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Lance Icarus's blog

12:56 AM on 12.11.2009

Smackdown vs Raw 2011 Wish List

Thousands every year annually buy the newest Madden football game. For wrestling fans like me, however, Smackdown is our Madden. Every year I always think I won’t be interested in the next year’s game and then the new trailer comes out that makes me want it. That cycle completed itself once again with Smackdown vs. Raw 2010. The thing about these yearly games is that they always leave something I want out. It could be gameplay elements, presentational faults, or just a really bad decision concerning the direction of the game. That is why I present to you my list of things that should be changed in Smackdown vs. Raw 2011.

#1: Taking wrestlers from the ring to the backstage area

In the Smackdown games you usually have a good selection of backstage areas to fight in, but in recent years they made this a separate mode entirely. If you want to fight in the backstage area, your only option is to start out there instead of actually traveling from the ring to the backstage areas, as usually seen in WWE programming. This is one of those gameplay elements that have eluded the Smackdown series for a while now. It’s odd that a feature that’s been around since the Nintendo 64 has yet to make its return on the Smackdown games. It is possible that they may have taken it out to avoid extra load times when transferring to the next area that would break flow, but just have the camera scan the crowd with announcers yelling “Can we get a camera back there” to mask the load time would actually add presentation value since this scenario plays out all the time on TV. The inclusion of this feature would definitely add a little extra drama to the next Falls Count Anywhere match by actually allowing my match to end anywhere .

The Dirt Sheet Brawl area made far more entertaining.

#2: Better backstage areas

Since we’re already on the subject of backstage areas, how about giving us a little more to play around with? In the 2010 game we had some fun areas to play in like Vince McMahon’s Office and the Locker Room Brawl, but there were also the Dirt Sheet Brawl and RAW Interview Set Brawl areas that actually had no environmental interaction other than climbing some scaffolding to jump on an opponent or hitting them over the head with a laptop. The Smackdown series is well known for its amazing backstage areas (most series fans have fond memories of the Time Square area from Smackdown: Shut Your Mouth), but this year’s scaled back offering left a lot to be desired. The most boring areas to fight in were actually the areas you unlocked through Road to Wrestlemania, Smackdown’s main mode. If you’re going to let me unlock backstage areas, make them something different. Maybe get nostalgic with the infamous Boiler Room or go through a supermarket ala “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Booker T. Hell, put them in a graveyard or a space station if you feel like it, just make me feel like I really unlocked something cool.

#3: Hardcore Belt 24/7 rule option

The days of the Hardcore Belt in the WWE were some of the most exciting matches of the 90’s. For the uninitiated, the Hardcore Belt had a 24/7 rule attached to it, which meant that a match could happen any place, any time. This rule lead to some hilarious clips of the champion getting ambushed at amusement parks or the Laundromat, trying his best to run away from his opponents and keep his belt. The belt has long since been retired, but it still lives on in the Smackdown series. Adding the option to turn on the 24/7 rule again would definitely add some interesting elements to a regular match-up and really make the belt feel special again, not to mention adding a little more weight to the newly included WWE Rivals mechanic. Imagine just having a quick match with Hardcore champ Tommy Dreamer when all of a sudden Jack Swagger slides into the ring and begins beating down Dreamer, trying to pin him and win the title. That would definitely spice things up.

#4: Create-a-Crowd Sign feature

Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 was a great year for Create-a-Wrestlers (aka CAWs). You can create up to four attires for your CAW, give them a custom front finisher AND custom dive finisher, customize their entrance, use match clips to create a custom entrance video, use the paint tool to make your own symbols, and more. With this staggering number of ways to customize your CAW, it’s hard to believe they managed to leave out one creation feature that would seem to require the least amount of effort to implement. Crowd signs are a staple of pro wrestling, allowing fans to express their love or hate for certain superstars in ways few other sports can imitate. In a game that already has a paint tool in it, why not simply allow the ability to export the finished creation as a crowd sign? Just make the canvas dimensions the same as a crowd sign and we’re good to go. This is the one suggestion I expect to see in the next game since I’m sure someone on the development team already thought of this one and just couldn’t get it into this year’s game.

