Summer’s over, my life has some semblance of order, so I’m back in the saddle, baby! Let’s kick things off with another Series post!
We’ve looked at video gameopenings from a mostly technical point of view – grading them on how well they present their information to hook the audience from the get-go. So far, most of this has included what information has been presented in the opening, but now I’d like to look at how information can be presented to engage your audience.
For this entry in the “First Impressions” series, it’s aaaaall about appearances. So why not look to a completely gorgeous game?
The Galaxy entries in the Marioverse are straight up works of art: in detail, in setting, in music, in gameplay – man, don’t even get me started. They are such a package deal.
Now, on the story end of things…there’s not much to say. You know the drill: Bowser’s up to mischief, and it involves kidnapping Peach. Mario’s got to do his Mario thing and come to the rescue. The main appeal – I mean, aside from fun and challenging platforming – is in the worlds he traverses and not really in the development of the plot. HOWEVER. Super Mario Galaxy 2 in particular still manages to give us a clever treat at its intro.
Games introduce their stories in many ways. From throwing the player straight into the action to treating them to a Star Warsian text-scroll, it was often the capacities of the current console that dictated how the story could be told. Cinematics took root as soon as graphics processors could keep up, resulting in hybridized movie intros that made you perhaps forget you were, in fact, playing a game.
These days, games borrow from all aesthetics to introduce their stories’ premises. (It’s the wonder of the modern age!) In a world where it seems movies and FMVs rule all, though, Super Mario Galaxy 2 takes a different approach: it begins its story in an interactive literary format.
And that. Is. The freakin’. BEST.
Look, I have a bias, I admit. I run a storytime at my work, and I’m more than happy to gush over a wistful combination of children’s illustrations and sweet, simple text. There’s an art form to picture books that isn’t easy to accomplish (and isn’t appreciated nearly enough). Super Mario Galaxy2, I think, does manage to capture that childhood magic – platforming with a healthy dash of library corner. It’s like my dream come true.
Do you see how everything comes together here? First, the Mario series has a large market with the younger crowd, so this intro’s whimsical appeal works there in its favor. Second, there’s also a nostalgic draw for the players who’ve seen the series through its many evolutions over the past three decades. The game employs a storytelling device that pulls us back into our own childhoods, where we picked up the controller and zoomed 8-bit Mario through 2D worlds of wonder.
Third, and to tie it all together, the game treats itself as art. It’s Mario, sure – it’s a game about a short, round Italian plumber who’s best known for stomping Goombas and eating mushrooms – but it knows its legacy. And here, in a pinnacle point of its franchise, it celebrates that history shows that yes, games can be creative expression, in multiple ways.
(Just listen to the soundtracks for the Galaxygames while reading this, and you’ll know what I mean.)
You begin the game fully immersed from the start – aesthetically and emotionally. It’s a story that knows its purpose and knows how to honor its audience for their dedication to the Marioverse. Model your introductions to accomplish the same.
Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2 are the property of Nintendo. You can play both on the Wii or Wii U.
Even though I got rid of my “Grab-Bags”, that doesn’t mean I’m gonna forsake my fiction snippets. After all, they’re the easiest posts to do – since most of the time they’re already written. *grin*
Nope, I still don’t have original work for you. You wanted to enjoy more fanfiction anyway, right? (RIGHT?) Here’s a continuation of my last FWF.
*This is not a final draft, so all continuity errors in format should be disregarded.
— OUTSIDE THE PALACE several Nimbusans have gathered around boxes set by the palace entry. One Nimbus boy jumps up and tries to look inside. His mother peeks too.
[The mole, King, and Queen Nimbus exit the palace. Nimbusans disperse and bow to the royalty, but they still talk animatedly with each other. The mother of the peeking boy sheepishly smiles as she pulls her son away.]
(more comfortable now, like he’s in his element) Well! Haven’t had a fanfare like this any other place I’ve sold my wares. Y’all curious to see what’s inside?
[The crowd exclaims several things at once.]
Did you bring these boxes?
Ooh, what’s inside them?
We haven’t had anyone visit from Below in years!
Does everyone from Below look like you?
(child) Are you gonna show us what you brought?
I think it’s clothes. Or food. Ooh! Or dirt! I’ve heard about dirt!
[The mole pulls one box toward him and prepares to lift the lid.]
Y’know, back in my hometown we make most of our livin’ in the mines. But I always kinda hankered for a more intrepid career. And now here I find m’self, clear past the edge of the world!
(He turns back to the King and Queen, and resumes a little of his shyness.)
If, ehm, yer Majesties will permit me…
[The King and Queen motion for him to continue, and so the mole, with a bit of flair, whisks off the box’s top. Inside, there are mounds of fireworks. The Nimbusans crowd in excitedly.]
(pleased with himself) Heh, we use dynamite, see, for breakin’ the tougher rocks. But I thought to m’self, I says, “These boom sticks might work as entertainment, given the right adjustments.”
(He pauses modestly.)
So here I am, tryin’ to make a mark in the business world. If it pleases yer Majesties, I’d like to offer maybe…a few nights’ firework displays? First night’s free, ‘case you have yer doubts about my workmanship.
[The crowd buzzes and turns to their rulers.]
Yes, please, King Nimbus!
(child) Mama, we’ll get to see them, won’t we?
Too bad it’s not dirt…
[Everyone, Queen included, watches King Nimbus for his response. He strokes his mustache thoughtfully.]
(frowning) Hm, no. No, I don’t think that will do at all.
[The Nimbusans look shocked, and there’s a collective sigh. The mole’s hopeful smile droops.]
We simply must pay for the first night as well.
[The mood changes immediately. Nimbusans cheer. The children jump around the mole, who looks happily stunned.]
(aside to the King) You’re too clever, dear.
I do try. And honestly, it’s just proper etiquette. Why, when I was young, everyone knew how to treat a visitor, and I certainly learned…
(while the King rambles on) Yes, dear. Speaking of, shall we arrange for our visitor’s stay?
