List #2: Serious Science Fiction (Films and TV)

Continuing the series begun with my dumb list of game movies, we take a very incomplete look at real attempts to do something speculative and interesting with film and TV. The idea was that, in addition to voting the entries up and down, people would add their own thoughts. This happened, a bit. Not much. Here we go alphabetically, again — which as before is not necessarily the order in which I wrote the material.

Most sci-fi just tries to entertain with some familiar archetypes — space ships, lasers, weird alien life forms. Some sci-fi uses the archetypes as a thin veneer over familiar drama that could be staged anywhere.

Real sci-fi does one of two things. Either it pushes a scientific concept to its logical extreme, to study the effects of that idea on everyday life, or it uses a scientifically plausible scenario to push cultural concepts to their logical extremes in order to comment on contemporary life.

Either way, hard science fiction uses a rational understanding of the universe to explore the irrational way that we interact with the world.

2001: A Space Odyssey

The first half is perhaps the only movie to attempt a completely accurate portrayal of space, and space travel. Even further, Clarke and Kubrick tried to envision a world in which space travel (of this plausible sort) was an everyday occurrence, scattered with familiar brands and services. This is literary sci-fi, on a screen. There’s no real debate.

Blade Runner – The Final Cut

What if androids became so sophisticated that there was no sure way to tell them apart from real people? And what if those androids were wholly owned by corporations — and only produced in the first place as a disposable labor force? What if corporations ran all government and police matters? What would all of this mean for the value of life?

Children of Men

For about 20 years, the human race has been infertile. This has caused gradual problems to the social infrastructure, such that the UK is one of the only organized societies left — that organization retained by force. A few people claim to have a cure to that infertility, but such a cure goes against the established organization. Also, any baby who, against the odds, happens to be born is an immediate treasure and contraband for scientists the world over. Children of Men is a very nuanced and thorough exploration of that central “what if” that drives all serious science fiction.

Contact

Carl Sagan worked on this film for about twenty years before it went before the cameras, and then died just before it happened. Somewhere in the middle he shrugged and compiled his materials into a lovely novel, about a female scientist who finds herself in the middle of a possible first contact situation. Her work is her life, and she puts all her faith in her empirical skills. As chaotic as the universe seems, ultimately it all makes sense if you pay enough attention and are rigorous enough in your methodology. Then she is presented with a completely inscrutable situation, where all she has to go on is her own subjective impressions. The movie is also good, though it boils the book’s themes down a bit much and weighs spirituality higher than it needs to be.

Gattaca

So what happens when designer babies become the norm, and everyone with money or connections is sure to weed out all but the “best” genetic traits in the next generation? You get a society split between the genetically predictable and the genetically random — the products of natural births. Although it’s illegal to discriminate, it’s also simple to test. And no halfway decent employer is going to want to rely on unpredictable elements. You can see where things go from here, and write the movie on your own. Not exactly the most subtle allegory, but a worthwhile effort.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Every day you wake up, and someone else seems a little… off. They look the same, they have all the same memories, but everything human about them seems to have vanished. There’s a science fiction explanation, but really this is a discussion about the isolation of modern post-industrial, urban and suburban life.

Both the 1978 and the 1956 versions of this film are excellent in their own ways. The remake is actually closer to the original vision of the 1956 film, previous to studio interference, and has an extra layer or two of social satire about the self-oriented change in American culture over the 1970s.

Moon

Sam Rockwell is (so far as he knows) the only custodian of a corporate Moon base. For three years, his only companion has been a dubious AI voiced by Kevin Spacey. Then Rockwell’s character gets into a major accident. When he wakes, everything is just a little off. And when he starts to pick at the corners, his whole worldview shifts by one leap after another.

This is neat stuff. It could practically be a stage play, if you ignore the detailed and plausible depiction of Moon life. Moon takes cues from earlier serious sci-fi films like 2001 and Solaris, then ambles off in its own direction to explore the rights of the individual and the meaning of life in a world where corporations dictate policy and own everything down to individual DNA.

The Outer Limits (1963)

As with any anthology series, the quality and focus of the show depends on the writer. As often as not, though, The Outer Limits serves as a menagerie of fairly erudite short-form speculative fiction. Each episode could well be a short story in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. What we lose in deep exploration of a premise, we gain in a shotgun of odd juxtapositions, observations, and half-formed ideas. The best episodes could easily be expanded into an intense, thoughtful two-hour feature. The worst, well — they’re over in 25 minutes.

