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I go by many names. Masterace, Perfidious Sinn, KD Beaston, Perfidious Syn...uh, that might be it actually.

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Spoilers for Saints Row 2 and The Third.

 I see a lot of people getting excited about the upcoming release of Saints Row IV. But did you know that you are actually wrong?

Yes, it's true! The Saints Row series peaked at 2 and has been circling the drain since. I don't know if it's out of laziness or just plain contempt for their audience, but the developers made The Third a worse game and will probably ruin IV as well.

I know some of you were introduced to the series with Saints Row The Third, so let me explain why Saints Row 2 is the high point of the series that they will never reach again, ever. Prepare to get sad.

Stilwater is a more interesting city than Steelport

Stilwater in Saints Row 2 is one of the best open worlds in a video game, and I'm just talking aesthetically here! We'll get to the other good stuff later!

There are so many distinct districts and areas of Stilwater that it's crazy. You have a college campus with skateboarding students, a huge student center, and the "Frat Row". You've got a nuclear power plant island, Chinatown, the airport, factories, some high-class downtown areas that have totally different street textures, a trailer park...pretty much every traditional “open world city” setting is here. The cool thing is that they're all visually distinct and have different NPCs walking around depending on the area. You won't see gang members strolling around in baggy jeans in the downtown area.

In comparison, Steelport is a mostly flat, all industrial city that gets more boring to explore as they close off bridges. There's no variable weather or day/night cycle. You're looking at mostly the same scenery throughout Saints Row The Third and it gets boring. As opposed to Saints Row 2, where every location is visually distinct. It feels like a real town. Steelport feels like a video game fake city and really only has one "setting", lessening the joy in exploring it.

Basically, there are no cool hidden secrets like this in Steelport.



And this is only tangentially related, but the soundtrack in Saints Row 2 is the best in the series. I actually recognized a lot of the songs, as opposed to the soundtracks in Saints Row The Third and IV which are just obscure to get indie cred. Whatever, I'll be over here killing dudes to this amazing music.




More Customization in Saints Row 2

The city of Stilwater has LOADS of clothing stores, each catering to a different style. There's a hippy store, used clothing store, campus store with college clothes, and even separate stores for jewelry and cars. There's even a mall with a few unique stores and some secret shops.

Steelport in Saints Row The Third has like 20 Planet Saints (that all have the same clothes), and three specialty stores that are really far out of the way. I like the clothes in Nobody Loves Me, but why is there only one in the entire city? Am I gonna drive all the way through this boring city to get clothes there? Probably not.

I suppose there's a metaphor at play here. The Saints in The Third have grown soft and complacent, so they just monopolize the city's clothing outlets because they're boring now. And it makes shopping for clothes a boring time when there's 30 of one shop EVERYWHERE, and then three other shops that are out of the way. Why not spread that out?

Anyway, there are more glaring omissions to customization in Saints Row The Third. Stuff that was already in 2 that they removed for no good reason. You can't have custom walk cycles. You can't customize how you wear your clothes. In 2, if I buy a pair of jeans I can choose to wear them sagging, the type of wear they are (regular, battered, or acid washed for example), if I want a belt on, and many other options[u].[/u]

In The Third, that stuff is just gone. I can't customize my own walk cycle. Why? I can't customize how I wear my clothes. Instead of buying a pair of jeans and wearing them how I choose, I have to buy Baggy Jeans 1, Belt Jeans 1, Acid Wash Jeans 1...it's such a step backwards. For no good reason.

More Stores in Saints Row 2

Back in my day, Saints Row games had hella stores. In addition to the clothing options I already went over, there were some extra stores that most open world games don't have.

I'm talking about the liquor stores, mostly. In gas stations, liquor stores, and nightclubs in Saints Row 2, you can buy alcohol and weed. Now I'll admit, there's no reason for there to be several types of stores selling the same thing. And I don't even know what the alcohol and weed does besides be less useful than food powerups. They don't add anything to the game...except charm.

You know, the thing Saints Row The Third went very far out of its way to avoid? Having charm and personality? Saints Row 2 has that.

There's also record stores so you can buy songs for your portable MP3 player. That's right, you can listen to music from the radio even when you're not in the car. Another feature pointlessly removed by Saints Row The Third. I can't wait to not hear the soundtrack in Saints Row IV because I'll be running around with my super speed! Not using a car ever, because why would you? Seriously, why does that game even have a soundtrack?

There are car dealerships to buy cars to store in your garage in Saints Row 2. Which is...kinda pointless because you can steal whatever car you'll need. But that shows the length the team used to go through to immerse you in the game's world.

Saints Row 2 has regenerating health, but sometimes you don't want to just sit in a corner as your health recharges (which happens all the time in The Third). So you can go to fast food shops and buy healing items to store in your inventory. And even though every store has unique food items for no good reason because they all work the same way, and even though there's no real reason for them to offer multiple sizes of health packs because you should just buy the biggest one anyway...why take that out of the game?

It's a good idea and you just remove it. Great job.

More Side Missions In Saints Row 2

This one is a pretty big failure. Sidequests Fight Club, Crowd Control, Septic Avenger, Tow Truck, Ambulance EMT, Ho-ing, Taxi Driver, Tagging, Secret Areas, CD Collection, Drive-By, and Mugging are just gone from Saints Row The Third.

