtheUndead:
In terms of actual military usefulness, mecha tend to lie on the side of "Cool But Inefficient". In order to keep them upright, you need masses of gyroscopes and a constantly adjusting computer system. In order to get them to move, you've got control mechanisms which would make even fighter pilots confused. And once they get knocked down, you're going to have one hell of a time getting them back up again.

Compare this to the more traditional powered exoskeleton, with examples starting from the Lensman series and Starship Troopers, and more common in Western video games. With negative feedback systems or neural links, using such a suit is commonly described as being no harder than moving your own body.

Perhaps your connection between samurai and mecha is apt in more way than one. Samurai became obsolete in the face of new weaponry, because of their firm maintenance of tradition. Mecha would immediately be obsoleted by already existing weapons, because of their restrictions. The Japanese have become people who no longer engage in war, but maintain an interest in their military past. The Americans and Europeans are people who still engage in war, and constantly think towards its future.

Lies and untruths :( I'm taking my ZGMF-X10A Freedom and you can't stop me!

BEAMSPAM AHOY

GN Shield activated! Trans-Arm Raiser AHOY!!!

Then again, in most Gundam/Mech series, the Aces and Heroes always seem to be using their mechs as Exoskeletons.

KSarty:
Dynasty Warriors Gundam 2 comes out the 24th in the US. I cant wait to use the Sazabi and the Nu Gundam. My favorite mecha game for this gen is Armored Core For Answer, it really is amazing how in depth the combat goes once you really get into it. However I still think one of the best mecha games ever was Mobile Suit Gundam Side Story 0079: Rise from the Ashes (I know, long name) for the Dreamcast. The control scheme worked extremely well I think and I really liked the first person view from the cockpit.

Mmmm, Sazabi.

Mmmmmm, v Gundam.

I friggin' love this article.

Sincerely, Guy Who Thinks He's A Reincarnated Samurai And Potential Future Mecha Pilot

PS: DWG BA-LOOOOOOOOWS.

DirkGently:
I've got to say, aren't pretty much all games about mastering the controller

No. In most games the UI tries to get out of the way so the things you master are the proper application of your ingame abilities/tools. In a game like CSMMG the controls are actively designed to get in your way (at least on some mechs) as you function both as the pilot and loader on the mech. Real armored vehicles have a crew that still has to do many things by hand and their dexterity at that determines the vehicle's effectiveness. E.g. autoloaders in main battle tanks are fairly uncommon and supposedly a skilled crew can load shells faster than autoloaders can. A modern game usually makes piloting a tank pretty much a point and click affair, you move it with the analog stick and point and fire, the whole internal workings aren't part of the game, you don't worry about the thread movement or anything.

Clashero:

CantFaketheFunk:

untruths

I had a 1984-induced cringe when I read that. I was half expecting the Thought Police to show up.

Someone just had to bring up the newspeak, didn't they?
Prev: modinc sancplce

Feh. I prefer the concept of Giant Ninja Robots over Giant Robot Samurai for the ultimate in "Cool but Impractical" value. Imagine how much skill it would take to remain stealthy in a 30-foot tall mecha!

From the article:

"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."

Speaking of being lazy; that whole statement has absolutely nothing to back it up. Thanks for playing.

A few thoughts.

Firstly the idea that Samurai influenced the mecha community is obvious. The influence that the samurai had on Japan has been significant since before the Meiji Restoration. Even with the 'banning' of the Samurai in the 1800's it still was a culture practiced out of the public eye and its only had to survive 150 or so years.

The main influence was on Japanese artistry and story telling. Modern 'cutting edge' art from Japan often has sharp angles, sweeping curves and overall an odd angular cohessian which can now be recognised often as distinctly 'Japanese' (look at many of the cars being produced and more specifically modern prototypes).

