Two months ago I wrote about some recent batshittery coming from WaterMelon. But there was something I briefly touched on in there that I kept wanting to come back to: the stolen artwork. Because people have dug up more than three sprites, to the point Paprium probably couldn't be released on modern platforms without legal troubles, or at least lots of mockery.
Why make another writeup on this, you ask? Maybe I felt like documenting this before something happens to the Tweets. Maybe it's because I've been trying to replay Mega Man X6 and it's filling me with boiling anger I need to direct somewhere. Or maybe I just feel vindicated after I pointed out WaterMelon ripped off the Witcher logo, and got told I was full of shit.
I can't be the only one seeing that, can I? Would it help if I drew some lines?
By the way, I don't know what game that image is from. I want to say Sacred Line, but literally the only three things I know about that game are its name, that it was the brainchild of a guy named Sasha Darko, and that Fonzie owes Sasha $3,000 (I'm not even sure what for. Royalties, I'd guess). It could be from Project N which yes, despite its announcement being almost as old as Paprium's, doesn't even have a proper name yet.
Some of WaterMelon's defenders have come out to say the following isn't plagiarism because it's only the poses that are derivative, while the characters are FRESH and ORIGINAL. Yeah, in the comic book industry that's called swiping. That's not even counting the scenes of Streets of Rage and Golden Axe sprites lifted wholesale, which is excused as "tribute" and "homage" without understanding what a either of those things actually are. An homage would be a scene of the Paprium cast hanging around a burning barrel (because cyberpunk) until a goblin comes in, which they beat up for loot. Plopping your characters in a level somebody else made is just asset theft. Or the kind of fan fiction insecure ten year olds write, where Optimus Prime and the Ninja Turtles hang out with them and are always telling the kid what a cool dude they are.
Or Stephen Universe and the cast of Fortnite, or whatever kids are into these days. Get off my lawn.
The lines between reference and inspiration, and swiping and plagiarism can be murky. Reference material in itself isn't bad and in fact is a necessity for good art. If you want to draw an eagle, you have to pull up photos of eagles in a variety of poses and angles and understand how that flappyboi works. Otherwise you turn into Rob Liefeld, who never bothered to learn things like "anatomy" and "clothing" and "how to draw feet" and pulls whatever he feels like out of his ass.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have bullshit like this.
The first sprite, with Gai Tendo, I'm willing to pass off as heavy influence. The similarities are obvious but the angles of the legs and torso are different, so unless the Paprium character, whose name I guess is Dice? is based on a different frame of Gai's uppercut, at least it wasn't lightboxed. The Balrog sprite, though, that's a clear swipe. And the one with Ken... this is hilarious and not just because of Dice's tiny feet and dislocated leg.
So there's this comic book artist, Greg Land, who is notorious for swiping from other artists, movie stills, swimsuit models, and, um, porn (no, seriously). This would get you thrown out of an art class, yet he still manages to get work at the two major publishers for reasons nobody has been able to figure out. Maybe tracing everything allows him to consistently make deadlines, I dunno. Along with the fucked up ethics and how frequently his "screaming" women look like they're orgasming (again, he's admitted himself that he traces porn, I am not making that up), his "technique" creates inconsistent (and in my opinion, stiff and soulless) artwork where the same character will have different facial structure and hair from panel to panel. Because he's tracing different people.
What does this have to do with Dice? Based on that first sprite, he's supposed to be leanly muscled and wearing a skintight shirt. Ken is wearing a baggy gi. But the person swiping the artwork didn't consider this discrepancy in clothing and treated Ken's gi flopping around as if it was right up against his back, so Dice's torso looks like a fucking mini-fridge.
So fun fact, when the art director for the game, one Luis Martins, was asked if he was inspired by Rugal for Business Casual Cable here (I have no idea what his real name is), Luis claimed to not know who Rugal was. You know what? That's not unbelievable to me. I didn't know who Rugal or even most of these King of Fighters characters were before I saw all of this. I only know five fighting games* and wouldn't know a Blazblue character if they were sitting on my face, and the only SNK property I've ever really gotten into was Metal Slug.
The next question, however, is how did a swipe of Rugal get into the game. Maybe some work got outsourced to somebody who got lazy. But instead of saying he'll look into it, Luis just cries about bullying. It makes it sound like Luis took the sprite without knowing the character's name.
