tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

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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Random thoughts on recent happenings

  • Starcraft II is out this week and I’m not buying it. I can’t believe I’m saying that, but I’m not. Part of it has to do with how I left all my RTS skills in 1998, but it’s mostly because Battle.net 2.0 repulses me. If you want to know why this is, go here and read this excellent article summarizing everything that’s wrong with Battle.net 2.0. You may retort that his point of view reflects only that of high level players (among which I surely don’t count myself), to which my response is that a company that treats its high level players – its BEST, MOST-VALUED CUSTOMERS – like dirt isn’t worth supporting.
  • King of Fighters XIII is out in arcades, and as far as I can tell the reception seems to be far more positive than the one XII received, although someone discovered an infinite on day one and new weird bugs are popping up all the time (I particularly like the one that lets Takuma and Daimon do EX moves without spending bar. Wonder if SNK Playmore is going to let these issues be or if they’re going to issue a USB patch, especially if they want this game to show up for real at Tougeki next year.
  • I was never a Marvel vs Capcom fan, but MvC3 looks like it might warrant a look from me, what with its novel character choices (Dante, Super Skrull, Amaterasu, Deadpool) and its fast-paced action. I also much prefer the art direction they’re going for with this game than the semi-realistic semi-stylized noncommittal style they have going in the SFIV series.
  • Speaking of which, SF x Tekken? Really? Was anyone asking for this game to be made? I don’t play SFIV on anything higher than a casual level, but from what I hear Super SFIV still has systemic issues that need working out (like the lack of guard breaks, and the gigantic stages encouraging defensive play). I’m sure most SF players would prefer a sequel that actually addresses those issues rather than a vanity project designed to milk yet more money from the casual gamer who will play the game for a week and then trade it in.
  • BlazBlue: Continuum Shift arrives this week! I have the PS3 version on preorder, but I also have an Xbox 360 on the way, so I’m wondering if I should get a copy of the 360 version too (I’ll need to get a stick for it too – no way I’m playing a 2D fighter on that shitty d-pad). Anyway, if you want a match, hit me up on PSN.
  • Speaking of BlazBlue, I got my Gamebridge working again so I tossed up some old BBCT replays on my Youtube channel. Nothing spectacular, but I figured I should get it out of the way. I’ll post BBCS footage whenever I can.
  • On a final note, I’ve been playing Mass Effect 2. This game is so much better than the first game it’s not funny – the combat is more challenging, the sidequests have more variety and the game is generally paced much tighter. Enjoying the game a lot so far.
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So, King of Fighters XIII…

…actually surprised me a little.

I wasn’t expecting the tag system to be resurrected, and indeed it looks like it’s hasn’t been. However, they’ve done something else, and resurrected a subsystem that was last seen in KOF2002 and KOF NeoWave – free cancelling (now called drive cancelling). Both implementations of the mechanic are at play here, which is a nice option to have, especially given that they have different risk/reward ratios – drive cancelling without bursting stock is easy but can only be done a limited number of times, while bursting stock in mid-combo is harder but lets you do as many cancels as you want until the bar ends.

EX moves are a decent addition too – the ability to spend a stock to do a version of your move that has different properties is something KOF hasn’t had before and I welcome its arrival. So far it looks like EX DMs will be a decent substitute for SDMs as well, although I have yet to see any videos where they’re used.

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They also seem to have restored most characters’ movelists, to varying extents. For instance Mature doesn’t have only two special moves any more, and Elisabeth’s movelist resembles her XI incarnation more than her weird XII outing. On the other hand Kyo is still based on his boring ‘95 incarnation (with the addition of an aerial version of his Orochinagi for some reason) and there are some strange movelist omissions (for instance, Yuri got back most of her moves…except her uppercut which was the linchpin of her combos).

For some reason they also ditched the only subsystems from XII that I liked – the guard attack and chargeable CD attacks, replacing them with the traditional guard cancel knockdown attack. The former was good since it made counterattacks anticipatory rather than reactionary, and the latter was a nice option to have while on the offense, although the removal of the ability to cancel into CD attacks might diminish its usefulness somewhat.

