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The Best Track In The Game #14: Knights of the Round

Yes, I did in fact buy this just the other day...

Knights of the Round was, and forever will be; one of my favorite beat ’em ups of all time.

Truth be told, I didn’t actually play it in it’s original arcade form all that much, I played through the Super NES version an ungodly number of times.

While the graphics and animations of Knights of the Round may not be up to standard with many of it’s contemporaries, both in the arcade and on home consoles; it’s relatively unique gameplay, setting, and terrific soundtrack continue to sustain it even to this day.

Well, in my eyes anyway.

You see, Knights of the Round was one of those rare games that really made me feel “heroic” when I was playing it.

Sure, all you ever do in the game is walk from left to right and bash people’s brains in with swords and axes, but because of the character designs and music; it felt like so much more to me as a kid.

Seriously man, you try taking down a giant fuck named BALBARS and tell me you didn’t feel awesome for doin’ it.

THAT'S a BIG hammer...

Anyway, the original 1991 arcade release of Knights of the Round was a 3-player arcade game that was, of course; based on Arthurian lore.

As mentioned earlier, I didn’t really play the arcade version all that much; so for the purposes of this article, I’ll largely be referencing the Super NES version from this point onward.

Like many beat ’em ups of the time, there were multiple characters to choose from in Knights of the Round; each with their own individual strengths and weaknesses in the areas of attack power and speed.

"Choose Your Destiny..."

Arthur, whose sprite is curiously puny; is the Leonardo of the group, boasting the most balanced stats of the group.

Lancelot, who looks absolutely nothing like Richard Gere with his shimmering golden hair; is the fastest in both movement and attack speed, however his power is somewhat lacking; making battles risky by forcing one to engage their opponents more frequently to finish them off.

 

Somebodies lying to me...

Finally, Percival is the green pants-ed Incredible Hulk of the group who wields an axe, and can indeed mess people up most mightily; at the cost of being slow as molasses, as well as having the most pathetic of all jumping attacks in beat ’em up history.

The character roster of Knights of the Round was always a huge selling point for me as a kid.

Thanks to movies like Jason and the Argonauts, as well as TV shows like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and King Arthur and the Knights of Justice; I got really into mythology at a young age.

Here’s why:

Greek and Japanese stuff was always my favorite, but thanks to that AMAZINGLY FUCKIN’ AWESOME cartoon; Arthurian stuff always had a place in my periphery.

In that sense, even though Knights of the Round has absolutely nothing to do with the mythology of King Arthur; just having a trio of recognizable characters from the myths present in the game did a lot to draw me into the experience.

Anyway, I think it goes without saying that, whenever I played this game with my friends; there was always a scuffle over who’d get to play as Arthur.

Seriously man, the word “King” is part of his name, he’s arguably the best character in the game, and by the end of the game he gets to wield Ex-FUCKING-Calibur, how could any kid not want to play as Arthur.

In all, I think that’s only bad memory of Knights of the Round.

That, and playing as Percival.

 

Really? You're wearing THAT into battle?

It didn’t happen that often, by I can recall being tricked into playing as Percival once or twice by some of my weaslier friends.

As indicated by the relatively balanced characteristics of all the playable characters, Percival isn’t intended to be a shitty character; but the sad truth of the matter, is that he is.

Too fuckin’ slow, zero fuckin’ jumping attack, and the proud owner of a He-Man esque bowl-cut; Percival is the fuckin’ Aquaman of Knights of the Round.

Nobody likes him, and if anyone should ever make a claim to the contrary; it’s ’cause they’re trying to be ironic, and thusly must be killed with hipster flames of violence.

 

This guy likes Percival... I just know it.

Anyway, I should probably get on track, right?

The gameplay of Knights of the Round was much like most Capcom beat ’em ups of the day.

That is to say, there’s 2 buttons, 1 for killing with auto combos, and 1 for jumping like a damn foo’.

If both are pressed at once, the player can sacrifice a bit of health to blow everyone around them ass over teakettle and to the floor.

Like I said, standard stuff.

In addition to this however, were the addition of horse riding, a few special attacks that could be executed with simple directional inputs, (no Hadoukens here) and an incredibly awesome experience and leveling system.

Virtually identical to the Bizarrians of Golden Axe, mounted combat in Knights of the Round was a bit of let down.

Lacking the flash of the elemental powers of the mounts from Golden Axe, horse riding felt slow and somewhat counter-intuitive.

While riding a horse, one’s attack power was boosted, and one could perform a leaping stomp attack by double-tapping forward on the d-pad; however the downside in all this was the fact the horse was actually kind of slow, and required pressing of the jump button in order to turn around.

