Fist 2 Exploring Mystical Fighting

I originally published this opinion piece in 2016 on Noobgrind, a computer game website, but since that has gone I’m posting it here. Whilst the original article’s focus was about computer games, this article is more about my influences, how old games led me to martial arts and my RPG designs. Part 1 = https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2019/11/18/way-of-the-exploding-fist-lookback/

Continuing on from my previous article TODO about my favourite 8-bit fighter, the amazing Way of the Exploding Fist, or Fist for short. The follow-on to that gem is Fist 2: The Legend Continues (1986), which took the then brilliant animation and clean fighting system of Fist and made a quite different game. This new direction split the fans of the first game, since some people just wanted Fist with extra features and improvements. Thankfully for young me, Fist 2 was everything I didn’t know I wanted, adventure with some depth. Castlevania and Metroid were both released in 1986; interestingly Fist 2 can be considered a basic Metroidvania.

A crucial combat mechanic difference between Fist and Fist 2 was the introduction of a health bar; this was probably an influence from Yie Ar Kung-Fu. Otherwise combat had the same depth as Fist.

Fist II - The Legend Continues

Exploration had been added in to the mix of Fist 2. I imagined that all the time I had spent playing Fist had really been preparation for this new game. That my character was now leaving the temple, exploring the wider world and utilising all that training to defeat real enemies. That the stakes were higher, the fights were not just friendly sparring matches. I am sure a lot of people can relate to the idea/feeling they got when playing the GTA series; the freedom of a sandbox world with some depth, plus also the visual depth and in particular the jump from GTA 1 or 2 to GTA 3 and later games.

Whilst it is true that there had been exploration games that included fighting before Fist 2, they were done in a limited way, such as the Bruce Lee video game on the C64. Okay, a quick tangent since I wrote in the last article that Bruce Lee hadn’t been a big impact as a kid. Firstly I didn’t see any of his movies until a few years later; then they had an impact. The Bruce Lee game came out in 1984, but it was really a platform game with two attacks. Even at the age of 8, the game’s plot seemed randomly thrown together, it was quite poor; granted back then the vast majority of computer games plots were not considered important, but a good one helped. The problems were: the game was too easy, lacked game depth, and was not really a fighting game. At least the movement of the character was good, feeling both responsive and quick.

In the playground at school, Bruce Lee’s name was used all the time, so I had a vague idea of who this person was, despite him dying the year that I was born. To have his name associated with what could barely be called a fighting game was odd to me, even considering how young I was. In these days we were used to the idea that games with film or celebrity tie-ins are nearly always garbage; this is often still the case. Considering how many things over the years have metaphorically sucked the Chi from the Bruce’s Lee legend, this game overview shouldn’t be a surprise. Given what I have learned over the years about Bruce’s diverse training, including with the incredible “Judo” Gene LeBell, who was effectively the first Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter, it is another reason why the Bruce Lee game was such a disappointment.

There were also several side scrolling beat ‘em ups over those early years, but they were not really exploration games. Whilst I did enjoy games like Kung Fu Master (C64 1985), Double Dragon (Arcade 1987), etc., I found them to be too simple, as they generally only had a few attacks. They were quite formulaic, because the opponents generally only did one or two things themselves, easily identifiable enemies allowed a player to recognise what attack type was incoming. These types of games were often about repeating the whole process to get a higher score and complete quicker; often completing the game quicker gave bonus points based upon how much time was left. Overall fun, but not as interesting as Fist 2.

Before my tangent I had mentioned exploration. For me, the idea that a good fighting simulator could form the foundation of an adventure game was amazing. A step up from the classic text based adventures such as The Hobbit, Zork, Adventureland (Vic 20), etc.; fun but not as visually immersive. The idea that you could find and fight nuanced opponents was refreshing, plus it seemed more like the TV series Kung Fu, or the few martial art movies I had managed to watch. Also these were not like a ‘boss fight’, requiring a specific set of criteria to be performed, which typically made all the normal attacks effectively useless. Each one-on-one duel felt legitimate, since they had the full range of attacks that my character did.

In addition to enemies there were certain zones that had environmental obstacles that required a character to have more health in order to survive. Special scrolls (trigrams) were hidden away throughout the game that made a character tougher. Also temples could be found that allowed you to heal through resting, plus were used to activate scrolls. Some temples were locked away, and these required that the character have already found a certain number of scrolls to gain access to them. So between the combat, environment, as well as locked areas, the game promoted exploration in regards to trying to become as tough as possible; hence the Metroidvania association.

Fist 2 map plus screenshot from Spectrum version.