Why? Well, some could make the argument that a good deal of those aren't fun and don't fit into the story of a mogul who basically owns a city. And they'd probably be right. But find a replacement for them or tweak them to make them more fun instead of just cutting huge amounts of content.

I really enjoyed customizing your character with different fighting styles in Saints Row 2. You could pull off cool combo attacks in addition to using improvised weapons everywhere, like traffic meters and wooden barrels. And they take it all out in The Third for a worse melee system with no combos and the glitchy “finisher” button. I guarantee that the wrestling match would be more fun if they kept the old combo system.




Unlocking more rewards by completing Side Missions in Saints Row 2 was rewarding. It was admittedly annoying playing side quests just to progress the story. And even more annoying having character power-ups tied to some of the side missions, especially if the side mission wasn't fun. Why should I have to play Mayhem to make my character better? I don't like Mayhem. And Snatch is terrible.

Oops, I'm supposed to be praising Saints Row 2 here. Uh, just don't play that stuff if you don't want to! But then play them to unlock new missions and finish the game because you have to. Moving on.

THE STORY

This is the biggest reason why the Saints Row games won't be as good as 2. The story in Saints Row 2 was perfect. It's one of the few games to pull off the Playable Character being a villain. In their rise to the top, this character does some despicable things. They poison a rival with radioactive waste out of spite. They manufacture and sell hard drugs. They CONSUME hard drugs. They brutally decapitate another rival. They spray feces all over nice houses for some cash.

You do some ridiculous stuff in Saints Row 2, but there's also some story beats with true emotional impact. Like the infamous scene where Carlos is murdered, or when you kill your former boss for no good reason. The last one in particular shows how ruthless the Boss has become.




Each gang storyline has a buildup where you learn to really despise your rival, and a final confrontation where you kill them off in a satisfying way. There's buildup, and payoff. Even the sidequests have a small story behind them.

In Saints Row The Third, all of the gangs are a big conglomerate that fight against you. The bosses are defeated anticlimatically because there was no buildup. When Loren dies from having a giant ball dropped on him, I honestly don't know anyone who didn't say “That was it? The big boss guy just dies like that?”

Not only that, but the over-the-top elements of Saints Row The Third disconnect the player from any emotion. I really wanted to kill Maero after he tortured Carlos to death.

I didn't feel anything toward any of the bosses in The Third because the plot jumped around so much. It felt like there were large sections of story content cut out, giving the game a disjointed feel.

And now Saints Row IV seems to go in the direction of eliminating all the drama the series once had for sheer absurdity. That's not why I liked the game in the first place. The mixture of silly stuff and characters I actually cared for made it worth playing.

So, go back and play Saints Row 2. Ignore Saints Row IV and any future games in the franchise. They've peaked, and instead of improving on what they did right so many years ago, they'll just continue to get away from it and make strange “wacky” games with less and less content than the second game. But at least the gunplay and driving feels better, right?

Sigh.








Here's some key links if you want to learn Tekken Tag Tournament 2:

TTT2 For Dummies

Avoiding The Puddle Text Tutorials

Avoiding The Puddle Video Tutorials

Most new fighting games are trying to strike the elusive balance of “easy to learn, difficult to master”. Ideally, the game has mechanics that are intuitive enough to understand instantly, or have a tutorial that's so thorough that new players will understand. Then, the depth of the game emerges naturally through learning matchups, combos, and your own character's unique abilities.

This happens to be a game that I found hard to learn, and even more difficult to master. It'll kick your ass at the start, but once you start to understand how the game works, it rewards you every step of the way.


The first thing that immediately caught my attention when watching Tekken gameplay were the crazy characters. There's Black Disco Stu, a kangaroo, a bear, a robot maid, and so many other characters that are very far out of the traditional fighting game archetypes.

Really, seeing that Snoop Dogg has his own stage and wrote a song for the game was a big selling point for me.



The craft put into this huge cast of unique characters carries over to the rest of the game. Menus are very clear on what options they provide and load quickly, the graphics in game are incredibly detailed and even include small touches like characters getting dirt on them as they fight, and the soundtrack is a fine combination of rock, trance, and dubstep.




Watching gameplay for Tekken, especially commentated ones, was a bit daunting at first. I try to watch a lot of footage of people playing the game to get tips and learn the ropes, but I was lost. Thankfully, the tutorial of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is long, detailed, and has the exact amount of challenge I wanted.

Note: If you're watching Tekken tournaments with commentary, 1 and 2 are Left Punch and Right Punch. 3 and 4 are Left Kick and Right Kick. Took me forever to realize that.

[i]
[/i]

The Fight Lab is one of the best tutorial modes in a fighting game right now. If you want to get into Tekken but are afraid of the high learning curve, I guarantee you the Fight Lab will help you out.

It's split into multiple chapters, each one focusing on a certain element of gameplay and ending with a boss battle. There's also a lot of text boxes for the “story” of the Fight Lab that actually give more detail into when and why you need to use certain techniques.

