Lab Zero Games, the developer behind the fully animated fighting game, Skullgirls, has made some changes to viewable panties. To some people, those changes crept in without warning, whereas to others they were well known prior to their implementation. The changes are small, but both sides of the fence have been pretty vocal about their reasoning.
Changes happen in games, it’s not unreasonable for things to be added or balanced. Take this as a case study, a review on the drawbacks and merits of such changes. That being said the changes in question were, admittedly, rather minor in the grand scheme of things. Skullgirlsis well known for the girls that give it the title, and features a host of leading ladies that range from the gorgeous to the downright scary. It also features a beat cop that was given the “Darth Vader” treatment, and while he’s not a girl, he’s still pretty great. Skullgirls is partially a product of its own design, with the developers stating “well, they’re sexy girls, and they’re fighting. If one of them is wearing a skirt, you’re bound to see some panty”. Seems like a fairly reasonable statement, and Skullgirls certainly abides by that.
That comment was made in a forum post back in April, by Render of Lab Zero. Within the same comment, Render laid out Lab Zero’s reasoning behind their decision to alter some panty shots. The changes would be applied to Filia, Fukua and Cerebella when the time came, and would alter the way they flashed their underwear. Render stated that this particular “handful of animations” went against their ethic that the panty shots should be incidental. He felt they shouldn’t be forced just for the sake of it and “they seemed like they did go out of their way to flash” the player. According to Render, the shots that were changed were created way back “at the beginning of development”, and as such, their “standards have evolved”. The thought was made to relay this information via the forum “before you guys start to freak out”, and since the changes are “not up for debate”, there isn’t really much choice in the matter. Some players felt differently, however, and it’s unclear whether any firm announcement was made, if at all. Lab Zero promises that there will be no further changes however, but it’s hard to blame players for being suspicious after incidents like Overkill’s Pay Day fiasco. Promises need to be written in blood and sealed by a demon on pain of death these days.
This obviously spawned two distinct camps of reasoning. Those who supported the decision stated that Lab Zero have every right to make changes to their product, no matter how insignificant or large it will be. It’s generally accepted that games will change over time; a texture tweak, a sound replaced, maybe some new maps or costumes. With everyone so readily connected to the internet, updates can be rolled out fairly easily whenever they need to be. Games can be supported for as long as they need to be, and it can be a real force for keeping a community alive. Opponents to the change say that things like this alter the product they paid for, and it just isn’t the same. This happened to Overkill, though they arguably implemented way more changes that affected the gameplay itself. The comparison has been made to George Lucas, in his constant editing and re-releasing of the original trilogy. The infamous “Han shot first” scene completely changed the tone of the character, not just that instance of him. Players can get used to aspects of a game, or enjoy something in particular about it, and when it’s changed, it might not sit well with them. Maybe it was a major selling point. The real question here is – who has the right to expectation? Can the developers expect to be able to do whatever they want with their game, many years after the fact? Do players have the right to that product they paid for, without expecting it to change suddenly? It’s a grey area, and arguments can really be made for both.
One way this kind of thing can get sticky fast is when communication breaks down. As per Render’s forum post, Lab Zero made it very clear they wouldn’t discuss the topic with anyone. It was stated in that forum however that “there’s plenty of other stuff in the game that’s more racey than what was edited”. For anyone who doesn’t visit that forum though, the first anyone is likely to hear about this is that there’s been some form of censoring. That’s certainly what turned me onto the topic, and only with some investigation was it discovered this was all pre-planned. The most recent patch notes of October 26th state the usual modicum of changes, and add “nothing else has changed :^)” at the bottom. Now the forum post in question was back in April, so there has been a lot of time between now and then. There was no official statement in the update log, rather than the tongue-in-cheek smiley face. It’s likely Lab Zero were hoping it would go unnoticed due to the small amount of frames that were changed, but as is usually the case with the internet, that can backfire spectacularly. I hate to bring up Overkill again, but they just did so much wrong that it’s a perfect example of what not to do. During their main event, “Crimefest”, the updates were released “for free” to all players. Well, the updates were released for free, but then you had to pay for them if you wanted that new skin. Of course, Lab Zero are not that bad, but proper communication is still the key to success and a smooth ride.
It’s likely those reading will be split on this, some may find it acceptable that a developer’s work ethic might change sometime down the line. Maybe a developer will decide they didn’t like something any more, and you’re OK with that. Others may find it quite unacceptable, in that any censorship or change after the fact is unreasonable. Fans of other genres have certainly been through change; my memory goes back to Pillars of Eternity, when one little change caused a storm. The changes for Skullgirls were small, involving “around 20 individual frames in a game with over 15,000”, so the issue is a microcosm of the greater experience when it comes to censorship or changes. The current climate is likely a contributing factor, with localization censorship, demands for change to offensive material and the general demonisation of video games by the wider media. Poorly announced changes like this will almost definitely cause some people to jump to conclusions, which Render clearly expected. The changes were “not made to appeal to a ratings board” and were cleared with the artists and everyone involved. If such a reaction was expected, then it might have been better off explained in the patch notes, rather than with a cheeky wink and a smile.
I’m sure I’ve also blown this out of proportion, but it’s an interesting topic to discuss. How much change equates to censorship? Does change like this equate to censorship at all? Is there an optimal course of action for breaking this to your fans? The questions that arise from this have more to do with the issue at hand than the actual issue itself. Skullgirls has some really great art, especially since it’s all done frame by frame, and it would be sad to see anything major occur. Lab Zero have firmly said there won’t be any more changes like this, so take that as you will. They’ve also said they won’t discuss it, and that the changes are there whether players like it or not, which isn’t exactly the friendliest message. Most people will be playing Skullgirls for the game itself though, and since the fan service is just icing on the cake, it’s all down to your own opinion.
[UPDATE] Added an “after” (top) and “before” (bottom) screenshot to illustrate the point (and panties) better.
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