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The Neglected Aesthetics of Fighting Games

I sat on a sofa, watching casuals with friends and eating my sandwich at a Montreal fighting game venue, when I noticed someone walk towards our console with an early copy of Persona 4: Arena. Blazblue fans were ecstatic. Newcomers were asking questions, and those sitting by were trying to reserve their chance at the stick. As the onlookers increased in number, something struck me as significant, Persona 4: Arena is a beautiful game. It fills the screen with well placed yellows and blues. Its red glares as scan lines bleed onto its shaking versus screen. Its aesthetic carries a style and energy that can't be replicated in the highest quality youtube videos I could link you. But the best thing about Persona 4: Arena, is that it isn't an exception. Fighting games represent some of the best artistic design games have to offer, and P4A is just another example.

I won't lie--fighting games can be kind of complicated. Players spend years mastering them, enthusiasts compile data trying to understand them, and sites fill pages with concepts and techniques, hoping to ease newcomers into them. How can a player recognize block-stun and hit-stun, or whether their throw was just teched? How do I differentiate an EX Move from a focus attack? A fighting game's visual design helps players understand its numerous mechanics. It makes its concepts and ideas visible and tangible to players, instead of leaving them behind the curtain where they become abstract and difficult to comprehend. Through a fighting game's aesthetic, I can understand the impact and purpose of my interactions.

There were six main fighting games at EVO 2012, including numerous indie games, like DiveKick, Skullgirls, MeltyBlood, among others, along with Arc Systems' BlazBlue and GuiltyGear games, with P4A recently in stores, and Injustice and Playstation All-Stars releasing later this year. Each series tends to create its own sub-community, with its own players, heroes, streams and websites. There are so many fighting games I can focus on, how can a new one possibly find stable ground?

To attract a group of players in such a crowded market, a unique visual design is almost a necessity, which explains why so many fighting games have unified thematic designs. Each one carries a particular personality that make them unique and interesting, and shows solid artistic direction.

The King of Fighters XIII carries a strong black foundation with subtle highlights of primary colours that give them luminance. Character portraits, menus and meters are outlined by decorative metallic linings during fights. And that same metallic finish is applied to its serif type, which gives its menus permanency and focus. KOFXIII's aesthetic feels modern and level-headed.

Skullgirls is a supernatural period piece. Its theme of early 1920's-30's film is reflected through its use of deep blacks and browns and Art Deco typefaces, some resembling Lorraine Louie's "Anna" or Tom Carnase's "Busorama." It's menu revolves around a stock of film, hovering in front of a lighted projector. The design of some of its stages reflects Art Deco interior design, specifically Medicii Tower, with its black and white tile flooring. Peacock is a construction of the cartoons of the late 1920's, from characters like Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky rabbit. Skullgirls' uses 20s-30s Art Deco to create a unique artistic design.

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 embraces its comic book brethren. It's menu screens are renditions of the comic style with flipping pages and background dot effects. Combo pop-ups are bubbly and colourful, battle effects are flamboyant and its super moves are exaggerated. UMVC3's artistic design carries a childish, carefree kind of energy, not unlike the kind felt by kids who grow up with comic books and comic book movies.

The Street Fighter IV Series was able to move its aesthetic past the sprite era, while retaining the fluidity its predecessors enjoy. It isn't excessive in its cartoon portrayals--characters carry just enough realism thyat players understand their physics--but it embraces its animated roots in other ways. When players focus, their attacks leave a trace of ink in the environment. The versus sign is drawn with ferocious ink calligraphy, that gives its vs-screens energy. It's use of colours is varied, but facilitates tracking the numerous parts on screen. Super meter carries an electric blue. Ultra meter will carry a purple or green, and its timer glows orange. They're varied, but they bring attention to its parts, without looking ugly. The Street Fighter IV Series pays subtle homage to its predecessors while respecting visual cues in its design.

Mortal Kombat's ultra violence, Street Fighter's calligraphy effects, and P4A's Japanese energy are just additions to a genre that's becoming increasingly diverse. Fighting games, in effort to set themselves apart from their peers, are creating unique personalities, and their artistic direction reflects that. But fighting games aren't known for their appearance, they're known for their fighting; it isn't surprising that's what gets the attention. At the same time, aesthetic engages even the most hardcore of players. It helps attract fan bases, and keeps them inspired. It gives a fighting game personality, and helps diversify the genre. Ignoring it is ignoring a piece of the genre's soul.

Note: Guys!! I missed you guys.. ;_; I've been writing freelancey stuff, as well a dealing with personal matters for the past week and a half. I'll be getting updates back to normal soon. In the meantime, tell me what your favourite looking fighting game is in the comments. Take Care!
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About Zolani13one of us since 9:17 PM on 04.05.2012

One of the things I love to do is to interpret various media. This blog is where I interpret various games I like, and try to draw a conclusion from them. What is a game telling us? How is it telling it to us? I try to answer these questions.

I've just started using Dtoid blogs. I have more posts at fengxiblog.wordpress.com for those curious for more.

And lastly, I love discussion on this kind of stuff. If any of my interpretations spark some ideas from you, comment or tweet me @Fengxii! (Two 'i's)

Have a nice day :)

PSN ID:Zolani13
Steam ID:Zolani13


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