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8:53 PM on 05.17.2013

Greeced Lightning, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Kratos

I've been a gamer all my life. I could play a Mario game before I could say his name. I stuck with the NES and SNES far past their prime, which eventually became standard practice for me. I'm not an early adopter. I was rocking N64 Smash Bros. when all the cool kids were playing Jak and Daxter. I've still never played Jak and Daxter.

So it took me until late 2011 to actually dig into the PS3. I'd played the big black Blu-ray box before, but when my girlfriend upgraded, I got to reap the benefits. Now, she was a fan of the PS2 God of War games, and bought the remastered “Origins” collection to both introduce me to the series, and play the side games she missed.

Now, this wasn't quite my first time with Kratos. I'd tried the PSP Chains of Olympus before, but the controls felt clunky and wrong. I didn't know at the time that this was because of the lost analog stick, all I knew was that I wasn't having fun. But beyond the clumsy dodging implementation, Kratos himself seemed lacking. The chained blades felt too basic, too shallow. So I shrugged it off as just another game that tried to impress simpletons with tits and blood. Not for me.

No, I don't have any titles in mind, Ubisoft. Why do you ask?

But at milady's behest, I kept going. And by the end of Chains of Olympus, I was actually having fun. The game that turned me off the series in the first place showed me all the ways I was wrong. Kratos's simplicity, I realized, is complemented by enemy complexity. The character's predictable strikes let the player focus on the action around them instead of wrestling with themselves. Even Kratos's simplicity hid a layer of depth inside its cancelable animations, emphasis on positioning, and invincible executions.

So I kept going, finishing Chains, Ghost, GoW I, II, and III over the next year and a half. It's a formulaic series, to be sure, but a consistently good one.

But what stood out to me the most in all this was that in the face of all the blood, mythology, and yelling, God of War was a videogame that loved videogames. I mean, intimately understood and bonded with them.

It was a strange revelation, but the proof was there. The gods and titans my questgivers, I ventured into the temples of the Olympians to crawl the (surprisingly polished and clever) dungeons, level up, get the loot, and save the [s]princess[/s] brother. Anita would be proud.

Oh, wait.

It probably sounds obvious. OF COURSE a videogame feels like a videogame. What shocked me was how I'd missed it. The fixed camera, gleeful violence, and QTEs just seemed stupid. A game that does those things isn't trying to be a game. It's trying to be bloody violence porn.

And, okay, it's that too. But under that mask is a quality series. One that introduced me to several new game design concepts and tools I wouldn't have given a second thought to. On a somewhat tangential note, it started me on the beauty of HD collections. God of War gave rise to ICO/SotC, Ratchet and Clank, Prince of Persia, and next up, hopefully, is Devil May Cry.

I guess the moral of the story is that sometimes it's worth going back to games you hated. I would have missed out on both God of War and Prince of Persia, and they're both among my favorites now. I'm even learning to be okay with Final Fantasy. Mostly.

I love videogames. They've been with me all my life, and I've got lots to say about them. I wanted to get some good, high-quality pictures for this entry, but a camera and a TV are no substitute for a good screencap. Maybe it'd be easier to illustrate my points with a snazzy new capture card. If I am chosen, I'll start off with either 3d action games, like God of War, or fighters, like UMvC3 or SSF4. I've also got a friend who's been talking about making Let's Plays, so that's not an impossibility. Thanks for your consideration anyway, and I hope you enjoyed the read.   read

9:25 AM on 01.27.2011

Retitled: Modded Brawl, not Modded Wii. Brainbarf/rant thing.

The previous title, "I brainbarfed about modding Brawl. Read my Barf" was nixed due to using "barf" twice.

Amongst all this Sony stuff on the frontpage, I decided to finally let out all this nonsense that's been in my head for the past week or so. See, I used to be a pretty active community member for Brawl, back in 08 when it came out, and probably a bit into 09. I dunno anymore.

ANYWHAY. Part of why I stopped caring was because, as a fighting game community, much of the discussion focused on tournament-level play. That itself isn't a problem, but it did really open my eyes to how many things Brawl did wrong. One in particular stands out among all others, partly because it's a huge problem, and partly because it's much easier to identify and explain than others.

What has two thumbs, makes me think of Amish people, and totally makes Brawl less fun?

This guy:

The Amish joke is a relatively obscure pun. "Mennonite" was the operative word.

Now, I understand that fighting games will have their top tier, not all characters will be equally viable, all that jazz. But this is something else. Metaknight is beyond being good, or even the best. He outclasses everyone else by a pretty large margin. Tier lists all rank him top, and most (if not all) separate him into his own S-rank tier. Followed by Snake, in his own A-tier. Followed by B, the highest rank with more than one member.

Put simply: This is bullshit, and I won't have it. I was also frustrated because I chose Captain Falcon and Link as my mains, both pretty low-tiered. By which I mean both have been ranked at the bottom of the list. That spot is now held by Ganondorf.

And I'm rambling again.

Pretend there's a reasonable segue here; I can't come up with one.

