Friday, August 27, 2010

Red and Yellow Then Came To Be (Bucky O'Hare, Bugs Bunny's Birthday Blowout, Bugs Bunny's Crazy Castle)


1: Hello, and welcome to another edition of the Nintendo Project. You are probably here because you would like to read an engaging and mature discussion on video games. In this case, we have three games, Bucky O'Hare, Bugs Bunny's Birthday Blowout, and Bugs Bunny's Crazy Castle, all of which are about rabbits. So let's talk about math.

1: The Fibonacci sequence of numbers is a series of numbers that works like this. The first two numbers are 1. The third number is the sum of the first two. The fourth is the sum of the second and third. And so on, with each number being the sum of the two previous.

This series of numbers, first discovered in India around 200 BC, were, in a typical feat of Western imperialism, named after a 13th century Italian mathematician. He developed the numbers to model the mating habits of theoretically ideal immortal rabbits. This is the sort of thing that happens in mathematics.

2: Bugs Bunny, the closest actual thing to a theoretically ideal immortal rabbit, officially debuted in 1940, having really existed since about 1938. He features in two NES games - the more or less unremarkable Bugs Bunny's Birthday Blowout, and the actually quite good Bugs Bunny's Crazy Castle.

3: So let's take a deep breath here. Bugs Bunny's Crazy Castle is the US version of a Japanese game based on Disney's Who Framed Roger Rabbit franchise, to which Kemco owned the Japanese rights. Because there was already a US Roger Rabbit game, however, Kemco acquired the Warner Brothers rights in the US so that they could release the game, apparently viewing the rabbit as the key part of the franchise. After the NES release of the first game, the series settled into the Game Boy and released several more installments. Eventually Kemco abandoned rabbits, as it dawned on them that there were better things to do with the Disney rights in Japan than creating Roger Rabbit games. This produced a bizarre situation where games were released in Japan as Mickey Mouse games and in the US as Bugs Bunny games. Somewhat bizarrely, the European version of one of the games became a Garfield game, while the US version of another became a Ghostbusters game (or more properly The Real Ghostbusters, since that property itself is the subject of a bizarre copyright dispute between Filmation and Columbia Pictures). And then, to cap it off, Kemco lost the rights to all of these things and released a final game in the series with Woody Woodpecker.

The games have a certain homogeny. In this one, Bugs Bunny is navigated through room after room of doors. His mission: collect all the carrots while dodging his enemies. (Here the traditional set - Sylvester, Yosemetie, etc. This differs from his Birthday Blowout, where the entire Warner Brothers stable turns on him in jealousy at his birthday party, even Tweety Bird) Safes that can be dropped on his enemies and the occasional boxing glove litter the rooms to aid Bugs. What lies at the top of this Crazy Castle? A simple message, left for you to discover.

5: The bleeding of Mickey Mouse into Bugs Bunny in the context of what was originally a Roger Rabbit game makes some sense. Despite being a Disney property, a fundamental draw of the movie was the melding of multiple cartoon properties, in deals secured by Steven Spielberg. For the major characters, however, stipulations applied - among them that Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny would have the exact same amount of screen time and number of lines, thus establishing parity between the Disney and Warners mascots.

Any such parity is, of course, an illusion. Mickey Mouse was clearly around first by at least a decade, debuting in 1928. But more interestingly for our purposes today, Mickey mouse himself is a barely reskinned version of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a cartoon character created by Walt Disney for Universal in 1927. So perhaps the truest expression of the theoretically ideal immortal rabbit is in fact Mickey Mouse.

(Later this year Disney will release the video game Epic Mickey, in which Mickey inadvertently endangers the entirety of the land of forgotten cartoons, headed by his forgotten half-brother Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Oswald is now owned by Disney, having been reacquired in a trade with Universal in which Disney gave them sportscaster Al Michaels, who boasted of the trade, "I'm going to be a trivia answer someday.")

8: In addition to describing the mating habits of Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, and thus inadvertently presaging Rule 34 by over two millennia, the Fibonacci sequence turns out to describe and model a somewhat stunning arrangement of natural phenomena. Ferns, artichoke flowers, sunflowers all arrange themselves along the sequence.

Beyond this, the Fibonacci sequence is fundamentally connected to the idea of the golden ratio. The reasons for this involve numerous Greek characters. The golden ratio, viewed by those self-same Greeks as the perfect and harmonious visual ratio, consists of a rectangle where the ratio of the two sides is the same as the ratio between the sum of the sides and the longest sides.

19th century aesthetics viewed the human form as the zenith of the golden ratio. Quietly, in the background here, is an abiding belief in scientific racism - the white man's skull said to be more perfect, just as the white man is more perfect. Aesthetics always describes the ugly as much as the beautiful.

The whole world, then, is caught in a web described by these strange theoretically ideal immortal rabbits. All of human invention is guided, unseen, by lagomorphic forces. Do you remember a time without Bugs Bunny? Without Mickey Mouse? Nor do I.

The simple aesthetic rules generated by our unseen masters guide their creation, closing the circuit of causality. Cartooning is a simple art - quite literally. What differentiates a cartoon from realism is the breaking down of complex line work to as few lines as possible. The greatness of a cartoon character is defined by its silhouette. Mickey Mouse is the ultimate here - Disney would not be what it is were it not for the fact that its sigil is a remarkably simple nesting of circles.