Quatermass and the Pit

In one breath, Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass is both trashy pulp and highbrow science fiction. In the US, his work is practically unknown; in the UK it’s as much part of the cultural DNA as, say, The Twilight Zone.

Over 26 years, Kneale wrote four TV serials. Three were adapted into slightly trashy yet much more watchable feature films. Of those, the third movie — Quatermass and the Pit — is probably the best Quatermass you’ll get, and also the most widely available. So that’s fortuitous.

While digging a subway line, engineers unearth the remains of an ancient space ship. All who contact the remains of its inhabitants start to behave oddly. The movie proposes various theories about the development of man and the significance of our subconscious impulses.

Solaris

This list should really include Tarkovsky’s 1972 original, but Soderbergh’s remake is worthwhile in its absence.

A station orbiting a distant planet has a strange effect on its personnel; they are constantly barraged with a warped sense of reality, built out of projections of their own memories. As it turns out, these projections are the attempts of an alien life form to communicate with the crew.

Adapted from the novel by Stanislaw Lem, Solaris uses the material of space travel to delve into the human psyche and explore both our means of communication and our subjective concept of reality.

Soylent Green

A pretty good movie that is diminished a bit by its legacy. You watch this, you’re going to be waiting impatiently for that famous line — which turns out to be one of the last lines in an unusually long film. So there’s a bit of an anticlimax, if that’s how you come at it.

Whereas in Children of Men our waning resource is fertility, here it’s food production. You see, there has been a population explosion. Exactly the opposite problem. And it’s not that food is unavailable; it’s that whatever food is available is heavily controlled. Furthermore, you don’t want to know where they’re getting the raw materials.

Sunshine

Another near-future story in the vein of 2001, Danny Boyle’s astronauts drift in the opposite direction to Kubrick’s, toward the center of the solar system. For whatever reason, the Sun is dying. We have a fission device that may reignite the star, but only enough material on Earth to build two. The first got lost somewhere along the way, and now the backup team is all we’ve got. Along the way the second team finds the hulk of the first vessel, and goes to explore it. Not the best idea ever.

Sunshine does a good job at depicting space travel. Of particular note are sequences when crew members are forced to float through space unprotected. They survive, with heavy sunburn and decompression sickness; maybe they’ll need a couple of fingers amputated.

The story is interesting, too.

The Thing (1982)

Much more so than the 1951 Howard Hawks adaptation, John Carpenter’s film embodies the horror and paranoia of John Campbell’s novella. It’s basically your standard base under siege format, except crossed with a social and existential paranoia that you can apply to any number of real-world scenarios. Any person on the base could be the monster, including you. Beyond that, the imagination involved in the monster design is kind of extraordinary. It takes its memory not only of human anatomy but of every other life form, terrestrial or not, and adapts those features pragmatically to its current circumstances. Some very big picture thinking here.

List #1: A Ranking of Videogame Movies

A while back I had a gig producing content for a social network that later took an unfortunate turn. Before all of this stuff disappears, I’m going to repost as much of that writing as I can.

We begin with a kind of stupid entry, dealing with videogames adapted into feature films. The idea is that people would vote these items up and down, producing a sort of ranked list. As it turns out, I drew up this list at about the same time as the list feature stopped to work and the site ceased to promote it — so not a single person voted. Oh well! Here it is in semi-alphabetical order.

Adapting a game to cinema is never an easy task. Videogames and film are different kinds of art, that serve to explore different things in different ways. Videogames are all about banging your head against the rules of the environment to get a sense of how a world works. Film is all about telling a story using a stream of imagery over time. In film, there is no way to actively explore rules and in videogames a story generally exists at best to lend context to what the player is doing.

So, most game-to-film adaptations stink. It is up to you, dear readers, to vote up the best of the bunch and to vote down the worst. Some of these are probably worth seeing! We’ll find out which, presently.

