I fell in love with my favorite fighting game franchise for all the right reasons. It was fast, frantic, flashy and groundbreaking. Now, after nearly 20 years together, it's time for me to face the truth—my favorite fighting game franchise is an exhibitionist, and I'm not okay with it.

In the late '90s I was a fighting game fiend, greedily scooping up every title that featured a pair of characters pummeling each other senseless. And in the mid to late '90s there was no better place for a fighting game fan than the Sega Saturn. It was the platform where 2D fighting matured and 3D console fighting was born. Armed with a four megabyte expansion cartridge that allowed me to play Japanese games, I ordered the first Dead or Alive from Japan and fell in love.

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Despite swapping the 3D backgrounds of the arcade version with pre-rendered sprites and lowering the detail on the character models, Dead or Alive for the Saturn was a gorgeous game for its time.

But it wasn't the game's looks that got me hooked. It was the action. Fluid and precise, this was a game about striking hard and fast. It was a game about countering. The counter button allowed players to anticipate their opponents' attacks and turn them around, turning a strike into an opportunity to fight back. The ability to counter in Dead or Alive was revolutionary, transforming normal back-and-forth battles into a ballet of battle.

While it was the sweet flow of Dead or Alive's fights that seduced, others latched on to a more immediate aspect of the game's appeal.

As the story goes, game designer Itagaki wanted a feature for his fighting game that would draw attention to it during development, so he took a cue from another Japanese fighting game, SNK's 2D brawler Fatal Fury. Applying the famous breast animation of female ninja Mai Shinranui to 3D character models, the signature Dead or Alive bounce was born.

It got attention.

An early promo reel for the Sega Saturn version of the game demonstrates the distracting nature of the "physics" Itagaki added to Dead or Alive. The innovative counter system isn't really touched on. Danger Zones, a concept borrowed from Mortal Kombat's stage-based fatalities that would eventually morph into DOA's multi-tiered fighting arenas—one of my favorite features of the franchise—get a quick blurb. And while the reel never comes right out and shouts "Look at these bouncing breasts," every time one of those fluid combat animations ends in ridiculous jiggle, it pretty much does.

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I've never let Dead or Alive's breast physics keep me away from what I feel is an excellent fighting game franchise. I played the original game on the Saturn. When it came out the next year for PlayStation, reinstating the polygon stages of the arcade version, I played that as well. I played Dead or Alive 2 on the Dreamcast, marveling at how far the graphics had come in such a short time. I played solo, unlocking all of the game's characters and costumes—I'm a sucker for costume unlocks, and Dead or Alive has almost always delivered on that front.

That Uncomfortable Feeling

It wasn't until Dead or Alive 3 for the Xbox that I started to feel uncomfortable about my choice of fighting games. A showcase for the power of Microsoft's new system, the 2001 North American release lacked many of the bells and whistles of its predecessors—there was a serious lack of unlockable costumes. But it was a famous advertisement for the game that disappointed me the most.

And suddenly all Dead or Alive fans feel like mouth-breathing perverts. Thanks, commercial.

The day I bought my original Xbox, I stopped at a local diner on the way home for a celebratory burger. As I ate, I cracked open the two games I purchased with the system— Halo (of course) and Dead or Alive 3—to thumb through the manuals. The waitress serving me saw the DOA box, gave me a thumbs up and said, "She kicks high." It was the only time I'd ever felt embarrassed to have purchased a video game, and I bought the collector's edition of Record of Agarest War, complete with sexy pillow case and boob-bearing mouse pad.

I do not embarrass easily.

From that point forward, Dead or Alive was the game with sexy women and bouncing breasts in the eyes of those unfamiliar with its fighting pedigree.

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2003's Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball didn't help the series' image. The first game in franchise history to receive an M for Mature rating from the ESRB, Xtreme Beach Volleyball ultimately came off as "You want tits and ass? We'll damn well give you tits and ass." To outsiders looking in, it was further proof of the imagined depravity of Dead or Alive's fanbase.

Fans Demand Bigger Breasts

Series creator Tomonobu Itagaki's departure from Tecmo in 2008 was a ray of hope for Dead or Alive fans tired of the series' over-sexualized image. He was the father of the DOA bounce, often referring to the female characters of the series as his daughters.

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An Itagaki-less Team Ninja began working on Dead or Alive 5, a rebirth of sorts for the long-running series. The game would expand on some of the series' more exciting aspects, notably the dynamic stages, while toning down the sex considerably. I'd never been more excited by the phrase "toning down the sex."

