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Jon Hamlin's blog

1:51 PM on 05.06.2013

Injustice: Gods Among Us - 5 Characters That Scare The Baby Jesus Out Of Me

I’m an avid fan of fighting games. Ever since Street Fighter II, I've been infatuated with the genre. I love them. I love them dearly. Many things have changed since I first started playing fighting games. For one, I’m a lot better than 8-year-old me was. I’m also able to play a wider variety of fighting games, because I now realize that not every game is going to behave like a Street Fighter game.

However, there is something that has stayed the same. Over the years, no matter what fighting game I’m playing—King of Fighters, Dead or Alive, Street Fighter, Tekken, Marvel vs. Capcom, and so on—there are always a handful of characters that scare the baby Jesus out of me. I’m not talking about aesthetics, either. I’m talking about the characters that, when your opponent in a multiplayer match chooses them, you know you’re starting a leg down because they have a fear-factor. For Mortal Kombat it’s Scorpion and Mileena. For Soul Calibur it’s Tira and Nightmare. And for Street Fighter… well, take your pick.

But, I think anyone who plays fighting games even casually has those characters that they just really, really don’t want to fight against. Sometimes it’s because of the move list for a particular character. Sometimes it’s because someone “showed” you that a character you previously thought was terrible, actually has endless juggling potential. Sometimes it’s because you got violated in an online match with a particular character and it left a psychological scar. Sometimes, it’s a combination of all three.

Injustice: Gods Among Us is no exception to the rule. It contains plenty of characters to be terrified of… I mean, come one, they’re superheroes. Nonetheless, there are some that scare me more than others. Here, in no particular order, are five characters from Injustice: Gods Among Us that scare the baby Jesus out of me.

No. 5
Killer Frost

Anyone who has played the game knows that, upon initially practicing with Killer Frost, there doesn't seem to be much going on. She has a shallow combo list, her specials are situation-specific, and she doesn't necessarily juggle well. But, all you need to do is play someone who has taken the time to really get to know her and her moves list. Yes, she has a shallow combo list, but with the addition of a bounce cancel she suddenly becomes a whole new monster. Not only does it raise her juggling potential, but her Frozen Daggers special can be used to push that juggle over into several combos. The initial lull of simplicity belies the incredible amount of skill and judgment of timing it takes to play her well. It’s hard to know exactly how to go at her, since there aren't that many people playing good Killer Frosts right now. Factor in an auto-counter with a disabling effect, and you've got one hell of fight on your hands.  

No. 4

This ain't Poe’s Raven. No sir. Raven is another character like Killer Frost in the sense that, initially, you may think she’s more trouble than she’s worth. Raven doesn't necessarily feel lackluster. Do a little practice with her and you’ll immediately recognize that she has great potential to be a Tier 1 fighter. What turns most people off, I think, is the fact that training with her would be very time-intensive. It would take a lot of work. I tend to be afraid of characters that use any kind of sorcery whatsoever. So, she gets fear-factor points on that basis alone. Most of her special moves are geared towards playing a great keep-away game because they catch you at almost any distance. But the enhanced versions of her special moves set up some crazy combo-juggles that usually end with Raven popping her special move. She’s the only character in the game who can used an enhanced special move to actually return projectile damage back to the character who used it in the first place. She is Deathstroke’s and Green Arrow’s worst nightmare in that regard. And need I even mention her character power, which unlock additional special moves and has a fast recharge time? She’s hard to learn how to play well with, but if you play anyone who has put in the time and effort to do so, you’ll see for yourself why she ended up on this list.

No. 3 
Black Adam

This guy never lets up. His specials materialize out of thin air (literally) and because he’s a character that relies on a very aggressive play-style, he’s always in your face. If you’ve ever played a skilled Black Adam player, chances are you haven’t seen them pop his super move all that often. That’s because they need that meter for his enhanced special moves. Without his enhanced special moves, Black Adam is nothing. But, with them, he becomes an offensive powerhouse with some of the most punishing juggling combos in the game. Most of his enhances special moves have some sort of knock up effect that slows the falling speed of your opponent, allowing you to position for your next juggling combo. That wouldn't be a huge problem in and of itself, but the start-up frames on his enhances specials are so ridiculous, the moves seem to pop up out of nowhere. They poke and prod you to find an opening, and he doesn't even need to be close to you to take advantage of them. Their speed of occurrence really does catch you off-guard sometimes. Black Adam hits, and he hits hard. Chances are, you won’t even see it coming.    