Alone in the Dark

This series has had a bad time of it lately. The first three games were groundbreaking; Shinji Mikami substantially cloned the games in creating his Resident Evil series. Then the properties started to shift hands. Whenever a new up-and-coming studio wants to try a few cool techniques, they seem to buy into the Alone in the Dark license. The results are always interesting on an experimental level but somewhere between horrible and disappointing when it comes to actual game design. The concept has also strayed pretty far from the original games. Our friend Uwe Boll seized on the property for cheap, as people tend to, and spat this out. He managed to nab Christian Slater as Edward Carnby. This was before Boll’s reputation became public knowledge.

Bloodrayne

The second of many Uwe Boll films to clutter this list. Uwe Boll is a strange character; a charlatan who deliberately makes the quickest, worst movies possible so that he can cash in on Germany’s national film funding and various forms of insurance. It’s like he saw Mel Brooks’ The Producers as a set of step-by-step instructions.

The Bloodrayne games were exploitative trash following in the wake of Tomb Raider; they only really existed to cash in on the existing development climate. So, hey. Uwe Boll comes up to you with a small wad of cash, you take it. Result: another Uwe Boll movie.

DOA: Dead or Alive

The games started off as hacks of Virtua Fighter that added ridiculous breast physics and somewhat more visceral back-and-forth combat. They later developed into a consciously exploitative and yet still technically respectable series that can just about get away with its T&A action on the basis of its solid game design. Aside from the boobs there’s still little reason to play the games over any other first-tier 3D fighter, but whatever.

What I wonder is why so, so many game movies are based on games from such inappropriate genres. How many fighting games do we have on this list? Granted, the DOA characters do have convoluted backgrounds — but really, is there a story here?

Doom

Andrzej Bartkowiak was cinematographer on plenty of respectable films, from Falling Down to Speed to U.S. Marshals. As a director… hmm.

Well, it’s got Eomer from Lord of the Rings in it. And Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Later, the same dude would go on to direct Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. Some career he’s building up, here.

Double Dragon

Man, remember when these games were big? Technos took the gaming world by storm, first by creating the first versus fighter (Karate Champ), then by creating the first side-scrolling brawler (Renegade), then by refining the latter model into a two-player masterpiece full of advanced moves, interactive and varied terrain, weapons that you can pick up and carry, distinctive enemies, and some of the rockingest theme music ever. The story was simple: Billy Lee’s girlfriend gets kidnapped by street punks, so he and his brother Jimmy set out to rescue her with their fists. The movie… it’s something about a magical medallion that gives a couple of middle-class kids the power to beat up mutants. Not sure where this came from.

Far Cry

I didn’t even know that this movie existed. The games are technically very advanced and ambitious first-person shooters that mostly take place in natural environments and have very stiff, stilted-feeling design. Uwe Boll apparently leapt in and grabbed the film rights before the game was even released. Joke’s on him; the series has actually become pretty successful. But conversely, Joke’s on Crytek and Ubisoft, because — well, Uwe Boll.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

This movie nearly bankrupted Square, and put founder and FF series director Hironobu Sakaguchi in the doghouse, leading the way to his departure from Square soon thereafter.

See, as great as Final Fantasy VII was in many other respects, the thing that everyone talked about at the time was its pre-rendered CG cutscenes. For the next game, Sakaguchi decided to play to the crowd and made the cutscenes practically the whole point. From there, the logical next step was to just remove the game part completely. Thus, we have this weirdly neutered film. In place of the wacky fantasy of the original games, we have a clumsy and frankly boring sci-fi story calculated to appeal to American mainstream audiences — a goal undermined by the uncanny valley of mostly-realistic CG actors.

Hitman

Basically these are action games with minor adventure and large third-person shooter components. You play as a hitman who largely has to find his weapons in the field, often through offing people along the way. So there’s a strategic element and a stealth element, and they have that free-form sandbox thing that was so popular in the early noughts. The movie… well, Roger Ebert liked it: “Hitman stands right on the threshold between video games and art. On the wrong side of the threshold, but still, give it credit.”

House of the Dead

House of the Dead is based on Sega WOW’s arcade shooting gallery series, and features a cameo from Sega of America’s then-president. By all accounts it is one of the more confusing things devoted to film, explained by the involvement of Uwe Boll. By the time the movie was released (to universal scorn), he had moved on.