For example, the guarding tutorial starts off with lessons on how to block high and low attacks and escape throws. Then you're thrown into a gauntlet of color-coded enemies who will either attack high, low, or try to throw you. The lesson helps, but the real importance is getting to use your experience in an actual combat situation right away.

The Fight Lab doesn't hold your hand, either. You have a health bar, and some of the mission constraints are very strict. So you can definitely get knocked out and have to retry a stage, but you are also rewarded with bonus Gold (for customization) if you do very well.


Even as I began to understand the game more, I frequently revisited the Fight Lab to replay older missions and hone my skills by shooting for higher ranks.



One of the most daunting things I've experienced as a new player to fighting games is “Who do I pick?” Especially in games with huge rosters such as this one. I want to try out every character and see if I like the way they handle, but it's not realistic with a lineup of 55 characters. So I took the advice of a beginner's guide and just picked who I liked.

What I would recommend doing first, unless you are 100% sure who you want to play, is going into Arcade Mode, choose Solo, and pick a character you think is cool. I started off with Lili and it happened to be a good choice. Something about the character just “clicked” and I felt like I knew how to play as them effectively in a short amount of time.

Once I found my main character, I jumped into Practice Mode and learned her key moves. You want to learn all of your character's launchers, Bound moves, and moves that allow you to tag to your partner after they connect. Luckily, there is a Command List that has an icon next to all of these moves. You'll want to practice their Sample Combos as well, which the command list also includes along with video demos.

I probably harp on this a lot but EVERY FIGHTING GAME SHOULD HAVE IT. Command Lists and move demos are invaluable for new players and even veterans who want to make sure they're doing the moves correctly!



Now, how do you actually play this game? To simplify most of what I learned...AIR COMBO. A lot. Here's your general game plan in Tekken Tag Tournament 2:

1.Launch your opponent

2.Do a short combo that ends in a Bound attack

3.Tag your partner in

4.Combo again

Ideally, you want to do this as much as you can to drain your opponent's lifebar because they can't do anything about it. You can't block while you're getting punched in the air, you see.

In practice...it's not that simple. Speaking as a beginner, this game can be frustrating as hell. Advanced players will pop you up in the air, juggle you, and carry you into the corner where you get hurt even MORE. Air combos don't typically do a lot of damage, but they carry you towards the wall and wall combos HURT. So it gets disheartening to spend what feels like most of the round in the air: you can't do anything about it.

The emphasis on juggles is why Tekken was a game I initially overlooked because it looks like you spend too much of a round being helpless. I'll admit I was a little biased. Still, persistence pays off and there are ways to counter being juggled. If you don't have great defense or spacing, people online will BEAT it into you. So while the game looks crazy as hell, the spacing is so important. You can almost never just rush in and go crazy. Patience is the key to winning most rounds.


Backdashing is an important tool to establish space, but has a recovery period at the end that can be easily punished. One thing I didn't quite get the hang of was backdash canceling, which lets you get some breathing room but is much safer than a normal backdash.



I felt like sidestepping in this game was less useful than in other 3D fighters, only because so many moves track. They'll hit you regardless of your position, so I didn't feel a need to use them that often.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 turned out to be a game where I spent more time than expected just working on movement: sidesteps, dashing, dash cancels, and jumping. It took some getting used to because it's very different from Virtua Fighter, but I think the controls feel great. I've quit playing fighting games before because the characters feel awkward or unresponsive to my inputs, but TTT2 does not have that problem.

There are a few minor issues have with Tekken. There are a couple of Free Moves (like God Hand!) that every character can do. On wakeup you can do a big springboard kick that has a lot of startup frames and covers a lot of space. If you can break into a full sprint, you can either tackle or do a slide that knocks down. Also, hopkicks are a universal launcher for everyone (I think everyone has it?) that you can do by jumping and inputting Right Kick. I don't know if everyone has these moves though, as the game or tutorial doesn't explain what they are or how to do them. Throws and how to throw break could have been explained in more detail because they are more complicated than they seem: each character has a 1+3 and 2+4 throw that you must input a certain button to break. Then there's air throws, wall throws, and tackles that require a certain input to break. The tutorial doesn't go in-depth enough with what seems like a pretty complex throw system!

Save yourself some grief and read this tutorial http://www.avoidingthepuddle.com/news/2012/9/5/ttt2-beginners-guide-unit-2-types-of-attacks.html, but I do wish they would explain these things in the game.



[u]What I Liked:[/u]

-A fantastic tutorial for beginners and experts. It teaches you all the things you'll need to know, and then gives you a tough pop quiz to make sure you know how to do them.

-Presentation. The music is great, the characters are cool, there's a huge amount of customization, the menus are smooth, and the character endings aren't even constrained by the game's art style.



-Very challenging to get into, but extremely rewarding once you begin understanding the systems.

[u]What I Didn't Like:[/u]

-Long load times in some occasions
-Random lag spikes online
-Tutorial doesn't explain some of the more obscure aspects like backdash canceling, free moves, and throw escapes

Tekken is a tough series to get into for a newcomer. You won't get any lucky wins here, you'll have to earn them. And while it's frustrating initially to just feel like you're getting juggled to death, the reward of unleashing your own air combos is very much worth it.

