[It's time for another Monthly Musing -- the monthly community blog theme that provides readers with a chance to get their articles and discussions printed on the frontpage. -- CTZ]
War has changed.
The battlefield is a very different place to what it used to be. Tight-knit shootouts in empty corridors, made up of pathways, pipes, dilapidated complexes and bare-textured temples have all but been vanquished. The days in which people would be drawn together by battle, where your strongest of kin could also represent your greatest of enemies, have vanished. Instead, they have been replaced by a new age of soldiers being dropped into ever raging warzones, fighting entire squadrons of an unknown enemy, for an unknown reason. ID tagged people with ID tagged weapons, and ID tagged special raise-dead abilities fill the barren spaces which used to characterize war as we knew it.
Now, it has taken an entirely different persona altogether; one who insists that only a fraction of my time will be spent attempting to re-create the tense, corridor based strafe-outs I fondly recall from the days of old, and the other percentage lying horizontally on the ground waiting for a damn medic to come and revive me. I’m not quite sure I like this guy.
“Dear The Multiplayer First-Person Shooter Genre, if we are to get along in the near future, please make it so I don’t suck anymore. Yes, I know, we’ve had our good moments together, running around and gunning people down then hearing that rewarding bleepy sound which tells me I’ve earned a couple of points. But still, and I’m sure I speak for many as I say this, I always have to put up with that guy. That Damn Guy. He’s the one where when I’m averaging about forty points on a game of Killzone 2, he’s managed one-hundred and fifty, and appears to be some kind of deathless lord of murdering people without being so much as touched, even though we all have the same controls.
Worse are the unfortunate games when that guy is on the opposite team, or I’m facing off against more than one of that guy, like the time where I only managed one pathetic kill against them within ten minutes, quit in frustration and didn’t play you for a week. Anyway, I hope you read this, and if you respond I might consider throwing you ten pounds for the new map pack bundle, which while being immensely tempting, I’ve since been too sucky to justify it.
An avid fan who’s interested in not being crap at games anymore.”
I’ve always been a fan of first person shooters, but it was around the end of the last console generation to the start of this one where I realized I was really rubbish and lost interest. My lazy half hours before heading off to high school were usually spent with my brother and a bunch of friends, hanging out at my place for a few sessions of Goldeneye or Perfect Dark -- whichever one was the newest at the time. I grew up with those games as some of my favourites, and I was mostly always the best out of us at playing them. Occasionally I’d be floored from being overpowered, or a shot in the back when my concentration resided elsewhere, but mostly I was blazing up the field with my trusty pair of MagSec4’s -- best dual wield ever -- accurately placing bullets into anything that moved. (Note: How I chose to remember it may not reflect my then-actual skill level) But, as high school moved on along with my friends, there birthed a new generation where the Internet carried much of my gaming influence. I wasn’t fighting against my living room anymore; I was now against the rest of the world. And in relation to the rest of the world, I’m utterly terrible.
It’s only recently that I came about my desire to return to to the genre, with the excellent Killzone 2 as my chosen battlefield. And why, apart from being mesmerised by the lovely high-definition graphics? Because as a gamer, who enjoys not only playing, but the culture and the experience that is associated with this pastime, I really want to be good at what everyone else is good at! Watching other people perform nigh-impossible moves, such as blocking every single strike of a special attack in Street Fighter, or twitching your way to victory in Counter Strike is thrilling to me, because it provides a degree of real skill and focus which is enthralling to watch. And I think, I want to be able to do that too!
Heck, even watching someone successfully complete the second level of Bit Trip. Beat would impress me!
Recently, instead of rushing through a game on the medium difficulty setting as was the old standard, I’ve began to up my ante. From starting Killzone 2 on Veteran, to playing Gears of War on Hardcore, I’m taking those small steps that are necessary to keep up to speed in the genre. And boy, is it those small steps that count! This brings me to my Tip 1 for being good at games: perseverance is key. Even if it feels as if you’re spending time and getting nowhere, don’t give up, because you’re probably learning some little tricks that you don’t even realize. All time can be time well spent, which is relative to everyone; free up the time, and you can accomplish anything.
Unfortunately however, there were some brief flings around the gaming circuit I’ve experienced which I knew outright, weren’t the kinds of things I could ever really excel at. I strongly believe that if you have the will to learn something, you can. With that will however comes patience; a kind of patience which I can conjure up on occasion. Particularly, not the occasions where I’m continuously getting my head bashed in by unknown assailants and supposedly easy CPU’s.
I’d love to think that the video that did its rounds on the Internet a few years back, of that person playing Street Fighter 3rd Strike (I think as Chun-Li; then again it could have been Marvel Vs Capcom for all I know!) who blocked every single special attack in a combo, did so by pressing the away direction on the D-Pad, or even by hammering down a button. But I know it didn’t. I know it took rhythm, precision, lightning-quick reactions, and a whole host of other words I could thesaurus for “accuracy,” in order to pull off so perfectly. A sixth sense even, is required in some of these games to anticipate what your opponent will do next. This is the kind of skill that even if I were competent at beat-em-ups, I could never even aspire to, since it’s so far beyond me. Rubbing salt in my own sense of inadequacy was the time I paid money for, and first played Street Fighter IV; the beginning of my very short, very unsuccessful delve into the fighting genre.
