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Colonel Gim's blog

9:27 PM on 08.02.2011

eSports: On the Fence

Like a lot of gamers, I got my first taste of real competitive gaming as a freshman in college. Smash Bros., Halo, a little TimeSplitters...but the game I played was a little more hands on. I played one of the oldest electronic sports--and the oldest club sport at Georgia Southern University: fencing.

Really only needing to fill an elective spot and, like most gamers, having a fascination with swordplay, I jumped into an intro class and was immediately swamped with how technical the sport is. Fencing is divided into three categories/weapons: Foil, sabre and epee. The biggest difference between each division is the concept of target area, essentially which parts of your body are fair play for your opponent to attack. I was a foil fencer, which meant my chest, shoulders and back were my target area--anything else was off-target. Further, only direct, sustained contact with the tip of the foil would count.

So how could these hits be registered in such a fast-paced sport where two people constantly stab each other? Well, wires, of course! Each foil had a wire running from the tip to the hilt, which was plugged into a cord rigged with the scoring mechanism. In addition to my mask, glove and canvas shirt, I also wore a metal lame, a covering for my torso that would complete the circuit when a certain amount of pressure was applied from the tip of the foil to the jacket. The system was quite simple and reliable, even able to register mis-hits and would tell who hit who first, assuming the two competitors attacked simultaneously.

It was very easy for me to get into fencing, since the sport resembles video games so closely. It's first person, to be sure--but it's played on a long mat where there is only forward and backward motion. It is essentially a 2-D fighting game. With that comes a lot of strengthening of calf and thigh muscles (as my fellow QWOPpers are probably aware). Right of way was the bane of my career. Whoever strikes first and succeeds will score, but if I can parry my opponent's strike, then I can riposte, and perhaps score a counter-hit. You have to match your opponent's movements--the give and take is the most intense part of a match.

It's a lot of information to handle all at once--movement, striking, defending, nervousness--so at my first tournament, I went a little nuts. I basically forgot all the things I learned and went all-offense instead. Instead of taking the time for head-games, measured combat and remembering the moves I learned, I would rush my opponent as soon as the ref called for us to start. They were all n00bs like me, so they weren't prepared for the match to become a reflex test. In this round-robin tournament, I scored about 30 of my team's 45 points. I made a kid cry.

I was kind of a button masher. My teammate Rodney, who was not only a fencing nerd but a Magic: The Gathering nerd gave me the nickname "Nimble Mongoose." Incidentally, his nickname was "The Cobra," so I guess he was eager to have a rival. But I have to admit--I wasn't very good. Only rarely could I counter and land a riposte. My lunges weren't long because of my height. And my foil-point control suffered if my foil was too heavy. But when I was in full flat 2-D mode, crouched down, I only had a few square inches of target area that was directly reachable and I tended to jump a great deal. The pros at the college liked to spar with me because it was a lot like fighting a tennis ball that wanted to stab you in the eyes. It makes for a good sub-boss, I guess.

Furthermore, I was almost completely immune to the flick technique, a whipping strike designed to hit the back of your opponent with the bent tip of your foil. I'm not sure why this didn't affect me as much--perhaps I took the auto-dodge proficiency and forgot about it? Anyways, it bears mentioning that the FIE (Federation Internationale d'Escrime), the governing body of pro fencing, eventually found the flick to be too game-breaking, so they changed the amount of pressure required to register a hit. The flick became much more difficult to perform casually.

And so it was nerfed.

I really met my match during one of my last tournaments--a tall, lanky guy with an over-sized lame. It didn't matter that I was faster than him or always hit first. His jacket was so big, it would fold and move every time I hit it. I couldn't register a hit. I distinctly remember lunging at him and having the point dig into his chest--he stopped and looked at me, the ref looked at us, I kept scratching at him to try to make the hit count--and he just popped me. And that's how he won.

The next time I faced him, I knew I couldn't win normally. So I gave up trying to stab him and instead rushed into him so quickly he fell off the strip in order to retreat from me. Making someone run away? That is one of the most satisfying ways to score a point. Or in this case, five points and the whole match.

Somewhere, a Yipes yells "It's Mahvel, baby."

I know how he feels.

I left the sport after a few years. I didn't have the drive to really get better, though I certainly gained an appreciation for the people who do. I lost interest...and, okay, wanted to play more Smash Bros.

Also, I could never beat the damn Cobra. What kind of self-respecting mongoose allows that?   read

6:33 PM on 07.27.2011

Motion Control: One Foot in the Past, Two in the Future

What's better, Kinect, Wii or a plain dual-stick controller? What's the best method of control when playing video games? Well, depends on the game, right? And the system. And the person playing.

Really, when it gets down to it, motion control is just one dimension of gameplay. A popular one right now, to be sure. But me? I'm looking forward to the future integration of motion control in games.

It's pretty easy to joke about how the experiments tech students are performing with Kinect are more interesting than the games being made for the system. It's true, though--the ideas of what we can do with the system are more exciting than reality. At least for now.

Look at the Wii. Pretty simple motion control to begin with. Accelerometers and IR triangulation. Simple technology resulting in some very simple, fun games. When you plug that simple tech into big games, then you get something nice. I very much enjoyed Metroid Prime 3 for its deftness of control. Fine-tuned pointer aiming (for the most part, since this was before MotionPlus), combined with traditional movement via an analog stick. And some nice, tactile yanking and pulling using the grapple beam (courtesy of the accelerometer).

The most exciting integration of motion and standard control may well be with the next Zelda game, The Skyward Sword. 1:1 swordplay with one hand, while controlling the movement of the character with the other? Okay, that's what we all wanted from Twilight Princess, but it's exciting to actually get it.

Total disclaimer: I am a fan of Nintendo. I think their aesthetic isn't about gimmicks (waggle and 3D!), but about having an odd toolset and being creative with it. Of course, an odd toolset is less of a risk when it's cheap. One of my personal heroes, Gunpei Yokoi, espoused the "lateral thinking of withered technology," essentially plugging what used to work in what now works to make something unexpected. Or coming back to big concepts after a while to do something neat and different with them.

Integration is really the key to motion control. And again, it depends on the game. Super Paper Mario used every facet of the Wii Remote--hold it like an NES controller to play normally, shake to do special moves, or point at the screen to learn more about enemies. It did that without using the nunchuck, which was a good thing. The style of the game fit using the one basic controller, with minimal motion control--but a little just for fun.

My personal favorite integration of motion control? Probably Ocarina of Time 3D. The first-person aiming was perfect (so long as you hadn't already twisted your body too far in one direction) (and had the 3D turned off). Of course, that game was preceded most notably (to me, anyways) by WarioWare Twisted for the GameBoy Advance, which attempted the simplest gameplay in a variety of ways--be it shaking the whole system or even having a segment of the game devoted to only pressing the A button. Brilliance does come cheap sometimes.

So I'm looking forward to the Kinect's integration in the future. I'm looking forward to when it's cheap, and games can find easy uses for it. Perhaps keyboard-free typing when my headset dies? Eye-tracking to move the game's camera so I can free up an analog stick for something else? Hey, anything could happen. It usually does.

(Addendum: I didn't include Move because I don't see what makes it appreciably better than the Wii, but I do see what makes it appreciably worse than Kinect.)   read

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