I feel like this is one of the few fighting game series that hasn't changed significantly over the years, so if you were good at Tekken before you will probably still be good at Tekken. I hear the movelists for characters don't change much between releases, so I'm probably going up against people who have been with their characters for years.

It'll take a long time to get to a position where I feel I'm truly “good” at the game, but I think it's worth it. The game does one thing very right: it just FEELS good when you hit someone. Like you actually hit them and not just a hitbox. There are a few strange elements with “flop” stuns where you're comboing your opponent's legs and not them, but it still feels pretty satisfying.

As a beginner, I'd recommend Tekken Tag Tournament 2 to beginners. It's rough at first, but if you stick with it it'll pretty much beat the fighting game fundamentals of better spacing and better blocking into your head. It's a long road to getting good at Tekken, but a road worth traveling.

Photo Photo Photo








All pictures from Xensin. I found the link at http://ufgtus.wordpress.com/. Check it out, they're really great! http://www.flickr.com/photos/xensin/sets/72157633637670661/

Last year, I bought Skullgirls and this heavy $200 arcade stick. I couldn't really play against many people online back then, but I kept myself busy by learning how to play each of the several fighting games that came out that year.

I've been able to play online with more regularity recently, thanks to getting a fiber-optic internet...thing. I have no idea how it works, I just know I can play fighting games online mostly lag free. So after training as well as I could, I got the crazy idea to go to my first tournament ever.



As I've said in previous blogs, the experience of playing online is hardly comparable to playing locally. I've had very few experiences playing games locally, and by that I mean “I have played Skullgirls against one of my friends a handful of times”. So the pressure of playing when you're sitting right next to someone, with a group of people behind you watching and talking is way higher than “if I lose, I'm gonna rank down”. So I'll go into each game I entered, and what it was like playing it against someone sitting right next to you.

Friday

Persona 4 Arena:  I might have psyched myself out a little bit before playing this game. I saw someone else playing my main character Kanji, much better than I can play Kanji. So I knew this person was in my pool, and I really didn't want to lose to them and make a fool out of myself. I ended up only playing a handful of casual matches before my actual pool began.

First game, I took a few rounds but ultimately lost. It was against a player who was clearly WAY above my level and played a character I had a terrible matchup against. So I didn't feel too badly about it.

The next game, I won handily against a player who was clearly better than me, but I could tell that he wasn't on top of his game. I think he just played a game and lost, so he was a little rattled and messing up where he normally wouldn't. Of course, I'm not too great either and my win was pretty sloppy. I could hear the Kanji player behind me talking trash about my play, which kinda made me feel bad. I haven't fully gotten over tournament nerves, so I was dropping what little combos I knew. Still, I'll take it.

The last game, I was playing against a player who I recognized from the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 community. I've seen him on the internet! But I didn't get starstruck or anything, because that would only make me nervous and make my chances worse. By this point, I didn't care that people were watching just a few feet behind me. But I DID feel stupid when I lost...badly. Kanji works best at close range and has few options when far away. His character was Yukiko, a zoner who kept me at basically full screen and chipped away at my life until I died. I got frustrated while being juggled and comboed with no way to retort, but didn't give up. I think I took one round but was thoroughly beaten, and with that, I was eliminated.

Divekick: This game seemed to be incredibly popular throughout the whole tournament, and had an E3 style booth setup as well as a table to play casual matches. And while I've unfortunately heard a lot of complaining about this game online, I feel like everyone should play Divekick. It might change their mind on it.

Divekick is a simple game, but even with two buttons each character is incredibly unique in terms of special attacks, movement, and hitboxes. I played a lot of this game before and my pools to find which characters I liked. I ended up settling on Mr. N and Markman. There are character-specific matchups, but the tiers aren't so wide that there are “top tier” and “worthless” characters. What impressed me the most about this game is that it captures the essence of fighting games: reading your opponent. In most fighting games you want to get your opponent to do something, or wait for them to slip up so you can hit a combo and do huge damage to them. In Divekick, one hit ends the round. So you spend the entire game waiting for your opponent to slip up, or scaring them into a situation that's advantageous to you. It's tough to explain, but after a few matches I completely understood it. At their core, fighting games are about reading your opponent and trying to predict what they will do. Instead of every match containing multiple instances of this guessing game, Divekick rounds only contain one. It's really tense, and really fun.




Anyway, I did somewhat well in this tournament! Didn't get out of pools, but I beat a fair amount of people and even “frauded” two of them (when you win five rounds to zero). By the time I was eliminated, I got a good amount of experience, and even got some direct training on how to play Markman by the tournament organizer (Thanks Keits!). I'll definitely be picking up this game when it comes out.

Saturday[u]:[/u]
Skullgirls: Holy crap, I did terribly in this game. I mean, I had an idea of how bad I was (because I lose every online match I play), but it was even harder to deal with in person. I played three matches and didn't take a single round from anyone I played. Didn't even get close. I did play a couple casual matches afterward, but didn't do any better or learn much from it. Then again, I didn't know where to start as "how do I get my ass kicked less?" doesn't tend to lead anywhere. Oh well.

