tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

Unlockable difficulties need to die in a fire

I spent a good thirty minutes or so trying to think of a witty title for the piece I’m about to write, at which point a phrase I had used to describe my position on the subject to a friend popped into my head. “That’ll do,” I thought.

Enough foreplay – let’s get down to business.

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A (Fighting) Game of Thrones

Some, if not all of you are probably watching HBO’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy magnum opus A Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones). I, being the poser/purist that I am, have been reading the books instead, mainly so that I can read the original story and then complain about how the TV adaptation screwed everything up. I’m enjoying it so far, and I’m about 25% of the way through the last book that has been published (A Dance with Dragons).

And then, I came across this little image on DeviantART:

game_of_thrones_excel______by_dynamaito-d4vdsmi

Which got me thinking about whether Game of Thrones would make good fodder for a fighting game or not.

(WARNING – There will be some minor spoilers for those who haven’t read the books, or for anyone who’s only been watching the HBO series. So be forewarned)

It goes without saying that combat figures heavily in the story, although it tends to be of the army vs. army variety rather than one-on-one. In addition, while there are a few characters who use signature weapons, there really aren’t anything in the way of ‘signature moves’ like you might expect in your average shounen manga. There are also plenty of characters who wouldn’t wield a weapon for any reason (like perhaps 90% of the female cast), so clearly some improvisation will be necessary.

That said, I do think of some characters that might work in a fighting game setting, although with how those characters might end up playing. Here are a few of my ideas so far:

  • Robb Stark – a straightforward character who uses ice-based attacks (I know he doesn’t use Ice, shut up) and can summon his direwolf Grey Wind to do some attacks for him.
  • Jon Snow – Seemingly cut from the same mould as Robb with a direwolf (Ghost) to match, but tilted a bit more to the defensive side of things. Might help to think of Robb and Jon as the Ryu and Ken of the game, maybe?
  • Brienne of Tarth – a close range character who relies heavily on speed and mixups due to her speed.
  • Hodor – One of the servants of House Stark who carries Bran Stark on his back and somehow manages to be the game’s only grappler. Bran can use his skinchanging ability to take control of Hodor for some of his attacks. (Seriously, I can’t think of anyone else who could fit as a grappler, and even Hodor uses a sword a bunch of times in the books)
  • Gregor Clegane – aka The Mountain. The game’s resident ‘big guy’ who relies on powerful normals and hard-hitting special attacks to dish out damage. His power is of course offset by his speed.
  • Tyrion Lannister – now before you start laughing, I don’t intend for Tyrion to be fighting on his own – cast your mind back to Chang and Choi in CvS2, or even Carl Clover in BlazBlue. The idea here is that Tyrion and his sellsword Bronn are playable as a unit, with each character being able to move independently through special button inputs.
  • Jaime Lannister – couldn’t go without him, obviously, although having him in the game post-hand removal might make for a more interesting play style. Alternatively (or additionally), put in Loras Tyrell so you can go nuts with the flower effects.
  • Melisandre – Fire. Lots of it. The game’s zoning character.
  • Thoros of Myr – More fire. Except this time on a sword. Since Thoros’ gimmick in the books is that he lights his sword on fire to strike fear into his enemies, he might work well as a character with a ‘powerup’ mode where his sword bursts into flames. He might even be able to call on the members of his Brotherhood without Banners like Anguy and Tom Sevenstrings for some of his moves.
  • Either Oberyn Martell or Areo Hotah – the former is seen using a spear in the books, the latter a poleaxe. Either would be well suited to the role of a ranged/poking character a la Billy Kane from Fatal Fury/KOF.

There are some wrinkles – for instance some characters are dead before they would normally have had the chance to meet some of the others on my above roster, and some factions aren’t really that well-represented (Pretty much no-one east of Westeros, for instance). But if anyone has any other ideas, do post them in the comments! Not that I’ll be able to do anything with them…but it might make for some interesting discussion.

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Pot, Kettle, etc

One of the big pieces of news coming out of GDC last week was this comment from Fez developer Phil Fish:

But when he asked what the panel thought of modern Japanese video games, Phil Fish (pictured) immediately replied “your games just suck” – a comment that sparked an audible reaction from the crowd, though some were cheering.