Back in Smackdown 2: Know Your Role, you could have entrances where your guy was hit by a missile.

#5: Take Yourself Less Seriously

This has to be my biggest complaint about the direction of the Smackdown series. Back in the original Smackdown where they wouldn’t even render entrance backgrounds (the wrestlers would do their motions in front of their titantron video) you could use the craziest entrance animations for your characters. Even when they started rendering real entrances you could still have three wrestlers come down in the same shopping cart, eventually hitting the ring and causing everyone to crash in different spots. The last few years have been trying to imitate the real WWE product as closely as they can. That’s not a bad thing, but I want to be able to do some outrageous things I can’t see on TV with the colorful characters of the WWE. The humor is still there, even having an achievement for viewing a certain odd move in the create-a-moveset screen. Please bring that humor back to the overall package with wacky entrances, impossible falls, and moves that could only be performed in a video game.

Don’t take this list as harsh criticism or a negative review. I think Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 has been one of the best entries into the series in a long time that will provide anyone with even the slightest interest in professional wrestling hours of enjoyment. However, these annual games cannot remain stagnant and must continue improving with every new installment in a very short developmental window. That’s why I don’t approach this as a rabid fanboy demanding these specific changes on an already great game, but as a fan that has made it a tradition to think to the future and the next big entry into the series. I’m really not that excited right now for Smackdown vs. Raw 2011, but I know myself and when that new trailer rolls around sometime next spring, I’ll be salivating for the newest game all over again.

If you have any ideas on what would make Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 a better game, leave a comment below. Seeing everyone’s ideas for making the games better is what makes this so fun in the first place   read

6:19 PM on 11.27.2009

The Wrong Thing: The Consequence of Sin

Evil is debated immensely in video games. For some it’s the choices a player makes while for others it’s how the game portrays what evil is. In the end, though, evil is the result of something. Evil is a consequence of the actions taken in the game, either by choice or by game design. Video games, however, are notorious for having no permanent consequences for your actions. Therefore, without consequences, video games players cannot perform “evil” acts.

Developers have made attempts to add the weight of consequence to their games. The current fad is the “moral choice” system. The basics of it is that you’re given a series of good and bad choices throughout the game and the game changes accordingly, either giving you a good guy storyline with powers or a bad guy storyline with a different set of powers. The problem here is that all the moral choice system does is affect the storyline into two different routes and the powers are basically color swaps of each other with the exception of the highest level ones. All this type of system does is create replayability, but at no time are there any real consequences to your actions. If an “evil” choice makes a character too dead for your liking, load up that save file and take the other choice to make sure they survive. This lack of permanency is not lost on developers as certain ones have tried a stricter approach to consequence.

Steel Battalion, known for its massive controller, also had a save system where if your pilot died in battle, your save file was automatically deleted. That pilot’s life was gone. Tying this type of system to good or evil where death is a very real consequence for your character would add immense weight to the decisions you make. The problem with this type of permanency, however, is that it really isn’t that fun and ruins the escapist experience of video games. Imagine being near the end of a 40+ hour RPG only to get backstabbed by some skeleton soldier and have your save file deleted. If this system is too heavy on consequence while the moral choice system is too light, what middle ground is there for gamers?

Mass Effect 2 may have the answer for us. It contains a function that allows importing your save file from the original Mass Effect into the new game. While most people would think this leads to a few minor perks to help start your journey, an interview with lead producer Casey Hudson states that the Mass Effect save file tracks everything that you do and is “setting a variable so that as the story progresses we know that you did a certain thing on a certain planet…this is literally hundreds of things” (source). With this system, you could play halfway through Mass Effect 2 and a decision you made back in Mass Effect 1 is finally coming back to bite you in the butt. Reloading your Mass Effect 2 save won’t change anything, which means you’ll have to play through all of Mass Effect and start on a new save file to change the outcome of that consequence. This creates a scenario where it’s incredibly time consuming and difficult to change a decision made in the original game, but it won’t adversely affect your Mass Effect 2 experience by deleting any of your save files. This creates a dynamic where any evil decisions in the old game may catch up to you in the new game and may make you decide to take a journey back to your past to alleviate your sins, thus giving the consequence of your actions a huge weight.

