Posted by: metinahurricane | December 28, 2011

Rool Review+ — Bass.EXE

It’s funny how these things work out. The roundtable review was always intended to be  a convenient, quick, painless way to put away any reviews that have been hanging around on the queue for too long. It’s the simplest thing in the world, in theory – or at least, the original roundtables were, and they were pretty damn far from what we’ve been turning out lately. See the roundtable for Paper Mario, for instance, as our best (only!) example of how lazy and slapdash these things were. It’s just a series of generic comments, very easy to put together and get a solid word total but increasingly useless as people – especially leaders – began commenting every set anyway.

Then there was the revival, which rethought the roundtable review as a dialogue. Now this is a new and enlightening approach to moveset criticism (when it isn’t get bogged down in comedic asides, that is, and has a decent balance of perspectives and approaches to movesetting on display). The catch – there’s always a catch – is that it requires about an hour or more of time investment from not just one person but several. Time has to be found when everybody overlaps, and when everybody has a good stretch of time to devote to this. Instead of cutting down on time taken on reviews, it multiplied it.

So here I am, abashedly picking up the pieces of Bass.EXE, posted on the queue exactly two months ago and still waiting for its review. So far, roundtables haven’t gotten off the ground without my prompting (that’s not boasting, just a statement of fact!) and I don’t think I’ll be up to one for a long time. And so, even though this moveset is on the review queue, I’m doing it myself anyway. I’ve never delved into a PC set too closely. There’s no time like the present. And Christmas especially is a good time for presents. Feel free to put up Grovyle or something for a roundtable and maybe others – maybe even the leaders, who are much less selfish than me and much more willing to put hours into MYM just now – will see that through.

For now, PC, you’ll have to put up with me.

PART I – PUTTING PC IN HIS PLACE (ER, CONTEXT)

PC is as old as time itself. He’s been around in one iteration or another since MYM 4 – but his early sets are quite forgotten and as this isn’t a true MYMer review I’m not going to go over them. I doubt they’d shed much light on the issue at hand. But let’s take a moment to look at MYM5’s Hagiri Kaname, the last “phatcat203” set we’d see until the Second Coming. It’s a sort of projectile combo character – certainly an early example of the ever-popular “bullet hell” genre of camper – based heavily on stacking targets on the foe to make your projectiles home onto the foe, cut off escapes, engineer chase scenes, keep the pressure up from far away, and keep the heat off of the physically inadequate Hagiri himself. He’s as aggressive as campers come, which is interesting enough today but for its time was downright awesome. Of course, it also seems to encapsulate a lot of the problems with movesetting of the time, including but not limited to unintuitive animations and effects that no player could logically puzzle out (I think we have Junahu to thank for really drawing this out as a serious problem nowadays), awkward mapping of inputs (his heavy-duty KO option is on his FAir, his Jab is more eccentric than any of his specials, and his DAir sets up a bloody tower for him to hide in and shoot from), and an overwhelming reliance on props or traps or both.

But for all those to-be-expected flaws, the set showcases PC’s strengths quite well: a keen mind for implementation, a strong sense for what would or would not be fun in an actual Brawl, and a knack for natural, “soft” flow, not assembled through strict interactions but through attacks working together toward a common goal. Often in MYM we like to dress up our goals as tremendously exciting, and here I’m thinking of a moveset like Le’Quack which is so confoundingly cool to imagine and has so many different ways to get his goal done that we can’t help supposing that playing him would be unlike any other experience. In a PC moveset, we’re never meant to forget the way gameplay actually works, and we’re never meant to be locked into a linear way to play by the set designer. It’s almost HR-like work in a way. And if you need further evidence that PC is an implementation-minded (perhaps mild type-3, to use my own made-up lingo) MYMer, just take a look at his exhaustingly balance-focused comments. Go on, look ’em up! I’m not going to link you to them!

After that we rocket way forward to the ever-popular Thrice, and MYM8’s Childre (odd how Thrice became more popular than PC ever was without making movesets for about three contests on end – just goes to show how weirdly fickle we all are). I mean, Smady did the formatting on this moveset for him (although it almost seems like he half-assed it, because he did some good work for sets like Black Knight and this is just plain messy)! Go figure. Here you note something really interesting; there are a handful of attacks that PC admits you might not use at all, depending on how you choose to play Childre. This runs directly counter to the generally-accepted “mindmap” style of movesetting, best exemplified by Warlord: every single attack is relevant to you in some given circumstance, and no matter how you choose to play the character, there are no attacks that are useless to you. What PC does is more like actual Brawl, where, for instance, one player may place a heavy accent on Link’s bombs, another might launch an aggressive ZAir-oriented approach, and a third might prefer projectile camping. The trick, of course, is to make the playstyles that emerge more cohesive and distinctive than Link’s rather generic options – and that’s what PC’s best sets succeed at, making characters that can be played a handful of different – but always interesting – ways to suit the player’s tastes. Generally, MYM sets are trying to get the player to adapt to playing to a way that suits the character or the playstyle. PC flips it upside down – the character can serve as an in-game expression of the player’s personality and playing style, through a singular character-oriented lens –  and it’s a hard sell. For a more obvious example, think Hazama: you’re funneling your own style of play through the lens of an arrogant character, and seeing what that means for how you play. The playstyle emerges after the player and the character have their say, from the meeting of the two.