No. 2

Catwoman is no joke. As soon as I saw the reveal footage for her, I knew she would be a Tier 1 fighter, and I stand by that assertion. She has the most extensive combo list in the game and her offensively oriented character power is among the quickest and most punishing of any character. Her extensive combo list contains a number of final hits that have knock-back or knock-up properties. Anyone who can learn how to chain combos off of a bounce cancel can run circles around most people they are likely to meet online. But it is the ferocity and speed of her combos and attacks that make her so terrifying. Make no mistake about it: This stray is feral. She puts The Flash and Nightwing to shame, two characters who are certainly among the quickest in the game, but who don’t chain as quickly or as efficiently as she does.

No. 1 

Really, who didn’t see this coming? Injustice is the game that made Aquaman badass again, and among the most terrifying in the character roster. The man is a beast. His entire game is built around the use of his trident, and what a piece of weaponry that thing proves to be. He can play any style he wants to. Close? No problem. Long? No problem. Keep-away? Ha! A piece of cake. His combos have perhaps the greatest variety as far as high, mid, or low hits are concerned, so he is extremely difficult to defend against. Most of the low hits knock you up in the air, meaning Aquaman has one mean juggling game. If you’re playing as Aquaman and your opponent isn’t spending 80% of her/his time in the air, you’re doing something wrong. He has a special move that makes him invulnerable for a short period of time, he can throw his trident, and he has a special that hits you from below with a pool of water. He’s got a solution for every problem he could ever run into during a match. Aquaman has become a popular choice among players who have participated in the few tournaments Injustice has had since its release, and there are some very good reasons for that.   read

1:10 PM on 04.24.2013

Am I Gettin’ Too Old For This Sh^T: Getting Old With Games

Don’t take anything you are about to read too seriously, folks.

Let’s be clear about one thing: I’m 24 years old. But if you think I’m actually 24 years old, you’re wrong. If I am 24 in Earth years, that means I’m 37 in Gaming years. 37! Let’s face it, gamers follow the same development trajectory tennis players do. We learn we like to game at an early age, and we do it lot, but we aren't particularly good at it. Then we become teens, where technique and reflexes are honed and perfected. Then the 20s come. For some gamers it’s when they hit their prime. But for others, it’s when reality, life, and age catch up with us. And by the time we’re in our early to mid-30s, the best of our years are nothing more than a distant memory.

Recently, I was playing Injustice: Gods Among Us for review, more specifically I was playing some S.T.A.R. Labs missions. Very early on in one of the Superman missions, I got stuck. For those of you wondering, it was mission 6… or maybe it was 7… see, old age. It catches up with you fast. What was I talking about again? Oh, right. So, I played this mission 46 times before I finally beat it. 46 godforsaken, fucking-bloody-puss, hissing-snakes-and-slimy-eels times! After I beat it I sat there, stunned into silence and near paralysis by a sudden feeling of inadequacy. Then I went into the online multiplayer lobbies and tried my hand at a few online matches.

My first match I was pummeled by someone playing as Harley Quinn. Oh, how my ego was not-at-all massaged. I narrowly escaped—notice I said escaped—defeat in my second match. I would then go on to lose the next four matches in embarrassing form. And I've always considered fighting games to be sort of my genre. I've always been good at them. Hell, I've even played them competitively before. What the hell is going on, I thought. Then I asked myself a question: Am I getting to old to be good at games?

Like I said, I’m 37 years old. I thought back to all the online multiplayer games I’ve played over the last several years. Battlefield 3? Hmm… got my ass kicked at that one. Call of Duty? Which one? All of them… got my ass kicked at all them. Crysis 2? Ha! I could barely compete and Crysis 3 doesn't even give me a chance. Assassin’s Creed III multiplayer? Eh… it could be worse, I suppose. Starcraft II? Those matches are done before they even begin.