Evil is non-existent if it does not create a real consequence. The moral choice systems of many games have no weight since a load of the save file will wipe any past evil acts away while the stricter systems like the ones in Steel Battalion carry too much weight and take away the escapist fun of a video game. The best solution seems to be something like Mass Effect 2’s save importing system which carries with it a real consequence that cannot be undone easily and may lead some to take a new journey to alleviate those past sins. The escapist nature of video games simply doesn’t allow for permanency, making the feeling of true consequences for evil acts impossible. That doesn’t mean, however, that the journey to alleviate evil sins cannot be a long and difficult one. For those not willing to make that journey, then you’re just gonna have to carry that weight.   read

5:39 PM on 10.30.2009

An Open Letter to College Bands

I love what you guys do with music, always trying to do something different than what's saturating the airwaves. I respect that. However, you guys aren't perfect. I just want to list some of the general mistakes you guys make. Sure some mainstream bands and even some rock legends have made the same mistakes, but college bands are the biggest offenders.

Feedback is not a note. I know you think it's really cool when you hear that screeching sound coming from your instrument and it's forgivable at a live show, but when I sit down and listen to your songs it sticks out like a sore thumb, especially at the end. I've heard songs where feedback is treated like a solo, getting about 30 seconds worth of airtime in the middle of the song! It's annoying to listen to on speakers and it's almost unbearable on headphones.

Only use ambiance sparingly. Sure it's nice to hear some calming bird noises and what I call "space sounds", but when it takes over a minute to get to the song itself, that qualifies as abuse. This isn't that bad if I was planning to listen through the whole album, but these days we're more likely to throw songs together on an iPod and put it on random than go straight through your album without a few other artists between tracks.

Where do these lyrics come from? "You never were safe/incarcerate the talons/Albeit jello street." Does this come from any song in particular? No. Did you think it could be in a song by a college band? Yes. I'm a believer that a song should tell a story, show an emotion. Your lyrics usually do neither. It always seems like your just shredding up a dictionary and tossing the pieces into the air, copying the words down as you catch them. If you're so committed to making no sense at all, just leave the lyrics out of it and make an acoustic track.

Those are just a few suggestions I have, but I'm sure the fine people of Destructoid can help me out and post their own suggestions. Please take these to heart the next time you write your next ballad about the girl who left you for the big city.

Page of Concrete,
Lance Icarus   read

3:19 PM on 10.29.2009

Nothing is Sacred: Rearming the FPS

Do you remember when you could play a game like Turok for the N64 and unleash the Cerebral Bore on unsuspecting enemies, watching intently as brain matter comes gushing out of their doomed skulls? What about the first time you were sniped by The Farsight XR-20 in Perfect Dark? Even going back to the days of Doom and Quake you can find arsenals that were unique and exciting. The First Person Shooter (FPS) genre always felt like something new was right around the corner.

Then in 2001 Halo came out for the XBox and creativity came to a screeching halt. Even though the game itself was immensely fun to play and brought the FPS back to the forefront of consoles, the shockwave it had over the genre devastated the landscape. Things like regenerative health bars and space marines began overtaking the entire genre, being put into situations that made absolutely no sense in context of the game. Even World War II soldiers were magically patched up after ducking behind cover for a few seconds! The worst part of the post-Halo FPS, however, is the same arsenal being seen in 95% of all games. You all know the list, so sing it along with me:

Pistol, machine gun, shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket/grenade launcher, and one unique exotic weapon.

Ever since 2001 it seems that you can find these weapons in order, usually leaving the one unique weapon for the last level to beat the last boss. Usually it isn't even that unique, usually being some type of laser or an explosive that's slightly larger than the rocket launcher. It just seems that developers are playing things safe and are deathly afraid of rocking the boat. I can only think of three interesting and new weapons off the top of my head that can really be considered truly unique that have been out recently (Half-Life 2's Gravity Gun, Portal's Portal Gun, and Bioshock's Plasmids if you're wondering) . I think it's about time to turn the arsenal template upside down and throw some creativity back into the FPS. I've come up with a few ideas myself to help jumpstart the imagination train:

The Pink Pistol

You may think it’s weird to start with a pistol after ranting about the stagnation of the FPS genre, but this is no mere paint job. This baby shoots corrosive acid instead of bullets. It’s like a super soaker from hell. This weapon would be designed more for weakening enemy armor, but it can be used to melt some faces in a pinch. This is just the beginning, however. The next weapon you get is….

