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LONG BLOG

World Building: Respecting The Source Material

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Author's Notes: Spoilers for Scenarios 54(normal route version) and 53(Secret Route version) of Super Robot Wars Z3: Jigoku-Hen and general details and plot points of the Big O, as well as its final episode. There is also some discussion of Super Robot Wars Z and Mobile Suit Gundam Chars Counterattack. You may see Super Robot Wars Z used in reference to both the series of games as a whole as well as the first entry.

When a game bears the weight of being a licensed title, it gains a new level of scrutiny in addition to the usual judgment. Fans look at what the game brings to the table with the license. Does it make them feel like they are playing as and interacting with those characters? Does it feel like the living and breathing world within the source material? Does it make the most of the license? What kind of easter eggs and shout outs does the game hold? If the game ends up failing to meet these, the question is asked, why did you even bother?

We see this all the time. It's why games like the Batman Arkham series, Alien Isolation and Spiderman 2 are so highly regarded, while others like Superman 64, Aliens: Colonial Marines, and many of Sega's Marvel titles have been looked down upon. Not only because of the quality of the game itself, but due to how they utilized the potential of the license(s) involved with each entry. It's why in Japan, Super Robot Wars has been going for 25 years strong. Not just by being a great turn-based strategy game at its core, but also because of how it used the potential of those licenses to the maximum and then some.

I could go on all day about how it includes a wide variety of characters for heroes and villains, as well as for NPC/cutscene purposes. How it includes numerous locations from various series. How unique dialogue happens between heroes and villains from different series, or how older characters like Amuro Ray from Gundam, Ryoma Nagare from Getter Robo, and Kyoji Kabuto from Mazinger are held in respect by other characters in all games due to their ace pilot status and how much they did for the mech genre as a whole. How the attacks featured are often straight out of scenes from the series included, how the in game stats reflect the mechs and pilots as they are in show. How it will mix the plots of series together to make a singular connected world, while also taking the time to fix the problems that fans had issues with, like the entirety of Gundam SEED. How shows like Shin Mazinger Z essentially received the second season they were originally robbed of. There are dozens of topics I could cover about what it does right as a crossover title in its world building.

However, I would prefer not to bloat this blog to 5000+ words. I'll be focusing on some of these aspects in how Super Robot Wars Z3 handles the Big O, due to a more thorough understanding and familiarity with it.

The Big O as a series is filled with many questions that are not answered due to the creative choice of the writer. What were the events of 40 years ago that caused everyone to lose their memories? Why did the Bigs appear to overrun the world in large numbers in flashbacks? Why is the rest of the world a wasteland outside of the domes? Why do the Bigs appear to be sentient to a degree? Along with other numerous questions. This gives the Z series as a whole room to play with the series itself, filling in holes while actually making it a relatively major portion of the plot. Heads up though, I don't know the full extent and only a rough understand however, only portions of it due to lack of quality resources. So if something seems off or incomplete, that's the cause of it.

In Super Robot Wars Z, as a result of events at the beginning of the game, multiple separate universes are fused together into a single world, which carries over and worsens with each game in the Z series. Some series share a single universe, while some series were their own universe. The Big O was its own universe; however it should be noted that the major villains of the game were a multiple universe threat to begin with. Z reveals later on that the Bigs are created by a greater power, and are meant to be used as shock troopers to destroy the world for the conclusion of an event known as 'Black History'. Which according to the games story, happens in loops, and the player can accelerate it to create a game over if they make incorrect decisions. In and of itself, this information helps explain the flashbacks Roger sees, along with the nature and purpose of the Bigs as well.

Flash forward to Z3, and Paradigm City's role and backstory are further revealed. Paradigm City itself and the world around it is a 'trial run' of the 'time prison', an item relevant to the greater plot of the game and the games title. Time does not actually flow in Paradigm City as a result, and the start of the 'trial run' was the cause of the memory loss. The world outside of Paradigm City is a wasteland due to a nuclear winter as a result of a parallel universe Char succeeding in dropping the space colony Axis, a plot point from Char's Counterattack, sometime before the trial run. It's speculated that perhaps this was linked to the Black History previously mentioned.

