Knights of the Round

Here there is only emptiness.

Hello everyone.

Let’s talk about what makes games fun, or good. I think we’ve talked about it before, but it bears repeating.

A game can be immersive – it can tell a story, it can make you feel like you’re inhabiting or exploring a world, it can make you feel like you’re living a person’s life, it can even make you feel emotion about the events you’re observing and interacting with.

A game can also be challenging and mechanically engaging – it can provide you with a challenge that is neither vapidly easy nor insurmountably difficult.  It can avoid both frustration and boredom.  It can give you a whole series of mechanics to explore and master.  It can give you tasks to complete, and it can make the attempts to do so enjoyable in their challenge.

A game can also be both of these things, and it can do many things that are in a middle ground – the kinetic appeal of running and leaping in the latest Prince of Persia, pathetically easy as it was, had something to it.  Even better, the web-swinging in the various Spider-Man games is fantastically enjoyable, even though it’s not particularly challenging to swing around the city, and there’s no real challenge facing your speed and mobility for the most part.  The very kinetics, the very experience of action in a game, can be fun.

The beatemup genre fails at all of these things.  It is a supreme failure.  It is an attempt to make a game easy enough that anyone can play it and feel like they’re doing okay, but clunky and impossible enough that eventually you’ll have to dump more coins into the arcade machine.  That’s what they’re designed for.  All you have to do is mash an attack button at the right time, and you will attack your enemies successfully.  But there’s no dodge button.  Jumping won’t save you.  Blocking is nearly pointless, since enemies can hit you from behind, and blocking an attack doesn’t leave the enemy vulnerable; there’s no reason to block instead of attack.  And so we have a game that is insipid and facile, where you just need to move in a vague direction and mash your attack button, but at the same time it is impossible to avoid damage and thus your quarters continue to vanish.

The genre persists because of nostalgia, largely, but some people love that shit.  I think it accesses the same part of your brain’s pleasure centres as games where you mindlessly click on enemies and watch your levels and stats increase.  It’s just a stupid, mindless time-waster that gently tickles your reward centres.

Even if you want to waste your time, there are better ways to do it.  Even the most vapid action movies and pulpy novels provide some real benefit.  A game like Knights of the Round has nothing to offer. If you play it, you are shortening your lifespan, because while you’re mindlessly mashing those buttons, I don’t think it counts as living.


Kirby’s Dream Land 3


Let me tell ya ’bout a kid called Kirby.  Wasn’t the name his mother gave him, but that’s what he settled on, so that’s what we called him, got it?  Weren’t too long before we’d have another name for him: The King.  “The King of Comics” we called him.  Let me tell you ’bout ol’ King Kirby.

Man was a visionary.  Was a time I’d say a man was the product of his experiences; ‘Art imitates Life’, that kinda thing.  Not Kirby.  Father was a factory worker – Jewish – came from Austria.  Kid grew up on Suffolk Street, New York; got into street fighting; said he liked it; said it was second nature to him.  Wasn’t the only thing second nature to him – kid was quicker with a charcoal than he was with his fists.  Too fast, they’d say – wouldn’t let him into college ’cause he made ’em all look bad!

Before long he was drawin’ strips for the paper.  Went by the name of “Jack Curtiss”.  By the time the funnies found him he was calling himself all sorts o’ things: “Curt Davis”, “Fred Sande”, “Ted Grey”, “Teddy” – like he was some kinda superhero with a secret identity – see what I’m getting at here? Anyway, finally he settles on ‘Jack’, “Jack Kirby”.

Soon he lands a job at Timely Comics, which may not sound like much.  You might recognize it by its new name, MARVEL COMICS.  Then he draws this guy called Captain America, all suited up in spandex with the stars and stripes.  Very first issue, March 1941, front page, punches Hitler right in the mug!  You can’t pay ten cents for that kind of action this day and age!  This was nine months before Pearl Harbor, mind you.  Nine months! Can you see it yet?  This is what I been talkin’ about!  Kirby, an Austro-Jewish-American street fighter, makes up this character called Captain America, who punches Hitler in the face nine months before we even entered World War II.

Hitler gets his early, thanks to Kirby.
Hitler gets his early, thanks to Kirby.

And here’s the real kicker: two years later, kid gets drafted in the US Army.  Lands on Omaha Beach ten days after D-Day, and his lieutenant asks him to scout ahead and draw recon maps!  Wasn’t all pretty pictures, though – nearly lost his legs in the winter of ’44, to frostbite, of all things.  See? See?!  Dammit, do I have to beat you over the head with it?!  Captain America was frozen in ice, dammit!  How else could he come back to fight the Commies?  Man was a genius, a bona fide prophet, I tells ya!

Anyway, he got an honorable discharge in ’45, and started doing comics again.  He did a bit of this and that – Young Romance, Young Love – the kid was in love, who could blame him?  Then he did Challengers of the Unknown and Green Arrow for National.  Eventually, though, he came back to Marvel.  It was there he started makin’ superheroes again – nothin’ major – just little ones like the Fantastic Four, Thor, the Hulk, Iron Man, the X-Men, Silver Surfer, and Black Panther, you know?  Stan’d say that they were all his idea, but we knew better.  Was a time when you wanted to draw Marvel, you had to draw Kirby.  He was their Holy Scripture – the A-B-C of comic art.


But it wasn’t enough for the King, he had to keep on movin’.  He signed with comic rivals DC and started work on his crown jewel.  He called it his “Fourth World”.   He wrote and drew four titles at the same time: the New Gods, Mister Miracle, The Forever People, and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen.  (For the record, DC woulda given him any book he wanted – the Man of Steel, the Caped Crusader, you name it – but God bless him, he didn’t take ’em, because – get this – he didn’t want to cost anyone their job!  That’s just the kind of guy he was.)  Now, I’m a simple kinda guy, and I don’t read so good, but I can call it like I see it, and this stuff – when you read it, it just crackled off the page like Pop Rocks, and it filled your head with these ideas, you know?  Things you never knew existed until Kirby put ’em there, right up in your noggin’.  There were days I’d swear my head would explode, and I thought to myself, where does he come up with this stuff? He’d never tell me – didn’t have the time – he simply smiled and got back to his drawings.  He was off in his own little world – he called it “The Fourth World” – but I called it Kirby’s Dream Land.

Jack’s left us now, but I still see him everywhere.  Not a week goes by I don’t read a comic or watch a film dedicated to the King.  I just read a Batman comic this morning was dedicated to him – the guy never even wrote a Batman comic! If he’s not your favorite artist, odds are he’s your favorite artist’s favorite artist.  They call it “The Kirby Effect”.  Heh.  He woulda liked that.  Prolly woulda come up with a science-like explanation for it too.  But I worked it out myself the other day:

Art doesn’t imitate Life, and Life doesn’t imitate Art.  Life imitates Kirby.

Dedicated to the King of Comics

 (1917-1994), R.I.P.
Jacob "Jack Kirby" Kurtzberg R.I.P. (1917-1994)