Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cowboys and Demons

I picked three series over the weekend and stuck them together because there’s some degree of righteous fandom the video-game populous holds for each of them. Many times, game developers love to transition between mediums without realizing the degree of reverence that stems from the origin material. In other words, video-games very typically transition when they should be translating. What I’m proposing here today is a simple abstract concept that most people respond to in the following trio of shows. How this particular notion could be translated into video-game form is up for interpretation, so here’s mine.

Cowboy Bebop (Japanese Animated Series) – 26 Episodes
Though this series is noticeably “colder” than the following one, it still manages to hold out as a self-effacing story amidst a reasonably small amount of lovable characters. Taking place in a slightly extended future just beyond "our contemporary one" (real-life), Cowboy Bebop follows four makeshift bounty hunters and their pasts as they struggle to keep their hunk of metal floating out in space. Cowboy Bebop’s gift is in it’s subtlety. It’s not extravagant by any means, and the overarching quest culminates to be quite tragic towards the end. Everything about the show is fairly downplayed and even what I took to be the most prominent element in the series (the music) never went overboard in taking itself too seriously.


The Bebop
Everything about my previous statement stands here as well. The Bebop as a ship is only effective in it’s ineffectiveness, and is not as much of a junker as it is a “ghetto-ship”. The stark shots of the ship are always moody without becoming brooding. As little as it gives to work with, it’s the ship that communicates as a "flying blues bar". It doesn’t need to be any more than that and provides a stable establishment to engage through and with.

Firefly (American T.V.Series) – 14 Episodes
Nobody can venture too far into “geekdom” without coming across Joss Whedon’s beloved yet abused series, Firefly. Those who haven’t had the pleasure of acquaintance with this show yet are in for a short lived surprise (and subsequent anger) if they do find enjoyment from it. Firefly is a Space Western that premiered on FOX in 2002. Despite gaining critical praise, it was canceled after only 12 of the 14 episodes were aired. FOX contributed greatly to this malady by not only initially airing the episodes out of order, but promoting it very awkwardly. Despite that, the cult status managed to hold it up just long enough for it to garner itself a feature film, Serenity.

Firefly is a character-driven drama that takes place aboard a humble little spaceship that nomadically makes it’s way across a fictional star system. It’s occupants spend most of their time doing “get-by” jobs that usually end up biting them in the ass, which often leaves them broke, injured, and at each other’s throats on a regular basis. Coupled with unique signature elements such as the Chinese/American melting pot, it became quite an outstanding little television series. The dedicated “Browncoats” (hardcore fans of the series) have since been left with a gaping hole of longing since the show’s demise. Their support did give birth to Serenity, which still remains a functioning anomaly to this day; more than most can ask for these days, isn’t it?

Serenity – The “Firefly-class” transport ship
Part of what made Firefly so special was the ship itself, Serenity. This fairly small freighter was blessed with parts so interwoven into the characters themselves, it became a functioning presence on the ship (which I perceived a direction allusion towards in “Objects in Space”). Mal’s noble reverence, Kaylee’s sweet intimacy, and most importantly, River’s existential movement throughout the ship; all of them help build a deep connection to the set in just 14 episodes (whereas some series can’t even do such a thing over the course of multiple seasons. This in turn helps the viewer establish a lovely “home” for themselves, and it’s a big reason why so many people still watch the small morsel they were given with such veneration to this day. Floating out in the verse is such a reality in this quaint little ship that barely saw the light of it’s own damn tail.

Devil May Cry (Japanese Animated Series based off Capcom’s Video Game franchise) – 12 Episodes
I’m a pretty big Devil May Cry fan, and that extends into all of the extended areas as well. In 2007, an anime based of the popular game franchise was released. It was basically colored under the design of a formula that I didn’t mind it ripping off in the first place. Supposedly taking place between the first and fourth games, the game follows Dante maintaining his shop, “Devil May Cry”. He is a half-demon prodigy of a legendary knight that saved humanity eons ago; he’s constantly under financial stress and he takes various odd jobs, which typically involve eliminating demons or paranormal-based oddities. His friends Lady, Trish, and Patty typically end up causing him more grief than wants and he constantly attributes this to a running "women relations" gag throughout the series (“they keep stabbing me and shooting me in the head…”).

I won’t profess that the show is particularly mind-blowing, but anyone that finds the games enjoyable at all will surely find some giggles within this anime. It’s full of all the action, style, and cheeseball dialogue that still distinctively differentiates the game franchise to this day.

Devil May Cry
Dante’s shop is such a special thing that’s being squandered in the game series. Here’s the catch though, it’s an understandable loss. Any focus on his shop at all would disrupt the main focus of the games proper and throw way too many things off. In the anime, Dante can usually be seen napping on his couch or his desk while Patty watches her soaps or begrudgingly cleans his shop. Lady and Trish constantly barge in and out of the establishment, for no other reason than to bother Dante half the time; this leaves Morrison (Dante’s liaison for jobs) to routinely stop by, handing out jobs that somehow get botched up in the end anyway. Dante's shop was featured at the beginning of both DMC1 and DMC3 (the player actually demolishes it in Dante's Awakening).

What I'm proposing is that this "homely" sense of place be established for the player in a game. I see some conflicting areas for this to happen in the traditional high-stakes release, so I think it would be safer to request this through DLC. Given that two of these are T.V. shows, the word "episodic" jumps out to me immediately. Usually the average big-wig title takes two to three years to pump out (and it's gradually extending it seems). I wonder how much of a place is left for studios or for parts of studios---to string along it's audience without totally pandering to them. This seems like the most viable option to me.

Being that I was content with what I got in Devil May Cry 4, I’d rather see the current time-line of the DMC series continue through some operation such as this (I proposed that the DMC series go back to Sparda's lifetime for it's next entry). It would have to be carefully considered of course, but the payoff is an innovative sense of continuity no game has really touched upon yet. Having this hypothetical setup could at best...say...give Dante a new mission every few months. Cameos from Lady, Trish, and even Patty could work exactly the same. There could also be some degree of access to customize and make one's way through Dante's shop. Not anything overly ambitious like Sony's Home, but definitely something to have Dante's shop become more special than it already is. Compatibility with the next big title would have to be considered as well, and I'm sure advertising for Capcom would inevitably help more than hurt here too.

There’s something that's just overwhelmingly charming about universes or worlds where people have worry about their next job and meal. Scathing from one thing to the next while maintaining a current lifestyle is so resonant because the majority of us live lives not totally bathed in luxury as well. This is also a cheap but effective way to establish a deep characterization in games. So much can be said about Spike, Mal, and Dante, but things like this they all have in common:

1 - All three are interesting characters that constantly break and blur the edges of morality across a very short time period.

2 - All three are characters reluctantly taking jobs they rarely get paid generously for anyway.

3 - All three are lovable brigands with some personal sense of nobility that gets them in trouble more often than not.

Once again, I'm not proposing anything as ambitious as an MMO, but things like this could fortify ridiculously strong fanbases while giving the industry a new area to explore as well (translation...not transition). Things like Sam and Max should have company (and competition) in this category as well.