Arcade

Ah, Arcade.

Arcade, one of the Marvel villains ideal for one story, yet utterly unable to work in anything beyond it.

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Arcade, for most of his existence, was/is a normal human in a bad 70s suit and giant bow tie who builds deathtrap amusement parks called Murderworlds and has an inexplicable ability to capture superheroes and plop them in there. Appearing in the second-rate title Marvel Team-Up, by all means he should have been a one-issue wonder who would be “lucky” to be a victim of the Scourge, a character created to eliminate “embarrassing” villains.

Instead, the legendary Chris Claremont liked the character and used him as an X-Men villain, and he became a B/C-list supervillain, even earning a place in Marvel Ultimate Alliance.

There have been multiple attempts to make Arcade a “serious” threat, the largest and most recent being the Hunger Games/Battle Royale ripoff Avengers Arena. None have worked. How could they work? It takes so much effort to force a character whose gimmick is ridiculous even by comic-book standards that one might as well make a new character or use someone more appropriate.

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Thankfully, the version that I call “Classic Arcade” is an ideal ‘filler’ villain that almost any low-mid level superhero can face. The amusement park gimmick can make for some interesting visuals, and Arcade rarely facing the heroes directly means his reappearances aren’t quite as contrived as-well, everything else about him.

The Ultimate Alliance appearance uses Arcade well, with his presence being an excuse to have a carnival level and some extra-hammy voice acting.

Even crossovers can work-there is nary a Marvel crossover I’ve come up with that doesn’t involve the other crossover characters being tossed into Murderworld.

Crossover Challenges

For the sake of both writing and getting the really bad stories out of my system, I’ve been in the process of writing several really, really bad crossovers of the most seemingly incompatible settings I can think of.

In the process (still not sure how many of the drafts are going to be posted), I’m learning the troubles with “in-name only” stories. That is, you change so many things that it becomes an original story with franchise trappings.

That can happen far too often.

The SaltyBet Resort

Watching a considerable variety of matches on the infamous Saltybet, the natural fanfic concept is to imagine a resort where the hundreds and hundreds of men, women, monsters, memes, cars, contraptions, and whatever else the MUGEN designers have made rest between their matches. Saltybet is too varied to provide any coherent concept, but the thought is still amusing.

The Smash Bros. fandom has set a precedent with the so-called “Smash Mansion”, where instead of turning back into trophies, the characters stay there between matches and interact in fics that tend to be bad even by the standards of Sturgeon’s Law.

Of course, since the long, official name is “Salty’s Dream Cast Casino”, my headcanon imagines another resort, where the interdimensional elite view and bet on such matches for their entertainment.

So maybe I’m just too bored when I see a Saltybet match and think “Hmm, what about ____ relaxing after the battle”.

Or maybe it’s just my sense of craziness that leads me to make fanfic ideas merging a cutesy RPG and a technothriller.

Captain N revisited

There was a show starting in 1989, at the height of the NES boom. This show was sloppy and nonsensical even by the standards of toy commercial tie-in cartoons, and featured “adaptations” of numerous NES characters alongside a wish-fulfillment protagonist.

The show was called Captain N: The Game Master.

Naturally, the question was asked on Spacebattles as to what a modern Captain N would be like. Some answered, not unjustifiably, “Wreck-it Ralph”. I disagree.

Wreck-it Ralph actually avoided the pitfalls it might have encountered. The references are used as references before going to a story taking place almost entirely in an original game, making it a fun movie rather than the mix of brainless slapstick and references it could have been.

The context has changed, thanks to Nintendo’s iron-fisted approach to adaptations following the Super Mario Bros. film debacle and an increasingly aware internet. Everything is so different that including modern gamers (who are far more diverse than the stereotypical Kevin Keene), would just be anthetical to the show’s original character.

So, my reboot idea would be an 80s NES hero-gamer-in a set of more modern games, from deep-plot ones to sports games to grey dark to quirky. The poor hero would find out just how everything has grown and changed.

I would take care to keep the references in check, and not have it be “silly for its own sake”.

 

How I’ve Tried to Fit A Square Monster into a Round Hole

Fiction is an interesting phenomenon. A premise that remains totally implausible from a realistic standpoint can nonetheless be accepted completely, and without protest. The reader can understand that it’s the way the setting is. But some approaches can make a reader more critical.

Like most people who grew up in the 1990s, I had and have a soft spot for the “Pocket Monsters”. I will freely admit to reading and writing Pokemon fanfiction. However enjoyable (in a guilty-pleasure way) the fiction is, I saw a trend. Nearly every attempt to make a ‘darker’ fic seemed to fail. The prototypical example of the trend, Pokemon Master, is illustrative-rather than trying to chip away at the goofy parts for a cartoon, the authors plop hordes and hordes of “grimdark” on top of this, meaning that instead of a yellow Pikachu goofily shocking someone, you have a black Pikachu gorily killing someone.

I thought, with typical misguided enthusiasm, that I could do better. This had huge problems of its own (more to come later), but I was determined to fit the square monster into a round hole. I basically summed up my feelings on a traditional journey (in hindsight, I was a lot harsher than I should have been-I don’t want to reject something entirely due to lack of ‘realism’)-in one forum post.

