Cool Black Figures in Video Games, Part 7: Sheva Alomar

For much of this month, I have been covering black figures in video gaming that I find cool. So far, I’ve done Taurus from Activision’s Interstate ’76, the Vances from Valve and Sierra’s Half-Life 2, Dudley and Elena from Capcom’s Street Fighter III, voice actors Terrence Carson and Greg Eagles, and Garcian Smith from Capcom’s Killer7. Tonight we’ll look at Sheva Alomar, the hard-boiled BSAA agent from Capcom’s Resident Evil 5.

There’s no gun like a shotgun.

Voiced and motion captured by Karen Dyer (who also voices Elena from Street Fighter) Sheva’s look was utilized (via face scan) the face of actress Michelle van der Water.  According to her bio, at age eight, Sheva’s parents died in an accident at a factory owned by the nefarious Umbrella Corporation (the main enemy of the Resident Evil franchise) in her native Africa. After her parents’ death she went to live with her uncle, but ran away and was later taken in by a truck driver who found her wandering. The truck driver was a member of anti-government guerrilla group, which Sheva would eventually join. She would later discover her parents death was no accident; it was the result of Umbrella testing out a biological weapon (B.O.W.) with assistance from her homeland’s government.

Sheva stayed with the guerrilla group throughout her childhood. At 15, the U.S. government contacted her to sabotage Umbrella’s attempt to sell a B.O.W. Sheva helped the U.S., and managed to foil Umbrella’s plans. Upon graduating from college, Sheva joined the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA) and was later assigned to its West African department. Now back at home, she planned to get even with Umbrella for the death of her family.

Resident Evil 5 got me back into the Resident Evil series when I played it at a friends place several years back. My friend played as Chris Redfield and I played as a heavily loaded Sheva. There aren’t many chances in Resident Evil to play as a person of color, so I went for it.

For some reason, I got the bright idea using a shotgun as my main weapon, a grenade launcher as my backup and a magnum pistol as the last resort. It was a fun, albeit clunky way of playing the svelte and swift Sheva, but it worked.

Unfortunately, Resident Evil 5 is the first and last game to feature Sheva. Hopefully Capcom will bring her back in a future Resident Evil title, even if it’s only for the mini-game “The Mercenaries,” which allows you to select various Resident Evil characters to slay zombies (or “infected,” if you will) in a limited amount of time.

That’s all for this segment. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

Image comes from the Resident Evil Wiki, which much of the information for this post.

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Cool Black Figures in Video Games, Part 6: Garcian Smith

For much of this month, I have been covering black figures in video gaming that I find cool. So far, I’ve done Taurus from Activision’s Interstate ’76, the Vances from Valve and Sierra’s Half-Life 2, Dudley and Elena from Capcom’s Street Fighter III, and voice actors Terrence Carson and Greg Eagles. Today, I’ll look at Garcian Smith, the dangerous but debonair assassin from 2005’s action-adventure game Killer7.

Killer cool.

Directed by designer Goichi Suda (aka Suda51) and written by Suda and Shinji Mikami, Killer7 was developed by Grasshopper Manufacture and published by Capcom. The game follows the exploits of the titular killer7, a group of an elite assassins headed by the wheelchair bound Harmon Smith. The killer7 have an eclectic roster, featuring a luchador mask-wearing man who uses grenade launchers, a blind teenaged boy who uses Uzis, and a albino man who can turn invisible.

The killer7 use their unique abilities to battle the Heaven Smile, a monstrous terrorist group headed by Kun Lan, an old friend of Harmon’s. The Heaven Smile are incredibly dangerous; not only can they turn invisible they are also living bombs who can detonate at will. Only the killer7 are able to fight the Heaven Smile, prompting the U.S. government to hire the hit-squad to eliminate cackling menace.

I won’t spoil the story of the game, but it has an fascinating take on U.S. and Japanese political relations, using a mixture of surrealism and political intrigue that is actually quite thought provoking. It’s definitely disorientating at times, but If you ever get a chance to experience it, you should; few games have really managed to have a unique yet engrossing narrative like Killer7‘s. Now, let’s finally get on to Garcian.

Mr. Smith.