Hey, remember things like GameShark, Game Genie, Action Replay, Codebreaker, etc.? Then you may be surprised to hear this: Variable-modifying codes, which were once-upon-a-time used for infinite lives and noclip and stuff, were used to make Brawl suck less. By editing the statistics of the fighters and their attacks, the community moved towards balance. A lot of people gathered around the idea of what was eventually dubbed “Brawl+.”

Without going into too much more history, let’s just cover the big important bits of knowledge.

--Brawl+ took off from what started as “Remove random tripping” and “Record replays longer than 3 minutes” kinds of codes. Just fixing things that are objectively stupid and shouldn't be there.
--It moved into making combos part of play again, as they were far less important to Brawl than Melee, and we wanted them back.
--Technical advancements (The name Phantom Wings shows up over and over again. The man is like unto a god. Creation where there was nothing, and all that.) led to more advanced and refined modifications.
--Brawl+ was a big, ongoing effort to make the game the community wanted. But the community has no one goal. Brawl+ is done, both for being polished and at a reasonably complete level, and for some changes in leadership and loss of interest that I don’t know a whole lot about.
--Brawl+ is done, but hackers/modders aren’t. Many offshoot projects have been started, most of which have been abandoned. There are now a few big projects to pay attention to.

And this is where it gets fun. Let’s look at the big “codesets” and what they’ve done/plan to do.

Google spat this out when I searched "let's do this"

Brawl+ (Brawl Plus)
This is the first real cohesive effort to improve Brawl. Like I said, it’s done now. No new developments. That said, this is a spectacularly polished modification, with new character select layouts, stage select layouts, title screen, buffer modification (that’s a long explanation, I don’t wanna write that out right now) and, of course, character tweaks.

It’s a faster, fairer Brawl. And that’s about all it is. Brawl+ doesn’t make use of much of the new technical breakthroughs, and so it’s less ambitious than some later entries. That said, its age means there’s nothing really “rough around the edges” to be seen, and its completeness alone is something to be proud of.

Brawl- (Brawl Minus)
Obviously, the name references the previous one. As a rule, Brawl- is more over-the-top and flashy than B+. That’s not to say it’s unfair. It ascribes to a school of thought that basically gets summed up in The Incredibles: “When everyone’s super, no-one will be.” By making all the characters really good, it stays fair while emphasizing fun. Also, it emphasizes craziness.

My personal favorite, B- takes its slogan quite seriously: If it’s broken, break it until it’s fixed. Every character is broken in their own oddly not-gamebreaking way, and this mod represents a lot more advancement to me than refinement.

bBrawl (Balanced Brawl)
This one’s real easy to sum up. This is what Brawl+ would be if they liked Brawl, but just wanted it fairer. It preserves the flow, feel, and physics of Brawl, but makes minimal tweaks to make a more balanced game out of it.

It’s minimal, but it works. This is the easiest to transition to, since it’s such a small change. In fact, many people might not even see the difference. But it’s there, and it’s important.

uBrawl (UnstoppaBrawl)
This one gets a mention for being almost, if not entirely, a one-man job. It also deserves more attention than it gets. And it fits somewhere between bBrawl and Brawl+ on the spectrum of modifications. It preserves the physics of Brawl, and makes fewer changes than Brawl+, but the character changes are more obvious than in bBrawl, and have more impact. This one also focuses on aggressive play, and makes shielding more punishable than in other codesets.

I haven’t played a whole lot of this one, but it too is pretty small. Worth a look, regardless. If he gets some more attention, Final Smashes might be added in, after he figures out how to make them fair.

Project: M
This is the big one. This is where the buzz is. This one gets some of the credit for killing interest in B+, I hear. This one’s also not publicly available. Spoilers: The M is for Melee. And that’s what this is: A remade Melee inside Brawl. Why not play Melee, you ask? Because Melee is old; we’ve played it to death. Also, this way Melee can be made to the community’s standard. It also gets to have Brawl characters.

I haven’t played this. It’s new. The team working on it is set to release a beta/demo thing pretty soon. Hyped to hell and back, this is what many people wanted Brawl to be to begin with.

The crazy thing is that this is just the nitty-gritty. Dtoid has frontpaged a couple character re-skins here and there. And they’ve barely touched on everything there is to see.

I get that this sounds like Little Big Planet, where it’s like “There’s SO MANY LEVELS but you’ve only seen a few you’ve gotta play this” but then half of them are awful and the other half are Mario 1-1.

Yes, I'm exaggerating. There is a lot to love in LBP. There's also a lot to hate. So sue me.

But for every Cloud Strife over Ike or "Enhanced Breasts Peach", and there are a lot of them, there are 5 not-shit custom costumes. Super Meat Boy over Kirby and Mr. Destructoid over Shiek were frontpaged, but Ronald McDonald over Captain Falcon and Rash (Battletoads) over DK are at least as cool and never got that attention. Add in the costumes that aren’t just other characters, and you get some really cool-looking new stuff.

But even that’s been around forever. Substitute textures are cool, and substitute textures with modified model data are also really cool, but there are model replacement options too. Not “move these vertexes around” for a different look. A completely new model.

So what’s the reasonable next step when we have the ability to retool and modify characters movesets without limitations, and we also have the ability to create an entirely new body for that character to inhabit?