 This is how a crossover focusing on story telling should be handled. Giving each series a role in the overarching plot, while also weaving it together when other series when possible in a manner that makes sense. While the scope of what Big O covered grew, at it's core, it was still the show that people like myself had watched and loved. In addition, by making some minor adjustments and additions to the plot of Big O itself, it managed to help bring a larger sense of resolution to the series than its home show, as the nature of Paradigm City is an actual world, rather than a simulated reality like in the show itself.

However, while the game answers questions, it also creates new ones in the process, much like how the writers of Big O handled it. Was the parallel Char from that world, or another universe that had been merged with it? Even then, if some type of Gundam shares that universe, then what happened to the space colonies afterwards? Did Black History occur shortly after, brought about by Char's actions, with the few survivors being forced into the trial run? Or was he forced to perform it in order to prevent it? Was Roger's flashbacks perhaps memories of an in-progress Black History from long ago, or perhaps a warning by a greater one? Why was that universe chosen for the trial run specifically? These questions are never answered, and as a result, it leaves the player with a sense of mystery similar to the original series.

Of course, all that work into the backstory of the world itself doesn't matter if it lacks its inhabitants. Which it brings in spades. Roger himself, Dorothy, Beck, Norman, Angel, and at least 10 other characters all make appearances, all retaining their appearances, art style and all, and personality from the original series. Meanwhile, it remained faithful in bringing the mechs into the game as well, with all three Bigs and both variants of Big Duo are heavily armored units, which are not very evasive and possess hard hitting weapons. Other mechs such as Bonaparte, the Archetype, and both of Beck's mechs are also fairly faithful, being less armored and heavy hitting, but becoming more evasive as a result. The sound design for them is on point as well, often accounting for unique sounds that each machine makes when in motion and using weaponry, even Big O's footsteps are accounted for. They also having accompanying music, with Big O being accompanied by 'Sure Promise', while threats from Big O in Super Robot Wars Z, where the majority of the storyline of Big O occurs, often have 'The Great' accompanying them. One of the mechs that Beck pilots, Beck the Great RX-3, even retains the show off nature that happened with it's debut. It's the small details that help bring the world and it's inhabitants to life, and it's the small details that the game focuses on.

'Beck the Great RX-3!' Also featured: Bonaparte and Big Duo Inferno

 However, perhaps the biggest challenge of adapting Big O into any format is the final 'threat' of the show. A threat that possesses the ability to warp reality and erase it at will, with no defense against it. How does a game adapt that while staying true to the source?

For most games, regardless of licensed title or not, such a threat would be heavily toned down for gameplay. In most cases, it would mean a boss that deals heavy damage, while posing high amounts of health and defense. We often see this with the stronger beings featured in games using Marvel licenses, such as Galactus or Shuma. Other games would turn these instant kill capabilities into combos that require two turns to pull off, giving the player time to properly react and either prepare for or avoid the instant kill. Some may incorporate it into an element used almost exclusively for instant kill moves, like the Shin Megami Tensei series has the Light and Dark elements. Other games like Injustice would make up a plot McGuffin which allows the cast to be closer to the level of someone like Superman.

This is due to the reputation instant kill moves have. By many gamers, reviewers, and developers, they are viewed as a mechanic that usually isn't fun. It's often considered to be a cheap way to artificially raise a games difficulty when it's usually implemented, resulting in frustration for players as a result. To include a mandatory boss that's possesses only instant kills and nothing else? That's a sure-fire way to anger people.

I'd like to imagine when presented with this character and implementing her into the game, the Super Robots Wars team looked at the character, looked at the critics, looked at the character, then looked at the critics and said 'Fuck you, this is going to happen'. It was left out of marketing materials entirely that she was there. No one knew until people reached the scenario.

They had put Big Venus into the game exactly as she is. A being capable of warping reality and erasing everything from existence with no effort at all. A boss that, for all intents and purposes, should not be existing as it stands, yet somehow does and works better than it has any right to. In game, the big bad encourages Angel, a supporting character within Big O, with a few select words to find out the truth behind Paradigm City, as she believes it may fulfill her desire for memories. What Angel discovers is that she has a role in the city, as the megadeus known as Big Venus, which drives her to wipe all reality. Big Venus is revealed to be part of a system setup to reset the world, with the power to erase anything from existence, most likely setup as part of the time prison as well as known to be a part of events 12000 years ago that the plot focuses on. However, due to the merged nature of multiple worlds, it means that Big Venus is a threat to not just Paradigm City, but the entirety of the merged earth.