BaraBariBall: I entered this tournament because of the free entry, and was pleasantly surprised when I finally got my hands on it. First of all, this game should have had some more exposure. Until the finals there was only one table with two setups to play on, in the back of the ballroom. It's a really fun game, a combination of Super Smash Bros and...whatever sport it is where you have to dunk a ball into the opponent's pool of water.

Luckily I shared a hotel room with two experts of the game and learned a lot of tactics from playing with them. I beat a few people in the tournament but was ultimately eliminated. Like Divekick, it's a game that's simple to pick up but takes a certain amount of skill to master. It is very accessible, but practice and character knowledge pays off.

Here's a video of the aforementioned experts playing to better illustrate what it's like.


Mystery Game Tournament: This was really special, and something that sets UFGT apart from other fighting game tournaments. There was a small setup of three TVs near the main stage where you entered into a tournament playing...something. At seemingly random intervals, the tournament organizers would switch the game to something different. I saw Sonic Adventure 2 Battle being played, Virtua Fighter Kids, weird, obscure fighting games I had NEVER heard of, and Hydro Thunder during my pool.

To sum up how strange and fun this tournament was, one of the finals matches was Soul Calibur 2 on DDR pads. It's that real.



I had way too much fun and laughed way too hard while playing these weird games, and I will be entering the Mystery Game Tournament for sure at next year's Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament. Here's a video of the Grand Finals, where you can really see how most matches go: players scrambling to find out how to play before eventually figuring it out and putting on a really hype match.



Since I was eliminated from every game I entered by Sunday, here are some other things I just wanted to note.

CHECK-INS: Remember to be early for your tournament pools, everyone. Because sometimes they'll pronounce your name wrong and it takes longer for you to check in than everyone else. Most people don't use the term "perfidious" in normal conversation, you see.

MARVEL VS. CAPCOM 3: I watch a ton of streams, but I've never actually seen this game being played in real life. Holy crap, it is fast and flashy. The streams really don't do it justice. After watching some matches, I see why people get so into this game: it's like it was created specifically to draw attention and excitement.

People got REALLY serious about this game too. While I was in Divekick pools I heard some guy yelling at the station behind me. Turns out a full-on argument about the game/car ownership had broken out and he was getting REALLY upset. So upset that photographers rushed over to capture a possible fight breaking out. And during finals, another fight almost happened on the main stage!



Myself and a lot of other players talk a lot of trash about Marvel vs. Capcom 3, but I understand now why people get so into it and why it's considered the most hype fighting game out. I probably won't play it ever, but I understand.

FUN & GAMES: While I had some downtime, I checked out this fun little diversion. Located near the back of the ballroom, there were three $1 entry non-video games to play for fun and profit. Yes, games where you actually had to interact with people IRL.

If you won any of these games, you get a raffle ticket and a lot of “doubloons” to cash in for prizes at the prize table. To make sure everyone had fun (and kept giving money to play!) they even gave losers a small amount of doubloons. Basically, you messed up if you left this tournament without getting SOMETHING from that prize table.

I spent most of my spare cash playing Divekick 21, a blackjack variant where you basically have hit points and can pass undesirable cards to others. So while my first few games were pretty amicable, some people want to play a little rough. That means DIRECTLY BUSTING OTHERS BY HANDING THEM CARDS in blackjack. It was really fun, and I even won a game!



I played a friend in Balrog Ball as well, which I can't describe but reminds me of a similar ball-rolling game that I played at Magic Mountain years ago...plus Street Fighter. The important thing is, I beat him and got another raffle ticket and some more doubloons.

I didn't win any of the raffles but left with a cool UFGT9 mug full of candy, and a small, fancy glass (also full of candy). I hope the Fun & Games tables return next year, as they're a great way to kill time between your matches. Or just hang out...I swear I saw some people just playing these games the whole tournament and never saw them play a video game. It was that good.

THE CROWD: This is another reason why I want to go to more tournaments. You really can't get the same energy watching a stream than you can watching these players live while sitting in the crowd. These people were absolutely hilarious. A man of questionable sobriety with a funny hat spent $100 combined in character auctions for Injustice and Marvel vs. Capcom 3, only to lose immediately and get mocked by the announcer on stage. But he won a raffle later so it's all good.



Audience members pulled out money to bet on an impromptu rock-paper-scissors match. People not only react loudly to someone pulling off flashy combos in a game, but yelling along with the characters on screen as they did super moves! My personal favorite being a few upstanding citizens yelling “FUCK YOU!” as Lobo flips off his opponent.

I also noticed that after every match I played, a handshake (or fist/elbow bump if you're germaphobic) is customary. Even if it was the most rage-inducing match ever, you shake hands. It's just a video game, in the end.

This match is pretty incredible to watch, but being there and hearing the crowd lose their minds at the conclusion made it unforgettable.



There's so much more to add, but I'll wrap it up here. Next year, I want to go back, improve my game, and bring my own console to play Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown with others. I saw some people playing it in the Bring Your Own Console area but didn't have time to join, unfortunately.

Going to a tournament was a humbling experience, as I learned that I'm nowhere near as good in any of these games as I thought. I have a long way to go, and I won't excuse it by saying “well, I spread myself too thin by playing too many games”. Nope! It gave me the drive to learn more and compete even harder in the future.