Story telling has been the main influence from the Samurai, the most sold fictional work was on Miyamoto Musashi and story telling based on his life has occurred since the 1600's after his death (or even before for all we know). The Japanese movie industry more than 50 years ago was awash with Samurai movies. This has extended today, especially into manga and video games. The stories portrayed in many games and the artistry of the games are just two ways in which mecha has been influenced by the Samurai (there are many many more), but in saying that its of little point to make such a big deal about it since the whole Japanese culture has had the same influences.

side notes: A common misconception about the samurai is that the life was based on bushido. The bushido concept as a written, followed concept was not in operation until towards the end of the meiji restoration. Honour was not just a big part of the samurai life before then but part of everyones life in Japan.
It is also a common misconception that ritual suicide was the first means of many samurai to regain honour. Living in shame for a certain time, to regain the honour through action was more often a part of the actions of those times. The 1600's was often a time for revenge. For the most part the samurai life was one embedded into the whole country. The society was based on specific classes and there were rules and expectation based on each class. How they acted towards each other was integral and the lives of samurai was more based on the cultural expectations at the time rather than a bushido concept.

I guess my point is that I am not sure what the big deal is about seeing these influences as it is just a part of modern culture within Japan.

Glad you mentioned AC, because once you hit your rhythm in that game (thinking For Answer, here), it becomes one of the most fun things I've ever played.

Sadly, I made the mistake of ticking off the 4 strongest people you fight and can't beat them all at once.

CantFaketheFunk:
Man, the article kinda made me want to dig out Dynasty Warriors Gundam...

So gotta get that this week...

I disagree that it's a matter of us being lazy. Alot of these games are just STUPIDLY hard to learn. Some learning curve is to be expected, but if people want a game where they can play a badass giant robot without spending weeks learning to be badass, should it not be someones aim to provide it?

Oh, and you didn't mention Gungriffon! I am shocked and appalled.

Gun Griffon = awesome, and not -that- hard to learn.

Honestly, it's not that hard, people. You have to think about what you want out of the game. Do you wanna just blow shit up, or do you want the developer to treat you like you have working brain cells? You don't have to be lazy to be initially overwhelmed by all the options and balancing, but to pass it off as overly complicated for the sake of it is not giving it a fair chance. It's about immersion. It's about building something from scratch that has your stamp on it, and then testing it in the heat of battle, like a custom forged katana.

Smokescreen:
Speaking of being lazy; that whole statement has absolutely nothing to back it up. Thanks for playing.

But you'd agree they're functionally prejudiced?

TsunamiWombat:

CantFaketheFunk:
Man, the article kinda made me want to dig out Dynasty Warriors Gundam...

So gotta get that this week...

I disagree that it's a matter of us being lazy. Alot of these games are just STUPIDLY hard to learn. Some learning curve is to be expected, but if people want a game where they can play a badass giant robot without spending weeks learning to be badass, should it not be someones aim to provide it?

Oh, and you didn't mention Gungriffon! I am shocked and appalled.

Gun Griffon = awesome, and not -that- hard to learn.

Why get DW:Gundam when No.2 is almost out?

Also I weep at how you missed the Super Robot Wars series, a SRPG series that takes the plots of multiple Real and Super Robot series, show it in a blender, with a dab of original flavour, and make it WORK.

Nothing is more awesome than Amuro Ray unleashing a Funnel Storm in the Nu Gundam on the STMC from Gunbuster, Or SHINJI IKARI calling Kira Yamato out on being a little bitch, Giving his dad a piece of his mind, and by piece of his mind I mean Giant Robot Katana to the FACE.

And... well... The Big O blowing The O to pieces with Sudden Impact.

If you people don't want this game well... you're just WEIRD okay.

Meta Like That:
Honestly, it's not that hard, people. You have to think about what you want out of the game. Do you wanna just blow shit up, or do you want the developer to treat you like you have working brain cells? You don't have to be lazy to be initially overwhelmed by all the options and balancing, but to pass it off as overly complicated for the sake of it is not giving it a fair chance. It's about immersion. It's about building something from scratch that has your stamp on it, and then testing it in the heat of battle, like a custom forged katana.