Voiced by the redoubtable Greg Eagles, the sharp-dressed Garcian Smith is an assassin of skill and class. Armed with a pistol equipped with a silencer, Garcian doesn’t pack the offensive power as some of his fellow killers. A self-described “cleaner,” he is the one character players need to use if things get messy. Should a member of the killer7 be killed, Garcian is the only one can who bring that fallen comrade back to life.

Garcian is awesome. The white suit, the confidence, and his no-nonsense attitude all serve to make him a great character. Eagles’ deep baritone gives Garcian an intimidating presence, making him sound every bit as dangerous as he looks. One of my favorite moments in Killer7 is seen below, where Gracian plays Russian Roulette with politician Benjamin Keane (respect to isadora1 for the upload).

Now that’s cool. Definitely crazy, but certainly cool.

That does it for this segment. See you next time.

Peace & Pixels

Images come from fextralife.com and Suda51.wikia.com.

RIP Harold Ramis

R.I.P.

R.I.P.

There’s no news like bad news, and unfortunately there is some bad news to report. Actor, writer, director and Chicago native Harold Ramis died today of complications from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a condition that came from an infection he suffered in 2010. He was 69.

An alumnus of Chicago’s legendary Second City improvisational theatre and comedy  club (where he worked with future star John Belushi), Ramis would go on to become one of Hollywood’s best comedic creators, involved in the writing of such classics as Animal House, Stripes, Ghostbusters 1 and 2 (he co-wrote all of those films), and directing hits like Caddyshack and Analyze This. The Ghostsbusters films are what caused me to be fan of Ramis, mainly due to his role as scientist-turned-ghost hunter Egon Spengler.

While I was in high school I once saw Ramis in person during a Bulls game at the United Center. Actually, I didn’t even see him at first; my mother pointed him out to me. He was with some of his family, and no one seemed to recognize him. Naturally, I said, “Hey there’s Harold Ramis” just because that’s what came to my mind. As luck would have it, someone heard me and repeated my words… only much louder. Cover blown, Ramis was none too happy. As he got up from his seats and headed for the exit, he looked right at me with frustrated eyes. I don’t know how he knew it was me who revealed his presence, but he did (though it was really the other guy). Not one of my best moments but I’ll cherish it forever, especially now.

My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.

Peace & Pixels

Photo comes from biography.com.

Cool Black Figures in Video Games, Part 5: T.C. Carson and Greg Eagles

Throughout the latter half of this month, I’ve been posting about figures in video games that I find cool. So far, we’ve covered Taurus from Activision’s Interstate ’76, Eli and Alyx Vance from Valve and Sierra’s Half-Life 2, and Dudley and Elena from Capcom’s Street Fighter series. Today, I’ll focus two black veteran voice actors who have done voice work for some of video gaming’s best characters: Terrence “T.C.” Carson and Greg Eagles.

T.C. Carson

Mr. Carson.

Born and raised in my hometown of Chicago, Carson is an actor, dancer, and singer who has starred on stage, in film, and in television. Generally, he is perhaps most  known for his role as Kyle Barker in the TV show Living Single and as the voice of Mace Windu in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but many of us gamers will forever know him as the voice of Kratos, the habitually incensed Spartan from Sony’s critically acclaimed God of War franchise.

With its first release in 2005, the God of War games follow the aforementioned Kratos as he battles first against Ares (for tricking Kratos into killing his family) and later against all of the Greek gods for their role in making his life a miserable and bloody existence. To date, there have been seven games and three collections in the God of War series, which has sold over 21 million copies worldwide.

The very angry Kratos.

Kratos is a mighty and maniacal warrior who brutally slaughters his enemies. He certainly looks tough, but it’s Carson’s brilliant baritone that really cements Kratos character. Kratos really sounds like a merciless warrior that could destroy anything, including a god (which he does actually do).

So let’s recap. Carson has voiced a Spartan that killed gods. It’s hard to get much cooler than that. Below is a video about the voice actors in the God of War, which has footage of Carson performing as Kratos (respect to Jerem5Kratos for the upload).

Greg Eagles

Mr. Eagles.