— Transition to NIGHTTIME in Nimbus Land, same scene. Nimbusans are gathered together, exclaiming at the fireworks the mole is setting off. Nimbus children run around with sparklers. Garro stands near the mole, and we faintly hear him apologizing for his failed escort earlier that day. Valentina exits the palace and approaches the King and Queen—mingling among their people.
(somewhat to herself) What is this ruckus for? It’s like a bunch of pillows exploded, and the fluff’s just flying everywhere.
(turning from the crowd) Ah! Valentina. I didn’t expect you’d join us, what with your tendency to loiter around the throne room while we’re away.
[King Nimbus mentions this with complete obliviousness, but Valentina puckers guiltily.]
KING NIMBUS [cont.]
At any rate, this mole fellow puts on an astonishing show, so I really recommend you stay for the rest of it.
[Garro, now holding a sparkler, is drawing detailed pictures with it in the air. The Nimbus children enjoy this immensely. Valentina wanders through the assembly of Nimbusans, turning a skeptical eye toward the fireworks display.]
(as she approaches the mole) So you’re the cause for all this fuss, hm? Ho ho… This land is so estranged from the ground, its people get excited over the craziest novelties.
(a little taken aback) Well, erm, I think these folks right kindly, an’ I don’t mind the enthusiasm. You…you look a smidge different from the folk here, yerself.
(in a brush-off manner) Oh, no no, I’m one hundred percent a resident of the kingdom. Head of the palace workers, in fact—VERY important position.
Oh! You work for the King and Queen? They seem like right nice individuals. Must treat their employees real kindly-like.
(with as false a smile as possible) Why, it’s ALMOST like being royalty yourself. Ah, ha ha…
[They watch King Nimbus play with a crowd of Nimbus children. Queen Nimbus is talking with an animated young girl who seems very pleased with the attention.]
Have to say I like this place. I’ll have to come back once I build more fireworks back home. Want to be able to support a family sometime soon, y’know. Settle down and raise a passel of mole pups. Looks like the King and Queen make fine parents, themselves. Which ones are theirs?
Theirs? Oh, the King and Queen don’t have any chil…dren…
[Valentina zones out as the thought settles in.]
(embarrassed) Oh gosh, I wouldn’t’ve asked if I’da known…Blast a bomb in my face fer bein’ so rude. It’s not my business, is it, ‘specially when it’s royalty concerned. Ohhh, I bet I’ve made a blunder. You won’t tell ‘em I been nosin’ around about their personal lives, will ya?
(blinking out of her stupor) Hm? What’s that? Oh! (chuckles) Don’t worry your little head about that. Your secret is safe with ME. Now, um, if you’ll excuse me…I have to get to some of that…WORK I was talking about…
[Valentina walks away, trance-like. Scene fades.]
[Valentina’s Plan for the Throne]
— Open on the EDGE OF NIMBUS LAND. It’s been a couple of days, and the mole is preparing to leave. King and Queen Nimbus see him off ahead of many more Nimbusans waving goodbye. Before the Mole starts down the vines, King Nimbus arrests his attention and holds a notepad up to the Mole’s face. The Mole smiles bashfully and signs his name on the page—to the King’s immense delight.
It can’t be as simple as that; it can’t! And yet—
— Cut to Valentina pacing her QUARTERS. Dodo and two Birdies are in the back of the room, watching Valentina walk back and forth, back and forth…
(stops abruptly; Dodo and the Birdies get neck cricks) —I’d be a fool if I didn’t take advantage of it. It’s practically coronation on a silver plate.
(tentatively) I don’t get it, Valentina. Just because the King and Queen have no kids, you get to be in charge?
Try to think about this, dimwits; I know it’s hard. Look, it’s not just that they have no kids. They’ve had no kids for years. And they’re getting old. If they planned to sign things over to an heir, they’ve put themselves in a corner. A corner I can definitely FILL.
[The Birdies and Dodo exchange glances. Valentina’s bust coincidentally takes up a whole corner of the shot.]
So, you’re going to be the heir instead? But you’re not even related to them. Why would they give YOU the kingdom?
[Valentina clutches the Birdie’s beak and pushes down so he’s forced to stare up at her.]
(smiling cruelly) Because YOU all are about to make me a HERO to the royal family.
[Scene fades as Garro narrates.]
GARRO (as NARRATOR)
This seems like an appropriate time for me to explain the Nimbus Land “birds and the bees”.
(beat; the screen stays completely black)
Whoa, hey wait, where are you going? No, it’s not like THAT! Just relax and let me explain.
— In a Nimbus couple’s HOME a Nimbus man is saying goodbye to his wife as he heads to work.
GARRO (as NARRATOR) [cont.]
We Nimbusans fall in love and marry like anyone would. But after this things go a bit differently for us.
[The Nimbus man enters the palace and begins his shift as a guard.]
GARRO (as NARRATOR) [cont.]
See, I hear that for others there’s a point where you find out you’re having a baby, and then after you prepare for a bit, the baby arrives. For Nimbusans…there’s no time for preparation.
[The guard returns home, walks in the door, and stops in his tracks when he sees his wife standing there with an infant in her arms.]
GARRO (as NARRATOR) [cont.]
The little one just shows up.
[The Nimbus man wanders over to marvel at the baby as his wife smiles with a “here we go” kind of look.]
GARRO (as NARRATOR) [cont.]
We can’t control it; we can’t predict it. It’s just the way things go. Oh, but we adore our children. When they come, it’s like a surprise party you didn’t know your friends were planning.
[Cut to the Nimbus couple presenting their new child to King and Queen Nimbus, who smile in congratulations.]
GARRO (as NARRATOR) [cont.]
Here’s another particular thing about our children: families usually only ever have one.
[Another family comes to the King and Queen on a different day, presenting their child. King and Queen smile again.]
[The first family returns; time has passed, and their first child is grown, with a second baby in Mom’s arms. King and Queen Nimbus look surprised, but still smile.]
…NEVER three, good lands, no. Something to do with keeping a short monsoon season, I think.
[The new infant begins to cry, and we see rain streak down outside the palace windows. The older child of the family shyly approaches Queen Nimbus and hands her a flower.]
GARRO (as NARRATOR) [cont.]
