I had initially planned to delve into more discussion about the design process and power levels in the coming weeks, but you know what they say about plans: they exist to be ruined. Okay, nobody says that, but it sounds like something they should. You see, Yu-Gi-Oh‘s been subject to this particular topic for years, and it is something I eventually planned to discuss, but recent card reveals have compelled me to talk about it now. Hello, and welcome to another Acts of Terrorism. Strap yourselves in and get ready for the cool, cool jivey insight of the king.
I really want to dive into this, but I must maintain my composure and follow the structure I set up for this column, sadly. Let’s start by actually introducing the topic, which is essentially, “Do your own thing”. Yes, imitation, as they say (they actually do say this one), is the sincerest form of flattery, but just like you wouldn’t want a hobo tattooing your name on their nether regions, flattery can be, well, unflattering. What do I mean? Well, do you remember my article on Lovecraft? I touched on it a smidgen, but here, the idea of “if you’re going to pay homage to something, you should do so while presenting the ideas and general feel of what the thing is you’re paying homage to” will be explored deeply.
Okay, so you’re a designer and there’s this really cool thing out there you like. Maybe it’s some religion, some belief system or maybe some other story that’s been told, and you want to incorporate those into your game because they resonated with you. That’s fine, and is generally the only case where paying homage to something can be good. Incorporating established themes of those outside elements into your work and putting your spin on them can produce very good material. There’s generally two ways to go about this when you’re creating from resonance:
1. You can create something that captures the feel of the thing you’re referencing without being that thing. Take, for example, the Elder Scrolls games. The continent of Nirn (what they call their world) that the Elder Scrolls games take place on is known as Tamriel. Each game takes place in a different locale of Tamriel, and generally, that locale is based on a real world culture that exists or existed. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion’s section of the map, Cyrodil, is based heavily on the Roman Empire, but that doesn’t mean you’ll find Marcus Licinius Crassus there. You might find an analogue of him, but you’ll not find that historical person. Bethesda took the most culturally significant aspects of the Holy Roman Empire and incorporated them into the setting of Cyrodil (army gear, clothing style, infrastructure etc), whilst putting their own twist on these elements to create a place that fits in seamlessly with the rest of the world they’d created. So while it isn’t a 1:1 translation of Roman history or culture, it does feel like it. To see how Magic: The Gathering handles it, read through these.
2. You can create a reimagining of the thing you’re referencing. That is, you take the same characters from whatever is inspiring you and you put them in a new setting, while keeping the plot of the world they’re from the same. As per usual, here’s an example: Samurai 7. It is an anime based on the highly acclaimed movie, Seven Samurai. It features the same characters, the same characters dying, the same plot and the same narrative structure as the movie… except instead of samurai fighting guys, it’s samurai fighting robots. The writers took a classic story and went “What if it was more sci-fi?” and then adapted it faithfully into that setting.
Now, when you’re not making something from resonance, and it isn’t a historical piece, it means you’re incorporating those elements superficially, and if that’s the case, why bother? Well, money, dear boy. You parody Star Wars or Lord of the Rings even though your setting has nothing to do with either, you’re more likely to be noticed than if you did your thing without those tacked on parodies. The human mind likes familiarity, and you, being the unscrupulous scamp you are, can make use of that to sell your product or gain exposure by superficially piggybacking off things we’re familiar with! That takes us to what I began with, that is, what prompted me to make this article at this time rather than another: Yu-Gi-Oh.
Remember that first image up above with the fire monsters? They’re meant to reference the ancient Chinese text, The Water Magin, but they’re reimagined as being fiery warriors that use animal spirits. I know you may be thinking that this is clearly a case of the second method I highlighted, where you take things from one story and transport them to a different setting, but it really isn’t. At least, not for the medium of a card game, where it is through gameplay that the story is conveyed. Through gameplay, they turned out to be just generic Yu-Gi-Oh monsters that searched, summoned and shenanigans’d. The issue here is they could’ve been any other card and didn’t need to be referencing a text so important to so many people. That was not the first, nor the last time the game did something like that, and it’s the most recent example that prompted this article.
