A Fist Full of Dice

I originally published this opinion piece in 2015 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/

This is the third article in the series exploring the impact of the game Way of the Exploding Fist (Commodore 64) had on me, and the path it lead me down. Due to my dad’s interest in computing I’d had access to decent home computers as well as a big collection of games for years, and in 1987 he bought an Amiga 500 resulting in me being given the C64 all to myself; a couple of years later I was given the Amiga. Due to living in a seaside resort I had access to many arcades, but I only had a tiny amount of pocket money. So when I visited the arcades with my mates I generally watched, preferring to save what little pocket money I had towards buying a new computer game.

The first arcade game I felt compelled to play was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT), even though it was just a variation on such classics as Double Dragon, it was different, because it was TMNT! So that anomaly was understandable to me, since I was such a fan of the cartoon, but I was quite surprised to be hit by the virtual tsunami that was Street Fighter 2 (SF2) in 1991. The first Street Fighter (SF) looked okay in the arcades, I’d never played it and in retrospect it seems odd that I don’t recall anybody ever mentioning it at school; the 8-bit version of SF on the C64 looked horrid.

After playing a few games of SF2 I was horrified to find out that somebody else could join in beat me and take over, since I had limited funds I was not keen on this design approach. I also quickly realised the financial implications of trying to figure out hidden moves. My paper-round money was already failing to cover my three main hobbies: computer games, tabletop role-playing, and wargaming, so I made the sensible but frustrating decision to watch other people play SF2, and like my days watching Way of the Exploding Fist, maybe I’d learn, but without the financial cost. I got to see some pretty spectacular players who’d said they spent quite a lot of money getting that good. Watching helped me develop a better understanding of the depth of the game, but it also gave me an appreciation of the calibre of opponents that could easily beat me. In 1993 I finally got to play the game lots when a friend got SF2 for his Sega Mega Drive.

I had an appreciation of the diverse martial art styles that SF2 included. Although the game included mystical abilities, it was cool see how they had integrated them into a characters martial arts style, enhancing them without commandeering them. Granted the plot of SF2 was extremely simple, but it didn’t matter, as the playability was exceptional.  In 1992 I was introduced to Mortal Kombat (MK), which was an impressive evening of watching a crowd of people challenge each other. Personally I preferred the more in depth fighting in SF2, but I quickly became a fan of the MK game and universe; not that MK was an amazing story, but it seemed to have more to it, and in particular Outworld, it felt more fleshed out that SF2. Mentioning that SF 2 story is simple is a bit obvious, but the reason why I mention this is that a few years later this concept is flipped for me, when in 1994 a tabletop role-playing company called White Wolf released a role-playing game called Street Fighter (SFRPG).

The Street Fighter universe had been expanded in manga and anime. My friends and I particularly enjoyed Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994). Like a lot of popular settings (IP), lots of things get produced, adding ideas and variety to the original idea; although not always a good thing.

Ryuandken Sf2 GIF - Ryuandken Ken Ryu GIFs

At the time White Wolf was known for its flagship game Vampire: the Masquerade, one of the many games set in the World of Darkness; I was an avid player and collector of these games. In the various World Darkness, games players could play characters (monsters) with incredible powers. The games tried to focus on storytelling and role-playing; a character’s story was the priority, not their powers; of course some groups focused on the power, not that there is anything innately wrong with that the group agrees. So upon acquiring SFRPG I was not surprised to find that the designers had managed to lay the foundations for an interesting gaming world based off the simple SF2 story. I am not claiming that White Wolf had written a masterpiece of world building, instead they had captured the essence of what had made the Street Fighter series so good. Although a gaming group could do whatever they wanted, the base focus of the game was all about a fighter’s journey to improve, set in a world of rampant crime and obscure mystics.

Typically the initial response to the RPG was a quick list of surprise comments, followed by ridicule, followed by questions. I was the Games Master / Storyteller (GM / ST) for several groups, and I also chatted with several other gamers at my local gaming shop, so I got to talk to a lot of people. My answers highlighted how intriguing M. Bison’s Shadoloo was, how similar to other secret societies/criminal empires, asking them what they thought Bison was up to. I’d explain an important game mechanic, that characters used Chi to activate certain powers, they could gain Chi points back by making Honor rolls. So if Bison had no honour, how could he regain Chi? Many role players I spoke with were willing to give the game a go, and generally they quite enjoyed it.

Over the years I have run several SFRPG campaigns, all were fun and some were even good. I think it is noteworthy to consider that the majority of people know little to nothing about martial arts in real life, and even those that do know some things tended to only trained for a few months. What is great is that SF2 had educated its players enough that they know what different styles roughly look like, as well as what sort of techniques are used; granted SF2 added fireballs and the like to the mix, but did so without ruining the martial style. This SF2 education was an interesting bonus, as it generally affects a player’s ability to role-play better, since it reduced learning a setting, combat and powers. I loved that many SF2 players trying out SFRPG were pretty much veterans when it came to describing their character’s attacks, and understanding what was happening in a detailed fight. The combat mechanics in the role-playing game were surprisingly effective (but not perfect). They allowed players to quickly learn how to play, and with the combat cards a bout could be carried out quite quickly, all in all, very efficient just like SF2. Interestingly the combat mechanics had some key differences to the other World of Darkness games, a few years later an optional book was added to the World of Darkness beautifully entitled Combat.

street fighter video GIF

I was disappointed with how the Combat book mostly handled Mage: the Ascension. Effectively it did not add anything, suggesting Mages can perform True Magick like Stunts is IMHO pointless, since that is what a Mage game is basically like anyway. I do understand why this approach was taken, I am not saying it is worthless/garbage, just disappointing to me. Whilst there are a few special maneuvers for a character with Do 3+, which was nice, but, since Do was basically an Akashic Brotherhood (now: Akashayana) special skill. I think this approach sadly reduced a setting with infinite potential and options to cliché views of ‘Asians are best at martial arts’, ignoring the numerous world cultures with exceptional fighting systems, and the commonality of violence and the human body. This is partly why I have experimented with various ways of integrating the SFRPG mechanics and Combat Cards with other games, my own games, and for the last few years Mage.

Mage SFRPG

Debates about tabletop role-playing game systems is a major part of that hobby, mechanics matter and add to that so much of what we know is from movies/games/books and not personal practice. The designers of any role-playing system need to acknowledge the fact that truly simulating reality is far too complicated, never mind the fact that so much is not understood, therefore a game needs to be easy to understand, and usually quick to play whilst not sacrificing too much realism. My point linking back to the previous paragraph about game accessibility, reducing player learning requirements, and helping players understand game events, I think overall SFRPG did a great job.

I personally found the core rules for SFRPG to be overall good. Whilst the expansion books introduced new great things, unfortunately it also added some garbage into the game. In interviews it has been explained how rushed the game line was, sadly this shows, which is a shame because if more time had been given to the designers some of the garbage would likely have instead been more great additions. The most famous example is the: Cartwheel kick, in was so clearly broken it took most players only a few seconds to figure out that it was godly. Likewise the magic shows in Savate. This lack of playtesting stands out, and is a disgrace to the quality of SF2 combat. Fortunately all role-playing game mechanics can be altered by groups introducing house rules, and generally a veteran gaming group can run a good campaign despite any rubbish game mechanics or bad story/world design. Having worked at a games company I have a good appreciation for the difficulties of hitting deadlines, costs of running a company and how easy it is too miss things, which is why playtesting is so important. Ideally a product should have as few problems as possible.

A call back to the previous article regarding Gene Lebell and Bruce Lee. It is a shame that Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) had not happened decades earlier. So many RPGs could have been fixed in regards to the martial art clichés. This is one of the interesting things about Street Fighter 2, for all the made up and fantasy aspects, the game has a diverse range of fighting techniques shown; granted no ground game, but at least grappling is a core part. I think this has helped SFRPG stand out against other RPGs, for example Palladium’s Ninjas and Superspies. The Contenders expansion added many styles and maneuvers, of particular note is groundfighting, but there are other gems like Chi Push.

The SFRPG rulebooks were full colour, which was very unusual for that time. Although the books had a distinctive White Wolf design with the flavour text and story snippets, the layout of the SFRPG books were more exciting/dynamic looking than their other games. The artwork was mixed, whilst some pieces were great, others were less so.

Character creation was quite straightforward, particularly for players familiar with other White Wolf games. Choosing a character’s special moves list was an interesting and fun part of the process, since it would be a major part of the character’s abilities and development. Interestingly the game encouraged players to declare the names for their moves, just like Hadoken in the computer game. Whilst not everybody chose to do this, nobody complained about it being silly, I put this down to the fact that SF 2 had taught players that this was a somewhat normal the thing to do.

Even after writing several of the negative points about the tabletop RPG, I still think that overall the core SFRPG was brilliant, providing players with a great toolset to explore the intriguing world of SF2. Along with the animated movie it is nice to know that some game tie-ins aren’t complete garbage. Whilst there have been other good martial art role-playing games, my players and I still fondly recall many great Street Fighter gaming sessions and rate it as our favourite of the genre. Every few years we play it again, playing with new ideas and house rules.

The Street Fighter series has millions of fans, but a few of us crave more than just the fights. We are also nostalgic about the espionage of the World Warrior circuit, rising up in rank, to more epic stories of training under Ryu, discovering new/lost techniques, and I suspect in a few cases usurping Bison to take over Shadoloo! I’d love a great computer RPG set in the SF world, whilst I doubt that will happen, maybe one day soon.

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/

Way of the Exploding Fist Lookback

I originally published this opinion piece in 2015 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.

For me Way of the Exploding Fist (WotEF / Fist) is the Mario of 8-bit fighting games! Okay, considering the cultural weight of Mario, maybe that is too strong a statement, but I do consider this game to be of that design calibre. Later beat ‘em up games like Street Fighter weren’t quite the gem, especially the 8-bit version on the Commodore 64; IMHO, not until Street Fighter 2 did things improve. Today there are many iconic fighting series, but in the mid-80s there was nothing, then Fist came out! The game received a 93% from Zzap! 64 magazine in August 1985 and game of the year, plus according to the wiki page it apparently went on to become the bestselling game for both ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC

Why write about a game from thirty years ago? The classic answer of it being helpful to know our roots, to understand how they influence us; even if we are not aware, which is often the case 😉 I would urge any budding game designer to check this game out, to see what the creator Gregg Barnett did with a good design, an emphasis on game-play, and a clean interface. Additionally this was achieved with a very limited amount of processing power. Also maybe check out some other quirky game ideas like Attack of the Phantom Karate Devils, if only for its novel approach to reducing the need to draw lots of graphics on the screen.

For many reasons this game carries great importance for me. It wasn’t Bruce Lee or other martial artist movies, which made me obsess with martial arts. In 1985 my dad purchased this amazing game for our Commodore 64, the title sounded just so exciting: ‘Way of the Exploding Fist’ or the simple punchy ‘Fist’. Thankfully due to my dad, even at 9 years of age I had a tiny frame of reference in understanding how difficult combat training is; my dad is ex-military and he had studied several different styles of fighting, and he’d started teaching me. Although I was already interested in martial arts, there was unfortunately limited access to media on any style in the early 80s in the UK, and we did not have enough money to pay for lessons. Crucially for me Fist wasn’t a platformer, or a game with just a few basic attacks, no, this was my first proper fighting game, and it is more like a fighting simulator.

Anecdotes aside, the graphics and imagery were incredible, yes dated now, but in its time quite impressive. I loved how crisp the game-play felt, the fantastic movement of the character led to a great sense of tactile feedback, and the attacks felt brilliant; for me game-play is the most important factor in any game. The game had 16 moves, enough that a fight felt strategic, not formulaic. Like so many people I believe that even a point-and-click or text-based adventure needs a good feeling of interactivity, and the graphic user interface (GUI) is a key part of this. Some people criticised the game in regards to how a character turned around, but I consider this criticism to be unfair since turning was just another thing to practice; besides you could attack someone behind you. In comparison to other games of the time Fist was spectacular. The music and sound effects were great, carrying that great combination of quality, feeling right and being distinctive. The music evokes strong memories of the game, and still carries importance for me; I’ve been humming it for decades!

Although a game called Karate Champ (KC) actually came before Fist, I didn’t come across it until afterwards, so it didn’t have any impact on me. KC had so many firsts to it, and can be considered the basis for all the fighting games to come. Whilst the arcade game, Warrior, came out in 1979, it looks and plays barely like anything in the fighting game genre. Even though it was made just a year earlier, KC was not as fluid or well-paced, nor as graphical or musically as impressive as Fist.

https://thumbs.gfycat.com/TiredBeneficialGoose.webp

On a side note Yie Ar Kung-Fu came out the same year as Fist, which I also liked, it was fast, quite fluid, but the martial arts style was more like Wire-fu (Wuxia), plus most opponents had weapons. Crucially I thought it didn’t have that feeling of tactile weight, despite there being a brief pause to indicate that a hit had landed and seeing that the opponent’s health bar went down a bit, but otherwise there was no physical effect to the opponent. Interestingly this game fits what later became the foundation of later fighting games. In contrast Fist follows the rules of full contact point sparring with the fight pausing after a successful hit on a point scoring area, thus there are no health bars, and this approach has barely been used since. Since Yie Ar Kung-Fu felt quite different it provided a good alternative style of gameplay, and whilst I did enjoy playing it a lot, just not as much as Fist.

Besides the excellent 1 on 1 game play, Fist also included an odd bonus level that involved a charging bull? I guess this bonus level was inspired by Masutatsu Oyama, the founder of Kyokushin Karate, who had fought many bulls! Whilst I believe Karate Champ was probably the first game to include such bonus levels, it was years later when Mortal Kombat (MK) and Street Fighter 2 (SF2) in particular became known for popularising this level concept.

Fist included the cool and important ability to fake an attack. This does not refer to the simple idea of moving as a feint, although this can be a valid tactic in many games. What I mean is that attacks could be started but not completed; this was possible due to the great control system, which was all the better with a great micro-switch joystick. I find this particularly useful when playing against another person, plus it did seem to affect the computer controlled competitor. Nowadays whilst some games include the ability to feint, this important part of real fighting is not seen as a core feature in all fighting games, I wonder why this is?

The game was accessible due to a combination of being: well presented, there were no hidden moves, nor complicated sequences, but crucially I believe the game flow and speed elevated it.  Like any good fighting game the timing was absolutely critical, and the well animated sprites allowed for good control of the timing, and therefore distance management became the first thing to consider. Because this is an important part of real fighting, it should be no surprise that this is often discussed as a crucial factor in all fighting games. Sadly there are games that lack the combination of fluid animation and character control; the amount of bad SF2 or MK clones are a testament to this issue. In some games, attacks with long animations are annoying, especially if you cannot do anything. Ideally a game should always a player to try something.

I love fighting games, I have no issue with games like Street Fighter with hidden moves, special attacks, nor the detailed list of techniques like in Tekken. It is not uncommon for new players to  complain about too such games being too complicated, requiring a lot of effort to learn even the basics. A modern game like Fist would got some way to providing a stepping stone in to the fighting game genre. I’ve heard it said that the UFC games maybe fulfils this a little bit, and the general fight fan is much better educated these days, but the UFC games are still somewhat complicated, since after all they are simulating Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

Another classic fighting debate is addressed by this Fist’s design, should button mashing be allowed? Although it was possible to button mash in Fist, learning the game could overcome the wild approach. This approach gave new players a chance to compete; their button mashing elevated my gameplay, and in turn helped them. I call this a successful design approach.

Commodore 64

After a few weeks of extensive playing of Way of the Exploding Fist I got in trouble for misbehaving. I was banned from playing the computer for a few days, which at that age seemed like a lifetime! Since I dabbled in programming I was not banned from using the computer, just playing on it, so this gave me what I considered at the time, a creative workaround. I loaded the game and patiently waited, after a mini eternity I was rewarded with a successful load and the awesome music started. After about twenty seconds the computer would play against itself, so I could watch two competitors fight each other, with each attack being given added emphasis due to their kiai (spirit shouts). I had watched for an hour by the time my dad found out what I was doing, impressively he was not angry since I had not technically broken the rules. In fact he was amused by the fact that I was making my punishment more intense on myself, by having the object of my desire in such close proximity, but not being allowed to interact with it! When I explained I was watching the timing and distant management of the game he smiled, because he understood that this simple point fighting karate game actually did a great job in making this the focal part of the game.

There is no real end to Fist, just like with real martial arts. Although I am not sure if the approach was due to design as metaphor, or more to do with just allowing a player to keep going to aim for a super high score.

The review from Zzap 64 Issue 4 August 1985 can be found here. For more information check of the game details on the wiki page. Whilst writing this article I found out that the music for this game was taken from Dance of the Yao Tribe, I had never looked it up until now; maybe that shows that a bit of hard work looking in to things you like can pay off? 😉

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/

 

PDF and the Mobile Gamer

A great article about the slow adapation of the RPG industry to making better virtual books. As someone with hand problems, I have a particular dislike of reading on small devices due to the common resizing requirements. It can also be a pain (literally) on my desktop, although thankfully speech recognition software can help a bit.

Casting Shadows

For a year or so I lived a lie. I didn’t know it was a lie while I was living it. It was that strange sense of change that comes with a lot of energy and conviction, stays long enough to leave scars, but vanishes in a moment and without warning. People shrug, and remark about how they ‘should have known’, but in truth such things are only visible in hindsight, and then only if you are the sort to look back.

For a year or so, I put print behind me and only bought games in PDF.

That year was around ten years ago now and while physics and ridiculous shopping fees have significantly impacted the number of titles I add to my library these days, I haven’t given that digital-only lifestyle another attempt.

One thing stayed with me, though. If available (poor Star Wars), I get all the…

View original post 723 more words

#RPGaDay2019 Summary

#RPGaDay this year was another interesting event, lots of participants and lots of different takes on the prompts. The team of Dave Chapman (@autocratik) Anthony Boyd (@Runeslinger) and wonderful graphic by Will Brooks (@willbrooks1989) made something a bit different with the prompts.

I read many comments appreciating the creative freedom the prompts provided. Of course it is not always easy to think of something; how best to sum up thoughts about the subject of RPGs, a hobby that is simultaneously complex and simple. Although it is time consuming reading/watching so many peoples’ contributions, as normal each day people said things I especially appreciated. I think this event nicely sums up the idea of ‘thinking out loud’, sometimes I think I come up with something interesting, whilst other times I am stating the obvious, or merely mentioning a preference. I am sure some contributors feel the same way, plus we never know what somebody might find interesting/inspiring regarding our subtly different phrasing. What is nice about even the simple answers is we can see commonalities, maybe useful to someone for a future sociology project. So, I wanted to highlight a few of the great contributors:

I think the lovely artwork and pithy answers by @CoronaTinoF wonderfully encapsulates the spirit of RPGaDay:

The fabulous written notes by @Catrinity were used to creatively present a personal play story:

Each prompt was used as a reminder of RPG stories:

https://www.youtube.com/user/JdrD30/videos

A great collection of videos and blogs by IvanMike1968:

Runeslinger’s videos, as normal some interesting thoughts and exceptional presentation variation. Dogs and RPG, what is not to like?

Each day Geek-Life Balance framed the prompts around their RPG plans:

https://geeklifebalance.wordpress.com/tag/rpgaday2019/

Roberto Micheri’s collection of videos:

Doc Perschon made some great videos. Due to time constraints, plus wanting to make higher production value, Doc decided to keep releasing videos over time:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC68SQ75PwAYebPWpdT8sHow

Last but not least the answers from Dave Chapman (@autocratik) himself:

https://www.autocratik.com/2019/08/

#RPGaDay2019 prompts 25 to 31

Continuing on with my video summary of #RPGaDay2019 tweets, prompts 25 to 31. Previous prompts 1 to 8

I badly explain a point in the video about RPG and suspension, using the example of how big breaks in music can really add to a song, adding suspension. I also couldn’t remember any tracks in that moment, so:

The Beach Boys – Good Vibrations, Nine Inch Nails – March of the Pigs, Metallica – Sad But True, Beastie Boys – Sabotage, Garbage – Supervixen, Alanis Morissette – All I Really Want, Scissor Sisters – I Can’t Decide, Fleetwood Mac – Oh Well, Tool – The Patient, Portishead – Only You, Foo Fighters – Monkey Wrench, Queens Of The Stone Age – The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret, Tool the patient, Sigur Ros – Staralfur, Queen – Fat Bottomed Girls, Rage Against The Machine – Freedom, Kavinsky – Nightcall, plus so many more.

Maybe I need to return to this and explain myself clearer one day?

#RPGaDay2019 prompts 17 to 24

Continuing on with my video summary of #RPGaDay2019 tweets, prompts 17 to 24. Previous prompts 1 to 8

#RPGaDay2019 Prompts 9 to 16

Continuing on with my video summary of #RPGaDay2019 tweets, prompts 9 to 16. Previous prompts 1 to 8