Now, as a bachelor, maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about. But I think the surprise of having a child is one of the most anticipated events for families. Ours always wait excitedly for it.
[Focus on King and Queen Nimbus as the last family leaves. Queen Nimbus holds the flower, but her smile falls, and she looks to the side. King Nimbus notices and reaches for her arm. She turns, manages a half-hearted smile, and then looks away again. King Nimbus watches her, concerned. Scene fades.]
They say you can’t choose your family. But sometimes – say, when your mom’s brutally murdered by a reconstructed cyber-animal, your brother goes missing in an attempt to avenge her, and your dad just can’t deal – you may have to cobble a new one together on your own.
And even if they en’t perfect, they’re your homies through the best and worst of it – whether that be chasing down a clayman to retrieve a memory egg, or accidentally ingesting hallucinatory mushrooms while marooned on a tropical island.
(It’s all about context; just go with it.)
Mother 3’steam may be my favorite team ever. I grant you, there’s a sea of games I have yet to play, and many characters and parties I have yet to meet through the experiences those games lend – but I’m telling you: these quirky little nuggets will never be dethroned.
Want to get to know them? I kneeeeeeeeew you’d enthusiastically say yes!
Once notorious as a coddled crybaby, he’s determined to reinvent himself as strong and capable after his family fell apart. Gotta love that cowlick in his hair.
A dog. But more than that, he’s Lucas’s constant companion and even gives sensible advice – if you can interpret his barks, at any rate.
Your resident tomboy princess (or IS she?). A bit crass, and she’s got a mouth, but she’d go to any lengths for her friends. If she requests you take a shower, be careful declining her wishes…
Looks like a bum, walks with a limp, sleeps all day – also plays a mean upright bass (LITERALLY). Past the bad breath and slightly unkempt look, Duster harbors a helping heart. My favorite of the team, I’m not even gonna hide it. He even has his own post.
So, why is this team so great? Well, attempting to set aside my fangirl ravings and approach this from a level-headed, storytelling perspective *calming breath* – each of these characters is a misfit in some fashion (maybe discounting Boney; a dog can only carry so much of a stigma). They come out of hurts, imperfections, and unconventionality to form a bond and stand against a power you wouldn’t think four oddballs had a chance to beat.
Remember how we talked about the relatability of a character in our last video game post? We linked it to personal experience and to quirks/struggles the audience might share with each character. Well, Mother 3 takes that idea and adds the strongest sense of kinship this trilogy has to offer. You get to know each character individually; you get to walk in their shoes for a period of time and understand their life. Maybe you empathize with them. You see their need for love and friendship, so that when they become a team you KNOW the bonds are important to them.
This is relatability cubed. Think of your own idiosyncrasies – what makes you weird and out there . Now think of the people who came into your life with their own oddities and chose to walk your road with you. How deep do those bonds go? How strong is your trust? Would you face a totalitarian pigmask army together with these friends?
That’s what Mother 3‘s team evokes. The theme throughout the series, after all, is love, so what better way to close the trilogy than with camaraderie between unconventional friends? Gets me all warm and fuzzy for my own crazy troupe of amigos. Group hug, y’all!
Mother 3 is the property of Nintendo & Shigesato Itoi and has no English language release. You can, however, emulate the game in Japanese and use this translation patch by Tomato. If you choose this route, please support the developers by investing in their other games and merchandise.
Storytellers try a number of methods to help endear characters to their audience: tragic backstory to tug at heartstrings, diversifying the cast to appeal to a wider range of experience, creating quirks and tics to make a character as immediately unique as possible. Sometimes the attempts can go a little overboard.
Here’s a pro tip: if your characters express a sense of humanity, triumph, and fallibility, the audience will relate regardless of other influencing factors.
Still, there’s something to be said for character attributes that quickly grab the audience’s attention. Sometimes they can be the gateway to a deeper emotional bond. But how do you create such quirks in a way that doesn’t seem forced or against the natural flow of the story?
I know EXACTLY the games that can help us solve that question:
The Mother/Earthbound series’ goal, from the beginning, was to experiment telling a story through the video game medium. For me to compare Mother 1 Earthbound Beginnings to other RPG stories released around the same time would be a little above my pay grade (because yo, I don’t get paid for this), but whatever the case, Itoi knew how to endear his characters to players in an environment that complimented the quirks.
Since the games take place in the “real world”, there’s already some familiarity when we recruit and interact with the cast. This helps set the stage for when we meet what might be considered underwhelming characters, compared to the epic casts of other JRPGs. Your first teammate in Earthbound Beginnings wasn’t some noble warrior sporting a sweet set of armor; it was a nerd with thick glasses hiding in a trash can at his school.
But this is great, because we immediately have a reason to root for this kid: I mean, who HASN’T dealt with bullies in their life? And instead of just getting fed a character bio, we connect with Lloyd through quirks related to his current struggles.
The trend continues into Earthbound, where your party diversifies beyond the confines of America Eagleland and includes individuals from overseas. (Jeff is totally British, and you can’t convince me otherwise.) A foreign character like Poo, for example, brings a cool, mystical (and highly stereotyped – Earthbound is shameless) dynamic to the cast, which may not necessarily make him relatable, but he nevertheless garners audience interest.
Sometimes the enigmatic draws our emotions through a desire to know more, eh? Poo could also be perceived as a foil to the rest of the party, who – while boss in their own right – don’t exactly exude the same mysterious dignity.
This in particular brings out Ness’s more relatable aspects, such as his tendency toward homesickness. Despite being the game’s hero, he has this childlike fallibility set in stark contrast to Poo’s calm aloofness. While the game doesn’t reveal much through character dialogue, it does an excellent job allowing the player to project their own feelings through the cast. I’d wager more of us know what it’s like to be the homesick little boy than what it’s like to be the serious, dashing prince.
These character traits never feel forced, either. Many are in fact subtly integrated into the battle system itself (Ness thinking of his mom’s steak and missing a turn; Ninten from Beginnings seizing up with an asthma attack). Mixed with the inherent weirdness of the games’ world, the quirks fit seamlessly and allow the audience to connect on their own terms.