Simply put, Eagles is one of the best in video game voice acting and the trade in general. Another man from the Midwest, the Milwaukee native has, in addition to his video game voice work, provided voice work for television shows and had roles in film and television projects. Eagles of course voiced Taurus from Interstate ’76, but is perhaps most well known for providing the voices of Grim Reaper in The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy; Michael Edwards and Chattur’ghaand from Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem; and DARPA Chief Donald Anderson and Gray Fox in Konami’s Metal Gear Solid.

Eagles has a deep and resonant voice, one that sounds like it can stir the earth beneath your feet. He can definitely sound intimidating, but he really sounds cool; he projects the type of cool that belongs in a hard-boiled detective novel or film noir.

For all of the suave and cool that Eagles’ performances possess, he has good emotional range too. If you choose, check out Taurus’ poetry recitals and Gray Fox’s dying words at the end of Metal Gear Solid. It’s some good stuff, and certainly variegated.

That does it for this segment. Until next time, people.

Peace and Pixels

Photos come from zimbio.com (by Frederick M. Brown), Comicsvine.com, and imdb.com.

Update: Added a video on the voice actors featured in the God of War series.

Cool Black Figures in Video Games, Part 4: Elena and Dudley

Over the past week, I’ve been writing about cool black characters in video games. So far, I’ve covered Taurus from Activision’s Interstate ’76 and Eli and Alyx Vance from Valve’s Half-Life 2. Today, I’ll be covering Elena and Dudley, two characters who debuted in Capcom’s Street Fighter III: The New Generation.

Elena

Royal rumble.

The Kenyan born Elena is royalty; her father is a King who also has a doctorates in medicine from France (Elena herself studied there as well). A free-spirited and cheerful character, Elena attended high school in Japan. She likes to make friends and (at least according to her bio) is particularly sensitive to serious people and people with evil intentions. With her white hair, blue eyes and tall frame, Elena’s design has echoes of Marvel Comics’ superheroine Storm, herself one of the characters playable in Capcom’s Marvel vs. Capcom series.

Elena is unique amongst the Street Fighter roster for a few reasons. First, she is 6 feet tall, making her the tallest female character of the series. Second, her fighting style is capoeira, a dance based martial art that utilizes the feet as its main source of offense. Elena’s attacks only use kicks and leg throws, making her the first and (so far) only Street Fighter character to use only kick based attacks. Finally, Elena is one of only two characters in Street Fighter III that can regain their health, the other being Gill, the final boss of the game.

Elena has appeared in several Street Fighter games since her debut. She has appearances in all iterations of Street Fighter III–The New Generation, 2nd Impact and Third Strike— and will be featured as one of the four new additions to Ultra Street Fighter IV‘s roster. She appears in the Capcom and Namco crossover Street Fighter X Tekken, teaming up with Dudley in the game’s story mode.

I’ve always thought that Elena was cool, from her character design to her fighting style. She was different; few fighting game characters in general used capoeira (at the time of her debut, only Eddy Gordo from Tekken 3 officially used it) and no character in the Street Fighter series used only kick moves. Furthermore, the detail in which she was animated was really impressive, showing the power of Capcom’s CPS-3 board which powered the game.

Despite all those things, I was hesitant to include Elena for a few reasons. Number one, I had just finished a post in which I praised Valve for its design of Alyx, who is fully clothed, whereas Elena is essentially half-naked, wearing only a two-piece bikini, and some jewelery. Furthermore, I figured some people might take offense to an African character who is barefoot and from a tribe, mostly because those traits have been seen so often in the media relative to African people.

Ultimately, I decided to include Elena because of all her characteristics that I listed above. Her royal background and unique fighting style make her stand out among the total Street Fighter roster and a cool character overall.

Dudley

Class.

A boxer from Britain, Dudley is the consummate gentleman, both in mannerism (mostly; he sometimes calls his opponents gutter trash after he beats them) and style. A tall and muscular character with impressive speed for his size, Dudley entered the professional boxing circuit to restore his family’s wealth after his father, a former athlete and once successful businessman, went bankrupt. Dudley rose to prominence on the pro boxing circuit, earning enough money to bring himself and his family back into England’s upper class.