In the Name of the King

Have you ever played Dungeon Siege? It’s a generic hack-and-slash RPG based closely on the BioWare/Black Isle design popularized by games like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Generic enough and unlikely enough to make perfect Uwe Boll fodder. Yes, this movie is somehow an adaptation of the game. By all accounts it comes off like a pathetic Lord of the Rings clone — which puts it on a level with most fantasy fiction of the last 50 years or so.

The King of Fighters

Of all the fighting games that you could turn into a movie, The King of Fighters perhaps makes the most sense. KOF is basically a serial martial arts drama that has been going on since 1994, with yearly updates up through KOF2003 and then occasional chapters in the years since. The series features dozens upon dozens of characters, each with complex backgrounds and intertwined stories. The games themselves trace all manner of alliance, betrayal, and epic goings-on. You could create a long-running Smallville-type TV series out of this material with little effort. And yet this movie borrows only loosely from the games, then makes little sense of its own. Who is this supposed to appeal to? Why bother?

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

The title says it all; by this point the game series had become a joke, and all that anyone remembered about it was its protagonist — who always looked uncannily like Angelina Jolie, so hey. There were two movies with Jolie, and as of early 2011 the series is now being “rebooted”. As with Silent Hill and Resident Evil, at least this movie more or less works cinematically, as a Mummy-level Indiana Jones knock-off.

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Supposed to be a little better than the first movie. Roger Ebert actually got a kick out of this one.

Max Payne

Marky Mark stars as Remedy’s satirically gritty New York sourpuss. In the game, Max is an ex-cop seeking revenge while under tremendous physical and emotional pain — pain that leads him to hallucinations and that he tries to, well, remedy with medication. In the movie, he’s being chased by literal demons and monsters.

Okay.

The dude who directed the movie, John Moore, was also behind the 2006 remake of The Omen. The people who made the game, in a long tradition, have aired their grievances and distanced themselves from his work.

Mortal Kombat

The game is ridiculous trash, that cashed in on the success of Street Fighter by filling its sprite banks with bad photographs of bad actors posing badly. Its lasting impact on the industry is mostly the establishment of the ESRB rating board, the concept of finishing moves in fighting games and elsewhere, and an endless string of hidden characters such as Akuma/Gouki in the later Street Fighter games.

The movie realizes that the game is ridiculous, and builds on all the most memorably ridiculous parts to construct a joyously stupid yet technically proficient martial arts movie. In some ways, the movie gets across the spirit of the game better than the game ever did.

Postal

As with Ewe Boll’s other films, the Postal license must have come cheap. The movie came out in 2007; the original game — which also was exploitative trash masquerading as satire — was released a decade earlier. A sequel was released in 2003, that tried to cash in on the Grand Theft Auto/sandbox design mania, but by 2007 the games had pretty much faded from everyone’s thoughts. With good reason. All the better makings for a deliberate flop.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Donnie Darko plays an Arab in this adaptation of a remake of a remake of Jordan Mechner’s 1989 classic tale of bloody deaths, leaps of faith, and little brothers in pajamas. As with the Tomb Raider movies, it’s sort of trying to be the Brendan Fraser remake of The Mummy.

Resident Evil

Pure trash, plus Milla Jovovich. Still, it basically works as a movie — and worked well enough to span at least four sequels. It’s probably a good idea to focus on Jovovich’s original character rather than the game’s original protagonists.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

The second RE movie, which introduces Jill Valentine and is largely based on the third game. Worth mentioning that writer Paul W.S. Anderson, aside from writing and producing all the films in this series, also directed the first and fourth RE films plus the first Mortal Kombat film; and produced DOA: Dead or Alive. The dude’s almost like a higher-rent Uwe Boll. Oh, he’s also married to Milla Jovovich; they met on the set of the first movie. So this is also a family franchise.

The movie was received much less well than the first one — which itself received mixed reviews at best.

Resident Evil: Extinction

Third movie in the series. Milla Jovovich continues in the lead role. Here the story branches away from the game series completely. Although we meet several familiar characters from Capcom’s games, the plot and setting are all new. If game game is influenced by anything, it’s probably Code Veronica, what with the addition of Claire and Wesker, and a few setpieces from the game.

Although critically panned, this one earned the studio a hell of a lot of money.

Resident Evil: Afterlife

Fourth movie in the series; now it’s in 3D and IMAX. Based loosely on RE5 — including the introduction, finally, of Chris Redfield. Again with the critical derision contrasted with box office success. Apparently it’s the “most successful production in Canadian feature film history.” It’s unclear if that’s in dollars or professional satisfaction.