On an aesthetic note, the music, as heard on the official site, is much better than XII’s. It still doesn’t quite beat KOF2002 Unlimited Match for me, but it’s solid background music, and the motifs for the individual teams (sax in Iori’s theme, fast-paced synth-laden rock for Ash, upbeat, jazzy tunes for the Ladies’ team) seem to be intact. I look forward to having some epic battles with these tunes in the background.

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As far as graphics go, they’ve removed the zooming that was present in XII, so the sprites are now displayed at a smaller size. Given that the sprites are upscaled from 480p to begin with, I regard this as a good thing as it makes the sprites appear less pixelated compared to the backgrounds. However, they’ve also gone ahead and applied some sort of smoothing filter to the sprites that make them appear out of focus compared to the backgrounds. This was a big personal gripe with KOFXI and NGBC– the first thing I did after buying both games for the PS2 was to go into the options and turn off the filter. Why would you produce some great pixel artwork (upscaled, yes, but still really good) and then ruin it with a shitty blur filter? I hope the home ports retain the ability to disable it.

As far as roster goes, it’s known (thanks to some now-removed hidden files on the official KOFXII website) that three of the remaining characters to be revealed will be the K’ team, although no-one knows yet who will feature on the team alongside K’ himself. The other slots are on the Kim team, AOF team and Yagami team, and based on some missing character data found on the KOFXII disc, are probably going to be Hwa Jai (from Fatal Fury 1), Takuma and Vice – although SNKP may go ahead and decide to toss us a curveball yet.

Overall, though, so far KOFXIII has generated far more interest from me than KOFXII ever managed to, so I find myself anticipating the weekly SNKP site updates quite eagerly. I suppose that’s a nice change.

(Pictures from Impress Game Watch’s KOFXIII writeup)

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Oh, who would ever want to be king

c20100225_kof_01_cs1w1_640x395

Looks like King of Fighters XIII is en route.

(logo yoinked from Dengeki Online)

To be clear, I didn’t like KOF XII at all. I did pay $60 for the game, but in retrospect, my money would have probably been better spent on something else. And no, my complaints have little to do with the lacklustre console port – they all centre around what was done to the game system itself. General dumbing down, removal of anything that might be potential interesting and highly stripped-down movelists that made even my usual go-to KOF characters boring as hell to play. Oh yeah, and the stuff about the sprites being upscaled didn’t really help either.

To be honest, the fact that everyone’s complaint about the game seems to be ‘the game plays fine, but the port sucks’ just astounds me. I have to conclude that these people never really played the games that came before XII (the great KOF XI and KOF’98 Ultimate Match) and what came after it (the equally great KOF2002 Unlimited Match). I regard all of those games as superior to KOF XII in every way, simply because their systems were far more interesting. They may not have fancy fake-HD sprites with tons of frames, but they make up for it by actually being fun to play. XI took 2003’s incomplete tag system, fleshed it out and made it awesome; ‘98UM added new twists to a classic formula without breaking it (I actually have a reason to try and use the Extra mode meter and dodging now) and 2002UM addressed my only problems with the original game (crappy aesthetics and stripped-down movelists) while making enough system tweaks to be interesting.

Out of the new stuff KOF XII added, I only regard the Guard Attack and guard crush CDs as interesting, and the latter already made an appearance in KOF NeoWave (albeit in a slightly different form). Critical counters and deadlocks are too rare and too difficult to get to be of any consequence, and the changes they made to how close and far attacks work is just off-putting. Why the hell would I want Shen Woo’s close C from a full character length away?

Anyway, what does all of this have to do with KOF XIII?

Simply put, I’m not super confident about it. Based on a comment from Falcoon back in 2006 (shortly after XI’s arcade release), they worked on KOF XII for 3 1/2 years before releasing it, and the end result of that was a game that felt stripped down in every single way. Given also that the first build of the game at AOU 2009 didn’t even have super meters and most of the subsystems implemented, I’d say that the bulk of the time was spent on drawing those fancy new sprites. They’ve had a year to work on the game since then, but given that these sprites take so long to draw (SNKP themselves said it’s 16 months per character in terms of man-hours), I’m not expecting a major shakeup in the game system. Maybe everyone gets a new move or two, and we get 2-3 new characters at most.

