Tuesday, June 16, 2009


One advantage I felt the videogame always had over film is the degre of expressiveness it can give its characters while still staying palatable and grounded. Whereas film always, to me, looked more and more ridiculous the more it tries to buck what it really has and lather special effects for its actors, videogames on the other hand challenge its artists to personally craft their characters to express and convey with any look they choose, a sort of ace middle ground between film and animation. Quentin Tarantino once dimissed of movie CGI's specialty to allow actors to seemingly exist and express in ways they can't as "stick[ing] my dick in my Nintendo"; a problem videogames naturally don't have as they ARE the Nintendo. And since this medium has been fortunate enough to have many legions of talented artists past and present to have worked in it, the result are scores of scenes, sequences, cinemas, you-name-it in games with characters and their faces contorted in some unforgettable expressions. I plan on doing more of the these such lists latter on, but for now, let's celebrate the Top 5 Most Memorable Shocked Expressions in Videogaming.

#5: The Trade Advisor from
Civilization III

The vaguely-MILFish Trade Advisor from Civilization III was always a nutty broad. When she's not maniac depressive over your society's only one source of Silks, she's having full-on sweet orgasms over news of successful trade routes. But her wildest mood swings come over some seemingly mild setbacks, like losing your resource of Rubbers for example, and the result is this Shocked Expression. When you think of an advisor lecturing a ruler to "Make more trade routes!", you probably tend not to picture the advisor saying this with an expression as if warlord Abe Lincoln, ruler of the primeval Americans, just whipped out his honest dong from his tunic and starting swinging it in circles. But there you have it.

The best is that the Trade Advisor's ribald panic over trade matters are truly timeless, lasting across periods of history from the 30th Century BC to the New Millenium, as seen below.

Check out her overwhelming fear circa Modern Era. Two words: CHILL BITCH! So what if we lost our supply of uranium, we're communist Romans. Let's have some decorum.

#4: Doomguy from DOOM

On the surface of it, this one doesn't seem very fair. Sure, he looks ridiculous here, as in "wang-got-stuck-in-the-jacuzzi-jet-OMG" ridiculous. But "Doomguy", the nameless yet nonetheless highly expressive player character from the PC series classic DOOM, is in fact sporting his infamous "Ouch Face". This is the face he's supposed to make when he's getting hit hard by enemy attacks, enough to lop off large swathes of his health. Since his enemies are demons from Hell, it's forgivable; we'd all look a little gobsmacked if we were to be pwnt so hard by Hell's unholy homies. What makes this Shocked Expression so humorous though, is that thanks to a bug in the PC original, to the player, he instead seemingly makes the face for no particular reason, as if, in the middle of demon slaughter, he just suddenly remembered he left his car keys back at E1M1.

There are guaranteed ways to get Doomguy to make the Ouch Face in the original. In later ports the ouch face bug is fixed or even altered, for example in the Playstation port of Ultimate Doom, so that Doomguy makes the expression when he's hit very hard from behind. Yes, in the Playstation port, "Ouch Face" essentially becomes "Prison Sex Face". There goes another reason for the PC snobs to really hate the criminally-underrated PSX release, an unfair assessment given its AWESOME SILENT HILL-WORTHY SOUNDTRACK and a cool head-asplode effect for the Doomguy's face portrait should he get gibbed.

#3: Henry Townshend from Silent Hill 4: The Room

Speaking of Silent Hill, here's this dude. Already there are those asking "Whuh? It's just some, I dunno, dickhead from a trendy Santa Monica club, and he's in the middle of explaining how Brad Pitt is really underrated as an actor. That's not a Shocked Expression." And that's why he's on this list, for this is actually Henry Townshend of Silent Hill 4: The Room, and this IS his Shocked Expression. Let's examine what actually caused it (fast forward to 2:30 of the video).

So yeah. That's his facial reaction to moldy canine beasts howling like cougars jumping out of a bathroom and cannibalizing one of their own with proboscis-like tongues. And that's Henry throughout the whole game, occasionally with in addition of the phrase "What the hell...?" should the situation warrant it (apparently this one didn't). At least most of the other mains of this series freak their shit when Silent Hill first truly de-virginizies their sensibilities. Henry just looks like someone stole his parking space at South Ashfield Heights Apartments, and thus he would wind up becoming part of the mass negative critique against this title. Silent Hill 4's ardent supporters claim that Henry's mannerisms are of nuance, not your usual cartoonish videogame stock behavior, as well as the result of a self-inflicted dream-like suspension of disbelief. Skeptics would say: Christ, the dogs ARE doing some strange shit, dreaming or not, the guy is braindead. Regardless, all that being said, it's only fitting to add such a controversial (and perhaps nuanced) Shocked Expression to the list.

#2: Shirley from Pilotwings

You're perhaps expecting more Henry Townshend-esq nuance. On the contrary, the money shot is in fact coming, and part of what Pilotwings, one of the three exquisite launch titles for the Super Nintendo, had quite a bit going for it. It was a great demo for Mode 7, the then state-of-the-art console feature for the SNES that allowed one of the background modes to be scaled or rotated. In grand Nintendoian tradition, it was a great, laid-back game for both casuals and hardcores; most hardcores, if they're like me, first checked this out when a casual gaming buddy brought this over to play. And, of course, it had these goofy "pilot instructors" unafraid to trounce your meagre biplane flying technique or skills with "rocket belts" with either uncompromising criticism or damning faint praise such as "Not that bad!". Poker-faced Shirley's comment above came right after the player character skydived 3800 ft. to earth without opening the parachute. Yes Shirley, I'm fine, thank you.

The real fun about Pilotwings, aside from the rockin' surprise heli assault mission where you have to rescue those flinty instructors, is when you score perfects on your tests, after which the instructor is left stunned with an apropos facial reaction; here, the Shocked Expression is actually a sort-of reward and incentive to get better. And what Shocked Expressions they are: Lance's eyeballs roll about in his skull like a cartoon character. Tony looks as if to faint. Big Al is, well, Big Al. And Shirley...well, let's talk about Shirley.

shirley.gif Shirley is squirrelly picture by viciousmaniac

What the hell is going on here? This Shocked Expression looks like it caused actual physical damage. It's nuts even for anime; I get it when there's giant sweat drops on people's heads or when they suddenly fall down with one foot in the air. I've no idea what this is; apparently your Pilotwinging was so incredible her mortal eyes vaporized with joy, reduced to feeble blinking slits. THAT is a Shocked Expression, indeed. Although...hold it a second. "I never expected you to do so well."? Even now, faint praise; surely there no end to your snark, Shirley? Pray I don't err my aim during that helicopter mission.

#1: The Chancellor from Chrono Trigger

before WHOAMG

after WHOAMG

Now this is a man who has clearly lost his shit.

As players of Squaresoft's (now Squeenix) JRPG SNES classics know, they used to get loads of storytelling mileage from simple sprites. The scheming Chancellor here is one of Chrono Trigger's most memorable characters, and being so with roughly only sixteen 16-bit 64x64 sprite images to work with. And the best of those images? This expression, first fully seen when the goodies complete a highly unlikely escape from his clutches by casually hopping into a random hole in time. The already-beleaguered Chancellor could only respond with this reaction, a testament to the spectacular 2D art of the classics and the ultimate in Shocked Expressionism. While we'd all freak our shit if some one just up and jumped into a time portal after giving us a particularly bad day, would we look as awesome as this guy? Probably not.

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