tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

Archive for the 'Gaming' Category

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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Help me spend money

I’ll skip my usual preamble. :P

I just traded in a bunch of old games (KOF XII, Castlevania DoS, Elite Beat Agents, Worms Open Warfare 2, Pokemon Pearl and Ninja Gaiden DS, if you’re curious) for a total of about $30 in Amazon gift card credit, and I’m wondering what I should get with it. These are the options I’m looking at (based on my Amazon wishlist):

  • Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3)
  • Assassin’s Creed II (PS3)
  • Yakuza 3 (PS3) – although I’m thinking of springing for the import since the US version has cuts
  • Baccano! DVD box set
  • A Bit of Fry and Laurie DVD box set

Alternatively if you have any other suggestions, I’d be happy to hear them…

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Oh, who would ever want to be king

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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.

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There go the alarm bells

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

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

At least the game looks rather nice.

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

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Ass backwards

I wonder when it was that developers stopped listening to good players?

Yes, I’m aware that’s a generalization – not all developers do this. However, the developers of the games that I play most often seem to, and that’s not a good thing at all.

Gaming has become a lot more popular than it was when I was a kid – everyone and his mom seems to have an Xbox, whether to play the latest iteration of Madden or the FPS flavour of the month. The immediate effect of this is that pretty much every developer has been wondering how to appeal to this newly-expanded gaming demographic. The more insidious effect has been that they’ve started dumbing down their games to appeal to this demographic.

As an example, let’s take a look at Team Fortress 2. Simply put, they removed tons of stuff that had been present in TFC in order to simplify the game and make it appeal to Joe Gamer whose only experience with FPSes up to that point was probably Halo. This included several advanced techniques like concussion jumping, several weapons (super shotguns, railguns, nailguns, all the grenades), as well as weapon-specific ammunition and armor. Even some of the seemingly innocent changes caused the game to be dumbed down – for instance, the fact that friendly fire is off and you don’t collide with your teammates makes it easier to spy check and thus severely limits the Spy’s usefulness. And let’s not forget the obvious – critical hits and random damage spread.

The result is that the game sort of works if you’re playing it casually, but as soon as you try to get better at it you start to run into problems. High level play in TF2 involves class limits out of necessity and only uses a small set of maps since most of the game modes aren’t particularly suited to it. The end result is that TF2’s high level scene is markedly smaller than that of other games like CS and Quake.

Not enough? Let’s look at another recent Valve game, Left 4 Dead. This game was sold primarily as a co-op game, and in that respect it works decently, although the weapon balance is rather poor. However, Valve also saw fit to add a Versus mode, which was plainly not designed with high-level play in mind, much like TF2. The survivors are blatantly overpowered, with all sorts of abilities at their disposal – this is in addition to the poorly balanced weapons. A team of skilled survivors all wielding autoshotguns is pretty much guaranteed to make it to the safe room most of the time. This situation didn’t really improve in the sequel – while the infected did get buffed a little, the survivors gained several more abilities, such as defibrillators to bring dead teammates back to life, bile grenades to distract hordes, grenade launchers and high-damage melee weapons.

The effect of this on high level play is that various player-developed mods need to be used to achieve any semblance of balance at all. And these mods basically remove several item types from the game and reducing the influence of the AI director in order to achieve this goal.

Now you might ask, “but SonicTempest, aren’t games supposed to be fun? Why are you treating them like SERIOUS BUSINESS?” To which I would reply: “What do you mean by fun?” What someone finds fun isn’t going to be fun for everyone else. Some people have fun messing around in 32-player low-gravity mario_kart servers in TF2, whereas others have fun learning the ins and outs of a game and mastering its nuances of its ruleset. Note also that someone’s perception of fun changes over time – at one point I enjoyed playing Pyro on 32-player instaspawn Dustbowl as much as any casual player out there. However, after 300 or so hours of playtime, about half of which have been spent playing Soldier almost exclusively and trying to learn the class as best as I can, my definition of fun has changed, based on the simple fact that my skill level has increased. This change has also led me to realise that playing TF2 in pubs is becoming less and less fun for me, simply because of all the things built into this game that hinder high level play.

