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Subtractive design and backstories in Duel Avatars

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Subtractive design and backstories in Duel Avatars

Post by Royal Duke on Fri Jan 22, 2016 7:14 pm

Okay, ladies and gentlemen. Today I feel like I have the right words and right mindset to explain how I feel the average Duel Avatar should be designed. This is at all times my personal opinion, so feel absolutely free to disagree with the content of this post. Also, if you haven't read at least up to volume 4 (8, preferably since I also discuss Haruyuki's backstory here) of Accel World, you're going to get spoiled, so tread with care if you haven't.

Beforehand, apologies if this is too much to read at once, but even when I tried to compress it as much as I could, I feel all words here carry a meaning. I always wanted to express my love for what the series does right (for what it does wrong, feel free to ask me and I will gladly let you know), yet I lacked the maturity and words to do so, this being my love letter to Duel Avatars and all the good writers that have inspired me to go on.

One of the main issues I've noticed in the past is that most fan created Duel Avatars (and even some of Reki Kawahara's own creations and fan-submitted creations that were later on accepted) feel clunky, full of unnecessary fluff both in their backstories and their avatar capabilities and tend to be rather underwhelming overall, both in terms of emotional impact and actual combat abilities.

I feel that the prime examples that we know of in terms of balance and in terms of inspired backstory and design are the three stooges of Brain Burst: Silver Crow (Haruyuki), Cyan Pile (Takumu) and Lime Bell (Chiyu). Arguably, I also like to include Dusk Taker in this category, even if it's just because of his particular backstory.

Now, someone far more talented than I am in communications has written about this already [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.], which I've written in caps not by chance but because I want you to read it before I go on with my pathos.

I feel that the average fan designed Duel Avatar simply has too much debris. Too much focus is put on trying to make a backstory as tragic as possible (the loss of a loved one, to be more specific by particularly brutal murder seems to be a rather common cause of death in the future according to some sources) in an attempt to justify what I believe are, more often than not, attempts to get past as much stuff as possible in their design by writing vaguely.

Let's take for a good example of character design Silver Crow. His backstory is simple: his parents divorced at a tender age and rather violently, and this is the source of all of Haruyuki's problems. The stress from his parents fighting and fear of abandonment caused in him a defense reaction which in layman's terms can be summed up as sealing up your memories deep within your core being and neglecting them. They are still there, you are simply not processing them at all because they are too traumatic for your own. Incidentially, this stress combined with the fact that his mother does not give two shits about his diet is why he's fat currently, and why is grades are average in spite of being smart. This fear of abandonment manifested also in being a generally timid and insecure person from that point onwards.

This ends up in a longing of wanting to be with others, and not wanting to be abandoned. He doesn't want to run away from danger; rather, he just wants to be where his loved ones are no matter how far they are. Where others would resent the people who abandoned them and curse them, Haru just wants to be with them and close the distance between themselves, physically and emotionally. This is what made him obtain the Aviation ability, that boosts his speed and lets him abridge distances quickly.

See? This is what in my opinion your average sheet should look like. I merely needed two paragraphs to summarize a story that to me speaks more than a 10 word pages sheet full of random life facts I honestly don't give a shit about, and no one needed to die in the process. In these two paragraphs I've told you not only the way he is, but why he is the way he is and why he's got the ability Aviation, and I'd be surprised if anyone could argue otherwise.

However, it's easy to understand why these sort of character sheets are hard to come by, and the opposite are far more common. It's hard to come up with a clear concept for a Duel Avatar, and much harder to create a character's personality and past that fits said design. I've been guilty of this at times, too, and here's why: it demands a lot more effort and inspiration than the opposite process of creation. Creation of a vigorous, simple character is not easy. You need to have a very good idea in your head, the words to explain it, and the criteria to understand what's important and what isn't.

In backstories, when writing one, I've found it's a very demanding exercise of being honest with oneself. It demands out of you to understand that you are not so different from you were a child, only more burdened with responsibilities. That most of your fears, life-defining experiences and traumas are still out there haunting you and that as an adult you're simply better at lying at yourself than you were back then.

I find it hard to disagree with Chiyu's reason why her ability is reversing time. In her case, her defining life experience was her dad catching cancer, and thus her life at home changing forever. For her, the disease and the implications aren't as bad as the fact that she somehow understands that things will never be the same, which is her major worry and a major worry of nearly all human beings, in her case only being the center piece of her concept. All Chiyu asks of life is things to be the same tomorrow as they were yesterday, which is something most of us agree to a certain exent; in Chiyu's case however, it gets bad to the point where she's naggy, has a childish personality at times and she most likely has as few friends as Haru and Taku have, for different reasons.

See? We did it again. Concept, trauma, reaction, personality, ability, they all go in hand. And again, it's something we can all understand or sympathize with, and we did not need to kill off her dad at this point of the story, just the change was more than enough.

We're gonna play a game called 'let's not lie to ourselves and be honest, even if just for half a second'. Let's say one day your father leaves saying he's going off to buy tobacco and two days later, your mom is sobbing and crying, and your childish brain by itself adds two and two as days pass and realizes that your dad has indeed abandoned you for good.

How do you deal with this blow to the very source of your being and confidence?

Will you still be able to forgive him and still long for his presence? Will you, from that point onwards, cling on to your left loved ones and never let go of them? Will you resent him, curse him, wish for bad thinsg to happen to him no matter how far he goes off to?