The new TCG archetype is “Kozmo,” and it’s a Star Wars-Wizard of Oz combination. This one made me particularly upset because I am a Star Wars fanatic. Normally, when someone says that they mean they’ve watched the movies a bunch of times and maybe played the old Battlefront games. When I say it, however, I mean in addition to those, I also read the novels, the comics, writer interviews, take part in “who would win” debates and have an active The Old Republic account. I mean I am crazy obsessed with Star Wars. Needless to say, given Yu-Gi-Oh’s track record with handling other people’s work, I had my reservations. They proved to be accurate when I saw the first card, Kozmo Farmgirl, which was the typical generic card effects on a card supposedly representing Luke Skywalker. The trend would continue for later cards. You can stop reading here and skip to the next image in the article if you wish, for everything from here until then will be me picking apart Kozmo character cards because they make me feel like the boys did in South Park in the following video (just imagine the Star Wars logo over Indie’s face and Konami’s logo over George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s faces).
Let’s start with the pictured card, Kozmoll Wickedwitch. Darth Maul is a Dathomirian sith lord that was trained from his youth by then-senator Sheev Palpatine, while he himself was still apprenticed to Hego Damask (who you may know as Darth Plagueis the Wise). If you know anything about Sith, you know there can only be two at any given time, so Maul was not trained as a Sith Apprentice, but as a Sith Assassin. He could not do advanced sith techniques like Force Lightning because he was meant to be nothing more than a killing tool for Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious, and not meant to be a successor. How do you translate this into a card? Well, it’s as simple as making him a powerful vanilla (that is, a creature with no effects) for his level. Hell, Maul was even primarily trained in Teras Kasi for most of his life, which is a special martial art made for non-force sensitives (vanillas) to be able to tangle with those with the force (effect monsters). That option isn’t on the table, given Yu-Gi-Oh’s horrible power scale. How about you give it a powerful battle phase effect that enables it to kill monsters since Maul was essentially raised just to be a warrior? Well Yu-Gi-Oh didn’t do that, and instead went the generic route.
Now let’s move on to Kozmo Farmgirl. Luke Skywalker is the most Jedi Jedi to ever Jedi. He’s calm and collected and isn’t given to emotional outbursts and diving headfirst into dangerous situations like his father was during his formative years. Luke also isn’t proactive, and is more reactive in how he handles things. In battle, Luke uses the purely defensive Form 3: Soresu (also used by Obi-Wan) and the reactive Form 5: Shien. That brings us to Farmgirl, who needs to attack the opponent, and from there only adds more resources to you. That creates the image of an aggressive creature, pressing down on the opponent, which is the antithesis of Jedi morals. That’s not Luke, not even in his farmboy days. How would you translate Luke into gameplay correctly? Create a defensive card that slowly builds up over time.Yu-Gi-Oh’s Extra Deck provides so many ways to deal with cards that it isn’t feasible to go that route, however. If the card is meant to evoke Anakin Skywalker instead of his son, then it shouldn’t be an adult in the card’s lackluster art, but a child. Further, Anakin is prone to doing things on his own rather than endangering those around him, so a tutoring effect doesn’t fit him either.
Finally, Kozmo Goodwitch. First of all, the art makes no sense (I’m not talking about the lack of quality in the art, since that could be its own topic someday). Given the reference to Darth Maul, and the card Kozmo Lightsword (terrible art for an equip card, by the way, since it focuses on a scene rather than the tools), it seems she’s meant to be Qui-Gon Jinn, but then why is she green and has pointy ears like Yoda? Further, her effect in no way reflects either character. Yoda hits hard and he hits fast, while Qui-Gon delves into the more esoteric applications of the Force and focuses on the spiritual (which is why he was the one to teach the ability to become force ghosts to Yoda and Obi-Wan).
Those could’ve been any other cards. Any. They’re just Star Wars-inspired so Konami can make a quick cash grab by baiting at nostalgia. It is not a coincidence that these are coming out around the time Star Wars Episode 7 is going to be released. It’s detestable how much contempt this company has for its consumers.
Magic: The Gathering, from Fall 2013-Spring 2014, was in a Greek mythology-inspired world called Theros. Everything from the artwork, to the stories told to the gameplay captured Greek mythology and the designers painstakingly translated resonant themes and images from the source material into a Magic: The Gathering medium. You can read more about that process here.
Perhaps some point in the future I will discuss story through gameplay more. That said, you can go home now. We’re done here.