Man, what an asshole little kid, jumping into my blog post uninvi-OH OKAY FINE I COULDN'T THINK OF ANYTHING BETTER, OKAY?

Totally new characters.

And it’s been done.

Not real well, mind you, but it’s possible. And that’s really cool. Game mods are nothing new, I know, but they’ve been a PC staple, not a console thing. Brawl mods are big. Not just in their own right. Yeah, they’re really neat in that they’re changing Brawl, but the important part is that they’re doing it ON THE WII. Romhacking for emulators is nothing new, but current-gen console mods… that’s really goddamn cool. Especially if more games start getting modified. There was even a Dtoid newspost about custom levels for New Super Mario Bros. Wii a while back.

For anyone interested in doing any of this themselves, here’s some links. And no, it doesn’t require a hacked Wii. There’s a vulnerability in Brawl itself that means any Wii, with any system software, can run these.

For the record, here’s a quick, mostly accurate representation of how far removed the mods are from Brawl, relative to each other.

Brawl bBrawl uBrawl Brawl+ Brawl- ProjectM

Oh, right, I said links:

SmashMods --has B+, B-, bB, and P:M sections, including downloads, instructions, and other information
Brawl Vault --Biggest source of cosmetic modifications you'll find. Also has the new characters, for those interested.
UnstoppaBrawl --Forum thread for uBrawl. Downloads and instructions there.
THIS TOO. --Forum thread with links to texture/vertex hacking sites, and instructions on applying those modifications. Forgot this could be useful.

Also, in addition to tacking on that last link, be careful downloading things called PSA. Those are "Project Smash Attack" mods, and change the mechanics of the characters. Often stupidly powerful, these suffer from "MUGEN syndrome" in which people go "lulz let's make something rigged". PSAs have been best used by B- and P:M.

In short: PSA downloads will modify the characters actions, not just their looks. If you want the costume only, keep looking.

NEW EDIT: PSA is one of the technical advancements we've seen, and is used to modify animations, effects, and statistics. It's the biggest reason we have as much freedom in character modding as we do, but in general, only the main codeset development teams can be trusted to use that freedom responsibly. (read: in a way that makes the game better) PSA is also used every time a character is make into someone completely different, like turning Link into Zero (yes, from Megaman X)   read

8:20 AM on 12.05.2010

FIghters. Also Smash Bros. Totally on hold. Sorry.

For those of you who were eagerly anticipating the next installment of this here blog series (all one of you. Thanks, dude!) I regret to inform you that due to life happening, I'm gonna have to focus on dealing with my own stuff. I'll get back to it when I can. For now, I leave you with this. Enjoy.   read

3:18 PM on 11.26.2010

Fighters: Philosophy, Design, Execution, Community. Also, Smash Bros. (Part1)

So, a little over a week ago, I posted this, more or less on a whim. I felt like blogging something, Street Fighter and Smash Bros came to mind, and then as I wrote it, I realized the damn thing was too long, and I'd not yet touched on two of the four things I wanted to. So, instead of dropping it, I chose to make it even LONGER, but release it episodically (see what I did thar?) and devote one post to each of the four. But instead of actually talking about one of them, I just said “LOOK I'M DOING SOMETHING” and people went “yay.”

Then I started writing this son hof a beetch (Bison?) and ran into some troubles. Between Thanksgiving madness, losing my work, rewriting it, and realizing I actually still had it all along, and other non-writing-related mishaps, I'm late on my self-imposed one-week deadline. I apologize to myself, and to you.

So here I am, in the first real post, and dammit if it isn't harder than I thought it'd be. Not only because of life, but because suddenly I realized that I know more about Smash than I do about Street Fighter. That's unfortunate. So I had to do a little looking. (WIKIPEDIA HO!)

We'll need some history. For perspective. Capcom released Street Fighter in 1987 to arcades, in which the player, as Ryu (or the functionally identical Ken, on the 2p side) fights up the ranks of the tournament, ending in a match against Sagat. Don't ask him about it. His scar still burns occasionally.

Like Harry Potter's spider sense.

Anyhow, the main draw for a lot of people was the two-player ryu-vs-ken fight. Street Fighter 2 was redesigned to focus more on the multiplayer aspect, offering multiple playable characters, each unique in moveset and control.

From then on, it was all about making that competitive fight better. Making sure no character was unbeatable, making sure no tactic was unbeatable. While each new Street Fighter sub-series throws in new game mechanics, each revision/update/semi-sequel/whatever you wanna call it puts balance and competitive value at top priority. In theory, anyway. There have been some missteps, but the point stands.

Super Smash... well, it was kind of an accident.

"We don't make mistakes here, we just have happy little accidents."

See, basically, Nintendo wanted to put something out there to fill space. So, this guy, Masahiro Sakurai, around 1998 or so, decided he wanted to make a 4-player fighting game, but realized he needed something unique. So he built himself a prototype and presented it to Nintendo, who put a small budget towards this little dick-around multiplayer fighting game in which Nintendo's flagship characters beat the hell out of each other. It was never meant to be anything more than that. It was never even meant for a stateside release.