If you're even remotely interested in fighting games, go to a tournament. It was expensive for me, but it was worth it. I can't say what you'll get out of it, but what I got was a renewed interest in the games, and the motivation to improve myself even more as well as attend local tournaments.

It showed me, for better or worse, what games I really want to put more work into. At this point I'm still playing Persona 4 Arena regularly, I've gotten back into Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown as pretty much my “main” game and am playing it a lot, and I got so discouraged by losing in Skullgirls that I haven't touched it since...I don't know about that one now. We'll see.

So, thanks to Keits and his staff for making the tournament run smoothly and providing TONS of extra stuff to do outside of competition. Thanks to all those Godlike Sundays guys for sharing a hotel room, being hilarious and fun to hang out with, and keeping me up at 4 AM playing Capcom games, damn it. And thanks if you read this. Hopefully I've sold you on seeing a side of the fighting game community most casual players don't see.

I'm still playing all the fighting games I can get my hands on, too. I've got Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Street Fighter X Tekken and Injustice to work through so one of those will be up next.

Photo Photo Photo








Even though I'm sure you're cool and already finished this game, EXPECT SOME SPOILERS HERE.

A few days ago, I completed a gaming goal that I was working on since late 2011. My goal was to get 100% completion on Saints Row The Third, including every single Achievement. It took a lot of time, more money than I expected thanks to downloadable content, and it was completely worth it.



I'm not really gonna talk about the process of getting 100% completion, because the end of that writing would be “and then I did donuts in an airport for 40 minutes”. That's not really the point. I want to talk about why I decided to revisit the game and finish those last few percentage points.

I've been a fan of the Saints Row series since the first game, and was completely enthralled by Saints Row 2 back in 2008. So I was unbelievably hyped for Saints Row The Third, so hyped that I broke a years-long streak of not renting games in November 2011. I couldn't afford my own copy until the next year, but as soon as I got it I literally did not want to put it down. I convinced friends to buy copies to play co-op, I downloaded and uploaded characters to SaintsRow.com, I even hunted down all the original music in the game and obsessively tried to find out who composed it.

Well, I say that last one as if I'm not still doing it every single day. But I digress.

So, I liked the game so much that I didn't want to play anything else. Why not play it to completion then? To the point where I could say “this is one of my favorite games ever, and I've gotten everything I can get out of it”. And after a couple of years, I did.

Due to the unstoppable train of games coming out and a growing backlog, I knew I couldn't realistically play the game forever, as badly as I wanted to! So after completing the main story mode at least three times, I've pinned down why I like Saints Row The Third so much. It's not just a great game, I think it's one that other open-world games should be taking lessons from. Let me explain.



The Music

The licensed soundtracks in open world games rarely stand out to me, just like the radio in real life. This one, however, grew on me in a way I wasn't expecting. The KRHYME station introduced me to rappers I'd never heard of like Yelawolf and Robert Raimon Roy. It made me search out what good, new rap was coming out in 2011. 

I couldn't recognize any of the tracks on the electronica station by name, but they're all extremely catchy and great driving music. Continuing the trend from previous Saints Row games, the classical station is filled with the most recognizable songs of the genre. And Adult Swim has perhaps the best station in the game, spanning multiple genres and having genuinely funny ad breaks and DJ banter.



The radio isn't the best part though. The use of licensed music in missions is brilliant. This moment is made by the music: (open in Youtube, copyright won't let you watch the embed)


I was bored of Power by the time this game came out. Couldn't stand it anymore. It was in every movie trailer and every other video game trailer. This mission still gives me goosebumps because of how perfectly the music is used.

It isn't just the few setpiece moments either. As opposed to many open world games, the missions are neither dead silent nor “spiced up” by a radio song you've already heard one hundred times. No, there are original compositions everywhere in this game, from mission music to a large variety of store tracks to excellent end of mission themes. The music is used so well in this game, and the effort put into using an ORIGINAL soundtrack in this type of game is admirable. Well, at least I think it's original. I've been sleuthing around for a while to see if it's just a lot of lesser-known acts that were licensed out, or if it was produced in house?

Volition, please respond to my emails on this. The people want to know.

The Economy

Every open world game gives you cash for completing missions, even if you don't know how or why you get it. What do you usually do with that cash? Buy more weapons and body armor. Saints Row The Third actually has reasons for you to seek out the cash, really good ones in fact!

It's easy to piss off rival gangs, so how about having safe spots everywhere? Buying stores gives you the security to call "base" whenever you jump into a store you own, getting all the heat off of you.

Buying stores also gives you an increase in the money you gain every hour, which lets you buy upgrades for your character more often. The steady increase in the amount of money you earn is balanced by the steady increase of prices for upgrades. Some skills are locked until you get enough experience, and since main story missions typically give you loads of experience, the game subtly nudges you to keep doing those.

You're encouraged to keep doing activities, build up your character, and drain your wallet all the time. It's one of the few games in this genre where money is really important, not just a way to get more ammo and guns after you die. The whole system is genius.



There's always something to do.

It's incredibly tough to put this game down, because there's something around every corner. A new sidequest, a building to buy, collectibles, enemy strongholds to bust up, in-game goals to progress toward, and so much more. Even if you're just wandering around aimlessly, you'll get calls to come help in a random turf war! 