Silent Hill

A pretty decent adaptation of a less than totally obvious game, clearly produced by people who loved them some Konami. The film is more or less an adaptation of the first game, with elements of the second, and most of the context removed. If Pyramid Head is the projection of James Sunderland’s subconscious violence toward women, why is he in the movie? Although Silent Hill has always had a sort of feminine quality to it, there’s a reason why the first game is about a hapless, and obviously kind of broke, single father rather than a happily married upper middle-class mother. Regardless, the movie works on its own terms up until the last fifteen minutes or so. Not sure what they were trying to accomplish there.

Street Fighter

The movie that killed Raul Julia. Why does it focus on Guile, when the game is all about Ryu and Ken? Because Guile is an American, and the film was made for Universal. So if Guile is American, why is he played by Jean-Claude Van Damme? Well…

Super Mario Bros.

Less an adaptation; more an acid trip experienced against a backdrop of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle films. There may be some kind of surreal brilliance in this tale of subterranean fungus and human-shaped dragons, if you take it strictly on its own logic and merits. As a representation of Miyamoto’s game, though, it’s more like that weird 1980s cover art that was often more disturbing than the actual game content.

Tekken

Another fighting game — albeit another one with deep, convoluted backstories for all its characters. Why adapt this instead of, say, Shenmue?

The guy behind the Tekken games, Katsuhiro Harada, wonders the same thing. “That Hollywood movie is terrible. We were not able to supervise that movie; it was a cruel contract. I’m not interested in that movie.”

Wing Commander

I’m not all that up on the Origin System games; from what I gather, they were huge because they were basically Star Wars games in all but name during that long period when Lucasarts avoided milking its film licenses and instead focused on games like Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island. The movie is a genial if somewhat generic sci-fi flick with that guy from Hackers. It’s totally watchable, if somewhat unrelated to the source material.

The Nephew Set

If I were to give someone a Famiclone or one of those NES handhelds, and… let’s say ten, fifteen, twenty games, which games should I choose? Here’s my current list:

  1. Zelda 1,
  2. Super Mario Bros. 2,
  3. Simon’s Quest,
  4. River City Ransom,
  5. Life Force,
  6. Tetris,
  7. Dragon Warrior,
  8. Mega Man 2, and
  9. Blaster Master all need to be on there.

Runners-up include:

  1. Balloon Fight,
  2. Jackal,
  3. Goonies II,
  4. Bionic Commando,
  5. DuckTales,
  6. Ninja Gaiden II,
  7. Solomon’s Key,
  8. Rygar,
  9. Sky Kid,
  10. Wizards & Warriors,
  11. Marble Madness, and
  12. Lode Runner.

Maybe something like Rolling Thunder or Dr Chaos, if I want to be strange.

There are so many factors to consider. I’ve discussed them with Amandeep, somewhat. I don’t want to repeat myself here, if just for impatience on my part. But yeah, it’s kind of like constructing a mix tape. You want all of the elements in harmony. Not too much of this or that, be it the developer or the perspective or mechanics or tone. You want to cover all the bases without bowing too much to convention. It’s more about giving a broad range of ideas than about checking all the boxes of a typical curriculum, if you will. If that means leaving out some obvious choices and including some seriously weird shit, all the better. Though I’m not sure I’ve done an excellent job of either, in this case. Maybe I need to think about this a little more. If by “need” we mean “am liable to”.

NextGen’s Top Ten Years In Gaming History

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Originally published in some form by Next Generation. I was asked not to include 1999 or 2000, because the Dreamcast was perceived as a low mark in the industry rather than a high one. I was also asked to include the previous year, to suggest that we were in the middle of an upswing. So… that explains some of the selections.

In videogames, as in life, we tend to get things right about a third of the time. There’s one decent Sonic game for every two disasters; one out of every three consoles can be considered an unqualified success; the Game Boy remake of Mother 1 + 2 was released in one out of three major territories. With the same level of scientific accuracy, one can easily say that, out of the thirty years that videogames have acted as a consumer product, there are maybe ten really excellent milestones, spaced out by your 1984s and your 1994s – years maybe we were all better off doing something out-of-doors.