…But wait, you might be saying (or not saying, if you’re absolutely lost by this point): What about the cast of Mother 3? Well, have I got a TREAT for you! That party will be receiving an entire post devoted to them in two weeks’ time! Aren’t you EXCITED? (Pretend to be excited.)
…I seem to be developing a trend of dedicating whole months to this series. It’s like they’re my favorite games, or something.
The Mother/Earthbound series is the property of Nintendo & Shigesato Itoi. You can purchase both Earthbound Beginnings and Earthbound to play via the Wii U Virtual Console.
I had an idea to post some personal fiction that was appropriately “cozy” for this time of year, but searching through my work brought up…very little. In fact, it mostly resulted in me saying, “Whoa, that needs to be fixed. And that. And that… And I definitely don’t write that way anymore…”
So you know what that means: ALL ABOARD THE FAN FICTION TRAIN! I decided I might give a little peek at my year-long project after all. It’s the Christmas present you never always wanted!
No preamble for you. The only thing I’ll tell you is that, yes, this is in script format.
For Part I, in Alphabetical Order
Dodo: Valentina’s slow-witted and subservient henchbird. Looks like a giant black toucan with a metal helmet. Never speaks. He hates working for Valentina but is too dumb/lazy to quit.
The Fireworks Mole: A humble fellow who’s traveled far to sell his fireworks. He’s the first visitor Nimbus Land has seen in many years. Wears green overalls and a green cap; keeps his clawed feet and hands exposed.
Garro: The royal sculptor of Nimbus Land. He sculpts and gilds statues for the King and Queen and is also their close friend. Has a green curl of hair on his forehead and wears typical Nimbus garb: a fez, work vest, and parachute pants. (Hammer time!) He narrates Part I.
King Nimbus: The kindly, if excitable, ruler of Nimbus Land. He enjoys collecting birds, autographs, and statues and is exuberantly playful – if sometimes long-winded. He wears a pyjama set in blue and purple stripes, and has a gold medallion around his neck. His hair curl and mustache are brown.
Queen Nimbus: The calmer monarch; she is sensible and generous and keeps the King in check if he rambles. Can be the more emotional one when grieved. She wears a white head cover with gold embroidery, a pink sari and green wrap that covers her arms and hands. Her hair curl is magenta.
Valentina: The palace castellan (in charge of the workers, though she doesn’t often do her job). She plots to overthrow the King and Queen and rule Nimbus Land. She is not a Nimbusan. Wears a white dress with a slit up one side, and her bust is…voluptuous. Her hair is a parrot. Don’t question it.
[Travel to Nimbus Land]
— Open with running shot of LAND’S END & BEAN VALLEY. It’s midday. The camera pans over the sea cove, beaches, cliffs, up into Bean Valley’s vines. A quarter through the shot, Garro as narrator begins to speak:
If you are any sort of traveler, chances are you have at one time or another determined to visit the end of the world. Perhaps you’ve already been. If so, you’ve likely seen the cliffs looking out to the sea, or the sleeping volcano near the cape, or Bean Valley with all its vines climbing into a blinding bright sky.
— The shot slows as it swivels through BEAN VALLEY. you can see the ocean off the cliffs glinting in the sun.
Yes, these are wondrous sights, it’s true. And I’m supposing you took in these sights, breathed the air of adventure, and then…
[Scene cuts to black]
…promptly turned yourself around and went back home. (pause) My friend, don’t you know that there’s more when you travel…up?
— Cut back to BEAN VALLEY. Camera soars upward, weaving through corkscrew vines of all colors. The running shot moves faster and faster until it bursts through thick, fluffy cumulous clouds.
(enthusiastic) THIS, my friend, is Nimbus Land! See what all those travelers have missed for years and years?
— Pan over NIMBUS LAND: shows homes made from the vines poking through the clouds. There is a palace at the east end of the kingdom. It’s a middle-east inspired building with rounded turrets, and the vines seem to grow all through it. The palace itself is a mix of white marble and pink stone.
[The citizens of Nimbus Land are cloud people, and everyone is nice and plump and smiling.]
We’ve been STARVING for guests. It’s not easy, you know, being so far out of sight and never getting a chance to really host someone.
— Enter the MARKET AREA of Nimbus Land, where shopkeepers and the hotel proprietor bustle about. The shops show off colorful garments, bright accessories, and art creations.
We’re a social people, us Nimbusans. It’s a shame no one can find us, since we’re famed for being extraordinarily hospitable. But I suppose I can understand: it’s a hard climb from Bean Valley, and we don’t have many ways of announcing ourselves to everyone living Below.
[Nimbusans busy themselves at the market]
Of course, there was that time the mole found us. We thought maybe that would open the way for more visitors, but after the baby Prince… Well. This certainly isn’t the time for me to talk tragedy with you.
What would you like to see first? The market? Maybe our five-star hotel and accommodations? Wait—of course you want a tour of the palace. King and Queen Nimbus still keep it open, after all, and despite the melancholy air it’s as beaut—
Hm? No tours, you say? Oh, you want to know what I mean about melancholy and tragedy.
— Transition to GARRO’S WORKSHOP. There are gold statues on display everywhere—on the floor, on shelves, half-made on a stage at the back of the room. Garro stands by his gold vat; he’s in the middle of gilding a statue.
(sighs and shakes his head) Well, it’s a long story, and it’ll only demoralize you before you’ve had a chance to enjoy our kingdom. Are you sure you want to begin that way?
(Garro looks deliberately into camera, then shrugs and looks away sadly.)
I guess I won’t change your mind. Ah, who knows? Maybe sharing the story will help us with the grief at the King and Queen’s loss.
[Scene gradually fades.]
Let’s see…I think maybe it’s best to start our story…
[Valentina Deserves Attention]
— Close up of Valentina’s face. Her wide mouth is pursed, and her eyes shift left to right. The parrot hangs glumly on her head.
— The shot zooms out and shows Valentina sitting in the Nimbus Palace THRONE ROOM. She’s stretched across the royal settee and has a martini glass dangling in her right hand. The throne room has rose walls. The floor is lapis lazuli. The tail ends of vines have crept through the room’s open windows, and birds are perched in them everywhere. Stairs lead from the settee down to the hallway door.
