Friday 13 March 2015

Snes Review : Clay Fighter (Game 072)

The least family friendly, "Family friendly fighter" ever.

Released in 1993
Developed by Visual Concepts.
Published by Interplay Entertainment.

With a new 'Mortal Kombat' game being released in a few months, over the next few weeks we can expect two things: the first several trailers that sell the game by showing imaginative and gruesome ways to kill someone. Then, after this, we can expect dozens of news articles telling us that the thousands of people who buy this game will become serial killers, having seen theses unrealistic over the top deaths. Ever since video games first showed violence people have objected to it. Many are under the impression that violent games make violent people, an archaic view that was in, November 2014, proven to be entirely false. Research led by psychologist Christopher Ferguson and published in the Journal of Communication, not only found that there was no link between violent media and behaviour, but also questioned the methodology of any previous study that suggested the two were related.  Ferguson’s findings argued that other studies commonly “provide exposure to brief clips of media, rather than full narrative experiences” and that “the resultant aggressive behaviours are also minimal, and sanctioned or facilitated by the researchers themselves.”

So if it's proven that violent games do not create violent people, why do so many people believe it is true? Ignorance breeds further ignorance. Journalists are keen to reinforce a false perception of video games since it sells papers and parents are always happy to have a scapegoat to blame their poor child's poor behaviour on. The reality is, people who don't play games are the only ones who think that gamers are violent people. It's a depressing fact confirmed by new research conducted by YouGov in cooperation with the Oxford Internet Institute. Overall, 61% of Britons believe games cause aggression. This obviously sounds a lot, but more in-depth analyses of the data indicates that this percentage will only go down over time. YouGov found older Britons were more than five times more likely than younger people to believe that video games cause violence. Additionally, of the people studied, those who haven’t played games themselves were also over five times more likely to believe games could cause aggression. This is a stark contrast to those who had actually picked up a controller at some point in their lives. Gamers predominantly believe that their aggression is not the result of their hobby. Accord to this YouGov survey, the people that think video games make psychopaths are older individuals, specifically those lacking any first-hand experience playing games. They are describing my own Mum and Dad.

In my youth I couldn't afford to buy my own games. My parents therefore, were the ones that choose which games I would play since the only way I would get a new title would be as a present. Of course they would usually not object if I asked for a game like ‘Super Mario World' or 'Tiny Toon Adventures' as they were clearly suitable. However, they would have thought twice if I insisted I wanted something obviously violent. I can't imagine this set up was unique to my family and publishers knew this. It made sense to appeal to the parents who held the purse strings, as they, in many cases, were the ones spending the money.

‘Clay Fighter’s design was originally made to compete with fighting games such as ‘Street Fighter II’ or 'Mortal Kombat', only with one crucial difference; there would be no heavy violence and gore. The controversy that was surrounding 2D fighting games at the time encouraged publisher Interplay to market ‘Clay Fighter’ as the "family friendly fighting game". The belief was that "parents who object to blood-and-guts games now have an alternative title that gives kids the kind of intense action they want to see in fighting games". There's "no blood and guts here" reassures the game's box. This was the fighting game you’re parents should be happy for you to play and as a parent you were being irresponsible to pick an alternative title.

Although made as a response to 'Mortal Kombat' the clear inspiration for ‘Clay Fighter’ was the superior 'Street Fighter II'. Two characters fight on a 2D plane, attacking each other until someone’s energy bar is depleted. Each fight comprises of three rounds and should you win two, your chosen character progress to fight someone else, eventually reaching a more challenging end of game boss amusingly called "N Boss".  Much like the original 'Street Fighter II' a player can choose one of eight characters, but these are much more inventive and unique combatants than you normal see in similar 2D fighting games. 

The characters in ’Clay Fighter’ are diverse. They range from an Elvis impersonator to a pumpkin-headed scarecrow, going via an overweight opera singer, which attacks with song and a blob of goo that can shape shift to various traditionally inanimate objects. Each character has a number of basic brutal, medium and quick attacks, with the obligatory special abilities that are a staple of the genre. As James Leach said in his Super Play review, “the fact that moves are similar and the general feel of [‘Clay Fighter’] isn’t a million miles away, it is impossible to avoid cross over comment with ‘Street FighterII’. If you can do a fireball with Ryu, you can also do one with Bad Mr. Frosty”.  While these moves are pulled off in similar ‘Street Fighter II’ style, they tend to be more awkward than accurate and random chance dictates if a charter will perform them on demand. Even if a special move motion is registered by the game, the resulting attacks aren't always terribly special; they are usually more showy than effective. It leads to the situation where half the characters are quite a bit more effective than others, simply because their special moves deal more damage. In a fighting game where balanced combatants are essential, this really isn't a good thing. 

Another scientific study by Brock University in Canada found that playing violent video games for long periods of time can hold back the "moral maturity" of teenagers and “weakened empathy for others”. After studying gamers, researchers came to the conclusion that adolescents lost a sense of "right and wrong" and the findings seem to prove the belief that "an impressionable [individual] seeing acts of aggression in media, is desensitised to the acts in real life that they reflect". Evidently, over exposure to violent video games (as well as other media including televised news) makes some believe that violence is commonplace and acceptable. The more someone sees a scene that society deems repugnant, the more they think it is ok, and the less repulsed they become by it. Perhaps this explains why when I play the original and infamous 'Mortal Kombat' I laugh rather than wince. Maybe, years of playing fighting games have meant I'm no longer shocked by the displays of extreme violence. Alternatively, I'm simply no longer shocked because the game looks so terribly dated.