Others looked on awkwardly as the Japanese developer was then subjected to a string criticisms about game design flaws in his native country. The developer nevertheless thanked the panel for their response and returned to his seat.

As rude as that was to the man who asked the question, that’s not really what irritated me about that particular outburst. Let’s keep in mind that Phil Fish is a guy who’s somehow managed to spend five years working on a 2D platformer. Even if you take into account the fact that only two people are working on it, that seems like a really inordinate amount of time to have spent working on a relatively simple game.

Given, then, that he has yet to release anything, it seems incredibly hypocritical for Fish to turn around and relegate all modern Japanese games to the rubbish bin. Especially when such a relegation is thoroughly unjustified – in the last few years I’ve played BlazBlue, King of Fighters XIII, Trouble Witches Neo, Valkyria Chronicles, Yakuza 3, Vanquish, Bayonetta, Metal Slug XX and Hard Corps: Uprising – all high-quality games, and all made by Japanese developers. And there are even more titles worthy of attention that I haven’t gotten around to playing yet, like Demon’s Souls and its sequel Dark Souls, Deadly Premonition, Yakuza 4. not to mention countless arcade games.

My guess is that Fish thinks that the Japanese only make Zelda and Mario games, or something, or is completely ignorant of what they’ve actually been up to in the last few years. Either way, all he does is come off as an asshole and a colossal moron at the same time.


In other stupid-shit-developers-said-at-GDC-news, here’s an interview Jonathan Blow (the developer of Braid) did with Gamespot:

Ignoring for a second the ludicrousness of his statement that fun and challenge are mutually exclusive, Blow seems to be under the impression that all Japanese games are like Zelda, in that they handhold you every step of the way without letting you discover anything. Much like Fish, it seems Blow has yet to play any Japanese games not made by Nintendo. I wonder if he’ll ever get around to trying Bayonetta or Vanquish…my money’s on ‘No.’

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Send in the clones

There’s a bit of a stink being raised by some mobile/social developers about other developers cloning their games. Some are even going so far as to launch lawsuits against the accused. The first one I was aware of was NimbleBit accusing Zynga of ripping off their tower building game Tiny Tower, but other studios have since come out and made similar accusations against other developers.

I’ve been thinking a bit about this issue. The underlying assumption seems to be that cloning of games is bad…but this is something I can’t bring myself to agree with. For without cloning, we would never have gotten  all the quality fighting games that came out in the wake of Street Fighter II. Hell, Capcom fought and lost a lawsuit that established the legal basis for its original concept to be cloned by developers like Data East, SNK and others.

On top of that, cloning is pretty much how a concept is improved upon and refined. Capcom made Street Fighter II, and every fighting game that has come out since then (well, every good fighting game, anyway) has been a refinement and an improvement over the mechanics established in that first game. Not to mention that a lot of these games started out as pure clones, but as time passed the developers began to add mechanics and tweaks that added depth and differentiated them from the original (for instance Ryuuko no Ken’s power meter for doing special and super moves…heck, the entire concept of a super move, KOF’94’s 3-on-3 battles and so on).

If I do have a problem with this particular issue, it’s that the games being cloned…well, aren’t that good. I played Tiny Tower for a bit on my iPhone, and between the need to pay real money for things to get done in any reasonable time frame and the fact that the game itself had no real interesting goals, and felt like a poor ripoff of SimTower (a game I enjoyed a good deal when I was a kid), I didn’t really feel too bad about wiping it off my phone after a couple of days.

I guess you could argue that it’s about the principle of the matter, that big studios like Zynga shouldn’t be stealing concepts from smaller studios. The fact is, though, that this sort of thing has been going on for ages in the games industry and it’s not about to stop happening, so I suspect these studios would be better served by iterating on their own concept and making it better rather than crying foul at other people’s attempts to cash in.

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Comparison Theatre: Doing your Source Material Justice

My last comparison theatre entry (and indeed, my last blog entry) was quite some time ago, for which I apologise to the three people who read this blog. And now, to business.