Again, many open world games give you your main quests and a few scant side missions. Saints Row The Third is stuffed with content, and most of it is fun to do. And if it isn't fun, it's at least profitable due to that great economy. I find it difficult to play the game in short sessions because of the constant allure of "one more thing to do" being around every corner.

If Saints Row The Third isn't the best open world game I've ever played, it's damn sure in the top 3. Forgive the cheesiness here, but I feel like completing the game fully is a way of showing appreciation. Like, “thanks for making one of my favorite games ever, Volition”. I rarely take the time to perfect a game and I've never been a hardcore Achievement seeker, but when a game is this special and still fun to play multiple times, it's worth it.

Getting that last Achievement was a little bittersweet. I felt a bit sad after uninstalling the game, but I guess it's natural to feel that after letting go of something that's been a part of your life for years.

I'll probably replay this game in the future, but it's time to move on to other things. I'm hoping Saints Row IV gives me the same feeling as this game did, but there's a lot to be skeptical about in the upcoming sequel. That's a discussion for another time, however.

If Saints Row IV misses what makes The Third such incredible fun, I'm hoping that other developers played this game and took notes. Because I'd love to play another game worth perfecting, no matter where it's from.
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Around this time, I would usually be posting a blog about the latest fighting game that I've tried out and how I'm bad at it and stuff. Since my last blog about Dead or Alive 5, I've picked up both Anarchy Reigns and Street Fighter X Tekken. Anarchy Reigns is pretty unconventional but shares a lot of characteristics with modern fighting games. I'd like to write about it more in depth later.

Right now, the semi-regular schedule of this series is on hold. Instead of trying a lot of new games, I'm going to try to get much better at a few? Why?

I'm going to my first tournament.



Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament 9 is May 24-26, and I'm going. It's a Road To EVO event where the top players in each game get points that determine their seeding in the EVO tournament. It's a major tournament, and one that I can actually afford to attend, so why not?

Over the past few months, my ability to play head to head against people has been very limited. I wasn't able to play online in most games until just last month, and I have one friend to play Skullgirls locally that I can't visit as often as I'd like.

I'm going to this tournament because I want to see the other side of competitive gameplay. Playing fighting games in person is so different than playing them online that netplay vs. real life play feels like playing two different games.

No matter how perfect the netcode is, the fact that the game is being played over the internet always adds a bit of choppiness that changes how you play.

When I've played sitting right next to someone, you can see so many things you can't see playing online. You can predict your opponent's movements. For example,I tend to expose myself a lot by mashing the double QCF input REALLY early in Soul Calibur 5. No one online can tell I'm mashing quarter circles like my life depends on it, but they can sure as hell hear it when I'm mashing it while sitting right next to them. Then block it. Then kick my ass.

Here's the games that will be featured at UFGT9, and the ones I've entered in bold.
Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3
Super Street Fighter 4 Arcade Edition ver 2012
Tekken Tag Tournament 2
Street Fighter x Tekken ver 2013
King of Fighters XIII
Mortal Kombat 9
Skullgirls
Persona 4 Arena
Mystery Game Tournament ver 2013
Injustice
Divekick ver 2013
Soul Calibur V
Vampire Savior (aka Darkstalkers 3)
Vampire Hunter (aka Night Warriors: Darkstalkers Revenge)

I like Soul Calibur V, but I'm not very confident in my skills with it yet so I didn't enter. Maybe next year!

The Mystery Game Tournament sounds crazy. From what I've heard, it could be literally any game. That sounds like something you don't get in regular monthly tournaments.

I'll be playing BariBariBall, which isn't a fighting game but looks fun anyway.


Divekick should be an interesting tournament as well. If you've never played it before, you should when it is released on PC, PS3, and Vita this year. It's simple and only requires two buttons, but it also encapsulates everything fighting games are about.


So for now, I don't plan on buying more fighting games because I gotta focus. I don't think I'll get too far in any of the games I'm entering because I'm not very good. But this is an essential part of getting better at these games. You want to play people who are better than you, because that'll expose all of your bad habits and show you what you need to practice the most.

I'm hoping this experience will give me that, but I'd be fine with just meeting a lot of cool people and playing these games locally, which I almost never get to do.

If anyone has any training tips for the games I'm playing, I'd fully welcome them. If you want to play on 360, I could always use the practice.

And if you're going to UFGT9, let me know!
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Before I even started playing fighting games, I had a strong interest in the complexity of the games. I spent way too much time listening to friends discuss tactics and character balance in terms I could only slightly understand and sitting in front of Twitch streams in awe and confusion of the best players in the world competing.

I had always been aware of the Evolution Championship Series, because, well, it's HUGE. Even someone with a passing interest in fighting games could hear about EVO, it's like the Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, and World Series all mixed in one. Only with a little bit less physical violence than football, baseball, and hockey.



So, while I haven't seen the community firsthand yet by attending a tournament, I've been playing these games for several months now, trying to figure out which one I like the most. Last night I excitedly watched the Wakeup SRK stream to find out which games would be at EVO in 2013.

But why do I care?