Dudley is similar in fighting style to Balrog, a mainstay of the Street Fighter series, in that all of his attacks are punch based. However,  Dudley represented a change of pace from the lumbering Balrog due to his agility, which allowed him to perform more athletic moves such as Jet Upper, which is a jumping uppercut similar to Ken and Ryu’s Shoryuken (Dragon Punch).

Like Elena, Dudley appears in all three versions of Street Fighter III. He also has appearances in Super Street Fighter IV and will return in Ultra Street Fighter IV. In Street Fighter X Tekken, Dudley is a playable character and is teamed up with Elena for the game’s story mode.

I’ve always thought Dudley’s design was cool. The slick hair, handlebar mustache, and sharp clothes make for a dapper look not often seen in the Street Fighter franchise. His attitude in particular is admirable, as he says “Let’s fight like gentlemen” before a fight. You almost made me want to be a boxer with this one, Capcom.

That does it for this segment. Next, I’ll look at some people on the creative side of gaming. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

All images in this article come from the Street Fighter Wiki, which also provided most of the information for this post.

Cool Black Figures in Video Games, Part 3: The Vance Family

For the rest of this month, I’ll be posting some pieces on black figures in video games that I find cool. So far, I’ve covered Taurus from Activision’s Interstate ’76. Today, I’ll be covering Dr. Eli Vance and his daughter Alyx, two characters from Valve and Sierra’s epic first-person shooter Half-Life 2. Be advised, this post contains some spoilers about the Half-Life plot.

Released in 2004, Half-Life 2 is the sequel to Half-Life, the seminal first-person shooter for the personal computer and Valve’s debut into the gaming industry. Set several years after the events of the first game, Half-Life 2 stars series protagonist and player character Dr. Gordon Freeman as humanity’s last hope against the Combine, a mysterious alien force that has overtaken Earth. The Vances are two of Freeman’s most important allies in Half-Life 2 and both of its sub-stories, Episode 1 and Episode 2.

Dr. Eli Vance

The Dr.

Voiced by actor Robert Guillaume, Dr. Vance is a non-player character (NPC) who assists Gordon Freeman throughout Half-Life 2. A scientist, researcher and possible Harvard graduate (he wears a Harvard sweater), Vance worked at the top-secret Black Mesa Research Facility (where the events of the first game took place) and lived there in the dormitories with his wife Azian and young daughter Alyx. While conducting an experiment with Freeman and the Black Mesa science team, an accident occurs, opening an inter-dimensional portal which causes the facility to be flooded with aliens from the planet Xen. Azian was killed in the invasion, but Vance managed to save Alyx with the help of an enigmatic figure known as the “G-Man.” Unfortunately, Vance would lose his left leg to an acid attack by a bullsquid, a creature from Xen.

Sometime after the events at Black Mesa, Earth itself was plagued by a series of portals that flooded the Earth with aliens from Xen. These portals attracted the Combine, which attacked Earth with its powerful army forcing Earth’s leaders to surrender after only seven hours of conflict.

Dr. Vance would later lead rebel group known as the Lambda Resistance against the Combine’s forces. When Gordon Freeman returned to Earth after being held in suspended animation for years, Vance helps Freeman in his mission to oppose the Combine. Vance would be killed by the Combine in the last act of Half-Life: Episode 2 after being attacked by a Combine Advisor.

What made Dr. Vance so cool is his resilience, resourcefulness and intellect.He was an excellent leader, not only leading the Lambda Resistance but also becoming the first human to make peace with the Vortigaunts, an alien race that was hostile during the events of the first Half-Life. He created Alyx’s pet robot Dog to protect her and invented the Gravity Gun, a weapon that can pick up objects and fling them through the air. Despite losing his wife, a limb, and being under constant threat of being murdered by an incredibly powerful force, he still managed to lead a rebel group and raise a daughter during the alien apocalypse.

Alyx Vance

The kid.

Alyx is the spirited and intelligent daughter of Dr. Vance. Voiced by actress and singer Merle Dandridge and mod, Alyx is and modeled after actress NPC who accompanies Freeman on several of his missions in Half-Life 2 and its episodes. A capable hacker, skilled combat and mechanic, Alyx is a key member of the Lambda Resistance and a dependable compatriot to Freeman.

