"We constantly have to revisit 'Why would Donkey Kong do this?' or 'Why would this environment be like this?' And then we start thinking: 'We're making a game about a gorilla wearing a tie.'"
-Michael Kelbaugh of Retro Studios on Donkey Kong Country Returns
"I have to say it's kinda scary how much you know about this game."
-Nicolau Chaud creator of Marvel Brothel
EVO 2010 just wrapped up this past weekend and I for one am amazed at the hours I spent watching the tournaments. I dunno, this felt like an E3 for me. Something I can blog vent about to just clear the mind of all the information that went into it. For years I questioned the Koreans and their love of Starcraft, but now I think I'm starting to get it. I'm not saying I would ever watch a Starcraft tournament, since I get bored sometimes while playing an RTS. Fighting games however are a different beast. Two talented competitors fighting against each other, mono e mono, just seems more interesting to watch.
Right now we are in a fighting resurgence. The rise of online gaming has given this once forgotten genre a reboot as people of all nations can fight each other head to head without the use of an arcade. Pair that with MMA rising to become a household term, and we are seeing a lot of attention being payed to man against man combat. I bring up MMA because its a combat sport that has many diverse fighting styles inside of it similar to Tekken and Street Fighter. Plus I'm a fan of MMA and gaming so I'm gonna bring it in here as a slightly recurring analogy.
This years EVO contained 6 tournaments. Melty Blood, Marvel vs Capcom 2, Tekken 6, Super Street Fighter 4, Tatsunoko vs Capcom and Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix were the games on focus. I never really noticed before EVO, but all 5 games play extremely different. Melty Blood is largely combo heavy with lots of parries. Marvel vs Capcom 2 being 3 member team based is more erratic, but the highest level play breaks the team structure down to a basic attacker/tank/support structure. Tekken 6 is largely about ensuring combos with the most effective users being able to read and counter with a long stream of combo. Super Street Fighter 4 is strategy structured with parries, counters and special moves used to chip away at the opponents life. Tatsunoko from what I saw tended to focus more on a strong main with a strong assist as many of the main stage characters had a hard time coming back once the main went down. Street Fighter 2 HD Remix is played like a fencing match with lots of baiting and blocking to land big strikes.
I've been out of the fighting game for a long time with the only one still somewhat active to me being Virtua Fighter 5, which sadly no one plays. This tournament however gripped me better than than even the World Cup this weekend. Largely I think this is because of the commentary that was presented. I'm going to bring up MMA again as I think one of the best features in the UFC is the quality of talent paired with great commentary from, of all people, Joe Rogan.
It was really the drop in commentary talent during the Tekken 6 pool play that showcased how good all of the Street Fighter commentary really was. Almost all of EVO has commentary from active participants in the tournaments. During the Tekken tournament they brought a commentator on that started trash talking a fighters character choice. In a tournament where players try their best with the fighters they are most comfortable with, this guy just went on and on about how crappy a character it was. Not with any real detail about why it was so crappy, just to troll. Thankfully the Tekken finals replaced those commentators with some pretty good ones so I guess that helped.
Compared to the hype I felt after watching the Super Street Fighter IV pools, this turned me completely off of the Tekken one. This was also followed by a fairly confusing Melty Bloodfinal that made what was on screen more complicated than what was going on in the commentary. That drop in talent all changed when Marvel vs Capcom 2 showed up on stage. The commentary had a lot of insight into the competitors regional history and the strengths of the fighters. This continued all the way up to the Marvel vs Capcom 3 event when they decided to bring Adam Sessler in to commentate.
I respect the man as a gamer, I just don't think Adam Sessler is a guy who presents himself as the type of player I am. His commentary on Marvel vs Capcom 3 was actually decent. Mostly because he's had hands on time with it at E3, but mainly because its something that many were seeing for the very first time with competitors at such a high level. My problem was when he stayed on for the Finals of the Super Street Fighter 4 tournament. He definitely didn't seem like he's played a good deal of Super Street Fighter 4 and compared to the commentators from before he had no real knowledge of the match situation. He continuously would say a fighter was up two points to one when a fighter swept the first match and lost the first round of the second match. This is most likely because he was working, or maybe not even there, for the rest of the tournament. For the finals I'd have liked somebody who at least knew the basics of the rules and the system to be sitting next to Seth Killian.
When I brought up the UFC earlier I brought it in for its role in commentary. The UFC has two announcers much like Seth and Adam for its fights. A man by the name of Mike Goldberg plays the every man to Joe Rogan's expert commentary. The difference is that Mike's putting on an act and knows the sport fairly well. Adam Sessler doesn't. And after an entire weekend of varying talent in commentating, this was probably the most frustrating to listen to.