And I thought more, and as I thought more terrible truths made themselves known to me. I realized that the only games I tend to be “good at” anymore are ones with a single-player focus. Racing games, RPGs, Action/Adventure and turned-based strategy games… I can run gangbusters in those types of games. No! No! This can’t be! How is this possible? Am I done?! Is this my life now?! And then the world went dark.

24-year-old me didn't want to believe what 37-year-old me had discovered. He fought it hard and very long for about 3 minutes and 27 seconds. Somewhere between getting up and walking to the fridge to make a sandwich and sitting back down again, I had made my peace. I was done for… I was now the gaming equivalent of Sylvester Stallone. My avatar is probably wondering around Xbox Live as we speak, mumbling incoherently and pooping in his adult diaper. The best of my multiplayer days are behind me, and with all the multiplayer features being worked into traditionally single-player games, well… let’s just say that I sucked at SimCity too. The simple fact of the matter is that I’m going to be a noob at everything I play for the rest of my life.   read

4:39 PM on 04.10.2013

Going Rogue: Is it time to switch to PC

I've been a console gamer my entire life. I grew up with Nintendo and have owned every Sony and Microsoft home console to date. Sure, I've played some PC, but I've never spent countless hours in front of my computer, with the exception of Civilization IV and Civilization V. Pretty much all of the PC gaming I do today is on a laptop powerful enough to run most things on medium settings. I have it for my strategy games. I spend a significant amount of time with my consoles; but, I'm starting to wonder if I'm about to go rogue. Am I going to make the traitorous switch to PC?

It's a very confusing inner-dialogue. All I've ever really known is console gaming. I'm used to my machine being able to run everything that comes out for it. In fact, part of the reason I haven't made the jump to PC gaming head-on is because the amount of technical knowledge required to have the kind of gaming experience I'd want to have on a PC is a bit off-putting. I just want to put a disc in--or download the title, as the case may be--and play the game. I don't want to have to worry about messing with the graphics setting to optimize my framerates, and I don't want to scour the Internet for days at a time looking for exactly the right graphics card. It's the tech-obsessed, pretentious gamer I know I'd become if I made the switch. I like my rowdy and scrappy console crowd.

On the one hand, I like the accessibility of my console. I like that it works with every game that I own. I like the fact that I can use a controller and don't need a keyboard for some games. What? My fingers hurt. I like the fact that N64s still work, cause you ain't playing Super Mario 64 like it was meant to be played on a PC. But, with all the rumors about the next Xbox and some of the things about Sony's PS4, I find myself seriously doubting whether or not I can stomach another generation that's shaping up to be even more frustrating than the last couple years of the current generation.

There's no way in hell I'm buying a console that requires me to be connected to the Internet at all times. "Yeah... well, like... it's like the 21st Century man... and like... get with the program bro," said Microsoft. First of all, don't call me bro. Second, some people still take their machines to places that don't have Internet, like your friend's house where you like to play splitscreen co-op offline; and sometimes--not sure you're aware of this, Microsoft--our Internet goes out. Maybe you shouldn't think about going always-online until the digital infrastructure in this country is more than what amounts to an old donkey pulling a cart that's ten times heavier than it should be. Poor donkey. Some of the social features on the PS4 could be cool, but they could also be incredibly annoying and intrude into my gaming experience. I don't like how cozy marketing is getting with the creative side of the industry, and I sure don't like the fact that so many of the features we keep hearing about are being called services instead of what they really are: just another way to increase earned revenue. Ah, the Almighty Dollar.

It is because of those reasons that I am seriously considering saying goodbye to consoles. Let me be clear, I haven't sworn them off yet; but, I have found myself--while pondering the future of our industry-- wondering what there is to look forward to on the console end of things, and every time I peek I find myself coming up with fewer and fewer things. Yes, PC gaming gets bad ports of console titles almost constantly, PCs crash more than consoles, I have to worry about whether or not my rig can run X or Y game, the PC online community tends to be a bit more stuffy, and at the end of the year I'd have to worry about having enough money to make the necessary upgrades to ensure I'd be able to run the coming year's most anticipated titles. But, I wouldn't have to deal with all the bullshit that's been flung in my face the last two or three years as a console gamer.