I can talk like this about Childre too, but it’s not so easy, because the moveset is pretty light on personality. He freezes the stage up, he freezes the foe up, he has a ton of mobility options, he has a handful of projectiles. “Thrice” didn’t provide us with a playstyle section, and I start to suspect that the reason PC’s sets usually eschew those is because he doesn’t want to lock us into an optimal playstyle. The playstyle here is to be filled in by the player. It’s easily mistaken for another debut moveset – which, of course, we all thought it was at the time – but I think that the hand of intelligent design is manifest here, and any Crustle-like playstyles I could read into it rather more deliberate than usual. This is, after all, the work of somebody who makes his comments in exhaustive depth. Maybe this particular set is an exception – he was very unhappy with it – but in general, this is what PC’s sets mean to provide.

At this point, we can break into a skim. I think we’ve figured out what’s going on here, and how PC approaches movesets. Erufuun, Hazama, and Pedestal are all repeating the same mantra in their playstyle sections:

Erufuun

Yes yes, the playstyle section. Because you’re all too goddamn stupid to read the ****ing set and figure it out yourselves, apparently. Wait, this isn’t Hazama.

Unlimited Hazama

Okay, so if you’re confused here you’re just flat-out stupid and there’s nothing I can do for you, so just kinda leave, please.

Team Pedestal

Now, I made this set, but I don’t believe even I know everything about how to play it. That’s the player‘s job, not the designer’s.

He might as well copy-paste this into every playstyle section he’s ever left out. “If you’re confused here, you’re just flat-out stupid.” The pieces are all there, self-explanatory enough, and precisely how you use them together to rack damage, KO, recover and whatever else is not PC’s job to dictate. See? In PC’s view, the role of the movesetter is not to dictate how a moveset is played; it’s instead just to provide a rough mold, a sort of set of playstyle guidelines that the player can innovate with.

It doesn’t always work. Personally, I find Erufuun problematic for the same reasons as Hagiri – unintuitive and unnatural interactions sprinkled here and there, stuff that different players would emphasize to different degrees, sure, but which really ties the character up into awkward handling. I’ve got the same problem with the easily-forgotten Electric Gamma, a moveset that essentially sets up  a complex but unusually palatable game of pool. And look here at an excerpt from the playstyle section:

What to do after you have all of this set up? Well, attacking the opponent would be a generally good idea. How to do that I assume you do not know, as you are reading this.

I’ve often found playstyle sections banal recently, listing off options for attacking and KOing and recovering as if it was the most interesting thing in the world. PC is ahead of the curve on this point: his movesets try to give the player all the ingredients necessary to construct their own playstyle after a certain point. It’s a very open-ended approach that neither lapses into Sakurai-like genericism nor gets tangled up in a restrictive “optimal way to play”.

More on that when we get to complaints about Bass.EXE. Now we’re in the present day. PC is back – well, he was back with Electric Gamma and Team Pedestal, technically – and we’re talking MYM 11.

PART II – SPEAKING OUR MINDS, WITHOUT PRETENTIOUS LANGUAGE

I really like Bass.EXE. Combo characters aren’t innately flawed as a concept unless A) we’re working on set-knockback comboing, which sounds cool when you’re first drafting it but turns out to be the worst idea ever once you think of the game itself, and B) we’re incredibly competitive individuals who need to take every character to the greatest extreme of comfort. Essentially, if we stop taking risks with our gameplay and stick with a couple of combo sequences that are tried and tested.

In this set – which has no playstyle section, surprise surprise – PC says:

Just remember; there is no concrete followup to any move in this set, and you can just about always mix it up. If you choose to go entirely out of your way to come up with some random flowchart, well that’s your fault for hating fun.

Sure enough, in his comment Warlord said something like “despite what you say I bet there’d be some optimal combos that would be used almost exclusively in competitive gameplay” – but do we really think that’s different from any of our movesets? Warlord designs specifically with the intention of keeping gameplay at the very highest levels of perfection fresh and unrestrictive. He does this by giving the character a million different attacks that could conceivably be relevant to his playstyle in different circumstances. He’s trying to account for every circumstance. He’s an optimist – PC isn’t going to break his back trying to predict every possible circumstance and make every attack relevant to every character. Instead, Bass.EXE is the sort of character that two different players could play in entirely distinctive ways at the highest levels of play. Different attacks are relevant to them. Maybe one prefers to lean on Gospel, while the other builds up regularly to a massive USmash. As in Childre, with those specials that one can so easily make the cornerstones of one’s game, Bass.EXE leaves it to the player to decide which moves suit them.