Really, there was no reason not to hop on a horse whenever the opportunity presented itself, particularly when enemies that could ride horses were around; however I always felt a little more vulnerable on a horse, and would usually defer the luxury to whoever was playing alongside me.

 

"Yay, I'm on a horse! Now what...?"

The special attacks in Knights of the Round consisted of a damaging stun attack that, while somewhat slow in execution; would knock enemies on their ass, and cause them to stand up in a defenseless “dizzy” state.

Curiously enough, the execution of this attack was done in exactly the same fashion as a horizontal Smash Attack in Super Smash Bros.

 

If you can do this, you can knock a foo' silly in Knights of the Round.

Another special attack, was a strange launching attack that I never really found a practical use for.

Basically, you do an “Up Smash” motion; and the character will perform an upward stroke, followed by a leaping chop attack.

I think the intent is supposed to that of a “knock ’em up, smack ’em down” kind of thing, however the follow-up attack always ended up causing me to advance to far and get smacked upside my head.

Oh well, it looks cool; but I never use it.

While not an attack, it needs to be mentioned that Knights of the Round actually had a blocking system.

 

No, not that kind of "block."

Blocking is not exactly a common feature in most beat ’em ups.

Despite it’s unique medieval setting, being able to block was a feature that served to set Knights of the Round apart from many of it’s contemporaries.

There were 2 ways to block in the game.

The most common method of blocking, was by pressing and holding the attack button, while holding the directional button away from the incoming attack.

While this was the most common method by most standards, the other method; and indeed the one that I used most often as a reckless youth, was one that was triggered automatically by pressing back on the directional pad the moment an attack was landed on your character.

In other words, if one’s timing was good enough; (mine never was) the game would give you the benefit of the doubt and allow you to block attacks simply by attempting to run away from them.

Thankfully, the timing required was quite precise; making this a gameplay mechanic that not at all feasible to exploit.

Unlike this shit:

Anyway, despite all the coolness of the swords and medieval skull-bashing; the real reason Knights of the Round was awesome, was the leveling system.

At the time, I can think of no other beat ’em up that, while linear as fuck; had any sort of cumulative upgrade system for it’s characters.

Throughout the game, one’s character gains experience by defeating enemies, collecting gold and jewels, eating food (health power-ups) on a full stomach, and of course; breaking shit.

Upon reaching a predetermined level of experience, one’s character levels up, bringing forth some pretty awesome cosmetic upgrades.

 

... I want that cape.

Sadly, as far as I can tell; the benefits of a level up are purely cosmetic, with no changes to the gameplay occurring whatsoever.

Despite this, when I was a kid, seeing Arthur go from leather armored pussy to red-caped, golden armored KNIGHT OF JUSTICE, was one of those accomplishments that made me feel really awesome.

Sure, the game was structured to have you max out your levels no matter what.

Sure, the game made no attempt to make you feel like you were getting any stronger.

Even so, none of that bothers me; ’cause the game is awesome regardless.

More importantly though, it’s an awesome game that I have some truly awesome memories of.

I remember playing with my one friend that we’d always call the “Bad King.”

 

Pictured: The "Bad King."

Basically, this friend of mine would always manage to be quickest on the draw in selecting Arthur.

That alone made him kind of a punk in the eyes of my friends and I.

In addition to that though, said friend would go out of his way to hang back and stay out of harms way, effectively forcing his partner to do all the fighting; yet at the same time he would horde all the gold and food, essentially stealing all of the experience and health.

We always called him the “Bad King,” and indeed; he never made any attempt to play the game more altruistically, but goddamnit; he owned the game so we’d always end up playing with him anyway.

 

Ping Pong tables and videogames make us a lot of dumb friends when we're kids...

Another thing that I don’t think any article on Knights of the Round can gloss over, is the fact that there’s a fuckin’ GHOST SAMURAI in Knights of the Round.

Similar to Capcom’s own Bishamon from Darkstalkers/Vampire Savior, there was a boss character in Knights of the Round named Muramasa that was essentially an animated suit of samurai armor.

 

Uh... I wouldn't turn my back on that guy.

In medieval England.

To this day, I don’t take offense to this; however I wish they hadn’t made the fucker so goddamn cheap.

I can’t tell you how many times I got a game over during the fight with Muramasa.

Goddamn fire magic bullshit…

Oh well, payback’s a bitch:

Speaking of goofy bosses, another one worth mentioning from Knights of the Round, was a skinny fuck in black pajamas named Phantom.

Early in the game, you fight Phantom; and he’s really no big deal.

Sure, he can run real fast, throw cleavers at you and fire magic at you, and even make duplicates of himself; but for the most part he’s too weak to be a legitimate threat.

Now, while he really isn’t any harder the second time around, it’s worth noting that this time around he sees fit to bust out his pulley and chain operated GIANT FUCKING ROBOT.