Then I have to say one of the biggest problems with portraying the Pokemon World as some sort of Darwinian dreamland is that the representations we see of it show modern standards of living and peaceful cities. That’s the first problem. The second problem is that when fanfiction writers try to change that, they almost invariably fail, because formalized battles and leaders being kids in silly costumes are incompatible with a truly rough, tumble, survival of the fittest society (Also, in such a society, no one would send their valuable kid out on a “character-building” journey, there would be plenty of character-building just living.) Another, somewhat related problem with having everyone go out on a journey is that having everyone’s youth go and flop around, then come back to a modern society, would wreak havoc on an economy.

So, the only way I can think of this is to have the number of people who actually go on journeys to be limited, and to make the setting of the games a pseudo-Darwinian dreamland. One version just has a lucky few going on journeys as part of becoming professional trainers and everyone else lives a normal, hard-worked life broadly comparable to modern existence. Another, darker one basically has the area being closer to a Persian Gulf rentier state than anything else-the economy is driven by off-screen commodities, and you have a small “native” population backed up by tons and tons of foreign workers, and the native population small enough and the money great enough that you can have artificial prosperity despite ludicrous inefficiency.

So in my first version, the aspiring trainer is basically the equivalent of specializing in music or athletics for most of their early life, only really going on a journey (as opposed to catching one common Pokemon near their home, etc..) if they show real talent. Even that’s a means to an end-the moment they compete in real tournaments, they stop journeying and start just training.

In the second version, the aspiring trainer’s family has a home with tons of servants, a simple job, and enough money to be contented. Yet because of this bizarre fantasy, they feel that they have to send their kid out into the brush because it’s the only way you can truly build character.    

I fell bizarrely in love with the rentier state model of the Pokemon nation, and my thoughts and development of it continued-not so much for ‘plausibility’ or ‘realism’ as just that I liked the concept-darker without being stereotypically grimdark, and good enough to work.

The resulting nation is kind of like a weird cross between the Roman Republic and a Gulf oil-state.

One decision, undoubtedly controversial even to me, was to “wall off” the capabilities of the monsters. The answer is contrived, a sort of “GM says so” argument, because I wanted them there without it turning into a civilization ruled by warrior-kings controlling their legendary and final-stage evolution Pokemon. The most controversial handwave was to say that Pokemon cannot be used in large-scale armed conflict among humans.

The justifications are as follows-

-The previous Pokemon-training human civilization destroyed itself, along with many, many Pokemon in a cataclysmic war.

-This left a psychic/aura ‘imprint’ on the remaining ones (and the hidden legendaries, assuming they exist).

-Thus, they’ll just disobey and run off if ordered to fight in a battle bigger than the 1986 FBI shootout, and even something like that requires incredible discipline.

-The League, whose base consists of the descendents of the few survivors of said cataclysism, has a gigantic revulsion to using Pokemon in battle for that reason. They also have warehouse-loads of Master Balls at the ready in case they face anyone who does not share that objection and has somehow managed to weaponize Pokemon.

The nation has a population, of, at most, 10-12 million people. Of those, slightly less than half are native-born citizens, and the rest are foreign migrants. (Cardona has favorable geography mixed with a psychotic immigration enforcement). Only citizens are allowed to be trainers.

The economy is a petro-state, completely dependent on resource revenues. They also are blessed with good enough isolation to spend very little on conventional defense. This means they can get away with a lot of inefficiency.

That was the easy part. The hard part was making a story, since all this focused worldbuilding was taking away from the fact that it’s still ultimately a setting where kids run around and chase monsters. So enter the League’s Special Intelligence and Investigation, which I could use as a crossover bait. Their job is to do both the League’s dirty work and keep the possible dangerous consquences of Pokemon in the bottle. Lavishly funded, they have cross-dimensional transport capability that they take full advantage of.

SII had various forms, from a somewhat realistic agency to an outright XCOM-esque force. The biggest problem was that they were so thematically alien to the setting-evil team leaders being “Gerald Bulled” by a ruthless force that doesn’t play by the cartoonish rules is just nihilistic and munchkiny. So that seemed like a dead end as well.

Then it hit me. The “doesn’t play by the same rules” applied to SII as well. They’re used to dealing with rabble-rousers and ‘ordinary’ antagonists who can have their lairs overrun by commandos. What they’re not used to dealing with is (to give an example from just the second movie) hideously rich collectors who have giant flying castles that would require a lot more than a single missile to bring down.

Suddenly, it goes from a grimdark munchkin-stomp to a story about the interactions between a grounded and “leaping” setting, with the former not always the best. I could even have SII enter a world with total anime physics as a joke and watch their commandos go flying into the sky after they attack ineffectually. But except as a humorous bonus, I don’t think I’d go that far.

What I would be aiming for is something like a scene in, of all things, the first Mortal Kombat movie. Sonya draws her gun on SubZero, and he just nonchalantly freezes it, showing the game is changed. Under my earlier concepts, the whole scene would be just a repeat of the infamous swordfighter ‘clash’ in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now-it’s the cue for the ‘rationalists’ to redefine their definition of ‘rationality’.

Certainly going to be a lot more fun to write.

“This Pikachu is a Class Hexa threat.”

“But it’s just a Pikach-wait, it what?”

“I told you.”
Oh, and that horde of Master Balls the League thinks is its ace in the hole? Well, let me just say that the enemy gets a vote…