Man, oh man, what a breath of fresh air Seth Killian is to game commentating. I knew vaguely that he did some tournament stuff and also worked as the Capcom Community Manager, but his commentary was leagues above anything I had heard that weekend. He criticized poorly timed jumps, dropped combos and strategies with expert analysis and critiques. He was floating around the show all throughout the tournament and when somebody had to take a break Seth would jump in at random intervals and just brighten up the excellent fights that were on display. He wasn't the only one that did a good job. As I said above the Tekken 6 finals commentary was good. The Marvel vs Capcom 2 commentary was better, but those guys have a decade more in experience with the game. The revolving talent in the Super Street Fighter 4 and HD Remix was really equally impressive as well.
On to the fights. First off I really like the way the tournament is set up. The end results of each fight separate competitors into winner brackets and loser brackets. Winner moves on and the loser has to battle other losers to get a chance to advance. The big catch is that the Grand Final forces the loser bracket to double the wins of the winner's bracket champion. It's a system that punishes and rewards those that fall into the loser bracket. It really enforces the underdog mentality of the challengers instead of just making it single elimination.
Many of the older or smaller games didn't get streaming until they reached the Final 8. I didn't tune in until a little ways in to the pool play of Super Street Fighter 4 so I missed the Tatsunoko vs Capcom pool play, however I have to say coming away from all the fights that Tatsunoko was the least appealing to me as a gamer. Melty Blood was niche and I knew that, but I had hopes for Tatsunoko and while the level of competition was extremely high, I wasn't as impressed by the skills of the fighters. Especially the ease of decimation a professional can put on a giant character. Unfortunately this is due to range instead of just talent which seems to me like a balancing issue.
I didn't tune in to Melty Blood until the Grand Final, which was extremely one sided. It also played fairly boring as a copy cat match. Watching the Marvel vs Capcom 2 finals though taught me how I should be approaching my play. This was really big for me as I played the Dreamcast version a lot 10 years ago, but haven't played much of it until I got into it the XBLA version at the end of last year. From there I've learned how truly rusty I am with my biggest challenge being my timing in the switches and assists. From what I've seen the main focus is to have a strong main get boosted by a tank and have a strong aerial counter for the third assist. Hopefully from watching these videos I can gain a different perspective on my teams and how to move forward with them. Shame this is the last year for Marvel vs Capcom 2 at EVO.
I haven't touched Tekken since renting 4, so I'm actually very impressed with the design of the new game. I'm not really sure if I'll be picking up Tekken, but it fell off my radar at one point and is now back on it. The focus on combos is huge as always and utilizing the arenas to fit a players strength is something that I'd really forgotten. Using a wall can greatly increase the combo strength. I was impressed. Mostly because you have levels where you can attack sheep or pigs that are actually different from each other. The sheep level is open ended while the pig level is caged in. It actually makes for different strategies yet you are still kicking the crap out of livestock.
Street Fighter 2 HD Remix reminded me why I suck at Street Fighter. When Street Fighter 4 was announced many people were calling it a Street Fighter 2 clone. That's really only partially correct. Like I said above, I play Virtua Fighter. Street Fighter hasn't been my scene since Third Strike on the Dreamcast. But I definitely saw a difference between Street Fighter 2's combat system and 4's combat system. First off to be competitive in Street Fighter 2, you need to maximize damage dealt while maintaining defense through blocks. Street Fighter 4's matches take longer as combatants have higher life bars with a parry system that adds a higher chance of counter opportunities. This increase in counter play cautions players and really makes strategy a new thing. I can also understand the reason for sticking with all the older fighters in 4 from this. The newer system needs to penetrate not only hardcore fight fans, but the casual ones too. Putting in characters that everyone knows seems and building on them with a new counter system makes it a bit easier than 3 was for people. For fight fans this is probably very obvious, but to me this was a new revelation.
So for Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix I watched as the damage and movements are much more restricted forcing for a greater anticipation of opponents moves compared to the newest iteration. Unlike some of the others thoug, I'm not sure that I'll be a better Street Fighter 2 player from watching this tournament.
Every competition has a team, a fighter, or a surprise that people just tend to gravitate towards. Almost everyone rooted against Daigo, just because its just fun to see the underdog come through some times. I had a personal grudge against Daigo as every time he played my computer lagged up. My personal fighter of the tournament was Vangief. As was explained to me throughout the pools section of the Super Street Fighter 4 tournament, Zangief was nerfed in this version much like Sagat was. This obviously forced many fighters to change up their attack strategies. Unlike Sagat, Zangief has always been an odd duck in the Street Fighter universe. As a close range fighter in a game highlighted with projectiles, he's all about taking damage to dish out damage. It's a tough system that rarely pays out. With a nerfed Zangief, it makes players vastly increase the amount of risk the character has to take. Vangief pulled it out numerous times against top class fighters and made a very impressive showing as he made his way to top 8. Using a golden Mecha Zangief was also kinda badass.