Maybe it's true: Publishers and developers don't care about PC gamers. Little did we know that would be exactly what would make the PC market so attractive for those of us tired of the slimy business practices of EA and Konami, for those of us who just want our gaming rig to play games and not be the end-all-do-all entertainment device for your living room. For the past decade or so, PC gaming has become a largely self-sufficient beast. There haven't been any publishers propping up the market, and there haven't been any "PC makers" force feeding gamers juvenile bullshit about such and such a service being included to "enhance" your gameplay and entertainment experience. Nope. The majority of PC gamers build their own rigs, and their machine is whatever they want it to be. And for most, it is just simply the machine they game on. I don't have a problem with not owning physical copies of games, and I happen to think that Steam is the greatest invention since sliced bread.

It just may be that PC gaming is the last bastion, nay, the citadel of an honest-to-god, plain ol' form of gaming. A portion of the gaming industry for gamers who like playing good games on gaming machines and not Blu ray/Netflix/Internet/Amazon/Facebook/Youtube/gaming machines. Sure, you can do all of those things on a PC gaming machine, but isn't that why we have our smartphones and tablets and media notebooks? It may be time to say goodbye to consoles. I don't know. I haven't made up my mind yet. But, if the console portion of the industry doesn't drastically change over the next generation, my mind may just be made up for me.   read

1:50 PM on 03.12.2013

'We've captured a command post': Star Wars Battlefront's multiplayer madness

By now, Star Wars: Battlefront has spent enough time in disc trays across the world that a post like this isn't all that strange nor untimely. It's a game that most of remember as one of the better Star Wars titles to come out in the last decade. There were a lot of special things about it, but the one thing I think most of us who played the game will remember is the absolute madness and glory that was the multiplayer component.

At first, it could seem a bit overwhelming. There was certainly no shortage of things going on on the battlefield at any given time. But, as you became familiar with the game and its combat system, you learned the nuances and grew to appreciate the controlled chaos that was present in every battle. It wouldn't take long before you were able to land a Dark Trooper on a dime, knew exactly how long you had before you needed to dash away from a grenade (although the explosion radius seemed to fluctuate suspiciously), and exactly how many rocket launcher shots it took before that AT-AT would fall.

Playing multiplayer in Battlefront was to play a game whose faults and triumphs were pronounced simultaneously. The terrible ally and enemy AI, for instance, made it nigh impossible to win in any other way than playing an intense game of cat-and-mouse with your opponent. One could never rely on friendly AI to actually hold vital command posts and strategic bottlenecks; but, one could always rely on the enemy AI making it as easy as possible to accomplish your goal.

It was precisely because the multiplayer AI was so broken that the multiplayer became such an intense experience. The incompetence of the AI, the sheer stupidity of the AI, made the multiplayer battles run purely on the strategic douchebaggery and combat shenanigans of your human opponent, and that is what made the multiplayer so special. There was nothing quite as nerve wracking as finally capturing the Ice Caves on Rhen Var, only to have them swiftly taken back by your opponent who single-handedly slaughtered dozens of your Clone Troopers on the way to his objective. If you were smart you would immediately hop in the AT-TE and begin mowing down as many of the CIS forces as you could while your human opponent was distracted in the Ice Caves. I cannot tell you how many matches I had at the Rhen Var Harbor that were decided by less than 10 men.

Then there were the body-littered hallways and skywalks of Bespin's Cloud City, which is where some of the most in-your-face, brutal action in all the multiplayer could be witnessed. If you've ever wondered what it might look like if you threw a grenade into the middle of a platoon of Storm Troopers... well, let's just say that Cloud City is where dreams came true. Even to this day, I can't say that I tire of the game's physics engine.

The death pit that was the Yavin 4 Arena could turn the most fearless of players into whimpering cowards. Mos Eisley was a labyrinth of death, with every conceivable corner concealing an ambush. Kamino... ah, Kamino. Perhaps the most lopsided of the maps. Clearly favoring the CIS strategically, it was everything the person playing the Republic could do to keep the walkways and bridges clear of Droidekas. All I have to say on that particular matter is: Long Live the Jet Trooper!

