Posted by: metinahurricane | September 30, 2011

Orientation — Junahu

With the third Junahu Day on the horizon, I thought long and hard about what sort of article I could write to do justice to the brave little guy. I could do a Roolian Top Ten, perhaps? Or an in-depth look at one of his older movesets, like Viola or Cutesy? Whatever I thought of, it seemed to me that the resulting article would be an awful lot of flowery praise – and much as Junahu loves getting flowery praise, it wouldn’t be much more than a quick (and unnecessary) ego boost before we all went on our merry way.

But then I thought of something that would celebrate not only his achievements, but what he considers most important in MYM. Instead of writing an article about why I think Junahu is so great, I’d write an article about what we all canlearn from him, if there is indeed such a thing. He’s a pretty smart guy, I think we can all agree, and sometimes I feel like his movesets are a bit too brainy for their own good – as if all of the clever things he’s doing to make them as good as can be are getting missed.

So here we are: three lessons we can learn from Junahu and his movesets. You don’t have to take them, but you can’t leave them! I’ll go through five movesets, three lessons, and hopefully help you to deepen both your characterizations and your playstyles – because in Junahu, the two are not divisible.

1.0 KRILLIN, VICTINI, FLUTTERSHY –          WHY BRAWL?

We all remember Junahu’s MYM X trio of movesets, yes? Just in case we don’t, I’m going to walk you through them. I doubt anybody really remembers Victini, so that’s where we’ll start.

Exhibit A – Victini

Victini is the Victory Pokemon. What that means is an obsession with competition, an obsession with coming out on top, which means being able to adapt and keep moving toward the goal, which means a love of single combat without frills, which means a perfect fit into Brawl. This moveset is structured like a guidebook, more than almost any other moveset, because Victini as a character is obsessed with winning. Kind of ironic, then, that Victini-the-moveset is not popular at all, and is pretty far from winning in any way.

Victini as a moveset, then, is based on constantly moving forward. No matter what hurdles thrown in his path, his obsession does not waver – continue moving forward, continue hitting the foe, continue playing things straight instead of mucking it up with complexities and subtleties. Hence the tacky air-ground dash. Hence the ever-so-slight advantage Victini’s Victory Star gives to him in those head-to-head clashes he’s meant to encourage, nonstop. This is Victini’s playstyle, and if it’s not fancy, that’s only because Brawl is a competition by nature, so everybody is preoccupied to some degree with winning. Victini dials that preoccupation up to 11.

Exhibit B – Krillin

Krillin is Incompetent. At the start of Dragonball Z, he’s kind of semi-powerful compared to the chumps the heroes have been fighting – but very quickly stronger and stronger enemies start showing up, aliens and robots and whatever else, and Krillin, despite being the Strongest Human, is so hilariously outclassed that he becomes almost a running joke. He really does try! But when he tries to play it straight – that is, fight head-to-head – that is, pull a Victini – he constantly gets destroyed. He’s died, like, four times. They always bring him back and he always mucks it up again.

He’s much better off when he uses his head a bit. When he stalls for time in hopes that somebody stronger comes to help him out, or when he just flat-out runs away.

This is how Krillin approaches fighting. He’s weak and outmatched. His moveset is aware of it, but the player who uses it may not be, and they’ll try to fight head-on and, well, get destroyed as per usual. Soon the player discovers that there’s only one way to avoid dying four bloody times – using that big bald head and keeping your distance, playing a game of basic but effective tricks and stalling for time. Sometimes he’ll get lucky and score a genuine KO, of course. Most of the time, not, and he’ll have to fall back on cowardice and cunning.

Seeing the pattern? Krillin approaches the very idea of fighting in a different way than Victini did. Instead of being uber-competitive, he’s fueled by a sort of cowardly false bravado. He’ll fight, alright, but he won’t do it fairly.

Exhibit C – Fluttershy

Fluttershy’s approach to fighting is completely different from both of these! Where both Victini and Krillin are essentially fighters, Fluttershy is just innocently trying to harness the power of friendship. Most of her moves, whichever way you read them, are not really attacks so much as manuevers. The emphasis is heavily on her “minions”, both in the moveset as it’s written and in her gameplay – not on the foe, unlike Victini, who is absolutely obsessed with where the foe is and how to punish, pummel, defeat, and also unlike Krillin, who is very concerned and kind of nervous about how near the foe may be.

The most important thing to note is the way Fluttershy KOs – she literally floats the opponent off the stage. Gentle, harmless, even kind of helpful if you look at it in the right light. She’s taking them away from this ugly, messy, nasty battlefield.

The lesson: think about how your characters approach the idea of fighting. If you’re making a moveset for a character that doesn’t like fighting, don’t just communicate that in the animations, but in the playstyle.

Warlord does this, believe it or not! His characters – generally big, malicious supervillains – are almost constantly manhandling their foes via their grabs, burying them in the ground, impaling them, engulfing them, and one way or another torturing them over the course of the fight. He doesn’t really do this on purpose, which is why his movesets always feel a little bit off when they’re NOT for heavyweight antagonists – why are Cairne and Golem so brutal, so nefariously forcing their foes in holes, burying them, stomping on them, tormenting them? So much character is conveyed by a character who puts a foe into a grab state by stepping on them. There are volumes of malice and disrespect put across by a move like that.