As the years progress, technology improves and that is clear in the way games are presented. We are entering the realm of photorealism, with the latest consoles able to produce replications of the real world that were unimaginable in the 16 bit era. 'Mortal Kombat' was once considered to be as close to lifelike as possible. This was because every frame of animation was taken from a scanned photo of an actor rather than drawn by hand. It may have been impressive in arcades, but home console versions of the game had pixelated reduced colour versions of the fighters, compressed on screen with half the frames of animation. If they looked realistic at the time they don't anymore. It's hard to imagine many would consider the showers of square blocks of blood to accurately portrayed life. If you're offended it's because of what you think you're seeing rather than what is actually displayed. You’re repulsed because you're filling in gaps based on life experience and expectation. I wouldn't want my 4 year old daughter to play it, but unless I explained what was happening I don't think a casual glance would give her nightmares. 'Clay Fighter' was made using a similar technique to 'Mortal Kombat'.
The colourful characters are animated using scans of photos but the subjects of these images are clay models rather than real people. The end result is far better than that seen in 'Mortal Kombat' though, probably because the game was designed from the outset for 16bit consoles rather than arcades. Limitations of the 16bit machines were taken into account and the outrageous character design makes solid blocks of colour and basic skin shading more forgivable. The characters are much larger on screen than most other Snes fighting games, "the biggest guys ever seen in a Super Nintendo game" boasts the box. Critics at the time noted “it hard to imagine how a Super NES game can look better”. However while the graphics look good static, the few frames of animation means in motion the game looks jumpy and primitive. Of course, larger characters are easier to see than smaller ones so it’s clear what's going on.
If my daughter saw 'Clay Fighter' it would be hard to say the funny green blob wasn't cutting a big fat opera singer in half, so ironically this clarity causes problems. The childish characters are clearly meant to be attractive to the young; this was the point of this "family friendly" fighter. The problem with this basic idea is that when a character a child is attracted to gets hurt, they are more emotionally effected. My daughter would be more upset when a giant baby gets hurt by a snowman, than if a ninja gets hurt by a kick-boxer. 

If you use data from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) to determine the violent content of popular games from 1996 to 2014 and compare this with youth violence during the same years you get a surprising result. Rather than causing violence the wide spread uptake of gaming actually reduced violent crime and there is a correlation between falling youth violence and the popularity of violent games. The logic would be that if angry youths are dispelling aggression by punching a virtual opponent they won't go out and punch someone in real life.
Fighting games therefore provide a cathartic outlet for frustrations and the player should, in theory, be less angry as a result of playing. For 'Clay Fighter', the safe “family friendly fighting game", the reverse is true. Playing for long periods actually increases tension, not because of the depicted violence, but because the controls are so unresponsive. The best fighting games depend on fast reactions and complex button press combinations. Timing is everything and games like 'Street FighterII' even demand the player hits the button at the right frame of animation to string the most complex combinations together. There is no such demand on someone opting to play 'Clay Fighter'; the game mechanics are far less sophisticated. Sometimes there's even a few seconds delay between a button being pressed and your character performing the required action. This is ok when you're playing a two player fight as both of you are at the same disadvantage. However, when you're battling with a computer foe that is able to pull off moves far faster than you can, it becomes very frustrating. Research carried out by Oxford University found that it isn’t aggressive games which make players angry, its badly made ones. After extensive study, they reached the conclusion that awkward controls and unnecessary difficultly caused angry impulses in the player, however the actual content of the game had very little effect.
 According to lead researcher Dr Andrew Przybylski, it seems that how well a player does is more to important to maintaining a happy mood than the level of violence shown. "We focused on the motives of people who play electronic games and found players have a psychological need to come out on top when playing," said Dr Przybylski. "If players feel thwarted by the controls or the design of the game, they can wind up feeling aggressive". It isn’t what you’re playing it’s how you’re playing it after all "you can get very angry playing a card game."

Acceptance of video game violence is already starting to become more common as parents understand the rating systems and the population at large become more familiar with video games as a whole. Eventually, it is highly likely that concerns about violent games will fade away. After all in the fifties society feared rock music and any collapse of an eighties society was pinned on video nasties.  When these forms of entertainment gained wider acceptance video games became the big bad wolf, so once understood it makes perfect sense that parents will then have to blame something new for teenager’s disaffection. At least in this fear filled future, video game publishers won't be able to pass mediocre games into clueless parents under the pretence that it is the safe option for their children. 

Where did I get this game from?

The beauty of being part of a community is sharing the wealth. If you have a game you no longer want, or a duplicate item, there will always be someone who you can trade it with. I traded ‘Clay Fighter’ with another blogger some time ago, but have only got round to playing it. I really want missing much, and with ‘Super Street Fighter II’ on my shelf, I very much doubt ‘Clay Fighter’ will be taken out of the box again anytime soon. 

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