It was also an important game because it showed that the Star Wars brand could do multiplayer and do it well, that the characters, the locations, the story, indeed the entire universe, actually lent itself well to a multiplayer experience. Up until then, most of the Star Wars titles had been either purely single-player affairs, or games designed with single-player as the focus and multiplayer as a bonus. And there's nothing wrong with that; but, Star Wars: Battlefront dispelled the notion that a multiplayer-focused Star Wars game couldn't be successful. To this day, there are still people playing online.

There's lots I'll never forget about this game. I'll never forget the first time I lost a Galactic Conquest and was knocked from my pedestal as the best player among my friends. I'll never forget my friend Michael running up the stairs on Naboo Theed to hide from me in my CIS AAT, and the look of horror on his face when I drove it up the stairs, cornered him and unloaded everything I had in the general direction of his face. I'll never forget the first time I was insta-killed by a Dark Trooper who was just dropping in to say hi and to put his blast cannon in my guts. Many of the most memorable multiplayer experiences I've had have been with Star Wars: Battlefront. I think it holds its own even today. Feel free to share some of your memorable moments in the comments below!   read

12:11 PM on 03.08.2013

Back to the future: SimCity's progress trap

Like the rest of you trying to play SimCity, I am angry. I'm not entirely sure "angry" is the right word... I'm not even sure there is a word to describe--truly describe--the amount of disappointment and rage I feel over what has been the worst launch I have ever experienced. The past 72 hours have been some of the most confusing and frustrating in all my years of gaming. I'm at a loss, I really am. But, the anger is subsiding, and giving way to disparate feeling of hopelessness. The past month has been pretty rough for gamers. The Aliens: Colonial Marines debacle and now this. Part of me can't help but be nervous for the rest of March.

As the anger continues to subside I find a raging indignation taking hold. Not an indignation toward the game itself, or the developer Maxis. No, an indignation at publisher Electronic Arts, an indignation at how publishers treat consumers and how publishers see the relationship between themselves and the people who buy their product.

The last half of this console generation has seen no shortage of publishers treating their consumers like a faithful herd of sheep. Sure, consumers shoulder a portion of the responsibility for how toxic the relationship has become; but, we've reached a point where agency has been taken out of (perhaps given up by consumers, to an extent) the hands of consumers. The business culture that exists within the videogame industry is disgusting. I've never felt so insulted as a consumer. I've never felt so used.

We're constantly put into a position where we are having to prove ourselves to publishers. Jim Sterling talks about this in a recent Jimquisition video where he discusses preorders. I couldn't agree more with what he has to say. Asking for money upfront from a consumer for a product you haven't yet finished, always-online and the general state of DRM in the industry are all indicative of a publishing group that sees its consumer base as a bunch of shady, pirate-happy fucks who are too braind-dead to decide what's good for themselves. Frankly, I'm tired of it.

In the months leading up to the launch of SimCity, EA and Maxis were trying to sell this iteration of SimCity as the next natural evolution of the series. We've been told constantly over the course of the last year and a half that single-player experiences need to die off, that they need to go away. We've listened to countless video interviews or read feature pieces in which studio and publisher heads have said that it's we--the consumer--who want this. That it's we who want to play with our friends; that it's we who are driving the market toward microtransactions; that it's we who are clamoring for the end of the single-player experience. And this is all neatly bundled with phrases like "this is the future of gaming" and "industry trends are progressing in this direction."

Bullshit. No one wanted a "single-player online" version of Simcity. No one wanted always-online DRM. No one was all that excited about none of the game data being saved to your hard drive and having to be synced with Origins servers instead. We were all willing to go along with it, and, sure, it didn't seem that bad when it was announced, but people stayed skeptical.

Notions of progress among the industry's publishers aren't inclusive, they're exclusive. Always-online DRM, microtransactions, on-disc DLC, preorder DLC..., yes, all of those things can be called progress. But, progress for whom? Certainly not the consumer. For every step publishers take forward, consumers take several back. We've reached a progress trap. The publishing portion of the industry has pursued business practices meant to progress the industry and consumer base forward. However, the results of this progress end up introducing unforeseen problems which the industry has neither the resources, willpower, or wherewithal to solve.