Smokescreen:
Speaking of being lazy; that whole statement has absolutely nothing to back it up. Thanks for playing.

But you'd agree they're functionally prejudiced?

Why would I do that?

Games might be culturally biased, but the idea that games developed by Western companies somehow don't "treat you like you have working brain cells" vs. Eastern ones that apparently do is utter hokum to begin with. Moreover, to agree with that statement at all would mean that in some manner the author backed it up--and certainly if he had supported it--I would be willing to open myself to his point, but none of that happened.

Bioshock gives some players immersion. X-Com gives some players immersion. Tetris gives some players immersion. The game that speaks to that player is more about the player not the game, but even as someone who doesn't love Tetris or X-Com, I can certainly appreciate the skill that it takes to make a game that immerses them, and to become good at it requires a respect that is due anyone who learns a difficult skill.

I think people love mecha games because it lets you pretend like your something larger then life. In a mecha game you can battle to the destruction of your mech, then eject and live to fight another day. Also, with mecha combat the battle can seem more intense and longer with a larger focus on skill and training not impersonal things like luck and strategy. In a mech you wont die from a single bullet to the head. Your skill in piloting the mech and ability to properly gear your mech for the fight will decide who wins. It a romanticizing of war. You can have all the glory of combat without the risk of death. That's just not a Japanese thing that a human nature thing.

I'll never forget in one of the battletech books "ideal war" a couple of mech pilots get captured and one of the pilots has a nervous break down because he's no longer safe "in his metal", and can now face death and war upfront and personal. That's what fantasying about being a mech pilot gives us. We can be a war hero but the chance of death in combat lowers incredible. To the point where it's no longer a factor in worrying about our survival.

Mecha games seem to have the same problem as RTSes on consoles: you want to be able to do a lot of cool stuff, but there are only so many buttons on the controller. Some games, like Virtual On, keep the controls simple, but it lessens what you're able to do in a battle. Armored Core takes the opposite route, utilizing every button available. True, it takes longer to master, but at my peak I can pull off some impressive acrobatics. And for the record, I love my Steel Battalion set.

teh_v:
I think people love mecha games because it lets you pretend like your something larger then life. In a mecha game you can battle to the destruction of your mech, then eject and live to fight another day. Also, with mecha combat the battle can seem more intense and longer with a larger focus on skill and training not impersonal things like luck and strategy. In a mech you wont die from a single bullet to the head. Your skill in piloting the mech and ability to properly gear your mech for the fight will decide who wins. It a romanticizing of war. You can have all the glory of combat without the risk of death. That's just not a Japanese thing that a human nature thing.

I'll never forget in one of the battletech books "ideal war" a couple of mech pilots get captured and one of the pilots has a nervous break down because he's no longer safe "in his metal", and can now face death and war upfront and personal. That's what fantasying about being a mech pilot gives us. We can be a war hero but the chance of death in combat lowers incredible. To the point where it's no longer a factor in worrying about our survival.

apparently you never watched Gundam, his nickname is 'Kill Em All Tomino' for a god damn reason. Unless he's doing a comedy in which his main character will end up in a Harem... Seriously... Don't look at me Like that!

Also props to Kabuto Kouji for headshotting Duke Gorgon through his tiger head and human head in one shot.

in most mecha games they also treat loss as death. save a select few.
Gundam Deaths from 0079-87

ThePlasmatizer:

Mecha games will not succeed in the west unless we get something that is worth playing.

The easiest mainstream debut imo would be a Mecha game that plays like a fps with destructible environments, various energy weapons and miniature cityscape battlefields.

Ah yes, the only way to make something new popular in the west is to revamp it so it's exactly the same as what's already popular in the west...

So instead of a diverse set of genres we get one amorphous muddy blur of a genre. I'd just love it if everything was sort of an RPG and sort of a shooter like Mass Effect or sort of an Adventure game and sort of a shooter like Bioshock.

I know, let's just make all games more like shooters!

/rolling eyes

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