Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The History of Smash Bros. Speculation: Part 1, The Wonder Year

I’m working on starting the Stage Tour series soon, folks. To tide the time before you can actually read something you want to read, I’ll give you some bullshit that I find somewhat interesting.

Recently, I’ve been noticing a pervasive sense of…emptiness. I couldn’t figure out exactly what was going on, until I figured out what time of year it was: exactly one year since the Smash Bros. Dojo first opened its doors and started its of wave of information that gave me reason to look forward to each weekday morning.

So, to fill the void in my life that has existed since March (and will hopefully go away soon, because it’s really annoying), I’m going to write a retrospective of the nearly two years of wild speculation, in-fights, and realized and crushed hopes and dreams that were the Brawl pre-release times. Of course, I don’t always look upon these times kindly, so expect me to insult many people, maybe even you, repeatedly and brutally.

In this first instalment, we’ll visit the early times…

May 9th, 2006
E3. It had been a year since Nintendo announced that they were making a new Smash Bros. title for their new console, which since that time had undergone a name change and a controller revelation. People were curious about how the new instalment would work on the newly dubbed Wii, and were hoping Nintendo’s press conference would shed some light on it. Alas, while games like Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime 3 were shown, a new Smash Bros. was nowhere to be seen. People were worried, and we all wondered where our beloved sequel could be. We didn’t have to wait long to find out…

May 10th, 2006
The next night, as if out of nowhere, our prayers were answered. Shiggy and Sakurai called together a group of journalists, and soon our new Smash Bros. was there all to be seen. Subtitled Brawl, the first few seconds of the video footage showed us shiny graphics, new stages, a Nintendog out of nowhere, and a mysterious item and revelation of super attacks.
Then the new characters marched onscreen. Meta Knight! Cool! Pit! Holy crap! Zero Suit Samus! Interesting! Wario! Awesome! Things were looking good already.
Then darkness. Then something unexpected: a Metal Gear Solid CODEC scene between Solid Snake and Colonel. What does this have to do with…unless….oh. My. GOD. Then it happened: Snake is in Smash Bros.! The first third-party character in the series, and it came from f’in NOWHERE! BEST GAME EVER.
As some lamers may say, the game was now afoot.

The Rest of May 2006
We had our first batch of information, and so the baseless verbiage that had been going on since Melee was released was now replaced with ideas based on what we had seen. People wondered: How will Snake play? How do those super attacks work? Where did that dog come from? How will Zero Suit Samus come into play? And, of course, speculation about who will be in the game, both returning and new.
The English Brawl site opened soon after, and each week a new character profile would be put up. We got out first few tidbits about each of the new characters, but little else. Some statements, like the cryptic statements about Wario’s farting special move, fuelled even more speculation. Additional information was garnered from early interviews with Sakurai, where he revealed that Gamecube controllers would be compatible with the game, leading to an argument between people who thought that it would be the ONLY compatible controller and those who thought that the Wii Remote MUST also be compatible (one side would eventually win, as they should have, because the other side was completely illogical). But these nuggets were small potatoes compared to what was being said on the Japanese site…