I did mention this game needed to be a movie, right?

Seriously man, no joke; a giant fuckin’ robot!

In medieval England.

As I mentioned earlier, the fight isn’t really all that hard, or even thrilling; but the novelty of fighting a pre-steam age robot was always something that tickled me just right.

Anyway, this post was, as indicated by it’s title; supposed to be about music, so let’s get down to that, shall we?

The Best Track in the Game for Knights of the Round is…

Village on Fire

Why?:

You know how I said Knights of the Round made me feel “heroic” when I was a kid?

Well, this track was largely responsible for that.

I love how it has that medieval minstrel sound to it, while at once being upbeat and action-oriented in nature.

When you think about it, that’s kind of a difficult combo to pull off.

Anyway, I don’t know what else to say; other than that this is brilliant track to begin a game with.

It gets your blood pumping, makes you feel badass, and more importantly; makes you feel like you’re fighting for something.

Runner-Up:

The Knight’s Tournament

Why?:

Well, you did listen to it, right?

Seriously, this is just a really good piece of music.

It sounds like medieval dance club music!

I remember this track only playing for about a minute or so in-game, but even so; it always struck me as, at the very least; the second best piece of music in the game.

‘Nuff said.

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Stop-Motion And The Azn Badger

I love stop-motion animation.

Something about the inherent tangibility of the finished product, the notion that the footage you’re viewing was created from materials you can touch with your own hands; is just so incredibly fascinating to me.

I’ve said many times in the past, that I find Photoshop, digital tablet devices, and other such digital art tools to be unwieldly and far too advanced for my tiny badger brain.

As an artist, I find that I have come to rely on the feeling of my pen streaking across the paper.

Digital art detaches you from your workspace, forcing you to rely on the borders and boundaries of the toolset provided to you, of the program you are working within.

While I am familiar with the most rudimentary of functions that Photoshop has to offer, this simple notion of detachment is what ultimately keeps me married to my pen and paper.

With a pen and paper, I am free to sketch and “work out” the images that I seek to produce.

More often than not, in the act of scrawling pencil hatch marks on my paper, I’ll usually find an accidental stray line or 2 that ends up being the key to solving whatever perspective/rendering issue that I’m having at the moment.

This doesn’t happen for me in the digital medium, as I feel daunted and moreoever; restricted by the tool based nature of the program.

Which brings me to my love of stop-motion.

The first time I can recall seeing stop-motion animation was on a VHS collection of 50’s and 60’s B-movie trailers that my parents gave me for Easter (don’t ask) called Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies.

The tape was prefaced by a short interview with Ray Harryhausen, with a series of clips from King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad playing over his narration.

Known as one of the most famous stop-motion animators of all time, Harryhausen was perhaps best known for his Dynamation technique that matted stop-motion characters over live-action footage, essentially serving as a primitive ancestor to modern digital compositing.

Upon first seeing the clip of the 6-armed Kali statue engaging in a vicious sword fight with a bunch of pirates and sailors, I was absolutely spellbound.

Though the clip was very brief, I remember being absolutely enthralled by the manner in which Kali moved.

I could tell that the motion wasn’t exactly 100% fluid, but even so; the character evident in the expressionless statue’s movements were enough to make me view this as potential plus, even as a child.

Before I could ask “how did they do that?” the tape answered my prayers by having Ray Harryhausen show us a model figure of a gorilla, both with and without it’s skin on; revealing a rigid metal skeleton beneath.

Harryhausen would go on to explain that, in taking a picture, moving the model a fraction of an inch or so, taking another picture, and then displaying the 2 images in sequence, he could create the effect of a once stable object becoming animated.

Though I was very young at the time, this simple explanation served as the start of lifelong fascination with stop-motion.

Not long after watching that tape, I would go on to force my parents to rent all sorts of stop-motion movies, most of which were Harryhausen’s classic works.

To date, Jason and the Argonauts remains my favorite of his, however The Valley of Gwangi is a very close second.

The first time I ever attempted stop-motion for myself, was when I was about 13 years old.

Using a handful of Gundam models I had, I set up the models on my bedroom floor and used the digital camcorder I had just received as a birthday gift to make a brief fight sequence.

Despite my inherent fascination with the technique, I think the reason I decided to try stop-motion back then was because of my lack of resources.

I wanted to make movies with my friends, but we didn’t have any cool props, nor were we all that physical, so most of the movies we wanted to make were ideas that were beyond our capability.

Stop-motion allowed me to side-step a lot of my 13 year old limitations.

It removed the possibility of actors being flaky, it removed budgetary limitations, and it allowed to film for as long as I wanted without anyone whining about it.

