The King of Graphics

One of these heads is not like the others. Can you tell which? I’ll reveal the answer later…

This blog about button bashers hasn’t featured any articles on them thus far. Time to change that, and vent a little on an annoying almost-but-not-quite non-issue while I’m at it.

Oh, but before we get going… have you read my new definition of what a “button basher” is on the Home page? You’d better, as doing so will help you understand this article a lot more!

 

“It all began in ’94.

Kept on rollin’ in ’95.

The pieces were in place in ’96, and it came to an end in ’97.

But now it comes, and here we go.

KOF is here again.

Nothing’s gonna stop it ’cause it’s 1998!”

— Cipher, Theme Tune of The King of Fighters ’98

King_Of_Fighters_Wallpaper_by_Cepillo16

The King of Fighters is a long-running crossover fighting game series developed and published by the Japanese company SNK (who were known as SNK Playmore for a while, but have recently reverted back to being SNK). The first KoF installment was released in 1994, and was appropriately titled The King of Fighters ’94. It contained a mix of characters from previous SNK games, most prominently from SNK’s older fighting titles, Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting. There were also a few new characters introduced as well.

kyo_iori_boss_fight.png

The series quickly took off in popularity due to its large, stylish cast of characters, stellar animations and artwork, and innovative team-based fighting system. Over the years, it has also become known for its wide variety of mobility systems, and its industry-leading 2D pixel art graphics. Remember that, it will be important shortly.

The_King_of_Fighters_XIII_gameplay_Wallslam
KoF XIII in action.

KoF has had a bit of an up and down history, tied intrinsically to that of SNK. It managed to keep releasing yearly updates until 2007, after which a year was skipped. New KoF games continued to be released until 2010, at which point KoF XIII (the XIII referring to the number of primary titles released, not every game in the series) came out in arcades. Over the next three years, XIII received ports to PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, iOS, Android, and finally Steam (an extremely popular PC service). After that, the series (and SNK) regressed into pachinko territory, seemingly forever (pachinko is a type of mechanical game similar to slots originating in Japan that is used as both a form of recreational arcade game and, much more frequently, as a gambling device).

KOF14-Dated-US-JP
A poster version of KoF XIV’s cover art.  Brown haired guy is Kyo, the red haired guy is Iori, the guy with the green/grey hair is Shun’Ei, and the two girls are Mai (closer) and Nakoruru (farther).

However, to everyone’s surprise, The King of Fighters XIV was announced at the 2015 Tokyo Game Show. It should have been a momentous occasion… but there was something horribly wrong.

(The first teaser trailer, featuring Kyo and Iori. Yikes.)

Remember how I said that KoF was known for having “industry-leading 2D pixel art”?  Well, that’s all gone now. KoF XIV has made a full transition into being a 3D game, and there’s no dancing around the fact that the new character models don’t look as good as the old sprites. The problem was much worse back when the game was first announced, as the graphics were nowhere near finished. The models didn’t quite look like the iconic characters they were supposed to represent, and the animations were horribly jerky and rough. These have improved a lot over the months since that initial reveal, but they still don’t look as good as that of KoF XIII, or any other well-funded modern game.

(The first “full” trailer from many months and several builds later.)

This has sparked many, many, MANY comments in all manner of public websites about how this PS4 game’s graphics are awful, and how they look like PS1 or PS2 graphics. For reference, the image at the top of this post shows the cover art of Tekken 2, an arcade game ported to PS1. The graphics on the cover represent the game’s cutscenes, which are much better looking than the in-game graphics, but are still not as good as those often found on a PS2. The blond haired man behind the girls is an early model of Andy Bogard, Photoshopped in from a KoF XIV (PS4) screenshot. His model was missing the shading that made it look like a modern game model. It looks more finished now, but at the time, that memetic image was part of the spearhead that angry fans used to criticize and jab at the game.

Quit_Getting_Mad_At_Video_Games

These comments have died down in the wake of the (often weekly) stream of character trailers, which have shown of the game’s improving animations, models, shading, and special effects (I personally thought the effects looked good right from the first trailer). They are still floating around however, and no one expects the game to release with graphics comparable to, say, the recently released Street Fighter V. Of course, SFV launched with a slew of other issues, which have contributed to people warming up to KoF XIV somewhat.

