tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

And now, a public service announcement

Some of you are probably aware of the imminent launch of Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition for PC. You’re probably also aware that the PC version uses Games for Windows Live to facilitate its online features. However, what became clear yesterday that was hitherto unknown was the game’s form of DRM.

Essentially, if you’re not signed into an online GfWL profile, you lose access to all but fifteen characters on the roster and can no longer save progress in things like Challenge Mode. This is essentially Capcom doing its best Ubisoft impression, or would be if it weren’t for the fact that Ubisoft has in fact ditched its always-on DRM for its more recent PC releases like Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Needless to say, it’s completely asinine, especially considering that GfWL has offline profiles to deal with this kind of crap in the first place.

What this means is that people without Internet access (for instance, at a tournament venue with unreliable Internet access) won’t be able to use over half the characters in the game. This is just a massive deal-breaker all around, and judging by the comments on the post I linked above lots of others seem to agree. There are several legitimate use cases for needing to be offline while playing games – in fact Ars Technica covered one angle I hadn’t considered a while back with their article about deployed soldiers being unable to play their favourite games because of a constant connection requirement.

But whatever – I’m not here to pontificate about the evils of DRM, as there are plenty of places you can go to for that sort of thing. All I wanted to say is that if you were looking at buying the PC version of Arcade Edition, and this rubs you the wrong way, go leave a comment on that news post or send an email to Christian Svensson to let Capcom know how you feel about this issue.

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The future is dead

Earlier this week there were rumblings that Masaaki Kukino, producer on KOF XII and KOF XIII, had left SNK Playmore as of November of last year. Today, this rumour was unfortunately confirmed, along with some other facts by a French games journalist posting at Dream Cancel:

I have confirmation of Kukino leaving. French contact that made interview of Kukino contacted him in the beginning of january and kukino admited it. We didn’t spread the info as we considered Kukino would admit it himself when the time was right.
More than that, SNKP president wants to close video game section. Here the message i sent to other sites :
It’s Neithan from 2HP.
You probably heard of the departure of kukino, the game director of kof XIII from snkp. SpekSNK supposed it was a rumor but I can confirm it to you.
One of my contact in Japan did the interview of Kukino for french website Neo Arcadia and contacted him when the tweets of the ancient programmer came out on the web. Kukino confirmed he left SNKP in novembre so it’s not a rumor anymore.
Besides, two contacts confirmed to me that the new president of SNKP, Ryo Mizufune, wants the video games section to be shut down. He wants to live from license exploitation (queen’s blade, kof sky stage) and his influence is one of the things that made Kukino leave the company. It could be possible that many people from the dev team quit too.
The port of Kof XIII is compromised but more than that it’s kof that is compromised. It’s possible that Kof XIII could be the last one of the saga.
My original post in french with links (use it as a source if you need) : http://basgrospoing.fr/2011/01/kof-xiii-a-perdu-son-directeur-et-le-president-de-snk-playmore-aimerait-fermer-la-division-jeu/

So not only does it sound like there won’t be a KOF XIII port for home consoles, there probably won’t be any new KOF games from SNKP. We already know from anonymous Twitter accounts that a bunch of programmers left the company last year, and now it sounds like Kukino has followed suit.

My reaction? Despair, mostly. But also frustration at the thought that this shouldn’t have happened.

SNKP’’s takeover from the SNK of old got off to a shaky start with SvC Chaos and KOF2003, both rather iffy games, followed by the uninspired KOF NeoWave as their first game after departing the MVS. But soon after that they scored a two-hit combo with the solid NeoGeo Battle Coliseum and King of Fighters XI, and with the aid of Yuki Enterprise (now Examu) released the equally solid Samurai Spirits: Tenkaichi Kenkakuden. It seemed to me at the time that SNKP had overcome its obstacles and returned to releasing great arcade games. Sure, XI didn’t quite succeed in knocking perennial favourites KOF’98 or 2002 off their thrones, but it was the first game in years that came close. It’s still among my top three favourite KOF games.

And after that they basically blew it.

I’m not sure if this decline is really attributable to one specific thing. I mean, they did continue to make some fine games during this period – KOF’98 Ultimate Match and KOF2002 Unlimited Match come to mind – but they also spent way too much time on novelty projects like the Maximum Impact series, (even developing an arcade version that no-one played) and projects that were destined to fail from the start (Samurai Spirits Sen, KOF Sky Stage, random DS shovelware like Doki Doki Majo Shinpan and Kimi no Yuusha). Not to mention their repeated efforts to re-release their entire back catalog over and over again, for no apparent reason.

However what appears to have been the nail in the coffin was the debacle of KOF XII and XIII. After their contract with Sammy was fulfilled by the release of Metal Slug 6, SNKP apparently decided that in spite of being a small company, they would make the leap to the high-def Taito Type-X2, and redraw all the sprites. This was met with great enthusiasm at the time, but what should have been obvious was that there was no way they could redraw all those characters (numbering over 40 by the time KOF XI was released) in high definition in a timely manner and yet keep the same level of shading and detail. When faced with the same decision, Capcom took Street Fighter into 3D, and Arc System Works made a game with the same anime-style shading they had used with GGXX, but with a vastly scaled back roster (compared to GGXX) of just twelve characters.