It’s not that this game was innovative, it is more that this game was well done, as well as followed up on a game I adored and meant a lot to me. Fist 2 helped form a huge part of my life-time interests. It was years till I played another good martial arts exploration game that had a big impact on me; that game was Oni, although that game received mixed criticism, I loved it. It was a few years later when another game hit that sweet spot for me, with Jade Empire. A special mention goes to Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, even though the core of that game’s design is stealth.

Whilst there have been lots of excellent games over the years fulfilling exploration and role-play, for some reason it is rare for those game types to be mixed with empty hand martial arts, and theme matters.

A few years after playing Fist 2 I went to high school, at aged 11 I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and the role-playing games (RPG) in general. I loved RPG, like most role-players in part because of reading The Hobbit and then Lord of the Rings, but also because I wanted to play the wandering martial artist, like in the TV show Kung Fu or the game Fist 2. This would lead me to one of my favourite games Street Fighter 2 (SF2) and later SFRPG.

From Way of the Exploding Fist to Street Fighter RPG 3 part series

Part 1 = https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2019/11/18/way-of-the-exploding-fist-lookback/

Part 2 = https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2019/11/18/fist-2-exploring-mystical-fighting/

Part 3 = https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2019/11/18/a-fist-full-of-dice/

Bleak Spirit: Lost Lore + Adversaries

At the time of writing the RPG Kickstarter for Bleak Spirit has just over two days left to go. It is already funded, demonstrating the game has a market. I have several ideas about this game, both by itself, but also as an aid to other games. Before I talk about my plans, here is a quick overview:

Bleak Spirit is a tabletop roleplaying game inspired by the empty, haunted worlds of video games like Dark Souls, Hollow Knight, and Salt and Sanctuary. Using a rotating role system, two or more players collaborate to create the story of how a wanderer comes to a strange place, and leaves it forever changed in their wake.”

The game follows in the style of the collaborative storytelling game Lovecraftesque, a game that is inspired by Stealing Cthulhu (single player writing RPG). As noted in the quote above, players take in turns to play:

  1. The World describes the scene, which can be a danger, interaction, or feature scene. The tone of the game is that of melancholy, mystery, and faded glory. Lore is introduced, which in addition to providing a chance to explore the setting, also can be building towards the final Adversary.
  2. The Wanderer explores the scene, decides what action to take, uncovering lore as they travel. The person playing the Wanderer that turn chooses their actions, taking care to avoid describing the wanderer’s internal monologue.
  3. If there are more than 2 players than there is also a Chorus supporting the World. The Chorus can elaborate on events, suggest prices during danger scenes, or play a character that has been introduced.

The game is broken down into 3 sections (part 1 of 5 scenes, part 2 of between 1 to 3 scenes), allowing the wanderer to find lore and building the game towards part 3 and the story’s main Adversary. There are a set number of scenes classed as Interaction, Danger and Feature. The game has special cards that can be played altering the course of a scene. The cards do more than just mix things up, they can also add extra tension. You can read more about mechanics at the Kickstarter, such as why Leaping to Conclusions is part of the fun of the game 🙂

Bleak Spirit Card Samples

The wanderer is a stranger in a strange land, generally visiting bleak, run down locations. Other characters are eccentric, elusive and cryptic. Bleak Spirits approach allows for players to discover depth and complexity, without preloading the world, capturing for example how Dark Souls series achieves this. I think the method of alternating roles supports the game’s intent.

Bleak Spirit also strips away many of the common RPG mechanics and tropes, allowing for freer flowing storytelling. Also the power of a veteran Dark Soul’s player shines, with the exception of the final Adversary, the Wanderer can survive most encounters without issue. The interesting aspect is how the Wanderer moves forward/survives, what price is paid?

After a game, players may wish to discuss things about what occurred, their plans and Conclusion Leaps; maybe even add extra context. During play, the lack of information should be embraced. More gaming session could be set in the same story world, building up the setting lore. A long campaign could result in a very detailed world, so keeping things vague is likely the best way to proceed after each game.

Truth & Ambiguity

I’ll emphasis what is intriguing to me is that quintessentially Bleak Spirit, that it seeks to avoid setting clarity; there is no TruthTM, even about the Wanderer themselves. Whilst there are many RPGs that are easy for new players to access, particularly games set in modern day real world, many RPGs have a lot to learn upfront, particularly for the DM/GM. Even the massively popular D&D settings like Forgotten Realms have a lot of maps, lore and proper nouns to learn. Granted you can ignore everything, but I think a big part of what makes characters interesting in RPGs is figuring out how they fit in their world, as well as exploring social implications. Movie amnesia is one work around, but I think the fact Bleak Spirit intentionally integrates the lack of knowledge is great, the character’s lack of memory is not important. I think this further helps support the setting’s tone of faded glory.

