Evolution – Dead or Alive Feature #4

Dead or Alive 3

            There are a few moments in our lives that we will always remember. Whether finding Street Fighter II at an arcade for the first time or playing a game that changes our life forever. For me, that game was Dead or Alive 2 on the Dreamcast. It was a great moment. However, that moment would soon be triumphed by another moment a few years down the road and a few more iterations of Dead or Alive 2 later. At the end of Dead or Alive 2’s release cycle there were countless re-releases. Dead or Alive 2 first arrived in the arcades, then on the Dreamcast, then again on the Dreamcast in Japan and Europe with extra costumes and modes. By 2000, Dead or Alive 2 had been ported to the Playstation 2 with improved graphics, game play, and loads of extras. Team Ninja was biding their time for the right system to come along that was powerful enough to handle the next evolution of the game.  Slowly the first images of Dead or Alive 3 would be released by Tecmo’s marketing machine. They touted that Dead or Alive 3 would be powered by the infinitely powerful XBOX system envisioned by Bill Gates. Microsoft entered the console arena with an endless supply of money poured into the development of the XBOX and Dead or Alive 3 was one of the launch titles that would exhibit what the hardware would be capable of doing. This was big.

An early leaflet advertisement at Target showed a screen capture of Christie, a new character with a devious snake fighting style battling Chinese-dress wearing female college student Leifang inside a Japanese castle. A small circle was imprinted on Christie’s face with a caption stating that there are so many painstakingly rendered polygons on the face of each character that the surface of the character’s skin “pops-up” creating true to life contours. Another bubble encircled a candle in the screenshot indicated that the lighting effects set the mood just right by reflecting off of the character’s clothing and floor at different levels of brightness depending on how close the character is to the flame. Whether these claims were true or not, I became increasingly excited. My heart grew anxious and wanted to see more of the game. I started to visit online forums to discuss the game with fellow fighters. Word spread online that a Dead or Alive 3 demo had made its way to select stores around the nation but nowhere near where I lived in sunny San Diego, California. Slightly brokenhearted I decided to go to the mall to distract myself. I stepped into a GameStop only to run into a playable kiosk demo of Dead or Alive 3 on the soon to be released XBOX console. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Dead or Alive 3’s attract mode showed Kasumi fighting on a sunset beach at a vacation resort with coconut trees that had green coconuts dangling atop the high branches. My heart started beating faster as I walked closer to examine the graphics a bit more. There were 5 selectable characters. Ayane, Hayabusa, Kasumi, Leifang, and Tina. So in short, there were three ninjas, a Tai Chi master, and a wrestler. Only the Beach stage was selectable. I picked Kasumi and marveled at the lighting effects that helped brought out her cheekbones. Her face really did “pop” as claimed in the promo I saw previously. Her silk-woven ninja outfit looked smooth. Blocky limb graphics were pampered with more than a few extra hundred thousand polygons. And each hit landed had a sense of visual impact. I started the demo at around 12pm in the afternoon and welcomed any challenger that would dare press “Start” on the second controller.

My first challenger was an arrogant chubby blond 8-year old kid who wanted to show his dad that he was good at fighters. Too bad I shut him down so quick that his dad had to reassure him that he didn’t love him any less. Then there was the skinny 17 year-old kid my age that I beat so badly that he gave out a frustrated grunt every time my character landed hits on his character.  Eventually, he begged me to let him win at least one match. But I just said “no” and mashed his character’s face into the ground. He soon left after the hour or so he spent trying to beat me. Challengers came and went, but I stuck around for what seemed to be hours. I called my mom to let her know that I was still at the mall and not kidnapped. I didn’t take a single break for food or water. I kept on fighting. The GameStop employees threw glances at me as they saw me on the demo machine for what seemed to be more than 6+ hours. Finally, they just came over and unplugged the demo without saying anything cause they were afraid that I might have collapsed from exhaustion. I had no choice but to leave the demo. It was around 7pm at that point but I was so excited that I lost all sense of time. It was the first time I had been that excited about a new video game. The XBOX was coming out, and Dead or Alive 3 was going to headline the system’s launch. My favorite game series of all time was going to be out in less than a few months. My heart beat so fast that night that I couldn’t sleep. I thought I was going to have a heart attack, but luckily I didn’t. It was just pure adrenaline and excitement.

Came launch day, I camped outside of Target at 5am along with my dad to pick up my XBOX system and a copy of Dead or Alive 3 that I reserved. Target gave me a $10 off coupon since I bought an XBOX system, a game, and an extra controller. I walked out of the store feeling like the luckiest kid in the world. Nothing else mattered. Not even if I had to go to school before I could play the full game for the first time when I got home. I still remember being so happy in school that day due to the anticipation of getting to play the game when I got home. When I finally got home, I experienced so much joy and excitement with the game that I felt truly happy. I played the game every single day soaking in every possible detail.

