Rediscovering a forgotten game from your childhood and finding out it’s as amazing as you remembered it to be feels fantastic. My most recent reunion was with Little Fighter 2, a freeware beat ’em up game by independent developer/software engineer Marti Wong.
Little Fighter 2 is a 2.5D game in which up to 8 combatants can pick from a roster of shounen-inspired characters and either cooperate through a series of linear stages or battle each other. The appeal of the game lies in its easy-to-learn controls that mean even inexperienced players will quickly get the hang of throwing around powerful special attacks. The chaotic nature of the battles are also certainly a selling point; Magic and items are thrown around with reckless abandon, and in some modes players amass a horde of NPC goons to back them up. It’s easy to lose track of your character in all that madness, but it’s a lot of fun to partake in.
Marti Wong has kept the game free-to-play and compatible to this very day, which I admire a lot. Despite having other work, he’s continued to show his passion for a small game he threw together decades ago, for the sole benefit of the few nostalgic nerds like myself who still remember it. That does it make it tragic that Mr. Wong has been plagued with so many setbacks of late. An attempted revival for mobile platforms was widely pirated and eventually written off as unsalvageable. Little Fighter Online similarly declined in popularity after initial success and eventually shut down entirely.
That he has endured all that and still wants to do a Little Fighter 2 remaster is exceptional, but his hardships have also inspired some measures that are more eyebrow-raising. Firstly, booting Little Fighter 2 these days reveals a slew of ads for various money-raising initiatives alongside a link to where third parties can rent ad space in the game. Secondly, it appears that Wong, like so many other tech nerds, has become infatuated with cryptocurrency.
Claiming that pirates made it impossible for him to just make a profitable game, Wong has taken the art assets of the Little Fighter series and is now selling them as NFTs. Digital artists in all corners of the internet are getting in on the NFT hype, inspired by stories of memes selling for hundreds of thousands. The Castle Doctrine famously put its collection of in-game portraits for sale and Little Fighter takes it a step further: you can pay Ethereum to “own” individual animations that were used in a 26-year-old, Chinese DOS game.
NFTs are unique tokens drawn from a piece of digital art, which can be anything. Pictures, gifs, videos, it doesn’t matter. Who owns the token is verified through blockchain, but this ownership is functionally meaningless. You “own” the art in principle only, because by virtue of its digital nature it can be perfectly copied infinitely, without legal repercussion. You won’t be able to monetize the art or prevent people from sharing it. After all, how are you going to pull every instance of a meme from the internet? Or, indeed, monetize a walking animation from a freeware game from 1995?
So are NFTs useless? Not entirely. Some people buy NFTs to support artists they like, or as an asset they hope to resell at a profit. However, the tech has been plagued with controversy since its recent boom in popularity. Bots haunt Twitter to tokenize other people’s art, The Castle Doctrine sold NFTs of its commissioned art without the creators’ consent, and the jury is still out on just how much of an ecological impact NFTs have. Blockchain technology has been a major detriment to the battle against climate change and largely exists just to enrich investors, which made its expansion into art a divisive issue among artists.
Separate from the controversies surrounding NFT technology, seeing a game being gutted and “sold” literally by the animation devalues the artistic and emotional value of the whole, at least from my perspective. It might be difficult to see that point in relation to a niche DOS game, so imagine if Undertale was sold off per line of dialogue. It’s still the same game as always, but now all your favorite moments are technically owned by a bunch of millionaires and part of a financial gambling scheme.
But this wouldn’t be a unique story if it was just a struggling developer trying to raise a quick buck to finance their next project. Where it gets crazy is in Wong’s attempted 10000xPlayers NFT Project. Wong wants thousands of players to send in videos of their Little Fighter gameplay and put it together into one big video, which will then be sold off as an NFT that Wong hopes to score over 5 million dollars with.
How it works is that Wong put out news of this project to gauge if the project is viable. Once sufficient people have expressed interest, Wong will accept applications from people looking to participate, who are then also expected to purchase a participation NFT as a stake in the project. When the video is then finished, 50% of the proceeds will be distributed among the participating players, a portion will go to charity, and the remainder goes towards the Little Fighter series.
It’s a bizarre idea, firstly because this is a niche game from 19 years ago. A quick look through YouTube reveals that, outside of a few accounts that post videos almost daily, very few people are putting out significant content for the Little Fighter games. Its entry on Twitch.tv goes months without any activity at all. 10000 people sending in videos would be more activity in one go than the game usually sees in several years put together.
The project stumbled out of the door with little fanfare. The initial pitch had to receive 15k likes across all of Wong’s social media before the next phase will be started, but 2 months down the line it has yet to breach 2k. Wong has a small following of fans and some people are excited for the remake, but these fans number in the hundreds, not thousands. And not all of those people will be willing to invest their time and money on a tech nerd’s crypto hobby.
It’s just kinda sad to witness an overambitious project like this peter out, and it’d be a shame if the future of Little Fighter were to hinge on its success. I’d gladly support the game in conventional ways, but I pulled out of crypto years ago exactly because of the environmental concerns, and am not about to step back in to do a childhood game a solid.