There haven’t been many black females of mixed heritage (Alyx’s mom is Asian) found in video games, and even fewer have had prominent roles. Despite being an NPC, Alyx is very much is a part of the action that occurs in the entirety of Half-Life 2‘s story; she is almost like a second protagonist. Alyx is with Freeman a lot during Half-Life 2, from the game’s beginning when she single-highhandedly saves him from being captured by the Combine until the very end when she fights alongside him during the battle at the Citadel.

Too many times have female video game characters been made with exaggerated features to appeal to the male gaze and not much else. But Alyx’s appeal goes beyond her appearance; it is rooted in the emotional depth that the character is able to portray. It’s seen in the wit she demonstrates when she cracks jokes about Freeman’s silence or when she cries after losing her father in Episode 2.

Critical reception to Alyx has been very positive over the years, with several publications– Complex, Game Informer (via reader poll), and Screw Attack to name a few–ranking her among the best video game game characters. As recent as last year, Complex placed her sixth on its list of “13 Video Game  Sidekicks That Deserve Their Own Title” list.

About the only knock on Alyx as a character is that she isn’t playable at all, save for in a leak of an early incomplete version Half-Life 2. She is not, however, playable in any version of Half-Life 2 now.

That does it for this segment, people. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

All images come from the Combine OverWiki, an excellent source for info on Half-Life.

Cool Black Figures in Video Games, Part 2: Taurus

In my last post, I covered a 2012 by Kotaku’s Evan Narcisse on the quality of “Black Cool” in video games. I concluded by pledging to look for Black Cool in video games, or at least find some black video game characters that I find cool. Fortunately, I unknowingly had already done some work on the issue with this post from last year. The first character we’ll look at today is Taurus, the suave, Afro-wearing auto-vigilante from Activision’s Interstate ’76.

A vehicular combat game, Interstate ’76 is set during an alternative 1976 in which mercenaries and vigilantes duke it out in armored cars throughout Texas. One of the vigilantes, Jade Champion, is gunned down by the vicious mercenary Antonio Malochio, prompting her brother Groove and her partner Taurus to seek revenge.

Mean Mother–

A somewhat mysterious figure, not much background information is given about Taurus, not even his real name. What is known is that he was a poet with a wife and daughter, but lost his family when they were killed by criminals. Afterwards, he later journeyed to Texas where he met Jade and her mechanic Skeeter, eventually teaming up with them to battle the criminals plaguing the state. As an auto-viglante, Taurus drives “Eloise,”a large silver four door sedan with bullhorns on the front and a machine gun on the roof.

Soul on the road.

With his large Afro, bell-bottom pants and fiery attitude, Taurus’ stye was certainly influenced by the black action heroes of 1970s, especially the late Jim Kelly. A non-player character, Taurus acts as the guide for player character Groove Champion throughout the single-player campaign, teaching Champion to be a vigilante. Players can communicate with Taurus via CB radio, and can even ask him to recite some of his poetry (respect to Commander Videogames for the upload).

To date, this is still one the coolest features I’ve seen in a video game, and it shows the depth of Taurus’ character as a deep thinker and artist who happens to be a highly dangerous vigilante. Greg Eagles, who voiced Taurus, does a great job reciting the poems, accentuating the emotions of each poem, as opposed to just reciting the lines. If you’re interested, transcripts of all the poems can be found here on the website local ditch gaming.

Taurus would become playable in the Interstate ’76 Nitro Pack (also known as Nitro Riders), a stand alone expansion pack which is set before the events of the original game. In Interstate ’82, the sequel to Interstate ’76, Taurus is now the main protagonist and player character, searching for Groove Champion, his friend and partner from the first game. The afro and bell-bottoms are gone, replaced by a sharp suit, goatee, and what looks to be a jheri curl.

image comes from Gamefaqs

If that is jheri curl, I hope that car has a black interior…

After the release of Interstate ’82 remains the latest release in the Interstate series, so Taurus and the rest of games’ cast unfortunately have not been seen since. Hopefully Activision will revitalize the series in the future, bringing back all of the funk and soul that rocked the digital highways. For now, we can celebrate one of the coolest cats gaming has seen in Taurus. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

images come from Gamasutra, Giant Bomb, and Gamefaqs