13: This contrasts with the dominant style of American comic books, defined primarily by Neal Adams in the 1970s with his iconic Batman work. If Jack Kirby was the defining comics artist of the 1960s, Neal Adams defined the 1970s, abandoning Kirby's essentially cartoon-style blocky silhouettes and krackle in favor of a harsh, angular style. In his more recent work, his style has passed through to a veritable explosion of linework, drowning the iconic characters in their media.

Bucky O'Hare was developed by Larry Hama for Neal Adams's Continuity Studios. A tiny ripple across several media, there were comics, an animated series, and a game by Konami. Bucky O'Hare combines a Buck Rogers action sci-fi panache with what was, by the 1990s, a long and venerable tradition of American funny animal books. The central joke had already been done by Eastman and Laird with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which fused the harshness of the Adams-inflected style with turtles.

But the fucking lagomorphs reassert themselves. The turtles fade from harsh, violent realism (a misnomer at best) to pizza-scarfing cartoons. The lagomorphic logic of simplicity is essential to the graphics of an 8-Bit video game - collapse a character to a collection of colored squares. The methodology is on display again in Bucky O'Hare, with each of five characters having a distinct silhouette, both in the physical sense, but also in the larger sense of game design. Each character has a distinct attack pattern and special ability, handling differently as you work your way through the levels. It's not a bad game, but the concept was done better by Mega Man, and so it remains, much like Bucky O'Hare in general, a footnote to a footnote to an important concept.

Still, it is in these footnotes that the expansion of consciousness occurs. Here in the bowels of chronography, the forgotten strands of history spiral outward, expanding in perfect harmony with the music of the spheres, pulsing along the rhythmic beat of lagomorphic copulation.

21: It is 1928. Walt Disney lays his fictional frozen head to sleep, and dreams the uncertain dreams of rabbits. These dreams presage a media empire, built on the back of the growing film industry.

It is 2001, and a stray wisp of millennialism grabs hold of Richard Kelly. He tells a mad tale of rabbits with prophecies of doom. It sneaks out to market in the wake of 9/11, the final and catastrophic blowing off of millennialist steam that had been bottled beneath the Earth. Today, the smoldering wreckage of 9/11 is not so much the loss of life as an ideological warfare - the Ground Zero Mosque (almost as big a misnomer as realism). The damage of 9/11 is cartoon damage - the silhouette of New York City's skyline forever altered. Tool released Lateralus mere months earlier, its title track structured on the Fibonacci sequence, spiraling out. The recriminations of September 11th were simple - we should have known. Perhaps we should have, but it's so bloody hard to get signal out of all this noise. It is only in memory that the difference between footnote and body text is clear. Only in memory that the messy lines of reality collapse into the simple, comforting causality of cartoons. The mind's eye is good at this game, good at teasing information from nothing whatsoever - so good that it produces a litany of conspiracy theories, springing up like rabbits across the mental landscape. John F. Kennedy was murdered by Lee Harvey Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. They stack up, forming a deafening roar of noise that once again we are tasked with culling down.

It is 1989. The video game boom has garnered steam. We are good to go - the medium of the future, the new film. Kemco, an unheralded Japanese company, catches the scent of Walt Disney's remaindered dreams, grabs a castoff of a castoff, and creates a surprisingly good game in the footnotes of the 1980s. Ten years earlier, Larry Hama's rabbit dreams produced Bucky O'Hare. Three years later, the Internet slowly begins to awaken, pulsing with the millennialist steam. Rabbits again, and the Bucky O'Hare game is produced.

It is 1896. The 20th century is looming. Such moments imminentize the eschaton. The US is wracked in political controversy between gold and silver. Or is that between the Appolonian and the Dianic? (Those who know the truth know there is no question what side the rabbits were on) In Chicago, William Jennings Bryant delivers the Cross of Gold speech. 72 years later, Aquarian hippies and nuclear paranoia would face off at another Democratic National Convention. Two ideologies enter, one ideology leaves. Dialectically speaking, Nixon's the one. A scant few years later, Millennium Park opens, long after the millennial steam has dissipated. It is dedicated by Mayor Daley, son of the Mayor Daley who turned out the dead to hold the tide of Nixon off for eight years before the rabbits at last have their way. All of these points lie along time's arrow, bent, as always, into a spiral.

34: The Golden Ratio is the relation between two lengths. Form with it now a cross, upon which mankind can and shall be crucified, this crown of thorns pressed down upon our head, sacrificed to the sinister rabbit gods guiding human creation. Thrashing on the cross, we find that it is not, as we thought, a mere set of wooden beams, but a directional input. Our death spasms guide Bugs Bunny, up a flight of stairs, dodging the sinister cat Sylvester, grabbing the carrot, guiding human history, unseen in his crazy castle.

4 comments:

  1. I beat Crazy Castle on Game Boy. It had exactly the same level layout and mechanics, but I think the B&W graphics were actually better, as the NES color scheme was kind of weird.

    And spoiler alert:
    CONGRATURATIONS
    YOU ARE GOOD PLAYER

    ReplyDelete
  2. I beat the NES one, and forget if it had the same ending, though I knew one of the two had that ending. I considered expanding upon it, but decided to leave it with the vague reference to "a simple message for you to discover."

    ReplyDelete
  3. I see what you did there. Oh Fibonacci...

    ReplyDelete
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