When Big Venus shows up, the game immediately makes it clear that it's not a normal boss. All defeated units, whether defeated in combat or via cutscene, always have an explosion before being removed from the map or leaving by other means. When Big Venus appears, it's made immediately clear that 3 pairs of each variant of the Bigs were just erased just by Big Venus moving by. What are supposed to be the most heavily armored elite enemies in the game, gone, just like that. If you didn't already get the hint, the game spells it out in the objectives update that follows the cutscene: If the unit is not Big O and it engages Big Venus, it's gone. No exceptions. Big Venus also doesn't care if a unit blocks or dodges the attack, and will still erase the unit.

However, the game does make a minor exception for the sake of fairness. The 'erasing' of a unit doesn't actually occur until after combat finishes, meaning units are allowed to counterattack, unless the damage tied to Venus' attack is actually enough to destroy the unit. Think of it as the last thing they do as they slowly disappear from reality. The attack itself has a damage value due to the fact that if it's engaging Big O, it can only damage it. Taking into account that Big O already has a high amount of defense, and abilities to further reduce damage taken, and you have minimal reason to throw anyone else at Big Venus. If anything, you should be more afraid of Big Venus going after units capable of healing Big O or those that are considered game overs if they go down.

The game also builds upon the reason as to why in the finale Roger wasn't erased along with the rest of the world, his relation with Angel, along with the relationship with his team members. When Venus appears, Roger recognizes that Angel is within Big Venus, and informs his team that he wants to negotiate with her. The team agrees to the plan and that they trust Roger. Angel being within Venus is also the reason Big O can't be erased, as it's Angel's feelings for Roger that prevent it. Every single time the two engage in battle, Roger and Angel will have unique dialogue, all part of the negotiations. On top of this, when a unit is erased, they'll have unique dialogue, expressing their trust in Roger to succeed. Once Big Venus is disabled, Roger will then go up and talk down Big Venus, ending with his final monologue from the finale, with Angel restoring everyone erased afterwards.

 This is how a licensed game should be handled. With loving care and respect for the source materials involved, and the ability to stay as true to the material as possible. When it's a part of a crossover, it should be treated as part of something larger, and should be interacting with the other licenses included, not as another name included with no effort to sell a few more copies. It should also make the active effort to help improve problems the source material had, while also building upon it in ways only it can. Developers should be making an active effort to make all parts of the property work, rather than writing something off as impossible or watering it down to a former fragment of itself. That is why licensed games done right are held in such high regard by fans, and why a series like Super Robot Wars has lasted 25 years. It's because the developers care, and the way the licenses are handled speaks volumes about that.

On that note, we end it there. I leave you with Roger's final speech.

"Angel! Memories are very precious to peoples' lives. They give us the opportunity to prove to ourselves that we exist. And if we lose them, we have an unrelenting feeling of uncertainty. You must listen to me! The humans that are living here and now in the present, are made up of more than their memories of the past. I myself don't even know who I am. I don't have a single solitary memory about myself, but I don't believe anyone took them from me. I most likely erased them of my own free will. I was the one who made that choice. I made it for myself! So I could live, in the present and in the future, because I must go on believing there is a me! Angel! I know that I will never lose the you that is now a part of my memories! The you that met me, and the conviction you had in what you felt you needed to do. The you that loved yourself more than anyone else ever could. I'll never forget this woman named Angel who once loved herself, yet was filled with such doubt. You must stop denying your own existence. You have to live as a human being."

Credits: The gifs of Big Os start-up sequence and Big Venus, along with the photo of Beck and Big O were created using various youtube videos due to a lack of a way to record PS3 footage. Credit goes to Nickioh here and Mr. Gentlemen here.

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About Mike Soundersone of us since 3:05 PM on 10.27.2013

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For disclosure purposes, I have backed the following kickstarter campaigns:

Mega Man The Board Game
Exploding Kittens
Scythe
Bears VS Babies
Bloodborne: The Board Game