But then people liked it. A lot. So they realized “OH HEY we actually got something here” and brought it to us dumb westerners, marketed with the one thing we love most: Violence.


Because it's a game with competitive value that doesn't totally suck, we looked into what we could do. And that led to the discovery of Z-cancel combos, the OP nature of “spikes” (think volleyball if you're unfamiliar), and how important items were to the game, since they could easily sway the entire tide of the fight.

Smash Bros has always held one thing above all else: fun. The kind of fun you experience when you can just let loose and have a ball. And when that's the attitude from the devs, it makes sense that it would pervade the minds of the consumers, and color how we see the game. I think this is the biggest reason so many people see the game as a more casual game. That's what it was designed to be.

I think it's really disappointing that so many people write off the game so quickly thanks to the marketing. Because the reality is that even without trying to build a rival to Street Fighter, Sakurai started a series that survives as the premier alternative to traditional fighting games. And damn, does it do a good job of it.   read

1:16 PM on 11.17.2010

Fighters: Philosophy, Design, Execution, Community. Also, Smash Bros. (intro)

It's no secret to the people who know me, but since I'm not as active around here as I should be, I figure I might as well lay it out for everyone to see: I like fighting games. A lot.

And it's not just the casual "it's fun to mash and watch dudes on screen punch each other" kind of way, either. I'm actually capable.

Anyhoozit, the idea came to mind to put some attention on this and see what I could say about it. At this point, I had this memory of reading some old Cblog (Wry Guy, as I recall, but I could be wrong) discussing the "revival" of 2d fighters, with BlazBlue, Street Fighter 4, and King of Fighters 12 releasing in quick succession.

It may or may not have been on THAT Cblog, but on SOME Cblog, which is why I thought of it, I remember reading some comments discussing Super Smash Brothers, at which point somebody (Wry Guy? I think so. I dunno.) pointed out that Smash Bros is a very different game, and that many of the fundamentals don't really apply. Apples and Oranges, to put it succinctly.

To this I call foul. Not out of some butthurt nerdrage because I like Super Smash and goddammit if anyone badmouths it. No, I agree that they're different games, but "Apples and Oranges" is a little too far.

This isn't the reasoning for them being similar, but it should be.

Fighting games follow the basic cycle outlined in this title. Devs come up with the general idea of what they're gonna try and do. Then they build the system and characters to do it. They release it, and we as gamers pick it apart and push the limits. Then they modify their ideas for subsequent games, and it starts over again. Philosophy, Design, Execution, Community. Repeat.

So it is at this juncture (Fancy talk, mmmyess) that I've taken it upon myself to put my opinions out on the matter. In each installment I'll say what I can about one of these four things, what it means for traditional fighters and Smash, and how that relates to you and I.

Philosophy: Final goal, what they wanna make and why.
Design: Strictly Mechanics/what they made
Execution: Metagame, player habits, etc. AKA how it's played
Community: all of us peoples and how we react to things.

Bottom line: I hope to bring some honest, detailed, and unbiased comparison and contrast. ("hope" is a pretty operative word here.) What the games do and don't do similarly. Why we should care. I'm going to look at the Street Fighter series and the Smash Bros series, since Street Fighter is A) the de facto standard of fighting games for the mainstream and B) the one I'm most familiar with. Smash Bros because, well, that's the point. Looking at how the 'serious' fighter relates to the 'dick around with your friends' fighter.

Yes, Street Fighter is also occasionally fond of dicking around.

So here I ask for input from you, the readers. Anything you want to make sure I cover. Anything you want me to consider. Any questions you have. If you think what I'm doing is stupid and pointless, well, okay. That sucks to read, but I wanna know what you guys think, so go. Let's hear what there is to say.

That means you, and that means now.   read

12:34 PM on 11.03.2010

So, some people don't know DotA, eh?

*I first wrote this as a comment on a post about DOTA2, but I figured it'd get more views, and thus be of more use, as a blog post. No images cuz I can't be arsed to get them. To make up for my laziness, here's a song relevant to the post. Listen to it on repeat while reading. Or dont.

All-RIGHTY then. If you've never heard of DotA, I'm gonna say you've probably never played much, and almost surely never owned, Warcraft 3. You may or may not know about WC3's "World Editor" that was packaged in it, but people used it to make all sorts of mods and maps and stuff, like Footman Frenzy, Sheep Tag, and DotA.

Defense of the Ancients is pretty much THE WC3 game everybody knew, because it absolutely dominated the "custom games" list on Probably still does, but I haven't played in years, so I can't be sure.

Regardless, the basic structure is that 2 armies, positioned at opposite corners, have to push toward each other's base and destroy it. Each team has respawning grunts/"creeps", and each player is a Hero character for their te   read

11:32 AM on 10.04.2010

Taliban/Opposing Force brainbarf

Ok, so, as you've probably heard, EA has dropped the label of "Taliban" from the new Medal of Honor. And after reading Jim's post, a couple other websites' posts, and more than a few comments on those posts, I decided I wanted to speak my mind about it.

Let's make one thing clear: This is a name change. Nothing more. COD4 and MW2 took a Taliban-esque force and gave them a new name. MOH's I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Taliban are likely just the same as COD's I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Taliban. Not surprising, given that MOH's Nazis were just the same as COD's Nazis.

And yet, I can't really agree with the people who say "Whatever. Nothing substantial really changed. It's a name, and even if they're called Opposing Force, we know who and what they are. Not a big deal."

The weird part is, they're right. In terms of gameplay, it'll be no different now. And yes, even with a different name, we know they're Taliban troops.

In response to one of the comments of this mentality, Jim said:

"I'm more concerned about the social impact of this rather than the gameplay. The fact that people have been told they'll get whatever they want if they scream loud enough is a very bad thing to encourage, and EA has sent that message with crystal clarity. Games have a hard enough time trying to be relevant or controversial without publishers balking every time they dare. This is why Six Days in Fallujah got scrapped and a studio almost bankrupted."

And that's totally reasonable. That said, I think "social impact" is the wrong thing to say. For something to have an impact, it has to be the cause of something. And really, I don't think Medal of Honor really caused much change. They stated their intentions, people bitched and moaned, and they folded. Like Jim said, it parallels Six Days in Fallujah.

But Six Days came first. MOH isn't the first time this has happened. I wouldn't call it a social impact so much as a social crater. The precedent's already been set, the impact has been made. MOH is just feeling those same effects.

It may seem like I'm splitting hairs here, and maybe I am. But it's how I feel, and I'm saying it. Jim's right in that EA has shown that they'll be willing to fold if enough people get vocal. But I almost can't blame them. People get really sensitive about this kind of thing.

What if we're doing it wrong? What if it's not even EA? Maybe there's enough bitching and moaning that ANY company in their position would've done the same. You and I haven't heard too much, maybe, but EA probably has.

What if the statement here is really "People bitch and whine so loud they stopped EA" instead of "EA sucks so much they caved in to some whiners."

I'm gonna end this poorly organized rant/blog/brainbarf here, before I skew even more off-topic. But there it is, for what it's worth.   read

2:27 PM on 08.29.2010

Mr. Kauz, you're doing it wrong.

After reading through Andrew Kauz's "Videogames and the pursuit of harmless entertainment and all the comments, I came to a very different conclusion than he did, or, in fact, than anyone in the comments seemed to. Andrew offers his view on what kinds of qualities are valued in gaming, and laments how prevalent it is to appeal to the lowest common denominator instead of pushing for something more meaningful or advanced. In a word, (his, in fact) Challenging.

And while I can't really fault him for feeling like that, I think that there were some really accurate comments on the article disagreeing with him. They basically fell into two categories: A) "Entertainment, and indeed, life in general is always full of more shit than substance: it's unreasonable to ask that games be any different." And B) "But, hey, look at (insert game here) and it's message of (blah de blah)."

And they're both right. And Andrew's right. But none of them are talking about the real issue, I think.

There is a disconnect between what was put into a game for us to get, and what we get out of it.

Take, for example, No More Heroes. DTOID ran a series of articles detailing the messages, symbolism, and design choices that the writers saw in the game. ("Analyzing No More Heroes" and "What NMH2 really means) Some people in the comments agreed, saying they'd seen similar ideas. Some were surprised at how much sense it made, and how they'd missed it all. Still others thought that the game didn't have any of that by design, and that the writer was reading too far into it.

Who's right? I don't know. Chances are, only the people behind the game know. But wherever their intent was, the game still got all these different reactions. Is that good? Maybe. There's something to be said about a game, or a movie, or a book, or anything, when each person gets something different out of it. There's also something to be said for having a very direct message that everyone in the audience can understand.

I thought of this when I read a comment on Kauz's piece, discussing the message behind GTA4.

Anthony Noel writes (Large comment, I only took a couple pieces of it):
"But the choice was in doing the mission."

later elaborating:
"Drive a taxi for a living and share a shitty apartment with Roman, barely scrape by, call your friends up on Friday and go get drunk, find a girl in the personnel section, go on a few dates, get laid. Right from the start the game happily says to you, here have a normal life. But if you choose the other path then regardless of Niko's self deluding moralizing about how much he hates violence, he and by extension we as gamers are choosing violence."

Was that the point of GTA4? I always thought those things were more about providing a look at the fact that Niko is, despite all the crazy shit he gets himself into, still just another guy. I took those elements to mean that there's more to the life of the men we remember than just the parts we remember. Ben Franklin had a vast number of purely social experiences. Meaningless, empty days. We all do. And we forget that sometimes. By adding the human element to Niko's story, it becomes a bit easier to relate to.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Rockstar was putting in a subtle challenge to the gamer. And to the society the game comments on.

In either case, at least one of us missed what they were trying to do: the message they wanted to send. And there's not necessarily anything wrong with that, but until games and gamers are connected enough to send the intended message to the majority of the userbase, we can't accurately say how "challenging" games are these days.

Because we simply don't know.   read

3:55 PM on 07.24.2010

On the Al-Qaeda Issue.

Hamza recently posted an editorial explaining why he can't support Medal of Honor as long as it includes Al-Qaeda forces. I disagree. But I'm not gonna hold that against him. It's a ballsy move to stand up and say "no" to something like that. It's not just that he decided not to buy the game, and then occasionally bitched and moaned to his friends. He went out of his way to publicly explain how he feels and why.

I applaud him. I respect him. But I still disagree.

I don't think it's a bad thing to include current issues. I liked the idea of Six Days in Fallujah. Granted, Fallujah was taking it very seriously, getting input from real veterans, and trying to make an excellent experience with it. While I don't have as much faith in MoH using the content well, I do think we should wait and see how they handle it before we take such a stance against it.

Look at, say, Manhunt, GTA, or Mass Effect. Each of those has content in it that has created some form of controversy. Note that said controversy came from outside the industry and outside the community.

Medal of Honor is causing disputes even here. If it wasn't, you wouldn't be reading about it. The fact that even gamers are reacting differently to this shows how powerful a decision it is to include the Al-Qaeda.

I consider that all the more reason to defend it.

If all of us shy away from things we find uncomfortable, we'd never advance. Look at the 1950s. Mainstream culture focused on the happy, normal, family. "Normalcy" reigned supreme. The suppression of everything outside of the norm didn't really do anything positive. Only those who broke out of those limits really had much impact. Look at the beatniks. They led into hippies and other alternative subcultures, and the rest is history.

But what if they hadn't? If nobody had bucked the trend. Would we still be living in 1950s America? I don't see why not.

I'm not saying that Medal of Honor is going to have far-reaching cultural consequences, but the idea still applies. If nothing else, I hope that Medal of Honor, even if done poorly, even if hated, does release, and does contain everything the creator wanted, Al-Qaeda included.

Because at least then, we can learn from it.   read

6:58 PM on 05.05.2010

What's in a game?

This question suddenly bothers the hell outta me. So I wonder: What exactly does a game have to have? We see software releases of, say, Heavy Rain, and some people don't consider it a game because it skimps on gameplay, focusing instead on presenting its story. On the other hand, look at Wii Sports. It lacks everything but gameplay, but it gets criticized as a mere toy. Then I forget about that nonsense, and focus on a more important question.

What's in a good game? I mean, Final Fantasy VII, Tetris, Pac-man, and Modern Warfare 2 are all very good games. But why? FF7's strengths lie in presentation, whereas Pac-man revels in the surprisingly strong gameplay based on such a simple design. Asteroids and Pong squeezed interaction out of meager hardware, but games like Uncharted and Arkham Asylum push current hardware further than we've ever seen before. What ties it all together? What makes us love these games so much?

Super Mario Brothers 3. Excellent game. Why?

-Solid difficulty curve, each themed world becoming steadily more difficult
-Constant introduction of new gameplay elements via worlds and suits
-Polished gameplay, refining and expanding that of previous Mario games
-Quality graphics and sound

Kingdom Hearts. Also excellent. Why?

-Solid difficulty curve, each themed world becoming steadily more difficult
-Constant intoduction of new gameplay elements via worlds and partners
-Polished gameplay, inserting an action-based battle system into a tried-and-true RPG frame
-Quality graphics and sound

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Excellent. Why?

-Solid difficulty curve, each themed dungeon becoming steadily more difficult
-Constant introduction of new gameplay elements via time travel and new items
-Polished gameplay, converting the swordplay and exploration from 2d into 3d
-Quality graphics and sound

Strange how much that lines up, eh? Ultimately, the best games have these things. But which ones do they need?

-Solid difficulty curve, start accessible, always rising, but not too fast. Never let the player become complacent, but don't frustrate them either. Players need goals to work towards, or they won't play.
-Introduction of new gameplay elements to prevent the experience from getting stale.
---You may have noticed all the examples have themed 'levels'. This isn't strictly necessary, but a stale aesthetic can bore a player just as well as a stale mechanic.
-Polished gameplay. This is a no-brainer. Even if you don't like JRPGs, you have to admit that the ATB does it's job and does it well, just like Halo, just like Mario, just like Castlevania.
-Functional graphics and sound. A game doesn't have to be beautiful to be fun, but it shouldn't be so ugly that I can't tell a door from the side of a crate.

Some of you might be inclined to try and prove me wrong, and give examples of games that are amazing, but don't fit the criteria. If anyone mentions Yume Nikki, Passage, etc. I will be forced to remind you that, while they have their strengths, I'm simply talking about the games we play because they entertain as a game. Not as a means to deliver a message or emotion.

Some of you might not be so easily deterred. Megaman, for instance, is known for it's non-linearity. Tough to make a difficulty curve when there's no single sequence of progression, eh? Maybe not. Look at Megaman X. Chill Penguin is by far the easiest level and boss, and it gives the player the practically required Dash Upgrade. This starts off a chain of levels that increase in difficulty. Also, the fact that a player can turn that on its ass, thus giving them a completely different, and much (INCREDIBLY MUCH) harder game to play. Gameplay elements are still added via boss powers, the gameplay is still tight, and the sprites and songs are as good as ever.

What about multiplayer-centric games? Well, that's not exactly the same thing. A developer can't nearly as well control the community of gamers as it can the content of the levels they design. So... does the system break down? Nah.

Street Fighter 2. Excellent game. Why?

-Difficulty levels are dependent upon opponents. Thus, fighting your brother or friend at first, then schoolmates, then tournaments, etc. is analogous to the rising difficulty of a single-player game.
-Gameplay elements aren't added as constantly, but the discovery of new combos/techniques/etc. do still happen. And encountering new players' fighting styles accomplishes a similar effect.
-Polished gameplay. Tough to argue this one. Every character and strategy has a counter. Even most attacks have reliable "anti-that-thing" companions.
-Solid graphics and sound. You can argue that it hasn't aged well, particularly in the animation department, but the iconic characters and music are still complete and well-presented.

We as a community fill in the gaps. Why? That's what makes the game fun. Stronger opponents make for more satisfactory goals. Games like Halo 2, while not bad games, lose their fun because nobody else is playing.

What about the other end of it? Are there any games that do all these things, and aren't fun to play? I can't think of any. You know why? Fun games need to be designed around one simple idea:

Do not let it get old.

-Rising difficulty curves prevent the game from being so easy, it feels pointless.
-Added gameplay elements keep the mechanics from becoming stale.
-Polished gameplay, while not a matter of staying power, is necessary. If the foundation isn't fun, no amount of tweaks will change that.
-Graphics and sound don't need to be the focus. But they need to do their job well. Even really good gameplay can be ruined by distracting sub-par music or a few poorly-formed polygons.

Variety may be the spice of life, but it's the backbone of a game: Without it, you're just a poorly formed lump that nobody wants to take a second look at.

Just kidding, Jack Black. Maybe.   read

4:44 PM on 03.17.2010

An Irrelevant Review: Custom Robo

Custom Robo, originally, was a series of Japan-only games on the N64, with a release on the Game Boy Color. After the inclusion of some trophies in Super Smash Brothers Melee based on the titular robos from the games, Americans wondered just what they were missing. Well, just like Fire Emblem (its own beast altogether), Custom Robo found its way stateside in 2004 with Custom Robo: Battle Revolution (Except the US release was just called Custom Robo). There was a DS game too. But I don't care about it.

Every image here is from the intro cinematic.

Anyhow, it's time we understand just what this game was, so allow me to try, albeit unsuccessfully, to segue into something resembling a review. (A fairly long one, actually. Sorry.)

Let's start with the basics. Custom Robo is somewhere between an Action-RPG and a Fighter, and I can't for the life of me decide which one I think it resembles more. Having such an ill-defined genre makes the game unique, as nothing else really plays like this, but also makes it difficult to define an audience for. After all, nothing else really plays like this.

Yep. Toys.

Every fight in the game is planned out ahead of time in the story; there are no random encounters. In keeping with that, experience points don't really exist, you just get new parts for your robo (discussed later) at certain points in the story. Having such an approach might bring some questioning looks. After all, how are we supposed to grind? It's an RPG, right? Well, that's where the fighter aspect of the game comes in. Winning a fight requires maneuvering, attacking, defending, etc., not just how beastly your character happens to be. (One of my biggest gripes with JRPGs, but that's a story for another day)

Which brings me to the battles themselves. The battles all follow a single basic format: each player has their robo inside a cannon in the center of the arena, allowing them to aim themselves to different starting areas. Depending on where the cannon fires, a small cube will sit for 1 to 6 seconds (depending on the roll of a die) and then the robos can run around the field, firing their bullets and explosives at each other until one is dead.

Every robo has 1000 HP, but different robos take different amounts of damage from the same weapon. How is this decided, you ask? That's where the Custom part of Custom Robo comes into play.

I need guns. Lots of guns. -Neo

Each robo is made of 5 parts: a Body, a Gun, a Bomb, a Pod, and a set of Leg boosters.

-The Body is the basic framework of the robo, and decides movement speed, air options, defense, etc.
-The Gun is exactly that: the primary projectile weapon the robo has. Guns vary in firing rate, power, range, etc.
-The Bomb is a secondary weapon: an aim-able explosive, often used for traps or firing over walls.
-The Pod is another support explosive, deployed at will. They each have different behavior once deployed, offering several options for defense, traps, etc.
-The Legs, while offering no active options, give buffs, affecting jump height, run speed, air dashes, and the like.

The flow of battle is controlled by the "Downing" system. Each robo can take a certain amount of damage in short succession before it is overloaded and disabled. This is decided by the Body Part. Each weapon also has different affinity for downing an enemy, (it's a separate stat, not based on numerical damage). The caveat to this system is that each robo has a tackle. How exactly this tackle works, be it a lateral dash, a jump, or whatever else, is dependent on the body. This requires contact, so you have to put yourself in danger, but a successful tackle is an immediate Down, no matter what. Quite the boon.

A Downed robo will fall down, completely open to attack, for a few seconds, after which it will reboot, stand up, and be invulnerable for another few seconds. This helps ensure that the battles aren't always completely one-sided.

While all of that may sound a bit complex (details, details, details!), it works very smoothly, and soon becomes second nature to the player. The statistics of the weaponry usually stand secondary to the use/style. I, for instance, often used the Gatling Gun because I like the fact that it fires a stream of 8 shots and has solid range, not because of it's damage rating or knockdown stat. You kind of get a sense of how well you do certain things with your robo as you play.

The environments are of particular note. "Holosseums" as they're called, are virtual arenas, and are fairly expansive. If we were to scale the robos up to about 6 feet tall (from their in-universe size of ludicrously small), the arenas would usually be around 100 foot squares, but sometimes that's not the case. Fights can take place in virtual bowls (no, seriously, you fight in a Chinese restaurant, and the holosseum is a bowl), long rectangles, etc. This really helps mix up the fights, since you don't just have to maneuver towards, away, and around your opponent, you have to take into consideration the walls, conveyor belts, destructible obstacles, moving platforms, lava pits, and even just flat ground.

Seriously, guys, a BOWL.

Now that I've got all that battle stuff out of the way, let's take a look everything surrounding it. You know, the story, and presentation, and all that jazz.

The music isn't really anything special, and it won't stick with you, but it's by no means bad. It does what it needs to, and nothing more. I have no reason to mention anything else about it.

The characters aren't original (Reluctant Hero, Angry Boss, Silly Comic Relief Friend, etc) but they work well together, and DO advance the story. The style is not for everyone, but the animations during story sequences are wonderfully off-the-wall and out-of-place. I enjoyed them through some strange sense of camp.

Japanese text makes Harry no less ridiculous.

Oh, right, there's that there story thing. It's an RPG, it has to have a story, right?. Well, yeah, okay, but how is it? It's actually not totally terrible. Surprising given the fact that the biggest emphasis of the game is the fights. That said, even drawing inspiration from countless sci-fi stories and a little bit of The Matrix, the story still manages to be bland. Honestly, you'll be playing this game for the action, and... really, nothing else.

Navigation is between hotspots. Nothing special. Or all that good, for that matter.

The game knows it, too. After working your way through the main story, you unlock a second campaign, consisting of nothing but scored tournament fights. This is where you'll unlock all the parts you didn't get the first time around. Also, since you get a battle score from this, you'll push yourself to do better on the fights, which is kinda cool, but it almost feels like a lame excuse to make you play when you could just go into Versus mode against CPU opponents. This second campaign often introduces restrictions to keep the play varied. Appreciated, but kind of unnecessary. Also really annoying when your parts of choice don't make the cut.

This is a robo from the intro FMV. I think he's unlockable... Not important.

Versus mode is, in fact, one of the game's strongest pulls. Again, relating it to the fighting game characteristics it has, the fights are even more fun when it's your buddy who you just blasted. And, since everyone gets to pick from the same parts, they all get to have their varied robos without anyone having a distinct advantage just because they're a higher 'level'. (the best robo parts are marked as being 'illegal', but players can choose whether or not to include them) And, since the battles can be set up as 2-4 robos, free-for-all, teams, tag, and all that fun stuff, it stays interesting.

4 people? This is madness! No, it isn't. It's just multiplayer.

A perfect game this is not. The controls all work well (face buttons controlling jump/gun/tackle, triggers controlling bomb/pod), but your gun is always pointed towards your opponent, so you don't get to destroy walls unless they're between the two of you, or you spam bombs at it, which takes a while. The narrative is mostly uninteresting, included solely to give you an excuse to play through the battles. The battles themselves, thankfully, are excellent, though the difficulty curve is a bit wonky. You'll spend the first part fighting easy robos, learning the ropes, then settle into a plateau phase until the aforementioned 'illegal' parts come into play, at which point you face more difficult opponents until the last boss fight, then return to (most of the time) the plateau phase for the second campaign.



It's a good game, and its problems never really get in the way of having fun. That said, the short and shallow presentation of the main story may be a dealbreaker for some folk. The action is fun, and has significant depth for those willing to look for it, but that may not be enough for everyone.   read

7:29 PM on 02.23.2010

My Expertise: Diversity.

I don't mean this to be a complete and utter hate post, but I feel that this month's topic is seriously lacking in one VERY important area.

That, dear friends, is diversity.

Not racial, ethnic, cultural, or anything of that nature. Diversity of skills. Take your own gaming habits. Are you a retro gamer? RPG fan? Twitch shooter junkie? Strategy genius?

Or are you, like me, some kind of mix?

Think about it. To pride yourself on (and, in effect, boast about) one expertise you have is to ignore ALL the other things you do.

I love the Megaman series. And the NES Ninja Gaiden games. And Battletoads.

Based on that knowledge, you might peg me as a Retro gamer, or a fan of difficult games. I like a challenge.

True, but what if I say I pay Halo, Doom, Perfect Dark, and Bioshock?

You'd probably say I was a shooter fan, and a lover of First Person perspective.

If I was to say I like Final Fantasy IX, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age: Origins, you'd take me for an RPG nerd.

The problem? All of those things I said are true. So what am I? Retro? Shooter? RPG?

All that and more, dear friends.

So look beyond any one thing you're good at. Look at the myriad of different games you enjoy. Realize that you are more than a label. Refuse Destructoid's attempt to define us based on one choice.

Be who YOU want to be, and give the finger to the system.

As you can see, my expertise is ruining everyone else's fun.


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