[Valentina languishes over the settee’s armrest.]
So much that needs to be changed! Where do I start? More curtains over those windows. Think of the awful sun rash I’d get on my flawless skin! All along those stairs…
(She waves toward the hall door)
…I’d put rows of statues that reflect my lustrous beauty. In fact, why just by the stairs? Let’s fill the palace with them. But most importantly—
[Valentina’s thin but heavily-glossed lips twitch as one of the birds in the room chirrups happily.]
(speaks through gritted teeth) MOST IMPORTANTLY I’ll throw out all these BEASTLY twittering noisemakers! It’s enough to give me a headache! Birds are meant to serve, not sing.
[Valentina holds her martini glass up for a drink, discovers it’s empty except for an olive rolling around the bottom. She reaches her other arm back and brings her knuckles down on Dodo, who is slumped behind the settee. Valentina hits his beak with a crunch, and Dodo stumbles back on impact.]
Lunking idiot! It’s your job to keep this full. Now…FILL IT!
[Dodo pours drink from a shaker into Valentina’s glass.]
It’s enough to drive an illustriously beautiful person mad, not receiving the attention one deserves. Or the riches. Or the authority. It’s almost as flummoxing as having a vapid feather-covered lard ball as your henchman.
[Dodo bristles, but knows better than to retaliate. He screws the cap back on the martini shaker.]
(sighs) I could just stage a coup. It’d be easy enough fooling these gullible cotton-heads. But I’d have to risk…angering them. (Her eyes widen.) And it’s not a good idea to anger them… GUH!
[Valentina flings her head dramatically against the settee. Her parrot hair squawks.]
If only take-overs were as simple as your marble-sized brain seems to be, Dodo.
[There’s a sound of footsteps approaching the throne room door. The guards outside greet someone.]
(panicking, downs her drink and shoves the glass toward Dodo) The King and Queen! I thought they wouldn’t be back for at least another hour! Dodo! You cranial cavity, get out of the room!
(Dodo scuttles down the stairs.)
No, not through the door, idiot; use the windows!
[Valentina shoves Dodo toward the closest window. She gives him four good heaves before his bulk finally squeezes through, and he flaps away clumsily.]
(whips around as the door opens, prepares to greet the King and Queen) Majesties, I took the liberty to prepare the hall for recei – Oh! Garro! My, how…relieving to see you standing there.
[Garro stands just inside the throne room door. He appears to be puzzled at finding Valentina here.]
Oh, Valentina. You weren’t who I expected to see. The King and Queen are out, I’m guessing? It’s not really receiving time yet, I suppose…
(sugary-sweet) Garro, pardon me if I’m speaking out of line, but with the…dazzling work you do for the King and Queen, shouldn’t they be more considerate and punctual when you come to deliver your statues?
(laughs) What a bizarre thing to say, Valentina! I have no deliveries today. I was looking for their Majesties so I could inform them – Oh! (suddenly VERY eager) I should tell YOU! Valentina! You won’t believe this: we have a VISITOR from Below! Isn’t that wonderful? It’s probably been decades since our last one! And he’s right here, ready to be introduced!
(looking over Garro’s shoulder) ‘Right here’…where?
Why, behind me where I just came…through…the door.
[Garro turns around and realizes he’s entered alone.]
Oh dear. I seem to have lost him.
[The Mole Meets Royalty]
— Panning through a hallway in NIMBUS PALACE. The scene design looks very much the same as it did in the throne room. The Mole appears as he turns into the hall. He wanders around and looks very lost.
GARRO (as NARRATOR)
Yes, It’s true what they say: a Nimbusan would forget his own face if it wasn’t stuck to his fluff. But I hope you don’t blame me. I promise you we pride ourselves on our hospitality. It’s just that…with so few guests to entertain, our hospitality can get a little rusty. And we might accidentally LOSE our guests.
[The mole approaches a couple tending to the birds in the hall. It’s the King and Queen, but the mole hasn’t realized this yet.]
(slightly exasperated) Beg pardon, are y’all workers in this palace? Call me lost as a carrot in a crowd of potatoes, but I just got no clue where I’ve gotten myself.
[King and Queen Nimbus turn to greet the mole. The King is holding a light blue bird.]
I say! You’re certainly an unfamiliar face. I don’t think I’ve seen you before. Need a bit of direction, do you?
(scratches under his cap) Well, see now, I come from a place where our mazes are all underground, so this cloud stuff’s got me all dizzy and confused…
[King Nimbus turns excitedly to the Queen]
Do you hear that? He’s someone from Below! I can’t think how long it’s been since we’ve had such a visit. (leans conspiratorially closer to the mole) Might I have your autograph?
[The mole blinks back, stupefied.]
(patiently) Perhaps we should try to help him first, dear. (She turns to the mole.) Where do you need to go?
Eh…well, I came fixin’ to speak with Their Majesties about an enterprise of mine, and that statue-makin’ fella said he’d right take me to the throne room. But I lost sight of ‘im ‘bout ten turns back, and I got not even the faintest where I should look nex—
[He takes in the crowns that rest on both King and Queen Nimbus’s heads. His mouth widens.]
(hushed) Cake my nails in dirt an’ call it a manicure. (He flattens himself to the floor in an exaggerated bow.) Your most illustrious…er … magnificent… SUPERLATIVE rulers. Thousand pardons; I had no idea this hall would lead me bargin’ in on your Worships all rude-like. Don’t take no offense at my manners, just an earthy mole like m’self—
(interrupting) Offense? I say, you’re being a tad excessive, don’t you think?
[The mole peeks up from his supine position.]
No need, dear. Nothing wrong with having a pleasant conversation, after all. Now, what’s this enterprise you wanted to show us?
[Currently listening to: the Shovel Knight OST. Oh yeah. You know we gonn’ talk about that game soon.]
*There are so many spoilers in this post, I can’t guarantee I won’t ruin your life if you plan to play Mother 3. Read at your own risk.
In our previous post about Porky as a villain we covered certain aspects of creating a complex antagonist – looking at the character’s origin, relationships, and reactions to circumstances. Now we move into Mother 3, where Porky makes his return.