One of my favourite things in the world is Hokuto no Ken, a shounen manga about a powerful martial artist using his skills to bring peace to a post-apocalyptic world. There have been several Hokuto no Ken video games, but the ones I’d like to bring into focus are the following two.

HokutoComparison

Yes, that would be Arc System Works’ Hokuto no Ken: Shinpan no Sousousei Kengou Retsuden for the Atomiswave and PS2 versus Koei Tecmo’s Hokuto Musou for the Xbox 360 and PS3. In my view, the stark contrast between these two games really drives home how developers need to think about the qualities inherent in the source material before adapting it into a video game. Specifically, the former is a great example of playing to the strengths of a theme, while the latter is an example of how to inherit all the weaknesses instead.

As I mentioned, Hokuto no Ken is about the travails of a powerful martial artist (called Kenshiro) in a post-apocalyptic world. Throughout his travels, Kenshiro meets several other powerful warriors of other martial arts styles, and comes to blows with several of them. These confrontations are often pretty epic and span several episodes, if not entire story arcs, culminating in a one-on-one face-off between Kenshiro and his rival. Along the way, of course, Kenshiro has to deal with his rivals’ various assortment of minions, mostly in a comically effortless manner, as demonstrated by almost every single Hokuto no Ken clip ever uploaded to Youtube.

Like this, pretty much

So how does this tie into game design? Arc System Works’ Hokuto no Ken game is based off the confrontations between Kenshiro and his rivals – a strictly 1-on-1 fighting game that has subsystems designed to match the various themes of the manga and anime as well (for instance, the Fatal K.O. moves). It is, in other words, based on what to Kenshiro must be his most challenging and epic confrontations ever, and it manages to bring that feeling across brilliantly, with fights between skilled players often resembling epic battles from the anime series. It is, therefore, based on the best parts of the source material.

Hokuto Musou, on the other hand, is a Musou game, which means you spend a large amount of time running around beating up nameless grunts. This wouldn’t be so bad, except that Koei Tecmo decided to follow the depiction of these grunts in the series, literally, and as a result they put up about as much resistance as the lore would have you believe, i.e. none. There are 1-on-1 boss fights, but being based on the same fighting engine as the rest of the game they’re hardly worth noting at all.  Hokuto Musou, then, takes something that’s mostly used for comic effect in the source material and tries to stretch it out into a full game, and the end result is rather terrible. Honestly, if you want to see what a Hokuto no Ken brawler should play like, go play God Hand. Actually, play God Hand anyway, because it’s an excellent game.

Moral of the story, then? If you’re adapting something into a game, think about what sort of mechanics would be appropriate to bring across the best parts of the source material.

And the other moral of the story is to spam Arc System Works with requests to make another Hokuto no Ken fighter. In HD, with the budget of BlazBlue, so we can have more moments like this one:

ATATATATATATATATATA
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Some thoughts on Brink (mostly not mine)

Brink-Xbox_360Artwork506Founders_-_Island

I recently bought Bethesda/Splash Damage’s new FPS Brink in the hope that it would be able to replace TF2 for me. After about ten hours of playtime I could see it had some merits, but that there was something about it that just didn’t feel right. I wasn’t really able to put my finger on what it was…I mean, all that parkour style movement was nice but it didn’t really seem to be useful for anything since my aim went to shit every time I tried to use it to become harder to hit. On top of that CS-style tactics seem to reign supreme – take cover, aim for the head, drop people in two bursts, which isn’t what was implied by Splash Damage’s publicity at all. I believe the phrase ‘Move more than you shoot’ was bandied about a lot, but this isn’t the case at all.

Well, leave it to a long-time competitive FPS player to cut through the bullshit and lay out exactly what the design problems with the game are. The following are two posts from Kaizoku (the discoverer of Kai jumping in Left 4 Dead) on the Brink Steam forums about why exactly the game seems to be a letdown for so many:

The game does not lend itself to movement based combat, as a veteran quake player and a fan of UT games I’ve seen what those games do to make combat skilled and movement based, rather than cover based. A lot of the issue is the mechanics around firefights, they don’t reward movement based combat, and the guns really aren’t functioning on a "sustained aim" system as they have plenty of recoil and spread.
The game doesn’t know what it wants to be, CS or Quake, so it’s using elements from both, and they’re conflicting.