It kind of makes sense, intuitively: you’ve got the new-hardware years and the innovative-software years, spaced out by years of futzing around with the new hardware introduced a few months back, or copying that amazing new game that was released last summer. We grow enthusiastic, we get bored. Just as we’re about to write off videogames forever, we get slapped in the face with a Wii, or a Sega Genesis – and then the magic starts up all over again, allowing us to coast until the next checkpoint. Continue reading “NextGen’s Top Ten Years In Gaming History”

BE THE FIGHTER! (unless your fighter is King, that is…)

Geh. The list of characters for KoF2002 was just announced. I’m… not really thrilled. It could be a lot worse, but there are what I feel at least a couple of just plain stupid omissions. And were Brezza to put in just one more team — a mere three more character slots — I think they could form perhaps the ideal lineup.

The thing is, the game only has 39 characters, plus Shingo as a challenger (as in ’98), Rugal as the boss (again!), and a second version of K9999 as a mid-boss. This is silly, considering that 2001 had 40 characters and two bosses. You’d think a huge Dream Match event game would have at least a couple more characters than a standard chapter of the series.

What’s worse — they left out KING, of all characters! I mean, King! My King! Not only is she one of the most popular characters in the series, but she’s one of the few characters whom I can use really well (at least by my pathetic standards). She’s usually the first character I pick in any KoF, to test out.

Urgh.

Anyway, here’s the roster for 2002:

Japan Team:

  • Kyo Kusanagi
  • Benimaru Nikaido
  • Goro Daimon

Fatal Fury Team:

  • Terry Bogard
  • Andy Bogard
  • Joe Higashi

Art of Fighting Team:

  • Ryo Sakazaki
  • Robert Garcia
  • Takuma Sakazaki

Ikari Team:

  • Leona Heidern
  • Ralf Jones
  • Clark Steel

Psycho Soldier Team:

  • Athena Asamiya
  • Sie Kensou
  • Chin Gentsai

Korea Team:

  • Kim Kaphwan
  • Choi Bounge
  • Chang Koehan

Gals Fighters Team:

  • Mai Shiranuiv
  • Yuri Sakazaki
  • May Lee

’96 Team

  • Iori Yagami (Um. Iori was around in ’95 too, guys.)
  • Mature
  • Vice

’97 Team

  • Yamazaki Ryuji
  • Blue Mary
  • Billy Kane

’98 Team (Why is this the “’98” team?)

  • Yashiro
  • Shermie
  • Chris

’99 Team

  • K’
  • Maxima
  • Whip

2000 Team

  • Vanessa
  • Seth
  • Ramon

2001 Team

  • Kula Diamond
  • K9999
  • Angel

Mid-Boss: K9999
Boss: Rugal
Challenger: Shingo

Characters removed: King, Heidern, Bao, Foxy, Lin, Hinako, Xiang Fei.

Characters added: Yashiro, Shermie, Chris, Yamazaki, Mature, Vice, Billy.

I can see exactly why these characters were brought back; they’re the most popular and the most interesting of those who were left behind in the Orochi era. But why remove such interesting characters as King, Heidern, Bao, and Foxy to facilitate this? And what about poor old Jhun? There are so many ways this could have been organized better.

What I don’t understand is why K9999 is in the game twice — once as a player character and once as a boss. I’m assuming that Rugal and Shingo will both become playable as edit characters at some time or another, as they were in ’98. The same could easily be the same for K9999. Couldn’t K9999’s slot in the NESTS team be freed up pretty easily if he were only in the game once? Then we could drag Foxy back in. Foxy is one of the most interesting and different characters to enter the series lately, in terms of gameplay, so it’s a shame that she’s not in the game; her fencing techniques would add a lot of variety to the character selection. This is just the simplest and most obvious change, in my opinion. It doesn’t do anything to help bring King back in, but it’s a loose end which I think could do with some patching.

Something I’ve been waiting to happen — and I know I’m not alone in this — is for Chang and Choi to finally be set “free”, and for May Lee and Jhun to fill their places in the Korean lineup. If this were to happen, the lineup would instantly, and easily, be more complete-seeming. May Lee would leave a gap in the Gals team, and King could come back to take her leading role. Chang and Choi could take a place in one of the backgrounds, cheering Kim’s team on. Hey, they deserve a break as much as I deserve a break from having to deal with them. They make better window dressing.