The other highlight of the this tournament was Gamerbee. In the pools section there were a few Adon players that just couldn't get it together to advance to higher match play. Commentators went over how it was just because Adon isn't a top tier fighter. Then Gamerbee showed up and shot that down real fast. His timing was just impeccable against top tier characters like Rufus, and a Justin Wong controlled Rufus at that. He just seemed to have a great strategy of overwhelming characters in the corner that seemed to just disappear during the final day of competition. Still, he was completely unexpected and came out and put on a show.
The best fights of the entire show for me were the Justin Wong vs Vangief fight and the incredible Sabin vs Lamerboi match from Super Street Fighter 4. Justin Wong being the former EVO Street Fighter 4 champ had a very hard time against both Gamerbee and Vangief in his failed attempt at the top 8. His fight against Vangief was epic however as two non-projectile using fighters went back and forth with Rufus trying to chip away damage and Zangief trying hard to get in close. I mean just look at the footsies* by Zangief.
The Sabin vs Lamerboi fight was just intense. Sabin differentiated himself from the others right away with a very intense Dhalsim that kept pressure from very far away while punishing those who got in close. Then we had this nearly ten minute epic fight against Lamerboi's strong Guile. It really has to be watched to be appreciated as they both battled hard for dominance. This also wasn't Sabin's first fight against a Guile as he fought a war with Warahk earlier in the tournament.
I will have to say that Tekken 6 just isn't as flashy as Super Street Fighter 4. I believe its the devastatingly high combo count that just removes the appearance of skill. Not saying that there isn't skill in Tekken, I just think that as an audience member the fight doesn't appear as technical. The highlight of the Tekken 6 tournament was a Law fighter named Rip during the finals. His dominance and subsequent use of taunts in the matches preceding the Grand Final made him seem like a jackass, but he was winning in dominant fashion with moves that shouldn't have landed. That is until he made it to the Grand Final and fought Nin.
It looked like the same story in the first round, but then everything changed once Nin got comfortable. While not as back and forth interesting, it was a bit fun to see him get some comeuppance. I really don't feel too bad for saying that. He got one of those big bad ass fight sticks signed by Harada.
Speaking of Harada, him popping up and ambushing Ono on stage was amazing. I don't know what Ono is releasing this week, but I'm actually paying attention now.
I guess one of the last things I want to take note of is the addition of a Womens Bracket for Super Street Fighter 4. Most people on here have a general disdain for the gamer girl. Not because you need to have to have testicles to play tha video games, but because in a community where you are connected by your hobby, labeling yourself as something different brings unwanted attention.
In saying that, I'm really not sure if I'm cool with a Womens tournament. On the one hand, every competitor of that tournament had to compete in the main one. No exceptions. On the other hand, why should we as gamers set something up for people who couldn't advance out of the main tournament. I'm not saying a woman couldn't advance, I'm saying a woman didn't advance. It almost seems as if EVO predicted that a woman couldn't stand toe to toe with Daigo and decided to make them feel special for competing with the big boys. As a promotional piece however it probably did pretty well. Kayane is kinda cute and she did have a strong showing against Burn Your Bra. As a gamer however, I just can't accept the inclusion of this when they could have had any other fighting game that both a man and a woman could compete in showcased during that time slot. I do have to say though that apparently some of the women refused to participate in the tournament and I'm actually kinda disappointed in that. The girls should have had enough confidence to be able to say "I'm gonna win both tournaments and do away with this Womens bracket stuff". Also, Firefox keeps telling me that "womens" is not a word. I don't think it is either, but that's what was showing up on the Evo2k stream site so that's kinda what I have to call this.
Finally, something about Marvel vs Capcom 3. Still not sure if I like the style of it, Iron Man looks like his armor is made of leather and Morrigan looks to be wearing a jetpack, but it's looking a little better than what I saw originally. The Spider-man stage is just amazing in concept with the lift constantly rising til it reaches the top. Deadpool looks or plays very similar to Spidey which is odd to me, but he'll probably replace Cable with the guns. Chris Redfield looks like a douche. At least to play against. Bombs in the ground, bombs in the air and a strong shotgun make for a very convincing support character. Almost everything else looks exactly the same as Marvel vs Capcom 2 except for the fact that it took so long to knock people out. This is obviously a damage tweaking issue.
In closing, I think this event went over surprisingly well. There were some serious lag issues, hopefully due to unexpected interest in the fights, during the first day that was expertly fixed by splitting the streams. The final match between Daigo and Ricky Ortiz did however drop which was infuriatingly unfortunate. I really do hope this next year bolsters the fighting game scene as it was really nice to see a well planned show like this. Maybe if this was successful, they'll show the Japanese EVO tournament that is set for later this year.
Also, I need to buy a fightstick or more realistically the cheaper mad catz fightpad. I can't pull anything off with my 360 pad and after watching these guys for 3 days, I'm rather ashamed at how hard it is for me to get my sonic boom to work.
*Footsies is a term that references the foot work used to keep opponents in and out of reach.