By the way, the coloring makes it look like Business Casual Cable's pant legs are connected just above the kneecaps. That's gotta be hard to walk in. Should have gotten more of that dark red in there to break up the purple.
* Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat, Smash Bros, Guilty Gear X2, and Waku Waku 7
I've gathered Paprium's slow, strong guy archetype here is named Tug, presumably after what WaterMelon is always doing do their figurative dick. Here we see him "homaging" Urien's Chariot Tackle, among other things. I'm picturing the artist in college, handing in a term paper they downloaded from the Internet and ran through a find-and-replace tool, and telling the teacher "It's not plagiarism, it's an homage!"
If you're wondering why I keep saying "the artist" instead of "Luis" it's because I'm not entirely sure he's the one at fault here. Luis Martins is the lead artist, yes, but WaterMelon was pulling this shit before Paprium. Along with that Witcher swipe up above, that dragon in Pier Solar was a modified Wind Drake from Final Fantasy V (and let's not bring up the Zero Punctuation thing again. Oh wait).
Bad Anatomy Bonus: What the hell is is going on with Tug's calf muscle in that third image? The gastrocnemius is one mass going all the way down to his ankle, without any of that "soleus" and "Achilles tendon" nonsense. If that's just his boot, why does it have muscle definition?
Next up, some dominatrices that were ripped off Whip from King of Fighters. I don't think anyone with two working eyes and brain cells will challenge the first pair. The second is less obvious. The Tweeter posted three shots of Whip to compare to two dominatrix poses. Then I caught that the dominatrix's idle pose is a splice of two Whip sprites with the legs spread out a little bit. You can even trace the seam in Whip's uniform along the dominatrix's spine and buttcrack. Wonder where they spliced the arms from.
This was pointed out in the same Tweet as the dominatrices but didn't include screengrabs, so I had to break up a .gif of Chin's idle animation in Animation Shop and find the frames myself. You're welcome!
On the subject of splicing, Chin's idle animation has a shitload of frames, and on some of them his hunch was closer to but he was holding his arm higher, and on others his arm matched but he was standing more upright so he might have been pieced together from multiple frames, but I think this one gets the point across. I'm not sure if his whole victory is spliced together from bits of Chin's idle animation, cause it's kind of a mess to look over everything.
I love how the Paprium character, Ba-Ba, is so cluttered he looks more like a pile of dirty laundry on legs than a samurai or whatever the fuck he's supposed to be. And because they tried to draw him flatfooted based on a character who's standing on his toes, he ends up with minotaur hooves.
Oh goody! In addition to that walking collage of Chinese stereotypes, we have homosexual stereotype Ash knockoffs! And why are their faces so out-of-style with the rest of the game?
Anyway, we're here to look at the desk bell titty robot with her arms hacked off.
This looks like the Gai Tendo thing, where the artist was looking at Athena, but didn't directly draw over her on a new Photoshop layer (again, unless it's from a different frame). The robot is noticeably more curled up. I'm more focused on her fucked up right leg, which is either longer than the other one or attached to her left leg's inner thigh instead of the hip. I'd also say you can't bend your foot that far back without breaking your ankle, but eh, it's a robot sex doll, I guess it can do that.
I hate to keep going back to the Rob Liefeld well, but wouldn't it be great if Paprium was meant to be a tribute to the worst trends of 90s comics along with the worst of 90s gaming? We've got the broken anatomy, swiping all over the place, and gross attitude to women. I'd be more likely to believe that if everyone was covered in pouches, though.
Here we see more of the plagiarist being flummoxed by clothing. Storm's sleeves obscure her upper arms and chest, and person redrawing her had no fucking idea what was supposed to be going on with the arm underneath. Yoga Jockstrap Lady's upper arm is way too small, putting her shoulders where Storm's triceps would be. And I guess her boobs go all the way up to her throat. They also mistook Storm's wrist ribbons (anyone know what those things are called?) for her back, so Yoga Jockstrap Lady is awkwardly hunched.
And here's a couple things I caught. First, Ba-Ba's sword spin is a swipe of Zero's Kuuenzan from Mega Man X4.
Second, Red Spandex Fucker in the corner reminds me uncomfortably of Sigma's death sprite from X5.
