Let’s talk about: Annoying Robots!

So, you don’t need to have read many of the posts we publish here on AddAltMode to get the impression that in this little corner of the internet robots are generally regarded a pretty favourably. But although robots are frequently awesome, it is a truth universally acknowledged that when robots aren’t awesome they’re often incredibly, infuriatingly, even offensively annoying!

So what makes for an annoying robot? Well, there are tons of listicles already out there along the lines of “The Top Ten most annoying robots in popular culture” so I’m not going to churn out another of those. But if there’s one thing I’ve noticed about the various lists on this topic, it’s that there’s surprisingly little overlap between them. Annoyingness, it seems, can be quite a subjective quality. So today I’m going to look at a few robots who are often accused of being annoying. I’ll be asking what they’ve done to deserve that label and whether they really deserve it.

Bring forward the accused! These bots are on trial accused of being too annoying. Let the jury consider the evidence and decide their verdict.

Stock photo by  creationc from http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1409592

Health warning! If you’re easily wound up you may wish to stop reading now. While there are a few bots out there I may defend from over-harsh judgments, this post contains at least two characters for whom the label “annoying” doesn’t begin to cover it – although I could do with a label of some sort to stick over their robot mouths!

Accused #1: Soundwave

Does he press your annoyance button? Screen cap from G1 cartoon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvtTfqkzMt8

Does he press your annoyance button?
Screen cap from G1 cartoon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvtTfqkzMt8

It honestly came as a shock to me that people find Soundwave annoying, but apparently lots do. I was discussing Transformers with a colleague at work the other day and they said the only thing they remember from the 80s show was “that tape guy with the really annoying voice.”  And that impression of Soundwave can’t be too unusual since he comes in at number 8 in this list of annoying 80s robots. Top of the list of accusations against this iconic Decepticon seems to be his voice: both the list and my colleague mentioned his synthesised vocoder tones as the source of the problem.

A lot of robot characters seem to have vocal quirks or tics and overdone this can certainly get tiresome quickly (see below) but personally I’ve always found Soundwave’s voice really cool. It’s a big cliché that robots would talk like that: if robots are advanced enough to be sentient and agile then surely their voices could be less monotonous too. But it’s certainly a persistent cliché and, hey, in a show that has introduced hundreds and hundreds of robot characters it’s rather satisfying to have one who actually does talk like that. Soundwave’s voice has varied a bit over the years but the sustained synthetic feel is what really makes him stand out in the Transformers franchise. One of his crowning moments of awesome has to be in Prime. This iteration of the character is creepily silent throughout. It works, but the only time he breaks that vow of silence he does so in style, reminding you just what you loved about his G1 counterpart.

If anything, what annoys me most about Soundwave isn’t the voice,  it’s the size changing (when he shrinks to become a tape deck) but he’s hardly the only Transformer guilty of that *cough* Broadside *cough*

Well, actually – having paused to think – his somewhat indecipherable vocals are slightly annoying in the Transfomers War for Cyberton / Fall of Cyberton games: when he’s giving you orders and you can’t actually understand what you’re meant to do. But that’s what subtitles are for, right?

My verdict on Soundwave = NOT GUILTY. What do you think?


 

Accused #2: Cl4P-TP

"Hello Traveller!" CL4P-TP from Borderlands

“Hello Traveller!”
CL4P-TP from Borderlands

B and I were very late to the Borderlands party, having only picked up the first game earlier this year (in the Valentine’s day Steam Sale on co-op titles). But we’ve fallen hard and fast for this amazing game. We’ve finished the first game, we’re currently ploughing through the DLC, and Borderlands 2 plus DLC is already purchased and ready to play (no prices for guessing which character I plan to main there!)  Anyway, Borderlands is responsible for launching a very memorable little bot into the annals of robot pop-culture. Cl4P-TP, or Claptrap. In their great retrospective on the character, ShackNews describe him as  “the robot that everybody either loves or everybody would love to bludgeon with a blunt object.” And enough people find him annoying that a Google search for him did auto-suggest this:

claptrap search

Now, what could possibly be annoying about Claptrap? Is it the desperate attention-seeking behaviour “Oooh, check me out, I’m dancing.” Is it the fact that he repeats the same lines over and over? Is it the fact that he starts singing his dub-step song and then when you come back to town hours later, having killed hundreds of bandits and skags in the meantime, he’s still singing it? Maybe it’s the fact that Interplanetary Ninja Assassin Claptrap starts a robo-lution and tries to kill us all?

Maybe. Though, as with Soundwave, your feelings about this mono-wheeled steward-bot are likely to depend largely on how you respond to his voice. David Eddings gives Claptrap a voice that’s loud, squeaky-ish and brimming with character. It can grate, certainly, but I think Gearbox get the balance right, tempering his silliness and more grating moments with dark humor and pathos. In Borderlands 1, every time I spent too long in a town I’d start to find Claptrap irritating but then I’d be off out on missions and the next Claptrap I’d encounter would be a damaged one needing repairs. Those pathetic – ”I’m leaking” – robo-whimpers get me every time, so suddenly there I am cooing “poor Claptrap” and feeling sorry for the guy. Of course, once I’ve sourced a repair kit, he’s up thrusting and laughing and is back to being kind of annoying again, but that’s the cycle of Claptrap. It’s a cycle that reaches its epitome in the New Robot Revolution DLC. In this all the Claptraps turn on the vault hunters but there’s still a mission to heal a poor hurt one, which you can’t help but do even knowing full well what’s going to happen as soon as he’s back on his wheel. He even laughs at you for being such a sucker. Borderlands is a game of strong reactions and memorable characters, so this is why CL4P-TP really is the fitting face of the franchise.