And yet SNK, in spite of being smaller than both of these other studios, chose to forge ahead with redrawing all their characters in high resolution with very detailed shading. Is it any surprise, then, that they found that they’d been working on it for two years and had nothing to show for it?

When KOF XII was finally revealed in 2009 (to a great deal of fanfare, I might add), the damage was very quickly visible. Tag system? Gone. Most of the roster? Cut. The remaining characters’ movelists? Gutted. What we got was a half-baked game with a boring system that got a tepid reception in Japanese/Asian arcades. To make matters worse barely a month later SNKP announced an arcade version of KOF2002UM which was basically the death knell for the already unpopular XII.

Because of this, when XIII was announced a year later the stakes were high. And at least initially it looked like SNKP was back on track – they’d come up with a reasonably interesting system (basically 2K2UM with a few new tricks) and there were actual crowds at the location tests trying out the game. The game was even announced to be at Tougeki as a ‘special ‘Category C’ game along with the as-yet unreleased latest iteration in the Melty Blood series.

And then the game came out, a month before Tougeki, and it became clear that they had rushed the game just to make the Tougeki deadline, as people started discovering that bugs that had been found (and even recorded!) during location testing were still in the game. One of the bugs basically ensured that no-one taking part in Tougeki would use Vice. On top of that Mature had a braindead easy infinite that consisted of doing one move again and again. The game was played in this clearly unpolished state at Tougeki, and about two months later SNKP issued a new version that fixed the more serious bugs, but left others in place while doing nothing to address the poor balance (K’ and Raiden basically rule the roost, and all top four teams at Tougeki had one or the other, if not both). Some arcades started holding ratio-based tournaments to alleviate this, and I kind of know from observing the high-level TF2 and L4D scenes that once your community decides it’s upon them to fix your game, you’re not doing a very good job.

You’ll notice that so far I’ve made no mention of ports, netcode or anything of the sort. Quite simply, this is because even in their absence it’s easy to see that SNKP made tons of mistakes after leaving the Atomiswave, and the quality of their console ports had nothing to do with it. Sure, American fans complained about the shoddy networking code in KOF XII (and later in KOF2002 Unlimited Match) but the game’s prospects over here were never rosy to begin with. Capcom was able to pull off the whole ‘retro revival’ thing only because it had the marketing dollars to back it up. SNKP had no such thing, nor did KOF have any brand recognition over here, so attempting the same sort of angle of appealing to neophytes was never going to work for them, good netcode or not.

So where does this leave SNK fans like me? Honestly, I don’t know. I can’t play any of the versions of KOF I actually like against anyone (‘98UM, 2002UM and XI, in case you were curious), and if KOF XIII’s port is dead in the water then chances are I’m never going to get to play that, either. Part of me wants to believe that ‘licensing’ means that SNKP will contract out KOF development to other studios the way Capcom contracted out Street Fighter IV and Tatsunoko vs Capcom, but it’s more likely to mean more pachislot machines and compilations of old games.

I posted the article I linked above on Facebook, my friend PS (a pretty good KOF player, unlike me) noted that in the absence of KOF, his only other two options were SFIV, that required learning several strict links in order to be competitive, and BlazBlue, which required learning long pressure and combo strings, several of which are character-specific, in order to be competitive, neither of which were particularly palatable to him. This news has made me realize how true that statement is – KOF stuck an almost perfect balance between ‘old-school SF-style simple inputs and the more recent Guilty Gear style frantic pace, and with it gone there’s nothing to fill the void. Maybe some enterprising doujin group will try someday, but until then we’re just going to have to move on to other things.

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Dante Must Cry

I’m sure everyone who follows gaming news is familiar by now with this atrocity:

Ebony and Ivory have never looked so 'meh'

Yes, Capcom has thrown in the towel and has handed over the reins of its next Devil May Cry game to the English studio Ninja Theory, complete with crappy new Dante design and what looks like Dante being tortured in Abu Ghraib. I know, I know, it’s all about the game mechanics, right? Except that I have no confidence that Ninja Theory will be able to make a game that lives up to the DMC name; heck, even a game that’s as good as the somewhat iffy DMC4.

To see what Ninja Theory was capable of, I played the demo for Ninja Theory’s upcoming game Enslaved (due out in about a week, I think), and while the game looks and plays ok, it in no way compares to DMC’s fast-paced action. It feels more like God of War with its simple two-button combat and half-hearted platforming, to be honest, which will please a lot of God of War fans but annoy the hell out of DMC fans who are used to being able to move around quicker, and to much faster-paced combat. From what it looks like it even features regenerating health, which no quality action game has ever done.

Maybe Capcom just saw Bayonetta and decided that they couldn’t compete, lol.

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Not sure why I did this

Random recording I did using my iPhone

Swallowing notes all over the place, and both my right- and left-hand techniques are rusty as hell after not practising for months on end.

(Oh and that background noise? Episode of Scrubs I had playing at the same time I was recording this)

Still, it’s a start, I guess.