The collector's edition of 2012's Ninja Gaiden 3 came bundled with an early demo for Dead or Alive 5, and I was overjoyed.

While the physics were still in place, the assets those physics had to work with were substantially reduced. Purple-haired ninja Ayane received a substantial breast reduction, looking more like a young girl who'd studied martial arts all of her life and less like a young woman who only studied martial arts when she wasn't recovering from cosmetic surgery.

I loved it. Others weren't quite so keen.

Speaking to Gamasutra in 2012, Dead or Alive 5 director Yohei Shimbori described the fan backlash from Ayane's breast reduction.

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"We actually got a lot of feedback from people who were playing it, saying 'We want bigger breasts. Make the characters more like that.' That was kind of surprising."

What might have been a turning point in the series became a tentative sidestep in a better direction. Breast sizes were increased for several characters, but a combination of more realistic body proportions and a less wild bounce offered a small illusion of propriety—an illusion that's immediately shattered the moment you open up the downloadable content page for Dead or Alive 5: Last Round.

Ultimate Sexy is probably a bit too sexy for you.

They've got every kink covered here, from bunny ears to handcuffs. One moment Shimbori is talking about pressure from overseas offices to de-sexualize the series, the next we've got a veritable fetish smorgasbord available for purchase on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network.

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It's like Team Ninja missed the sexy highway off-ramp, then said "fuck it" and pressed the accelerator to the floor.

It's Just Dead Or Alive's Thing

If I were to ask a stranger at a gaming convention to name a fighting game featuring sexy female characters wearing skimpy outfits, Dead or Alive would likely be the most common answer. The best answer however, is most fighting games. From the moment Super Street Fighter 2 introduced the unitard-wearing Cammy back in 1993 (sorry, Chun-Li), attractive women wearing less than they would wear to the mall have been a staple of the fighting game scene.

Mortal Kombat's Mileena charmed gamers with her killer smile.

Dead or Alive introduced fighting game fans (some more than others) to bouncing 3D breasts, but other popular 3D fighting franchises followed suit. Physics, when done well, can add an additional layer of realism to a game. When done poorly, at least players have something to giggle at, as seen in this classic Games Radar breast physics comparison from Soulcalibur IV.

Want sexy costumes? It doesn't get any sexier than Anna's calamari gear from Tekken Tag Tournament 2.

And now I'm hungry.

Fighting game characters are generally attractive. In a genre that showcases physical prowess, it makes sense that physical image plays an important role. With dialogue largely consisting of grunts and shouts and stories that are often little more than flimsy excuses for the setting of a battle, appearance and fighting style are a character's defining characteristics.

It's Okay To Stare

If almost every fighting game franchise does sexy and bouncy, why is Dead or Alive singled out? For one, no one does sexy quite like Team Ninja.

Hi.

There's something hypnotic about the level of beauty the Dead or Alive series has achieved. Each new installment is prettier than the last, honing its signature style to ridiculous levels of attractiveness.

Ein is so dreamy.

But really it was that early bounce that cemented Dead or Alive's position in the fighting game hierarchy as "the boob game." As Itagaki hoped, the jiggle indeed drew attention to a new entry in the growing 3D fighting game market. It was just too strong a hook. Instead of moving past the superficial to appreciate the real meat of the game, the gaming community, media outlets (present company not-excluded) and Tecmo Koei's marketing team latched onto those breasts and haven't let go since.

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Covering a fighting game for a media outlet can be a complicated affair, especially when attempting to go beyond face value, exploring issues of balance and timing and the competitive scene. The Dead or Alive franchise makes it easy. "What are DOA's boobs doing this time around?" I mean hell, even I'm doing it. Hi there.

Tecmo Koei seems content to milk the series' breasts for all they are worth. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of the recently-released Dead or Alive 5: Final Round feature the new "Soft Engine," designed specifically to make skin look silkier and move more realistically than ever before. This is how that's being demonstrated.

Now I've got a fighting game with not two but four different options for breast motion—Off, Natural, DOA and Last Round. That's a ridiculous amount of focus on a cosmetic physics option that makes no difference whatsoever to core gameplay.

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What bothers me the most is that all of this is an attempt to keep the focus solely on Dead or Alive's more private parts. Breast physics in fighting games is a regular thing now. Just look at this clip from the PlayStation 4 version of Last Round with them turned off. It's like two plastic dolls fighting.

The effort Team Ninja and Tecmo Koei are making to draw attention to the sexual aspects of Dead or Alive is becoming pathetic. Instead of letting it age gracefully into the mature fighting game franchise I know it to be, they're putting on a heavy layer of makeup and performing extreme plastic surgery, attempting to hold onto the titillating excitement of its early days.