This year I’ve blogged about two other Kickstarters that explore the subject of characters and memory, One Child’s Heart and Afterlife: Wandering Souls. I’ve been working on my own RPG settings and different fiction that explore my long-time obsession with memories and identity, as well as what those mean to characters in RPGs. Bleak Spirit is taking a different approach to those games, as well as my own, so I was very pleased to come across this project.

Aiding other games & #RPGMentalToolkit

I like to mention expanding my RPG Mental Toolkit in several of my RPG posts, so please indulge my thought process with this. Since I think Bleak Spirit manages to capture an important dilemma in RPGs: creating collaborative eerie cryptic complexity, without a lot of reading or preparation. Therefore I think it can be switched to as a mini-session for other games, when something unusual needs to be created, Bleak Spirit could be a more surreal and esoteric way to do so.

As a veteran gamer of many systems, I am aware that no matter the game system, a group of good players can discuss things, set a tone and embrace hidden depth. Whilst some role-players take the idea of a DMGM/Storyteller/etc. as meaning only they can decide what a setting’s contents are, plenty of other gamers allow any players to contribute. In addition players can use the Blue-booking or Play-by-mail (PBM/PBeM) methods to explore/build something away from a table session, but not everyone uses those methods.

Imagine one of the many RPGs that are out there, gaining from having a mini-session of Bleak Spirit. I think the mystery and melancholy of this game will excel when players want to explore something personal in an esoteric way in another game/setting. Particularly with any game that has weird lore (civilisations, magic, dreams, etc.). Here is a non-exhaustive list of games that includes a strange aspect to its reality, from different planes of existence to ways of altering/exploring mental states:

Any Cthulhu game, particularly if the Dreamlands are involved. The various different types of Umbra in the World of Darkness (in particular Mage, but also Wraith, Changeling, Werewolf, Vampire), similarly the Chronicles of Darkness, Unknown Armies, Kult, Exalted, D&D (explore more exotic places/planes and unknown societies in: Planescape, Scarred Lands, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Forgotten Realms, Spell Jammer, etc.), Legend of the 5 Rings, GURPS, Warhammer Fantasy or 40k, et cetera.

Bleak Spirit could also be a way for a group to help players learn how to take the lead in a scene. An important baby step towards learning to be a GM and to gain confidence. Other collaborative storytelling games like Fiasco are worth exploring for this reason.

I had arranged a playtest game, but due to my ill health and busy friends those plans fell through. My plan was to offer either a totally unknown setting, the default for Bleak Spirit, or to explore a Realms of Chaos Champion within the Warhammer setting. However, you can check out another blog post about Bleak Spirit that also has an actual play:

https://allthethings123.blogspot.com/2019/06/bleak-spirit.html

https://allthethings123.blogspot.com/2019/07/the-war-sessions-zero-and-one.html

Check out the Kickstarter at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/179941520/bleak-spirit/

Prelude – Secret Rage PBM 6

This continues on from part 1 PBM Thanks & Secret Rage.

It has been a while since I blogged about my #SecretRage PBM campaign, Richie and I have been busy so it has been on the back burner. This at least allowed me to explore ways to link ideas about the potential psychology of spirits, something that relates to two other projects. I considered abandoning this campaign and playtesting my new setting, but since I’ve put a lot of preparation in to this campaign, plus Richie and I wanted to play Werewolf, I decided to stick with things. I participated in #RPGaDay again this year, I mentioned #SecretRage on several of the days. For Day 26 I talked about Ambitions.

This urge to keep changing projects is an ongoing problem for me, so I gave myself a deadline; following advice from The Bestseller Experiment. I finished up the comic pages and the introductory turn as well. Finalising everything for this project helped re-inspire my passion for #SecretRage, plus given me inspiration to run something else, Cyberpunk, D&D, Pendragon, Cthulhu, etc.

I won’t be posting the turn data since I’ve added another player, plus I am considering inviting other players to join in, maybe some of the people from the #RPGaDay community. Below are those comic pages, which once again I found the writing of to be an interesting puzzle to figure out, in part due to writing about a messed-up Luna, but also because comic writing is different.

#SecretRage 07#SecretRage 08#SecretRage 09+10#SecretRage 11#SecretRage 12#SecretRage 13#SecretRage 14#SecretRage 15+16

#RPGaDay2018 Day28 inspiring gaming excellence

Share whose inspiring gaming excellence you’re grateful for

As I mentioned in the video: anyone that puts effort into playing. I adore excellence, but I appreciate effort far more!