The Hole Gun

You remember those old Loony Tunes cartoons when Bugs Bunny would toss a small circular hole in the way of Elmer Fudd and he’d fall right in, then Bugs would pick up the hole and walk off-screen? That’s basically this gun in a nutshell. Just shoot this gun at the feet of your enemies and a small hole pops up. If the enemy doesn’t realize it in time, he’ll walk right into it. The hole shrinks and closes before the enemy can climb back out, leaving them in whatever black void they’ve fallen into. It’s meant for smaller enemies since big enemies wouldn’t drop into it, but it’s a good way to get rid of those stupid little grunts so you can concentrate on the bigger threats. That’s what this next weapon is for.

The Rain Maker

It’s a simple weapon that shoots a mortar shell into the clouds above. After a few seconds, blood will rain down from the sky, creating a surreal scene perfect for any epic battle. The blood will have no effect on your enemies, but the obscene amount of lightning shooting from the sky should get their attention. Every lightning hit causes a good amount of shock damage and stuns for a few seconds, allowing you to go to town on them using other weapons. This one’s definitely for the people who feel the desire to dance in puddles of blood as they destroy their foe. This won’t work inside, however, but we’ve got you covered on that front.

The Sonic Boomer

When you absolutely positively need to clear a hallway in the next five seconds, the Sonic Boomer is here to help. It takes a few seconds to charge, but get this baby at max force and get ready to unleash a sonic boom at your opponents. It’s especially effective in closed spaces, where the boom can’t disperse anywhere but forward. It’ll blow any enemy to the back wall if used correctly, allowing you the opportunity to toss a well placed grenade at the newly built pile of bodies. If the enemy has been weakened enough, however, they’ll simply get their skin and muscles blown away, leaving only a skeleton to crumble to the floor. While it’s an incredibly fun gun to use, it may not hold a candle to this next one.

The Rock You Rocket (aka the RYR)

Sometimes you just need to publicly humiliate your buddies in a death match and send the other team a message. This baby is sure to do the trick. Simply launch this rocket and control it remotely to the target. Once it makes contact, it will attach itself to the enemies back, allowing up to ten seconds to do whatever you want to them. Maybe you want to spell your initials in the air and show the other team who killed their member in style or maybe you want to send them chasing after their teammates. Whatever you chose to do, a smile is sure to follow. There’s even a secondary mode that allows you to attach it to your own back for an immense speed boost, just as long as you remember to jettison the pack before it explodes on its own. As humiliating as this weapon is, it doesn’t have anywhere near the “owned” factor as the ultimate weapon on this list.

The Omega Javelin

It’s just your regular, super-rare secret government project Olympic javelin. You only get a small amount during the course of the game, but that’s due to their overwhelming power. Take a few steps and hurl this thing at your target of choice and get the hell out of the way. The countdown goes for five seconds before everything in a certain radius of the javelin loses all color. If you find yourself in this grayscale nightmare, then I hope you made your peace before the next second.

That’s when a high pitched microwave emission annihilates everything in the grayscale radius, allowing you a split second to see everything simply break apart before the entire field goes white. When your vision returns, you’ll see nothing remaining in that radius, not even dust. All you’ll see is a radius of barren wasteland of unfertile soil. This weapon is most satisfying when you plant it in the stomach of some poor enemy and watch his futile attempts to pull it out before the countdown ends. Feel free to laugh menacingly as you observe this from the safety of your binoculars.

That’s just the list I came up with in a month. Development time for games these days lasts years, even a simple FPS. I’m sure developers do have ideas for weapons such as these, but they’re probably afraid publishers won’t accept wild out-of-the-box ideas and prefer they stick to the “safe” template of Halo. I humbly ask publishers to let the FPS genre off its leash and allow it to bring create the memorable weapons of today that we’ll still be talking about ten years down the road. For the sake of FPS fans everywhere, please put the machine gun away and give a fully automatic unicorn head that shoots horns a try.   read

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