The Defense Falters

As I discussed with our team how to cover Dead or Alive 5: Final Round, I tried to argue that breast physics were the least interesting part of the series. The Dead or Alive I fell in love with is a fighting game focused on fast action, easy enough for a new player to hop in and simultaneously becomes simply brilliant in the hands of a seasoned pro. It's about dynamic face-offs and spectacular battles spilling across multi-tiered stages.

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The team responded with skepticism. If the sexy side of Dead or Alive was its least interesting aspect, then why the "Soft Engine?" Why all the marketing materials that are little more than 20 seconds of swaying boobs?

And just like that, I deflated. There's no use arguing the character of a game when it's standing behind you the entire time with its shirt raised shouting "Look at my tits!"

It Doesn't Have To Be This Way

Dead or Alive has much more to offer than heaving bosoms and bare skin. I know this. The hardcore fans that aren't engaged in a letter writing campaign for tits the size of Volkswagens know this. The folks who don't know this are the ones whose only exposure to the series is an endless parade of borderline softcore porn masquerading as marketing. In order for anything to change, Tecmo Koei and Team Ninja have to be willing to change, complainers be damned. Here are a few pointers to help get them started.

Show, don't tell.

I have nothing against bouncing boobs. Having observed my wife for many years, I've come to realize that it is a thing that happens. Depending on the size it can be a painful, torturous thing that happens, but I'm of the opinion that it's probably better they do than sit there stoically like a statue.

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Almost every popular 3D fighting game out there has some degree of bounce. It's really nothing extreme anymore. At this point hyping it is like telling everyone your fighters' kick each other. Of course they do.

What I am saying is there is no need to change the way things move in Dead or Alive. There's also no reason to hype the way things move in Dead or Alive. So stop making such a big deal out of it. If fans want it, it'll be in there.

Take body physics to the next level.

I get it, Team Ninja—you're obsessed with how the body moves. You want things to react naturally to motion. You know what would be amazing? If the entire body reacted to motion. And touching. And hitting.

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You want me to get excited about bodies in a fighting game? Have a punch connect. Fist into face, skin shifting under the pressure of the knuckles, gone white from tension. How about grabs that affect the fighters' clothing? If you're really hell-bent on sexy, how about clothing that rips realistically in the heat of battle?

More realistic than this, please.

It'll be a whole lot of work, and maybe even today's more advanced consoles aren't up to the task, but if any development team can pull it off it's the one with enough time to create an entirely new engine just to show off breasts.

Grow a pair.

Allow me to re-paste the game director Yohei Shimbori's quote from earlier.

"We actually got a lot of feedback from people who were playing it, saying 'We want bigger breasts. Make the characters more like that.' That was kind of surprising."

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Fuck those people. I bet there were at least five people quietly enjoying the changes made for every one who sent in an angry email demanding breasts be embiggened. What was "kind of surprising" to me was that the team actually took those whiners to heart and changed direction in mid-development. If I were a skeptic I'd say the whole thing was a flimsy excuse to mention breasts in an interview context, but I am I am eternal optimist, so I'll just pretend it was all for the best.

If those folks want to see anime-style breasts bouncing that badly, I can direct them to several games available for purchase at Manga Gamer dedicated to just that.

This shot is from a game called Ultimate Boob Wars. Sounds right up their alley.

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I know getting negative feedback is upsetting, as is the thought of not catering to your most vocal fans, but trust me—they'll get over it, much easier than I'll get over being considered a lech for enjoying your fighting game franchise. I'd rather be considered a lech for the truly lecherous things I do.

I own this perverted Transformers figurine.

And finally...

Never do this again.

Not even in German.

Bouncing Back

Dead or Alive needs to work on its personality. It's got looks nailed down—I doubt we'll ever see a physically ugly entry in the series. But for years the franchise has flaunted its sexuality, to the point where no one unfamiliar with its more intriguing aspects can see anything but flashes of skin. It got their attention, but never took that opportunity to show them what else it could do

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The building blocks are all in place—a fast-paced brawling engine that's newbie-friendly and pro-flexible, solid mechanics, a cast of colorful characters and a rich story mode that's far more meaty than any fighting game's needs to be. Now it's up to Tecmo Koei and Team Ninja to build those blocks up so high that no pair of bouncing breasts can possibly knock them down.

To contact the author of this post, write to fahey@kotaku.com or find him on Twitter @bunnyspatial.