Realistically, I won't be making it to EVO this year for a number of reasons. Financial reasons are the most obvious, but I don't even know if I'd go if I could afford it. Like I stated before, I've never been to any tournament for any fighting game. EVER. I've watched a lot of them on streams, but it's not the same as going.

Currently, I'm planning to attend the Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament in May, since it's the closest "major" tournament to my home and I actually know people in the city. It doesn't make sense to me to never attend any tournaments and then head to EVO as your first one. So I'll start small-ish.

So, if I'm not attending, why was I so interested in the game lineup at EVO, to the point of even cheering or being upset when certain games were announced? It doesn't really make sense if I'm not competing, right?

I'm watching the EVO stream for entertainment. So if I'm complaining about the free entertainment being provided to me, I think I'm being petty. I'll admit it. It's like having cable television and being upset that Honey Boo Boo is on. Just change the channel!


But in the moment, I was upset. I was irrationally angry that I would possibly be "forced" to see games I don't like on the stream, like Street Fighter X Tekken or My Little Pony: Fighting Is Magic. And I have no right to be upset. In hindsight, I was almost ashamed to read my reactions from last night. I was essentially getting upset over something I don't even have to see.

The interesting thing I've noticed about this fighting game community is a bizarre obsession with death. If a game isn't being streamed at weekly events, it "died". If a game has an unorthodox style in terms of either gameplay or visuals, it's pronounced dead on arrival because it'll never catch on. And the clearest sign of death is exclusion from EVO.

If your game is not being officially represented at EVO, it is dead. Pack it up, play another game.

On one hand, I can see why being represented at EVO is a HUGE deal. It's the one time of the year where the spotlight is intensely focused on fighting games, where millions of people will watch this competition, even if they know nothing about what's happening on the screen. I should know, I used to be there.

And the fear of death is getting pretty real these days. Check out this article:
http://www.eventhubs.com/news/2012/dec/19/mike-watson-virtua-fighter-5s-lack-support-should-be-example-how-game-dies-community/

Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown was dropped from the Wednesday Night Fights stream recently. Despite the best efforts of veteran players, the attendance levels for the tournament were too low to keep running actual tournaments.

That is how a game dies. When people stop attending tournaments, things in the game stop being discovered. These streams aren't run online, they are run because people show up to actual tournaments to compete in person. If that isn't happening, there won't be any tournaments to stream, and the game just...stops showing up.

So, why are the games at EVO there? Why did some of the picks make people upset? Let's look at the list first.

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition
Tekken Tag Tournament 2
Mortal Kombat 9
Street Fighter X Tekken 2013
King of Fighters XIII
Persona 4 Arena

A few of those are givens. Marvel and Street Fighter are established as cornerstones of the EVO tournament to the point that it would be weird to NOT have them there. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is there because at least one 3D fighter is needed, and TTT2 has been critically acclaimed as one of the best out there. King of Fighters XIII arguably had the biggest crowd reaction at EVO 2012, and the game has been evolving (terrible pun not intended) since.

Then it gets complicated.

Mortal Kombat 9 will be returning to EVO for its third year in the row. I noticed a lot of people angry about it because they dislike the game for being boring to watch, unbalanced, and seeing the same people in the finals of the tournaments each year.


Street Fighter X Tekken will be returning to EVO for its second year in a row. After last year's showing, some people were confused as to why the game even made it in the first place: it was released in an unfinished state and plagued with glitches, the on-disc DLC scandal and gem system made people dislike Capcom even more than they already did, and the tournament was played in a bizarre 2v2 format which didn't help the fact that many people found the game boring to watch.

Also one of the tournament organizers saying the game wouldn't be at EVO 2013 kinda made it seem like this wouldn't happen.

So, am I completely satisfied with the lineup at EVO 2013? Not exactly, but I understand why some games I like wouldn't make it in. And I also understand why the games I don't enjoy watching DID make it in. Mortal Kombat 9 has a large, dedicated community that runs plenty of tournaments on a regular basis. Street Fighter X Tekken is about to get a patch that changes or fixes problems that many people had with the vanilla build, and possibly a change of format would make for a very different-looking tournament than last year's. It still has a fair share of fans, probably more than most of us want to admit.

Games I'm personally attached to like Skullgirls, Soul Calibur V, and Virtua Fighter 5 have very small playerbases and wouldn't get enough entrants at EVO to justify putting it on the big stage: in terms of entertaining viewers and making good business sense, it's just not a good idea.

In hindsight, I shouldn't care enough to complain that my "favorite game" didn't make it to EVO. The best I can do is support the games I enjoy by attending tournaments and introducing new people to it. If your game didn't make it, I can guarantee that this is the most productive thing you could do. Get your game big enough to get recognized. Complaining about it may be cathartic, but it won't achieve your goal.

And if you're upset that a game you don't like is on the main stage, you don't have to watch. You don't have to change your game of choice to line up with what's on the main stage. You also can't change what's on the main stage.

The best thing to do, if you want your game to thrive, is to keep playing it. Get more people to play it with you. Try to attend tournaments. I know I will, because that would get a lot more done than my initial strategy of "complain on Twitter".

Or you could donate to a good cause in support of your game too!