I forgot to mention the dedication of Ian A A Watson to get the Trinity universe back #TrinityContinuum

The Peter Austin blog I reference is 5 Positive Role-Play Lessons.

5 Positive Role-Play Lessons

I blogged about Richie Janukowicz: Inspirational Friends.

Inspirational Friends Richie

#RPGaDay2018 Day26 RPG Ambition

Gaming ambition for the next 12 months

Lots of people posting information about their quite interesting ambitions for their next 12 months, inspiring to see what people are thinking about. Due to limited time I’ve kept my video short, partly because I plan on more blogs and videos about one of my ambitions for the next 12 months.

I’ve not run an in-depth PBM game since working at KJC Games. I’ve done little bits but nothing major, mostly because I always come back to my main ambition: better GM & Player tools. I am still in the midst of writing a novel, plus a few short stories I keep playing with, too many things, so I decided that 2018 should be the year of Project Overlap. Scaling ideas back, managing health better and better time management are how I plan to achieve my ambition.

Since I touched on D&D and Pendragon in my video, here is Runeslinger talking about his plans. Any similarity between my video and Antony’s is entirely down to me imitating him 😉

So many plans:

Big plans at The GM Table

Plus so many more 🙂

#RPGaDay2018 Day25 Impactful Game

Game that had an impact on you in the last 12 months?

I attempted another outdoor video today, more learning, plus the fun of deciding what to cut. Initially I recorded a stream of consciousness, but the sound quality was awful. I’ve blogged about what I cut out.

I mentioned returning to Mage: the Ascension, using the 20th anniversary edition. How this game in particular relates to my ongoing obsession with RPG & Psychology. As well as constantly striving to learn new ways to link abstract seemingly unconnected ideas; without resorting to a simple answer like using programming OOPS framework of declaring everything an Object, or similar 😉

Orion Sphere a new UK LARP game. It was wonderful to return to LARP after a few years break and to play a game that somehow managed to capture part of the essence of a festival LARP yet also the close-knit aspect of a small LARP. I’ve yet to write a blog about it, I shall do so after this year’s RPGaDay ends. Next event is in September.

I have managed to do a bit more work on my own projects. The playtest of the Elemental Masters last year highlighted a few things, but in particular the need for GM and player tools. Years ago I thought there are so many great RPGs out there, that I didn’t want to make a standard tabletop game. The hobby’s growing wide range of games has further highlighted why I thought this years ago. Of going since I choose to go epic with my designs I accepted the time investment

So my waffling led me to the answer of: Sigmata by Chad Walker. When I heard it announced I thought of it was something new and interesting, retro-Cyberpunk, I even imagined things like the film They Live as I speculated what The Signal could be.

A cyberpunk tabletop role-playing game about ethical insurgency against a fascist regime, taking place in a dystopian vision of 1980’s America. Players assume the role of Receivers, the superheroic vanguard of the Resistance, who possess incredible powers when in range of FM radio towers emitting a mysterious number sequence called “The Signal.” When the Signal is up, Receivers lead the charge against battalions of Regime infantry and armor or serve as the People’s Shield, protecting mass demonstrations from the brutality of a militarized police force and neo-Nazi hooligans. When the Signal is down, however, Receivers are mere mortals, desperately fleeing from a powerful state that senses their weakness.

Sadly I’ve not managed to play much in the last year, chronic pain and severe sleep deprivation continued to plague my daily ability to do much, and sometimes even think. Overall I have managed to read a lot; I have reread a lot of RPGs, as well as look at games that are new to me. The competition for gaming time is becoming increasingly challenging, there are so many quality products to choose between. So even though I’ve not even finished the Sigmata book I have chosen it because it has already had a massive impact upon me. It has already helped me reframe a lot of ideas. For me Sigmata encapsulates so many different and difficult aspects into a cool sounding game. Even for someone playing traditional fantasy RPGs, like D&D, consider how many campaigns are about defeating evil rulers, or even vast empires, Sigmata can help provide another few tools to a group’s RPG toolkit. I hope to be able to report about playing it soon.

#RPGaDay2018 Day24 RPG more recognition

Which RPG do you think deserves more recognition?

The #RPGaDay event has helped highlight a lot of games that I should check out and today’s question further emphasises this. I’ve looked at many tweets, blogs and videos from other #RPGaDay participants, lots of great suggestions being made.

Over the years I’ve encountered many people who assume the RPG means a computer game, technically a CRPG, but typically called an RPG. Whilst I love plenty of CRPG, I wish a better label had been used, meh.

I discuss GURPS and Cryptomancer in my video for today 🙂

Other posts worth checking out:

Autocratik post today

Runeslinger’s post today. Then watch his video 😉

A great point from ivanmike1968: