Does Mage have the most Lore?

Following on from yesterday’s post about Terry Robinson’s new Mage book Ascension’s Landscape, Terry asked a query on Twitter and the Mage Facebook group:

Whilst I’m not one that enjoys comparing the cWoD games, which one has more of X or Y; I think they all have lots. There are some great responses on the Mage Facebook group, which persuaded me to join the fun and I want a bit overboard because it was fun and I have a lot of old notes and semi completed projects; guess I should make an audio/video version next. So here are my ponderings and suspicions as to what the people claiming ‘Mage has more Lore’ might mean 🙂

Since some players, like me, connect all of the World of Darkness, any comparisons are redundant? Maybe the people making this Lore suggestion love Mage so much they consider it the glue that holds the WoD together? Then we have those players that have only played/read about a few game-lines, grandiose ignorant claims are common enough, so could this be their basis? A quick note that whilst Ars Magica can be claimed as a Mage prequel, the same is true for Vampire, if not more so?

Mage Lore Query Pie Chart

If it is about words published, then Vampire wins that. The Jyhad is a grand and complex affair and there is plenty of mystery. So I guess these people cannot mean official word count, nor vast histories, or detailed relationship maps. Since Vampire got so much love, it was no surprise some disliked it purely on the popularity principle, so an old regular debate I used to encounter was someone claiming Vampire was lacking compared to other games. Consider the DC vs Marvel debates: DC, even with their high end events, they are typically about punching X really hard, whilst Marvel, not even just the high end, has a lot more Reality Warping. Back to Vampire, well yes for a neonate they have limited power, whilst a new Mage can alter reality. Many vampire books stated Antediluvians are so much more than the other Kindred; they can do more than punch a bit harder 😉 Methuselahs can have outrageous powers, Shaitan, Baba Yaga, Japheth, Menele, etc., certainly do more than punch things. My point being if we are looking at just Vampire, in the Lore we have near god like beings. So I guess these people don’t think that is enough.

We Werewolf fanatics know that the setting is rich with Lore and has many layers; we’re not mad at all the dismissive ignorance 😉 Given the heavy metaphysical nature and stakes of big plot I can understand someone positing that Werewolf has the most Lore. Of course everything in Werewolf can be done at the high power levels of Mage, this includes a Mage being one of Gaia’s chosen.

Changeling has the most Lore, just a shame we all forgot it 😉 All of the World of Darkness benefits/suffers from unreliable narrators. Mage and Changeling have that to a much greater level. I think the difference is that for Changeling the Mists pretty much guarantees we know a Changeling doesn’t know many(any?) ancient things. Whilst a Mage could believe that not only do they know things, but they think they have deep understanding and also can/should change things. Add to this the significant aspect of altering of consensus reality is a core part of Mage; a new player can read constant reference to changing reality in the core rules.

I would guess that through the lens of ‘Mage is everything’, which includes the non-realities, then everything is Lore, that automatically makes the Mage the winner for some? Of course Werewolves can go backstage to reality and Changeling deals with the ‘imaginary is real’ all the time. The difference is how easy it is for Mage to switch between these things, not as easy for the other games, and for some not even possible. Learning Vampire lore is more like learning history, yes there is depth, plenty of dates, and details. Maybe the difference is that Mage can easily span both the macro and micro of anything, plus in some cases at the same time. Thus it can easily accommodate the deepest dive into any subject; therefore it could be viewed as having ‘more’ of everything. Learning that humanity’s actions are influenced by the Weaver and the Wyrm does reframe things a bit, a cub learning there are big complex bads to fight, but that is easy to grasp. Likewise learning that Pompeii’s destruction was due to the Jyhad and the usage of a Thaumaturgy Rite, well this is a famous historical event, but now with new supernatural details, easy to grasp. Any time Mage intersects with history it could be viewed as typically being more complicated, usually involving different philosophical ideas; of course it doesn’t have to be. So I’m not sure this aspect is the key to these peoples’ hypothesis.

I suspect philosophy is not as well-known subject for the average gamer, plus a subject that is viewed negatively by some; Mage certainly helped motivate me to learn about philosophy, and to keep struggling to learn more. So, are these people proposing that Mage is therefore harder to learn? Yes and no is my useful answer, depends on transferable knowledge and what a group decides to focus on.

Back in the day it was kind of funny/exasperating how many chats of: you don’t have to play a stereotypical Toreador or Fianna, etc., were had. Maybe this was a common old issue due to playing so many class based games like D&D and Cyberpunk in the 80s, I certainly met players who quickly adapted to the freedom, or already played classless games. Waffling a bit in an attempt to ponder whether these people see Mage as being less stereotypical than Kindred, Garou, Kith, etc. I doubt it, but I have met a few people that have said this. Analysis Paralysis seems to be a common problem with Mage, but again I am sure lots of individuals don’t have this problem.

Ancient sacred mysteries and other hidden groups are typically a big part of Mage, so does Vampire. There is always the consideration that a Mage can easily go anywhere, so a Storyteller may feel they need to be constantly researching in response to PC actions. A typical party could have such diverse characters that it is hard to predict things, never mind how they use spheres and deal with dilemmas. The relevance to the query is whether one considers learning potentially vastly different paradigms to be Lore or not. I don’t think it is the right label, but I wonder whether this might be a modifier to someone’s reasoning about depth of Lore.

Disciplines and Gifts are straightforward, Sphere Magick is not. I’m not talking about mechanics either, but about the impact upon the game world, the implication of what can happen with Spheres and therefore this could be considered Lore? Every historical event could be part of a ritual!? A domino effect, paradox, etc. Meh, in Werewolf each Gift has an implied backstory, how Spirits were persuaded to teach it to be a particular group; plus those seeking to learn something outside of their Breed, Auspice, or Tribe. In Wraith Arcanoi are tied to Guilds, so again there is depth and Lore here. Less common Disciplines are all about specialist Lore, beyond the common Disciplines and Vampire tropes. Given the Jyhad or Triat, every historical event could be framed as being to do with Vampire or Werewolf; never mind the Wraiths, Fae, or whatever. So I think this is a weak line of reasoning, but I guess it could be another factor someone considers important?

An old debate I had at my FLGS, can Mage can be viewed as mash-up of the other game-lines? The imagination and uncertainty of Changeling, as well what it means to be oneself. Werewolf’s war over reality and visiting diverse other realms. The cosmic implication of what happens when we die and Oblivion. The grand schemes of ancient beings of Vampire, plus the constant manipulation of humanity. So, whilst the other game lines do certain things in more depth, Mage does everything? Meh, this is just another line of thinking about Mage being everything, but could it be part of these peoples’ reasoning?

I pondered character creation. Generally how a character learns about the Jyhad is uncovered in play. It can be an important aspect of character creation for some Vampires, but for most the gravitas is not there. A Mage character does not need to understand the Ascension War, but Awakening fundamentally is about the big questions and the Tellurian. How a player interprets this, what emphasis they gave to their character, is of course up to them. A character that Awakens might not prioritise much outside of themselves, so I’m sure this reasoning works. Whilst Ascension is a core idea for Mage it is not something that typically occurs.  Technically a Kindred could diablerize their way to becoming an Antediluvian.  A Garou could even defeat the Wyrm?! So I don’t think debates about grand goals or gravitas works.

Mage has time travel, well true, but Vampire has Temporis, whilst Werewolf and Changeling have time plots as well. Granted time manipulation is usually a rare aspect in these other games, plus very much under the Storyteller’s control. However, here I think there is a key difference. Maybe one could postulate that Mage, like Time, could be perceived as not just a stream, but a vast ocean of Lore; this is more than unreliable narrators, nor somehow removing the Mists from Changeling. Since the Time Sphere can be taken by a starting character, and thus there is all the complex implications to consider, as detailed in ‘How Do You DO That?’ (p.107), maybe this is the one area that makes some people think Mage has ‘more Lore’, because the Lore is dynamic? (Macro and Micro) If this is their reasoning, then I think they have a point, in part because I’ve met some Mage players that hate the Time Sphere because of its game destabilising potential. Thankfully I’ve not experienced this problem in my games; like many Storytellers, if the players have access to something then part of my prep is to acknowledge that. But I’ve also been lucky that none of my players have obsessed about the Time Sphere, nor set out to destabilise a game. So, I can also appreciate someone’s P.o.V that this makes Mage special, makes all of history dynamic.

Well, that was fun 🙂

Review Ascension’s Landscape

 

It’s all happening in the world of Mage: the Ascension, so I’ve taken a break from my work on fusion Mage & Street Fighter. Terry Robinson recently released a fabulous book: Ascension’s Landscape, which I highly recommend. Terry is also one of the hosts for Mage the Podcast, so please use their affiliate link.

Video/Audio version if you’d prefer:

In addition to what I wrote in my review on the Storyteller Vault I’d like to highlight an extra reason why this book is particularly impressive to me. It is a book lots of World of Darkness players have talked about writing, including myself, but not only did Terry actually write it, but it is also excellent; somewhat related years ago I wrote an article touching on WoD crossovers. Also, even if a group rarely use Mage the Ascension aspects in their World of Darkness games, this book could still be of use because there are suggestions for crossovers.

I love this book. I think it tackles common questions in a detailed and straightforward way, crucially without destroying the mystery or metaphysics of Mage. The World of Darkness (WoD) is a mysterious and contradictory monster (IMHO by design), so I assume most players have been involved in conversations discussing how fitting the WoD together could work. Example queries:

  • How many Mages are there and how does this affect the Ascension War?
  • How much violent crime does different parts of the WoD have, what does that violence translate social-economically? From when the games were originally created, how do we track the changes in real life to WoD?
  • How does money work in a world of seemingly abundant Supernatural power, and in particular mind control?

And so forth, with each answer typically resulting in more fun queries. I love this about RPGs in general, that my groups and I get to decipher and decide; I’d very much have appreciated this sort of book back in the 90s, when we were are all first getting to grips with the WoD. It is not to suggest that the numerous WoD books have never presented questions and provided several answers, they have; nor to imply that this book is an exhaustive list of queries and suggestions. It’s that Terry’s approach of exploring different answers in relation to each over and also in a focused product is great and pithy; I’m a big fan of altering numbers/dials and exploring the results. I think what really takes this book from being classed as a Complete Success, to a Phenomenal Success, is including so many Story/Chronicle Hooks.

I recommend this book to all. Whether you are a new player or a veteran, there are many things contained within for you.

I’m a fan of Mage the Podcast, which I’ve written about before.

Terry also wrote: A Magickal Fiasco: Full Tilt Story Creation for Mage, which I am currently reading.

Book of the Fallen has just been released, a complicated book.

Next on my RPG reading list is Victor Kinzer’s A Phoenix Rising. Victor is also one of the hosts of the fabulous Walking Away From Arcadia.

Hopefully the new Technocracy book will be Kickstarted this year.

Warrior’s Fist 2 Street Fighter Translation

I have continued my work of translating Punho do Guerreiro, a Brazilian fanzine for Street Fighter RPG (SFRPG). Issue 1 is here, plus an explanation of why I am doing this. I quite enjoyed reading issue 2, definitely a must read for any SFRPG fan.

Issue 2 https://drive.google.com/open?id=1H8ij32DdSd8t39AgB3xXudo1257wrCJZWarrior's Fist Issue 2

SFRPG: Punho do Guerreiro and Translations

Punho do Guerreiro is brilliant and I agreed to translate it! Sorry, I am getting ahead of myself … Following on from the articles I recently uploaded about my influences, From Way of the Exploding Fist to Street Fighter RPG a 3 part series. Over the years I always return to playing Street Fighter RPG (SFRPG); despite some of its flaws, I still consider it an RPG gem. I’ve played several gaming sessions of SFRPG in 2018 and 2019. I’ve been playing about with old and new crossover designs for SFRPG and various games, in particular the World of Darkness’s Mage: the Ascension. In my Mage the Podcast Review I touched on the fact that it is nice that some people are still invested in the game, as well as the idea of crossovers.

Since leaving my old games job I made a point of minimising my time spent on RPG forums, Reddit and Facebook groups; I knew I’d spend too much time on them and I’d generally rather read a new book and play. I’m one of those people that loves too many games, as well as any excuse to research things; since some information is wrong and other information is not important, endlessly researching is not a good thing 😉 One of the SFRPG sites I keep an eye on is http://sfrpg.com/, I recently took the plunge and joined https://www.facebook.com/groups/sfstg/. For a while I’ve been meaning to check out the strong Brazilian SFRPG community, so I re-examined my priorities and then explored http://www.sfrpg.com.br/ and https://www.facebook.com/groups/sfrpgbr/. This led me to reading the brilliant SFRPG magazine: Punho do Guerreiro. It is edited by Eric Souza and Odmir Fortes, with many other contributors. Eric very kindly sent me a copy of the word document, so I could translate it easier than the PDF.

With the various translation tools available these days, I was able to read the magazine with surprising ease. Punho do Guerreiro (Warrior’s Fist) has a wealth of interesting ideas.

  • New Maneuvers: Split Punch, Barrier Kick, Clairvoyance, Shapeshift, Gun Kata, Second Skin, Potence, Sense Magic, Drunking Feet, Ice Clone, Iron Body, One Inch Punch, and many more.
  • Examining the System and New Rules: Power Ratings, Glory, Inexperienced Fighters, Sports, Motor Racing, Pro Wrestling, Social Combat, Merits & Flaws, V5 Skill Kits, and so much more.
  • Characters / Circuit Legends: Rickson Gracie, Anderson Silva, Frank Dux, Mistress of Pain, etc. Histories, role-playing notes and character sheets and list of maneuvers.
  • Kabuki Town setting: New locations to visits, details, plot hooks, plus arenas.
  • Arena Rules and Maps: various dojos, bamboo raft, abandoned metro, demon cave, Garou Caern, Yacht, Muddy arena, and many more.

Extra exciting to me is the wealth of different crossovers explored: World of Darkness (Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, Changeling), Exalted, Marvel vs Capcom, Doctor Strange, and recently The Last Airbender. I do love expanding my #RPGMentalToolKit.

Mage SFRPG

I posted a thank you to Eric and the team for the magazine. Eric said he’d like to see the fanzine in English and I decided to give it a go. I appreciate that even with modern tools and a lot of thinking, my translations may have subtle errors and emphasis difference. Since it is doubtful a professional would translate these for free and perfect auto translation is still a long way off, I thought something is better than nothing. Unsurprisingly translating is time consuming, in part because it also involves tweaking the layout of each issue, as well as text on any artwork needs changing. I do at least benefit from the extra effort it takes, since I get to deeply think about rules and how to describe things, since the translations are sometimes nonsensical. Another aspect of the translating process I had to remind myself of, is to stay as true as possible to the original writing, my opinions are irrelevant and I can always blog them later.

It has been years since I professional wrote rules or game explanations, so it has been fun to challenge myself. I made sure to return to balance scrutinising the work, but with a deadline, so I don’t endlessly procrastinate. This process has also helped give me even more appreciation for the quality of the work Eric Souza and Odmir Fortes and their team. Obviously if I was translating into Portuguese I would be useless at this, but I think I’ve managed an adequate job of translating into English. If somebody at a later date has the translation expertise, then they are welcome to my notes 🙂

You can now read the English version: Warrior’s Fist Issue 01.

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/

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/

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/