The conclusion, therefore, is that developers need to design their games with high level play in mind first and foremost for them to remain interesting. Most people’s response to this approach is that it ‘alienates new players’ – which is a premise with which I disagree quite strongly. Look at games like Starcraft and Quake. These games have very high skill ceilings which is the main reason their high level play scenes continue to thrive even today (keep in mind that these games came out ten years ago!) Yet is either game any less fun at low levels of play? I played Quake and Quake III Arena deathmatch back when the games were new, and I was by no means a good player, yet I still had fun with both games. Similarly, I was terrible at Starcraft, but this didn’t diminish my enjoyment of my weekly matches with my high school friends one bit. And these games are still great fun to play, even today – I played Starcraft with my fellow interns while I was in India back in 2006, and even though I still sucked at it, it was every bit as entertaining as it was back in 1998.

Will I be able to say the same about TF2 or L4D ten years from now? I doubt it.

PS: I spent most of this post talking about FPSes, but this is something that’s becoming prevalent across all genres. A little game called “King of Fighters XII” comes to mind…and some might even say that Street Fighter IV falls into this category.

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This looks better than I thought it would

Much better:

(Also I’m such a Sonic nerd that I noticed that they used the sprite from the beta version of Sonic 2, hurhur)

More details here. No boost meter anywhere in sight, although I must wonder why they left the homing attack in. It was a necessity for the 3D games, but in the 2D ones? Not so much, except in Sonic Rush and its sequel where it made the game a little too easy.

I wonder who’s developing it…the trailer says Sonic Team, but it’s entirely possible that they’ve subcontracted it to Dimps again, much like how Capcom went to Inti Creates for Megaman 9 and 10.

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Dare I get my hopes up?

Sonic is the only playable character in Project Needlemouse

I have to admit, that enemy concept art reminds me way too much of old-school enemy concept art. Having enemies with actual weak points that you can’t just hit anywhere will be most welcome.

That said, I’m not going to say anything substantive until I see some footage of this thing in action. I’ll just reiterate what I mentioned in my earlier blog entry on the subject – more Sonic CD/S3&K, less Sonic Rush, please.

Although I wouldn’t mind if they had Hideki Naganuma do the music again…not at all.

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Holiday Steam sales will be the end of me

Here’s what I picked up, during both the Thanksgiving and Christmas sales on Steam:

  • Mirror’s Edge (already beaten – they weren’t kidding when they said this was a short game)
  • Prince of Persia: Warrior Within
  • Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones
  • Prince of Persia (the new one)
  • Crysis Maximum Edition
  • Torchlight
  • Deus Ex: Game of the Year Edition

Backlog doubled, just like that :(

Read more

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I keep forgetting to update this thing

I haven’t been updating because of some real-life issues I’ve been having that I’d rather not go into here. That said, here’s what’s been going on with me:

  • Added some more titles to my backlog thanks to Steam holiday sales: Mirror’s Edge and the last two titles of the PoP trilogy (as well as the newest one).
  • Immediately removed Mirror’s Edge from my backlog because I beat it in 3 days
  • Removed Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword from my list after beating it over Thanksgiving weekend.

More significantly, I upgraded my PC pretty much as far as I think I can take it – swapped out my old Core 2 Duo E6750 for a Core 2 Quad Q9650, which is about as fast as I can take it without buying one of the ridiculously priced Core 2 Extreme models. More cores certainly make a huge difference in games like Left 4 Dead 2, and to a lesser extent in Team Fortress 2. I also replaced my 8800GTS 512 with a GTX275, which has helped with some of the more graphic intensive games that I’m still working through (like Lost Planet). I also needed a new power supply for the new card, so I grabbed a simple 650W Antec one.

Just those three parts set me back a fair amount, so much so that I think my next ‘upgrade’ will probably involve just building a new box so I can get in on all the awesome i5/i7 action.

That said, I’m tempted to download the Crysis demo again to see how well these new parts hold up.

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The travails of Cyber Monday

I just dropped $700 on new parts for my computer and $24 on all four Prince of Persia games, and then I saw the following offers on our Cyber Monday page:

Uncharted 2 for $40
Planet Earth Blu-ray for $40
Hori Real Arcade Pro 3 SA for $90

…

Dammit.

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