The legs are (horribly) redone but check out the torso. The back is shaped the same, and RSF has this weird hump on his right hip (his right, your left), where Sigma's belt is. And they tried to close the legs up a bit, but couldn't be arsed to adjust the hips which account for Sigma's legs being spread out, so RSF's thigh is almost as big around as his torso. There's a chance I'm wrong but I'm not in the mood to give them the benefit of the doubt. Come to think of it, RSF is red and has white shoulder pads, and the X5 Sigma kicks off the fight by tossing a cape aside, frequently teleports with his arms crossed, and is called Psycho Sigma. I wouldn't be too surprised if RSF is a swipe of an M. Bison sprite Sigma himself is based on.
And why does he have a cameltoe.
I looked through a video to get a shot of the guy's head (easier said than done because the player keeps knocking everything off-screen) and what the shit am I looking at. This is the horseshit you get when you're more concerned with sprite size than petty nonsense like "anatomy" and "flow of movement" and "gesture." Red Spandex Fucker's body is curving backwards, and then his head awkwardly juts forward, adding to the effect that it's pasted over somebody else's torso. And good lord, the boob floppery on Yoga Jockstrap Lady. Does the artist think women have two flaccid dicks coming out of their collarbone? Why does her foot turn into a giant nail that doesn't even line up with her ankle? And what is that gnarled claw she calls a hand? Actually, what is wrong with the hands in this game overall? I know hands are one of the hardest things to get right in art, but how do you fuck it up in pixel art this bad?
I'm going to end this, fittingly, on Paprium's final boss, Bishop. The Tweeter claims he's based on Shigen from The Last Blade, but uh...
... to be honest, I'm not seeing the similarities here. Is it the hunched pose? The arm? Maybe I'm not looking in the right spot, or maybe I'm just distracted by how bad that Paprium boss's design is. It's clear the only ambition here was getting the biggest thing they could on the Genesis hardware, instead of creating something that doesn't look like Mr. Hankey partway through a Tetsuo mutation.
What the fuck is this thing supposed to be? A Stand? Damn, I feel bad for whatever poor sap's fighting spirit made manifest is Slimer pumped full of steroids with a cow pat on his face. Now, a super-jacked ghost could work if it had a strong gesture and silhouette, unlike this uninspired bullshit. And why is the hand so small and stumpy in the second image? Then you get to the face, which is laughable with the goofy mouth and cute little bunny nose. I was also trying to figure why it had pajama legs sticking out the side of its head, then realized that's Ba-Ba's feet, doing the Totally-Not-Kuuenzan.
And I see somebody at WaterMelon really loves the "monstrosity with a human body dangling from it" trope. Hey, I'm not one to judge, I have a thing for dragons and snakes.
Amazingly, this thing looks even worse in motion. At least what you can see of it during the twenty seconds it spends getting stunlocked before croaking. And yes, Paprium kicks off its final battle by having the boss cartoonishly plop out of the sky, onto its back, with a disinterested look on its face. And what the fuck is Ba-Ba's idle animation?? Is he supposed to be doing a crane stance? Because that looks more like a child on a playground doing a flamingo impression. Does he have a wooden leg that he's trying to keep off the ground? Why, he has no trouble walking with it and even if that were the case, there are more dignified ways of animating that.
And did WaterMelon seriously, after eight fucking years of development hell, have the nerve to end Paprium on a cliffhanger? On a still image with the words "The End?" like this is Manos: The Hands of Fate? Or do you have to complete the game a certain way to get the "real" ending? I guess endings that completely disrespect the player's time are another WaterMelon favorite.
To give this a point beyond "WaterMelon did something stupid, other breaking news, bear shits in the woods" let's return to that question of inspiration versus swiping. It goes back to that old saying "A good artist steals, a bad artist borrows." The former collects ideas but keeps them, making them their own, and when they do send something back out into the world it's their thing. Batman was based on Zorro, who in turn was based on the Scarlet Pimpernel, but they're all three distinct characters. And Disney's Hercules, God of War, and Hades all pull from Greek mythology but they're each their own beast. Meanwhile, a bad artist regurgitates ideas, adding at most a thin layer of bile that makes everyone else angry and uncomfortable.
I strongly suggest you watch that Comic Tropes video on Greg Land (relinked here for convenience) for a case study on what over-reliance on reference material does to creativity. Don't lock yourself into rigid adherence to what's in front of you, and your own creations won't look like an overinflated balloon of Star Platinum with poo smeared on his face.
But at least WaterMelon doesn't appear to have shit all over the games they pilfered from this time.