In essence, my desire to make films combined with my antisocial tendencies was most likely the catalyst for me trying my hand at stop-motion.

I don’t mind tooting my own horn and saying that I think I did pretty well on my first time out:

Sure, I did the whole thing in-camera, and my hand got into the shot a few times, but for the most part; without even really knowing if what I was doing was going to work, I think I did pretty well.

I took my time with my Gundam battle, staying up late into the night to get it done; and I’ll always be proud of it.

As soon as I made my first stop-motion animation, I went into a year-long period of cranking them out every month or so.

Everything came to a head when I made a 7-minute, partially animated film called “Pimpmastah” that ended up taking me several months to make.

Truth be told, the whole thing was shot over 3 days in total, however there was a several month long pause between each day of filming.

I can’t explain it, but the love for stop-motion that I had in my youth started to fizzle out around the time I was going into high school.

Call it life taking priority over art.

Regardless, I wouldn’t make another stop-motion film for 5-6 years, by which time I was already a year or 2 into college.

Living in a dorm, with very few friends, I found myself psychologically in very much the same place I was when I was 13.

In order to pass the time, as well as show off to my roommates, (some of the guys in the dorm also wanted to be filmmakers) I found myself bringing old action figures from home back with me to the dorm to use for animations.

As sad as it was that I spent a lot of my time in college watching Ultraman and making movies with action figures, I have to say; I had a lot of fun getting back into stop-motion.

It was also fun teaching myself how to edit my films, as up until then I had done everything sequentially and in-camera.

Hell, you can actually see the CD player I was playing into the camera speaker for live sound effects in the background of half the shots in “Pimpmastah.”

While I was using it as little more than a hobby, the extremely open-ended and liberal nature of my college allowed me more than a few opportunities to use stop-motion as a means of fulfilling class assignments.

You can bet I ended up making an animation every time I was asked to do a presentation on one of my writing assignments.

Another factor in why I continued to involve myself in stop-motion, was the fact that I was still plagued with the same limitations as a filmmaker, even in college.

Though I applied for them annually, I never got into a filmmaking class at my college.

Stop-motion became my pen and paper for the world of filmmaking.

Even with no budget, or actors, or even decent equipment, as long as I had some action figures and my old dead-pixel ridden camcorder, I could make movies to my heart’s content.

And I did.

I’ll never say I’m any sort of noteworthy talent in the art of stop-motion, as I know I’m not; but that’s not the point.

The point is:

Stop-motion is something anyone can do with a camera and a lot of patience.

I’m fortunate enough to have had both of those things since the age of 13, and while I’ve never had the organization skills or technical capabilities to put together a real movie; stop-motion has given me a venue to make movies of my own, on my own.

The reason I decided to type up this article tonight, is because I find myself feeling that old urge to get back into stop-motion.

It’s been almost 2 years since the last time I used a camera, and after years of consistent improvement in my technique; I think it’s about time I took another stab at it.

This time around I’m considering using more articulate and challenging models, something that is likely to drive me nuts if I actually attempt it.

Though the licensed one’s are absurdly expensive, I ran across a product line from Hong Kong based Hot Toys called True-Types.

Near as I can tell, they are essentially highly articulated 12-inch GI Joe figures that can be modified and fitted with various clothing and accessories.

One comment about the Azn Badger playing with dolls, and I swear I will find you and ram one of those candiru things that took out Eric Stoltz in Anaconda up your urinary tract.

This, but in your pee hole.

Trust me, you don’t want that.

Anyway, my buddy Macgyver Jr. has a bunch of clothing and equipment for figures of roughly the same proportions, so I figure I can borrow a bunch of props from him to suit my needs.

Here’s a hilariously bad, and totally non-animated collaborative video we made using figures similar to the True-Types in about, oh, 45 minutes:

Not only that, true to his name, Macgyver Jr. also happens to be a woodworking wizard, so any other props or scenery that I’d need would be just a friendly favor away.

Though I can’t really say as to whether or not I’m really gonna’ be making any stop-motion films in the near future, (we all know what happened last time I announced I’d be making a film…) if actually go ahead and try to do it, I’m hoping to put more effort into it than I’ve ever done before.

Most of my stop-motion efforts have boiled down to single day efforts that involve little more than a short battle scene.

While I’ll probably end up doing yet another fight sequence, as that’s what I like to do; I’d like to invest more time in the animation process, as well as maybe do some post-production processing of the frames to make for a more polished film.

Y’know, little things like motion blur, or digital removal of props used to balance the figures.

Who knows, if things turn out well enough, maybe I’ll end up filming a story around the fight.

Anyway, I’m done rambling and speculating about things that may never happen, thanks for reading!

Filed under: Movies, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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