Three new playable characters were introduced. Christie, a cold-blooded British assassin with platinum hair using a snake style of fighting called “She Quan”(Snake Fist). Hitomi, a German Karate student who likes to cook with ingredients that she finds at local markets. Brad Wong, a Drunken Fist master modeled after the movie Drunken Master starring Jackie Chan.

The fighting system evolved into something much more complex than its predecessor. Walls were more devastating than ever in Dead or Alive 3. Players who were knocked into a wall were bounced back out and put in a crumpled state in which they cannot counter-hold out of and are forced into receiving a guaranteed hit, get launched into a new combo, or be stunned further. When a character was hit into a wall, they bounced off the wall into crumpled state then stagger with their hands on their stomach and finally fall into the ground. During the crumple animation novice players will simply send the crumpling opponent back into the wall for some extra damage. Opportunists would perform a launcher that led into an air combo, eventually knocking the helpless victim back into the wall a second time for even more damage. High-level players would do a simple hit to stun the opponent further, which enticed the opponent to guess the next hit by retaliating with a counter-hold to escape the desperate situation, but if the counter-hold was wrong, the opponent would be launched into the air while receiving extra damage from the combo that ensued and finally ended up at the wall for an obscene amount of damage. Stunned opponents who execute a counter-hold in hopes of escaping the incoming combo could be met with throw that would take away a 1/3rd of their life bar. In essence, the wall game in Dead or Alive 3 forced players to seriously consider their deadly environment even more so than before as damage quickly multiplied with each wrong move. The focus on the wall game truly paid respect to the series’s signature focus on interactive environments.

Although the wall game was the main course, it was enhanced by many tasty side dishes. If the wall game in Dead or Alive 3 were the meat at a Korean BBQ feast, the complementing fighting features would be the Banchan. Tech-rolling was implemented to get characters back on their feet quickly. Players just had to repeatedly press the free button after they were knocked down to break the fall and instantly get back up while blocking without any delay. Dash canceling was used for spacing or to move in quickly on an opponent.  Pressing forward twice coupled with a block was a quick and safe way of aggressing as the dash ends with a block. Those who wanted to duck under high hits while invading an opponent’s space could crouch dash by repeatedly tapping down+forward to lunge forward.

Free buffering could be utilized by holding down the “free” button and pressing the directional pads to input throw or attack commands without revealing them. This method also allowed one to go directly into punching or kicking right after blocking an opponent’s move without having to let go of the block button, thus allowing one to out prioritize an enemy’s attack. Free canceling allowed one to end a combo string abruptly and start up another string to form new combos by simply pressing and releasing the free button. This increased the number of options available to players who planned to keep an onslaught of varied attacks that followed one another without delay to keep the pressure high on a defending opponent. Guard breaking moves gave some characters new ways to open up an opponent who frequently blocked. Others may decide to sidestep incoming attacks altogether, which was a highly advanced mechanic that catered to advanced players of the series. A minor tune-up came in the form of falling deaths. Victims who have only an inch of life left no longer had the opportunity to get up with a wake-up kick after falling into a stage below. This was done to give attacking players the advantage since they were smart enough to position themselves appropriately in the treacherous stage environment. What did get toned up was the level of details within each of the massive stages.

One could now fight on a beach in the mid afternoon sun cooled by waves coming ashore. Shade could be found under the tall coconut trees with green coconuts that fall onto the head of characters that don’t get out of the way fast enough. Victims of a coconut hit actually reacted as if it was slightly painful. Stages such as the German castle had 4 levels that one could fall into with multiple branching paths to get all the way down to the bottom. Realistic snow tracks remained on-screen for the entire duration of the match. Leaves fell one by one from trees that have been disturbed by the action of the fight. Open flames in the form of candles, charcoal, and torches bathed the character models with warmth as they got closer to the source. Ground surfaces within a Japanese castle reflected mirror-like images of the fighters instead of just mere silhouettes. The deep ocean life-sized aquarium tank stage had clear glass on all surfaces so one could see out into the blue ocean and gawk at the colorful coral reefs and the sea life that live symbiotically with them. Each stage essentially had a different way of showing off the XBOX’s power.

            The only thing that was missing in the game was an online mode and the XBOX system was fully capable of supporting it, but Dead or Alive 3 wasn’t ready for online play yet. Team Ninja had other plans for a future online Dead or Alive game.

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