What’s unique about Mother 3 is that, while our protagonists don’t meet Porky until near the very end of the game, he has a hand in everything they encounter, and we can see the sort of person he is just by the results of his influence. There’s plenty to learn from this story as well, which you knooooooow we’re going to cover in gloriously obsessive detail.
What sort of character-development does Mother 3‘s Porky teach us to observe? Let’s look at important aspects with the tried and true “three bullet point” method.
Everyone – protagonist or antagonist – will have a skewed view of the world. It’s the nature of experience. Typically, a villain will have a view that causes trouble for the heroes – if not an even larger scope of characters.
Perspective can be boiled down to one idea: how does the character think s/he should serve the world? Or how does the character think the world should serve him/her? For Porky, the world of Mother 3 is his playground. He sees everything – even human life – as a toy for his personal entertainment.
Despite his age, Porky is still acting on little boy impulses. In his mind, people and nature should serve him according to his selfish wants, which means that perspective and its consequential behavior must be closely tied to –
It’s obvious that a moral code should shape the actions of a villain, but the spectrum in which their morals could lie can be broad. Typically, the classic villain operates on an immoral code: he knows his actions are evil but is still willing (and sometimes even gleeful) to commit wicked deeds. But can there be villains who operate on a moral code? I leave you to speculate on who could fall into that category. *Jeopardy music*
Porky operates on an amoral code, which might be as common as the immoral code in regards to fictional antagonistic behavior, but – in my opinion – allows for more character development.
Why does Porky hold to his morals (or lack thereof)? His loveless upbringing has something to do with it, no doubt. That sort of emptiness, coupled with his immortality – it’s a sure-fire recipe for ambivalence.
Amorality can be even more frightening than immorality: There is NO ground on which to reason with an amoral character. To them, the notion of ethics is completely foreign and unnecessary. For Porky, whatever satisfies him in the moment is his driving force.
Morals are a cornerstone for any character – hero, villain, or anything in between. Once those have been established we’re naturally led to –
What does it all boil down to? What does our villain want? Sometimes it can be something noble – or at least harmless – but the way the villain goes about obtaining it is immoral and damaging. This is maybe where Porky was at the start of his own story (in Earthbound): He wanted acceptance, but never found a way to fill that hole.
By Mother 3 Porky’s continuous poor choices have led him to a dire ultimatum:
Everything leads up to this point. Porky brainwashes people to like him, destroys their belongings if they don’t, takes the people who are most precious to the protagonist Lucas and uses one of them for his own personal gain. They’re the typical responses of a spoiled child, only magnified by the amount of power Porky has been able to amass.
And when none of that satisfies? When nothing combats the boredom and emptiness? Remove the offending party – in this case, everyone.
So if you need a complex villain for your story, don’t forget: They need just as much love and attention as your protagonists. But not too much love and attention. Otherwise they might stop being so deliciously bad.
Mother 3 is the property of Nintendo & Shigesato Itoi and has no English language release. You can, however, emulate the game in Japanese and use this translation patch by Tomato. If you choose this route, please support the developers by investing in their other games and merchandise.
There’s plenty to love about the stereotypical villain. Baddies like Final Fantasy VI‘s Kefka or Super Mario‘s Bowser are so memorable because of their over-the-top power-mongering. They’ve got no reason to cause our heroes trouble other than for the “evulz”. Motive isn’t really in focus here; we just want them to cause a little mayhem – the hammier the better.
Think about Disney’s typical villain recipe:
Must want power/control/revenge.
Does not necessarily require backstory.
An eccentric personality certainly helps.
With this perfect fusion of attitude and wickedness we’re guaranteed to love the antagonist, but not so much that we want them to win. I love Maleficent and Hades, but I’m too attached to those movies’ protagonists to root for the opposing team with their barely-developed motivations.
The system works in fiction, especially when the point – or moral – of the story doesn’t require more than a two-dimensional villain. But, of course, in the real world cruelty isn’t born in a bubble. Circumstances and choices (of both the individual and outside influences) can shape the sinful nature of man into someone more complex than a power-monger. Maybe your story’s villain needs that sort of development.
He may not be our grittiest example of a complex baddie, but in this post we’re going to look at:
(Pokey? Porky? Dangit, localization, why must you make things so confusing?)
Here’s a bully with two games in a trilogy focused on his motives. Even though in Earthbound our “big bad” is Giygas, it quickly becomes clear that Po(r)k(e)y is the antagonist to watch (partly because Giygas is just nebulously “out there” controlling the evil in people). And in Mother 3, even though the main party doesn’t even meet him until the last hour of the game, his actions behind the scenes make it clear what sort of person he is.
There’s just too much to cover about Porky (whatever, I’ll just go with that form of his name) in one post, so you know what that means…
…IT’S A PORKY-PALOOZA ALL MONTH LONG!
So! To begin, let’s talk about the way he’s introduced in Earthbound. I’m referring of course to the importance of –
Who is Porky? Why is he important to the story? How is he introduced? What vibes does he give off?
A villain should make a memorable entrance; it doesn’t need to expose his villainy right away, but it should at least set up the character traits that will foretell a fall from grace. (Even a surprise villain’s motivations need to make sense.) Porky, at the start, is pushy and a bully, but by and large is no real threat. He’s the typical obnoxious kid next door. We’re guaranteed to remember him, though, partly because of his attitude.
The other part? Well, that would be –
Your villain needs to matter to the protagonist. Otherwise, what’s the use in them conflicting? Some stories make it immediately apparent that their baddie intends grief for the hero. In Porky’s case, it’s further into the game that we realize he means business (oh, come on, it’s funny), but the way he treats Ness at the start assures us that their relationship not only has history, but it’s also one blue-colored cult away from turning sour.
Even the most 2D villains can have a relationship with the protagonist, though. What makes Porky more complex is the secondary relationships that have shaped him – primarily, his relationship with his parents.
This relationship is more inferred than the blatantly antagonistic one Porky shares with Ness. Aside from the abusive discipline we see his father administer at the start of the game, the rest of our information comes from inference in just a few lines of dialogue: like Mr. Minch’s constant focus on money and importance, or the fact that Mrs. Minch has a “gentleman friend” visiting the house at the game’s end while her husband is away.