(Disclaimer: I’ve never actually touched the fighting genre before, outside of a few plays on a friend’s copy of Street Fighter II: Turbo, so this was my very first real exposure to their brutality. Unlike the FPS’ which I grew up with, I completely missed the beat-em-up generation owning a Nintendo 64, only really having forgettable dross such as Fighters Destiny if I desired a fix. Which brings me to my Tip 2 of being good at games: it appears bloody important that you be born playing the genre! The blank slate of a young person’s mind has all the capacity it needs to register every single combo and character tell in a fighting game, but for an older guy in loss of that childlike freedom absolutely zero background knowledge, it can be a real uphill struggle. Learn as much as you can when you’re young kids! It’ll help limit the many self-esteem crushing defeats you could potentially experience in later life!)
I’ve mentioned that my new gamer’s resolution was to increase the difficulty of the games I play to make mastering them more satisfying. Well, Street Fighter IV is the first game I experienced in this period where I actually had to lower the difficulty level. Twice. No, sorry, make that three times; I’m still regularly getting my face served back by Seth on anything but the Easiest setting unless I change to single-round matches which I think is cheating, but can just about scrape Easy mode. Now, I can vouch that experiencing this over-and-over is a certainly real de-motivator to ever wanting to play this sodding punishment of a game again. Yet I still come crawling back on all fours, like an underachieving student to his master in some overblown kung-fu movie, wanting for it to teach me all its secrets.
Seth: noun: a total bitch that cheats. Also looks a bit like Dr. Manhattan.
My affair with Street Fighter began in the short period of a few months prior to the game’s release. I’d been building my interest in the fighting genre, much thanks given to the incredibly pretty, ink-splatting art style I’d witnessed in the trailer, and the amount of press that media outlets were giving this series’ installment. Hearing about it at every turn often left me confused, wondering why I wasn’t naturally getting pumped for this epic scale announcement that everyone but me appeared to have the hots for and that finally, maybe it was time I should start caring. So I did.
For a bearing of how much of an amateur I am, it’s been two months with the game, and I still haven’t managed to pull off a single Ultra Combo. I only decided to venture out of Arcade mode and find the challenges which teach every move about a week ago, and I still am completely unable to finish a revenge move. I only learned that pressing two buttons mane an EX attack when I moved to a HDTV, because I couldn’t comprehend the tiny writing on the old standard def; I just thought my opponents were cheating when they started glowing yellow. Oh, and also, I play Ryu because “he’s the main dude.” It’s quite the one way relationship I share with Street Fighter; he tries to hold my hand, and guide me through his all-knowing discipline, while I just stumble about without a clue in the world of what he’s trying to say.
A meeting with ambivalence. I love it so much, but I hate the way it treats me. What should I do!
But that’s why I continue to play Street Fighter. Regardless of how terrible I am, every time I put that disc in I seem to learn something new, whether it’s a single new move I manage, or a satisfying combo string which for a split second will make me feel like I can accomplish a lot more to the genre. The constant drip-feed of information makes an addictive game for newbies, while the skilled can get into the more technical aspects. Yes, it’s true that right now I feel like I’m not getting as much from the game as I’d like, and that achieving the reason I brought it in the first place is a far cry from my current skill level (ninja reflexes don’t grow on trees), but there is that hope. Maybe, at some point, if I play it every day for the next two years and put the rest of my life on hold, I’ll be able to finally conquer medium mode! Okay, maybe not hope, but casual optimism nonetheless.
I can’t fault the game that kicks my arse every day, because I know that they mean well. Even if they do have a habit of leaving a bitter taste inside. Similarly are the outings in which I visit the DDR room down the London arcades; after awkwardly posing my way through three songs on medium then having the asian kid half my size with a popped baseball cap tearing the floor up on the hardest setting like he’d been born strapped to one of these infernal machines and told his entire family would be killed if he didn’t average an A rank on every song. Bloody kids.
This is the first image that comes up if you Google "ddr hardest song." I was quite shocked, especially considering I'd already made my generalization that Asian's with baseball caps are naturally just better at Dancing Stage.
By the way, I suck at DDR too. It’s not the only thing I’m terrible at but would like to improve either. I can’t play RTS, and was incredibly impressed with my distant memory of completing Advance Wars: Dual Strike until I remembered I used a guide for pretty much that entire game. It helped explain why I can barely play Dark Conflict/Days of Ruin without giving up in frustration. I have little patience for games like Elder Scrolls which promise massive game hours and choices, because I don’t like the idea of being given a massive time investment. And as far as shmups go, it’s a fair assessment that I haven’t developed the right reactions to get by them. I can’t really get into the massively praised Alien Hominid, simply because I’m not good enough at it.
I may be practicing the art of being crap at many different genres, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy them. While someone guy is carefully calculating the hit radius of laser fire in Ikaruga, or dancing Wavedashes around Super Smash Bros. Melee, I’ll be the one somewhere in the back, looking on with glazed eyes, amazed at some of the talent that exists within this world.
I may be shit, but I can still find inventive ways to enjoy it.
I’m sure many others have opened a blog with the first line of MGS4, and I’ll proudly join their ranks. I bet not many of them managed to force in that ID tag bit too!
Or, alternatively, you could go with the secret option which I once overheard from a proud warrior of Killzone 2, whose words went a little something like, “Major rank? I managed to get to that on my first day!” Any player of the game knows that achieving that particular ranking takes a heck of a lot of play -- it took me around a month. Which brings me to my Tip 3 for being good at games: put on some coffee, throw away everything in the rest of your life, and just go nuts for about ten hours straight in front of the TV every day. Guaranteed success, that one, or your money back!