When I referenced "sustained aiming" it is a reference to an archetype of FPS, one being sustained aim and another being first strike determination and the mechanics that surround those. I used CS as a synecdoche for the "first strike" archetype, those archetypes are explained below:
Sustained aim games are usually movement based combat, in that you aren’t using cover to keep yourself alive, you’re dodging and moving around or using the game’s movement abilities to stay alive. These games nearly *always* use no recoil minimum spread guns, the reason being it’s very hard to keep the crosshair on people in those games (relatively), and you are rewarded with damage based on how long you can keep the crosshair on someone. These games also usually give players higher HP pools (relatively) than other FPS’s, meaning you have to sustain your aim on a target to get the kill through dodging and keeping your cross on them.
The you have first strike determination games, which are the most popular right now. CS, CoD, Battlefield, these all fall under first strike type FPS’s. This means that nearly always the game is cover based for defense, meaning if you are without cover, there are no movement abilities and your character doesn’t have good enough speed or movement to stay alive and needs to use terrain or cover to defend themselves. These games are often "realistic" with their guns, using recoil and spread to off-set slow character movement. At the same time, player hp pools are (relatively) lower and headshots/locational damage is rewarded. The first shot is the most accurate from these guns, and tends to determine the outcome of a firefight.
Brink mashes these together in a seemingly contradictory way, taking counter-rationales in the elements they use. They have an advanced movements system, and player movement is a bit faster than most FSD (here on in, first strike determination) games. However, both recoil and spread are present, not just present, but prevalent. These elements contradict in their reasoning, as you remove recoil and spread to reward players for being accurate in fast-paced movement combat, you don’t penalize them for moving and dodging, and you don’t make them hope their recoil and spread stays where they are aiming. They also (relatively) increased player HP pool, advertising a near elimination of 1HKO’s (by the way, there’s still a lot of those) but if you get a headshot (locational damage also being quite important) it can be a FSD situation.
The movement and firefight mechanics conflict in how they reward and penalize players, and it really doesn’t make sense in precedent, rationale, or function.

I have written about the two schools of FPS design before (although nowhere near as thoroughly as this) in my old blog entry comparing Call of Duty 4 to Painkiller (although if you want to go with multiplayer FPSes, Counter-Strike vs Quake III Arena is a much better comparison), and I agree with the thrust of Kaizoku’s argument. Generally I found the parkour-ish moves in Brink to be most useful when attempting to flank or find alternate routes, but not really in actual combat.

I’ll probably keep playing it for a bit longer, since the novelty hasn’t quite worn off yet, but it seems clear at this point that this is a game that needs some rethinking in terms of base mechanics. Until then I’d recommend holding off on getting it.

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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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Griping about Valve

A lot of gaming news sites and blogs trumpet Valve as one of the finest developers in the industry, regularly producing excellent games and otherwise shitting gold. I’ve certainly suggested that I think of them highly, both here and elsewhere.

Recent events have shifted this view of mine somewhat – particularly the Team Fortress 2 Scout update.

I don’t think I would draw much ire if I were to state that TF2 isn’t a great competitive game (regardless of what my review says; it was written when I wasn’t really knowledgeable about the game, and I should probably delete it). The game, in the form that it’s played on public servers, tends to revolve around explosive/flamethrower spam, choke points and the use of ubercharges to get past these choke points. The presence of the ubercharge is pretty much the only reason why the game even holds together at this level, if you ask me – it’s the only tool available to get through chokepoints and break stalemates, outside of perhaps an unusually coordinated Spy rush. And let’s not forget about critical hits and random damage.

(The competitive format of the game has none of these problems. obviously – the 6 vs 6 format and class limits on Demomen and Medics mean that spam never becomes an issue. And of course, crits and random damage are turned off)

So given that the ubercharge is pretty much a tool designed to break stalemates (a design goal specifically called out by Valve in their developer commentary for TF2), I have no idea why they thought that giving the Scout a new weapon that would basically nullify ubers would be a good idea. The motivation behind this weapon (and at least one of the other unlocks) seems to have been ‘the Scout doesn’t survive too well in the spam-dominated public game environment, so let’s give him something to cope with them.’

As if that wasn’t enough, the same weapon basically makes the Heavy useless. He already has trouble dealing with Scouts when he doesn’t have his gun spun up, and now he’s basically a walking bullseye target when he does have his gun spun up.

If anything, that betrays a key flaw in the way Valve is approaching TF2 balance – competitive games should be balanced with high-level play in mind. More often than not games that are balanced for high level play (Starcraft, Quake III Arena, any number of great fighting games) end up being good games at lower levels too. Instead of trying to balance the game for pubbers they really should be balancing it according to the needs of competitive players – for instance, making the Heavy, Sniper, Pyro, Spy and Engineer more viable in high-level play than they are now. Granted, if they had done this, the game would probably not be anywhere near as popular as it is now, but shouldn’t good design trump marketing considerations?

On another Valve note – Left 4 Dead.

I’ve been playing Versus mode a lot recently, and I have to say that playing as the Infected is great fun. There’s nothing quite like when a good plan comes together. Unfortunately, the other half of the experience – the Survivors – is considerably less interesting. The best strategy is to camp in a corner or a chokepoint while spamming your melee attack. Melee attacks don’t do that much damage, but they do keep you from taking damage rather effectively, and you can basically spam it infinitely. In theory the Smoker is supposed to counter this tactic, but smoked Survivors can easily be freed by hitting them with a melee attack, and you only ever have at most one Smoker on the Infected team. I really think that the melee attack needs to be given a longer cooldown, or they need to have some sort of timer that prevents you from melee-ing non-stop.

On a side note, I’ve recently been playing Quake Live, and if anything it’s revealed to me how terrible I really am at multiplayer FPSes. Of course, I’ll be playing it a lot more because it’s basically Quake III, and Quake III is awesome.

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Achieving nothing

I was reading a thread about the upcoming Left 4 Dead Survival Pack on one of the Internet forums I frequent today, and I came across a rather strange quote from one of the forum regulars:

I think all DLC that doesn’t bring in new achievements with it should be free, and if it’s not, it should be pretty cheap. I’m talking 100MSP.

It wasn’t the fact that he was willing to pay for DLC that struck me as strange (that seems to be a fixture of our times) – it was that he viewed achievements as worth paying for.

I have quite a bit to say on the subject of achievements in video games, but I’ll start off by saying that anyone whose buy/not-to-buy decision is based on the availability of achievements for a particular game is a gibbering idiot.

Harsh? Maybe. But I can’t really put it any other way. Achievements are largely pointless in the grand scheme of things. They’re really just a way to artificially prolong replay value by adding silly tasks for players to do, some of which run contrary to the whole point of the game. They’re a bonus, nothing more, and they’re most definitely not worth anything.

For instance, take the infamous gnome achievement in Half-Life 2: Episode Two. This achievement gives you credit for successfully bringing a lawn gnome, found near the start of the game, to the final area and stowing it in a rocket before the end of the game. Keep in mind that while doing this the game has you drive a car (which the gnome has the habit of frequently falling out of) over a large distance while engaging in several large gun battles. Is the ability to do this rather ridiculous task really worth any money at all? Is the game worse off for their exclusion? Obviously not.

Alright, admittedly it’s not such a big problem in single-player games. Heck, I’ll admit to going back and replaying HL2: Ep Two while trying to get the achievement where you squish all the antlion grubs (which is pretty much where I drew the line). It’s when the spectre of achievement farmers begins to haunt multiplayer games that I start to take umbrage. As a prime example, here’s a revealing quote from madlep, one of the main contributors to ubercharged.net (a major Team Fortress 2 blog):

You know how I mentioned that I top scored as pyro at the beginning of the post? IT WAS BECAUSE THE ENTIRE SERVER WAS FULL OF MEDICS TRYING TO UBER DEMOMEN JUMPING OFF CLIFFS, MEDICS TRYING TO UBER SCOUTS, OR MEDICS TRYING TO UBER FIST HEAVIES (or the scouts or heavies or whatever from their clan helping them out)

Ridiculous stuff. What the hell did valve think would happen when they put such moronic criteria for the achievements in there?

You can read the rest of his post, which deals with the mentality of achievement farmers, here.

That post was written shortly after the first content update for Team Fortress 2, where Valve added three new weapons and 36 new achievements for the Medic class. The achievements would have been harmless by themselves, but Valve tied the new weapons to your progress in obtaining the achievements, resulting in the tomfoolery that madlep described above.

The problem with adding achievements to multiplayer games is pretty clear – the rules and mechanics of the game are already sending you a strong signal as to how you should be playing (this is true of single player games as well, but like I said above I don’t consider achievement farmers in single player games to be that big a deal). Good Team Fortress 2 players know that Scouts should almost never be ubered, that Medics who run off trying to kill enemies with their syringe gun aren’t doing their job, and that Heavies running around punching people while ubered are colossal morons. Yet the achievements tell players to do these things, and say that they will be rewarded for doing so! Absolutely asinine.

Valve, perhaps realising this would be a problem, has made the criteria for the subsequent achievement packs much more reasonable – the Pyro and Heavy Achievements stick more closely to what players are expected to do with those classes (although there are still some pretty weird ones in there). Still, the fact that players needed to unlock them in order to access the new content rendered the game almost unplayable for the week following the respective updates. You would see teams with six Pyros per side, with pretty much all the other players on fire at the same time. Classes like the Scout and the Medic became practically useless – It was a truly ridiculous state of affairs.

The game is already telling you how it should be played – why not listen to it for a change?

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Fancy a kick in the balls?

Sega owns the rights to the Guilty Gear franchise now

So yeah, I guess we know why they made BlazBlue and Battle Fantasia now. Considering that ArcSys’ direct involvement ended with #Reload, it’s amazing that Accent Core turned out the way it did. Then again, as long as ASW gets entrusted with any development of future Guilty Gear games I’m not too worried.

Another nice tidbit from the article that I liked:

The company’s designer for its new hi-res 2D fighting title BlazBlue, Toshimichi Mori, intriguingly discusses his views of Capcom’s Street Fighter IV and its accessibility in the interview:
"I’m not trying to pick a fight with Capcom or anything, but with Street Fighter IV, they made a big deal about how the game was designed to be accessible to people new to the genre.
I remember when I first read that in an interview, I was like, "What? How can they say that?!" I thought maybe I was seeing things. I think they need to take a second look at the list of moves for that game before they make a claim like that.
Sure, people like us who work with games, or fans of fighting games can do a hadouken or a shoryuken without thinking much about it, but for somebody just getting started? Those moves are pretty tough! You can’t expect new players to just whip those moves out every time.
To fill your game with moves like that and then emphasize how simple it was for beginners to pick up seemed irresponsible to me. Street Fighter IV is not a game geared toward people who’ve never played fighters before. If they were really interested in making a beginner-friendly game, they should’ve made included a few impressive moves a player could do with the press of a button."

Mori is pretty much saying the obvious – fighting games that use Street Fighter II as a template cannot get any more accessible than that game ever was (which is something I’ve mentioned before). If you make high-level play more accessible then you’re just dumbing the game down. To make it more accessible to newbies you pretty much have to convert the game to maybe Jump Ultimate Stars or Smash Bros type controls.

Note: before anyone crucifies me for hating on SF4 – I don’t think that the game has necessarily been ‘dumbed down’ – There’s no way that complete neophytes to fighting games are going to be able to pull off stuff like focus cancel combos or hadouken traps on the day they buy the game. And heck, I’m pretty sure at this point that I’m going to be buying the game for my PS3 and/or my PC (along with that potentially awesome Sanwa stick that MadCatz is releasing). My point here is that Yoshinori Ono claimed that SF4 was designed to be accessible to newbies, and beyond superficial appearances (lol SF2 etc) it clearly isn’t (and can’t be).

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