Perhaps my opinion will change when I’ve had a chance to try him out as a playable character in  The Pre-Sequel. But for now my verdict is this, CL4P-TP = annoying, yes, but guilty? Nope. Do you agree?

 


There are other robots I could defend too. I notice a lot of the reviews of Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie highlight the annoyingness of its robo-protagonist. While I agree that the movie is somewhat muddled, the portrayal of Chappie is surely one of its greatest strengths. Yes he’s frenetic, and yes he’s a sponge soaking up influences good and bad, but he’s meant to be like a kid and – you may or may not have noticed – kids can be pretty annoying, no? I’d need to see the movie a few more times to write a full defence but on first impressions, like Claptrap, Chappie largely keeps the balance tolerable between pathos and petulance.


But what about some robots that really do annoy me? Here are a couple….

Accused #3 Wheelie

Look at that smug face! Screencap from "Transformers the Movie"

“Wheelie has a hunch /
his face you would punch.”
Screencap from “Transformers the Movie”

OK, I just defended Chappie’s behaviour with the excuse that he’s basically a kid. Wheelie is a kid too, but whereas we witness Chappie’s creation and see him growing up fast, learning at a prodigious rate, Wheelie just arrives in Transformers the Movie with little explanation or back story. We only know he’s good because of the large Autobrand on his chest. But good isn’t the same as likable. Perhaps his purpose is to make the Dinobots look slightly less one dimensional?

Anyway, having seen that clip you know all there is to know about Wheelie in the G1 movie, since his character does not develop at all during the film and – major annoyance alert – yes he talks in freaking rhyme throughout. Unusual vocals, repetition of lines and over-enthusiasm are one thing, but talking in rhyme? “Wheelie say find friends today.” We’re hardly talking Shakespeare here are we?

And if talking in verse wasn’t crime enough, Wheelie’s annoyance factor is ratcheted up considerably by association. In the original cartoon he’s frequently spotted in the company of one of franchise’s other most annoying characters, the usually bawling human kid Daniel Witwicky. Now humans in Transformers are generally just an annoyance you grit your teeth and tolerate in order to enjoy the awesome robots. Daniel plus Wheelie is a  toxic combination of grating voices, tears and rhyme that basically means you can’t enjoy anything except gouging out your own eardrums.

My verdict? GUILTY.

What do you think?


 

Accused #4 Nono

Nono from Ulysses 31

Nono from Ulysses 31

Do you remember Ulysses 31? It’s was a French-Japanese cartoon that aired in the early 80s. The story was like a futuristic space opera re-imagining of the work of Homer, revolving around Ulysses, commander of the spaceship Odyssey (yes really) who must quest across the galaxy in order to save his crew who have been frozen by Zeus (yes really). If you’ve never seen the show then in many way you’ve missed out, it was a good cartoon: the Greek myth elements were off the wall but an interesting ingredient for a kid’s show and the whole style of it was very creative. If the art looks familiar you may recognise its influence on Daft Punk’s “House Musical” anime Interstellar 5555 which also featured blue-skinned aliens. Plus Ulysses 31 had one of the most ear-wormy rocking theme tunes of the 80s.

On the other hand, if you’ve never heard of this cartoon before then you’ve also been mercifully shielded from the ultimate annoying robot. Sorry that you’ve just lost your Nono virginity. Ulysses was accompanied by two kids (his son Telemachus and the blue-skinned girl Yumi) plus a small red robot, Nono – who is clearly named after the sounds you make having heard him speak.  Nono is truly the Jar Jar of Ulysses 31. If you watched the above clip you probably spotted him, he starts speaking at exactly the same time the theme tune stops being good. Coincidence? I think not!

From what I remember, he spends most of the show cracking jokes that aren’t funny or getting into trouble and needing to be rescued. He had a couple of useful skills, like the ability to repair machines, which was probably why Ulysses kept him around. But if I were Ulysses I would probably have lasted about a week before saying “to hell with getting my machines repaired” and then feeding him to the next Space Minotaur I encountered.

I guess Nono’s meant to be cute but he just isn’t. CL4P-TP is a good example of how robots can be cute and annoying without overdoing the latter. So that, my friends, shows hows we’ve progressed since the 8os.

My verdict? I just described him as this cartoon’s equivalent of Jar Jar is there any less ambiguous way to say GUILTY.

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4 thoughts on “Let’s talk about: Annoying Robots!

  1. It’s the monotone voice of the 80s Sound wave I found really menacing as a kid…but then I was a wussy kid. But the silence in Prime, and the fact he’s a drone, is pretty chilling.

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    • They did a good job reworking the character in Prime. He’s such a badass too. I probably love G1 Soundwave best though as he has more deployers, I miss Rumble, Frenzy & Ravage in Prime. If you find original Soundwave scary just remember he has to press his own button to deploy his cassettes, that kind of kills the threat a bit for me. What if the button jams? 😉

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