To Shin Den

By Isabel Auphin, 30 October 2008

What is this all about? A new stupid combat game? The plot is even poorer than usual: duels between 8 characters and that's all! What's the interest so? Well, as one of my French friends said, as soon as he saw the 2 fighters ready for the first duel: "hey hang on a minute will you? (I hope you like my subtitles, because he said it in French). Are they real? The ones we will play with?" Yes they are indeed, pals. 8 convincing read 3D characters that you animate in real time by pressing the Playstation control buttons.

Let's make this clear: I'm not writing an article to compare To Shin Den to other real 3D fighting games, like Tekken or Zero Divide, because I don't know them as well as To Shin Den. I'm just trying to understand why and how this particular category of computer games represents something new, and opens other possibilities for gameplay than just a succession of duels.

To Shin Den - Isabel Auphin

Image: Artist's sketch for To Shin Den, Courtesy of Sony Electronic Publishing

The important thing here, are the characters. The first characters which deserve this name in the computer games industry. We have 8 different characters, all physically very different. Their size, strength, age, and of course sex determine their different moves (can I take the opportunity here to say that 2 women for 8 characters seems a bit low, and that the choice between a child and a pin up looks a bit restrictive and trivial to me?) The old Chinese man, Fo, doesn't move as brutally as the enormous mass of muscles named Run Go, and the little and delicate young Ellis definitely attacks faster than the heavy metal armoured knight. So you can be really good at controlling one character, and really crap with another one. If your character is strong, he will cause a lot of damage every time he touches his adversary. But he will be slower, so the other fighter will have the time to avoid him. If he's old, he won't be strong or fast, but he will be wise enough to avoid attacks, wait for the opportunity to kick etc.

Another interesting thing is the ability to combine removal and attack buttons, and create other movements. Weapon attacks, hand and feet kicks, which can all be close or long distance attacks, can be combined with jumping, running, stepping back or squatting. Don't worry, I won't make an exhaustive list here of all the combination possibilities (I'm still discovering them).

I was never into computer games, they used to bore me to death before To Shin Den. I was into role-playing games. I enjoy becoming another person, with another morphology, another personality and other powers, to get into an adventure. It's almost possible now with computer games, and that's what I can see when I play To Shin Den or other games of the same kind. All we need now are good screenplays for these games, but I'm not worried about that, we can ask the traditional role-play writers!

I definitely think that To Shin Den belongs to a new generation of computer games. There is as much difference between a traditional 2D game -with flat pre-rendered positions for a character who exists eternally in profile - and a realtime 3D game, as there is between a theatre stage and an exterior technicolor background for an action movie. Believe me, I have nothing against theatre. I love it. But theatre is a convention. A convention also between the actors and their public. We go to the theatre to watch complicated psychological dramas or easy-going comedies, but never to watch adventure. Because adventure doesn't fit into the conventions. We go to watch adventure in cinemas. I can't stand the usual 2D computer games, because their graphics are too poor to be anything else than a convention, and they try to talk about adventure (in the best cases) and action, but their 2D low resolution flat animations don't convince me (I won't even talk about the "characters" in these games), and I can't get into them. Whereas I can get into the characters and realtime 3D environment like To Shin Den, because it's a virtual reality now, exactly like cinema was for theatre at the beginning of this century. Cinema took adventure stories out from the theatre, because cinema was more realistic, powerful and convincing. A better support for imagination. I think that virtual reality games will take adventure out from the cinema. For the first time in the history of narration, spectators (the players) will be able to take control of the narration. They won't just get a bit more "inside" the action, they will create it, and change the story their own way. Bloody, romantic, odd, erotic, dodgy, immoral, you never know. "oh come on, this is not new", you say "you could already do this in a role-playing game." Yes, but I couldn't keep traces or memories from them. I carry on role-playing every time I can, but that's the only way I can describe it to a person who doesn't know what it is. Because what remains for them? Just a memory. I can't share my experience, because a role-playing game is based on imagination. Whereas I will be able to share a virtual reality game experience, because it's based on a visual and audio support (and probably fuller sensory support later). I will even be able to record it one lay. for sure. Tremendous fun in perspective!

Well, we can also get afraid of this, of the unknown consequences on our notion of reality and all this kind of stuff. you know, won't we get lost, and go crazy? I've got my own opinion about that, but I won't tell you now, because it's another story. I was just asked to write an article on To Shin Den after all, and I just did.

Zoopie L.F.F.F (Little Fussy French Froggy Ltd.)