Hey, maybe they’ll add super cancels! Or a multiple-level power meter! That’d truly be revolutionary.

So yeah. I’m keeping an eye on it, but I’m not holding my breath.

Nice logo though.

4 comments

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.

12 comments

If this is what they mean by ‘re-birth’, screw reincarnation

Ever find your skepticism to be completely justified?

Everything about KOFXII’s game system feels weird. The game is definitely slower than XI, 98 and 2K2, no doubt about that. On top of that even stuff like jumping has had its timings changed. When I do what used to be a hyperhop in XI or ‘98UM my character flies across the screen to get an uppercut up his ass. On top of that timings for things as basic as Terry’s dB, dA, df+C, QCB+A combo have changed. The first KOF that comes to mind when I think of an equivalent in the games I’ve played is probably KOF2003, and considering how bad that game was I don’t think that’s a good sign.

I took a spin through single player mode, and immediately recalled KOF XI’s pretty good AI on normal difficulty – while not awesome, it at least tried to use human-like attack patterns on you. Iori would pressure you with hop Cs and Ds, Gato would regularly do his tap combo into punch super every time he got an opening, Kyo would try to stuff your pokes with his QCF+A autoguard, and so on. The reason I remembered this is because KOFXII’s normal difficulty AI is dumb as a brick. It jumps around randomly, spamming pokes and rolling out of the blue for no reason (making it perfect bait for a down B combo on recovery). Athena basically did her reflector something like five times in a row, only stopping after I smacked her with a DM. The only exception was Daimon who would use the bullshit autoguard on his HCF+P to blow through absolutely everything I did to him – even jump attacks.

Also if the AI somehow manages to land a critical counter on you it’s terrible of taking advantage of it. Andy tagged me with a counter close C so that he could do f+C….forward roll, nothing. And it doesn’t even get better as you get further in the game.

OK, fine, AI in fighting games isn’t typically known for being great, and the point of fighting games is versus mode anyway. But seriously, everything about this game screams ‘WE DIDN’T HAVE TIME TO FINISH THIS, BUT HERE IT IS ANYWAY.’ Practice mode doesn’t save your training settings (it did in previous KOF ports), there’s no way to go back to the character select menu from Practice mode, and there’s random slowdown all over the place in the front end, which looks like it was designed by some guy with a copy of Photoshop and a hard-on for Times New Roman.

The game also has some weird hitbox issues. I could swear my opponent and I passed through each other in mid-jump, and the hitboxes on ground attacks are messed up against opponents landing behind you. I managed to score a counter hit on someone who jumped over my Terry’s crouch C because he landed behind me and got smacked by the tail end of the hitbox while trying to poke me. Go figure.

And then of course there’s shit like this:

And on top of all that, I still think this game is a net loss in terms of depth from KOF XI.

I haven’t tried it online yet, mainly because I don’t know anyone else who has it on PS3 and because of the horror stories I’ve been hearing about people who have played it online. BlazBlue lets me play laglessly against my friend in Japan – I doubt KOF XII will give me anywhere near the same connection quality.

Oh, and regarding the sprite issue I brought up in an earlier post – I have a HDTV at home, and it is rather obvious that KOFXII’s sprites have been scaled up. While I can’t make out individual pixels on the BB sprites at about 5 feet away, it’s pretty easy in KOFXII.

On a happier note, I scored an S-video cable for my PS3 so I’m going to see if I can record some of the BlazBlue (and maybe KOFXII, if they ever fix the netcode) matches that I’ve been saving. In particular xephyris and myself had a great set of matches last weekend…I’ll be sure to post them up here once I’ve uploaded them somewhere.

UPDATE:

I tried playing online. The lag was so bad that the game was running at less than 1/2 speed, and some fuckwit who didn’t know how to play managed to beat me with his laggy Joe after I beat his other two characters with Kyo alone. RAGE

2 comments

SNKP does my work for me

For a while now, I’ve suspected something wasn’t quite right with the look of King of Fighters XII. Sure, I’ve ranted on and on about how the system they’ve put in place is less interesting to me than those of the other three most recent 2D KOF games, but what I’m talking about today is the actual look of the game – namely the sprites.