Likewise, you can look at a moveset like Edgar. His playstyle is certainly not about fighting fair. He’s not somebody who is supposed to be fighting, nor does he really know how to do it – so his obsession is with incapacitating the foe. Half of his moves take on their true purposes only once the foe is out cold. He’s not here to fight, he’s here to win an inheritance!

1.1 MONA & LISA – WHAT IT MEANS

Sometimes a moveset exists to represent something – to convey an idea, not just through how it’s written and how it’s characterized but simply through how it plays.

Exhibit C – Mona & Lisa

Mona & Lisa has very generic attacks, and it’s one of the rare cases where that is a good thing. Junahu wanted to capture that old-timey arcade-game feel, and that means generic attacks. It’s not interchangeable with Mario’s moveset or whatever else and when Warlord tells you that you’d do well to ignore him – that’s a very black-or-white reading of a moveset.

What this moveset represents is the more significant thing about it. Junahu made a moveset that more than any other captures the idea of teamwork. Would the moveset be more intuitive and deep if there were a ton of attacks that allowed the twins to directly interact with one another, to link their attacks into super combos? Of course not – they can indeed link their attacks into super combos, but it’s not going to be a simple matter of moving into position and tapping the right inputs. It’s going to take constant, careful communication between the two players. It’s going to take knowledge of how your buddy plays, of his quirks and his favourite techniques and especially his weaknesses. Either one of Mona or Lisa are weak and vulnerable on their own; they have to cover one another’s steps, not allowing any holes through which the foe can slip away from them.

You can work as a tagteam, one twin hanging back and covering from afar, switching in when the other is in trouble. You can work as a wall, a (hopefully) inseparable duo moving as a unit across the stage. You can attack from the two sides, trying to flank the foe and keep them from using either escape route.

These are all things you can do in team battles, but Mona&Lisa is a team battle, an obsessive exploration of the theme of teamwork that some sets skim over as an afterthought because their main focus is 1v1. Mona&Lisa is made for 2v1, and is meant to distill the idea of teamwork to its basics. What it represents is almost more important than what it contains.

Lesson: when working with stock characters, think about which concepts your moveset is supposed to convey. Think about what ideas you’re going to represent with this moveset and hardwire them into the playstyle – and you’ll achieve something bigger and deeper than you could with characterization alone.

1.3 AIRMAN – IMAGINATION IS MAGIC

Airman is one of the best examples of something Junahu does all the time, which is hide some major aspect of his moveset’s playstyle until its last moments. He did it with Joy, he did it with Emolga, he did it most notoriously here.

Exhibit D – Airman

How can you get people to pay closer attention to your movesets? There are so many subtle tricks here and there, but how can you get people to pick up on them? There are two ways.

1) Point them out. All of them. As you go along. This is the more popular of the two ways, and although it works (as in, the desired effect is reached), it backfires in a few ways: it results in a denser, less interesting reading experience; it patronizes the reader and assumes they don’t have the brains to pick things up for themselves; and it cuts off the reader at precisely what you, the writer, have noticed yourself. But if you take the other route, not only will you convey everything you PURPOSELY put in there, you’ll have your readers finding things you didn’t even think of…

2) Force the reader to pay closer attention to the moveset. Junahu does this by getting the reader to feel like they’re justmissing something as they read his movesets. In Nurse Joy, he made it seem like she had no way of functioning in anything other than a team battle until the very last second. In the meanwhile, the reader is confused and unsure. He’s going to reading more carefully, trying to figure things out. He’s going to be spotting things he otherwise wouldn’t, even if he doesn’t understand the significance of them.

So that, by the time we find out what Airman’s tornadoes actually do, we’ve already imagined ourselves a whole playstyle, with any number of natural sequences of attacks and useful techniques. All of those generic attacks we’ve been reading weren’t really generic at all, we realize.

Lesson: by keeping the reader in suspense regarding a major playstyle point, you can encourage more careful reading and more enthusiastic audience participation – which in turn results in greater appreciation of attacks that might otherwise be shrugged right off as generic.

For instance, consider my own Haunter. By keeping the reader in suspense as to what the physical effects of fear are, I get to have my cake and eat it too: I get to spend the moveset essentially exploring the psychological effects of fear on the gameplay of the human opponent, and then at the end I also get to double Haunter’s playstyle by making fear a literal, quantifiable thing. Suddenly he’s not just a camper; he’s encouraged to stick near the foe like a bad shadow. If you knew this from the start, you would completely ignore all the ways in which Haunter plays with the foe’s mind as well as with their percentage. It also creates a nice feel of uncertainty and encourages that sort of careful reading I talked about – did I miss something? Am I missing something? If I read more carefully, will I “get” it? What if it does this? Or this? This sort of active dialogue with the reader is one of the best ways to get as much of your moveset across to them as possible.

I hope somebody found this helpful! I know my last Orientation article – written a good two years ago about playstyle in general – is still popular. This is a bit more advanced stuff, but it really all follows from the main steps I suggested last time:

Understand Your Character
Shoot For Simplicity
Every Piece Should Fit

And our three questions to keep in mind:

What does this character think about fighting?
What is this moveset about?
How can I encourage active, engaged reading?

You think about these three questions when preparing your playstyle and layout and you’re well on your way to being a card-carrying Junahuist!

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