Circumstances – positive or negative – will rouse a response in the receiver. You can see this in the whole history of mankind. Since good fiction reflects this characteristic of man (again – positive and negative), it follows that in-story circumstances need to rouse a response from our characters as well. So in light of the information we’ve covered so far, let’s take a look at Porky’s –
Porky ‘s upbringing hasn’t left much room for gracious behavior, and it’s honestly something you pity in him instead of hate. He seems to want a good friendship with Ness, but his anger and broken home life cause him to act out in other ways.
What’s he been taught to do when the world doesn’t give him what he wants? Well, it could be argued that his only reference – his father – has taught him that importance is the key to satisfaction. So he seeks it – higher and higher until finally he has it, fully corrupted by Giygas’ hatred.
In the end, he’s a power-mongering villain like so many others, but what makes him different is his backstory of abuse and inability to foster positive relationships. He’s a reflection of many real people with real struggles and real sins. In some ways, we relate to him more than we relate to the game’s heroes.
But that’s only scraping the surface of Porky’s psyche. In our next video game post, we’ll see what makes him tick in Mother 3.
Earthbound is the property of Nintendo and Shigesato Itoi. You can play it via the Wii U virtual console.
The Olympics are pretty much the only sports I watch zealously. I’ve had several friends and some family members try to entice me into the world of football, but I typically use those games as an excuse to nap on the couch (while my mom screams at the Denver Broncos and throws her foam brick at the TV). But dude, when the Olympics come on I’m like, “IS THIS WEIGHTLIFTING I LOVE WEIGHTLIFTING LET ME WATCH IT FOR FIVE HOURS STRAIGHT.”
This really is a video game post. Hang tight.
A recent gimmick in the Nintendo world has been to create a “Mario and Sonic at the Olympics” game whenever the event itself comes around. I’ve never played the series, but its existence – and the fact that this Friday lines up right near the end of Rio’s summer schedule – has given me inspiration for a storytelling study.
Mainly, who does storytelling better: Mario or Sonic?
Ah, Mario vs. Sonic – the rivalry of the 90’s. I was a Nintendo gal, so of course I had a built-in appreciation for Mario, but when I got the chance to play the Sega Genesis Sonic trilogy (+ Sonic & Knuckles; would that make it a quadrilogy?), I had a great time. The speed was innovative, Tails was adorable, and – of course – the music was always solid.
Back then, each franchise kept their stories simple, but console limitations didn’t necessarily force them to do so. Of course, they couldn’t make things flashy with CG cutscenes, but more complicated stories like Final Fantasy and Shining Force (possibly a poor comparison) were already demonstrating what video games could tell.
Mario‘s plots usually centered around a rescue – typically Peach, but sometimes other unfortunate kidnappees of the Mushroom Kingdom. Sonic‘s plots during the early Sega era focused on stopping Dr. Eggman from turning all those cherubic forest creatures into robots for his own evil designs.
Years passed; consoles expanded their capabilities. Mario and Sonic continued to deliver games, adding new characters, small twists, and different challenges. But despite their mended rivalry, their games’ respective receptions began to divert from each other.
Sure, Sonic has had struggles with glitchy games and incomplete programming, but I also think its lag behind the Mario franchise has been because – it doesn’t know its own story anymore.
*dodges raw vegetables thrown by Sonic fanbase*
Listen: in a platformer, you don’t need much story. You need engaging level design. Mario and Sonic both had that, and they had enough characters and world-building to keep players interested in progressing through the game.
But in recent years Sonic games have begun to experiment with more involved plots. More cutscenes, more characters, more dialogue. I certainly can’t fault them for getting creative, but so much dabbling at once can screw with the canon – and the flow of the games themselves.
Mario sticks to kidnapping – what it’s done since the beginning. And yeah, you could argue that the trope is getting stale – the same old rescues, the same Bowser set-up – but it could also be argued that these games know what works, and they know how to bring in fresh ideas without over-burdening the gamers with new plot ideas or a barrage of characters.
Which brings me to my next point: There’s also this problem with dumping characters quickly into a franchise. Sonic no longer allows time for its new additions to settle in our hearts. In the span between Sonic Adventure and Sonic ’06 its platformers introduced us to: Big the Cat, Shadow the Hedgehog, Rouge the Bat, Cream the Rabbit, Silver the Hedgehog, and Blaze the Cat – not to mention a few others who didn’t stick around.
In the span between Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy (a roughly similar time frame), we were introduced to Bowser Jr. and…Rosalina. That’s it. (Remember, we’re talking about main platformers.)
Because it leaves time between each addition, The Mario franchise gives its characters a chance to breathe when introduced – like Rosalina, whose premier game made her a focal point to the story.
Remember when Sonic 2 gave us just Tails, and Sonic 3 gave us just Knuckles? We were able to connect with those characters because their spotlight wasn’t split three separate ways. Not to say Sonic‘s more recent characters don’t have personality, but they end up becoming just one more face in a crowd of over-the-top dispositions.
It’s something to keep in mind when creating a written story or series: how much is too much at once? Do you keep interest more by busying readers/viewers/players with tons of characters and plot twists? Or do you build a better story by focusing on the critical points and allowing a smaller number of characters space to grow? Personally, I bank more on the success of the second option. Mario’s had his own hits and misses, no mistake; but he’s never forgotten his story.
So, Sonic fans…no hard feelings, right?
*runs from pitchfork-wielding mob*
The Mario franchise is property of Nintendo. The Sonic franchise is property of Sega. Go play ’em both!
Poor Geno. Even though he’s the poster boy of my childhood I still have no blog idea planned out for him. (His introduction is definitely dynamic, though. SMRPG sure knows how to give its characters an entrance.)
But yeah, we’re still talking about Mallow. The main reason may be that even though Geno is super swag, he’s kind of Mr. Exposition and therefore a bit of a clunky plot point.