If you put screenshots from the two major high definition 2D fighters – BlazBlue and KOF XII – next to each other, one thing immediately becomes clear. The KOFXII sprites look incredibly pixelated compared to their BlazBlue brethren. If you don’t believe me, here are a couple of shots that you can tab between in your browser and verify for yourself:

BlazBlue shot

KOF XII shot

This was explained away in an earlier interview as SNKP preferring the ‘dot art’ look for their sprites. That didn’t really make sense to me, though – it’s possible to get the ‘KOF’ look for a high-resolution sprite without it looking incredibly pixelated. For instance, look at Akatsuki Blitzkampf, a game that runs at 640×480. At their native resolution, the sprites look sharp and don’t have the same problem KOF XII’s do.

My suspicions were only multiplied when I found out that the home port would have a filter option for the sprites. Why on earth would you need to apply a filter to sprites that were designed to be displayed at 720p? Sure, games like Guilty Gear XX have had soft filter options for whatever reason but they didn’t really need them.

As it turns out, I really should have just applied Occam’s razor and come to the obvious conclusion – the sprites were never drawn to be displayed at 720p to begin with.

SNKP launched a new site today lauding the awesomeness of the dot art approach they’re taking with KOF XII. One of the features is a dot art gallery that lets you see the new sprites in action. This gallery lets you view the sprites at 100%, 200% and 400% zoom.

This is the Kyo sprite on the website displayed at 100% zoom:

Kyo_XII 

Compare that to the Kyo sprite that we can see in the screenshot I linked above – it’s a lot smaller. In fact, the in-game sprite seems to line up more or less with the website sprite displayed at 200% zoom. The logical conclusion, therefore, is that the KOF XII sprites are in no way drawn at HD resolution (in this case 720p).

You might think this isn’t a really big deal to be making a fuss about, but honestly, from playing games like KOF XI, NeoGeo Battle Coliseum and Melty Blood that use low-res sprites on high-res backgrounds, the difference is honestly very visible and very jarring. If they weren’t going to draw these sprites with HD resolutions in mind, they should have just gone with a 480p game and made that look awesome.

Heck, that way they could probably have put it on a cheaper board, and might have even been able to put in all the stuff they had to cut. Like all the interesting mechanics and half the roster.

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“I used to rule the world…”

I could say much about what I think of King of Fighters XII (and indeed, I have, multiple times), but if anything the most telling thing about the game is the complete lack of high-level match videos in spite of the game having come out more than two weeks ago. We got a couple of batches of videos out of Portland where the game first showed up, and a small set of lousy videos off Nicodouga, and since then, nothing.

I mean, even bad games like SvC Chaos and KOF2003 had tons of videos in the weeks immediately after their release. On top of that, if you check the tournaments of places like A-cho, TRF and Game41, there are no KOF XII events scheduled at all (and if you look at TRF they in fact have regular Hokuto no Ken tournaments, and that’s a game that’s basically retarded at high level).

If anything all signs are pointing to a complete lack of interest in the game (moreso than usual for a new KOF game, at least), and part of me can’t help but think that someone at least should have seen that coming.

(Before you ask, I’m still getting the PS3 version along with BlazBlue, if only because they’ll look nice on my HDTV)

3 comments

Gaming odds and ends

This post might be a little disjointed – I’ve been playing a bunch of games recently and thought I’d just pen down my thoughts in one single post since I don’t really want to write five separate posts in one night.

Team Fortress 2

Valve has patched the game twice since the Scout update, yet the Sandman remains unfixed (although they did manage to break rocket jumping while trying to fix an exploit that made it harder for Snipers to get headshots, and they did break Natascha’s slowdown effect yet again). I’ve played in a few big games since the update, and I’d say the stun is overpowered even if you discount the fact that it affects ubercharges. I have not yet seen a single Scout that doesn’t try to tag me with the ball the moment I see them, and in a few circumstances they’ve managed to stun me for extended periods at close range, allowing them a free kill. One particular incident that comes to mind occurred on the second point of the second stage of Dustbowl – I was playing Soldier and standing on the point when a Scout ran out from the central tunnel, ran up to the point and threw his ball at me. I was stunned for a good 3 seconds or so, and this was from being tagged at close range.