I find it interesting that it has been Maxis taking the lead on assuaging consumers' fears. EA has put out a couple of statements, and Origin reps have been suspiciously quiet. It's disgusting that Maxis is having to lay itself on the chopping block like this for problems that have resulted from--what I'm relatively sure--were publisher-required features.

The balance of power in the relationship between consumer and the publishing portion of the industry is tipped enormously in favor of publishers. Consumers have no agency. Progress? Yes. But, at what cost?   read

11:33 AM on 03.05.2013

Why 'game journalism' needs a media desk

Game journalist, or game journalism, is a loaded phrase. It carries with it a number of preconceptions--and misconceptions, for that matter--and implications. Truth is, game journalism is about as far from the journalism you are taught in college as Alaska is from New York. Some of it has to do with the fact that the nature of the industry requires writers to engage in what's called product journalism, and some of it has to do with the fact that information isn't really reported on, it's mimicked and regurgitated bits of information that were compiled by Publicity Joe or Marketing Mitch for the sole purpose of expediting the process of dissemination and generating hype.

There are, however, some people who are operating outside the parameters and context I described above. These are the people who think there's something wrong with game journalism; perhaps not something wrong, but that there are areas in which those who call themselves "game journalists" could do better, be better. Our very own Jim Sterling (thank God for him) has dedicated a couple of his Jimquisition videos to the topic of game press, and others such as Roberto Florence have written on the topic with ethics as the focal point.

The thing is, I'm not sure anyone really knows what game journalism is. As far as I can tell, the portion of the industry that writes about the games we love and the ones we love to hate, has never really had a conversation or discussion about what it is, what constitutes itself. And that's a problem; for me, at least.

Here's what I'm not saying: I'm not saying everyone and their mother currently writing about videogames doesn't know what the hell they're doing. Shit, I'm not really sure that I know what I'm doing. I'm also not saying that all these different labels--"game journalist", "game critic", "someone who writes and talks about games"--aren't viable descriptions. I'm not saying that "game journalism" as we know it needs to be tore down and rebuilt in a journalist's Utopian vision. What I am saying is that the foundations of game journalism need to be shaken, someone needs to rattle a cage.

To an extent, that's what sites like Destructoid allow for, and I think it's great that Destructoid exists and gives gamers a respectable and comfortable place to have conversations, share stories, and bond over the mutual love or hate of such-and-such a videogame. But, game journalism--game criticism--needs something else, too. It needs a media desk.

I'm shocked, frankly, that the game journalism corps hasn't had any meaningful discourse about the State of Game Journalism. Tech journalism and game journalism have gone through a greater number of changes in a shorter period of time than any other form of journalism, particularly traditional print journalism, which is where most of my writing background is. And yet there hasn't been a lengthy, intelligent, and public discussion about anything. There's too much happening too fast for us not to have media desk, a small group (or large group) of writers who dedicate themselves to tracking the metamorphosis of game journalism.

And it needs to be entirely public. Everyone and everything is fair game. It's the nature of journalism. There's too much of a "we look out for our own" attitude among game journalists these days, and it stands in the way--with many, many other things--of those of who write about videogames for a living having salient, transparent discussions for all to see. Everyone, from those of us who blog here on Destructoid to the news team at IGN, to the features writers at Kotaku, to the reviewers at Polygon, to those who simply play games and nothing more, need to have a seat at the table.

We need a David Carr. We need a New York Times Media Desk. YouTube is changing how and why we write about videogames, and sites like Destructoid also throw a wrench (a good one) into the system. The relationship between review teams and PR and marketing departments, and the ethical boundaries we, as people who write about games, should observe... all of these are things that we should be talking about.

In the past, when the writing portion of the game industry has broached these topics a good portion of people end up butt-hurt, pointing out imagined hypocrisies while ignoring the very real ways in which they are implicated by merely being someone who writes and talks about games. There also have been, however, meaningful discourse by involved participants, as evidenced by what happened not too long ago with Robert Florence at Eurogamer.

If you ask me, it's time to start throwing some stones in our Glass House of Game Journalism.   read

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