It’s an entirely interactive, do-it-yourself style of movesetting. You’re channeling your personality through Bass.EXE.

But what about Bass.EXE? If his playstyle doesn’t have anything to set it apart, we don’t have much reason to channel anything through him. In this area I think the music-school attack names are a dead giveaway: Bass conducts his combos (how interesting is the idea of attacks that pull the foe toward him? I think it’s ridiculously awesome, not least because there are only one or two moves with set knockback and the rest need Bass to track the foe’s increasingly erratic knockback patterns) as he would a symphony. It’s all about flow, all about orchestrating your own sequences, all about knowing how to start and when to stop and avoid overreaching. This particular approach to comboing cuts off an obvious complaint, which is that combo characters are not really that fun to play (or, more relevantly, to play against).

There’s also the Gospel attacks, which I think really open up that aspect I was talking about earlier, where how you play Bass clearly reflects your personality. Risktakers will glitch themselves up for potential benefits, rendering Bass more and more unstable to potentially higher rewards. This again varies up his game, creates more potential for different “metagames” to emerge, and most importantly does what DarkMega and Sarkhan did – tempting the player, who at the outset is calm and “pure” and by the end might be pretty well crazed with power. It’s fitting stuff for Bass and has interesting ramifications for him as a combo character. After enough Gospel attacks, his combos are utterly devastating… but also very urgent, because if he messes up, since his own % is going to be sky-high, there’s going to be hell to pay.

PART III – HOW TO READ MOVESETS LIKE THIS (AND IN GENERAL)

At this point it seems I’ve turned reviewing into a kind of apologetic exercise. I review a set, I’m basically coming up and saying “all your complaints do not hold weight”. Maybe it makes sense for me – I seem to have lost the ability to call a moveset bad, and usually when I dislike one it’s because I haven’t read it carefully enough. When I review, I read carefully, and when I read carefully, I figure ways in which different approaches could yield movesets interesting in different ways. Maybe one way of putting it is that some movesets are more interesting in theory, and some would be more interesting in practice. Take geto, who I kinda review when I took on Pachirisu. His movesets are immensely interesting in theory, as pure creative exercises, practically bursting beyond the constraints of Brawl. They’re also interesting with regards to their characters.

PC’s movesets are very practice-oriented, and should be appreciated on the same level as HR movesets. They’re about allowing the player to map their own personalities onto a loose playstyle mould; they’re about a loose set of guidelines, much like Brawl sets but with more specialization in the playstyle (like all MYM sets, albeit usually to a greater degree) and more emphasis on drawing character out through gameplay. These are lofty goals and maybe not so easy to appreciate on paper.

But as a final note, I can just beseech you all to read movesets closely. The reason we all find roundtables so enlightening is because we’re actually thinking about what we read. Here’s another destructive effect of the top 50 – it forces us to focus on quantity instead of quality. We’re trying to pack in as many reads, as many comments, as expansive a look at an MYM as possible. Well, how else could we vote for what’s best in it?

But when we instead try to concentrate on reading closely and really ruminating on a moveset, not only do we achieve greater insights, we can potentially enjoy what we’re doing a whole lot more. I enjoy writing a single review much more than writing a block of comments. We need to step away from a mentality of more-more-more and toward one of actual reflection and understanding, or we’re all going to get disillusioned with this thing before long as our tastes get more and more esoteric and finding the perfect set becomes just a matter of surface reads and established expectations.

And as for PC, man, if this isn’t the kind of review you’ve been waiting for, you can just go fuck yourself. (A)

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Interesting discussion here, if a little misplaced. It feels more like an article than a review when you get too political.

    • I’d call it more philosophical than political, particularly those last few paragraphs. It’s not about people and “factions” but about movesets and how we approach them, and writing this article in particular really helped me to realize that I’d rather read and comment on a few movesets in great detail than a lot of them with little depth. Actually, I’d like to hear what others think about this idea. (and also what PC thinks of the 3000 words I wrote for him (CRS))

      Also, Daddy, I know you disagree with the idea of the open-ended playstyle – mind explaining why that is? I think we might have some problems with our definitions on this point…

    • An open-ended playstyle is fine by me, just not when it doesn’t say anything. I dislike movesets that simply leave no impression, and a large amount of the time, I come out of sets aiming for a simple touch feeling nothing at all. I value passion in movesets, I want to experience something – to relate to the character, or to the author. I can see why people value those sorts of sets as neat packages of game design, but that isn’t what I’m in this for. I frankly believe that most players and other set makers feel this way, a game is meant to be an experience, and this should be emphasized at every possible level of design.

  2. Rool is too socratic to have a traditional review.


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: