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6:53 PM on 07.14.2014

Fighting Games and Familiarity

[EDIT: I was informed that this was unreadable; once I finally saw it on my page, I noticed that the font was invisible somehow, so I tried to fix it. I hope you can read my rambling nonsense now]

(This blog was inspired by the recent furor over Smash Bros. and I wanted to add my two cents to it, but while also discussing the fighting game genre as a whole. I'm not all that good at getting to the point sometimes, so forgive me if I tend to ramble on a bit.)

(I also want to preface this by saying that I am not in any way, shape. or form a serious competitive player, least of all in Smash Bros.; I only play fighting games casually, so I apologize in advance if I flub up anything at all about any of them. Please understand.)

Before I go anywhere else, I want to say that I find it sad that in the world of Smash and what it should or shouldn't be for whoever wants to play it, that there is absolutely no room for a middle ground compromise: the new game for Wii U and 3DS (to the competitive player) really does have to be Melee with new characters or it will be abandoned FAST, before the end of the year even. I also want to point out that this is hardly a new concept, but only as it regards to this community in particular that they will completely disregard any sequel that doesn't play precisely like the previous game. Sure, they'll give this new game a chance, but given that people are already analyzing what can and cannot be done, I give this game in its current state a month (if that) before the competitive community goes back to Melee and stays there.

I've been around long enough to know how things go in the FGC; this is hardly a new concept. Street Fighter III was shunned upon its release for numerous reasons: dropping every character except Ryu and Ken being the biggest one on the surface (and original plans didn't have them in the game either, believe it or not), and the other being that parrying completely changed the effectiveness of standard projectiles, and I'm pretty sure that wasn't an accident. Tekken was also big at the time, and that factored into it too, but it took YEARS before Street Fighter III was praised on any level for its complexity (which brought another problem; it was too complex for its own good, and it scared off new players completely. To this day, Street Fighter III is only played by the hardest of the hardcore as far as I know).

When Street Fighter IV dropped, I knew many players in my scene at the time that HATED it because it wasn't SFIII and it simplified things. They despised the entire concept of Ultra combos because it was a comeback mechanic that fighting games prior to it (outside of older SNK games) simply didn't have. "Street Fighter EX4" was a common derisive comment thrown at it, which is kinda funny to me since Focus Attacks are in their own way, a refined version of the Guard Crush attacks that the original Street Fighter EX introduced. But those players (who I still talk to on a regular basis) NEVER embraced Street Fighter IV, but instead of going back to Street Fighter III, they simply found different fighting games to get into instead (they like the NetherRealm games and Killer Instinct, for example). They just admitted that they weren't into the style, and moved onto something else.

Personally, I like that in the realm of 2D fighting games, that there are basically five different types in the wild right now, and each has their own strengths and weaknesses:

1. Street Fighter IV, which emphasize mind games, zoning, poking, and footsies over ridiculous mobility. Combos are usually simple enough for anyone to execute, but the more advanced techniques do take quite a bit of time to master.

2. Marvel vs. Capcom 3, which is all about picking the right team to compliment each characters' strengths, and being able to shutdown the opponent's movement options and/or execute touch of death combos (in fighting game terms, a touch of death combo is one that does 100% damage on the opponent, regardless of how much health they have). A common criticism/complaint about this game is "if your opponent has a chance to play, you're doing it wrong".

*SkullGirls is sorta cut from this cloth, but it's far more controlled (characters can't fly, for one), and there are systems in place in order to prevent stupidly easy touch of death combos as well as infinites.

3. The King of Fighters, which is (in my opinion) the most technical 2D fighting game on the market today. There are four different types of jumps, evasive rolling, and a run. Long form combos require very strict timing, and having to manage two different meters means that you may not necessarily have access to all of your attack options at the same time.

4. Arc Systems Works games, also referred to (with affection or scorn depending on who's saying it) as "anime", "airdashers", or (and this is always with derision) "weeaboo" games, have a very Japanese art style, insane movement options (most characters in these games have insane midair mobility, including double jumps, air forward and backward dashes, and sometimes triple jumps), and flashy, over the top super moves. Every character adheres to a universal set of rules, but certain characters are also governed by another set of rules unique to them (such as Rachel's Sylpheed meter in BlazBlue, Zato-One's Shadow meter in Guilty Gear, or Junpei's baseball HUD in Persona 4 Ultimax). To the outside observer, these matches look incredibly chaotic, but they were deliberately designed to emulate flashy anime fights.

5. NetherRealm games/Killer Instinct, or games made by western developers. Usually, every character has the exact same jump arcs and other movement options, with the only variations coming from their actual attacks. Combos are emphasized, but implemented differently, and in the case of Injustice, stage hazards come into play (and unlike Smash Bros,, some degree of control is usually involved to interact with them and aren't the result of random events).