The response from the competitive community has been very clear. CEVO has banned the Sandman, and from what I’ve heard a bunch of the other leagues like ETF2L have followed suit. Keep in mind that this is the first unlockable weapon that they’ve actually banned. If I recall correctly they didn’t even ban the Pyro’s Backburner back when it granted a ridiculous 50-point health bonus.

The response from the rest of the TF2 community has been less distinct. While there are a few players who recognise that the weapon is clearly overpowered, the vast majority of the community’s response has been ‘LOL LERN2TEAMWORK.’ By this they’re implying that somehow Pyros need to have their entire team with them when they try to circle behind enemy lines to attempt an ambush, so that they can successfully fend off a class that they were previously on a reasonably even footing against. And of course, if your Medic successfully builds up an ubercharge by being a good healer and deploys it on a friendly Demoman in order to take out a Sentry farm, only to have his uber rendered useless by a flying baseball, that’s his fault for not being a team player.

Surely the absurdity is obvious.

I’m hoping that, like they did with the Backburner, Valve will realise what a terrible beast they’ve unleashed and make some sort of fix. A popular suggestion seems to be to change the stun effect to something akin to the effect of Team Fortress Classic’s concussion grenades, but honestly I think they need to go back to the drawing board with this unlock. Never mind that there are a few achievements that depend on it – go back to the design phase and get it right this time. And for God’s sake stop getting your unlock ideas from the Steam forums.

I’m starting to wonder if I should be playing Fortress Forever instead…

Lost Planet

This was recently on sale on Steam for the irresistable price of $5. I’d only ever played the demo previous to this, and I thought it was alright, so I decided to see what the full game was like (even though the superior Colonies Edition is out now). I’ve played the first few missions, and it’s not too bad. I can’t quite get 60fps out of it, but shooting up giant bugs in snowy wastelands is pretty fun. My main complaints so far are that the game is kind of easy (I haven’t died once yet) and that Wayne’s default movement speed is a little on the slow side, even when he’s piloting one of the giant VS mechs. I guess I’ll see if these continue to be problems as I progress through the game.

Still, this has me interested in the recently-announced sequel – I wonder what improvements Capcom will bring to the table.

King of Fighters ‘98 Ultimate Match

I started playing KOF (and indeed, fighting games) with King of Fighters ‘99, but I respect KOF’98’s place in the order of things. Given that disclaimer, I rather like ‘98UM. It doesn’t have most of my favourite characters, but the (remarkably solid) system changes they’ve made to the original game make this a must-buy for any KOF fan, I’d say. Most of the changes they’ve made revolve around making Extra mode more interesting, and it seems to have worked. Extra mode users now benefit from the ability to cancel normals into dodges, and to cancel certain special attacks directly into MAX mode. On top of that they can choose when they want to break stock unlike vanilla ‘98 where the bar started draining as soon as it filled up.

In addition, the new Ultimate mode, which allows you to mix-and-match subsystems from both modes, poses some interesting possibilities. Do you want the mobility afforded by the roll, or will you trade that for the ability to dodge and quickly counterattack (and extend your combos using the quick dodge)? Do you want the ability to do SDMs at any life level, or would you rather have the ability to max out in mid-combo for the possibility of turning your otherwise staid B&B combo into a more damaging variant?

As for the quality of the port itself, fortunately the US version of the game seems to have turned out pretty well – progressive scan support is intact, and as far as I can tell the game has been brought over more or less unmolested, which should be a relief for anyone who was horrified by Ignition’s handling of the PAL versions of King of Fighters XI and NeoGeo Battle Coliseum.

So yeah, if you don’t have the import version already, go out and get this one. It’s $20 – you really have no excuse if you claim to be a KOF fan.

Street Fighter IV

I’m still getting used to the physics and timings, but at the very least my win ratio seems to have improved a little (in that it is no longer zero). My MadCatz Tournament Edition FightStick arrived two weeks late, but I used the Amazon gift certificate I was given as compensation to buy a PS2->PS3 controller adapter so I could use my old Tekken 5 Hori stick with the game until it arrived (makes me wonder why I didn’t do it earlier, actually). So far I’ve mainly been sticking to Ryu and Abel, with some failed attempts at using Fei Long and Dhalsim (both of whom apparently have a pretty steep learning curve). I’ve played a few games online, mainly against Orochinagi members; I’ve played a few random strangers, although I haven’t run into any of the Ken players of legend. I suppose I should be thankful.

On a side note, the MadCatz stick doesn’t work for PS2 games. I don’t know why I didn’t see this coming, as this was also the case for the Sega Virtua Stick and the Hori PS3 sticks when they were released. The best I can hope for is for support to be added in the next PS3 firmware update, I guess.

BlazBlue

Now, I haven’t actually had a chance to play this game yet, but PS3 and 360 ports were announced recently. A lot of fighter fans are understandably excited about this, but a potential issue with the port has already been raised. The arcade version of BlazBlue runs at 1280×768/768p, while both current-generation consoles are locked to outputting at 1280×720/720p (and indeed, won’t let you play the game at its native resolution). The full extent of the problem is laid out pretty clearly over at the Insomnia forums.

In short, it looks like the great sprites and backgrounds are in danger of being butchered by scaling. If the blurry upscaled sprites in all of SNK Playmore’s Atomiswave releases bugged you, well, this is just as bad. Possibly worse, since it’s one of the first high-definition 2D fighters, and really deserves more respect.

At this point, given that ArcSys can’t go back in time and re-program the game to output 720p in the first place, the only real thing they can do is to crop 48 lines from the top and bottom of the display to avoid affecting the sprites. This is what they seem to have done, but the screenshots still lack the definition of the arcade version. A rep from Aksys (the company handling the US release) has gone on the record as saying that apparently the screenshots they released of the 360 and PS3 versions were smaller in size to make them ‘download friendly’. This just seems ridiculous to me, given that stuff like this is typically distributed through special press FTP servers where presumably bandwidth wouldn’t be a concern.

We’ll have to see how this shakes out, but I am rather worried that we’ll end up getting a butchered port of one of the first high-def 2D fighters.

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The King of Steam

It looks like EA has finally decided to set up shop on Steam. The most interesting part of this venture is that the Steam-purchased versions of their games will not contain SecuROM DRM. This deal apparently extends only to current EA releases, such as Mass Effect, Warhammer Online and (unsurprisingly) Spore, but it looks like Mirror’s Edge, Red Alert 3 and Dead Space will be joining them shortly.

Steam’s built-in DRM is far less annoying than anything else on the market, in my opinion, so this is a good move, I’d say.


On to another topic – the recent King of Fighters XII location test.

My friend Perfect Stranger has posted pretty comprehensive impressions over at Orochinagi, so if you haven’t been following the news go read up on his thoughts here.

While I still like the way the game looks, the game itself is still not really impressing me that much. I’ve sort of gotten over the fact that the game doesn’t improve on the tagging system, but there are plenty of other things to complain about.

The main thing is that the game just feels incomplete at this point. I know that it’s technically not ‘complete’ yet (there are still four months before release) but we can assume that by this point they’re not going to be adding any more characters or major subsystems since they’ve already started public beta testing. At this point, not only does the roster feel small, the characters themselves seem to be exhibiting KOF2002 syndrome with small, stripped-down movelists.

A lot of comparisons are being drawn between this game and KOF’94, but that game actually let you use far standing normals to poke and control space effectively, and had DMs that you could actually combo into. It looks like SNKP is trying to get people to get into close range to use their strong attacks, but what’s actually happening is that players, noting that their standing normals have been nerfed, have resorted to using crouch Bs and Ds to poke and start combos instead, making for some rather boring matches overall. The minimalist system just doesn’t really seem like KOF to me, not after SNKP managed to hit two successive balls out of the park with KOFXI and KOF’98 Ultimate Match (with the upcoming KOF2002 Unlimited Match looking to follow in their footsteps).

The graphical makeover is astounding, but I still stand unimpressed.

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