(A trailer that shows the currently revealed cast. 50 characters is a lot, especially for this kind of game!)

Anyways, I would just like to throw my two cents onto the table before swearing off the topic for the next three months (at which point the game will be out). Negative discussions about KoF’s graphics have been a small, niggling annoyance to me for months now. The instant I saw that the visuals were improving over time, I stopped worrying about them and contented myself with what was there. I believe that everyone should just accept that KoF XIV has a distinctive “contemporary 3D” look to it that shows through in its art style. This particular belief likely comes from my history with video games.

(The third most recent trailer.)

The case regarding my standards for game visuals is an interesting one. While I was young, my family had a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES, and I think we still have it somewhere). A few years later, we got a PlayStation 1, but we only had it for a year or two. After that came my first dedicated gaming console, the one that shaped my life for years: the Nintendo GameCube. The GameCube has apparently received some flak for decisions made pertaining to it, and allegedly wasn’t incredibly successful. However, from where I’m standing, it seems like it did pretty well. Regardless, it had graphical capabilities matching, and perhaps even exceeding, the PS2, which it shared a gaming era with.

(The most recent trailer. Andy Bogard is in this one, so you can compare him to the image above.)

It is my firm belief that console graphics became “good enough” in this era, and only had their imperfections polished up by later console generations. If a game, like KoF XIV, has 3D graphics that remind me of this simpler but still technologically capable era of video game technology, then I have no gripes with it. Sure, it could look better if it changed up its art style or the techniques that went into crafting the in-game graphics, but it’s still fine. That is basically the thought process behind my opinion on KoF XIV’s graphics:  they’re fine, and because they are stylized, they are still appealing to me. KoF has always been an incredibly suave series, and that classy charm can still be felt in XIV. Just look at the jackets the two main characters are wearing!  That’s my kind of fancy.

(The second most recent trailer. These characters are not exactly good guys, in case you couldn’t tell.)

The cinematic Climax Super Special Move shown at the beginning of the above trailer is the primary reason why I think it is worth KoF making the jump to 3D models. The camera techniques involving Mature’s makeup case are very difficult to replicate with sprites, and wouldn’t be attempted in a 2D game with an enforced 2D view anyways. It adds so much style that I think it’s worth having, even if it slows down matches a bit. In fact, I was so impressed by that trailer, I decided to start practicing with Mature and Vice in KoF XIII. I was not disappointed.

Speaking of which, just the other day, spurred on by my excitement for XIV (and my passion to write this article), I booted up my Xbox 360 to mess around with KoF XIII for a few minutes. Doing so left me more contented than any lengthy training session I’ve had with Street Fighter V. After thinking about the subject, I have come to realize that between the feel and mechanics of KoF and its own very prominent sense of style, I now prefer KoF over Street Fighter. I’m eager to play XIII and ’98 Ultimate Match some more in the lead up to XIV’s release in late August. I just hope that everyone else will take a step back and think for a moment about whether or not it’s worth ruining their own hype for KoF by incessantly complaining about its visuals.

KoF XIV Mature Skull
How can you possibly complain about a face like this?

 

There’s the first article about a game I consider a button basher. Finally getting around to writing about them has reignited my passion for that type of game. In fact, I think I’d like to introduce everyone to a certain favourite series of mine next week…

Dissidia-Double-Total-Party-Kill

Don’t miss it!

 

Bibliography

Common Fighting Game Commands (Just for fun):  http://meh.brpxqzme.net/himff/circles.html

All KoF images and all trailers belong to SNK.

3 thoughts on “The King of Graphics”

  1. Nice post here Liam! I like that you included A LOT of videos and images, they really helped me understand what you were explaining in your post and I believe they helped take your points further in actually providing the evidence to which you were discussing.

    Like

  2. Let me just start off by saying, I like the new design you have going on at the top of your page now. I think that separately button basher games and non button basher games will definitely be of help to your readers in the future as you post more and gain more readers in terms of navigation. I thought that this weeks post was definitely a lot more passionate (although I’ll admit all of your posts have been very passion driven so far) than your previous ones. This is obviously a topic that you enjoy and I’m excited to read next weeks post as it will follow the button basher theme from this week. I agree with Daniela in that I found your increased use in videos a lot more helpful as I could follow along with what you were talking about better.

    Like

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