May 20-something to June 9th, 2006
Ahhh, Toukouken, the cause of, and solution to, most of the Smash forum problems for the longest time. This little section, where director Sakurai chose fan-submitted comments/suggestions for one reason or another to be printed and even answered some questions. Many were mad that only the Nips were getting a chance to offer opinions, but those people probably didn’t understand the concept that Japanese developers would be able to understand letters from Japanese fans much easier than some English-to-Japanese corporate communication. Even the way these comments were chosen was argument unto itself, where some believed the chosen comments meant something, while more cynical minds said they didn’t mean anything. Either way, it was our only source of information for a good, solid month.
The main info gathered by us Babelfish-using gaijin dogs were Sakurai’s comments, which sped across the spectrum from eyebrow-raising revelations to useless, jokey responses. The most important information, best translated by Smashboards stalwart SamuraiPanda, revealed a host of things: that Snake wouldn’t use ‘realistic’ weapons, but rather explosives (leading to an even bigger aura of mystery to his potential moveset); that, yes, the Gamecube controller would be compatible (which didn’t help much with the controller argument at hand); and that they would try their best with the online function, and would not include rankings and leaderboards (which apparently didn’t become a controversial decision until closer to the game’s release).
The most important of these announcements were threefold: that there would probably be, at most, 1 or 2 more third party characters (most assumed 2, but some clung to the idea that the cast would include dozens of non-Nintendo characters for very little reason other than lack of common sense); that the game’s speed would be adjusted (which led many self-serious ‘hardcore’ players to moan almost all the way until release); and that some characters from the previous game would be dropped (leading to every character not yet confirmed to be returning to be considered unsafe, even though it made no sense for them to drop characters like Luigi or Bowser. Those of us not stricken with paranoia pretty much knew from the start who would get the boot.) These statements would provide for flamewars for a whole year.
At the end of the comment section’s reign, I personally took all the suggestions that were translated by us fans and created a ranked list of characters by how many times a comment suggesting them appeared during the run. Yes, it was I who devised the shambling monstrosity that plagued countless speculation threads even to the Dojo days! I don’t regret it, but it really made things…interesting, especially later on. Some lesser thinkers treated it like a popularity poll rather than the developers choice of letters, so its meaning was somewhat skewed.
On the list itself, characters like Dedede, Ike, Diddy Kong, Ridley, Geno, and Krystal topped off the list, with others like Lucas bringing up the rear. With this, many people thought they knew exactly who would get in the game and battled with the cynics. Some were so convinced that the fan clubs they were bound to make become even more cultish and insane, soon inspiring battles so pathetic it would make Celebrity Boxing look like World War I. The one part I do regret, I guess, is possible inspiring goddamned forum wars between Geno and Ridley fans. Many also wondered where Sonic was at, and some gunjumpers thought that his absence meant that he was definitely already in. It wasn’t until about August when we found out he was the most requested character.
It was around this time, too, that the first rumours appeared. Many were easily dismissed, but one annoyingly stuck around because of people who don’t check facts. It was a doozy, too: according to some French person, Sakurai was on a Japanese radio show, and had said that they would be dropping the Ice Climbers, Mr. Game & Watch, and Young Link, and would be adding Bowser Jr., Ridley, and Windwaker Link. It sounds ludicrous now, but back then, anything was possible, especially in concerns to the former two characters, who some troglodytes saw as completely expendable because they have no absolutely no sense of history. The hardest part about disproving the rumour, as fake as it sounds, was that there was no evidence for or against it, which pretty much made it a test to see who could think critically. The fact that sites like 1Up ran the story despite the lack of evidence only exasperated the situation further. Thankfully, it played a lesser and lesser role in speculation as time passed, even though the secondary part of that rumour, where it was said there would be 40 characters, stuck around in some people’s minds a bit longer.
Then the message appeared: that the site would stop updating for a while. We still had very little clue when the game was coming out, other than he vague “2007”. We had as many questions as answers, or more. And we were forced to wait until our next big reveal, whenever that was. The arguments in progress lingered, and we waited for our overlord to enlighten us again…and waited…and waited.

October 31st, 2006
Ah Halloween. A time for spookiness, a time for candy. It was also a time for our waiting to cease…or, at least, to give us an idea of when the waiting would cease.
After 6 months and a few press conferences that came and gone with no Brawl info, someone noticed that message appeared on the Japanese site. It was quickly translated, and our hearts jumped: later that week, a new Brawl trailer would be shown at a Japanese Wii tour! There were some vague bits about “new characters moving around”, which made people wonder if any actual new characters would be shown, or whether it would be the new ones already revealed. No matter, a new trailer! We smiled and bounced as spent a few mini-Crispy Crunch-fuelled days waiting for our prayers to be answered.

November 2nd & 3rd, 2006
Time Zones allowed us to get our first new game glimpses ahead of time. The night before the trailer was to premier, we got a lone screenshot: a brochure pic of Pit fighting…gasp! Sorta….Fox, in what appeared to be a Kid Icarus stage. As I stated on one forum “it’s small…but it’s enough”.
The next morning, the new trailer was all over the Internet. We got to see lots of character footage, giving us a vague idea of how some of the new characters would play. We saw Meta Knight gliding, giving us a new technique to speculate about. Wario moved funny, and some wondered if he was replacing Mr. Game & Watch. And Snake came with some ideas about his stage, which had been slightly revealed in a screenshot on the site before. Not much in the way of new character stuff, but it was good for the time.
The new stages, however, were coming out by the boatload. A Mario Kart stage, hoorah! A Yoshi’s Island stage, booyah! The aforementioned Kid Icarus and Metal Gear stages! Is that…Pokemon Stadium, again? We even got some idea of the unique features to some of these stages. So, now we actually had some stages we really knew (where is the details of the two nameless stages and the Halberd from the previous trailer were very vague, and inspired some arguments).
And then, at the end, we see the new design for Fox, and his space ship stage. Some didn’t like his new Star Fox Command-based design, and acted like big babies about it (even a certain co-blawger I know of…) Others wondered how his new stance and the fact that he was carrying his gun rather than leaving it in his holster would affect his gameplay. Thus ended the new trailer and we were once again left with a cryptic “2007” release date. At the end of November, the trailer and a few new screens were posted on the site, and once again it went dormant.
The new trailer answered many questions, but apparently not enough. The same arguments from before raged on, and some new, very dumb ones arose: why weren’t the super attacks in the new trailer? Were they just in the first one for show (as little sense as that makes)? People also tore apart the trailer, looking for hints of attacks and new attack properties. Some used it as evidence that the game would slower and thus not totally l33t h@rdcore enough for their Melee dominating skillz. It was around this time I became disinterested in the Smash Bros. online communities and went away, hoping to keep Brawl out of mind until something new came up again.
And it would be another long while until something new did come up….


Bonus: the stupidest forum ideas/arguments from this time:

*”Obviously, the statement means that there will be fewer characters in this game than in Melee, and they will drop unimportant characters like Yoshi and Zelda.”