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Palette Diversity – R. Mika

A good selection of palettes is one of the most important aspects of a fighting game, outside of the actual gameplay. If you've ever played a fighting game, you've gone through some period of time picking the right color for your character. One that just felt right for you, the one you always go to when the pressure's on. We've all done it.

The primary goal of a fighting game is to give you someone to fight through, someone who you can call your own, and having a nice arrangement of colors to choose from helps you feel unique among your friends and rivals.

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Stop me if this sounds familiar: you go up against another player you haven't played before. He picks your character. It's fine, because you have your palette and they have theirs. Suddenly, you go to pick your color only to realize it's been swiped by the opponent first. Another person playing your character is one thing, but it's a whole 'nother story if they also take your palette. That's YOUR color, after all. You feel something, from a mild displeasure to a territorial competitiveness, and the fight is on. If you can't have your color, you do your damnedest to prove you're better with that character.

It goes even further than this, though. Not only do we identify ourselves with our color of choice, we also do it for our friends and our favorite players. When you see a known player, you expect their color. Sometimes you might even see another player using that color and think "Hey, he's using so-and-so's color!" It's a really interesting thing that happens, but not many people take the time to take a closer look at it.
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The meaning behind this article isn't simply to stress the importance of alt colors. I want to use this time to open dialogue about some basics of Alternate Colors. I want to eventually discuss what makes good alts, interesting alts, things to look for in your character's color choices, and occasionally some ways that games could improve on their palette options for certain characters, or all of their characters in general.

I'd like to start off by bringing up Street Fighter. Street Fighter palettes in general tend to avoid much diversity, unless we're talking SF3S and SF3S:OE. They usually avoid changing skin tones by a large margin unless the character was not white/light skinned by default, and they like to avoid changing hair colors mostly (example). On top of that, if a palette has a character wearing red/blue/green/whatever color, their whole outfit is usually that color save a accenting detail or two (example). There are of course notable exceptions, but I would rather have varied palettes be common place rather than exceptions.This isn't the case all the time, of course, and having simple colors is by no means a bad thing. Even still, think about the fact that changing any of these aspects can distinguish a character enough to be a Clone character. Ken/Dan/Akuma/Sean were mostly gi swaps with different heads, Shin Akuma just has different hair and gi color, the most striking change about Evil Ryu/Shadow Lady/Sunburned Sakura are different skin tones, etc. One particular game that took a simple change as a clone character to the extreme was Mortal Kombat; a separate color means a whole new Ninja/Lady Ninja/Cyborg Ninja, with each Ninja's color going with their unique moveset.

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The character I want to specifically talk about is R. Mika. She was one of my favorites from Street Fighter Alpha 3, but like many Street Fighter characters her palette selection tends to be poor. She's only been in 2 games so I cut her a little slack, but she's still a good example. In Alpha3 she had 6 palettes, and in SFV she has 20, and I think that's more than enough of a base to look at some colors. Let's take a look at all of her palettes in the recently released SFV.

SFV
This is not a good variety of alt palettes. They seem to be a simple adaption of her Alpha colors with a few additions here and there. Only two of them have different hair. All of them are "color+accent color", with over half of them having the accent color being white/washed-out-main-color, and the rest of them are dark brown. Just two or three of them have a darker tone, with the only alternative being bright, happy colors or plain, basic tones. Only one of them has an even slightly altered skin pigmentation. That's not all of R.Mika's colors, though. Aside from the pre-order color she has, which looks too much like color 2 to talk about, she does have an alt costume with it's own set of 10 colors. Let's go over those while we're on the subject.

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Unfortunately, these colors don't fair too much better, despite looking like Power Rangers. There's no diversity in her hair color, or skin tone. As far as the colors themselves go, they mostly fall down the same way the others did. Half of them are "color+white accent", though a few of them have two accent colors. They show us that the knee pads don't need to be the same color as the boots in a few, but the majority of them are do so anyway. Additionally, the main colors they picked aren't even that different from one another. Three of them are some shade of green. There's an orange and a yellow color that have semi-similar a shade, though with complete different accents which is a plus. There's also a pink and a purple color that are a little too close in shade for me, but again the accent makes all the difference in tone. On top of all that, roughly half of them borrow color schemes from her first costume, giving only 5 truly unique palettes to choose from here, assuming the player didn't like any colors in the first batch. Now that we've taken a look at all we can palette-wise, it's kind of disappointing. None of them experiment or deviate too far from what is "R.Mika". A loud white blonde girl with bright colors. There are only 3 or 4 colors out of 20 that stray too far from this idea of who she is. That's not the point of palette variety. Palettes are supposed to make you feel unique, they're supposed to make you feel like you're playing a different "R.Mika" than everyone else. All of these palettes are simply "Mika in a different color outfit". Street Fighter may be trying to keep to it's roots, but using the same method of color variety that was in place for SF2 is not acceptable to me. As an example of what I mean, and the kinds of things I would like from Street Fighter's palette selection, I made some mock R.Mika alt's using Alpha sprites. Not that I'm a Palette Picaso, but it helps to have a visual so I did my best to try and illustrate my point.

The first color has a very Army vibe to it, making her look almost like a boot camp instructor, reminiscent of Sargent Slaughter. It's also got a very earthy vibe to it as well, if that's all the player is looking for. The second color uses black and purple, a scheme on R.Mika's SFV but with the accent reversed. Making the accent purple gives it a completely separate feel, almost like a Batman character, with white hair and darker skin to further highlight the dark tones of the outfit.

The third color has a little more variety in interpretations. It could be a super hero, could be Hulk Hogan, could be a fire fighter. That variation in how the player perceives a color is great, because it means the player can imprint their own meaning onto a color, giving it a greater range of appeal than it had prior. The final color is a standard for many dark skin palette swaps. Something about dark skin with a white outfit is appealing, and looks as good on R.Mika as on anyone.

These four have one thing in common: they all give the impression of a personality or presence that's very different from the standard R.Mika. On that note, I want to transition to another angle on palettes that SF characters tend to avoid. Unless we're talking about Blanka, Dhalsim, Oro, Necro, Urien, or some other character who's weird/ugly/not-white, characters more or less stick to their pigmentation, and they wholly avoid deviating to inhuman colors. Here are just two more mock palettes using R.Mika that don't shy away from unusual tones.

The first R.Mika I colored like a Strawberry. I really like it personally, and it's the only color I'd ever use in an actual game. The second color is almost startling to see on R.Mika, but it's a sort of Lotus flower/fish color. Both of these also reminds me of the fact that SF characters are almost never colored anything organic, even when they do get strange colors.

Whether or not you liked the fake palettes I drummed up is up to your personal preference, but that's partly my point. A wide variety of colors is necessary to appeal to players. When I play a game, I don't want to pick a color that just happens to be the least terrible. I want to pick an interesting color that I really like, that fits with me. Whether you agree with me or think that the colors are fine the way they are, as long as you can find at least one color to call your own then that's probably enough for you. So if you have a color that you love, more power to you.

At the end of the day, make sure you play what you love & love what you play.

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