Super Mario RPG was an incredibly fresh game in so many ways: visuals, gameplay, story… *cue old codger voice* Back in the day it was a surprising detour from what we’d come to expect from Mario in years past. Being an RPG in a heretofore platform-specific series, it had to introduce plot and new characters in a way that convinced players this story was worth investing in.
Enter Mallow, the first party member Mario encounters on his quest to save the princess (or IS that the main goal? Plot twist impending…). Mario fans were already well-exposed to smiley-faced clouds at this point in the franchise, so there’s an established familiarity with this fluffy character.
But how (the game writers may have asked) can we make sure he’s immediately intriguing to the players?
Well, how about this: when he cries, it rains buckets. Also, he thinks he’s a tadpole.
From this introduction we understand there’s more to Mallow than meets the eye. Not only does he have some uncanny emotional control over the weather, but he’s also naïve enough to believe that tadpoles can look like cauliflower heads.
So while we help him solve the current dilemma of a stolen Frog Coin, we’re also interested in what more this character has to offer – and where his personal journey will take us. It’s simply done – it’s a simple game, after all – and Mallow’s origin is pretty obvious from the start, but it’s still a clever set-up. From the Exor reveal at the game’s get-go, to this cute sub-story beginning with Mallow, we’re already aware that this game intends to broaden the Marioverse beyond what we’ve previously known.
Honestly, when I first played SMRPG, I was far more interested in discovering Mallow’s home than I was in reaching Smithy to repair the Star Road. The foreshadow was just that appealing to me.
All right, all right, I’ve said all I want to say. But I’m sure I’ve missed talking about quite a few dynamic introductions. Want to share a few in the comments? You know the drill.
Super Mario RPG is the property of Nintendo/Square-Enix. You can purchase it for your own enjoyment through the Wii or Wii U Virtual Console.
I’ve got ALL these ideas for series posts; you have no idea how EXCITED I am to subject you to share them all with you.
We’re currently in the middleof a three-parter talking about the importance of dynamic character introductions, so I thought: What better time to assault you with what will be another on-going VG storytelling series?
(There probably is a better time, but never mind that.)
This series will not be as condensed as our summer trilogy and will – in all likelihood – randomly pop up in different months when I’ve got some serious writer’s block. So…look forward to that, I guess?
But on to the post itself: What do I mean by “First Impressions”? Contrary to what it sounds like, this won’t be a look at reactions to different video games upon first playing them. Actually, the focus here will be video game openings.
Think about your favorite stories – books, movies, tv shows, video games, anything. How did they grab you? Typically if a story doesn’t provide interest within the first 50 pages/30 minutes (you might be more generous than I), it’s not worth the long-term investment. These mediums have to find a way to prove – in a short amount of time – that their product is going to deliver! But how is it done well?
That’s what I hope to explore in this series. There are a couple criteria that must be met for each game, however, which I will list as follows:
The game’s opening must be judged on storytelling merits and not simply a “looks cool” factor.
Any story elements that take place before the start menu will be disregarded, as they are optional to view.
Otherwise, the playing field is pretty broad. We’ll be considering how the game sets the tone/atmosphere, how it brings the player straight into the story, how it creates intrigue, how it establishes characters – you name it! There are many ways a good story can draw you in from the start.
So let’s hurry on to talk about our first example of first impressions:
The Zelda series rarely fails to deliver a great gaming experience, and it’s not too shabby with its openings, either. Let’s see what works in A Link to the Past:
Why don’t we start with what this opening does best? On atmosphere alone I give LttP a 10/10. But before I get into the details, take a minute to watch for yourself:
Notice how Zelda’s plea in the middle of the night immediately sets the tone of urgency. Link is startled awake by the call and soon afterward gets left alone in the dark house when his uncle goes to the rescue. There’s no music to start, only the sound of rain – which draws our focus to the omen of Zelda’s words and the question of what our hero will do next.
Once Link goes outside himself, the driving rain heightens the desperation. You can’t delay; even now you know that so much depends on you.
All these factors work to pull the player into the story. Now, I’m not saying that a calm opening can’t hook someone just as well, but there needs to be an active force of some kind that sparks the interest of the player/reader/viewer. Proper atmosphere is one excellent way to accomplish this.
I don’t want to say we’re in the age of tutorials…but we’re kind of in the age of tutorials. Video games can get bogged down in “how-to-play” gimmicks, which also makes for sluggish intros.
Not so in Link to the Past. As soon as Link’s uncle heads out the door, you’re thrown head-first into the plot. Sure, you can go talk to soldiers guarding the perimeter and learn gameplay tips from them; but really – as a kid of the 90’s, playing this game for the first time, would you hunt down all those NPC’s and shoot the breeze with them?
Heck naw! You want to find the shortest distance to Hyrule Castle so you can learn more about Zelda’s plight, “how-to-play” tips be hanged! By motivation alone you figure out, okay, picking up weeds is a thing so let’s just look under them for a secret entrance into the palace…
Listen, when given enough incentive, you can figure out any ol’ game mechanics. Let ACTION be your tutorial.
Any Zelda fan by this time knows the franchise drill: get the Master Sword, beat the dungeons, battle some permutation of Ganon(dorf), rescue the princess. I’m of the mind that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; and that doesn’t have to mean you need to sacrifice story intrigue.
First off, you share in Link’s own boyish curiosity when he leaves the house after his uncle. You just have to know what’s going to happen to Zelda, and how this Aganihm character figures into the overarching Zelda motif.
Later, you’re shocked by the sudden death of Link’s uncle. The loss has little emotional weight (we knew him – what – for two minutes?), but it sets the tone that this rescue is no light matter.
This sort of sacrifice can work to propel the narrative – get us interested in the action to follow. What’s going to come next? LttP wastes no time proving it’ll deliver twists and turns to keep you playing. I mean, remember that first time you found out about the Dark World? Maybe you’d never have made it to that amazing plot twist if it weren’t for the game gripping you from the start.
And so begins what I hope will be a fun series! There are plenty more intros to explore in the video game universe. If you have one you’d like to see dissected, feel free to suggest it in the comments below!
The Legend of Zelda franchise is the property of Nintendo. You can play Link to the Past on the Wii, Wii U, or Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console.