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Oh hey, it’s finally publicly available

http://gizmodo.com/5566680/onlive-streaming-game-service-launches-first-year-free

So I guess I can say what I thought about the beta!

Long story short, it sucked.

I got invited to the beta once a server farm near me was spun up, and I immediately gave it a try. Unfortunately my concerns with the service, which I outlined over a year ago, turned out to be pretty dead on.

My two main concerns were 1) input lag and 2) picture quality. And neither fared particularly well during my time playing. I tried both Prince of Persia as well as Unreal Tournament III, and even in a single-player game like PoP the input lag was noticeable. However it couldn’t hold a candle to the mess that was UT3, which had something like half a second of input lag, completely messing up my aim and movement. On top of that it was prone to lag spikes, during which my screen would freeze and I’d be teleported a vast distance forward five seconds later. Last year, OnLive’s CEO claimed to have some sort of magical technology that would minimize the impact of round trip times on input responsiveness – I really want some of what he was smoking.

As for picture quality, I stated in my earlier entry that they had to be using some sort of compression to get the data size down to manageable levels. And lo and behold, that’s exactly what they’re doing. The feed you get is 720p in name, in that it consists of 720 horizontal rows of pixels, but it lacks the characteristic sharpness that you would get from running a game at 1280×720 on your own machine. And of course the compression artifacts get worse as your connection experiences hitches.

A new and exciting complaint many people have about the service has to do with its pricing model. You need to pay a subscription – but you also need to pay full retail price for any game you want to play, which seems completely boneheaded to me. I know there are the variable costs of servers to deal with, but surely if you’re going to buy large numbers of copies of a game to run on a server farm, that entitles you to some sort of bulk licensing deal?

In the end I’m sort of left wondering who this product is meant to serve. PC enthusiasts are just going to laugh at it and leave it alone, while people who might want to try some PC games are going to end up with a substandard experience, shorn of all the things that make PC gaming awesome – better graphics, more control options and customization. They might as well just stick to their consoles instead.

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Motion to Dismiss

So I’m playing Super Mario Galaxy 2, backlog be damned. And it’s a pretty good game, just as I expected it to be. Sure, extra lives still grow on trees much like the original game, but the stages are inventive and it usually takes me a few tries to figure out the exact timing or trick to beating them.

One thing that I’m not glad about is the persistence of the silly motion controlled-stages.

Sure, there are fewer of them, and I’ve already gotten all the gold stars in all of them, but they still reinforce my held notion that the Wii’s motion control is a dead end for games on that system. There’s perhaps one use of the Wii remote’s motion sensor that I’ve been able to tolerate, and that’s its use as a pointing device (in games like Resident Evil 4, or any number of Wii FPSes).

Super Mario Galaxy, on the other hand, has you do stupid crap like hold your Wiimote vertically and tilt it to control a giant ball that Mario is balancing on. These stages are nowhere near as interesting as the pure platforming stages, and the controls aren’t anywhere near as precise as they need to be. It’s at times like those that I wish the game supported the Classic or GameCube controller.

After my experience with the Wii, Sony and Microsoft’s motion controllers have me more apprehensive of the kinds of crap they’re going to try and pawn off on the gaming public. I’ve heard rumblings of a motion controlled version of Sonic Riders for Natal…ugh.

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There go the alarm bells

So apparently someone leaked a video of Sonic 4 running on the 360, and it seems like some of my concerns were well-founded. The physics seem really off – since when did jumping while running on a flat surface give you that much horizontal momentum? Why doesn’t Sonic accelerate as he falls? Why are his jumps so floaty? How is the game letting him stand on an inclined surface without falling? And so on. Not to mention booster pads. Leave those in the Rush and Advance games, please – I like to earn my momentum, not have it handed to me on a plate.

And apparently Dimps is developing, which again tells me that no-one inside Sonic Team probably has any idea how to develop a 2D Sonic game in the classic style any more. Not that Dimps is infinitely more knowledgeable about this, mind you – the only game they’ve made that came anywhere near classic Sonic physics was the first Sonic Advance. And so far this game looks like it’s using Sonic Rush physics. For a demonstration of the silliness possible in that game, I refer you to this video:

At least the game looks rather nice.

People are claiming this is an alpha build, and that’s true. Maybe I’m getting agitated about nothing. But at the very least you’d think they’d have nailed the physics engine before starting to build full levels. ESPECIALLY since they’re claiming this is the revival of classic Sonic.

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As if Fallout 3 weren’t annoying me enough already

I seem to have run into a bug that prevents me from progressing in the game without using a noclip cheat. WTF

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Not much to say today

Just wanted to mention that

  • I beat Beyond Good & Evil last night and started working through Lost Planet and
  • This decision is retarded and will probably come back to bite Capcom in the ass somewhere down the road

That is all.

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GG SNKP

 

SNKP, you clowns :(

I don’t think this has been confirmed to be a console-only bug yet, but seriously, with all the crap you left out of this game you still managed to let moronic infinites like this through your playtesting process?!

This game is starting to resemble KOF2003 in more ways than one. Oh well, I guess I needed a coaster for my coffee mug.

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