tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

Bumper Stickers

Why do people use bumper stickers?

That’s just something that randomly occurred to me the other day while stuck in traffic. The car ahead of me was festooned with the usual array of colourful stickers proclaiming support for some cause or the other. The first thing that came to mind was “Why don’t I have any bumper stickers on my car?” The second thing, however, was “Why should I put bumper stickers on my car in the first place?”

On some level I wonder if it’s an American thing. People here tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves, so to speak – they’re outspoken and more than willing to tell you what their position is on any given issue, regardless of whether you asked for it or not (this is particularly obvious on the Internet where you don’t have to worry about the consequences of saying stupid things in the presence of other people). You see this all the time, what with the yard signs, flagpoles and of course, the bumper stickers.

And I guess my problem is: why are you making it even easier for me to judge you without even meeting you?

People describe me as almost annoyingly diplomatic – I try to go out of my way to not offend people and I do my best not to have preconceived notions about people I’ve met for the first time. I don’t think I’m terribly successful with the latter but all I can say is that loudly proclaiming your support for/against some political cause doesn’t really help me or anyone else in getting a decent first impression of you. In addition, I think the sort of person who decides to open with all their political/ideological stances when they first meet you is probably not someone I want to spend too much time with.

Case in point – I was driving in downtown Seattle earlier this year and I saw a car ahead of me with a piece of paper taped to his rear windshield with some lame missive about Obama or something. That immediately spoke volumes to me about what sort of person he might be, not to mention convince me of his stupidity in blocking his rear visibility in order to spout some inane political talking point.

And because of my own biases I even start judging them then and there! Like if I’m stuck behind some guy on the freeway with a bunch of, say, anti-Obamacare bumper stickers on the back of his truck I do find that I start to nitpick the way he’s driving, perhaps unreasonably so. “Oh look, he changed lanes without using his signal! Of course he would, he doesn’t care about the well-being of the public!”

I also guarantee that no-one has ever had their mind changed on a subject by a bloody bumper sticker, of all things. If my positions on anything were determined by my daily commute my life would be a mess of epic proportions. If you feel the need to convince people of things, how about talking to them? Not over the Internet though, that always leads to disaster.

That said, I have nothing against bumper stickers with funny quips on them. I can at least see the value in reading something while I’m stuck in traffic. Or, I suppose, stickers that claim affiliation with some school or the other. I don’t think it’s possible to be offended if you feel it necessary to tell people which college your kids go to.

Unless your kids go to a different school, or something.

Me? I think I don’t use bumper stickers because I like the way my car looks without them. Maybe I should put that on a bumper sticker. Which I won’t use.

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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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Oh hey I forgot I had a blog

Well, not really…I just haven’t had much to write about. But now I do! And guess what, it’s about TF2 again. Namely this.

In this update we can see the results of some of the playtesting that league players have been involved in. Well, sort of. Since I’m lazy I’ll just C&P some stuff I wrote about the update at the Orochinagi forums, and add a bit more for clarity.

Sandman nerf

Stuns are still annoying, but at least they can’t take out ubers now. Although I will lol the next time a Sandman scout tries to tag me and gets one-shotted by my rocket. Although chances are I’ll end up getting critstunned by some jackass who decided that it was a good idea to switch his loadout now that the Sandman doesn’t take away his double jump.

Critboost on intel cap

Pretty stupid idea if you ask me. If you want people to attack more on CTF maps, then make turtling harder/less rewarding than it is now – don’t give a team that happens to cap once the ability to shit out instant death for ten seconds.

Every time I play ctf_turbine I inevitably imagine how much more fun the game would be if there were no engineers on either team.

KOTH mode

Fun. I like it more than arena since it emphasises the best part of the game (capturing and holding territory). Maps like koth_nucleus don’t really have any unassailable sentry spots either so defense depends more on how good your other classes are. I think koth_viaduct is way too small for 24 players though – my box has trouble keeping 60fps on that map and the point turns into a spamfest very quickly.

ctf_sawmill

Haven’t actually played it in a real match yet, but I like how 1) your spawn is BEHIND the intel room, making it easier to attack and 2) the intel room is tiny, making it hard to maintain a sentry down there. Kind of sad that they cut off the paths that go by the waterfall though.

Autoreload

Handy for certain classes (Soldier, Demoman, Scout) not so much for others (Spy). Thankfully there’s a cvar to turn it on and off so you can make it class-specific.

I haven’t tried cp_yukon yet mainly because the players on the servers I tend to play on seem to have a vendetta against 5CP maps, even though I think Granary and Badlands are probably among the best maps the game has to offer. Every time RTV comes up everyone votes for Goldrush, Dustbowl or (on particularly bad days) Pipeline :(

Another somewhat depressing thing this update has taught me is how so incredibly few people actually know how to play Soldier effectively. Valve inadvertently broke rocket jumps for a full weekend when they tried to undo some self-damage changes they had made to the Demoman. The ability wasn’t taken away, but the damage received by the Soldier was reduced, thereby reducing the distance he could propel himself. Normally simple jumps like going straight up to Well’s third floor from the second point, or jumping onto Gravelpit C from the ground level, or flick jumping from the battlements on Badlands to the spire all became difficult or impossible to do.

And yet I saw SO MANY supposed ‘career Soldiers’ adamantly insisting that RJing wasn’t broken. I mean, I’m not awesome at Soldier, yet the fact that RJs were broken was blatantly obvious to me from the moment I booted up the game after the patch to fool around in the new maps.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s wrong to expect the same level of interest in advanced techniques from everyone I end up on a server with (in a game whose skill ceiling is rather low for a multiplayer FPS to begin with). But TF2 pubs are starting to push all the wrong buttons for me – I’m getting tired of having to deal with teams consisting of 4 W+M1 Pyros, 3 Huntsman Snipers and 4 sticky spamming Demomen. What’s worse is when those people are on my team. No, PyroFan23423562, you can’t W+M1 into that sentry and destroy it. Sorry.

I’d start playing PUGs or something but I don’t know anyone else who does it…

Oh, and for some perspective, I’ve been playing Soldier almost exclusively for quite some time now (I occasionally switch off to Medic, Demoman, Spy or Sniper as needed, or if I think I can get away with it). Mainly thanks to this awesome Soldier tutorial:

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Terminally cynical

I suppose I am, at least when it comes to Sonic games. I honestly believe that my cynicism is justified, though.

There’s an old Tamil proverb, a personal favourite of mine, that can roughly be translated as “If you endeavour to do something, do it such that everyone will praise you; or you are better off not doing it at all.”

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How was your day?

Mine was pretty terrible.

I think I’ll go blow up some random douchebags in Team Fortress 2 to vent.

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There's a reason I haven't been on GGPO a whole lot

I hate losing. Particularly when the gap in skill level between me and my opponent is really wide. I don't see any point in playing when the odds are stacked against me from the get-go. Yes, I know I won't learn to play better without getting beaten by other players, but I fail to see how getting hammered into the corner and dying because I couldn't react in time teaches me anything at all.

Compounding this problem is my poor execution, half the crap I want to do not coming out thanks to lag (network or input, take your pick) or the emulator turning my stand C into a C throw even though I had let up on the arrow keys a full second ago.

Maybe I just don't have the mindset for games like this.

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