Let's say our character resents his father, and wants to punish him for abandoning him no matter how far he goes. This would be an amazing trauma for a character that uses long range weapons, and a great way to give him a missile launcher Enhanced Armament. Perhaps we can even crank it up a little, and give him goddamn mini ICBMs that can travel up to 10 km at level 1 and have locking on that makes your average missile weapon seem like a joke in terms of speed and precision and maybe also some sort of laser cannon too because they go pretty far. It's only weakness due to the source of his traumas is that the closer you range in, the less effective his missiles and cannons are, because after all he's a Duel Avatar designed for the chase of those running away and he is not prepared at all for someone who's actively looking to be besides him; and possibly some sort of cooldown between macross missile spam and macross missile spam. He's not going to win mobility and/or tanking contests either, as a side result of having massive amounts of firepower. As a trade off from being able to finish a battle from kilometres of distance away if he so much catches a glimpse of you and average evasion tactics that'd work against most long range Duel Avatars being ineffective (making a distinct contrast with the most obvious comparison, Scarlet Rain, who has loads and loads of weaponry but more often than not, they miss their target and seem more suitable for exclusively mid-range combat than anything else to me) he's well, not good and just plain bad at everything else. He's just very specialized in long range point blank anihilation.

This is also going to result in our macross wannabe being an, of course, obnoxiously clingy person. He just cannot let go of people he likes, and if you dare leaving him behind or god forbid, break up a relationship as friends or lovers with him, swift action is sure to follow sooner or later, most likely not beyond threatening and making attacks on people through the internet or socially. He's just going to be one of those affection starved people who cannot get enough attention and love from others.

While I'm not sure if this would be an interesting character to play or not (it's definitely not in my list of things I'd like to play, but if you guys want to feel free to steal my idea, just give me credit for it thank you for listening) I'm fairly certain that it works, or at least it's more or less close to what I've been saying all this time. And no one had to die in the process, either.

Of course, as I stated before, there's a massive disadvantage to this. And it's that I am being pretty clear about what my Avatar does, and that's not a good thing, especially when someone else has to approve this and their own personal feelings come into the matter. It's harder to oppose a vague concept like 'he will probably have some sort of long ranged move' than 'okay, he's gonna have missiles and a laser that do more damage the farther you are, and did I mention he's a long range character so I have no intention to let anyone get anywhere close to him so he's going to be one fucking powerhouse as long as the other guy doesn't play his cards very right?' More than one eyebrow is going to be raised, and people are going to be more vocal in their complaints for balance should I decide to use him because well, they know what I'm talking about and they can get an opinion about it much faster. And if it were me, I would not like being in front of this, which by the way I've decided to name Carmine Pursuit because I couldn't help but want to give it a name. Personally, I wouldn't like to play as him because he'd be an ass most of the time, but if I had to play him, at least I'd know how to.

Wether he makes it in or not is a friendly decision between the players and the Game Master, who ultimately has the final word on what makes it in and what doesn't, and if I want to play his game I will have to abide by his decision. But at the very least I've made a bold clean statement about what I will be playing, what I like to play as, and an imagination exercise all in one, which is what RPing to me is ultimately about. However, I'd also like to say that I feel he's no more of a threat than Silver Crow is, than Lime Bell or Cyan Pile in the long term. He's just equally as threatening and specialized in what he does as they are, which is what makes him, at least to me, a worthy addition to the roster and an adversary I'd like to face, if only for the sake of the challenge of figuring out his position and very satisfyingly kicking his ass once in proper combat range.

Now, another thing I want to talk about are villiains, or rather, people whose abilities aren't meant to do good but bad. Design isn't so different from the so-called good guys, in fact as whole I think christianism's morality concepts of good and bad have done a lot of damage to fiction and society overall. One of the things that you need to understand to make a good villiain, to me, is that your average Dusk Taker is not so different from you and I; he simply has had a bad time and lacked the proper mental defense mechanisms. He was not born as a psychotic bully, thief and abuser, he became one due to his own upbringing, circusmtances and ultimately also his choices. While you feel sorry for him, all the time he also had the ability to stop at any given point in time, yet he didn't because he felt it was only fair for him to steal from others their abilities and fuck up their lives, because it was what he had experienced from his older brother.

Thus, understand this, and get this into your head because this is important. If I see yet another guy turning evil just because his parents were murdered in front of him, hearing voices, or because he was bullied or some crap like that I will find whoever wrote that sheet/story/whatever and do unto him things that will make Hannibal Lecter's hobbies pale in comparison to what I have in mind (ladies are included too in this open threat, I am just using the correct gender pronoun when it comes to speaking of both genders simultaneously). While, indeed, abuse and traumatic experiences such as being in foster care, etc are a risk factor, THEY ARE NOT A GODDAMNED SUFFICIENT CAUSE FOR YOUR CHARACTER TO BE "LOL EVIL AND EDGY". There are many persons who were even abused by their parents and they did not turn out to be abusers themselves, in fact they got over it with proper care and social attention! In fact, as a sidenote, I would love to see a story like that too for maybe a change.

Anyway, I think that's all I have to say about Duel Avatars for the time being and the characters behind them, if you guys wanna talk about this subject I would love to. I believe that more than anything, one of the most important things when making a character is getting rid of unnecessary things, so that the fewer things it does can be more easily understood by everyone, and in turn, accumulate more power into the few skills you do have and make for a more rewarding experience for player, GM, and opponent alike. I find it more satisfying to fight something I can come to understand what does clearly at some point of the battle than have to read through lines and lines of a sheet just to figure out what the heck are you doing with your move, and above all else, play with and against meaningful characters than just 'generic shooty shooty guy' and 'generic sword dude number 4'.
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Royal Duke
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