With very few exceptions, most players that specialize in one type of these games do not migrate to others, unless the player has EXTREMELY good fundamentals that can translate to other games. Justin Wong and Chris G, for example, play games from groups 1, 2, and 5, but not 3 or 4; KaneBlueRiver, another tournament player, plays from groups 2 and 3, and sometimes 4, but not 1 or 5. Nearly everyone who plays Arc Systems Works games ONLY play Arc Systems Works games; same with NetherRealm players. Most Killer Instinct players also play Street Fighter IV.

There's something to familiarity; little rules can change as long as the fundamentals remain the same. A sequel to a game that brings large sweeping changes to the way the game is played usually don't last long in the competitive scene; you're more likely to set up a tournament King of Fighters '98, for example, over King of Fighters XI, a KOF game that had a MvC esque tagging system as opposed to the format it usually had. KOF XI wasn't a BAD game, far from it, but people found it overly complex (one independent reviewer tore it about XI assholes because he hated having to govern two meters, one of which you have NO control over how it filled up), and KOF XII went back to the original format.

(That KOF XII was an obvious beta is another subject for another time.)

Now, assuming I haven't lost any of you yet, what does ANY of this have to do with Smash Bros.? A lot, actually.

See, every game I've mentioned so far was designed to be a super competitive affair. Now that's not to say that Smash CAN'T be that, far from it actually; I know far too many people who ONLY play the game that way. But the problem is, at least how I see it, Masahiro Sakurai didn't design Smash Bros. Melee to be what the competitive scene turned it into.

I don't think Sakurai wanted this series to be what Melee (and Street Fighter III) became: a game that only the hardcore tournament players could play the way it was intended to. A Street Fighter III player with any rudimentary knowledge of parrying and EX special moves and the like could completely obliterate anyone with no knowledge of those techniques. And while the default response to this is "GET BETTER NOOB", the reality is most gamers will just quit and play something with a lower bar of entry. In 1996 (when Street Fighter III first came out), people frustrated with that game just played Tekken instead.

(It also didn't help that Tekken was available on PlayStation while Street Fighter III literally could not be ported there; that sort of thing would be unheard of now. In fact, Street Fighter III didn't see a console release until the Dreamcast. In 2000. Most people I knew preferred Tekken 3 and Soul Calibur by that point.)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with making the game super technical for the competitive crowd. Just as long as you understand that by doing so, you are limiting your audience. There is a reason why Street Fighter IV is always the main event of FG tournaments: not only is it the most accessible, it is by far the most balanced fighting game out there, where every character, in the hands of a skilled player, is capable of winning. A different character has won EVO every year, from various "tiers". By contrast, KOFXIII is only played by a very small set of people, and the effectiveness of EX Iori and Mr. Karate (DLC characters, by the way) means that nearly every high level team has at least one or both of those characters in it. And as much as I like Arc Systems Works games, those games have a very defined tier list, and characters from the lower tier characters (more often than not) simply do not have the tools and resources that are NECESSARY to beat a high tier character. ESPECIALLY in BlazBlue; Litchi and Azrael (the two characters in EVO's Grand Finals) are high tier characters. Not the highest of the high tier (Kokonoe and Valkenhayn outrank them on the list, last I checked), but they can compete with them. Compare them to say, Makoto and Bullet, who simply do not have the tools to hang with any high tier character REGARDLESS OF THE PLAYER'S SKILL LEVEL (skill levels, obviously being equal).

Again, sorry I've gotten off track, but bear with me.

Competitive Melee players want familiarity with what they know, and a certain subset of them (based on a petition I saw a while ago), want that in the new Smash game, AT THE EXPENSE OF ACCESSIBILITY FOR NEW PLAYERS. Their logic being, who gives a damn what casuals want, they'll buy the game anyway; cater this game to the community who's kept a freaking GAMECUBE GAME relevant for the last 13 years. And on some level, they kinda have a point.

I've had negative thoughts about the Competitive Melee community (and I don't use the term competitive Smash because really, they only play Melee) in the past, but not only do I actually kinda agree with them on this point, it's made me do a 180 on my way of thinking on the entire subject. Someone like me, who really doesn't give a damn about high level tournament play, is still going to play the new game (hopefully with people who don't take it so seriously this time), possibly while drunk, and do all kinds of crazy stuff with items and whatnot. If the competitive community wants all their competitive technique, why not let them have it? I mean, online play is already going to be segregated between the two camps; why not have all the advanced tech the tourney guys want if it's not going to have any effect on the way I play the game if I can avoid them online COMPLETELY? Hell, Street Fighter IV is simple enough for new people to get into it without it being completely intimidating; the same thing can happen here. All it needs is a very detailed tutorial explaining advanced techniques (and if I can be completely honest, Street Fighter IV NEEDS that, too. That's one thing they HAVEN'T done).

Normally, I'd emphasize barrier of entry over complexity, but Smash Bros. has one thing over traditional fighting games: IT DOESN'T PLAY LIKE ONE. Because tournament Smash is literally governed by a completely different set of rules from casual Smash, it really is like playing two completely different games. And Nintendo is FULLY AWARE OF THIS: why else would online play be segregated into "For Fun" and "For Glory"? As far as I'm concerned, the fact that this is even being done at all means that they know the competitive community exists, as well as how they like to play, so why not give them what they want if they can keep it within their own community?

Far be it for me to tell Sakurai how to make his game, because we all know how he feels about THAT, but for once, the competitive community does have a point. Maybe some of them could be more tactful (and more respectful in general) in getting the point across, but they do have a point. Let them play the game they want to play; I'll still be able to play mine.

Everyone has different tastes. Maybe one day, we don't have to be so vitriolic towards the people who don't play a video game the same exact way we do.   read

2:12 PM on 03.23.2012

The hypocrisy behind "art" games.


This is a rant. It will not be a popular one. I do not care. There will be no pictures.

I am sick and tired of the hypocrisy surrounding "art" games. As if every other video game isn't art. Last I checked, they're all made by artists. People draw concept art. Animators take that art and reimagine it in the space of a video game.


It is not a mutually exclusive term used to describe stuff that is barely a video game.

This is directed mainly at thatgamecompany. The irony in their name is incredible, considering that nothing they've ever made could even remotely be categorized as a "video game" in my eyes. They would've worked better as some artsy independent silent film. But this isn't limited to them.

But to the point as to why I think there's hypocrisy behind how art games are received, it's how reviewers talk about these "games'" mechanics (and I use the term "game" very loosely here) versus other, bigger games using the same mechanics.

I am sick and tired of seeing "art games" get praised for basing their entire "game" on a concept that gets shit on when it's a part of a bigger game.

Using Journey and Flower as an example, the entirety of those "games" (if you can call them that; I choose to call them a walking simulator and a screensaver, respectively) revolves around an unknown character in the middle of a desert (in Journey) and... I dunno who or what you're supposed to be in Flower (a sentient flower? The fucking wind?) trying to traverse the land in order to get from point A to point B. There is very little else to do in between point A and point B (and in Flower's case, there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING). And yet, these two "games" are actually regarded as two of the greatest experiences in the history of video games. And my question is "WHY!?" Especially when COUNTLESS other games get absolutely blasted for doing similar things with their overworlds?

Take, for example, No More Heroes: the entire point of that game is to illustrate how Travis Touchdown, the main character, basically lives his life as if it were a video game. To drive this point home, the game's overworld was intentionally made to be as barren and boring as humanly possible. There isn't anything to do in the world outside of going from point to point to do boring, tedious jobs, hunt for t-shirts in dumpsters, train, beat up on people, upgrade gear, and drop off money in an ATM to lead you to the next part of the game. This was intentional, and it was to show that the entire point of the overworld (or going outside, to a gamer) is to do just enough mundane crap to get enough money to get to the next part of the game (or to get a new game).

There was a message there. But reviewers didn't get it. They complained about how empty it is, that there was nothing to do, and in response to this, it was cut out entirely in the sequel. And then some people actually complained about the LACK of an overworld. Suda couldn't please anyone.

Flower is built completely on motion controls. Motion controls that are not perfect. If Nintendo made a Wii game like Flower, they would be accused of "killing the industry with waggle crap". They could never get away with making a "game" like Flower. So why does it get a pass on PS3? Because you're tilting a standard controller and not a remote? Because the graphics are in HD? Because as far as I know, that's the ONLY reason why Flower gets praised. If it was a Wii game, people would talk about how terrible it is, and for all the reasons I just outlined: It's a Nintendo game in SD that forces you to use motion controls. Lovely.

So to recap, that's but two of many instances where thatgamecompany gets praised for doing something that another company got dumped on for doing.

Speaking of Nintendo's inability to please anyone, next up is The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. This game gets a metric fuckton of hate, and one of the (admittedly many) complaints people have about this game is (guess what?) how unbelievably large and empty the overworld is. Never mind that there is plenty to do in this overworld, both with scripted events and in all the hidden items you can find. I never once found Twilight Princess' overworld empty and barren, and I bet that the same people who complained about this had absolutely NO PROBLEM with either Journey or Shadow of the Colossus, which is another game that is BUILT on minimalism. Now, I like Shadow of the Colossus. It's fine for what it is. But I think it's pretty damn hypocritical to call out Twilight Princess for having a barren overworld when SotC's overworld is BIGGER, there's LESS to do in it, AND you're fighting the horse who may or may not do what you tell him to do. Not to mention the whole "there's only 16 enemies to fight in the entire game" thing. Nintendo could've NEVER gotten away with doing ANY of this in a Zelda game. Sure, some people might've liked it, but most would've complained that "that isn't what Zelda is all about".

More importantly, all the feedback Nintendo got on Twilight Princess (namely, how much everyone hated that game's Hyrule Field) had a direct result on how Skyward Sword's game flow was ultimately structured. So to all of the people who complained about how the lower worlds were structured in that game (some said they were like corridors), well, I hope you weren't bitching about the field in Twilight Princess, because Nintendo got rid of the openness JUST FOR YOU.

That's three.

Final Fantasy XII and (I'm sure) Xenoblade have similar issues. The worlds in these games are MASSIVE and there's lots to do. Admittedly, I haven't played Xenoblade (because NoA was dragging their feet with it and as of this writing, it hasn't been released in the US yet), but I know FFXII was dogged at points for the sheer size of its overworld. At least FFXII is never boring. There's always something around to keep you on your toes.

A bigger point that I want to make though, is about how cryptic these "art games" are. About how it's okay to be cryptic in an "art game", but you better spell out every fucking thing there is in a regular game. ICO, as an example, teaches you absolutely nothing about the game's mechanics as you play it. If you've never played the game on PS2, and you only played it on PS3 (as I did), you might be a little confused about where you are supposed to go when you first rescue Yorda. Well, I was, and do you know why? Because AT NO POINT in the game, OR in the instruction manual, was I ever told that Yorda had the ability to open the statues strewn about at certain parts of the game. And even knowing that bit of information, it STILL wasn't enough, because I also wasn't told that Yorda is completely incapable of doing anything on her own unless Ico was literally dragging her by the hand. And this applies to EVERYTHING, by the way. She can't climb ledges on her own, either. Hell, the very concept of WALKING seems incredibly foreign to her unless you call for her, or you just hold her hand and drag her everywhere because she can't do a goddamn thing for herself (as I did). To make things even MORE cryptic (because it wasn't confusing enough), Yorda speaks a foreign language that not even THE GAME translates to the player. So you never have any idea what she is trying to tell you. It is, without a doubt, the WORST ally AI I have ever seen in a video game.

Yet, this is one of the reasons why ICO is so good to other gamers. A game that, at its core, is the longest escort mission in the history of video games. So why then does every other game that has an escort section in it usually derided as being the absolute worst part of that game? I've yet to hear one good thing about Resident Evil 4's escort mission. I hear all the time about how useless Ashley is, but at least I never have to drag her around by the hand because she's incapable of walking on her own like I had to do with Yorda. The ENTIRETY of ICO is an escort mission; why is that okay when it isn't okay to even have a small section of that in other games?

But I got off track.

The original point I wanted to make was that how I had to look up on GameFAQs what I found out about Yorda, because neither the game's manual or the game in context explained to me what I had to do to get Yorda to do anything I wanted her to do. I walked around the front room for a goddamn HOUR before I gave up and looked up on the internet as to what to do, because the game didn't even give me as much as a hint. I mean, yes, it's nice to have a game respect the intelligence of the player and not spell out everything, but guess what? GIVING THE PLAYER NOTHING IS JUST AS BAD. I don't see anyone saying how genius Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on NES is for not explaining anything about how that game worked, do you?

And yet, most NES games were built on confusing the crap out of the player. For example, Zelda II had more than a few characters that flat out admitted that they didn't know anything about anything. Konami flat out admitted that most of the townspeople in Castlevania II LIED to you. Now, I like Zelda II. I like Castlevania II (to a point). However, Zelda II and Castlevania II, in most circles, are considered to be the absolute worst games in their respective series (though Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess aren't far behind, because of "forced motion controls" and "empty overworlds", two things I already covered). Why is it bad for them to be cryptic, but it's okay for an "art game" to be? Because "you're supposed to figure it out on your own"? Then why do you need every non "art game" to spell everything out for you?

I understand that there is a space for "art games". I really do. My major beef with them is the hypocrisy surrounding their reviews. The shit those games get away with is appalling, especially when other games get shit on for DOING THE EXACT SAME THING. Don't tell me how barren Twilight Princess' overworld is, and then tell me there's some kinda artful message about why Shadow of the Colossus or Journey can get away with having LESS to do in their overworlds and then say THIS, this right here, is ART, while invalidating every other video game that doesn't fit your narrow view of what "art" is.

ALL VIDEO GAMES ARE WORKS OF ART. And it doesn't matter if your game involves shooting Nazis or walking around in a desert trying to get to Heaven (err, a mountain). IT IS ALL ART. Judge all of them the same, do not hold them to completely different standards. An empty world is an empty world, regardless of any context you wanna attach to them. Do not give one category of game a pass you'd NEVER give to another.

If No More Heroes and Twilight Princess' overworlds are barren, then so is Journey's. Don't justify Journey's with some stupid "message" about what "art" is.

Rant over.   read

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