Still, they are important characters. If Brezza didn’t want to remove them, then they could have taken out Takuma without too much strain. Hey, they already got rid of Heidern; the other “Oyaji” character who might or might not be in any given game. And Takuma doesn’t play that especially differently from the other Sakazakis aside from his lack of an uppercut (although they have all evolved a lot since ’99). King certainly offers more variety than Takuma ever could. So shove Yuri back in with her dojo-mates, and — again — give King back her team. Simple!

Another possibility: bring back the beloved “Oyaji Team” from ’98. Reel Heidern back in where he belongs, and once again kick Takuma out of his dojo. For the third slot, we can pull Chin out of the Psycho Soldier team. This would leave Yuri free to join Ryo and Robert as before, and an empty spaceon Athena’s team for Bao to squeeze in. A lot of Americans seem to dislike Bao, particularly younger fanboys who seem threatened by his cuteness. But I think he’s adorable, and he’s got really interesting play mechanics. I’m surprised he was removed, as he’s also become a pretty important character lately.

Anyway, once again this would leave an empty slot in the Gals team, for King — and it would only involve bringing back three characters, all of whom are reasonably important anyway. Plus, the Oyaji Team just seems to me like something which should become a tradition in the Dream Match games. It’s a similar kind of team to the Gals Fighters Team, only for old men instead of women. And it only comes to exist when the old men are pushed to the sidelines and ousted from their teams by the younger members — which would mostly be during Dream Matches. I just like this idea, somehow. It’s a shame that Brezza didn’t pick up on it this time around.

One last idea — perhaps the most radical of all. Most of the changes I’ve suggested so far have been reasonably small, but how about we combine them all.

Take where I left off in the last example, with the Oyaji team, and King and Bao returned to where they belong. Now what would happen if we “fixed” the Korean team again? Out with the ugly, and in with Jhun and May Lee. This leaves an empty slot alongside King and Mai. Solution? Slide in Mary, of course. This leaves a hole in the ’97 Special Team, however. What to do?

How about this: we swap Billy for Mature and Vice. That way, we get a second Orochi Team to go alongside the New Face Team. Yamazaki, Mature, Vice. This seems like a trio who belong together.

Meanwhile, what’s going on with Iori? He’s all alone, with Billy and an empty space…

… Iori, Billy, and an empty space.

Is there anyone out there who is familiar with King of Fighers and who has not wondered what the heck happened to Eiji? People have been screaming for years about the fact that he’s never made a return appearance since ’95 — not even in ’98, which would have been the ideal opportunity. Now we’ve got another chance, and he’s still missing.

He doesn’t have to be, though. And heck, even with his addition the character roster would still only be up by three under my current plan. This is not a lot of extra cart space, or effort. And just think of how much more satisfied just about everyone would probably be (aside from those few enormous Choi and Chang fans out there).

Here’s what my edited lineup looks like. Mind, I’ve only made a few tiny changes. But just compare how much more complete this list is in comparison to the last one:

Japan Team:

  • Kyo
  • Benimaru
  • Goro

Hero Team:

  • K’
  • Maxima
  • Whip

Iori Team:

  • Iori
  • Billy
  • Eiji

NESTS Team:

  • Kula
  • Foxy
  • Angel

Fatal Fury Team:

  • Terry
  • Andy
  • Joe

Art of Fighting Team:

  • Ryo
  • Robert
  • Yuri

Ikari Team:

  • Leona
  • Ralf
  • Clark

Psycho Soldiers Team:

  • Athena
  • Kensou
  • Bao

Korea Team:

  • Kim
  • May Lee
  • Jhun

Gals Fighters Team:

  • King
  • Mai
  • Blue Mary

Oyaji Team:

  • Heidern
  • Takuma
  • Chin

Spy Team:

  • Seth
  • Vanessa
  • Ramon

Orochi Team:

  • Yamazaki
  • Mature
  • Vice

New Face Team:

  • Yashiro
  • Shermie
  • Chris

Mid-Boss: K9999
Boss: Rugal
Challenger: Shingo

Well, am I right here? All things considered, isn’t this quite superior — while still not all that different from the original?

Poo, see what happens when game designers forget to ask me for advice.