Played around on the Check Mii Out channel while updating my Wii for the upcoming Smash Brothers Brawl release. This channel provides the ultimate realization of the Mii software. Now instead of simply sharing your Mii’s with a few friends, you can upload them to show the entire world. At the same time, you can view and review other people’s Mii’s and copy them to your own Wii and edit them in any way you see fit.
There have been websites dedicated to Mii’s in the past, but Check Mii Out has allowed users to view the highest-rated Mii’s. One website that has done a good job of allowing users to upload snapshots of Mii’s is MiiPlaza.net, which currently boasts over 24,000 Mii’s, organized into categories. Mii’s are all over the place and in multiple forms. There are of course Mii’s of celebrities, film and game characters, and politicians as well as Mii’s of users. I have seen some people put their Mii’s on business cards (this seems rather common among Nintendo employees). There is even a subset of Star Wars Mii’s, some of which have been done quite well, including a nice unmasked Darth Vader.
One of the most interesting things to come out of the Mii system is the use of the Mii face as a canvas for painting, or a Canvas Mii. Some of my favorites are the Rose Butterfly, Jolly Roger, the F-Zero Racer and the Big Nose. However, I believe the ultimate realization of the Mii as art is the Fly. The Fly paints a fly on the Mii’s face, using the eyes as wings. Because Mii eyes automatically blink, this produces an animation effect that makes it look as if the fly is buzzing its wings. This makes use of the Mii as canvas to its full effect, incorporating what might be seen as a frustration into a tool.
One result of sharing Mii’s is that some users will download a popular Mii, edit it, and then reupload the Mii. This means there will be dozens of versions of popular Mii’s like Darth Vader, some of which are obviously better than others. You can take this as a negative, but allowing users to choose among them all for the best or edit a Mii to make it better for them is what open source is all about.
Of course, some people have uploaded offensive Mii’s where sexual organs or fellatio has been painted on the face. While some level of obscenity is to be expected, you can bet that Nintendo is doing its job at deleting them and possibly passing on warnings as they see them. It’s trash like this that makes me realize why Nintendo only allows you to name your Mii’s by initials: you can’t type obscenities. In fact, about the closest you can get is F.U. which is likely closely moderated. However, MiiPlaza.net does post some ‘obscene’ Mii’s that might be called artistic, such as the Middle Finger.
Of course, character appearance customization has been around for a long time, since the first MMO’s like Ultima Online. Character customization is now taken for granted, though the Mii has influenced a lot of other developers. Some Internet chat software uses custom avatars similar to the Mii and Mii influence may certainly be seen in Sony’s Home for PS3. The big difference between the Mii and other avatar customization software is that the Mii’s are abstract cartoons whereas other avatars take the realism approach. This means that while you can create characters who look a lot closer to photographs, it is likely impossible to use the creative aspect of the software to produce art and other things the designers had not intended. Thus, you won’t be able to paint an animated fly on your avatar’s face. While shirt customization certainly isn’t out of the question, 3D fashions and digital clothing art versus real-world fashion counterparts is something entirely different.
As many designers push to create ever-more photo-realistic looking graphics, I continue to complain about how game art isn’t fully expressing itself. Games like Okami, Patapon, and Loco Roco are the exception, not the rule, and a quick look at I Am 8-Bit galleries to notice that the art in games is hardly approaching a wide range of expression. We’ve known for over a year now that Mii’s are fun because they are cartoons, and the type of fun you can have through photo-realistic avatars is of a different sort that produces a different, and I would argue more limited, toolbox for expression.